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New Music Friday: Our Top 8 Albums for April 16th

New Music Friday this week from The Living, Masabumi Kikuchi, James Holvay, Robert Cotter and more courtesy of The Vinyl District.

The Vinyl District

New Music Friday Release Picks:

Natural Information Society with Evan Parker, descension (Out of Our Constrictions)

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Formed in Chicago by multi-instrumentalist Joshua Abrams in 2010, the Natural Information Society on this 2LP features Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Mikel Patrick Avery on drums, and Lisa Alvarado on harmonium and effects, with Abrams on guembri and British saxophone titan Evan Parker completing the lineup of 7/9/2019, captured live in London at Cafe OTO as they explore the possibilities of one piece for 75 minutes. Naturally, it’s divided across four sides of vinyl, but in an interesting twist, also into four mp3s, which formulates a digital experience that’s a little like listening to the first CD edition of Coltrane’s Om (where the vinyl fadeout-rise up was retained). This might seem like an odd digression, but not so much when Coltrane’s impact on Parker is considered. His breath tangles with Stein are simply magnificent (indeed, evoking Trane and Dolphy), but it’s the incessant groove (with ties the Chicago House) and Alvarado’s wonderful contribution that enhances the unique flavor. A       

Christine Ott, Time to Die

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Ott’s skills as a multi-instrumentalist and composer are well-established, both through her solo albums (this is her fourth overall) and more recently in the side-project duo Snowdrops with Mathieu Gabry; earlier in her career, Ott contributed extensively to Yann Tiersen’s band. For Time to Die, she sings and plays piano, harp, and the Ondes Martenot (something of a signature instrument for her), along with adding percussion, Jupiter8, timpani, tubular bells, monotron and vibraphone. Gabry also contributes on a variety of instruments, and it’s the spoken voice of Casey Brown that’s heard in the opening title-track (reading a “beloved cinematic text” I shan’t spoil). Offered as a sequel to Ott’s 2016 LP Only Silence Remains, this record’s stylistic range is appealingly wide, beginning in a dark ambient-electronic zone and gradually drifting into assorted modes of modern classical, and with particular emphasis on her skills as a pianist. Although this isn’t a soundtrack (Gizeh calls it a “musical fresco in eight chapters”), Ott’s strengths as a film composer do shine through. A- 


V/A, Sound Storing Machines: The First 78rpm Records from Japan, 1903-1912

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(Sublime Frequencies)

The output of Sublime Frequencies is reliably captivating, and this set is no exception, the third in a series devoted to early recordings from Asia, all compiled by Robert Millis of the Climax Golden Twins. The prior volumes are The Crying Princess: 78rpm Records from Burma and Scattered Melodies: Korean Kayagum Sanjo, both released in 2013, and of the three, this set reaches back the farthest. Flat disc recording (as opposed to Edison-style cylinders) had only been in existence for a few years prior to the timeframe of this LP/ CD, so the audio quality isn’t optimal as surface noise is abundant. But I somehow doubt that anybody excited to hear these offerings will be too bothered by the rough ambience. No doubt many will welcome it. As Millis observes in his notes, the haze of surface noise intensifies the aura of strangeness. Amongst the most unusual are two by Suenaga Togi with the Imperial Household Orchestra, but the overall value easily eclipses the weird. A 

V/A, MIEN (YAO) – Canon Singing in China, Vietnam, Laos

Recorded and produced by Laurent Jeanneau aka Kink Gong, this LP offers three vocal duos, Keo and Na (from Laos), Deng Fu Mei and Zhang Wu Mei (from China) and Yang Chun Jin and Yang Bao Cheng (also from China), plus one track by Gap Choun (from Vietnam) that combines singing with considerable percussive clatter and bash. Succinctly, the Yao are hill tribes residing in the countries of the title, and the Mien are the largest branch of the Yao. While the vocal style doesn’t vary all that much across these pieces, the nearly 20 minutes of Keo and Na (sequenced first) becomes quite hypnotic as it progresses and is further enhanced by its nature as a field recording. There is birdsong (very welcome), but also at a few points a low hum that injects a mysterious tension into the scheme of things, at least until it becomes apparent that it might just be a distant motorbike. Due to its prominent rhythmic component, I kinda dig the Gap Choun piece the best, but nothing captured here is the slightest bit disappointing. A-    

Robert Cotter, Missing You

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There has been a lot of misty-eyed remembrance and lamentation over the loss of what once constituted the record biz, and that’s wholly understandable. But don’t let’s forget that labels were often mismanaged through ineptness and were sometimes even specifically intended to fail as tax write-offs. That’s the story of Tiger Lily, which pressed up but didn’t distribute Robert Cotter’s Missing You in 1976. Naturally, most victims of this egregiousness were no great shakes, but they still deserved a fair crack at record sales. But Missing You is an exception in qualitative terms, delivering funky R&B with touches of disco and even a few jazzy flourishes. Cotter is a sturdy singer with range to match the stylistic variety on display, but what really puts it over is the Big Apple Band, which featured Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards, Tony Thompson and Robert Sabino, all future members of Chic. Much of this connects like confident first steps enhanced by budgetary tightness, but I frankly wasn’t prepared for the jazzy psychedelia of finale “Come On With It.” B+ 

James Holvay, “Sweet Soul Song”

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(Mob Town)

Here’s a delightful release that arrived out of nowhere. Holvay’s a Chicago guy whose biggest success came a songwriter, having penned “Kind of a Drag” (and three more hits) for The Buckinghams. But he was also a singer and guitarist (indeed, a founding member of Chi-town act the MOB), and as the title of this 5-song CD EP illuminates, he adored the sound of ’60s Soul. It was after hearing Sharon Jones, Amy Winehouse and other acts from the neo-soul scene that Holvay was inspired to write and record this fresh batch of tunes, which radiate like unearthed nuggets from the vaults of Atlantic. But to put a finer point on it, Holvay is cultivating a buoyant feel-good style with direct ties to Windy City figures Curtis Mayfield, Major Lance and Gene Chandler, all three namechecked in the title-track (additionally, the CD’s cover recreates Chandler’s ’64 LP Just Be True). However, let me stress that “Sweet Soul Song” is more than just an admirable hat-tip. It’s strongly-written, full-bodied stuff, and laden with crisp guitar. Soul fans, don’t sleep on this one. A-   

Masabumi Kikuchi, Hanamichi

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(Red Hook)

Pianist Masabumi “Poo” Kikuchi passed away on July 6, 2015, with this solo set his final recording. Born in Tokyo in 1939, Kikuchi played with a wide range of top-tier jazz talent, from Lionel Hampton to (privately) Miles Davis to Sonny Rollins to a trio with Gary Peacock and Paul Motion. In his notes for Hanamichi, Kevin Whitehead mentions that in his later years, Kikuchi mostly free improvised, but for these recordings, producer and founder of the Red Hook label Sun Chung guided him toward playing tunes, including two versions of “My Favorite Things,” sequenced consecutively but recorded on different days. This might read like an attempt to rein Kikuchi in, or at the very least to smooth out a difficult recording process (there were health problems to contend with, amongst other issues) but what it ultimately achieved was a showcase of the pianist’s brilliance from the abstract to the melodic, or in the first of those “My Favorite Things,” from the beauty of that melody, personalized, into the thunderous deep weeds. Overall, a terrific final statement. A-     

The Living, 1982

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This archival recording will surely be of interest for punk collectors and Guns N’ Roses fans, as it features a 17 year-old Duff McKagen playing guitar on seven tracks, all of which he is credited with writing. Now, it is worth noting that the “Here’s ___’s high school punk band” impulse regularly offers results that while of historical interest still fall short of the essential. But this set, if not quite an indispensable acquisition, is better than most, partly because McKagen had prior experience in the Fastbacks and the Vains (he also played in The Fartz and 10 Minute Warning before moving on to GNR), though obviously one guitarist doesn’t make a band. The other members of The Living are vocalist John Conte, bassist Todd Fleischman and drummer Greg Gilmore, who was later part of Mother Love Bone. Another positive factor is a lack of hardcore genericism, though the ragged intensity of the songs reinforces The Living as fitting openers for DOA. If nothing revelatory occurs on 1982, I did listen to six consecutive times without getting fidgety, which is no small achievement. B+

Check out The Vinyl District for more music reviews and try out their free GPS-based Record Store Locator App for iPhone & Android!

Missed last week’s music picks? Go to New Music Friday: Our Top 9 Albums for April 9th.

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