Monday, January 30. 2012
Been listening to Rhapsody a lot this week, which is always good for the rated count. Also been playing two unnecessary compilations of old music -- one jazz, the other rock and roll -- which are things I can linger on. I say unnecessary because there's hardly anything in either set I don't have elsewhere. But I never get to what I have elsewhere.
No news on Jazz CG/Jazz Blog/Jazz Prospecting or whatever. I did finally set up a new directory to handle the work in, although I still haven't carried over the defunct JCG(28) material. And I did catalog several weeks of unpacking, which I'll list below. Seems like the inflow has slowed down, but I'm still getting a few items, and it will probably pick up when/if I get my outlet straightened out. Meanwhile, I've been focusing on Recycled Goods this week, and should have a decent-sized Rhapsody Streamnotes before long -- alas, not much yet to recommend. But I've barely started with 2012. I keep chasing down stragglers from 2011, and more often than not find I've already beaten that horse to death. The only A- addition to the post-freeze 2011 list was to correct a bookkeeping omission from way back (Beth Ditto's EP). The only new A- on the new 2012 list is one I'm actually somewhat soft on but I do approve of the political thrust.
I did at least manage to start a pair of metacritic files for 2012: new and old. Not much in them yet -- I have scanned all the usual suspects, but haven't seen much of interest yet. I've made a few minor changes, mostly using 75 as my threshold metacritic point score (instead of 80 last year) -- still thinking about whether to drop down to 70 (usually 3.5 stars) on more than Spin and Rolling Stone.
I also belatedly decided to keep adding new reviews (and Chuck Eddy's year-end list) to the 2011 metafile. Mostly, I'm doing a better job of checking on release dates, so I figured I should enforce the rule that the 2012 file only covers 2012 releases, but I also wanted to keep info on some late-2011s, and the 2011 file seemed like the perfect place to do that. (For one thing, free mixtapes seem to have a slight uptick in December, whereas commercial releases get pushed up or pulled back. E.g., M.I.A.'s Vicki Leekz came out on Dec. 31, 2011, so it utterly missed 2011 year-end lists.)
The Expert Witness discussion group poll results are finally out, at least for albums (songs later, and I'm not sure what poohbah Joey Daniewicz has planned for comments): album tally (62 albums with 2+ references; single references promised "soon"), top 25 (in dramatic countdown format), ballots. I submitted one of the latter, although you're better served looking at the 2011 list (link above, or see my blog entry, which splits out jazz and non). The electorate are people who follow closely Robert Christgau's Expert Witness blog -- big fans of his, as is evident by the selections (although the only record to crack the top 25 that he didn't review was one of my picks, so I can claim to have a few fans there also). None of my 10 picks finished in the top 10, and just 4 in the top 25 (Raphael Saadiq at 13, Mekons at 15, Todd Snider at 19, and Allen Lowe at 25), which suggests I'm falling out of step with everyone. On the other hand, I had 6 of the top 10 at A- (haven't heard Funeral Dress II), but also 10 more of the next 15 -- a higher correlation than I'm likely to find anywhere else.
I'll post Recycled Goods this week, and probably Rhapsody Streamnotes. We should also have something special from Michael Tatum. I'll start back up on the jazz after that. Meanwhile, I have a lot of stuff to do around the house. I'm also way, way behind on mail, and need to catch up with that. Also have to decide whether to renew my Notes on Everyday Life domain name, or chuck it. The site broke when the old server died, and has been dormant for over a year now, but my intent has always been to move the political posts there, do the music stuff over on Terminal Zone, and save this site for personal shit (like my mother's legendary coconut cake recipe). I don't recall her complaining about not being able to get things done until she was about my age. Now I know how she felt.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last several weeks:
Monday, January 23. 2012
After several years when my metacritic file did a pretty good job of predicting the outcome of the Village Voice's PazzNJop Critics Poll, this year's album results surprised me on several counts. For starters, only 5 of the top-10 metacritic albums finished in PnJ's top-10, where previous years landed 8-9. The divergences continue further down, but what's more interesting is how they diverge.
Here are the PnJ top-40 finishers that matched or exceeded their metacritic (MC) file positions (PnJ rank on left, MC on right, with +diff):
And here are the top-40 MC finishers that lost position in PnJ (MC rank on left, PnJ and -diff in brackets on right):
It's not hard to figure out differences between these two lists: the gainers featured more female artists (10 to 3), and more blacks (9 to TV on the Radio). The two geezers (Waits and Simon) were on the gainer list. The Voice poll has always favored those groups, but rarely by this much. Another structural difference is release date: among records released on or after October 25, six gained ground, one lost (Atlas Sound). Lots of year-end lists are submitted early, so later polls inevitably pick up later albums. (If you go back to October 1, the losers pick up M83 and Feist, so 6-3; forward to Nov. 1 drops Waits, so 5-1.)
The other difference that jumps out at me is that the gainers look much better than the losers. Checking against my grade-list, I see a 7-2 advantage in A- or better records, versus 4-9 with B or worse. The other thing I looked at was the UK split, which I had predicted would hurt PJ Harvey -- it did knock her out of first, but she wound up with a very strong second-place finish. After checking several bad guesses, I wound up with 4 UK acts on the gainers (PJ Harvey, Adele, Bill Callahan, and Kate Bush) vs. 6 on the losers (James Blake, Radiohead, Yuck, Horrors, Wild Beasts, and SBTRKT) -- not much of a trend, but the drops on the latter were pretty large. MC tends to overcount UK artists due to the disproportionate number of music mags published there, so it's something I mentally correct for.
More on this below the fold.
Continue reading "Pazz N Jop vs. Metacritic File"
Sunday, January 22. 2012
No Weekend Roundup this week: I've been preoccupied with crunching Pazz & Jop numbers, and more on that in a day or two. Meanwhile, I'm not sure there's been much to focus on. The week, after all, was dominated by the White Folks Primary in South Carolina, and I'm sick and tired of listening to those malcontents griping about how we need to go back to "the principles this country was founded on" -- how can the heirs of John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney, John Calhoun, and Strom Thurmond say such a thing without choking? Romney's collapse was especially amusing, although exit polls show he did manage to win his class (indeed, all those with income over $200,000), and as far as the Republican Party is concerned, that's all that really matters. Still, from all the TV coverage you'd think South Carolina was even whiter than North Dakota, and prosperous too -- whereas in fact it's so poor companies like Boeing move there to escape the high wages they have to pay in Kansas.
Speaking of Kansas, I have open a bunch of open tabs concerning Gov. Sam Brownback's state income tax plan:
The last piece sums up the Brownback-Laffer scheme thus (my emphasis added):
There are more articles with more details, including numerous case examples of how the proposed changes would hit the bottom lines of various taxpayers (plus Crowson's view, here on the right). But in looking for typical examples, the articles avoid the white elephant in the room: the tax-free carve out for business income. Although a lot of people who would catch a break there are small business owners who don't make much money, virtually everyone in the state who does make a lot of money -- starting with billionaires like Charles Koch and Phil Ruffin -- gets a free pass.
Of course, the argument is that we need those businesses to create jobs and keep the economy running. Still, how much thought went into this? Laffer, who was paid $75,000 for consulting, is possibly the biggest fraud in American history, having largely invented supply-side economics while sketching on a napkin. Brownback holds prayer vigils in Topeka to seek divine guidance for his policies -- or maybe he just hallucinates them then prays they work?
The idea of using tax breaks for incentives is venerable and easily overdone, but the key idea is that you're trying to encourage people to do something they wouldn't do without the incentive. We have tax breaks to get people to donate to charities, or to finance more expensive homes than they need -- two items that come to mind because Brownback is planning on ending them (and, by the way, the non-profits and realtors are none too happy about that). But do we really need special incentives to get businessmen to try to make even more money?
I could see coming up with a package of breaks (and even subsidies) to help people start new businesses -- there would be lots of ways to do this that would be capped by business size and profits so they wouldn't automatically flow up to benefit the richest. The net effect of the Brownback-Laffer plan is to accelerate the flow of wealth to the very same people who already have way more than they know what to do with, while sticking everyone else with the bill.
As the last two articles pointed out, not even the Republicans that dominate the state legislature could stomach all of this, so they came up with their own nefarious plan. It's bad enough, but nothing like what Brownback, Laffer, and God (or maybe Koch) came up with.
Saturday, January 21. 2012
Should probably take more pictures. Definitely should figure out how to manage them better. But I have a few here that represent some everyday work around the house. This first one is a 12x8 shed I had built in the backyard. I've been moving more tools out to the garage, and in doing so the garage was getting cluttered, especially with lawn equipment that I wanted to move out. A shed seemed like the right solution. I've long fancied building something like that, so I spent several weeks researching shed designs. Bought three books on the subject, plus I have a lot of general construction books. Then when push came to shove, I found a company that could build something very much like what I wanted, and do it a little cheaper and a whole lot faster. So they put up the shed, but I figured the least I could do was to build the ramp up to the door -- the door was about 10 inches above ground level, since the whole thing was on skids. I wound up spending about half as much to get the lumber delivered as they would have charged. And it took weeks to build -- admittedly, mostly waiting for breaks in the cold weather. It's built out of decking planks on top of a frame built out of pressure-treated 2x4, 2x2, and 1x4 lumber, itself sitting on top of paving stones. Underneath that I spread out some "weed block" plastic, put some fiberglass edges on both sides, and dumped 100 lbs. of gravel on it (not really enough). The front edge rests on a slice of vinyl garage door trim, so none of the wood rests on the ground. Still need to do a little more work on the edge. (Still plan on painting the shed, too. At least I did get a coat of sealer down on the ramp.)
Second photo is another backyard project, which would have been visible in the first had it been done then. Here you see the detached garage off to the right of the top picture, and a bit of the driveway. When it rains, water drains to a low spot in the driveway about 4-5 feet out from the garage, and pools up unless it can flow off to the side. The previous owners dug a trench leading off to the left, then turning back a few feet away from the garage until it hit a low spot. I've redug that trench four times in the last decade -- often during heavy rains, which at least is nice in that you get instant gratification when it starts draining. However, the trenches always fill up, so I figured a better solution would be to install a catch basin and dig a French drain to route and absorb the water. The basin is a foot-cube plastic box positioned to pick up the runoff. We then dug a trench about 18-20 inches deep, lined it with gravel, and ran about 25 feet of 4-inch perforated plastic pipe from the basin. In the picture, you can see the basin and some of the pipe surrounded by gravel. Afterwards, I covered the gravel with "weed-block" permeable plastic sheet, and filled the dirt back in. (I say "I" but most of the work in digging and filling the ditch was done by Tom James, a friend who does landscape work for a living.) Haven't had any rain since we got it done, but this should work.
Third picture is a new CD case in our bedroom. This was actually the second stage of a less visible project. For years I had stacked four small CD cases on top of the dresser, which the weight was destroying. To salvage the dresser, I took it apart, glued and clamped the fraying top piece, and reinforced the top with metal brackets. But it didn't seem like a good idea to move the cases back, so I built something that could be attached to the wall. The CDs you see are the ones from the old units, so capacity is up (although it can easily be filled from current stocks). Messed up and made the left unit a bit too high -- the floor slopes down from the right wall, but I wound up misjudging it. I thought I'd try painting this unit instead of leaving the wood tone, and I've used this black paint on a number of projects, but white might have been a better choice. The decor is still pretty much what came with the house. That'll be another project some day.
Finally, fourth picture is a small dinner I made last night. I've had a duck in the freezer for quite some time. Saw a recipe in Paula Wolfert's The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen and figured it was worth a try. I slow-roasted the duck for 3.5 hours the night before, and made the base for the olive sauce. Last night all I had to do was to pop the duck under the broiler to crisp up the skin, and add the olives to the sauce. When I looked for some sort of veggie accompaniment, a "roasted root vegetables" recipe in Nancy Harmon Jenkins' The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook seemed like just the ticket. The recipe itself it complicated by beets and winter squash, which I'd just as soon do without. So I wound up with sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, a rutabaga, a couple parsnips, an onion, some leeks, garlic, herbs and olive oil, roasted in a hot oven for about an hour. A little parsley on top, and that was it.
Wednesday, January 18. 2012
Some timely reading today:
Saved the latter for last because I wanted to quote from it:
Some of the companies that are lobbying against SOPA and PIPA may well have their own dreams of a rentier dystopia, and that's something to beware of. Unfortunately, we live in a political system dominated by conflicting special interests, almost completely oblivious to the idea of a public interest, especially one unable to line the pockets of politicians.
Update: Also see the post-blackout report at Wikipedia.
Tuesday, January 17. 2012
Update: The PazzNJop results came out after this was written but before I posted it. The Expert Witness results aren't out yet. I haven't digested them, but there are a lot of surprises, starting with the tanking of Bon Iver (9th place), Fleet Foxes (18th), Radiohead (33rd), and James Blake (34th). (Drops like these almost suggest the new editor rigged the poll with more better-than-average critics.) Paul Simon rose even more than expected (14th). Another higher-than-expected that strikes me is Lydia Loveless in 134th (321 in my file) -- 1 spot below Brad Paisley, 9 below Lucinda Williams. More of this sort of thing later.
Today's the day I declared 2011 over, at least as far as my year-end list is concerned. A copy as of today will be frozen for future reference. I'll continue to fiddle with the still active 2011 list up to Dec. 31, 2012, but new adds and belated grades for currently pending records will be flagged in a different color (as I've done for a number of years now). This has taken a few days longer than usual, in part because the working list had turned into such a mess. I finally decided that I can't trust myself to rank records below A-, so I've alphabetized those sections.
