Rolf Trostel – Inselmusik
When we think back to synthesizer-based innovators circa 1980, names like Gary Numan pop right up. But German musicians had been exploring the possibilities of synths – and more specifically, synth-based (as opposed to synth-accented) music – for quite awhile by then. Rolf Trossel’s instrumental explorations – using the then-revolutionary PPG Wave, a computer sequencer and Roland CompuRhythm drum machines – created some nicely textured, evocative pieces that pick up where Tangerine Dream began. This is hypnotic stuff that sometimes suggests directions artists like Isao Tomita would pursue, but in a very krautrocky, minimalist – yet surprisingly melodic – fashion.
Rolf Trostel – Der Prophet
Recorded and released about two years after Inselmusik (see above), this release showcases the leaps forward that Trostel had made in those intervening months. Even more hypnotic and mesmerizing than its predecessor, Der Prophet is deeply evocative stuff. The minimalist approach to composition remains, but the songs create moods and run with them. Listening to the title track (and five others) some 30-plus years later, it’s hard to imagine just how innovative this must have been back then; Rolf Trostel did it the old- fashioned way. Appreciated in the right context, it remains a very worthwhile trip back in time.
Josh White – Josh at Midnight
It’s one of my few regrets of 2016 that I was unsuccessful in finding a home for more in-depth coverage of this album, originally released on Elektra in 1956. White was a jazz-leaning kind of folksinger, one who was good friends with FDR. This wonderfully intimate recording features White on vocal and guitar, with exceedingly minimal accompaniment (occasional vocal chorus, as on “Raise a Rukus”) and upright bass. White’s story is too complicated to recount here, but suffice to say that if names like Lead Belly and Paul Robeson get your attention, you need to seek out this vinyl-only reissue.
John Lee Hooker – The Modern, Chess & Veejay Singles Collection 1949-62
I’ve written often about the vagaries of music licensing that allow overseas labels to put together thoughtful and comprehensive compilations in a way that US-based labels simply cannot afford to do. Well, here’s a great example. Four discs and over 100 tracks of prime-era bluesman John Lee Hooker brings together both the a- and b-sides of his singles. The music’s great, of course, and the fidelity’s fine. But a bonus is the discographical information (who played what). I had no idea that “Pops” Staples was a Hooker sideman. With a bigger budget, this could have been a lavish box set.
Greg Lake – Greg Lake / Manoeuvres
The late 1970s were a tough time for many of rock’s giants. Musical bombast and excess fell (briefly, as it turned out) out of favor with a fickle listening public, who now wanted something a bit more grounded. Groups like ELP split, and individual members had to find their own way, like newly-divorced adults after decades of marriage. The material on Greg Lake suggests what Asia might have sounded like with Gary Moore on guitar instead of Steve Howe. The liner notes all but apologize for Manoeuvres; it’s somewhat faceless, but not as bad as Lake’s current-day hindsight would suggest.