Lately a bunch of record collectors have focused on international music from the 78 RPM era, and when they reissue their finds, those collections can lead listeners like me to all sorts of thrilling discoveries. Sometimes the presentation and organization of these reissues are lacking, though—haphazard epiphanies can be great, but so can real context. One of the most consistent sources of intelligent discussion and background in this corner of the music world is Excavated Shellac, a blog run by Jonathan Ward for nearly a decade. Ward’s taste and erudition have been recognized by the good folks at the Dust-to-Digital label, which has partnered with him for a series of fascinating thematic compilations packed with vibrant illustrations and illuminating annotations.
In October the label released Ward’s latest offering, Excavated Shellac: Reeds, a collection of songs from the late 20s through the early 60s that showcase reed instruments in disparate traditions from around the world. The subtext is the role that these reeds—bagpipes as well as a variety of single and double reeds—played in rituals, whether raucous and celebratory or somber and hypnotic. Instruments featured include the Italian zampogna, the French cabrette, an Azeri variant on the accordion, the Korean p’iri, the Chinese suona, the Indian nadaswaram, the Albanian gërnetë, the Spanish gaita asturiana, the Egyptian arghul, and the Tanzanian zumari. All of them convey irresistible intensity with a bright, piercing nasal tone that’s necessary to compete acoustically with heavy percussion and carry far enough at outdoor festivities. Today’s 12 O’Clock Track is a dazzler from Turkey called “Karzana Oyun Havasi,” a driving dance number performed by Zurnaci Mahir on the regional double reed known as the zurna (a type of shawm) while drummer Ali pounds out wild rhythms on the double-headed davul.
Aki Takase, Something Sweet, Something Tender (Enja)
John Zorn, A Vision on Blakelight (Tzadik)
Duane Eubanks, Things of That Particular Nature (Sunnyside)
Conte Candoli, Sincerely, Conti (Bethlehem)
Mike Cooper, Trout Steel (Paradise of Bachelors)