Tumbao Para Los Congueros Di Mi Vida
BASSIST AL MCKIBBON has appeared on more classic jazz recordings than most people own in their collection. He's on Thelonious Monk's first and last records; the landmark Miles Davis "Birth of The Cool" sessions; on Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" (the first Latin-jazz record); he introduced Cal Tjader to the Latin style that made his career; and he's backed Bird, Sarah Vaughan, Bud Powell, Coleman Hawkins, George Shearing, Count Basie, even Frank Sinatra.
So, why did he wait until he was 80 years old to release his first album as a leader? One can only assume he was too busy working. The title cut, Al's tribute to "the conga players of my life" features just percussion and bass. It's a rare opportunity to hear his meaty sound and brilliant phrasing stand alone. While most of us would be happy to tie our own shoes at his age, McKibbon still plays with energy, groove and tone. Latin percussion mixed with jazz harmony is nothing new, but McKibbon's presence at its inception gives this record added significance.
-- Ed Friedland
Greatest Hits Vol. 2
WHY NORMALLY INTELLIGENT humans like Rick Rubin (whose label American Recordings issued several Willis albums), Jello Biafra (who pens fawning liner notes for this retrospective) or any number of '90s rock cognoscenti who've talked-up Willis in the press would succumb to the same kind of free-the-slaves, "Helping Hand" patronage that keeps white liberals smug in their good works is beyond me. But they did, championing this guy as some sort of retardo naif brimming with idiot-avant-savant insights, and even putting him on tour with hip bands like Sublime and Rocket From The Crypt.
As a consequence, we're stuck with schizophrenic African-American street musician Willis, who scribbles inane, repetitive lyrics (sample: "Arnold Schwarzenegger...[repeat three times]/ You are the greatest/ You are my kind of guy...") then sets them to canned, monotonous rhythms and the kind of simplistic Casio melodies that only a They Might Be Giants fan would hail as "minimalist, yet complex."
Still, if your loyalties rest with those who'd say we, the public, are obliged to help those less fortunate by suffering through their public therapy sessions, here's a 22-song helping of Willis, culled from numerous albums as well as offering rarities and unreleased material. Willis musters up a small head of steam for a cover of Duran Duran's "Girls On Film," but by now the territory of quasi-punk covers of cheesy classic rock and '80s bands has become pretty tiresome.
The lone star awarded Willis is for his admittedly winning knack at titling his songs: "The Vultures Ate My Ass Up," and "Make Sure I'm Out Screwing Up" both suggest he's prone to random introspection, while "Cut The Mullet" is good advice for at least half of the over-30 male population. Finally, the straightforward "Fuck You" never goes out of style as epithet, instruction or Tourette-driven mantra.
-- Fred Mills
The Swell Maps
THE VASTLY UNDERAPPRECIATED Swell Maps influenced everyone from Sonic Youth and Pavement to the Replacements and Dinosaur Jr. International Rescue is a comprehensive compilation of this seminal 1977 UK punk group featuring brothers Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks, and is the first retrospective to be issued in the States. It collects a haberdashery of hits, rare UK singles, and previously unreleased songs and mixes.
Led by Sudden's whining Dylanesque vocals, the Swell Maps' brief and turbulent career surrendered to adoration and experimental self-indulgence with the chaotic speed of the rapidly metamorphosing post-Pistols UK punk scene. Though the Swell Maps always carried on the punk torch passed by the Pistols, Clash and the Damned, they also embraced more experimental forms of noise-making attributed to early '70s German prog-rock groups like Can, Neu and Faust. The Swell Maps' bizarre first single, "Read About Seymour," is a ragged, 90-second excursion in sloppy punk recklessness. Sudden's painful, hopelessly off-key vocals and a thrashing mess of cataclysmic guitar chords anchors this tenacious, artful punk collection -- an unheralded punk masterpiece if ever there was one. It represents the cornerstone of the prolific, do-it-yourself aesthetic carried to bountiful fruition by these maddening avant-gardists of the punk scene.
However, the Maps' most memorable juncture (also included here) was in 1980 with "Let's Build A Car" -- all distorted guitars, tuneless vocals and a maniacal piano break from hell. International Rescue is a must have for the uninitiated, and for punk collectors looking to complete their Killed by Death fanaticism.
-- Ron Bally