Free Jazz at the Dollar Store

Categories: Hidden Tracks

My older brother lives in NYC (oooohh!) and my best friend lives in Austin (aaaahh!). Both snidely declare that Houston has no good record stores. Really, according to both, what it comes down to is consistency. I’ve been told local record stores just don’t offer up enough in terms of maintaining stock on “records everybody needs.”

I’m not really going to dispute this claim. I once combed (nearly) every record store in town for a copy of Can’s Tago Mago, a seminal release by anyone’s yardstick, only to come up empty-handed. That doesn’t speak well for Houston. What we Houston record shoppers have going for us is the happy surprise. You know, where you come looking for one thing, and leave with a completely unexpected – and frequently rare – treasure.

I can’t count the number of times this has happened to me, though a few highlights come to mind. Finding Television’s live double album, The Blow Up, before their whole catalogue was reissued at the now defunct CD Warehouse across from Shepherd Square is one notable example. The other day I experienced another, even more thrilling, example of this phenomenon.

My wife had dragged me into the 99¢ Only store on Westheimer, ostensibly to score some cheap Halloween shit. Bored, I listlessly wandered up and down the rows, past heaps of cheap faux wooden picture frames and way off-brand shampoo. Suddenly, a jumble of jewel cases caught my eye. Intrigued, I looked closer. For the most part, it was exactly what you’d expect: bad hair, bad covers, bad band names. One name, however, tugged at the back of my mind. I picked up the simply designed black-and-white case, flipped it over, and the shock of recognition set in. There, in the freaking dollar store, I found a copy of Peter Brötzmann and Bill Laswell’s only non-Last Exit collaborative effort, 1987’s Low Life.

I’ve checked, and the only other place I can find a new copy is Amazon.com – for about $100. For the unfamiliar, Brötzmann is an avant-garde saxophonist in the vein of the hugely important Albert Ayler, and has played with pretty much every important name in free jazz. Laswell is a prominent bassist and producer, working with everyone from David Byrne to DJ Spooky. Together, they produce a caterwauling sheen of screeching, careening, thunderously skronking noise bliss.

For under a buck. Who needs Waterloo or Other Music when you’ve got 99¢ Only? – Nicholas L. Hall


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