THE FIFTY BEST REISSUES OF 2014-PART 5.

THE FIFTY BEST REISSUES OF 2014-PART 5.

GEORGE RUSSELL PRESENTS THE ESOTERIC CIRCLE.

With Norwegian music going through something of a renaissance, it’s fitting that George Russell Presents The Esoteric Circle has reissued by BGP Records, a subsidiary of Ace Records. George Russell Presents The Esoteric Circle was one of the most important albums in Norwegian musical history. Released in 1971, George Russell Presents The Esoteric Circle featured four pioneering jazz musicians. Sadly, George Russell Presents The Esoteric Circle was The Esoteric Circle’s only album. 

Listening back to George Russell Presents The Esoteric Circle, it could easily be an album that the latest generation of Norwegian jazz musicians could’ve released. Norwegian music, including jazz, is enjoying another golden age. So much good music is coming out of Norway. That was the case back in 1969, when George Russell Presents The Esoteric Circle was recorded. By 1971, Norwegian music was still thriving. Fast forward forty-three years, and George Russell Presents The Esoteric Circle is an album that has obviously influenced a new generation of Norwegian jazz musicians. Without George Russell Presents The Esoteric Circle, the latest generation of Norwegian jazz musicians may not have had the courage to innovate, and create bold, ambitious, groundbreaking and genre-melting music. Thankfully, they do. That in part, is down to five men, George Russell and The Esoteric Circle. They played their part in an important, innovative and groundbreaking album George Russell Presents The Esoteric Circle.

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THE IMPRESSIONS-ABOUT TIME.

One of The Impressions most underrated albums was About Time. It featured eight tracks. Six of these tracks were penned by Melvin and Mervin Steals. They’d previously, as Maestro and Lyric, had written The Detroit Spinners, Major Harris, The Trammps, Gloria Gaynor, Ecstasy, Passion and Pain and Blue Magic. For The Impressions, Melvin and Mervin cowrote In The Palm Of My Hands, You’ll Never Find, Same Old Heartaches, I Need You, Stardust and and the aptly titled What Might Have Been. 

Recording of About Time was a no expense spared affair. It seemed that Atlantic Records were determined to make About Time a success. Then after a concert in Atlanta, an alleged indiscretion by one the members of The Impressions proved costly. Atlantic Records were enraged. They felt they couldn’t back About Time. Not after what had happened. This had caused huge embarrassment to a musical institution, Atlantic Records. So, it’s no surprise that About Love reached a lowly 195 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-four in the US R&B charts. What was one of The Impressions’ finest albums in several years, passed record buyers by.

For producer McKinley Jackson this was a huge shame. About Time was variously a big, bold, dramatic and lush album. It was reminiscent of Philly Soul at it’s best. Sadly, through no fault of McKinley’s About Love failed commercially. Since then, About Love has languished in the vaults of Atlantic Records. Not any more. Rhino have rereleased About Time as part of their Japanese Soul and  R&B range. Belatedly, music lovers can revisit The About Time one of The Impressions’ best albums of the seventies. Sadly, never again, did they come close to reaching these heady heights ever again.

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THE KINKS-LOLA VERSUS POWERMAN AND THE MONEYGROUND AND PERCY.

In 1970 The Kinks released Lola Versus The Powerman and The Underground. It was rereleased by Sony Music, along with the soundtrack to Percy, during 2014. Lola Versus The Powerman and The Underground was a landmark album for The Kinks, and should’ve transformed The Kinks career in America. They had the talent to be one of the biggest British bands in America. However, for five years, they’d been band from America

Then in 1969, the ban on The Kinks from playing in America had been lifted. This was perfect timing. The second single from Lola Versus The Powerman and The Underground, Lola,  reached number nine in the US Billboard 200 charts. With The Kinks about to tour America, this should transform their fortunes. Sadly, members of The Kinks fell ill and the American tour was cancelled. As if this wasn’t bad enough, Lola Versus The Powerman and The Underground, one of The Kinks finest albums of the seventies failed commercially in America. Despite this, Lola Versus The Powerman and The Underground is regarded as one of the best albums The Kinks released, and the album that should’ve broke The Kinks in America. 

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THE VELVET UNDERGROUND-THE VELVET UNDERGROUND.

Replacing John Cale in the The Velvet Underground was never going to be easy. Replacing John Cale, was Doug  Yule. He made his Velvet Underground debut on their 1969 eponymous album, which was released as a double album by Universal Music. The Velvet Underground was the start of a new chapter in the band’s career.

They certainly didn’t expect this chapter to begin with The Velvet Underground, an album of ballads and rock-oriented tracks. For many people, The Velvet Underground had sold out. They’d sacrificed their creative force at the altar of fame and fortune. That was disappointing. After all, The Velvet Underground could’ve continued to transform music for years to come. Instead, they released just two more albums, 1970s Loaded and 1973s Squeeze. However, forty-five years have passed since the release of The Velvet Underground. 

The dust has well and truly settled, and Universal Music’s 45th Anniversary edition allows everyone to reevaluate The Velvet Underground. It’s a reminder of a pioneering group, as they evolved,  and changed direction musically. Beautiful, and sometimes, wistful ballads, rub shoulders with rocky, anthems on The Velvet Underground. This makes The Velvet Underground’ the most accessible album from one of music’s most innovative bands. However, one can’t help wonder what type of album The Velvet Underground would’ve released if they hadn’t sacrificed their creative force at the altar of fame and fortune?

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LEON THOMAS-BLUES AND SOULFUL TRUTH. 

In 1972, Leon Thomas was at his creative zenith. So, when he entered the recording studio to record his third album, Blues And The Soulful Truth, Bob Thiele, owner of Flying Dutchman Productions, held his breath. Bob knew Leon Thomas was capable of creating innovative music. This was the case on Blues And The Soulful Truth, which was rereleased by BGP Records, an imprint of Ace Records. Blues and The Soulful Truth was Leon Thomas’ third album for Flying Dutchman Productions. His two previous albums hadn’t sold well. So, something had to change. What changed was Leon’s musical direction. Gone was Leon’s unique and inimitable free jazz style.

Whereas Leon scatted and yodelled on his two previous albums, Blues and The Soulful Truth had a much more traditional sound. Granted Leon returned to his trademark sound on Gypsy Queen. Apart from that, Leon eschews scatting and yodellng. Instead, he sticks to a much more traditional vocal jazz style. Leon Thomas had moved towards the jazz mainstream. It was maybe, a case of needs must.

No record label can continue to release albums that don’t sell. That would be folly and a recipe for insolvency. So Leon recorded his most accessible and mainstream album, Blues and The Soulful Truth. It was a revelation. Blues and The Soulful Truth should’ve been a huge commercial success. It showcased a versatile and multi-talented vocalist. He could sing blues, jazz, R&B, rock or soul. Leon’s band were equally versatile. They strut their way through eight tracks, flitting between and sometimes, fusing blues, free jazz, funk, jazz, psychedelia, R&B, rock and soul. Not once do they miss a beat. Sadly, despite their best efforts, Blues and The Soulful Truth wasn’t a commercial success. Leon Thomas it seemed, wasn’t going to enjoy the commercial success his music deserved. He’d even changed direction, and in the process, released the most accessible and mainstream album of his career, Blues and The Soulful Truth.

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JOE TURNER-THE REAL BOSS OF THE BLUES. 

When Bob Thiele formed blues label Bluestime, he signed some of the biggest names in blues. This included veteran blues man, Joe Turner. He became the latest signing to Bob’s contemporary blues label. Bob Thiele though this was a masterstroke. After all, there had been  a resurgence in interest in the blues. So, why not release blues albums with a modern twist? One of the first was The Real Boss Of The Blues, which Ace Records reissued.

On The Real Boss Of The Blues, Joe Turner rolls back the years. It’s a vintage performance from the blues veteran. Accompanied by an all-star band, his music is given a modern makeover. Blues, jazz and rock combines. Drawing inspiration from rock music, riffing guitars and a bubbling bass feature on each of the eight tracks. Then there’s the horns. They variously blaze, soar and sound sultry. Add to this some stabs of piano and even some boogie woogie and the result is Joe Turner back to his best. Producer Bob Thiele and arranger Gene Page transformed Joe. The years rolled back and suddenly, Joe was producing some of the best music he recorded since leaving Atlantic. Sadly, not many people heard the music on The Real Boss Of The Blues. However, since then, a number of blues aficionados have championed The Real Boss Of The Blues, which finds Joe Turner, The Real Boss Of The Blues back to his very best.

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 EDDIE “CLEANHEAD” VINSON-THE ORIGINAL CLEANHEAD.

By 1970, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson was fifty-three. He was a musical veteran. His career was about to enter its fifth decade. Eddie had caught a break. He’d just signed to Bob Thiele’s Blues Time imprint. It was a subsidiary of Flying Dutchman Productions. In 1970, Eddie released his what was seen as his comeback album, The Original Cleanhead, which was rereleased on CD by Ace Records. The Original Cleanhead marked a change in fortune for Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. After a few years in the doldrums, Eddie’s career was on the up again. This was just the latest chapter in the Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson story. 

Listening back to The Original Cleanhead, it’s no surprise that the album rejuvenated Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s career. From the opening bars of Cleanhead Blues, right through to the closing notes of I Needs To Be Be’d Wid, the music oozes quality. Eddie was into his fifth decade of a musician and singer. He put all his experience to good use on The Original Cleanhead. So, it’s no surprise that The Original Cleanhead was a commercial success. It rejuvenated Eddie’s career. Ironically, when other blues musicians were reinventing themselves, Eddie kept on what he’d been doing since the thirties. Eddie wasn’t for changing. Even if he’d wanted to. That wouldn’t be easy. After all, Eddie was known for his mixture of jump blues, swing and bebop. That was what people knew Eddie for. So, with some judicious choice of material, old and new, Bob Thiele set about attempting to rejuvenate Eddie’s career. This worked.

After The Original Cleanhead, Eddie’s career enjoyed something of an Indian Summer. He continued to record until his death in 1988. Eddie’s career had lasted over fifty years. However, one of the finest albums of Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s career was The Original Cleanhead.

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PETER WALKER-“SECOND POEM TO KARMELA” OR GYPSIES ARE IMPORTANT. 

Back in 1967, Peter Walker released his seminal album Rainy Day Raga, which was released on Vanguard Records. Since then, it’s become a cult classic. Many people though, thought Rainy Day Raga was Peter’s only album. It wasn’t. The following year, 1968, Peter released his sophomore album “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important, which was released by Light In The Attic Records. It picks up where Rainy Day Raga left off, and proceeds to take things further. Much further. So much so, that “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important has been described as: “the missing link between Ravi Shankar, Sandy Bull and Timothy Leary, in more ways than one.” Indeed,  “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important an album the everyone must hear once in their life. 

It only takes one listen to Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important to realise this. It’s a truly innovative and influential genre-melting album. Lysergic, experimental and groundbreaking, Peter Walker, like so many artists, was ahead of his time. 

However, not all of these artists walk away from music for thirty-eight years. Peter Walker did, leaving behind two minor classics. The first of these is Rainy Day Raga in 1967. A year later, Peter Walker released the cult classic “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important which has been overlooked since its release in 1968. Not any more. Peter Walker’s sophomore album “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important is an groundbreaking, genre-melting lost classic, one that everyone should hear.

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T-BONE WALKER-T-BONE BLUES.

When eventually, someone writes the history of blues music, T-Bone Walker’s name will loom large. There’s no doubt about that. T-Bone Walker was, without doubt, one of the most innovative and influential blues guitarists ever. He was a true musical pioneer. T-Bone Walker was pioneer of firstly, the jump blues, then the electric blues. His music evolved, in an attempt to stay relevant. That’s why T-Bone Walker is remembered as a musical pioneer and flamboyant showman, who released groundbreaking music. That may seem like a bold statement, but it’s not. It’s the truth. Proof of that is T-Bone Blues which was reissued by Rhino, earlier this year.

Released in 1959, fifty-five years ago, T-Bone Blues was a career defining album for T-Bone Walker. It was the greatest album of his long and illustrious career. For a newcomer to T-Bone Walker, then T-Bone Blues is the perfect starting point. To accompany T-Bone Blues I’d recommend the underrated Every Day I Have The Blues, which was recently reissued by Ace Records. However, the album that introduced many people to T-Bone Walker was T-Bone Blues. It’s a reminder of one of the most innovative and influential blues musicians. That’s not all. T-Bone Walker was a flamboyant showman who inspired a generation of musicians with his 1959 career defining album T-Bone Blues.

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WIM MERTENS-MAXIMIZING THE AUDIENCE.

Anyone interested in avant garde and experimental music will know the name Wim Mertens. He’s a composer, pianist, guitarist, vocalist and producer. Wim is also a musicologist, who studied music theory and piano at the prestigious Ghent Conservatory in Belgian. Music, however, wasn’t what Wim originally studied. No. Originally, Wim studied studied social and political science at the University Leuven. After graduating in 1975, Wim enrolled at Ghent Conservatory. Since then, his life has revolved around music. Wim has released a string of pioneering albums, including 1985s Maximizing The Audience, which was rereleased by Rhino.

Maximizing The Audience marked a departure in style from Wim Mertens. Not only was it his first solo album, but it was his first album to feature lengthy compositions. The shortest track was The Fosse, which was just under five minutes long. Other tracks lasted as long as eighteen minutes. This was Wim Mertens Magnus Opus. He came of age musically on Maximizing The Audience, which featured some of the most groundbreaking music of his career.

Maybe freed from being part of a band allowed Wim to open the doors of perception. He was able to innovate and push musical boundaries, sometimes to their breaking point. The result was Maximizing The Audience, which contained some of the best music of Wim’s career. This was obvious from the opening track, Circles. Circles saw Wim draw inspiration from Steve Reich, as the clarinets intertwine, while the soprano saxophone cascades above the hypnotic arrangement. The piece de la resistance are the ethereal harmonies. All this, sets the tone for the rest of Maximizing The Audience. This proves a captivating combination. Then at the heart of Maximizing The Audience, is the title-track. It’s the album’s centrepiece and is best described as a beautiful, dramatic and ethereal Magnus Opus. Equally beautiful and poignant is The Fosse. Closing Maximizing The Audience is the haunting, hypnotic and mesmeric Whisper Me. It’s similar to  Circles, as sometimes, the music heads in the direction of chamber music. These five tracks were part of a classic album Maximizing The Audience, which launched Wim Mertens’ solo career.

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Picking just fifty reissues from the hundreds of albums I’ve received during the year isn’t easy. During 2014, I’ve listened to, and reviewed literally hundreds of albums. I started with what’s best described as a long-list, and whittled it down to just fifty. At times, I was tempted to make it sixty or seventy. However, that would defeat the purpose. 

What I wanted to end up with, was a list of what I regard as the fifty finest reissues of 2014. They’re an eclectic selection, that feature everything from avant-garde, blues, country, folk, free jazz, funk, jazz, Philly Soul, pop, psychedelia and rock. Some of the music you’ll know, some you might not have heard of. However, I can recommend each and every one of this electric selection, that make up my fifty best reissues of 2014. 

 

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