I was tempted to do that with the A- list part as well, but
figured I should at least be able to give the upper regions a decent go.
But it, too, was a mess, so I've wound up doing a lot of resorting. One
result is that the ballots I turned in to
Pazz & Jop, the
Jazz Critics Poll, and the
On both lists, ** indicates something only heard on Rhapsody or some other download source. I've generally played these less than records I have hard copies of. Not so noted are records I later obtained real copies of.
The top jazz list:
That's the second (or third) time in the last week or two I've published the jazz list -- see my year-end piece at Rhapsody, Tom Hull: The Thrill of Discovery, and the completist Extended Year-End Jazz List. While the order has changed, I haven't added anything lately -- a clear admission that I've taken a break from jazz lately. Usually it's only a matter of a week or two until I find something I missed. In fact, here are the post-freeze 2010 (Jan. 24, 2011) finds:
Although had I been able to back up a couple weeks I would have added Benjamin Herman: Hypochristmastreefuzz (Dox) to the top of that list.
The top non-jazz list:
Post-freeze 2010 release finds:
Didn't expect to have so much more non-jazz than jazz, even before the compilations tilted 10-to-1. Could know a couple of marginals off the bottom of the list, but doesn't seem worth the paperwork. Christgau's Dean's list, with both McGarrigles and virtually no jazz (a Nils Petter Molvaer album he likes more than I do) runs much longer (107, albeit with 12 pre-2011 releases, where I moved my onto the late-2010 list), so I figure I'm being picky enough.
Genre breakdown, as best I can reckon: rock singer-songwriters: 6 (including McGarrigles, so 2 old); rock groups: 11; electro-pop: 7, plus 4 further into electronica; world: 15 (6 old); country and americana: 15 (including a few who could be traded to the rock categories, like Cooder and Dirt Drifters); hip-hop: 12 rap, plus 7 with singers (including Cropper); other: Note of Hope (folk songwriter/rock singers).
Below the fold, I'll present two tables, each grading records from a friendly long (100+ record) year-end list (Jason Gross and Robert Christgau).
Continue reading "End-of-2001 List"
Monday, January 16. 2012
A couple days ago I decided to stop adding new lists to my metacritic files of new records and reissues/vault music. That left the former with 4622 records, and the latter with 826. I had put together similar files for several years running, but this year's file was, if not the largest ever, the most dilligent and systematic. Throughout the year I tracked Metacritic and most of the online semipopular music publications that regularly reviewed records and provided grades that I could (like Metacritic) convert into a numbers. Depending on the publication, I decided that a grade of 70-80 would be counted as a review of interest, and I dutifully jotted them down for everything except classical music. I looked at Metacritic weekly, and I looked at nearly everything else every month or two. I used this research to find records of personal interest, and jotted my own grades down when I managed to listen to something -- a subtle but insignificant bias in the final totals.
Then when people started posting year-end lists -- something virtually everyone involved in reviewing records winds up doing sooner or later -- I collected those two, broadening the sweep: where I tracked 93 sources during the year, I wound up with 414 year-end list sources (some of those producing multiple lists, so figure at least 500). The number of publications tracked was significantly up this year, but the number of year-end lists was down -- in 2010 I counted literally everything I could find, no matter how ill-informed or sloppy the compilers. This year I was pickier, looking for established publications and knowledgeable critics -- especially bloggers confident enough to produce long lists. If a list came to 100 records, I counted them all, giving them equal weight. This is arguably the wrong approach if you want to find the best-liked record of the year, but it does help find a wider range of records -- and that was my main interest. (There are some cases where I didn't count records that hadn't previously made my list -- this especially happened in looking at foreign lists, which were occasionally thick with unheard of local releases.)
I picked up lists from all around the world -- the listserv at Acclaimed Music Forum was a rich resource, especially as it picked up lists from print publications that were otherwise hard to find. I avoided local-specific lists: best Canadian releases, best local Austin bands, etc. I added in most genre-specific lists: again, eschewing classical music, also so-called Christian music. I wound up counting a lot of metal lists although I didn't go out of my way to find them. I did look for electronica, hip-hop, jazz, and country, and much less successfully for world. For jazz, I wound up counting all of the year-end lists at JJA, plus most of the ballots to our recent Jazz Critics Poll. Still, indie rock dominates by a large margin: that's just where the press is saturated. There's also a UK bias, thanks to the fact that about half of the English-language music publications are based there.
What follows is a cleaned up version of the results for the top 100 records. The second column has the total count. Following the record info are three numbers: the number of top-3 list finishes, the number of top-10 list finishes, and the number of tracked pubs that rated the record high and/or included it in a year-end list. If you click on the arrow, you'll get an abbreviated list of the top-10 publications (top-3 italicized; the abbreviations and all of the sources are here), and you can toggle the expansion away. Finally, in brackets, you'll find my grade for the record, which mostly shows that I don't think there is very much correlation between where a record places and how good it is.
There are three or four jazz records in the top 100 -- Akinmusire, Rollins, Zenon, you decide about Stetson. Their tracked counts are very low, basically because it was hard to find jazz magazines to track, but they cracked the list because I had a lot of individual jazz critic lists. I could 13 hip-hop or r&b records on this list -- 4 of which were download only (Weeknd, Frank Ocean, ASAP Rocky, Big KRIT). Further down the list: Clams Casino, Danny Brown, Charles Bradley, Das Racist, Childish Gambino (all close at 41-48).
Electronica placed 11 records, although the electro-pop borderlands are hard for me to gauge, so maybe less (M83, Little Dragon). Off the list includes Rustie, Balam Acab, Justice, Kuedo, and Andy Stott, but the dropoff is sharper here.
Country didn't fare so well. The only thing country-ish that cracked the top 100 was Gillian Welch, leaving off the list: Pistol Annies, Hayes Carll, Lucinda Williams, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, and that hideous Glen Campbell album (at 25). The only world album to hit the list was Tinariwen, and just barely. Runner up was Bombino (way down with 16). I also bothered to do a breakout for metal, which strikes me as at least as cliquish as any other genre, and probably more so. Only top-100 was Mastodon, with Liturgy (38) and Wolves in the Thron Room (35) well back. Only one I bothered to listen to was Mastodon -- nothing there I ever want to hear again.
The reissues list is way spottier than the new releases list, and got swamped by jazz votes near the end, pushing Julius Hemphill and Bill Dixon into a thicket of expanded rock reissues. Most of the press doesn't cover reissues at all, and those who do don't do a very good job of it. Further down, there is a lot of fodder for Recycled Goods if only I were able to get the records and find the time, but neither appear to be in the cards.
In theory, the metacritic file should do a fairly good job of predicting the results of the Pazz & Jop critics poll, but I have my doubts this year (but we will find out real soon now). One persistent problem is that I don't score more for placing higher on a list, whereas P&J does. The result is that a broad-based record will lead one that is intensely favored by slightly fewer voters. In the recent past, my file listed Arcade Fire over Kanye West, and Phoenix over Animal Collective -- two wrong conclusions, although both were easy to predict by looking at the ranks. Same thing would seem to be happening this year: PJ Harvey should easily beat out Bon Iver, and indeed on Metacritic's own list summary does so handily (Bon Iver slips to third, behind Adele, which I have stuck in 11th; Adele wasn't reviewed all that well initially, but after selling 5 or 6 million copies critics seem to be warming to it). The problem here is that PJ Harvey has a huge advantage with UK critics, whereas Bon Iver does slightly better in the US, and P&J is an American poll. James Blake and Radiohead also have slight UK biases -- much less so than Harvey -- so Bon Iver's only practical challengers are rather far back in the pack: Fleet Foxes, Tune-Yards, Tom Waits, Kanye West/Jay-Z, St. Vincent, Wilco, and I suppose you could just as well throw in Adele, Shabazz Palaces, or the Weeknd (the big story of the year was the free downloads, and the big winner there is House of Balloons).
Hanging around Christgau's Expert Witness discussion list, I initially expected Tune-Yards to be the record to beat. It's no doubt a contender -- finished 4th at Metacritic -- and it has both broad and intensive support, but not nearly as much of the latter as I had expected. Watch the Throne is a record that got mild reviews -- probably some rebound from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy -- but has gained ground in year-end lists. In most years, two or three crossover rap albums get more support in P&J than in the metacritic file, so there's a good chance that it, Shabazz Palaces, Drake, and Roots will get something of a bump, but I've scoured the hip-hop lists pretty well so they could just as well have it already.
The only other big movement I'm sure we'll see wtih P&J is Paul Simon -- tied for 58 on my list, certainly top-40 and possibly top-20 at P&J. Other than that it's hard to say. Two records that finished strong that I can't credit are M83 and Real Estate: I don't see anything attractive about either, and find it hard to imagine what it might be. (Beirut is another one, but looks to be on its way down.) The Horrors is a big UK thing, so expect them to drop (and take Wild Beasts with them, if not Florence or Laura Marling). I expect Frank Ocean will do better -- he's Weeknd's main competition, and I know a lot of people who prefer him. Two more possible gainers: SBTRKT and Oneohtrix Point Never. I'll also admit that the main reason I voted for Sonny Rollins was to see if we can push a jazz record into the top-40. Looks like a long shot, but not out of the question.
More after P&J, as I try to close out the year.
Sunday, January 15. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week (or two):
Saturday, January 14. 2012
I was dilligent enough during the year, especially with maintaining my metacritic file, that an in-depth survey of the obligatory year-end lists offered few surprises. For instance, I knew that Europe (especially Britain) would turn into a landslide for PJ Harvey's Let England Shake, while US critics would prefer Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Tune-Yards, and St. Vincent. (James Blake, whose charm escapes me, did better than I expected, as did the Jay-Z/Kanye West mergerthat reviewers were initially reticent about.) I'll write more about the lists later. For now I want to get this mop-up collection out -- not the best of the year, but the rest I got to as 2011 started to fade into history.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on December 10. Past reviews and more information are available here.
Ryan Adams: Ashes & Fire (2011, Capitol): Prolific singer-songwriter, seemed like a real Americana comer at first, but I wound up relegating the first three records I heard from him to B-dom, and when I've bothered since he's gotten worse. But this one doesn't bother me. It even impresses me with his craft, not that I wind up caring much. B+(*)
ASAP Rocky: LiveLoveASAP (2011, RCA/Polo Grounds Music): The typography litters both artist name and title with dollar signs, a tack I can do without. He's young, still insistent that "my ignorance is still a bliss," into his drugs and "counting Benjamins" while barely keeping up with his beats -- Clams Casino puts on a better show here than on their Instrumentals, and his wispy, raspy voice doesn't fight the flow. B+(***) [dl]
Atlas Sound: Parallax (2011, 4AD): Bradford Cox, also affiliated with Deerhunter, working on his own. Produces agreeable if lightweight pop melodies, occasionally marred by brain farts like "Angel Is Broken." (More songs like "Lightworks" would help.) B
Awol One & Factor: The Landmark (2011, Fake Four): Anthony Martin, has more than a dozen records since 2000, no bio at AMG, no Wikipedia page. No clue who Factor is, but Discogs shows they've worked together before. Starts dense and murky, but opens up by the end, at one point sounding uncannily like Buck 65. That's a good thing. B+(**)
Maya Azucena: Cry Love (2011, Half Note): R&B diva from Brooklyn, third album. Has a rep for political and human rights activism, but that boils down to Barack Obama, Save Darfur, and a US State Department tour. Record so-so until a hideous duet at the end. B-
Mary J. Blige: My Life II . . . The Journey Continues (Act 1) (2011, Geffen): Important enough I figure I should follow her, but not interesting enough I'm actually any good at it: after three or four cuts this turned into her average album, better than the 1994 breakthrough this sequels, but not enough to matter. Main reason it took so long is that she is terrific at framing her male rapper guests. B+(*)
BNJMN: Black Square (2011, Rush Hour): Ben Thomas, from Bournemouth (UK), second album, rather opulent as techno goes, which for me makes it comfort music. B+(**)
Bottle Rockets: Not So Loud: An Acoustic Evening With Bottle Rockets (2007 , Bloodshot): Americana band, cut their first album in 1993 and ninth in 2009, tries for a loose, homespun live best-of, subbing banjo and acoustic guitar for their usual electrics -- with chatter and applause for that loose, homespun feel. Redundant, but I'm far enough behind I can't tell you how much. Not so quiet either, at least by the time they finished mixing it. B+(**)
Charles Bradley: No Time for Dreaming (2011, Daptone): Born 1948 in Gainesville, FL; has a retro-soul shout that has gets compared to self-evident models like James Brown and Otis Redding -- Percy Sledge with a real bad cold and way too many smokes is closer to the mark. No idea what he did before cutting a single in 2002 -- aside from the autobiographical-sounding song that has him chilling out in Poughkeepsie -- but he's advanced to a debut album, and makes something out of it. B+(**)
The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble: Mr. Machine (2011, !K7): German electronica group -- Daniel Brandt, Jan Brauer, Paul Friedrich Frick -- released first album under their three names but the Ensemble reflects extra musicians, including sax, trombone, tuba, violin, cello, harp, piano, bass, percussion. Of course, much of the latter can be faked, but the definition here is a plus -- e.g., the piano lead on "Bop." B+(**)
British Sea Power: Valhalla Dancehall (2011, Rough Trade): Brit-pop group, fifth album, the first one acknowledging the decline thereof. The fast anthems suggest renewed vigor, the softer ones are at least neatly tucked in with the guitars shielding the synths. B+(*)
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound: Want More (2011, Bloodshot): Black singer from Chicago who straddles retro soul and basic rock and can reach for the falsetto but doesn't stick to it, with three white guys -- I've seen them described as like Otis Redding backed by the Stooges, but you'd have to be pretty gullible to buy either end (especially the latter). B
Danny Brown: XXX (2011, Fool's Gold): Detroit rapper, has a handful of mixtapes, this one got noticed. Doesn't really live up to the porn promise, but porn loses its interest once you've done your business, and this guy refuses to cut anything short or make it too simple. The songs about licking pussy don't romanticize or glorify but don't shirk either. Does get a quantum dumber on the one about smoking blunt after blunt. Good place to start is "Pac Blood." B+(***) [dl]
Kate Bush: 50 Words for Snow (2011, Anti-): Seven songs about snow, that few because they trudge along as such a lame pace that she's already stretched out 65:06 -- not that it doesn't feel like much more. Piano is her instrument, and it provides what scarce movement and drama resound. Not necessarily a bad idea, as a couple pieces rise to the occasion, but too few, too late. B
Canibus: C of Tranquility (2010, Interdependent Media): Takes it back "to the golden age of rap" when rap was first and foremost a matter of boasting, which he gets away with because his old-style beats are razor sharp and his words, even when short of being "lyrical," do their work. Hadn't noticed him since his 1998 debut, which means I'm more than a dozen discs behind. B+(***)
Cerebral Ballzy: Cerebral Ballzy (2011, Williams Street, EP): Punk band from Brooklyn, debut, 12 songs, enough for an LP if only they could stretch them out somewhat past 19:29. As it is, you get things like "office rocker/off his rocker" repeated for 0:59, which is far short of ad nauseum, or "don't tell me what to do" (didn't catch any more lyrics) at 1:00. Likable enough, but I'd be more impressed if there was something wittier than "Drug Myself Dumb" or "SK8 All Day." B+(*)
The Chain Gang of 1974: Wayward Fire (2011, Modern Art): DJ Kamtin Mohager, probably not his only iron in the fire, but an attractive dance pop turn with a sly twist in the vocals, except when he offers a "Taste of Heaven" with all those delusions of pomp and grandeur. B
Chase and Status: No More Idols (2011, Universal): UK dubstep duo, Saul Milton and Will Kennard to their mothers, have at least three albums out. Songs rather than pieces, the various singers playing key roles but not keeping any consistent vibe going. "No Problem" runs wicked-clever, but they'll settle for anthemic divas, or damn near anything else. B+(*)
The Civil Wars: Barton Hollow (2011, Sensibility): A folk-rock duo, Joy Williams and John Paul White, co-writing all their songs, second album. Not a profile that gets well reviewed in the indie-crazy rock press, they got a year-end boost from NPR and climbed to a respectable showing. Best piece is when White powers ahead. Otherwise, Williams is overly sweet, and their harmonies can get treacly. B
Common: The Dreamer/The Believer (2011, Warner Brothers): Two concepts for moving the world, which is the level this Chicago rapper likes to work on. Two plays and I'm still not adequately tuned in to enough of this but it's smart and snappy, for sure. B+(***)
Cunninlynguists: Oneirology (2011, RBC): Hip-hop group, from Kentucky and Atlanta, together since 2001 when they dropped Will Rap for Food. Subtler, both lyrically and beatwise, than I expected -- emphasis is on cunning, with enough political grounding to not get fooled again. Note that their one gangsta nod is built around a Marianne Faithfull sample. A-
Cut Off Your Hands: Hollow (2011, Frenchkiss): From New Zealand, third album since 2006. Tight and tuneful, catchy even. Maybe the lyrics are down and out (song titles: "Nausea," "Hollowed Out," "Oh Hell," "Fooling No One," "Down & Out," "Buried"), but the music cuts through all that. B+(***)
Deaf Center: Owl Splinters (2011, Type): Norwegian ambient project, Erik K. Skodvin and Otto A. Totland. All electronic, sheetlike drones, not much shape but they fill the space, with enough presence to get you to pay attention. B+(**)
Del the Funky Homosapien: Golden Era (2011, The Council): Available as a 3-CD budget box ($14.98) list, although I only played the first (or is it the last?) on Rhapsody -- the difference appears to be two previously free mixtapes. Got into the quirky underground flow. Didn't find anything especially notable there but was satisfied by the vibe -- seems to be his thing. B+(***)
Dirty Beaches: Badlands (2011, Zoo Music, EP): Alias for Alex Zhang Hungtai, b. in Taiwan but raised in Canada. Combines a voice patterned on a mechanically stiff Elvis impersonator with drum machines and guitar distortion -- a concept which amuses for more than half (but not all) of its 8-song, 27:01 length. B+(*)
Dum Dum Girls: He Gets Me High (2011, Sub Pop, EP): Four song shorty (13:44), came out midway between their first two albums. Title cut is a slight improvement over the lo-fi drang and strum of the albums, but there's no reason to think they/she can sustain it. B
Elzhi: Elmatic (2011, Jae B Group): Jason Powers, from Detroit, refers back to the Nas debut Illmatic, a bit of history I missed but I don't feel like I'm missing much here. Runs long, the rhythm tracks, with turntable twists and occasional oases of piano, offering basic support for words that roll on and on and on without ever losing their fascination. A-
Emika: Emika (2011, Ninja Tune): Czech-born, UK-bred, Berlin-based, has a degree in Music Technology, so she's probably much more than the voice here -- a voice buried low and emotionless, not least when she's daring someone to hit her, the soft beats and echo a chamber for her cool. Closes with a bit of solo piano which, by contrast, almost feels like "Lush Life." B+(**)
Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire: Lost in Translation (2011, Mishka): Anthony Allison, from Brooklyn, has at least one previous mixtape which I've heard is more Wu Tang. This one crosses over into Das Racist territory, all the way down to that combination Taco Bell/Pizza Hut, but most of the way he's got his own assured style and some range. Still, this runs awful long: if I could edit it down I'd bump it up a notch. Still, I'm not sure whether I'd wind up cutting the annoying rant that ends, "This is a freestyle/what the fuck you want for free?" Or the one about driving drunk. I'd sure keep the one about buying fried chicken, and the most scabrous language I've heard in these part in a long time. B+(***) [bc]
James Ferraro: Far Side Virtual (2011, Hippos in Tanks): AMG credits Ferraro with six albums; Discogs shows a couple dozen releases, all 2010-11. Born in New York, based in Los Angeles, also an actor. The Wire picked this as the album of the year, and it does stand out in lots of ways. Feels like a laptop assemblage of real instruments -- lots of piano, little swish or swoon, a bit of spoken word, rhythms remind me more of Bach than techno, and my discomfort is probably related to the ease with which he exploits classical music constructs. I could wind up hating it, but there's a place in the world for clever, and he's found it. B+(**)
Foo Fighters: Wasting Light (2011, RCA): Didn't see the point of checking this out but it kind of stands out in the color-coded metacritic file, so it's time to bury it. Plenty hard, probably snappier than anything they've done since The Colour and the Shape, which I treated with respect but never developed any fondness for -- could say the same for their mothership, but Kurt Cobain's voice took a bit of the edge off, and I couldn't understand anything he sung anyway. B
The Front Bottoms (2011, Bar/None): New Jersey group, first album after an EP; just Brian Sella singing and on guitar and Matthew Uychich on drums after the latter's brother quit the group to become a gynecologist. Sella's the one that matters anyway: vocally he splits the distance between David Byrne and Jonathan Richman, but comes closest to Craig Finn, not least because he's willing to make us uncomfortable. B+(***)
Girls Guns and Glory: Sweet Nothings (2011, Lonesome Day): Rocking countryish band led by Ward Hayden, a good old boy from Massachusetts, on their fourth album. He's not much of a singer, but is better on the slow one ("Universe Began") than the fast ones, where he gets buried in the guitars. B+(*)
Gold Panda: DJ-Kicks (2011, !K7): Looks like only the second record in this series I've heard -- Kode9 was the other. The idea, I gather, is to take various things and turn them into a long, continuous remix. Works for a long while as I can't get too much of the drum machine thump. But I can get too much of the sheets-of-sound quasi-ambience at the end. B+(*)
Gold-Bears: Are You Falling in Love? (2011, Slumberland): Atlanta lo-fi debut, their guitar fuzz tuned all the way down to a white noise background, just enough to make their hooks barely discernible, with a singer just naggingly reminds me of some well-established model but just different enough to keep me from dredging up the name. Minor accomplishments, but real ones. Choice cut: "Besides Me," where they go soft, and "Yeah, Tonight" -- loud until the burnout. B+(***)
Danny Paul Grody: In Search of Light (2011, Students of Decay): Or Danny Grody, the name on his other album, or Daniel Paul Grodinski (already lost track of where I read that), a founder (along with Jefre Cantu-Ledesma) of experimental rock outfit Tarentel, which has a huge pile of obscure records and side projects since 1998. Guitar with synth overtones, or vice versa, stately, peaceful, pleasant -- sort of what new age promised but rarely delivered. B+(*)
Grouper: A/A: Dream Loss (2011, Yellowcentric): Liz Harris, or Portland, OR, has a stack of records since 2005. This is paird with A/A: Alien Observer on two slabs of vinyl, sometimes treated as separate releases, sometimes as one. Ambient, soft slabs of plastic synth and voices, moving almost imperceptibly like clouds. Dark toned, can be haunting. B+(*)
Grouper: A/A: Alien Observer (2011, Yellowcentric): Second disc if you're buying the set. Much like Dream Loss, but even softer, less voice, even more ambient -- those things are mostly plusses, even though I can't swear I remained conscious the whole time. B+(*)
G-Side: The One . . . Cohesive (2011, Slow Motion Soundz): Hip-hop duo from Huntsville, AL; dropped two albums in 2011, but I didn't find this one until after reviewing Island -- their second, a solid A-. Like most mixtapes this is a bit short on polish and a bit long on everything else, but once they hit their stride they're a formidable group. B+(***) [bc]
Anthony Hamilton: Back to Love (2011, RCA): Soul man, cut an album in 1996 and now five more since 2003. Most of this moves like fine clockwork, only once getting heavy-handed and over the top -- lyric goes something like "you might hate the song, but you love the pain." I don't quite hate the song, but don't enjoy the pain either. B+(***)
Lalah Hathaway: Where It All Begins (2011, Stax): Daughter of Donnie Hathaway, a minor soul man during his short life (1945-79). Cut an eponymous album in 1990, and now four more in a career that is longer now but hardly more distinguished -- Christgau, who makes a point to follow black pop, has yet to praise, pan, or even acknowledge any album by either. She has a neutral voice, with technique to tap into the church vibe, but not enough to make you believe, even when focusing on the small of her back. B-
Joe Henry: Reverie (2011, Anti-): Singer-songwriter, b. 1960 in North Carolina, grew up in Michigan, has quietly put a career together with a dozen albums since 1986 plus a significant sideline producing. Maybe the latter helps explain why this goes down so easy -- too easy, in fact, since his middle American virtues need the contrast of some challenge. B+(*)
Honeyhoney: Billy Jack (2011, Lost Highway): Suzanne Santo and Benjamin Jaffe. Second album. Went all caps (but still no space) this time, after all lc last time -- never trust the typography. Countryish, although the songs suggest Cleveland more than Nashville, and those songs hit more than they miss. B+(*)
Hot Chelle Rae: Whatever (2011, RCA): AMG's critic on this: "Hot Chelle Rae will never be mistaken for serious artists." He [Tim Sendra] then goes on to liken them to Turtle Wax and Velveeta and declares the songs "about as deep as a kiddie pool." I looked them up because I noticed them on a year-end list headed by Britney Spears -- close to my ideal of a serious artist these days. I didn't pay close attention to the boy band craze a decade ago so some of what they're doing may be unnew, but they're older and more jaded, insisting that they don't care without bothering to forget why they should -- enough, they figure, to recognize that it don't work. And the songs have so much uplift they can't really be that down, for long anyway -- four, maybe six, could be pop hits ("Tonight Tonight" already qualifies, albeit barely). Renews my faith in mass culture. A-
