Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. For today’s instalment, we’re taking a look at the latest effort from London jazz collective Kansas Smitty’s.
‘Things Happened Here’ is a record which stands out of its time. Of course, in our age – one of uncertainty, upheaval and radical change – such albums are not, in themselves, all that rare. It’s tempting, after all, to reach for the comfort of the familiar during times that are difficult to keep abreast of. Even so, Kansas Smitty’s look back further than most and therein lays the crux of what makes them a distinctive proposition in 2020. A jazz band in the classical sense of that phrase, ‘Things Happened Here’ evokes the melodic subtlety of the ’50s’ classic hard-bopping jazz bands – rich, as they were, in players who knew the value of what wasn’t played as much as what was. Kansas Smitty’s are unapologetic in their evocation of that musical era and, in that, they not only look back far past the funk-heavy ’70s fusion jam-outs so heavily in resurgence at the moment but they also set themselves a difficult precedent to live up to. After all, the smoky sensuality of the best mid-century American jazz represented the most nuanced – if not necessarily most visceral – that jazz has ever had to offer. To their credit, Kansas Smitty’s are more successful than most revivalists in their pursuits. It goes without saying that nothing here hits the heights of a Miles or Monk session from the era they so convincingly evoke but that’s fair enough; measure anything against music’s most enduring titans and it’s bound to come up short. Suffice to say that ‘Things Happened Here’ is an album of subtle composition, lyrical performances and authentic production. It may sit in opposition to the most daring and future-focused of the UK’s current jazz scene, but it nevertheless offers something potent to those who’ll give its silkily understated compositions the time of day.
Although it’s important for every album to boast a clean pressing, there are certain styles of music where this is a strict necessity. By and large, jazz is one such genre; save for the most intense and relentless reserves of free-jazz, it’s a style wrought with such innate subtlety that a dirty vinyl pressing compromised by surface noise makes for a frustrating listening experience. Although the vinyl release of ‘Things Happened Here’ does bear some light marking upon its surfaces from new – likely as a result of so-so quality control standards in the pressing plant – dropping the stylus on this roughly mid-weight black slab of wax reveals a largely clean pressing more than tidy enough to render the music well. Across the course of the album, we did pick up on some errant moderate crackles but nothing that we found to be at all intrusive upon the listening experience; indeed, the hazy atmospherics cooked up by Kansas Smitty’s are well served here. It’s a solid pressing and although the album’s sonic aesthetic does – by design – offer the auditory equivalent of a grainy sepia tone film, its charming sonic footprint is well represented on this pressing.
‘Things Happened Here’s presentation errs towards the minimal but what is found here has been rendered well. The cover itself is a standard-width non-gatefold affair produced from midweight cardstock. It’s certainly no less sturdy than a good number of other such independent releases but likewise nor is it especially noteworthy in its construction. However, print quality is solid throughout, although disappointingly a rather large barcode is printed directly onto the back cover. While we here at Vinyl Corner would always prefer it if barcodes were to attached as a sticker to the shrinkwrap, it would at least be preferable to have it printed in small fashion on the back cover. Regardless, that is hardly a significant issue and the inclusion of a printed inner sleeve is a welcome one that more than balances out any slight misjudgements in overall presentation. The inner sleeve has been fashioned from a fairly light to midweight paperstock which has a tendency to stick to the record as it’s removed, so we would recommend caution when removing the LP. Likewise, we would – as always in such cases – suggest sleeving the record in a generic polylined inner for everyday use. Still, the printed inner sleeve is a welcome inclusion which rounds off the presentation nicely.
Kansas Smitty’s steadfast sonic traditionalism arrives as a welcome break of pace from a jazz movement that, here in the UK, is fast intensifying in response to the increasingly hectic pace of our (pre-lockdown) modern lives. With an auditorily clean pressing and solid, unfussy presentation, the vinyl release of ‘Something Happened Here.’ is fittingly efficient in its solid credentials.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!