Monday, July 23, 2012

It's been a hell of a time lately for deluxe box sets. Just the past few weeks I've splashed out some hard-earned moolah on these babies, and I'm happy to see money being pissed away on such fine items. Let's cut to the chase...
The German outfit Can - the avant-rock band of yore of whom if you claim ignorance thereof, you are likely perusing the wrong music blog - recently released a 3CD set by the name of The Lost Tapes on their own Spoon label (via Mute, of course). So many publications and online sites have reviewed this lovely beast that my review is deemed redundant before I put fingers to keyboard, but nevertheless, I feel that I must spew at least a few words on it. It's easy to be tempted by aesthetically attractive boxes from artists you happen to like. I am in possession of the 7CD Charley Patton set on Revenant - its packaging is a thing of such beauty that it belongs on your mantlepiece, not in your music collection - but when I feel like hearing some Patton, I simply grab a CD of his on the Yazoo label I happen to own. I also own that fandangled Jelly Roll Morton set which Rounder released back mid last decade or so, the Alan Lomax interviews and recordings: the fancy box looks like a piano, comes w/ about half-a-dozen CDs, the Lomax book and, frankly, is a fiddly fucking pain in the arse to get its CDs out in a hurry. When I want to hear some Jelly Roll, I grab my JSP 4CD set instead. It doesn't look as nice, but it's got the recordings I want to hear, and I don't have to wrestle w/ the packaging for 5 minutes to get the CDs out. Ditto reason in regards to the Patton set. Yes, I could just download all this shit and press "play" on a computer screen, but where the fuck is the fun in that? I'll try to refrain from further cussing. The point? I can deal w/ fancy packaging if the treats it hides are worth getting to (the 7 discs in the Patton box are great, but when the hell am I really, in this lifetime, going to sit down and listen to them seriously. My retirement age doesn't hit for another 25 years. The Jelly Roll set? Too much yakkin', not enough ivory-tinkling), and whilst the Can packaging is nice - 10" reel box w/ a comprehensive full-colour 10" booklet enclosed - I don't feel like I have to treat it w/ kid gloves every time I open it, and more to the fucking point (sorry!), the bounties it holds are ones I shall return to many times over. In other words, its musical contents are as impressive as its presentation. The Lost Tapes is, to use a grandiose statement, as good a package as any of Can's individuals albums from their peak period (for me that's Monster Movie/Ege Bamyasi/Tago Mago/Soundtracks/Future Days/Soon Over Babaluma and their Unlimited Edition comp'), and in places even better. As you may (or may not) know, the band recorded just about every note and fart which emmitted from their collective body and kept 'em on tape; their albums were essentially collections of jams they liked the most which they felt worked best as recorded moments to be placed onto LP. That left a whole lotta hot jams just sittin' around gathering dust for 35-40 years or more. This set covers the years 1968-1977, though most of it centres on the years 1969-'72, and even the material from 1975-'77, when the band had lost a lot of its mojo and were starting to hit a downhill slide, still has that indefinable Can feel, a totally organic blob of sound like several musical minds connecting at once and hitting "play" which renders even those selections totally worth an earshot. "Millionspiel", featured below, is from '69 and the first track on the set. That clip is but an excerpt: you really must hear the whole thing, and to do that, you must buy it. There's a couple of live versions of tracks from their LPs of the day - a radically reworked "Spoon" is a highlight, but mostly this is stuff which will be new to your ears. It's an amazing mix of punkoid avant-psychedelia and my hit pick for one of the reissues of the year. Sure, there is the occasional bong-hit jam which overstays its welcome by a few minutes (there is one motherfucking aggrovating pile of squealing noise on one of the CDs - I can't remember the name of the track - which always has me running for the FWD button), but then you've got a hot shinola such as "Waiting For The Streetcar" or "Your Friendly Neighbourhood Whore" which confirms in your mind that all right-thinking people of sound mind will be taking this set to the goddamn grave. In the meantime, enjoy it.

This 2LP/CD set, released on the ever-great Eremite label (I've raved on about Eremite - one of the finest American labels of the last 20 years - before, mainly here), credited to Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society and entitled Father Of Origin, also needs a special mention. It was released last year in an edition of 600 copies and I finally got my mitts on one. If you're at all partial to private-press free-jazz obscurities, the ESP-Disk catalogue as you and I know it or just the kind of strange and wonderful counter-cultural musical oddities which popped up in minute numbers throughout the '60s/'70s, then this is your bag. Thing is, NONE of these recordings have ever even been released before, and thus it's your first - and the way cultural documentation is going in this digital age - likely your only way you can really "experience" this unique period in time as an armchair observer. For rock & rollers, Juma Sultan may ring a bell as Jimi Hendrix's conga/hand-drum player during his Woodstock performance, although Sultan and Hendrix had "jammed" on a number of occasions and would until the latter's death (check out the clip below: it is HOT, showing Hendrix in a real Cosey/Ulmer vein whilst breaking a sweat w/ Sultan on percussion, but please note: Hendrix ain't on this box). Juma, along w/ percussionist Ali Abuwi, ran the Aboriginal Music Society as a kind of radical artist workshop in Woodstock from approx. 1968-'78, and there they recorded w/ friends, held shows, taught aspiring musicians and the kind of radical activity folks did in those days. Despite all this recording, nothing was ever officially released. This is where Michael Ehlers and his Eremite label come in. If there's one complaint I could make of this, it's that I would've liked to've heard MORE. So the AMS recorded for 10 years and all we could really get out of it are 2 LPs - the 2nd LP being pretty damn brief: one side is under 10 minutes - and one CD's worth of material? Was the rest of it just not that good? For one, the material here - ALL OF IT - isn't just good, it's great. LP # 1 has a more "big band" spiritual/ethno jazz vibe, w/ a ton of percussion lending it a bargain-bin Pharoah sound; and disc # 2 has one of my all-time fave sax players, the late, great Frank Lowe (his Black Beings LPs from 1973, released on ESP and featuring William Parker [his first released recording] and the Art Ensemble's Joseph Jarman, remains one of the most almighty blasts of house-levelling FREE JAZZ the world has ever known: I cannot recommend it enough), once again sounding like he's about to raise the roof. Put Lowe in a room w/ just Sultan and Abuwi on various skins and a tape recorder, and you have a ticket to a good time. The CD sees a slightly more expanded line-up present, and features names such as Julius Hemphill and Charles "Bobo" Shaw (well, they're names to me) and two long tracks of rad tribal avant-jazz w/ the right measure of percussive clutter. Musically, this all floats my boat. The fact that it happens to be housed in a handsome-as-fuck box w/ a meaty booklet to peruse, ogle, browse and read is icing on the cake. The world needs more cultural documents such as this. It's a goddamn treasure

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