Monday, January 16. 2017
Music: Current count 27639  rated (+53), 370  unrated (+3).
Fifty-one records in the list below, so at most I picked up two extras I had graded but not recorded in the past, or maybe there's a record or two I added to the database but somehow forgot to list below. Either way, I clearly kept my ears to the grindstone all last week, as I was working on updating the Robert Christgau website and adding lists to this year's EOY Aggregate file. I should update the former more often than every six months, but it's done for now -- only missing last week's EW on Run the Jewels and T.I. No idea how many more EOY lists I'll add, but that project is done enough I could walk away from it at any time.
While I'm thinking of it, let me make a pitch for an Indiegogo project my nephew is working on: Help Us Save the Elizabeth M. Fink Attica Archive. Liz was a radical lawyer who joined the Attica Brothers defense team shortly after Nelson Rockefeller ordered the massacre of dozens of prisoners and guards, and saw the case to its conclusion thirty-some years later. In the process, she collected a huge amount of evidence on what actually happened. My nephew, Mike Hull, is a filmmaker and Liz entrusted him with the video evidence before her death last year. He's already digitized the video evidence, and now needs some funding to properly organize the archive for posterity. Would appreciate it if you can help him out.
By the way, we went to a screening of a new film that Mike and Jason Bailey produced. It was very funny, a pseudo-documentary about an exploitation filmmaker in the 1970s and 1980s, cutting between "newly discovered" film trailers and critics talking about how bad they were. I think the title is Lost & Found, but it's not the 2017 film by that name at IMDB, and I'm not seeing anything on it either at the Films on Consignment or Fifth Column Filmworks websites, so I'll have to get more info later.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, January 15. 2017
Odd that this week intellectuals promoting Trump had more interesting things to say than intellectuals still defending Hillary Clinton. Not necessary truer things, but less hackneyed and disturbing, even if the overall trend is a race toward complete stupor.
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Monday, January 9. 2017
Music: Current count 27586  rated (+38), 367  unrated (+1).
Ran through a lot of records last week, including finally dipping into the 2017 release queue, starting with a Randy Weston joint that garnered a couple votes in the 2016 Jazz Critics Poll, then following up with Intakt's January releases and Satoko Fujii's best Orchestra album ever. Along with Run the Jewels (a December 24 digital release but I'm figuring the January 13 CD release to be more official) I already have four A-list albums for 2017. But most of the albums listed below are 2016 releases recommended by various EOY lists, whatever I could find that tickled my fancy. Good hip-hop week. Of the HMs, the one that tempted me most was by the Klezmatics.
I should note that Nat Hentoff died last week, at 91. I met him once back in the 1970s, and at the time thought of him mostly as a political columnist rather obsessed with defending free speech. Since then I've gotten an inkling of his deep commitment to jazz. It says something that the two jazz musicians I most closely link to him are Ruby Braff and Cecil Taylor -- he was a huge critical fan of both. Here's an obit from Evan Haga. Probably much more out there.
I'm more or less caught up with the EOY Aggregate file, but will probably keep adding stragglers and late finds of personal interest. One surprise at this point is that margins for two pair of high slots are currently down to one vote: Beyonce 389-388 in 2nd over Frank Ocean, and A Tribe Called Quest 298-297 in 6th over Nick Cave. Highest tie at present is 89-89 between Avalanches and Iggy Pop for 28th place.
Link to share: Can't Slow Down: Michaelangelo Matos' "notes toward a history of the pop world of 1984."
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, January 8. 2017
After a couple weeks I had enough open tabs to think I should hack out another links-plus-comments column. Nothing systematic here, just a few things that caught my fancy.
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links very briefly noted:
Laura Tillem forwarded one of those Facebook image/memes that I can't share anywhere else due to devious Facebook programming, but it's all text so I'll just retype it (originally from The Other 98%):
This could be spelled out a little better, but is all basically true, and for sound reasons. However, single-payer only gets at part of the problem -- basically the easy one, as insurance companies are mostly parasitical, hence it's easy to imagine a scenario where everything is better once they're gone. The bigger piece of the problem is for-profit health care providers, and dealing with their conflicts of interest and inefficiencies is more complex.
Saturday, January 7. 2017
While rumaging through my old on-line notebooks, I noticed that in the early days (2001, a bit before 9/11) I felt few inhibitions about writing whatever happened to me or happened to catch my fancy. This included bits of music and politics, which later came to dominate the blog, but also books, movies, lectures I attended, dinners I cooked, and trips I took. After 9/11, and especially as the Iraq War approached in 2003, I started to take politics more seriously, and after I started Recyled Goods in 2003 and Jazz Consumer Guide in 2004 I found myself putting even more time and effort into writing about music. To some extent they soon crowded everything else out, but I also started having qualms about exposing myself too much on-line, and thought it would look more professional to focus. It had become a cliché that most blogs were nothing more than exercises in personal vanity, and I certainly didn't want to be viewed that way. I even came up with a plan to split the politics and music into two distinct websites, dusting off the old titles I had used for actual paper publications back in the 1970s: Notes on Everyday Life and Terminal Zone. I even had a fanciful hope that I might entice some of my old comrades into joining in, but alas that never came to pass.
Since the election I've been in a deep funk: not that I was in any way looking forward to Hillary Clinton picking her own cabinet of war criminals and Goldman-Sachs executives, but I really don't have anything deeper to say about the Republican stranglehold on government that "I told you so" -- in fact, if you want to read more on what's happening today go back to the notebook link above and scan through the literally millions of words on the subject I've written since 2001. I really did tell you so, repeatedly, rarely mincing words, yet obviously millions of Americans didn't get the message and couldn't figure it out on their own (as millions who also didn't read me nonetheless managed to do). So I can't point to much tangible satisfaction for all that work.
So over the last few weeks, as it's gotten nasty cold even here in the land of the "south wind," about the only satisfaction I've gotten has been in cooking the occasional nice dinner for friends. So I thought I'd break the usual Monday (music)/Sunday (news) rut and write about cooking, or at least jot down some notes on three recent dinners. None came out without a hitch, but most of the food was memorable, and those in attendance seemed to appreciate it.
I originally scheduled the first dinner for Sunday, December 18, but didn't realize we had another commitment that day. This was a party to honor Mary Harren, and it was suggested I fix something for it, but the only direction I was given was "finger food," and the only inspiration I had was to make cookies. I figured two batches (four dozen) cookies would suffice, and expected to have what I would need in stock, so didn't do any real planning.
I did two variations on the Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book: one with white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts, the other with dark chocolate chips and pecans. The basic recipe calls for 1.5 sticks of butter, 1 cup light brown sugar, 0.5 cup sugar, 0.5 tsp baking soda and salt, 2 tsp vanilla, 1 whole egg plus 1 yolk. (I fried up the leftover white for the dog.) Mix in the extras and bake 15-20 minutes at 325F.
I ran into a problem on the second batch: ran out of butter. It was brutal cold, so I tried to cheat. I had some Light Salted Butter that we were never going to use, so melted two sticks. (I figured what made it light was probably air, so more would get me closer, but I don't think that's all there was to it. I also cut back on the salt.) I also figured the dark chips and the pecans would help. They came out a bit off, with a slightly chewier texture, but not likely to draw much nitpicking from anyone else. On the other hand, we didn't get a chance. The event got canceled, and we were stuck with four dozen super-rich cookies.
Meanwhile, the first dinner was rescheduled for Tuesday, December 20. Just two guests: Kathy Jenkins, the widow of my next door neighbor Tony Jenkins, and her mother. I asked for a hint as to what to fix, and she said "chicken" and added "not spicy." My first thought was a Moroccan chicken tagine with lemon peel and olives, then I thought of another half-dozen superb chicken dishes. In the end, I figured the winner would be Roasted Chicken with Clementines & Arak from Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem Cookbook, with its spectacular medley of tastes plus the fact that it's extremely easy to produce a stunning dish. With that I picked out three side dishes from the same cookbook, plus my Iranian cucumber-yogurt standby (better than Ottolenghi's cucumber-yogurt recipe). All four dishes could be done well ahead of time and served room temp (or chilled for the yogurt), so it's about as easy logistically as any possible meal. For dessert I decided to break out of the Middle East and go with an old standby, pineapple upside-down cake, topped with whipped cream.
I did my shopping on Monday, then got started that evening. I made the cake using a recipe I picked up from the web -- somehow I had misplaced my mother's recipe, and this one was terrific the previous time I had made it. Two differences this time: I started from a whole pineapple, so I cut exceptionally thick slices. I used a glass quiche pan which unfortunately was smaller than I really needed. I added some chopped pecans to the butter-brown sugar mix, and skipped the maraschino cherries. The recipe called for beating egg whites until fluffy and carefully folding them into the batter -- something I didn't recall doing before, but this time I came up with an exceptionally light batter.
But this time disaster struck: the cake appeared to bake nicely, but when I flipped it over it turned to mush, its juices spilling out onto the floor. After mopping up, my only idea to fix it was to scoop it back into the pan and bake it some more. I wound up giving it a good extra 30 minutes of baking time. When I put it back into the oven, it was effectively pineapple pudding (actually, quite tasty), and when I pulled it out it was more like cobbler. I tasted it: it was still rather mushy, but very sweet and a bit sour, an aesthetic disaster but a damned tasty one, so I decided to use it. I let it sit overnight before flipping it over. Next day I whipped some cream with a little sugar and vanilla to serve over it.
I bought a whole chicken plus a package of thighs, so I cut them up and prepared the marinade: ouzo, olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, grain mustard, brown sugar, fresh thyme, fennel seeds, salt and pepper. The recipe calls for arak, but offers ouzo or pernod as substitutes. First time I made it I was able to find arak from Lebanon, but since I wasn't able to find it again, I picked up a bottle of ouzo as a backup. I also had two fennel bulbs, which I cut into chunks, and a bag of clementines -- I sliced about six into rounds, and juiced a couple more. They went into two freezer bags with the chicken and marinade, and into the refrigerator overnight, until I was ready to roast the chicken. At that point the whole thing is dumped into a roasting pan and tidied up a bit, to be roasted in a 475F oven for 35-45 minutes.
That evening I also made the cucumber-yogurt (mast va khiar): peel, seed, and dice two cucumbers, and salt them in a colander; chop 5-7 scallions, and put them into a second bowl, along with a handful each (about 1/2 cup) of golden raisins and black walnuts, plus mint (1 tsp dried or 1 tbs fresh chopped) and a sprinkle of ground white pepper; add 2 cups of plain yogurt (Greek Gods doesn't require draining like I used to have to do with Dannon); fold in the unrinsed cucumbers, check the salt, and refrigerate.
The three other Ottolenghi side dishes were: roasted sweet potatoes & fresh figs (I substitute mejdol dates, a big improvement); chunky zucchini & tomato salad; and parsley & barley salad. I made them the next afternoon, and pretty much had them done by the time to start roasting the chicken.
I think I had three small-ish sweet potatoes. I left the peels on, but cut them into wedges 3-4 inches long; dressed them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and lined them up on a foil-lined baking tray; roasted them at 475F for 25 minutes; lined them up on a serving dish. I pitted about a dozen mejdol dates and cut them into slivers (four per date), and tucked them around the sweet potatoes. I took a half-dozen scallions, cut them into 3-inch lengths (splitting the whites in half), sauteed them in olive oil, and dumped them (with the oil) on top of the sweet potatoes. I then drizzled a balsamic reduction (from a store bottle, although in the past I've followed the recipe and done it from scratch) over the dish, then sprinkled some soft goat cheese.
For the zucchini-tomato salad, I started by cutting three zucchini and three tomatoes in half; I brushed the cut ends with olive oil, and seared them in a very hot cast iron skillet until they were blackened. I then took the zucchini and tomatoes and put them onto a foil-lined baking sheet, cut-side down; roasted them 20 minutes at 425F; cooled and coarsely chopped them. I mixed the dressing: yogurt, garlic, lemon zest and juice, date syrup, black walnuts, mint, parsley, salt and black pepper; then folded the zucchini and tomatoes in. I thought this was overly sweet last time I made it, so was careful with the date syrup this time.
For the parsley-barley salad: cover 1/4 cup pearl barley with water and boil for 30-35 minutes. On the side, crumble the feta cheese and dress with olive oil, za'atar, toasted/crushed coriander seeds, and cumin. Mix the barley with chopped parsley, chopped scallions, roasted cashew nuts, a diced green bell pepper, and dress with allspice and lemon juice. The recipe suggests plating the salad and topping it with spiced feta, but I just mixed the two together, and checked the salt and pepper.
This had all proceeded smoothly until just after 5PM when I was warming the oven up, planning on having the chicken come out of the oven at 6:30. Then the power went out, leaving me without a main course -- or amenities, like lights. We conferred and decided to go ahead. The power came back on just moments before the guests arrived, so I turned the oven on and we had four lovely dishes for a first course. The chicken was ready an hour later, and I served it straight out of the roasting pan without bothering to reduce the juices. So it wasn't optimal -- I probably should have let it brown a few more minutes to crisp up the skin, and the reduced juices would have intensified the flavor (especially the fennel), but having waited so long I went with the short cut.
Finally, we finished with the pineapple upside-down mess, topped with whipped cream. It was pretty ugly, but scrumptious. After dinner I did reduce the pan juices and poured them over the leftovers. They reheated nicely.
Second dinner was December 24, Xmas Eve. Ever since my parents died I've cooked that evening, usually just for my sister and her son. That was the plan this year, but Kathy messed up the dates and planned some sort of pot luck get-together for her friends that evening, and Ram was off with his girlfriend's family. So we wound up inviting Kathy's friends to our place for my dinner. Only the vegan brought food, which was just as well given that I didn't even have a salad she'd deem edible.
My only idea going into the dinner was that I had a duck in the freezer that needed to be cooked. I remembered that I had once attempted to fix a Thai panang curry duck -- it was my favorite dish at a Thai restaurant we used to frequent in Brookline (Sawasdee). I've done some Thai cooking but not a lot -- did a birthday dinner once but I can't find mention of it in my notebook (2003 is probable; did Moroccan in 2002, nothing in 2004, feijoada in 2005, Peking duck in 2006 -- note there says I had done Thai, and I know I've only done it once), and I make pad thai rather often. So I thought I'd try panang curry duck again, plus a pad thai, a couple side dishes, and our traditional Amish date pudding for dessert.
Problem is I've had to extrapolate a recipe from various sources. I have several panang curry recipes (and looked up a couple more on the web), and sort of mixed them together. Not fond of hot chilis, I limited myself to one long serrano (seeded), which I pounded into a paste with garlic, galangal, lemongrass, cilantro stems, coriander and cumin seeds (ground), shallots, shrimp paste, lime zest and leaves, peanuts, salt, and white pepper. The night before, I defrosted the duck, pricked the skin, and rubbed it with roasted Szechuan pepper-salt and paprika, and propped it on a rack in a baking dish. I put it into a 450F oven, which 15 minutes later I turned down to 350F, and roasted it for another hour or more, until it read 180F at the thigh bone. Next day I chopped it up, more or less Chinese-style.
I opened a can of chickpeas and picked the skins off. I peeled two sweet potatoes, cut them into 3/4-inch cubes and steamed them until barely done, about 8 minutes. To finish the dish, I fried the curry paste in a little oil, then added two cans of coconut milk. I probably should have added chiffonaded lime leaves and adjusted the seasoning with a little palm sugar and fish sauce, but wasn't paying enough attention to the recipe I was improvising on. I added the chickpeas and sweet potatoes, then finally the duck and cooked a few minutes to get it evenly heated through. Then I added a handful of chopped Thai basil, and it was done.
Earlier that afternoon I put the side dishes together: cucumber salad, water chestnut salad, and sweet & sour eggplant salad. The cucumber was peeled, seeded, sliced, salted, and rinsed, then dressed with sugar, fish sauce, and lemon juice. (Recipe calls for a grated onion, chilis and prawn powder, but I don't recall using them.) The water chestnuts were peeled and sliced thin. I mixed them with a can of crabmeat and a can of tiny shrimp, lime juice, roasted peanuts, fried garlic and shallots (both bought that way), half a serrano chili, and cilantro. I made a dressing with tamarind juice, fish sauce, brown and regular sugar, and poured it over everything.
I roasted three Japanese eggplant -- it took about twice as long as the recipe called for. I made a chili-tamarind sauce from dried shrimp (softened), garlic, shallots, a serrano chili, tamarind concentrate, fish sauce, palm sugar, and peanut oil, and added that to the chopped eggplant, along with a finely chopped stalk of lemongrass, more shallots, lemon juice, cilantro, and mint. The three salads were done early and out of the workflow.
That just left the pad thai. I thawed and peeled two pounds of large shrimp (recipe calls for 1/2 pound, but expects other meat; I usually do one pound, but with extra guests I decided to scale up everything but the noodles). I soaked some dried shrimp -- they add a little crunch to the garlic. About 40 minutes before cooking, I soaked 8 oz. of thin rice noodles. I mixed up a batch-and-a-half of sauce: 6 tbs sugar, 9 tbs white vinegar, 6 tbs fish sauce, 2 tbs ketchup. I cut a bunch (plus a couple extra) scallions into 2-inch lengths, and split the white ends. I broke four eggs into a bowl and mixed them with a fork.
