The It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2020

The year-end lists are upon us again. Time for me to list out the ways I’m getting further away from the beaten path of popular music.

The worldwide pandemic of 2020 had a gigantic impact on the music industry. The most obvious of which was the cancelation of most tours. Artists were forced to figure out new revenue streams or at least better utilize the revenue streams they had. Many artists embraced live streaming to varying degrees of success. The ones who did it right were the ones who either partnered with someone to provide the streaming, or if they did it themselves made sure the quality was up to the standards of produced live content. A significant upswing of Patreon use helped many artists weather the lack of income storm and Bandcamp’s “Bandcamp Friday” once-a-month event where they waived their own fees had the double effect of raising awareness of bands who had merch as well as the long-tail effect of encouraging more regular use of Bandcamp. I was a fairly avid shopper at Bandcamp, but in 2020, I was buying multiple releases per month as acts I follow released Bandcamp-only albums or songs. As a result, my Best of 2020 includes some digital-only releases for the first time that I can remember.

From a vinyl perspective, 2020 was as screwed up as everything else due to COVID-19. Just ahead of the widespread lockdown one of the two plants that manufacture the lacquer plates required to start the process of creating the physical stampers burned down taking out about 70-80% of the lacquer plate availability. Add to that the fact that manufacturing in general was impacted either by the infection rate of employees interacting, or by limiting the number of employees when they could work, pretty much all release dates for vinyl were pushed way out. Add to that the fact that the US Postal Service suffered losses due to sorting facilities being limited as a kind of way to prevent mail in ballots for the 2020 primaries and the impact of COVID-19 cases with the employees, it’s a miracle any titles were released this year.

Record Store Day in April was delayed to June and then eventually re-tooled as three “RSD Drops” in August, September and October. Most of the titles for RSD in April were manufactured in 2019 in anticipation for the usual vinyl manufacturing delays surrounding the April event. As such, most of the big titles for that event came out as planned, with some titles being pulled out and released outside of the drops and some delayed to later Drop dates or Black Friday RSD (which happened as planned). RSD 2021 is slated for June 12th, presumably so that manufacturing can better deal with these restrictions. The other obvious reason for pushing the date out is that it is predicted that general availability of vaccines for COVID-19 should be out by then and the risk of going to a store would be lessened and as such, the stores can have a regular “big” event. The downside of it being in June is the temperatures are starting to get warmer and will increase the risk of warping the records both in shipping to the stores as well as any shipping for online purchases.

Here are my Top 20 releases from 2020 (in no particular order):

Jeff Parker – Suite for Max Brown Parker’s follow up to his brilliant 2016 album The New Breed finds him continuing the very contemporary blending of jazz and electronic elements. Fans of his work in Chicago Post Rock outfit Tortoise will find a lot to enjoy with this release and maybe will enjoy it more than the odd sidestep of 2016’s Catastrophist. Get Suite For Max Brown from Bandcamp.

Chicago Underground Quartet – Good Days – Speaking of Jeff Parker, the reunion of one of Rob Mazurek’s more notorious projects Chicago Underground Quartet– an expansion of his Chicago Underground Duo with drummer Chad Taylor whose last album was the self-titled release on Thrill Jockey back in 2001 (way out of print and copies go for over $75 when they show up…). This session was an unplanned reunion in that producer Chris Schlarb instigated by getting the individual musicians to come to L.A. to work on another project and then offered to produce a Chicago Underground Quartet record. The album was recorded in one day, but doesn’t sound thrown together due to the fact that most of the songs were actually composed for the other members prior to the recording.

Exploding Star Orchestra – Dimensional Stardust A third album with Jeff Parker on it and a second album from Rob Mazurek. I loved the 2010 release Stars Have Shapes on Chicago Blues and Jazz label Delmark. (Still in print!) Exploding Star Orchestra is an expansive interpretation of Mazurek’s experiments in abstract jazz. To me the best parts of Dimensional Stardust are when the band hits a groove, like on track 2, “A Wrinkle in Time Sets Concentric Circles Reeling”

Parker’s clean guitar runs run counterpoint to the horns on this track which lends a lot of complexity for the listener to follow through the various musical strands of the work. The flute from Nicole Mitchell is fantastic and adds a fluttering beauty to the proceedings. Very much recommended for fans of Thrill Jockey bands.

Tame Impala – The Slow Rush – I honestly kind of forgot that this was a 2020 release! Some of that might be that it came out in early February, but also that a couple of tracks had been floating around for a while. “Borderline” came out in April of 2019! I picked up the indie exclusive green vinyl version of this from Ragged Records in Rock Island, IL. The kind of pissy thing about this vinyl release was they didn’t provide a download with it and there wasn’t a good way to get a download of it. Now, you can either buy it from Amazon, or if you buy the vinyl release from Amazon, you can do the “Auto Rip” download, so that is a good option, now.

My solution to this back in February was to buy a new CD of it on eBay from a seller who seemed to have a grey market source for a lot of new titles. These shipped from Asia even though the seller was from Massachusetts. Because the shipping took so long, the seller provided a download of the CD as well! I doubt any part of this was legal, strictly speaking. But, the CD I got was in shrink and included all of the CD artwork which was a calendar due to the theme of the album of being a year. That calendar artwork is not part of the vinyl release, incidentally.

Matt Wilson Orchestra – When I Was A WriterMatt Wilson was part of the seminal Minneapolis band Trip Shakespeare along with his brother Dan Wilson. Trip Shakespeare made the leap to a major label in the early 90’s where they ultimately ended breaking up. Dan Wilson and John Munson formed Semisonic of “Closing Time” fame. Dan would go on to pen songs for the likes of Adele, and Semisonic has reformed in 2020. Matt Wilson joined Twin Cities band Polara briefly and also released one solo record in 1998 and also formed The Twilight Hours with Munson. Matt Wilson’s latest project “Matt Wilson Orchestra” represents a return to songwriting for Wilson after a break. The “Orchestra” is made up of largely acoustic instruments and heavenly vocal harmonies. The lineup of instruments includes banjo and harp, as odd as that seems, but it totally works here and really comes as close to what I think Trip Shakespeare might have sounded like in 2020 as anything. The vocal harmonies recall The Mamas and the Papas. An all around gorgeous record and really should be on more peoples’ radars. You can order the CD/LP/Download from Wilson’s new label Pravda Records HERE.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Reunions Jason Isbell was quoted somewhere (I can’t find it at the moment) that his goal is to write songs that feel like the songs we heard on the radio years ago. To that end, I think he has achieved his goal. Isbell’s particular take on country and rock (he’s considered Americana, but these days I feel like he is really just rock to me, maybe in the same way The Eagles are really a rock band, even though they have “Desperado” and “Seven Bridges Road” in their catalog). Recognizing the tough position that brick and mortar record stores were in due to the pandemic, he released Reunions early to record stores in a special “Dreamsicle” orange pressing that came with a print of the album art and an art print of his 1959 “Red Eye” Les Paul done by Iowa artist Karl Haglund. This was a constant soundtrack this summer as I worked on my landscaping as a distraction from not being able to do anything out of the home.

TWINS – Dream On – Cedar Falls, IA band TWINS came back with a new album and new sound in 2020. Known primarily as a power pop band based on their guitars, hooks and harmonies of their first three records, the four years between Square America and Dream On saw the band change their lineup and gave lead singer and lyricist Joel Sires a chance to dig through his personal record crates to find inspiration in Springsteen, Mellencamp and Steve Earle. The resulting record represents a welcome maturity in the band and Sires flexes his lyric craft opening the door to his first solo release which comes out this year. Read my review at Little Village.

Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes – What Kinda MusicTom Misch got his start as a Soundcloud celebrity and released a few records under his own label. For his Blue Note Records debut, he partners with drummer Yussef Dayes to create what I think is the best example of what Blue Note Records should be in the new century. A blend of nouveau ideas about the landscape of music and jazz tonality. Misch is young enough to claim John Mayer as an influence, and the guitars on this album owe a debt to Mayer, but more than that, the album draws from Hip Hop and electronic music. In that regard it fits in with the likes of Thundercat and Kamasi Washington. The lyrics on What Kinda Music are a bit shallow so the tales of a tortured artist are not here, and honestly this would have kept this album off of a shorter list. But, the album sounds great and I found myself going back to this and his Mix Tape 2 album quite a bit in the last quarter of 2020.

Reno Bo – You Can See It All From HereReno Bo has been somewhat quietly cranking out brilliant rock records for about ten years. As a sideman he’s worked with the likes of Albert Hammond Jr. (of The Strokes) and Brendan Benson, and has been pretty busy in that capacity, but I anxiously await his solo releases. For his 2020 album You Can See It All From Here he returns with a sound that to me really reminds me of Tom Petty and Matthew Sweet (particularly “Like A Stone”). Bo is part of the Cabin Down Below band which holds Tom Petty tribute shows, so that isn’t probably far from the influences he would claim.

Monophonics – It’s Only Us – For Monophonic’s fourth album, the band returns with Kelly Finnigan on vocals and keys (at this point he’s a permanent member, I guess).The sunny 70’s soul and funk has been polished to a shimmer on It’s Only Us. In fact, I hear a lot of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? and The Spinners “I’ll Be Around” on it. This record is a banger from beginning to end. The title track is sheer brilliance.

Kelly Finnigan – A Joyful Sound – Speaking of Kelly Finnigan, he released another solo record in 2020, relatively soon after his 2019 solo record Tales People Tell (which got an RSD-exclusive instrumentals release in 2020) and the aforementioned Monotones album! A Joyful Sound is a holiday record on par with the Phil Spector A Christmas Gift For You. A stone cold classic that everyone needs in their collection. I wrote a review of it here.

Calexico – Seasonal Shift – Calexico put out its first holiday record in 2020. It was a collection of covers and originals. The covers include “Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty and “Merry Xmas (War Is Over) from Lennon and Ono. I would have liked to see “Gift X-Change” from the Aerocalexico tour album on here. Such a beautiful song from the band. Either way, a welcomed addition to the slowly-growing collection of Christmas vinyl.

Johnnie Cluney – Love Is Law – If you know of Cluney, it’s likely due to his signature illustrations for Daytrotter.com (R.I.P.). His musical output is equally notable and the Bedroom Shrine record was a favorite of mine. He continues the dusty lo-fi journey on his first album under his own name. The album sits somewhere in the neighborhood of Dinosaur Jr, Elliott Smith and Sebadoh. The physical release is a cassette and that’s pretty much the best way to listen to it. Read my review here.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Forward, Children and School Daze: Fundraisers for Durham Public Schools students – I’m kind of cheating here by lumping two releases together, but honestly they are a pair of releases that belong together, and likely everyone who bought one bought the other. Proceeds from the sales of these Bandcamp releases go to support Durham Public Schools, which ended up being even more essential as they needed to gear up for students newly in distance learning. The live shows from HGM are places where the recorded songs take on a life of their own. These two releases are made up of performances from the same tour in support of Terms of Surrender. The retooling of “Jesus Shot Me In The Head” on Forward, Children is worth the price of admission. Both of these releases support the idea that HGM could stand to have a physical live album release.

Anthony Worden and the Illiterati — ‘Voilá – Iowa City musician put out one of my favorite releases in 2020. Shining bits of guitar pop brilliance. Recommended if you stan Britpop from Costello or Nick Lowe. The additional vocals from Penny Peach take this record over the top. When’s her solo record out? Read my review in Little Village.

Elizabeth Moen – Creature of Habit – 2020 derailed the album release plans for Moen. She released two singles from her album that was supposed to come out (“Headgear” and “Ex’s House Party”) and had a tour planned to correspond with the release and then the pandemic hit. Stuck at home she started working on new songs that were anchored in synthesizers rather than her trusty guitar. The songs are some of her best yet and I can see how this “experiment” in different instruments could inform her songs going forward.

High Waisted – Sick of Saying Sorry – NYC surf-meets 60’s girlband outfit High Waisted is back with another slab of sunny dance-able pop rock. Front woman Jessica Dye really nails the 80’s girls with attitude vibe– think Linda Ronstadt, Debbie Harry and Pat Benatar. Her powerful soprano coupled with giant guitar is an infectious combination. This record was lost in the fog of COVID undeservedly and everyone should check this out.

Dope Walker – Save SaveDope Walker is an Iowa-Minnesota supergroup/side project made up of William Elliott Whitmore, Aaron Mader (producer Lazerbeak from Twin Cities hip hop collective Doomtree), Zach Westerdahl of Ten Grand, Mike Schulte from The Pork Tornadoes, Joel Anderson from FT (The Shadow Government). Save Save is the debut record from the collective and has a very polished post hardcore sound. This album kind of missed the radar of folks (including me for most of the year).

Grateful Dead – Buffalo 5/9/1977 Box SetFor the third RSD “Drop” on 10/24, we were treated to the second vinyl box treatment of the four-night May 1977 run represented in the Get Shown The Light CD box set released in May of 2017 for the anniversary of that 4 night run. In 2017 the legendary Cornell show was released as a vinyl boxed set. The second box set is from Buffalo the night after Cornell. This show is notable for the fantastic “Help Is On The Way” > “Slipknot!” > “Franklins Tower” opener, largely regarded as the best performance of this sequence. The Cornell show was the one that opened the door to the Dead for me, so I’m super happy to have this show. I think that the existence of the Buffalo show might hint that we’ll get the other two nights with a similar vinyl treatment.

Pylon – Box Seminal Athens, GA band Pylon got the reissue treatment from New West Records in 2020. The first two albums were returned to print on vinyl for the first time since the 80’s and the first time on CD since I think 1997 when DFA Records reissued them with bonus tracks. As part of this effort a WONDERFUL box set was released which, along with the first two albums Chomp and Gyrate also included the “Razz Tape” — an early recording of the band and “Extras” which included b-sides and rare tracks. There was also a beautiful hardbound book with photos and other ephemera from the band which also acts as a compliment to an exhibition at the University of Georgia of the band. I wrote an in-depth breakdown of the boxset here.

(Upcoming Release) Blue Note Records Releases Lost 1959 Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers Album on 4/24 : “Just Coolin'” : A Deeper Dive

Cover Art for Lost 1959 album Just Coolin’ out April 24th on Blue Note Records

We’re treated to yet another “lost” album from the jazz archives, this time from the extensive Blue Note Records archives. On April 24th Blue Note will be releasing an originally rejected release titled Just Coolin’ from a March 8, 1959 session recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Hackensack, NJ. This session was dropped due to the fact that four of the six tracks recorded overlapped with At The Jazz Corner of the World (not to be confused with the 1960 2 LP Meet Me At The Jazz Corner of the World with Wayne Shorter) album recorded by Alfred Lion at Birdland in NYC just over a month later on April 15th, 1959. Split over two volumes, the first was released in 1959, and the second in 1960.

Drummer Art Blakey’s legendary Jazz Messengers band had a lot of lineup changes during its 35 year run. The period from 1958-1964 is generally regarded as the most notable run for the band. Blakey pulled together a band of Philly natives: Lee Morgan (trumpet), Benny Golson (tenor sax), Bobby Timmons (piano), and Jymie Merritt (bass). This is the band that Blakey had on his Blue Note Records debut Moanin’ (Blue Note 4003), recorded in October of 1958 and released in January of 1959. Following the sessions for Moanin’, the band hit the road for an extensive tour of Europe producing the live albums 1958 – Jazz Olympia (on Fontana) and Art Blakey et les Jazz-Messengers au club St. Germain (on French RCA) among other later releases (mostly unofficial) that came out in the 1970’s to capitalize on Blakey’s departure from releasing albums as changing tastes in modern music turned away from his music.

By the time Blakey returned to the studio with Alfred Lion in March 1959, Benny Golson left the band for Art Farmer’s sextet, which included Bill Evans on keys (check out Modern Art for the results of that). Golson was replaced by Hank Mobley who had been a member of the first Jazz Messengers from 1954-1956. Mobley stayed with the Messengers during this third iteration of the band long enough to get this session and Jazz Corner of the World recorded before he was arrested in 1958 for possession of narcotics and spent the rest of the year in prison (only the first of stints he would do, unfortunately). Mobley was replaced by Wayne Shorter, who was hired after Lee Morgan ran into him at The Toronto Jazz Festival in July of 1959.

Ultimately, the replacement of Mobley with Wayne Shorter resulted in two of my favorite albums in the Jazz Messenger catalog: the 1961 release A Night In Tunisia, and the very-underappreciated (in my opinion) 1962 album Mosaic.

Mobley spent a brief stint in Miles Davis’s band as a replacement for the departed John Coltrane starting in 1961. But that pairing never really resulted in the partnership that Davis was missing with Coltrane. He appears on the studio album Someday My Prince Will Come (which somewhat awkwardly also features Coltrane) and two live albums : Friday and Saturday Nights Miles Davis In Person at the Blackhawk, San Francisco and Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall.

Just Coolin’ is an album that documents a brief interval in the changing lineups of The Jazz Messengers, but an important one nonetheless. Hank Mobley wrote three of the songs for the album, and they also appear on Jazz Corner of the World: “Hipsippy Blues,” “M&M,” and “Just Coolin’.” The early reviews suggest that the studio takes lack the energy and possibly the polish of the live versions, but the inclusion of two previously unheard songs pique the interest of fans and present a kind of “what if” scenario with Mobley had he been able to continue with the band.

The first track we get to hear is the previously unheard Bobby Timmons composition “Quick Trick.”

Here is the track listing for Just Coolin’ with YouTube links to the four versions from At The Jazz Corner of the World fso you can get an idea of what the other songs will sound like.

SIDE 1
Hipsippy Blues (Hank Mobley) Live version
Close Your Eyes (Bernice Petkere) Live version
Jimerick (unknown)
SIDE 2
Quick Trick (Bobby Timmons)
M&M (Hank Mobley) Live version
Just Coolin’ (Hank Mobley) Live version


(Upcoming Release) Miles Davis Gets Black Friday RSD Silent Way Outtakes LP – Early Minor – A Deeper Dive

Front cover of Early Minor: Rare Miles From the Complete In A Silent Way Sessions

The Black Friday Record Store Day list came out yesterday, and there are a few releases that I think are pretty interesting and I’ll do posts on each, starting with this Miles Davis release. Titled Early Minor: Rare Miles from the Complete In a Silent Way Sessions, it is a selection of outtakes from his brilliant 1969 album In A Silent Way. This release has three outtakes that were originally released in 2001 on the 3-CD The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions box set.

Anyone familiar with the Davis catalog are likely familiar with the fact that his later years releases didn’t often correspond to the idea of an album release. When you look at the sessionography information for Miles Davis, he seemed to hit the studio whenever it suited him (or maybe when he needed money) and recorded with little regard to the idea of an album release.

The proper In A Silent Way album is two tracks, both of which were recorded on the same day. The expanded group of Miles Davis on trumpet; Wayne Shorter on soprano sax; Joe Zawinul on organ; Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, electric piano; John McLaughlin on guitar; Dave Holland on bass and Tony Williams on drums hit CBS’s 30th Street Studio in Studio B on February 18th, 1969. The sessionography at jazzdisco.org shows that the group recorded three takes of “In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time” and two takes of “Shh/Peaceful.”

The band returned to the studio two days later on February 20th and tracked the over 26-minute “The Ghetto Walk” and “Early Minor.” According to Wikipedia’s entry on In A Silent Way, which quotes Victor Svorinich’s essay on In A Silent Way, “The Ghetto Walk” was originally considered for In A Silent Way, but was ultimately dropped in favor of “In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time.”

Those two tracks plus “Splashdown” which was tracked on November 25th, 1968 are what make up the RSD release. These tracks are notable as being the three songs on the Complete In A Silent Way box set that were previously unreleased prior. I prefer this over including multiple takes of “In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time” and “Shh/Peaceful.”

According to Svorinich’s essay, Joe Zawinul brought his composition “Shh/Peaceful” to the sessions, and it had a couple of working titles before it was settled, one was “On The Corner” which was the working title for the album at one point, and also “Mornin’ Fast Train From Memphis To Harlem” which was also a working title for the record. The Wikipedia article is a bit confused about this as it says that Davis composed “Shh/Peaceful” and Zawinul composed “In A Silent Way.” The facts of this are probably tied to how Teo Macero edited the sessions into the final recordings. This is further supported by the fact that Zawinul blamed Macero for editing the recordings and crediting Davis as the sole composer.

No matter what the details were about how the sessions were used, history has shown that In A Silent Way has become one of the most important albums in Davis’s career and is credited as the first complete foray into what would be his electric period and would pave the way for Bitches Brew.

I created a YouTube playlist of the three songs as they were included in the boxset so you can listen for yourself.

(Upcoming Release) New Unheard Release: John Coltrane – Blue World – A deeper dive

Impluse!/Universal has dropped another surprise John Coltrane release! Just over a year ago they announced the Both Directions At Once release of sessions from 1963– the tapes of which came from Coltrane’s personal collection of demo reels.

Titled Blue World, the album (out September 27th) is made up of recordings Coltrane’s classic quartet with Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner tracked on June 24, 1964 at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. These songs were tracked for Quebecois film producer Gilles Groulx to be used for his film Le chat dans le sac (“The Cat In The Bag”). The songs were mostly new recordings of songs from Coltrane’s catalog plus a new song “Blue World” (which, according to an article by NPR, was itself a variation of a previously-recorded song the pop standard “Out Of This World” by Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer). Revisiting previous works in the studio isn’t something Coltrane had done before, or from what I can tell, since. This gives us a unique way to view the development Coltrane and band were going through by comparing previous recordings to these reinterpretations.

The first thing I did when I heard about this release was to check my faithful jazz session database at jazzdisco.org and it was missing! This has since been remedied as the details of this release came to light. According to the interview with Barbara Ulrich (who played the lead also named Barbara in the film) for the liner notes (written by Jazz scholar Ashley Kahn) of the release quoted in the NPR.org article, Groulx was a fan of John Coltrane and it was through an acquaintance that he knew Jimmy Garrison which was likely the connection to Coltrane’s involvement in the film. Groulx attended the recording session on June 24th and was handed the 37-minute 1/4″ mono tape at the end of the session. Since it wasn’t an official release and these sessions weren’t part of an album recording, they didn’t make it to the database.

In the Rolling Stone article about the Blue World release, they quote Ulrich’s recollection of the session. Groulx hadn’t started filming, so Coltrane wasn’t working from the film itself. In the end, he only used 10 minutes of the 37-minute session.

“Gilles had a list of the music he wanted and later he told me when he gave the list to Coltrane, Coltrane said, ‘Okay, I can do this — I can’t do that, it’s not mine. OK I get it, I know what you want.’ Then they just started jamming and recorded for several hours. Then Rudy gave Gilles the tape and that was it. When he got back he was absolutely ecstatic. He knew exactly where he was going to use the music in the film.”

In Eric Fillon’s dissertation on the film in his paper “The Cinema of the Quiet Revolution: Quebec’s Second Wave of Fiction Films and the National Film Board of Canada, 1963-1967” he explains how Coltrane came to be part of the film:

Le chat dans le sac featured an original score by John Coltrane, an African American saxophonist whose music was often associated with Black Nationalism. The film’s jazz soundtrack was dans l’air du temps [current fashion]. It echoed Louis Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (1958) and John Cassavetes’ Shadows (1959) which featured contributions by jazzmen Miles Davis and Charles Mingus. However, the music also serves to validate the language of decolonization which Claude deploys throughout the film. Groulx’s main protagonist reads Frantz Fanon’s Les damnés de la terre, Louis E. Lomax’s La révolte noire and Parti pris. Claude, a [Quebecois separationist revolutionary] , listens to jazz as he plans his revolt. …. Coltrane’s music legitimizes Claude’s quest for emancipation in ways that Barbara cannot.

The Cinema of the Quiet Revolution: Quebec‟s Second Wave of Fiction Films and the
National Film Board of Canada, 1963-1967 p 60

The Rolling Stone article says that the tape eventually made it to the National Film Board of Canada and that was how Impulse! came to get it early last year. The National Film Board of Canada was the organization that underwrote Le chat dans le sac originally. There is a funny story in the Fillon paper I quoted above about how the NFB was only interested in producing television content at the time that Gilles Groulx was working with them. Groulx agreed to shooting a TV show, and apparently gave them the Canadian theme of “snow” for this project. Instead he took the funds and shot Le chat dans le sac.

Here are the tracks on the album along with my notation of which album the original version is on. It’s interesting, if not notable, that “Naima” from Giant Steps and the two songs from Jazz (“Village Blues”, “Like Sonny”) were all recorded originally during the same sessions in 1959 and 1960. In many ways Jazz can be looked at as the outtakes from the Giant Steps sessions.

TRACKS
SIDE A
1 Naima (Take 1) (4:34) originally on Giant Steps (1959)
2 Village Blues (Take 2) (3:41) originally on Jazz (recorded 1959, released 1961)
3 Blue World (6:08)
4 Village Blues (Take 1) (3:51) Jazz (1961)
SIDE B
1 Village Blues (Take 3) (3:45) Jazz (1961)
2 Like Sonny (2:43) originally on Jazz (1961)
3 Traneing In (7:42) originally on John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio (1958)
4 Naima (Take 2) (4:10) Giant Steps (1959)

The title track from Blue World

Blue World has been mastered from its original mono analog tape by Kevin Reeves at Universal Music Mastering in New York. The new 180g vinyl edition’s lacquers were cut by Ron McMaster at Capitol Studios.

(Upcoming Release) Lost Coltrane Session from 1963 Will Be Released June 29th : A Deeper Dive

Impulse! Records is calling it “The Holy Grail of Jazz.”

On March 6, 1963, jazz sax legend John Coltrane brought his quartet with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums to Rudy Van Gelder’s studios in Englewood Cliffs, NJ to record a session. The group was in the middle of a  two-week engagement at Birdland in New York City and getting ready to record the John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album on the 7th. Apparently, the band came into the studio on the 6th with the intention to record an album, as the sessions show they recorded multiple takes of some songs as they refined the tracks. These sessions are now packaged with the help of Coltrane’s son Ravi and will be released in a single album release of selected takes and a two album deluxe release with additional takes as Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album on June 29th.

For some unknown reason these sessions never produced an album. The press release from Impulse! says, “The other non-original composition on the album is “Vilia,” from Franz Lehár’s operetta “The Merry Widow”. The soprano version on the Deluxe Edition is the only track from this session to have been previously released.” The Deluxe Edition also gives us no less than four studio takes of “Impressions” which would make its first official catalog release in 1963 on Coltrane’s second album on Impulse! of the same title as a live version from The Village Vanguard in 1961. During these March 6th sessions “Impressions” was called “Untitled Original Composition” but in fact, these are newer arrangements of the “Impressions” takes from June 20th, 1962. From the 1962 sessions, Take 2 was released on the 2001 Impulse! CD The Very Best of John Coltrane. Strangely, the version on Amazon has a totally different track listing than the one that matches the catalog number on discogs and doesn’t list that take of “Impressions” on it. But, the cover art pictured does show it.

But, the very exciting songs on this release are the brand new original compositions which only have working titles: the descriptively titled “Slow Blues” and two tracks identified only by their matrix numbers, “Untitled Original 11383 (Take 1)” and “Untitled Original 11386 (Take 1).”

The press release from Impulse! said the original master tapes had been destroyed because “Van Gelder wasn’t one for clutter.” Sax legend in his own right and labelmate on Impulse!, Sonny Rollins, pens the liner notes for this release. His Official Facebook page gives a slightly different take on the fate of the tapes saying, “The master tape left in the studio was lost, and it’s likely it was destroyed in the early 70s when the label, Impulse!, was trying to reduce storage fees.”

The tape that was used for this release was a copy on 1/4″ tape that producer Bob Thiele gave to Coltrane to take home. The New York Times reports that the tapes were recently discovered by the family of John Coltrane’s first wife Juanita Naima Coltrane.

According to a poster on Urban75.net, these tapes were part of a collection of tapes the family tried to auction off in 2005, but was blocked by Verve/Universal because they contained recordings that were recorded for Impulse! and as such weren’t owned by Coltrane. Musicologist and jazz historian Barry Kernfield had been hired to catalog the tapes for the auction by the auction house Guernsey’s who was doing a MASSIVE jazz auction including historical artifacts. An article Kernfield posted to his website details the effort:

In September 2004 the New York City auction house Guernsey’s asked me to serve as a historical consultant, cataloguer, and writer in preparation for its first jazz auction, to be held February 20, 2005, at the new jazz venue at Lincoln Center. The auction embraced materials from the estates of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Benny Goodman, Eric Dolphy, and Gerry Mulligan, as well as items from Louis Armstrong in the possession of his manager Oscar Cohen (who became president of Associated Booking Corporation following Joe Glaser’s death in 1969), and various images and a trumpet from a living musician, Clark Terry.

Early in December 2004, as Guernsey’s head Arlan Ettinger related it to me, Naima Coltrane’s daughter Saida* (also known as Antonia Andrews) and Saida’s brother Jamail Dennis were delivering paper items to the auction house: musical manuscripts in John Coltrane’s own hand; a letter from Bill Evans to John Coltrane just after Evans quit Miles Davis’s sextet; a postcard from Wayne Shorter, in Marseilles, to Mr. and Mrs. J. Coltrane (“Europe is a drag. I mean really. Just another gig and a place to practise and/or rehearse.”); Shorter’s hand-drawn portrait of Davis; and so forth. At this point, Jamail said to Arlan, “Oh, we have some tapes. Would you be interested in them?” “TAPES?!,” replied Arlan.

During the last three weeks of 2004 I had the unbelievable privilege of identifying and cataloguing the contents of digital copies of 35 reel-to-reel tapes, the contents of which proved to be mainly unreleased recordings by John Coltrane for Impulse! Records at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, from 1962 to 1964. I submitted my essay to Guernsey’s the evening of January 2, 2005. Coincidentally the following morning Guernsey’s phoned to report that attorneys for the Impulse! label had just threatened a lawsuit if the reels were not withdrawn from the auction. This was done, and accordingly the essay that appears below was withdrawn from the auction catalogue.

His following list of the archive includes the session from 1963 that makes up Both Directions At Once, but also other interesting outtakes that we hope will also see the light of day. He lists recordings including “perfect 10-inch stereo copies of the master tapes of all six takes (four complete and two fragments) of the presumed lost sextet version of the first movement of A Love Supreme.” The presumed lost full sessions that produced the aforementioned John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album (and without, apparently, the echo that was added to the original release), and lots of alternate takes of other Coltrane originals and rehearsals he taped at home. I’m guessing that the material for the 2015 “Super Deluxe Edition” of A Love Supreme came from this trove of tapes.

This release is for very good reason very exciting. The recordings capture Coltrane’s Quartet reaching the peak of their powers less than two years before his signature epic A Love Supreme. Looking over the details and listening to the track that is available now, it’s in my opinion a more complete release than the hodgepodge that the Impressions album was and while not as essential as his landmark releases, one that belongs in a collection, I think.

The deluxe vinyl version is really nice, with die cut jackets which expose the photos on the inner sleeves.

Here is a nice review from one of my favorite vinyl video blogs, Vinyl Rewind:

 

Upcoming Show: Rob Mazurek’s Starlicker Coming to Monk’s in Dubuque- New Album Plans

Starlicker photo by Alessandro Carpentieri

It is said that for most people, the music that defines them tends to be based on the music that they listened to in their teens and twenties. I’m not immune to this either– when I talk about about bands I really like, it is framed with a reference of 80’s New Wave, Punk, and College Rock (U2, R.E.M., The Cure…). This is possible, in my opinion, because most bands in the Indie or Alternative space are really building on or working from the same language of melody and structure that was in place in that time.

For most pop and rock music anyway, nothing is ever really new under the sun– to paraphrase Ecclesiastes 1:9.

When I was first introduced to Chicago instrumental band Tortoise in 1998 I heard something that– for me– was wholly new. Tortoise’s influences were clearly the great film soundtrack music of the past, but also a mix of jazz and krautrock and electronic music. It was exciting to hear what I felt to be new music and in typical fashion I dove headlong into Tortoise and bands related to Tortoise.

The jumping-off points for related Tortoise projects are many. Every member of Tortoise has other solo and band projects and quite a few of them in common. But, it is through guitarist Jeff Parker that I started exploring the very rich history of Chicago’s improvisational and free jazz scene. I’m still very much a novice in this space, and I come to it with almost no frame of reference which is both frightening and exciting. I did not listen to jazz in my teens and twenties and it is not music that was played around the house, so it is music that I have had to explore on my own, building a path one stone at a time.

From the stone of Jeff Parker, my next steps were Isotope 217 and Chicago Underground— both bands with cornetist Rob Mazurek. Rob is a very prolific artist whose catalog seems to grow by three or four releases every year. In 2009 Rob released sound is for seminal Chicago Jazz and Blues label Delmark. For sound is, Mazurek pulled together a quintet that was made up of his core collaborators: John Herndon of Tortoise, Matt Lux of Isotope 217, Josh Abrams of Town and Country, and Jason Adasiewicz of Loose Assembly. For me the album recalls a bit of the structured approach of Isotope 217 and some of the looser wanderings of Chicago Underground to great results as this is still an album I listen to with some frequency.

Starlicker is a new trio assembled by Mazurek which includes a subset of the Quintet– John Herndon on drums and Jason Adasiewicz on vibes. In November they did a quick run of dates in Spain, and are now in the middle of a quick tour of Midwestern shows that will wrap up on 1/26 at The Hideout in Chicago. They will take the band fresh from the tour to the studio where they will record sessions for an album that will likely come out on Delmark. This will be followed by a show on Friday, February 4th at Transistor.

Starlicker will be performing at Monk’s Kaffee Pub in Dubuque, IA (373 Bluff St., 563-585-0919)  tomorrow night (Tuesday, January 18th). There is no cover and starts at 9PM, and it is suggested that you get there early to be guaranteed a spot.

Here is some video shot of Starlicker from their November 11, 2010 appearance at Teatro Caja Blanca, Malaga Spain.

Starlicker Tourdates (from robmazurek.com)

Saturday January 15th at 8:00pm -1:00am
Al’s Loft Society, 119 Calhoun St. Cincinnati Ohio

Sunday January 16th at 10pm-1am
The Hungry Brain, Chicago

Tuesday January 18th, 9p.m.
Monk’s Kaffee Pub, Dubuque

Thursday January 20th, 8:30pm
Sugar Maple
441 East Lincoln Avenue
53207
Milwaukee, WI, US

Friday and Saturday January 21 and 22, 9pm – 1pm
Cliff Bell’s
2030 Park Ave.
Detroit Michigan

Wednesday January 26th, 10 pm – 1pm
Hideout Chicago

Friday February 4
Transistor
5045 N. Clark St. Chicago 8pm – 11pm

B-Sides in the Bins #30 – Chicago – 9/12/08

Jazz Record Mart, Chicago

My wife and a friend of hers wanted to go to Chicago for a Gluten-Free Cooking Conference. This left her friend Sharon’s husband Bob and I with lots of time on our hands. Bob Najouks is one of the Sunday morning jocks on Kirkwood College’s Jazz and Blues station KCCK, so I thought a trip to the infamous Jazz Record Mart was in order. I hadn’t been to JRM in over two years so it was time for me to come back and Bob had never been there!

This weekend was wet. Lots of rain dumping on Chicagoland from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Ike pulled out of the Gulf of Mexico. Friday was blessed with small spots of light-to-no rain so hoofing it around downtown was an okay proposition. Our plans after breakfast was to hit Jazz Record Mart, lunch, and then to hit the Art Institute of Chicago then call it a day.

Bob teaches sketching classes at Kirkwood currently, but– in addition to his radio gig– also is a freelance artist. In the early 60’s he did some cover art for Franz Jackson who passed away in May. JRM had a number of still-sealed copies of Good Old Days by Franz Jackson and the Original Jass All-Stars (Pinnacle Recordings: PLP 109) that Bob did the cover art for, which was a neat dose of kismet. Bob picked up a copy to play– he still had the original 1965 pressing of the album at home.

Gorilla – Deal With It (CD, Thrill Jockey, Thrill 003-2, 1993)($5.99) Interesting find. Not Jazz-related at all. The third release on Thrill Jockey from back in the day. The mailing address was New York, so this is before Bettina moved to her current Chicago digs. Seattle Grunge band, I guess. Sounds very early-Nineties. Kind of punk, kind of retro 60’s sound with organ. Not great, but not horrible, really. Mostly a collector piece for me. It would appear that while the CD for this is very much out-of-print, the LP is still available?

George Freeman – Birth Sign (CD, Delmark, DD-424, 1993)($13.99) My first non-Thrill Jockey related Delmark purchase. This was playing on the stereo in the store while I was checking out and I impulse-purchased. George Freeman is the guitar-playing brother of tenor sax player Von Freeman (apparently the more famous of the two). Birth Sign is his debut album. Great album of Hammond-B3 fueled jazz typical of the late 60’s.

John Coltrane – Blue Train (LP, Blue Note, BST-91577, 1993)($11.99) This is the CEMA/Capitol Special Products pressing of the seminal Blue Note release. I own this on CD as well. In fact, my CD pressing of this is on 24-karat gold UltraDisc II from Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. This is the album that broke open the gates of jazz for me.

Jeff Parker – The Relatives (LP, Thrill Jockey, Thrill 129, 2005) ($12.99) Wow, a really cool and rare find! The vinyl for this release has been out-of-print for a while, as is usually the case from Thrill Jockey vinyl. According to the price sticker, this has been in the bin since its release. Jazz Record Mart carries most of the Thrill Jockey releases, but it seems that a lot of the clientèle there don’t follow this label, which accounts for the fact that this release is still in the bins. I saw a couple of other rare TJ releases as well. Maybe I’ll come for them later.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Jazz: Red Hot and Cool (LP, Columbia, CL 699, 1954) ($3.99) This is an upgrade for me. My first copy was in pretty good shape, but this one is in much better shape and comes with the original Columbia paper inner-sleeve! The record is in immaculate shape and the cover is also very beautiful. I had never noticed before today that the vivid photograph of a young Brubeck entertaining a young, smoking (literally) woman leaning on his piano was taken by none other than Richard Avedon! Avedon, who died in 2004, took some famous shots of the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe as well as the well-known picture of Nastassja Kinski with a python.

All-in-all a good trip and it was cool to be there with a jazz afficianado. Bob and I will be back, I think.