The CD Cull

New year, new CD collection.

December 2022 saw the Second Annual CD Cull, not quite as drastic as the Great Cull Of 2021 but still pretty ‘brutal’.

In this annual period of ‘reinvention’ and ‘rebirth’, some people throw out clothes, books and furniture – these days I look with fear and pity at my overburdened CD shelves.

CDs have lots of pros: sound quality, liner notes, cover artwork. But they are heavy, take up space, and looking at my stash is also a tacit admission of guilt at not getting to record shops as much as I used to.

But which CDs to keep? Of course there are the untouchables, in my case: Steely, John McLaughlin, Weather Report/Jaco/Wayne, Level 42, Jeff Beck, Ornette, Monk, Joni, Miles, Prefab, Little Feat, Marvin, Zappa, Scritti, Faith No More/Mr Bungle, It Bites, Danny Wilson et al.

Then there were the CDs I’m not altogether sure about but aren’t available on any other formats. So it’s a stay of execution for:

Lil Louis’ From The Mind Of Lil Louis
Robin Eubanks’ Karma

Then there are ones I haven’t listened to for ages. So I listened to them. Did I still want the below? Yes! They all screamed ‘classic’ pretty much from the first bar:

Human League’s Dare
Morphine’s Like Swimming

Brad Mehldau’s Places
Geri Allen: The Gathering
Brecker Brothers Collection Vols. 1 and 2
Gary Clail’s Dreamstealers

Little Axe’s The Wolf That House Built
Lonnie Liston Smith’s Cosmic Funk
Albert Collins & The Icebreakers’ Live ’92-’93
Blur’s Blur
Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin
D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar

But stuff has to go, so you need a system. There were soundtrack albums with one or two superb vocal tracks but which otherwise flattered to deceive:

Isaac Hayes’ Shaft
Marvin’s Trouble Man

There were compilation albums that were badly put together, inconsistent or lacking decent liner notes/info. So it’s goodbye to:

Roy Ayers’ A Shining Symbol
The Jimi Hendrix Concerts
Living Colour: Pride
On-U Sound’s Pay It All Back Vol.4
Ian Dury & The Blockheads’ Reasons To Be Cheerful
Peaches: The Very Best Of The Stranglers

Then there were the studio albums that had just a few good tracks and/or no musician details etc.:

Robert Palmer’s Double Fun
Angela Bofill: Love In Slow Motion
Propaganda’s Wishful Thinking
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Freaky Styley
Randy Newman’s Bad Love
Dee-Lite’s World Clique
Blur’s 13 (also in retaliation at Graham Coxon’s constant/irritating ‘shaming’ of the 1990s in recent interviews)
Van Halen’s Women And Children First/1984/Diver Down/Fair Warning
Zawinul Syndicate’s Lost Tribes
John Coltrane: ‘58/Both Directions At Once
D’Angelo’s Black Messiah

Finally, there are those CDs that are just appallingly remastered:

XTC’s Nonsuch/English Settlement
Bill Bruford’s One Of A Kind (2018 version)

I’ve probably left quite a few out here. Yes I’ll probably rue getting rid of some of ‘em. But it had to be done. I hope they have gone to a good home. Now, which CDs will kick the bucket in YOUR gaff…? (And a tip of the hat to the excellent Reckless Records in Soho, who always offer good prices/friendly service. )

Milford Graves (1941-2021)

One of the most memorable music documentaries broadcast in Britain during the late 1980s was ‘Speaking In Tongues’, directed by Doug Harris for German TV and originally shown in 1982.

It began with John Coltrane’s funeral on 21 July 1967, featuring music from drummer Milford Graves, trumpeter Donald Ayler and saxophonists Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, then mused on the mysterious death of the latter before opening up to focus on Graves’ extraordinary life and some coruscating duets with saxophonist David Murray.

Born 20 August 1941 in South Jamaica, Queens, New York, Milford Graves was a ‘drummer’, but, equally importantly, a truly evolved human being, a strict vegetarian, herbologist, acupuncturist, teacher and trained martial artist. He was famous locally for his backyard dojo and basement laboratory.

He began his career playing bongos and timbales, including a short-lived Latin-jazz band with a very young Chick Corea. At the urging of superstar percussionist Don Alias, he moved over to the drum kit in 1963 and found his true metier.

Alongside Sunny Murray, Andrew Cyrille, Ronald Shannon Jackson and a few others, he freed the drummer from purely a timekeeping role, introducing new melodic and tonal textures for the kit. But this wasn’t a po-faced, technical endeavour – it led to some of the most intense, high-volume work of the last 50 years. He described each of his limbs as playing ‘a different feeling’ (see below).

Legendary jazz writer Nat Hentoff apparently made a prediction in the late 1960s that the greats of the avant-garde jazz movement would eventually get lecturing jobs in universities, such was the importance and rigour of their conceptual flow.

It was true. Since 1973, Graves had been teaching at Bennington College in Vermont, a variety of courses including those touching on the healing aspect of music. He performed regularly across the world, including at a school for autistic children in Japan. From the late 1960s on, he eschewed nightclub and club gigs, restricting his live performances to festivals, community centres and outdoor shows.

He recorded astonishing duets with pianist Don Pullen, Andrew Cyrille (Dialogue Of The Drums) and David Murray on the classic 1991 album The Real Deal. He worked with Albert Ayler on various albums including Love Cry. He toured extensively during the 1980s, producing a sound as heavy as anything Black Flag or Metallica came up with.

Tragically, though he had studied the heartbeat as a source of rhythm since the 1970s, Milford died of congestive heart failure on 12 February. ‘It turns out, I was studying the heart to prepare for treating myself,’ he told The New York Times last year.

Last autumn, his life and work had just been subject to a residency at the ICA in Philadelphia, including a screening of ‘Speaking Of Tongues’ and a wide-ranging interview with Jason Moran.

RIP to a true one-off. To paraphrase Art Blakey, if jazz was about washing away the dust of everyday life, Milford Graves did it.

Milford Graves (20 August 1941 – 12 February 2021)

Further reading: ‘As Serious As Your Life’ by Val Wilmer