Sunday, December 13, 2015

2015: The Year In Music Part 1 - Best Reissues

Here, in no particular order, are the key reissues and compilations of 2015. I would find ranking these a rather pointless and thankless task, given the number of variables involved (quality of original recordings, level of need or demand for the reissue, quality of the product itself, liner notes, bonus tracks etc).

Robin Gibb - Saved By The Bell: The Collected Works Of Robin Gibb (Rhino) 
This wonderful collection draws together Robin Gibb's long unavailable solo debut Robin's Reign (mournful songs and lush arrangements but often with primitive drum machine backing) with a batch of outtakes. Most importantly of all, it also includes the long incomplete/partially lost follow-up Sing Slowly Sisters.  These remarkable, beautifully idiosyncratic songs (mostly melodramatic ballads) show the breadth of Gibb's ambition at this time, as well as serving as a reminder of his pivotal role in that group, particularly circa Odessa. In another reality, Gibb could have become a solo artist as esoteric and uncompromising as Scott Walker.

Bruce Springsteen - The Ties That Bind: The River Collection (Columbia) 
A typically gargantuan box set featuringly a lovingly curated photo book, the original River double album remastered, an additional CD of outtakes (half previously unreleased, the other half previously available on Tracks or the bonus third disc with The Essential Bruce Springsteen set). All very worthwhile, particularly if you don't already own the original album. The new outtakes contain a couple of hugely enjoyable alternative hits (Party Lights, Meet Me In The City)  and one unexpected masterpiece (Stray Bullet). The real magic here is of course found on the Blu Ray discs of the Tempe show from the original River tour - a fantastic document (if sadly incomplete) of the E Street Band at the peak of its powers.

Sonny Rollins Quartet with Don Cherry - Complete Live At The Village Gate 1962 (Solar)
The original Our Man In Jazz album featured just three tracks, including a luminous and intense side long rendition of Oleo. This outstanding box set, giving Rollins a similar degree of interest and respect as that afforded to the Miles Davis legacy, collates all the recordings from these live shows with Don Cherry. This was a severely under-recorded band, and this full range of material is an invaluable document.

Doug Hream Blunt - My Name Is Doug Hream Blunt (Luaka Bop)
Luaka Bop continues to do brilliant work in rediscovering artists seemingly consigned to history. Clearly aimed at the same audience that embraced the superb William Onyeabor compilation, this set serves to rehabilitate the one album and EP of wiry, synth-lead stoner funk that Doug Hream Blunt made in San Francisco during the late 80s. Recently referenced by both Ariel Pink and Dean Blunt, Doug Hream Blunt's reputation has been steadily growing. The music has a distant, slightly warped quality to it (it's not hard to see why it has appealed to Pink) and it's pretty relentless. There are also some fairly wild, odd, rough around the edges guitar solos to enjoy.

Gloria Ann Taylor - Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing (Luv N Haight) 
Gloria Ann Taylor's Deep Inside You 12" has become a real cult collectors' item - still one of the most expensive 12" singles ever sold on Discogs. This set gathers together all her Selector Sound singles from 1971-1977.   There are two major revelations here - Taylor's flighty, impressive voice and Walter Whisenhunt's reverb-laden, alien-sounding production.

Fela Kuti - Fear Not For No Man/Beasts Of No Nation/Everything Scatter/Roforofo Fight/Alagbon
Close/Na Poi (Knitting Factory - vinyl reissues) 
A superb collection of Fela albums from the height of his powers. 

Karin Krog - Don’t Just Sing: An Anthology (Light In The Attic)
If anyone is familiar with Norwegian vocalist Karin Krog in the UK, it's largely through her collaborative work with John Surman. This excellent collection from Light In The Attic reinforces that Krog has been an imaginative and bold artist in her own right. It's particularly fascinating to discover the extent to which Krog used technology as a means of altering her voice.

Leadbelly - The Smithsonian Folkways Collection (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) 
Of the many Leadbelly compendiums, this is the one to go for - the first career spanning retrospective of his important work. 

