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Patty Waters - The Complete ESP-Disk' Recordings

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Artist: Patty Waters

Album: The Complete ESP-Disk' Recordings

Label: ESP-Disk

Review date: Feb. 9, 2006

It’s always enlightening to realize that I’m listening to the work of someone who invented the clichés. Patty Waters’ two mid 1960s albums encapsulate perfectly the multiple opportunities for freedom of expression prevalent in creative music at the time but later crystallized, and consequently diminished, by time and overexposure.

Her decision to raise a family, retire from singing and re-emerge some 35 years later are common knowledge. The importance of this new compilation, yet another in the welcome series of ESP-disk reissues under label founder Bernard Stollman’s direction, is that it allows for Waters’ performative multiplicity to be apparent in one extended listening. From the intimacy of her studio album to the fiery incantational exhortation of her live recording, this package presents new listeners freedoms resultant from fresh contexts, an invaluable asset in the aftermath of the death of postmodernism.

It was Albert Ayler who introduced Stollman to Waters, and the musical qualities that attracted the saxophonist are apparent throughout. Even the first seven tracks from her first album, where Waters accompanies herself on spare piano, are subdued knots of energy. Her voice, transcending all degrees of “hip” and “cool,” is a study in containment and in the raging forces just beneath. Her delivery encompasses speech, song and all inbetween, and the result is deliciously non-categorical. When she sings “Moon, don’t come up tonight,” it is not a supplication; it comes off more as a whispered word of friendly advice whose full implications are not apparent until the epic version of “Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair.” Here, Burton Greene empathetically plunders pianistic innards while Steve Tintweiss and Tom Price support Waters with short sharp shocks of bass/and/drums interjection symptomatic of the theatrical rhetoric inherent to the period. Waters sighs, moans, wails and screams her way through 13 tormented minutes, her imploring-to-frustrated repetitions of the word “black” evoking obvious civil rights signifiers some 40 years later. It still sounds fresh if for no other reason than for the obvious excitement generated by the group interaction.

The live material continues in this vein, introducing some beautiful counterpoint with the neglected Giuseppi Logan on emotive flute. Waters is on fire, displaying even more varied timbralities than on her previous record, deep breathy rasps and gurgles, noisily suggestive exhalation that Logan can complement with telepathic ease. The first of two versions of “Hush Little Baby” is especially moving as flute and voice often become one powerful instrument. Only some rather annoying splices mar what still holds up as a wonderfully expressive performance document.

I have never heard the original vinyl or any previous CD edition of this material, but the sound here is excellent, and I’d assume it to be a notch above now obsolete editions, as all of the new ESP reissues have been. Clifford Allen’s documentation is thorough and helpful, and this might now be my favorite entry in the relaunched catalog, affording a unique historical perspective embodied in Waters’ fresh and authoritative voice.

By Marc Medwin

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