“The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note”
(Black Saint/Soul Note)
Next-level jazz composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton has a gigantic, often amazing discography that is not for the timid. One could suggest newcomers dip their toes in the water with his classic jazz tributes. But if you have an open mind and/or like avant-garde jazz, then just jump right in. Conveniently, sibling Italian jazz labels Black Saint and Soul Note have just released a generous eight-CD boxed set of Braxton’s albums, remastered with basic packaging. And while it’s a good sampling of his immense catalog, it would take more than eight discs to really touch all the aspects of his career.
Braxton was involved with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in the late 1960s and released the groundbreaking solo saxophone album “For Alto” in 1970, but this boxed set starts later in his chronology, including recordings from the late ’70s through the mid-’90s. It covers a wide swath of configurations of varying sizes, from the exuberant, free-spirited improvisations with legendary drummer Max Roach on “Birth and Rebirth” to the 17-piece ensemble on the ambitious “Eugene,” an 80-minute 1989 album.
While Braxton is known as an academic with often perplexing approaches—most of his compositions have cryptic diagrams instead of names—make no mistake: he’s got ample chops and can swing when it’s called for. Among the four albums featuring various quartets is his 1987 Thelonious Monk tribute, “Six Monk’s Compositions,” on which he demonstrates versatility, tooting with a driven velocity or slinking along in smoky barfly mode. Other quartets feature such diverse talent as drummer Gerry Hemingway, pianist Marilyn Crispell and trombonist George Lewis joining their fearless leader through cycles of synchronicity and scattered bursts.
The only album which doesn’t quite work is “Composition No- 173,” a strange multi-media quasi-sci-fi, not-quite-jazz odyssey with actors reciting goofy lines and the whiff of art-theater excess. However, the other seven discs are uniformly excellent, making the boxed set an overwhelming dose of mind-expanding jazz and contributing a few more pieces to Braxton’s unfinished puzzle.
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Much has already been said about bassist, songwriter, and producer Gabriel Roth, co-founder of Daptone Records, who has a meticulous devotion to creating new soul and funk records that recreate styles from the ‘60s and early ‘70s, using analog recording equipment. Once a college student who would listen to James Brown’s album Hot Pants for hours on end, Roth was enlisted as an engineer on Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, and apart from that, his most notable gig is bandleader (under the alias “Bosco Mann”) of The Dap-Kings―the horn-laden Daptone house band―with singer Sharon Jones. James Brown had his own “funky divas,” talented singers like Marva Whitney and Lyn Collins, who would warm up stages before Brown’s main full-on event, and Jones seems to have been developed in this mold, with a difference―she’s the main attraction and not just an opener.
Soul Time! is a compilation of 7-inch single and non-album tracks, a welcome release for fans trying to fill in the gaps in their collections. The collection opens with “Genuine,” which borrows more than a few methods from Brown’s funk playbook and is presented in two parts, most definitely a nod to Brown’s own two-part singles. “What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes?” takes an indignant political turn, marked with Roth’s fluid Bootsy Collins-esque bass lines and Jones’s attitude, imploring, “Listen people!” The a-side of Daptone Records’ 2009 holiday 7-inch single is “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects,” making a Christmas song from a standard soul-funk number by adding sleigh bells, about a quick-thinking mother who tells her questioning daughter that Santa has magical temporary-chimney-creating abilities to dissuade her doubt.
Other highlights include “New Shoes,” with a profound Motown influence, and Shuggie Otis’s “Inspiration Information,” originally on 4AD’s Dark Was the Night compilation, a worthy take on the original. Although it sports a few curiosities, fans won’t likely be surprised by Soul Time!, but it sounds and flows better than a typical odds ‘n’ sods release. It’s clear that Jones and Roth have standards of quality, with a deep understanding of what makes classic funk and soul songs tick, and revivalism rarely bears this level of craftsmanship.