Don Cherry & Latif Khan – Music/Sangam, 1978

Another Don Cherry collision with terrific results. Originally recorded in Paris in 1978, this only had a 1000-copy run in France and, despite being considered one of Cherry’s strongest works by die-hard fans, was mostly forgotten until its reissue in 2009. I think this is one of the earlier works of Indo-jazz fusion ever, and it’s arguably one of the more successful–while Cherry had a propensity towards cultural dabbling, he avoided many of the pitfalls of “world music” aesthetic through his commitment to musicianship, collaboration, and sensitivity. Also, he sings a bit!

Ustad Ahmed Latif Khan was a tabla virtuoso, avid composer, and member of the Delhi Gharana. He also had perfect pitch and used it to great advantage, tuning his daya (right drum of the tabla) to the same pitch as his baya (left drum of the tabla)–typically the baya is between a fifth and an octave below the daya, but Khan’s tuning allowed for an unusually deep, full tone of the bass notes. He stood out both for this tonal precision and because of his taste for irregular and extremely syncopated rhythms. From the liner notes:

“Sangam” means “meeting place” in Sanskrit. Don obviously knew exactly what he wanted to do, and Latif immediately understood, his fingers fizzing across the tablas at frightening speed, his perfect pitch making him the obvious person to tune the disparate instruments in Don’s armoury to those in the studio, which included a grand piano, a B3 Hammond organ and chromatic timpani.

 It was Don who suggested that Latif overdub new tabla parts to enrich and add complexity to the first takes. We could reasonably have expected to spend the night doing this because this was the first time the percussionist had done this. It took him all of five minutes to get used to listening to the first tracks over the headphones before playing them without the slightest mistake. When we got to the timpani, which he was playing for the first time, his keen sense of pitch and tone once again did miracles. During one take, just for the fun of it Latif started to play a fairly slow, disconnected duple time, moving on to three and then four… all the way up to 19 by which time his fingers were whizzing invisibly across the skins, leaving us in awe and him looking as if he didn’t know what the fuss was all about. All this just made Don even keener to impress his musical companion for a day… and so he did, with great ease and a complicity created by their shared love of music.

Of course, the subtleties of this album call for greater analysis, for example the meeting between the Malian doussou n’gouni and Indian tablas, the Hammond organ taking over from the tampura, 5 1/4 time as if it were the easiest thing in the world, the reinvented Indonesian gamelan… and the lyricism of the (pocket!) cornet.

Dorothy Carter – Waillee Waillee, 1978

Guest post by Peter Harkawik

I was recently digging through sidebars on musical sculpture, when I stumbled upon two enchanting private press albums by the late Dorothy Carter—mystic, free spirit, wizard of the strings. According to a tribute by her bandmates The Mediæval Bæbes, Carter was born in New York in 1935, studied at Bard and the Guildhall School of Music, and in her later years toured Europe, playing festivals, cabaret, and at least once, a concert in a cemetery. She reportedly lived in a drafty loft in New Orleans, where she collected giant zithers, hosted salons, and played her brand of medieval folk music wherever she could. By another account, she “lived in a commune, worked on a Mississippi steam boat as a ships boy, raised two kids and ran away to a Mexican cloister with an anarchistic priest.”

Somewhat more secular than her 1976 debut Troubador, Waillee Waillee alternates between darkly enigmatic, inward melodies, and jaunty, exuberant hymns. Songs like “Along the River,” while populated with some familiar folk imagery—woodland creatures, mollusks, and rosemary bushes—are absent of the studio chicanery that so often accompanies it. Flutes, maracas, and tambura, some played by new age pioneer and instrument-builder Constance Demby, join Carter’s expert plucking and hammering to great effect. Her vocals might draw comparisons to Karen Dalton, Bridget St John, or perhaps Linda Perhacs, but here, in the service of her wistful paeans to nature, they stand alone. On the album’s haunting title track, Carter croons, “When will my love return to me?” with uncomplicated sentimentality, like a forlorn lover trapped in a block of ice. “Dulcimer Medley” and “Celtic Medley” are sprightly instrumental ballads that would not be out of place in a scene from Barry Lyndon.

For me, the standout on this album is “Summer Rhapsody.” Seven minutes long, expansive and majestic, it begins with a rumble like a jet engine, building to a crescendo of feverish dulcimer. It’s here too that the recording really sparkles, as though the dulcimer’s harsh textures are pushing the tape to its very limits. While it might sound like a hurdy-gurdy, the corpulent drone is produced by a steel cello, an instrument resembling the sail on a medieval cog. Here we see the fruits of Carter’s decades-long collaboration with artist Robert Rutman, who, like Walter Smetak, Ellen Fullman, and others, pioneered a hybrid art that was neither purely aesthetic nor musical. It was with his group the Central Maine Power Music Company, formed in Skowhegan in 1970, that Carter first toured, playing unconventional shows in New England planetariums, sculpture gardens, and museums.

Part of what’s so incredible about Waillee Waillee is that as much as it is a psych-folk record, it is also completely at home with the experiments of Terry Riley, Charlemagne Palestine, Yoshi Wada, Pauline Oliveros and Laraaji. Carter was a fascinating figure whose devotion to her chosen instruments was legendary. I hope you enjoy this record as much as I do.

New Age Steppers – Action Battlefield, 1981

Second full-length from UK dub supergroup New Age Steppers. Incredible lead vocals from Arianne Foster, aka Ari-Up (The Slits), backing vocals from a teenage Neneh Cherry (The Slits, Rip Rig + Panic, work with the Notorious B.I.G., Youssou N’Dour, and Massive Attack, among others; also Don Cherry’s stepdaughter), bass from Crucial Tony (Dub Syndicate), and production by Adrian Sherwood (founder of On-U Sound, also the only consistent member in the N.A.S. lineup).

About as spacey as production gets, and more vocal-heavy than some of their other work. Mostly covers, including Horace Andy (“Problems”), Black Uhuru’s Michael Rose (“Observe Life”), B.B. Seaton (“My Love”), and the Heptones’ Leroy Sibbles (“Guiding Star”). Summer classic.

Dadawah – Peace and Love – Wadadasow, 1974

Guest post by Daniel Peters
Comprised of four long ruminative tracks, the classic Peace and Love – Wadadasow is probably reggae’s closest answer to Ash Ra Tempel — highly spiritual and free-wheeling, totally enveloping in its psychedelic nature with some of the brooding appeal of dub. 
It’s the second album by Ras Michael, released under the moniker Dadawah, and here his passionate chanting and singing is treated with expansive post-production effects courtesy of Lloyd Charmers. Willie Lindo provides incredible bluesy guitar improvisation. The rhythm section is held together tightly by a constant bass groove, and “Zion Land,” for instance, highlights the spiritual and emotional core of the album. It’s as much a spacey trip as it is an intensely devotional record. 
Dug Out’s 2010 reissue contains a slightly different mix, with more present vocals and heavier reverb, while the original pressing (provided here) focuses more on the spacious, atmospheric instrumentation.

Tim Buckley – Blue Afternoon, 1969

I don’t really have a sense of how people feel about Tim Buckley these days, other than a widespread unending fascination with “Song to the Siren,” which could very well be a perfect song. I get the sense, though, that Happy/Sad is typically treated as Buckley’s magnum opus, and that not much attention is given to Blue Afternoon, which he recorded in a month at the same time as Lorca and Starsailor. Some people think Buckley might have considered Blue Afternoon a throwaway record made to fulfill a contractual obligation to Frank Zappa and Herb Cohen’s label, Straight. It’s also a lot more approachable than some of his more avant-garde works, which might be off-putting to hardcore fans. I would love to hear that I’m way off and that this record is loved by many, because it’s dreamy, in the more honest sense of the word.
I’m especially excited to share it today, on what feels like the first day of spring. Blue Afternoon is so lazy and honeyed that it feels like having too much wine at the picnic and drifting in and out of consciousness in the shade. Hazed in twelve-string guitar and vibraphone shimmer. Taking a jazz approach to folk, Buckley is moody, blissful, and deeply expressive. If this is in fact a throwaway album, all the more reason to stand in awe of his ability.

Batsumi – Batsumi, 1974

Sublime spiritual jazz afrobeat fusion. Psychedelic shifting rhythms and urgent, brassy hooks doused in reverb. Many South African jazz musicians from this time period didn’t make any recordings at all, so big ups to Matsuli Music for digging up this previously unavailable landmark, lovingly remastering it, and making it available.

Boban Petrović – Zora, 1984

Zora (translates as “dawn”) is the final album from Serbian disco beast Boban Petrović, and dare I say his magnum opus. Extra groovy, extra psychedelic, the work is more complex and less strictly disco than his previous recordings with the band Zdravo. A symphony of synths, slapping bass, and fuzz guitars swell around Petrovic’s urgent underwater vocals. The obvious favorite is the instant-gratification slow-groove scorcher “Zajedno Srecni” (below), but the entire album will leave you wondering what you’ve been doing all these years without it. So excited to share it with you! HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Judy Henske & Jerry Yester – Farewell Aldebaran, 1969

Guest post by René Kladzyk

“Come ride with me
We’ll gallop through the sky
The stars our road will be
On racing winds we’ll fly” 
Aldebaran is a giant orange star in the Taurus constellation, and is one of the brightest stars in the nighttime sky. Farewell Aldebaran, a singularly bizarre and captivating album produced by Jerry Yester and Judy Henske over a couple weeks in the summer of 1969, is appropriately titled, existing in a musical space located far outside of its time and the trodden terrain of planet Earth. Each song sounds remarkably different, widely-ranging in style, instrumentation (with Yester playing over a dozen instruments and contributions from Ry Cooder, Zal Yanovsky, and David Lindley, among others), and the disparate contours of Judy Henske’s incredible voice. 
Henske, who was known as the “Queen of the Beatniks,” had cultivated a style of powerful vocal delivery singing at clubs in Greenwich Village, and peppered her performances with wild jokes and vivid story-telling (live performance recordings from this era are hilarious and amazing). In Farewell Aldebaran, her poetics and nuanced vocal delivery are at their most transfixing. Her voice ranges from sweetly lulling to powerfully wailing, as she sings stories of a bewitched clipper ship named Charity, church fundraisers, and lands beyond the edge of death. 
The musical arrangements travel just as swiftly along these outer space winds, merging folk and psychedelia in an inventive array of instrumentation (including toy zither, marxophone, Chamberlain tape organ, hammer dulcimer, bowed banjo, and heavy use of synthesizers).
My obsession with this album was immediate and very potent, and has only grown with repeat listens. I had the pleasure of recently seeing Jerry Yester play at a small venue in Northwest Arkansas, where he performed unreleased songs from the Farewell Aldebaran sessions and shared stories of his incredible musical career (he also played in The Lovin’ Spoonful, Modern Folk Quartet, and New Christy Minstrels, and produced for Tim Buckley, Tom Waits, The Turtles, and The Association, to name a few). He was even sweet enough to let me sing “Rapture” with him accompanying at the end of his set, a moment forever etched in my memory. If you’re ever driving through Northwest Arkansas, consider a visit to the Grand Central Hotel in Eureka Springs to hear Jerry Yester play, and prepare yourself for pure wonder. Until then, listen to this!

Tim Blake – Crystal Machine, 1977

The first in a total of 8 solo albums by Tim Blake. An influential synthesist and composer, Blake worked on all three albums in the Gong trilogy. He had a critical role in the formation of another formative space rock band, Hawkwind. Blake is also credited with being one of the first musicians to bring the synthesizer out of the studio and on to the stage on his 1972 tour with Gong. Interestingly, when he began touring as Crystal Machine with the release of this album, he became the first artist to introduce the use of lasers to live entertainment. 
Named after the moniker he assumed when playing live, Crystal Machine is a synthesizer tour de force. Newly emancipated from the collaborative confines of Gong at the time of this partially live recording, you can hear Blake’s youthful energy as he blasts off into space. Give a listen and if you close your eyes, he’ll take you along.

The Congos – Heart of the Congos, 1977

It’s a little weird for me to write about what is arguably the greatest roots reggae record of all time. I avoided reggae for most of my life after too much exposure to some pretty uninteresting reggae at the hands of my pretty uninteresting adolescent stepbrother. The Heart of the Congos is the first reggae record that I connected with, and while I’m no aficionado, this is unlike anything I’ve ever heard (more knowledgeable writeup here, nice interview here). It’s odd that the exaggerated stoner aesthetic that reggae got saddled with has clouded the recognition of the music itself as an intensely mind-altering experience, sans drugs. This serves as an excellent reminder of its psychedelic nature, in the more honest sense of the word. With dense, melted reverb, Heart sounds as if it was recorded under a few feet of water. Brilliant vocal interplay and amazing diversity of sound, from the sprawling aquatic bass groove “Congoman” to the sinuous, fizzed-out “Can’t Come In,” with the famous robo-cows lowing throughout. The range of emotion is equally bewildering, from cripplingly pointed mourning to the peaks of joy with intense spiritual potency in between. The title means business: this is thick, this plumbs deep.

Note: there are quite a few different versions of this floating around–apparently Perry himself was unhappy with the original mastering and made some dramatic changes, and of course there have been a slew of reissues. Of the versions I’ve heard, I’m pretty happy with this one.