The Best Of 2013 — Compilations / Reissues
1) Le Grand Kalle, Joseph Kabasele: His Life, His Music (Sterns)
If The Father of Modern Congolese Music seems too parochial an honorific for you, how about West Africa’s Miles Davis? Although the comparison isn’t perfect, it touches on Joseph Kabasele’s role in helping modernize African pop even while his urbane band offered apprenticeships to the next generation of African superstars. As this retrospective’s handsome 100+ page book makes clear, Kabasele and crew were educated elites energized by Congolese independence, careful students of regional specialties yet nobody’s traditionalist. And while Kabasele remains a titanic figure, many tracks will be revelations even to studied fans of African pop, as befits a tireless performer who cut over one hundred records between 1950-52 alone. You can even follow along as much-loved styles fall into place; the pure Parisian cafe (plus clave) of the opening track catapulting into “Kale Kato’s” rumba-congo via saxophone, or the sudden appearance of electric guitar on “Baila” heralding the nearly rock ‘n roll drive of “Tujala Tshibemba,” and the world-historical hit “Independence Cha Cha” predicting the liquid precision of both dual guitars and twin trumpets on future tracks aided by Euro studio budgets. Multiculti global fusion has rarely seemed so effortless (forget rhythmic variations and just consider the languages utilized, from Lingala and French to Tshiluba and Kikongo). And while Kabasele’s mid-60s recordings on the second disc can’t compare to his peerless first decade, you’d be thrown off balance too if your band had lost Manu Dibango, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Dr. Nico, and Sam Mangwana in one fell swoop. Easily the historical reissue of the year.
2) Clifford Jordan, The Complete Clifford Jordan Strata-East Sessions (Mosaic)
Hard bop saxophonist blows in from Chicago circa 1957, only to sign on with upstart black-owned record label Strata-East in the early ’70s to arrange open-ended tributes to the still-mourned Eric Dolphy. Friends and accompanists include Cecil Payne, Sonny Sharrock, Pharoah Sanders, Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell, Wilbur Ware, and the much-missed Charles Brackeen. Post-Ornette inside/out, including Jordan’s own out-of-print masterpiece “Glass Bead Games”. Tomorrow was the question.
3) William Onyeabor, World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who Is William Onyeabor? (Luaka Bop)
“Psychedelic” isn’t the proper descriptor, unless like me your definition of psychedelic encompasses Parliament and Kraftwerk. But “Good Name” and “Let’s Fall In Love” are stunning assemblages of electro-robotic primitivism, as rinky-dink as they are unsettling and insistent. And while Onyeabor and his tireless female chorus trade verses in typical Nigerian afrobeat fashion, the leader rarely rises above a murmur so calm it brings to mind the palm wine cool of Jùjú, even when posing such legitimate post-Biafran queries as “Why go to war”?
4) Lobi Traoré, Bamako Nights: Live at Bar Bozo 1995 (Glitterbeat Records)
The notes identify two newsworthy details - Traoré had recently purchased a flanger pedal, while Bar Bozo would be shut down by the authorities mere weeks after this set went to tape. And while there’s no suggestion the events were related, Traoré certainly raises a glorious racket. If you’ve already memorized every riff and boogie chillen stomp off Traoré’s other live recording, Bwati Kono “In the Club,” you may wonder how many more minutes of John Lee Hooker/Jimi Hendrix/Angus Young West African electric slop you need. You need more.
5) Bing Crosby, Bing Sings The Johnny Mercer Songbook (HLC Properties)
Opens with a 1934 radio rendition of Mercer’s “P.S. I Love You,” closes twenty years later with a 1953 radio rendition of Mercer’s “P.S. I Love You,” and in between come twenty other clever and insistently hip variations on one man’s Great American Songbook. Louis Armstrong and The Andrews Sisters grace key tracks, but the show is mostly Bing’s.
6) The Miles Davis Quintet, Live In Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 2 (Columbia / Legacy)
If the ’67 quintet hinted at electricity, this band embodied it, even if fusion landmark Bitches Brew lay nine long months away from the two Antibes appearances captured here. The mindfuck comes in hearing Davis and company straddle two distinct eras most of us long ago assumed were strictly segregated, as when DeJohnette helps Davis slam directly out of “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” into 1958’s modal bop anthem “Milestones” or Thelonious Monk’s 1944 “‘Round Midnight”. Not one for nostalgia, Miles Dewey Davis III.
7) Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument: Shemonmuanay (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
Ethiopian bedroom project from 1985 Washington DC, featuring Mergia’s one-man-band accordion/synthesizer/drum machine assemblage. The real analog Africa of 2013.
8) Acid — Mysterions Invade The Jackin’ Zone: Chicago And Experimental House 1986-93 (Soul Jazz)
Second city, nothing - Mr Fingers and Phuture are here to remind you which regional scene first taught young upstarts how to mess around with 808s.
9) Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound (Numero Group)
These tracks don’t portend the genius of Dirty Mind — most pre-Prince Twin City outfits merely mirrored outside R&B trends, from Mandrill boogie (Haze) to Latimore slow jams (Walter Lewis). Even 18-year-old James Harris, soon to be known as Jimmy Jam, betrayed a sizable debt to Gamble/Huff and the Stylistics in his surprisingly ornate (glockenspiel!) basement demos from early songwriting project Mind & Matter, one decade and a lifetime before Jam/Lewis helped detonate Janet Jackson’s era-defining Control. But change is in the sub-zero air: One hears horn ensembles losing ground in favor of ARP Axxe and Oberheim OB-X synths, while the sick keyboards of Stylle Band’s “If You Love Me” almost bring to mind, well, Purple Rain.
10) The Group, Live (No Business)
"The Group" seems as lazy/vague/self-congratulatory as "The Band," only then you notice a 1986 lineup that goes Ahmed Abdullah, Marion Brown, Billy Bang, Sirone, and Andrew Cyrille. The Group it is.
11) Change The Beat: The Celluloid Records Story 1980 – 1987 (Strut)
New York Noise circa 1983, meaning funky and electro and hip-hop as emergent avant-garde. Fab 5 Freddy meets Bill Laswell. Ginger Baker, too. Chillwave, house, avant-noise, Keith Haring, all in 30 mostly succinct tracks.
12) Dur-Dur Band, Volume 5 (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
Awesome Tapes From Africa restores to circulation what little remains of Mogadishu’s premier party band, those uptempo pop ensembles flourishing during the Somali capital’s brief 1980s heyday. Some sources list twelve active members, others fifteen, brandishing guitars, horns, hammond organ, dinky keyboards once in a while, drums. Horn of Africa funk that stays true to the region’s rich and melancholic melody bank.