Eileen Jewell: Queen of the Minor Key (2011, Signature Sounds): Country-ish singer-songwriter, sixth album, did a tribute to Loretta Lynn last time out but wrote everything here -- a couple cuts with an old-time rock and roll feel, the closing "Kalimotxo" with precise economy. B+(**)
Sean Jones: No Need for Words (2011, Mack Avenue): Flashy mainstream trumpet player, did a stretch with the Lincoln Center crowd, sixth album since 2004. Spars with saxophonist Brian Hogan. Orrin Evans does a fine job on piano when he's clear, but there's also organ and guitar, post-hard bop if not for the masses for those who never want to think about whether this is jazz, or why. B+(*)
Mamani Keita: Gagner L'Argent Français (2011, No Format): Singer from Mali via Paris, first came to my attention in a synthy Eurobeat context she somehow made to feel real. Title song repeats the trick (and then some), but as she returns to singing in Bambara the record settles into a groove that keeps things simple and clean -- virtues of her homeland's music, even more so with the light ease of her voice. B+(***)
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins: Diamond Mine (2011, Double Six): Hopkins has a background in ambient electronics lapping into soundtracks -- Brian Eno has been a collaborator as well as an model. Scottish singer-songwriter (with a folkie bent) Kenny Anderson recruited Hopkins to fill in the musical backdrops to his sad, sorry songs, which in the end give them much-needed dignity. B+(*)
Kid Koala: Space Cadet [Original Still Picture Score] (2011, Ninja Tune): Canadian turntablist, turned some heads with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in 2000 but lost track of him after a few years. Mostly ambient keyb sounds, not much need for complexity when you're diddling still pictures (cf. Ken Burns). B
La Dispute: Wildlife (2011, No Sleep): Punk/hardcore group from Grand Rapids, MI, with two previous records. Not part of the minimalist movement: 14 songs run 57:41, with most in the 3-4 minute range. The band is skilled enough to pump up the drama, and singer Jordan Dreyer sounds strained and stretched but in their 6:54 magnum opus "King Park" he's utterly in control. Could turn out to be a great record if you're into this sort of thing, or maybe not. B+(***)
La Vida Boheme: Nuestra (2011, Nacional): Venezuelan group, first album. I've seen it described as "retro-disco-punk" by which I think they mean that the beats are regular, sharp, fast, and very loud. Good for a kick, but can get to wear thin. B
Sonia Leigh: 1978 December (2011, Southern Ground): Countryish singer-songwriter from Atlanta, third album over the last decade-plus. Named the record for her birth date: the final song, stakes her place in the world, and slows down to make damn sure you follow. B+(**)
Limousines: Get Sharp (2011, Dangerbird): San Francisco duo, Giovanni Giusti and Eric Victorino, make a sort of shamelessly recycled electro-pop. Debut after some short forms. Second record I've heard this year to argue that "drum machines ain't got no soul" -- the first is the Teddybears, a group so similar this could be homage or rip-off, and they're certainly beyond neither. Same song asks whether rock and roll is dead? Answers: "Yeah, it's like a zombie, it'll dig itself up again." A-
Los Campesinos!: Hello Sadness (2011, Arts & Crafts): Welsh group, seven-strong back in 2006, always seemed like overkill for twee, or for that matter for arena rock, not that that's where they were headed. The fierce approach to catchy tunes seems like what made them appealing to other people, but this starts to bog down past midway into heavy sludge and murk toward the end. B+(*)
Los Chicharrons: Roots of Life (2011, Tummy Touch): Two DJs, Morten Varano from Denmark and Ramon Santana from Dominican Republic, picked up samples -- including most of the scorched vocals -- while touring Mali then mixed them in Paris. Mostly upbeat, built on guitar swells, catchy enough, perhaps a bit pat. B+(***)
Main Attrakionz: 808s and Dark Grapes II (2011, Mishka): Oakland duo or group or something, not sure how much they have out -- at least there's one more called Blackberry Kush (with the tedious but ubiquitous dollar sign). Synths and beats, easy flow with a lot of play, nothing especially deep -- at least nothing deeper than a couple of guys working hard to escape their late teens. B+(**) [bc]
Laura Marling: A Creature I Don't Know (2011, Virgin): English singer-songwriter, got started in her teens making do with a low-tech folkie approach, not much more than a Joni Mitchell voice over a Richard Thompson guitar. Not quite either, of course. B+(*)
Master Musicians of Bukkake: Totem Three (2009 , Important): Seattle group, dates back to 2003, bukkake may sound exotic but it's a pretty pedantic porn genre, perhaps a way of suggesting they have a sense of humor that isn't otherwise evident. Instrumental: doesn't rock or swing or pine for nirvana -- sounds more like church music than anything else, but not always. [Just as I prematurely finish the above with one song left, they bump up the volume and find a beat, a middling exception to the rule.] B
Mazes: A Thousand Heys (2011, Fat Cat): Debut from UK group with a drummer from New Zealand. Has that basic alt sound, the layering of vocals and the guitar harmonics make for pop hooks, albeit subtle ones. B+(*)
Miracles of Modern Science: Dog Year (2011, self-released): Guitarless rock band from Princeton: mandolin, violin, cello, bass, and drums. Gives them a lot of swoosh -- reminds me of an old 1970s band called String Driven Thing -- although sometimes the vocals are so thick you can't tell. B
Tracy Nelson: Victim of the Blues (2011, Delta Groove): Singer for Mother Earth way back in San Francisco's hippie days, since 1990 has reinvented herself as a blues singer. She pulls these songs straight from the book, cranks them up and tries to muscle them around, to so-so effect. B
Oddisee: Rock Creek Park (2011, Mello Music Group): DC beat producer, Amir Mohamed, father from Sudan. Leads off with a rap but doesn't come alive until an instrumental piece busts out. But pretty soon that turns into a rut too, so the return of the MCs is welcome. B [bc]
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo: Cotonou Club (2009 , Strut): Long-running dance band from Benin, sometimes sans hyphen, sometimes avec "de Cotonou" or even "de Cotonou-Dahomey" (Benin's colonial name), sometimes "Tout Puissant" or just "T.P.," with their first records cut in the early 1970s (a recent reissue of The 1st Album claims 1973, but I've also seen a 1972-75 compilation claiming to be Volume 4) -- a research project, if they're worth the trouble. Hard to tell, but they do go through the motions and sometimes the guitar shines. B+(**)
Peaking Lights: 936 (2011, Not Not Fun): Husband and wife group, originally from Wisconsin, second album; lo-fi noise pop with pronounced dub effects. Rather droll, nothing that grabs or stimulates you, but lined with comfy grooves chilled out. B+(**)
Peggy Sue: Acrobats (2011, Yep Roc): British band, from Brighton, went through various iterations of Peggy Sue and the X before shortening; fronted by two women, Rosa Slade and Katy Young, don't know which is which. Second album. No retro, a somewhat raw, dense MOR sound, occasionally revealing a song. B
People Like Us: Welcome Abroad (2011, Illegal Art): British DJ Vicki Bennett, has at least eight previous records since 1996, does paste-up and mash-down of shlocky pop tunes, mostly shit you never wanted to hear again, least of all framed this archly. You'd think she'd at least land on some inadvertent humor, but not that I noticed. (OK: "The Seven Hills of Rome"; her intros have some promise.) D+
Andy Petr: Rapper Turned Singer (2011, Mixpak, EP): Nineteen-year-old from Milwaukee, don't know that he has any history as a rapper, or for that matter much future as a singer, but he's got a 5-cut debut EP that's brimming with quirky beats and layerings and, yes, vocals, albeit mostly fluffing up the sonic mix. Tails off a bit after the second cut, so maybe brimming wasn't the right word. B+(**)
The Postelles: The Postelles (2011, +1): Indie rock band from New York, bright, upbeat, lots of guitar klang, hard to make out the words or figure out whether one should care. Reminded me of the late British Invasion, but critics with less historical perspective think they sound like the Strokes. B+(*)
Prince Polo: Brooklyn Bodega (2011, DubShot): Brooklyn-based dub producer, first album, usual echoes and such; taps an Ecuadoran (L.O.ese) for some of the vocals, and mixes a bit of cumbia in for good measure. B+(*)
The Psychic Paramount: II (2011, No Quarter): Expermental/instrumental rock group led by guitarist Drew St. Ivany and bassist Ben Armstrong, got together after their previous group, Laddio Bolocko, split in 2002, but haven't released much -- this seems to be officially their second album, but I can find lists that put it fifth. Rhapsody considers this an EP, but it runs over 40 minutes, and that's quite enough. So loud I cut the volume, then found myself revelling in the roiling groove and enjoying details in their klang. They do ease up a bit at the end, and that's fine too. B+(***)
Steve Reich: WTC 9/11 (2011, Nonesuch): Without having a program it's not clear who's doing what here. Also named on the front cover: Kronos Quartet. Not so named but presumably here somewhere (maybe just the bonus DVD) is So Percussion -- AMG, increasingly dyslexic, files this under the latter. My druthers are to file under performers rather than composer(s), but Reich is still alive and presumably has some role here. The music is clearer: the first three pieces are built from string tones with speech fragments tied to the 9/11 WTC attack: evocative, but not corny or morbid or any of the many things that could have gone wrong. The next three are mallet pieces -- fast, slow, fast -- in Reich's original minimalist style. B+(**)
Rose Hill Drive: Americana (2011, Slow and Shirley): Boulder, CO group; not quite the "heavy power trio rock" they're cracked out to be -- not that I've heard two previous records on metal label Megaforce -- but not countryish either. Their crunch has some instant appeal, but I don't see it lasting. B+(*)
Shackleton: Fabric 55 (2011, Fabric): English dubstep DJ Sam Shackleton, formerly of Skull Disco, makes his mark in the label's remix series. Tribal beats with interesting reverb effects, some tribal vocals too -- new urban jungle music. B+(***)
Shakira: Live From Paris (2011, Sony Latin Music): Released first as an audio download, later on CD and/or DVD. More Spanish than English, plus a few songs in French. Didn't really connect for me until she hit a song I knew ("Gypsy"), after which it was bang, bang, bang. Redundant, of course, the excitement of the crowd can be stipulated. Still, I wouldn't pass up a chance to leer at the DVD. B+(**)
Sleeping in the Aviary: You and Me, Ghost (2011, Science of Sound): Madison, WI group with four albums. AMG calls them quirky -- seems to be the magic word to get on the Ye Wei Blog year-end list -- and likens them to XTC and Talking Heads. Sounds to me like doo-wop, indubitably white of course, but their themes aren't far removed from the 1950s, nor are their harmonies. B+(*)
SMOD: SMOD (2011, Nacional): Rap group from Mali, three faces on the cover but the name is constructed from initials for Sam, Mouzy, Ousco, and Donsky -- Mouzy is the dropout. Sam, by the way, is the son of Mali's most famous blind couple, Amadou & Mariam. That connection most likely helped to lure Manu Chao into producing. The music has Chao's guitar feel, with less flash and power -- I guess one thing you learn in the desert is to pace yourself. B+(***)
Spank Rock: Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is a F---ing Liar (2011, Bad Blood): From Baltimore, rapper Naeem Juwan (dba MC Spank Rock) and a few others; dropped an album in 2006, then this one, replete with sketch complaining about how long it took. Beats are fast, hard, rockish -- so much so they threaten to run away with the album, giving it a superenergized prog feel with a comic twist: anything but boring, which makes the title out to be a self-referential lie. B+(***)
Stalley: Lincoln Way Nights: Intelligent Trunk Music (2011, Mishka): First record, can't find a bio or a rap sheet or anything. Runs everything medium speed, modest beats, and doesn't try to cram too many words in, just wants to raise the intelligence level a bit, but not enough to avoid a pimp song, or forgo a title like "Chimes of Freedumb." B+(**)
Boubacar Traoré: Mali Denhou (2010 , Lusafrica): Guitar-playing singer-songwriter from Mali, b. 1942; a comfortable beat, with twisted strings and harmonica to contrast with his dour, gentle voice. First time out he was a welcome find, but that goes back to the early 1990s. Seventh time, you realize he's just a seasoned pro. B+(**)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Unknown Mortal Orchestra (2011, Fat Possum): Ruben Nielson, from Portland, ex-Mint Chicks, offers a lo-fi take on a late-1960s psychedelia sound, with echoey vocals, chiming guitars, stilted drums, meandering and confusion. Short (9 songs, 30:03). B
Tom Waits: Bad as Me (2011, Anti-): Gravel voice, gutter view, doesn't rock as hard as Keith Richards promises but hews to an ornery, sometimes angry groove. Still, when all is done the memories dissolve into that "New Year's Eve" quote of "Auld Lang Syne," reminding you he delivers what he promises. A- [cd]
Hank Williams III: Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town (2011, Hank3, 2CD): Chafing to get out of his contract with Curb, not to mention lose the surname his father never could live up to (and one he was perhaps afraid he could), Hank slagged off plenty of shit on his last few albums, and piled up way too much for his comeback -- probably figuring the supply is endless. First disc is straightforward countryish, not that "Don't You Wanna" wouldn't get him bumped off the Opry. Second disc goes cajun for a while, feeling mechanical on his way to degenerating into a horror movie soundtrack. B+(**)
Amy Winehouse: Lioness: Hidden Treasures (2002-11 , Universal Republic): Pure profit taking, but may be just as well to get this shit out of the way as it was decaying faster than the body. Don't have cut-by-cut details of where it all came from, other than the Tony Bennett duet on "Body and Soul": it's tolerable as long as Bennett is singing, but Winehouse only seems to have a grip here on "Our Day Will Come," which young as the was she still seems too old for. "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" is an utter mess, and she gets mugged on "The Girl From Ipanema." C-
Wye Oak: Civilian (2011, Merge): Baltimore group (or duo, something like that), on their third album. They have a coherent backbeat (when they bother to use it), sweet harmonies, songs I didn't begin to crack but did begin to find annoying. B
Kembe X: Self Rule (2011, mixtape): Rapper from Chicago, reportedly age 17, associated with The Village crew, only producer I recognize is Apollo Brown. Too young to worry so much about not being able to quit reefer, but not too young to worry about everything else in the world. Underground beats and flow, loses volume at one point, but has shit to say and a knack for saying it. B+(***) [dl]
Yellow Ostrich: The Mistress (2010 , Barsuk): Alex Schaaf, from Wisconsin; AMG describes him as the frontman for The Chairs, a group with a scantier discography than this so-called side project. Best when he doesn't sound so lonesome and lays down some extra tracks, but the lo-fi aesthetic ensures that even catchy shit sounds crappy. B
Youth Lagoon: The Year of Hibernation (2011, Fat Possum): Boise, Idaho group, mostly Trevor Powers; synthpop keybs tuned toward the gloomy side, the vocals strained, which is to say not really pop at all. B+(*)
Wednesday, January 11. 2012
The results of Francis Davis's sixth annual Jazz Critics Poll are public now. The Village Voice sponsored the first five, but fumbled the ball this year. Thankfully, Rhapsody picked it up and scored. The main link is here. The component links:
Complete results and all 122 voter ballots are also available here.
Update: Coming later today.
Friday, January 6. 2012
Another short month. Worse, from my standpoint: all the Pan-African music I found here was previously found by Robert Christgau. True, I liked Vijana Jazz Band a bit more than he did, and Black Stars, Bachata Roja, and Pietra Montecorvino a bit less. But I didn't manage to check out the most obviously connected releases -- the two Syllart Afro Latin sets that he didn't bother with -- nor did I make much effort to track down anything more obscure. Of course, a big part of the problem is that I keep running into lack of access, and the lack of documentation for downloads chafes -- as do some of the booklets in the finished nonvirtual packages.
Everything else is jazz surplus, except for the Nat King Coles which I looked up while investigating David Murray's much superior tribute album. Even with the jazz, I didn't get much beyond what I had handy -- OK, the Michael Howell took some digging, but I didn't come up with Julius Hemphill's widely praised Dogon A.D., which is the sort of thing I should be covering.
Rhapsody does have a lot of Cole, and he would be a worthwhile series project. Some day, maybe.
Black Stars: Ghana's Hiplife Generation (, Out Here): I never tired of vintage highlife, but I'm not surprised that Ghana's youth has moved on, tapping rap in Twi or Ga or once colonial, now global English for hiplife or ragga for raglife. Don't have discographical details and don't recognize artists; all I've read is that this German label sampler covers the last decade plus, favoring the fast, bouncy ones which is always smart with foreign language music. Too scattered to cohere, but long enough to document an excursion you'd want a souvenir of. B+(***) [R]
Julius Hemphill/Peter Kowald: Live at Kassiopeia (1987 , NoBusiness, 2CD): New old music from two dead guys, likely to be missed if you have any idea who they are, and all the more poignant for being so intimate. Kowald is the German bassist of the 20th century, always intriguing, not least solo -- his solo Was Da Ist is a Penguin Guide crown album. Hemphill was an alto saxophonist, best known for his harmonic explorations with the World Saxophone Quartet and Five Chord Stud, which left him underappreciated as a solo player. First disc here is all solo: three 6-8 minute ones by Hemphill, a 32:20 by Kowald. They feel like studies, something slightly above practice, nice examples of each one's art. Second disc brings them together in three duos, where they start out distinct and gradually merge. I'm sentimental enough to be tempted to rate this higher, but Hemphill plays a lot of soprano sax here, I haven't compared this to such similar fare as his duo Live in New York with cellist Abdul K. Wadud, and I'm unlikely to return to the solos -- although Kowald's is probably a better intro than the daunting Wa Das Ist. B+(***)
Nigeria 70: Sweet Times: Afro-Funk, Highlife & Juju From 1970s Lagos (1970-84 , Strut): The key piece here is the LP-side-long "It's Time for Juju Music" at least in part because it's the one song I know, from the original LP by Admiral Dele Abiodun, but also because it makes a case for the music that is more than anthemic. Several other names were on my radar when I was looking for a broader context than King Sunny Adé and Fela Anikulapo Kuti, but most weren't. This doesn't show up the stars, but it flow with its silky guitars and resoundingly complex beats, and the booklet is worthwhile. A-
Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque (1976-2010 , Strut): Compiled by London DJs, this breaks the mold of historical utility by mixing continents and decades, but it has a pretty good booklet explaining what's what, where and when it came from, and how it fits -- mostly the fit is programmed to the dancefloor. And it's not that eclectic: most cuts come from 1976-80, and the African tracks stand out. A-
Vijana Jazz Band: The Koka Koka Sex Battalion: Rumba, Koka Koka and Kamata Sukuma (1975-80 , Sterns): Lots of print to parse on the cover, including the important "Music From Tanzania 1975-1980" -- places this within the context of Guitar Paradise of East Africa, but these folks are cruder, rougher, and a lot dirtier, and jumpy enough to remind me more of Nigeria's Heavy on the Highlife than the Zaïrean soukous their compatriots and competitors leaned on. A- [R]
Afro Latin: Via Dakar (1960s-80s , Syllart, 2CD): Africa got late to the recording studio, by which time music of the forced African diaspora had washed back across the Atlantic, making one of its first stops in Dakar; one suspects the compiler just sifted through his old records for the most Cuban-sounding cuts and lined them up back to back -- Orchestra Baobab being the obvious place to start. A-
Afro Latin: Via Kinshasa (, Syllart, 2CD): The lack of dates is annoying in what's otherwise a useful booklet, but I figure this starts in the mid-1950s and doesn't stretch far past 1970; the artist list is dominated by Docteur Nico, Le Grand Kallé, Franco, and Rochereau (only one cut attributed otherwise), cherry picked for the Afro-Cuban feel which presides over the first disc, while the second opens and is even more charming. A-
Bachata Roja: Amor y Amargue (1960s-80s , IASO): Dominican son with a back country feel that can sound arch, but in doing so the singers all the more effectively draw out the bitterness of the title. B+(***) [R]
Nat King Cole: Cole Español (1958, Capitol): In his heyday Cole cranked out 3-4 records a year, so the idea of doing one in Spanish wasn't much of a gamble; the backing tracks were cut in Havana, Cole dubbed his vocals in Los Angeles, and Nelson Riddle fiddled a bit, all of which sounds more authentic, and accomplished, than it has any right to. B+(**) [R]
Nat King Cole: A Mis Amigos (1959, Capitol): Cut on tour in a studio in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian studio cats leading off with a sharp mariachi, then settling down into a cozy ballad; Cole is game, dashing, and smooth, even slipping in a couple lyrics in Portuguese, well before the bossa nova craze. B+(**) [R]
Corrie en de Grote Brokken: Vier! Het Beste van de Grote Brokken (1997-2004 , Brokken): A studio-and-live sampler from the mid-career of Dutch guitar slinger Corrie van Binsbergen and her brass-rich, marimba-powered big band with boy-girl singers; where fusion tries to bind rock and jazz, she'd rather blow them apart. B+(**)
Julius Hemphill: Julius Hemphill Big Band (1988, Nonesuch): A rigorous avant-garde alto saxophonist, best known as founder of World Saxophone Quartet, run as a lab in harmonics; somehow got a major label to give him a stab at a big band, and came up with a typically cantankerous mix of stuff that coheres elegantly and drives you to the edge; for me, the power cut backs K. Curtis Lyle's spoken word rant. B+(**) [R]
Michael Howell: Looking Glass (1973, Milestone): Guitarist, cut a couple albums in the 1970s and not much else till I ran across him in a sideman role; thought he has poise and taste, already evident here both in the horn-studded grooves and in his more intimate moments trading thoughtful lines with pianist Hampton Hawes. B+(**) [dl]
Steve Lacy: Live at Jazzwerkstatt Peitz (1981 , Jazzwerkstatt): The most important soprano saxophonist of the latter half of the 20th century, by a margin that's hard to conceive of, takes a few pieces solo, unfettered by anything but his imagination; the results are often astonishing, but the narrow range and stringent tone of the horn itself can wear on you. B+(**) [R]
Steve Lacy: Five Facings/Five Pianists (1996 , Jazzwerkstatt): Duo pieces with five avant pianists; Marilyn Crispell warms him up; Misha Mengelberg pitches Monk tunes that are softballs for both; but Ulrich Gumpert pushes the soprano saxophonist into his top level, and Fred Van Hove joins him there, while the finale with Vladimir Miller winds down admirably. B+(***) [R]
Pietra Montecorvino: Napoli Mediterranea (2003 , Lucky Planets): Italian actress-turned-singer, hard to tell how popular she is over there -- her rather dated website only shows two albums, and I've only found one more -- but with her raspy voice and a touch of raï in the rhythms I figure her for cabaret; this has flow, grace, and poise. B+(***) [R]
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody ([X] is some other identified stream source; otherwise assume a CD). The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments -- although that's always a risk.
For this column and the previous 92, see the archive.
Thursday, January 5. 2012
Boeing announced that they're closing what's left of their Wichita plant. That means laying off 2,160 workers, and not fulfilling any of the promises they've made to Kansas politicos over the last decade while pursuing the great $35 billion tanker scam. The Boeing plant dates back to 1927 when it was Stearman Aviation. The plant greatly expanded during World War II, mostly at government expense, when employment swelled to over 50,000 and Wichita built the B-29s that won the war against Japan, and into the 1950s the B-47s and B-52s that pounded Korea and Vietnam (and still occasionally fly over Afghanistan).
My father worked at Boeing for 38 years, and my brother worked there for 23 years. In my father's day Boeing had several large plants in Washington plus the one in Wichita: all were unionized and the IAMAW negotiated nationwide, so Boeing's workers caught a break in Wichita. Nowadays it seems like they have hundreds of plants. The company isn't much good at building aircraft any more, but they do big business in auctioning off plants to cities and states eager to pay to have their citizens exploited. In 2005, Boeing spun several properties, including most of their Wichita plant, off in a private equity deal to create Spirit Aerosystems, reducing their Kansas employment from 15,000 to 4,500, and they cut more than half of that in the six years since.
It's not that Wichita and Kansas haven't been willing to cut Boeing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and abatements and other favors, nor that the local politicians ever hesitated to ply their influence for Boeing's benefit -- the tanker scam is only the grossest example. It may be the unions: before Boeing carved up their plant in 2005 SPEEA had organized the office workers, giving the Wichita plant (in right-to-work KS) the highest percentage union representation of any Boeing plant. That's no longer true, but Boeing still claims it costs 70% more to do work in Wichita than in San Antonio, where they have a non-union workforce in a fresh government-built plant. Wichita workers aren't used to thinking of themselves as overpaid, but Boeing has no scruples when it comes to screwing over their workers.
I skipped over the ones searching for reaction from Kansas politicians. About all they had to say was that they were sad or sorry. In the 1940s the government built McConnell Air Force Base across Oliver Street from the plant they built for Boeing. The two have always had a symbiotic relationship. The reason the Air Force still flies 1950s-vintage aircraft like B-52s and KC-135s is that they've been periodically flown into McConnell and rebuilt by Boeing -- in fact, the KC-135 tankers are based here, even though they're mostly used to support fighters in Asia. Take Boeing away and there's no need for McConnell.
For some reason no one noticed how vulnerable McConnell would be once the KC-135s were replaced. Now if those same politicians are finally moved to salvage some jobs here, they'll do whatever they can to kill the new tankers. They never were a good idea, but now for Kansas at least the jobs excuse works against them.
I sent the following squib to the Eagle's Opinion Line:
The Eagle is asking for stories telling them "what impact has Boeing had on you and your family over the decades?" They provided a living for my father, although it's also likely that the leukemia that killed him was rooted in the chemical he was exposed to there. They turned into a nightmare for my brother, firing him for being too pro-union and for being a medical insurance liability. By then they liked to brag that "this isn't your father's Boeing." Indeed, they're not. They haven't just tracked the moral rot of the nation; they've repeatedly been the cutting edge.
UPDATE: One more Boeing article: Boeing misses deliveries target; Airbus beats goal. This just reinforces my argument above that in redirecting its business to maximizing its political clout and using that to extort income and financing from government and profits from workers, Boeing has lost its fundamental competency at building airplanes. It used to be that Boeing would build entire planes in one factory, with a great deal of vertical integration. If the advantages of doing so aren't obvious, look at the accompanying picture, which shows a 787 fuselage being loaded into an even larger airplane to be flown to the final assembly plant. As Boeing added more properties (to gain more political angles), and started to do more subcontracting (mostly to screw their workers, although wide supplier networks also helped build political clout), the manufacturing process became vastly more complex, while Boeing's quality control has declined. You see all this in the 787 program, which is about five years (and counting) behind schedule.
The contrast to Airbus should be instructive. You'd think that Airbus, with its government bureaucratic control forcing work to be spread over multiple countries, and its unions not only pushing labor costs up but effectively co-managing the company, should be much less efficient than Boeing, but at least Airbus can concentrate on actually building planes. And while Boeing is constantly whining about how urgently they have to cut labor costs to remain competitive, Airbus not only pays higher wages, they do so in Euros which are much more expensive than dollars. But in the end the ability to deliver planes makes all the difference.
Wednesday, January 4. 2012
This will wrap up Jazz Prospecting for a while: until I either convert to a weekly (or more often) blog, or give up. This also wraps up the Jazz CG (28) cycle, which at this point seems unlikely to result in an actual Jazz Consumer Guide post. I posted Jazz CG (27) on December 19, and got virtually no notice or feedback for the effort, so while I have (28) nearly complete, it hardly seems worth the effort to wrap it up. This also wraps up 2011, and good riddance to all that. I still have 100 2011 albums in the pending pile, and I'll get to them when I can -- maybe not the Xmas albums, nor the ones from the US Air Force, but almost certainly nearly all of them.
