The holiday season fast approacheth, which means it’s time to shore up your record collection with some Christmas tunes to spin as you trim the tree or sip some eggnog while staring at the yule log on your new 4K TV. A fine addition to your library is this collection of festive classics released by Capitol as part of their celebration of singer Peggy Lee’s 100th birthday. This well mastered and charmingly designed comp cherrypicks from throughout Lee’s storied career, to include early material (a version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” taken from her 1949 appearance on The Bing Crosby Show, and a rendition of the lovely “Song At Midnight”) and later work, like the choice cuts from her 1960 album Christmas Carousel and “Here’s To You,” which dates to 1968—right before Lee’s contract with Capitol ended. With thorough liner notes, written by Iván Santiago-Mercado and Holly Foster Wells, and some wonderful candid photos in the gatefold, this whole package is a delight.
There are plenty of reasons for Dave Mason to revisit his first solo album, 1970’s Alone Together. It is, after all, that record’s 50th anniversary, and he’s kept songs from it in his live sets ever since. But most importantly, the master tapes for the original release were lost in the 2008 fire that destroyed much of the Universal archives. There may have been a way to reissue the album but Mason knew it wouldn’t sound as good. Instead, he has returned to the studio to cut new versions of these eight songs that better reflect where he has taken the songs in the ensuing years. In some cases, they’re not that far removed. “Only You Know And I Know” is still a husky folk-rock jam, and “Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving You” keeps its silvery shimmer. Things get rougher when Mason has radically updated his work, as with the awkward reggae overhaul of “World In Changes” and there’s a country-rock choogle to “Waitin’ On You” that pulls too far away from the R&B roots of the original.
The title of this compilation—originally released in Japan in 2004 and getting its vinyl bow this month—is knowingly cheeky; an acknowledgement of singer-songwriter Robert Wyatt’s few chart successes. His influence goes far beyond such sales numbers. Artists like Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip and Tears For Fears have been singing his praises and his compositions for years now, and critics have kept him close to their hearts as well. While there doesn’t seem to be a special reason to bring this collection out on wax, it’s a welcome development all the same. Misses is a great overview of Wyatt’s solo career, which found him applying his arch sensibilities, wide-ranging musical interests and left-wing politics to the pop idiom. Sometimes that included helping hands from Brian Eno, Paul Weller or Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, but even those famous names were careful not to get in the way of Wyatt’s idiosyncratic vocals and lyrics that spoke to his own personal concerns and global issues with poignancy and poetry. If you’ve never spent time in Wyatt’s world, this is your best entry point.
Many an artist has tried to walk the path of Fourth World progenitor Jon Hassell, but few have come as close to capturing the trance-inducing spirit of that dreamy mixture of European avant-jazz and African/Asian rhythms as Paradise Cinema. The new creative endeavor of Szun Waves member Jack Wyllie was recorded in Dakar in collaboration with a pair of Senegalese percussionists. The beauty of this album comes out in how Wyllie mixes the elements together, letting the gentle flurry of polyrhythms flow between colorful synth drones and arpeggios. It’s a masterclass in psychedelic production, as the various elements combine to create an array of images with individual instruments coming into and out of focus along the way. There’s as much to be gained homing in on one particular sound as there is in letting it all wash over your brain stem like a warm spring.
Craft Recordings continues their series reissuing the Between The Buried And Me catalog with the group’s third full-length Alaska. The 2005 release was the first to feature a new lineup of the band—one that is still intact today. Not that this change marked a huge shift in BTBAM’s sound. The quintet was still trucking in the same technical death metal found on their first two full-lengths. If anything, these new members helped make the music a little more twisty and tight-knit. What this new pressing brings is a fresh polish from producer Jamie King who remixed and remastered the sessions that he helped oversee 15 years ago. His work sharpens the focus of Alaska considerably, bringing Dan Briggs’ bass playing further forward in the mix and adding a touch of clarity to the prog rock elements that the band was introducing on tracks like “Selkies: The Endless Obsession.” The vinyl is a tad noisier than I would like, but the slight background rumbling is easily beaten back by the volume and attack of BTBAM.
At the very end of “Catalina,” a particularly jumpy bit of boogaloo found on the first new album in seven years from Bay Area acid jazz ensemble the Greyboy Allstars, a faint voice exclaims, “That was pretty badass there.” Which is just as true of that song as it is of the rest of this LP. Since joining forces in 1994 to serve as the house band for their namesake DJ Greyboy’s label, the members of this ensemble have been moving in and out of each other’s orbits. But when these Allstars align for a recording session, they make some spectacular music—inspired, as always, by the finest ’60s and ’70s funk-jazz and Latin artists. The energy is still high on the group’s 7th album, if held in check at times by a Nilsson-like vocal turn from guitarist Elgin Park on “Warm Brass” and Karl Denson’s melodious flute playing on tracks like “Born Into Space.” The only way this could have been better if this vinyl pressing came on black wax rather than the otherwise lovely marbled blue version that is being released this month. The music pops but is stuck with a noisy undercurrent that is audible throughout. Each copy comes with a download code, which should help soften the blow.
Evoking John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in the liner notes for an album is a bold move for any jazz artist, but composer and multi-instrumentalist Kahil El’Zabar is one of the few musicians with the talent to make that namecheck feel like more than just lip service. While the music on America The Beautiful, El’Zabar’s latest for U.K. label Spiritmuse, doesn’t quite reach those same heights, there’s no denying the passion and wonder of what he and his well-chosen ensemble create. With trumpeter Corey Wilkes, percussionist Babu Atiba, cellist Tomeka Reid and baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, in what would be his last recording session before his death in 2018, the music billows and breathes like lungs taking deep, calming breaths. It never pushes too hard, even when the group swings through a bouncy version of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s “Express Yourself.” It’s spiritual jazz as post-meditation bliss or the soft nestling joy of a good high. That buzz doesn’t brush aside the political undercurrents here. Full account is taken of the rising protests and unrest around the U.S., and the inspirational moments in “Freedom March” and “Prayers For The Unwarranted Sufferings,” still remind listeners of the deep roots of inequality that have to be yanked from the earth.
So many of us are seeking out sounds that soothe or at least offer some kind of comfort zone for our fevered brains and troubled souls during this fairly awful time. There is something to be said, however, for listening to music that shocks us awake or lights up previously dimmed sections of our brain. The latest collaboration between Norwegian artist Terje Evensen and Peruvian percussionist Manongo Mujica created the four pieces on Paracas Ritual with an idea toward creating synesthetic experiences in the listeners—helping turn sound into vision. It’s not a terribly comforting vision at times, either. “Nightmare at the Desert” is marked by splashes, chimes and drones drawn from some dark, primordial expanse, and Mujica’s extended trap set solo on “Drums Calling Winds” is appropriately chilly and blustery. It remains on the precipice of pure terror with enough shadows and creeping dread to keep listeners alert yet delighted.