Reversing Out of This Cul-de-sac
Let's be brutally honest about this: if, as we are told, Tricky and Mogwai are among the best fare on offer, then it is no wonder we are all instead luxuriating in the lovely assortment of the archived, assembled, reduced and reissued sounds suddenly available on CD. Whatever our reason for indulging; whether it be continuing our spiritual education or obtaining the hitherto unattainable, replacing wrecked vinyl or recapturing lost youth; we have never had it so good. I am just looking at what is scattered around my room and thinking of what remains on my shopping list.
Highlights? No, it's just the way the autumnal sunlight catches my hair. Sorry! I am still euphoric about Creation (through Revola) making Josef K's long lost The Only Fun In Town LP available on one CD together with the abandoned Sorry For Laughing set. It all seems and sounds too good to be true, and shows how right I've been, but don't start me on that. Then there's the 45 track Vic Godard collection, appropriately titled 20 Odd Years, and in this context the recent recordings like 'We'll Keep Our Chains' and 'Common Thief' sound great, and suggest that for the gifted writing wonderful songs is a little like riding a bike.
What else? Os Mutantes and The Ramones; great 2 in 1 sets from Nina Simone and Crime; X-Ray Music, a great budget dub selection from Blood and Fire. Perhaps the nicest surprise though was finding an ESG CD on Rough Trade. For an outfit so often name dropped and sampled, their records have been tragically neglected by archivists. The same applies to 23 Skidoo of course. Strange, when ESG's 99 teammates Liquid Liquid and Bush Tetras have been so well revisited. Sadly, the ESG CD is not their legendary Come Away WithÉ set from 1983 (though I understand that has recently been reissued on vinyl!), but seems to date from '91. I hope someone somewhere can come up with a definitive discography of the sisters, but for now this set is a treat, marred only occasionally by some decidedly dodgy bluesy guitar. That aside, the sisters' minimal rhythm foundation is as ever pivotal, and there are magical moments galore. For anyone who doesn't know, ESG are three (Puerto Rican?) New Yorkers whose reputation rests on a remarkable EP recorded for the fabled 99 Records, in 1982-ish, concurrently released in the UK on Factory. It was pure stripped down funk punk, and I loved it. A lot of people were working in the same area then, but the ESG EP has been the most extensively sampled, though their team mates Liquid Liquid too have been the bedrock of Hip Hop. ESG then recorded an LP for 99, then continued with their funk minimalism, as this release shows. ESG being Emerald, Sapphire and Gold incidentally. It's easy to hear their influence on Luscious Jackson, and as versions of 'Moody' and 'UFO' from the great EP are on this CD, you realise they've influenced so much Hip Hop.
Anyway, I am getting sidetracked. My point is that while I am quite happy here with my restored version of New Order's first LP Movement, I would be happier still with a new recording by a new name. Let's not be downcast and downbeat, for I am sure there is the very thing out there, and it has been a great year for new records: Pole, Roots Manuva, Badly Drawn Boy, Clinic, Company Flow, Sam Prekop and Fluxion spring immediately to mind.
A particularly honourable mention must go to the recent Joyce LP on Far Out Recordings, which is so hauntingly refreshingly beautiful. As most of the reviews have intimated, the sound of Hard Bossa is very acoustic, very pared down, in the vein of her mythical 1980 set, Feminina, and quite certainly deliberately so. Nearly 20 years on, though, her voice seems ever so slightly richer and deeper, so the effect on one's senses is more marked. It's a simple concept, simple execution, and works wonders. Acoustic guitars, flutes, light samba, bossa, whatever, rhythms; and a strange pervasive sadness in the songs. I love it!
Getting back to the subject of reissues, Joyce is someone who has genuinely benefited from having her back catalogue aired once more. At the end of '97, the very nice people at Mr Bongo put out a superb collection: The Essential Joyce: 1970 - 1996, with 23 tracks of pure magic spanning her days from being a Brazilian outlaw to being queen of the worldwide jazz dance scene.
I remember buying this CD that New Year's Eve, feeling good about the world and wanting to take a chance. Down the years, I had heard Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge play her songs occasionally, and liked what I heard, though nothing prepared me for the joy of this collection. I would aver that it would now be one of my Desert Island Discs. From the early raw grooves, which it must be said fir perfectly alongside Josef K in any DJ's set, to the latter day productions benefiting from all the new friends she found in the jazz dance world, there are no weak inclusions. The best songs, however, have to be the ones from Feminina, the aforementioned 1980 set. In particular, Aidelea De Ogurr is one of the most remarkable songs ever recorded, so much so that I shall not even try to capture its magic in words here. Suffice to say, Tortoise noted its importance and covered it for a Peel session, and I'm still waiting for a tape. Hint, hintÉ
It is horribly ironic when you think how great the music was that Joyce was creating in the early '80s, and there we were oblivious to it all but beginning to nod head appreciatively to Weekend, A Certain Ratio and the Pale Fountains who were making great pop by incorporating Latin rhythms more and more. Still, I know that Gilles Peterson does credit Weekend (and in particular the gorgeous 'Leaves of Spring' debut) for helping him discover the jazz. Where are the Weekend reissues, incidentally? Are you reading this Marina?
I hate to say this, but Brazilian flair has not always been just about footwork on the pitch, and for further proof I would also recommend the two volumes of The Essential Marcus Valle on Mr Bongo for exquisite sambas, scatting, bossas and beats. Just as essential is the Quartin compilation on Far Out Recordings, which puts together some great tracks from that label's early '70s output. The Piri tracks are awesome, and their percussion driven contributions with the woodwind embellishments are major favourites. Frustratingly though, the sleeve notes say next to nothing about Piri.
So, what are we saying here? Simply, the eternal message, that we have a lot to learn, and that if there is a chance to do so, we should make the most of it. We have all spent time and money on the mediocre simply because it is new and now and we want to be alchemists. Yet if you do not have money to burn, why spend it on those who never will?
© Kevin Pearce 1999