Various Artists: Savoy on Central Avenue

Robert R. Calder

Various Artists

Savoy on Central Avenue

Label: Savoy Jazz
US Release Date: 2003-09-23

This two CD set is much the same story as the other recent Savoy cheap (I am not talking about the price) production I've seen. "For years, jazz writers ignored Los Angeles in favor of cities east of the Mississippi, mainly New Orleans, Chicago and New York," Billy Vera tells us in a geography lesson no worse than his following "No further proof is needed of the provincial nature of the New York intelligencia..." (I suppose he means "intelligentsia"?) "than the fact that the name of Nat Cole, one of the greatest of jazz pianists -- who happened to find fame and fortune in L.A. -- cannot be found or is barely mentioned in East Coast biased books."

Of course you can recognise an East Coast biased book by its not mentioning Nat Cole, and books which don't mention Nat Cole don't mention Nat Cole, and are therefore East Coast biased books?

Fame and fortune was what Cole found by singing rather than being the outstanding jazz pianist many of his later fans never knew or cared he had been. According to a creature (sorry) called Mathis (cough!) on a television tribute (sic) show long, long ago, Cole began as ''just a piano player". You can say the same of Oscar Peterson, who has never made a secret of what he owes Nat Cole!

Cole does sing on his token appearance here. Errol Garner and Dexter Gordon and Hampton Hawes get one track each, suggesting that our compiler had come up with the name and found there was something on Savoy and picked something out without much thought. Of course there was a vinyl two-fer called Black California on Savoy long ago, and there were also jam sessions with Dexter Gordon and Hampton Hawes and Wardell Gray on the West Coast and on in earlier Savoy reissue series. Rather than Billy Vera's self-indulgence in packing in more of the R&B sort of stuff which came all too easily to hand, presumably Savoy also own some of the New Orleans jazz on a Savoy vinyl two-fer I remember but missed -- and it could well have been here instead? Research?

B. Vera tells us that beside the L.A.-based labels picking up on what was happening on the West Coast in the years around 1950 "Newark, New Jersey's Savoy wanted some of the action. Not content to merely find and record artists, the label's visionary owner, Herman Lubinsky, also purchased masters and even whole catalogs from other labels who fell on hard times."

One had gathered from musicians that Lubinsky had been content merely to record them, as opposed to also paying them. Venal was a more accurate term than visionary for that businessman-entrepreneur; though he was most often recalled less politely. If there's occasion to feel grateful to him, it's nothing personal.

Talking of personal, the musicians deserve at least a thought. "The Preston Love on one of the titles", says B. Vera of one highlight of the Johnny Otis sides included, "refers to Johnny's Omaha friend, who played alto sax..." If I had been born nearer yesterday, I might have wondered whether "Harlem Nocturne" was a feature for Preston Love. Of course it is! A competent sleeve note would have said so! It's a magnificent solo performance; he was a very individual voice, though the arrangement is sometimes brilliant sometimes merely efficient. The title named after him is pretty good too, though the "only scratching the surface" disclaimer at the end of the sleeve note indicates a level of ambition beyond what is represented here by too many further and R&B sides by Johnny Otis.

Marshall Royal plays wonderfully on two titles accompanying the exceptional Helen Humes, one of the magnificent originals of jazz singing (she can also be heard on the Savoy Blues set, but one of the same sides is on both that and this). The Lord blessed her with a little girl voice, a contrasting physique and great musical talent and the wit to play on her not looking like she sounded. You don't need to see her to hear the wit, and don't miss her live "Million Dollar Secret" with Don Hill on alto on a date which produced Jimmy Witherspoon's most steaming very paradoxically titled "No Rollin' Blues" if you ever get the chance. Don't miss either! If Savoy had owned the masters would they have been here?

As for the Johnny Otis stuff which doesn't belong here, B. Vera tells us of "those long ago times, before compulsive categorists began striving to catalog and separate one broad form into as many categories as possible" and for some reason goes on about Cecil Gant (who is not featured here). Unlike I am sure B. Vera, I can recognise Gant's pedigree in 1930s barrelhouse piano playing nearer the Mississippi. I can also observe the nonsense in Vera's asking whether a certain record producer recognised Harold Land's "potential as a jazzman" when Land played in Jimmy Liggins's "rocking R&B band" -- and in going on to ask whether "the line" between R&B and jazz was "in 1949 so blurry that it made no difference"?

Harold Land wasn't especially "sadly neglected", as maybe Preston Love was. He made some nice records for Contemporary. Before his still relatively recent death, I saw him on German television in a terrific all-star band playing Monk tunes at a European jazz festival. He sounded pretty much as he'd done on the outstanding 1949 "Outlandish" here, and on a couple of other titles with an (as ever here) unidentified group on that date. Those small group titles follow written out routines a little too much, an R&B ensemble trying to imitate big band routines without having the richness of arrangement. But there is absolutely no mistaking Land's distinction and finesse, his sophisticated sound, his jazz talent and not just "potential". The coarser tenor playing on an R&B instrumental by a sextet under the name of Johnny Otis's pianiste Lady Dee Williams gives a fair contrast. Those who've seen the film Bird should remember the scene in which Parker's represented snatching an R&B hack tenorist's horn and sending him up something dire. Parker was perhaps a compulsive categoriser? Well, he wasn't very popular on the West Coast during the period in question, except among musicians. Harold Land worked with Elmo Hope, says Vera, and Hope didn't find the West Coast congenial at all. This is not the story Vera tells.

I could have done with less Ike Carpenter, a sort of Eddie Heywood virtuoso playing Ellington music with a well-drilled band but only on the fringe of jazz. But there's only one title by the Roy Porter band, which included the very young Eric Dolphy! Vera talks about intonation problems and relates them to perhaps lack of commercial success as much as "artistic overreaching". He certainly doesn't seem to like the latter, and I don't seem to hear problems of intonation so much as an unusual excitement I'd like to have heard more of.

Mary Ann McCall is as good a singer as Vera says, but Phil Moore's musically ambitious Gil Evansish ensemble is responsible for some of the merits of her two "cool" sides -- with expert flute. You don't by now expect Vera to mention things like that. There are two ordinary (by her standards) Kay Starr items with a Ben Pollack Band with strings. But for the presence of a Les Paul style of guitarist they could have been (and this is not a criticism) from 1935 rather than 1945.

Oh, and one of the Johnny Otis big band titles has Jimmy Rushing as vocalist. I would love to hear an intelligent selection of this band's jazz playing. It could include some personnel details.

A lot of the better music which turns up here can be found on reissues from independents, and while the photographic illustrations and extraordinarily good sound might well not be matched it does matter what you process. And if the best of this music can be found elsewhere in decently organised selections, I'd recommend them. There's a lot of Illinois Jacquet including the one title here cheaply available in Europe. B. Vera tells us that a proper appreciation of "the incubating place of artists like Charles Mingus, Teddy Edwards, Hampton Hawes, Harold Land and Dexter Gordon is being recognised, thanks to ... CD sets like this one."


Teddy Edwards? B. Vera refers to him as "recently departed", bad news I missed. Edwards was a very great saxophonist, and is he yet another musician who appears on this CD uncredited? He did record for the same label which recorded the here rather superfluous "Relaxin' at the Camarillo" by "Charlie Parker's New Stars". I'll not ask why he's not therefore on this further bran tub botch, which may however appeal as nostalgia to people who don't read music reviews.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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