Thursday, July 18, 2024

Makaya McCraven on Tuesday at the Crystal Ballroom in Somerville’s Davis Square. (Photo: Mike Gutierrez)

Did you make it out for the Totally Excellent Mid-January Cambridge Day-Approved Record Store Walk & You Better Dress Warm that we drew up in the New Year?

What – it was too cold? Cowards!

With a brief uptick in the temperature for the next week or so, now is the time to seize the day, along with a clutch of LPs, CDs and tapes, at your favorite local record shops. Cambridge Day can even provide a Google Map marked up with store locations to help you with your journey. Did we forget your favorite spot? Shout it out in the comments or send Cambridge Day a stridently worded email.

Let me prime your pump by providing a thumbnail sketch of a recent visit to Planet Records (144 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge). The cozy record shop is just a couple of blocks outside Harvard Square. The short walk, though, is enough to transport you from the hurly-burly of Crimson Empire tourism to something resembling a neighborhood. And any neighborhood with a record shop is worth at least two extra Zillow bucks, or whatever the calculus is for people who can actually afford to buy a house.

Once inside the shop you’ll be greeted by a well-staffed, well-stocked interior filled to the brim with music (and a few movies) in every format you might desire. This is a generalist’s selection – no single genre reigns supreme – and there is an archivist’s passion at work in the organization of the best of every genre across the decades. The collection runs deepest in its jazz and rock offerings, but there is plenty to discover in classical, folk, international, country, blues, soul, plus a little hip-hop.

A sign of a good record store? The new arrivals section. These are crates full of LPs that haven’t been assigned to their section yet. At a store with good taste and loyal clientele, some of the best new arrivals will be snatched up as soon as they land by the crate-digging faithful. These are the real passionate yahoos who show up every week to scoop the cream off the top of the sundae.

No worries, there are plenty of prizes left in the stacks after the crate diggers have had their fill. Keith Jarrett’s “Treasure Island” at $7.99, for example. I had to open up the wallet a little more for Santana’s 3xLP “Lotus” (can’t say no to religious-cult-era Santana) and O.C. Smith’s “Love Is Forever.” The latter is a soulful R&B gem from the 1970s, largely forgotten by mainstream pop music history. But not forgotten by Planet Records.

You want a real deal? How about six vinyl records for $1? The catch is you buy the records sight unseen, sealed inside an anonymous brown bag. I took the plunge. One collector’s trash is another collector’s treasure. In fact, I discovered the great O.C. Smith through a similar kind of super-discounted gambit. A “mystery bag” is a spin of the roulette wheel, and you might just be the next winner.

This spin of the wheel netted “Wildflowers” by Judy Collins. Third-rate Joni Mitchell or forgotten gem? Let me get back to you on that. The contents also included Chicago’s “VII” (ironically, the sixth studio album from the rock band), organ music, Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy” (Op. 46) conducted by Itzhak Perlman and 30 minutes of marching band tunes. Yikes!


Hey, the odds always favor the house, but you’ve got to be in it to win it. Planet Records makes music collecting a fun time, win, lose or draw. And when you’re done spinning new finds at home, get out to your local stages and catch these live shows.

Friday: Burp, The Peacocks, Class President, The Ghouls (The Middle East, Cambridge)

Lowell Showcase Extravaganza! Mill City cranks out more than textiles. There’s a solid music scene up north, and our local stages benefit when their bands scrap for farther-flung gigs down south. Burp is the Aaron Nesmith of rock ’n’ roll, with plenty of frenetic energy on defense and no fear when it comes to jacking up the trey. Class President get small font on the official show poster, but they light up every bill they’re on. If you haven’t seen the other two bands, you haven’t been doing it The Lowell Way. Time to fix that.

Saturday: Mary Timony (Crystal Ballroom, Somerville)

Mary Timony (Ex Hex, Helium, Wild Flag) just released her fifth solo album on Merge Records. So, yeah, she’s going to tour the bejeesus out of that sweet, swaddled newborn. Catch her at Crystal Ballroom with Birthday Girl (out of Washington, D.C., with a bassist named Isabella MacKaye – yes, from the MacKaye clan you’re thinking of), and local outfit Hilken Mancini Band. By the way, there’s an alternate Berenstain Bears universe where Mary Timony was headlining a gig with label mate Rosali at The Rockwell on April 11. That bill got memory-holed and Timony moved across Davis Square to play this gig a month earlier. Bookers do shit like this, don’t bother to send updates to people who already bought tickets, and figure nobody notices. I notice.

Wednesday: Hurray for the Riff Raff, Nnamdï (The Sinclair, Cambridge)

Indie folk is not necessarily the first sound you think of when you think of New Orleans. But Alynda Segarra, the artist behind the moniker Hurray for the Riff Raff, is a longtime transplant who feeds off the Big Easy’s energy to produce pop-forward, singer-songwriter melodies informed by all her influences from coast to coast. The artist blurb at The Sinclair event page is angling for a Pulitzer, check it out. And Nnamdï? The post-pop mad scientist out of Chicago would be worth the price of admission alone.


Makaya McCraven rolled into the Crystal Ballroom on Tuesday, fronting a jazz trio from behind the drums.

“Jazz trio” doesn’t do the ensemble justice, though – the three musicians, including McCraven’s label mate Junius Paul, were doing a little space exploration through horns, bass, a few samples and all manner of percussive trinkets.

In jazz (as in life), there are traditionally two kinds of space exploration: inner and outer. Inner space is claimed by the Alice Coltranes and Mahavishnu Orchestras. You know, the musicians on religious trips in search of epiphanies. Outer space is claimed by the Miles Davises and Ornette Colemans. They’re not on religious trips, but they’re on something.

It’s a massively simplified dichotomy. But it’s useful to feel out the ways that McCraven’s approach sounds different. He’s a neither/nor. You listen to his music, from the breakout “In The Moment” to the present, and you hear the fabric of jazz being stretched by cosmic forces that don’t come from one or the other standard polarity.

He’s a jazz percussionist whose beats-driven compositions portend influences from contemporary electronic music. And he uses jazz instrumentation to pull those digital structures back through the analog meat grinder. He’s not making music to Ommm to. He’s not trying to wow you or shock you. He’s trying to set a certain mood and invite you inside to chill. He’s just him.

At his best moments, the longer arcs of the compositions lull listeners into a trance that makes you especially sensitive to the nuances of percussion, the central axis on which Tuesday’s set revolved. You hear jazz differently when it’s planted on its head, with the drums leading the way, contrary to the usual horn hegemony. When the music’s not hitting, though, the trance can shade into grinding repetition and dulcet boredom.

Ah well, that’s always the caveat with space exploration. It’s a zillion light years to the next solar system, and a whole lotta zilch to do between here and there. But when a new and alien sun first appears through the porthole? Zut alors! There’s nothing like it in the entire cosmos.

Michael Gutierrez is an author, educator, activist and editor-in-chief at Hump Day News