AMN Reviews: John Corbett – “ Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium” [ Duke University Press – isbn:9780822363507 ]

978-0-8223-6366-8_prFreaks are those of us that harmlessly indulge our interests to the point of compulsion or obsession. When it comes to music, the most interesting people that I have met have been those that exuberantly talk about music almost to the point of proselytizing. As they talk about either their collections or their discoveries or a recent concert or a new release or a particular instrument, they invite us to share in their enthusiasm and in the process they turn us on to all kinds of great music that we may have been completely unaware of. While many of these people can be found on blogs, or in chat rooms, on mailing lists and in forums, a select few have managed to turn their obsessions into a career. Luckily for us John Corbett is that kind of freak.

When it comes to the outer limits of jazz and the realms of creative music and free improvisation, Corbett writes with unmatched exuberance and passion supported by his deep and wide knowledge of the music. In “Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium” John Corbett explores the mindset of record collecting and the rising popularity of vinyl records. He combines bits of memoir and criticism to explain what he and other collectors find so special about vinyl. The book contains seven new essays and the entire twelve years of the “Vinyl Freak” column that Corbett wrote for DownBeat magazine. Each “Vinyl Freak” column consisted of a one page essay/review of a rare primarily jazz record and are reprinted in their entirety, plus updated notes on reissue status. What was really interesting about the “Vinyl Freak” columns were the tangents that Corbett might take in describing the record, its music, the musicians, cover, style, etc. This would often reveal interesting external connections between the music, its makers and its history, and in the process expose us to related albums and musicians. Among the new essays is a chapter of vignettes on one hundred thirteen of his favorite rare free improvisation and creative music recordings. There is also one riveting essay that focuses on the tale of his uncovering of a cache of extremely rare Sun Ra items.

While many will view this book as just being about Corbett’s obsessive and unique view of record collecting and the recent vinyl resurgence, and that is definitely in this book, it’s really about how the format changes of recorded music impacts music history. There is so much great music that seems to have disappeared due to format changes. In writing about all of these rare records Corbett uncovers a lot of great and potentially forgotten music. John Corbett reminds us that as formats change we can lose great music. Think of the many records that you had in your vinyl collection that have yet to make it to CD or a digital download format. Well, consider that this has happened throughout the history of recorded music, as recordings moved from tapes and wires and cylinders and shellac to various forms, speeds and sizes of vinyl and then to various digital formats. Bottom line, we may have lost a lot of great music along the way and we would have lost even more great music, if it weren’t for collectors who turned their passion into the curating and production of reissues of old recordings in new formats. John Corbett has stepped up here as well with the many reissues he has been busy producing for his Corbett vs Dempsey label.

Clearly John Corbett is a vinyl freak. Who else would include a rare unreleased limited edition Sun Ra flex-disc in his latest book? He may truly love the vinyl medium but deep down he loves the music even more. Corbett really is an “equal opportunity ear filler” and is willing to acquire the music he really enjoys in any format. With “Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium” John Corbett invites us to join him in the pleasure of discovering new sounds to indulge our ears. So what are you waiting for? You’ve been invited. Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

For more information: https://www.dukeupress.edu/vinyl-freak

Additional reviews of John Corbett’s books on AMN:

AMN Reviews: Nate Wooley – Argonautica [ Firehouse 12 Records FH12-04-01-023 ]

 

Trumpeter, composer, and improviser Nate Wooley has performed regularly as a sideman with many of the leading musicians on the New York new music scene including icons such as Anthony Braxton and John Zorn. He has also collaborated with many of the brightest of his generation such as Chris Corsano, C. Spencer Yeh, Peter Evans, and Mary Halvorson. Embracing noise and drone aesthetics, Wooley’s unique approach to the trumpet is a combination of standard techniques, vocalization, extreme extended techniques and amplification. But Nate Wooley is not just another iconoclast; he is a curator, a writer, an editor and an explorer of all things sonic and musical. Check out his online quarterly journal Sound American  or his Database of Recorded American Music .

