Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Music Library: Tommy Flanagan, Tomte, Tonebenders, Tony Conrad, Tony Rice, Toots & The Maytals, Torche, Tortoise

Tommy Flanagan - Plays The Music Of Harold Arlen (1978) and Sunset And The Mockingbird: The Birthday Concert (1997). Flanagan played with everybody in swing and bop: Ella, Coltrane, Miles, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Mingus, and the list goes on and on. On these albums, Flanagan takes the lead, but both kind of simmer low without ever working up too much heat.

Tomte - Eine Sonnige Nacht (2000). This is an excellent German indie-rock band with elements of Pavement and Sonic Youth. Since they mostly sing in German, I have only the barest idea of what these songs are about. I got this album from my pal Martin, who grew up with some of these guys.

Tonebenders - Tonebenders (1997). This was a great Raleigh band that blended Stax-style horns with some Jon Spencer-style fractured blues. I'm pleased that someone made a video on YouTube for one of their songs, although it is in service to a tv show I've never seen. Still, dig the lovely guitar tone on this track. This album is worth seeking out, although it may be out of print now.

Tony Conrad - Early Minimalism Volume One (1964-1997). Conrad was one of the fathers of minimalism and the almost-simultaneous drone-rock outburst of the Velvet Underground. In fact, Conrad was one of the musicians involved with the Dream Syndicate in the mid-1960s, which also included Marian Zazeela, LeMonte Young, VU bassist/pianist/violist John Cale, and the first VU drummer Angus MacLise. Conrad and Young disagree about the ownership of the Dream Syndicate music. Young believes that it is his alone, while Conrad considers the music collaborative. The result is that while there were tapes made of the ensemble, Young retains all of them and most have never been heard by the public. This box set, which consists of only five compositions, starts with one of those Dream Syndicate recordings from 1964, a manipulated recording of drone called "Four Violins," which is an extraordinary document. The other four compositions are later recordings of Conrad's compositions, which are all fine, although a bit overwhelmingly monolithic when listened to back-to-back.

Tony Rice - Church Street Blues (1983) and Plays And Sings Bluegrass (1993). This may be the opposite to Conrad's downtown, super-intellectual minimalist compositions. Rice is one of the foremost bluegrass guitarists around, lightning fast and always tasty. Of these two albums, I like the former better, mainly because it features Rice solo or backed up by one other guitar. Plays And Sings adds a lot of other musicians, but less is more with this type of music.

Toots & The Maytals - 20 Massive Hits (1968-1973). The Maytals are a major figure in the transition of ska and rocksteady into reggae music, and this compilation album captures these subtle changes in all of their glory. There may be no better song from this period than "Pressure Drop," with its gospel-based vocals, swirling Farfisa organ, relentless off-beat bass (which is also the lead instrument), upstrummed chicken-thin rhythm guitar, and delicately polyrhythmic percussion.

Torche - Torche (2005), In Return (2007), Meanderthal (2008), Healer/Across The Shields EP (2009), Chapter Ahead Being Fake (split with Boris, 2009), Songs For Singles EP (2010), Harmonicraft (2012). I first heard Torche at a Boris show in 2008, and I was blown away by their fusion of stoner metal with more traditional rock sounds (which is not unlike some of Boris's best songs, as it happens). They were touring behind the truly excellent Meanderthal at the time. Unlike Boris, Torche doesn't have strong roots in the avant-garde, but they do what they do very, very well. More like Baroness than Boris, I suppose. Anyway, their 2012 album Harmonicraft is also very, very good. The first two albums are fine, as are the singles, while the EP is almost as good as Meanderthal and Harmonicraft.

Tortoise - Tortoise (1994), Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996), TNT (1998), In The Fishtank 5 (with The Ex, 1999), Standards (2001), It's All Around You (2004), The Brave And The Bold (with Bonnie "Prince" Billy, 2006), A Lazarus Taxon (compilation, recorded 1995-2006), and Beacons of Ancestorship (2009). The flagship post-rock band, Tortoise is all-instrumental (except on the Bonnie "Prince" Billy collaboration) and incorporates all manner of sounds into their rock-like music: fake jazz, krautrock, tropicalia, lounge, dub, minimalism, Morricone, whatever works. The band started out with three percussionists and two bassists on their first album, which even incorporating marimbas, vibes, and electronics, is a pretty radical line-up. By the excellent Millions Now Living, they had added guitarist David Pajo of Slint, which gave them more of an element of rock. TNT, their best album, keeps the rock flavor and ups the ante on the Sharrock-style skronk-jazz by replacing Pajo with avant-jazz guitarist Jeff Parker. The Fishtank EP and Standards are even louder without losing the underlying cool. It's All Around You, however, never really comes alive. The Brave And The Bold shakes things up by being a cover album, and it's quite enjoyable, especially the covers of Richard Thompson's "Calvary Cross" and the Minutemen's "It's Expected I'm Gone." A Lazarus Taxon is a compilation of nonalbum tracks and b-sides, and it's freaking brilliant. Beacons is a return to form of sorts, picking up the pieces from It's All Around You and adding in more electronics and more surprising sounds.


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