Old & New / Reissue & Repackaging
Recent listening, October 2003

Where do old and new meet? I tend to get cross with the monthly music mags who hide away brand new CDs of live or unreleased stuff by bands I want to listen to in their ´Reissues' section - after all, they aren't re-issues, they're brand new product.

Anyway, that out of the way, a lot of music at the moment, falls into that old bands, new music category. With a bit of reissue and repackaging, and some brand new stuff in there too.

In the never released before, but music from days gone by, category, is Gryphon's Glastonbury Carol [Hux], which contains two BBC sessions by the band a ´lost' single [the title track, which was recorded for the closing credits of the film of Glastonbury Fayre]. This is a band you either love or hate, a progrock-folk hybrid, who moved from quirky reinterpretations of traditional folk tunes on their first album [and on the first live session here] to keyboard-laden concept albums later on [some would say as the result of supporting Yes on their Relayer tour]. Having sneaked that reference in, let me say that the second session here is well before the progrock overload and is a live version of their Midnight Mushrumps suite, which still features crumhorn and recorder on full motor... It's great stuff, quirky, original, and decidedly bizarre. Another time I'll tell you about their last ever gig at a Polytechnic' Students Union bar in central London (promises, promises) - but not right now.

Also in the music made before but not released until now category is Robert Wyatt's Solar flares burn for you [Cuneiform], which I see Paul Donnelly has beaten me to reviewing already. Let me just agree with his high praise, although I confess I find the instrumental film music a tad dull, and the joke wears thin upon repeated playing of ´We Got an Arts Council Grant' song. And, to be honest, it's not as good as his new CD, Cuckooland [Hannibal], which is in the end far more deserving of your time and interest.

Wyatt was, of course, a founder member of Soft Machine, a jazz-rock combo who only recently it seems have taken their rightful [pride of] place in the 60s and 70s pantheon of neglected greats. Amidst a torrent of live recordings, the second BBC Radio sessions [Hux], from 1971-1974, are a brilliant showcase for various line-ups and energetic versions of songs that never made it to the official releases. I confess I'm someone who thinks that in the end Soft Machine's Six and Bundles LPs are two of their best, so it's wonderful to hear gutsy, raw versions of ´The Man Who Waved at Trains' and ´Hazard Profile'. This should help put an end to all the ´dull jazz-rock musos' criticism for once and for all.

As should the reissues of two almost contemporaneous CDs from the same kind of jazz meets rock area of things. Harry Beckett's Flare-Up [Voiceprint] is a joyful, swinging album, where the band leader, who plays trumpet, is joined by John Surman, Mike Osborne and Alan Skidmore among others, in a playful and intelligent set of tunes that include a vibes-filled wigout, loping bop-rock hybrids, and gentle ballads. El Skid [Voiceprint] also features the playing of Alan Skidmore [and I assume Chris Laurence and Chris Lawrence, who play bass on both, may be related - and not just by typo] but is a far more focused and adventurous set. Four pieces here are all extended and pulled and pushed out of shape by each and every member of the band. Elton Dean is extraordinary on saxophone, and John Marshall is his normal wonderful self on bass, as he - and Laurence, also on bass! - underpin the duetting front line. A world away from the likes of Santana or jazz-fusion, this is true jazz-rock, where improvisation, rock and post-bop met and enjoyed the resulting musical explosion. ´Skid' isn't the word.

A world away from that, in fact more like a slow motion car crash than a skid, is the Pere Ubu live in 1976 CD, The Shape of Things, I've only just picked up, although it was released by Hearthan in 2000. Here, in funky cassette-recorded live bootleg quality sound, are early Pere Ubu in their finest frenzy. From the opening strains of ´Heart of Darkness', to the demented version of ´Heroin' and the subsequent ´outro', via stonking versions of ´30 Seconds over Tokyo' and ´Final Solution', this is Pere Ubu at the peak of their avant-garde power. This is why this band was taken to heart: this sputtering noise, this cut-up, this feedback, this jerky analogue synthesizer and plodding bass, this shouted vocal from balloon-man David Thomas. This is raw punk. This has made me listen to all those early Ubu albums again. This is great.

And finally to some new music. No punk in sight I'm afraid [and besides what everyone these days calls ´punk' - or at least The White Stripes - turns out to be laid back blues], and no rock either [and besides what everyone calls ´rock - or The Darkness at least - turns out to be a Queen pastiche or some other form of pantomime], just some quieter releases.

First up is the new Harold Budd CD, La Bella Vista [Shout! Factory], which continues Budd's trajectory into minimal, romantic piano music. Honesty compels me to say it's pretty much more of the same: very nice if you like that kind of thing [I do] but it won't convince anyone who doesn't, and it's not one of his best offerings.

Better is the way blue bucket [Green Bean Productions], a new band to these ears, who are a jazz trio out of Philadelphia. I like their eclectic mix of influences, from Swedish folk to funkier stuff, but am not so keen on the ´vocalization' all three members indulge in, and can see that their catholic musical tastes & style[s] could be a hindrance to some listeners. Personally though I find the CD a joyous, energising and energetic, collection and will look out for any future releases by the band.

And finally, a beautiful duo recording by Uchihashi Kazuhisa & Gene Coleman on Chicago's False Walls label. storobo imp contains seven improvised duets where bass clarinet and daxophone, guitar and electronics, converse and explore the full range of sound, dynamics and silence. This is careful, mesmerising, considered music that quietly convinces.

© 2003Rupert Loydell