A Collection of New Vinyl Releases for the Audiophile - February, 2010

Hank Mobley "Roll Call" Blue Note / Classic Records

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Hank Mobley;Roll Call; Blue Note / Classic Records

I bought Hank Mobley's "Roll Call" on a whim when I saw that its normally hefty price had been reduced at my local independent retailer. It's another Classic Records release and I plan to flesh out my jazz collection with their offerings until they misfire. So far, they haven't. I was vaguely familiar with all of the players' names on "Roll Call," but couldn't pick any of them out of a photo lineup if I'd been asked to. Art Blakey rang a bell. (Perhaps literally. He was a drummer, after all.) Paul Chambers played bass on Coltrane's "Blue Train" and on "Kind of Blue" with Miles. Wynton Kelly played some keys on the latter as well. I couldn't quite place Freddie Hubbard, but he kept good company so I took a shot at it. Hank Mobley might not be the biggest name in jazz, but he could be if it weren't for some of the titans I just mentioned. I appreciate this record as much as the others listed for reasons that I can hardly articulate. I'll try though. That's what I'm here to do.

The title track is also the first track and Blakey lights things up directly before giving over to the record's first theme. From there, "Roll Call" seems to be exactly what the title suggests. Every player gets a chance to shine, and they do exactly that, I promise. I'm beginning to appreciate jazz more and more as the purest form of musical expression that I am aware of. I don't plan to hang up my rock and roll shoes any time soon, but I do enjoy the emotions that the jazz masters convey without the burden of lyrics. It gives the listener a chance to feel without thinking. It's a direct experience and the spontaneity startles us into present moment awareness in a way that rock music's contrivances often can't.

In the right hands, jazz can liberate player and listener together. By the sounds of "Roll Call," each of these players has three sets of the right hands."My Groove Your Move" has an almost Pink Panther-y feel leading into the choruses. Hubbard and Mobley trade solos like they're playing the dozens while Wynton Kelly accents them as if he's running a background commentary before getting his time in the light. The guy's no slouch. Even I know that. It'd be hard to hold on to a sour mood when the group reconvenes to wrap things up on "My Groove" out of Kelly's incursion, but "Take Your Pick" would handle that if you managed to do so. Chambers gets his first solo on this one, and he makes the most of it before the others crash the party and wrap up the first side."A Baptist Beat" follows the same formula as the preceding selections. The band gets together on the theme before the soloists lift off, and then meet again to cross the finish line together. (Mobley was born in Georgia, but was raised in New Jersey. I learned that much from Wikipedia, but I'm unsure of how much time he spent down south and whether or not he experienced a "Baptist beat" firsthand.) I'm always hearing about the connection between jazz and blues. I'm sure it seems obvious enough to some, but I perceive the similarities more in mood than in structure. Mobley's compositions make the connection more clear for me. He wrote everything on "Roll Call" except for "The More I See You" which is a standard that I'm entirely unfamiliar with outside of this album. If Mobley didn't play the blues, his tunes could certainly stand in until the blues arrived. Maybe that's why I've taken to this record with such fervor. I could play it repeatedly, and actually have on a couple of occasions.

I can't imagine these songs sounding any better than they do on this release. I don't know if I could take it, in fact. The clarity of the instruments is astonishing. Almost overwhelming. I don't mean to make too big a deal of it, but I can't figure out why this record isn't mentioned with the classics of the era. Perhaps it is mentioned by people in the know. It was recorded in 1960, and I'm unsure of what else was happening at the time. I do know that I'd heard plenty of hype around "Kind Of Blue," "Blue Train," and Cannonball Adderly's "Somethin' Else" before I dove into those, and rightfully so. I believe that "Roll Call" has a place in that pantheon as well. Pick one up and see for yourself. Then, let me know if you think I'm crazy or if you have any other "nuggets" that I should know about. I'm jumping into the deep end head first from this point on, and I'm all ears if our readers have any suggestions.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions "My Aim Is True" Universal Music / Mobile Fidelity

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Elvis Costello and the Attractions; My Aim Is True; Universal Music / Mobile Fidelity

I discovered Elvis Costello as a youth via his video for "Every Day I Write The Book." The song, in my opinion, has held up well over the years although it failed to impress me in 1983 when I was around nine years old. Costello looked like the kind of guy that I anticipated making fun of when I got old enough. I, of course, didn't appreciate the "anti-cool" stance that he'd taken with his look and, to a certain extent, with his music. I had already discovered Prince by that time, and - more obviously - Michael Jackson so my thoughts on a cool appearance were as skewed as anyone else's then. The '80's were rough on everyone. That's easily forgotten now when everyone's nostalgia seems to have blinded them to good taste. Pop music was long on hoopla and almost devoid of any artistic merit at the time - Michael, Prince, Elvis, and a few others not withstanding. As I started to form my own opinions and MTV's influence diminished, I realized that coolness is where you find it, and it doesn't get any cooler than Elvis Costello. Mobile Fidelity has re-released his first studio album, "My Aim Is True" as a reminder, and I picked it up as soon as I found out.

"Welcome to the Working Week" opens the album and would serve as an anthem for the 90 percent of us who can't stand their jobs if more of us knew the song. Costello's punk aesthetic is on full display from the word "go," and "Miracle Man" only makes that more apparent. I was fortunate enough to see the man open the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park in 2008, and a couple of these songs found their way into his set list so he obviously believes that they've held up too. Lord knows, he has plenty to choose from."Blame It On Cane" gives him a chance to show off his deceptively powerful pipes before the classic "Alison" slows things down for a second. The guitar work on "Alison" reminds me a little of Mark Knopfler in tone if not execution. The rest of the record is a clinic in crisp pop song craft with a veritable roll call of classic ditties with titles like: "(The Angels Wanna Wear) My Red Shoes, "Less Than Zero," and "Watching The Detectives." "Mystery Dance" is gloriously angst-ridden with plenty of attitude without being a downer. Some of the levity may be a result of the staff. It's my understanding that some of the players went on to greater fame as members of the News - as in, Huey Lewis and the News. I choose to pretend that I don't know that when I put this one on. It hurts my brain.

I'd rate the quality of Mobile Fidelity's re-issues on a par with the Classic Records catalog which I've raved continuously about for months. MoFi's packaging isn't as authentic as Classic Records', but that doesn't seem to be their aim. MoFi claims to use the first generation master tapes for all projects, and there are limited copies of every release. I got number 00980 this time. The Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab is just north of San Francisco in Sebastopol which intrigues me. I don't know that they allow tours or anything like that, but I'd sure be interested in checking it out if they do. As for "My Aim Is True," I can't recommend it enough. It has a '50's vibe at times, a punk vibe most of the time, and an awesome sound throughout. Costello played the album in order in its entirety five blocks from my apartment a while back for charity, and I sat it out due to the hefty ticket price. I was a fool. At least I have a killer re-issue to replace my flimsy '80's version with. It's a no-brainer for Costello fans. Go get it.

Count Basie and the Kansas City 7 "Count Basie and the Kansas City 7" Impulse / Speakers Corner

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Count Basie and the Kansas City; Count Basie and the Kansas City 7; Impulse / Speakers Corner

I'm a fan of Big Band Jazz. Not the kind of fan that can tell you who played in whose band or whose bands battled in what cities in which years. I'm the kind of Big Band fan that likes to take a Big Band record out of the collection and give it the occasional spin. I have an old box set from the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings that I like really well. A friend picked it up at a flea market for me and all six records are in surprisingly fine shape. I listen to it about once every three months or so, just to give you an idea of where I stand. It's billed as being "from the beginnings to the fifties." The most obvious names in the genre are the Dorseys, Ellington, and Basie. At least, that's how I perceive it as those are the ones that I'm most familiar with as a casual fan. I picked up "Count Basie and the Kansas City 7" recently as I thought it might give me an interesting look at what one of the masters could do with a smaller outfit, and because it was by Speakers Corner, which is a company I've wanted to check out. I have mixed feelings about the music, but none about the quality of the release.

Basie re-assembled this band formation to record in 1962 after a hiatus that had lasted since 1939. The lineup for the recording differed from the first, and I would assume that the music did too. Twenty Three years is a long time, after all, especially in the music business. I don't have much to compare it to, but one type of music does, unfortunately, come to mind. . .

. . .Sixties game show music. That's right. Some of the music on "Count Basie and the Kansas City 7" reminds me of something I'd see on TV syndication as a young child wherein married couples would maybe try to guess how each other would answer certain queries posed to them by smiling hosts with perfect hair, white teeth, and naugahyde skin. I suspect Basie's recording pre-dates the phenomenon, but I can't help it. The contestants found me first, and that's the image I'm stuck with. Sucks to be me. It's a distraction. It's like watching a movie star with a known drug problem. I can't ever concentrate on the performance as I'm too busy trying to figure out if the actor's loaded. The album opens with "Oh, Lady, Be Good," which doesn't suffer from this affliction. It's a fun little swinging number that was captured in one take, according to the liner notes. But about half of the remaining songs ("Secrets," and "Shoe Shine Boy," chief among them) have dueling flutes and I think that's when things get "gamey." There are awesome moments too. Basie plays organ on "I Want A Little Girl" which is something I'd never heard. I'm crazy for the instrument and Basie, of course, has it down."Count's Place" has some stellar piano in the foreground too, and these are the parts that I had in mind when I gambled on the record in the first place. I wanted a chance to hear Basie do his thing in a less structured environment."Tally-Ho, Mr. Basie" has everything I was hoping for and more. For that, I can be thankful.

All in all, "Count Basie and the Kansas City 7" is a fine recording, and Speakers Corner did a fine job with it. I'm keeping it for when I get older. Hopefully, I will have forgotten what game show music sounded like by then. Or maybe my taste will have changed, and I'll like game show music. I hope not. My version is in stereo which is something I didn't realize when I ordered it. It's not a distraction, but it's not ideal. The quality of the vinyl is impressive, and I'm ultimately happy that I have it. The liner notes give you a play-by-play detail of who's playing what solo with what instrument. That would intrigue me more if I could just get past those flutes. That's a tough order for me at this stage of the game. We'll see what the future holds.

Built To Spill "There Is No Enemy" Warner Brothers

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Built To Spill; There Is No Enemy; Warner Brothers

I've observed that certain vocal styles come in vogue every few years. On a worldwide level, we got stuck with a million Eddie Vedders in the '90's. The 2000's saw a legion of Dave Mathews impersonators yipping and yelping like puppies who'd just had their tails stepped on. (Not everyone got the hang of that silly dance that he does though.) Currently, everyone uses the auto-tuner effect that makes them sound like they're singing under water. These are the musical equivalent of the turned up collar that took the fashion world by storm a while back or the printed shirts that guys are so keen on presently that look to me like someone threw up on them. But I'm not the guy to ask. I'm not in touch with what's popular on that scale as evidenced by the fact that I didn't know the Grammys were being televised this evening. I also walk around in work boots. Every day. Shows what I know. But every once in a while I actually do hop on a bandwagon if the mood strikes me. To wit: I have a playlist in my iTunes library called "White Folks." It's made up of songs by bands like the Flaming Lips, the Glands, and Now It's Overhead amongst others. I think Wayne Coyne gave voice to the movement which is characterized by a nasal vocal approach that I would expect to annoy me out of my mind. But this formula added up to something that I can not only tolerate, but embrace. There's no accounting for taste, I guess, and I'm no different than anyone else. Except for the boots.

I think that Built To Spill is one of the earliest and best purveyors of the White Folks sound. Doug Martsch and the gang have been at it since around 1992, and they've been consistently producing music that their fans can champion ever since. He's straight nasal all the way, and he plays the guitar like a mad man too. It all comes together to make something that's familiar but new. Neil Young is an obvious influence, but Martsch is no imitator. His style is distinctive and his taste is impeccable. Their newest is called "There Is No Enemy," and I'm pretty thrilled to have it. I can listen to it when I'm in any mood, and I put it on about twice a week. At this advanced age, that counts for wearing it out. Like many of my favorite recordings, I look at it as one piece rather than focusing on specific songs. I like his melodies whether he's singing them or playing them on guitar. He's tasteful in his use of effects, and his band is first rate too. His tunes are simple without being mundane, and he generally strikes a balance that is perfect for my palate. A friend complained to me recently that he doesn't feel like the band is having any fun when they perform live. I disagree. I think it's a joyful noise. I've seen players seem bored, and that's not what I take away from a Built to Spill show. I just think these guys are dead focused on their game. I mean, they certainly don't wear matching sequins jackets and they don't have choreographed dance routines. But their audience is of the "stand still and stare at your shoes variety" anyway.

I missed their Fillmore show in support of "Enemy," and I'd be curious to know how they pulled the new material off. (On Halloween, no less.) There are some surprises in here. There's a horn section on "Life's A Dream," and a trumpet solo on "Things Fall Apart." There's some cello here and some organ there, neither of which are typical components of the Built to Spill sound. (I should put a disclaimer here: I don't own the band's entire catalog. They may have used these tricks before. I'm rationing their releases out to myself in case the band folds. That way, I'll have something to look forward to. Call me crazy.) But overall, "There Is No Enemy" is pretty representative of the sound that I've come to love from this band. Killer songs and sounds that are all washed in reverb. Smart guitar solos that get to the point. If I could write like Doug Martsch plays this review would be finished already. I'll wrap it up with that in mind.

"There Is No Enemy" is magnificent. The vinyl is splendid. It was pressed at the German plant that everyone seems to be so gaga about, now. It even came with a CD of the entire work. That practice has fallen out of favor recently, much to my dismay. I think "There Is No Enemy" is a fine introduction to Built to Spill if you're not familiar with them already. I'm sure their many fans would disagree. That's what happens when a band creates a following. We get passionate, and we have opinions, and we get the word out. I'm not saying "There Is No Enemy" is Built to Spill's Mona Lisa. But it's a fair representation of what this band can do when they're on their game. It'll fit in quite nicely next to the other White Folks in my collection. I hope Wayne Coyne is proud.

Tom Waits "Glitter and Doom" Anti Records

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Tom Waits; Glitter and Doom; Anti Records

I spent the first 30-plus years of my life living in the Southeastern United States. In that time, Tom Waits toured the area exactly none. I moved to California in 2005 and he's toured the Southeast twice so far. He played Atlanta both times. Once, at the Fox Theater which happens to be my favorite venue. I got to see him at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit a couple of years ago. He played with Kronos Quartet. I was moved. But he only played six songs. I went back the next day specifically to catch his set. He played the same six songs. In the same order. I've yet to see him play a complete concert with his own band. But, all of my friends back home have. I can take some minor comfort in that. Very minor. My best friend's eldest brother turned us on to Waits when we were both in early high school. I used to play his music at parties when my mom was out of town. You can imagine how that went over amongst a bunch of adolescents. Back then, he wasn't as hip as he is now. But I was. Or I thought I was. No one else did. Especially after I played "Raindogs" for them at the party. Fortunately, Waits documented his most recent outings, and the result is "Glitter and Doom" on double 180-gram vinyl. A couple of slabs from heaven for those of us that missed it. I'll get on a plane next time. I should have done it the first time. I feel like the kid in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons."That boy will never learn. . . I say."

At first glance, "Glitter" looks short on classics. There's nothing from "Swordfishtrombones" or anything that pre-dates that record."Singapore" is the lone "Raindogs" representative. Nothing from "Frank's Wild Years" either. I consider these albums as a trilogy although there's no thematic thread."Swordfishtrombones" is where he veered wildly from his "Beat" sound. (For the uninitiated, I would suggest exploring "Small Change" and "Raindogs" to understand the dichotomy.) My fears were allayed on the first listen."Glitter and Doom" is quintessential Tom Waits all the way through. He cherry-picked some of my faves from the last decade-plus including stellar versions of "Get Behind The Mule" and, more obviously, "Goin' Out West." (Who doesn't get a kick out of the "I got hair on my chest / I look good without a shirt" part? No one. That's who.) "Fannin Street" is one of Waits' patented tear inducing ballads from the "Orphans" set. It reminds me a little of Springsteen's quieter work."Metropolitan Glide" is a highlight rocker."Live Circus" and the aptly titled "Story" serve as the obligatory Tom Waits. . . um. . . stories for this live set. They stack up well against the ones on his last live release, "Big Time," and I think "Glitter" is a superior offering taken all around. (This is really saying something considering "Big Time" contains what I would have initially considered to be the stronger material. I guess that makes "Glitter and Doom" a revelation to me in the literal sense of the word. Eureka!) There's actually a bonus disc with more of Tom's ruminations on the digital version of "Glitter" called "Tom Tales" which is not included on the vinyl release. I am of the opinion that the vinyl version should always be the definitive statement so this irks me a little. It is included in the digital download that comes with the vinyl so I guess the label (Anti) met me half way. The bonus montage may have been left off of the vinyl to make it more affordable, and I'll take what I can get when it comes to download coupons at this point. They seem to be in short supply these days.

If you're a Tom Waits devotee, you don't need me to tell you to pick this one up. You probably already have it. If you're not familiar with his work, you might want to start elsewhere although you're in for a bizarre ride from the far side with anything past 1974's "The Heart of Saturday Night." "Nighthawks at the Diner" is a fine live offering from around that time, but "Glitter and Doom" will be seen as the conclusive summation of what Waits has done since then. Unless he does something else. As a side note, I would recommend checking him out on the big screen as the Devil in Terry Gilliam's latest movie."The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" is also Heath Ledger's last bow, and it's a visual tour-de-force with some exceptional performances - Tom Waits' chief among them. The guy's a superstar whether you realize it or not. Get with it, if you haven't done so. Heave away, boys. . .