The stir fry goes fast: I heated my largest skillet, added some peanut oil, about 8 cloves of chopped garlic, the dried shrimp, then the large shrimp. When they were mostly cooked, I added the sauce, brought it to a boil, then added the noodles, stirred to coat, and covered the pan for a couple minutes. I lifted the cover, stirred to evenly coat the noodles, pushed them to one side and poured the eggs into the other, flipping them as they set, then scattering them throughout the noodles. Then I added the scallions, stirred some more, and finished with dish with a couple handfuls of chopped peanuts. I use Victor Sodsook's True Thai recipe mostly for the sauce, leaving out all sorts of complication (especially the usual bean sprouts). Sometimes I add a little sesame oil, but this time I didn't.
This effectively worked out to about half of my old Thai birthday dinner, but was more than enough food for eight people. I referred to three cookbooks: Sodsook, Su-Mei Yu's Cracking the Coconut, and Charmaine Solomon's trusty Asian Cookbook (my first, its binding now failing, but she does an admirable job of saving these cuisines from excess complication). Thanks to a large Vietnamese population here in Wichita, it's pretty easy to get ingredients -- only problems I had were cilantro roots (I used stems and ground seeds) and kaffir lime leaves (I bought "lemon leaves"). I could have bought Thai bird chilis, but felt more comfortable working with serranos.
I made the date pudding the night before. I found the recipe in the newspaper long ago, and copied and adapted it. Pit and chop two cups of mejdol dates, put into a bowl with 2 tsp soda and 2 tbs butter, cover with 2 cups boiling water, and let soak for an hour. Mix two eggs, 2 cups sugar, 2.25 cups flour, 1 tsp vanilla, then add 5/8 cups chopped black walnuts. Bake in a 9x13 cake pan at 275F for about 50 minutes (more like 70). The middle collapses as it cools, so you get cakey on the outside, pudding in the middle. Make a caramel sauce with 1.5 cups brown sugar, 2 tbs cornstarch, 1 cup water, and a dash of salt, boiled 6-8 minutes. Stir in 2 tbs butter, 2 tbs cream, 1/2 tsp vanilla, and 1/8 tsp maple extract, then dump it on the pudding. Let it all cool, then whip 1.5 cups heavy cream with a tsp sugar and a half-tsp vanilla, and spread over the pudding, and refrigerate. Probably the richest, certainly the most delicious, dessert ever concocted.
Third dinner was Wednesday, December 28: our annual Hannukah dinner ritual. No menorahs, no old tales of Hebrew military prowess, just an excuse to fry up a batch of potato pancakes (latkes). The main course is quite simple, but they're best when served hot off the griddle, so I spend most of the dinner over a hot stove while everyone else enjoys themselves. But I've also developed a repertoire of side dishes to go with them, and added a few wrinkles this year.
The main things you need are sour cream and applesauce. We buy the former (Daisy), but I've learned to make the latter. I take four gala apples, peel, quarter, and core them, and put them in a saucepan with 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, and the zest of one lemon. Bring it to a boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, then uncover and cook most of the liquid away. Add a little cinnamon, and mush with a potato masher. (I adapted this from The Gourmet Cookbook, which called for twice the sugar, half the cinnamon, and 2 tbs calvados -- an apple brandy, a very Gourmet touch. I don't know apples, so promptly forgot what I bought. Looking at charts they could have been honeycrisp instead of gala -- both seem to be good sauce choices.)
I also like to serve cured salmon. This year I got a 2-lb slab of Canadian, skin on, dusted all sides with 3 tbs of kosher salt, put it in a freezer bag and refrigerated overnight. Next day I washed it off, found it wasn't too salty (if so, soak until it isn't), and sliced it thin. It's basically homemade lox without the smoke (which turns out not to be very important; commercial nova or scottish lox is "cold smoked" at temperatures below 85F, which means they're depending on the salt, and not the smoke, for texture, preservation and bacteria prevention).
I also make chopped liver, and while Joan Nathan's recipe served me well for many years, Ottolenghi's is even better: hard boil 5 eggs, and set aside; slice 2 cups of onions and sauté them, until dark, in duck fat (reserved from above). Move them using a slotted spoon to the food processor bowl, then sauté the chicken livers until they are cooked through. Add them to the food processor. Peel and grate four of the eggs and add them to the food processor, along with 4 tbs of dessert wine, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp black pepper. Pulse to chop (don't overdo it). Garnish with the other egg (grated), scallions and/or chives. I make this every year, but as we all know chopped liver is best spread on fresh rye bread, so I thought I'd make some rye bread this year.
One thing I am not is a practiced breadmaker, so I figured this task to be a learning experience. I decided to try two different recipes, both from Joan Nathan, scaled down to produce one loaf each. Both involved starting the night before. The pumpernickel called for creating a starter the night before (1 tbs dry yeast, 1 cup water, 1/4 cup white bread flour, 1/4 cup rye flour), then mixing the dough proper the next day. The rye bread recipe mixed that dough the night before: 1.5 tbs dry yeast, 1 tbs honey, 1/2 cup water (let this proof), 3.5 cups rye flour, 3.5 cups white bread flour, 1 tbs salt, 1 tbs sugar, 3-4 tbs caraway seeds, 2 tbs vegetable oil, about 1.5 cups lager beer. I halved this, tried mixing it up and kneading it in my horrible KitchenAid mixer, hating it more and more, eventually kneading it by hand (and suspecting the whole thing was way too dry, but what do I know?). It did rise though, and I punched it down, shaped it to fit the loaf pan, cut diagonal slits on top, and let it rise again.
Meanwhile, I screwed up the pumpernickel. I mixed up the dough: 1 tbs dry yeast, 2 tbs honey, 1-2/3 cup water, 3-1/3 cups rye flour, 2 cups whole wheat flour, 2 cups white bread flour, 1 tbs salt, 2 tbs caraway seeds (in both cases I ground the seeds up), 4 tbs oil, 4 tbs dark molasses. Again, the mixer was awful, and the dough seemed too dry, so I added more (and more) water. Then I remembered the starter, added it, and found the dough was too wet (but at least much easier to knead). I let this rise, punched it down, formed it to fit the loaf pan (tearing off an excess bit), cut orthogonal slashes, and let it rise again. The pumpernickel rose about 50% more than the plain rye bread, filling up the loaf pan nicely. I beat a raw egg and painted the tops of both loaves, and sprinkled some whole caraway seeds on top.
The recipes called for different baking temperatures/times, but I decided to standardize on the pumpernickel: 350F for 1 hour (the rye called for 375F for 50-55 minutes). I put a bowl of water on the lower left rack, and the two loaves on the top rack, near the middle. They came out looking and smelling like rye bread, the pumpernickel a bit larger and softer (but, contrary to expectations, no darker than the rye). Both were more than acceptable.
I also usually serve herring in sour cream and in wine sauce, the two kinds it's possible to buy here. I would, of course, prefer to dress my own herring -- as I did, for instance, when I brought some maatjes back from Buffalo last summer, but that wasn't an option this time. However, I did find some smoked herring packed in olive oil in a middle eastern store, so I had the idea of drying that off and making a mustard sauce for it. I found a Swedish recipe online and adapted it. I was out of whole grain mustard, so used Dijon then ground up some black mustard seeds and mixed them in. I used light olive oil instead of grapeseed. I tried whisking up an emulsion with vinegar and egg yolks, and failed. I put it aside, disgusted, then tried again later and it worked fine -- I've read that those yolks have to be room temperature, something I should remember in the future. Not perfect, but not bad.
As I said, the latkes were straightforward. I chopped three onions, and put them in a large bowl. I peeled five russet potatoes, soaked them in water, then ran them through the coarse grating disc in the food processor, then used the knife to chop them into small bits. I mixed the potatoes in with the onions, and added five eggs, salt, and pepper. I should have put a piece of plastic wrap in to keep the potatoes from discoloring, but they would wind up being browned anyway. I took a large frying pan and an even larger griddle, heated them up on the stove, added oil, and ladled out 3-to-4-inch discs, flipping them once they set and browned, then piling them onto a paper-towel-lined plate, to be served as fast as they came out. Don't know how long it took to work through them all.
I rarely make dessert for latke dinners, but decided to try a couple of things this time. Ottolenghi has a recipe for pears poached in wine and cardamom (and saffron), which seemed like a good choice. I also tried Nathan's reiz kugel, but somehow didn't get it to thicken sufficiently, so it resembled a thin, cold, sweet soup. My one real disappointment, although like the pineapple upside-down mess the taste was close to right, so the embarrassment was mostly aesthetic.
Of course, I rarely cook like this for just the two of us. For one thing, I almost never have the ingredients I'd need for a dinner with three or more dishes, so I have to go out shopping -- and in some ways that's the hardest (certainly the most unpleasant) part of any meal. One thing I like about inviting guests for dinner is the engineering aspect of planning the project, envisioning how the whole dinner fits together, figuring out the logistics, especially how to manage my own time so each meal comes together smoothly. Practice has made me better at that; also steadier and more resourceful as things (as they inevitably do) go wrong. These dinners give me a sense of accomplishment that little else in my life these days offers. But more basically, it's simply a pleasure to offer other people pleasure, and I can fairly say that each of these meals did just that. And they remind me of one of the central truths of our times: there is an extraordinary amount of knowledge at our fingertips, and much of the material world is easily (and economically) accessible if we just know what to look for, and to expect. I think, these meals prove that much.
By the way, I took a break from writing this afternoon to whip up a small dinner-for-two, something very simple and basic. I had some frozen pacific cod in the freezer, so I semi-thawed it, and cut the thicker chunks in half (so they were about 1/2-inch thick). I opened a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, added a little sugar, about 2 tbs capers, juice of one lemon, and 15 or so pitted green olives (cut in half). I Mixed that sauce up, spooned it over the fish in a baking pan, sprinkled panko bread crumbs on top, drizzled a little olive oil, and baked it at 400F for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, I stir-fried lima beans (fordhooks) for a side dish, using Irene Kuo's recipe (from The Key to Chinese Cooking): thaw, sizzle in some oil, sprinkle with salt and sugar, add chicken stock and cover to steam about five minutes, remove cover and boil off the excess liquid, and drizzle a little toasted sesame oil to finish.
At some point I should probably go back and jot down the remaining recipes -- a few that do already exist in my online recipe file: Mast Va Khiar, Panang Curry Duck, Phat Thai, Water Chestnut Salad, Amish Door's Date Pudding, Baked Fish with Capers and Olives, Stir-Fried Lima Beans, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake; also note that virtually all of the Ottolenghi recipes are online somewhere -- and add the appropriate links, but I wanted to the flow and process more than to provide a guide to duplicating these dinners.
Monday, January 2. 2017
Music: Current count 27548  rated (+36), 366  unrated (+4).
Most of the week's discoveries have already been unveiled in Saturday's Streamnotes post, although I did add one more A- record a day later, from Venetian Snares -- a synth programmer from Winnipeg with a jazz master's sense of rhythm. Also came close to adding the new Klezmatics album, but I stretched its consideration beyond my cutoff moment. Whereas alt-country provided most of my A- finds last week, this week's winners were mostly rap albums.
I temporarily caught up with my backlog of EOY lists, not that I won't keep adding data at least up through Pazz & Jop (as it used to be known). Top of the list is pretty consistent at this point, with only minor fluctuations and no trends I can discern. The top 50 reads as follows (with my grades in brackets):
Probably the first year ever where I've heard all top-50 albums (informed as I am that this year's Chaleur Humaine is just a British repackaging of last year's eponymous Christine and the Queens album -- the one I've heard -- which was itself a reissue of the 2014 French Chaleur Humaine). The top five have been stable for a while now, even though the 2-3 margin is just 11 (I don't think the lead has ever changed). I had originally expected Beyoncé to catch Bowie but the closest they've come was about 30 points, and Bowie has been steadily building his lead over the last 2-3 weeks. I suspect she's lost votes (at least positions) to sister Solange.
Note that 6-7-8 are still very close (6 points total). Nick Cave does exceptionally well in non-English-language pubs, and I've picked up quite a few of them. Tribe got a late start, but seems to have hit a plateau, at least here -- I figure they'll finish 4th in the Voice poll, behind Bowie-Beyoncé-Ocean. The 9-10 race is also close (1 point), but 11-16 is pretty well spread out, 17-20 close (5 points), then a big jump to 21 (27 points).
My grade breakdown is: 15 A-, 10 ***, 8 **, 10 *, 3 B, 3 B-, 1 C+. I'd be real surprised if any previous year broke that favorably. (Last year I had 9 A- [-6], 11 *** [-1], 12 * [+2], and 9 B/lower [+2], with 3 unrated.) Number of lists compiled is down from 720 to 231, so there are quite a few more I could add if the spirit moves me. Total records are down from 5285 to 2402.
At this point, all of the new jazz CDs in my queue are scheduled for release in 2017, so I've felt justified in ignoring them. (I also held a few that I have listened to back for January's Streamnotes.) I'll start digging into them over the next week or two, but for a while I plan on concentrating on 2016 releases I've missed. Maybe start thinking about what to do in this coming year.
New records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, December 31. 2016
Again, backed up against the end of the month, and for that matter the year. No time to write a proper introduction, but this month's list is long enough you should have plenty to chew on. Many EOY lists fed into my effort to mop up this month, and that will continue for another month of two. Once again my New Year's Resolution is to cut back. Indeed, I did cut back a bit this year, with only 964 records in this year's rating file, vs. 1112 (1269) for 2015, 1167 (1248) for 2014, 1151 (1222) for 2013, 978 (1190) for 2012, and 1247 (1419, my all-time record, back when the Village Voice was publishing Jazz Consumer Guide) for 2011. (The numbers in parens include post-freeze grades, so it's premature to compare this year against them.)
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on November 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (8978 records).
Ab-Soul: Do What Thou Wilt (2016, Top Dawg): LA rapper, came out of the Black Hippy collective (along with Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q) but has stayed underground through four albums. This is a long one (76:57), clever words and social concerns twisted around minor beats, has some guests I've actually heard of but doesn't look to go mainstream. A-
Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids: We Be All Africans (2016, Strut): Saxophonist, b. Bruce Baker in Chicago, c. 1950, studied and toured with Cecil Taylor, also an actor, tap dancer, founder/director of San Francisco performance company Cultural Odyssey, has a handful of album since 1997 ranging from avant jazz to Afrobeat, which is more/less what this is. Vocals are rather perfunctory, but the sax leads command attention. B+(***)
Adia Victoria: Beyond the Bloodhounds (2016, Canvasback/Atlantic): Last name Paul, singer-songwriter originally from South Carolina, now based in Nashville, but I don't hear any country influence, nor blues nor gospel -- more like a non-Anglo Kate Bush, posh poesy with lush melodies but none too comfortable. B+(*)
Aesop Rock & Homebody Sandman: Lice Two: Still Buggin' (2016, Stones Throw, EP): Sequel to 2015's EP, this one also five cuts (16:06), rushes by so fast it seems even shorter. B+(***) [bc]
Harry Allen's All Star New York Saxophone Band: The Candy Men (2016, Arbors): Three mainstream tenors -- Allen, Eric Alexander, and Grant Stewart -- plus Gary Smulyan on baritone, backed by Rossano Sportiello's piano trio. Lest you doubt the obvious, they kick off with "Four Brothers." You're left marveling not just at how much the tenors sound like their mentors, but also each other. B+(*)
Babyfather: BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow (2016, Hyperdub): Alias for Dean Blunt, who's also recorded under his own name and (with Inga Copeland) as Hype Williams. Electronica with something that sounds like harp, his mantra ("that's why I'm proud to be British") falls on unreceptive ears, and the white noise of "Flames" was so insufferable I turned the volume way down low. Has some redeeming value, but not enough. B-
BadBadNotGood: IV (2016, Innovative Leisure): Jazz quartet (sax-keys-bass-drums), tempted to say they're Canada's answer to the Yellowjackets but they're a couple generations removed, their fusion more informed by hip-hop, especially in the five (of eleven) songs with featured guests -- e.g., Kaytranada and Mick Jenkins, but Colin Stetson also appears. B-
John Beasley: Presents MONK'estra Vol. 1 (2016, Mack Avenue): Pianist, here just arranges and conducts, running Monk tunes through the mill of a big band plus the occasional guest soloist -- credits are hard to come by, but one source mentions "MONK'estras" like Gary Burton and Gregoir Maret. Has some flash and sizzle, but too often rubs me the wrong way. B-
William Bell: This Is Where I Live (2016, Stax): Memphis soul singer, had some minor r&b hits for Stax in the late 1960s, is 77 now with his first album in a decade. No problem evoking the classic sound, and that almost suffices, but the songs aren't up to snuff, and not just because they're dead ass dreary. B
Sarah Bernstein Quartet: Still/Free (2015 , Leo): Violinist, has several avant recordings as Iron Dog, backed by piano trio here -- Kris Davis (piano), Stuart Popejoy (electric bass), Ches Smith (drums) -- this is sometimes polite enough for chamber jazz, but often risks something more, especially when Davis kicks it up a notch. B+(***)
Beyoncé: Lemonade (2016, Parkwood/Columbia): Not on Rhapsody, so I waited before finally breaking down to buy a copy, and hesitated again when I found I'd have to pay for a DVD in the bargain. Haven't watched the latter yet, nor have I seen the videos from the "Platinum Edition" repackaging of her eponymous 2013 album, nor have I found any time to track down her internet videos (even the one that pre-sold this album). I might not even have bothered but given the way Beyoncé broke in Pazz & Jop after its late release, this looked like this year's odds-on favorite -- and as it turns out was the only EOY Aggregate top-forty album I hadn't heard. Lots of good records on that list this year, but none I especially love. This is more impressive than most, although I doubt I'll ever care that much for someone who aspires to be "the black Bill Gates." A- [cd]
Black Art Jazz Collective: Presented by the Side Door Jazz Club (2016, Sunnyside): Sextet, hard bop lineup although they don't mean to be a throwback. Front-line horns have serious chops -- Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Wayne Escoffery on tenor sax -- and pianist Xavier Davis impresses. Two songs "inspired by Barack Obama," one each for W.E.B. Dubois, Sojourner Truth, and Joe Henderson. B+(**)
Aziza Brahim: Abbar El Hamada (2016, Glitterbeat): Singer-songwriter, born 1976 in a Sahrawi refugee camp in Algeria, at age 11 received a scholarship to study in Cuba, based in Spain since 2000. Fifth album. Don't know what the songs refer to, but I get their heartfelt depth, and the attractive, not especially exotic, beat. B+(**)
David Bromberg Band: The Blues, the Whole Blues, and Nothing but the Blues (2016, Red House): Cut four records 1971-74 for Columbia, mostly played blues but seemed so short of grit he got filed as a folksinger. Since then he's bounced down to lower rung labels -- Fantasy in 1978, Rounder in 1989, Appleseed in 2007, with sizable gaps in between, finally landing in alt-blues land. Christgau says this "smokes" the Rolling Stones' recent blues cover album, but surely that's not the right word. More like sneaks by on the sly. B+(***)
Peter Brötzmann/Steve Swell/Paal Nilssen-Love: Live in Copenhagen (2016, Not Two): The saxophonist backs a bit off his usual full fury, giving the trombone a fighting chance -- something Swell makes the most of. And the drummer is always masterful in this sort of company. A- [cd]
Jane Bunnett & Maqueque: Oddara (2016, Linus Entertainment): Soprano saxophonist, also plays flute, her interest in Cuban music going back at least to 1991's Spirits of Havana. Second album under the Maqueque banner, a group featuring several vocalists -- often the rub for me, especially on the overripe "Song for You." The flute just blows in the wind, but the sax solos impress. B
Burial: Young Death/Nightmarket (2016, Hyperdub, EP): Dubstep producer William Bevan, actually just a single, the two named tracks, 13:14 total. First cut doesn't do anything for me, but the latter hits the same sweet spot he's been mining for years, perhaps with a bit more clutter than usual. B+(*)
Taylor Ho Bynum: Enter the Plustet (2016, Firehouse 12): Cornet player, Braxton protégé, has built an impressive body of work since 1999, recently working with mid-size groups, this one much grander with fifteen names on the cover, only two I didn't immediately recognize. Unconventional big band, the six brass including French horn and tuba, only three reeds, violin (Jason Kao Hwang), cello (Tomeka Reid), bass (Ken Filiano), guitar (Mary Halvorson), drums and vibes. Three pieces, richly varied, neglecting neither group power nor individual finnesse. A-
Joăo Camőes/Jean-Marc Foussat: Ŕ La Face Du Ciel! (2014 , Shhpuma): Viola player, has a couple recent albums, this a duo where Foussat works his electronics in around the edges, just enough to keep the string sound from wearing thin. B+(***)
François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: The Joy of Being (2015 , NoBusiness): Alto sax trio, drummer Lambert is pretty much inseparable from the saxophonist, and is joined here by Mazur on acoustic bass guitar. Carrier is impressive as usual, but one hardly notices the others. B+(***) [cd]
Albert Cirera/Hernâni Faustino/Gabriel Ferrandini/Agustí Fernández: Before the Silence (2015 , NoBusiness): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, based in Lisbon, backed by the bassist (Faustino) and drummer (Ferrandini) from the RED Trio and avant-pianist Fernández. Three long pieces (average 18 minutes), plus a brief coda. Best here is the pianist -- I've mostly heard him in duos before, but he throws himself into this with abandon, certainly helped by the rhythm section, and the sax benefits as well. A- [cd]
J. Cole: 4 Your Eyez Only (2016, Dreamville/Roc Nation/Interscope): Rapper, sells well but tends to release albums in December, too late to build any EOY list momentum. Like many popular rap records of late, this slacks off and slithers underground, not so much because that's a viable strategy for business as for survival. Time and again he draws me in and pushes me away -- not that I have any business taking his shtick personal. B+(**)
Jeff Collins: The Keys to Christmas (2016, Crossroads): Pianist, arranger, producer, evidently works mostly in gospel with sides in Americana and Bluegrass, here marches a big band through eclectic medleys of some of the smarmiest melodies in the history of Christmas commercialism. Maybe I should be amused by how far over the top he goes, but I'm not. C- [cd]
Alexis Cuadrado: Poética (2016, Sunnyside): Bassist, studied in Barcelona and Paris before moving to Brooklyn. Crafts his engaging music -- with Miles Okazaki (guitar), Andy Milne (piano), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums) -- around spoken word by Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Melcion Mateu, the former close to rap, the latter in some other language, probably Catallan. B+(**)
CupcakKe: Cum Cake (2016, self-released): Rapper Elizabeth Eden Harris, from Chicago, turned some heads with her explicit raunch ("Vagina," "Deepthroat," "Tit for Tat," "Juicy Coochie" -- "don't need no drink to get naughty/ because I'm not Bill Cosby") but the strongest cut here is an acappella dis ("Reality, Pt. 2") -- not that I have any complaints against her beats. A-
Daniele D'Agaro/Giovanni Maier/Zlatko Kaucic: Disorder at the Border Plays Ornette (2015 , Not Two): Sax trio, D'Agaro playing alto, tenor, clarinet, and bass clarinet -- the ostensible group name actually a Coleman Hawkins song, but the label actually credits the musicians, and that's as plausible as anything given the cover. Sounds a bit thin for Ornette, but the alto captures the right tone. B+(**)
Deap Vally: Femejism (2016, Nevado): LA rock duo, Lindsey Troy (guitar) and Julie Edwards (drums), both sing, second album, a consistently hard thrash but two songs in the middle come clear and stand out -- one on feminism, one on critics and cynics. B+(***)
Dear Eloise: Uncontrollable, Ice Age Stories (2012 , Maybe Mars): Chinese husband-wife shoegaze duo, Yang Haisong and Sun Xia, several albums since their 2010 debut (The Words That Were Burnt. They produce indistinct vocals wrapped in a dense swarm of guitar noise punctuated by hard, regular beats. Not really my thing, but I'm impressed nonetheless. B+(*) [bc]
John Dikeman/Luis Vicente/Hugo Antunes/Gabriel Ferrandini: Salăo Brazil (2016, NoBusiness): Tenor sax, trumpet, bass, and drums, free improv recorded live in Coimbra -- "Salăo Brazil" is evidently a club there, and released on vinyl, which hopefully has more sound depth than my CDR (or maybe you're just supposed to play it louder). B+(*) [cdr]
The Dining Rooms: Do Hipsters Love Sun (Ra)? (2015, Schema): Electronic music duo from Milan, Italy, formed in 1998 by Stefano Ghittoni and Cesare Malfatti. Subtitle: "A soundtrack of cosmic funk, abstract jazz and cinematic avant-garde"; that mostly means ambient, with some overtalk exploring the title question, and more. B+(**)
The DKV Thing Trio: Collider (2014 , Not Two): Actually, a double sax trio, with Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson on various saxes and clarinet, Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten and Kent Kessler on bass, Paal Nilssen-Love and Hamid Drake on drums. Three joint improv pieces, 53:36, recorded in Krakow. Mucho squawk, but the last piece pounds the chaos into enough order to bring the noise home. B+(**)
Dog Leg Dilemma: Not This Time (2016 , self-released): Canadian (Toronto) jazz group, first album (after a live EP), Peter Bull (basses, whistling, woodblock, acoustic guitar, organ, electric whip) seems to be the leader, along with alto sax, guitar, drums, and violin on a couple tracks. Has a fusion flow but that's not really the feel. B+(*) [cd]
Pierre Dřrge & New Jungle Orchestra: Ubi Zaa (2016, SteepleChase): Guitarist, founded his Danish not-quite-big band in 1982, thinking Ellington while collaborating with South African bassist Johnny Dyani (d. 1986). Lots of dramatic build up for the guest star -- Kirk Knuffke on cornet -- but somehow their trademark swing got waylaid. B
Dave Douglas: Dark Territory (2014 , Greenleaf Music): Trumpet maestro, did some relatively early experiments with electronics but nothing very successful, takes another shot at it here with Shigeto (electronics), Jonathan Maron (electric/synth bass), and Mark Guilliana (acoustic/electric drums). B+(*)
Dave Douglas/Frank Woeste: Dada People (2015 , Greenleaf Music): Woeste is a pianist from Germany, split the writing chores five each with the trumpet star. Quartet adds Matt Brewer (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums). Only thing exceptional here is the trumpet, but you could have guessed that. B+(***)
Mark Dresser Seven: Sedimental You (2016, Clean Feed): Bassist-led septet, the lead horns -- Nicole Mitchell's flutes and Marty Ehrlich's clarinets -- are so soft they merely add coloring, while Michael Dessen's trombone adds some ring to the bass. Joshua White plays piano and Jim Black drums, but they too lurk in the background, as David Morales Boroff's violin dominates the group sound -- for better or worse. B+(**) [cd]
D.D. Dumbo: Utopia Defeated (2016, 4AD): First LP after a couple EPs for Oliver Hugh Perry, from Australia but recorded in England. Singer-songwriter, framed in a little extra pop jangle glitz. B
El Guincho: Hiperasia (2016, Nacional): Spanish laptronica producer, Pablo Diaz-Reixa, draws on tropicalia and at his best recalls Tom Zé, but his cut-up techniques are awful choppy here, so much so that the miracles that Zé routinely pulls off elude him here. B
ELEW: And to the Republic (2016, Sunnyside): Pianist Eric Lewis, has a couple of previous volumes of what he calls Rockjazz, here with a piano trio with -- smaller print on the cover -- bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. This doesn't strike me as "jazzrock" although it rolls plenty hard. Title cut built around Mark Antony's famous speech in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, I reckon to remind us how a previous republic descended into empire. B+(***)
EOLA: Dang (2016, Leaving, EP): Orlando FL-based group, principally Edwin Mathis White but probably other singers (and not much, if any, more) strikes me as bent gospel except when they're trying to make doo wop odder and more inaccessible -- I wasn't surprised to find an earlier album called The Lord's Jam. Nine cuts, 29:08. B-
Family Atlantica: Cosmic Unity (2016, Soundway): London-based group, second album, led by Jack Yglesias (Heliocentrics), featuring a Venezuelan diva (Luzmira Zerpa), a phalanx of west African percussionists, and various guests including saxophonists Marshall Allen and Orlando Julius. B+(*)
Fire!: She Sleeps/She Sleeps (2015 , Rune Grammofon): Norwegian group led by saxophonist Mats Gustafsson (big horns: tenor, baritone, bass), with Johan Berthling (bass) and Andreas Werliin (drums, lap steel guitar), plus guests on cello (2 of 4 tracks) and guitar (1 other cut). B+(**)
Paolo Fresu & Omar Sosa: Eros (2016, Otá): Trumpet and piano, backed with strings, and, as front cover notes, featuring Natacha Atlas (vocals) & Jaques Morelenbaum (cello). Fresu and Sosa also credited with percussion, a nice little beat in places but not enough to drive the vocalist on the early tracks. More atmospheric to close, which suits them better. B+(*)
Jonny Fritz: Sweet Creep (2016, ATO): Started out as a "filthy and whimsical" Brooklyn cowboy, but gave up his original alias (Jonny Corndawg) for his more mature Dad Country and loses even more this time, turning into a rather sweet but straight songster. B+(*)
Future: EVOL (2016, Epic): Atlanta rapper, puts out quite a few mixtapes in addition to legit albums like this one. Beats are pretty compelling here, but none of the raps are sticking. B+(**)
GFOTY: Call Him a Doctor (2016, PC Music, EP): Brit pop singer, Polly-Louisa Salamon, uses an acronym for "girlfriend of the year," has a half-dozen singles/EPs since 2013 plus a handful of "mixes." Elements of electropop, but bent and often broken, or maybe just spoofed -- hard to tell when you don't quite care. Nine tracks, 20:22. B-
Margaret Glaspy: Emotions and Math (2016, ATO): Singer-songwriter, plays guitar and fiddle with authority, has an idiosyncratic voice I'm not much comfortable with, and writes song with some depth that more literary-minded listeners admire. I'm not there yet. B+(**)
Macy Gray: Stripped (2016, Chesky): Soul singer, pushing 50, signs to a jazz label and recycles her songbook as standards, backed tastefully by trumpet (Wallace Roney), guitar (Russell Malone), bass and drums. Low key, stripped down, her voice not much more than a whisper, which doesn't do much to remind me of her own songs but works nicely on Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." B+(**)
Charlie Haden/Liberation Music Orchestra: Time/Life (Song for the Wahles and Other Beings) (2011-15 , Impulse): The bassist died in 2014, after the live tracks that open and close, but before the middle three studio cuts where Steve Swallow fills in. Still, fairly seamless with Carla Bley arranging throughout and no other personnel changes. Richly textured, deeply resonant. Haden gets a bit sappy at the end, but that's the way he lived his life, and we should be grateful. A-
Wayne Hancock: Slingin' Rhythm (2016, Bloodshot): Has a great country voice, all drawl and bite, mellowed a bit here as is the music, which has settled ever more into a western swing groove. Covers "Divorce Me COD," at once a smart choice and an obvious one. I'd say he's coasting, but he may just be aging gracefully. B+(**)
Freddie Hendrix: Jersey Cat (2010 , Sunnyside): Young mainstream trumpeter, first album on his own although he has close to two dozen side credits, basically fields a hard bop quintet (plus a couple guest spots). His pairing with Abraham Burton (tenor sax) works well on the fast ones, and he's got a nice slow burn on the ballads. B+(**)
Heron Oblivion: Heron Oblivion (2016, Sub Pop): Psychedelic rock "supergroup" joining ex-members of Espers, Comets on Fire, Howlin' Rain, and Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound -- I only vaguely recognize half of those band names, and only singer Meg Baird among the principals. Often I wonder what "psychedelic" means, but here I clearly hear echoes of those Jefferson Airplane guitars, so I figure that counts. B+(**)
Dre Hocevar: Transcendental Within the Sphere of Indivisible Remainder (2016, Clean Feed): Drummer, from Slovenia, leads a nine-piece group here, no one I recognize, where the first credit (Sam Pluta) is for live electronics and signal processing, and there is a synth player as well as a pianist (plus trumpet, two saxes, cello, and bass). The horns can get rough and rowdy, but the more discrete forms of chaos are hard to pin down. B+(*) [cd]
I Am Three: Mingus Mingus Mingus (2015 , Leo): Filed this under German saxophonist Silke Eberhard, who's also the leader of Potsa Lotsa, a larger group with two albums surveying Eric Dolphy compositions. This trio -- name comes from the first line of Charles Mingus' autobiography -- with Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet and Christian Marien on drums plays classic Mingus tunes, but whereas the master took small groups and blew them up to sound like big bands, they pick at and chew over the bones, often to interesting effect. B+(***)
Ich Bin Nintendo: Lykke (2016, Shhpuma): Hardcore trio, I'd guess from Norway -- guitar/vocals Christian Skĺr Winther, bass Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard, drums Joakim Heibř Johansen -- play six songs averaging more than 5 minutes each (31:17). Hard, harsh, metallic, the rhythm with one foot dangling in free jazz. A thrill at first. B+(**)
Carly Rae Jepsen: E-MO-TION: Side B (2014-15 , School Boy/Interscope, EP): Leftovers from the sessions for her 2015 album E-MO-TION, eight previously unreleased songs, 27:36. Three or four of them are good enough they reminded me of Lily Allen (although not nearly so smart and/or cheeky), while the others would make for decent filler. B+(***)
Ka: Honor Killed the Samurai (2016, Iron Works): Kaseem Ryan, Brooklyn firefighter, his rap sideline dating back to 1993 but I'm unclear on details before his 2008 solo debut. This one weaves samurai lessons into a more domestic thread, offering a sense of hard-earned accomplishment and brutal fates. A-
Bobby Kapp/Matthew Shipp: Cactus (2016, Northern Spy): First album I see to list drummer Kapp's name first, but he dates back to the avant 1960s, and more recently played in the Fine Wine Trio. Duo with the younger but much more famous pianist -- who is terrific here, thinking percussion and building on that. A-
Brian Kastan: Roll the Dice on Life (2016 , Kastan, 2CD): Guitarist, fusion with a hard rock thrash, electric bass, drums, and vocals, with Miles Griffith singing, rapping, and mostly scatting, adding yet more thrash. I suppose I should credit the closing "Black Lives Matter" -- the only piece I recall any vocal detail from -- but by then I was plain impatient for the damn thing to end. C+ [cd]
Tyler Keith & the Apostles: Do It for Johnny (2016, self-released): From Mississippi, came up in a late-1990s punk band called the Neckbones which had at least one good record, went solo with a band called The Preacher's Kids. Rockabilly junkie Phil Overeem has this number three on his 2016 list, and I sorta hear it, just not as much. B+(**) [bc]
Irene Kepl: SololoS (2016, Fou): Solo violin, saws back and forth, up and down. Final 'S' in title is mirrored in print, probably meant to convey how everything is refracted within itself. B+(*) [cd]
Alicia Keys: Here (2016, RCA): Sixth album, sales steadily declining since her 2001 debut sold 12 million copies. Still, sounds to me like her best, with catchy beats, pop hooks, and often deep lyrics. Inspirational lyric: "you glow." A-
Kirk Knuffke: Little Cross (2014 , SteepleChase): Trumpet player, prolific since 2009, with five records on Nils Winther's relatively mainstream Danish label and double that on more avant labels. This is the first of the former group I've heard, a trio with Jamie Saft on organ/synth and Hamid Drake on drums. They start with a trad gospel, then get original. Trumpet impressive, but sometimes gets snagged on Saft's keyboards. B+(*)
Konx-Om-Pax: Caramel (2016, Planet Mu): Scottish "animator, graphic designer, DJ and producer" Tom Scholefield. Thick, shimmering layers piled on beats that barely support them. B+(*)
Kornél Kovács: The Bells (2016, Studio Barnhus): DJ/deep house producer from Sweden, first album after a half-dozen singles. Minor variations and other fluff on top of fast rocking beats, a nice trick. B+(**)
Krokofant: Krokofant II (2015, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian fusion ("semi-improvising power") trio -- Tom Hasslan (guitars), Axel Skalstad (drums), Jřrgen Mathisen (sax) -- like to play it fast and hard, which can be their undoing. B+(*)
Martin Küchen/Mark Tokar/Arkadijus Gotesmanas: Live at Vilnius Jazz Festival (2016, NoBusiness): Sax trio, the Swedish saxophonist playing tenor, alto, and flute, the others bass and drums. Joint improv, takes a while to heat up, cooks when it does. B+(**) [cdr]
Lady Gaga: Joanne (2016, Streamline/Interscope): Album title is Stefani Germanotta's middle name, although it was reportedly named, like her, for her aunt Joanne Stefani Germanotta. A step toward maturity, perhaps, but pushing no buttons/boundaries gives us little more than impeccable professionalism to care for. Not sure whether I should credit that the first song I liked was in the "Deluxe version bonus tracks" ("Grigio Girls"). B
Jinx Lennon: Past Pupil Stay Sane (2016, Septic Tiger): Irish singer-songwriter, or talker, ranter, rapper, has two new records, six (or more) old ones, would probably have been a folksinger forty years ago but he's endured too much complication to settle for simple clarity. Crams 24 titles in here, though it's not clear there are that many different songs. B+(***)
Jinx Lennon: Magic Bullets of Madness to Uplift Grief Magnets (2016, Septic Tiger): Recorded with two members of the Liverpool band Clinic, this promises to be more structured, with just twelve songs averaging close to three minutes (33:16). I don't doubt that he's an interesting guy, but at some point I gave up trying to follow this. B+(**)
Live the Spirit Residency: Presents the Young Masters 1: Coming of Age (2016, self-released): The key here, of course, is tenor saxophonist Ernest Dawkins, executive director of Live the Spirit Residency, which runs after-hours jazz ed programs for Chicago youth. They put together a group called the Young Masters Ensemble -- Isaiah Collier (tenor sax), Jeremiah Collier (drums), Alex Lombre (piano), and James Wenzel (bass) -- and they're terrific even when the saxes lay out for a blues vamp. And while I suspect Dawkins plays most of the superb sax runs, they've all earned their group name. A- [cd]
The Pedrito Martinez Group: Habana Dreams (2016, Motéma): Conga player, also plays bata drums, born in Havana, based in New York since 1997, sings, which makes this strike me as more pop than jazz, even if the Afro-Cuban traditions run deep. B+(*)
Rob Mazurek & Emmett Kelly: Alien Flower Sutra (2016, International Anthem): Kelly wrote and sings the lyrics here, also strums some guitar, with most of the music coming from Mazurek's electronics (also a bit of cornet, and some guests). Very disjointed, the songs slapped onto the music (or vice versa), the discord palpable and more than a little hideous. C
Brad Mehldau Trio: Blues and Ballads (2012-14 , Nonesuch): Long-running trio, with Larry Grenadier (bass) and Jeff Ballard (drums), cover seven songs, precisely, expertly, not even fumbling tunes by the Beatles and solo McCartney. B+(**)
Mekons: Existentialism (2015 , Bloodshot): I'm at a huge disadvantage here, in that this live album ("why should a record take more time to record than it does to listen to?") from last year's Mekonception at the Jalopy Theater in Brooklyn ("with the help of 75 mekonsters") is properly part of a 96-page book ($24.95), the 12 songs accompanied with "twelve chapters of writing and art from mekons and mekon friends" -- so I can't tell you who's who, let alone the back stories and concepts. What I can say is that the music is terrific, harsh as the working life it transcends, the words biting and/or poignant. A
Myra Melford + Ben Goldberg: Dialogue (2014 , BAG): Piano and clarinet duets, working through five Goldberg pieces, eight from the pianist. There are moments when Melford does something characteristically brilliant, but more often the clarinet lays over everything like a wet blanket. B
Parker Millsap: The Very Last Day (2016, Okrahoma): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, so defaults to country. Feels at home wailing gospel and blues, and gets some liberal credit for a song about the gay son of a preacher. B+(*)
Modus Factor: The Picasso Zone (2015 , Browntasaurus): Self-described as "a modern electric groove trio," from Canada, drummer Chris Lesson evidently first among equals, alongside Brownman Ali (electric trumpet) and Ian De Souza (bass, effects). Still, the trumpet does much more than groove. B+(**)
Moker: Ladder (2016, El Negocito): Dutch jazz quintet (although Google also digs up a "brutal death metal" band), fifth album -- trumpet, tenor sax/clarinet/bansuri, guitar/alto horn, bass and drums, most also into electronics with krautrock legacy, not that they strike me as all that fusionish. B+(*)
Moor Mother: Fetish Bones (2016, Don Giovanni): Chamae Ayewa, from Philadelphia, has released more than a dozen EPs since 2012, this one more experimental postrock noise than hip-hop (no hop to it). Has a time travel motif, and refuses to overlook more than a century of violence against black folk. No fun, but I suppose that's part of the point. B
Donny Most: Swinging Down the Chimney Tonight (2016, Summit): Best known as an actor -- only regular gig seems to have been playing Ralph Malph on Happy Days -- has a previous standards album as D Most. This is just four secular (mostly Santa-themed) songs plus a non-Xmas "bonus": "C'est Si Bon"), 14:18, with an uncredited big band and backup singer. Fine voice, not bad as these things go. B [cd]
Motif: My Head is Listening (2013-15 , Clean Feed): Norwegian jazz group, half dozen albums going back to 2005, leader-composer is bassist Ole Morten Vĺgan. Sextet with trumpet, tenor sax/bass clarinet, clarinet, piano (Hĺvard Wiik), and drums. Free jazz, in some sort of a fancy chamber setting. B+(**)
Nao: For all We Know (2016, Little Tokyo): British soul singer (Neo Jessica Joshua), first album, attempts to channel some Prince funk, impressive when she actually pulls it off (i.e., not always). B+(*)
Willie Nelson: For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price (2016, Legacy): Circa 1980 Nelson a series of duet albums with peers and slightly older country legends, including San Antonio Rose with Price, whose biggest hits spanned 1956-73. Price rejoined Nelson for two even better 2003-07 casual classics, so a tribute after Price's 2013 death seems like a sure shot. Still, the strings are a bit much, Nelson is occasionally mannered, and Price's songs tend to revert to their originators without his voice. B+(*)
Nice as Fuck: Nice as Fuck (2016, Loves Way, EP): All-female indie rock trio, best known Jenny Lewis but also Erika Forster (Au Revoir Simone) and Tennessee Thomas (The Like). One of those short vinyl albums that comes up just short (9 songs, 25:51), and just shy of substantial. B+(*)
Noname: Telefone (2016, self-released): Chicago rapper Fatimah Warner, first album (err, mixtape), shuffles patiently through everyday life. B+(**) [bc]
Nots: Cosmetic (2016, Goner): Memphis punk band, second album, Alexandra Eastburn's keyboards add something to the guitar-bass-drums formula, and vocalist-guitarist Natalie Hoffmann is hard-pressed to sing over the noise, so it isn't immediately obvious that this is a grrrl band. What is obvious is that they're a damn catchy one. A-
The Nu Band: The Final Concert (2012 , NoBusiness): Avant supergroup, although the cover rightly features trumpet player Roy Campbell, whose 2014 death turned this date in Austria final. The quartet -- Mark Whitcage (alto sax), Joe Fonda (bass), Lou Grassi (drums) -- first recorded in 2001, cut a half-dozen albums over the next decade-plus, and has since recorded The Cosmological Constant with Thomas Heberer on cornet. Hesitates in spots, not the brightest recording, but a remarkable group. B+(**)
NxWorries: Yes Lawd! (2016, Stones Throw): Hip-hop duo, the rapper known as Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge. Nineteen cuts, none over 4:03, the sort of slippery beats and soft edges so much in vogue recently, talked-sung, relies a bit much on the lingo for my taste but comparable to a bunch of records I'm impressed by but can't quite get into (Chance the Rapper, for one). B+(***)
Uwe Oberg/Silke Eberhard: Turns (2015 , Leo): Two Germans, duets between piano and alto sax or clarinet, the pianist the senior player by more than a decade. Both provide originals, but they also work through covers from Jimmy Giuffre, Carla Bley, and Annette Peacock. B+(***)
Roberto Occhipinti: Stabilimento (2016, Modica Music): Canadian bassist, several albums, employs twenty-some musicians including a fairly hefty string section, although I can't see well enough to map the asterisks to the songs so I'm unsure who's playing what when. As for how, the postbop and third stream moves (including a Beethoven theme) never command much attention. B
Frank Ocean: Blonde (2016, Boys Don't Cry): Cover says blond but nearly everyone agrees that's a typo (or a "stylization"). Currently running 3rd in my EOY Aggregate, despite having a nebulous existence as product, and I'm afraid it's not much more substantial as music (with a couple exceptions). B+(**)
Phronesis: Parallax (2015 , Edition): Piano trio, based in London, half-dozen albums since 2007, leader seems to be bassist Jasper Hřiby, with Ivo Neame on piano and Anton Eger on drums, all three writing pieces (three each this time). Tight group, power moves to open and close, wide range in between. B+(**)
Populous: Night Safari (2014, Bad Panda): Italian electronica producer Andrea Mangia, looks south, across the Sahara, and dreams. B+(***) [bc]
Mark Pritchard: Under the Sun (2016, Warp): British electronica producer, has several albums, the gentle ambience of his wordless passages is pleasing, his guest vocalists/lyricists -- Stephen Wilkinson, Thom Yorke, Linda Perhacs, Beans -- are not unpleasant but don't add much either. B+(*)
Pussy Riot: XXX (2016, Nice Life, EP): Russian "feminist punk rock protest group" formed in 2011, variable cast of members, some having been arrested for "hooliganism," various previous recordings have been rumored but this three-cut, 11:37 single is the first I've managed to track down. Two of those are in English over funky beats, the third in gloomy Russian. B+(***)
Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra: Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (2016, Clean Feed): French pianist, has a half dozen previous albums, working frequently with prepared piano. This is something else: a ten-piece orchestra (two saxes, flute, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, electric guitar and bass, drums), the pieces inspired by various rugged landscapes, a rhythm section itching to break free, the horns striving to heighten the tension, not to break free. A- [cd]
The Rolling Stones: Blue & Lonesome (2016, Polydor): Still taking their cues from Chicago bluesmen, Jagger and company understand that the fount of youth for septagenarian rockers is the still the classic blues riff, and if they can't get it up to write their own, they can knock off an album of covers and make them sound great. B+(***)
Daniel Romano: Mosey (2016, New West): Canadian country singer, doesn't really have the voice for the job but impressed with his sincerity in the past. Still, this one sounds way off the mark, even when the mark seems to be Marty Robbins. B-
Ned Rothenberg/Mark Feldman/Sylvie Courvoisier: In Cahoots (2014 , Clean Feed): Leader plays various reeds (clarinet, alto sax, bass clarinet, shakuhachi), free jazz backed in chamber jazz fashion with violin and piano, respectively. B+(**) [cd]
Schoolboy Q: Blank Face LP (2016, Top Dawg/Interscope): LA rapper, actually born in Germany, like Ab-Soul came out of Black Hippy but has harder, more mainstream beats and rhymes that flirt with gangsta. B+(***)
Serengeti & Sicker Man: Doctor My Own Patience (2016, Graveface): Underground Chicago rapper David Cohn pairs off oddly Tobias Vethake from Germany for a pleasantly non-descript song cycle, with a vaguely Eno-ish vibe. Built for vinyl: 9 cuts, 31:25. B
Sleigh Bells: Jessica Rabbit (2016, Torn Clean): Noisy pop band, principally Alexis Krauss (vocals) and Derek Miller (everything else). Fourth album, still know how to bait a hook but I'm not catching much (other than desperation -- not that I didn't notice the one about tornadoes in Kansas). B
Todd Snider: Eastside Bulldog (2016, Aimless): So short (25:22) Napster considers this an EP, but it sports ten songs, only one over 2:48 but only one sub-2:00. That's because he plays fast and hard -- you could shelve this one under rockabilly. But he also writes fast and loose: only the title cut and "Come On Up" are really keepers. B+(***)
Elza Soares: The Woman at the End of the World (A Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo) (2015 , Mais Um Discos): Brazilian samba singer, b. 1937, has fifty-some albums since 1960 but I can't say as I've ever taken notice of her before. But at least at this point in her career she's way coarser and weirder than anyone in MPB -- rhythmically she's gravitated toward Tom Zé. Wikipedia notes she's been dubbed "the Brazilian Tina Turner," but I'm thinking more Alberta Hunter. A-
Regina Spektor: Remember Us to Life (2016, Sire): Singer-songwriter, born in Moscow, based in New York, has a handful of albums crossing over from Soviet Kitsch to American pop and what I suppose might be called more cultured forms -- mostly piano-based. Being an uncultured sort, I'm more impressed than enamoraed here. B+(**)
Steve Swell Quintet: Soul Travelers (2015 , RogueArt): Avant-trombonist, quintet adds Jemeel Moondoc (alto sax), Dave Burrell (piano), William Parker (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums), each adding something distinctive and remarkable to the mix. Still, I always enjoy a good trombone lead, of which there are many. Looks like this only came out on vinyl, so runs to a respectable length (4 cuts, 43:40). A- [cdr]
Steve Swell/Gebhard Ullmann/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Michael Zerang: The Chicago Plan (2015 , Clean Feed): Recorded in Chicago, home of Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics) and Zerang (drums), if not the front line (and composers) -- trombone and tenor sax/bass clarinet. The trombone leads are bracing, but the others on their own tend to melt together. B+(***) [cd]
Swet Shop Boys: Cashmere (2016, Customs): My kind of supergroup, two rappers with Indian/Pakistani heritage, although the Indian was born in Queens, New York (Heems, aka Himanshu Kumar Suri, formerly of Das Racist) and the Pakistani in London (MC Riz, aka Riz Ahmed, who had a standout acting role in HBO's The Night Of playing another Queens boy. As postmodern westerners, they see the potential of playing off their heritage, especially as they intuit it gets under the skin of less worldly westerners. A-
Tanya Tagaq: Retribution (2016, Six Shooter): Inuit throat singer, early on was just a weird blip on the world music continuum but has grown into a cosmopolitan rocker from the edges of a larger (and colder) world than you're used to. Includes a physics lesson/impending doom story remind you that "Gaia likes it cold." A-
Gregory Tardy: Chasing After the Wind (2015 , SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, got some attention 1998-2001 but fell off my radar after that -- turns out this is his ninth album since 2005 for SteepleChase. Sextet, Bruce Barth on piano, Alex Norris on trumpet, but instead of trombone the third horn is Sam Sadigursky's flute -- the weak link, I think, but also a bid to move beyond hard bop into something vaguely postbop. B
Tell Tale: Film in Music (2014 , Drip Audio): Vancouver BC group, septet, hype sheet cites cellist Peggy Lee as the leader but album lists drummer Dylan Van Der Schiff as co-producer, and the includes other well-known musicians -- indeed, they often play on one another's albums. Not sure if this is actual film music, but could be. B+(*) [cd]
A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service (2016, Epic): Hip-hop group, recorded five albums 1990-98, finding success with a jazzy underground sound before Q-Tip went solo. The reunion is also billed as a fluke, promised to be their last album even though it's much better than anything Q-Tip produced on his own (certainly since 1999's Amplified). Christgau gave this an ultrarare A+, but I can't fathom why he (or anyone else) finds it compelling -- maybe just desperate for some good news? A-
A Tribe Called Red: We Are the Halluci Nation (2016, Radicalized): Trio of "First Nations" musicians based in Ottawa, Canada; Wikipedia described them as a "Canadian electronic music group" but a better approximation would be hip-hop crew -- indeed, their name makes that explicit. Results are mixed: I'm most struck by the more radical political rants and critiques, which usually get sharper beats, than with the more generic war whoops. B+(***)
William Tyler: Modern Country (2016, Merge): Guitarist, played in Lambchop and Silver Jews before going solo in 2010. Fourth album, no vocals, not solo but often feels like it -- albeit oddly lush. B+(*)
Alexander von Schlippenbach: Jazz Now! (Live at Theater Gütersloh) (2015 , Intuition): German avant-pianist, a major player since the late 1960s, in a quartet with Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet, plus bass (Antonio Borghini) and drums (Heinrich Köbberling). They play one Monk tune, plus a mix of Herbie Nichols (3), Eric Dolphy (4), and Schlippenbach himself (5) -- longtime touchstones. B+(***)
Kelsey Waldon: I've Got a Way (2016, Monkey's Eyebrow): Singer-songwriter from an unincorporated town in Kentucky, moved to Nashville and released a debut album that deserves to be heard (The Goldmine). The first half here is at least that completely realized, and if the closing ballads slip a bit, the voice and pedal steel are sure purty. And at least one generalization has become more specific: "you can't place a crown on the head of a clown/and then hope it turns out to be a king." A-
Mat Walerian-Matthew Shipp Duo: The Uppercut: Live at Okuden (2012 , ESP-Disk): Polish alto saxophonist (also bass clarinet, soprano clarinet, flute), matched up with the pianist. They range widely here, going hard and soft, rough and not-so-rough. B+(***) [bc]
Mat Walerian/Matthew Shipp/Hamid Drake: Jungle: Live at Okuden (2012 , ESP-Disk, 2CD): Same deal as The Uppercut, plus a drummer -- a real good one -- and a few months practice. Often superb free jazz, but does run long (99:41). B+(***) [bc]
Becky Warren: War Surplus (2016, self-released): Former singer for a group called the Great Unknowns, structures her album as a "he said/she said" song cycle, loosely based on an ex-husband who flew off to Iraq and came back with PTSD crutched with alcoholism -- pretty much a cliché these days, and frankly her domestic travails rank pretty low on the scale of horrors war has produced. But as a piece of navel-gazing Americana this is pretty acute, and as country it's rock solid. A-
The Weeknd: Starboy (2016, XO/Republic): The opening Daft Punk single is fabulous, but the fall off without that level of help is pretty steep, but then several cuts return -- well, if not there, at least somewhere. One spin isn't nearly enough to sort out the peaks and troughs, but I'm not the one who decided to release 18 scattered tracks when some editing would yield a consistently pleasurable 10-cut album. B+(*)
Wilco: Schmilco (2016, dBpm): Big-time alt-indie band, as melodic as ever, just a bit softer and slower. B+(*)
Andre Williams: I Wanna Go Back to Detroit City (2016, Bloodshot): Obscure "R&B legend," wrote "Shake a Tail Feather" way back when, eventually got picked up by this very-alt country label and released a pretty remarkable album in 2012 with help from the Sadies (Night and Day). Could use some more help here. B+(*)
Jamila Woods: HEAVN (2016, Closed Sessions): Chicago R&B singer, close to hip-hop, associated with Chance the Rapper, smart and savvy but a little forced. Doesn't help that my stream source is so hard to follow. B+(*) [sc]
Neil Young + Promise of the Real: Earth (2015 , Reprise, 2CD): Live double from his Rebel Content Tour with the band he organized for The Monsanto Years -- I'll backtrack to that under "old music" -- so he works in a few (superior) old songs along with his more recent rants. It may be an existential condition for old white men to turn into cranks, but that doesn't mean they have to fall for Trump. B+(*)
Neil Young: Peace Trail (2016, Reprise): Continues his political crankiness in a more acoustic vein, although he does return to his '80s electronic treatments when he wants to give voice for a robot -- doesn't he know modern voice synthesis is all based on samples? So softer and kinder this time out. My guess is that sonic outrage will return, pretty damn soon. B+(**)
Yussef Kamaal: Black Focus (2016, Brownswood): London jazzy electronica group -- can't peg them as "pop jazz" -- principals are Henry Wu (keyboards) and Yussef Dayes (drums), with some others credited for tenor sax (Shabaka Hutchings), trumpet, electric bass and guitar, and "words" (Gordon Wedderburn). B+(*)
Tom Zé: Cançőes Eróticas De Ninar (2016, Circus): Brazilian singer-songwriter, took tropicalia to idiosyncratic extremes back in the 1970s and has cultivated his eccentricity ever since, often winning me over. Released as he turned 80, other print on the cover reads Para Dançar O Sobe Ni Mim and Urgéncia Didatica. Not sure if this one is exceptional, but few records sustain this level of jaunty playfulness. A-
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Dave Burrell and Bob Stewart: The Crave (1994 , NoBusiness): Piano and tuba duets, the fine print reads "play the music of Jelly Roll Morton and Dave Burrell." Three of each, but Burrell was likely thinking of Morton when he wrote his. Indeed, this set follows Burrell's 1991 album The Jelly Roll Joys, and improves upon it, the not-so-secret ingredient Stewart's tuba. A- [cdr]
Bob Dylan: The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert! (1966 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Evidently the much-bootlegged "Royal Albert Hall" concert officially released in 1998 as Volume 4 of The Bootleg Series was actually recorded at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, so what makes this "real" is geographical, but not much more. Both concerts were divided into solo-acoustic and band sets (the future Band billed as The Hawks), and the set lists are exactly the same. Times vary slightly, as do the catcalls, but all in all: pretty redundant. B
Dizzy Gillespie & Friends: Concert of the Century: A Tribute to Charlie Parker (1980 , Justin Time): Concert in Montreal, different venue but same city as 1953's legendary Parker-Gillespie-Powell-Mingus-Roach Jazz at Massey Hall. Group here is nearly as stellar -- Gillespie, James Moody, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Philly Joe Jones -- but much further into their respective careers. B+(*)
Betty Harris: The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul (1964-69 , Soul Jazz): Born 1941, she cut 15 singles during the 1960s, mostly for Allen Toussaint and backed by the Meters, only three scratching the charts, none remembered as classic, but professional enough for this solid, unremarkable compilation. B+(**)
Steve Lehman's Camouflage Trio: Interface (2004 , Clean Feed): I've been meaning to dig up the alto saxophonist's slightly earlier FSNT album (Artificial Light), the only one I've heard that I didn't much care for. This was cut a year later, an avant trio with Mark Dresser (bass) and Pheeroan Aklaff (drums), and has now been remastered. His hard freebop style is fully formed, the spots given over to Dresser more iffy. B+(***)
Joe McPhee & Raymond Boni: Live From the Magic City (Birmingham, Alabama) (1985 , Trost): McPhee is credited with soprano sax, electronics and voice; Boni with electric guitar and electronics. Duet, titles like "Set 1" and "Set 2 Part A." Interesting how the electronics defocuses the lead instruments, but more exciting when they clash. B+(**) [bc]
Evan Parker/Daunik Lazro/Joe McPhee: Seven Pieces: Live at Willisau 1995 (1995 , Clean Feed): Three saxophonists -- tenor/soprano, alto/baritone, and alto/soprano + alto clarinet and pocket trumpet -- although I wouldn't call them a sax choir: it's not like three free improvisers are concerned much with harmony. Still, it's rare when an all-sax record doesn't leave you wishing for something more, and this previously unreleased tape is that. B+(***) [cd]
Howard Riley: Constant Change 1976-2016 (1976-2016 , NoBusiness, 5CD): British avant-pianist, a Penguin Guide favorite. I've heard very little aside from a couple of outstanding 1968-70 albums (Angle, The Day Will Come), but he's still active in his 70s -- indeed, three-fifths of this solo piano trove date from 2014 or later. That later material is interesting, but the early discs -- especially the first from 1976-80 -- is more like exciting. Includes a short booklet by Brian Morton. B+(***) [cd]
Pat Thomas: Coming Home: Original Ghanaian Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1967-1981 (1967-81 , Strut, 2CD): Still active at 65, this label picked up his new record last year, and finally decided to dig into his long-forgotten prime period, before he left Ghana for Germany. Not exceptionally great, nor at least consistently so, but there are few beats I enjoy more than classic highlife, and he was definitely part of that scene. A-
Urgent Jumping! East African Musiki Wa Dansi Classics (1972-82 , Sterns Africa, 2CD): Benga, rhumba, Afrobeat, pop dance singles from Tanzania and Kenya, not as slick as the legendary Guitar Paradise of East Africa compilation or several other compilations I've heard (one called Muziki Wa Dansi actually covers the following decade), but I still find the uplift irresistible. A-
David S. Ware & Matthew Shipp Duo: Live in Sant'Anna Arresi, 2004 (2004 , AUM Fidelity): Half of Ware's fabulous Quartet, perhaps before the pianist became a star in his own right but he does much more than comp here on this posthumous tape (Ware died in 2012, and this is the second of what promises to be an archive series). B+(***)
Neil Young: Bluenote Café (1987-88 , Reprise, 2CD): In the late 1980s Young seemed to be desperately trying out new styles, producing an eclectic mix of poorly received albums. On one, This Note's for You, he fronted a lounge band with soul horns. This is from that band's live tour, part of an ongoing archives series. It works mostly as a blues set, the horns present but not so much as the guitar. B+(*)
Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings: Other Stories (2003-05 , 482 Music): Cornet player, first album to introduce his strings group (two violins, viola, two cellos, guitar) plus tuba, vibraphone, and drums. Three extended sequences, ambitious compositions, tricky and fragile. B+(*)
Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet: Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths (2008, Hatology): At full strength (only for the three-part centerpiece, "WhYeXpliCitieS," although that's most of the album), the leader's cornet, Matt Bauder (bass clarinet/tenor sax), two guitars (Evan O'Reilly and Mary Halvorson), viola (Jessica Pavone), and drums (Tomas Fujiwara). Scattered results, although I do love the intro to "Part 3" -- reminds me of South Africa's pennywhistle jive. B+(**)
Neil Young + Promise of the Real: The Monsanto Years (2015, Reprise): Band was borrowed from Lukas Nelson -- Willie'son, joined here by brother Micah -- after a Farm Aid concert, with Young providing a gaggle of anti-corporate protest songs, joining Monsanto to Walmart, Starbucks, Chevron, and others. Some I recognize from the live Earth, but I like them better here -- the guitars ring louder, and the backup singers stay in the background. B+(**)
Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:
Miranda Lambert: The Weight of These Wings (2016, RCA Nashville, 2CD): Greg Morton convinced he to give this another spin, and he may still right that this is even better than I can presently acknowledge. [was: B+(***)] A-
Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section.
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, December 26. 2016
Music: Current count 27512  rated (+47), 362  unrated (-21).
This week's rated count when I first ran make was +24, but when I counted the rated records this week, I came up with 28, so clearly I had missed at least four. I made a deeper search of unrated records and found them plus a bunch more (+19), hence this week's inflated count. Actually, I lost a couple days this week to cooking, but I also made up ground by leaning rather hard on Napster and Bandcamp, as I checked out interesting records from various EOY lists. Most helpful this week was Tom Lane's list (emailed personally), as it yielded about a dozen albums I hadn't previously tracked, including two of this week's A- finds (Kelsey Waldon and Becky Warren).
NPR published the 11th Annual Jazz Critics Poll this year. Francis Davis organized the poll of 137 jazz critics, and wrote two essays:
Once again, I compiled all of the critics' ballots into presentable form here, and tabulated them all to provide complete results down to the most obscure single votes. My own ballot is here, which includes, I believe, four singular votes (Keita, Person, Lucas, Rempis -- plus Lucas and Sonic Liberation 8 in the special categories; Amado got one other vote, and Rudd two; Damana got two other votes for Debut). I voted for records which finished 1st (Threadgill), 13th (Allen), 14th (Murray), and tied for 30th (Coleman), but I also graded eight other top-31 finishers A- (DeJohnette, Haden, Lehman, Bloom, Ward, Holland, Rollins, and Hersch), and ten more B+(***) (Smith, Halvorson, Formanek, Wilson, Sorey, Cyrille, Davis, Ortiz, Guy, Brown), plus five B+(**) (Iyer, Argue, Lloyd, Finlayson, Dresser). I didn't manage to hear two (Harrell, Moran). So all in all I find this a very respectable consensus -- in fact, probably fewer records here I disfavor than ever before.
Since the Jazz Critics Poll went up, I've mostly been trying to bring my EOY Aggregate up to date. Thus far I've mostly tried to pick up the (mostly foreign) polls listed at Acclaimed Music Forums. I'm currently up to 166 lists (as compared to about 750 lists last year, a total I'm not even remotely hoping for this year). (By the way, the list-of-the-week is from Dan Weiss. And while I haven't read/counted it yet, here's one from Jason Gross).
The current top-10: David Bowie, Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, Radiohead, Solange, Nick Cave, Kanye West, A Tribe Called Quest, Bon Iver, and Chance the Rapper. Second 10: Angel Olsen, Anohni, Anderson .Paak, Car Seat Headrest, Leonard Cohen, Danny Brown, Kaytranada, Blood Orange, Rihanna, and Mitski. The recent infusion of non-Anglo lists has helped fuel bubbles for Nick Cave (up to 6 from 9 last week), Bon Iver (9 from 11), and Anohni (11 from 13). I suspect those three will settle down a bit as the list focus moves back to America. That should also help Beyoncé, but at this point it's pretty clear that Bowie will wind up in first place (current margin +83), and it's not inconceivable that Beyoncé will lose second place to Frank Ocean (her lead is currently 306-300, so very close). I still expect Beyoncé to win the Village Voice Critics Poll, but my own scheme doesn't allow enough weighting for high finishes to make such a lead reversible.
I was invited to vote in El Intruso's annual poll, so this is what I sent in. They asked for "no more than three choices in each category." Most of those are for musicians-by-instrument. I don't think it makes much sense to try to rank musicians, so please consider this just an exercise in name-dropping.
I also voted in the Village Voice Music Critics Poll 2016 (formerly Pazz & Jop, originally -- i.e., 1971 -- named for a similar poll published by Jazz & Pop magazine). The poll asks critics to vote for their 10 favorite albums, dividing up 100 votes among them (5 minimum, 30 maximum), and also for 10 songs (with no point system).
I haven't been tracking singles, so have no idea what to vote for there, and no time at the moment to figure out how to fake it. I only picked five records from my 2016 Jazz List and one (Lucas) was picked ahead of order because it's more pop/vocal, with five more from the 2016 Non-Jazz List. For a variety of reasons, my present integrated EOY list is rather heavily skewed toward jazz (for one thing, I have 71 A-list jazz records, vs. 51 A-list non-jazz). But the former hardly ever get any Pazz & Jop support, and I don't wish to be totally marginal there. For one thing, we've lost way too many elections already this year.
On the other hand, I'm not terribly excited by the records leading the EOY Aggregate count. Looking at my grades for the top 20 (and I still haven't heard Beyoncé), I come up with zero A records, 8 A- (Chance the Rapper , A Tribe Called Quest , Anderson .Paak , Leonard Cohen , Kaytranada , Rihanna , Danny Brown , Blood Orange ), 4 B+(***) (David Bowie, Kanye West, Angel Olsen, Car Seat Headrest), 2 B+(**) (Frank Ocean, Solange), 3 B+(*) (Bon Iver, Anohni, Mitski), 1 B (Radiohead), 1 B- (Nick Cave), nothing really worse than that. While I can't say as I understand the attraction of the bottom two, the average year has 3-4 times as many "deplorables," so it's hard to complain about this year's polls. In fact, it's never been clearer that the Trump demographic has never been more culturally impotent (or should I just say eclipsed?).
New records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, December 19. 2016
Music: Current count 27465  rated (+32), 383  unrated (-2).
Spent most of last week building the website for the 11th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, which NPR will publish tomorrow, or maybe a bit later. I won't disclose anything here, other than that we received 139 ballots, down a bit from last year's record 147 (where's John Chacona? Steven Dollar? David Hajdu? Lyn Horton? Garrett Shelton?). When they do go up, my pages will look a lot like last year's. Francis Davis again deserves a big round of applause for making this happen.
Mostly picking things off lists opportunistically, as well as mopping up a few 2016 stragglers in my queue: down to 6 pending records. With all the JCP work, I've done very little on my own EOY Aggregate file: today belatedly adding only a few of the recent lists (Blare, Gigwise, Line of Best Fit, Pitchfork, Q, Tiny Mix Tapes). I'll add more when I get some time next week, although several things are going to slow me down. For one, I have dinners to cook on Tuesday and Saturday. For another, I have ballots due for the Village Voice (evidently not Pazz & Jop anymore) and El Intruso polls, though those at least I can safely wing.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 18. 2016
I have better things to do than to continue documented this entirely predictable trainwreck. Still, a few links and brief notes if you're still transfixed:
I suppose I quoted this because the last clause led me to react: well, the progressive leftists I know gave her a lot more support than she would have given us over the next four years had she won. And I say that even though I know a few Stein supporters (probably, even, a couple folks who voted for Johnson), and I know a lot of people who voted for Clinton but weren't happy with her. I voted for her, fully understanding that we'd wind up spending the next four years protesting and organizing against much of her platform, because I was also every bit as aware that putting the Republicans into power would be far worse for virtually all of us. That's what we call a rational decision, and that's something we on the left weigh carefully and practice more or less consistently. Clinton's problem in the 2016 election wasn't with rational people, ergo it wasn't with "progressive leftists." Her problem was with crazy people, or effectively the same thing, people who were willing to put aside reason and vote on some emotional whim, a belief backed with no more than a scintilla of evidence.
There are, of course, two approaches to this problem: one is to make voters more conscious of real problems and to better articulate real solutions. The other is to do a better job of identifying the emotions that can be made to work for you, and to hit them in ways that move voters to your side. (The Republicans are quite good at the latter, and have the much easier job doing the opposite of the former: all they need to do is to convince voters that problems are beyond political remedy, and ignorance helps as much as mendacity there.) As much as we'd like to see reason win out, that's a long term project. For right now, suffice it to say that wasn't especially effective at picking her issues, and was vulnerable to precisely the sort of attacks Republicans specialize in.
And briefly noted:
Monday, December 12. 2016
Music: Current count 27433  rated (+30), 385  unrated (+16).
Two leftover thoughts from yesterday's Weekend Roundup:
One problem with doing these rush posts is that real points, themes even, get lost in the nest of links. Just wanted to reiterate those two points. And I'll add a possible third one: in order for the Democratic Party to provide effective resistance against Trump's oligarchs, they have to actively, consistently, as a matter of principle, oppose war and support and promote equality. Quite frankly, if they don't step up to that challenge -- the real threat that Trump and the Republicans pose -- they're helpless and worthless.
Thirty newly rated albums below. Last time that happened was Oct. 10, eight weeks ago. I still don't have the newly rebuilt computer all hooked up -- still have a printing problem -- and I still haven't restored my unplayed (not to mention played) downloads, but I've been able to listen to Napster and Bandcamp. I've also been plowing through EOY lists, so my searching has been more inspired and better targeted than usual. One result is no less than eleven A- records. In particular, I finally got a chance to catch up with Robert Christgau's last two months of Expert Witness picks. Given how far behind I was, I'm a bit surprised that I didn't concur with more. As it is, I more/less agreed with five (Alicia Keys, Tanya Tagaq, A Tribe Called Quest, Pat Thomas, and Urgent Jumping), while six others didn't quite do it for me (Margaret Glaspy, Macy Gray, Pussy Riot, Regina Spektor, and Jinx Lennon twice).
I also added five A- records to my EOY Jazz List shortly after voting for the Jazz Critics Poll closed -- seems like it always works out that way. Four were late arrivals to my mailbox (Albert Cirera, Eve Risser, Steve Swell, and a vault treat from 1994 with Dave Burrell and Bob Stewart), and I picked up the fifth (Taylor Ho Bynum) on Napster. The eleventh was one by Tom Zé that I only found out about from Phil Overeem's list (also my source for Tyler Keith).
I've continued adding EOY lists to my . EOY Aggregate file. I currently have 97 lists compiled, which I assemble in two weight groups: one for longer lists which scores 5 points (1), 4 (2-5), 3 (6-10), 2 (11-20), and 1 (everything else); the other for shorter lists, scoring 3 (1), 2 (2-5), and 1 (everything else). Unranked lists are noted + (sometimes ++ or +++ if they are somehow tiered). I've also scored grades by Robert Christgau and myself (A/A+ 5, A- 4, B+/*** 3, ** 2, * 1), and will probably do that for Michael Tatum as well. These grades have a minor effect of biasing the results towards things I/we like, but then my point isn't to offer some kind of objective, impersonally scientific ranking. It's, as always, to help identify records worth searching out.
Speaking of which, I've tended to skip over lists dedicated to genres I have no real interest in, which mostly means metal. I'll also note that in addition to Overeem (who picked enough records this year to qualify as a major listmeister), I've picked up a couple lists from Facebook friends where I've noticed them (Thomas Walker and Joe Yanosik). I'll do more of that when I find them. I haven't picked up Chris Monsen's still-evolving favorites list, but at some arbitrary point will do so.
Current standings according to my way of counting (counts in opening brackets, my grades in closing):
Album of the Year's Aggregate has same top seven, but a closer race for the top spot (Bowie over Beyoncé 286-282), and Solange ahead of Radiohead (225-208), They actually have the same top-twenty records, with the big difference that they move Angel Olsen up from 12th (my list) to 8th. From 21-30 they add Jenny Hval (31-26), The Avalanches (33-28), and Savages (38-29), in place of Drive-By Truckers (24-31), Parquet Courts (26-36), and Young Thug (30-37) -- three records graded A- or better by both Christgau and myself, so there's my cheat for you. (I have Hval C+, Avalanches B, Savages ***.)
My next project will be tallying the Jazz Critics Poll ballots, which I finally have but haven't really cracked into yet.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 11. 2016
I woke up yesterday morning thinking about how America, if little else, has become something of a consumer paradise over the last 30-40 years. I often wonder why it is that so many people are so uncritical of the established order, and that seems to be a big part of why. Sure, one can nitpick, and if you know much about how business, marketing in particular, works, you'll realize that the real gains still fall way short of what's possible or desirable. You may also may feel some qualms about what has actually been achieved by all this consumption. And, of course, like everything else the gains have not been equally distributed. But for those who can afford today's markets, life has never been better.
I count Trump's voters among them. Sure, many gripe about economic fears, some even about hardships, but somehow they overlook their own bosses and the businesses who take most of their money while perceiving others as threats. I'm aware of lots of reasons why they think that, but I can't say that any of them make real sense to me. What I am sure of is that the incoming Trump administration isn't going to solve any of their imaginary (let alone real) problems. Trump's cabinet is going to have more ultrarich (say, half-billionaires and up) than any other in history. In fact, this represents a new plateau in the history of American plutocracy: even as recently as the Shrub administration, titans of industry and finance were happy to stock the government with their lobbyists and retainers, but Trump is tapping "the doers, not the talkers" -- people who don't just take orders but who intimately know how to convert public influence into private gain. In the past, the most notoriously corrupt administrations (Grant, Harding, Reagan) combined indifferent leadership with underlings imbued in a culture of greed. Yet today, Trump not only hasn't divested himself of his business entanglements; he's actively continued to work his deals, nakedly using his newly acquired leverage. Unlike the others, he won't just turn a blind eye to corruption; he's ideally positioned to be the plunderer-in-chief.
One thing Trump's election has spared us was being plagued with four years of non-stop Clinton scandals -- sure, mostly likely as bogus and conflated as the ones she's endured for 24 years, but still catnip to the press. Instead, Trump promises to give us real scandals, huge scandals, the kind of scandals that expose the rotten core of American Greatness. One hardly knows where to begin, or when to stop, but this will necessarily be brief.
Some scattered links this week:
One last note: I just finishing reading Peter Frase's Four Futures: Life After Capitalism (Verso). He sets up a 2x2 matrix, one axis determined by plenty/scarcity, the other inequality/equality. Needless to say, only one quadrant reads like something we're already in the midst of: scarcity/inequality, the one he calls "exterminism" -- not a very euphonious term, but one which underscores how the rich, as they increasingly automate labor come to view the workers they discharge as expendable, and ultimately as threats. (Frase never uses the term "useless eaters" but you may recall how that terminology paved the way for the Nazi genocide.) Needless to say, aside from branding, "exterminism" sounds more than a little like the Trump agenda. More blatantly, there's increasing inequality while progressively stripping the poor and marginal of any semblance of rights.
Monday, December 5. 2016
I ran behind in writing this, so I'll have to postpone Music Week until tomorrow (Tuesday). Unfortunately, nobody I'm aware of thought to take any pictures of the event below, and the evidence is now far gone. Without such documentation, I reckon we're already entering the realm of myth. I figure the least I can do is to write this event up, to establish some sort of paper trail.
Friday night the Peace and Social Justice Center here in Wichita had its annual dinner and business meeting. My little part in that was to plan and direct the menu, preparing food for 62 guests. I spent much of last week hashing out the menu with Janice Bradley and Leah Dannar-Garcia. Leah and I went shopping on Wednesday. I spent about thirteen hours on Thursday at home prepping and in some cases finishing dishes, while Janice and Leah did their own home prep. On Friday about 1 PM we met at Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church, along with several other people (Pat Cameron, Gretchen Eick, Kathy Hull, Russ Pataki) where the dinner would be held, and started cooking. By 6 PM we had dinner ready to serve. We put small bowls of appetizers and bread on the tables so people could start noshing. And we set up a double-long table for people to serve themselves with the main dishes. The menu was mostly Mediterranean, with dishes from Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel and the Arab countries, plus one salad from Iran:
The recipes (follow the links) were typically scaled 2 times for the appetizers and desserts (more for the hummus and fruit), the salads 2-3 times, the main dishes 3-4 times (8 lbs fish, 16 lbs chicken). The main thing that limited the scaling was the size of cooking and serving dishes, although several dishes were limited by shopping -- I didn't buy nearly enough kalamata olives, so had a single one pound recipe of tapenade and had to buy extra for the salad. The salads ran out first -- possibly because they were first in the serving line, but we could have fixed another batch of the horiatiki and mast va khiar and served it in the same large bowls. The root vegetables fit neatly into two deep baking dishes, the fish into two shallow ones, and the chicken was optimally packed into my largest pot (16-inch diameter, 6-inches deep).
I made two trays of mutabbaq, and cut them into 60 2.25 x 2.5-inch pieces, so only a couple people missed out. We served them at the counter, on plates, and let people add fruit and/or cream. (I was surprised to see people dolloping the cream on top of the mutabbaq.) The cream, which I had borrowed from a "berries and cream" recipe, was exceptional -- we should have made a second batch. We had a couple cups of caponata and a couple pints of cacciatore left at the end, plus hummus and fruit -- Janice overscaled while I erred on the low side -- but I didn't hear complaints about not cooking enough.
I think it's safe to say that it all came out delicious -- one could even say fabulous. Also that the mix of dishes worked and the tastes complemented one another. (The desserts offered a mix of sweet, tart, and creamy, none of which were overly heavy.) We could have done a better job of pointing out which things were vegetarian (or vegan), which dishes had dairy or gluten or nuts or some other real or imagined hazard -- we published the menu, but that was hardly self-explanatory.
The last few years we had the dinner catered, using various Mexican and Middle Eastern sources, nothing especially memorable. Further back, we tried pot lucks, and I made large main dishes for a couple of those -- jambalaya and cacciatore are the ones I remember -- which often produced better food, but were also inconsistent and chancey. This year, when the board decided to try another pot luck, I suggested that a planned and assigned menu would work better, maybe something Mediterranean like the Ottolenghi menu we fixed for an Alice Powell memorial dinner, but a bit broader (and simpler). Leah, who runs a small organic farm east of town, suggested a seasonal fall menu, which I was fine with, but when I spelled out my proposal she embraced it, and provided invaluable support.
Also invaluable was the kitchen and equipment provided by the church. They had a 10-burner range (which we barely used), with two ovens (exactly what we needed), large baking dishes and bowls, lots of counter space, ample dishes and flatware, and a terrific dishwasher for cleaning up. We also had about the right mix of people helping out. If we were to do it again, the one change I would make would be to get together in that kitchen the night before and do the meze and prep together rather than dividing them up and working at home (especially as I had taken on most of that work myself -- by the end I was so exhausted that I wound up knicking myself a couple times cleaning up a knife). Friday had moments that seemed like chaos, but I managed to keep everything lined up and moving along properly, so it all came together at the appointed time (6 PM).
Also, other people (especially Leah and Russ) took over the clean up when I wore out. I got in line after the salads were gone, and wandered in and out of the actual meeting. The guest speaker was Maxine Phillips, a former executive editor of Dissent Magazine and a vice chair of Democratic Socialists of America, who blogs at religioussocialism.org. She spoke about "Forced Migrations and US Immigration Policy." I didn't catch enough of this to comment, but I will risk saying two things:
Unfortuantely, the 2016 election, especially of Donald Trump to the presidency, promises nothing constructive on this front. Indeed, if Trump does manages to reduce immigration it will probably be more due to making our own country less livable than to enforcing draconian laws, and even less to making the rest of the world any less treacherous.
I'm afraid I have rather mixed views on immigration. As someone whose most recent foreign-born ancestors came to America nearly 150 years ago, and whose family preserved not one shred of previous ethnic identity, I've never had any sentimental attachment to the notion that America as a melting pot of immigrants. Nor do I have a problem with the idea that a nation has a right to control its borders and limit immigration. I'll also note that the one period of history when Americans seemed to exhibit the greatest care for one another -- at least in the sense of moving furthest to the left -- was in the 1930-40s, when immigration was largely halted. One wonders whether loosening immigration restrictions in the 1970s didn't contribute somehow to the nation's rightward drift since 1980. (That nearly a third of last year's Republican presidential candidates had at least one foreign-born parent is troubling, to say the least.)
On the other hand, I've known dozens of immigrants, most real fine people, credits to our communities, and they've helped to broaden and deepen our lives. One way, of course, was to share with us the range of food we made for this Peace Dinner (plus a great many other dishes we couldn't include -- things we can explore further in future dinners). Admittedly, most of the immigrants I know are professionals, many citizens, pretty much all with their legal status in order. The only problem I see is with those lacking proper documentation, mostly because their lack of proper credentials leaves them open to exploitation, and that less because I'm sympathetic to their plight than because their vulnerability allows those in power to be more abusive -- and not just to undocumented immigrants.
But Trump's anti-immigrant tirades are not some isolated tick. They are wrapped up in all sorts of mutually reinforcing hatreds meant to appeal to the vanity of increasingly marginalized white voters -- at least those sucker enough to overlook the obvious architects of their demise: the barons of industry and finance, whose pillage of the economy has made everyone more vulnerable. But we need to recognize that what makes this tactic work is how effectively mass fears have been stoked through decades of war. The only way to break that cycle is to insist on peace, which is why organizations like out Peace Center are so important. Please consider a contribution.
Wednesday, November 30. 2016
No time to write an introduction. Maybe I'll have something to say for next week's Music Week.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on October 29. Past reviews and more information are available here (8835 records).
Sophie Agnel/Daunik Lazro: Marguerite D'Or Pâle (2016, Fou): Piano/sax duets, Lazro on tenor and baritone, although Agnel's concept of the piano ("a real living & breathing organism") had me wondering whether they had slipped a percussionist into the mix. B+(**) [cd]
Aguankó: Latin Jazz Christmas in Havana (2016, Aguankó): Percussionist Alberto Macif's group, inspired by Havana but based in Michigan, have a couple previous albums. This one's subtitled "Cool Sounds & Warm Wishes," and is that with an extra shot of clavé, but the songs keep shaking off their dressing. Still, you could be stuck in a department store with much worse. B [cd]
Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio: Desire & Freedom (2016, Not Two): Portuguese tenor saxophonist, always an imposing figure in free jazz settings, with his most dependable group -- Miguel Mira on cello and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. Three long improv pieces, terrific all around, drummer especially. A- [cd]
Amendola vs. Blades: Greatest Hits (2015 , Sazi): Duo of drummer Scott Amendola, probably best known for his work with Nels Cline although he has his name on five previous albums (doing back to 1999), and Hammond B3 impressario Wil Blades. No known hits between them, but take the title as intending some sort of semipop move -- pop in form if not in fact -- ane enjoy the groove and pomp. B+(**) [cd]
BassDrumBone: The Long Road (2013-16 , Auricle, 2CD): Long-running free jazz trio, first album together recorded nearly 30 years ago, lineup on this seventh album the same: Mark Helias (bass), Gerry Hemingway (drums), Ray Anderson (trombone). Second disc is padded out with 31 minutes live. Studio cuts include three cuts each with Jason Moran (piano) and Joe Lovano (tenor sax), the latter making the bigger splash. Still great to hear Anderson's trombone leads, but could be further concentrated. B+(***) [cd]
Martin Bejerano: Trio Miami (2016, Figgland): Pianist, teaches at University of Miami, has a couple previous albums and side credits with Roy Haynes and Russell Malone. Leads a trio, bright and fast. B+(*)
Eraldo Bernocchi/Prakash Sontakke: Invisible Strings (2016, RareNoise): The former plays baritone and electric guitar, the latter lap steel guitar, but Bernocchi is also credited with electronics, which explains the percussion. The synthetic groove may be too regular for jazz, but sets up a seductive ambience with the layered guitar. B+(***) [cdr]
Nat Birchall: Creation (2016, Sound Soul & Spirit): British tenor saxophonist, probably sounds more like Coltrane than any saxophonist alive (including Ravi Coltrane), an effect added to by pianist Adam Fairhall and bassist Michael Bardon, although the group doubles up on drums. Unlike his last two albums, I never quite shook the sense of imitation here, though it's hard to go far wrong while hewing so close to genius. B+(***) [bc]
Karl Blau: Introducing Karl Blau (2016, Raven Marching Band): Singer-songwriter from Anacortes, Washington, with seven previous records before this seeming debut, mostly Nashville covers, done with disconcerting aloofness (no drawl, scant drama, anonymous backup singers). B
Boi Akih: Liquid Songs (2016, TryTone): Dutch group, formed in 1997, has a half-dozen previous albums. Guitarist Niels Brouwer writes the pieces, Monica Akihary sings, also with: Ryoko Imai (marimba, reyong & percussion) and Tobias Klein (bass & contrabass clarinet). Abstract, arty, hated it at first but wound up pleasantly surprised. B+(*) [cd]
Christiane Bopp/Jean-Luc Petit: L'Écorce et la Salive (2015 , Fou): Free jazz duets, Bopp playing trombone, Petit contrabass clarinet, tend to be sparse and abstract. B+(*) [cd]
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Basically Baker Vol. 2: The Big Band Music of David Baker (2016, Patois, 2CD): A fine big band based in Indianapolis, led by Brent Wallarab (credited here as conductor and musical director, but previously a trombonist) and Mark Buselli (trumpet), play compositions and arrangements by David N. Baker (1931-2016), a longtime jazz studies professor at Indiana University who back in the 1960s was affiliated with George Russell. Their original Baker tribute was recorded in 2004, this one about three months after the composer's death. An impressive big band, although the case for Baker's music is less clear. B+(*) [cd]
Oguz Buyukberber and Simon Nabatov: Wobbly Strata (2014 , TryTone): Free jazz duets, clarinet/bass clarinet and piano, respectively. The former was born in Turkey, studied in Amsterdam, probably still based there but this was recorded in Germany. Nabatov is twenty years older, born in Russia, studied in Rome and New York and wound up settling in Cologne. Brisk and challenging. B+(**)
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree (2016, Bad Seeds): One of the year's top-metarated records, no idea why unless the doom and gloom synth tones are somehow calming to the doomed and gloomy. When we were young we used to look for something cathartic to overcome a bad mood, not something that merely added to it. B-
John Chin: Fifth (2014 , Jinsy): Pianist, born in Korea, raised in LA and based in Brooklyn, has several albums. My advance copy has Chin's name scratched out, implying an eponymous group album. Chin's Bandcamp credits all five in alphabetical order: Chin, Stacy Dillard (soprano sax), Lawrence Leathers (bass), Spencer Murphy (drums), Tivon Pennicott (tenor sax). Indeed, all five have song credits, but mostly Chin (7) and Dillard (3), with one each for the others, and they go all sorts of ways, the free-ish postbop just one tendency. B+(**) [cdr]
Richie Cole: Plays Ballads & Love Songs (2015 , Mark Perna Music): Alto saxophonist, not quite 70, his discography goes back to 1976 but tails off after 1999 (several featured spots, one album in 2005). Quartet with Eric Susoeff on guitar, Mark Perna on bass and Vince Taglieri on drums -- surefire material, bright, lovely. B+(***) [cd]
Tom Collier: Impulsive Illuminations (2014-15 , Origin): Vibraphone/marimba player based in Seattle, discography starts with Northwest Jazz Sextet in 1979, and has a half-dozen albums since. Five 10-17 minute pieces here, with Richard Karpen on piano and one guest for each piece: Bill Frisell (guitar), Ted Poor (drums), Stuart Depmster (trombone/didjeridu), Bill Smith (clarinet), Cuong Vu (trumpet). Mostly reminds me of Dempster's "deep listening" pieces, so often too deep to keep me listening. B [cd]
Common: Black America Again (2016, Def Jam): Chicago rapper, can marshall guests ranging from BJ the Chicago Kid to Stevie Wonder, is as conscious as he should be of the uphill political struggle -- I can't fault him for being overly didactic, but the music doesn't always carry him. B+(**)
The Core Trio: Live Featuring Matthew Shipp (2014 , Evil Rabbit): Houston-based sax trio, with Seth Paynter on tenor, Thomas Helton on bass, and Joe Hertenstein on drums. They have two previous albums, each with a pianist added, the second an impressive match with Shipp, who returns here for two 31-34 minute sets in a Houston night club. A bit spotty, the sax never quite getting in gear, but the piano impressive (as you'd expect). B+(**) [cd]
The Delegation: Evergreen (Canceled World) (2014-15 , ESP-Disk, 2CD): Main person here is pianist-composer Gabriel Zucker, also credited with electronics and voice (along with a couple more singers). A sprawling art project, with long, complex forms and a story line that's way over my head. Group includes trumpet (Adam O'Farrill), three saxophones, violin-viola-cello, bass, drums, and additional electronics. Music has points of interest. B+(*) [cd]
Dim Lighting: Your Miniature Motion (2014 , Off): Guitar-bass-drums trio, based in Chicago, Andrew Trim, Kurt Schweitz, Deven Drobka. First album, guitar metallic, can crunch out a groove or spring free, or just bide time. B+(*) [cdr]
Andrew Downing: Otterville (2016, self-released, 2CD): Bassist, born in London, Ontario and based in Toronto, plays cello here, presenting a series of ornate landscape pieces, lovely in a rather uneventful way. Group includes alto sax, vibes, lap steel guitar, bass guitar, and drums, with occasional touches of trumpet and trombone. B [cd]
Rebecca DuMaine and the Dave Miller Trio With Friends: Happy Madness (2016, Summit): Standards singer trying to pass as good-time girl -- nothing really standard but hits the usual bases including Jobim and McCartney -- backed by piano trio and presumably more, although I have no idea who the "friends" are. B- [cd]
Earth Tongues: Ohio (2015 , Neither/Nor, 2CD): Filed this under trumpeter Joe Moffett, joined here by Dan Peck on tuba and Carlo Costa on percussion, the horn players also credited with "cassette player." Long-form industrial ambient, or (not quite) noise, the length undoes any sense of structure (or as they put it, "immersive pieces that explore dynamic and temporal extremes"). B [cd]
The Fat Babies: Solid Gassuh (2016, Delmark): Seven-piece trad jazz band, founded 2010 by bassist Beau Sample, based in Chicago, they play old stuff going back to "Maple Leaf Rag" and clearly are having fun. B+(**) [cd]
Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band: ˇIntenso! (2016, Clavo): Directed by son Brent Fischer, less a ghost band than a living memorial to the late pianist-arranger, whose clients ranged from Dizzy Gillespie to Prince. Six Clare Fischer originals (out of ten), mostly old arrangements, the band solid, a couple Roberta Gambarini vocals a plus. B+(**) [cd]
David Friesen Circle 3 Trio: Triple Exposure (2015 , Origin): Bassist-led piano trio, the pianist Greg Goebel, drummer Charlie Doggett. Friesen has a long discography going back to 1976. He composed and arranged all the pieces here, gets bright leads and patiently works his bass into the cracks. B+(*) [cd]
Clay Giberson: Pastures (2015 , Origin): Pianist, based in Portland, has five previous records plus four by his group Upper Left Trio. Draws on a strong quartet here with Drew Gress (bass), Matt Wilson (drums), and most valuable player Donny McCaslin, whose tenor sax chops dominate everything. Less so his flute and soprano, or the string quartet added on four tracks. B+(***) [cd]
Jari Haapalainen Trio: Fusion Machine (2016, Moserobie): Drummer-led sax trio, with Daniel Bingert on bass guitar, and Per 'Texas' Johansson on "the saxophone." Reminiscent of the Thing in their new wave fusion mode (though less squawky, and less free). Thirteen cuts, 28:29. B+(*) [cd]
Jason Hainsworth: Third Ward Stories (2015 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist from Houston, studied in New Orleans and Florida, teaches at Broward College. Probably his debut, a lively hard bop sextet with Josh Evans on trumpet, Michael Dease on trombone, and Glenn Zaleski on piano, makes it seem easy. B+(***) [cd]
Stu Harrison: Volume I (2016, One Nightstand): Pianist, Canadian, leads a trio with Neil Swainson (bass) and Terry Clarke (drums) through a batch of very familiar standards, teasing and tussling without losing the thread. B+(**) [cd]
Heroes Are Gang Leaders: Flukum (2016, Flat Langston's Arkeyes): Group abbreviated HAGL, led by poet Thomas Sayers Ellis (not the sole lyricist) with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and various others, most songs with vocals in various voices ("dedicated to poets Etheridge Knight and Ntozake Shange with moments of James Baldwin and Michael S. Harper thematically-seasoned in"), pushing boundaries while the sinewy music slithers around, or sometimes just enjoys a funk groove. B+(**) [cd]
Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 3: Three Places in New England (2016, Creative Nation Music): Guitarist, quintet includes trumpet, clarinet, cello, and drums. Like the two previous volumes, this picks up a piece of modernist classical music and reframes it as jazz -- the previous volumes used Stravinsky and Messaien, this one goes after Charles Ives, who patterned his own music on brass bands obliquely heard. The indirection works nicely here. B+(***) [cd]
Roger Ingram: Sklyark (2015, One Too Tree): Trumpet player, finished second for trumpet in Downbeat's 2016 Readers Poll, a complete surprise to me -- only his second album (and short ones at that, this one seven cuts, 28:40) I can find, but he has many side credits going back to Woddy Herman in 1986. Not sure of credits here, but starts solo before a big band (Jim Stewart Orchestra) with singer (Christine Cooney) enter. The vocals swing agreeably, but the instrumentals are a little gaudy. B
Erik Jekabson: A Brand New Take (2015 , OA2): Trumpet player, based in Bay Area, has a handful of records dating back to 2002. Quintet here with alto sax (Kasey Knudsen) and piano (Matt Clark), plus a couple tracks with guests -- "Thriller" is a highlight, with John Gove (trombone) and Dave Ellis (tenor sax). B+(*) [cd]
Jerome Jennings: The Beast (2016, Iola): Drummer, wrote four (of nine) songs here, leading a hard bop sextet much like the groups his bassist (Christian McBride) has led -- most obviously with Christian Sands on piano, also Sean Jones on trumpet and Howard Wiley on tenor sax. Steady pulse of energy, as if they're afraid they might be taken for retro. B+(**) [cd]
The Matthew Kaminski Quartet: Live at Churchill Grounds (2015 , Chicken Coup): Organ player, from Chicago, earns his scratch playing for the Atlanta Braves. Quartet includes guitar and tenor sax (Will Scruggs), and Kimberley Gordon sings a couple tunes. All covers, done up like a gaudy burlesque, with "Sail On Sailor" a surprise lead. B+(*) [cd]
Walter Kemp 3oh!: Dark Continent (2016, Blujazz): Pianist, sometimes adds a III to his name but styles his piano trio thusly, picking up last initials from bassist RiShon Odel and drummer David Hulett. Densely chorded pieces have some power, slower ones thoughtful. B+(*) [cd]
Frank Kimbrough: Solstice (2016, Pirouet): Pianist, first appeared as part of a New York postbop circle that included Ben Allison, Ron Horton, and Matt Wilson, and always struck me as the least adventurous of that crowd. Trio, with Jay Anderson on bass and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. One original, one standard, the rest from postmodern jazz sources like Carla Bley, Paul Motian, Andrew Hill, Maria Schneider, and Annette Peacock (twice). B+(**) [cd]
Lambchop: FLOTUS (2016, Merge): Acronym more convoluted than expected: For Love Often Turns Us Still. Band, fronted by Kurt Wagner, has recorded a dozen albums since 1994. This one's slow with a light touch, delicate even, pleasant in passing but little registers. B
Miranda Lambert: The Weight of These Wings (2016, RCA Nashville, 2CD): Twenty-four songs, runs 94:01, the first disc titled "The Nerve" and the second "The Heart." Gossip columnists tell us it's about her breakup with Blake Shelton and her current relationship with Anderson East. Still, not much tumult here -- certainly no "Kerosene" -- everything on a level keel, making me wonder why the album had to be so damn long. Probably because she's got a lot to say. B+(***)
Ingrid Laubrock: Serpentines (2016, Intakt): German tenor saxophonist, based in Brooklyn, has produced quite a few records since 1999. This one mixes in trumpet (Peter Evans), koto (Miya Masaoka), piano (Craig Taborn), electronics (Sam Pluta), tuba (Dan Peck), and drums (Tyshawn Sorey). Some bright spots, especially Taborn, but also seems rather scattered. B+(*) [cd]
Jerry Leake: Crafty Hands (2016, Rhombus Publishing): World-spanning percussionist, has a dozen or so albums as well as the books that helped name his label, but draws mostly on African and Indian here, plus a standard drum set, vibraphone, and he (and others) sing some. The others add to the "world-rock fusion" -- eclectic is their motto, making most of this enchanting, not that it all fits neatly together. B+(**) [cd]
Nate Lepine Quartet: Vortices (2016, Eyes & Ears): Tenor saxophonist from Chicago, seems to be his debut album, quartet with Nick Mazzarella on alto sax, Clark Sommers on bass, and Quin Kirchner on drums. The extra sax shadows the leads, adding depth and lustre, but beware of slowing down. B+(*) [cd]
Jasmine Lovell-Smith's Towering Poppies: Yellow Red Blue (2015 , Paint Box): Soprano saxophonist, originally from New Zealand, based in Mexico after a few years in New York. second album, quintet with Josh Sinton (bass clarinet) and piano-bass-drums. B+(**) [cd]
Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: A Day in Brooklyn: At Ibeam (2015 , Constant Sorrow, 2CD): The fifth (of six so far) installment under this title, "a series of recordings based on American song forms," something hardly no one has researched deeper than alto-saxophonist Lowe. A disparate, sprawling set of works, with two mid-sized groups and a number of guest spots -- hard to see how they could all have fit into a single day of recording. Opens with a solo piano piece by Loren Schoenberg, then another by Kelly Green -- the first of several "Mary Lou Williams Variations." Then moves on to a group with Kirk Knuffke (trumpet) and Paul Austerlitz (clarinet), later to another with Lisa Parrott (baritone sax) and Larry Feldman (violin). Not easy to follow, but even when you don't something liable to jump out and grab you. B+(***) [cd]
Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Hell With an Ocean View (2016, Constant Sorrow): Opens with some of Lowe's best alto sax, but often gives way to let the twin guitarists (Nels Cline and Ray Suhy) shine. With Matthew Shipp (piano), Kevin Ray (bass), Larry Feldman (violin, mandolin), and Carolyn Castellano (drums). The song forms range from hymns to Hendrix, each with its own fascination. A- [cd]
Thierry Maillard Trio and Philharmonic Orchestra: Ethnic Sounds (2016, Blujazz): French pianist, has perhaps a dozen albums since 1998, explains in the liner notes that "My biggest musical dream has always been to hear one day my music written for a jazz trio and a symphonic Orchestra," so I guess he can scratch that off his bucket list. He went to Prague to get the orchestra, an outfit that has never shown much finnesse around jazz, and he brought in some ringers like guitarist Nguyen Lę. The music leans toward fusion, or maybe it's just energetically muddled. B- [cd]
Mamutrio [Lieven Cambré/Piet Verbist/Jesse Dockx]: Primal Existence (2015 , Origin): Alto saxophonist, from northern Belgium, backed by bass and drums, Verbist the main writer (5/10 compositions). Subtle, relaxed postbop, sometimes pushes not out but in. B+(***) [cd]
Tom Marko: Inner Light (2016, Summit): Drummer, director of jazz studies at Illinois State, first album, lineups vary but generally a standard quintet, sometimes with added guitar, sometimes percussion. Big name here is "special guest" Scott Wendholt (trumpet), who earns his billing. Postbop moves, has some hot spots. B [cd]
Melanie Marod: I'll Go Mad (2016, ITI): Standards singer, from Michigan, based in New York, probably her debut. Has a seductive voice, eclectic taste in Anglo standards ("Spanish Harlem," "Dance Me to the End of Love," "Candy," but "Everybody's Talkin'" is a let down; plus "Corcovado" and two equally obvious Latin tunes. Backed by guitar (Masami Ishikawa), keyboards (Art Hirahara), bass and drums. B+(*) [cd]
Bruno Mars: 24K Magic (2016, Atlantic): Loved his first album, shrugged off his second, and can't say that anything really grabs me in this big-time pop production, though I continue to be wowed by his voice. B
Delfeayo Marsalis presents the Uptown Jazz Orchestra: Make America Great Again! (2016, Troubadour Jass): Big band, led by the trombone-playing Marsalis brother, takes America to be a macro-extension of black New Orleans, with Wendell Pierce narrating a spiel that reminds me of "Chocolate City," egged on by a chorus reiterating the title with just a bit of sarcasm, reminding us that the greatest traitors to America were the "rebels" who fought the union for slavery. Frames the program with "Star Spangled Banner" and "Fanfare for the Common Man." Personally, I'd rather make America good than great, but that's the effect here, too. B+(**) [cd]
MAST: Love and War_ (2016, Alpha Pup): Album cover stylizes group name as all caps followed by an inverted-V and two backslashes, sort of a broken-M, although their Bandcamp page sticks with ASCII. Second group album, leader is Tim Conley, they didn't bother to table up the credits, but it would have been a long list, including the ten-piece Fresh Cut Orchestra. Structured as a three act play, with various spoken and sung characters, lush instrumental passages, the sort of high art concept I have trouble focusing on. I will say he's better at it than the Pretty Things, though maybe not better than Sufjan Stevens (or the Who). B+(*) [cdr]
Matt Mayhall: Tropes (2015 , Skirl): Drummer, based in Los Angeles, also credited with keyboards on this debut album, leads a trio with Jeff Parker on guitar and Paul Bryan on bass guitar, plus guests on a couple cuts each: Chris Speed (tenor sax) and Jeff Babko (organ, keyboards). Rather mellow showcase for Parker. B+(*) [cd]
Donny McCaslin: Beyond Now (2016, Motema): Tenor saxophonist, has outstanding chops which he frequently flexes to steal the spotlight on others' albums, although I've only rarely been a fan of his own albums (2008's Recommended Tools is an exception). David Bowie hired him to work on his final album, Blackstar, and McCaslin returns the compliment here, using Bowie's band (Jason Lindner, Mark Giulliana, Tim Lefebvre) on a couple of Bowie songs, others from Deadmau5 and Mutemath. Leans hard toward fusion, turning into its own kind of sax blowout. B+(*)
The Monkees: Good Times! (2016, Rhino): Someone thought some sort of 50th anniversary remembrance was in order, then discovered that three of the original four actors who were tabbed for a popular TV series about an American Beatles spoof were still living, so why not a reunion? They even hired three members of Fountains of Wayne to craft fake Monkees songs. It's not like they couldn't recapture the vibe, but somehow it sounds pathetic this time around. Indeed, the whole thing turned so depressing they let the original Monkees write some of their own songs. And they dug up an unreleased 1967 track to pretend Davy Jones lives. B-
Van Morrison: Keep Me Singing (2016, Caroline): Past 70 now, knighted, one of the all-time greats, so much so that mere echoes of his great albums can blow you away. This one is that and a bit more as he's found a new comfort not just in his skin but in the warmth of his Celtic-blues soul. A-
John Moulder: Earthborn Tales of Soul and Spirit (2014-16 , Origin): Guitarist, based in Chicago, teaches at Benedictine and Northwestern, sixth album, cut in two sessions with different bass/drums and tablas on one, but Jim Trompeter (piano), Marquis Hill (trumpet), and Donny McCaslin (tenor sax) appeared on both. McCaslin flexes his chops, but this can get murky without him. B [cd]
Moutin Factory Quintet: Deep (2016, Blujazz): Twin brothers François (bass) and Louis Moutin (drums), leading a quintet with alto/sopranino sax (Christophe Monniot), guitar (Manu Codjia), and piano (Jean-Michel Pilc). One very nice Fats Waller medley, mostly just bass and drums, but the originals tend toward post-fusion (in the sense of what postbop made of bebop, I suspect Weather Report was their ur-text). B+(*) [cd]
Fredrik Nordström: Gentle Fire/Restless Dreams (2016, Moserobie, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist from Sweden, look him up and most likely you'll find a different person -- a heavy metal guitarist with the same name. This one has a half-dozen previous albums going back to 2000. Two albums here cut in the same two-day session, with the same quartet: Jonas Östhom (piano), Torbjörn Zetterberg (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums). Mixed with the gentle stuff on one disc, the restless on the other (or vice versa). Restless is better, of course, but I've played this enough I've also grown quite fond of the fire. A- [cd]
Phil Parisot: Lingo (2016, OA2): Seattle-based drummer, first album, has a couple of side-credits including the group Big Neighborhood. Sax quartet, Steve Treseler out front on tenor and soprano, Dan Kramlich on piano and Fender Rhodes, Michael Glynn on bass. Seven originals, three non-standard covers, pretty much what everyone else is doing, though lively for that. B+(*) [cd]
Felix Peikli & Joe Doubleday: It's Showtime! (2016, self-released): Clarinetist, from Norway, and vibraphonist, playing standards, backed by a swing-oriented rhythm section with Rossano Sportiello on piano. Bright, even a bit frothy. B+(*) [cdr]
Ivo Perelman/Karl Berger/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 1 (2016, Leo): Avant tenor saxophonist from Brazil, celebrated twenty years of recording back in 2009-10 with six releases, and has duplicated that feat nearly every year since. He released five records this spring (my top picks were Soul and Blue), and now for the fall he's come out with six volumes of Improv Trio -- one suspects too much and too similar, but we'll see. Berger here plays piano, a steady influence that mostly keeps the sax on track, even brings out a touch of elegance. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Whit Dickey: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 2 (2016, Leo): Tenor sax, viola, drums. Maneri is the wild card here, his microtonal meanderings sometimes lose me, but in the end he provokes the saxophonist into upping his game. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 3 (2015 , Leo): Probably the most imposing of the trio lineups, but pianist Shipp -- a frequent Perelman mate going back to 1996's Bendito of Santa Cruz -- never charges into the clear (as he sometimes managed in the David S. Ware Quartet). Still a fine showing for the saxophonist, but not exceptional. B+(**) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/William Parker/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 4 (2016, Leo): The bassist makes a difference here, setting up a groove (or at least momentum) that keeps the sax man on his toes, bobbing and weaving, never far from the edge. Moreover, he can go loud without knocking the leader out, so he has no need to hold back (as the pianists have done). A- [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 5 (2016, Leo): Morris plays electric guitar, somewhat inconspicuously poking around the edges, adding bits of color and brightness. Another strong outing for the saxophonist. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 6 (2016, Leo): Recorded in July, probably the same time as Volume 5, the difference here is that Morris has switched from guitar to bass. As with Volume 4, this both loosens up the saxophonist and lets him be fiercer or more eloquent as the opportunity arises. A- [cd]
Pink Martini: Je Dis Oui (2016, Heinz): Portland group dating back to 1994, principally pianist Thomas Lauderdale and singer China Forbes, play an ecclectic mix of jazz, chanson, and kitsch drawing on pretty much everything. More of all of that, in some ways remarkable but less satisfying than, e.g., 2007's Hey, Eugene!. B+(*)
Bobby Previte: Mass (2016, RareNoise): Jazz drummer, often leans toward fusion but has more eclectic tastes -- esoteric, too. This starts with a baroque piece by Guillaume Du Fay (1397-1474, Missa Sancti Jacobi), adds pipe organ "inspired by Olivier Messaien" (played by Marco Benevento), vocals (The Rose Ensemble), and some electric bass that could have been dubbed by Black Sabbath. I suppose if you cared about any of those things, this might seem interesting, or blasphemous, or something. C+ [cdr]
Carol Robbins: Taylor Street (2016 , Jazzcats): Plays harp, has a couple previous albums, backed here by Los Angeles musicians -- Bob Sheppard (tenor sax), Curtis Taylor (trumpet), Larry Koonse (guitar), Billy Childs (piano), Darek Oles (bass) -- generating an easy momentum without turning too smooth. B+(*) [cd]
Rudy Royston Trio: RisEofOrion (2016, Greenleaf Music): Drummer from Texas, only his second headline album but side credits go back to 1992, notably with saxophonists Fred Hess and J.D. Allen, and more recently with Jim Snidero, Doug Webb, and trumpet master Dave Douglas. This is another sax trio, with Jon Irabagon tugging him out of the mainstream, and Yasushi Nakamura on bass. B+(***) [cd]
Ken Schaphorst Big Band: How to Say Goodbye (2014 , JCA): Big band composer-conductor, chairs the jazz department at New England Conservatory, has a half dozen albums since 1989, maybe more. Plays trumpet and keyboards here, just one cut each. Band is chock full of well-known names, including Ralph Alessi, Donny McCaslin, Chris Cheek, Uri Caine, Brad Shepik, and Matt Wilson -- much solo power, some impressive passages. B+(*) [cd]
Adam Schneit Band: Light Shines In (2016, Fresh Sound New Talent): Plays tenor sax and clarinet, has two previous appearances with Old Time Musketry (both A- records), leads his debut album with Sean Moran (guitar), Eivind Opsvik (bass), and Kenny Wollesen (drums). Nice mainstream sax album, the clarinet less so. B+(**) [cdr]
Steve Slagle: Alto Manhattan (2016 , Panorama): Mainstream alto saxophonist, most often heard with Dave Stryker (who usually gets top billing), but here takes center stage and is terrific though sevel cuts, mostly burners aside from a solo "Body & Soul." He switches to flute on the last two cuts and adds congas, nice but less impressive. Joe Lovano joins in on three cuts. B+(***) [cd]
Enoch Smith Jr.: The Quest: Live at APC (2016, Misfitme Music): Pianist, born in Rochester, based in New Jersey, has several albums. Wears his religion on his sleeve -- first album was called Church Boy -- and dabbles in nursery rhymes, coming together here in two takes of "Jesus Loves Me." Uses two singers, neither adding much nuance or style. C [cd]
Snaggle: The Long Slog (2016, Browntasaurus): Jazz group, "often described as Canada's answer to Snarky Puppy," main songwriter is keyboardist (no piano) Nick Maclean, plus guitar, a couple horns (trumpet, tenor sax), bass and drums, with a "special guest" credit for second trumpet player Brownman Ali (also producer). CDBaby has a blurb from Randy Brecker saying "reminds me of a band I used to play in." Underwhelming comps pursued vigorously, leaves me uninterested. B- [cd]
Soul Basement feat. Jay Nemor: What We Leave Behind (2016, ITI): Recorded over three months in Siracusa [Sicily], Gothenburg [Sweden], and Oslo. Soul Basement is an alias for Fabio Puglisi, who plays keyboards, bass, drums, and programming, and co-wrote the songs with non-bandmember J. Harden. Nemor does the speakeasy vocals and some saxophone, making him the real focal point. All in English, including a couple timely political excursions. B+(*) [cd]
Terell Stafford: Forgive and Forget (2016, Herb Harris Music): Mainstream trumpet player, originally from Miami, last time tried his hand at a Lee Morgan tribute (BrotherLee Love), but didn't really get the vibe right until now, with a superb hard bop quintet. Pianist Kevin Hays is essential, tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield mostly shades but delivers when he gets a solo shot. But it's mostly the trumpet -- the fast ones grab you right away, the ballads take a while for the slow burn to emerge. A- [cd]
Andrew Van Tassel: It's Where You Are (2016, Tone Rogue): Alto saxophonist, also plays soprano, based in New York, probably his first album, a quartet with Julian Shore on piano and Rhodes. One cover, from Charles Ives, the originals insightful but soft-edged and pleasant. B+(*) [cd]
Anna Webber's Simple Trio: Binary (2016, Skirl): Plays tenor sax and flute, here in a prickly trio with Matt Mitchell on piano and John Hollenbeck on drums. B+(***) [cd]
Scott Whitfield: New Jazz Standards (Volume 2) (2016, Summit): Trombonist, eighth album since 1989, side credits include Toshiko Akiyoshi's big band. Quartet with Christian Jacob (piano), Kevin Axt (bass), and Peter Erskine (drums) playing song written by producer Carl Saunders. As far as I can tell, the previous volume of New Jazz Standards was released in 2014 and credited to the late flautist Sam Most -- another Saunders production. B+(*) [cd]
Basak Yavuz: A Little Red Bug (2015 , Things&): Turkish singer-songwriter, studied jazz in New York and picked up some tricks, but this second album was recorded in Istanbul with a long list of Turkish names (but no instrument credits). Music, too, is more Turkish than jazz, but its dramatic flair is informed (and stretched) by the latter -- most obviously on the "Bye Bye Blackbird" cover. B+(**) [cd]
Zarabande: El Toro (2016, AFlo): San Antonio-based marimba player Alfred Flores is billed as "El Toro" here, and seems to be the leader (listed first, producer) -- band includes Joe Caploe on vibraphone, Mark Little on piano, plus bass and drums -- and "Zarabande" is one of the song titles, but the credits are reversed, perhaps because Little and Caploe split all the song credits (6-3). Nice flow, lots of tinkle. B+(*) [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance [The Bootleg Series Vol. 5] (1966-68 , Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): His greatest group, close to mid-term, so it's fair to expect jazz of the highest order, and to be disappointed with tentative outtakes and rambling session dialogue only scholars need to hear once. The songs mostly turned into Miles Smiles (1966) with some leftovers that wound up on Water Babies (belatedly released in 1976). The false starts and not-very-audible banter especially mar the first disc, but the music on the latter discs is pretty much what you'd expect. Doesn't strike me as essential, but I also don't have the booklet that no doubt draws out the historical context. B+(*)
Erroll Garner: Ready Take One (1967-71 , Legacy): Fourteen previously unreleased tracks from three sessions late in the pianist's career. Mostly trio, some extra percussion, the sound weak enough that the bass isn't always clear. Flashes of the idiosyncrasy that marked his work in his '50s prime, but not a major find. B+(*)
Sonny Criss: The Complete Imperial Sessions (1956 , Blue Note, 2CD): Also saxophonist, cut his first albums for Imperial at age 28 (although some older recordings were released later), three albums -- Jazz USA (with Barney Kessel and Kenny Drew), Go Man! (with Sonny Clark), and Sonny Criss Plays Cole Porter (Clark again, plus Larry Bunker on vibes) -- all rounded up here. Bright and fast, manages to bridge bebop and a more mainstream standards repertoire. A- [cd]
Ella Fitzgerald & Duke Ellington: The Stockholm Concert (1966 , Jazz World): Same year as the official Ella and Duke at the Côte D'Azur -- issued in an 8-CD box and a recommended 2-CD sampler. Pretty much their standard show, opening with four Ellington pieces, closing with scat takes of "How High the Moon" and "Mr. Paganini." B+(***) [cd]
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, November 28. 2016
Music: Current count 27386  rated (+24), 362  unrated (-17).
Finally, on Saturday, got my new computer build working, hooked up, and able to stream from Napster. I'm somewhat embarrassed to finally realize that the problem all along was a faulty monitor (a Samsung, like most of the other faulty equipment in the house right now -- my big complaint is a broken ice maker in the refrigerator, and by broken I mean that the plastic tray is badly cracked on both ends, such that the screw drive that moved the ice forward jams). The monitor actually displays internally generated messages fine, but doesn't display the signal coming in through the D-SUB connection. In fact, the manual says the monitor has a self-test feature, and when I tried that the self-test came out OK. But it took weeks for it to finally sink in that the monitor was the problem.
Went out on Black Saturday and picked up a new LG 24-inch monitor for about $140. The new computer works fine with it. The old computer works fine too, so now I have a spare. It had been 5-6 years since I built the old one, so one can argue that I was due for a new one, but I hate to have blundered into it like that. The new one has an 8-core AMD FX-8350 processor, ASUS motherboard and video card (not a fancy one, but has 2GB RAM), plus I have 32GB RAM and a 2TB hard drive, a DVD burner, and a parallel printer port board so I can still hook up to my old HP laser printer. Loaded Xubuntu 16.04 desktop on it, and I've had to load a couple dozen extra software packages so I have a LAMP web server, emacs, gimp, and a few extra applications that looked promising (including a CAD system, an alt-Adobe Illustrator, and a database program for recipes). That's all free software. Had to jump through some extra hoops to get non-free (but zero cost) Adobe Flash (needed by Napster) and gstreamer drivers for playing DVDs. Probably still need some further work, but it's basically functional now. Used a cheap old box, so it's not the most elegant thing in the shop, but should be a solid machine.
Only three Napster streams among the records listed below. I also played the new A Tribe Called Quest (given an A+ last week by Christgau) but didn't get into it enough to pass any sort of judgment. (Two-thirds sounds pretty good, but nothing sounds as great as that grade implies. And it's two discs, and I'm often slow getting into hip-hop records, so I figured it best to return later).l The three rated below only got a single play. Could be that a second play might nudge Common up a notch, but Bruno Mars was disappointing and Pink Martini clearly not their best work. Playing the latest Miles Davis bootleg as I write this, but at 3-CD it's going to take a while.
Besides, I needed to make a serious dent in the incoming jazz queue, which I did. The 2016 pending list is currently down to six albums: no one I've heard of (although I filed one under Ernest Dawkins, whose last three albums came in at A-, so I need to check that one out soon). Jazz Critics Poll ballot due next week, and Francis Davis is already getting anxious about that. I did a preliminary sort on my jazz list a couple weeks ago, but I still expect to fiddle with the order quite a bit (depending on time and whether I can find things, so possibly not before I have to turn a ballot in).
I'm afraid I have no sense whatsoever how that poll is going to go. I currently list 61 A- (or better) new jazz albums. The only one in my top-ten I'm reasonably sure will finish top-ten (probably top-three) is Henry Threadgill's Old Locks and Irregular Verbs. I suppose JD Allen (Americana) and David Murray (Perfection) are possibles; further down my list Steve Lehman, Sonny Rollins, Greg Ward, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, and Fred Hersch seem likely to get a few votes, but I'll be surprised if anything else cracks the top forty. (George Coleman maybe? Rich Halley? Jane Ira Bloom?)
Rather seems more likely that some of my HM records will poll well -- Michael Formanek, Mary Halvorson, Wadada Leo Smith, Tyshawn Sorey -- or records I listed lower -- Darcy James Argue, Kenny Barron, Vijay Iyer, Charles Lloyd -- not much else I've noticed other critics liking, but I'm sure I've missed some things. As for records I've heard of but haven't heard, I scanned through my checklist file and added 13 records to the "estimated to have a 2% chance of A-" list in the EOY Jazz file cited above (also added 19 to the EOY Non-Jazz file). I'll add more as I see some actual EOY lists.
Speaking of EOY lists, the first few have appeared (starting, as usual, in the UK with NME, Mojo, Uncut, and a few record store lists). I put a lot of work into tracking these things last year, and doubted that I would again, but the last few weeks have been so stressful to me that I thought it might be calming to waste some time on them this year. After eight (or so) lists this year looks like this. (Note that I'm already counting my grades, although I've only included those on other lists.) My initial guess was that Beyoncé would win going away, with Chance the Rapper in second, and then, well, I don't know -- AOTY has Nick Cave top-rated based on review averages (a B- as far as I'm concerned), followed by Bon Iver (*), Beyonce (?), Solange (**), Radiohead (B), Frank Ocean (?), Leonard Cohen (A-), A Tribe Called Quest (probably A-), Mitski (*), and Angel Olsen (***). But at least in the UK, David Bowie jumped into a clear lead, followed by Cave, Radiohead, Olsen, Thee Oh Sees, and Iggy Pop, with Beyoncé and Chance back in the 30-40 range.
However, the first American list to appear, from Consequence of Sound, is closer to what I expect: Beyoncé, Chance, Bowie, Ocean, Anohni, Cave, Olsen, Anderson .Paak, Bon Iver, Cohen, Mitski, A Tribe Called Quest (first list appearance for a late release), Radiohead, Blood Orange, Schoolboy Q, Wilco, Tim Hecker, Car Seat Headrest, Solange; plus some further down records that may do better: Kaytranada, Danny Brown, Savages, Kevin Gates, Young Thug, White Lung.
One list that's out that I haven't bothered with is Decibel's. Last year I faithfully tracked all the metal lists, but wound up listening to fewer than five albums, so that much doesn't seem to be worth the effort this year. I suppose that makes my tally a bit less objective, but I'd rather spend my time on things I consider worthy.
I made a mistake last week in listing Heroes Are Gang Leader's new album Flukum, so corrected that and repeated it this week. I liked their previous album this year (Highest Engines Near/Near Higher Engineers) a bit more, but both should be of interest if you're interested in jazz-rap fusion. The two A- records this week are from Ivo Perelman's six-volume set, only marginally better than the others because bass seems to fit in better than piano (or viola or guitar). Could be I downgraded the one with Shipp only because I expected more (it was the one volume I singled out to listen to in the car). Perelman finishes the year with 4 A-, 4 ***, 1 **, 2 * records.
PS: Monday's mail brought a nice package from NoBusiness in Lithuania, and a new Randy Weston 2-CD that officially drops on January 20 (so I can ignore it for a couple weeks). Also email from Steve Swell offering me a couple CDs, so they'll be coming soon. Also, that new Dawkins album is pretty good.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week: