A Look Back at the Excavated Archives of 2021

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The Year in Archival Releases and Reissues

Fair warning, this is going to be a quick rundown of some of my favorite archival releases and reissues for 2021 as I kind of decided to put this together at the last minute. That’s not to say anything of the excellent or importance of these releases, just that I hadn’t planned on a separate article until now. Thankfully, as an obsessive person, I’ve been keeping a list all year. A lot of killer recordings lost to time, unearthed from secret vaults, and everything in between came out this year and we are all better for it. (I also spent a good deal of time building my own personal Bandcamp archive and will continue into 2022).

A special note for Kawabata Mokoto’s Bandcamp archive. It’s absolutely colossal. He adds releases every week and so much of it is rare gems: old demos, out-of-print early releases, strange one-offs and collaborations, and more. Spend some time there and grab a few things. It’s incredible.

These are in no particular order except the first one which is arguably my favorite release of any kind for all of 2021. 


Julius Hemphill The Boyé Multi​-​National Crusade for Harmony

Essential is an understatement here as this 7-disc set is a treasure trove that showcases the many sides of Julius Hemphill’s brilliance. For me, he’s one of the most unheralded and underappreciated saxophone players and composers from the 70s and 80s. There’s a searching spirit throughout Hemphill’s discography and it’s ringing louder than ever here. He was an artist that never stopped pushing himself and never stopped exploring an ever-wider world of sound. I’m glad he seems to be starting to get his due. Of note is the never-heard studio-recorded duos with Abdul Wadud which are mind-blowing in every way and worth the price of admission on their own (the liner notes/booklet is pure gold, too). I can’t recommend this one enough. Treat yourself to this for Xmas.

“Blue” Gene Tyranny Degrees of Freedom Found

When “Blue” Gene Tyranny died earlier this year, it was a huge loss and one that I don’t think has been fully appreciated yet. He was such a singular, brilliant artist who could seemingly create anything he wanted with sound. He made everything seem possible. His creations were worlds of sonic possibility and wonder and this 6-disc set from Unseen Worlds is an endless ocean of delight.

Jeanne Lee Conspiracy 

From the Foxy Digitalis Review:

Reissuing Conspiracy properly was a no-brainer. I’m legitimately shocked it’s taken this long, but I’m happy it’s been done right. Jeanne Lee was an original; an innovator and boundary destroyer. On the album’s closer, the title track, after a lightspeed cacophony of Hampel’s vibraphone runs, Lee whispers and repeats, “Take a breath. Let it go. Don’t get scared… of that sound you heard,” holding the last word for a few seconds, giving them power and life. “Ain’t nothing but nature and her children,” she continues, before shaping her voice into another ethereal form. Jeanne Lee was extraordinary and it’s long past time that she’s recognized in the free music pantheon as one of the all-time greats.

Bola Sete Samba in Seattle : Live at the Penthouse 1966​-​1968

A lot of great Brazilian music – new and archival – came out in 2021, but this Bola Sete collection is at the top of the heap. Sete is a magical guitarist with such a deft touch. Every note he plays is imbued with emotion and whimsy like he is weaving a fantastical world of dreams with each arrangement. Absolutely beautiful.

Roland Kayn Tektra

BUY HERE

Honestly, throw a dart at the Roland Kayn Bandcamp archive that blossomed last year and whatever it lands on, it’s a winner. Yet, this reissue of Kayn’s most essential, massive work is crucial and the care that went into it is unmatched. I’ve listened to this set dozens of times through the years and I still feel like I’m only scratching the surface of it. 

Beatriz Ferreyra Canto+

Interviewing Beatriz Ferreyra remains one of the top highlights of my year (read it HERE). I still think about our conversation regularly and some of the ideas she shared have helped my practice evolve and progress in unexpected ways. This collection of archival recordings (her second for Room40) is wonderfully alien and constantly challenging. Ferreyra is such an important figure in experimental music and listening to these sounds makes it clear why.

Michael Gregory Jackson Equilibrium Koan

From the Foxy Digitalis Review:

The line-up across these recordings is unimpeachable. Jackson, obviously, is incredible. He’s joined by Julian Hemphill on alto saxophone, Abdul Wadud on cello, and Pheeroan aKLaff on drums. It’s one hell of a quartet. In all, Frequency Equilibrium Koan is potent and important. For those of us into the obscure, lively corners of free music, it’s an essential gem.

Byard Lancaster My Pure Joy

There’s something so joyous and free about My Pure Joy that’s infectious. Best exemplified on the potent grooves of “Newest African Cities,” Lancaster’s sax playing is effervescent and flickering toward the heavens. 

Ron Nagorcka Lovregana – Music From A Tasmanian Forest (1990) / Soundscapes From Wilderness (1988)

From the Foxy Digitalis Review:

It’s taken far too long for me to learn about the incredible work of Ron Nagorcka and hopefully releases like these will introduce his work to a new audience. His studies in sound have been going on for decades and he continues until this day. This dual release from invisibilia editions is the perfect introduction to this entrancing world of sound. (Editors note: Do yourself a favor and pick up the entire invisiblia editions discograph for 20 euros. It’s an amazing label doing things nobody else is)


Steve Roach Empetus

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying until I die, but when it comes to the Steves R**ch, I’m always going for Roach every single time. Roach’s livestreams through the early months of the pandemic were a godsend and he’s continued that momentum all the way through 2021. I’m always going to be here for reissues of his great work like Empetus (here with a bunch of bonus goodies), but even his recent, new pieces and collaborations have been mostly great. Steve Roach is a real treasure and I don’t know that enough people recognize that.

Hailu Mergia Tezeta

Awesome Tapes From Africa doesn’t miss. Hailu Mergia’s Tezeta is a slithering mass of funky weirdness that’s hypnotic and surprising at every turn. 

Khan Jamal Infinity

From the Foxy Digitalis Review:

Khan Jamal is one of the best vibraphone and marimba players on the planet. Hell, one of the best to ever live. Infinity has been one of those records of legend that people paid over the moon for, so seeing it beautifully reissued by Jazz Room is cause for celebration (let’s hope Give The Vibes Some is next!). Anyway, this jazz classic is just that: a classic. And when you consider it’s cast of players, it’s a shining beacon of how great Philly’s jazz scene is.

Aunt Sally s/t

I am so happy this album finally got a proper reissue. Absolute classic Japanese post-punk from 1979 (the best year) that set experimental singer Phew off on an intriguing, fantastic career. This album is over 40 years-old and sounds utterly modern and new. It’s a textbook example of a timeless classic. I’m going to do an entire Phew episode of my all-Japanese radio show, The Listening Arcade, in 2022, so watch out.

Tassos Chalkias Divine Reeds

This collection of psych-infused Greek folk and jazz is a fever dream. As soon as those opening notes hit on “Palia Itia (Old Willow Tree),” we’re whisked away to another world, another time. Romance permeates the air as hypnotic rhythms and lilting lead melodies swirl together in a ancient cauldron of spiritual jazz and free improvisations. Divine Reeds is a crossroads with such a unique feeling throughout.

NU Live in Glasgow 

From the Foxy Digitalis Review:

Live in Glasgow is fantastic. Between the crisp soundboard recording, the quintet’s tight form, the mix of song selections, Helias’ excellent liner notes, and Cherry’s charisma as leader, it’s not to be missed.  What an incredible find.

Don Cherry The Summer House Sessions / Organic Music Theatre: Festival de jazz de Chateauvallon 1972

It’s Don Cherry (and Naná Vasconcelos!) and Blank Forms together. Is there really anything else you need to know? Essential and amazing.

Alice Damon Windsong

From the Foxy Digitalis Review:

I was never sure I’d hear Windsong in its entirety as a proper reissue, but thankfully Morning Trip and Yoga Records made this happen. The wait was worth it. Each successive orbit through my psyche etches its incantations deeper, a somber valley that will never stop searching for the light. Alice Damon was special and with this prayer for tomorrow, Windsong reveals the passageway to an eternal spring. 

Kan Mikami I’m the Only One Around

I only had a bad rip of this album for years, but thanks to Black Editions and the awesome work they continue doing to reissue lost Japanese experimental classics, we now have this ultimate edition. Mikami’s a legend for a reason and this, his first album for PSF, is an embodiment of why he’s so great.

Roberto Miranda’s Home Music Ensemble Live at Bing Theatre

From the Foxy Digitalis Review:

What an utter delight this recording is – wow. Major kudos to David Menestres for turning me onto this live session featuring bassist Roberto Miranda, members of his family (his father, brother, and cousin), Horace Tapscott, John Carter, James Newton, and Bobby Bradford among others. It’s one hell of a line-up (and doubly so since it’s apparently the first and only time Bradford, Carter, Newton, and Tapscott were ever on stage together). I’ve probably listened to this a dozen times in the past week and this jam shows no signs of letting up any time soon.

Ariel Kalma French Archives Vol. II

An unbelievable document that’s riddled with ambient corridors and aqueous daydreams. Kalma incorporates an array of ideas, genres, and styles into his work that it feels impenetrable at times, but continued explorations bear odd, wonderful fruit. The Delirium GRM record is especially fantastic.


A Few Other Mentions…

Pamela Z Echolocation
New Life Visions of the Third Eye
Sweet Inspirations Sweet Inspirations at Muon
Xochimoki Temple of the New Sun
Makoto Kubota Sunset Gang / Hawaii Champroo / Dixie Fever
Valentina Goncharova Recordings 1987​-​1991 Vol. 2
Marc Barreca The Sleeper Wakes
Linda Smith I So Liked Spring
Miroque Botanical Sunset
Roland Bocquet Paradia
Cecil Taylor Ensemble Gottingen
Michael Masley Cymbalom Solos
Singing Dust s/t
Warmer Milks Soft Walks


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