SPV does MPS
Now that Universal Music has dropped the ball on its own MPS label reissue program, which has amounted to a few tossed-off best-of anthologies by the classy European jazz imprint’s marquee acts, it’s good to see that the SPV label has stepped up to license some of the intriguing lesser-known recordings from the vast MPS archives.
There doesn’t appear to be any chronological, thematic or cultural imperative governing which titles get the deluxe mini-LP sleeve treatment (sans bonus tracks) from SPV’s Promising Music subsidiary. There’s a certain randomness to the first wave of releases that includes Wolfgang Dauner’s improv gambit Free Action; the Dave Pike Set’s sweetly swinging Live At The Philharmonie; George Duke’s funky fusionary expedition into the synth world, Faces In Reflection; Don “Sugar Cane” Harris’s live blues-rock jam, Sugar Cane’s Got The Blues (with Robert Wyatt on drums); Charlie Mariano’s Helen 12 Trees; and Association P.C.’s Mama Kuku, which is less a prog-jazz throwdown than a strangely subdued showcase of Jeremy Steig’s flutastic flights. Nothing that I would’ve picked, but fans of boundary-busting fusion will be pleased.
For too long now, Miles Cleret’s Soundway operation has had a virtual monopoly on reissuing funky West African recordings from the 60s and 70s. So it’s great to see that Analog Africa is now providing some serious competition in the deluxe retrospective collection game.
The latest is the faboulously packaged African Scream Contest, which sidesteps the recording centres of Nigeria and Ghana to offer a well-chosen selection of the funky Afro psych ’n’ salsa produced in Benin and Togo. The personal account of compiler Samy Ben Redjeb’s experiences tracking down the musicians and composers behind the killer jams makes for fascinating liner notes illustrated with an exceptionally solid photo record of the artists involved – which requires much more sleuthing than digging up a few ratty album sleeves. Also worth noting is that the sound reproduction is a vast improvement over Soundway’s stuff, and all the tracks have been fully licensed. A bar-raiser in every respect.
It's a Vanity by Gabo Brown & Orchestre Poly-Rythmo (African Scream Contest)
Les Volcans de la Capital by Oya Ka Jojo (African Scream Contest)
Much less elaborate is VampiSoul’s excellent 11-track Afrobeat Nirvana comp. It serves as a cost-effective introduction to the label’s African reissue program, which covers a broader stylistic range than the title suggests.
VampiSoul will soon be following up its Fela Kuti, Tony Allen and Orlando Julius sets with new anthologies from Bola Johnson and Fred Fisher, but judging by the trippy tweaked Oriri Jerode
by Godwin Omobuwa, the forthcoming Afro Psychedeliques comp is going to be the heavyweight contender.
Psychedelic Afro-Shop by Orlando Julius (Afrobeat Nirvana)
Muskox in miniature
You may have seen the recordings of Toronto’s minimalist free folk collective Muskox on the shelves at Soundscapes – where founding member Mike Smith works – and mistaken the cute little packages for expensive matchbooks. Actually, they’re three-inch CD EPs of engagingly avant jams recorded with unusual combinations of instruments not commonly associated with improvisational music, including some they’ve built themselves.
The latest and perhaps best of the three Muskox releases is the home-recorded Gallantries (Woods and Waters), employing banjo, vibes, harmonium, pedal steel guitar, double bass, marimba, electric piano and alto saxophone. But more important than the choice of sound creation devices is that the mysterious Muskox crew have found their groove. The closing track The Wren
, sounds like a Mulatu Astatke modal mover off an Ethiopiques disc. Small but mighty.