20 Xmas Gift Ideas For Crate Diggers: Jazz, Minimal Wave & Synthpop (Part 1 of 5)

Timely for the gifts-heavy season there is a real abundance of options available for crate diggers, collectors and music lovers to choose from. Be it jazz, 90's electornica, obscure synth-pop,  techno, easy listening, minimal wave, krautrock, world music, electro or more heady experimental stuff, any tastes are easily satisfied nowadays.

Here is our guide to help in picking out the real gems.

Jazz

Pharoah Sanders "Elevation" 2013 | Soul Jazz (originally on Impulse! 1974)

Michael White “Spirit Dance2013 | Soul Jazz (originally on Impulse! 1972)

Pharoah Sanders' Impulse! classic "Elevation" pressed courtesy of Soul Jazz

Pharoah Sanders' Impulse! classic "Elevation" pressed courtesy of Soul Jazz

If it’s jazz you are looking for go no further than the reissues of much-anticipated and long out-of-print Impulse classics by iconic Pharoah Sanders and his sometimes collaborator Michael White. The former is the next to last in the string of highly influential albums Sanders released on cult LA-based jazz label in 1973. In fact just a year before recording company ceased operations struggling to sustain the high quality of its brilliant output after John Coltrane’s death in 1967 and commercial demands of less adventurous music.

“Elevation” features one of the most dissonant and hypnotic of Sanders & Co improvisations recorded in the cult Ash Grove folk club in LA and partially in Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco during Sanders’ brief return to West Coast where his career started in late 50s before the move to considerably more sophisticated scene of New York. Saxophonist is accompanied here by Michael Carvin (drums), Calvin Hill (bass) and Joe Bonner (piano).

One track on "Elevation" features performance by aforementioned violinist Michael White, whose debut album on the same label “Spirit Dance” has also been re-pressed in 180g vinyl glory. This one was originally recorded two years earlier in San Francisco and released in 1972.

"Spirit Dance" by jazz violinist Michael White gets deluxe 180g vinyl treatment

"Spirit Dance" by jazz violinist Michael White gets deluxe 180g vinyl treatment

White’s playing is instantly recognizable not least because his long-term association and presence on the well-known records by both, Sanders and Alice Coltrane. “Spirit Dance” fits general stylistic and ideological agenda of the late Impulse and its artists perfectly. Spiritual, afrofuturist, psychedelic, dissonant and uncompromisingly experimental.

It’s hard to say if there was any sensible ideas exchange or influence, but with it’s buzzing string passages some parts of the record remind of the contemporaneous white noise droning plateaus of The Velvet Underground late 60s albums.

Michael White would go on to release another 3 albums with Impulse before settling into the quieter life away from recording studios in his native Oakland, CA. Although violinist initially had a few rare come backs to record another output as part of jazz bands as well as solo “Spirit Dance” firmly stands as his ultimate career statement.

Minimal Wave / Synthpop / Industrial

Saâda Bonaire “Saâda Bonaire2013 | Captured Tracks (Partially released on EMI 1984)

Monuments “Age2013 | Mannequin (Originally on Discordie 1984)

Musumeci “Schwarz Morgen / Zusammen2013 | Mannequin   (Unreleased)

Tommy De Chirico “Close Your Eyes2013 | Mannequin (Originally on Shirak 1984)

 

Monuments obscure synth-pop masterstroke "Age" gets issued on Mannequin

Monuments obscure synth-pop masterstroke "Age" gets issued on Mannequin

When it comes to obscure, electronics-heavy post-punk few labels can compete with the recent tour de force release schedule on Mannequin. Up until recent move to Berlin the label has been based out of Rome, native city of the owner and principal ideologist Alessandro Adriani.

Although Mannequin is not entirely dedicated to reissues (label has released such stylistically homogenous new artists’ as Tropic Of Cancer, Led Er Est, Mushy etc.) it became synonymous with minimal wave and early 80’s synth music revival of a couple of year back together with Veronica Vasicka’s excellent Minimal Wave operation. Albeit Adriani has managed to carve out a very specific identity for his label concentrating specifically on Italian artists and sound leading to the success of his magnum opus compilation from 2009 “Danza Meccanica – Italian Synth Wave 1982-1982”.

This year’s compilation “Mutazione: Italian Electronic & New Wave Underground 1980-1988” showed that the interest towards Italian synth projects is hardly diminished over the last few years. Somehow counterproductively in his recent interview Alessandro expressed the intention to distance the label from reissue program no matter how acclaimed.

Musumeci's germanic-leaning electronic funk expanded and re-packaged as part of Mannequin Turin's minimal wave scene series.

Musumeci's germanic-leaning electronic funk expanded and re-packaged as part of Mannequin Turin's minimal wave scene series.

Apparently the temptation proved too hard to resist and November sees not one, but three archival pressings from Mannequin vaults seeing the light of day. Among them are quite known, but rare Monuments mini-LP “Age”, Tommy De Chirico’s 12” “Close Your Eyes” and Musumeci’s “Schwarz Morgen / Zusammen”. All three projects originate from Turin’s fertile new wave scene of the mid-80s and have some degree of interrelation with each other. One established fact is that Monuments’s Mauro Tavella actually produced De Chirico’s single on display here and both projects recorded at the same TKS Studio. Not withholding the connection and even similar means of recording each record has a very distinct sound. Monuments being, well, most monumental and pop-friendly of all. Reminding in turns of less upbeat version of early Depeche Mode, minor key Pet Shop Boys, most danceable moments of New Order, less overproduced Frankie Goes To Hollywood and even their ZTT label-mates Propaganda. Probably because of the more guitar-propelled sound Tommy De Chirico is more in-tune with the dancier version of golden-era The Cure and Forced Nostalgia’s recent rediscovery Vazz. Musumeci is all harsh Germanic synth-robofunk accompanied by DAF-style basslines and Liasons Dangereuses shout-outs. The repetition and insistence of this one is really determined to beat you into submission.

Stunning synth-dub-funk by Bremen's shortlived outfit Saâda Bonaire finally released after 30 years collecting the dust

Stunning synth-dub-funk by Bremen's shortlived outfit Saâda Bonaire finally released after 30 years collecting the dust

If we are talking about synthpop it’s also criminal to avoid mentioning recent megahit reissue of Saâda Bonaire on US indie label Captured Tracks. This is one of those rare instances where you really can’t believe how it slipped through the cracks of pop culture. Being on EMI, produced by Dennis Bovell (Slits / Pop Group engineer), recorded in Kraftwerk’s Studio N, accompanied by jazz alto sax star Charlie Mariano and managed by A&R manager of Tina Turner it is quite astonishing that the project never took off. Even with the now known story of major-label gets hyper-cranky following ridiculous over budgets by its own employee.

Anyways it just shows one more time how crucial the promo campaign is for a pop release by up-and-comer, no matter how talented. The project was originally put together by Bremen resident Ralph “von” Richtoven with his then girlfriend Stephanie Lange and Claudio Hossfeld. Being dj Ralph pushed some of the material to his record industry contacts. This has somehow ended up signed by EMI, which explains the ability to hire fancy producers, musicians and a whole army of Turkish musicians (funnily enough using Ralph’s experience and contacts collected during his time organizing social clubs for Turkish immigrants). Being ardent collector or Kurdish and Egyptian folk music Ralph had an ambitious vision of amalgamation of electronic disco, dub, funk and world music influences available in the early 80s West Germany. The availability being limited to Turkish influence and Dennis Bovell experience with afrobeat (while working with Fela Kuti). The result is absolutely astonishing and more than anything else reminds of the quirky glamour and irresistible funk of the best Grace Jones stuff from the same era. It is hard to extrapolate now, but maybe Saâda Bonaire’s nuclear mixture of styles fares much better in the current post-everything music landscape and public with multi-eclectic tastes. Now there’s hope the trio would resume musical activities and warm-up for Omar Souleyman upcoming tour