San Francisco/Berkeley Swag, Pt. Two: Music (Part Two)

Bob Kuban and the In-Men, Look Out for The Cheater (Musicland, 1966 — LP). Looking to support some smaller indies, I was a bit surprised to find no less than three shops in SF, fairly close to one another, who sold nothing but vinyl. This is not good, though it might seem like an encouraging sign. If all three places are going after the same audience, it’s certain that at least a couple of them won’t make it. Again, there’s limitations with selling popular art that’s only backward-facing. Still, I have to say this was a small score. Especially back in the late-’80s/early ’90s when the lurid and caustically ironic story of the lead singer’s murder was fresh news, I would run across the occasional copy of this album (was a hit record, after all, then went right into the forgotten bin), but at horrendous inflated prices. Not worth it considering the music is little more than okay-plus. But for $4? Yeah, I’ll keep this vinyl curio to show folks.

E.T. Mensah and the Tempos, King of Highlife Anthology (RetroAfric, 2015, four discs and 60-page booklet-insert). Though I missed it last year, this goes right to the top of reissues. In practice, it’s the first indelible introduction to Mensah ever issued in the CD years. Even scrounging through African-pop specialty stores back in the day, vinyl by Mensah remained hard to find, which, given his enormous historic importance and influence (and hell, that he inspired RetroAfric in the first place), was downright weird and puzzling. Sound is acres clearer here than I’ve ever heard before. Makes the ties to American big bands clearer and the brilliance of Mensah’s transformation of the styles much more vivid. Includes all the hits and a passel of tracks never reissued on disc before. Wowsers.

Dawn Oberg, Bring (Blossom Theory, 2015) and Rye (Blossom Theory, 2012). Pick by both Bob Xgau and the folks at Green Apple Books and that’s solid endorsement enough for me. In the process of assimilating. Important in this postliterate era that precise and free-flying lyrics persist. More conclusions later (maybe).

Alim Quasimov, Azerbaidjan (Ocara, 1993). Saw this singer about a decade ago in a concert with his daughter also doing vocals. She was fluent and fascinating; Dad was incredible. More proof that gorgeous voices can transcend any limits of language and culture and mode of music. Accompanied by just kamancha, tar, and his own daf, Quasimov delivers a full, quicksilver sound that surges you right along, even through a 44-minute medley. This came out when he was about 35 and at a peak of his powers.

Tabla Beat Science, Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove (Axiom, 2002). Enjoyed the studio release by this outfit a great deal. May not have gotten this because I fell off a mailing list. I probably cut Bill Laswell grooves and remixes too much slack. So shoe me.

Ebo Taylor, Twer Nyame (Mr. Bongo, reissue of 1978 album).

Samba Toure, Gandadiko (Glitter Beat, 2016). More listening needed, but that guitar tone is simply beautiful, with a hypnotic instinct for inserting noise and cries.

Edgard Varese, Ameriques (Deutsche Grammophon, 2001) Chicago Symphony Orch. conducted by Pierre Boulez, recorded 1995. Finally get to simultaneously pay tribute to the late conductor and one of my fave experimenters. More listening needed, but what jumps out is how savvy Boulez is here in refusing to make the compositions seem like REALLY WEIRD SHIT by using a soft touch with the sound effects and jarring turns. Sure it’s avant, but has high-mountain and tropical beauty, not merely smacks and snarls.

Randy Weston, The Complete Recordings, 1958-1960 (Enlightenment, 2016). Gathers six albums, including four I did not have. Just started digging in, but know that Little Niles (1959) is a lyrical masterpiece highlighted by the title track and that Uhuru Afrika (1960) is a breakthrough in re-Africanizing jazz. Come to think of it, very much a parallel evolution following E.T. Mensah.





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