Argonautica is an ambitious work that takes its name from the ancient Greek epic poem which depicts the adventure of Jason and the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece. The piece is in three parts with an introduction and scored for three pairs of instruments – trumpets, pianos and drums. This allows for various duos and trios to work together or separately as they explore the material. Wooley conceived the piece as a tribute to his mentor Ron Miles whom performs on this recording. Argonuatica opens with a “solo” from the trumpets. Here Wooley and Miles demonstrate their individual approaches to the instrument with Miles’s lyrical cornet to Wooley’s rougher more extended trumpet voice. This seeming opposition remains with all of the pairs of instruments – the acoustic piano of Cory Smythe paired with the Fender-Rhodes and electronics of Jozef Dumoulin and the free jazz drumming of Devin Gray with the more spirited precision of Rudy Royston. The pairs move from contrast to opposition to complement as the material is explored. There are written or scored elements that are precisely performed, followed by more open sections used by the performers to develop the material as they navigate to the next scored element giving this forty three minute piece a very organic feel. There is a continuous build up from sparse to dense, from slower to faster as various duos and trios emerge until the piece ends in a shattering climax.

Wooley cites the oblique influence of things like ambient tape music, dodecaphony, jazz-rock and the minimalist rock of Terry Riley.  With Argonautica he raises the question “… is this what jazz-rock can be in the twenty-first century?” However, do not take this to mean that Argonautica is “fusion” or sounds like any of these influences. To quote Wooley: “It’s easy sometimes to confuse being inspired by something with adhering to its principles.”

Argonautica is a solid piece of contemporary creative music performed by exceptional musicians. It is beautifully recorded and mixed. In addition to the MP3 and CD versions there is also a high-resolution audio mix available (would love to hear that). If you are not already a Nate Wooley fan then this recording is very likely to make you one.

Highly Recommended!

For more information: http://firehouse12records.com

Chris De Chiara

AMN Picks of the Week: Håker Flaten / Bankhead / Mazurek / Revis / Zorn

English: The Norwegian jazz band Element in co...

Here is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. All of the releases listed below I’ve heard for the first time this week and come recommended.

Ingebrigt Håker Flaten / New York Quartet – Now Is (2012)
Harrison Bankhead / Sextet – Morning Sun, Harvest Moon (2011)
Rob Mazurek / Pulsar Quartet – Stellar Pulsations (2012)
Eric Revis – Parallax (2012)
John Zorn – Rimbaud (2012)

AMN Picks of the Week: Sky Burial / Eduardo F. Rosario / Magma / Anglagard

Here is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. All of the releases listed below I’ve heard for the first time this week and come recommended.

Sky Burial – There I Saw The Grey Wolf Gaping (2012)
Eduardo F. Rosario – (Auto/Anti)nomía (2012)
Magma – Félicité Thösz (2012)
Änglagård – Viljans Öga (2012)

AMN Picks of the Week: Vaggione / Bisio & Shipp / Young / Ahleuchatistas / Living By Lanterns

avant-garde pianist Matthew Shipp
avant-garde pianist Matthew Shipp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. All of the releases listed below I’ve heard for the first time this week and come recommended.

Horatio Vaggione – Points Critiques (2011)
Michael Bisio / Matthew ShippFloating Ice (2012)
Katherine Young’s Pretty Monsters – Pretty Monsters (2012)
Ahleuchatistas – Heads Full of Poison (2012)
Living By Lanterns – New Myth / Old Science (2012)

AMN Picks of the Week

Here is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. All of the releases listed below I’ve heard for the first time this week and come recommended.

Atomik Clocks – Magdan in Charleroi (2011)
Andy Ortman – Provocative Electronics (2008)
Family Battle Snake – Split LP (2008)
Eli Keszler – Cold Pin (2011)

AMN Picks of the Week: Morris / Ware / Tin Hat / Kubisch

English: Photography of William Parker at Jazz...
English: Photography of William Parker at Jazzfestival Saalfelden 2010, Austria. By Frank Schindelbeck, http://www.schindelbeck.org (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. All of the releases listed below I’ve heard for the first time this week and come recommended.

Joe Morris – Altitude (2012)
David S. Ware / Cooper-Moore / William Parker / Mohammed Ali – Live at Jazzfestival Saalfelden 2011 (2012)
Tin Hat – Rain is a Handsome Animal (2012)
Christina Kubisch – Mono Fluido (2010)