The month’s best reissues: Nigerian funk, outsider electronics and The Avalanches

Thanks to the graft of reissue labels and canny collectors, there’s an embarrassment of neglected, forgotten or misunderstood riches 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, Mikey IQ Jones works through the stacks to pick our favorite reissues and retrospectives of the last month, featuring rare Caribbean synth gems, private-press free jazz, Nigerian funk, outsider electronic music and Aussie crate diggers The Avalanches.


10. Sunny Murray
Sonny’s Time Now
(Skokiaan)

Sonny’s Time Now was originally released in 1965 on the Newark, New Jersey-based private-press label Jihad Productions, which was run by poet laureate, playwright, activist and filmmaker Amiri Baraka, then known as LeRoi Jones. The album was iconic free jazz drummer Sunny Murray’s debut as a bandleader, released hot on the heels of his epochal work with tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler. Ayler features on tenor throughout this session, alongside trumpeter Don Cherry and bassists Henry Grimes and Louis Worrell, and if you thought the ESP Disk recordings made by each of these musicians were intense, you’re in for a treat.

Bafflingly, Sonny’s Time Now has only ever been reissued in Japan, and even those LPs and CDs have been out of print for nearly 25 years. This new edition is a welcome sight, and displays a different kind of tension from the ESP sides, not so much rooted in Ayler’s joyous gospel exorcism as it is an unraveling of the tangled concepts of both swing and bombast often present in jazz’s dichotomy.

Sonny’s Time Now seeks to pull time itself apart, riding the focused energies of its collaborative hive mind into brand new territories that players would spend decades exploring further. Jones/Baraka himself even briefly appears to read a sharp, critical call to arms (“Poems are bullshit unless they are teeth”) as the ensemble gurgles and splutters behind him. This is essential listening for American free jazz enthusiasts, offering a seldom-heard vernacular in which each of these players would rarely revisit with such calm, yet commanding, voices.


9. The Avalanches
Since I Left You
(XL / Modular)

There isn’t really much more to be said that hasn’t already been written about The Avalanches’ 2000 debut album Since I Left You, but if your turntable’s needing a break from spinning the sample collagists’ acclaimed new album Wildflower, you can finally get your mitts on a double-vinyl reissue of the one that got it all started.

While there was a limited reissue in 2012 that seemingly vanished before it even appeared, XL and Modular have finally pressed up a new batch for fans who were either too young or too broke to score a copy the first time around. Summer’s almost over, and this album remains one of the season’s most joyous soundtracks, and its densely tangled thickets of pop culture detritus still captivate sixteen years later.


8. Claude Rodap + Fregate Orchestra
Syn-Ka
(Granite)

Brand new label Granite Records emerges with a much-welcome reissue of this private-press release from the French Caribbean in 1982 by zouk technician and synthesist Claude Rodap. Syn-Ka is a beguiling and wholly entrancing album, hovering somewhere between cosmic fusion funk and new age. Uptempo percussion and slithering bass grooves underline layers of synth and electric piano, birthing a strain of tropical prog-zouk that sadly never flourished elsewhere.

Syn-Ka shares many aesthetic similarities with heavyweight Carib-inspired library music albums like Philippe Besombes’ ‎La Guerre Des Animaux and Roland Boquet’s Robot Bleu, but this one’s the real deal – a humid surrealist dreamscape that begs for rediscovery and fully justifies the original pressing’s three figure second hand price tag. Fans of cosmic synth pioneers like Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis are likely to take a shine to this beast – Rodap shares a similarly celestial vision, and Syn-Ka is not to be missed.


7. Ahmed Fakroun
Ahmed Fakroun
(PMG)

Libyan songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ahmed Fakroun first made waves among modern collectors via his epochal 1983 masterpiece Mots D’Amour, a bold collusion of traditional raï sounds with contemporary electronic production originally released on the French Celluloid label. PMG keeps the ball rolling with this stellar eponymous compilation of 1970s Fakroun productions which ably deconstructs and reconfigures Arabic pop with all manner of Western funk and psychedelic influences.

While the majority of raï’s heavy hitters emerged from neighboring Algeria, the Benghazi-based Fakroun sound more fully embraces European structures without sacrificing the harmonic beauty of the Arabic scales. This is fully integrated music, offering thrilling new funk vistas that nod toward the ambitious conscious-soul masterpieces of mid-70s Motown without veering into full pastiche.

Less electronic or synthesized than the wild technicolor landscapes of his Mots D’Amour album, the songs collected here pack the same punch and power with a more immediately digestible palette. Brilliantly sequenced, Ahmed Fakroun plays like a proper album unto itself and goes down nice and easy. If you’re a newbie to the sounds of Arabic pop, this is a great gateway into a world that’ll send you on a digging frenzy.


6. Sound President Odion Iruoje
Down To Earth
(Soundway)

The newest offering from the Soundway label is a doozy: a killer reissue of what is apparently the only known solo album by infamous Nigerian producer and Afro-funk mogul Odion Iruoje. Irouje was responsible for recordings by Nigerian heavyweights like Blo, Ofege, Geraldo Pino, and even Fela Kuti – all artists who Iruoje signed to EMI Nigeria and helped translate their raw sound into clear, blistering studio albums.

Down To Earth, recorded in 1983 and self-released on Iruoje’s own Odion Limited label, is a kaleidoscopic mixtape of the sounds of Nigerian popular music at the dawn of the 1980s. Traditional and timeless Afrobeat grooves dance alongside then-contemporary boogie-funk bangers, hotwired Juju music, and even some wonderful early party rap with conscious and empowering lyrical motifs.

A large, live band aesthetic sits comfortably alongside a more synthesized machine-heavy sound, but never at the sacrifice of each track’s pulsating rhythmic core. Down To Earth is a party in a box, most highly recommended to those who enjoy the vibes brought forth on the Brand New Wayo compilation of Nigerian disco-funk (which features a number of Iruoje productions, natch) and Hugh Masekela’s beloved collaborations with Hedzoleh Sounds.


5. Various Artists
Midnite Spares: Australian 80s/90s Avant Pop & Outsider Electronics
(Efficient Space)

Fresh off of the success of their Sky Girl collection, Efficient Space returns with Midnite Spares, this time focusing on the sounds of forgotten Australian art-pop and avant synthwave from the ‘80s and early ‘90s. These tracks take seeds planted by Laurie Anderson, Aksak Maboul, Robert Wyatt and the early Crammed Discs roster and blossoms the sound fully, sculpting exquisite hybrids that blur the lines between avant garde ambience, rhythmic experiments, and proper songs.

There’s genuinely not a duff track in the bunch, from Maria Kozic’s seductive synth-funk monologue ‘Trust Me’ to the The Igniters’ smoky synth-dub safari ‘Hakka Suru’, or Mix’s beguiling and charming ‘Do You Do It?’, which casually subverts Orange Juice’s Chic-pop pastiche ‘Rip It Up’ into a straight-faced ode to masturbation.

My only problem with Midnite Spares is that it could be longer (which, let’s be honest, isn’t something that many of us ever claim when it comes to albums these days). Having said that, though, this outstanding collection reinforces Efficient Space’s reputation as one of the best new labels in the underground right now, expertly curating and crafting a vision that sets them far ahead of the crowd.


4. John Zorn
Naked City
(1972)

Unavailable on vinyl since its initial 1990 pressing on Elektra Nonesuch, Naked City not only introduced one of John Zorn’s most beloved and infamous ensembles to the world, but in many ways helped introduce the saxophonist and composer to the world outside of New York City’s downtown avant community. Naked City was the first album featuring the group of the same name, who would go on to record four more albums and an EP that impressively deconstruct just about every stylistic concept that a rock quintet could touch.

The album, with its striking Weegee cover photo, opens with a blast of sci-fi surf boogie, quickly dovetailing into dark alleys, exploring ethereal crime jazz and hardcore punk, covering tunes by Morricone, Mancini, Ornette Coleman, and even the James Bond theme. The incredible band that Zorn assembled – guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Fred Frith (of Henry Cow and Art Bears, among many others), keyboard wizard Wayne Horvitz, and drummer Joey Baron – displays not only incredible chops, but symbiotic communication that makes each hairpin turn and abrupt stylistic edit even more impressive and thrilling when you realize that this was mostly recorded live and not chopped up after the fact.

Naked City not only finds Zorn and his band at their most collectively playful, but their sound on this album provides a schizophrenic, untethered counterpoint to the same noirish synthesized mood that Angelo Badalamenti was exploring with David Lynch during the making of Twin Peaks. Where Badalamenti is all swoons, sighs and tremors, Zorn is nothing but winks, wails and cold shivers.

This album almost singlehandedly kicked open doors for an entire generation of underground weirdos unafraid to mix up the categories in their record collections, and helped usher in some of the first collusionist rock music of the 1990s, albeit slipped in through the back door as a jazz album. Oft imitated, never duplicated, there has never been another album quite like this one.


3. Hiroshi Sato
Awakening
(GT / Sony Music Japan)

Hiroshi Sato was one of Japan’s greatest keyboard players, contributing to classics such as Tatsura Yamashita’s Spacy and Haruomi Hosono’s Cochin Moon among others. Sato was actually one of the first people Hosono invited to be a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, but he turned down the offer, focusing his energies on solo work instead. Sato’s albums all rotate on an incredible, hypnotic axis of sedate, seductive synthetic soul, perhaps too smooth for some tastes, but whose charms often grow on even the most skeptical listeners.

1982’s Awakening is widely regarded as Sato’s masterpiece, a singular album that is arguably as balearic as you can get in one single LP package. The sleeve is a photo of a beach umbrella on a resort balcony, but it’s the music that we’re concerned with and it’s absolutely stunning. Sato’s dexterous yet deceptively docile keyboard layers are augmented only by minimal Linn Drum programs, occasional guest guitar by Tatsura Yamashita, and additional vocals by Australian siren Wendy Matthews on a number of key tracks. The resulting vibes echo down to the mannerisms of Western eccentrics with AOR dreams, like The Blue Nile and Arthur Russell.

If anything, Awakening is worth your time for two particular tracks: sprightly vocoder lullaby ‘Say Goodbye – probably the one song you’d be likely to have heard if you’re at all familiar with the album (it’s been comped or thrown into balearic Japan mixes quite a bit in recent memory) – and gorgeous, heart-wrenching ballad ‘Blue And Moody Music’, which utilizes subtle vocoder harmonies, soft synth pads and a slowly creeping beat to almost singlehandedly establish and predate the aesthetic framework for Frank Ocean’s recent Endless and Blond albums.

Awakening is one of those albums that really locks into the listener’s mindset. It can either sound like calming heaven or goopy schmaltz depending on where you’re at when you put it on, but that’s part of its beauty and magic: it exists so firmly in a world of its own creation that you have to step inside and submit yourself fully to its breezy environment.


2. Jean Schwarz
Year Of The Horse And Other Electroacoustic Works 1974-1986
(Robot)

Musique concrète heads take note: you most definitely need this one. Robot Records has collected two CDs worth of essential tape music pieces by GRM engineer Jean Schwarz on Year Of The Horse And Other Electroacoustic Works 1974-1986, focused mainly on works created for theatre, modern dance, and multimedia performance. Both a jazz drummer and ethnomusicologist, Schwarz offers a unique vision that expands upon Luc Ferrari’s imagined Presque Rien environments and the tweaked rhythmic workouts of Bernard Parmegiani’s Pop’eclectic series of jazz collages.

Throughout, Schwarz incorporates extensive usage of field recording, cyclic minimalist rhythm beds and the slow-moving resonances of electronic tone textures, playing with the sounds of French cafe musette, soulful jazz, and expansive audio vistas of desolate beaches or tropical gardens. The resulting effect plays out like a live remix deconstruction of a Fellini or Godard film, heavily cinematic and visually poetic in execution.

Collecting key pieces originally released on Schwarz’s own private Celia Records label alongside a number of previously unpublished works, Year Of The Horse is an invaluable document of one of the GRM’s most underacknowledged talents.


1. Various Artists
Digital Zandoli
(Heavenly Sweetness)

I have waited years for a collection like this to emerge, and this monster does not disappoint. Digital Zandoli collects 12 slices of early 1980s Caribbean synth boogie, culled from a number of rare releases that were almost un-Google-able until now. I personally only knew three of these cuts going in (and owned two of them prior), so even for a head like myself this is a godsend and offers up a delectable introduction to the sound for neophytes.

One contributor in particular stands out here, not only as a player, but as the compilation’s aesthetic godfather. That’s Wally Badarou – the keyboard legend best known for his essential and iconic work in the Compass Point All-Stars, backing Grace Jones, Gwen Guthrie, and countless others. If you’re familiar with his 1984 solo masterpiece Echoes, you’ll have a vivid depiction of the magic conjured throughout Digital Zandoli; the collection explores the slinky synthetic soul sounds of Europe and the West Indies, fusing island rhythms with keyboards, jazzy horns, machine beats, and seductive vocals.

It takes the frenetic energy of zouk music and chills it out completely, aesthetically sharing more with the likes of Loose Ends, Sade, and the aforementioned Grace/Gwen Compass Point albums, creating a truly unique hybridization. This is the sound of the summer for me – from May until September I’ve always got a handful of zouk and cadence records in heavy rotation, and Digital Zandoli‘s selections manage to balance those chill balearic vibes with some dancefloor killers for the more daring and discerning DJs out there. With this being the last column of the summer, I can’t think of a better record to end out the season.