Wednesday, May 30. 2012
An excerpt from the Wichita Eagle blogs, published in today's paper:
Even before Rupert Murdoch bought up the Wall Street Journal, the editorial page there could be depended on to relish any policy that might help make the rich richer, regardless of its impact on everyone else. In the 1980s they championed Arthur Laffer's supply side doodles. In a pointed reminder of how reigning public thought has refused to learn anything from the repeated economic debacles of conservative rule, Brownback used state funds to hire Laffer to propagandize his tax cut scheme.
The tax cut is projected to almost immediately throw the state into deficit, which the "starve the beast" devotees will insist on meeting with spending cuts. Given how severely education and public works have already been cut, it's not clear where more cuts are going to come from. (Jails? Police? Only real way to cut that would be to legalize marijuana, which doesn't seem to be on the agenda although it's not totally off the radar.) But one thing that should be obvious is that growth isn't in the cards. One good thing about state spending is the money gets spent (and multiplied) in-state. But tax cuts for the rich don't result in more local spending. The main beneficiaries are guys like Phil Ruffin, who puts most of his money into Las Vegas.
Of course, that's a level of detail that the Wall Street Journal could care less about. They're happy as long as the rich get richer, and if in the process government in Kansas becomes dysfunctional, no skin off their teeth.
Tuesday, May 29. 2012
Music: Current count 19959  rated (+7), 741  unrated (-4). Been out of town most of last week, so nothing to report here. Have the mail unpacked but not catalogued, so the unrated count doesn't reflect anything in the past week. Took two previously-packed sets of CDs with me, so I've been listening to oldies and goodies.
Sample road listening:
Should have a relatively short Recycled Goods if not on June 1 then shortly thereafter. Also have a short Rhapsody Streamnotes, but will hold that back until after A Downloader's Diary runs (and don't have a firm grip on when that will be). As for Jazz Prospecting, that may take a while, although I will note that quite a bit of stuff came in while I was away.
Monday, May 21. 2012
Music: Current count 19952  rated (+37), 745  unrated (-9). Typical week, which increasingly includes not getting much mail -- although a few of the unpacking items do look promising (Amado and Threadgill, if you must know). Sorry to have been so tardy in getting to the Byron album. I packed it in a gravel case some time ago, meaning to spend some time with it, and effectively it got lost. (Gilkes also came from that travel case.) Torn between trying to catch up and look ahead -- all the best prospects are toward the end of a long queue.
I spent about as much time replenishing the Streamnotes file as I did with Jazz Prospecting last week. Was unimpressed with Beach House first time I played it, then surprised when Christgau gave it an A- in Expert Witness, and finally replayed it, ultimately finding it as uninteresting as ever, although I did wind up retuning my reasoning. Looking at my 2012 in progress file it appears that half or more of the entries are for things I heard on Rhapsody -- comparing the green to the blue in the 2012 metacritic file is even starker, although the sort moves the green up and the blue down. Coloring in the latter seems like an especially hopeless task. In fact, just building the file is more than I can really manage.
This has lead up to another of my existential crises. I'm thinking I'll take a few weeks off and lay low -- go see some relatives (and some countryside), try to fix up some things around the house, maybe file (or dispose of) some of the mess, get some reading done. Wrists are getting real sore, and my right arm feels like dropping off. Not looking forward to another summer as brutal as last one. And I'm ever more fearful over the political domain, although I'm heading toward an age where that's not going to be my problem any more.
(Playing Lamb as I wrote the above. No point in making you wait for that.)
Don Byron New Gospel Quintet: Love, Peace, and Soul (2011 , Savoy Jazz): After Mickey Katz and Raymond Scott, among other sources less specific and idiosyncratic, yet another niche for Byron's clarinet. (Would have included Jr. Walker, but Byron played alto sax that time.) Inspirations here include Thomas Dorsey and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Eddie Harris and George Russell, aunt Dorothy Simon, and Donald Byron Sr. Vocals predominate, with DK Dyson counted in the quintet, and Dean Bowman given a guest shot. Also on hand are Xavier Davis (piano), Brad Jones (bass), and Pheeroan Aklaff (drums), and guests include Brandon Ross, Vernon Reid, and Ralph Alessi. Hot enough to overcome my increasing resistance to gospel, especially when the clarinet races to the front. A-
Dan Cray: Meridies (2011 , Origin): Pianist, b. 1977, studied at Northwestern in Chicago. Fifth album since 2001, a quartet with bass, drums, and Noah Preminger on tenor sax -- a significant plus. B+(*)
Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Twenty Dozen (2011 , Savoy Jazz): The venerable New Orleans institution sticks to its guns, and for good reason: the early instrumental cuts here are lackluster, but the nth edition of "When the Saints Go Marching In" finally shakes all the cobwebs loose and turns this into a party. B+(*)
The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra: All Out of Peaches (2011, New Folk): Fusion band out of Minnesota -- self-description runs "Chick Corea meets The Dixie Dregs meets A Prairie Home Companion." Four albums, including two volumes of Songs We Didn't Write. Sound is dominated by Lisi Wright's "fiddle" over guitar-bass-drums, which can wear thin but is fun for a good while. B+(*)
Marshall Gilkes: Sound Stories (2011 , Alternate Side): Trombonist, b. 1978, third album since 2005: a quintet, with Donny McCaslin on tenor sax, Adam Birnbaum on piano, bass, and drums. Gilkes wrote all the pieces, keeps it all nicely balanced, the trombone leads as muscular as the sax. B+(**)
Boris Hauf Sextet: Next Delusion (2010 , Clean Feed): Saxophonist (tenor and soprano here), b. 1974 in England, based in Vienna, but seems like all his friends are in Chicago: sextet here includes Keefe Jackson (tenor sax, contrabass clarinet), Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Frank Rosaly (drums), Steven Hess (drums, electronics), and Michael Hartman (still more drums). In other words, this sextet reduces to a reeds/drums duo, with electronics reinforcing either side. Striking passages, some dead spots. Hauf claims "more than 40 CD, Vinyl and online releases." I don't have a handle on him, but AMG lists him under "avant-garde" (only crediting him with 2 albums), so they don't either. B+(*)
Jazz Punks: Smashups (2012, self-released): First album from group: Sal Polcino (guitar), Robby Elfman (sax), Danny Kastner (piano), Michael Polcino (bass), Hugh Elliot (drums). Basic idea is to take a rock theme, like the Who's "I Can See for Miles," and lay a jazz riff on top of it, like Miles Davis's "No Blues," the result retitled "I Can See Miles." Or the Beatles + Wayne Shorter ("She's So Heavy" + "Footprints" = "Heavyfoot"), Led Zeppelin + Dizzy Gillespie ("Mystic Mountain Hop" + "A Night in Tunisia" = "Led Gillespie"), or the Clash + Paul Desmond ("Should I Stay or Should I Go" + "Take Five" = "Clash Up"). The Polcinos tend to get the rock parts, Elfman the jazz. Entertaining, occasionally witty, but not much punk, not that I can't see why they didn't call themselves Jazz Classic Rockers. B+(*)
Andrew Lamb: Rhapsody in Black (2006 , NoBusiness): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1958 in North Carolina, gravitated toward AACM, Brooklyn, and Europe. Has a spotty discography but he always makes a strong impression wherever he pops up. This is a quartet with two drummers (Michael Wimberly and Guillermo E. Brown), Tom Abbs working the lower registers (bass, tuba, didgeridoo), and Lamb on sax, flute, clarinet, and conch shell. He runs through the gyrations of an extended suite -- the soft flute segment (which I think leads into the shell) is right on the mark, but the rough stuff is even better. A-
Joe Locke/Geoffrey Keezer Group: Signing (2011 , Motéma): Vibes and piano, group also means bass and drums. Locke has more than two dozen albums since 1990. His collaboration with pianist Keezer goes back at least to 2006's Live in Seattle, but this round works out much better, nicely balanced, flashy moments from both, and more depth -- bassist Terreon Gully deserves a mention. B+(***)
Sebastian Noelle: Koan (2010 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, born in Germany, based in New York. Fourth album; the first a set of solos and duos with Gene Bertoncini. Group here includes Loren Stillman (alto sax), Thomson Kneeland (bass), Tony Moreno (drums), and, on 4 (of 11) cuts, George Colligan (piano). The piano can lift or push this over the top, but Stillman is always an asset, and the guitar weaves everything together. B+(**)
Dudley Owens/Aaron Wright Band: People Calling (2011 , Origin): Wright plays bass; wrote 7 of 11 songs. Owens plays tenor and soprano sax; wrote the other 4. With piano (Willerm Delisfort), drums (Clif Wallace), and trumpet (Justin Stanton) on the last four cuts. Postbop with a bluesy base. B+(*)
Twopool: Traffic Bins (2010 , Origin): Swiss group: Andrea Oswald (alto sax), Andreas Tschopp (trombone), Christian Wolfarth (drums), Jonas Tauber (cello) -- I've seen Tauber, who plays bass elsewhere, identified as the leader, but all the pieces are free group improvs, the growl and stutter of the trombone spaced out, picked apart by the cello, the sax adding some melodic form. Origin started out as a local Seattle label, but has branched out, especially Chicago, but also to central Europe. Jonas directs their "Zürich Series" -- now up to seven records. B+(***)
Eyal Vilner: Introducing the Eyal Vilner Big Band (2010 , Gut String): Saxophone player, b. 1985 in Israel, leads a conventional big band, mostly staffed with New York musicians (Ned Goold and Dan Block are in the sax section), through songs like "Woody 'N You" and "Un Poco Loco" that get off on the harmonics and swing. Includes three vocal features for Yaala Ballin, especially superb on "The Nearness of You." B+(*)
Spike Wilner: La Tendresse (2011 , Posi-Tone): Pianist, has more than a handful of albums since 2000, a couple recorded live at Smalls, the New York club he owns. Before Smalls, he was house pianist at the Village Gate, and he brings that sensibility to this piano trio. Four originals, covers from Joplin to Monk with a lot of songbook fare in between. B+(**)
Larry Willis: This Time the Dream's on Me (2011 , High Note): Pianist, b. 1940, has twenty-some albums under his own name since 1970, many more as a collaborator or sideman. This one is solo, a clear taste of what he's been doing all along. B+(**)
Nate Wooley/Christian Weber/Paul Lytton: Six Feet Under (2009 , NoBusiness): Trumpet, bass, drums, respectively. Lytton is the best known, one of the major drummers of Europe's avant-garde, but Wooley has been prolific since 2002, even more so since he started releasing records under his own name in 2009 (AMG lists eight, missing this one -- an LP release limited to 300 copies, so I'm glad to have received my CDR). Scratchy, lots of low volume, high pressure maneuvers, making the few sections where the trumpet breaks loose all the more impressive. B+(**) [advance]
Brandon Wright: Journeyman (2011 , Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, second album, first was called Boiling Point, and this is another pot-boiler: mainstream sax quartet, David Kikoski on piano, Boris Kozlov on bass, Donald Edwards on drums. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, May 20. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
While I'm on a roll, I could expend this considerably, but will hold the rest for next week. Means indeed there will be a next week.
Thursday, May 17. 2012
Shocked to hear that Donna Summer has died, at 63, lung cancer, reportedly the result of inhaling toxic particles released by the WTC attack in September 2001: chalk one more death up to Osama bin Laden, but also give an assist to the New York building codes that allowed the World Trade Center to be packed with asbestos, and to fifty-some years of US foreign policy in the Middle East, torn as always between the schizo aims of making the world prosperous for Exxon and Citibank (and Boeing) on the one hand, and hastening the apocalypse on the other.
She only released one album since 1999 -- Crayons in 2008, something I'll have to catch up with. Meanwhile, I thought I'd mark the occasion by reprinting the piece I wrote on her for The New Rolling Stone Album Guide [link], replacing the RS star-graded discography with data from my database:
This was written in 2003, only restoring (and tuning slightly) one line the editor cut. I missed several albums -- in fact, most of what she did from 1980-96. The Wanderer (1980, Polygram) is well regarded (Christgau: A-), the later albums less so. (I missed Cats Without Claws in the RS piece, but included it above -- must have found it later.) The early Giorgio Moroder albums were inconsistent and made minimal use of Summer's voice, but were important at the time. Looking back (without replaying), I'm a bit surprised that I didn't rate Bad Girls and She Works Hard for the Money even higher: the former was a bit much either spread out over two LPs or compressed into one CD, but the latter must have been my most-played LP in 1983. The compilations are massively redundant and invariably flawed -- something you notice every time "MacArthur Park" comes on, although there are versions where the corn is blown away by the whirlwind disco.
Also see Robert Christgau's page here.
Tuesday, May 15. 2012
As I recall, just before May 1, when I looked to see how many records I had piled up in my draft file, I counted sixteen. Looks like 58 now, so the vast majority have come in the two week overhang from the month start. My practice is to wait until A Downloader's Diary runs: for one thing he feeds me valuable hints along the way, Rusko being a prime example.
What follows is mostly stuff that at least seemed to have some potential. I haven't much felt like listening to things just because they excite the rock crit mainstream -- Jack White is one example, Rufus Wainwright is another, and then there are things like Chairlift and Tindersticks and Father John Misty that can wait. Also waiting are some hip-hop downloads -- I'm still not much good at snagging them, and unpacking them is a nuissance, after which I have to use a different program to play them, whereas just streaming is so easy and clutter-free. The result is delay, implicit here by the lack of new ones, more explicitly by the fact that I finally got around to the Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj joints I grabbed more or less two years ago. (And I still have some even earlier Weezy CDRs.)
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 April 10. Past reviews and more information are available here.
Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls (2012, ATO): From Athens, AL, not in the same league as Athens, GA, but closer to Muscle Shoals. Assumed the band was white, but mistook the singer for male given how extreme the Otis Redding affectation was (switching occasionally to Mick Jagger when the latter could be made to sound more black), but the name is Brittany Howard, and judging from pics if she isn't female she's good at impersonating that too (could pass for black, too). Maybe half the songs hold all the concepts together, including the one about not expecting to live to 22. Athens, AL must really suck. B+(**)
Amadou & Mariam: Folila (2012, Nonesuch): Since Mali's "blind couple" have become such international celebrities, their music has thickened up with guests and production help, and seamlessly flows French and English into their native Bambara. I haven't begun to sort this out -- the booklet looks informative if only one could read it, a task well beyond my eyes -- so I just go with the flow, which is well nigh inexorable. A- [cd]
Ballister: Bastard String (2010 , self-released): Free sax trio, with two-fifths of the Vandermark 5 -- saxophonist Dave Rempis squalling and squawking, Fred Lonberg-Holm filling the cracks with cello and electronics and taking the album's most impressive solo slot -- plus fellow traveller Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Live improv, three long cuts, last one rocks out. B+(***) [dl]
Gary Bartz: Coltrane Rules: Tao of a Musical Warrior (2012, Oyo): Don't have the song credits but whatever Coltane didn't write didn't fall far from the tree. Quartet -- aside from Rene McLean's guest shot -- with Barney McAll in the Tyner hot seat, the leader's alto sax picks up Coltrane's nuances and as often as not pushes them even harder and faster. The other guest is Andy Bey, singing "Dear Lord" -- remarkably, of course. B+(***)
Rick Berlin: Paper Airplane (2010, Hi-N-Dry): Boston-based singer-songwriter, b. 1945 as Richard Gustave Kinscherf III in Sioux City, IA, went to Yale, had a band in the 1970s called Orchestra Luna, others since then (like Berlin Airlift and The Shelley Winters Project), trying out Rick Berlin: The Movie in 1985, finally normalizing it c. 2000. "If I Wasn't Such a Bum" hits home for me; maybe "I Wish I could Talk with My Dad" too, or maybe that's too close. Waxes profane, but runs out of juice in the end. Guess we all do. B+(**)
Eric Bibb: Deeper in the Well (2011 , Stony Plain): Bluesman, started out on New York's folk scene and wound up in Helsinki, quietly compiling a catalogue of thirty-some albums. Similar approach to Taj Mahal but without the gravel in his voice, do he often seems slight, but nearly all of the songs here connect, and he takes to heart the one that insists that if you're not movin' up you're sinking down. A-
Jim Black Trio: Somatic (2011 , Winter & Winter): One of my favorite drummers, with a small stack of records under his name (often as AlasNoAxis), plus he's worked regularly with Tim Berne, Uri Caine, Dave Douglas (Tiny Bell Trio), Ellery Eskelin, Satoko Fujii, Assif Tsahar, and many others. This one is a trio with Thomas Morgan on bass and a young (b. 1990) Austrian named Elias Stemeseder making his debut on piano. He makes a strong impression, especially with a lot of left-hand rumble which makes this more percussive than most piano trios, but also on some tricky free sparring. B+(***)
Paul Burch: Words of Love: Songs of Buddy Holly (2011, Perfect Sounds): Country-ish singer, eight albums since 1998, was trying to find his new album with the Waco Brothers and noticed this wasn't too old. Figured at first he should have no trouble doing Buddy Holly better than last year's two big tribute albums, but this turns out to be as superfluous and redundant. Not sure if I've heard anyone add an interesting spin to Holly since Bryan Ferry (These Foolish Things, 1973). Never heard anyone sing Holly better than he did himself, although I suppose the Beatles came close, and I heard the Rolling Stones do "Not Fade Away" before I knew any better. B
Clark: Iradelphic (2012, Warp): Chris Clark, since 2006 just Clark, sixth album since 2012. He's got an interesting arsenal of sounds, but makes a sort of pastiche music that is about equally likely to annoy and delight -- not a good ratio. B
Elise Davis: Cheap Date (2011, self-released): Country singer-songwriter, from Little Rock, moved to Nashville in 2011 after a couple self-released albums, and came out with another. Nice girl trying to find her way, not really able to invoke the anger of "Make the Kill," nor get down and out enough for "I Get Awful Lonesome," but does offer good advice on "Let Those Bad Thoughts Die" -- twice, the "on the porch" version preferred for its stripped down directness. B+(*)
De La Soul's Plug 1 & Plug 2 Present . . . First Serve (2012, Duck Down): Concept album, stitched together by skits, something about making it in the rap life. My first impression is that the music runs so far ahead of the story the latter doesn't matter, with the beat so pervasive not even the skits can break the flow (well, except for the drug-taking cough bit). A-
Death Grips: The Money Store (2012, Epic): Hardcore rap group, got some notice for last year's mixtape and cashed in with this major label joint; "hard and heartless" I said last time, let's add humorless here too, which keeps this from being confused with a Beastie Boys move. (Inadvertent humor is another matter; cf. "I've Seen Footage.") Key lyric: "fuck that"; alternatively, "we got all the coconuts, bitch!" B+(*)
Amadou Diagne: Introducing Amadou Diagne (2012, World Music Network): From Senegal, born into "a large Griot family of Sabar drummers," plays kora-like guitar and percussion and sings, for a fairly minimal sound, stretched out over 60 minutes so you get your money's worth. B+(*)
Disappears: Pre Language (2012, Kranky): Chicago group, punk formalists on their first two short albums (29:03 and 30:57), added Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley this time and stretched out to 35:38 on 9 songs. The guitar crunch reminds me of a 1980s band called the Perfect Disaster, the singer a little more basso like Joy Division. Don't know about lyrics, but 80%, maybe more, of this sounds awesome. A-
Justin Townes Earle: Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now (2012, Bloodshot): Steve Earle's son, fifth album, you expect something country-ish and rockier, but he's more of a traveling minstrel, wandering to New York and wondering why he left. Short enough (30:22) a more substantial artist would have called this an EP, but for now economy is a virtue. B+(*)
Ruthie Foster: Let It Burn (2012, Blue Corn Music): Blues? Folk? Mostly gospel, with church organ and choirs, which makes an awful mess out of "Ring of Fire" but turns out the steeliest "If I Had a Hammer" in eons. Then there's "Titanic," which prooves the Lord moves in mysterious ways, but also suggests he's one mischievous Supreme Being -- or am I reading too much into the chill of the depths? B+(*)
François and the Atlas Mountains: E Volo Love (2012, Domino): French chansonnier, based since 2003 in Bristol, slips some English in with the French, using both effectively. Music has a light, airy feel, a bit of strings, some synth. The reference to the range that separates coastal Algeria and Morocco from the Sahara shows some effort to look beyond Europe, but has scant chance of them going native. B+(***)
Bill Frisell: The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved (2012, 429): Actually, the name on the cover is Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote the text for Scanlan's in 1970, but Frisell composed the music, and the other main contenders are producer Hal Willner and Tim Robbins, who reads Thompson's narration, with other voices for other characters, especially illustrator Ralph Steadman. Frisell's "Entr'acte" is a charming piece of music, but most of the rest is buried under the words, with a protective layer of too many horns and strings -- maybe we should credit the thing to Willner? Not as funny as it once was, let alone should be, for in the end the decadent and depraved turn out to have been the authors, although the "swinish Neo-Nazi hack" of a governor was no doubt real. B
Kenny Garrett: Seeds From the Underground (2012, Mack Avenue): First cut ("Boogety Boogety") is superfast, powered with bata drums; second ("J. Mac") even faster, threatening to blow a gasket, although Benito Gonzalez does a terrific job of keeping up on piano. As long as the band can keep up the pace, the leader blows some hellacious alto sax, but slow it down and this loses interest, especially when they're aiming for more torque (although the straightforward "Ballad Jarrett" is quite lovely). The voices (on a couple cuts) are annoying, and the soprano sax is superfluous. I got to this on a day I previously graded three other mainstream sax albums A-; without such lapses, this could have been a fourth. B+(**)
Gift of Gab: The Next Logical Progression (2012, Quannum Projects): The wordsmith from Blackalicious, beats have a rather simplistic wavelike form, plenty of up and down, which is all he really needs to appeal to "the dreamer in you." B+(**)
Gotye: Making Mirrors (2011 , Universal Republic): Wally de Backer, b. 1980 in Belgium, raised in Australia, has a couple previous records. Lush electropop, didn't get much out of it. B
Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Grifter's Hymnal (2012, Bordello): Country singer from Oklahoma, never got close to Nashville, back in the 1970s styling his band as the Cowboy Twinkies, his discography showing a 16-year lapse between Off the Wall and Loco Gringos Lament, and has only gotten older and more grizzled since then. His 2010 album denied any middle ground between enlightenment and its opposite, which he called endarkenment. Here he reaches for his Bible, not because he believes in it so much as to scare the bejesus out of you, finding the Devil working for God, counting our sinful selves luckier than Lazarus. Counts his blessings, trims his expectations, sticks with blues licks, likes straightahead rock and roll. A-
Norah Jones: Little Broken Hearts (2012, Blue Note): A breakup album, possibly why she's never looked sexier on the cover, but without latching onto the lyrics -- and I do have trouble doing that -- the mood strikes me as more balmy desert isle, something she sings exquisitely. B
Kool A.D.: 51 (2012, Greedhead/Mishka): Victor Vazquez, also in Das Racist, his solo joint falls farther from the tree than Himanshu's Nehru Jackets did, and scatters more to the wind. Samples range from Bob Dylan to Huey Newton, the latter from a different era but a strangely familiar place. B+(**)
Lil Wayne: No Ceilings (2010, self-released): Of the dozens of Weezy mixtapes, the only reason I glommed onto this one was that Christgau singled it out, and even then it's been sitting unexamined on the computer for a couple years now. (I have a couple more on CDR that are even older, so some day I need to dig them out.) This is long, the word flow pretty amazing all the way through, the beats fine too, unidentified guests are assets, none indispensible. If this is a loss leader, why does it feel so much more satisfying than his product (Tha Carter III included)? A- [dl]
Lower Dens: Nootropics (2012, Ribbon Music): Baltimore group, second album, first one had a pronounced Velvets feel, this one less so -- as if they've tried to move on to New Order but couldn't make the leap and fell into the doldrums. B+(*)
Spoek Mathambo: Nombolo One (2011, Motel 11 Roadtrip Tapes): Gave Father Creeper a single spin before Christgau and others praised it in print, and I recall it as a stylistic jumble -- I had actually started writing about the indie guitars but then the album turned all keyboardy, and while I hadn't heard much of interest a late cut should at least have prodded a replay. Sooner or later I will have to revisit it, but the one later time I replayed it wasn't conclusive. Main problem seems to be that I can't relate what he does to anything I know about South African music, and that remains true even here: a mixtape described as "tribute to classic south african tunes by such great artists as Phuzekhemisi, Brenda Fassie, Letta Mbuli, Caiphus Semenya, BOP, Jack Knife, Chiskop, Sankomota, Mahlathini, Ladysmith Black Mambazo" -- don't know most of those names, and don't recognize the ones I do, but some sort of groove does creep in. B+(**)
Miguel: Art Dealer Chic Vol. 1 (2012, self-released, EP): Soul voice, soft and whiney, like Weeknd at his alleged worst. Only three cuts, the first of three like-titled EPs. In pre-download days they would probably have packed them together into one mediocre LP, but this way I can cut my losses. (Too bad the streaming site automatically looped, so I didn't even get the benefit of brevity.) B- [dl]
Nicki Minaj: Beam Me Up Scotty (2009, Trapaholics): Her third mix tape, arguably the one that put her on her star track, but much more narrowly a rap record than even the first of her two studio efforts. Hard beats, quick flow, lots of guests (none eclipse her), runs on for 75 minutes (but so tight editing it down to 45 minutes is unlikely to markedly improve it -- although it might make the prospect of future play less daunting). Two studio albums later, I'm not sure whether this is the road not taken, or just her bona fides before branching out. B+(***) [dl]
Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012, Universal Republic): The hardest working girl in hip-hop business, made it to the Super Bowl this year as an extra but will be fronting the show before the Black Eyed Peas get invited back. Second studio joint, 19 cuts on the budget edition, 22 on the deluxe, but would have been more impressive dialed back to 14 -- good chance there's an A album in here somewhere, but it's too doped and delirious to sort itself out, and who knows what sort of entanglements the hot shot guests add? A-
Miniature Tigers: Mia Pharoah (2012, Modern Art): Cheesy pop band from Brooklyn, fun as long as they keep it upbeat. B+(*)
Marisa Monte: O Que Você Quer Saber de Verdade (2010-11 , Blue Note): Brazilian pop star, has at least nine albums since 1989 (including the one-shot supergroup Tribalistas), selling a million copies per (although not lately). This takes a while to find its groove, in part by hacking through the jungle undergrowth of strings, but when it does little else matters. B+(**)
Kip Moore: Up All Night (2012, Mercury Nashville): Nashville singer-songwriter, first album, has a piece of eleven songs but got help with all of them. Tries to get by on beer and sex, which he figures are pretty interchangeable: "you got the kiss that tastes like honey/and I got a little beer money." At one point thinks about joining the Peace Corps, but is distracted by a girl in the airport. Theme for that song: "just don't give up on me yet/I'm still growin' up." B+(*)
Ted Nash: The Creep (2012, Plastic Sax): Can't find song credits here, so I'm confused why reviewers like to refer this back to Ornette Coleman -- I guess the two-horn (Nash on alto sax, Ron Horton on trumpet) pianoless lineup is something, but a postbop exemplar like Nash would necessarily subsume Coleman as well as Parker and McLean and everyone in between. Still, a tour de force, and Horton rises to the challenge. A-
Willie Nelson: Heroes (2012, Legacy): After several recent bounces, newly signed to a reissues label, his first album there a hodge-podge that looks like it started out intending to be a superstar duets album but wound up settling for Lukas Nelson on 8 of 14 cuts, and Jamey Johnson on two. Aside from Snoop Dogg on "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die" the high points are deep in the tradition: two Bob Wills songs, Merle Haggard as Waylon Jennings, and most of all Ray Price on "Cold War With You." B+(**) [cd]
NZCA/Lines: NZCA/Lines (2012, Loaf): Don't know anything about this anonymous-sounding soft soul group, just an easy self-satisfied groove. B+(*)
OFF!: OFF! (2012, Vice, EP): Wikipedia sez: "OFF! is a well-known insect repellant brand from S.C. Johnson and Son and produced in Finland." They spell the "American hardcore punk supergroup" "Off!" -- guess that teaches me for following the non-canonical upper case. By the time I finished writing the above I was already half way (eight cuts) into their 16-cut debut album, but it only runs for 15:44 -- an EP by my books, but their real first album ran 18:08 (also 16 cuts) and was presented as The First Four EPs. Still, shouldn't complain about the brevity: the most super of the group, shouter Keith Morris, started out in the Circle Jerks, and they always went on too long. Adding some capable musicians makes the shtick work, and you really wouldn't want to listen to them for 60 minutes straight. B+(***)
One Direction: Up All Night (2012, Syco/Columbia): Brit boy band (OK, British-Irish), tied to Simon Cowell's contest show and label -- seems like a scam (err, conflict of interest) if anyone cares. Enjoyably upbeat album, no smashes but engagingly programable filler. B+(*)
William Parker/Gianni Lenoci/Vittorino Curci/Marcello Magliocchi: Serving Evolving Humanity (2010, Silta): Free jazz "suite" in three parts, a little over 50 minutes. Parker's bass is a factory of sound, and pianist Lenoci starts with a Tayloresque explosion of notes, although when the slow it down he's equally dazzling -- his is a name you should take note of. The sax and drums are less notable, nor does it help when Curci opts to make his noise by grunting through a megaphone. B+(**)
Pepe Deluxé: Queen of the Wave (2012, Catskills): Finnish group, dates back to 1999 with records every 4-5 years since. This is billed as an "esoteric pop opera in three parts" -- probably means they're full of shit, but they throw so many different looks at you that much of it is dazzling. One advantage of trying to judge on one play is that I haven't begun to sort it out, so everything still seems possible. B+(**)
Gregory Porter: Be Good (2011 , Motema): Jazz singer, at least by positioning -- in front of Chip Crawford's flashy piano, flanked by horn players like Keyon Harrold and Tivon Pennicott. (If you don't recognize those name, especially the latter, you should.) He can scat, but rarely genuflects as has been the style from early vocalese through Kurt Elling. He also writes most of his material, and can come across as a slightly squarish soul singer. Thus far I'm more impressed than pleased. B
