Arthur Russell, Serge Gainsbourg and Japanese dub: June’s 10 must-hear reissues and retrospectives
Thanks to the graft of reissue labels and canny collectors, there’s an embarrassment of neglected, forgotten or misunderstood material being unearthed week by week.
The volume of new-old music doesn’t outpace new-new music, of course, but it’s not too far behind either. With so many more archival releases turning up on shelves, we’ve worked though the stacks to pick our favorite reissues and retrospectives of the last month.
This month Mikey IQ Jones takes the reins, bringing us a selection of dusty gems ranging from dusty British jazz to modern hauntological delights and beyond.
10. Ford Proco/Coil
While the market for bootleg and counterfeit Coil releases is thriving these days (original product somehow continually fetches astronomical sums on the secondhand market), it’s a real thrill to see something both legit and, until now, unreleased on vinyl making its way to record store shelves.
Expansión Naranja is a blistering two-track EP that Coil’s Peter Christopherson and John Balance recorded in 1999 in collaboration with Mexican industrial group Ford Proco, and originally released on Ford Proco’s 2000 album Vertigo De Lodo Y Miel. Both of these tracks are absolute beauties, blending cyclical, polyrhythmic beat clusters with floating clouds of ambient dust, percolating keys, muted brass mumbles, and cut-up vocal loops; the two gorgeous, hypnotic cuts play out like companion pieces to Coil’s own 1999 masterwork Musick To Play in The Dark, making this an essential (and affordable) purchase for fans.
9. Karin Krog
Don’t Just Sing
(Light In The Attic)
Light In The Attic’s newest archival dispatch is a solidly-compiled anthology of work by noted Scandinavian vocalist Karin Krog, whose music throughout the 1960s and 70s explored innovative, and at times disquieting, fusions of spiritual jazz, early electronic dissonance, extended vocal technique, stoned California folk, and deep soul rhythms (you’ll find many a Krog tune on assorted soul-jazz/jazz-funk rare groove compilations released over the years). While Krog is a household name in Norway, she’s always held more of a devoted cult status amongst American and UK-based collectors.
This collection hopes to rectify that with a bold song selection spanning from her 1964 solo debut to around 1999, focusing on Krog’s most fertile period in the late 60s to early/mid 70s, when she and saxophonist husband/longtime creative foil John Surman were pushing their work outside of the comfortable arenas of jazz standards and safe swing into more abstract textures and daring song choices for the time.
Krog and her band of Euro jazz heavyweights tackle everything from Joni Mitchell and Bobby Gentry to the final movement of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, while also exploring moments culled from rare Japanese-only and prohibitively expensive releases. Surprisingly, Don’t Just Sing manages to unify these experiments into perhaps the best introduction to Krog’s more daring career impulses one could hope to find, and one that’ll send heads on a wallet-bruising digging spree in no time.
8. Loose Joints
‘Pop Your Funk’
We don’t usually cover singles in this column, but this one was just too good (and too rare!) to ignore. Of the myriad singles and pseudonymous releases Arthur Russell released during his lifetime, the charmingly stoned disco funk of the Loose Joints records often stand as the most celebrated by DJs and collectors, and West End Records has just rereleased what is often one of Russell’s most prohibitively expensive dance jams for considerably more reasonable retail prices.
‘Pop Your Funk’ was the B-side of the original 12″ for Loose Joints’ ‘Is It All Over My Face?’, and its 12″ mix was included on Soul Jazz Records’ World Of Arthur Russell collection. The two versions released on this rare 45, though, are considerably more fucked in vibe, and outside of a rare Japanese compilation they’ve never been collected anywhere.
The vocal edit is somewhat similar to the 12″ mix, with more nervous energy and bloopy alien laser zap sound effects randomly thrown into the mix overtop the twitchy funk; it’s the instrumental flip, though, for which most people go gaga – a frenetic overdriven ride cymbal and punk thump keep time while the aliens fully take over. The result is akin to drunken radiophonics or Russell just fully saying “screw it”, and dubbing the dancefloor to its knees.
Originally planned as a UK Record Store Day release, the 7″ reissue didn’t make it into shops on time. Grip this while you still can, as it’s definitely one of Russell’s more wild and fun singles, and one that finally won’t potentially make you $200 poorer for the wear.
I Rasta: Rebooted
In 1980, a number of seasoned Japanese session musicians, led by noted session percussionist Masahito “Pecker” Hashida, went into Jamaica’s Tuff Gong studios with reggae heavyweights Sly & Robbie, Aston Barrett, Augustus Pablo, Rico Rodriguez, Judy Mowatt, and Marcia Griffiths to record a session that would go on to be released on the Japanese Better Days label as Pecker Power and via ROIR cassettes in the USA as 21st Century Dub.
The record is a gorgeous, haunting platter of predominantly instrumental dub workouts with a more jazz-influenced vibe than the usual roots/rockers aesthetics of the period; Japanese musicians on the session included noted avant jazz saxophonist Akira Sakata, Yellow Magic Orchestra guitarist Kenji Omura, and pop/R&B star Minako Yoshida.
In celebration of the record’s 35th anniversary, Columbia Japan has issued a subtle rework of the sessions, with a new remaster and a brighter emphasis on the dub effects. I Rasta: Rebooted also includes tracks from a related 10″ also released on Better Days at the time called Rasta Instantane; together, this is one of the best lost dub sessions of the era removed from the contexts of either the UK On-U Sound axis or the Jamaican rockers aesthetic, instead laying the groundwork for what has become a massively vital reggae and dub scene in Japanese underground culture. This one might be tough to track down, but it’s worth every penny.
6. Eiichi Ohtaki
This one’s a little out of left field, but it’s a personal favorite that more FACT readers should be investigating. Eiichi Ohtaki isn’t a well-known name in the West by any means, but he’s perhaps best known amongst US and UK rock fans as the frontman for Japanese 70s psych-folk band Happy End, which also featured Haruomi Hosono of Yellow Magic Orchestra. Ohtaki is one of Japan’s most celebrated songwriters and recording artists, and his Niagara label was not only a springboard for his own releases, but kickstarted the careers of a number of heavyweights like Tatsuro Yamashita and Taeko Ohnuki.
Niagara Moon was Ohtaki’s second post-Happy End solo LP and the first release on his iconic label, and it celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. In celebration, Sony Music (who now own the rights to the Niagara catalogue) are reissuing the album via remastered CD and LP, and for fans of the likes of Brian Wilson, 70s Beach Boys, Jim O’Rourke’s more song-based work, and the New Orleans swamp funk of The Meters and Dr John, this is absolutely fertile, head-nodding, technicolor pop music.
Ohtaki’s solo work in the 70s was an offbeat throwback to 1950s street corner doo-wop, the aforementioned New Orleans boogie, and the widescreen California vistas of Wilson and the Pasadena go-go pop sound. Ohtaki was instrumental in spearheading a style of Japanese popular tuneage that would be coined “city pop”, and he was often joined by Hosono, Hiroshi Sato, Yamashita, and a cast of heavyweights that Western listeners would be more likely to recognize via their respective later synth-oriented works.
The stunning graphic design work of the Niagara releases must be mentioned as well, as they stand as aesthetic precursors to the types of underground pop-art framing releases by the likes of Will Bankhead amongst others. Ohtaki sadly passed away last year, and Niagara Moon is one of the best ways to pay tribute and initiate yourself with his breathtaking panoramic art pop. This is a a charming masterpiece by a master musician.
5. Serge Gainsbourg
Le Cinema De Serge Gainsbourg
We reported a few months back on the incredible discovery of what is often regarded as the collaborative holy grail between Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Claude Vannier, when the master tapes for their 1969 film Les Chemins de Katmandou were discovered in a Parisian attic.
The music found on those tapes, long thought to be lost for good, was finally released officially on a 5CD box set compiling the many highlights and rare cues from Gainsbourg’s lengthy career as a film music composer. Universal France has finally followed up with a promised vinyl edition this month, and while it doesn’t contain everything included on the CDs, the 2LP set does manage to collect both a number of familiar highlights and (more importantly) much of the previously unreleased rarities.
Vannier heads will be delighted to know that included are a handful of the Katmandou cues (including the mammoth psych incantation of the main theme), a trippy outtake from the Slogan sessions that rides a similar vibe to his 1970 Georges Brassens tribute album, and one of his best and most rare pop collabs with Gainsbourg – Michèle Mercier’s ‘La fille qui fait tchictitchic’ is also included. The 2LP release is allegedly limited, so don’t sleep on this if you’re a fan.
4. Arnold Dreyblatt
The Black Truffle label brings us an incredible selection of rare pieces by American minimalist composer Arnold Dreyblatt with their new double-LP retrospective Second Selection. Compiled by Oren Ambarchi, Second Selection features eleven previously unreleased solo pieces and recordings with his noted Orchestra Of Excited Strings recorded between 1978 and 1989; while often regarded as one of the more rock-oriented minimalists due to his extensive usage of electric instrumentation, his work hews more closely toward the percussive harmonics and microtonal overtones of prepared piano compositions and the slowly unfolding majesty of court gamelan music.
The works of Second Selection are absolutely stunning, utilizing minimum strings for maximum effect, and thematically, everything ties together over the course of the album’s sequencing quite hypnotically. This is one of, if not the best entrypoints into Dreyblatt’s sound world, and Rashad Becker’s mastering job gets maximum fidelity out of these powerful conversations with rock music’s most oft-abused piece of instrumentation. Fans of everything from Sunn O))) to Glenn Branca, Phill Niblock to Jim O’Rourke need to scope this post-haste.
3. Sidney Miller
Línguas de Fogo
(Sol Re Sol)
Sidney Miller is a songwriter who holds a great deal of importance in Brazilian pop music history. He’s written hits for heavyweights like Nara Leão, Caetano Veloso, Quarteto em Cy, and Gal Costa, yet has seemingly flown under the radar likely because he was not a particularly prolific recording artist himself.
Miller’s own sporadic recordings are built around beautiful, melancholic modernizations of samba, folk, and jazz styles, but it’s his 1974 album Línguas de Fogo that stands tall above not only the rest of his slim discography. Like much of the popular Brazilian sounds of the mid-1970s, it was an admittedly fertile creative time for many an artist, and on this album, Miller blends quiet folk lamentations with quietly percolating rhythmic beds, gently woozy woodwind arrangements, and doses of heavy psychedelic fuzz. The result is 35 minutes of breathtaking psychedelic samba folk that’s equal parts stoned groove sendoff and sunny saudade lullaby.
Miller’s life ended tragically young – he passed at age 36 in 1980 – and Línguas de Fogo stands not only as a gorgeous final artistic document, but as a lost classic that holds its own amongst heavyweights of the period like Lô Borges’s eponymous debut, Milton Nascimento’s Milagre Dos Peixes, Caetano Veloso’s Transa, and Chico Buarque’s masterpiece Construção. Considering that original Som Livre copies of Línguas de Fogo fetch three-figure sums on the collector market, this reissue by the Sol Re Sol label is a godsend.
2. Joe Harriott & Amancio D’Silva Quartet
Praise be to Vocalion for reissuing this holy grail of British jazz excellence. Hum Dono is one of the crowning achievements in the respective discographies of alto saxophonist Joe Harriott and guitarist Amancio D’Silva, two of British jazz’s most talented yet under-recorded musicians. They joined forces on this 1969 session with bassist Dave Green and drummer Bryan Spring to document what has gone down as one of the most stunning, focused, and soulful releases by any of the involved musicians, and original pressings of this impossibly scarce LP have regularly sold for over $1,000.
It’s a minor miracle, then, that Vocalion UK have reissued this deep beast of Indo-British soul jazz in a stunning edition remastered from the original analogue tapes; the supple, swinging grooves and soaring solos have never sounded better after personally listening to shoddy vinyl dubs, questionable YouTube rips, and blogged MP3 versions for over a decade. Harriott is without question my favorite jazz saxophonist, a musician whose every album is worthy of your attention, and D’Silva stands as a sadly under-heralded master guitarist who died way too soon and left us with a scant too few recordings. Vocalist Norma Winstone also plays a central role in these sessions, her wordless vocalese adding depth and heart to an already engrossing album.
This is absolutely essential listening for anyone who considers themselves a fan of spiritual jazz, soul jazz, whatever. If you’re new to these cats, you’re in for a world of wallet hurt, because there’s more where this came from. Many of Harriott’s outstanding releases have recently been repressed via a coterie of questionable labels, but this is the real deal, fully legit, and ready for your worship.
1. Mount Vernon Arts Lab
The Séance At Hobs Lane
This, dear readers, is the one. Ghost Box have finally done us a solid and issued one of the unequivocal highlights in their catalogue in a beautiful vinyl edition. Mount Vernon Arts Lab’s limited edition 2001 release The Séance At Hobs Lane was originally given a reissue via Ghost Box on CD in 2007, and Jim Jupp had been teasing the possibility of an analogue edition for years; with this LP release, it finally can slot nicely beside your alchemical Radiophonic witchcraft records and soundtrack your doom-laden dark ambient brunches.
The fifth and final album by Drew Mulholland’s psychogeographic electronic sound laboratory, The Séance At Hobs Lane is perhaps his most focused and sonically diverse offering, and one which proved to be a huge influence on the aesthetic foundations of Jim Jupp and Julian House’s Ghost Box organization.
Inspired by “Victorian skullduggery, outlaws, secret societies and subterranean experiences,” Séance shares sonic similarities to the work of Coil in the 2000s, though focusing less on sex magick and more on the haunted workings and spiritual echoes of the landscapes of the album’s London namesake, and Coil’s John Balance himself actually contributes to the album alongside work by Portishead’s Adrien Utley, Belle & Sebastian’s former cellist Isobell Campbell, Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake, and Barry 7 of Add N to (X).
That such an aesthetically disparate group of musicians contribute so successfully to such a distinct and disorienting album says much of its trance-inducing power, and the album’s collusions of radioactive drone, free jazz saxophone circular breathing exercises, doom-laden manhandled cello études and electronic lullabies make for one of the most intense and unforgettable releases Ghost Box have ever pressed up.
This is a key document in their universe, and it stands as an essential release for fans of many of the aforementioned groups. Teetering dangerously on the razor’s edge of electronic abstraction and psychotropic navigation, The Séance At Hobs Lane elicits more goosebumps than ever. Are you shivering?