Still, I did manage to sort through more than 600 new jazz albums during the year. The grade breakdown would graph out as a curve: A: 3; A-: 52; B+(***): 133; B+(**): 203; B+(*): 156; B: 57; B-: 18; C+: 2; D+: 1. Without checking, I'd say this is pretty similar to previous years. I may have a few fewer low grades than in the past, but the deficit is probably in the pending queue. I'm also down a bit from past years on top -- I can think of several possible reasons for this, including the bad mood I developed over the last five-six months, but I did come up with five A- records this installment (three that I didn't receive found on Rhapsody -- one [Lim] a complete surprise after a botched search).
I'll report further on future jazz reviewing when I finally know something. Could still happen on the Village Voice, or could wind up on Terminal Zone. In the meantime, I'll post a Recycled Goods this week, and very likely something on my Pazz & Jop ballot and what I've learned from my metacritic file. Downloader's Diary will be late for January -- probably sometime next week. I have about 30 Rhapsody Streamnotes packed away, so they'll appear sooner or later. So expect a lot of music in the next two weeks.
By the way, the collected Jazz Prospecting file for this round is here. After averaging a little over 200 records per cycle, the total this round was 402. Should have gotten two select Jazz Consumer Guides out of all those records -- five months' work. Not a complete waste because I do have all these notes, but as a freelance writer I have to say that 2011 was my worst since I started writing again.
The Ames Room: Bird Dies (2010 , Clean Feed): Sax trio, bills themselves as "minimal maximal terror jazz." Saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet is French, but bassist and drummer (Clayton Thomas and Will Guthrie) have suspiciously Anglo names. Second album, just one 48:20 staccato rumble, daring you to turn the volume up to see if you can discern any changes. I did, a little. B+(**)
Baloni: Fremdenzimmer (2010 , Clean Feed): Trio: Joachim Badenhorst (bass clarinet, clarinet, tenor sax), Frantz Loriot (viola), and Pascal Niggenkemper (double bass). Don't think I've ever run across Loriot before, but he is central here, setting the tone and dynamics, and when he decides to whine and mourn no one else can break free. B+(*)
Michael Bates: Acrobat: Music for, and by, Dmitri Shostakovich (2011, Sunnyside): Bassist, or "bassist-composer" as he likes to say -- as does nearly everyone, which is why I almost never retain the second part, but the balance is worth noting with him, even more so than with such distinguished composer-bassists as Ben Allison and Adam Lane. I must admit I was put off by the Shostakovich theme, unfortunately, regrettably: for one thing, only one (of nine) pieces is by Shostakovich; for another, his postbop orchestration -- a superb group with Chris Speed (alto sax, clarinet), Russ Johnson (trumpet), Russ Lossing (piano, rhodes), and Tom Rainey (drums) -- of "Dance of Death" is a high point here, possibly because it signifies to me more as rock (as Weill does) than as classical. The affinities of the other pieces isn't clear to me, but as tightly composed postbop pieces they are remarkably varied and inventive. Should play this some more. [B+(***)]
Dee Bell: Sagacious Grace (1990 , Laser): Singer, b. 1950 in Fort Wayne, IN; cut a couple records for Concord 1983-85, but nothing since until now. This session was shelved for technical reasons but has finally been cleaned up and dedicated to her late pianist Al Plank. Standards, including a couple jazz tunes Bell wrote lyrics to. Band includes John Stowell on guitar, and (even better) Houston Person on tenor sax. B+(*)
George Benson: Guitar Man (2011, Concord): Guitarist, was so dedicated to Wes Montgomery that he worked Boss Guitar into his first album title, but by the early 1970s had slid into light shlock and in 1976 scored a breakthrough hit with his undistinct vocals. I wrote him off long ago, but I've gotten a few of his recent records -- for some reason this is the only one Concord serviced me with in 2011, and this is the least awful of the last three. For one thing, only three vocals, and his Stevie Wonder impersonation is so uncanny he gets away with "My Cherie Amour"; for another, he takes two cuts solo, and he still has that sweet touch, even on something as moldy as "Danny Boy." On the other hand, his funk isn't even fake, and the best you can say for his string-drenched "I Want to Hold Your Hand" is that the melody is unrecognizable. B-
Carlos Bica & Azul: Things About (2011, Clean Feed): Title listed above artist name, so it can flow as one, even into the smaller print "featuring Frank Möbus and Jim Black" (guitar and drums). Bica is a bassist, from Portugal, has at least seven going back to his 1996 album Azul (with Möbus, Black, and a couple guests -- and there seem to be a couple more Azul albums in the meantime. Möbus has a record/group called Der Rote Bereich -- AMG shows one album, but his website lists six. He's a disarmingly unfancy player, so it takes a while to sink in how charming he is. And it's good not to overwhelm the bassist, who has plenty to contribute on his own. B+(***)
Ran Blake/Dominique Eade: Whirlpool (2004-08 , Jazz Project): Piano-voice duets. Blake cut his first album in 1961, calling it The Newest Sound Around, and has thirty-some records since, most either solo piano or duets with vocalists (most notably Jeanne Lee; recently with Christine Correa and Sara Serpa). Eade was b. 1958 in England, met Blake when she studied at New England Conservatory. She has six albums since 1992 (counting this one). Her voice is right on target, so clear it needs little dressing, and Blake makes more out of less as well as anyone. B+(***)
Bobby Bradford/Mark Dresser/Glenn Ferris: Live in LA (2009 , Clean Feed): Cornet, bass, trombone respectively. Bradford, b. 1934, has a long, and relatively unheralded, avant-garde career -- I've missed virtually all of it myself, including his famous work with John Carter. Ferris I know even less about: b. 1950 in Los Angeles; played early on with Don Ellis, Harry James, and Frank Zappa; has six albums since 1995, mostly on Enja; goes back a long ways with Bradford. With bass but no drums, this takes its time getting anywhere, wallowing in murky depths, which seems to be the point. B+(**)
Michael Cain: Solo (2011, Native Drum Music): Pianist, b. 1966, AMG lists seven albums since 1990 (but missed this one, and who knows what else). Google really wanted to dispatch me off to some British actor. Solo piano and a bit of electronics: slow, gentle, has some appeal. B+(*)
William Carn: William Carn's Run Stop Run (2011, Mythology): Trombonist, b. 1969, from Canada. First album, although AMG lists a few dozen side credits. Quartet, with guitars (Don Scott), basses (Jon Maharaj), and drums (Ethan Ardelli). Both Scott and Maharaj contribute songs, as does producer David Binney. B+(*)
Corrie en de Grote Brokken: Vier! Het Beste van de Grote Brokken (1997-2004 , Brokken): Dutch guitarist Corrie van Binsbergen released this to mark her 25th anniversary, but the sampler narrows in on a relatively short stretch with a big, brassy band -- trumpet, trombone, typically three saxes, vibes or marimba, fronted by singers Bob Fosko and Beatrice van der Poel. Lots of flashy guitar, most of it closer to rock than to jazz, but knowing nonethless -- I'm reminded of some of Roy Wood's early-1070s stabs at neoclassic rock and roll, but the vibes suggest Zappa if only I'd paid him any heed. B+(**)
Shirley Crabbe: Home (2011, MaiSong): Standards singer, studied at Northwestern and Manhattan School of Music. First album. Has a full-featured band including Brandon Lee on trumpet, Dave Glasser on sax, and Donald Vega on piano -- but even with Glasser on hand she wrangled Houston Person for two guest shots (his "Lucky to Be Me" solo a highlight). Songs jump around, ranging from "Summertime" to Sondheim and Carole King ("Far Away"). On the right song she can be very striking -- "Detour Ahead" seems to always be the right song. B+(**)
John Daversa: Junk Wagon: The Big Band Album (2011, BFM Jazz): Trumpet player, also EVI. Second album, both Big Band; has pretty scattered side credits -- Burt Bacharach, Fiona Apple, Kim Richmond, Yellowjackets, Andrae Crouch. Title cut leans toward hip-hop, but backs away, and I don't have any idea what he really wants to do, other than be a bit different. "Cheeks" is an example that delivers both on textures and solo, which is what you hope for in a big band. B+(*)
Yelena Eckemoff: Flying Steps (2010 , Yelena Music): Pianist, born and raised in Moscow, with one of those rigorous Soviet educations in classical music. Moved to US in 1991. Classical music dominates her discography, but she's edged into jazz and produced several more-than-credible trio records. This one includes Darek Oleszkiewicz on bass and Peter Erskine on drums. B+(**)
Marty Ehrlich's Rites Quartet: Frog Leg Logic (2011, Clean Feed): Plays alto sax, soprano sax, and flute, leading a quartet with James Zollar (trumpet), Hank Roberts (cello), and Michael Sarin (drums). Strong interplay for most of the way -- the flute, of course, is the weak link. Zollar usually lurks in the background, but when he gets a solo shot he reminds you how underrated he is. B+(***)
Joe Fiedler Trio: Sacred Chrome Orb (2011, Yellow Sound Label): Trombonist, based in New York (since 1993), fourth album since 2005. First was a daunting tribute, Plays the Music of Albert Mangelsdorff. This is a trio with John Hebert and Michael Sarin, the sort of thing that puts the horn constantly on the spot. And he proves to be as inventive as his German mentor, while avoiding the squawk and whine that suggested to me horses being slaughtered. A-
Hal Galper Trio: Trip the Light Fantastic (2011, Origin): Veteran pianist, b. 1938, has thirty-some albums since 1971, including some real gems -- some I've noticed: Portrait (1989), Just Us (1993), Art-Work (2009). Trio with his label's ace rhythm section: Jeff Johnson on bass and John Bishop on drums. Three originals, four covers ("Guess I'll Hang Out My Tears to Dry," "Be My Love"). B+(*)
Dennis González/João Paulo: So Soft Yet (2010 , Clean Feed): Duets, González on trumpet and cornet, Paulo (full name: João Paulo Esteves Da Silva) on acoustic and electric piano, also accordion. They did this once before, in 2009's Scape Grace, but this works better, partly because Paulo's rotation keeps it from settling into a rut, but mostly charm and intimacy. B+(***)
Hybrid 10tet: On the Move (2011, BBB): Cover also mentions, in small print, "braam": that would be pianist Michiel Braam, who put this group together and wrote their pieces. Group is built from a classical string quartet (Matangi Quartet), a rowdy rock rhythm section (bass and drums, anyway, plus the pianist, and you might also factor in Carl Ludwig Hübsch's tuba), plus some avant-jazz brass (Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, Nils Wogram on trombone). The mix is often spectacular -- as on the tango-ish "Cuba, North Rhine-Westphalia" and the funk-noise of "Fat Centered Gravy" -- but sometimes not. (I initially suspected the strings, but it's not quite that simple.) The pianist, as usual, has fun. B+(**)
Tony Jones/Kenny Wollesen/Charles Burnham: Trio: Pitch, Rhythm, and Consciousness (2011, New Artists): Only released on LP, although I'm working off a CD-R. Jones plays tenor sax -- only time I've run across him before was on a record by his wife, alto saxophonist Jessica Jones. Burnham plays violin, and Wollesen drums. Free, but slow and moody, the violin receding into bass range. B+(*) [advance]
Jan Klare/Jeff Platz/Meinrad Kneer/Bill Elgart: Modern Primitive (2010 , Evil Rabbit): Klare plays alto sax/clarinet/flute, has four albums since 2001; Platz guitar; has a couple albums; Kneer double bass, one previous album; and Elgart drums, also with a couple. Not quite a supergroup, but finely balanced for jousting, the guitar throwing sax-like leads as well as rolling with the rhythm, such as it is. B+(**)
Lama: Oneiros (2011, Clean Feed): Trumpet-bass-drums trio; respectively, Susana Santos Silva (b. 1979), Gonçalo Almeida, and Greg Smith. Santos Silva has a record (Devil's Dress) and a few side roles, including EMJO. Almeida wrote 6 of 8 pieces -- one each for the others. Dense, heavy, bunched-up in the lower registers, doesn't move much but goes where it wants. B+(*)
Steve Lipman: There's a Song in My Heart (2010-11 , Locomotion): Sinatra without the voice -- what, the hat isn't enough? Good thing he kept his day job: a dental practice in Windsor, CT. On the other hand, his band -- no one I've heard of, although the type is so illegible it's hard to make out any names -- swings gracefully, and his overbite has a certain comic charm. When Google offered a squiggle on "a comic career" I entertained the possibility of a put-on, but turns out there's another Steve Lipman, who got his start during the ancien regime, offering: "I'm 11 years old, and I've learned to tie my shoes really well. So if President Bush ever comes to town, I'll teach him too." B
Mark Alban Lotz & Istak Köpek: Istanbul Improv Sessions May 4th (2010 , Evil Rabbit): Flute player, b. 1963, Dutch but grew up in Thailand and Uganda. AMG credits him with six albums since 1994 -- certainly an undercount, although I'm at a loss as how to sort the 35 albums he lists on his website (I'd certainly credit him with the six albums by Lotz of Music, but his role in Cachao Sounds: La Descarga Continua is likely minor). Here he plays with Turkish group Islak Köpek (two tenor saxes, guitar, cello, and laptop; three names look Turkish and two Anglo). Lotz ranges from piccolo to bass flute, and the latter gets a lot of use here. Considerable sonic interest here, especially when they get loud and dense, which is their preferred mode -- although improv being improvised they sometimes swing and miss. B+(**)
Metta Quintet: Big Drum/Small World (2011, Jazzreach): A project of Jazzreach, a 501(c)(3) non-profit "dedicated to the promotion, performance, creation and teaching of jazz music." Third album I'm aware of under this name: bassist Joshua Ginsburg and drummer Hans Schuman are the constants, with piano and horns rotating -- currently, Marcus Strickland (tenor and soprano sax), Greg Ward (alto sax), and David Bryant (piano). They play five pieces: one by Strickland, the others by name players not in the band -- Omer Avital, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Yosvany Terry, and Miguel Zenón. First-rate postbop, well within the lines but I suppose you have to be when trying to be educational. B+(**)
Yoko Miwa Trio: Live at Scullers Jazz Club (2010 , self-released): Pianist, b. 1970 in Kobe, Japan; moved to US in 1996 with a Berklee scholarship. Fourth album since 2001, a trio with Greg Loughman on bass and Scott Goulding on drums. Three originals, five covers starting with "This Could Be the Start of Something" and including Lou Reed's "Who Loves the Sun." Most convincing at high speed -- dazzling might be the word. B+(***)
Leszek Mozdzer: Komeda (2011, ACT): Pianist, b. 1970 in Poland, classically trained and as likely to turn in Impressions on Chopin as this set of solo piano meditations on the patron saint of Polish jazz, Krzyzstof Komeda. Solo piano never does much for me unless it has a big rhythmic kick; this doesn't, but otherwise it's hard to fault. Need to play it again, maybe in the context of other Komeda tributes (which seem to be far easier to score than the old albums are). [B+(**)]
Mozik (2010 , self-released): Boston group, led by Brazilians Gilson Schachnik (keyboards) and Mauricio Zottarelli (drums), with flute (Yulia Musayelan), guitar (Gustavo Assis-Brasil), and bass (Fernando Huergo). Zottarelli insists he didn't like Brazilian music until he moved to Boston. I detect an air of respectful reunion, winning out over a mischievous desire to mix things up. Three Jobims, one each from Monk and Hancock, two originals (by Schachnik), one more ("Canto das Tres Raças"). B+(*)
David Murray Cuban Ensemble: Plays Nat King Cole en Español (2010 , Motéma): More inspired by than based on Cole's 1958-62 Spanish-language records, En Español and More En Español. Cole took backing tracks from a small Cuban group and dubbed in his sweet vocals -- one story is that the 1958 revolution prevented him from finishing the album in Havana. Murray is at least equally circuitous, recording his Cuban band in Buenos Aires with tango singer Daniel Melingo -- as rough as Cole is smooth -- then dubbing in strings in Portugal, mixing the album in France, and mastering it in the UK. Even with Melingo on board, the vocals are trimmed way back, leaving more room for the sax, as imposing as ever. A-
Josh Nelson: Discoveries (2011, Steel Bird): Pianist, from Los Angeles, fifth album since 2004. Wrote all but one of the pieces, naming them for things like "Dirigibles" and "Tesla Coil" -- with featured quotes inside the package from Mark Twain and H.G. Wells, his interest in new things is curiously dated. Group is spread out with three horns, but the most satisfying parts lead with the piano. B+(*)
Nordeson Shelton: Incline (2011, Singlespeed Music): Alto sax-drums duo -- drums by Kjell Nordeson, sax by Aram Shelton. Shelton passed through Chicago on his way to his current base in Oakland, which sharpened his instincts for developing a distinct tone and style, but that's never been more clear than in this basic context. Nordeson's credits include Mats Gustafsson (AALY Trio) and Paul Rutherford, Atomic and Exploding Customer. B+(***)
Bill O'Connell: Triple Play Plus Three (2010 , Zoho): Pianist, b. 1953, studied at Oberlin; has eight or so records, with an early one in 1978, another in 1993, the rest since 2001 as he moved more into Latin jazz. I was tempted to attribute this to Bill O'Connell Plus Three, but changed my mind after checking and finding another Triple Play album. The core group is O'Connell and Richie Flores (congas). The "plus three" are Paquito D'Rivera (clarinet), Dave Samuels (vibes), and Dave Valentin (flute), who take turns filling out a trio. The rotation avoids any ruts, but I rather prefer the guestless stretches where O'Connell pushes harder and breaks up his flow. B+(**)
The Oscuro Quintet: Music for Tango Ensemble (2010 , Big Round): Based in Philadelphia: Alban Bailly (guitar), June Bender (violin), Benjamin Blazer (bass), Shinjoo Cho (accordion, bandoneon), and Thomas Lee (piano). Bailly composed the five-part "Five Procrastinations"; the rest draws on Argentine masters. AMG (and others) tend to file this as classical, probably for the same things that turn me off. Still has its charms -- "oddly OK" was the judgment from the other room. B+(*)
Florencia Ruiz: Luz de la Noche (Light of the Night) (2011, Adventure Music): Argentine diva, or maybe I just mean torch singer, projects a lot of drama and emotion, although for all I know she could be as vapid as Enya -- a comparison I've seen, though meant to be more flattering. Hugo Fattoroso (piano) and Jaques Morelembaum (cello) are cited as "featuring" -- must be big names in Argentina, because they only show up for one and two cuts here. B+(*)
Dred Scott: Prepared Piano (2007-08 , Robertson): Pianist, originally from St. Louis, went to college in Ohio, spent 10 years in Bay Area, then moved to New York in 1999, which makes him how old? Extensive discography on his site goes back to a 1991 record with Anthony Braxton (8+3 Tristano Compositions), but aside from his three trio records I've heard of nothing else he's done. He played drums on that Braxton record -- probably the right orientation for prepared piano ("Funky" sounds like it's mostly percussion). Mostly short pieces, discreet building blocks ready to add up to something. [My impression is that this is being reissued on Ropeadope, but my copy looks like the old, original edition.] B+(**)
Dred Scott Trio: Going Nowhere (2010 , Ropeadope): Can't find any evidence that Dred Scott isn't the pianist's given name. Like his famous namesake he is from St. Louis, but the resemblance ends there. With Ben Rubin on bass and Tony Mason on drums. All originals except for a shrewdly deconstructed "7 Steps to Heaven." I am duly impressed, but don't have much to say. B+(**) [advance]
Sara Serpa: Mobile (2010, Inner Circle Music): Singer, b. 1979 in Portugal, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory, based in New York. Has a duo album with Ran Blake, at least three under her own name. This one is spare, mostly done with just bass and drums (Ben Street and Ted Poor), with piano added on 4 (of 10) cuts (Kris Davis) and guitar on three of those (Andre Matos). Texts are evidently taken from lit -- Homer, Herodotus, Melville, Steinbeck, Naipaul, Kapuscinski -- although I can't make any of them out and suspect she's just scatting. B
Jen Shyu/Mark Dresser: Synastry (2009-10 , Pi): Vocalist, b. 1978 in Peoria, IL; parents from Taiwan and East Timor; based in New York. Has several albums since 2002, a research interest in "Taiwanese folk and aboriginal music" extending to Chinese-Cubans, but is best known for her work with Steve Coleman's group. Dresser, of course, is one of our foremost bassists, so these are voice-bass duos. I have a tough time when jazz singers get arty -- a primal case of opera-phobia, I'm afraid -- but this somehow slips through. B+(**)
Enoch Smith Jr.: Misfits (2011, self-released): Pianist, b. 1978 in Rochester, NY. Second album, a piano trio plus vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles -- although there are also uncredited male vocals. Seems like too much singing at first, especially once Smith finally opens up some space for his unconventionally percussive piano. Mostly originals; covers include "Caravan" and "Blackbird" (one song I wish the jazz world would just give up on). B+(*)
The Taal Tantra Experience: Sixth Sense (2011, Ozella): German-based Indian music group, led by tabla player Tanmoy Bose, with a mix of German and Indian names in the microscopic credits text. The tabla is impressive enough, but the fusion tends to even things out, as if the jazz component was smooth. B
Gianluigi Trovesi/Gianni Coscia: Frère Jacques: Round About Offenbach (2009 , ECM): The leaders play clarinet and accordion, respectively. Trovesi, b. 1944, made an early mark in the avant-garde (mostly on alto sax), but since he joined ECM he's been picking around in his classical training, previously teaming with Coscia for a Round About Weill (and earlier, In Cerca di Cibo). Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880) was born in Cologne, son of a synagogue cantor, moved to Paris to study and remained in his new country, mostly writing popular operettas. About half of the music here comes from him, the rest by Trovesi and Coscia, much of it explicitly paired to an Offenbach piece. B+(**)
Ursa Minor: Showface (2011, Anthemusa): New York rock group fronted by singer Michelle Casillas, had a previous album in 2003. Doesn't belong here but someone sent me a copy, guitarist-producer Tony Scherr has something of a jazz rep, not sure that drummer Robert DiPietro doesn't ring a bell somewhere, and some of the guests definitely do (e.g., trombonist Ryan Keberle). The strings and French horns do little to alter the fact that this is a guitar band, the singer is mostly affectless but on a slow one turns on the charm. Seems like a nice group going nowhere. B+(*)
The Tommy Vig Orchestra 2012: Welcome to Hungary! (2011, Klasszikus Jazz): I have an advance CD, and a fairly thick booklet which is probably a proof copy, but which is so jumbled up I can make no sense of who plays what or what's going on here. Vig plays vibes, was b. 1938, studied at Bela Bartok Conservatory, fled Hungary in 1956, cut some records in US that seem to be regarded as instrumental pop. This is a big band with cimbalom and tarogato and a lot of horn power -- the guest performance by David Murray towering above all. Six bonus cuts without Murray show the band to be loud and brash, but not all that interesting. In order to rise above the background, Murray is little short of titanic. B+(*) [advance]
Ricardo Villalobos/Max Loderbauer: Re: ECM (2009 , ECM, 2CD): Two electronics producers. Villalobos, b. 1970 in Chile, has more than a dozen albums since 2002. Loderbauer has nothing under his own name, but several dozen composer/producer credits. Both based in Berlin. This isn't a remix of ECM material; more an attempt to construct electronics frameworks around musical structures from various ECM records, starting on the classical end of the spectrum (Arvo Part, Alexander Knaifel) with a few jazz sources (Louis Sclavis, John Abercrombie, Paul Motian the best known). First disc leans toward industrial sounds but not intense; second is more pastoral until it eventually works in some choral voices. B+(*) [advance]
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.
Rez Abbasi's Invocation: Suno Suno (2010 , Enja): Guitarist, from Pakistan, eighth album since 1995, not counting his work with Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition -- a trio with Dan Weiss on drums that is expanded to five here, adding Vijay Iyer on piano and Johannes Weidenmueller on bass, only here the compositions are all Abbasi. The star power of Mahanthappa and Iyer is undeniable, but it comes off as unduly heavy, jerky, dramatic -- impressive in its own right. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
David Berkman: Self-Portrait (2011, Red Piano): Pianist, b. 1958, sixth album since 1998 -- the inevitable solo one. Mix of standards, starting with "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," and originals, four of them designated sketches. Self-assured, balanced tone, runs on cold logic, impeccable as these things go. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
The New Gary Burton Quartet: Common Ground (2011, Mack Avenue): What's new about this Quartet, as opposed to the one he recorded a live album with in 2009, is replacing guitarist Pat Metheny and bassist Steve Swallow with Julian Lage and Scott Colley: younger players, most likely cheaper too, plus they contribute songs, so the leader is down to one in ten. (Drummer Antonio Sanchez, who pitched in two songs, was kept over.) Probably a smart move for Burton, but not as smart as letting Lage take the lead, and adding a little something instead of vying for top dog. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Gerald Cleaver/Uncle June: Be It as I See It (2010 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, from Detroit, has a half dozen albums since 2001. No idea where the group name comes from, but it's basically a sextet with two horns (Andrew Bishop on flute, bass clarinet, soprano and tenor sax; Tony Malaby on soprano and tenor sax), piano (Craig Taborn), viola (Mat Maneri), and bass (Drew Gress), with occasional voices and a bit of guest guitar or banjo. Can be rough and noisy, smoky, or stretch out into an orchestration that is almost Ellingtonian. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Larry Coryell: With the Wide Hive Players (2010 , Wide Hive): One of the original fusion guitarists -- by the way, the answer to my question about Gary Burton's earliest quartet -- plugs in with the avant-funk house band of Gregory Howe's Berkeley label. Sax and 'bone flesh out the heavy riffing. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Adam Cruz: Milestone (2010 , Sunnyside): Drummer, b. 1970 in New York City, has a lot of side credits since 1991 (Eddie Palmieri, Chick Corea, Edward Simon, David Sanchez, Danilo Pérez, Chris Potter, Steve Wilson, Ray Barretto are only some of the names; 70-some albums), but this is his first under his own name -- and a big one: wrote all eight pieces (long ones, add up to 75:49). He's joined by Potter (tenor sax), either Wilson (soprano sax) or Miguel Zenón (alto sax), Simon (piano), Steve Cardenas (guitar), and Ben Street (bass). Brash contemporary postbop, the horns stellar, especially when one or the other finds some solo room. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Joseph Daley Earth Tones Ensemble: The Seven Deadly Sins (2010 , Jaro): First album by Daley, although his discography goes back to 1971 and most of it points this way. He plays tuba and euphonium here, with a little trombone and other low register horns on his resume. Has mostly worked in big bands -- Gil Evans, Sam Rivers, Carla Bley, Muhal Richard Abrams, George Gruntz, Bill Dixon -- with side roles in Howard Johnson's Gravity and Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble. Huge group here, lots of guys you know -- Marty Ehrlich, Scott Robinson, Lew Soloff (I presume, notes say Lou), Eddie Allen, Craig Harris, Vincent Chancey, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Warren Smith, Satoshi Takeishi, and a quorum of the tuba players union, including Howard Johnson and Bob Stewart. Fast, slick, complex, oh so deep. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Empirical: Elements of Truth (2011, Naim Jazz): English quartet: Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), Lewis Wright (vibes), Tom Farmer (bass), Shaney Forbes (drums); Farmer does most of the writing, followed by Facey (2) and Wright (1). Third album since 2007. Sax lines are cutting edge postbop, the vibes adding a light and flighty contrast. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Vinny Golia Quartet: Take Your Time (2011, Relative Pitch): Plays the whole range of clarinets, saxes, and flutes; b. 1946, has been very prolific since 1977, releasing almost all of his work on his own Nine Winds label, but occasionally strays -- Greetings From Norma Desmond is a personal favorite. Plays soprano/alto/tenor sax here, with Bobby Bradford on cornet, Kin Filiano on bass, and Alex Cline on drums. This group generates a lot of heat, and while Golia's riffing sometimes seems a bit pat (by which I mean I've never cared for that Charlie Parker up-and-down shit), Bradford always hangs in there and adds something interesting. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Danny Grissett: Stride (2011, Criss Cross): Pianist, from Los Angeles, studied at Cal Arts, based in New York. Fourth album since 2006, a trio with Vincente Archer on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. Has very little swing, let alone stride, to his style; basically a straight-up postbop player with a deft touch. Three originals, five covers range from Chopin to Tom Harrell and Nicholas Payton. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Sir Roland Hanna: Colors From a Giant's Kit (1990s-2002 , IPO): Pianist from Detroit, lived 1932-2002, has a couple credits in 1959 but his discography picks up in 1971 and he remain productive to the end. Solo piano, something he did at least a dozen albums of, from various sessions -- annoying that I can't find a detailed accounting. Mix of originals and covers. Can be dense and even dazzling, but I can't latch onto anything as especially interesting. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Fred Ho and the Green Monster Big Band: The Sweet Science Suite (2011, Mutable/Big Red Media): Subtitled: "A Scientific Soul Music Honoring of Muhammad Ali." Baritone saxophonist, b. 1957 in Palo Alto, CA, of Chinese descent, has built a notable career out of bridging African, Asian, and American musics, and charging them with political immediacy, working especially in a big band context -- the last few years he's called his group the Green Monster Band, and they usually live up to the name. Numerous strong passages here, but also a few rough spots, and the vocals near the end didn't connect. [Don't have recording date. Ho has been fighting colon cancer since 2006, and at least some of his recent spate of records predate his illness, but there's some reason to think this is more recent.] B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Fred Ho and the Green Monster Big Band: Year of the Tiger (2004 , Innova): Pre-illness, unreleased at the time, I'd guess, because it's a hoary mess, although it has inspired moments, ridiculous ideas, and such an enthusiastic implementation it's hard to carp. There's a big suite called "Take the Zen Train," offering "Optometry for the Vision-less" and critiquing "The Violence of Virtuosity." There are medleys of Michael Jackson and Jimi Hendrix -- the Jackson descends into a long sequence of horror movie sounds on "Thriller" that cry out for video. There's a huge people's chorus on "Hero Among Heroes" -- reminds me of Maoist mass propaganda although I wouldn't claim that it is. B [Rhapsody]
Ari Hoenig: Lines of Oppression (2009 , Naïve): Drummer, from Philadelphia, part of the Smalls retro bop crowd -- cut a good album for them in 2004, The Painter. I was looking for one called Punkbop: Live at Smalls, and found this one instead. Quartet with Tigran Hamasyan on pianos, Gilad Hekselman on guitar, and either Orlando Le Fleming or Chris Tordini on bass, with various of them vocalizing, sounding rather like tapdance. Best at high speed with everyone pounding away. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Oliver Lake & Jahi Sundance: Lakes at the Stone (2008 , Passin Thru): Lake, b. 1942 in Arkansas, plays alto sax, has more than 30 albums since 1971, many more credits including his long tenure with the World Saxophone Quartet. I suspect that Jahi Sundance is his son, hence the plural Lakes. He pops up occasionally as a producer, and Discogs credits him with three albums. No credits on what he does here, but he's basically a DJ, manipulating turntable, maybe laptop samples, mostly percussion to mix with what is otherwise solo sax, but someone works in a right-on rap on "If I Knew This," and another on "Where You Is, Is Where You At." B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Lim: Lim With Marc Ducret (2010 , Kopasetic): AMG files this under a French "hardcore rapper" who likes his upper case ("LIM") and has titles like Triples Violences Urbaines, Le Maxi Délinquant, and Voyoucratie -- an SFFR, I'd say, but a miss here. This group is a Swedish sax trio preferring lower case ("lim"), led by Henrik Frisk (various saxes, writes all the songs), with David Carlsson (electric bass) and Peter Nilsson (drums). The three play an admirable brand of free jazz where the rhythm section keeps everything interesting. Ducret is a French guitarist who's played most notably with Tim Berne, which is to say he's right at home here, always quick to zag when the sax zigs. A- [Rhapsody]
René Marie: Black Lace Fredian Slip (2011, Motéma Music): Singer, b. 1955, cut her first album in 2000 after raising a couple of kids. I belatedly checked out her second, the Penguin Guide crown-winning Vertigo, just before this one, with its striking standards interpretations, guest horns, swing and scat. None of that is particulary evident here, where she wrote 10 (of 13) songs, works with a rhythm section I've never heard of, has unknowns guest on two songs (harmonica and guitar). Still, even without the scat she's are remarkable singer. Too early to tell about the songs (e.g., "Rim Shot"), but the title is a salacious opener, and "Tired" is a blues that buttons the record down tight. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Christian McBride Big Band: The Good Feeling (2011, Mack Avenue): One of the unwritten rules of jazz these days seems to be that everyone wants to (and gets to) lead a big band sooner or later. McBride's reportedly been working on his charts for years, but his ideas are pretty stock: conventional five reeds (plus Loren Schoenberg on two cuts), four trumpets, four trombones, piano, bass, and drums (no guitar), with singer Melissa Walker featured on a few cuts. Fine band, a mix of name soloists and guys who show up in everyone's big band. B+(*)
Christian McBride: Conversations With Christian (2011, Mack Avenue): Thirteen songs, each a duet between the bassist and someone else: four singers (Angelique Kidjo, Sting, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Gina Gershon), five pianists (Eddie Palmieri, Dr. Billy Taylor, Hank Jones, George Duke, Chick Corea), Regina Carter (violin), Russel Malone (guitar), and Ron Blake (tenor sax). No dates, but Jones and Taylor died in 2010. It's hard to get any sort of consistency or momentum out of this sort of thing, especially when the constant is the bass, but the vocalists are spread out, the piano-bass connecting tissue rather than filler. Also helps that McBride talks along on two vocal cuts, drawing Gershon out and keeping Bridgewater from falling over the top. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Gretchen Parlato: The Lost and Found (2010 , ObliqSound): Singer, b. 1976, third album since 2005, writes most of her own material. Has a slight whisper to her voice which is generally appealing but isn't enough to carry a song a cappella (as she attempts in "Alô, Alô"), so a good band should help. She has Taylor Eigsti (piano), Derrick Hodge (bass), Kendrick Scott (drums), and sometimes Dayne Stephens (tenor sax), all toned down to fit her demure style. One cut that works: "All That I Can Say." B- [Rhapsody]
Nicholas Payton: Bitches (2011, In + Out): Trumpet player from New Orleans, solidly grounded in the tradition, which got him a gig with Kansas City, a Louis Armstrong tribute, and a super record with Doc Cheatham, but his more modern moves haven't worked out as well -- some jazztronica, here a move into vocal-heavy 1970s-retro r&b. Like Stevie Wonder, he plays all of the instruments, leaning heavily on the keybs, although only his trumpet remains distinctive. His croon ranges from competent to annoying, occasionally supplemented by guest females -- not clear if they are the intended subject of the title, or some other form of malapropism. B [Rhapsody]
Potsa Lotsa: The Complete Works of Eric Dolphy (2009-10 , Jazzwerkstatt, 2CD): Complete comes to 27 pieces, dispatched in 95 minutes over two discs. The group is led by alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard, who arranged the pieces for two brass (Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet, Gerhard Gschlobl on trombone) and two saxes (Patrick Braun on tenor, Eberhard on alto). Dolphy usually played with other horns, so there is some similarity, and the pieces to managed to evoke all facets of his range. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Phil Ranelin: Perseverance (2011, Wide Hive): Trombonist, b. 1940 in Indianapolis. A founder of the Tribe, in Detroit in the early 1970s, and much later Build an Ark in Los Angeles, community-centric groups which bridge avant-garde and populist sensibilities. Front cover proclaims: "With Henry Franklin and Big Black"; Franklin plays bass, was also b. 1940, has a couple dozen albums and a hundred side-credits but isn't a name I recognize; Big Black (Danny Ray) plays conga, is even older (b. 1934), is someone I've run across a few times before. Both have sweet spots here, but so does everyone else, with Kamasi Washington (tenor sax) and Mahesh Balasooriya (piano) most prominent, also Louis Van Taylor (bass clarinet, alto flute), Tony Austin (drums), and a couple more percussionists. Ranelin wrote all the pieces, and sets the pace, his trombone leads rough and rugged but pitched into grooves, with vamps all around. My kind of party. A- [Rhapsody]
The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Montreal Parade (2011, 482 Music): Dave Rempis, best known as the Vandermark 5's junior saxophonist, leads, the group name reflecting that the quartet has two drummers (Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly). Even with double the drum solos, Rempis is fast and furious out front. The other member is bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, of Vandermark's School Days project (and many more). Two long pieces, free jazz blowouts. (Wonder whether another spin or two would push it over the top -- this is the third straight RPQ album with the same grade, which makes me suspect at least one should go higher.) B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Poncho Sanchez/Terence Blanchard: Chano y Dizzy! (2011, Concord Picante): Reasonable headliners for a recital of a prime slice of jazz history, but Blanchard won't risk losing his cool so has no way of touching Gillespie, and Sanchez couldn't be crazier than Pozo if his life depended on it. Starts with a medley -- "Tin Tin Deo," "Manteca," "Guachi Guaro" -- then "Con Alma" before letting Blanchard and others in the band peddle their wares. Winds up being a real nice groove album, with equally nice ballad spots, not that I understand why. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Alex Sipiagin: Destinations Unknown (2011, Criss Cross): Trumpet player, b. 1967 in Russia, moved to US in 1991, started in big bands, has more than a dozen albums since 1998. Bright tone, dynamic, runs in fast company with Chris Potter and David Binney on sax, Craig Taborn on keyb, Boris Kozlov on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. A little fancy for hard bop, or basic (meaning hard-charging) for postbop. The long set closes with a ballad. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Colin Stetson: New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (2011, Constellation): Saxophonist -- plays most reeds, French horn, flute, cornet, but is most noted for the big bass sax -- originally from Ann Arbor, based in Montreal where he works with Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre. AMG lists four albums, including New History Warfare Vol. 1 in 2008. This is billed as "solo horn compositions" but some percussion is evident, one song is labeled a Bell Orchestre remix, and there are occasional vocals -- Sheila Worden somewhere, Laurie Anderson spoken word on four pieces. Circular breathing turns the horn vamps into continuous tapestries, patterns repeating with various dissonances, and everything else just adds to the sonic interest. A- [Rhapsody]
Colin Stetson: Those Who Didn't Run (2011, Constellation, EP): Two ten-minute pieces. Don't have credits, but sounds like circular breathing sax vamps shagged by extra electronics, the rhythm in the repetition, the dissonance all over the place. Impressive, but on the way to wearing out its welcome when it ended. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Ben Williams: State of Art (2011, Concord Jazz): Bassist, electric as well as acoustic. Won a Monk prize which came with a Concord record deal, and this debut is the record. Annoying that I can't find cut-by-cut credits, since he shuttles horns in and out, has John Robinson rap on one piece, uses a string quartet elsewhere. This leans toward easy electronic grooves, with Gerald Clayton favoring the Fender Rhodes, and possibly the leader his electric bass, but they're friendly and rather fun, with Jaleel Shaw and/or Marcus Strickland picking up the level on sax. I'll even applaud Christian Scott's trumpet solo on "The Lee Morgan Story" -- not because it reminds me of Morgan so much as because the rap puts me in a good mood even though the story is tragic. Just hard to think of Morgan without smiling. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Gerald Wilson Orchestra: Legacy (2011, Mack Avenue): First glance at the title had me wondering why at 92 he's finally looking back, but the legacy he plumbs here is built on pilfering bits of Stravinsky, Debussy, and Puccini. In that he's as clever as ever, but the latter half holds more interest: a seven-part suite called "Yes, Chicago Is . . ." -- logically, this follows on from his marvellous Detroit suite. His Orchestra keeps swelling -- six reeds, six trumpets, more solo power than he can possibly use. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Some re-grades as I've gone through trying to wrap things up and sort out the surplus:
Avram Fefer/Eric Revis/Chad Taylor: Eliyahu (2010 , Not Two): [was: A-] A
Allen Lowe: Blues and the Empirical Truth (2009-11 , Music & Arts): [was: A-] A
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last few weeks: