Analog Adventures: Looking at ORG Music

I get a lot of random records, tapes, and books in the mail, because publicists forget that outlets for which I used to work aren’t around anymore, or someone finds the address hidden on my website, or… whatever. This is a way to keep them from piling up uselessly in the corner of the office.

ORG Music announced their 2020 Record Store Day titles last week. Out on Saturday, April 18, will be Nat Turner Rebellion’s Laugh to Keep from Crying, Würm’s Poison b/w Zero Sum, Sock-Tight’s self-titled LP, a brand-new Infectious Grooves EP, Marion Brown’s Porto Novo, and a Jimmy Giuffra 3 double live LP recorded in Graz, Austria, in 1961, among other stellar and desirable recordings. This meant it was probably a good time to dig into the stack of ORG releases lying around the office to give you a sense of what excellent and varied titles this long-running label puts out.

First up is a co-release with Olympia, Washington, label PIAPTK Recordings. People In A Position to Know has been releasing exciting music since 2006, and are probably better known for their crazy formats and vinyl shapes than they are the music they release. Case in point, the label was the first to figure out how to press flexis on old x-ray films. However, the music’s just as great as the ways in which its pressed.

Michael Nau’s Less Ready to Go, his fourth LP, features collaborators Whitney McGraw, Andrew Dost (fun.), Zach Miller (Dr. Dog), Benny Yurco, and Seth Kauffman, and was produced by Scott McMicken (Dr. Dog). Looking at that line-up, you can get a pretty solid idea of what the record sounds like – described by the label as “psychedelic folk, R&B, and indie rock music,” it’s a very warm, sunny record which sounds like the group of musicians is playing right next to you.

A track like “Poor Condition” rides the ’60s R&B vibe, while the song which immediately follows, “Fade Shade,” could easily have been a Dark Side of the Moon b-side. The whole project dances on the edge of being a just as beautiful, but far less sad companion piece to Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois record, as well, with the music crammed fair-to-bursting with as much instrumentation and melody as possible.

For a label with PIAPTK’s penchant for weirdness – lathe-cut records etched on glass, to name but one other innovation the label’s made – Less Ready to Go is pressed on basic black, with simple line drawings on the front and back covers of the album jacket. Were it not for the hype sticker on the shrink, you’d have no idea who played on the record, since there’s absolutely nothing in the way of liner notes. The printed inner sleeve is an old-school throwback, featuring hype for other PIAPTK releases, and the label as a whole.

Rickey Vincent’s liner notes for The Viscaynes & Friends goes entirely the other way, however, filling the entirety of the album’s inner gatefold, and that’s important, as it help puts into context these ten sides recorded in the late ’50s and early ’60s by producer George Motola. The selling point here is the Viscaynes: a doo-wop band which featured the first recorded music by one Sylvester Stewart, better known later as Sly Stone.

There are featured two other acts produced by Motola, with one cut from the The Individuals and two from The Precisions, both groups being contemporaneous with the Viscaynes. In addition to the Viscaynes’ 1961 regional hit on KYA radio, “Yellow Moon,” with its fairly standard doo-wop pacing, there are some real gems here, like the Precisions’ “Mama Told Me,” which shares a lot in common with The Rivingtons’s novelty smash, “Papa Oom Mow Mow,” and the Viscaynes’ strangely swinging “Uncle Sam Needs You.”

Your enjoyment of The Viscaynes & Friends is largely due to whether or not you might have a Moonglows’ best-of somewhere on your record shelf, but as a historical item, it’s pretty wonderful. You get to hear the high school-aged Stewart really singing his heart out, and it makes for a fascinating counterpoint with where Sylvester would be just a decade later, with There’s a Riot Goin’ On.

The LP comes in one of those sleeves where you tear off a top strip and end up with a poly sleeve to keep it in. They’re neat, but a little floppier than I usually prefer, but the gatefold jacket looks swank as hell, and very vintage in terms of visual presentation. The dress and stance of the group on the front cover originally made me think this might be a folk record, but it’s pure doo-wop all the way. The recordings – from a master tape found 50 years after they were originally made – sound fantastic.

Also featuring one of those tear-strip poly sleeves is Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars’ Live in 1956. Recorded in Allentown, PA on November 24, 1956, this album captures the legendary trumpet player and his band – including Trummy Young, Edmund Hall, Billy Kyle, and Velma Middleton – live in concert. It’s a fantastic recording from Muhlenberg College’s Memorial Hall, and per the label, it was “[u]nearthed for the first time after the discovery of a ‘mystery’ tape reel.” The story of that tape reel, and how it came to be found, is arguably just as interesting as the music presented on the LP, but there’s sadly nothing mentioned on the LP, aside from a note on the hype sticker that these are “Recently Discovered Recordings, Never Released Before.”

Thankfully, the Lehigh Valley’s Morning Call paper dug deep for a story they published, entitled “63 years after jazz great Louis Armstrong played at Muhlenberg, long lost concert set for release,” which even features pictures from the paper’s archives of a performance from the band in the same venue in March of the same year. I highly recommend you read it, because it’s one of those cool stories of how someone just happened to find something while poking around online and ended up with a real treasure.

The song selection is tops, with then-recent hits “Blueberry Hill” and “C’Est Si Bon” getting excellent airings, and an especially robust version of “Big Mama’s Back in Town,” featuring Velma Middleton on vocals really making this worth checking out. It’s positively joyous, and captures Armstrong and his band at the top of their game – or, as is pointed out in the Morning Call piece, one of the many tops the musician would have, given that he was still yet a decade away from his most enduring recording, “What A Wonderful World.”

The LP comes pressed on blue aqua vinyl, and Kelly Cousins’ cover artwork really makes this look like it might’ve been released not long after it was originally recorded. It’s quite a gem, and still readily available on the secondary market, even though it was a Black Friday Record Store Day release for 2019. While Armstrong’s New Orleans style jazz might not be as hip as Miles Davis or John Coltrane, it still swings like crazy, and this makes for a really nice addition to any collection.

Less accessible is William Hooker’s Symphonie of Flowers, a double LP of free jazz released in September of 2019. The album is a collection of three sections, woven together into a whole. As Hooker says, “the piece begins and ends with the drum…my instrument. Its rhythm and variations of timbre are the stabilizing element.”

The first piece, “Chain Gangs,” is the most accessible track of the seven which make up Symphonie of Flowers. It’s a funky, funky rhythm to begin with, but piano works its way in and eventually helps lead the piece towards collapse. After that, things turn into 100% free jazz meets noise, and while it’s an amazingly inventive and brilliant conjoining of two atonal genres – especially on “Soul,” which will tear your brain apart – it’s a hard listen for enjoyment’s sake. The brief moments of melody, such as the chirping birdlike sounds toward the end of “Soul,” only serve to make the descent back into chaos much more jarring. It’s fucking brilliant, but aurally battering.

The final track, “Hieroglyphics,” begins with several minutes of what it used to sound like if you accidentally put a CD-ROM in your CD player. It’s harsh and dissonant, and I thought for a hot minute something had happened to the needle on my turntable. Not for nothing did Hooker play in Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth’s project, Text of Light, is what I’m saying.

There’s a piece written by Hooker, which is included as an insert. Entitled “Three Poems for Symphonie,” the second part, “Sound,” features the lines, “KNIFE/ IRON’S FIRE IS A RED/ PLANET,” and reading that, I feel like I got a slight insight into what Hooker was looking to accomplish on Symphonie of Flowers. The words in the piece are like getting to read William Hooker’s reaction to this music as he plays and hears it come together, and it helps to drive the impact home.

Velvert Turner Group, the 1972 eponymous release by the band of the same name, had remained elusively out-of-print for nearly four decades until ORG Music reissued it on Black Friday of last year. Pressed to hot pink wax, this bit of latter-day psychedelic rock has long been considered the heir apparent to what Jimi Hendrix was doing with Band of Gypsies prior to his death in September of 1970.

In the autobiography of Richard Lloyd, Everything Is Combustible: Television, CBGB’s and Five Decades of Rock and Roll: The Memoirs of an Alchemical Guitarist, the Television frontman talks about how he learned guitar from Turner, who had in turn been mentored by Hendrix, devoting an entire chapter – “Richard Meets Velvert and Wakes Up Jimi” – to their relationship.

Listening to this LP after having heard so much about it over the years is slightly underwhelming. Turner would go on to play with Arthur Lee of Love on that musician’s self-titled 1977 LP, and I get a lot of that feeling here. It’s the spirit of the late ’60s, but without a lot of the verve and excitement of trying something new, much like Lee’s latter-day Love releases made post Da Capo. Reading up on this record to put it into context, the most common complaint I hear regarding Turner’s playing is “stiff,” and it’s definitely not without merit.

It was cool to finally get to hear this record in full, as it was originally intended, and the presentation is pretty great. It’s a reproduction of the original release, but the remastering gives it some oomph not present if you’ve only ever heard it via YouTube videos. Still, the music’s kind of dullsville, with the exception of “Just Look and See,” which interpolates West Side Story‘s “Cool” in a way which echoes Alice Cooper’s “Gutter Cat vs The Jets” from School’s Out – also, intriguingly, released in 1972. What was in the water that year to make hard rock look to Leonard Bernstein and Sondheim, I wonder?

A cover of Hendrix’s “Freedom” isn’t too shabby, either but, again – stiff. It’s worth snagging Velvert Turner Group if you’re looking to hear the occasional nice riff, but anyone looking for something akin to a lost Hendrix album is bound to be as let down as I was.

You can find information about all of these releases, as well as links to purchase them, at ORG Music’s website.

Nick Spacek
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