Quakers: Quakers (2012, Stones Throw): Synthetic hip-hop group, scads of mostly obscure guest rappers on 41 short rhythm tracks by producers Fuzzface (Portishead DJ Geoff Barrow), Katalyst (Ashley Anderson), and 7-Stu-7 (Stuart Matthews). Mostly has an old school vibe, strictly business. Sticklers on consistency could gripe, but the bits that are less than great are short too. B+(***)
Quantic & Alice Russell: Look Around the Corner With the Combo Bárbaro (2012, Tru Thoughts): Quantic is Will Holland, I guess you'd call him a producer, has at least eleven albums since 2001 (including four with a live group he calls the Quantic Soul Orchestra). Russell is a UK diva with four records (plus some remixes) since 2004. Together they go for a Latin vibe too subtle to grab me, but seductive enough to amuse. B+(*)
Bonnie Raitt: Slipstream (2012, Redwing): Six or seven years since her last record. She's pretty much given up on writing -- only one co-credit on twelve songs, none staples or classics, not even the two Dylan, others from Joe Henry, various Bramletts and Brambletts. Makes up ground on performance: sharp band, fine voice, nice little details like a couple Bill Frisell spots. B+(**)
Arrica Rose & the . . .'s: Let Alone Sea (2011, Poprock): Pronounce that "the dot dot dots." Singer-songwriter with a band to help out, soft-toned songs that don't sound like much of anything, nice enough it's hard to be harsh. B [cd]
Rusko: Songs (2012, Mad Decent/Downtown): British DJ, Christopher Mercer, second album, puts the dub back in dubstep -- at least in the early going, eventually branching out and finding other interesting twists and turns. A-
John K. Samson: Provincial (2012, Epitaph): Canadian singer-songwriter, has fronted a couple bands (Propagandhi, The Weakerthans) before this debut. Has a bit of the deadpan songcraft of Magnetic Fields and Mountain Goats, but really comes alive on "When I Write My Master Thesis" and sustains interest most of the way out, even when he's writing about hockey. B+(***)
Santigold: Master of Make-Believe (2012, Atlantic): Santi White, previously d/b/a Santogold, adjusting her name after her eponymous 2008 debut. I never connected with that album, and had the same instinct here, but there are at least a half dozen songs here that bounce harder than her cold voice would allow -- the sort of thing that could grow on you if given time. B+(***)
Darrell Scott: Long Ride Home (2012, Full Light): Country singer-songwriter, son of Wayne Scott (who had an album I recommend in 2005, This Weary Way), has had more success writing than singing but is up to seven albums now. Some songs do a nice job of detailing ordinary life, but some are overly slick or listless or just plain uninteresting. Could be cut down to a pretty decent album. B
Spiritualized: Sweet Heart, Sweet Light (2012, Fat Possum): Guitarist John Coxon occasionally shows up on Thirsty Ear records as J. Spaceman, a nod to the group's pre-history, and a hint of interest in jazz and/or electronica that doesn't get much play in the arena. Still, more feedback than usual on, except on the hymn they call "Freedom" -- the only time they get something out of the organ, but not the only hymn. Title didn't make it to the cover, which just says "Huh?" B-
S/S/S: Beak & Claw (2012, Anticon, EP): One-shot download only EP, 4 songs, 18 minutes. The S's stand for popmeister Sufjan Stevens, alt-rapper Serengeti, and drum 'n' bassmaker Son Lux. I initially took the lush opener as a clue to file this under Stevens, but Serengeti's dinosaur museum rap won out. Even more winning is the closer, "Octomom," which claims last night to have been "the time of my life." B+(***) [bc]
Standard Fare: Out of Sight, Out of Town (2011 , Melodic): English group, rocks harder than their debut, which makes it all the harder to sort out the two voices, their stories, where they're coming from, where they're going. And that seems to matter; just not to me. B+(**)
Steep Canyon Rangers: Nobody Knows You (2012, Rounder): Bluegrass group, seventh album since 2001, an obscurity broken when Steve Martin tapped them for his backup band on last year's Rare Bird Alert. Their music could hardly be more conventional, and their love songs explore every flavor of trite from "I may never be this easy to love again" to "love is a natural disaster." On the other hand, the bitter childhood Graham Sharp details in "Ungrateful One" is little short of shocking. If autobiographical, it sounds like he failed to escape. B-
The Ting Tings: Sounds From Nowheresville (2012, Columbia): British duo, Katie White and Jules de Marco where singer White owns all the writing credits. Second album, one of the worst reviewed this year, which makes me wonder why mainstream rock crit has become so dour and mopey -- we're talking, after all, about a consensus that currently has Andrew Bird, Grimes, Spirtualized, and Sharon Van Etten in its top ten. Too punk for dance pop -- 30 years ago this would have been slotted as new wave, "Guggenheim" a punk throwback to the Shangri-Las, but just one possible vector for a group that doesn't have a fixed direction -- probably why they confuse critics so. [I actually listened to the Deluxe Edition, which extends the 10-cut, 33:59 album to 19-cuts and 72:28 with remixes and a dull outtake, "Ain't Got Shit"; too much of the same thing, although the dorky Shook Remix of "Hang It Up" is fun.] B+(***)
Caetano Veloso and David Byrne: Live at Carnegie Hall (2004 , Nonesuch): A legend in Brazil and his most conspicuous fan in the US, on the latter's home turf, which tilts the playing field severely. Veloso opens solo, adding musicians one by one up through cut six, after which Byrne enters, taking over for a stretch of seven songs, half old warhorses ("And She Was," "Life During Wartime," "Road to Nowhere"). Last five cuts they trade songs and lines. Not oil and water, but they don't combine in ways that advance either case. B
Loudon Wainwright III: Older Than My Old Man Now (2012, 2nd Story Sound): Opening lines: "The strangest story ever told/ Was how I got to be this old." The song expands on that story, and the rest of the album keeps returning to it, haunted by the ghosts (er, memories) of his father, who died before reaching 65, the old age Loudon moans about. But age is one subject Loudon can sink his teeth into, not that he didn't have to get there to do that. After all: "But here's another song in C/ With my favorite protagonist - me." A
Joe Louis Walker: Hellfire (2012, Alligator): Blues veteran, 20+ albums since he emerged as a fiery guitar slinger back in 1986. Hasn't let the grind wear him down, but overcompensates by cranking up the volume and shouting over that, and overcompensating for his mortality with God songs -- "Soldier for Jesus" is the worst, but burns with the same intensity of everything else. The best is "Movin' On," but Hank Snow wrote that, and it can stand the heat. B+(*)
M. Ward: A Wasteland Companion (2012, Merge): A singer-songwriter with good song sense makes a nice, easily listenable album; gets a lot of help from his friends, not that he needs any of them. B+(*)
Monday, May 14. 2012
Music: Current count 19915  rated (+35), 754  unrated (-7). The delays in pulling Michael Tatum's excellent "A Downloader's Diary" together this month have stretched out the usual top-of-the-month posts. My Rhapsody Streamnotes should run tomorrow, completing the set. Thanks to the delays, there is more than usual on tap -- as opposed to my fears two weeks ago when I only found 16 notes stashed away in my draft file. Jazz Prospecting is if anything up a bit this week, partly because I'm feeling sated on non-jazz -- or at least I'm running low on enthusiasm and/or curiosity for the low-hanging new releases that Rhapsody offers.
One thing I've noticed me doing more than usual: getting to the end of a record and going blank for a summation line at the end of the note. More than usual, I'm just letting the grade talk in these cases. If I'm unsure of the grade I'll usually replay the record, but if I'm satisfied with the grade it's usually not worth my while to replay a record just to pick up a probably trivial line. (In Jazz CG I would make the extra effort, but I figure this is mostly triage.) I do, by the way, have a bulging shelf of records waiting for Jazz CG. Don't know what else to say about that right now.
David Boswell: Windows (2012, My Quiet Moon): Guitarist. Born in San Francisco; played in a rock band called Metro Jets; does session work in LA. Fourth album since 2004. Plays synth guitar as well as more conventional ones, backed by piano-bass-drums, dense with no rough edges, brightened up by John Fumo's trumpet near the end. B-
Amit Friedman Sextet: Sunrise (2010 , Origin): Israeli saxophonist, google him and you get lots of cheesecake pics of a buxom Israeli model with the same name. Debut album, recorded in Israel, mostly a bright and jaunty sextet with oud or guitar, piano, extra percussion, but the cuts with extra strings can dampen the mood. B+(*)
Tord Gustavsen Quartet: The Well (2011 , ECM): Norwegian pianist, b. 1970, not clear how many albums -- e.g., I had his 1999 collaboration with singer Siri Gjaere under his name but it looks like hers came first; five, since 2002, all on ECM, is my best reckoning. This one has Tore Brunborg (tenor sax), Mats Eilertsen (bass), and Jarle Vespestad (drums). B+(***) [advance]
Pamela Hines Trio with April Hall: Lucky's Boy (2011, Spice Rack): Hines is a pianist, her trio adding John Lockwood on bass and Les Harris, Jr. on drums. She has seven records since 1998, and sole credit for the nine songs here. The songs have lyrics, sung by Hall, who has three albums of her own (scoring the previous Hall Sings Hines for Hall). Hard to put a finger on this, a bit dry, perhaps. B
Florian Hoefner Group: Songs Without Words (2011 , OA2): Pianist, from Germany (I think), first album (as far as I can tell, although his label page says, "His performances are featured on seven CD releases"), a quartet with Mike Ruby (tenor and soprano sax), Sam Anning (bass), and Peter Kronreif (drums), recorded in New York. All originals, mainstream postbop, sax has some blues feel, all very nicely done. B+(***)
Philippe Baden Powell: Adventure Music Piano Masters Series: Vol 2 (2008 , Adventure Music): Son of the legendary Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell, plays piano, solo on his second album here -- series began with Benjamin Taubkin in 2010. B
Anne Mette Iversen: Poetry of Earth (2011 , Bju'ecords): Bassist, b. 1972 in Denmark, moved to New York to study at New School and settled in. Fourth album, 91:25 straddling two discs; wrote all the music for various poems (Svende Grøn, A.E. Housman, John Keats, Henrik Ibsen, Thomas Hardy, Lene Poulsen) sung by Maria Neckam and Christine Skou. The music has a chamber feel, with Dan Tepfer on piano and John Ellis on reeds. I haven't spent nearly enough time with this, and probably won't: not my thing, but remarkable nonetheless. B+(***)
Jonas Kullhammar/Torbjörn Zetterberg/Espen Aalberg: Basement Sessions Vol. 1 (2012, Clean Feed): Tenor/baritone sax, bass, drums, respectively; the leader b. 1978 in Sweden, runs the Moserobie label (which extends well beyond his own work), has at least eight albums since 2000 (Plays Loud for the People is one promising title), plus an 8-CD box called The Half Naked Truth: 1998-2008. First I've heard by him and I'm duly impressed, first by tone and natural feel which line him up as a worthy follower of saxophonists like Arne Domnerus and Bernt Rosengren -- a bit more avant, but that's what we used to call progress. B+(***)
Steve Lacy: Estilhaços: Live in Lisbon (1972 , Clean Feed): Still waiting for the avalanche of previously unissued recordings promised after the soprano sax legend's death in 2004, and eager to look at every piece that does appear to see how it fits into the puzzle. This one has been released before, first on LP in 1972, then on CD in 1996, both on obscure Portuguese labels. Lacy's quintet has rarely raised such a ruckus, and while much of it is hard to take, it does give you a sense of the thrill of freedom. I doubt that this had any role in triggering the revolution that freed Portugal two years later, but if Salazar had heard it I don't doubt that it would have scared the bejesus out of him -- in which case I'd have to grade it much higher. B+(*)
Sinikka Langeland Group: The Land That Is Not (2010 , ECM): Norwegian folk singer, plays kantele (bears a general likeness to a zither or autoharp), sings with great authority. Has at least seven albums since 1994, this being the second on ECM. The group itself is made up of accomplished jazz musicians. The hornwork of Arve Henriksen and Trygve Seim isn't central but is notable when it occurs; same for the rhythm section of Anders Jormin and Markku Ounaskari. B+(**) [advance]
Joel Miller: Swim (2011 , Origin): Saxophonist (tenor and soprano), b. in Sackville, New Brunswick; studied at McGill in Montreal. Sixth album since 1998. Covers one piece by Miles Davis and Gil Evans, and wrote the other ten. Quartet includes Geoff Keezer on piano, Fraser Hollins on bass, Greg Ritchie on drums. Upbeat, rich sax tone, lush even. B+(**)
Aruán Ortiz Quartet: Orbiting (2011 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, b. 1973 in Cuba, moved to US in 2003, has four albums since 2004. Four originals, four covers (Hermeto Pascoal, Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, "Alone Together"). Gives them all a delicate, thoughtful reading, supplemented by David Gilmore on guitar, Rashaan Carter on bass, Eric McPherson on drums. B+(**)
Kate Reid: The Love I'm In (2011, self-released): Singer, plays piano (but also employs Otmoro Ruiz on three cuts), based in Los Angeles, second album: standards, starting with "Just Squeeze Me," includes a long and touching "I Loves You Porgy," a slow and smoldering obligatory Jobim ("Portrait in Black and White"). Striking voice, holds your focus even when she goes real slow (but there's a bit too much of that). Doesn't make much use of the band beyond piano -- Ernie Watts is on the roster but scarcely noticeable. B+(**)
Alan Rosenthal: Just Sayin' (2011 , self-released): Pianist, from New York. First album as far as I can tell, a trio with Cameron Brown (bass) and Steve Johns (drums). Wrote 8 of 9 songs, one dedicated to Mal Waldron; the cover is "Red, Red Robin." B+(*)
Amanda Ruzza: This Is What Happened (2009 , Pimenta): Electric bassist, born in São Paulo, Brazil, Chilean mother, Italian father, speaks all those languages plus English. First album, recorded in Brooklyn. Starts with fuzzy funk and electric piano and Brazilian percussion, later adding some sax bits by Dave Binney. I wouldn't call it smooth jazz, but doesn't push very hard. B
Elliott Sharp Trio: Aggregat (2011 , Clean Feed): Seventh album by Sharp (or, as he bills himself here, "E#") that I've heard, all since 2004, which must get me up into the 6-8% range -- let's see: Wikipedia lists 99 albums not counting ones he produced or played as a sideman on, with the earliest album a solo from 1979, but that 99 does include a couple of "collaborative groups" I have filed elsewhere (John Zorn: Downtown Lullaby, Satoko Fujii: In the Tank, Tomas Ulrich: TECK String Quartet); drop them and I'm back at 7 of 90, almost 7.8%. Point is he's someone I know of but have hardly met. For instance, I never knew he sax (tenor and soprano) before, but he does here on nearly half of the album, and he makes much of his efforts, like a slower and more rugged Evan Parker. The rest of the time he plays guitar, where he is faster and develops a harmonic overhang that gives his figures a rich shimmer. With Brad Jones on bass and Ches Smith on drums. A-
Andrew Swift: Swift Kick (2011 , D Clef): Drummer, from Australia, based in New York. First album. Has 17 people on album, mostly recognized names -- Ryan Kisor, Wycliffe Gordon, Eric Alexander, Sharel Cassity, Yotam Silberstein are a few -- but aside from George Cables (piano) and Dwayne Burno (bass) most are only a couple cuts each. Moves along at a nice pace, lots of postbop texture, a bit too much kitchen sink but consistently enjoyable. B+(*)
Rafael Toral/Davu Seru: Live in Minneapolis (2011 , Clean Feed): B. 1967 in Lisbon, Portugal, Toral works with a variety of amplifiers and oscillators, in other words electronics. Has at least 15 albums since 1994. This was done live with a drummer (Seru), has the feel of improv. Fooled me a couple times into wondering who was playing sax. B+(**)
Andrea Veneziani: Oltreoceano (2011 , self-released): Bassist, from Italy, based in New York. First album, a piano trio with Kenny Werner expertly filling the hot seat, and Ross Pederson on drums. Veneziani wrote 4 pieces, filling the album out with three brief "Free Episode" group improvs and covers from Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Bill Evans. B+(**)
Tom Wetmore: The Desired Effect (2011 , Crosstown): Pianist (electric here), based in New York, first album, with alto sax (Jaleel Shaw or Eric Neveloff), two guitars, bass, and drums -- a group he calls (not on the album cover) the Tom Wetmore Electric Experiment. Describes his style as combining "the advanced harmony and rhythm of jazz and classical with the visceral groove of funk and other popular music." That's evident but has yet to develop into something particularly interesting. B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, May 13. 2012
by Michael Tatum
Although this month's jewel comes from a folkie singer-songwriter in his fifth decade of record making, most of the excitement this month is provided by hip hop -- much of it download only, some of it absolutely free, and more waiting in the wings. Which inevitably puts into question the justness and practicality of legislation currently putting a damper on big bad downloaders like myself. To which I would reply, I never bought a record I didn't like -- in advance. For those who feel the same way, but are squeamish about trolling the net for goodies themselves without a little guidance, I'll continue to provide this little public service, almost nearing its second anniversary.
Action Bronson: Blue Chips (Fools Gold/Reebok Classics) "Don't ever say my music sounds like Ghost's shit," Queens' favorite Jewish-Albanian ex-chef rapper warns, and though he refuses to alter that peculiarly similar vocal timbre, new producer-collaborator Justin Nealis (cheekily dubbed "Party Supplies") commands a far more expansive musical vocabulary than Tommy Mas, who provided the beats on Bronson's 2011 download-only debut Dr. Lecter. As such, Bronson sounds less here like a Wu-Tang wannabe than his own man. Launching with an audacious string quartet sans beats, Nealis appropriates old standbys like the Ohio Players and "I Only Have Eyes for You," ventures into left field with Iron Butterfly and "Jackie Blue," and gets downright perverse with a cunningly looped snippet of Dean Martin's "Return to Me" -- all catchy, all propulsive, and musically, this record never lets up. So much so, you might be dismayed how lazily El Bronsonlino falls back on the standard hookers-and-drugs palaver -- you almost want to hit the guy up on Facebook and tell him to pursue some healthier relationships. But having long since bonded with the man behind the character ever since I caught his amusingly low budget cooking show Action in the Kitchen (marveling over a slab of sushi-grade Ahi tuna: "We don't play games -- I pulled it off the carcass myself!" Or, poking his nostrils into a handful of chopped basil: "Smells like my favorite marijuana!"), I'm instead impressed by a vulnerability to which very few rappers will admit. Naturally, he buries it in the usual tough talk and jokey culinary metaphors, but it's there, most notably in this mixtape's painful centerpiece, in which he undergoes a penis extension to win back a first love turned to (sigh) hooking and drugs -- even if Bronson repudiates it as fiction, rapping about your tiny johnson rises to a level of shameful self-deprecation even Eminem wouldn't dare. Not that excuses Bronson for callously demanding that "bitch" to get him drinks. But the reveal, whether imagined or otherwise, provides a rationale worthy of, well, Dennis Coles himself. A
Allo Darlin': Europe (Slumberland) Although I'm sure she'd covet the opportunity, Elizabeth Morris doesn't need to audition for the next Stuart Murdoch or Stephin Merritt side project -- she can write catchy, winsome songs on her own. But her popping Tallulah into the tape deck on her road trip from "St. Lucia to Surfer's" (about an hour away from each other, if you're curious) only tempts me into pointing out the obvious truth that one talented woman does not equal the Go-Betweens. This has less to do with the bright tunes and well-turned lyrics that she has in spades than the lack of anything to play against them -- maybe she is Grant McLennan in the making, but where's the arch Robert Forster type to play the foil? Where is Amanda Brown providing side commentary on oboe and violin? Where's her "Right Here" or "Apology Accepted?" These may seem like unfeasibly tall orders, but even their 2010 debut's arrangements had a little more kick: brittler guitar lines, hopscotching flute, and a charming duet with the Pipettes' Robert Barry. The musical approach here is comparatively more streamlined, not unlike the Go-B's airy, 1988 16 Lovers Lane, or better yet, McLennan's own 1995 Horsebreaker Star. Even Sheffield's Standard Fare accomplishes more with less -- their Emma Kupa isn't nearly in Morris' league as a songwriter, but lively drummer Danny Beswick and low-rent Johnny Marr impersonator Danny How interact with Kupa to the extent they feel like a band, rather than your basic "singer-songwriter with backup" approach. I guess that leaves me asking myself just how much I love Morris' singing and songs despite her current limitations. Well, how much did I enjoy Horsebreaker Star? A
Macy Gray: Covered (429) Everyone approves of this messy hodgepodge of alt-pop covers in theory if not in practice, but I draw the line in describing it as "brave" -- in the '60s, the Beatles could cover Smokey, Aretha could cover the Beatles, and the Burritos could cover Aretha and no one would blink. But some people really do think this R&B diva tackling the Eurythmics and Radiohead is akin to an act of career suicide -- in one of this record's three uproarious skits, J.B. Smoove muses that if she really wants to scare her fans, she should go onstage with a sword instead of a microphone and prowl menacingly. Personally, I don't object to her "adventurousness" per se as much as I question her taste in what constitutes as a worthwhile song, but what's surprising is that the songs that work aren't always the ones you'd think -- she turns Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" into a Saturday morning cartoon theme and pointlessly dashes through the Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Maps" precipitando, but corralling her daughter and her daughter's friends for a cheeky cover of My Chemical Romance's "Teenagers," a gem that previously flew over my radar, is funny indeed. Others give up minor revelations -- it never before occurred to me that Colbie Calliat's "Bubbly" concerned cunnilingus, howsabout that -- yet leave you wondering why she bothered in the first place. Gray is such a strong-willed artist that I'm tempted to blame her solely for the fifty-fifty hit-or-miss ratio, but I'm dismayed as well in producer Hal Willner, who couldn't have taken this much of an aesthetic back seat when sorting out songs with Marianne Faithfull. Maybe next time he can slip her some old Dolly Parton records. B+
Madonna: MDNA (Interscope/Live Nation) Twenty years after the Sex book, almost thirty since writhing onstage in a wedding gown on MTV, she's become so fully absorbed into the mainstream it's easy to take for granted how much she loved to provoke, titillate, and scandalize back when she was building herself up into a cultural icon. The transition occurred in the early '90s, following the backlash against Sex and the vastly underrated Erotica -- both, it should be noted, the first projects from her now-liquidated Warners imprint Maverick, thus the first projects over which she had complete creative control: even for the most famous person in the world, a considerable blow to the ego. After that, her record making became a great deal more cautious -- a newborn daughter does rearrange one's priorities, after all -- leaving "transgression" as such to the comparatively more banal Disney dollies who took her place. Happily, this seizes 2005's Confessions on a Dance Floor and 2008's Hard Candy welcome if imperfect regressions to her younger self and slathers them with context -- namely, her nasty split from British film director Guy Ritchie. So thank goodness this "disco-fied divorce record" (to quote Joe Levy) cultivates a lot less emotional maturity than, say, Kathleen Edwards' boringly civil Voyageur -- in the first track, she flashes her tits in front of God; in the second, shoots Ritchie in the head and threatens to force him to be her chauffeur when they meet again in Hell ("I've got a lot of friends there," she reasons). Throughout, she gleefully references her glory days, quoting her old hits, appropriating some Cyndi Lauper, and stages a few cheerleader cheers a la Toni Basil, faltering only when she gets mushy toward the end (though I do appreciate her acutely-observed pointillism metaphor, "If you were the Mona Lisa/You'd be hanging in the Louvre" makes as much sense as "If you were a Big Mac/You'd be served at McDonald's"). The message? There's nothing sexier than autonomy. Nicki Minaj, please take note. A
Spoek Mathambo: Father Creeper (Sub Pop) Maxinquaye never came across as powerfully onstage as it did on album partly because Tricky didn't always play well with others, but also because dissociative music rarely translates effectively in live settings. Theoretically, the disjointed electrorap crafted by South Africa's Nthato James Monde Mokgata (along with key collaborator Richard Rumney on synthesizers) is designed specifically for darkened nightclubs, juxtaposing jittery, anxious grooves against dark, expansive music. Tune in to the lyrics however, and you'll realize his anomie is a product of his impoverished environment rather than faulty brain chemistry or junk food dependency, and as such his depressive tendencies feel more earned, providing more than enough rationale for a bleak concept album that follows the imagined arc of his life from horny adolescence fumbling for finger pie to a compromised marriage promising nothing but adjoining graves. In between, he chooses waiting tables to turning tricks, spits in the tourists' curried goat and then begs for the scraps, and pays sorrow, tears, and blood for an engagement ring on a wicked track that banishes do-gooding Kanye West and Jay-Z to the realm of feeble, upper-class irony. He doesn't even take respite in music -- the one that begins "No, you don't need to be scared/Of bullets raining on your head" is sarcastically framed by a lithe Mbaqanga sample whose subverted desecration could make tears run down Paul Simon's face. The girl who leaves an imprint of cherry lipgloss on the back of her wrist in the opener becomes an old woman with saggy lips and crusty eyes he can't bear waking up next to by the record's end. And in this couplet, he says more about his world than others could in weighty, book-length commentaries: "I feel like I can't go home/But I feel like I want to go home." A
Rusko: Songs (Downtown) "You see, 'roots music' is creative music," idealistically muses the unidentified Jamaican musician sampled at the beginning of this record. "You understand? Dat means it original, it come from de heart. So whatever's in your heart, and you feel, say, you want to create a different sound, you create dat different sound. So who's to say dere's any boundaries?" In the background, his companions passively grunt their collective approval (one can almost imagine them cloaked in a leaden cumulonimbus of ganja smoke). Unquestionably, this preamble is Leeds musician Christopher Mercer's way of second-guessing his notoriously insular target audience's reaction to this record, who have already invented an admittedly hilarious designation to dismiss his vivacious dancehall/dubstep hybrid: "Bro-step." Pigeonholing the high energy of his music as testosterone-fueled seems slightly disingenuous considering how many female voices still do the heavy lifting, and I wouldn't even consider a crime even if there were any truth to it. I imagine what really rankles U.K. scenesters are the promised "songs" of the album title, which aren't signified in verse-chorus-verse structures so much as in pithy catchprases and demonstrative musical motifs, sharpened by the random noises that supposedly justify this as a separate subgenre (dig that tiger growl in "Opium"). And though I hate to once again bring in Moby as a reference -- as electronica's evolution branches out ever further, every dance musician who colors outside the lines inevitably evokes his influence -- I'm reminded of Everything Is Wrong's "Feeling So Real" and "Everytime You Touch Me," two similarly-minded touchstones to which Moby himself never returned to for inspiration, for a song let alone an entire album. Having said that, I should probably warn you that my favorite track is the one everyone else seems to hate: the slavishly pornographic "Dirty Sexy," much maligned by uptight types on both sides of the pond. Sure, all that "I'm a pimp" stuff is pretty calculated, even cynical perhaps, completely fashioned with American radio in mind (even if American radio is never going to play it). That a sassy woman delivers its catty lyric should provide all the respite from "masculine energy" any anxiety-prone politically correct type should need. A
S/S/S: Beak & Claw (Anticon) Lamentably (and predictably), Pitchfork's Jayson Greene put indie pop wunderkind Sufjan Stevens at the center of his wrongheaded review, waiting until the second paragraph to mention avant-classical composer/second banana Son Lux, as well as this four-song, download-only EP's true draw, Chicago alt-rapper Serengeti -- the latter, in Greene's estimation, the trio's "wild card," even though of the three, Stevens is the only one not actually signed to Anticon. Granted, the interlaced synthesizers and drum patterns, as perfectly woven as the osier on a wicker chair, resemble Stevens' 2010 The Age of Adz more than anything on Serengeti's résumé, but this still strikes me akin to beginning a film review by praising the set designer rather than the screenwriter. And while no lyric on the frustratingly diffuse Adz pinned down a note of the intermittently beautiful music, here all of Serengeti's stories, beginning with an opener in which two ex-dopers wander aimlessly through the dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, provide crucial context. Though all four vignettes share a verbal density that occasionally approaches obtuseness, each thoughtfully explores the often vast gulf separating perception from reality, including the wry, unfairly maligned closer that attempts to humanize Nadya Suleman. "If I could figure out what it was all about . . ." Stevens warbles in a key moment (through effects, to be sure), and Serengeti finishes his thought: "I had the world figured out beyond any doubt." Not that any of Serengeti's spiritually adrift characters have it figured out, either -- that's why Stevens and Serengeti need each other. Well, why the former needs the latter more so than vice versa, but we'll get to that next time. A
Loudon Wainwright III: Older Than My Old Man Now (2nd Story Sound) Although there's great poetry in Loudon III's observation he's older now than Loudon II when he passed, it's almost certain that Wife I sparked this awe-inspiring song cycle about "death and decay" -- she's the unnamed subject of the poignant "In C," co-author of a revisited old age song they wrote together as kids, and proud mother of Children I and II. More importantly, she fuels the survivor guilt at the heart of the title track, pushing this self-confessed asshole into pondering what he dubs "the heavy shit": namely, relationships between parents, children, ex-wives, and close friends, some whose number has been called, others still twiddling their thumbs in the waiting room, and all appearing on this record in one capacity or another. This in itself is an unprecedented accomplishment in pop music -- the few families that boast talent this profoundly rich wouldn't dare rebuilding their burnt bridges in public, let alone on album. But in fact, familiarity with the Wainwright clan's ongoing soap opera puts that lump in the throat on the touching filial duets "The Days That We Die" and "All in a Family," and cajoling all IV Children and Wives II and III to serve as the Greek Chorus in the flippant up-to-now life story that opens is one of many strokes of ironic genius. Burying the emasculating pain of impotence in two tortuously funny vaudevillian turns is another. The underlying theme -- that a combination of humor and forgiveness gets one through the pains of life -- is no secret. But the extraordinary capper is that underneath it all, the asshole still lurks: comforted only by the hard truth that hellhound on his trail is out to get you and me, too. A+
Amadou & Mariam: Folila (Nonesuch) The title translates into Bamako as "music," which in this highly cross-promoted case doesn't necessarily make the bourgeoisie and the rebel come together ("Dougia Badia," "Metemya") ***
Carole King: The Legendary Demos (Hear Music) I've been waiting for this to happen for years, but I'd still trade most of the six repeats from Tapestry for, oh, her demos for "Locomotion," "Something Good," etc. ("Pleasant Valley Sunday" "Take Good Care of My Baby," "Natural Woman") ***
M. Ward: A Wasteland Companion (Merge) That companion is Ms. Zooey Deschanel, who comforts M. about his inability to sing like Roy Orbison (or write like T.S. Eliot) ("Me and My Shadow," "I Get Ideas") ***
Bonnie Raitt: Slipstream (Redwing) The beneficiary of a slipstream, not the generator of one, and consider the Gerry Rafferty cover and the titles of the two best songs if you doubt me ("Used to Rule the World," "Down to You") **
Rufus Wainwright: Out of the Game (Decca/Polydor) Dreamed of a gay Lily Allen, woke up to a Rufus Wainwright album produced by Greg Kurstin ("Jericho," "Montauk") **
Dr. John: Locked Down (Nonesuch) In which producer Dan Auerbach confuses acid jazz for a New Orleans subgenre ("Locked Down," "Ice Age") **
Norah Jones: . . . Little Broken Hearts (Blue Note) The cover art was reportedly inspired by the poster for Russ Meyer's Mudhoney (and who knew I would one day type the words "Norah Jones" and "Mudhoney" in the same sentence?), but for some perverse reason, I'm reminded instead of the cover of Linda Ronstadt's Mad Love -- you know, murkily photocopied image, tousled hair, lip gloss typography? The one where she covered Elvis Costello and, er, Little Anthony and the Imperials in an attempt to covet the lucrative "new wave" market? Ah, but the differences between the two musically! For one thing, although Norah is the same age now as Linda was in 1980, the latter's skinny-tie moves were a deliberate ploy to "youthen" her up, whereas Norah is, at long last, merely "acting her age." For another, Linda always styled herself as an "interpretive" singer, splitting her time between rehashing familiar (if not totally obvious) hits of yesteryear and giving greater exposure to up and coming songwriters, while Blue Note signed Norah on the wobbly premise that they would allow her to "develop" her unproven songwriting while supplying her with commercial material in the interim. Now, I wouldn't necessarily argue that Jones has failed on that front -- though how many of today's chanteuses (uh, Diana Krall? the contestants on American Idol?) feel motivated to croon any of her copyrights, I wonder -- but I will say that nothing on this dubiously-touted breakup record is as lively as Linda's embarrassingly forced "How Do I Make You," let alone Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." Brian Burton's wishy-washily atmospheric production style would be a bad match for Jones' meandering melodies in any case, but I'm fascinated by the impersonal detachment in what some call a "confessional" singer-songwriter breakthrough -- "I'm holding on/To a thing that's wrong/'Cause we don't belong/But you like my songs," sounds as dispassionate sung as it reads on the page, and if the songs themselves are this staid, what does that say about the broken relationship they supposedly memorialize? And can you really blame that unnamed fiction writer for running off for that unnamed twenty-two year old? Best in show: "Out on the Road," the only time she leaves the safety of her living room couch. B
Georgia Anne Muldrow: Seeds (Entertainment One Music) Boosters claim that Madlib emancipates this underground R&B thrush from the incompetence of her own self-production, but even if the results weren't frustratingly ragtag, the artiste would still have much to answer for. A helpmate of the ever-declining Erykah Badu who takes her wardrobe cues from Alice Coltrane circa 1971 and shuns melodies in favor of complexly layered harmonies for which she doesn't have the chops, she's also the kind of noodle head who regards the syllogistically dubious "Why do we kill each other/When we're all the same" as Deep Philosophy. Then, after devoting 3:33 (someone alert the numerologists!) to the subject of "Kali Yuga," she suggests you go and Google it to educate yourself further. Now, I personally think that if you're going to expound for that length of time on any subject (you know, the Mayan calendar, the Age of Aquarius, like that) your listener should be somewhat of an expert by the time you're through. Nevertheless, as reindeer games are my raison d'être, I decided to humor her and hightail it over to that very search engine, and if I had done so before listening to the record, it might have spared me the review: "Kali Yuga . . . is the last of the four stages the world goes through as part of the cycle of Yugas described in the Indian scriptures . . . considered by many Hindus to be the day that Krishna left Earth to return to his abode. Hindus believe that human civilization degenerates spiritually during the Kali Yuga, which is referred to as the Dark Age because in it people are as far away as possible from God . . . A discourse by Markandeya in the Mahabharata identifies some of [its] attributes: Rulers will become unreasonable: they will levy taxes unfairly . . . Rulers will no longer see it as their duty to promote spirituality, or to protect their subjects: they will become a danger to the world . . . People will start migrating, seeking countries where wheat and barley form the staple food source . . ." C+
The Chromatics: Kill For Love (Italians Do It Better) For five impressive songs led by vocalist Ruth Radelet, they make like the xx, after which multi-instrumentalist Johnny Jewel's xy takes over and then they zzzz. B
Zammuto: Zammuto (Temporary Residence) Ex-Books multi-instrumentalist's blank page of a debut proves who got the Times New Roman in the divorce settlement. B
Estelle: All of Me (Atlantic/Homeschool) Her taste in American boys last time ran to Kanye West and John Legend, this time to Chris Brown and Rick Ross, and the miseducation in her Lauryn Hill-esque skits is even worse. B
Great Lake Swimmers: New Wild Everywhere (Nettwerk) I'm spreading the rumor they were discovered at a tailgate party for a Fleet Foxes show. C+
Alabama Shakes: Boys and Girls (ATO) I'm not sure if Janis Joplin would second Brittany Howard's declaration that it's more important for rock bands to be "sincere" than "original," but even if those virtues really were mutually exclusive, being painfully sincere is something else entirely. C+
Perfume Genius: Put Your Back N 2 It (Matador) "I will carry on with grace/See no tears, see no tears on my face," this James Blake acolyte emotes weepily, and even if he believed in drums and guitars I still wouldn't believe him. C
Saturday, May 12. 2012
I did a piece for the Village Voice some years back on record labels, and one of the questions I asked all of my contacts was what was their best-selling record. Clean Feed's Pedro Costa's answer was pianist Bernardo Sassetti. The label tended to go for visiting avant-gardists, whereas he was more in the mainstream, with a touch and sensitivty comparable to Brad Mehldau, and a semipopular sense akin to Esbjörn Svensson. I had read about him in the Penguin Guide before I got on Clean Feed's mailing list, and he was evidently a big deal in Portugal, but few over here had any idea who he was. When I got to his Ascent in 2005, I wrote a tentative Jazz Prospecting note projecting it as a high B+, but by the time I wrote it up it had become a grade A pick hit. His subsequent records were less thrilling, partly because he gravitated more and more toward soundtrack work, which he was remarkably adept at.
I use the past tense because Costa sent out some email a day or two ago informing us that Sassetti had died. He was 41, born in 1970. I gather that he had an accident, falling off a cliff while attempting to take a photo. (You may recall that Svensson also died accidentally at 44, during a scuba diving session.) Sassetti (even more so than Svensson) was one of the most remarkable jazz pianists of his generation. I thought I'd note the occasion by pulling out some of the reviews I wrote, and supplementing them with other records that I had missed (using Rhapsody, noted [R] below). That's what follows:
Bernardo Sassetti: Nocturno (2002, Clean Feed): A trio set, shows the pianist's remarkable touch that elevates even the softest and slowest ballads, nicely framed by Carlos Barretto (bass) and Alexandre Frazão (drums), sometimes teasing him into something more adventurous -- "Monkais" finds Sassetti comping behind the drum solo. A- [R]
Bernardo Sassetti: Indigo (2002-03 , Clean Feed): Solo piano outing, several covers, including two from Monk. He patiently works his way through the paces, his touch luminous as always. B+(***) [R]
Bernardo Sassetti Trio²: :Ascent (2005, Clean Feed): The superscript implies a piano trio raised to a higher power, but here Sassetti uses cello and vibes to lower the energy -- the vibes add mere ghost harmonics to his piano, the cello a sweeter, more wistful bass. Some of this was written for soundtracks, which explains its pensive moods, and why the pieces that pick up volume and speed never threaten to fly loose. This music fits into no known jazz tradition. More like Eno's Another Green World -- unplugged. A
Bernardo Sassetti: Unreal: Sidewalk Cartoon (2005-06 , Clean Feed): Soundtrack work, with Quarteto Saxolinia (sax quartet), Cromelque Quinteto (clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, French horn), a battery of percussionists (directed by Miguel Bernat), and various "guests" (flute, alto/soprano sax, tuba, double bass, drums) -- at least he stays clear of strings. Intriguing music, tasteful, but often submerges into the background. B+(**)
Bernardo Sassetti: Dúvida (1964) (2007, Trem Azul): A soundtrack to a Portuguese presentation based on John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, mostly rippling little piano figures with a background of string fuzz. Very minimal, but grows and grows on you. B+(**) [R]
Will Holshouser Trio + Bernardo Sassetti: Palace Ghosts and Drunken Hymns (2008 , Clean Feed): Accordion player, his trio includes bassist David Phillips and trumpeter Ron Horton, sparkling througout. The pianist blends in, making a less distinct impression. B+(**)
Bernardo Sassetti: Un Amor de Perdição (2009, Trem Azul): Very little info here: presumably another soundtrack, many short pieces for string orchestra that flow together elegantly. B+(*) [R]
Bernardo Sassetti Trio: Motion (2009 , Clean Feed): Another piano trio, calm and focused, spare but ornately pretty, a combination that works out to serene. B+(***)
Not even sure what all I'm missing: his first album (some debate even as to what it's called), a recent record with Fado legend Carlos do Carmo, various side credits, most likely more soundtracks.
Wednesday, May 9. 2012
The blog suffered some sort of mishap today: basically a configuration file vanished and had to be rehacked by hand. I haven't yet restored it to its former glory, but thought for now I should post a notice. I will return to it as I get time and inspiration.
Update: Disabled a couple of event plugins that were mucking with the stored HTML code, and reset the theme to my personal standard, so now it looks like we're pretty much back. Added an "HTML Nugget" block to the top left -- something I've been meaning to do for a long time, although I still expect I'll have to tweak the wording. Should be a general description for the website. The main thing driving this isn't clarity. It's that facebook likes to grab the first bunch of words it reads when you link to something on the site, and hitherto all it's come up with was a laundry list of links.
Monday, May 7. 2012
Music: Current count 19880  rated (+35), 761  unrated (-4). Published Recycled Goods mid-week, after frantically struggling to finish the big section on Norwegian avant-bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. Got no feedback on that, but I was happy that I could do it, and it certainly helped me to appreciate the range of Flaten's artistry. A Downloader's Diary is trickling in. Still no idea when it will run, but odds are this week sometime. Rhapsody Streamnotes will follow: I managed to puff it up from a lowly 16 records a week ago to 41 as of today, and will add more while I have more time. Managed to do an update to Robert Christgau's website. Renewed the domain name for Terminal Zone, so that's still in the works, even if I only have such a trivial accomplishment to point to.
Jazz Prospecting continues to limp along. Had an interesting day Saturday when an extended series of sax quartet records clicked -- some are below, and some in the Streamnotes file since that's where I'm putting the new jazz I don't get but managed to sneak a listen to. Very little to unpack this week, but I don't have Monday's mail yet -- some weeks I grab that before I post, some weeks not.
Gene Ess: A Thousand Summers (2011 , SIMP): Guitarist, born in Tokyo, grew up in Okinawa, studied at George Mason University. Fourth album since 2003, all standards, features Nicki Parrott singing (but not playing bass; that's Thomson Kneeland), plus piano and drums. I've always found Parrott's vocals charming, no less so here, and the guitar breaks are eminently tasteful. B+(**)
Joel Harrison 7: Search (2010 , Sunnyside): Guitarist, has a dozen albums since 1996. Has long had an interest in picking over rock pieces, exemplified by Gregg Allman's "Whipping Post" here. Has lately explored extending his guitar sound with a few more string instruments -- violin (Christian Howes), cello (Dana Leong), and bass (Stephan Crump) here, all superb jazz musicians -- and that's rarely if ever worked so well as on the first two-thirds here. Also helping: Donny McCaslin (tenor sax), Gary Versace (piano, organ), and Clarence Penn (drums). The dull spot comes from Olivier Messaien. B+(**) [advance]
Masabumi Kikuchi Trio: Sunrise (2009 , ECM): Pianist, b. 1939 in Japan. AMG comments on his "vast discography," but only lists 14 albums under his name, starting in 1980. A fan called Poomaniac has more details, going back to 1963, with his first album as a sole leader in 1970, preceded by a Hino-Kikuchi Quintet joint in 1968. His early work manages to rope in nearly all of the names you're likely to have heard of from the 1960s jazz scene in Japan: Toshiko Akiyoshi, Sadao Watanabe, Terumasa Hino. In the 1970s he started working with Gary Peacock, and in the 1990s he led a trio called Tethered Moon with Peacock and (who else?) Paul Motian -- the only fragment of his discography I'm familiar with. This is his first on ECM, again a trio, with Thomas Morgan on bass and, again, Motian on drums -- you can construct a pretty impressive hall of fame just from pianists who Motian has played with. As usual, his presence here looks like zen-like disengagement, allowing the piano to emerge with remarkable clarity. B+(***)
Steve Kuhn Trio: Wisteria (2011 , ECM): Pianist, dates back to the early 1960s -- did an album in 1963 with the intriguing title, Country and Western Sound of Jazz Pianos -- has consistently done fine work although I've never heard anything (even from his Sheila Jordan co-led group) that really blew me away. Trio, with longtime collaborator Steve Swallow and the always superb Joey Baron. Near the top of his game. B+(***)
Daunik Lazro/Jean-François Pauvros/Roger Turner: Curare (2010 , NoBusiness): Three guys I had never heard of (well, Pauvros somewhat), but should look into. Lazro is a French saxophonist (baritone and alto here); AMG lists ten albums 1980-2000, nothing since, but Discogs has at least five more. Pauvros plays guitar, Turner drums. Both have been around since the late 1970, far enough off the beaten path that AMG files both under Avant-Garde. Most impressive when they get rowdy, but I'm hearing much more sax than guitar, but the quiet spots don't quite cohere. Probably should turn it up. B+(**)
Mockuno NuClear: Drop It (2011 , NoBusiness): Sax-piano-drums trio, more or less Lithuanian: Liudas Mockunas, Dmitrij Golovanov, and Marjius Aleksa. Mockunas, b. 1976, has at least three previous albums. Mostly avant stretch, but sometimes they get a groove going and that's where they raise it up a level. B+(***)
Miles Okazaki: Figurations (2011 , Sunnyside): Guitarist, third album, does his own graphic design (which is almost worth the price of admission), wrote all eight pieces here. The guitar lines are tense and spring open to drive this quartet, but your ears will chase after alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, at the top of his game. With Thomas Morgan on bass and Dan Weiss on drums. A-
Nate Radley: The Big Eyes (2011 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, based in Brooklyn, first album after a dozen or more side credits since 2004. With Loren Stillman on alto sax, plus Fender Rhodes, bass, and drums. Wrote all the pieces. Strong flow with lean postbop lines; some further developed by Stillman, engaging as usual. B+(**)
The Ben Riley Quartet: Grown Folks Music (2010 , Sunnyside): Cover adds "featuring Wayne Escoffery," and shows the tenor saxophonist standing next to the veteran drummer, the others (Ray Drummond on bass, Avi Rothbard or Freddie Bryant on guitar) off-camera. Riley, with only two other albums under hisown name, started out c. 1960 with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnny Griffin, but is best known from Thelonious Monk's 1960s quartet, which continued post-Monk as Sphere. Two Monk tunes here, plus five other standards. Mature stuff, confident, relaxed, the guitar just flows, the sax rides along, occasionally dropping in some wit but mostly sounding supreme. A-
Jerome Sabbagh: Plugged In (2011 , Bee Jazz): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1973 in France, based in New York, four previous albums starting with North in 2004. Cover here says "featuring Jozef Doumoulin" -- Belgian electric keyboardist who half of the pieces here (7 of 14; the rest by Sabbagh). With Patrice Blanchard on electric bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Not sure that the electricity makes a difference, but the sax is eloquent, towering even. B+(**) [advance]
Tom Tallitsch: Heads or Tails (2011 , Posi-Tone): Saxophonist, doesn't specify but he's pictured with a tenor, b. 1974, based in New York. Fourth album, a quartet with organ (Jared Gold), guitar (Dave Allen), and drums (Mark Ferber). All originals, except for the Neil Young cover at the end ("Don't Let It Bring You Down"). Grooveful, tasty guitar runs, sax doesn't push any boundaries but there's plenty of meat to it. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Thursday, May 3. 2012
If not for In Series this month I would have had a record low 9 albums. With it, I have 55, the most since October 2009, when I did an In Series of Verve reissues and wound up with 72 records. This month's special is more esoteric, but I felt like exploring it for two reasons: one is that Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten relates to a number of interesting connections in recent jazz -- as it turns out, more than I expected; the other is that the example of making so much music easily available for streaming. Even though I hear a lot more jazz than almost anyone, this filled in a lot of holes and gave me a much more measured understanding of Flaten. And for you this gives you a fair chance to poke around, see what appeals, avoid what doesn't. I'd like to see more resources open up like this. In fact, I'd like to see a whole different economic model for jazz, but that's another essay.
Aretha Franklin: Knew You Were Waiting: The Best of Aretha Franklin 1980-1998 (1980-98 , Arista/Legacy): It's tempting to say don't bother with anything outside the first half of her Atlantic period, say 1967-72, when her Muscle Shoals band finally got her legendary church-school voice to moving with a newfound sex appeal. Her earlier records never seemed to inspire her. She hung on at Atlantic through La Diva in 1979, but she did have something of a second wind after moving to Arista in 1980, largely because her producers worked to find her a groove. The high point there was 1985's Who's Zoomin' Who?, and its songs stand out here: especially "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," one of six songs here pairing her with other stars. It's the sort of strategy that sometimes works for an aging legend, and Franklin has always been able to dazzle you with her voice, except when the arrangement didn't deserve her. These can be marginal, and on average don't top the rest of Who's Zoomin' Who?, but the broader focus shows you should never count her out. A-
Janis Joplin: The Pearl Sessions (1970 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Her second, and last, solo album, Pearl was never very satisfactory, torn between her big crossover single (Kris Kristofferson's pop-perfect "Me and Bobbie McGee" b/w her singularly brilliant a cappella "Mercedes Benz") and her typical blues wail, both backed by the well-named but merely professional Full-Tilt Boogie. But mostly she was dead and unsettled: her hit never got her a TV show or a career in Vegas, but her legend has become so secure that her two Big Brother albums are now fully hers -- much like Billie Holiday's name now appears on all those old Teddy Wilson records. All you really need is Columbia's 3-CD Janis box (released in 1993, and now out-of-print), which expanded the two Big Brothers and the two solo albums with demos and outtakes and lots of live scraps to make a coherent whole. The individual albums are always iffier -- which is why Box of Pearls (from 1999, and still in-print) always struck me as a dubious proposition -- but this is Legacy's second attempt to put new lipstick on Pearl. In 2005 they released a 2-CD Legacy Edition which tacked on live shots. This time they've delved into the outtakes -- five takes of "Move Over," four each "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Get It While You Can," still just the one and only "Mercedes Benz" -- plus some studio chatter. It's massively redundant, but one standout on the second disc is "A Woman Left Lonely" (alternate vocal 9.9.70), and the instrumental take of "Pearl" makes for a nice coda. A- [R]
John Prine: The Singing Mailman Delivers (1970 , Oh Boy, 2CD): Prehistory and trivia, the sort of thing that might get tacked onto a 2-CD "deluxe" reissue of his 1971 debut John Prine, except that Prine owns the tapes and decided to release them himself. In 1970, Prine was working as a mailman during the week and playing weekend nights at the Fifth Peg in Chicago. In August, he recorded solo demos of 11 songs -- the first disc here. The second is the tape of a live performance, backed by bass guitar, with 12 of his songs (mostly repeats) plus a Hank Williams medley. Some songs were works in progress -- "Sam Stone" was still titled "Great Society Conflict Veteran's Blues." His studio album has more twang and polish -- and is certainly the one to start with -- but there is something to be said for the urgency of these demos. B+(***)
Early last month I was surfing through the "jazz" label at Bandcamp and ran across an obscure Ken Vandermark album from 2000, Double or Nothing, attributed to AALY Trio/DKV Trio. It's something I've heard before and don't regard all that highly: AALY Trio was Mats Gustafsson's pre-Thing powerhouse, and DKV stood for Hamid Drake, Kent Kessler, and Vandermark -- a very good combo at the time, but the mash up exploded and left shrapnel everywhere. Still, I went looking to see what else could be found in the neighborhood, and found a treasure trove.
Bassists are among the most unherald heroes of jazz. I started paying close attention one night watching Reggie Workman play with Mal Waldron, and I've kept an ear cocked ever since. My major find, of course, was William Parker, but I've noticed a lot of superb bassists over the last few years. One I've run into quite a bit without paying much heed to was Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, b. 1971 in Norway, now based in Austin, with 113 recordings (as best I can figure) since 1994. In a remarkable piece of self-promotion, and for that matter public service, Flaten has managed to put 62 complete albums up on Bandcamp where you can stream and/or purchase. They not only give you a detailed picture of his art, they provide a remarkable cross-section of what's happened in the Norwegian jazz scene over the last two decades -- folk jazz, jazztronica, punk jazz, and avant projects ranging from a Jimmy Giuffre tribute project to sheer noise. Early on he played with young musicians like Trygve Seim, Christian Wallumrød, Pettre Wettre, Bugge Wesseltoft, and South African Zim Ngqawana. Around 2000 he anchored three new groups that have proven to be among the most durable in Norway: Atomic, Scorch Trio, and The Thing, in both cases paired with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. Those in turn led by two Ken Vandermark projects: School Days and Free Fall, both named for pivotal early-1960s records (by Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd and Jimmy Giuffre). That led to occasional meetings with Joe McPhee, Evan Parker, and others. All along Flaten continued to be the first call bassist for other less famous Norwegian horn players -- Frode Gjerstad, Håkon Kornstad, Atle Nymo, Jon Klette, Gisle Johansen, Axel Dørner. As you will see, the records add up.
I've gone through and listened to and jotted down notes on everything Flaten put up on Bandcamp that is complete and that I hadn't heard before. This was all done one-pass, and it does tend to run together a bit -- especially the many Atomic and Thing albums. Good chance a couple of the high B+ records would grow on me if given time. The stuff I had heard before is listed afterwards, with my previous grades. And I've also fleshed out the discography that isn't at Bandcamp, some with grades, some still unheard. I also checked Rhapsody to see if they had anything that wasn't on Bandcamp, and came up with two Bugge Wesseltoft albums.
I listed the albums in the order they were recorded in (or where lacking a recording date I used release date, which throws the order off a bit; for more details see the listing cited above). This is followed by several lists that complete the discography. (Of course, it will be incomplete as soon as the next record drops -- probably The Cherry Thing, where The Thing meets Neeneh Cherry.)
The Source: Olemanns Kornett (1994, Curling Legs): Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim's group, both its/his first outing and Flaten's. Øyvind Broekke's trombone provides contrast, and the two in sync are a fun combo, both joyous and comic, while their dicing fractures the free jazz space. B+(**) [bc]
SAN Featuring Zim Ngqawana: San Song (1995 , Nor CD): South African saxophonist, won a scholarship to the US, studied under Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef, somehow got routed back through Norway on his return, where he died in 2011. Paired here with saxophonist Bjørn Ole Solberg, backed by Andile Yenana on piano, Flaten on bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, they bury any hint of sax jive in a mainstream turn that grows to smoldering intensity. B+(***) [bc]
Motorpsycho, the Source & Deathprod: Roadwork Vol. 2: The Motor Source Massacre: Live at Konigsberg Jazz Festival 1995 (1995 , Stickman): Motorpsycho is a Norwegian metal band (named for the Russ Meyer movie), prolific since 1990 including four Roadwork volumes; The Source was saxophonist Trygve Seim's group, including Flaten at the time; Deathprod is Helge Sten, credited with theremin and "audio virus" here, later a regular with the band. Playing for a jazz crowd, the rock group plays long vamps the jazzers can improv on; the 22:06 "The Wheel" sounds something like Ornette Coleman over Neil Young if neither star shorted out (or maybe the young John Surman over Flipper with a side of Krautrock). B+(***) [bc]
Close Erase: Close Erase (1995 , Nor CD): Piano trio, with Per Oddvar Johansen on drums and future ECM regular Christian Wallumrød on piano. Flaten jumps right in and keeps the bass in the center of the flow, the piano responding as sharper and more oblique. B+(***) [bc]
Element: Element (1996, Turn Left Production): Sax-piano-bass-drums quartet, with Gisle Johansen on soprano and tenor, backed by the Wiik/Flaten/Nilssen-Love rhythm section; Wiik makes a strong impression here, with solid comping and some flash in his solos, and Johansen is always pushing and prodding -- wonder why he hasn't had more of a career? B+(***) [bc]
Close Erase: No. 2 (1998 , Nor CD): Flaten wrote two songs, and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen three, but this piano trio set is more characteristic of Christian Wallumrød than the group's debut. Piano out front, featuring tight melodic lines, with the bass and drums falling neatly into the new order. B+(**) [bc]
Element: Shaman (1998 , BP): Sextet, adds two more front-line horns -- Petter Wettere (saxes) and Vidar Johansen (bass clarinet) -- to Gisle Johansen's sax quartet, adding harmonics and depth without thrashing or dimming the free jazz feistiness; pianist Wiik helps steady the group, but his solos are more conventionally melodic. B+(***) [bc]
Zim Ngqawana: Ingoma (1999 , Sheer Sound): Band here includes two Norwegians -- Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love -- plus poet Lefifi Tladi and South Africans on trumpet and piano; some jazz, some jive, some chant, some verse, a pretty good drum solo. B+(*) [bc]
The Electrics: Chain of Accidents (2000 , Ayler): Free jazz quartet, two horns -- Sture Ericson (tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet) and Axel Dørner (trumpet, slide trumpet) -- in front of Flaten on bass and Raymond Strid on drums. The horns rarely fly apart or play in synch; more often they grate against each other, a rat-a-tat the rhythm plays off of. B+(*) [bc]
Close Erase: Dance This (2001, BP): On this piano trio's second album, Christian Wallumrød seemed to be heading toward where he would wind up on ECM, but this is a radical detour unlike anything else in his discography: electric keyboards, Fender bass, drum machines. The two-part title cut is a dare, far wilder than any jazztronica I can recall. The four-part "Zoo Zolitude" eases up on the pace but doesn't go easy. A- [bc]
Bugge Wesseltoft: New Conception of Jazz: Moving (2001, Jazzland): Pianist, mostly Fender Rhodes and synths, introduced his "new conception" in 1997 and recycled the title four more times through 2004, this the middle entry; don't know if the earlier albums are this grooveful, and the last piece does tail off into simple figures, but the early ones were reminding me of Bohannon minus the fake strings, cleaner and a bit more abstract -- with jazz the dancefloor is in your mind. B+(***) [R]
No Spaghetti Edition: Listen . . . and Tell Me What It Was (2001, Sofa): A large group, or maybe two given that bass-drums-guitar-reeds are doubled up, identified by channel; the others, aside from Frode Haltli on accordion, are credited with electronics in addition to voice (Maja Ratkje), piano (Pat Thomas), and trumpet (Axel Dørner); group improvs, some have trouble getting going, but "If Mountains Could Sing" could make you a believer. B+(*) [bc]
Atomic: Feet Music (2001, Jazzland): First album by the long-running Norwegian group: Magnus Broo (trumpet), Fredrik Ljungkvist (tenor/soprano sax), Håvard Wiik (piano), Flaten, and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums); ranges from a piano-led ballad ("Longing for Martin") to funk with horn breaks ("Do It") to free-flying chaos ("Den Flyktiga Magneten"), and back again, as if everything were possible. B+(***) [bc]
Raoul Björkenheim/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Paal Nilssen-Love: Scorch Trio (2002, Rune Grammofon): Guitar-bass-drums trio, aptly named as the guitar builds up feedback, but sometimes the bass generates as much noise, and the drummer can always make himself heard. A- [bc]
Atomic: Boom Boom (2002 , Jazzland): Second album, an especially strong outing for trumpeter Magnus Broo, with more of Håvard Wiik's eloquent piano; nothing very far out, just a group with a lot of ideas and talent. B+(***) [bc]
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: Double Bass (2002-03 , Sofa): Solo bass record, a rite of passage for all avant-garde bassists, even though the instrument limits the prospects. Some arco, but doesn't dwell on it, and doesn't knock the box about for a bit of percussion. Rather, he sticks with the fat notes that give the bull fiddle its inate musicality. B+(**) [bc]
Bugge Wesseltoft: New Conception of Jazz: Live (2003, Jazzland): Hard to sort out the scant available data on this, probably picked out from multiple live dates, the occasional hints of guitar most likely the work of John Scofield, but Wesseltoft's jazztronica is too spartan to overly indulge him, built from programmed percussion, keybs, and two bassists -- Marius Reksjø on electric, Flaten on both. B+(**) [R]
Cato Salsa Experience and The Thing with Joe McPhee: Sounds Like a Sandwich (2004 , Smalltown Superjazz, EP): Norwegian rock group led by vocalist-guitarist Cato Thomassen (aka Cato Salsa); adding The Thing doubles up on bass and drums, plus Mats Gustafsson and fellow traveler Joe McPhee on sax; five cuts, Led Zeppelin ("Whole Lotta Love") and Yeah Yeah Yeahs ("Art Star") played for noisy raunch, Donald Ayler ("Our Prayer") an oblique hymn, also noisy, and two originals that remind me of the Angry Samoans as much as anyone else; 5 cuts, 19:47. B+(**) [bc]
Atomic: The Bikini Tapes (2004 , Jazzland, 3CD): Live shots from a tour around Norway, deep enough into their book they can log 153:37 with only three dupes ("Boom Boom," "Kerosene," and "Alla Dansar Samba Till Tyst Musik"); the horns can twist, turn, and cut, while pianist Håvard Wiik comps free or waxes melodic -- a marvelous band even if they never quite put it all together; too much to sort out in one pass, so just let it flow. B+(***) [bc]
Trinity: Sparkling (2004, Jazzaway): Sax trio, with Kjetil Møster leading, Thomas Strønen on drums; Møster is another free jazz saxophonist who can hold center stage and push the envelope, although he's equally touching in a slow (and relatively quiet) duo with the bassist. B+(**) [bc]
Atomic: Happy New Ears! (2005 , Jazzland): The Magnus Broo-Fredrik Ljungkvist quintet, going through a phase where mostly they slowly paint tones and admire the colors, which does draw the bass up in the mix; not all they do, of course -- Wiik gets out ahead and runs with it, but the barnburners fizzle. B+(*) [bc]
Michiyo Yagi/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Paal Nilssen-Love: Live! At Super Deluxe (2005 , Bomba): Yagi plays electroacoustic 21- and 17-string koto, a string instrument with a banjo-like twang but much more refined -- a natural pairing for Flaten's bass. B+(**) [bc]
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten Quintet: Quintet (2005 , Jazzland): On Flaten's first shot at a group record, he adds compatible string instruments -- Ola Kvernberg's violin and mandolin, Anders Hana's guitar -- which shoots the trajectory of his bass riffs right into the stratosphere, a very effective approach. Klaus Ellerhausen Holm plays clarinet, alto and bari sax, sometimes for compatible color, sometimes for the shriek, while drummer Fredrik Rundqvist pushes the beat. B+(***) [bc]
Atle Nymo/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Håkon Mjåset Johansen: Play Complete Communion (2006 , Bolage): Nymo (tenor sax) and Johansen (drums) play in a band called Motif, but otherwise don't have a lot of records. Complete Communion is a 1965 album by Don Cherry, who's much revered in Scandinavia, a script that keeps this neatly on track while letting everyone play, which is the point. B+(***) [bc]
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten Quintet: The Year of the Boar (2007 , Jazzland): Ever since Mingus, most bassists lead off their own albums, but the first sound you hear here is Ola Kvernberg's violin, the continuity from Flaten's previous Quintet; the rest of the band this time are subs from Chicago -- Frank Rosaly on drums, Jeff Parker on guitar, and Dave Rempis on various saxes; Kvernberg, Parker, and especially Rempis have strong solo spots, but the high point is the rising tide in "Prayer," dedicated to Flaten's father, and a free metal power ballad for George Russell. A- [bc]
Atomic: Retrograde (2007-08 , Jazzland, 2CD): Originally released in a 3-CD box along with Live in Seattle, but broken apart for digital purposes, leaving 2 studio discs, 96:49 of backard-looking new music, the sort of thing they've been doing all along, but so much it starts to cancel itself out. B+(**) [bc]
The Thing with Otomo Yoshihide: Shinjuku Crawl (2007 , Smalltown Superjazz): Yoshihide is a guitarist from Japan, has a huge discography since 1981 -- AMG lists 62 albums -- of which I know next to nothing, but when guitarists join Mats Gustafsson's monster trio they usually want to gnash and bash, and there's a lot of that here, most impressively when the bari comes out; in between there's some interesting intricate guitar that merits further research. B+(**) [bc]
The Thing with Jim O'Rourke: Shinjuku Growl (2008 , Smalltown Superjazz): Recorded live one day after the set with Otomo Yoshihide, the Sonic Youth guitarist adds to the noise but offers not much else; in a couple spots Gustafsson manages to break out of the rut, but mostly he roots in it. B [bc]
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: Birds: Solo Electric (2007-08 , Tektite): Solo electric bass guitar, two sessions, six cuts, totals 30:57 barely topping EP range. Second cut introduces some strum, but mostly Flaten is interested in the knobs, experimenting with feedback more successfully than Metal Machine Music. B+(*) [bc]
Joe McPhee/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: Blue Chicago Blues (2007 , Not Two): Tenor sax-bass duets, dedicated to the late Fred Anderson on its release but cut a few years earlier, in Chicago, but in some other bar; still, two (of six) titles check the blues; McPhee's tenor sax is reminiscent of Anderson's fierce early phase (but a bit more practiced), and Flaten can rise to his volume -- although it's just as interesting when they chill down. A- [bc]
Atomic: Live in Seattle (2008, Jazzland): Live set, originally released as part of the Retrograde box, now broken out. Four (of six) cuts repeat from Retrograde, a bit rougher, of course. B+(*) [bc]
IPA: Lorena (2008 , Bolage): Quartet, with Atle Nymo (tenor sax, bass clarinet) and Magnus Broo (trumpet) up front, backed by bass (Flaten) and drums (Håkon Mjåset Johansen); nice spots from all concerned, especially the bassist, but maybe too nice -- it's almost like the horns are serenading each other. B+(*) [bc]
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Håkon Kornstad: Elise (2008, Compunctio): Bass-tenor sax duo, everything taken at a ballad pace, quiet enough that Kornstad's fingering comes through as percussion; an equally slight vocal starts off, attributed to Elise Flaten. B+(**) [bc]
Circulasione Totale Orchestra: Open Port (2008 , Circulsasione Totale): Large improv group dating back to 1984, the main constant and presumed leader Frode Gjerstad (sax, clarinets), 13 strong here -- some name players here: Bobby Bradford, Sabir Mateen, Kevin Norton, Louis Moholo-Moholo -- including guitar, tuba, vibes. An improv in four parts, a lot of percussive thrash, Lasse Marhaug's electronics, always something new happening. B+(**) [bc]
Bobby Bradford/Frode Gjerstad/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Paal Nilssen-Love: Reknes (2008 , Circulasione Totale): A set from the Molde Jazz Festival where cornet player Bradford finds a very compatible Norwegian pick-up band, paired off against Gjerstad's sax and clarinet; free improv, the four sections simply numbered, Bradford impressive from the start, Gjerstad closes in. B+(***) [bc]
Joe McPhee/Jeb Bishop/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Michael Zerang: Ibsen's Ghosts (2009 , Not Two): Title will likely be the group name next time they get together; McPhee only plays tenor sax here, and the trombone tends to slow him down and flatten everything out, not that the slower tempos are unwelcome; cf. the superior McPhee/Zerang duo from the same year, Creole Gardens (A New Orleans Suite) (NoBusiness). B+(*) [bc]
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Håkon Kornstad/Jon Christensen: Mitt Hjerte Altid Vanker - I: Live at Oslo Jazzfestival (2009 , Compunctio): The sax-bass duo augmented by the veteran drummer, who has a light touch which doesn't undercut the solemnity of the set, keyed as it is to a traditional hymn; the sax could easily overrun the bass but doesn't, preferring an even dialogue. B+(**) [bc]
Atomic: Theater Tilters Vol. 1 (2009 , Jazzland): Starts rousing, but settles into a norm which nicely showcases the individual talents without toppling things over; "Bop Apart" is a gas, but they shut it down at 3:26, whereas everything else drags out to 9-11 minutes. B+(**) [bc]
Atomic: Theater Tilters Vol. 2 (2009 , Jazzland): Having encounted this group initially on their mash-ups with Ken Vandermark's School Days -- joined at bass and drums by Flaten and Nilssen-Love -- I figured them to be noisier than their remarkably balanced albums proved to be, but here at least they bring the volume (and the pace) up a level, and that works for them, especially in front of a crowd. B+(***) [bc]
Remi Álvarez/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: First Duet Live (2010 , JaZt Tapes): Avant saxophonist from Mexico, not sure how much he has produced but I am fond of his duo with bassist Mark Dresser. Recorded in Austin, where Flaten has established a base, three improv duos tend to ride rough but are most satisfying at their most moderate. B+(*) [bc]
IPA: It's a Delicate Thing (2010 , Bolage): Starts with an indelicate thrash, then they make nice, then the two horns -- Atle Nymo's tenor sax and Magnus Broo's trumpet -- finally start to build on each other, at least when driven by the drummer. B+(**) [bc]
Dennis González/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: The Hymn Project (2010 , Daagnim): Not a duo but pitched like one -- the González sons on second bass and drums, Henna Chou on cello -- running through five trad hymns, three American and two Norwegian, plus an original; the trumpet plaintive, the bass deep and soulful, the closing vocal a psalm. B+(**) [bc]
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: Steel: Live in Bucharest (2010 , Tektite, EP): Solo bass, one piece in four parts, runs 22:50 so I'm calling it an EP, but longer rarely does more than test your patience with solo bass. This goes as deep as you'd like into the piece, remarkable in its musicality as well as the usual catalogue of effects. B+(***) [bc]
The Thing: Mono (2011, Smalltown Superjazz): Short (34:17), slightly understated with more growl than bite, neither of which are necessarily demerits for a band committed to overkill; still, I wonder if the final piece title is self-criticism: "There Is Shitloads of Red Meat Missing." B+(*) [bc]
Atomic: Here Comes Everybody (2011, Jazzland): After a decade, every player can hold his own in other bands, which makes their occasional reunions less essential, more haphazard, kicking the noise up a notch while losing detail -- just everybody coming at you, which they have the talent to do. B+(**) [bc]
Ola Kvernberg: Liarbird (2011, Jazzland): Violinist, from Flaten's Quintet, and before that Hot Club de Norvege; group includes viola, two saxes (Eirik Hegdal and Håkon Kornstad), trumpet (Mathias Eick), and doubled up bass and drums; richly textured, can get symphonic in spots, and sweep you away. B+(**) [bc]
On Bandcamp, but previously graded:
On Bandcamp but incomplete:
Not on Bandcamp, but previously graded:
Not on Bandcamp:
Albert Ammons & Meade Lux Lewis: The First Day (1939 , Blue Note): The label became synonymous with hard bop in the mid-1950s, but started here, on Jan. 6, 1939, with Alfred Lion recording two boogie woogie piano giants; mostly solos -- nine by Ammons, eight by Lewis -- and some are tentative, but they give a good accounting of the pianists' power and twinkle, and they team up for two blitzkrieg duets. B+(***) [R]
Albert Ammons: Boogie Woogie Stomp (1938-39 , Delmark): Ammons gets the big print on the cover -- presumably the Chicago man on the Chicago label -- but the fine print credits Meade Lux Lewis (6 cuts) and Pete Johnson (2); mostly live, with the attendant patter a distraction, but the piano sparkles. B+(***) [R]
Black Truth Rhythm Band: Ifetayo (1976 , Soundway): One-shot album from Trinidad, not fluid enough for callypso -- perhaps one could say it compares to soca as nyahbinghi to reggae, but it's possible that I'm confusing primitivism with lack of skills; still, singer Oluko Imo moved on to the employ of Fela Kuti, and as a piece of pan-Africanism this finds its truths. B+(**) [R]
Jimmy Earl (1995 , Severn): Electric bassist, has done a lot of fusion session work since 1990, dropped two albums under his own name in the late 1990s; this one is a set of sketches for a rather bare bones jazztronica -- syn-sounding drums, more synths, occasional guitar, rarer horns. B+(*)
Jimmy Earl: Stratosphere (1998 , Severn): Presumably named for the thin oxygen and general chill, more hospitalable to the computers that seem to have taken over -- at some point subtlety risks turning into noodling. B
Conrad Herwig/Richie Beirach/Jack DeJohnette: The Tip of the Sword (1994 , RadJazz): Trombone-piano-drums trio, a combo that leans avant even though none of the principals are known for that; keeps the trombone front and center, a good taste of the leader before he got caught up in clave. B+(**)
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 96, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3254 (2856 + 398).
Wednesday, May 2. 2012
Found in the Wichita Eagle's Opinion Line section Saturday:
Leaving honesty aside for the moment, I can't seem how anyone can think that Obama is in any way opposite to this kind of superficial patriotism: he's opposed to the country he is president of? he hates the country that elected him president? he despises the liberty that allowed him to be elected? he doubts the greatness of the country he leads? he rejects the "principles and ideals" sanctimoniously claimed throughout America's history? If nothing else, for any of that to be true would require an astonishing lack of ego unprecedented in the history of American politics.
Nothing Obama says suggests that any of these things are remotely true. Indeed, his success is largely due to his skill at turning his story into something that flatters most Americans into thinking that this is indeed a great nation based on noble principles and ideals. To argue that Obama is the opposite of all he actually says demands that he be utterly disingenuous and deceitful -- a tough order for someone to practice all his life. And even if he had once believed, as Rev. Wright put it, that God should damn America, having become president, why should he prefer to be the agent of damnation when he could just as well work for redemption? Nearly everyone wants to see himself as just and righteous. Why shouldn't Obama?
It doesn't take much reflection to see that people who suspect Obama of such perfidy are deeply suspicious of their own sins and/or the sins of their ancestors. Their America has been scrubbed clean, rid of embarrassments like natives and slaves, of lower orders who challenge the justice of the rich and successful. They may fear that Obama, as a black, might seek redress for slavery and segregation, or as a near-foreigner -- what with his Kenyan father, Indonesian experience, his growing up in Hawaii -- that he seeks to undermine American imperialism. More likely, they fear that he's a ordinary Democrat, out to tax and regulate the rich and redistribute their success to the undeserving poor and (formerly) middle classes. Not that they can articulate that fear in those very terms: after all, in America too many of the rabble still can vote, as Obama's election proved.
Again putting honesty aside for the moment, there's no reason to doubt that Romney, as much as Obama, adheres to that same litany of patriotic virtues. Indeed, it's hard to find a politician short of Lyndon Larouche who wouldn't pass that test. The problem is that Romney's America is a much smaller country than Obama's: it is whiter, and richer; it owns more property, and does less work. When Romney goes to a NASCAR race, his "friends" are team owners. Obama probably spends as much of his day circulating among the rich and powerful, but at least he can see that there is a bigger America out there. When he looked at Tayvon Martin, a teenager slain by a vigilante in Florida, he could imagine having a son who would look like that. Safe to say that's one thought that never crossed Romney's mind.
That's a real difference, and it may be enough of one to explain how Manichaeans like the Opinion Line writer might exaggerate such a difference into an argument that Romney and Obama are opposites. But while real and significant, the difference I see still looks rather marginal. Obama, for instance, talks a lot about the phantom middle class but hardly ever mentions the poor -- officially, 15%, or about 46 million Americans. His economic policies have restored corporate profits and stock prices to pre-recession levels, but have scarcely affected unemployment levels, while real wages (therefore consumer demand) have continued to atrophy.
Of course, much of the poor results can be blamed on Republican obstruction in Congress and policies at the state and local levels, but could one reason Obama has been so ineffective be that he doesn't identify with the losers in the current politico-economic system? After all, he isn't one of them, and his very success has served to insulate him from them. He differs from Romney in that he wasn't born to the rich class, and in that his everyday work has rarely depended on the brutal skills of profit maximization -- as Romney's work at Bain did -- and that as a Democrat his political success depends on the votes of the less-than-rich -- but the latter only happens once each election cycle. And given the Republicans these days the only other choice they have is to stay home -- which was pretty much the story of the 2010 debacle, not that Obama cared much.
Much more one can say about patriotism: mostly how easily it can be manipulated in support of war. The two World Wars were cases in point, and while the first one now looks like farce -- the silly attempts to salvage sauerkraut by renaming it wouldn't be equalled until Bush's minions de-Frenchified their Freedom Fries -- but the second became a serious effort at nation-building. One thing the Democrats learned from total mobilization was that it undercut the greed that had marked American capitalism and led to a much more equitable society, based on shared sacrifice and responsibility and a sense of fairness that cut across class lines. Of course, when the war against the Axis ended, the class war returned with a fury, but the Democrats had learned a poisonous lesson: that Truman's Fair Deal could most easily be secured through patriotic embrace of war.
Unfortunately, the war Truman and his liberal followers agreed to was the cold war against communism, which is to say the struggle of capital to subdue labor, or more simply of the rich to dominate the poor. That, at last, was a war the Republicans could happily endorse, as it undermined the unions and eroded the limited social democracy Roosevelt (and later Johnson) had introduced, replacing the genuine shared national unity of WWII with the symbolism of military might and the trappings of flag and religion and the cult of global capitalism.
Much more can be written about this, but suffice it to say that for Democratic politicians patriotism is a seductive trap: one that allows them to feel solidarity with a much more inclusive group of American citizens without challenging any of the totems of the cult, thereby giving their opponents free shots to beat them down. Indeed, Obama's solution is to have become fiercer and more cruelly efficient than Bush ever was.
As for honesty, it's easy to find both sides deficient. Clearly, the opinion writer has grossly mischaracterized Obama, but then Romney himself, and virtually every other Republican candidate, has repeatedly made claims about Obama that have no basis in fact. Obama's deceptions are much more subtle: where they seem to have no scruples as to how far they'll go in slandering him, he goes way out of his way to flatter them, to vouch for their integrity, and to legitimize their crackpot ideas. But what he loses in the process is any chance to get to the truth about what needs to be done to move toward a more just and equitable (and peaceable) society.
 A good example is how Obama has played up the anniversary of his hit squad against Osama Bin Laden, a singular accomplishment that Bush not only missed but mocked. See Tom Engelhardt: A Global-Profiling President for a longar list of examples; also, less critically, Peter L. Bergen: Warrior in Chief.
So this is what Obama really meant when during the campaign he said that he wanted to change how we think about war. Evidently he sees war as endemic to the human condition, and as essential to forging unity behind his presidency. In a way we're fortunate that the Republicans have so little grasp of reality, otherwise Obama would be tarnished with their endorsement. It's hard to overstate how much it feels like Obama's presidency has merely become the extension of Bush's.
Tuesday, May 1. 2012
Music: Current count 19845  rated (+39), 765  unrated (+3). Was trying to work on another post Monday -- actually something left over from the weekend -- so I figured for once I'd slip the usual Monday post, but in the end I got neither done. But I also needed to get a couple records out of the way before Recycled Goods runs later this week, and the extra day helped with that. Right now, my plans (or should I say hopes?) are to get Saturday's political post out tomorrow, the Recycled Goods on Thursday, Downloader's Diary shortly after that, and Rhapsody Streamnotes shortly thereafter. The latter is currently very thin, something I've worked on very little the last 2-3 weeks, so I'd like to catch up there. On the other hand, the jazz backlog grew last week, so I'm probably screwed either way. Also have to write something on Steve Coll's big ExxonMobil book. My proposal to review Paul Krugman's new book was ignored, but I'm anxious to get to it as well. Plus new books on inequality by James Galbraith and Timothy Noah. And I got my own book to write. Maybe I should stop thrashing so much on music?
Ballister: Mechanisms (2010 , Clean Feed): Sax trio, with Dave Rempis (alto, tenor, baritone), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics), and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). Second group album after the limited edition String. Three long cuts, free-wheeling improv with a lot of squawk, its cacophony largely redeemed by the very high energy level, its interest mostly in the electronics the cellist uses to extend his range and amplify his contribution. B+(**)
Pat Battstone and Richard Poole: Mystic Nights (2011, Bat's Tones Music): More commonly Patrick Battstone, pianist, b. 1954, studied with Joanne Brackeen, day job as a rocket scientist at Draper Labs. Second album with vibraphonist Poole; can't find much else they've done. Just the two of them, piano/vibes. Does a nice job of hitting its intended mark. B+(*)
Maureen Choi: Quartet (2011, self-released): Violinist, studied at Michigan State and Berklee, based in Detroit. Probably her first album, with Rick Roe (piano), Rodney Whitaker (bass), and Sean Dobbins (drums). Standards, starting with "Caravan," ending with "Donna Lee"; mostly set up by the piano, with violin sketching out the melody. B+(*)
Todd Clouser's A Love Electric: 20th Century Folk Selections (2012, Royal Potato Family): Guitarist, b. 1981, from Minneapolis, studied at Berklee, based in Los Cabos, Mexico. Called his last album A Love Electric, now promoting that title to group name, and promising three group records this year. The folk tunes here include pieces by Buddy Holly, Neil Young ("The Needle and the Damage Done," Nirvana, Velvet Underground ("Heroin"), Beastie Boys, Pearl Jam, Malvina Reynolds, and trad. Loopy, silky guitar, Fender Rhodes, some trumpet and/or trombone, Cyro Baptista on percussion. B+(**)
Jimmy Earl: Jimmy Earl (1995 , Severn): Bass guitarist, b. 1957 in Boston, studied at Berklee, has two 1995-99 albums (newly reissued), many more side credits (AMG shows 90 lines). Musicians come and go here, although the keybs and drums are pretty interchangeable, the latter compatible with the programmed drums on several tracks. Not many horns (one trumpet track, two soprano sax). He's trying to keep it light, more jazztronica than funk, and often succeeds. B+(*)
Jimmy Earl: Stratosphere (1998 , Severn): Presumably named for the thin oxygen and general chill, more hospitalable to the computers that seem to have taken over -- at some point subtlety risks turning into noodling. B
Wayne Escoffery: The Only Son of One (2011 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist (plays soprano on the last cut), b. 1975 in London, UK; moved to New Haven, CT when he was 11; studied under Jackie McLean; eighth record since 2001. Mainstream player, has always had a lot of flashy technique, is developing a sensitive, nuanced ballad tone, much evident here. With Orrin Evans on Fender Rhodes and piano, and Adam Holzman on keyboards -- the latter meant to suffice for strings, and just as well given how much worse a phallanx of strings could be. B+(***)
Lisa Hilton: American Impressions (2012, Ruby Slippers): Pianist, born "in a small town on California's central coast," studied at UCLA, based in Los Angeles, has 16 albums since 1997. Don't know if she's related to Paris. Her early albums (covers anyway) suggested light cocktail jazz -- one was actually titled Cocktails at Eight, others Feeling Good and My Favorite Things (with her draped over the piano, like Michelle Pfeiffer), but she's gotten more, um, serious, composing 10 pieces here (of 12, the others from Ellington and Mitchell), and has recruited a very serious band: J.D. Allen (tenor sax), Larry Grenadier (bass), and Nasheet Waits (drums). Maybe too serious: Allen, in particular, is severely underused, mostly providing color around the piano figures, which tend toward deep rumbling. America's getting to be an unsettling place. B+(*)
Joe McPhee/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: Brooklyn DNA (2011 , Clean Feed): McPhee's credit here reads, "pocket trumpet, soprano and alto saxophones," which may be why this duo with the Norwegian bassist doesn't hold up as robustly has their 2010 duo, Blue Chicago Blues (Not Two), where McPhee played tenor sax. Starts off with the catchy "Crossing the Bridge" -- a reference to Sonny Rollins, part of that Brooklyn DNA -- and gives Flaten ample opportunities to fiddle. B+(***)
Anders Nilsson: Night Guitar (2012, Soundatone): Guitarist, b. 1974 in Sweden, moved to New York in 2000. Has a fusion group called Aorta and various side projects and credits, rarely playing on an album where you don't find yourself perking up and wondering who that guitar player is. This one is solo, so you know, and like most solo albums this is a bit slower than usual; also more carefully rounded into coherent pieces, less explosive as such. B+(**)
Aruán Ortiz/The Camerata Urbana Ensemble: Santiarican Blues Suite (2011 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from Cuba, came to US in 2003. Third album, commissioned by the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre, performed by an ensemble with three violins, viola, cello, two basses, two pianos (Katya Mihailova in addition to Ortiz), flute, percussion, and some voice in one spot. Too classical for my taste, but the clave broke the ice, and the strings have an airy elegance that may proove appealing. B+(*)
RED Trio + Nate Wooley: Stem (2011 , Clean Feed): Piano trio from Portugal: Rodrigo Pinheiro (piano), Hernâni Faustino (bass), Gabriel Ferrandini (drums, percussion; he was born in Monterey, CA, his father a Portuguese from Mozambique, his mother Brazilian). Their eponymous 2010 release was one of the best piano trios I've heard lately. They carry on here, crisp and crinkly, adding the trumpet player, who takes more of focus but doesn't do much with it. B+(**)
The Duke Robillard Jazz Trio: Wobble Walkin' (2011 , Blue Duchess): Guitarist, b. 1948, co-founded Roomful of Blues, later played with the Fabulous Thunderbirds; started to edge into jazz on his 1997 Duke Robillard Plays Jazz and has continued to step that way. This trio includes Brad Hallen on acoustic bass and Mark Teixeira on drums. Four Robillard originals, nine covers -- standards like "All of Me" and r&b like "Hi-Heel Sneakers" -- done with a light guitar sheen that sounds more like Herb Ellis than Robillard. One vocal: guest Mickey Freeman on "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You." B+(*)
Mary Stallings: Don't Look Back (2011 , High Note): Singer, in her 70s now; cut a record with Cal Tjader in 1961 then dropped out of site until Concord rediscovered her in c. 1990, when they were really good at that sort of thing, and she's produced ten albums since -- 2005's Remember Love is still my favorite. A dilligent, precise interpreter of the Carmen McRae school, she offers readings of a dozen standards here, as simply as possible, with Eric Reed on piano, sometimes Reuben Rogers on bass and Carl Allen on drums. B+(***)
The Thing with Barry Guy: Metal! (2011 , NoBusiness): Released only as a 2-LP, edition limited to 600 copies; I'm working off a CDR. The Thing is a noisy Norwegian avant trio: Mats Gustafsson (saxes), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass), and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). They have ten albums since 2000 (plus a 3-CD box), several with guests including Ken Vandermark (who uses each of them in various groups) and Jim O'Rourke (ex-Sonic Youth). This one adds the venerable English avant-garde bassist Barry Guy, who no doubt adds something but it can be hard to sort out just what anyway (short of headphones: Guy's got the right channel). When he's not tearing up the joint, Gustaffson groans monophonically, giving the others something to play off of. B+(**) [advance]
The Jens Wendelboe Big Band: Fresh Heat (2008 , Rosa): Trombonist, from Norway, has at least a dozen albums since 1982, mostly big band (or Big Crazy Energy Band, as he put it); seems to have moved toward US lately, working with Westchester Jazz Orchestra and Blood Sweat & Tears. Conventional big band line up, only with piano and bass plugged in, and Deb Lyons singing. B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: