Incredible Risks: Strange and Improvised Musics

Steve Koenig

[December 2001. Originally appeared in La Folia 3:5.]

Dear Reader,

Once again I’m glad to share some more of these releases with you. Some are fresh out of the oven, and others have been waiting for their proper time. They’ve been coming fast and furious, and another amazing slew of Leos and Emanems arrived just at deadline, to be covered in detail next issue. Although I’ve only begun to dip into the these riches and wish to report in full detail shortly, I have to begin by recommending a new four CD set of the Golden Years of the Soviet New Jazz, Volume One (Leo Golden Years GY401/404, 4 CDs, 4h39m, leo.com) It contains a full disc of unreleased Sergey Kuryokhin and another of Valentina Pomerova, and the whole set is either impossible-to-find-ancient vinyl or, the majority of it, previously unreleased at all. If you were lucky, you bought the rare eight CD Documents box twelve years ago, which introduced to us the unknown Russian improviser named Sofia Gubaidulina, now a household name. Emanem offers an another amazing set by the London Improvisers Orchestra (Emanem 4201, 2CDs, 68:45 + 62:33, emanem.com). I’ll namedrop just a few composers and conductors: Evan Parker, Steve Beresford, Kaffe Matthews, Phil Wachsmann, John Butcher, and Lol Coxhill. And these aren’t archival, but live recording from 1999. It might be a terrible time for the record “industry,” but for the music lover and record collector, I don’t ever remember when there has been such a wide variety of musics, and new and reissued releases. You just have to know where to look, hence the URL after each release.

Abdullah Ibrahim: Ekapa Lodumo
(Tiptoe LP206CD, 71:16, kochentertainment.com).

Recently a friend asked me if I’d ever heard of this musician from South Africa, Abdullah ‘Something,’ and I smiled. Abdullah Ibrahim had played Lincoln Center’s free Out of Doors summer festival and he chanced on the group and grooved to them. It’s good to hear Ibrahim with a big band. The township-based rhythms and tunes expand wonderfully like this. The NDR Big Band are no mere pickup orchestra but the ones who’ve perennially backed the winners of the JazzPaar Prize, awarded to top jazz musicians worldwide; they have backed folks ranging from Danish native Pierre Dørge to Archie Shepp and David Murray, and that’s only the few I have in my record collection. They play with a slow burn, whether with hardcore sax and trumpet solos or just their group orchestration, and, as this is recorded live, it builds in intensity track by track. If the first track perhaps appears slight, that’s only in comparison with his best work, and leads from a simpler township beat to the final blowout numbers. If you like Ibrahim, you’ll surely want this set, and it’s probably one of the better introductions to his music still in print. Enja and its sister label Tiptoe for decades have been consistently supporting Ibrahim’s music, and here is one of the rewards. The brass is simply fabulous and it’s easy to overlook the rhythm section because they, the bass especially, keep things on track and moving through the seventy-two minutes which never flag. I have a feeling this might become my favorite of the dozen Dollar Brand/ Abdullah Ibrahim discs in my collection.

The Who: Live At Leeds, Deluxe Edition
(MCA 088 112 618-2, 2CD, LP206CD, 42:25, atavistic.com).

Here’s more evidence that the universe is ever-expanding. First a pretend-bootleg on Track (UK) or MCA (US) in a “stamped” cardboard sleeve with lots of paper inserts that collectors like me are slapping ourselves silly for ever abandoning those first, rich, rough, rowdy pressings. The labels also were fake-bootleg handwritten, and like most bootlegs of the era the music was hot and rough unlike most official live releases, which were more ‘studiobound’ than the studio releases. Live At Leeds was an instant classic. Short, rich, and you’d flip the sides over and over to let the thrill live on. I never bought the first CD edition and recently caught the expanded Live At Leeds, like the rest of the expanded and remastered Who catalog, artfully done and chockfull of the best rocknroll bar none. Now we have the complete Live At Leeds, in Universal’s label-spanning Deluxe Edition series. The biggest news is somewhat disappointing: a complete live Tommy was performed at this Leeds University concert, but lacking flair, drama and momentum. On the other hand, what’s most important to the Who collector (strangely, I hadn’t encountered this Tommy on bootleg) is that it is a gruff Tommy, and although the band often sounds as if they’d just like to get it over with, the vocals here are ragged and rough, and if the beginning sounds rote, about twenty minutes in they develop an engagement with the storyline and the sonic differences in each voice make this Tommy unique and one I need to have.

Sandoz Lab Technicians: Microverse Wallpaper/Deep Blue Giant.
(20city 20C-8, white vinyl 7″, 16:00, http://20city.com).

My only other SLT disc is their LP on Siltbreeze, which the press release says is similar to this slab of Japanese vinyl. Starts out with the tape running fwd and back, the engineer’s (?) voice a chipmunk. There is a childlike croon which nonetheless sounds like both a trumpet and the vocoder/wah-wah on Sly’s “Don’t Call Me…” It evolved into a Mazzacane-like moan, with guitar and echoing percussion and blocks. “Deep Blue Giant” featured a modal-style percussive rhythm, with various plucked sounds adding to the mystery. Fans of free improv will appreciate this side much. The recording is distant and distorted, appropriate to the work. SLT uses no overdubs. If, like me, you collect (and, of course, enjoy) this stuff, pounce. A striking sleeve: one side colorful Japanese graphics and the other old, browned paper. The disc’s label is especially beautiful. This quartet is from New Zealand.

Sukora: Two Horses EP
(20city 20C-7, clear vinyl 7″, http://20city.com).

This is one fantastic piece of sound… a mid bass extended roll with random chucks, as if a turntable were playing a long silent groove played on an old turntable with a penny taped to the headshell, but this is not microsound. It is industrial: as in a factory, not the mislabeled pop genre. Side B is whooshier, with lots of grinding clicks, almost a Geiger counter, or a creaky door. I love this e.p. and expect I’ll play it as often as Aube’s masterpiece Quadrotation, a box of four 7″s.

Seth Nihil: Uva
(20city 20C-9, 3″ CD, 20:27, http://20city.com).

The sound of clinking bottles, keys jangling, maybe these are some of the source materials. Then metallic scree comes in and mutated voice that is cut for sonority; not the usual tired random radio splooge. The tinkles become more pronounced only because the noisier components dissipate. When you think it’s going to end, it t further evolves with a watery plink sound, which reminds me of the sound of a grove of bamboo in the wind. Uva holds up structurally and is a lot more interesting than a lot of the electroacoustic stuff we’ve been getting.

Rajesh Mehta: Reconfigurations
(between the lines btl 010, 53:05, betweenthelines.com)

The trumpeter here, manning the slide trumpet, the bass, the normal one and the hybrid and “extensions,” is in amazing company. Ray Kaczynski, a new name to me, does incredible percussion, a masterly painter whether doing brush strokes or rimshots. Aleksander Kolkowski, also new to me, plays the Stroh violin and viola, Vlatko Kucan plays a few clarinets and saxes, and the one entity known to me, Peter Niklas Wilson, turns in a finely turned bass. I skipped the notes about the math and the mantra because the music speaks for itself, and luckily, the mathematics disappear into the musical performance. A must-have for any lover of improv. One of the very best of this past year.

Dom Minasi: Takin’ The Duke Out
(CDM 1001, 55:36, cadencebuilding.com).

A fine surprise this is, the guitarist’s previous work on other so-so discs made me think he was, well, so-so. In a trio with bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Jackson Krall, all three shine in this set of Ellington standards that are set quite free, live in concert at the Knit. Krall sparkles here; never one to take the forefront, his subtlety often makes one overlook his excellent playing with a wide variety of collaborators. Filiano was best known as a west coast player who often worked with reedman Vinny Golia (you must get Golia’s solo clarinet disc on the Meniscus label) , but since moving to Brooklyn he seems to be getting a lot of well deserved sessions. All Ellington, all well-known standards, and all tracks rich with the unexpected. Don’t allow the surfeit of unnecessary Ellington tribs keep you from getting this one, superb in its own right.

Gutbucket:. Insomniac Dreams
(Knitting Factory KFW-299, 49:09, knittingfactory.com).

Some tracks are like the Meters-with-free guitar skronk; others are good but comfortable Knitting Factor Old Office downtown-style jams on unremarkable structures. Some will like this a lot.

Terry Waldo’s Gutbucket Syncopators:. Hot House Rag
(Delmark DE-239, 64:24, delmark.com).

For folks who like the New Orleans tradition, hate the young lions, and sometimes wish they could listen to Armstrong and crew in modern sound, this disc satisfies. It starts with “Beale Street Blues”, and smartly, trumpeter Roy Tate attempts no imitations. This live 1971 recording now has an additional five tracks not on the LP.

Cecil Payne, Chic Boom: Live At The Jazz Showcase
(Delmark DE-529, 65:29, delmark.com).

The baritone sax player, one of the creators of bebop in Dizzy’s band with Chano Pozo, has a subtly smoldering set here. His sound is always slightly skittering from the note, giving it a casually gruff piquancy that grasps my attention. I’m less than partial to jazz flute, with some exceptions (Kirk, Lateef, and company) but Payne’s ballad work here has a surprisingly woody tone and never veers off to become what, in some hands, is used instead of a synth as aural-pastoral MSG. Jim Rotondi’s trumpet solos are superb, in the bop/postbop tradition without sounding stale or showing off with red herring high notes. Harold Mabern does his usual high-level here, comping and soloing at the same time; rich stuff. This easily joins my permanent collection. Payne’s explanation of the title and “what jazz is,” both in the liner notes and on the stand, is a delight.

Vinny Golia: Clarient: 9 Pieces for Solo B flat Clarinet
(Meniscus MNSCS 008, 67:00, meniscus.com).

Any solo “jazz” disc, not counting piano. is a major test. One must have a clear vision, or allow one to come from the work. Nothing is as bad as a bad solo sax record. Golia’s solo effort, I believe his first (I own over fifteen of his discs), works on every level. One positive sign is, that rightly or not, one looks for signs of Evan Parkerisms, or Brötzmania, or Series F solo scree, but there is none. This is Golia, melodic throughout without being in any kind of mainstream or avant pigeonhole. I’ve played this over and over, and last week on the subway, a Lenny Kravitz lookalike sitting next to me asked if he could sample my headphones. He agreed that he liked my can better than his own, but more important, his eyes opened wide and he asked for a pen to write down the title of this disc.

Fred Anderson: Dark Day/Live In Vienna 
Atavistic UMS/ALP 218CD, 2CD, 59:21 + 73:35, atavistic.com).

On The Run: Live at the Velvet Lounge
(Delmark 534, delmark.com).

The seventy year old Chicago saxophonist has a fanatical reputation, as well as detractors that say he is merely, like the younger Ken Vandermark, a hometown hero. I’ve heard Anderson live twice, in New York, and each performance found me with a foot in each camp. I’ve accused him, and I’d be curious to re-hear that live concert now after hearing these discs, of playing as of he were at Jazz At The Philharmonic. On The Run moves both my feet to stand firm and cheer, for this is a life affirming disc of joy, with Tatsu Aoke and Hamid Drake making the triangle a circle. Long pieces, deeply intense and flowing and rich. Each of the trio is superbly attuned to the others (as well they would be after decades together) and also takes solos superb not by it showing off, but in its connection to the piece as a whole. Don’t to hesitate about acquiring this disc. Now excuse me while I go back to relisten to my Anderson Okka discs. Then we take the way-back machine twenty-odd years back to Chicago, at the Museum of Contemporary Art for a concert here labeled Dark Day, where Anderson is joined by trumpeter Bill Brimfield, Steve Palmore playing a plucky bass, and for those outside of Chicago who think he’s a new invention, the personally affable and musically astute percussionist Hamid Drake. This was previously issued on Message LP 0004, and thanks again to producer John Corbett for reproducing the original LP labels, here especially apt: an Afro-Egyptian face on a pyramid, although Message was an Austrian label. These could easily be any of the better Delmark releases from the time. (Delmark itself has made each one of their AACM again available on good CD transfers.) Like those, you can hear both a hesitant deliberacy and a surety in the playing. These were, as the Rastas say, “conscious people,” and although the structure seems to be clear in their minds, they soon release all selfconsciousness and let free. If I didn’t play the live Verona disc first, I might not have even noticed this. In the solos, one can indeed hear roots references, postbop horns, mainstream bass that slams nonetheless, but these are all aspects of free play. The one piece by Drake, “The Prayer,” only reveals its semi-Arabic drumming patterns after you see the title. One notices mostly the repeating plaintive figure given to the bass, and how midway it speeds up rapidly, like an Indian raga (Drake plays tabla here). A striking piece to close this concert at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. (New York’s Museum of Modern Art continues its well-attended Friday concert series, but sadly limits its programming to solid but hardly adventurous groups. I don’t know what they were doing back in 1979, or what Chicago offers now.) The Verona concert is previously unreleased, and consists of three extended pieces from 1979. These are extended improvisations that could easily be taken for any current concert that included, say, William Parker, yet still has the mindset (this is a compliment) of any extended “loft jazz” piece of that same period. The final one, a take of “Dark Days” from the Museum disc is slow and superb, with that playing of Drake’s which I’m tempted to call filigree with is too thick, rich and earthy for that. The audio is fine, the bass particularly rich for a live gig from that time. Brimfield’s trumpet work shines. You can hear some similarities with Roy Campbell’s work, in those out-side top notes which revert to solos and lines with proud freebop roots. In the UMS series there have been a frighteningly large proportion of superb discs; this one is a must-have, hands down.

Peter Brandlmayer: Apparatur Zu Den Grundlagen Der Physik I
(Durian 014-2, 40:10, durian.at/brandlmayer.html).

This electronic music is of the quiet variety. but not microclicks or quiet fields rustling. The four pieces labeled “Experiment” use various raspy sounds, with gong-like low thunder and quick-crescendoing smears like those opening those opening the Stones’ “5,000 Light Years From Home.” The first one uses a delightful sand texture with an interesting rhythm (not “beat”). Brandmayr’s music isn’t very original, but the textures are enjoyable and it repays repeated listening. A two-minute computer piece using overheard voices is a throwaway. This is part of Durian’s series packaged in a thin “clamshell” with (scant, if any) liner notes on the Website noted above. This series is pressed, not CD-R. The Website idea is a fine moneysaver for any record company, but Durian, please: beautiful as the design is, we want information about the artist and the works.

Knurl: Paramecium
(Panta Rhei Recordings, CD-r in folio, 44:17, movknurl@interlog.com).

Five tracks of thick-textured mid-bass noise which seem to parallel the maroonish color of the packaging and the textured label and come at you full force like the wind in one of those loudspeaker ads. Jet engine roar with metal scree; a perfect antidote to the microgiltch music you were previously enjoying. Knurl’s (Alan Bloor of Toronto) previous release was under the name Pholde, covered positively last column.

Buddy DeFranco: Blues Bag
(Koch KOC-CD-8545, 42:25, kochentertainment.com).

Originally Veejay 2506 (thank you, Koch, for having this data plus the payers on the outside of the package) excellent mainstream clarinetist DeFranco here uses only bass clarinet. The sidemen are all no less than masters: Blakey, Morgan, Fuller, Feldman, Freddie Hill and Victor Sproles. It’s a fun night at a jazz club, although recorded at United Studios, Hollywood, in 1964. One tune each by notes-writer Leonard Feather, DeFranco’s title track, Monk’s Straight ‘”No Chaser,” Feldman’s “Rain Dance,” Ornette’s “Blues Connotation,” Trane’s “Cousin Mary.” and Diz’s “Kush.” Great tunes, great players and yet the session is merely pleasant. DeFranco’s own liners show he understands each tune very well; the problem, I’m guessing, is that he’s relying on his solid support, yet he needs to get out there. He plays his bass clarinet as he does his clarinet, but with no utilization of the extra depth it can do. I don’t know if this is his choice, or his ability at the time, or if he’s just coasting. Only “Kush” threatens to catch fire. Not a bad disc by any means, but it couldn’t’ve been so much more.

Marlon Simon and the Nagual Spirits: Rumba a la Patato.
(CuBop CBCD 027, ubiquityrecords.com).

The percussionist leader has put together a session of Latin jazz that has no moments of fusion; this is all Latin and all jazz. In the opening “Rumba a la Patato,” for the late congero Valdez, Bryan Lynch’s trumpet solo stands out. All the compositions are originals. If the melodies don’t stick with out long after, all serve as fine vehicles for solid work. “Belleza India” is a lovely ballad with Bobby Watson offering a solo on alto sax which isn’t merely pretty but seems to narrate a story. Throughout, Luis Perdomo is strong and tasty on piano, both chords and lines, many touches often recalling McCoy Tyner’s work.

Peter Warren and Matt Samolis: Bowed Metal Music.
(Innova 546, composersforum.org).

Several friends have told me they love this disc, the varying timbres of the drone of these bowed cymbals and metal sheets they call “steel cellos.” The drone’s components are varied, but I don’t find these tones particularly interesting, either through my trusty old Technics job or my newer California Audio Labs player, and Martin-Logan Aerius speakers. This is a live concert, and one continuous piece although given track numbers for convenience. (I wish all CD players continued to carry the nearly obsolete index feature, and disc companies spend the extra pennies to insert them.) About 22 minutes in, things pick up pace, texture, movement. 5 minutes into track three, it starts to take off like an aeroplane, sonically, that is. I’ve preferred similar from Arnold Dreyblatt or Ellen Fullman.

Brad Shepik: Short Trip
(Knitting Factory P206CD, 42:25, knittingfactory.com).

Despite the futuristic copyright typo of 20001, this disc finds the guitarist looking back. This would fit in well with any of your Kenny Burrell or Benson-plays-guitar discs. Having drummer Tom Rainey work with bassist Scott Colley drives the ‘tasty’ level up to the top, if you want something light but far from vapid. Dave Douglas praises Shepik in the liner notes, but starts by saying “I don’t want to talk about those styles,” not mentioning what those styles are, other than that when they first met Shepik was working through Monk, and now European ethnic musics. Douglas ends up saying forget style, and listen to the “well crafted” music. Beautiful graphic design.

Rick Margitza: Heart of Hearts
(Palmetto PM2058, 42:25, palmetto-records.com).

The saxophonist phrases much like Stan Getz. Scott Colley’s always dependable bass (in freeer settings is he is, well, more free) is joined by paint-by-numbers pianist Joey Calderazzo and tasty drummer Ian Fromer. Mainstream with nothing bad and no surprises, save the final cut, “Some Of the Things I Am,” a witty take on “All The Things You Are,” penned by the leader. Margitza, I assume, overdubs himself with very nice intertwining of tenor and soprano; it’s the one spot here where playing with yourself is a true joy.

California Guitar Trio: Rocks the West
(Discipline Global Mobile DGM003, 52:28, disciplineglobalmobile.com).

This release from Robert Fripp’s new label scared me just by seeing the group’s name. Recorded live, the trio is high spirited, and I’d recommend NPR hook up to this one, with its clever and non-Muzak (TM) take on the chorale from Beethoven’s Ninth, and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “Caravan” chugs along with an interesting scrape, and then some fine freeplay, but the bluegrass component added here makes an awkward mix. Although this is not my kind of thing, I can easily recommend it for those whose guitar tastes range from String Cheese Incident to John Renbourn.

“Timeless,” Tribute to Hank Williams
(Lost Highway 088 170 239-2, 42:25, universalmusic.com).

The tribute album is usually just for fans, as covers rarely extend the song in any useful way. This album is solid with no bums tracks, reminding us just what a fine songwriter Williams was. I’d just been listening to the eight CD Hank Williams box (superceded by a longer longbox) and find this set ever more listenable thanks to the variety of voices and apt performances. It opens with Bob Dylan doing “I Can;t get You off My Mind” and closes with Johnny Cash in “I Dreamed About Mama Last Night.” Those are no-brainers, and the EmmyLou Harris tracks shine, her “Alone and Forsaken” is totally haunting. A treat for me is Sheryl Crow’s “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” as I only know Crow my name, but here she recalls no one so much as Maria Muldaur, and I intend to seek out her other work. Keb’ Mo’ recalls 1960s Taj Mahal in the purity of his “I’m So Lonesome I could Cry,” and the arrangement of Beck’s “Your Cheating Heart” sounds like toy piano with steel guitar; lovely. A total winner. Brainstorm: Ask Elvis Costello do a full disc of Hank Williams.

Henry Threadgill’s Zooid: Up Popped The Two Lips
(Pi Recording PI 02, 45:30, pirecordings.com).

Strange, this. The opener has a rhythm much like a Ray Anderson New Orleans piece, but the instrumentation is odd. The flute adds a moody spirit once doesn’t expect with such rhythms. The sticks of the drums are constantly continuing the parade, but this flute takes us back to fusion mode. The guitar adds a banjo-like feel. A decade ago you might have expected this on a JMT disc. The sax has that sweet-sour Osby tone. Superb guitar on “Dark Black.” Some nice trombone/didjeridoo work on “Around My Goose.” After much listening I still haven’t decided if I like this, but if I listen this much, something’s going on. For fellow rabid lovers of Too Much Sugar… and Threadgill’s trio of Columbia discs, expect change, but expect fascination. The rhythms still have me shaking my head, but also my behind.

Bennett Paster and Gregory Ryan. Grupo Yanqui
(Dandelion Grooves LP206CD, 70:43, grupoyanqui.com).

Solid Latin jazz. Mongo Santamaria wouldn’t be an unfair reference. On the first three tracks, Yosvany Terry Cabrera provides some savory sax skeetering on the edge of sour; I like it. Paster’s piano is mainstream jazz, and not bad at that. Then come a few with more Latin-tinge, but less sabor. No groundbreaker but way far from fusion, although a seventy minute disc creates some longeurs, if I may mix my idioms.

Marc Copland. Haunted Heart & Other Ballads
(hatOLOGY 581, 65:55, cadencebuilding.com).

Opening and closing with a song I detest, “My Favorite Things,” and even another take midway, pianist Copland nonetheless won points if only by sounding unlike Evans, Jarrett or Bley. It’s still a mainstream ballad disc, though. It’s Drew Gress’ bass that really keep this disc going, rarely playing the expected note, but always the right one. More variety of mood would help over the long hour; it needn’t all be ponderously slow. One track needs to be retitled “It Ain’t Necessarily Slow.” Maybe I’ll buy a changer. The disc includes “Crescent,” “Greensleeves,” “Soul Eyes,” and “Haunted Heart,” and individually each track is enjoyable.

Sun Ra Arkestra. Sunrise in Different Dimensions
(hatOLOGY 581, 65:55, cadencebuilding.com).

This reissue is a must-have, with Sonny playing lots of strong, dense clusters on the opening track. Through his piano is strong, with none of the meandering he sometimes did on keyboards. This 1980 Willisau concert is an excellent all around Sun Ra intro for newbies, only lacking vocals. Free playing for sure, but lots of standards ranging from Sissle to Strays, Morton to Monk. The new thin packaging is a space saver, but I love the color photos fronting and backing the original hatART CD 6099, as well as in its booklet. The remastering does strengthen the sound, the piano in particular, and it’s now mastered at a higher volume. You needn’t replace it if you own it, as there are no extra tracks, but if it’s missing in your collection, this is a solid seventy minutes of freeplay which will reward you way beyond the next set of reissues, as this set should never be allowed out of print.

rev.99. turn a deaf ear
(Pax PR90251, 51:22, paxrecordings.com).

What a wild, fun disc, combining the avant rantings of 99 Hooker, whose politico-social “chaos poetry” is saved from being didactic by (I know our Editor would hate this no matter what) a fabulously ironic sense of humor, both in the text and in the delivery. Fellow travellers are Ernesto Diaz-Infante and Chris Forsyth with Akio Makunoi and Ross Bonnadonna. The latter two are new to me, the former are guys who ‘make things happen’ in terms of performances and encouraging other musicians. The weaponry here includes powerbooks, toy and real piano, glock (!), and of course electric guitars, not to mention studio manipulations. The first thirty minute suite is “Das Capital Crime,” the second twenty minute confab is “Possum Ridge Paralyzer.” But song and text quotations are apt and hold up to repeated listenings. I’ve seen this one appear on a lot of avant radio playlists. You already know if this is for you. Sadly ironic text predictions: “It two hundred years we’ll know, but we should’ve seen it coming.”

I Compani. Verdi: Aida
(BVHaast CD 1001, 67:33, bvhaast.com; cadencebuilding.com).

I’m at a slight disadvantage here because I have never liked the opera Aida, and in a recent fit of housekeeping, deleted the five LP sets that had been gathering dust. I still cherish my Don Carlo and a few fallen staves. Nonetheless, Aida is just the excuse for this marvelous improvising group to take the overture plus thirteen arias and interludes to make fine music. If you enjoy the Carla Bley Big Band or the Willem Kollektief (this is on his label) I have no doubt you will want this too. A previous disc of I Compani, Luna Triste (BVHaast CD 9012) has been a great favorite of mine for over a decade, doing joy to the music of Nino Rota. In Aida, to quote the liners: “use styles that didn’t exist in Verdi’s time: blues, jazz, tango and circus music, larded with improvisations and samples.” They do it well. Cellist Ernst Reijseger guests on four numbers. Two tracks have vocals by Quirine Melssen, and she’s neither operatic nor pop, but she’s appropriate for this endeavor. Aida will be performed with the theater group Flint. I Compani’s leader, Bo van de Graaf, comes from an Italian circus family, and so it all comes together. Pearl is releasing spoken word Middle English literature. I know, it’s hard to find a Middle Englishman these days, but the brilliance of the story-telling skills of Trevor Eaton is astounding.

In the General Prologue and The Reeve’s Tale, by Chaucer (Pearl GEM 0160, 77:54, kochentertainment.com), one can make out a great deal of the story, but more important, his hypnotic story telling can be listened to as music. The rhythm and cadence, the rise and fall of his voice for the first time made me feel I can truly understand how, although Chaucer didn’t fit into this category, the epic poems were heard and passed down through the millennia. I will purchase the rest of the series as they are released. These recordings, formerly on U.K. cassettes, have excellent sound, and the 45 separate tracks make it very easy to navigate.

Robin Nolan Trio’s Mediterranean Blues (Refined Records, RR 1003, 63:34, www.refinedrecords.com) is recompilation from three previous anthologies. Guitarist Nolan is tasty and, to his credit, short on flash, and to his detriment, short on excitement. The jacket labels this “Latin-fused acoustic jazz.” You needn’t worry about the fuse; it’s pure jazz. As for Latin, well there is the Spanish guitar sound, but Django is rightly claimed the influence. Run-on alert, but I’m ticked off: Shame on George Harrison, whose Electronic Sound, on Apple’s experimental music imprint Zapple, is one of the great lost computer-music discs (did he actually create it all by himself?) and was a darned shrieking mop-top after all, for his blurb which reads, “In these days of cacacophony, it’s good to hear some proper music!” With an exclamation mark yet! The boy must have forgotten. As for Nolan, I’d be delighted to hear this in a cafe, or while chatting. Exemplary sonics, and not too refined. Any collector of Indian LPs discs is familiar with the EMI Dum Dum record plant. As kids we used to have fun with that, all the while enrapt with raag and filmi music.

The Dum Dum Project is a dance cum ambient ensemble of fine musicians, with a disc that isn’t quite bhangra, nor is it trance. Export Quality (Groovy Sounds groove 05, 56:04, silvascreen.com) is what most call groove; to my taste better for dance than for listening. Place Indian vocals and instruments whooshing over the beats in an arena similar to Medeski, Martin and Woods, or Spring Heel Jack. Then dance.

The Erköse Ensemble: Gypsy Music of Turkey
(Time Square TSQD 9008, 53:09, silvascreen.com).

This ensemble wears its heart in its playing, balancing that magical line between the ‘sleeve’ and the intellect, for this is very emotional music, yet it is not merely party music. The clarinet is the historical and sonic connection here, sounding like a middle eastern shenai, but one also clearly hears the tzigane roots of a klezmer-like music. The rhythm section is subtly propulsive, and nothing like those dreary eight-disc sets of taqsim I regret buying. The disc is a winner on all fronts, with two pages of well-written notes in small print about the history and the structure of the music, though I wish for photos of the players and the instruments. Recorded in Istanbul in 1991, this session is for anyone who collects Ocoro. World Music Library, Buda and other labels of the traditional musics. Beyond that, anyone interested in the klezmer and eastern based jazz proliferating on the ‘downtown’ scene will greatly enjoy this set. It’s prominently labeled “02″ on the cover, so off I search for what else this small label has to offer.