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Rumors had floated around for years about a Miles Davis/Teo Macero-produced session of late 1960s Betty Davis recordings — and now, finally, they’ve been uncovered and released by the good people at Light in the Attic Records (along with two even earlier tunes). Is this collection a lost classic? Not quite. For one thing, these feel like mostly unfinished pieces. More than anything, Betty seems to be trying to find her own voice; her forthright lyrics and nasty attitude are there, but they haven’t quite reached the level of righteousness that they would a few years down the road.

Nevertheless, The Columbia Years is a very fun listen, with fusion guitar master John McLaughlin and Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell having a blast backing Davis. Best of all is a slithering reading of Cream’s “Politician,” with Betty relishing every last double entendre and McLaughlin sounding a step away from Miles’ Jack Johnson sessions. If this group of musicians had been given a little more time, there’s no doubt they could’ve cooked up a funk-soul-jazz masterpiece. Regardless, it’s great to finally hear this early piece of the Betty Davis puzzle. words / t wilcox

Betty Davis :: Down Home Girl – Take 4

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Rock rivalries inhabit a weird part of rock and roll’s unruly history. At times as much the creation of commercially driven record labels and promotion people as it is the artists themselves, they make for an interesting study of the culture, but maybe even more so of ourselves. That’s part of the thesis behind Steven Hyden’s new book Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About The Meaning of Life. Hyden has spent a decade and a half writing for sites like The A.V. Club, the defunct Grantland, and now his newest gig at Uproxx. And since Aquarium Drunkard is cited in the book (see page 75), we talked with Hyden via phone about pop culture rivalries, how a lot of things can change during writing a book, the demise of Grantland, and the ever changing definition of classic rock.

Aquarium Drunkard: I have followed your writing pretty closely for a while now, and I really enjoy it, which makes it all the tougher for me to start off by telling you how wrong you are about Oasis and Blur. [laughs] I laugh because when I was reading your previews for the book, you talked about that essay in particular and how people would be upset about your opinions about it. For people in our rough generation bracket and of a certain music geekiness, Oasis vs. Blur really was a pretty big thing. I always came down on the side of Blur. I actually refused to listen to Oasis for a long time the way you did with Blur. Was that particular pairing a catalyst for your idea for the book?

Steven Hyden: I’m not sure exactly why this came to mind. The boring part of the story is that I had an agent approach me, and he asked me if I had any ideas for a book. I didn’t at the time, but I started brainstorming and this idea popped up early on. What attracted me to it was that on the one hand it seemed like a simple idea you could describe to someone in a sentence or two, which is always a good thing to have for a book you want to sell. No one had ever done a book on these rivalries before, so that was good. The inherent drama of conflict is always interesting to people, but I also liked how open ended it was. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to write just a straightforward music book. I wanted it to be a little bit broader and touch on other things.

With rivalries, it seemed to open itself up to a wider discussion. If you’re going to talk about the Beatles and Stones, maybe that can be a starting point to talk about other things. As far as Oasis and Blur, it just made sense to me in terms of sequencing the essays. It was one of the big rivalries of my youth and the most extreme example for me of actually caring about a rivalry, almost to the point of unreasonableness or being irrational about it. I felt like my story could apply to anyone. I felt everyone has their Oasis – everyone has their thing that they loved so much when they were 17. It felt like a good way to open the book. If you read the book, the essays have an arc where it starts from me being a younger person who’s really into rivalries and drawing lines in the sand and arguments and all that, and you get to the end of the book, and I’m an older person and I’m not as interested in that anymore. I’ve learned to see the silliness of that, and I’m more interested now in trying to find the connections between people instead of the separations.

Most of the chapters aren’t really taking a side – I wasn’t interested in doing that. It’s more about exploring the dynamics between the artists and what existed in the public’s imagination about these artists. In the Oasis vs. Blur thing, I’m obviously an Oasis fan and I’m arguing on their behalf, but I feel like the point of that chapter was to show that I was a crazy person. It’s also talking about fandom in a way – the rationalization made as a fan about why to love something and to not love something. So even if you read the chapter and think I’m wrong about Oasis, then there’s something in there you can relate to as a fan – something you’ve felt at some point in your life about an artist you really love.

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“The music and images came to me during deep meditation. As I was transcending, I felt as though I was leaving my body. I began to hear celestial ascending soft music…I began to hear loud voices, powerful rhythms, and birds. I felt as though I was being asked profound questions. I began to confess to the ancestors my lack of faith in accepting my musical spiritual journey.”

So writes Robert Northern, under the name “Brother Ah,” in the liner notes to the new reissue of Sound Awareness, his debut solo recording. Originally released on the Strata East label in 1972, the record is reissued this week by Manufactured Recordings alongside his 1975 LP Move Ever Onward and 1983’s Key to Nowhere. Containing searching spiritual jazz, long atmospheric passages, and African, Indian, and Asian influences, the trio of records serve as in introduction to Brother Ah’s work, prefacing a forthcoming 3LP collection of unreleased material to be released by Manufactured.

Classically trained in his youth, Brother Ah played with the top players of the jazz vanguard — among them Donald Byrd, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Gil Evans — and joined up with the Sun Ra Arkestra. In 1969 he formed his own group, inspired by his time with Ra and “sound awareness” visions, issuing a series of remarkable albums. Sound Awareness, begins with proto-New Age swells of sound, punctuated by Brother Ah’s French horn, and concludes with the rousing “Beyond Yourself,” a seven-part epic featuring Max Roach rapping about the power of love as the M’Boom percussion ensemble rattles behind him and Brother Ah leads a 90-voice choir. With Move Ever Onward, Brother Ah and his ensemble shifted into more conventional, but no less deep, spiritual jazz waters, featuring poetry, sitar, and “space beam” (whatever it is, it sounds wonderful). Key to Nowhere continues with the cosmic poetry, vocalist Nataska Hasan Yousssef reciting the words of Brother Ah’s wife and collaborator Kwesi Northern.

Brother Ah went on to a long career of teaching and to host the influential radio show The Jazz Collectors on WPFW. His music, from this especially fertile time in the ’70s and ’80s, still resonates, his goal of enlightening listeners “to the potential of sound and its capability to enhance healing” echoing some three or four decades later. words / j woodbury

Brother Ah and the Sounds of Awareness :: Sekou

Mild-High-Club-SkiptracingMild High Club is the vehicle of LA-based Alex Brettin. His sophomore lp, Skiptracing, due out in August via Stones Throw, is landing at a perfect time. Occupying a hazy, humid space – not unlike the one Ariel Pink, Conspiracy of Owls and early Unknown Mortal Orchestra have previously helmed – Brettin’s cool, grooving blend of lo-fi psych, lounge, and exotica deftly sates that sweet seasonal Pacifica jones.

But it’s not all cocktails and swimming pools. 70’s noir oozes out of the grooves in a warped, almost alien, fashion. As influences, Brettin cites great fictional LA antiheroes such as Elliott Gould’s portrayal of Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s adaptation of The Long Goodbye and Jack Nicholson’s Jake Gittes in Chinatown, as well as more unsung yarns such as Night Moves and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie – and they feel right at home on this record. There’s a seductive, bossa-nova tenor shrouded in a thick cloud of enigma and smoke. Warped saxophones and back lounge piano. Percussive freakouts and looped tunnels of guitar and pedals. Who among us have not envied the unenviable position of Gould’s Marlowe? Like the album track “Chasing My Tail”, and the surreal retro futurist album art intimates – running in circles, lost in the mystery, but reveling in the haze. “It’s okay with me.” words / c depasquale

Mild High Club :: Homage

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“Ex Africa Semper Nova Aliquid” / Out of Africa, Always Something New

Picked this up on the cheap at a shop in LA a few weeks back, Malombo’s 1976 Pele Pele LP via Atlantic. Comprised of guitarist Phillip Tabane and his nephew, percussionist Gabriel Thobejane, the album is a 40 minute, at times hypnotic, fusion of South African jazz in the Mboube tradition. Rounded out with electronic effects and a heaping of humid atmosphere, the results are an intoxicating fête.

Malombo ‎:: Marabi

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I caught Herbie Hancock in Montreux, Switzerland last week at the Stravinski Auditorium. Presently in the studio laying down tracks for his next LP, Hancock was briefly in town supporting the festival’s 50th anniversary. Assisted by the trio currently backing him on his forthcoming record, the evening kicked off with an opening overture teasing the forthcoming set. It was, in a word, funky.

Clocking in at an hour, the set was tight and heavy on Headhunters-era Hancock — see: “Chameleon” > “Actual Proof”, “Watermelon Man”, etc. Heavy on crowd pleasers, 1964’s “Cantaloupe Island” also made an appearance.

The one track I didn’t recognize, but was an absolute highlight of the performance, was a tune introduced by Hancock as “Texas”, along with the caveat it had never been played before live. Super swampy, heavy on Synthesized scat vocals, it melded perfectly into the largely 70s era repertoire.

Here’s something the group didn’t play, but one that’s been on the box of late — “The Twilight Clone”, via the 1981 album, Magic Windows, a track co-written by Adrian Belew. Press play and get your Alpha Syntauri synth-funk ya ya’s out.

Herbie Hancock :: The Twilight Clone

Related: Herbie Hancock :: Man With A Suitcase (A Compilation)

FUNK FACTORY

The UK based reissue label Be With Records has been on a kick of late with with a stable of vinyl reissues including a trio of Ned Doheny gems, Eddie Hazel’s 1977 masterwork, Game, Dames And Guitar Thangs and the incomparable voice that belongs to Andy Bey. Next month sees the label’s latest venture — a reissue of Funk Factory’s 1975 s/t LP. Per their m.o., the vinyl release satisfies a void in the market for those not wanting to spend $100+ for an original. Like many, I have Paul’s Boutique to thank for the original hip.

Funk Factory :: Rien Ne Va Plus

JNR193_Mike-Adams-At-His-Honest-Weight_d8576694-0f6f-4d1d-8c36-358898359297_1024x1024Bloomington’s Mike Adams has been percolating just under the radar for a few years now, honing a blend of shoegaze, dream pop, and ‘70s singer/songwriter charms. His latest, Casino Drone, out now on Joyful Noise Recordings, is his best and most touching yet, full of the kind of songs you feel like you’ve heard a dozen times before but can’t quite place. It’s great in a specific, lived-in way; the guitars alternate hefty and woozy, and Adams’ melodies suggest the soft spot between beloved indie rock group Starflyer 59’s Gold and the melancholic sunniness of that band’s The Fashion Focus, or an alternate world in which Weezer retreated post-Pinkerton into My Bloody Valentine and Gary Numan albums instead of jock jams and halfhearted irony rawk  (dig the “Martin and Cloud/Rivers and Matt Sharp” references in “Smart Marks”).

Casino Drone‘s pleasures are frequent, from the palm-muted chunk-chunks of “Diem Be” to the shimmering, synth dappled “Bronze Worlds,” and the album’s final stretch, featuring the languid “Keep My Heart Alive” bleeding into ambient washes and motorik pop on “Ideas Man,” indicates that even when Adams strays from conventional power pop, he retains his homespun appeal. Highly recommended — the work of a gently self-deprecating craftsman whose heart’s stitched tightly on his sleeve, but whose sly grin suggests wisecracks at the ready. words / j woodbury

Mike Adams at His Honest Weight :: Bronze Worlds

UP

Ultimate Painting, the collaborative pairing of James Hoare (of Veronica Falls) and Jack Cooper (of Mazes), return September 30th with the release of their third lp, Dusk, via label home Trouble In Mind Records. First taste off the new album, “Bills“, below . . .

Per the genesis of the track, Jack from UP notes “(we) wanted to do something that was a bit more like how James and I play guitar live. People always seem to respond when we stretch things out, so I brought this sort of very horizontal song that I thought might be a platform. It didn’t quite turn out like that but it rarely does. Songs like ‘Bees’ by Caribou, ‘Moonshake’ by Can… they’re almost like graphs or an EKG monitor. We tried to do something like that. The lyrics are as literal as we could ever get. Somewhere between Lightnin’ Hopkins’ ‘Bad Luck And Trouble’ and Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bills Bills Bills.'”

Related: The Lagniappe Sessions :: Ultimate Painting / Second Session