Weather Report - The Legendary Live Tapes 1975-1981 (Columbia) 
This four disc set is something of a holy grail for any Weather Report fan - completely unreleased performances from one of the group's finest line-ups, compiled and exhaustively annotated by the great Peter Erskine. There are superb renditions of many of their finest compositions (Black Market, Elegant People, Birdland, Three Views Of A Secret are all included). Essential.

The Supreme Jubilees - It’ll All Be Over (Light In The Attic)
Another gem from Light In The Attic (surely they will bankrupt us all before too long), this revives Californian gospel sextet The Supreme Jubilees' excellent 1981 album It'll All Be Over.  Comprised of two sets of brothers (all cousins attending the same Church), The Supreme Jubilees are effortless masters of close harmony. Part of this album is surprisingly light and contemplative, the rest is transcendently groovy. Interesting to me personally because of its impassioned ballad treatment of Standing In The Need Of Prayer - a regular at Jazz Vespers services I play in.

Evan Parker/Derek Bailey/Han Bennink - The Topography of the Lungs (Otoruku) 
One of the key albums of the free improvisation movement, given a vinyl reissue by Cafe Oto's record label. Oto is now an established, wonderfully supportive home to music with this spirit and ethos, whether live in the moment or captured for posterity. 

New Jazz Orchestra - Le Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe (Dusk Fire) 
Dusk Fire continue to do outstanding work in making available once again some of the major British jazz works of the 1960s. I wrote at greater length about Neil Ardley and the orchestra here
Red House Painters - Vinyl Box Set (4AD)
One of record store day's better offers, this lovely boxed set collated the brilliant, introspective first four albums Red House Painters made for 4AD pressed on bronze vinyl and lovingly presented. Sadly, I worked on RSD and demand for the 1,500 copies was immense, so I couldn't get hold of one.

Iron & Wine - The Archive Series Vol 1 (Black Cricket Recording Co.)
While Sam Beam's most recent work has continued a trend in making the Iron & Wine project more expansive, this collection of previously unreleased demo recordings reminded of his early days as a stark, austere solo artist. Already, his remarkable gift for evocative, singular lyrics was already in place and many of these softly delivered melodies are sublime. It's also great to know that this is just the first part in what is to be a series of releases. 

Os Brazoes - Os Brazoes (Mr. Bongo)
More thrilling psychedelic rock and soul from late 60s Rio De Janeiro, apparently greatly sought after in its original pressing.

Michael Chapman - Window (Light In The Attic) 
Making more Michael Chapman recordings readily available is always welcome. 

Milton Wright - Complete Friends and Buddies (Athens Of The North) 
I was completely unfamiliar with this glorious set of Miami soul until this reissue brought it to my attention. The stripped back alternate version also included here was previously thought lost due to the master tapes having burned in a fire at the studios. 

Van Morrison - Astral Weeks/His Band & The Street Choir Expanded Editions (Rhino)
The sliding in to unavailability of the Van Morrison back catalogue (apparently amidst artist-label acrimony) has been a complete travesty. Finally, 2015 saw digital reissues of the complete catalogue, and these are the first two issues in a new CD series. Astral Weeks of course remains peerless - one of the best examples of integrated songs and improvisation, with an ethereal, haunting sound that remains distinctive. Sadly, these are just one disc editions with few extras, and presented more as budget offers than in the treatment they really merit. 

Various Artists - Back To The River: More Southern Soul Stories 1961-1978 (Ace) 
Ace's first set of southern soul (Take Me To The River) was essential - as is this. It combines some well known tracks with some (at least to me) previously unknown gems. As with the previous collection, it mines the depths of longing and hits new heights of exhilaration.  Excellent and informative notes too.

Led Zeppelin - IV/Houses of the Holy/Physical Graffiti - Deluxe Remastered Editions (Atlantic) 
Peak Zeppelin remastered and repackaged. 

William Tyler - Deseret Canyon (Merge) 
A limited run of Tyler's first solo guitar album for Record Store Day. It's well worth revisiting, demonstrating the early burgeoning of Tyler's playing style.  

Miles Davis - At Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 (Columbia) 
How much live Miles do you need? You can never have too much, right?  This one focuses narrowly on appearances at Newport but over a wide period of time, incorporating both prime period acoustic and electric groups. A great example of Davis' unexpected musical paths, and of how he challenged audiences to keep up with him.

John Coltrane - A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters (Impulse)
The importance of the album itself can hardly be overstated and is well known. In terms of alternate takes, there isn't too much to add here but as the fullest version yet, it's now the essential edition for anyone not yet familiar with it.

Erroll Garner - The Complete Concert By The Sea (Columbia Legacy)
This is a classic jazz live recording, and Garner was in his own way a genius of the instrument, although his perpetually bubbly, infectious playing sounds distinctly unusual from today's perspective. Perhaps it's worth revisiting this kind of treatment of the standard repertoire as a reminder of jazz's essential joyfulness. 

Bob Dylan - The Cutting Edge (Columbia)
Prohibitively expensive, might it be too controversial to question the actual necessity of this product? It's just about affordable in an mp3 version, and it seems to compile pretty much every note and every word Bob Dylan recorded during his 'wild mercury' period. This is some of the most vital and important music ever recorded - unwittingly influential and driven by Dylan's snarly ambition. There are no unheard songs here, though, just every available take of what we already know. It's a fascinating document of a writing and recording process (and one that necessarily exposes Dylan's musical limitations) - but probably for Dylan completists only. 

Sun City Girls - Torch Of The Mystics (Abduction)
A masterpiece of weird rock and roll that I thought would never see the light of day again (I've until now been enjoying the YouTube rip).  Of the abundance of Sun City Girls recordings, this appears to be the most loved, the one where their chaotic wildness coalesces into something with power and impact. Now I just need to delve much deeper into their wayward, intimidating output.

Sly and The Family Stone - Live At The Fillmore East Oct 4th and 5th 1968 (Sony) 
4 discs bringing together music from all four of Sly and The Family Stone's Fillmore East shows from 1968. On the one hand, this captures the band before they recorded their most influential material - but it also amply demonstrates what a radical and important ensemble they were - a multicultural band at a time when race relations in the US were still strained, playing music that isn't quite soul and isn't quite rock. They were a political statement before they'd even played a note. This music, noisy and ramshackle but brilliantly played, is so unquestionably, brilliantly alive.

Laraaji - Ambient 3: Day Of Radiance (Glitterbeat) 
A major album in Brian Eno's ambient series, originally released in 1980. Fascinating mood music, not least because it favours a variety of acoustic instruments over electronics or tape manipulations. In fact, the first half of the album, varations on 'The Dance' is actually rhythmic and snappy. 

The Replacements - The Complete Studio Albums: 1981-1990 (Rhino)
Budget box collating all The Replacements studio albums. Vital for anyone not already in ownership of this material. Taken together, it's a fascinating evolution from raw and brattish punk rock to melodic, highly attuned songwriting.

Jellyfish - Spilt Milk/Bellybutton (AMC)
My abiding childhood memory of Jellyfish is of short-lived figures of fun (garish dress sense and a singing drummer who played standing up, for heaven's sake!). But listening to these reissues, particularly the wilder, more sophisticated Spilt Milk, I wonder if that may have been entirely unfair.  Whilst transparently inspired by the great pop music of the 60s, this is also melodically dexterous and unpredictable.

Mogwai - Central Belters (Rock Action)
Mogwai's first career retropsective is judiciously selected and a brilliant reminder of how consistently imaginative and reliable a band they have been. 

Harmonia - Complete Works (Groenland) 
A crucial, but prohibitively expensive vinyl box set gathering together the 'krautrock' supergroup's modest but consistently inspired ouput. 

Florian Fricke/Popol Vuh - Kailash (Soul Jazz) 
Posthumous collection of unreleased piano music from Florian Fricke, leader of Popol Vuh and frequent composer for Werner Herzog. Graceful and meditative. 

Amara Toure - 1973 - 1980 (Analog Africa)
Various Artists - Senegal 70 (Analog Africa)
Two superb releases from Analog Africa this year, the first collating material from Guinean singer and percussionist Amara Toure. At just ten tracks, this is apparently his complete recorded work. It is essential. The Senegal 70 compilation draws together tracks from a handful of artists at a booming time for Senegalese music. It includes some notable early work from Orchestra Baobab. 

David Wiffen - Songs From The Lost & Found (True North)
Excellent collection of previously unreleased songs from the Surrey-born songwriter who made a life and career for himself in Canada. 

Michael Head and The Strands - The Magical World Of The Strands (Megaphone) 
One of the great albums of the 1990s, justifiably given the reissue treatment. Probably the finest recorded example of Mick Head's songwriting, mostly acoustic and wistful, but with portions of wildness too. 

Universal Togetherness Band - Universal Togetherness Band (Numero)
Recorded between 1979-82 as part of Columbia college's audio engineering programme, this is audacious, hugely enjoyable fusion party music. 

The Isley Brothers - The Complete RCA Victor and T-Neck Album Masters (Sony) 
This is one of those sets so comprehensive that it's hard to believe it actually exists, drawing together some 21 albums along with unreleased material across 23 discs. It incorporates some vital material, particularly from when the group discovered a more electric, amplified approach, with Ernie Isley's searing guitar solos often the highlight. 

Arthur Russell - Corn (Audika)
There are signs here that the Russell well may finally be running dry, containing as Corn does a number of alternate sketchy demo versions of songs whose more fleshed out versions have already appeared on Another Thought and World Of Echo. This isn't as crucial as either of those discs, but any recording of Russell merits close attention, and this shows how strong these songs were as initial ideas. 

Idris Muhammad - Turn This Mutha Out (Soul Brother) 
A basic reissue of this admired funk/disco detour for the jazz and session drummer. It includes the majestic Could Heaven Ever Be Like This?, also memorably sampled this year by Jamie xx. The rest of the set is a little up and down, but at its best it has some peerless grooves. The aforementioned track, however, is utterly essential for any serious disco or soul collection. 

The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers Deluxe (Universal) 
The Rolling Stones reissue programme has now reached their most essential music. This version is worth the investment for the four tracks included from a 1971 live set at The Roundhouse. 

Frankie Knuckles - House Masters (Defected) 
Excellent compilation drawing together the much-missed Knuckles' greatest and most pioneering  contributions to house music culture. 

Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes/Under The Pink (Rhino)
Amos' first album immediately presented her as an idiosyncratic but commercially viable solo artist, its mix of uncompromising honesty and theatrical melodrama worked very well. It's her second, more disparate and less highly regarded album that is the gem here though. 

The Staple Singers - Freedom Highway Complete - Live At Chicago’s New Nazareth Church (Sony) 
The Staple Singers - Faith & Grace: A Family Journey 1953-1976 (Vee Jay)  
This has been a bumper year for Staple Singers fans - from the posthumous release of Pops' album Don't Lose It, to these two superb offerings. The live recordings are a little lacking in quality, although they do capture the fervour and intensity of the group's performances. The box set is the first product to span the band's output across various labels, incorporating the early gospel sides and the more commercial ventures with Stax. 

Various Artists - Soul Jazz Presents Rastafari: The Dreads Enter Babylon 1955-83 (Soul Jazz)
One of the best roots collections in some time - includes Count Ossie, Johnny Clarke, Ras Michael & Sons Of Negus and many other key names in this field. Typically well researched and presented from Soul Jazz. 

Various Artists - Next Stop Soweto 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco and Mbaqanga 1975-1985 (Strut)
The Next Stop Soweto series has been consistently wonderful, and this is perhaps the most fascinating and unexpected instalment yet, all of it previously unfamiliar to me. Some hugely enjoyable fusions of western disco and South African musical traditions. 

Arthur - Dreams and Images (Light In The Attic) 
Slightly whimsical, sometimes surreal set from poet and songwriter originally issued on Lee Hazlewood's LHI label in 1968.  Don Randi's arrangements, apparently added at Hazlewood's request, are remarkably delicate and supportive. They never threaten to overpower Arthur's reedy but sensitive voice.

No comments: