Sha: Monbijou

Rating: 8.6/10
Rated as
: Album / Live
Album Status
: Genre Recommendation
Released: 2021
Recorded: 2020
Specific Genre: ECM Style Jazz, Minimal Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz
Undertones
: Avant-Garde Jazz, Post-Minimalism, Modern Classical
Label: Ronin Rhythm Records

1 Intro 2 Mon Bijou 3 MM

Echolocation for emotion

Did you ever hear someone enjoy the space around them? You can now. Recorded in the vast hollow interior of the box girder bridge Monbijou in Berne (CH), Sha’s solo debut – just him on bass clarinet, some sax work – lures you into a literal acoustic and social off-space.

The interior of a box girder has no uses. It has no function other than to create an exterior, supporting the structure of the bridge, carrying its traffic. The dimly, if at all lit 300-plus meter corridor of the Monbijou bridge is not a space open to the public, it isn’t even a room by the social meaning of that word. It is cold, it is dark and about the only noise in there is the faint booming of the motorized traffic washing over it. Sha’s decision to record there, gives away some clues what this kind of solo performance has to deliver in even a more familiar setting.

There are no co-musicians to react to here, there is no audience to the proceedings: Who lives under a bridge? In a way, the cavern echoes and the sound of the motor vehicles replace a band and audience on this record, or at least that musical sense of community achieved through exploring solitude. The structure of the piece, with long stretches of improvisation, gives Sha the option to incorporate the outer-world noises into the composition – that is, to use the bridge and its space as a partner for interplay. This becomes acutely evident almost seven minutes into the centre piece, where Sha floats on an ebbing drone, momentarily lost in an eastern-influenced melody – and a rumbling thunder (by a truck or some deep-sea leviathan) crashes loudly into a pause, perfectly timed, causing Sha to spiral into the first of two frantic parts, built around the beat of tone-hole slaps. This coincidence and its sound couldn’t be replicated in any planned way, and the effect is stunning.

Monbijou consists of several distinct vignettes, composed throughout the years and woven into a 30-minute suite. They are part of the same drift. Their coherence is partly due to the monumental setting, of course, but stems mostly from the spacious but clearly articulated sound Sha developed for the performance in the bridge.

This sound keeps the technical gadgetry to a minimum. Sha does use loops, but they mostly consist of a slight drone that only seems to emphasize the faint wave-crashing of the traffic above. A similar effect of tidal movement – ever moving, never changing – is created through the alternation of long, diligently structured phases of circular breathing with pensive, melodic parts, stretching out into the cavities of the bass clarinet and the surrounding tunnel.

While the former compositional elements can become almost hectic and flickering with their hypnotic arpeggios, sharp clicks and percussive slap tongue technique (especially spectacular in the third act of the ‘suite’), the latter create the emotional foundation of the album: whenever the soothing, meditative drone ebbs away, the invisible world above the bridge responds from a distance. While the very idea of a solo performance might evoke images of an internal monologue, Monbijou reaches outwards and is essentially a work about the hidden space around us, as defined by the sounds we make. Echolocation for emotion, if you will, beaming through a 300-meter instrument and its inhabitant.

PS. This text is basically the online „liner notes“ Sha uses on bandcamp etc. I conceived that text as a review from the beginning, even though it has a sort of PR-function, I guess. It’s just a really excellent live album, check it out.

See https://roninrhythmrecords.bandcamp.com/album/monbijou

Jimi Hendrix: Live Isle of Wight ’70

Rating: 5.9/10
Rated as
: Archival / Live Album
Album Status
: Obsolete
Released: 1991
Recorded: 1970
Specific Genre: Psychedelic Rock
Main Genre: Rock
Undertones
: Blues Rock, Hard Rock
Label: Polydor

1 Intro / God Save the Queen 2 Message to Love 3 Voodoo Child (Slight Return) 4 Lover Man 5 Machine Gun 6 Dolly Dagger 7 Red House 8 In From the Storm 9 New Rising Sun

… and the man with the guitar!

Note: this review and rating refers exclusively to the extended yet incomplete Live Isle of Wight ’70 1991 re-issue.

This is not a bad or boring entry in the never-ending stream of live-Hendrix releases. It’s just that there are so many live releases, and so many issues, re-issues and re-re-issues of so many concerts that there are bound to be better performances captured elsewhere, statistically speaking. As some of Hendrix’ live works are pretty frustrating though, this specific version of the Isle of Wight concert still holds up as one of the comparably decent live albums. There are numerous versions of this with wildly differing content, so watch out for the specific tracklist of prospective acquisitions. This CD is a heavily edited and shortened version, obviously going for the approach to deliver the less erratic versions of the set, and even go as far as to edit „Machine Gun“ from 22 down to 12 minutes. This is neither the original six-track LP version Isle of Wight released in 1971, nor the complete concert Blue Wild Angel, released 2002/2004: It falls in between the two, as it is longer and more satisfyingly representative than the short 1971-version, but it’s not the whole ordeal, skipping historically (if not musically) interesting bits like the „Sgt. Pepper“-opening.

This is a typical release of the CD-era: doubling the run-time of the Vinyl-release, aiming for an actual “concert” experience, while containing the unfocused concert with Hendrix disgruntled by technical problems and unwilling to play his „old numbers“. Hendrix often complained about similar things on stage, sometimes more, sometimes less jokingly. Here, you can really tell that the stoned rock festival environment held him back from delivering the kind of music he was interested in, and he hates it. Weirdly, this might be my favourite constellation of his co-musicians – in theory: Billy Cox on bass is simply groovier than the (otherwise excellent) Noël Redding, and while Buddy Miles contributes to my favourite Hendrix-live album, the Band of Gypsys (1970), as much as Cox and Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell’s nervous hyper-jazz-hard-rock percussion will always be the perfect counterpart to Hendrix’ more experimental musings. But the two don’t mix and no one here lives up to their potential.

Anyhow, this particular issue is strictly not a recommended buy anymore. If you’re not enough of a Hendrix-fan to want the complete Blue Wild Angel, this edited version won’t add anything to your experience.

Captain Beefheart: Magnetic Hands. Live in the UK 72–80

Rating: 6.7/10
Rated as
: Collection / Live
Compilation Status
: Must for Fans
Released: 2002
Recorded: 1972–1980
Specific Genre: Experimental Rock, Blues Rock
Main Genre: Rock
Undertones
: Blues, Psychedelic Rock, Avant-Prog
Label: Viper

1 Click Clack 2 Old Black Snake 3 Grow Fins 4 Peon 5 Golden Birdies 6 Electricity 7 Sugar Mama 8 Orange Claw Hammer 9 Gimme Dat Harp Boy 10 Dalis Car 11 Beatle Bones ’n‘ Smokin‘ Stones 12 Flavor Bud Living 13 Nowadays a Womans Gotta Hit a Man 14 Abba Zaba 15 Hothead 16 Safe as Milk 17 Drop Out Boogie 18 Kandy Korn

You know I’m gonna do exactly what I want

These are previously unavailable live cuts of Beefheart gone wild from seven shows between 1972 and 1980. While these are all tinny and unequalised bootleg recordings, through all the hissing and static, there’s enough left to let you hear these must have been truly magnetising performances.

There is no track here where the terrible sound quality truly ruins the aura for me – even the jurassic cackling of “Sugar Mama”, stomping along at eight minutes, is a bit like finding a dinosaur fossil: not the real living thing, but how cool is that skull? Besides the tracks that are relatively tolerable to the ear and well-performed (a fierce „Grow Fins“, „Nowadays a Woman’s Gotta Hit a Man“ and a deadpan „Drop Out Boogie“), there’s a mind-blowing definite instrumental (!) version of „Electricity“ – six ferocious minutes of pure blues-goes-prog fury delving into a riff section that wasn’t on the album cut and worth every cent of this whole CD. A huge bass, barb-wire guitar riffs and wild harp jamming.

While these are different incarnations of the Magic Band, you couldn’t really tell from their sound and repertoire: Abstract instrumentals, croaky interludes of blues shouting, hard hitting psych-rockers. There’s some entertaining stage banter, but mainly this is interesting because of its raw and unpolished quality. The lengthy primitive blues stomp of „Sugar Mama“ is interesting in this aspect as Beefheart wouldn’t do this particular thing on record after 1972 (or more precisely, after the Mirror Man sessions) anymore. Not that it is a great blues or any such thing, it’s just intriguing to hear how he gets the audience to clap along to the rhythm as all the instruments stop and he dives into a witch doctor blues persona, working his own voice like a synthesizer, squeeling, murmuring and chanting to an audibly mesmerized audience.

One note about the repertoire: The compilation shows us a programme of early 1970s material, with actually just one track dating from later than his 1972-albums (it’s „Hothead“), even though more than half of the tracks date from perfomances later than 1975. Now, given the fact that he took a forced break from releasing between 1974 to 1978, this isn’t really surprising. Still: Seven songs from a show late in 1980, meaning this is the Ice Cream For Crow band, and, except for „Hothead“, they basically play Safe As Milk . And: It’s all great! Even the sound quality for the 1980-show is quite decent. Anyhow, it is absolutely worth seeking out for fans, to get a picture of live-Beefheart during his lost mid-1970s period, to get some unholy blues shants, and to be blown awa by that “Electricity”-take.

Trivia: I don’t know if the two things are related, but the amazing (and definite) other live album available titled I’m Gonna Do What I Wanna Do might have taken its title from an incident here: After „Flavor Bud Living“, a guy from the audience calls out for „Glider“ (just pause a minute and imagine being at a Beefheart-concert. Is that what you’d request? No offense though, „Glider“ is great), to which the Captain replies: „You know I’m gonna do exactly what I want!“

Recording dates: Tracks 1-5 (1972); tracks 6-7 (1973); tracks 8-11 (1975); tracks 12-18 (1980).

Can: Sacrilege

Rating: 2.6/10
Rated as
: Album / Remixes
Album Status
: for Completists
Released: 1997
Specific Genres: Downtempo, Drum&Bass, House, Ambient House, Progressive House
Main Genre: Electronic, Electronic Dance Music
Label: Spoon

1.1 Brian Eno – PNOOM (Moon Up Mix) 1.2 Sonic Youth with Wharton Tiers – Spoon (Sonic Youth Mix) 1.3 François Kevorkian & Rob Rives – Blue Bag (Inside Paper) (Toroid Mix) 1.4 A Guy Called Gerald – Tango Whiskyman (A Guy Called Gerald Mix) 1.5 Bruce Gilbert – TV Spot (Bruce Gilbert Mix) 1.6 U.N.K.L.E. – Vitamin C (U.N.K.L.E. Mix) 1.7 The Orb – Halleluwah (Halleluwa Orbus 2) 1.8 Sunroof – Oh Yeah (Sunroof Mix)
2.1 Hiller/Kaiser/Leda – Unfinished (Hiller/Kaiser/Leda Mix) 2.2 Carl Craig – Future Days (Blade Runner Mix) 2.3 Westbam – …And More (Westbam Mix) 2.4 Pete Shelley & Black Radio – Father Cannot Yell (Pete Shelley/Black Radio Mix) 2.5 System 7 – Dizzy Spoon (System 7 Mix) 2.6 3P – Yoo Doo Right (3P Mix) 2.7 Air Liquide – Flow Motion (Air Liquide Mix) 2.8 Secret Knowledge – Oh Yeah (Secret Knowledge Mix)

Paralysis and peer-recognition

Well, if your band directly influenced any given genre from ambient techno to tribal house or zoological worldbeat-funk to the point of receiving co-credit for each without being reducible to a single convention of those genres, a collection like this was always bound to happen: Who was hip in their respective electronic genre three decades after the big bang? Who gets to serenade the ancient gods of groove psychedelia, the creators of kraut-funk, the elders of rhythm&bleeps El Dorado? And as rituals rarely ask: Why? Of course, these kinds of tribute albums tend to be one long parade of performing and out-performing Harold Bloom‘s anxiety of influence: How to pay tribute to a band as unassailed by time as Can without sounding like an idiot fan? Without sounding like a trie-hard? Or like wannabe-above the situation?

But who cares about these questions if the remixes are exciting in any way? Let’s try to treat it as if the tribute-framing wouldn’t add the element of showcasing (the double-disc does after all feature some of the most prominent electronica names of the late 1990s): While most of these remixes simply have no idea what to do with the source material (in a mix of paralysis and peer-recognition: why remix something that already does everything I do?), this or that track here finds some way out of the project’s conceptual obstructions: „Yoo Doo Right“ by 3P Mix applies a sort of downtempo-esque ambient wooziness à la Moby to the piece and successfully fuses the original’s paranoid hypno-grooves with breezy synths and bright moods: this is an actually transformative piece. Congrats! And Sunroof’s „Oh Yeah“ does the opposite, it recognizes that a Liebezeit-beat can’t be exactly topped and goes with the simplest solution. No messing with the structure, no extra-ideas – just take the original and paint brightly over it, flesh out some drum&bass beats (that the piece arguably already had, in a way) and basically leave it at that. The synths soar, that bass fucking bounces and everything’s good! At least good enough.

But if you want to hear over-ambitiousness gone completely wrong, check out the „Spoon“-remix. It tries to cram everything grand about a Can-track (hypnotics, freak-outs, inner space texture, agile avant-excitement) into the mix with no sense of improvising dramaturgy – it’s a completely helpless approach. And since most other pieces here sound preprogrammed, like paint-by-structure, this collected huge amounts of dust in the last two decades, coming off as a contractual obligation by the involved genre stereotypes.

Can: Tago Mago [40th Anniversary Edition Bonus CD]

Rating: 7.1/10
Rated as
: Archival / Live
Album Status
: Must for Fans
Released: 2011
Recorded: 1972
Specific Genre: Krautrock
Main Genre: Experimental Rock, Rock
Undertones
: Ambient, Free Improvisation, Psychedelic Rock
Label: Spoon 40SPOON6/7

[Disc 1: 1.1 Paperhouse 1.2 Mushroom 1.3 Oh Yeah 1.4 Halleluhwah 1.5 Aumgn 1.6 Peking O 1.7 Bring Me Coffee or Tea]
Disc 2: 2.1 Mushroom 2.2 Spoon 2.3 Halleluhwah

Love me! You gotta love me!

Tago Mago is – at least in recurring intervals – my favourite album. But let’s talk about the live bonus material from the 40th-anniversary edition. The bonus CD with the live material contains three tracks from a live performance in 1972. Unsurprisingly, the sound quality isn’t quite up to snuff – aside from being murky, especially Karoli’s guitar suffers from being buried in the mix, sounding as if he played from down the hallway. Well, we do with what we can get. I’ll go into the details, but what you get it is what you want and expect: Anxious, extremely rhythm-driven nightmares, amazing examples of free form tension-and-release, some chaotic nonsense, irresistible grooves: bleak, hypnotic, riveting. Well, it’s Can. What did you expect?

Two main points: The rather murky sound quality doesn’t really damage the enterprise, because it fits the claustrophobic, future-noir sound. But besides a riveting second track and an at least interesting mini-version of „Halleluhwah“, there is nothing to learn about Can here that can’t be experienced as good or better on other available live material. Secondly: The reason to get this is the 30-minute second track „Spoon“ which features everything you want in a Can jam: disorientation, paranoia, exploration and a beautiful, ethereal ending in an ambient-style hinting at 1973’s Future Days. Only half of this jam is available on The Lost Tapes (as is the less interesting opener „Mushroom“, a rare jam where they lose focus and decide to run the thing into the ground). The third track is a brief nine-minute „Halleluhwah“, in an interesting version where everything happens slightly too fast, it plays like a one-act-version of the epic original and fades out before the climax – I can only assume due to some technical error or scrambled tapes.

PS. The cover art hasn’t been changed. The photograph you see on the cover is a detachable carton sleeve to protect the gatefold vinyl replica inside, featuring the famous original head and is very nicely done all in all. Complete with several interesting liner notes by fawning fellow musicians but little historical information, it is a beautifully made reissue, less informative than it could be.

Jimmy Johnson: Tobacco Road

Rating: 8.1/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status
: Genre Contender
Released: 1978
Recorded: 1977
Specific Genre: Chicago Blues, Soul Blues
Main Genre: Electric Blues, Blues
Label: MCM Blues Records

1 Long About Midnight 2 Strange Things Happening 3 Look on Yonder Wall 4 I’m Crazy About My Baby 5 Tobacco Road 6 Breaking Up Somebody’s Home 7 Sweet Little Angel 8 Three Times Chicago

Can’t control the vibration, after all I didn’t make it myself

Most discographies will allude to 1979’s Johnson’s Whack as Jimmy Johnson’s first album, or might be referring to qualifications like his ‚domestic‘ debut and whatnot, but this little gem from 1978 (recorded 1977) is Johnson’s actual debut (and was issued in France – and he did record half an LP in 1975, on the same French label). At fifty years of age, Johnson suffered the fate of many great bluesmen of the postwar generation: important as a studio session for decades, important to the sound of the soulful Chicago blues of bigger names, and too late into the game now to make a big splash for himself.

On Tobacco Road, Johnson sports the melismatic, exhilarated singing style of B.B. King and a not unsimilar guitar technique than another King (Albert) – somewhere between an articulate sting and a bending, organic wail. But he is distinct from both as Johnson goes sneakily funky where BB King goes smooth, he goes raw where King goes schmaltzy and he kicks into a dryly cool, rugged groove where King faceplants in overexcited horn sections. While this somehow got a „live“ tag, there clearly is no audience present (at some points, you can hear what amounts to background studio chatter), so this is probably closer to a studio session which greatly benefits the slightly ramshackle, laid-back couch-groove of the whole set. In terms of cool Chicago soul blues, this is not unlike what Earl Hooker did in the mid-1960s, but with a jazz-informed drummer and a really steady rhythm guitarist supplying a comforting background for Johnson to take off from. Watch out for some funky little drum fills and some great breakdowns which showcase Johnson’s vocals – especially on the hurt, grief-stricken yet somehow defiantly energetic showstopper „Feel Like Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home“.

As electric soul blues goes, this is a highly recommended set precisely because it moves in areas somewhat out of fashion at the time – it isn’t self-consciously trying to be overly theatrical and doesn’t fall into any of the flashy traps of the genre, it’s just some bloke, some beers, and some emotive, low-key blues.

Lightnin' Hopkins: Ground Hog Blues – "Sittin In With" Sessions

Rating: 3.6/10
Rated as
: Collection
Compilation Status
: Obsolete
Released: 2004
Recorded: 1947–1951
Specific Genre: Acoustic Texas Blues
Main Genre: Acoustic Blues, Blues
Label: Universe [Italy]

Disc 1: 1.1 Coffee Blues 1.2 Gotta Move 1.3 Freight Train 1.4 Don’t Think I’m Crazy 1.5 Dirty House Blues 1.6 Everything Happens to Me 1.7 Cairo Blues [by Lil‘ Son Jackson] 1.8 Bad Whiskey [by Lil‘ Son Jackson] 1.9 Ground Hog Blues [by Lil‘ Son Jackson] 1.10 Automobile Blues 1.11 Got to Go [Zolo Go] 1.12 Unsuccessful Blues 1.13 Rollin‘ Woman Blues 1.14 Big Mama Jump (Little Mama Blues) 1.15 Ida Mae 1.16 Shining Moon 1.17 Give Me Central (Hello Central) 1.18 Contrary Mary 1.19 Bald Headed Woman
Disc 2: 2.1 One Kind Favor (See that My Grave Is Kept Clean) 2.2 I Wonder Why 2.3 Tap Dance Boogie 2.4 Down to the River 2.5 New Short Haired Woman 2.6 Broken Hearted Blues 2.7 New York Boogie 2.8 Long Way from Texas 2.9 Mad as I Can Be [Tell Me Boogie] 2.10 I’m Beggin‘ You 2.11 Why Did You Get Mad at Me? 2.12 Home in the Woods [No Good Woman] 2.13 Praying Ground Blues 2.14 Back Home Boogie 2.15 Studio Chatter/My Heart to Weep 2.17 New Worried Life Blues 2.18 I’ll Never Forget the Day [You Do Too]

John Lee Hooker told me one day, he said: if you don’t get it like this you’re wrong

Let’s see, there is a lot to unpack here. This is advertised as the sessions for the „Sittin‘ In With“ label, issued by an obscure Italian label („Universe“) focusing on vintage reissues. And while a slight majority of the tracks in fact stems from these 1951 sessions (in New York and Houston), there are some tracks that Hopkins made in 1948/49 for the Gold Star Records label (1.10–1.16, with 1.14 „Big Mama Jump“ actually from 1947). Several of the tracks were issued later, under labels such as Mainstream, Time, Jax and Mercury.

This makes some sense: Producer Bob Shad had founded numerous labels, Sittin‘ In With, Time, Jax, Mainstream and others, then later sold Sittin‘ In With to Mercury (under which umbrella he started EmArcy, so Bob Shad turns out to be… something of a giant. He is also the grandfather of Judd Apatow. Judd’s sister Mia Apatow manages the label’s properties nowadays). And Shad issued records under his labels that were licensed from and had been earlier recorded by the Gold Star label. This explains the numerous labels involved – they all had something to do with Bob Shad and all the recordings were made – at least very roughly – during contiguous sessions.

This is where the good news for this compilation stop because to say that the obscure „Universe“ label here did a shoddy job would be an understatement. Let’s see: First, there is no rhyme or reason to what made this double disc from these sessions. These are neither the complete Sittin‘ In With sessions nor is there are a comprehensive approach to the sublabel tracks. Secondly, here is no sense at all in the few scattered Gold Star tracks, no comprehensiveness, no session cohesion, no chronology. Lots of holes. Furthermore, some of the information and track titles are plain wrong („Somebody’s Got to Go“ here is a different number called „Zolo Go“ or „Zologo“). Worst of all, contrary to the information given here, three of the tracks were not recorded by Lightnin‘ Hopkins at all: „Cairo Blues“, „Bad Whiskey“, and, in a major plot twist, the bloody [i]title track[/i] „Ground Hog Blues“ from 1948/49 (for Gold Star). Why? Gold Star also housed a young aspiring bluesman called Lil‘ Son Jackson (check out his discography for reference), who could mimic Hopkins to a tee as he learned the blues from his mentor and who is often lumped together on large Texas blues compilations alongside Hopkins and others.

This kind of reckless editing gives me fits. Even worse: This collection is completely obsolete, as you can get the entire sessions elsewhere, with no holes and no need for scavenging needlessly scattered tracks on other collections. The definite one being JSP’s All the Classics: 1946–1951. In fairness, that huge collection for some reason misses „Tap Dance Boogie“ and „You Do Too (I’ll Never Forget the Day)“, both of which are here. But you can get those and more on serious collection like Hello Central – The Best of Lightnin‘ Hopkins (which incidentally has some tracks missing on All the Classics).

So, be all that as it may: This is an obsolete, borderline useless slapdash cheapo ragbag to which you should give no serious consideration. The music here of course is laidback, great acoustic and electric Texas blues, but the poor and careless research ruins the fun of owning this set with overall great music. There are numerous collections that are far more serious and superior. I also worry at night about the fact that this has become one of the more wide-spread compilations, but maybe I should know better.

John Coltrane: Ascension

Rating: 8.8/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status: Genre Classic
Released: 1966
Recorded: 1965
Specific Genre: Free Jazz, Spiritual Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz, Avant-Garde Jazz
Undertones
: Experimental Big Band
Label: Impulse!

1 Ascension (Edition II)
Bonus Tracks: 2 Ascension (Edition I)

Like a seagull thrown around by the tides

This is Coltrane’s „free jazz“-album which might alienate people who mainly go for his 1950s hard bop and ballads. Up to this point, Coltrane already had been flirting and entangled with avant-garde here and there, but this is the wedding announcement. If you listen to free jazz at all, I’d say this is the second record you should pick up (you can figure out the first for yourself). And, to exactly no one’s surprise, it’s great. The energy is amazing, makes you feel like a seagull thrown around by the tides, waves and winds, and I regularly find myself having gone through these 40 minutes without really noticing in the best way – this record sort of suspends my sense of time.

While free jazz shouldn’t make you „tune out“ mentally, you really don’t have a lot of listening „work“ to do here: The sheer, frenzied soul displayed by the very unusual set-up just carries you right through the piece. The performance of the (large) collective is so good it makes your brain forget that this is, at least supposedly, „cerebral“ music. It is also a very different approach compared to Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz: While that album was more of a thoroughly collective effort, Ascension follows a pretty tight structure that has ensemble and soloists alternating every few minutes in a specific order (everyone involved gets one solo, except Garrison and Davis on the double-basses get a duet). That’s not better or worse than Coleman’s stress on collective dynamics of development, but it does give you slightly more to hold on to structurally when you’re starting out in the genre. As the record that announced Coltrane‘s complete take-off into the stratosphere, it’s pretty bold and astounding in terms of full realisation – no „transitional“ aspects here.

Nils Petter Molvær: Khmer

Rating: 7.7/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status
: Backdoor Classic
Released: 1997
Specific Genre: Nu Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz, Jazz Fusion, Electronic
Undertones
: EDM, Breakbeat, Trip Hop, ECM Style Jazz
Label: ECM

1 Khmer 2 Tløn 3 Access/Song of Sand I 4 On Stream 5 Platonic Years 6 Phum 7 Song of Sand II 8 Exit

An explorative but very disciplined approach extending jazz into electronic music on equal terms

To me, this sounds like Tutu gone well – replacing tired old 1980s-funk with contemporary engery of trip hop and EDM. Obviously, Molvær‘s stylistic godfather regarding his trumpet sound is Miles Davis, especially Marcus Miller’s Davis – and quite openly so: The trumpet lick of „Platonic Years“ is the exact one that opens Davis’s Doo-Bop album with „Mystery“. While such a description should make me run for shelter, this release is actually quite terrific and (partially) makes me see even the lesser aspects of Davis’s synth-jazz era as a forerunner of successful outings of electronic and nujazz such as this.

Khmer is a primarily stylistic affair. The sound is crystal clear, dominated by Molvær‘s now piercing, now soothing trumpet, floating over mostly programmed (?) beats which range from ambient background to heavy thunder, bordering on wild outbreaks à la Massive Attack here and there. Distorted guitars and filtered cellos (?) add to an explorative but very disciplined approach extending jazz into electronic music on equal terms. Molvær adds an eastern element to the grooves (the tabla-like percussion on „On Stream“ sounds like a sample from an Indian raga) over which he supplies his druidic trumpet solos.

After the two mesmerizing, beat-and-crunched-guitar-driven openers and a great trip hop freakout on „Access/Song of Sand I“, the record gets dreamier and borderline ambient towards the middle, approaching Eno-territory on the mellow „Platonic Years“ and „Phum“. In a suite-like dramaturgy, the hypnotic beats of „Song of Sand II“ make an reappearance and the record glides away with „Exit“, less of a song and more of a coda. But what makes this work? Is it just the deliberate craftsmanship that adds layer on layer, creating an amazing array of musical details and nuances, rewarding a close listen? The true strength of this distorted and programmed approach to jazz is the fact that Molvær evokes yearning emotions mostly through timbre, swerving from heavy EDM beats to pure blissful melancholia to soothing inner landscapes of stalagmitical ice caves with astounding consistency.

The criticism Khmer draws is easily explained: It does feel like an approach that works for one album. This is too experimental and cerebral for „Café-del-Mar“-listeners, but too electronic and ‚easy‘ for jazz snobs. I like to see this as an advantage of Khmer. It’s thinkable to give this to totally different people such as trip hoppers, house-junkies, jazz aficionados and chill-sound-folks, with at least some of each group ending up liking it. As an icicle blazing through the European jazz scene in the late 1990s, it’s still a cold gust of wind more than twenty years later.

Otis Redding: The Very Best of Otis Redding

Rating: 8.6/10
Rated as
: Anthology
Compilation Status
: Decent Overview
Released: 2000
Recorded: 1962–1967
Specific Genre: Southern Soul
Main Genre: Soul, R&B
Undertones
: Deep Soul, Rhythm&Blues
Label: Atco

1.1 Respect 1.2 Try a Little Tenderness 1.3 Love Man 1.4 Shake 1.5 Mr. Pitiful 1.6 I Can’t Turn You Loose 1.7 Pain in My Heart 1.8 You Left the Water Running 1.9 My Lover’s Prayer 1.10 Tramp 1.11 Chained and Bound 1.12 That’s How Strong My Love Is 1.13 My Girl 1.14 Cigarettes and Coffee 1.15 It’s Growing 1.16 The Match Game 1.17 Nobody Know You (When You’re Down and Out) 1.18 I’m a Changed Man 1.19 Your One and Only Man 1.20 (Sittin‘ On) The Dock of the Bay
2.1 I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now) 2.2 These Arms of Mine 2.3 Hard to Handle 2.4 That’s What My Heart Needs 2.5 Security 2.6 Satisfaction 2.7 Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song) 2.8 The Happy Song (Dum Dum) 2.9 Come to Me 2.10 A Change is Gonna Come 2.11 Lovey Dovey 2.12 You Don’t Miss Your Water 2.13 I’ve Got Dreams to Remember 2.14 Down in the Valley 2.15 Just One More Day 2.16 You Made a Man Out of Me 2.17 Tell the Truth 2.18 For Your Precious Love 2.19 Free Me 2.20 I Love You More than Words Can Say

You know what, Otis? You’re country! –That’s all right!

Consumer Guide: This contains all 16 songs from The Very Best of Otis Redding (Rhino), shares 9 (of 16) with Rhino’s Volume 2 and gives you 15 songs that are present on neither release. It also features two songs, „Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down and Out“ and „You Made a Man Out of Me“, that are not present on the four-disc box set Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding – which in my view qualifies as a counter-argument against that „definitive“ in the title. These tracks are criminally overlooked on most other compilations claiming to be „essential“ or „definite“. While the former is a blues standard, the latter is a hypnotically upbeat and essential gem of Redding’s posthumous catalogue (otherwise available on The Immortal Otis Redding, 1968). This puts this double-disc in a weird place, having at least one song that was overlooked even on the box set. Of course it doesn’t compare to the box set or even The Original Album Series. Anyway – it is a better catch than other single or twofer discs, comparable to the slightly better Dreams to Remember: The Otis Redding Anthology, only to be outshone by box sets and album collections. Actually, the main lesson I learned by reviewing this is that the Otis! box set is only worthwhile for the three pre-fame tracks and the live disc – you’ll need to get his (official and posthumous) album output anyway not to miss a highlight. Well then.

Otis Redding is about energy. Maybe you like your Otis full of soul, maybe you like him danceable and fun, maybe you’re looking for a bluesy, rocking or sexually charged Otis. It’s all here, of course, and he’ll always give it the fullest. The curious thing about Redding is that his voice dominates the music while simultaneously mingling with the band’s instrumentation – especially with the impeccable and precise horn section, like an additional articulate and weird trombone. Especially in the end of the songs, when Redding has run out of lyrics and the fade-out starts, he regularly goes into a mode of soulful, passionate mumbling, continuing to spout the song’s taglines, thus keeping up the energy of the song and accompanying it to its end. With Otis, the song isn’t over until it’s been ran over by his own voice.

I also like the fact that Redding’s voice doesn’t fit the mellifluous, full and silky timbre of soul prototypes at all: It is pretty hoarse for the fact he’s a singer totally accepted by the mainstream, his technique relies on a phrasing that gives him just enough breath (as opposed to those soul singers that use the music mainly to prove how long they can hold a note), he drops into a coarse whisper now and then, even sounds restrained, just to come back with a lot of pressure in the next line, and so on – but there’s just so much substance to his performance. Clearly Mick Jagger’s role model as a singer, instead of say, the later Motown scene. Redding did blues-based soul and rhythm&blues, but he steered towards rock&roll (without recording a single song that would classify as such – even the Stones‘ „Satisfaction“ is made into a redding-fied shuffle here).

This twofer disc contains numerous classics. Don’t even bother with all the „My Girl“, all the „Tenderness“, the „Love Man“. Here we have the ultimate swag number „Hard to Handle“, which is the most concentrated dose of hyperbolic self-esteem boost containable in 140 seconds. Walking down the street listening to this, I have trouble not to stop in the middle of traffic shouting „PRETTYLITTLETHINGLEMMELIGHTYO’CANDLECOZMAMMAI’MSHO’HARDTOHANDLENOW(yes-i-am)!“ at pedestrians.

A double disc of Otis might become a little overbearing, but this is single-oriented music anyway. Check out the hilarious „Tramp“, a duet where the woman accuses Otis of being exactly that, where Otis runs out of arguments constantly and simply going to the chorus everytime he runs out of things to say: „Ooooh, I’m a lover! – Papa was!“ („Matter of opinion!“ goes Carla Thomas. Otis, oblivious, responds: „Mama was, too.“). The only reason John Belushi rather used Sam & Dave as a cultural and musical reference as opposed to Otis is because Belushi knew that bringing up the comparison to Redding would make his own performance seem listless. While Sam & Dave are soul’s ultimate expressive gospel stylists, Redding is just too heavy-weight and deep in the blues for anyone to tackle. He is one of the artists whose prime output transcends any kind of genre-preferences.

The track choice involves pickings from all his six studio albums as well as the from the four posthumous albums. It also contains all of the A-side of his US-singles during his lifetimes (and some more posthumous ones).

Pain in My Heart (1964) 1.7, 2.2, 2.4, 2.5
The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads (1965) 1.12, 1.11, 1.19, 2.18, 2.9, 1.5
Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965) 1.1, 2.10, 2.14, 2.1, 1.4, 1.13, 2.6, 2.12
„I Can’t Turn You Loose“ (1965 single) 1.6
The Soul Album (1966) 2.15, 1.15, 1.14, 1.17
Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul (1966) 2.7, 1.2, 1.9
King & Queen (1967) 1.10, 2.11
The Dock of the Bay (posth. 1968) 1.20, 2.20
The Immortal Otis Redding (posth. 1968) 2.13, 2.16, 2.3, 2.8
Love Man (posth. 1969) 1.3, 1.18, 2.19
Tell the Truth (posth. 1970) 1.16, 2.17
„You Left the Water Running“ (posth. 1976 single, rec. 1966) 1.8