A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.
Peter Margasak, Reader music critic
Bobby Bradford & John Carter Quintet, No U Turn This fiery 1975 live set captures one of jazz’s greatest bands in a rarely documented period in its history. Its sound emerged from Ornette Coleman’s approach (cornetist Bobby Bradford sometimes worked with him), but by the mid-70s the group was on its own path, with John Carter moving from saxophone to clarinet. Together the horn men, drummer William Jeffrey, and the roiling basses of Roberto Miranda and Stanley Carter portend the structural ingenuity of Carter’s five-album landmark Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music.
Tigue, Peaks Lots of percussion groups are pushing the boundaries of new music, including New York trio Tigue, but they still really like to bang on things. Peaks is a visceral eight-movement work that Matt Evans, Amy Garapic, and Carson Moody have written more like a band than like ivory-tower composers. It progresses seamlessly through punishing backbeats, hovering drones, and spiky tuned percussion, and it’s always electric.
International Contemporary Ensemble, On the Nature of Thingness: Music by Phyllis Chen and Nathan Davis Keyboardist Phyllis Chen and percussionist Nathan Davis are terrific composers and key members of New York’s International Contemporary Ensemble. This 2016 release collects ICE commissions from both, including toy-piano works by Chen (such as “Chimers”) and Davis’s four-movement title piece, a tour de force for soprano Tony Arnold and a large ensemble.
Peter is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .
Jim Dorling, singer for the Pillowhammer
This Heat, “Not Waving” I think there’s a kinder, gentler variation on the earworm—that catchy Top 40 hit that torments us when we just can’t stop replaying it in our heads—and the bass clarinet part in this song, from This Heat’s self-titled 1979 debut album, is the perfect example. Every now and then, in the years since I bought the first reissue of this classic avant-postpunk record, I’ll notice this song’s pulse playing in my head, and I’ll think, “How nice—I wonder what it’s called.” So I recently went back and put it on, and it turns out it’s a totally immersive meditation on drowning.
Echoplex EP-2 I got a deal on this vintage tape-echo pedal last summer at a flea market and then paid twice as much to get it repaired. Owning this high-maintenance effect makes me think of keeping a Tamagotchi, those Japanese electronic pets you have to feed or they die: tons of splicing, carefully feeding the tape into the transport, then praying it won’t jam during a show. But the payoff is worth it—this is the most musical “pedal” I own, not so much an effect as an instrument in its own right.
Big Youth, “Hotter Fire” This 1976 tune uses classic everything-and-the–kitchen-sink dub reggae production: In addition to the usual echo and a few totally saturated thunder samples, a siren keeps cycling through to suck all the air out of the mix. It’s a jarring effect, reminiscent of the inept stereo panning at end of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive.” Only he keeps doing it, and it’s a goddamn siren.
Jim is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .
Sam Wagster, guitarist for the Father Costume
Alice Coltrane, Infinite Chants On this later Alice Coltrane record from 1990, she’s completely transformed—since her late-60s jazz records, she’d converted to Hinduism, changed her name to Turiyasangitananda, and traveled far from that musical territory. Using her voice and synth against the backdrop of an Indian choir and percussion ensemble, she sets up a devotional, meditative trance plateau, then ascends or descends to another using the modulation wheel of the synth. There’s still a lot of gospel and blues (especially in her deep, rich singing), and she blends it seamlessly with the new Eastern presentation. The traditional chanting has an earthbound quality that makes the astral synth and tonal moves that much more compelling. There’s no way to finish this record in a bad mood.
Billy Strayhorn, Piano Passion Part of what made Duke Ellington’s 25-year collaboration with composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn so great was hearing Strayhorn’s introverted, lyrical tunes projected through Ellington’s large ensemble and persona. This rare collection of Strayhorn playing his own songs on piano (mostly solo, with occasional strings and wordless vocal harmonies) lets you hear Strayhorn’s inventive voice leadings and tense harmonies closer to their origin.
Cameo live in 1980 on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert Cameo before the codpiece-and-flattop era is unbelievable: every member dancing, playing, and singing with energy and precision in matching onesies. This will get you stoked on the F-word.