Album Reviews

Can “Tago Mago” (United Artists, 1971)

Can_-_Tago_MagoOut with Malcolm Mooney and in with Damo Suzuki. At this point, the grooves provided by the most well known forerunners of Krautrock got a whole lot funkier… On “Tago Mago” these composers-turned-avant-rockers set a template that still influences musicians and electronic artists to this day with their strange brew of rhythms and sound collage.

“Paperhouse” and the oft-covered “Mushroom” open the album with more standard pastoral psych numbers and Velvet-drones, but the album turns on it’s head with “Oh Yeah” and “Halleluwah,” tracks that seem to last an eternity with simple relentless grooves and studio trickery (backwards voices, fade ins/outs, on the fly mixing). Mushroom head indeed.

This is Can’s second breath with Damo on the mic, and his style of vocalizing is unique unto himself. A mix of English, German, Japanese and gibberish, it all goes together in seamless coos, belted screams and “uh huh” nonsense. It’s rock, it’s avant, it stands the test of time… And you can dance to much of it. -Wade

The Flesh Eaters “A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die” (Ruby, 1981)

R-516396-1349396002-2440.jpegThe Flesh Eaters is the name behind one Chris D. Taking his stage name from a 1964 cult film, Chris D. wrote for legendary fanzine Slash in the late ’70s and assembled the first of many Flesh Eaters lineups from heavyweights in the burgeoning L.A. punk scene. After releasing a ravenous EP and heart-ripping debut album, The Flesh Eaters unleashed their era-defining statement…

Originally released in 1981, “A Minute To Pray…” brings together the greatest band in American rock history: Dave Alvin (Blasters) on guitar, John Doe (X) on bass, Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) on sax, along with Bill Bateman (Blasters) and DJ Bonebrake (X) providing the album’s trademark percussive backbone. Chris D. leads the group like a man possessed. Through a series of grotesque vignettes, his lyrical prowess and indelible growl stand toe-to-toe with the music’s powerful shifts.

From opener “Digging My Grave” (resembling a diesel-charged Magic Band) to the gothic groove of “Divine Horsemen,” each song is its own hairy beast. Inspired by African tribal music, ’60s garage-rock churn and Funhouse-era Stooges swing, A Minute To Pray remains (according to author / archivist Byron Coley) “the best rock record ever recorded.” -Superior Viaduct

Armando “One World One Future” (Radikal Fear, 1996)

CS2580024-02A-BIGIn the shifting world between Chicago and Acid, House was changing. Classics like “On and On,” “Your Love” and “Acid Tracks” seemed to come from other worlds and were made in totally different ways, but they all culminated into Warehouse music. Recognizable names to those merely interested in House may have heard of Jackmaster Farley, Marshall Jefferson, Mr. Lee, Mr. Fingers (“Washing Machine”), Phuture… Across the water the early converts were 808 State, A Guy Called Gerald, Sweet Exorcist.

But when it comes to a true original hailed by House Heads and the first wave of House pioneers alike, Armando was the one true treasure. While acting as a coveted resident DJ in Chicago, Armando Gallup also operated as a producer, prolifically creating singles that would eventually be collected by TRAX for many posthumous compilations… he passed after a battle with leukemia in the mid-nineties.

While many interviews with larger House artists show fanaticism over his work, the only official album release by Armando is “One World One Future.” This double LP shows the square-root of House: an infectious beat that keeps pumping, stark soundscapes, trippy loops. Not every track is a classic in the home listening sense, but each shows what you can be done on the floor with minimum/maximum production. Dancefloor optimal. -Wade

Maria Minerva “Cabaret Cixous” (Not Not Fun, 2011)

R-3057958-1314288418.jpegA bedroom songstress from Estonia, Maria Minerva has been making changes in recent years from hazy wafting jams to more clinical upended pop and dance. “Cabaret Cixous” was a major release for her, the first step out of limited-cassette territory, released by the always ear turning Not Not Fun label.

Maybe it’s the title that tips me off, but some of her “pop” songs here seem to share a sort of media collage kinship with Cabaret Voltaire in spirit if not sound. But it’s a modern update made in digital solid-state – new age samples backed with industrial clangor, serving many stylistic ends from track to track. Her voice is always hissing and panning and out of flux, veiled in digital sheen.

Where does this music belong? On vinyl and compact disc and cassette, and in little white earbuds, sure, but really it’s best where it was primarily made; on the lappy. This is the sound of growing musicians on the internet, where anything and everything can be explored and fashioned together. Like many artists on Not Not Fun, Maria Minerva is in a sea of style appropriators creating with abandon. Her prolific activity only allows us better access to her otherwise open/private world. -Wade

Double Exposure “Ten Percent” (Salsoul, 1976)

CS1910491-02A-BIGIt’s soul, it’s disco, but “Ten Percent” wasn’t on the radio for more than a blip in ’76. It was in clubs where Double Exposure, a quartet with a soulful Philly sound by way of New York, would find success. What made the record a hit in the clubs, though, was the ever-present high-hat cast over extended grooves…

Early DJs in New York like Nicky Siano were really playing longer cuts of soul records, sometimes going between two copies to hold the rhythms longer, and the featured single of “My Love Is Free” is a perfect example of what was pumping through the P.A. around The Loft or The Gallery. Plinking guitar notes, walking bass lines and subtle metronomic drumming backed with lush strings isn’t a bad thing to have playing with beautiful people dancing all around you.

This is really one of the first record releases to define Salsoul as dance label. Double Exposure released their first 12” dance single on Salsoul as well, the first of it’s kind. It was so successful, in clubs and financially, that other labels soon took notice, and that was the birth of the commercial remix. Dance culture now had a format. -Wade

Swing Sideways: Oakland’s Black Jazz Records

New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Fort Worth, Los Angeles… By the 70′s Jazz had gone through many form changes and developments, many defined by geographic location. Retrospect shows that these changes were refreshing; groups went electric or funky or free. But for many in the dark at the time, smaller developments unfortunately went overlooked as they veered ears toward Brubeck or Piven.

In Oakland, a small grouping of interesting musicians previously involved with Charlie Parker, Nat Adderly, Count Basie… is some fashion recorded a strange brew of music for Black Jazz Records, a small label set up by pianist Gene Russell. The label itself was one of the only active Jazz companies of the day run by African Americans. Like the Art Ensemble of Chicago, they could be political. Like Davis, they incorporated funk and soul. And like many free units of the 70′s, spirit and energy trumped virtuosity most of the time.

Active for only six years, Black Jazz ended abruptly after Gene’s passing in the early 1980s. Since then the master recordings have traded hands numerous times, and copies were used for samples by hip hop artists. Many key tracks recently ended up on a compilation curated by Detroit selector and DJ Theo Parrish (“Black Jazz Signatures: 1971-1976”), renewing interest in the label.

A little history on the movers and shakers…

R-2007750-1385445097-7070.jpegGene Russell himself made the recordings on Black Jazz happen. His best known album “Talk To My Lady” was self-released via the label and prior to that he had one obscurity lost in the shuffle from Decca. “Talk To My Lady” features a very interesting rework of “My Favorite Things” that alone is worth the price of admission…

R-3915079-1349083436-8351.jpegDoug Carn was most prolific for the Oakland label in the early 70s, putting out a release typically once a year. A principal funk and soul player back in the day, his style of jazz-funk was spacey but starkly recorded in contrast to Herbie’s sci-fi releases. Theo’s compilation features his infectious “Trance Dance” track, miles away from his earlier work with Earth Wind and Fire.

R-1397979-1284815604.jpegThe Awakening produced little but left a big impression in the way that reminds one of the Art Ensemble rhythm section, but not so much Roscoe or Lester, more like a conventional modal horn and reed format. Their work could move from tight and funky to cool. Only two albums were released by Black Jazz before they dissipated.

R-2007730-1377947574-9101.jpegCalvin Keys is a real heavy hitter from Omaha, Nebraska. As a jazz guitarist he has lent his talents to Ray Charles, Ahmad Jamal, Joe Henderson, Sonny Stitt, and later even M.C. Hammer! His playing is the least free but with plenty of flaying, and he’s confidently subtle in swing. Washes of cymbal crashes are a perfect foil for his pristine R&B spillage.

R-1135607-1387745892-6039.jpegRudolph Johnson was also a Ray Charles acolyte who made a name for himself as a solid and dedicated tenor sax player. He was virtually unknown outside his crowd in Oakland, where he recorded two Black Jazz LPs. Talented in equal measure, pianist John Barnes and drummer Ray Pounds helped Johnson create maybe the most conventional but tempered music on the label.

R-858532-1250347107.jpegWalter Bishop Jr. may have the highest rep, having played with Charlie Parker, Art Blakey and Stan Getz, but he only managed to put out one album as leader for Black Jazz. One turns out to be enough however: the ever desirable jazz flute is all over this LP, and an unexpected Latin influence presides. That makes it a unique release from this label already on the peripheral.

Blurt “Beneath Discordant Skies” (Metadrone, 2015)

R-7711828-1447237295-8380.jpegThey’re back, though they never went away, really… Equal parts punk, noise performance and square-one rock racket, Blurt is a band that always has a pulse and it’s always pumping. For those that don’t know, Blurt is usually a trio run by sax player Ted Milton, and has been one of the most inventive groups to grace us from the late Seventies onward.

Normally this would be a capsule review of one record, but I have to touch on their self-titled LP and “Live In Berlin” because they are just so unique. In Manchester they were briefly on Factory and I dare say their records outshine the flashier groups like Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and the rest from that time pretty easily. Those records don’t sound the least bit dated. And as a live act, they were probably more rough and raucous than The Fall.

So here is the new one, with Ted as an old man, but he STILL sounds as inventive as ever. His playing is a unique spew and can’t be summed up as an Ayler/Ornette imitation. Lyrically he’s great and he always sounds wonderfully garbled. Longtime rhythm guitarist Steve Eagles is here. New drummer David Aylewood pumps along diligently. What more should I say? If you haven’t heard what some would call a post-punk gem, I’d give Blurt some attention. I’d also just call them a heck of a modern band. -Wade

Earth, Wind And Fire “That’s The Way Of The World” (Columbia, 1974)

Whiskeytown-Stranger's_Almanac_(album_cover) Actually a soundtrack accompanying the film of the same name, “That’s The Way Of The World” set the scene for the world of hit music and record executives. In this perfect world, Harvey Keitel is a successful high-level businessman working with Earth, Wind And Fire as well as The Pages, a newly signed band that represents pastiche and conformity in popular music. Obviously his ties are with the group known later for “Shining Star.”

That single opens up the album and alone is worth the price of admission really, but many other numbers produce the feel-good-get-down hits that Keitel’s character cares about so deeply in the industry… “Happy Feelin” and “Africano” are huge funk grooves with beautiful production.

No matter who you are, the warmth and care from Earth Wind and Fire is infectious. If only for a minute, you can leave your troubles behind and “See The Light.” -Wade

Dazz Band “Joystick” (Motown, 1983)

Dazz_Band_-_JoystickIf you are into mid-Eighties Prince, Gap Band or their closest kin, Midnight Star, then the electro-funk of Dazz Band may be for you. Right out of the gate, super crisp drum machines and thick synth lines wreck dance-floor havoc on “To The Roof” and hardly let up for the next thirty some minutes.

Inclusion of the self-titled single “Joystick” is a no brainer, but it’s also a strange one, making full use of vocoder and sequencers that must have been pretty foreign to folks being blasted with it over the air across the country. While the album does have some old-school slow-jams attached (“Until You,” “Now That I Have You”), Dazz Band mostly encapsulates what was the future of funk and a whole lot of Motown right here.

Swoop, I’m Yours! – Wade

D.A.F. “Die Kleinen und die Bösen” (Mute, 1980)

DAF_Die_Kleinen_und_die_Bösen_LP_sleeveThe very first Mute release was of a group pushing exactly what the label set out to do; a break with rock tradition. Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft started as a five-piece before moving into a more total dance direction, and the collection of songs, sketches and soundscapes presented here might as well be from an alien planet.

Side one is a grouping of noisy dirges and surges such as opener “Osten Währt Am Längsten” and “Co Co Pino,” respectively, but what really sets D.A.F. apart from other industrial clangers of the day is their use of subtlety in tracks like the quiet and plaintive “Kinderfunk.” Despite it’s morose sound, the chirps and whistles and bells give the song a playful alone-in-my-room sort of feeling. This melancholy is revisited in tracks later released like “Der Räuber und der Prinz.”

Side two is another surprise, switching to choice live cuts. Here D.A.F. are much faster, harsher and generally raw. As a full band D.A.F. were tight and tough to approach, using rhythms seldom heard before and consistently surprising us with new form standards. Mute continues to build off this stuff to this very day. -Wade

Wang Chung “To Live And Die In L.A.” (Geffen, 1985)

To_Live_and_Die_in_L.A._album_artAfter the release of “Dance Hall Days,” Wang Chung had the fortune of being discovered by director William Freidkin, a man known for his recruitment of bands to produce film scores. Wang Chung joined the ranks of Tangerine Dream and The Germs when they scored “To Live and Die in L.A.”

They prove to be an excellent and integral part of the film, a self-aware macho action flick with plenty of action tropes set to punchy drum machines and thick synth lines… though the film’s more subdued moments show Wang Chung’s interest in classical music (use of flutes, cellos, no drum machine accompaniment). “Lullaby” is a laidback pop number with plenty of great changes for a seemingly sleek and simple number, but “City of Angles” on side two is the real track that showcases Wang Chung’s musical knowledge and modern craft. At just more than nine minutes, they provide most of the score for the entire film, and the feeling is as immersive as L.A. is expansive.

Not just a film score but a stand alone album of experimental pop, “To Live and Die in L.A.” is an OST to own if you’re a fan of synth, classical or new wave sounds. -Wade

Wayne Shorter “Speak No Evil” (Blue Note, 1966)

Speak_No_Evil-Wayne_ShorterFeaturing fresh members Herbie Hancock out of the Miles Davis Quintet and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Wayne continues his ideas in hard bop that he had done so well in previous work. However, Miles influences rub off as much as Coltrane had previously on him… The music is still as modal as it was on “Juju” and reminds us of his work on classic Davis releases.

In fact, shades of more classic Miles and Coltrane make up much of “Speak No Evil,” while Davis and Trane themselves were going down more precarious avenues in the mid-Sixties. That’s no slight on Shorter though, who makes fine compositions. Elvin Jones drums here but he’s kept in check, anchoring the rhythm section diligently. Bassist Ron Carter comes from Eric Dolphy’s world and is a good foil for him.

Wayne delivers an extension on the sound that Miles was known for before his forays into electric music. This was also a few steps before Wayne would get more involved with fusion himself in Weather Report… “Speak No Evil” is a great sixties Jazz album, looking back but contemporary in the best ways, sporting a talented mix of players. -Wade