Various – The Boston Creative Jazz Scene 1970 – 1983 (Cultures Of Soul book + album, 2016)

Just lately, I’ve found myself delving further and further into jazz music of all forms. I haven’t fully worked out yet how I came to persue this genre so avidly, but it’s become a major musical passion for me over the last five years. Caitlin Moran wrote recently in The Times about how your music taste atrophies in your thirties; in my case, as I race toward the conclusion of my thirties, the burning quest to still find new things to get excited about hasn’t diminished at all, but whereas at the start of this last decade of my life I was listening primarily to Mute, now I find myself more and more playing and buying jazz records.

One of the reasons it’s become so important for me is because I rarely ever write about it. Instead it’s become music I can just listen to without feeling compelled to document it in some way. Opportunities to review jazz records only come up at Electronic Sound if they stray into adventurous synth territory, and Clash never covers jazz – so I jumped at the chance to cover this book and album when it appeared on the monthly reviews list for the latter. 

This album covers the under-surveyed Boston avant-garde jazz scene of the Seventies and early Eighties via an authoritative book written by one of the scene’s central figures, accompanied by a CD featuring some of the artists whose careers the book highlights. For anyone who thinks that developments in jazz were confined to New York and Chicago, it’s an illuminating proposition.

My review can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Larry Levan – Genius Of Time (Universal compilation, 2016)

  
Larry Levan was a major figure in the New York club scene of the Eighties, and The Paradise Garage on NYC’s King Street where he had his residency was the day-glo decade’s answer to Studio 54. As a DJ Levan was legendary; as a remixer he applied his dancefloor nous to his work in the studio, developing mixes that focussed on the groove but emphasised soulfulness over alien electronics and overly-regimented 4/4 beats. 

Universal have released a compilation of 22 mixes, edits and extended versions by Levan. I reviewed the album for Clash. You can read my review here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Various Artists – Fly : Songs Inspired By The Film ‘Eddie The Eagle’ (Universal album, 2016)

  
I reviewed the soundtrack to the film Eddie The Eagle for This Is Not Retro. Fly features a who’s who of Eighties music, including everyone from Martyn Ware‘s Heaven 17to Paul Young, most of whom have recorded exclusives for the album.

Erasure‘s Andy Bell delivers the title track, while Nik Kershaw’s ‘The Sky’s The Limit’ (from his 2012 album Ei8ht) steals the show as perhaps the best song ever written about following your dreams. Kershaw said he wrote this song to his child to show that you really can be whatever you want, and as a father to two growing little girls, I can’t listen to this song without getting emotional.

My review can be found here

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence 

Various Artists – Straight To You – The Gothic Country And Blues That Inspired Nick Cave (Uncut covermount album, 2010)

  

Uncut put together this covermount CD of tracks that purportedly inspired Nick Cave, covering blues and country tracks by the likes of Leadbelly, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.

I’m always a little dubious of these types of things, especially where the artist in question wasn’t actually involved, particularly since a lot of the tracks and artists here are ones that Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds covered during their career (mostly on Kicking Against The Pricks) – while it may be possible to conclude that they were therefore an influence, I’m not so sure about all of them. The one artist that Cave frequently spoke about as being a major formative influence on him was The Man In Black, Johnny Cash, who Cave would have the nerve-racking opportunity to work with during Cash’s twilight years. Cash’s nihilistic ‘I’d Rather Die Young’ is one of the tracks included here.

Certainly you can hear a certain Birthday Party-era wildness in Gene Vincent’s ‘Cat Man’, there’s the ‘grinderman’ lineage in Memphis Slim’s ‘Grinder Man Blues’ and Cave displayed a healthy interest in the mystical aura of Elvis Presley on ‘Tupelo’. Defining precisely what has influenced a person, given that life is an entire summation of experience – recognised or otherwise – is a fool’s game. When I interview an artist and feel duty-bound to ask them about their influences, it is invariably greeted with a sigh or an awkward silence. We nevertheless are obsessed with such details, on the basis that it helps us rationalise a person via certain reference points, and that will never change.

This is one for the Cave completist only. I’m not sure now whether the magazine that this came with included a feature on Cave or some sort of explanation about how these tracks had been selected, or maybe it tied in with a Bad Seeds release that month. I certainly don’t have it any longer. If you surrender the notion that this is intended as some sort of definitive listing of what made Nick Cave who he is today – ignoring the fact that to do that justice would involve everything from church choir music through to The Stooges – what you are left with is a decent album of some very important blues and country songs.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

The 7th Plain – Wishbone

    

The 7th Plain was an alias that future NovaMute / Mute artist Luke Slater used for a brief time, the first album issued under the name being the brilliant My Wise Yellow Rug released in 1994 by General Production Recordings (GPR). The 7th Plain found Slater operating in a firmly ambient mode, complementing the more dancefloor-friendly tracks he issued under his Planetary Assault Systems alias.

‘Wishbone’ doesn’t appear on My Wise Yellow Rug, but it sounds like it should have been included there. Here Slater lays down a rich, slowly-developing tapestry of mostly pleasant sounds underpinned by a hissing rhythm that sits somewhere between skeletal electro and the factory-like drum pattern from Depeche Mode’s ‘Ice Machine’. Toward the end Slater introduces a bassline constructed from a somewhat darker synth sound while a repetitive arpeggio sequence takes on a queasy insistence as the track concludes.

Throughout, even as Slater drops in what feels like a organic, jazzy looseness at the very beginning via vaguely piano riffs, there’s an underlying mechanistic, robotic quality to ‘Wishbone’; that reminds me of a review of one of the tracks on My Wise Yellow Rug which compared the track in question to Vince Clarke covering Vangelis’s theme to Blade Runner. In the interests of full disclosure, I actually bought the album on the strength of that line alone. At the time it wasn’t apparent that Slater would go on to become a Mute artist, but I was pleased he ultimately signed to the label, though I can honestly say that his work as The 7th Plain was always more interesting to me than the output under his own name.

Equanimity was released as a double compilation by the GPR label in 1995 and features some really good tracks from Max 404, D:Fuse, Beaumont Hannant, Russ Gabriel and other artists from the imprint’s roster. It sits squarely alongside the Warp series of Artificial Intelligence / listening electronica albums but at times seems to have much more of a concrete, robust edge compared to some of the ambient noodling that Warp’s series tended towards. With Max 404 and a crunchy Bari-speed rave track from the absurdly-named Radioactive Lamb being two possible exceptions, it would have been slightly inconceivable to find any of the tracks here finding themselves sitting comfortably in a techno set of the time, but an adventurous DJ could have probably found a way. They usually could.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Various Artists – Junior Boy’s Own Collection (JBO compilation, 1994)

  
compilation // Junior Boy’s Own Collection

Including this compilation on this blog is highly tenuous, and as I shipped it off to the guy who bought it off me this weekend, I really couldn’t find a reason to write about it at all. I then opened up the CD sleeve and found a brief message of thanks to ‘Darren Price and Centuras’, and bearing in mind that Price became a celebrated NovaMute artist a few years later, that gave me the highly tenuous reason to document this here.

Centuras were a trio of Price, Eric Chiverton and Gary Lindop, and the unit dropped a few 12” singles on various labels before finally settling at Junior Boy’s Own, the dance label established in 1991 as a subsidiary of the UK’s Boy’s Own Productions. Price’s early group don’t feature on this compilation, predominantly because Junior Boy’s Own Collection was designed to showcase the label’s bigger acts – Terry Farley and Pete Heller’s house project Fire Island, Underworld, Ashley Beedle’s X-Press 2 and a unit then known as The Dust Brothers, who would of course go on to become The Chemical Brothers.

Underworld were poster boys for UK dance music around 1994, having transitioned from a singles band operating squarely in the club genre to the front cover of the NME and Melody Maker upon the release of Dubnobasswithmyheadman, probably because Karl Hyde played guitar and that made it acceptable to the indie masses. Two Underworld tracks (‘Dirty Guitar’ and ‘Rez) are included here, along with the upbeat ‘Bigmouth’ under their Lemon Interrupt alias. That JBO had both Underworld and the other highly lauded crossover act The Dust Brothers (their rare early cut ‘Song To The Siren’ appears here) was quite remarkable for a small indie label, and probably the catalyst for Virgin’s V2 subsidiary taking them over.

As a survey of the disparate forms that dance music was already coalescing into in the pivotal year of 1994, Junior Boy’s Own Collection is near-definitive, given that it covers two flavours of house, nascent trip-hop and cross-over electronica. The only thing missing is pure techno, something that JBO had never really specialised in, the mantle for which was already being picked up by other, more specialist small labels.

I recall buying this from an HMV in Birmingham in 1994, for no apparent reason whatsoever. I already had the Underworld and Dust Brothers tracks and had no real interest in Farley / Heller, X-Press 2 or any of the other acts included here. It’s the kind of needless spending that I did as a kid, and one of the reasons I now feel the need to trim back my record collection.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Various Artists – Artificial Intelligence (Warp compilation, 1992)

  
compilation // Artificial Intelligence

Warp’s groundbreaking Artificial Intelligence compilation did what so many other seminal compilations did and effectively made a scene concrete. Like Eno’s No New York did for post-punk in the US, it could be argued confidently that Warp did the same for the particular brand of electronica over which the Sheffield label presided, spawning a series of intriguing albums by the label that gave voice to many of the artists that were showcased on the compilation.

Artificial Intelligence arrived in 1992, the same year that hardcore had rudely woken the listening public from their slumber, and on many of the tracks included here there’s still a whiff of detuned breakbeats as opposed to the haphazard glitch beats that the likes of Autechre would come to represent over the next two decades. In fact, Autechre’s ‘Crystel’, one of two tracks by Sean Booth and Rob Brown included here, sounds positively like a conventional instrumental synthpop track compared to the jagged rhythms and icy melodies they would become poster children for. Tracks like Musicology’s ‘Preminition’ are not exactly the bedroom listening we came to expect from the AI series, and instead sound like straightforward rave tracks, complete with menacing basslines and euphoric soul samples.

Of interest to Mute / NovaMute fans are three tracks from Speedy J and Richie Hawtin, here operating under his short-lived UP! alias. Hawtin’s ‘Spiritual High’ was originally released on a 12” song on Hawtin’s Probe label, and later released as one side of NovaMute’s Probe Mission 2 12” as part of a tentative partnership between the UK and Canadian labels (the other track on that 12” was by Public Energy, an alias of Speedy J). For a track taken from a relatively early part of Hawtin’s career, the format of his later work is immediately recognisable in the thudding snare-heavy beats, acid squelches and the way his track repeats endlessly but still builds toward several peaks over the course of its six minute duration.

‘Fill 3’ by Speedy J forms part of a series of tracks with that title, but as far as I can tell, was an exclusive to Artificial Intelligence. By the time Jochem Paap had arrived at NovaMute his music had undergone many changes, and ‘Fill 3’ sounds positively naïve in comparison with his later work, though with its synth pads and shimmering textures it is undoubtedly one of the most pleasantly ambient tracks on the whole collection. Given the momentum implied by its bubbling patterns and fragile melodies, it feels like it’s crying out for a beat sequence of some form, but to J’s credit he resisted the temptation of adding one. The other Speedy J track on Artificial Intelligence, ‘De-Orbit’, was featured on his Warp album Ginger and is a slowed-down, chilled-out affair with hip-hops breaks, wherein the languid pace allows for intricate details to emerge through the greater sense of space.

Alongside Autechre, Artificial Intelligence showcased Warp stalwart Aphex Twin, here in his Dice Man guise but with a track from his Polygon Window album for the label, as well as B12 (Musicology) and The Black Dog under the name I.A.O. The album also included Orb’s Alex Paterson with a live version of the classic ‘Loving You’, though it’s not immediately apparent what makes this a Paterson solo effort rather than an Orb performance.

1994’s follow-up compilation mined the same vein, with many of the same players, but branched out further, and also illustrated how much the electronic music could evolve in just two short years. For this reviewer, I bought Artificial Intelligence 2 before the first instalment, and listening in reverse made this first compilation sound decidedly tentative, but I nevertheless fully understood the importance of what Warp had assembled here.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence