Wednesday, November 30. 2016
No time to write an introduction. Maybe I'll have something to say for next week's Music Week.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on October 29. Past reviews and more information are available here (8835 records).
Sophie Agnel/Daunik Lazro: Marguerite D'Or Pâle (2016, Fou): Piano/sax duets, Lazro on tenor and baritone, although Agnel's concept of the piano ("a real living & breathing organism") had me wondering whether they had slipped a percussionist into the mix. B+(**) [cd]
Aguankó: Latin Jazz Christmas in Havana (2016, Aguankó): Percussionist Alberto Macif's group, inspired by Havana but based in Michigan, have a couple previous albums. This one's subtitled "Cool Sounds & Warm Wishes," and is that with an extra shot of clavé, but the songs keep shaking off their dressing. Still, you could be stuck in a department store with much worse. B [cd]
Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio: Desire & Freedom (2016, Not Two): Portuguese tenor saxophonist, always an imposing figure in free jazz settings, with his most dependable group -- Miguel Mira on cello and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. Three long improv pieces, terrific all around, drummer especially. A- [cd]
Amendola vs. Blades: Greatest Hits (2015 , Sazi): Duo of drummer Scott Amendola, probably best known for his work with Nels Cline although he has his name on five previous albums (doing back to 1999), and Hammond B3 impressario Wil Blades. No known hits between them, but take the title as intending some sort of semipop move -- pop in form if not in fact -- ane enjoy the groove and pomp. B+(**) [cd]
BassDrumBone: The Long Road (2013-16 , Auricle, 2CD): Long-running free jazz trio, first album together recorded nearly 30 years ago, lineup on this seventh album the same: Mark Helias (bass), Gerry Hemingway (drums), Ray Anderson (trombone). Second disc is padded out with 31 minutes live. Studio cuts include three cuts each with Jason Moran (piano) and Joe Lovano (tenor sax), the latter making the bigger splash. Still great to hear Anderson's trombone leads, but could be further concentrated. B+(***) [cd]
Martin Bejerano: Trio Miami (2016, Figgland): Pianist, teaches at University of Miami, has a couple previous albums and side credits with Roy Haynes and Russell Malone. Leads a trio, bright and fast. B+(*)
Eraldo Bernocchi/Prakash Sontakke: Invisible Strings (2016, RareNoise): The former plays baritone and electric guitar, the latter lap steel guitar, but Bernocchi is also credited with electronics, which explains the percussion. The synthetic groove may be too regular for jazz, but sets up a seductive ambience with the layered guitar. B+(***) [cdr]
Nat Birchall: Creation (2016, Sound Soul & Spirit): British tenor saxophonist, probably sounds more like Coltrane than any saxophonist alive (including Ravi Coltrane), an effect added to by pianist Adam Fairhall and bassist Michael Bardon, although the group doubles up on drums. Unlike his last two albums, I never quite shook the sense of imitation here, though it's hard to go far wrong while hewing so close to genius. B+(***) [bc]
Karl Blau: Introducing Karl Blau (2016, Raven Marching Band): Singer-songwriter from Anacortes, Washington, with seven previous records before this seeming debut, mostly Nashville covers, done with disconcerting aloofness (no drawl, scant drama, anonymous backup singers). B
Boi Akih: Liquid Songs (2016, TryTone): Dutch group, formed in 1997, has a half-dozen previous albums. Guitarist Niels Brouwer writes the pieces, Monica Akihary sings, also with: Ryoko Imai (marimba, reyong & percussion) and Tobias Klein (bass & contrabass clarinet). Abstract, arty, hated it at first but wound up pleasantly surprised. B+(*) [cd]
Christiane Bopp/Jean-Luc Petit: L'Écorce et la Salive (2015 , Fou): Free jazz duets, Bopp playing trombone, Petit contrabass clarinet, tend to be sparse and abstract. B+(*) [cd]
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Basically Baker Vol. 2: The Big Band Music of David Baker (2016, Patois, 2CD): A fine big band based in Indianapolis, led by Brent Wallarab (credited here as conductor and musical director, but previously a trombonist) and Mark Buselli (trumpet), play compositions and arrangements by David N. Baker (1931-2016), a longtime jazz studies professor at Indiana University who back in the 1960s was affiliated with George Russell. Their original Baker tribute was recorded in 2004, this one about three months after the composer's death. An impressive big band, although the case for Baker's music is less clear. B+(*) [cd]
Oguz Buyukberber and Simon Nabatov: Wobbly Strata (2014 , TryTone): Free jazz duets, clarinet/bass clarinet and piano, respectively. The former was born in Turkey, studied in Amsterdam, probably still based there but this was recorded in Germany. Nabatov is twenty years older, born in Russia, studied in Rome and New York and wound up settling in Cologne. Brisk and challenging. B+(**)
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree (2016, Bad Seeds): One of the year's top-metarated records, no idea why unless the doom and gloom synth tones are somehow calming to the doomed and gloomy. When we were young we used to look for something cathartic to overcome a bad mood, not something that merely added to it. B-
John Chin: Fifth (2014 , Jinsy): Pianist, born in Korea, raised in LA and based in Brooklyn, has several albums. My advance copy has Chin's name scratched out, implying an eponymous group album. Chin's Bandcamp credits all five in alphabetical order: Chin, Stacy Dillard (soprano sax), Lawrence Leathers (bass), Spencer Murphy (drums), Tivon Pennicott (tenor sax). Indeed, all five have song credits, but mostly Chin (7) and Dillard (3), with one each for the others, and they go all sorts of ways, the free-ish postbop just one tendency. B+(**) [cdr]
Richie Cole: Plays Ballads & Love Songs (2015 , Mark Perna Music): Alto saxophonist, not quite 70, his discography goes back to 1976 but tails off after 1999 (several featured spots, one album in 2005). Quartet with Eric Susoeff on guitar, Mark Perna on bass and Vince Taglieri on drums -- surefire material, bright, lovely. B+(***) [cd]
Tom Collier: Impulsive Illuminations (2014-15 , Origin): Vibraphone/marimba player based in Seattle, discography starts with Northwest Jazz Sextet in 1979, and has a half-dozen albums since. Five 10-17 minute pieces here, with Richard Karpen on piano and one guest for each piece: Bill Frisell (guitar), Ted Poor (drums), Stuart Depmster (trombone/didjeridu), Bill Smith (clarinet), Cuong Vu (trumpet). Mostly reminds me of Dempster's "deep listening" pieces, so often too deep to keep me listening. B [cd]
Common: Black America Again (2016, Def Jam): Chicago rapper, can marshall guests ranging from BJ the Chicago Kid to Stevie Wonder, is as conscious as he should be of the uphill political struggle -- I can't fault him for being overly didactic, but the music doesn't always carry him. B+(**)
The Core Trio: Live Featuring Matthew Shipp (2014 , Evil Rabbit): Houston-based sax trio, with Seth Paynter on tenor, Thomas Helton on bass, and Joe Hertenstein on drums. They have two previous albums, each with a pianist added, the second an impressive match with Shipp, who returns here for two 31-34 minute sets in a Houston night club. A bit spotty, the sax never quite getting in gear, but the piano impressive (as you'd expect). B+(**) [cd]
The Delegation: Evergreen (Canceled World) (2014-15 , ESP-Disk, 2CD): Main person here is pianist-composer Gabriel Zucker, also credited with electronics and voice (along with a couple more singers). A sprawling art project, with long, complex forms and a story line that's way over my head. Group includes trumpet (Adam O'Farrill), three saxophones, violin-viola-cello, bass, drums, and additional electronics. Music has points of interest. B+(*) [cd]
Dim Lighting: Your Miniature Motion (2014 , Off): Guitar-bass-drums trio, based in Chicago, Andrew Trim, Kurt Schweitz, Deven Drobka. First album, guitar metallic, can crunch out a groove or spring free, or just bide time. B+(*) [cdr]
Andrew Downing: Otterville (2016, self-released, 2CD): Bassist, born in London, Ontario and based in Toronto, plays cello here, presenting a series of ornate landscape pieces, lovely in a rather uneventful way. Group includes alto sax, vibes, lap steel guitar, bass guitar, and drums, with occasional touches of trumpet and trombone. B [cd]
Rebecca DuMaine and the Dave Miller Trio With Friends: Happy Madness (2016, Summit): Standards singer trying to pass as good-time girl -- nothing really standard but hits the usual bases including Jobim and McCartney -- backed by piano trio and presumably more, although I have no idea who the "friends" are. B- [cd]
Earth Tongues: Ohio (2015 , Neither/Nor, 2CD): Filed this under trumpeter Joe Moffett, joined here by Dan Peck on tuba and Carlo Costa on percussion, the horn players also credited with "cassette player." Long-form industrial ambient, or (not quite) noise, the length undoes any sense of structure (or as they put it, "immersive pieces that explore dynamic and temporal extremes"). B [cd]
The Fat Babies: Solid Gassuh (2016, Delmark): Seven-piece trad jazz band, founded 2010 by bassist Beau Sample, based in Chicago, they play old stuff going back to "Maple Leaf Rag" and clearly are having fun. B+(**) [cd]
Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band: ˇIntenso! (2016, Clavo): Directed by son Brent Fischer, less a ghost band than a living memorial to the late pianist-arranger, whose clients ranged from Dizzy Gillespie to Prince. Six Clare Fischer originals (out of ten), mostly old arrangements, the band solid, a couple Roberta Gambarini vocals a plus. B+(**) [cd]
David Friesen Circle 3 Trio: Triple Exposure (2015 , Origin): Bassist-led piano trio, the pianist Greg Goebel, drummer Charlie Doggett. Friesen has a long discography going back to 1976. He composed and arranged all the pieces here, gets bright leads and patiently works his bass into the cracks. B+(*) [cd]
Clay Giberson: Pastures (2015 , Origin): Pianist, based in Portland, has five previous records plus four by his group Upper Left Trio. Draws on a strong quartet here with Drew Gress (bass), Matt Wilson (drums), and most valuable player Donny McCaslin, whose tenor sax chops dominate everything. Less so his flute and soprano, or the string quartet added on four tracks. B+(***) [cd]
Jari Haapalainen Trio: Fusion Machine (2016, Moserobie): Drummer-led sax trio, with Daniel Bingert on bass guitar, and Per 'Texas' Johansson on "the saxophone." Reminiscent of the Thing in their new wave fusion mode (though less squawky, and less free). Thirteen cuts, 28:29. B+(*) [cd]
Jason Hainsworth: Third Ward Stories (2015 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist from Houston, studied in New Orleans and Florida, teaches at Broward College. Probably his debut, a lively hard bop sextet with Josh Evans on trumpet, Michael Dease on trombone, and Glenn Zaleski on piano, makes it seem easy. B+(***) [cd]
Stu Harrison: Volume I (2016, One Nightstand): Pianist, Canadian, leads a trio with Neil Swainson (bass) and Terry Clarke (drums) through a batch of very familiar standards, teasing and tussling without losing the thread. B+(**) [cd]
Heroes Are Gang Leaders: Flukum (2016, Flat Langston's Arkeyes): Group abbreviated HAGL, led by poet Thomas Sayers Ellis (not the sole lyricist) with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and various others, most songs with vocals in various voices ("dedicated to poets Etheridge Knight and Ntozake Shange with moments of James Baldwin and Michael S. Harper thematically-seasoned in"), pushing boundaries while the sinewy music slithers around, or sometimes just enjoys a funk groove. B+(**) [cd]
Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 3: Three Places in New England (2016, Creative Nation Music): Guitarist, quintet includes trumpet, clarinet, cello, and drums. Like the two previous volumes, this picks up a piece of modernist classical music and reframes it as jazz -- the previous volumes used Stravinsky and Messaien, this one goes after Charles Ives, who patterned his own music on brass bands obliquely heard. The indirection works nicely here. B+(***) [cd]
Roger Ingram: Sklyark (2015, One Too Tree): Trumpet player, finished second for trumpet in Downbeat's 2016 Readers Poll, a complete surprise to me -- only his second album (and short ones at that, this one seven cuts, 28:40) I can find, but he has many side credits going back to Woddy Herman in 1986. Not sure of credits here, but starts solo before a big band (Jim Stewart Orchestra) with singer (Christine Cooney) enter. The vocals swing agreeably, but the instrumentals are a little gaudy. B
Erik Jekabson: A Brand New Take (2015 , OA2): Trumpet player, based in Bay Area, has a handful of records dating back to 2002. Quintet here with alto sax (Kasey Knudsen) and piano (Matt Clark), plus a couple tracks with guests -- "Thriller" is a highlight, with John Gove (trombone) and Dave Ellis (tenor sax). B+(*) [cd]
Jerome Jennings: The Beast (2016, Iola): Drummer, wrote four (of nine) songs here, leading a hard bop sextet much like the groups his bassist (Christian McBride) has led -- most obviously with Christian Sands on piano, also Sean Jones on trumpet and Howard Wiley on tenor sax. Steady pulse of energy, as if they're afraid they might be taken for retro. B+(**) [cd]
The Matthew Kaminski Quartet: Live at Churchill Grounds (2015 , Chicken Coup): Organ player, from Chicago, earns his scratch playing for the Atlanta Braves. Quartet includes guitar and tenor sax (Will Scruggs), and Kimberley Gordon sings a couple tunes. All covers, done up like a gaudy burlesque, with "Sail On Sailor" a surprise lead. B+(*) [cd]
Walter Kemp 3oh!: Dark Continent (2016, Blujazz): Pianist, sometimes adds a III to his name but styles his piano trio thusly, picking up last initials from bassist RiShon Odel and drummer David Hulett. Densely chorded pieces have some power, slower ones thoughtful. B+(*) [cd]
Frank Kimbrough: Solstice (2016, Pirouet): Pianist, first appeared as part of a New York postbop circle that included Ben Allison, Ron Horton, and Matt Wilson, and always struck me as the least adventurous of that crowd. Trio, with Jay Anderson on bass and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. One original, one standard, the rest from postmodern jazz sources like Carla Bley, Paul Motian, Andrew Hill, Maria Schneider, and Annette Peacock (twice). B+(**) [cd]
Lambchop: FLOTUS (2016, Merge): Acronym more convoluted than expected: For Love Often Turns Us Still. Band, fronted by Kurt Wagner, has recorded a dozen albums since 1994. This one's slow with a light touch, delicate even, pleasant in passing but little registers. B
Miranda Lambert: The Weight of These Wings (2016, RCA Nashville, 2CD): Twenty-four songs, runs 94:01, the first disc titled "The Nerve" and the second "The Heart." Gossip columnists tell us it's about her breakup with Blake Shelton and her current relationship with Anderson East. Still, not much tumult here -- certainly no "Kerosene" -- everything on a level keel, making me wonder why the album had to be so damn long. Probably because she's got a lot to say. B+(***)
Ingrid Laubrock: Serpentines (2016, Intakt): German tenor saxophonist, based in Brooklyn, has produced quite a few records since 1999. This one mixes in trumpet (Peter Evans), koto (Miya Masaoka), piano (Craig Taborn), electronics (Sam Pluta), tuba (Dan Peck), and drums (Tyshawn Sorey). Some bright spots, especially Taborn, but also seems rather scattered. B+(*) [cd]
Jerry Leake: Crafty Hands (2016, Rhombus Publishing): World-spanning percussionist, has a dozen or so albums as well as the books that helped name his label, but draws mostly on African and Indian here, plus a standard drum set, vibraphone, and he (and others) sing some. The others add to the "world-rock fusion" -- eclectic is their motto, making most of this enchanting, not that it all fits neatly together. B+(**) [cd]
Nate Lepine Quartet: Vortices (2016, Eyes & Ears): Tenor saxophonist from Chicago, seems to be his debut album, quartet with Nick Mazzarella on alto sax, Clark Sommers on bass, and Quin Kirchner on drums. The extra sax shadows the leads, adding depth and lustre, but beware of slowing down. B+(*) [cd]
Jasmine Lovell-Smith's Towering Poppies: Yellow Red Blue (2015 , Paint Box): Soprano saxophonist, originally from New Zealand, based in Mexico after a few years in New York. second album, quintet with Josh Sinton (bass clarinet) and piano-bass-drums. B+(**) [cd]
Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: A Day in Brooklyn: At Ibeam (2015 , Constant Sorrow, 2CD): The fifth (of six so far) installment under this title, "a series of recordings based on American song forms," something hardly no one has researched deeper than alto-saxophonist Lowe. A disparate, sprawling set of works, with two mid-sized groups and a number of guest spots -- hard to see how they could all have fit into a single day of recording. Opens with a solo piano piece by Loren Schoenberg, then another by Kelly Green -- the first of several "Mary Lou Williams Variations." Then moves on to a group with Kirk Knuffke (trumpet) and Paul Austerlitz (clarinet), later to another with Lisa Parrott (baritone sax) and Larry Feldman (violin). Not easy to follow, but even when you don't something liable to jump out and grab you. B+(***) [cd]
Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Hell With an Ocean View (2016, Constant Sorrow): Opens with some of Lowe's best alto sax, but often gives way to let the twin guitarists (Nels Cline and Ray Suhy) shine. With Matthew Shipp (piano), Kevin Ray (bass), Larry Feldman (violin, mandolin), and Carolyn Castellano (drums). The song forms range from hymns to Hendrix, each with its own fascination. A- [cd]
Thierry Maillard Trio and Philharmonic Orchestra: Ethnic Sounds (2016, Blujazz): French pianist, has perhaps a dozen albums since 1998, explains in the liner notes that "My biggest musical dream has always been to hear one day my music written for a jazz trio and a symphonic Orchestra," so I guess he can scratch that off his bucket list. He went to Prague to get the orchestra, an outfit that has never shown much finnesse around jazz, and he brought in some ringers like guitarist Nguyen Lę. The music leans toward fusion, or maybe it's just energetically muddled. B- [cd]
Mamutrio [Lieven Cambré/Piet Verbist/Jesse Dockx]: Primal Existence (2015 , Origin): Alto saxophonist, from northern Belgium, backed by bass and drums, Verbist the main writer (5/10 compositions). Subtle, relaxed postbop, sometimes pushes not out but in. B+(***) [cd]
Tom Marko: Inner Light (2016, Summit): Drummer, director of jazz studies at Illinois State, first album, lineups vary but generally a standard quintet, sometimes with added guitar, sometimes percussion. Big name here is "special guest" Scott Wendholt (trumpet), who earns his billing. Postbop moves, has some hot spots. B [cd]
Melanie Marod: I'll Go Mad (2016, ITI): Standards singer, from Michigan, based in New York, probably her debut. Has a seductive voice, eclectic taste in Anglo standards ("Spanish Harlem," "Dance Me to the End of Love," "Candy," but "Everybody's Talkin'" is a let down; plus "Corcovado" and two equally obvious Latin tunes. Backed by guitar (Masami Ishikawa), keyboards (Art Hirahara), bass and drums. B+(*) [cd]
Bruno Mars: 24K Magic (2016, Atlantic): Loved his first album, shrugged off his second, and can't say that anything really grabs me in this big-time pop production, though I continue to be wowed by his voice. B
Delfeayo Marsalis presents the Uptown Jazz Orchestra: Make America Great Again! (2016, Troubadour Jass): Big band, led by the trombone-playing Marsalis brother, takes America to be a macro-extension of black New Orleans, with Wendell Pierce narrating a spiel that reminds me of "Chocolate City," egged on by a chorus reiterating the title with just a bit of sarcasm, reminding us that the greatest traitors to America were the "rebels" who fought the union for slavery. Frames the program with "Star Spangled Banner" and "Fanfare for the Common Man." Personally, I'd rather make America good than great, but that's the effect here, too. B+(**) [cd]
MAST: Love and War_ (2016, Alpha Pup): Album cover stylizes group name as all caps followed by an inverted-V and two backslashes, sort of a broken-M, although their Bandcamp page sticks with ASCII. Second group album, leader is Tim Conley, they didn't bother to table up the credits, but it would have been a long list, including the ten-piece Fresh Cut Orchestra. Structured as a three act play, with various spoken and sung characters, lush instrumental passages, the sort of high art concept I have trouble focusing on. I will say he's better at it than the Pretty Things, though maybe not better than Sufjan Stevens (or the Who). B+(*) [cdr]
Matt Mayhall: Tropes (2015 , Skirl): Drummer, based in Los Angeles, also credited with keyboards on this debut album, leads a trio with Jeff Parker on guitar and Paul Bryan on bass guitar, plus guests on a couple cuts each: Chris Speed (tenor sax) and Jeff Babko (organ, keyboards). Rather mellow showcase for Parker. B+(*) [cd]
Donny McCaslin: Beyond Now (2016, Motema): Tenor saxophonist, has outstanding chops which he frequently flexes to steal the spotlight on others' albums, although I've only rarely been a fan of his own albums (2008's Recommended Tools is an exception). David Bowie hired him to work on his final album, Blackstar, and McCaslin returns the compliment here, using Bowie's band (Jason Lindner, Mark Giulliana, Tim Lefebvre) on a couple of Bowie songs, others from Deadmau5 and Mutemath. Leans hard toward fusion, turning into its own kind of sax blowout. B+(*)
The Monkees: Good Times! (2016, Rhino): Someone thought some sort of 50th anniversary remembrance was in order, then discovered that three of the original four actors who were tabbed for a popular TV series about an American Beatles spoof were still living, so why not a reunion? They even hired three members of Fountains of Wayne to craft fake Monkees songs. It's not like they couldn't recapture the vibe, but somehow it sounds pathetic this time around. Indeed, the whole thing turned so depressing they let the original Monkees write some of their own songs. And they dug up an unreleased 1967 track to pretend Davy Jones lives. B-
Van Morrison: Keep Me Singing (2016, Caroline): Past 70 now, knighted, one of the all-time greats, so much so that mere echoes of his great albums can blow you away. This one is that and a bit more as he's found a new comfort not just in his skin but in the warmth of his Celtic-blues soul. A-
John Moulder: Earthborn Tales of Soul and Spirit (2014-16 , Origin): Guitarist, based in Chicago, teaches at Benedictine and Northwestern, sixth album, cut in two sessions with different bass/drums and tablas on one, but Jim Trompeter (piano), Marquis Hill (trumpet), and Donny McCaslin (tenor sax) appeared on both. McCaslin flexes his chops, but this can get murky without him. B [cd]
Moutin Factory Quintet: Deep (2016, Blujazz): Twin brothers François (bass) and Louis Moutin (drums), leading a quintet with alto/sopranino sax (Christophe Monniot), guitar (Manu Codjia), and piano (Jean-Michel Pilc). One very nice Fats Waller medley, mostly just bass and drums, but the originals tend toward post-fusion (in the sense of what postbop made of bebop, I suspect Weather Report was their ur-text). B+(*) [cd]
Fredrik Nordström: Gentle Fire/Restless Dreams (2016, Moserobie, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist from Sweden, look him up and most likely you'll find a different person -- a heavy metal guitarist with the same name. This one has a half-dozen previous albums going back to 2000. Two albums here cut in the same two-day session, with the same quartet: Jonas Östhom (piano), Torbjörn Zetterberg (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums). Mixed with the gentle stuff on one disc, the restless on the other (or vice versa). Restless is better, of course, but I've played this enough I've also grown quite fond of the fire. A- [cd]
Phil Parisot: Lingo (2016, OA2): Seattle-based drummer, first album, has a couple of side-credits including the group Big Neighborhood. Sax quartet, Steve Treseler out front on tenor and soprano, Dan Kramlich on piano and Fender Rhodes, Michael Glynn on bass. Seven originals, three non-standard covers, pretty much what everyone else is doing, though lively for that. B+(*) [cd]
Felix Peikli & Joe Doubleday: It's Showtime! (2016, self-released): Clarinetist, from Norway, and vibraphonist, playing standards, backed by a swing-oriented rhythm section with Rossano Sportiello on piano. Bright, even a bit frothy. B+(*) [cdr]
Ivo Perelman/Karl Berger/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 1 (2016, Leo): Avant tenor saxophonist from Brazil, celebrated twenty years of recording back in 2009-10 with six releases, and has duplicated that feat nearly every year since. He released five records this spring (my top picks were Soul and Blue), and now for the fall he's come out with six volumes of Improv Trio -- one suspects too much and too similar, but we'll see. Berger here plays piano, a steady influence that mostly keeps the sax on track, even brings out a touch of elegance. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Whit Dickey: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 2 (2016, Leo): Tenor sax, viola, drums. Maneri is the wild card here, his microtonal meanderings sometimes lose me, but in the end he provokes the saxophonist into upping his game. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 3 (2015 , Leo): Probably the most imposing of the trio lineups, but pianist Shipp -- a frequent Perelman mate going back to 1996's Bendito of Santa Cruz -- never charges into the clear (as he sometimes managed in the David S. Ware Quartet). Still a fine showing for the saxophonist, but not exceptional. B+(**) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/William Parker/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 4 (2016, Leo): The bassist makes a difference here, setting up a groove (or at least momentum) that keeps the sax man on his toes, bobbing and weaving, never far from the edge. Moreover, he can go loud without knocking the leader out, so he has no need to hold back (as the pianists have done). A- [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 5 (2016, Leo): Morris plays electric guitar, somewhat inconspicuously poking around the edges, adding bits of color and brightness. Another strong outing for the saxophonist. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 6 (2016, Leo): Recorded in July, probably the same time as Volume 5, the difference here is that Morris has switched from guitar to bass. As with Volume 4, this both loosens up the saxophonist and lets him be fiercer or more eloquent as the opportunity arises. A- [cd]
Pink Martini: Je Dis Oui (2016, Heinz): Portland group dating back to 1994, principally pianist Thomas Lauderdale and singer China Forbes, play an ecclectic mix of jazz, chanson, and kitsch drawing on pretty much everything. More of all of that, in some ways remarkable but less satisfying than, e.g., 2007's Hey, Eugene!. B+(*)
Bobby Previte: Mass (2016, RareNoise): Jazz drummer, often leans toward fusion but has more eclectic tastes -- esoteric, too. This starts with a baroque piece by Guillaume Du Fay (1397-1474, Missa Sancti Jacobi), adds pipe organ "inspired by Olivier Messaien" (played by Marco Benevento), vocals (The Rose Ensemble), and some electric bass that could have been dubbed by Black Sabbath. I suppose if you cared about any of those things, this might seem interesting, or blasphemous, or something. C+ [cdr]
Carol Robbins: Taylor Street (2016 , Jazzcats): Plays harp, has a couple previous albums, backed here by Los Angeles musicians -- Bob Sheppard (tenor sax), Curtis Taylor (trumpet), Larry Koonse (guitar), Billy Childs (piano), Darek Oles (bass) -- generating an easy momentum without turning too smooth. B+(*) [cd]
Rudy Royston Trio: RisEofOrion (2016, Greenleaf Music): Drummer from Texas, only his second headline album but side credits go back to 1992, notably with saxophonists Fred Hess and J.D. Allen, and more recently with Jim Snidero, Doug Webb, and trumpet master Dave Douglas. This is another sax trio, with Jon Irabagon tugging him out of the mainstream, and Yasushi Nakamura on bass. B+(***) [cd]
Ken Schaphorst Big Band: How to Say Goodbye (2014 , JCA): Big band composer-conductor, chairs the jazz department at New England Conservatory, has a half dozen albums since 1989, maybe more. Plays trumpet and keyboards here, just one cut each. Band is chock full of well-known names, including Ralph Alessi, Donny McCaslin, Chris Cheek, Uri Caine, Brad Shepik, and Matt Wilson -- much solo power, some impressive passages. B+(*) [cd]
Adam Schneit Band: Light Shines In (2016, Fresh Sound New Talent): Plays tenor sax and clarinet, has two previous appearances with Old Time Musketry (both A- records), leads his debut album with Sean Moran (guitar), Eivind Opsvik (bass), and Kenny Wollesen (drums). Nice mainstream sax album, the clarinet less so. B+(**) [cdr]
Steve Slagle: Alto Manhattan (2016 , Panorama): Mainstream alto saxophonist, most often heard with Dave Stryker (who usually gets top billing), but here takes center stage and is terrific though sevel cuts, mostly burners aside from a solo "Body & Soul." He switches to flute on the last two cuts and adds congas, nice but less impressive. Joe Lovano joins in on three cuts. B+(***) [cd]
Enoch Smith Jr.: The Quest: Live at APC (2016, Misfitme Music): Pianist, born in Rochester, based in New Jersey, has several albums. Wears his religion on his sleeve -- first album was called Church Boy -- and dabbles in nursery rhymes, coming together here in two takes of "Jesus Loves Me." Uses two singers, neither adding much nuance or style. C [cd]
Snaggle: The Long Slog (2016, Browntasaurus): Jazz group, "often described as Canada's answer to Snarky Puppy," main songwriter is keyboardist (no piano) Nick Maclean, plus guitar, a couple horns (trumpet, tenor sax), bass and drums, with a "special guest" credit for second trumpet player Brownman Ali (also producer). CDBaby has a blurb from Randy Brecker saying "reminds me of a band I used to play in." Underwhelming comps pursued vigorously, leaves me uninterested. B- [cd]
Soul Basement feat. Jay Nemor: What We Leave Behind (2016, ITI): Recorded over three months in Siracusa [Sicily], Gothenburg [Sweden], and Oslo. Soul Basement is an alias for Fabio Puglisi, who plays keyboards, bass, drums, and programming, and co-wrote the songs with non-bandmember J. Harden. Nemor does the speakeasy vocals and some saxophone, making him the real focal point. All in English, including a couple timely political excursions. B+(*) [cd]
Terell Stafford: Forgive and Forget (2016, Herb Harris Music): Mainstream trumpet player, originally from Miami, last time tried his hand at a Lee Morgan tribute (BrotherLee Love), but didn't really get the vibe right until now, with a superb hard bop quintet. Pianist Kevin Hays is essential, tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield mostly shades but delivers when he gets a solo shot. But it's mostly the trumpet -- the fast ones grab you right away, the ballads take a while for the slow burn to emerge. A- [cd]
Andrew Van Tassel: It's Where You Are (2016, Tone Rogue): Alto saxophonist, also plays soprano, based in New York, probably his first album, a quartet with Julian Shore on piano and Rhodes. One cover, from Charles Ives, the originals insightful but soft-edged and pleasant. B+(*) [cd]
Anna Webber's Simple Trio: Binary (2016, Skirl): Plays tenor sax and flute, here in a prickly trio with Matt Mitchell on piano and John Hollenbeck on drums. B+(***) [cd]
Scott Whitfield: New Jazz Standards (Volume 2) (2016, Summit): Trombonist, eighth album since 1989, side credits include Toshiko Akiyoshi's big band. Quartet with Christian Jacob (piano), Kevin Axt (bass), and Peter Erskine (drums) playing song written by producer Carl Saunders. As far as I can tell, the previous volume of New Jazz Standards was released in 2014 and credited to the late flautist Sam Most -- another Saunders production. B+(*) [cd]
Basak Yavuz: A Little Red Bug (2015 , Things&): Turkish singer-songwriter, studied jazz in New York and picked up some tricks, but this second album was recorded in Istanbul with a long list of Turkish names (but no instrument credits). Music, too, is more Turkish than jazz, but its dramatic flair is informed (and stretched) by the latter -- most obviously on the "Bye Bye Blackbird" cover. B+(**) [cd]
Zarabande: El Toro (2016, AFlo): San Antonio-based marimba player Alfred Flores is billed as "El Toro" here, and seems to be the leader (listed first, producer) -- band includes Joe Caploe on vibraphone, Mark Little on piano, plus bass and drums -- and "Zarabande" is one of the song titles, but the credits are reversed, perhaps because Little and Caploe split all the song credits (6-3). Nice flow, lots of tinkle. B+(*) [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance [The Bootleg Series Vol. 5] (1966-68 , Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): His greatest group, close to mid-term, so it's fair to expect jazz of the highest order, and to be disappointed with tentative outtakes and rambling session dialogue only scholars need to hear once. The songs mostly turned into Miles Smiles (1966) with some leftovers that wound up on Water Babies (belatedly released in 1976). The false starts and not-very-audible banter especially mar the first disc, but the music on the latter discs is pretty much what you'd expect. Doesn't strike me as essential, but I also don't have the booklet that no doubt draws out the historical context. B+(*)
Erroll Garner: Ready Take One (1967-71 , Legacy): Fourteen previously unreleased tracks from three sessions late in the pianist's career. Mostly trio, some extra percussion, the sound weak enough that the bass isn't always clear. Flashes of the idiosyncrasy that marked his work in his '50s prime, but not a major find. B+(*)
Sonny Criss: The Complete Imperial Sessions (1956 , Blue Note, 2CD): Also saxophonist, cut his first albums for Imperial at age 28 (although some older recordings were released later), three albums -- Jazz USA (with Barney Kessel and Kenny Drew), Go Man! (with Sonny Clark), and Sonny Criss Plays Cole Porter (Clark again, plus Larry Bunker on vibes) -- all rounded up here. Bright and fast, manages to bridge bebop and a more mainstream standards repertoire. A- [cd]
Ella Fitzgerald & Duke Ellington: The Stockholm Concert (1966 , Jazz World): Same year as the official Ella and Duke at the Côte D'Azur -- issued in an 8-CD box and a recommended 2-CD sampler. Pretty much their standard show, opening with four Ellington pieces, closing with scat takes of "How High the Moon" and "Mr. Paganini." B+(***) [cd]
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, November 28. 2016
Music: Current count 27386  rated (+24), 362  unrated (-17).
Finally, on Saturday, got my new computer build working, hooked up, and able to stream from Napster. I'm somewhat embarrassed to finally realize that the problem all along was a faulty monitor (a Samsung, like most of the other faulty equipment in the house right now -- my big complaint is a broken ice maker in the refrigerator, and by broken I mean that the plastic tray is badly cracked on both ends, such that the screw drive that moved the ice forward jams). The monitor actually displays internally generated messages fine, but doesn't display the signal coming in through the D-SUB connection. In fact, the manual says the monitor has a self-test feature, and when I tried that the self-test came out OK. But it took weeks for it to finally sink in that the monitor was the problem.
Went out on Black Saturday and picked up a new LG 24-inch monitor for about $140. The new computer works fine with it. The old computer works fine too, so now I have a spare. It had been 5-6 years since I built the old one, so one can argue that I was due for a new one, but I hate to have blundered into it like that. The new one has an 8-core AMD FX-8350 processor, ASUS motherboard and video card (not a fancy one, but has 2GB RAM), plus I have 32GB RAM and a 2TB hard drive, a DVD burner, and a parallel printer port board so I can still hook up to my old HP laser printer. Loaded Xubuntu 16.04 desktop on it, and I've had to load a couple dozen extra software packages so I have a LAMP web server, emacs, gimp, and a few extra applications that looked promising (including a CAD system, an alt-Adobe Illustrator, and a database program for recipes). That's all free software. Had to jump through some extra hoops to get non-free (but zero cost) Adobe Flash (needed by Napster) and gstreamer drivers for playing DVDs. Probably still need some further work, but it's basically functional now. Used a cheap old box, so it's not the most elegant thing in the shop, but should be a solid machine.
Only three Napster streams among the records listed below. I also played the new A Tribe Called Quest (given an A+ last week by Christgau) but didn't get into it enough to pass any sort of judgment. (Two-thirds sounds pretty good, but nothing sounds as great as that grade implies. And it's two discs, and I'm often slow getting into hip-hop records, so I figured it best to return later).l The three rated below only got a single play. Could be that a second play might nudge Common up a notch, but Bruno Mars was disappointing and Pink Martini clearly not their best work. Playing the latest Miles Davis bootleg as I write this, but at 3-CD it's going to take a while.
Besides, I needed to make a serious dent in the incoming jazz queue, which I did. The 2016 pending list is currently down to six albums: no one I've heard of (although I filed one under Ernest Dawkins, whose last three albums came in at A-, so I need to check that one out soon). Jazz Critics Poll ballot due next week, and Francis Davis is already getting anxious about that. I did a preliminary sort on my jazz list a couple weeks ago, but I still expect to fiddle with the order quite a bit (depending on time and whether I can find things, so possibly not before I have to turn a ballot in).
I'm afraid I have no sense whatsoever how that poll is going to go. I currently list 61 A- (or better) new jazz albums. The only one in my top-ten I'm reasonably sure will finish top-ten (probably top-three) is Henry Threadgill's Old Locks and Irregular Verbs. I suppose JD Allen (Americana) and David Murray (Perfection) are possibles; further down my list Steve Lehman, Sonny Rollins, Greg Ward, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, and Fred Hersch seem likely to get a few votes, but I'll be surprised if anything else cracks the top forty. (George Coleman maybe? Rich Halley? Jane Ira Bloom?)
Rather seems more likely that some of my HM records will poll well -- Michael Formanek, Mary Halvorson, Wadada Leo Smith, Tyshawn Sorey -- or records I listed lower -- Darcy James Argue, Kenny Barron, Vijay Iyer, Charles Lloyd -- not much else I've noticed other critics liking, but I'm sure I've missed some things. As for records I've heard of but haven't heard, I scanned through my checklist file and added 13 records to the "estimated to have a 2% chance of A-" list in the EOY Jazz file cited above (also added 19 to the EOY Non-Jazz file). I'll add more as I see some actual EOY lists.
Speaking of EOY lists, the first few have appeared (starting, as usual, in the UK with NME, Mojo, Uncut, and a few record store lists). I put a lot of work into tracking these things last year, and doubted that I would again, but the last few weeks have been so stressful to me that I thought it might be calming to waste some time on them this year. After eight (or so) lists this year looks like this. (Note that I'm already counting my grades, although I've only included those on other lists.) My initial guess was that Beyoncé would win going away, with Chance the Rapper in second, and then, well, I don't know -- AOTY has Nick Cave top-rated based on review averages (a B- as far as I'm concerned), followed by Bon Iver (*), Beyonce (?), Solange (**), Radiohead (B), Frank Ocean (?), Leonard Cohen (A-), A Tribe Called Quest (probably A-), Mitski (*), and Angel Olsen (***). But at least in the UK, David Bowie jumped into a clear lead, followed by Cave, Radiohead, Olsen, Thee Oh Sees, and Iggy Pop, with Beyoncé and Chance back in the 30-40 range.
However, the first American list to appear, from Consequence of Sound, is closer to what I expect: Beyoncé, Chance, Bowie, Ocean, Anohni, Cave, Olsen, Anderson .Paak, Bon Iver, Cohen, Mitski, A Tribe Called Quest (first list appearance for a late release), Radiohead, Blood Orange, Schoolboy Q, Wilco, Tim Hecker, Car Seat Headrest, Solange; plus some further down records that may do better: Kaytranada, Danny Brown, Savages, Kevin Gates, Young Thug, White Lung.
One list that's out that I haven't bothered with is Decibel's. Last year I faithfully tracked all the metal lists, but wound up listening to fewer than five albums, so that much doesn't seem to be worth the effort this year. I suppose that makes my tally a bit less objective, but I'd rather spend my time on things I consider worthy.
I made a mistake last week in listing Heroes Are Gang Leader's new album Flukum, so corrected that and repeated it this week. I liked their previous album this year (Highest Engines Near/Near Higher Engineers) a bit more, but both should be of interest if you're interested in jazz-rap fusion. The two A- records this week are from Ivo Perelman's six-volume set, only marginally better than the others because bass seems to fit in better than piano (or viola or guitar). Could be I downgraded the one with Shipp only because I expected more (it was the one volume I singled out to listen to in the car). Perelman finishes the year with 4 A-, 4 ***, 1 **, 2 * records.
PS: Monday's mail brought a nice package from NoBusiness in Lithuania, and a new Randy Weston 2-CD that officially drops on January 20 (so I can ignore it for a couple weeks). Also email from Steve Swell offering me a couple CDs, so they'll be coming soon. Also, that new Dawkins album is pretty good.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Monday, November 21. 2016
Music: Current count 27362  rated (+24), 379  unrated (-16).
The old box had a 550W Thermaltake power supply which looked quite viable, so I decided to try an experiment: I swapped power supplies, then stuck my new video card into the old computer. I rebooted, and it came up with proper graphics. I finally was able to listen to a record on Napster (Erroll Garner, below, and got about half-way through the new Miles Davis bootleg before I went to bed). Anyhow, that seemed to work well enough I ordered yet another video card. Then next morning I got up and the video was blanked, and nothing I did made could wake it up. The blackout is so bad not even the BIOS splash screen appears. The monitor, however, displays diagnostic info (analog, digital, no cable). I just remotely did a software update, then reboot. Still no screen. Very frustrating, very perplexing.
Meanwhile, I've built the new computer, except for the new video card I expect to arrive tomorrow. Then I'll plug it in, do a fresh Xubuntu desktop install, and try to patch up the various things I need (emacs, mysql, apache, php, etc.). Should take the better part of a day, if all goes well. Not that anything's gone well in the last month or so. At some point all this frustration threatens to turn into depression.
So, all but one of this week's records were reviewed from CDs, so all are jazz. (I don't think I've bought a single CD all year.) At least I've drained about half of the queue that built up in September and October. Main thing left is six Ivo Perelman discs, giving him ten on the year. All are titled The Art of the Improv Trio then a volume number. First one is pretty good, and most likely they're all like that, so I'll be struggling with marginal distinctions for a couple days -- at least that beats the Xmas CDs, which I figure I'll suffer through sometime closer to the holiday.
I did finally flesh out my first pass at EOY lists: one for Jazz, and the other for Non-Jazz. The former is much larger (61 A-list, 120 HM, 385 other, so 566 total, 8-6-11=25 for reissues/compilations, vs. non-jazz: 41 A-list, 36 HM, 105 other, so 182 total, 11-9-6=26 for reissues/compilations). At this time last year the Jazz A-list was well ahead of the Non-Jazz, but eventually they evened out. That seems less likely this year, but is still possible. Assuming I get Napster up and running again, the ratio of Jazz/Non-Jazz further down the grade scale should reduce somewhat, but hard to see that ever balancing out. Reissues and compilations remain especially hard to get hold of.
No Thanksgiving plans. My wife never wants me to cook on that day, and all the usual friends and family have their own plans, so most likely we'll be home alone. Maybe I'll get some listening done.
Still scanning through the notebooks for stray record reviews. Up to December 2006, where I noticed that I had in fact made Thanksgiving dinner that year. Went Japanese that year:
Also planned on sushi rice with grilled unagi (eel), but evidently didn't get that done until the next day. I hardly ever cook Japanese (except for the salmon, one of the easiest really good recipes I know), so this mostly seems unfamiliar (aside from the ringers: the eggplant is one of Barbara Tropp's Chinese fusion recipes, and the cake is my Mom's recipe, an old family standard -- in fact, one of the cakes I made for her funeral reception).
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, November 14. 2016
Music: Current count 27338  rated (+9), 395  unrated (+1).
I spent Tuesday evening following the election results on a pair of computers -- my main writing (work) computer and a Chromebook I use for travel. I mostly used two websites: I followed 538's 2016 Election Night "live coverage and results," and I used the New York Times' Presidential Election Results page, which was the first one I found that gave me a map with red/blue states I could scroll over to see that state's vote totals. My first hint that anything was amiss was early in the evening when I saw that Trump was winning Indiana and Kentucky with 60-61% -- like everyone else, I expected those states to go to Trump, but those margins struck me as a bit on the high side. Still, at that point 538's monitor was still showing Clinton with a 75% chance of winning, and even when her chances started slipping it wasn't very obvious to me what was happening. I thought the Republicans were projected to hold the House way too early, and the Democrats' chances of taking over the Senate collapsed pretty early in the evening, as Indiana and Florida were called quite early. However, by the time I went to bed (about 4AM CST) I was shocked and rather sick.
I remained in a daze for several days (or maybe I'm still in one). I finally sat down and wrote up my analysis on Friday, then sat on it a day, edited some, and finally posted it on Sunday. I figure I'll follow up with a "Roundup" post some time this week (not necessarily waiting until my usual Sunday column -- a practice I'm thinking of discontinuing, unsure as I am of how much "reality" I can stand anymore). You might consider prodding me with questions and/or helping by pointing out particularly interesting links (I've grown rather weary of my usual sources).
Music should be a salve in times like this, but my first reaction was to favor silence -- there seemed to be too much noise, too much stimulus, from an Umwelt that suddenly seemed alien, hostile, and more than a little deranged. Since the election I've watched no conventional television news, nor have I returned to the late-night shows we followed regularly during the campaign. I still get stuff from the web, but aside from the numbers I used in Sunday's list, I haven't gone looking for much -- least of all opinions. Nor have I in any way been tempted to go out and protest -- I gather there have been anti-Trump protests, but have no idea how common they are. More generally, I don't see much point in getting worked up over what bad thing Trump and the Republicans might do (e.g., Ryan Plans to Phase Out Medicare in 2017). There will be plenty of opportunity in the future when we'll have tangible threats to try to stop, so you might as well save your energy for that, or prepare quietly out of sight (better to appear genuinely shocked than blanketly obstructionist).
When I did finally play some music, it was Leonard Cohen's Live in London. Partly I wanted to only hear real good stuff, partly I didn't want to be critical, and partly I had thought of "Democracy Is Coming to the USA" during a fairly optimistic Tuesday afternoon. I didn't know at the time that he had died (although I played it a couple more time after the news broke). After Cohen, I started playing some old jazz I liked, especially Coleman Hawkins. I mostly relied on my travel cases before I started picking things I hadn't heard in years from a nearby shelf. That's where I found the Sonny Criss set below: I had noticed it when looking for ungraded records in the database, so with it I finally returned to grading.
Only late in the week did I give the new jazz queue a chance. The Terrel Stafford looked old-fashioned, and turned out to be a good deal better than his Lee Morgan tribute (not coincidentally because it sounds more like prime Morgan). Rodrigo Amado's album came in the mail during the week, and jumped the queue. I wasn't sure I wanted to hear anything avant -- I had been considering Allen Lowe's latest when the cataclysm disoriented me -- but I have him down for four previous A- records, so he seemed like a pretty good prospect.
Still, only nine records rated this past week. Again, everything here comes from CDs. The computer I normally stream music on is unusable (well, it still prints, and I haven't tried workarounds like setting up an X-server or moving the speakers to a machine that still works, so I guess I haven't been trying very hard). I should remedy that some time this week: I've ordered new parts, so I'm pretty much building a whole new computer. The new one should actually be slightly more powerful than my work machine, so that opens up some possibilities for rebalancing my work.
I'll get to more new jazz next week -- I've gone through five records today since I started work on this post (none very good) -- and when I get the new machine running I should be able to check out some promising things on Napster or elsewhere. Still would be a good idea to drain the new jazz queue, as the Jazz Critics Poll deadline is December 4 -- well before anything else I'm likely to be invited for. (If you're a critic who hasn't gotten an invite and should, let me know and I'll pass you on to Francis Davis -- or you can contact him directly.)
I had rather hoped I'd get my Jazz and Non-Jazz working EOY lists set up by the time I posted this, but it now looks like all you're going to get if you follow the links is stubs. Also, at this point I have to stress that order is very preliminary. I'll get them fleshed out later this week, and will be updating them through the end of the year (and maybe next year as well -- as I've done so far for the 2015 Jazz and Non-Jazz lists).
I should point out that Robert Christgau has a piece on Leonard Cohen: Our Man, the Sophisticate. Christgau also tweeted a recommendation for another Noisey piece on Cohen: Rajeev Balasubramanyam: An American State of Grace: Darkness and Light in Leonard Cohen's Political Imagination. Most likely there are many other worthy pieces on Cohen: e.g., see Richard Gehr, Rob Sheffield, Adam Sweeting.
Comparatively little has been written about another music death last week: Leon Russell. For a few years in the 1970s I thought he was one of the greats (especially his eponymous debut album, plus his work on Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen), and with Hank Wilson's Back it looked like he could be a credible country singer. A couple of really awful albums followed (Stop All That Jazz and Will o' the Wisp) and I quickly lost interest, so I can't say much about his last forty years. I reckon I could say he was the Mac Rebennack of Tulsa, but Tulsa doesn't give a brilliant pianist and outrageous singer much to work with. Still, something else to mourn in one helluva awful week.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, November 7. 2016
Music: Current count 27329  rated (+42), 394  unrated (-29).
Actual rated count is probably 19 records -- at least that's how many are listed below. Counts for previous weeks are 15-9-19, so I'm in some kind of protracted rut. When I originally computed this week's count I came up with 18, but noticed that was less than I had listed, so I knew that I had failed to record some grade in the database. So I wound up listing all of the unrated records, and compared them to several other sources, and found a couple dozen records I hadn't counted correctly.
Almost everything below was listened to on actual CDs -- I see three exceptions, two from Napster and one from Bandcamp. Reason there is that the computer I use for streaming effectively died last Monday/Tuesday, so I haven't been able to do any of that almost all week. (It's also kept me off Facebook.) The computer isn't actually dead. I can remotely log into it, but either the screen is permanently locked or the display circuitry is dead. I replaced the power supply in that computer a couple weeks ago, and it did seem to resolve a clicking/popping problem in the audio. Also could be that a software "upgrade" triggered the problem -- screen lockouts are not unreported, although the fixes I've seen haven't solved the problem.
My current plan is to order new guts and rebuild the computer, pretty much from scratch (salvaging my new power supply and old hard drive, and re-using an old tower case, but not much else). I've started to shop for components, and have had a tough time settling on anything beyond an AMD FX-8350 AM3+ eight-core processor (for some reason Intel doesn't offer anything cost/performance-competitive). Anyhow, that CPU and comparable components might persuade me to consolidate my writing work on the new listening machine, at which point I can finally upgrade software on my "main" machine. Upgrade the network too. Important things I've been procrastinating on for way too long.
Second time in last three weeks I have no A- (or better) records to report. BassDrumBone was my big hope, and I have both discs three spins, finding much to like but not enough to get excited about. The Richie Cole album is really lovely, Eric Hofbauer strikes a fine balance for Ives-in-jazz, and Nat Birchall adds another worthy chapter to the St. John Coltrane gospel. So, some good records here -- just none cracking the 97 A-list albums already on my 2016 list. I figure I'll format this list into best-of-year format sometime in the next two weeks -- EOY lists traditionally start appearing around Thanksgiving, and it turns out I never ever froze last year's lists (split for jazz and non-jazz).
Also heard that NPR will once again support Francis Davis's Jazz Critics Poll, so I'll help out some there.
Making slow progress collecting jazz reviews. I haven't made any changes to the 21st Century book -- everything I'm scraping up is going into a scratch file for future processing -- but I have continued to add directly to the 20th Century non-book, which recently inched over the 300-page mark. I'm still thinking that what I've written there is far patchier than is needed for a real record guide, but it's getting to where I may have to take it seriously. I have, by the way, continued to use the high grade scale (A- = 9, B = 5) as I've been updating, as opposed to the low scale (A- = 8, B = 4) I used in the first pass at the Jazz CG data. When I get back to the latter, I'm pretty sure I'll switch to the high scale. Pretty much everyone I consulted preferred the low scale, but I haven't made any meaningful distinctions between A+ and A in decades, and it doesn't seem either fair or reasonable to downgrade everything else because I want to insist on some concept of perfection.
I don't expect to get much work done this coming week. For one thing, I'm sad to report that one of my oldest friends, Tony Jenkins, has died. He was 60, has struggled with liver cancer over the past year. He grew up next door, and wound up owning that house -- he was living there when we moved to Wichita in 1999, although he also had another house about a mile northeast, that he and his wife bought when they married. It was one of those tiny houses built for aircraft workers during WWII, and he transformed it into something special, tearing the roof off and building a second story with a master bedroom and bath that spanned the whole house. I spent a lot of time with him while he was doing that, trying to be helpful (but wasn't really), and he inspired much of the work I've done on our own house ever since. Haven't seen him much in the last few years, so his illness really came as shock and regret.
He is survived by his wife Kathy and a rather large dog -- when they got married nearly four decades ago they told us they were going to practice with dogs, and they stuck to that story. Tony once told me he had been surrounded with death all his life, which struck me as excessively morose. But his brother Bobby, who was a couple years older than me (so about eight years older than Tony), was killed in Vietnam -- more than any single thing his senseless death turned me against that atrocious war. He also had a much older brother, Wayne, who died in a car crash before he turned sixty, but I don't think they were close. (I barely knew Wayne, mostly by reputation as a legendary local athlete who turned down a chance to play pro baseball to pursue a lucrative business career.) I don't know when Tony's parents died, but they've been long gone -- certainly before Tony got through his 20s, though probably not while he was still in his teens.
He was a tremendous talker, the sort of guy you might be tempted to wind up a bit just to see where he takes it. He had low expectations in school -- I once prepared a very nice poetry notebook for him (not at all like the blasphemous one I prepped for my brother, the one that got him kicked out of school), and Tony declined to use it because he figured no one would believe it to be his own work. You could call that integrity -- he certainly had that. He worked in construction, doing siding for a while, then mostly ironwork for cement. Hard work, took a toll. But what he did learn, he could be downright perfectionist about. Early on I probably looked down on him as not very smart, but eventually I came to admire him, to respect his very real talents, and to appreciate his steady friendship. He was unique. He is missed, his absence an unfillable void.
New records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, October 31. 2016
Music: Current count 27287  rated (+15), 423  unrated (+5).
Another light week. Spent Friday evening through Sunday working on an overly ambitious birthday dinner. I doubt I'll ever try that again -- at least at such scale. Wound up scratching five dishes from the menu -- a couple I'll finish up tonight to keep from wasting the ingredients, a couple more can wait indefinitely. Theme was Greek, with three main dishes, baked and fresh veggies, pita bread, dips, stuffed grape leaves, and various hot mezze, with walnut cake for dessert. The bread was disappointing, the dips mixed, the grape leaves tasty but mostly ignored, the mezze reduced to meatballs and sweetbreads (especially good). The main dishes -- fish, shrimp, rabbit, and briami were all spectacular. Cake was fine too.
Biggest problem was logistical, as I was unable to get the food out in proper order, and we ran out of table space -- we probably would have been better off setting it up as a buffet, but we don't really have room for that either. Smaller dinners for six or so still seem workable, and the main dishes were pretty simple preparations -- long bakes or slow braises. Thanks to Elias Vlanton, Greek was the first non-American cuisine I fell in love with, but aside from Garithes Yiouvetsi I've rarely cooked it, having moved on and made Turkish cuisine my specialty. So it was nice to get back to basics recently.
I posted October's Streamnotes on Saturday, just before I started cooking, so there's virtually nothing new listed below. I posted a notice on Facebook, and was surprised to find that nearly all of the commentary concerned my ACN background grades on Bruce Springsteen. I often use Streamnotes as a tool for going back and checking out records I had missed, but since I didn't bother with previously rated records I figured that at least listing them would provide some useful context. German avant-pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach was a case in point this past month, as I reviewed his latest plus six older ones, then listed 18 others (including Globe Unity and a couple of joint projects with wife Aki Takase).
I started doing Springsteen after watching his appearance on Stephen Colbert plugging his memoir and a tie-in CD of odds and sods. Next I moved on to Live 1975-85, his famed 5-LP/3-CD live archive, then figured I might as well mop up the rest. Can't say as I discovered anything -- certainly nothing I wish I had bought earlier. As is well documented (e.g., here and here and here) I developed an intense dislike for Springsteen c. his Time cover -- partly my rather instinctive leanings toward antihype, partly revulsion over the hyperbolic dramaturgy of Born to Run (e.g., "Jungleland") and Darkness at the Edge of Town, and partly because I had become partisan in my fondness for the era's British pub rock movement (e.g., see the numerous references to Ducks Deluxe, op. cit.).
One commenter wrote "a universe where BTR is a B+ is a chilly place indeed." Actually, my original Born to Run grade was B-. I certainly didn't feel chilly at the time. Lots of other things I loved at the time, and it's always been relative. I've mellowed considerably since then, acknowledging the title cut as magnificent (despite some terrible lyrics, like "And strap your hands 'cross my engines") although "Jungleland" still sucks. The album that started to turn me around was The River, where he cut out most of the crap and started to hone his sound down to something classically rock but still distinctive. Took me a while, but he eventually turned into someone I liked (took him a while too) -- e.g., I don't get the problem some commenters have with The Seeger Sessions.
Still, I'm not here to argue that you shouldn't like something you actually do. If you have your own considered views, God bless you. I figure I'm mostly useful because I write about so much stuff you've never heard of, or never taken seriously. (Black Bombaim is a good case in point, or 75 Dollar Bill -- although Jason Gubbels and Robert Christgau got to the latter way before I did.) And when I do touch on something familiar, maybe that will help you correlate, as well as providing my own sanity check. Wouldn't want to miss anything important, especially if it's a widespread pick (like Springsteen, unlike Schlippenbach).
More useful was Dan Weiss' complaint that I underrated Rae Sremmurd. One of those acts I always seem to come out low on. A comment that's more likely to trigger re-evaluation is Michael Tatum's on American Honey: "Genres that aren't supposed to mix, artists I don't care for, even songs I never liked . . . no one listens to all this stuff at the same time. But somehow it works." I could blame Spotify (Napster only has like seven cuts), but I heard all that and still couldn't decide whether it justified what's basically a mixtape.
New issue of Downbeat came in the mail today, featuring their 81st Annual Readers Poll results. I've rarely felt further isolated from the jazz fans represented by the magazine (looks like about 15000 voted). The HOF winner was the late Phil Woods, a worthy candidate who narrowly edged out Wynton Marsalis -- not a personal favorite, but over 35 years now he's probably produced as many A- albums as Woods, maybe more. Woods also won for alto saxophone, where he was trailed by (get this): Kenny Garrett, David Sanborn, and Grace Kelly. Marsalis won trumpet, followed by a guy I'd never heard of, Roger Ingram (he's mostly played in big bands, going back to Louie Bellson and Woody Herman).
Most disappointing for me was the album standings -- not so much that Maria Schneider won (most critics adore her) as that she was followed by Grace Kelly, Gregory Porter, Arturo Sandoval, and many others. I count two A-, two B+(***), and various lower grades. What the hell, let's list them:
Hard to overstate how disgusted I am right now with the FBI over Hillary Clinton's emails -- easily the most boring subject in American politics for over a year now. (And while I don't doubt that Anthony Weiner is a creep, why the hell are they investigating him?) Before this broke I was actually thinking that both candidates had been treated unfairly. After all, the real primordial scum of American politics is Ted Cruz, but to go after him you'd have to talk about issues, and that's the real fear and dread of all sorts of media in America.
I minor exception to this is the Wichita Eagle, which has published detailed position charts on various candidates. Trump's isn't as awful as you'd expect, and Clinton's isn't as good as you'd hope, but that race at least is pretty clear cut. But I was saddened by how awful the Democratic congressional candidates are this time -- Patrick Wiesner for Senate and Dan Giroux for House. Given the Republican incumbents, I'll probably wind up voting or both (although I know a few people who prefer independent Miranda Allen over Giroux), but neither has much of a chance.
I'll be voting for Clinton too, although I fear my prediction that she'll be dogged by one stupid scandal after another for her entire term will turn out prescient. Very doubtful my wife will vote for her. Since the email thing broke open again, she's been hashtagging "itoldyouso" and heaping special scorn on those who claimed "she's been vetted" back in the primaries. Turns out none of the candidates were very well vetted, because the vanity and hubris presidential candidates all but require are endless generators of petty scandal.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, October 29. 2016
Slightly more than a month's worth of records here, as I ran into a couple bad weeks then found myself running out of month. Still a fairly substantial outing: 114 records (93 new, 3 recent comps, 18 oldies I'm just now catching up to -- mostly Bruce Springsteen and Alexander von Schlippenbach, both searches triggered by recent albums).
New records are mostly jazz, although I made an effort early in the month to check out many of the year's better regarded pop albums -- my main source Album of the Year's Highest Rated Albums of 2016 list. I'm still missing three of the top five (Nick Cave, Beyoncé, and Frank Ocean), one more down to ten (Dillinger Escape Plan), and three more down to twenty-five (DD Dumbo, Nails, The Hotelier) -- mostly not on Napster (although I now see that Nick Cave finally appeared).
Rated count for 2016 releases is currently 744 albums. I'm not sure how that compares year-to-date with 2015 but it's probably down by about 20%: by freeze date my 2015 list had hit 1112 albums, so if you scale that back to ten months you get 926, and 744 is 80.34% of that. Of course, in every year critics pick up their coverage rate toward the end when the annual best-of lists start to appear. Seems likely I'll wind up down closer to 10% than the current 20%.
A list this year is currently 97 long, down considerably from 150 last year (at freeze date, now up to 164). Same calculations show that current A-list is down 22.4% this year. I've actually wondered whether I'm getting faster and looser with grades this year. These numbers actually look rather normal, but that doesn't mean I haven't: I'd have to do some research to prove it, but I suspect that it's normal for A-grades to pile up late in the year. It's also normal for jazz to spurt ahead of non-jazz (currently 54-43, as I recall less than last year's split at this time, although the two columns wound up evenly balanced).
One reason for my doubts is that some of this month's picks are records that I don't regard as especially strong for the artist, but I've let them pass through anyway (Leonard Cohen, John Prine, Handsome Family, maybe even Revolutionary Snake Ensemble). On the other hand, I didn't quite bite on several jazz albums that have gotten a lot of critical play (Mary Halvorson, Wadada Leo Smith; perhaps halso Darcy James Argue and Andrew Cyrille). On the other hand, my favorites this time lean toward mainstream and/or groove (although I guess Black Bombaim and Damana don't fit either niche -- so much for predictable).
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on September 22. Past reviews and more information are available here (8746 records).
75 Dollar Bill: Wooden Bag (2015, Other Music): A duo, with Rick Brown banging on things and playing a little alto sax, and Che Chen playing guitar and more alto sax. Mostly roiling drone and percussion, and little differentiation among seven songs, but the noise is distinct and captivating, so there. B+(***) [bc]
75 Dollar Bill: Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock (2013-15 , Thin Wrist): Principally a duo, with Rick Brown playing less than a full set of drums (but "plywood crate") and Che Chen more than one guitar, with a few others adding to the discordant harmonies. Four pieces, 39:20, the vaguely Saharan grooves and harmonies minimally differentiated. A- [bc]
Stefan Aeby Trio: To the Light (2015 , Intakt): Swiss pianist, third trio album, also appears on good records by label mates Christoph Irniger and Sarah Buecchli. With André Pousaz on bass and Michi Stulz on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Joey Alexander: Countdown (2016, Motéma): Pianist, from Bali in Indonesia (full name Josiah Alexander Sila), was 11 when he cut his debut and 13 for this sophomore effort. Mostly trio with Larry Grenadier or Dan Chmielinski on bass and Ulysses Owens Jr. on drums. He's gotten the red carpet treatment so far -- even won a Grammy. And he is a surprisingly adept interpreter, as well as a fairly decent writer of genre exercises, but among mainstream jazz pianists these days, who isn't? B+(*)
JD Allen: Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues (2016, Savant): Tenor saxophonist, leads a trio with Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Sticks to basics here, doesn't strain or strive, but makes it all -- mostly original pieces, only one cover dating back to the '30s -- feel natural, unforced. A- [cd]
Amber Arcades: Fading Lines (2016, Heavenly): Alias for Dutch singer Annelotte de Graaf, with a background in law working for UN war crimes tribunals. No idea how I should alphabetize names like this. Bright, tuneful pop, framed more by guitar than keyboard. B+(*)
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Real Enemies (2016, New Amsterdam): Big band, rhythm section (including guitar) often plugged in, third album, Argue composes and conducts but doesn't play. His conspiracy themes are highlighted in spoken pieces, including a lecture on "paranoid style," and he backs it all up with stark, dramatic swells. B+(**) [bc]
Jay Azzolina/Dino Govoni/Adam Nussbaum/Dave Zinno: Chance Meeting (2016, Whaling City Sound): Listed alphabetically, all four contributing songs, as listed: guitar (best known, if not best remembered, for Spyro Gyra), tenor sax, drums, and bass. Most impressed by Govoni -- unfamiliar with him, but he teaches at Berklee, and his page there asserts the obvious: "A good saxophonist, first and foremost, has to have a tremendous sound." He does. B+(**) [cd]
Andrzej Bauer/Adam Baldych/Cezary Duchnowski/Cezary Konrad: Trans-Fuzja (2012 , ForTune): Polish string jazz trio (cello, violin, bass/electronics) plus drums. Despite the instrumentation, not close to the "chamber jazz" notion. B+(**) [bc]
Beekman: Vol. 02 (2015 , Ropeadope): Tenor sax quartet based in Brooklyn, pianist Yago Vazqauez (also Rhodes) listed first although all write with saxophonist Kyle Nasser most prolific -- 4/9 songs, vs. 3 for Vazquez, 2 for Pablo Menares (bass), 1 by Rodrigo Recabarren (drums). Boppish, flows fast and hard. B+(***) [cd]
Black Bombaim/Peter Brötzmann: Black Bombaim & Peter Brötzmann (2016, Clean Feed): Portuguese "stoner/psychedelic rock" group, a power trio with guitar-bass-drums but no singer, so they're into densely textured noise. That suits the saxophonist. He does what he's been doing for nearly fifty years, but the framing makes this more accessible without compromising his rawness. A- [cd]
Bon Iver: 22, a Million (2016, Jagjaguwar): Justin Vernon, third album, not so much a singer-songwriter as a fairly huge cult artist, his popularity and critical favor a puzzle to me -- not that I'm immune to his appeal, I just find it hard to see how such arcane chicanery and fey disposition could gain a mass following. Perhaps that says something about the ever-evolving nature of anomie. B+(*)
Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition (2016, Warp): Rapper from Detroit, apprenticed in the drug trade but has righted his career, now on his fourth album. Voice humorous similar to Young Thug, gives him a bit of lift even when the thug life doesn't deserve it. First hook goes "tell me something I don't know." Not the last, either. A-
John Butcher & Stĺle Liavik Solberg: So Beautiful, It Starts to Rain (2015 , Clean Feed): Sax and drums duets, the former playing soprano and tenor. Three pieces, 35:19, choppy and rather abstract. B+(**) [cd]
George Cables: The George Cables Songbook (2016, HighNote): Pianist, has a long list of records since 1975, many well regarded ones on SteepleChase I haven't heard so I tend to remember him best for his stellar work with Art Pepper. Something of a career recap here, with a superb trio (Essiet Essiet and Victor Lewis) augmented by sax (Craig Handy) on five tracks, percussion (Victor Kroom) on four, and vocals (Sarah Elizabeth Charles) on six. B+(***) [cd]
Lou Caimano/Eric Olsen: Dyad Plays Jazz Arias (2015 , self-released): Alto sax and piano, respectively, adding Randy Brecker (flugelhorn) or Ted Nash (tenor sax) on most pieces -- written, as advertised, by Mozart, Verdi, Bizet, Massenet, Delibes, and Barber. But without their usual strings and voices they never trigger my usual classical gag reflex. They just seem a little overblown. B [cd]
Neko Case/KD Lang/Laura Veirs: Case/Lang/Veirs (2016, Anti-): Trio of established singer-songwriters, in alphabetical order but also from most to least famous. Reviewers like to compare this to the Parton-Ronstadt-Harris "Trio" but those were much bigger stars with instantly recognizable voices. These three are much more anonymous, yet it's remarkable how evenly they blend together. B+(**)
Nels Cline: Lovers (2013 , Blue Note, 2CD): Guitarist, pays the rent by slumming in Wilco, but that evidently hasn't dulled his ambition for solo projects. Indeed, this project is gargantuan both in length and in its credits, yet none of that is evident in the orchestral music, an mix of placid and ominous, neither all that well defined. B-
Clipping: Splendor & Misery (2016, Sub Pop): Experimental hip-hop group from Los Angeles, best known member Daveed Diggs (from Hamilton), offer a concept about about a future slave (Cargo 2331) being shipped through outer space. Progress ends in very spare and mechanical beats and blips, its own cold and unforgiving dystopia. B+(*)
Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker (2016, Columbia): Slow, grim, gravelly, the octogenarian poet backs himself into a dark corner, and then a funny thing happens: the more you strain for clues (and you do) the sweeter his serenade. A-
Cymbals Eat Guitars: Pretty Years (2016, Sinderlyn): New York band, took their name from a Lou Reed quote "describing the sound of the Velvet Underground," not that they're that disciplined. Instead, we get a better-than-average rock band with solid songs and some flash, not that I find that especially interesting. B
Andrew Cyrille Quartet: The Declaration of Musical Independence (2014 , ECM): Drummer, from Brooklyn, an important figure on the avant-garde since he joined Cecil Taylor's group in 1964. With more than dozen albums under his own name, his ECM debut is a subversive little quartet, with guitarist Bill Frisell shirking the spotlight more often than not. Equally inscrutable are Richard Teitelbaum (synth/piano) and Ben Street (bass). B+(***) [dl]
Damana (Dag Magnus Narvesen Octet): Cornua Copiae (2014 , Clean Feed): Drummer-led Norwegian octet, with three saxes (alto, tenor, baritone/bass), trumpet, trombone, piano, bass: tremendous power from a horns section, but also texture, layering, and detail, propelled by a rhythm section with a hint of swing. Looks like a debut record, likely my ballot pick. A- [cd]
Dogbrain: Blue Dog (2016, Dogbrain Music, EP): Jay Ward, a countryish songwriter who sings through his stutter because the music flows so readily, has one album and three EPs. Six cuts, 18:39. B+(***)
Dreezy: No Hard Feelings (2016, Interscope): Chicago rapper-singer, has a couple of EPs, pretty good single here in "Body" (feat. Jeremih). B+(*)
Drive-By Truckers: American Band (2016, ATO): First thing you notice is how easily Patterson Hood's southern drawl flows over the contour of the melodies. Then words kick in, starting with a remarkable song about race and shooting deaths which works in a not unrelated bit of domestic violence. A-
Earprint: Earprint (2016, Endectomorph Music): Boston quartet: Tree Palmedo (trumpet), Kevin Sun (tenor sax, clarinet), Simón Willson (bass), Dor Herskovits (drums). Slippery postbop, bouncing off walls, occasionally surprising you. B+(**) [cd]
Orrin Evans: #Knowingishalfthebattle (2016, Smoke Sessions): Postbop pianist from Philadelphia sets up a high-revving group with two guitarists (Kurt Rosenwinkel and Kevin Eubanks), plus bass (Luques Curtis) and drums (Mark Whitfield Jr.), with guest spots for sax (Caleb Wheeler Curtis) and voice (M'Balia Singley) -- the latter's take of "Kooks" trips itself up, but her "That's All" is fine. B+(**)
Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: Moving Still (2016, Pi): Trumpet player, previous album (Moment and the Message) was terrific, has notable side credits with Steve Coleman, Steve Lehman, Mary Halvorson, and Tomas Fujiwara. Quintet with both guitar (Miles Okazaki) and piano (Matt Mitchell), tends to float above their postbop. B+(**) [cd]
Five in Orbit: Tribulus Terrestris (2015 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Franco-Catalan quintet, where Ramon Fossati (trombone), Olivier Brandily (alto sax/flute), and Laurent Bronner (piano) write the pieces (aside from a Lincoln-Roach cover), plus Nicolas Rageau (bass) and Luc Isenmann (drums). Fossati seems most drawn to Mingus, kicking the band into a higher orbit. B+(**)
Fond of Tigers: Uninhabit (2016, Offsesson/Drip Audio): Instrumental rock band from Vancouver, seven-piece, includes a couple of the city's notable jazzbos -- JP Carter on trumpet and Jesse Zubot on violin -- but guitarist Stephen Lyons (also credited with vocals, percussion and electronics) is most likely responsible, for the music if not necessarily the bloat. C+
Friends & Neighbors: What's Wrong? (2015 , Clean Feed): Another fine Norwegian freebop group, quintet with trumpet, tenor sax/clarinets, piano, bass, and drums -- no one I've heard of before. Four of the five contribute songs, with André Roligheten (reeds) marginally more prolific (and listed first in the credits). B+(***) [cd]
Future of the Left: The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left (2016, Prescriptions): Rock band from Wales, considered noise rock or post-hardcore but I'd slot them more as post-punk in a line that includes the Fall and the Three Johns. Not sure of the politics, but Falco's snarl exudes class conflict, so that's a start, and I've never found their basic grind more appealing. B+(***)
Robert Glasper Experiment: ArtScience (2016, Blue Note): Pianist, originally promised jazz with hip-hop influence and has straddled that concept inelegantly since 2005, but the vocals here push the balance toward postmodern r&b, which is where the beats derive anyway. B+(*)
GOAT: Requiem (2016, Sub Pop): Swedish group, called their first album World Music and has tried to expand on that thought ever since, but to the extent they specialize at all, they've come up with a psychedelicized form of afrobeat. They're not always that delectable, but I could listen to, say, the grind of "Goatband" much longer than 7:50, nor is that the only time they find such a compelling groove. B+(***)
Mary Halvorson Octet: Away With You (2015 , Firehouse 12): Guitarist, protégé of Anthony Braxton, has previous Quintet and Septet albums, here adding Susan Alcorn (pedal steel) to the latter: Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (alto sax), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax), Jacob Garchik (trombone), John Hébert (bass), Ches Smith (drums). Slippery pieces, much to admire but hard to pin them down, especially with the guitarist most elusive of all. B+(***) [cd]
The Handsome Family: Unseen (2016, Loose Music): Brett and Rennie Sparks, she (I gather) does most of the writing with its fascination for nature and science, and he does most of the singing, like the music (mostly guitar) basic but elegant. I fear some recycling of tunes, but that's mostly because they're so memorable. A-
Billy Hart & the WDR Big Band: The Broader Picture (2016, Enja/Yellowbird): The veteran drummer composed all of these pieces, some going back to the 1970s, and took over as the WDR Big Band's drummer, but the star here is Christophe Schweizer, arranger of the pieces and director of the big band. The WDR Big Band has long been one of the most competent of Europe's institutional bands, but even they have rarely brought their guest star's music so vividly to life. B+(***) [cdr]
Luke Hendon: Silk & Steel (2016, self-released): Guitarist, touches on gypsy jazz ŕ Django Reinhardt, backed by bass and drums (and sometimes violin) but you rarely notice more than the guitar. B+(*) [cd]
Dave Holland/Chris Potter/Lionel Loueke/Eric Harland: Aziza (2016, Dare2): Bass, tenor/soprano sax, guitar/vocals, drums -- not sure why I missed the first two names when I filed this (other than that my advance didn't come with a cover, and the spine only says Aziza). Strong rhythm record, moves right along. Potter, of course, is superb, and when he switches to soprano they just double down on the Latin tinge. Two songs each, the sort of balance you rarely find in a supergroup. A- [cdr]
Jenny Hval: Blood Bitch (2016, Sacred Bones): Avant goth diva from Norway, released a couple records as Rockettothesky before reverting to her birth name, turns out some kind of soundtrack about vampires -- maybe just a concept album, but it's as scattered as many soundtracks. C+
Ital Tek: Hollowed (2016, Planet Mu): Electronica producer Alan Myson, from Brighton UK, fifth album since 2008, has a bit of industrial klang shaded toward ambience. B+(**)
Nicolas Jaar: Sirens (2016, Other People): Nominally electronica, but it's the rock and roll bits -- bass throbs, drum rolls, even a little squelchy guitar -- that impress me, not that he doesn't occasionally fade into ambiance. B+(**)
Kate Jackson: British Road Movies (2016, Hoo Ha): British singer-songwriter, formerly frontwoman for the Long Blondes, debut solo album. Solid album, but not much sticks. B+(*)
Manu Katché: Unstatic (2016, Anteprima): French drummer, group includes Tore Brunborg (saxes), Jim Watson (keyboards), and Eileen Andrea Wang (bass), adding guests here and there, notably Nils Langren (trombone on five tracks). Relaxed, a bit light, easy on the ears. B+(*)
Michael Kiwanuka: Love & Hate (2016, Polydor): Born in London, parents from Uganda, straight up soul singer often tagged as retro, big star in England but barely gets noticed here. Second album, nothing fancy but a simple pleasure. B+(**)
Mike LeDonne & the Groover Quartet: That Feelin' (2016, Savant): Started as a mainstream pianist in the early 1990s but has increasingly made the organ his tool, goes for old-fashioned soul jazz with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and guitarist Peter Bernstein providing tasty leads, and dependable Joe Farnsworth on drums. Vince Herring (alto sax) joins on three cuts. B+(**) [cd]
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: I Had a Dream That You Were Mine (2016, Glassnote): Former frontman (guitar, vocals) of the Walkmen, my candidate for the most dead-ass boring alt/indie band of the last decade, working with multi-instrumentalist and producer Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of a much better band, Vampire Weekend. Splits the difference, the songs sharp and catchy, but still something I don't quite trust. B
John Lindberg Raptor Trio: Western Edges (2012 , Clean Feed): Bassist-led sax trio, with Pablo Calogero on baritone and Joe LaBarbera on drums. The deep sax meshes evenly with the bass, with no threats to break out into something crazy -- just steady, smart free jazz. B+(**) [cd]
John Lindberg BC3: Born in an Urban Ruin (2016, Clean Feed): Bassist, founder and mainstay of String Trio of New York. Trio with Wendell Harrison on clarinets and Kevin Norton on vibraharp and percussion, although more often it seems like bass duets with one or the other, or just bass solos. Each combo is interesting in its own right, but I don't see how they add up. B+(**) [cd]
Jacam Manricks: Chamber Jazz (2015 , self-released): Saxophonist, credited here with alto, soprano, tenor, flute, alto flute, and clarinet; leading a quartet with Kevin Hays on piano and Fender Rhodes, Gianluca Renzi on acoustic bass, and Ari Hoenig on drums. Nothing I think of as "chamber jazz," although he incorporates bits from some classical composers as well as Nascimento and Miles Davis, adding to the album's sheer catchiness. A- [cd]
Grégoire Maret: Wanted (2016, Sunnyside): Born in Geneva, Switzerland; based in New York; plays chromatic harmonica, an instrument which speaks blues but gets diluted in the strings and flute producer Terri Lyne Carrington brought out, not to mention the scattered soul vocals. Could be his Grammy first time out spoiled him. B-
Jřrgen Mathisen/Christian Meaas Svendsen/Andreas Wildhagen: Momentum (2015 , Clean Feed): Free sax trio from Norway, Mathisen -- also on the Damana album -- playing soprano and tenor (mostly the latter), the others bass and drums. Struggles a bit, both at full roar and in more studious stretches. B+(*) [cd]
Maxwell: blackSUMMERS'night (2016, Columbia): Gerald Maxwell Rivera, neo-soul crooner, fifth album going back to 1995, but only second since 2001, the previous title differentiated from this one's only by different case. Can't say that I docked him for that, but it didn't win him the benefit of the doubt either. B
Anna Meredith: Varmints (2016, Moshi Moshi): British, background includes compositions for classical orchestra, moving into pop in 2012 with the first of two EPs, then this debut album. Favors crashing waves of synths, where words are almost an afterthought. B
Rale Micic: Night Music (2015 , Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, born 1975 in Belgrade (Yugoslavia, now Serbia), moved to US in 1995 to study at Berklee, settled in New York, has at least three previous albums. This quartet blends his guitar nicely with Danny Grissett's piano. B+(*) [cd]
Minim Experiment: Dark Matter (2016, ForTune): Guitarist Kuba Wojcik wrote all five tunes, featuring piano (Kamil Piotrowicz) and backed by bass and drums, most attractive when the beat sustains the minimalism, but interesting even when it doesn't. B+(**) [bc]
Moonbow: When the Sleeping Fish Turn Red and the Skies Start to Sing in C Major I Will Follow You to the End (2016, ILK): All tracks composed by bassist Tomo Jacobson, born in Poland, based in Copenhagen, also in the group Mount Meander, and working on a film about William Parker (who contributed a liner note poem). Septet -- three saxes, guitar and piano, bass and drums, Kresten Osgood the only familiar name. Ambitious set, with its broad sweep and towering heights, moody colors. Still, hard to get a handle on it all. B+(**) [cd]
Kevin Morby: Singing Saw (2016, Dead Oceans): Singer-songwriter from Lubbock, recording his third album in Woodstock. Outstanding song is "Dorothy," which refines a riff from . . . "Heroin." B+(***)
The Mowgli's: Where'd Your Weekend Go? (2016, Photo Finish/Island): Pop group from Calabasas, California -- a ritzy suburb in the hills west of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. Bouncy upbeat, multiple singers with lots of vocal harmonies, a formula completely alien to the downer vibe that young critics seem to love. Me, I loved their previous Kids in Love, but while this has similar appeal, nothing here quite grabs me. B
Mudcrutch: 2 (2016, Reprise): Southern rock band, formed in 1970 in Gainesville, Florida, defunct by 1975 without an album but reformed in 2007 with five-sixths of the original lineup, the original lead singer having left by 1972 and been obsoleted by backup Tom Petty's post-group stardom. So basically, this is Petty in a nostalgic mood. B
Mark Murphy: Slip Away (2016, Mini Movie): Not the late jazz singer, this one's a singer-songwriter, plays guitar, also covers Dylan, McCartney, Newman, and Young. Band composed of name jazz musicians (Jon Cowherd, Chris Morrissey, Jeff Ballard, Gilad Hekselman, Dayna Stephens) with Maria Neckham joining for a duet, but no one stretches, the result barely registering as easy-listening rock. B [cd]
Naked Wolf: Ahum (2016, Clean Feed): Dutch group, has a previous album, looks like all members write with Felicity Proven (trumpet) and Mikael Szarfirowski (guitar) also singing (or rapping); the others are Luc Ex (bass), Yedo Gibson (reeds), and Gerri Jäger (drums). The vocals threaten to pull this into some weird post-rock vein, while the instrumentals drag it back into the domain of demented circus music. B+(*) [cd]
Steve Noble & Kristoffer Berre Alberts: Condest Second Yesterday (2015 , Clean Feed): English drummer, has a long discography since 1987 mostly with European avant-gardists, here in a duo with a relatively new tenor saxophonist from Norway -- brings tremendous energy, although he does tend to squawk. B+(***) [cd]
Sean Noonan: Memorable Sticks (2015 , ForTune): Drummer-led piano trio, with Alex Marcelo and Peter Bilenc, with Noonan adding a narration about chipping away in a salt mine, looking for treasures. Very upbeat, often emphatic, but I find the voice more distracting than not. B [bc]
Angel Olsen: My Woman (2016, Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter from St. Louis, sang backup for Bonnie "Prince" Billy, second (or third) album, adding to the critical acclaim for her 2014 Burn Your Fire for No Witness. First time through I didn't catch much, but a second spin caught my ear numerous times, even when she slows to a whisper. B+(***)
Parker Abbott Trio: Elevation (2016, self-released): From Canada, a different kind of piano trio, with both Teri Parker and Simeon Abbott playing various keyboards (including organ and good old acoustic piano, but mostly electrics), with Mark Segger on drums and percussion. B [cd]
Nicholas Payton: Textures (2016, Paytone): Around the turn of the century someone came up with the term "jazztronica" and a number of mainstream jazz artists started dabbling in that direction, including the New Orleans trumpet master. Nothing much happened, but Payton keeps plugging away, doing this solo on keyb and laptop. He succeeds in generating textures. Still doesn't amount to much by way of music. B-
Houston Person & Ron Carter: Chemistry (2015 , HighNote): Two old guys playing sax-bass duets at a casual pace on comfortable standards. Carter has probably appeared on more records than any other jazz musician (Morton & Cook once tried counting and decided Ray Brown held that distinction, but Carter has long passed Brown). Back cover has a photo of the two with an old white man sandwiched between the more imposing black figures -- presumably that's Executive Producer Joe Fields, who signed Person to Prestige in the 1960s and kept him close ever since. This isn't their first duet album. I should probably recheck that one, but for now I'm too much in love with this one. Guess I'm getting old myself. A [cd]
John Prine: For Better, or Worse (2016, Oh Boy): In 1999 Prine eased his way back from throat cancer with a remarkable album of old country tunes, the vocal duties shared with Iris DeMent and several other women. He repeats that concept here -- probably figures that at 70 he's earned another easy one, or maybe he's noticed that he hasn't written a album's worth of originals since Bush provoked him to 2005's Fair and Square. Of course, this isn't as marvelous as the first time: the songs aren't as improbable, he's lost a step, and so many young women are chasing him that DeMent only gets two highlights. None of that bothers me. And if you're waiting for a John Prine song, just wait for the end. A-
Punkt 3: Ordnung Herrscht (2015 , Clean Feed): Group named for German bassist-composer Noah Punkt, who has a previous solo album, two previous trios, and various other projects. This is a trio with saxophonist Tobias Pfister and drummer Ramon Oliveras, free jazz, sharp but not too aggressive. B+(***) [cd]
Rae Sremmurd: SremmLife 2 (2016, Eardrum/Interscope): Hip-hop duo from Mississippi, Swae Lee and Slim Jimmi, second album. Pretty ragged for pop stars, somewhat catchy, might even be funny too if I was into their B- and N-shit. B+(*)
Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: I Want That Sound! (2016, Innova): Alto saxophonist Ken Field's Boston-based answer to New Orleans' second line brass bands, actually just a sextet with two saxes, trumpet, and the trombonist doubling on tuba. Fourth album, more of their infectious funk groove. A- [cd]
Huerco S: For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) (2016, Proibito): Brian Leeds, Kansas-born, based in Brooklyn, second album, ambient electronica composed of little bits of synth, almost toy-like at first but grows into something. B+(**)
Savages: Adore Life (2016, Matador): London-based post-punk band, fronted by Jehnny Beth (Camille Berthomier), who has a bit of Patti Smith in her voice. Doom and gloom too, the sort of thing that could prove prophetic, although for now I'm on the fence. B+(***)
SBTRKT: Save Yourself (2016, self-released, EP): English "post-dubstep" group, primarily synths producer Aaron Jerome, with vocals from Sampha and The-Dream. Short LP (8 tracks, 25:55) after two longer albums. Kind of mopey, more like trip-hop, without the hop. B-
Schlippenbach Trio: Warsaw Concert (2015 , Intakt): Avant pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, with Evan Parker on tenor sax, and Paul Lovens on drums -- a trio for more than forty years. Frenetic and sketchy when they started out, now old masters to don't mind kicking up their heels. B+(***) [cdr]
John Scofield: Country for Old Men (2016, Impulse!): Easy-grooving guitarist, backed by Larry Goldings (piano and organ), Steve Swallow (electric bass), and Bill Stewart (drums), playing relatively old country songs (Shania Twain's "You're Still the One" is the only one less than thirty years old, and James Taylor's "Bartender's Blues" might not count as country), all familiar and still recognizable. B+(*)
Travis Scott: Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight (2016, Epic): Jaques Webster, Houston rapper, dreams of dollar signs in his stage name, recruits enough guests for his second album to point that way. But I mostly hear a beats record, and like it that way. B+(**)
Elliott Sharp Aggregat: Dialectrical (2016, Clean Feed): After many years as an avant-garde gadfly, mostly playing guitar, he's turned into a free jazz stalwart, here playing reed instruments (soprano/tenor sax, Bb/bass clarinet), in a group named for his 2012 album -- his best as far as I know. This one gives 76-year-old drummer Barry Altschul a "Feat." on the cover, and spreads the horns out with Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpet and Terry L. Greene II on trombone, plus Brad Jones on bass. Sharp indeed, though also a bit shrill. B+(***) [cd]
Alan Silva/Mette Rasmussen/Stĺle Liavik Solberg: Free Electric Band (2014 , ForTune): Silva, born in Bermuda, moved to New York at age 5, has been a minor figure on the avant-fringe since the early 1960s, mostly playing bass but increasingly since the 1990s keyboards. Regardless of the dilapidated upright on the cover, he plays synth here, the electric clashing with alto sax and drums. One 45:55 piece, rough around the edges, as advertised. B+(*) [bc]
Sleaford Mods: TCR (2016, Rough Trade, EP): New label, thought they'd test the water and make nice with a five track, 17:17 EP, so straightforward you can follow every word and step easily to the clipped beats. TCR stands for Total Control Racing. B+(***)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani: Sunergy (2015 , RVNG Intl.): Three pieces, 23/12/18 minutes, not sure who composed but both play various synthesizers, for something like ambient but with much more swish. B+(**)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: Ears (2016, Western Vinyl): More synths, more scattered at first with bits of voice and woodwind (Rob Frye's credit) or maybe just more slippery, with six shortish pieces between 3:05 and 4:57 then an 11:09 finale which builds into something, justifying its title, "Existence in the Unfurling." B+(**)
Wadada Leo Smith: America's National Parks (2016, Cuneiform, 2CD): Trumpet player, came of age in Chicago's AACM but remained obscure until around 2000 when he started to break out of expectations -- an album with Thomas Mapfumo (from Zimbabwe), an "Electric Miles" trbute band with Henry Kaiser, and recently a series of extended compositions (including The Great Lakes Suites and Ten Freedom Summers). This sprawling six-piece, written for his Golden Quintet (piano-cello-bass-drums) draws inspiration from all around the country, and strikes me as being as heavy and ponderous as its subject matter, but dotted with marvelous, often breath-taking details. B+(***) [cd]
Solange: A Seat at the Table (2016, Saint/Columbia): Last name Knowles, same as her older sister Beyoncé. Third album in thirteen years, a big production with scores of writers, producers, and guests, but the sound hardly suggests such scale, and the songs are laced with a male commentary which while interesting in its own right could just as well belong to a completely different album. B+(**)
Richard Sussman: The Evolution Suite (2015 , Zoho): Pianist, also credited with electronics, more importantly as composer, arranger, etc. Played keyboards in Elephant's Memory in 1969, later spent a couple years with Blood, Sweat & Tears, while his own records started up in the 1970s. Title piece runs through five movements, with a couple "radio edits" tacked on to fill out 75 minutes. Band a quintet with trumpet (Scott Wendholt) and tenor sax (Rich Perry), expanded with a string quartet (The Sirius Quartet) and Zach Brock on electric violin. Some exciting passages, but I don't much care for the strings. B [cd]
Kate Tempest: Let Them Eat Chaos (2016, Lex): British rapper with a literary bent, not sure what the story is here but it must pick up toward the end when the grime beats come together and flower into melody -- or maybe that's just the music. B+(**)
Touché Amoré: Stage Four (2016, Epitaph): Post-hardcore band from Burbank, fourth album, work up a decent grind, tight enough I'm impressed and rather pleased, as if I still liked music of this sort. B+(*)
Wax Tailor: By Any Beats Necessary (2016, Le Plan): French trip-hop producer Jean-Christophe Le Saoűt, fifth album since 2005, comes out as a blues rocker but eventually retreats to his more accustomed turf. Reminds me of a group called Was Not Was, another producer vehicle with no signature sound but a lot of smashing studio tricks. B+(*)
Whitney: Light Upon the Lake (Secretly Canadian): Alt-rock duo from Los Angeles, Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, who previously did business as the Smith Westerns, plus a drummer from Unknown Mortal Orchestra and a producer from Foxygen wrapping the falsetto vocals with orchestral dross. B-
YG: Still Brazy (2016, Def Jam): Rapper Keenon Jackson, from Compton, follow up to his 2014 My Krazy Life, still shocked that a guy with such crude rhymes and so little flow can bank on a major label contract. Inspirational lyric: "Fuck Donald Trump." B+(*)
Yoni & Geti: Testarossa (2016, Joyful Noise): Collaboration between beatmaker Yoni Wolf (of WHY?) and rapper David Cohn (aka Serengeti). Musically this reminded me first of the Beach Boys then the Beatles in their most psychedelic modes but more so by half. The raps are standard-grade 'Geti. B+(**)
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
American Honey (, UME): Soundtrack to a movie I hadn't heard of until Christgau raved about this download-only product. Evidently there are multiple versions, with a "complete" song list totalling 27 songs, but Rhapsody only has 8 so I turned to Spotify and found 23. A mixtape of hip-hop and Americana and some alt-rock. only a couple songs I recognized, although when I played Spotify the ones on Rhapsody stood out. Maybe they're the best, or maybe more familiarity will elevate more. B+(***) [sp]
Vieux Kanté: The Young Man's Harp (2005 , Sterns): Blind kamalé ngoni virtuoso from Mali, died at age 31 in 2005, leaving this recording from "shortly before he died" unreleased. Schematic solo intro before a singer and percussion join in. A-
Bruce Springsteen: Chapter and Verse (1966-2012 , Columbia): Compiled as a tie-in to Springsteen's Born to Run autobiography, so it starts with juvenilia: three cuts from his teenage bands, three more from the year he got signed (1972), plus one of those soppy ballads from his second album -- the first five previously unreleased -- before he gets his sound together on "Born to Run." The second half you probably know, not so much a best-of as a set of signposts to a life's work. Not a record you're likely to replay, except maybe for your grandchildren, who probably won't get it but might dig the early intensity. B+(***)
Black Bombaim: Titans (2012, Lovers & Lollypops): "Stoner/psychedelic rock" band from Portugal, Ricardo Miranda (guitar), Vitor Rodrigues (electric bass), and Paulo Gonçalves (drums), although this second album adds others on each of four LP-side-length tracks (three over 18 minutes, one just 10:36). Most mix-ins are guitar, some keybs, a muted vocal on first tracks, and some sax sounding prophetic. B+(***)
Black Bombaim/La La La Ressonance: Black Bombaim & La La La Ressonance (2013 , PAD/Lovers & Lollypops): A live mash up of two Portuguese instrumental rock bands, the former group a noise-oriented power trio, the latter a bit jazzier (and not just because they feature Paulo Araujo on alto sax). B+(**)
Black Bombaim: Far Out (2014, Lovers & Lollipops): A single LP, so just two pieces, total 34:44, the first side adding the superb saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, the second mixing in synth and electronics by Luis Fernandes. Rocksteady beat, of course, but what they build on it, unencumbered by vocals, is as complex as powerful. A-
Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton/Schlippenbach Trio: 2X3=5 (1999 , Leo): Two trios, the common denominator saxophonist Evan Parker, with the latter trio adding pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and drummer Paul Lovens. One 77:07 piece, the interest often drifting to the percussion, not least the piano. B+(***)
Schlippenbach Trio: Bauhaus Dessau (2009 , Intakt): Living legends, seems like every few years they tape a concert and put it out, if only to remind you they're still around, still kicking up raw improv, with Evan Parker doing his circular breathing thing for a showstopper. B+(***)
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live 1975-85 (1975-85 , Columbia, 3CD): In the 1970s most big rock groups would release a live album, usually a 2LP, either as a status item or a piece of interim product. Shortly before I moved to New York, Springsteen had played a week at the Bottom Line -- possibly the last time he played in a venue that intimate -- and those who saw him there were total converts. I wasn't, but I never saw him live, and only started to like his albums with 1980's The River (his 2LP, another of the era's status rungs). Over the next decade his songbook grew and his concerts grew longer, so when he finally did release the live album his fans had been craving, it added up to five LPs, 40 songs, 3:36:13 -- something they could also squeeze into a 3CD box. Highlights abound, including two possible national anthems we can all stand for, a story about dodging the draft, a terse take on "War." But even the 1975-78 hyper-dramaturgy I so hated at the time sounds personable framed by these arenas. B+(***)
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Hammersmith Odeon, London '75 (1975 , Columbia, 2CD): One complete concert, 2:04:52, from the tour that followed Springsteen's Born to Run breakthrough album, released as a DVD bonus to that album's 30th Anniversary Edition package, then a year later repackaged on CD. Makes me wonder whether I would have been so appalled by the studio album had I seen them live? In an age when guitar bands were the norm, the organ-piano-sax combo both invoked rock's early roots and scaled the sound up to a new level of magnificance. Still too much drama. B+(**)
Bruce Springsteen: The Promise (1977-78 , Columbia, 2CD): Outtakes from the sessions that produced my least favorite Springsteen album, the pompous and ridiculously overblown Darkness at the Edge of Town, assembled as part of a 3-CD + 3-DVD "30th anniversary edition" -- extra baggage we can dispense with here. Two songs were hits for others, and a couple more are related to things that made the finished album, but most were most likely rejected because they weren't sufficiently hyperbolic -- a human scale that I found redemptive, at least when it appeared on better songs than these. B+(*)
Bruce Springsteen: In Concert/MTV Unplugged (1992 , Columbia): Part of MTV's Unplugged series, but after the previously unreleased "Red Headed Woman" the irregular band plugged in and played a set primarily from his uninspired current albums, Lucky Town and Human Touch (8/12 songs). B-
Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995, Columbia): Title reference is to Steinbeck channeled through Woody Guthrie, not least musically where guitar and harmonica suffice for the subdued folk music. I can relate more to the lament for the lost foundries of "Youngstown" -- but not much else. B
Bruce Springsteen: Tracks (1972-95 , Columbia, 4CD): Demos and outtakes, a couple of live tracks, a few B-sides, 66 songs in all selected from a trove of some 350 at the time. I have no idea how many turned up on later albums -- the four 1972 demos made it to 1973's Greetings From Asbury Park, and much further down I see a "Born in the USA" as a Nebraska outtake. Mixed bag, of course, but follows the arc of his career -- the third disc, where the scraps fell off his two great 1980s albums, is a lot of fun. But he slipped and slowed down a bit in the 1990s. B+(*)
Bruce Springsteen: 18 Tracks (1972-99 , Columbia): A 15-cut sampler from the Tracks box set, plus three more bait cuts, no doubt figuring that's all they'd need to get fans willing to buy a 4-CD box of outtakes to buy them again. I don't think it would be hard to carve an A- record from the box, but I'd mostly go with the fast ones, and they didn't. In fact, they only picked one of the five "choice cuts" Christgau identified in the box: "Pink Cadillac." B+(**)
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live in New York (2000 , Columbia, 2CD): Recorded over two nights of a "ten-show tour-ending run at Madison Square Garden," and originally released as an HBO special (pretty sure I saw that), expanded onto two DVDs, and finally two CDs, long enough to qualify as an average Springsteen show: loud, some interesting variations, magnificent when the sax comes out on top. Due for a revival: "American Skin (41 Shots)." B+(**)
Bruce Springsteen With the Sessions Band: Live in Dublin (2006 , Columbia, 2CD): Another DVD product reissued on CD, the band refers back to the 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions -- 10 of 12 songs repeated here, plus 10 more, a mix of Springsteen's folkier oldies and even older trad fare, all given the big arena treatment by a star who can command an 18-piece band and make it cohere like a revival. B+(**)
Alexander von Schlippenbach: Payan (1972 , Enja): The avant-pianist's first solo album, not that I'm so sure where all the sounds in the 10:00 closer "Kinds of Weirdness" come from. But until weirdness takes over, you get chopped abstraction, finding its unique way in the world. B+(*)
Alex von Schlippenbach/Paul Dunmall/Paul Rogers/Tony Bianco: Vesuvius (2004 , Slam): London studio session, the pianist playing with saxophonist Dunmall's trio, Rogers playing a 7-string ALL bass. Two long pieces (29:11, 34:47), not as volcanic as hoped for. B+(**)
Alexander von Schlippenbach: Piano Solo: Twelve Tone Tales, Vol. 1 (2005 , Intakt): Twelve-tone theory is supposedly a way to break ingrained habits by spreading compositions evenly over all possible tones, but I doubt I'll ever be able to recognize that theory just by sound. Rather, I hear a sort of mid-tempo rambling, a lot of thought input but far less conveyed. [4/9 tracks: 35:50] B+(**)
Alexander von Schlippenbach: Piano Solo: Twelve Tone Tales, Vol. 2 (2005 , Intakt): More from the same session, ending the string of originals with three Dolphy tunes, "All the Things You Are," and Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle." [6/13 tracks, 34:03] B+(**)
Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section. Included extra Schlippenbach albums (Globe Unity, Aki Takase) but the Evan Parker record was picked for Schlippenbach, so this isn't the place to go through his discography (at least 26 rated records).
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, October 24. 2016
Music: Current count 27272  rated (+9), 418  unrated (+6).
One of those weeks that was just blown to shreds, as I came down with a stomach bug on Wednesday, spent a couple days pretty much stuck in bed, and still feel exhausted and a bit unsettled. Before getting sick several records got a lot of plays without quite convincing me they're A- material (Cables, Schlippenbach, American Honey). The only Schlippenbach Trio album I've given an A- to was 2015's Features, which I don't recall as being a close decision, so I thought I should at least go back and replay 1972's Pakistani Pomade -- perhaps a little wilder than the new one, but not nearly as vividly recorded. I've been playing more old Schlippenbach today, but nothing that can't wait until next week.
Birthday tomorrow, will be 66. Spent some time today wading through the Social Security online form, so maybe I'll start drawing some income (and slow down the savings burn). Had planned on cooking tomorrow, but the illness forced a postponement -- maybe Saturday. I usually pick out a national cuisine and try to overdo it. I thought Greek would be fun this year: first non-American food I learned to cook, thanks to my dear college friend Elias Vlanton. I visited Elias back in June and we cooked up a pretty smashing dinner, using The Jerusalem Cookbook and a few other Mediterranean recipes, so he's been on my mind. Finally worked out a tentative menu last night: a delicate balance of feasible and awesome.
Made very little progress on the jazz book(s) last week. I'm up to October 2005 in the notebook. I've reached a point where nearly all the reviews I'm finding had been copied to the Jazz Prospecting and/or Recycled Goods archives. Not sure yet if that means I can skip the rest, but good chance I can. For now I have one more Golden Oldies column to post, so that series will probably end with 2005.
I should get around to a Streamnotes post later this week. Currently have 102 records, which isn't a huge amount, but if quantity doesn't force a post, the calendar will. Might give me some extra motivation to cherry pick the largest incoming queue I've had in several years.
Sad to note the death of Tom Hayden, a founder of the new left even before he became one of the leading opponents of the Vietnam War. As a teenager I read his book Rebellion in Newark, and of course rooted for him in the Chicago 8/7 trial. I was pleased to see him go into mainstream California politics, and can't say much about that. (Although I did roast him for endorsing Hillary over Bernie earlier this year: post here.) In 2012, he spoke to the annual meeting of the Peace and Social Justice Center here in Wichita, and did a nice job of tracing out the continuity from the New Left to today's progressive politics.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, October 17. 2016
Music: Current count 27263  rated (+19), 412  unrated (+11).
Rated count back way down again -- it was 15 two weeks ago, then jumped up to fairly normal 33 last week (not counting a bookkeeping windfall which made the posted total 46; September's weekly totals were 34, 38, 25, 30). Several obvious factors: good records get more spins than not-so-good ones, and that was especially true this week; I took a fair amount of time off for yardwork and cooking; and the machine I use to listen to Rhapsody has had some problems, so I've had it down for a couple days (hopefully a new power supply will help -- finally got it installed today and so far, so good).
Up to February 2005 in my trawl through the online notebook for lost reviews. I've started to find some of the Jazz Consumer Guide surplus (before I started posting them in meta-columns in December 2005), as well as quite a few reviews of older jazz albums. I'm saving the latter in a Recorded Jazz in the 20th Century book file, currently a bit over 260 pages long (recent PDF here). I haven't updated the Recorded Jazz in the Early 21st Century PDF recently (you can still download the 144-page first pass here).
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Added grades for old LPs:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, October 10. 2016
Music: Current count 27244  rated (+46), 401  unrated (+11).
High rated count, partly inflated by finding some old grades in old notebooks that had never been registered in the database (see below). Still, most of the rated count comes from checking out a bunch of top-rated albums from this year, at least as tabulated by Album of the Year. Best album I found there was the new GOAT -- indeed, I'm not real sure Requiem isn't as good as 2014's A-listed Commune. As for the others, it's possible that more time might have put one or more of Savages, Angel Olsen, Kevin Morby, Future of the Left, or even Solange over the top.
Two A- records from Robert Christgau's Noisey column. I couldn't play the YouTube link for the Youssou N'Dour mystery album (or whatever it is -- not sure it's even a thing). Both are rather marginal finds, but distinctive in their narrow niches. I'm still undecided about Black Bombaim but will probably wind up saying the same thing about it.
Working fairly hard on the jazz book(s), although they're still in the very boring collection phase. (As I wrote that, I had a strange sense of deja vu, like I've tried to do this before.) I finished collecting reviews from Jazz Prospecting. Before moving on to Rhapsody Streamnotes, I thought I'd take a look at the old notebooks, and it's turned out that at least through 2004 there are quite a few reviews/notes there that didn't get worked into the various columns. (I hadn't broken out Jazz Prospecting Notes until JCG(7) in December 2005, so I was wondering whether I had bothered to write up anything on them later. I recall that at some point I started dumping the prospecting notes into the notebook, but those should be redundant with files I have already rummaged through.)
I'm collecting the post-2000 releases in a flat file which is currently 98625 lines long (8454 albums, although minus redundancies probably closer to 6000; 833903 words). I'm also formatting the pre-2000 album reviews/notes into book form, currently 210 pages. I'm rather surprised that the latter has grown so large, given that I picked up most of my 20th century jazz before I started writing so much. My guess has long been that the amount of work it would take to turn those writings into a fairly decent guide book would be prohibitive, but for now it certainly doesn't hurt to organize what I do have into something more accessible.
I haven't updated the 21st century book, and probably won't until I finish collecting Rhapsody Streamnotes, at which point I'll have collected virtually everything I've written on the subject. Then I figure I can go through the database and try to edit something coherent from all these widely scattered scraps. Scary what a huge job that's bound to be.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, October 8. 2016
Finished copying the Jazz Prospecting reviews into a work file that will eventually be folded into the Jazz Consumer Guide book(s). Next obvious step is to move on to Rhapsody Streamnotes -- a much larger task, with a fair amount of redundancy up through 2013 and new stuff thereafter. But instead I wondered whether I might find some old stuff in the Notebook, at least up to when I started collecting my Jazz Prospecting notes in the Jazz Consumer Guide directory. Indeed, I found a few things going back to 2001.
I also waded through a bunch of old writings, some of which I thought worth reprinting here. Like this letter I wrote to the Wichita Eagle back on December 30, 2001, in response to a "puff piece" called "Bush's rookie year a success."
After quoting the letter, I added:
From December 5, 2001 (I'm reading forward by months, but backwards within months, so please bear with this idiosyncrasy):
From December 4, 2001:
From December 3, 2001, a point in time I later referred to as the "feel good" days of the American War in Afghanistan, from my comment on a New Yorker piece by Hendrik Hertzberg:
Such views were pretty unusual at the time, but still right on the mark today. There are some earlier posts on 9/11 that I skipped over before I noticed the Bush letter. Also music, movies, and more than a few dinner notes.
On October 25, 2002 I lamented "feeling much more over the hill than seems to be the norm for [my age, 52]," and also bemoaned the sudden death of Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone and the approaching elections, which would give Bush control of both houses of Congress:
From December 30, 2002, in the buildup to Bush's Iraq misadventure, I found myself arguing not just against "liberal hawks" but hardcore pro-war "leftists":
On January 29, 2003, I wrote something about economic policy which I still mean to follow up on some day:
I contrasted this to more commonplace approaches from the left like stimulating demand by raising the wage floor, giving labor more clout to negotiate wages, and increasing government spending (to and beyond New Deal levels). Of course, I favor all of those things, but I'm offering this as something that's rarely discussed (and when it is, usually in negative terms like greater antitrust vigilance).
On January 23, 2003, I wrote a letter about the coming Iraq War (addressed to Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Getz).
I won't bother to quote it here, but in January 2003 I wrote a post on who got elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and who didn't, with what still reads to me like pretty solid analysis. Can't do that any more, but at the time I still knew a thing or two about the sport.
Next post down I referred to Sam Brownback as "our ultra-slimy Senator." From February 19, 2003, I see a post about a plan to keep increases in electric and gas rates secret so as to not tip the utilities' hands to the terrorists.
On March 18, 2003, I wrote the first of many pieces about the Bush War in Iraq as a bad fact and not just a bad idea. Long before I knew that when the time came I'd refer to the Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. The post starts out:
Nothing I wrote that day requires amendment, although I didn't manage to anticipate many of the subsequent debacles. At least, as this paragraph further down shows, I didn't underestimate the unexpected:
I wrote much more about Iraq in the following days, weeks, months, and years. I'll leave it to you to look that up. But throughout the entire notebook period I feel that I've been pretty consistent, and my key insights have been vindicated time and again. Most key is that the US made a colossal mistake in resorting to military force after 9/11, especially in attacking Afghanistan. Bush bears special blame because he was in the unique position of being able to stop the march to war after 9/11. Of course, he didn't, and arguably couldn't, not just because of the institutional inertia of the American war machine but because of his own peculiar personal and political history.
But also note that I wrote quite a lot about Israel/Palestine during the 18 months from 9/11 to Iraq. That was the peak period of the Israeli counter-intifada when Ariel Sharon destroyed what was left of the previous decade's "Oslo peace process," which had begun with much fanfare at Clinton's White House, but which Bush had no interest in salvaging -- indeed, Bush and Sharon shared a preference for "solving" conflicts by brute force, a corollary which only served to worsen each conflict.
Just for perspective, I'll also pull some music bits from the same period. For instance, on February 9, 2003, I wrote: "Closing in on 8000 records rated." The latest count is 27198, so since that point I've averaged about 1400 records per year, or 27 per week (which, yeah, seems like a pretty typical week). The thing that accelerated those numbers was, first, writing consumer guide columns which got some publicists to send me free music, and second, various streaming and downloading services (especially Rhapsody).
I found my first (21st century) Pazz & Jop ballot filed away on December 20, 2002 (after I had started writing for Michael Tatum at Static Multimedia):
As of January 6, 2003, my 2002 A-list was 62 albums long, growing to 77 when I stopped adding records to the file. By contrast, my 2001 A-list only had 35 albums by January 2, 2002 (eventually growing to 53), but I rather prefer my mock 2001 Pazz & Jop ballot -- what I would have sent in had I been invited (which I was not):
Note that Molvaer eventually dropped to 13th, with Buck 65: Man Overboard (Metaforensics) slipping into 8th, The Highlife Allstars: Sankofa (Network) 9th, and Shakira: Laundry Service (Epic) 11th.
Monday, October 3. 2016
Music: Current count 27198  rated (+15), 390  unrated (+9).
Low rated count. Best explanation I can offer is that I took big chunks from a couple days to work on a drainage project in the back yard, and also spent a day cooking for friends (Mexican recipes for ceviche and corn-on-the-cobb rolled in cotija, Cuban recipes for red beans & rice and a chicken fricasee, fried plantains, and key lime pie). But also many of the records below took a lot of time: the three Springsteen titles (leftover from last week) total seven discs, and at least five of the others got three or more plays (up to six). Actually, when I went to close the week out last night, I only had 14 new rated records -- added Danny Brown and John Lindberg today (two of those multiplay albums).
Or maybe I've just been bummed. Seems like everything is getting hard these days. Aside from the physical wear and tear, I had to deal with a server outage last week -- one of those things that periodically make me wonder whether it's worth the trouble to pay for the damn thing. Even more tedious, I've been collecting reviews from Recycled Goods for possible use in my book-in-progress, Recorded Jazz in the 21st Century: A Consumer Guide. Took me a couple seconds to concatenate 115 columns (427k words) and about three weeks to scroll through them and pick out the jazz reviews. I added the post-2000 records to a working file which currently has about 5000 reviews to add to the 21st century book. Still have Jazz Prospecting (110k words) and Rhapsody Streamnotes (641k words) to go, and I might as well do that before I start integrating all that material into the book.
Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to open a second book file, Recorded Jazz in the 20th Century: A (Haphazard and Woefully Incomplete) Consumer Guide, and stuffed most of my Recycled Goods pre-2000 jazz reviews into it (currently 136 pages). You can look at a PDF here. I haven't set up a download page for it. It's not even a real project at this point, just a repository.
I will say, though, that by the time I got through the Recycled Goods columns, I was wishing I had set up a similar file for other things, especially African music. The database shows I have 703 rated African (and Middle Eastern, mostly from North Africa) albums. That's a fair start toward a record guide, but barely. I figure Robert Christgau would be in a better position to do a Consumer Guide to African Music: his African Set List adds up to 613 albums, but it looks like I haven't updated the list links since sometime in 2003 (max artist id = 5394 (of 7331), max album id = 11171 (of 16849). A quick search for albums with higher artist ids or VA albums with higher album ids generated a list of 2185 albums, but the actual number that should be added to the set list is probably less than 200. (If anyone wants to sort them out, please let me know.)
Christgau's review of Drive-By Truckers is here. He also flagged the Handome Family's Unseen as a HM. For what little it's worth, I had Unseen as an A- last week.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, September 26. 2016
Music: Current count 27183  rated (+30), 381  unrated (+5).
Most of this week's list already appeared in last week's Streamnotes. Since then I saw Steven Colbert's show-long interview with Bruce Springsteen, checked out his new sampler, and decided I should go back and finally listen to the back catalog I had ignored -- one studio album (The Ghost of Tom Joad), a bunch of live albums, and today I've been slogging through the Tracks box set.
Also spent a lot of time last week combing through the old Recycled Goods files, in preparation of adding a bunch of records to my draft book, Recorded Jazz in the Early 21st Century: A Consumer Guide (if you haven't downloaded the 144-page first pass yet, go to the form here). After 2-3 weeks toil, I still have about 25% of the columns to process. From there the next large cache of writings is the Streamnotes archive -- about twice the size of Recycled Goods (821k words vs. 427k). While going through Recycled Goods, I decided it would be cleaner if I also stashed the reviews of older jazz into another book draft file, so I opened one called Recorded Jazz in the 20th Century, and it's currently up to 75 pages. I figure that's a much lower priority, and seriously doubt I'll ever make a serious effort to clean it up and flesh it out, but it's kind of nice to have around.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Thursday, September 22. 2016
Lot of jazz below (112 out of 126 new records, 88.9%; also 17 out of 23 old music, 73.9%). A big part of that was my decision to try to track down all of the jazz albums on Downbeat's Readers Poll ballot. I wound up covering 165 of 186 albums (88.7%, up from the 60.2% I had heard at ballot time), my mop up operation discovering three A- records and five B+(***), and a lot of things I was sensible not to have bothered with in the first place.
I can think of three other factors behind this focus. One is that I had a large (mostly seasonal) dip in incoming mail so ran out of new things on CD. Second is that after the flurry of mid-year lists I haven't bothered to follow the non-jazz online review sites (which probably had their own seasonal dip), while my favored resources for such genres have been relatively quiet. Third is that I had the bright idea of compiling my Jazz Consumer Guide reviews into book form, so I've been thinking more about jazz, and have the prospect of a second, longer-term outlet for new jazz reviews. By the way, download the book here.
The main exception to all that jazz was a break for a reissue of The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, recorded in 1964 and 1965, released on LP in 1977, and unavailable on CD until it was repackaged as a tie-in to Ron Howard's new Beatles-on-tour film. I noticed a while back that Rhapsody had belatedly secured rights to stream the Beatles' catalog, but I was so familiar with the 15 canonical CDs released in 1988 that I figured I hardly needed to every play them again. Same could also be said for the 1962-1966 compilation, which I had rated based on a borrowed copy, and for that matter the 1967-1970 compilation I missed, not that there was anything even remotely unfamiliar on it. But after Live at the Hollywood Bowl, I played those compilations, and followed those with the three 2-CD Anthology sets from 1995-96, which proved even more trivial than the Past Masters sets. Still missing Live at the BBC, and those old Hamburg boots, but that's about it.
The experience left me with two thoughts. One is that I had forgotten what earworms many Beatles songs are. Since I played the compilations, I'm pretty sure that my head was filled with one Beatles tune or another every waking moment I've had without other music on. The second is that while I've long considered myself a partisan of the early albums (culminating in Help!), the songs rattling around in my head have mostly been later ones. I should probably have gone back and refreshed my memory of the last three studio albums (from the white album, graded B+, B, B) -- probably haven't heard any of them in thirty years (aside from the "Naked" version of Let It Be).
One more note: I found it rather amusing when I started wrapping this up to see 13 A- jazz album covers followed by Brittany Spears. That's not why I went back and revisited MIA and Young Thug -- I had planned on doing that anyway, thinking they might be albums that a bit more exposure to might nudge them up a notch. They're still not high on the A-list but they did make the grade.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on August 25. Past reviews and more information are available here (8632 records).
Paolo Angeli/Robert Burke/Mirko Guerrini/Jordan Murray/Stephen Magnusson/Stefano Tamborrino: Sardinian Liturgy (2015 , Jazzhead): Australian group, guitarist Angeli is the one with Sardinian roots, building around a folk style called canto a tenore. Not sure who the tenor is (probably Angeli), but the vocals are less to my taste than the convoluted music. B+(*)
Carol Bach-y-Rita: Minha Casa/My House (2016, Arugula): Standards singer, from Spain (I think) but grew up in Northern California, studied at UC Berkeley, lived at times in Mexico, Italy, and France. Second album. Brazilian influence, title (but only one song) in Portuguese, band led by Larry Koonse (guitar) and Bill Cantos (piano). Does a striking "Nature Boy," an energetic "Night in Tunisia," two originals. B+(**) [cd]
The Bad Plus: It's Hard (2016, Okeh): Piano trio, formed in 2000 after Reid Anderson (bass) and Ethan Iverson (piano) had quickly established themselves as formidable young musicians, with Dave King flexing muscle on drums. Their early albums worked a surprise cover like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in, giving them a melodic hook to hang their improvisation off of. Lately they've gotten away from that, but looks like their new label ordered up more covers, so here's a whole album of them. Many odd choices, none all that impressive, or really even that hard. B+(*)
Shirantha Beddage: Momentum (2014 , Factor): Identifies himself as a baritone saxophonist but credit here, on his fifth album, reads "woodwinds and keyboards." David Restivo also plays the latter, and they're backed by two bassists (one acoustic, one electric) and two drummers. The baritone resonates, the tunes mainstream enough he's been nominated for a Juno, but nothing overly slick. B+(***) [cd]
Bent Shapes: Wolves of Want (2015 , Slumberland): Indie pop band led by Ben Potrykus and Andy Sadoway, their main punkish trait a compulsion to wrap up their ten songs in less than thirty minutes (28:02). B+(**)
Mili Bermejo/Dan Greenspan: Arte Del Dúo (2016, Ediciones Pentagrama): Voice and bass duets, intimately bound and balanced, not that I can follow the lyrics -- Spanish, I presume, given that singer Bermejo was born in Argentina and raised in Mexico City (also a professor at Berklee since 1984). B+(***) [cd]
Seamus Blake: Superconductor (2015 , 5Passion): Saxophonist, born in England, grew up in Vancouver BC, studied at Berklee, wound up in New York. Mainstream, usually an imposing tenor but loses that on soprano, especially when the electronics hold sway, nor do vocals help. B-
Seamus Blake/Chris Cheek With Reeds Ramble: Let's Call the Whole Thing Off (2015 , Criss Cross): Two tenor sax leads, they've done this thing before on 2014's Reeds Ramble with this same group: Ethan Iverson (piano), Matt Penman (bass), Jochen Rueckert (drums). Standards, Latin tinge, Jobim, originals that fit in, very friendly. B+(**)
Anthony Branker & Imagine: Beauty Within (2016, Origin): Composer, finds other musicians to play his pieces, coming up with an all-star quintet for this set of prickly postbop: Ralph Bowen (tenor/soprano sax), Pete McCann (guitar), Fabian Almazan (piano), Linda Oh (bass), Rudy Royston (drums). B+(**)
Joshua Breakstone/The Cello Quartet: 88 (2016, Capri): Guitarist, mostly works in organ-driven soul jazz groups, trades the organ in for a cello here -- just one, Mike Richmond, the quartet including Lisle Atkinson (bass) and Andy Watson (drums). The cello isn't even that prominent, but Breakstone gets a tasty groove out of one original and eight tunes from bebop-era pianists, from Tadd Dameron and Lennie Tristano to Mal Waldron and Cedar Walton. B+(**) [cd]
Brian Bromberg: Full Circle (2016, Artistry): Bassist, plays electric and acoustic, has 21 albums since 1986, some pop, some fusion, some mainstream (two recent albums were tributes, one to Hendrix, the other Jobim, and you don't have to dig deep to find one for Jaco Pastorius). First cut is a surprise -- evidently his father was a Dixieland drummer and this is built around one of his tapes. No idea who's doing what elsewhere -- cover shows drums, acoustic and electric basses, each played by Bromberg. Still, he probably hired out the horns and keyboards and maybe the guitar, but they all meld together into slick anonymity. B
Peter Brötzmann/Heather Leigh: Ears Are Filled With Wonder (2015 , Not Two): Duet, Leigh on pedal steel guitar, Brötzmann playing tenor sax, bass clarinet, tarogato, and B-flat clarinet over one 28:10 track (far be it from me to call anything this difficult an EP). Not sure what to make of the pedal steel, but Brötzmann is always Brötzmann. B
Burning Ghosts: Burning Ghosts (2015 , Orenda): Tag line: "expressionist metal-jazz from the LA underground," promising "an uncompromising, incendiary artistic response to ubiquitous injustice," with Daniel Rosenboom (trumpet), Jake Vossler (guitars), Richard Giddens (bass), and Aaron McLendon (drums). The clash can exhilarate, but they lose your attention when they regroup. B+(**)
Will Calhoun: Celebrating Elvin Jones (2016, Motéma): Drummer to drummer, but most of the likeness is limited to the drums, as the albums Jones led were kind of scattered, going wherever the other musicians took him. That happens here too, with Keyon Harrold (trumpet), Antoine Roney (tenor/soprano sax, Carlos McKinney (piano), and Christian McBride (bass) playing rather ordinary postbop, then Jan Hammer shows up for some queasy fusion. B
Ron Carter Quartet & Vitoria Maldonado: Brasil L.I.K.E. (2016, Summit): Maldonado is a perfectly fine singer, don't know anything else about her, especially on the standards that the legendary bassist's orchestra serves up so ripely. In case you're wondernig, "L.I.K.E." stands for "Love, Inspiration, Knowledge, Energy." B+(*) [cd]
Chris Cheek: Saturday Songs (2015 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, claims to "present" this, perhaps reluctance given his last signed album came in 2006, or perhaps just to step aside as he asserts that the album is "starring" Jorge Rossy (drums/vibes/marimba), Steve Cardenas (guitar), Jaume Llombard (bass), and David Soler (pedal steel). Soft-toned and grooveful, something that worked better in the Claudia Quintet, perhaps because that band had a leader. B
The Roger Chong Quartet: Funkalicious (2016, self-released): Guitarist, has a couple albums, this one backed with keyboards-bass-drums. Not as funky as the title implies, but that's probably for the best. I'd even call it tasteful, most memorably on the closing hymn, "Shall We Gather at the River." B+(*) [cd]
Stanley Clarke/Biréli Lagrčne/Jean-Luc Ponty: D-Stringz (2015, Impulse!): Bass (double, guitarron), guitar, and violin, plus a bit of percussion (Steve Shehan) on two cuts. All have long and notable careers -- Biréli released his first Django tribute in 1980, Clarke started out in the fusion '70s, Ponty's discography dates back to 1964 -- although I can't say I've followed them (3 Clarke albums, nothing over B; 1 Ponty, a B playing Frank Zappa; no Lagrčne). Still, they fit together nicely, at least until they slow it down. B+(**)
Cobalt: Slow Forever (2016, Profound Lore, 2CD): Black metal band, formed in 2001 in Colorado, released three albums 2005-09, after which founder Phil McSorley left, replaced here by new vocalist Charlie Fell with Erik Wunder playing everything else. Not something I'd normally bother with, but Chris Monsen put it on his list, and it occasionally reminded me of what I imagine to be metal's appeal, with a piece like "King Rust" pounding out a hypnotic pattern. But before long it descends back into hyper shrieking and loses me. B
The Cookers: The Call of the Wild & Peaceful Heart (2016, Smoke Sessions): All-star septet -- Eddie Henderson (trumpet), David Weiss (trumpet), Donald Harrison (alto sax), Billy Harper (tenor sax), George Cables (piano), Cecil McBee (bass), Billy Hart (drums) -- mainstream players these days, came together for an album in 2010 and have five now. The solos show why they're stars, but hitching all that horn power together can get heavy and bog them down. B+(*)
Ian William Craig: Centres (2016, 130701): Ambient electronics plus Craig's vocals, which range from bare samples to choirlike, not something I've ever found all that appealing. B
Elysia Crampton: Demon City (2016, Break World, EP): Electronica producer from Bolivia to Virginia and back, follows up her exceptional 2015 debut American Drift by "presenting" a mini-album (seven cuts, 25:26) of collaborations with Rabit, Chino Amobi, Lexxi, and Why Be. Notes I've seen cite "an epic poem . . . an official document of the Severo style" with one song named for Bolivian revolutionary Bartolina Sisa. Indeed, this often feels epic, but I can't say as I understand why. B+(***)
Tim Davies Big Band: The Expensive Train Set (2013-15 , Origin): Drummer, leads two big bands here, one in Los Angeles, his adopted home, and the other in his native Melbourne, Australia. B [cd]
De La Soul: And the Anonymous Nobody (2016, AOI): Not worth the trouble sorting it all out, but this sounds like three or four markedly different EPs on random play, and one of them, if separated out, I'd probably like a lot (the one belonging to their mid-period, the one that left its name on their label). As for the others, there's the hippy-dippy shit they started with, and something else I've already blotted out of my memory. B+(**)
Gonzalo Del Val Trio: Koiné (2015 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, from Spain, leads a trio with Marco Mezquida on piano and David Mengual on bass, all writing with covers from Gershwin ("I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'"), Jobim, and Jarrett. B+(*)
Dinosaur: Together, as One (2016, Edition): British jazz quartet, with trumpet player Laura Jurd riffing over bubbling electronics, roughly equidistant from postbop, soul jazz, and fusion, so not really in any of those bags. B+(**)
The Dirty Snacks Ensemble: Tidy Universe (2014 , Gotta Groove): Project led by Oakland-based vibraphonist Mark Clifford, with Aram Shelton (reeds) and Kristina Dutton (violin) in the band. Music is oblique, slippery, with some tinkle, but hard to express how bad two vocal pieces are, more due to the ill-fitting music than to Elise Cumberland's voice. C+ [bc]
Lajos Dudas Quartet/Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss: Brückenschlag (2015 , Jazz Sick): Must seem like an honor for your jazz quartet to join onstage with a "new" classical string orchestra -- not really full symphonic strength, but who's counting? -- and have a couple of your compositions worm their way into a program of Webern and Bartok. I dig the clarinetist, born in Hungary but long based in Germany, but the strings not so much, so find this waxes and wanes. B+(**) [cd]
Mats Eilertsen: Rubicon (2015 , ECM): Bassist, from Norway, website discography shows 66 albums but they're mostly side credits -- this is his first on ECM, seventh overall. Two saxes (Eirik Hegdal and Trygve Seim), sometimes poking the limits, other times filling in with Harmen Fraanje on piano and Thomas T Dahl on guitar. B+(***) [dl]
Eska: Eska (2015, Naim Edge): Last name Mtungwazi. Brit singer-songwriter, plays many instruments, may or may not have been born in Zimbabwe (sources disagree) but was raised in Lewisham, London. First album (after an EP), nominated for a Mercury Prize, showed up on an "is that jazz?" list: short answer is "no" but with dramatic flares and occasional losing the beat I'd peg her in prog art song, somewhere between Sufjan Stevens and Björk. B+(*) [bc]
Gene Ess: Absurdist Theater (2016, SIMP): Guitarist, liner notes describe him as a philosopher, originally from Tokyo, grew up on a US air base in Okinawa, has what you might call a "diverse" group: Manuel Valera (keyboards), Yasushi Nakamura (basses), Clarence Penn (drums), Thana Alexa (voice). Slick, except when she returns scat to its roots. C [cd]
Paolo Fresu/Richard Gallliano/Jan Lundgren: Mare Nostrum II (2014 , ACT Music): Trumpet, accordion (and bandoneon and accordina), and piano, second album together. They play jazz deeply imbued with European folk standards, softened up into a calm prettiness, what they call "the sound of Europe." B+(**)
Satoko Fujii/Joe Fonda: Duet (2015 , Long Song): Avant piano-bass duets. Fonda has a lot of experience with adventurous pianists, notably with Matthew Shipp and Michael Jefry Stevens, and it helps to focus on his work here, even when the pianist takes your breath away. After the 37:10 piece dedicated to the late Paul Bley, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura joins in for the 11:20 finale. B+(***)
Charles Gayle Trio: Christ Everlasting (2014 , ForTune): Legendary avant saxman shows up at the Dragon Club in Poznan (Poland), picks up a bassist (Kasawery Wojcinski) and a drummer (Klaus Kugel -- both, by the way, names I'm familiar with -- and they let it fly. They play old favorites by Monk, Rollins, Coltrane, and Ayler, and Gayle shares credits for five of his hymns ("Joy in the Lord," "Blessed Jesus," etc.). Midway the old man takes a break and plays a bit of his convoluted cocktail piano, but he comes back breathing fire. A- [bc]
Generations Quartet: Flow (2015 , Not Two): Three veterans -- Oliver Lake (alto sax), Michael Jefry Stevens (piano), Joe Fonda (bass) -- their birthdates spanning 1944-54 so more or less of the same generation, and a drummer I hadn't heard of, presumably much younger. Lake wrote three pieces, Fonda and Stevens two each. Fierce and imaginative, my only reservation that it may be a bit too harsh, but I can't help but be impressed by their energy. A-
David Gilmore: Energies Of Change (2015 , Evolutionary Music): Guitarist, from Massachusetts, played in Steve Coleman's M-Base, fourth album since 2000. Band features Marcus Strickland in impressive form on alto/tenor/soprano saxes and bass clarinet, backed by a well-known rhythm section -- Luis Perdomo (piano), Ben Williams (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums) -- all the while insinuating the leader's guitar into the mix. B+(**)
Ricardo Grilli: 1954 (2016, Tone Rogue): Guitarist from Brazil, studied at Berklee and is based in New York. Quartet, with Aaron Parks on piano, Joe Martin on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. Strong suit is flow. He doesn't exactly sound like Wes Montgomery, but pushes that vibe hard. B+(**) [cd]
Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton: Deep Memory (2015 , Intakt): Bassist-led piano trio playing Guy's pieces, a couple of which let Crispell break out some awesome avant piano chops. Not sure that's enough, but the more subdued stretches offer much of interest, and the drummer is used to holding his own. B+(***) [cdr]
Scott Hamilton/Harry Allen: Live! (2014 , GAC): Friendly tenor sax duel, about as close as you can come these days to witnessing Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins square off, this time in Santa Cruz -- the six cuts include "Tickle Toe" and "Body and Soul"). Pianist Rossano Sportiello is a fan of both, as am I. A-
Craig Hartley: Books on Tape Vol. II: Standard Edition (2015 , self-released): Pianist, in a trio with Carlos De Rosa on bass and Jeremy Clemons on drums. One original, six (or seven) standards -- the last a mashup of "Imagine" and "Peace Pipe" -- starting with sprightly takes of "Caravan" and "Jitterbug Waltz." B+(***) [cd]
Hearts & Minds: Hearts & Minds (2014 , Astral Spirits): Eponymous group album, a trio of Chicago avants -- Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Paul Giallorenzo (synthesizer), and Frank Rosaly (drums) -- organized into Side A and Side B for vinyl or, in my case, a fairly short CD. Free, jumpy, but with the soft touch the horn is noted for. B+(***) [cd]
Gilad Hekselman: Homes (2014 , Jazz Village): Israeli guitarist, based in New York. Low key album, mostly backed by drums, plus bass on one cut, nothing very conspicuous. One-third covers, including Baden Powell and Pat Metheny. B+(*)
Hiromi: Spark (2016, Telarc): Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara, seventh album since 2003, piano trio, sometimes electric, with Anthony Jackson (contrabass guitar) and Simon Phillips (drums). Flashy in spots, generally upbeat, no surprises. B+(*)
Anna Högberg: Attack (2016, Omlott): Swedish avant group, led by the alto saxophonist, confronting two tenor saxophonists (Elin Larsson and Malin Wättring), backed by choppy piano (Lisa Ullén), bass, and drums -- all women. A favorite of some critics I follow, but unfortunately I could only find it on Spotify, which (like Soundcloud) doesn't seem to understand when a record is over. Harsh high energy, not sure whether it might win me over. B+(***) [sp]
Honey Ear Trio: Swivel (2014 , Little (i) Music): Sax-bass-drums trio, with Jeff Lederer, Rene Hart, and Allison Miller -- I filed their 2011 debut under Erik Lawrence but he's the only one who didn't return. Lederer has less power but trickier moves (cf. his Brooklyn Blowhards earlier this year). All three write (also Thelonious Monk), and Kirk Knuffke (cornet) joins on three tracks. A- [cd]
Dylan Howe: Subterranean: New Designs on Bowie's Berlin (2014, Motorik): British drummer, son of Yes guitarist Steve Howe, has played in rock bands (like Ian Dury's Blockheads) and has several albums with his jazz quintet. Nine instrumentals from David Bowie's Eno-produced 1977 albums Low and "Heroes" with two saxes, piano + synths, guitar, two bassists, and his old man on koto. Much lusher than the spare synths Eno deployed, heightening the melodies without jazzing them up all that much. B+(**)
Christoph Irniger Pilgrim: Big Wheel Live (2015 , Intakt): Swiss tenor saxophonist, leads a quintet with piano (Stefan Aeby), guitar (Dave Gisler), bass and drums. Free but mild-mannered, even when nothing is settled. B+(***) [cdr]
Darrell Katz and OddSong: Jailhouse Doc With Holes in Her Socks (2015 , JCA): Katz's Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra has long played with the idea of avant-classical mashup. Here he crafts something we might as well call opera (no adjectives required), with Rebecca Shrimpton singing texts by the late Paula Tatarunis -- an arty affair I have little patience for, not that I don't appreciate a guest appearance by Oliver Lake. B [cd]
Franklin Kiermyer: Closer to the Sun (2015 , Mobility Music): Drummer, has a thing for the scattered sacred musics of the world but mostly the late sainted Coltrane. Conventional sax quartet, no one I've ever heard of -- Lawrence Clark (tenor sax), Davis Whitfield (piano), Otto Gardner (bass) -- but they're thrilling when they run wild, and when they slow down you hang on the tension. A- [cd]
Sinikka Langeland: The Magical Forest (2015 , ECM): Singer from Norway, although she appears to be more rooted in Finnish folk music, even playing kantele. Group names on cover: Arve Henriksen (trumpet), Trygve Seim (tenor/soprano sax), Anders Jormin (bass), Markku Ounaskari (percussion), and Trio Mediaeval (vocals) -- the vocal drama penetrating the frosty jazz air. B+(**) [dl]
Joëlle Léandre/Théo Ceccaldi: Elastic (2015 , Cipsela): Avant bassist and violinist, both from France, she is well established since 1982, he has a handful of albums since 2011. They keep this tight and interesting. B+(**) [cd]
Lydia Loveless: Real (2016, Bloodshot): Alt-country singer-songwriter from Columbus, Ohio. Early on she seemed poised to kick up some serious shit, but she's gotten more generic with each album, and this one finally lands her in the middle of nowhere. B
Romero Lubambo: Setembro: A Brazilian Under the Jazz Influence (2015, Sunnyside): Guitarist, from Brazil, plays acoustic as much or more than electric, goes solo here, showing you his approach and technique but unless you're rapt that may not be enough. B+(*)
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Make the Changes (2016, Hot Cup, EP): Guitarist, group includes formidable saxophonists Jon Irabagon and Bryan Murray, Moppa Elliott on bass and Dan Monaghan on drums. The fourth and last of this year's promised set of EPs, to be released digitally September 30 along with a 4-CD package rolling them all up. I'm not wild about the marketing concept -- stretches my work and filing out on what could just as well have been two CDs in a single package. Main economy would be that they're very consistent, with a slight nod to EP:3 Play All the Notes. Four cuts, 31:34. A- [cdr]
Raymond MacDonald & Marilyn Crispell: Parallel Moments (2010 , Babel): Scottish saxophonist (alto, soprano), has a dozen or so albums since 2005, mostly duos or small groups with everyone's name on the marquee. This is a duo with the renowned avant-pianist, a live set from Vortex in London. She is in her usual fine form, while he is all over the place. B+(**) [bc]
Made to Break: Before the Code: Live (2014, Audiographic): Ken Vandermark quartet formed in 2011, seven albums (including the two below, recorded a few days later on the same European tour), with regular drummer Tim Daisy, Jasper Stadhouders (electric bass), and Christof Kurzmann (laptop/ppooll -- some kind of audio/visual software system, based on lloopp and presumably turned inside-out). Starts with live rehash of their Before the Code album (Trost), adding a 5:19 "Dragon Improvisation." Holds back at first, trying to let the rhythm find its slot, but the sax is as compelling as ever. B+(**) [bc]
Made to Break: N N N (2014 , Audiographic): Digital-only, four tracks totalling 97:50, so would require two CDs. Nothing feels rushed here, the subterranean growl of the bass pulling Vandermark toward his r&b roots. A- [bc]
Made to Break: Dispatch to the Sea (2014 , Audiographic): More from not just the same group but the same date in Antwerp. Three longish pieces (65:03), the electronics filling in the gaps, but the leader finally breaks loose with awesome sax runs -- all he really needs to do. A- [bc]
Joe McPhee: Flowers (2009 , Cipsela): Solo alto saxophone, recorded live in Coimbra: seven pieces, each one dedicated to an artist -- five I easily recognized as fellow alto saxophonists, the other two graphic artists Alton Pickens and Niklaus Troxler. The one for Ornette Coleman cleverly weaves in signature lines, but nothing so familiar for the others. B+(*) [cd]
Francisco Mela: Fe (2016, self-released): Cuban drummer, moved to Boston in 2000. Nothing especially Latin this time: sparkling Leo Genovese piano, Gerald Cannon on bass, and John Scofield scarcely evident on guitar. B+(**)
MIA: AIM (2016, Interscope): British dance revolutionary, parents from Sri Lanka, fifth studio album, says it will be her last, and indeed at 41 she seems to be winding down, with only a few memorable songs, none qualifying as bombs. Widely panned, which is unfair and foolish, as even her toned-down beats crack glass, and the whisps of South Asian music are still world class. But the bonus tracks on the Deluxe are not cost-effective. A-
Michelson Morley: Strange Courage (2016, Babel): British quartet, from Bristol: Jake McMurchie (saxophones), Dan Messore (guitar), Will Harris (bass guitar), Mark Whitlam (drums). They produce a sort of minimalist fusion, where the rock component draws a line from Eno through My Bloody Valentine to Tortoise. B+(*)
Cameron Mizell: Negative Spaces (2016, Destiny): Guitarist, evidently not the music producer written up in Wikipedia, has a previous solo EP. This a trio with Brad Whiteley on organ and keyboards, and Kenneth Salters on percussion things -- an old soul jazz formula but while maintaining a groove this doesn't feel very soulful. B [cd]
Nils Petter Molvaer: Buoyancy (2016, Okeh): Norwegian trumpet player, started in group Masqualero and later on his own cut a remarkable series of jazztronica albums, from Khmer in 1998 through ER in 2006 (perhaps the best). Quartet with Geir Sundstřl (guitars, including pedal steel, resonator and banjo), Jo Berger Myhre (basses, guitars, and synth), and Erland Dahlen (percussion), everyone indulging themselves in electronics. Still, not much to show for it, mostly spacey ambiance. B+(*)
Moskus: Ulv Ulv (2015 , Hubro): Norwegian piano trio -- Anja Lauvdal (piano, harmonium, synths), Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson (double bass), Hans Hulbaekmo (drums, Jews harp, percussion, saw, wind) -- joined on two cuts by Nils Řkland on Hardanger fiddle. But even without the guest, the piano loses primacy here to industrial-leaning electronics. B+(**)
Bob Mould: Patch the Sky (2016, Merge): Ex-Hüsker Dü, Sugar too (if you care; I can't say as I do). He still wraps his songs in a overblown tornado of guitar, so characteristic it serves as a trademark even while rendering the songs indistinguishable. B+(*)
Sabir Mateen/Conny Bauer/Mark Tokar/Klaus Kugel: Collective Four (2015 , ForTune): Last names only on the cover, playing reeds (mostly alto and tenor sax), trombone, bass, and drums, on three long pieces recorded live in Poland. Mateen shows up in a lot of avant groups but rarely as the leader -- Discogs credits him with 28 albums, but his name comes first only eight times, and they also show him belonging to 27 other groups. He's incendiary here, and the Europeans, especially Bauer, are up to the challenge. A- [bc]
Shawn Maxwell: Shawn Maxwell's New Tomorrow (2016, OA2): Alto saxophonist, from Chicago, has a couple of previous albums I didn't care for, but he pushes his postbop out toward the edge with this quintet, using three different trumpeters, Matt Nelson on keyboards, Junius Paul on bass (acoustic & electric), and Phil Beale on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Tom McCormick: South Beat (2016, Manatee): Saxophonist (tenor, soprano, flute), teaches in Miami, don't think he has any other albums under his own name, but he has side credits going back to the mid-'70s. Band leans Latin, and gets better when they flaunt it. Six originals, covers of Coltrane and Silver plus two standards. B+(*) [cd]
Pat Metheny: The Unity Sessions (2014 , Nonesuch): Guitarist, very popular guy and very serious (although not necessarily at the same time). He unveiled a new quartet in 2012 with phenomenal saxophonist Chris Potter, Ben Williams on bass, and Antoni Sanchez on drums, and they recorded a second album in 2013, Kin -- which I see from the hype sheets won a Grammy and was the Downbeat Readers Poll's album of the year (I gave it a B-). They then went on a 150-gig tour, picking up Giulio Carmassi (piano, flugelhorn, whistling, synth, vocals) somewhere along the way, and recorded this material, originally released as a DVD in 2015, at the end. A long and very mixed bag, one that doesn't diminish my respect for Potter's chops, but which also reminds me that even with Metheny eschews groove he doesn't have many better ideas. B
Tony Moreno: Short Stories (2015 , Mayimba Jazz, 2CD): Drummer, born in New York, teaches at NYU. Notes here say his mother was a harpist, and he was given his first set of drums at age 10 by Elvin Jones, which sounds to me better than being called to God. Not sure what else he's done -- there's a drummer Anthony Moreno who recorded some records on Italian labels in the late 1980s -- but this is a big project, with contributions by a not-quite-all-star quintet, with Marc Mommaas (tenor sax), Ron Horton (trumpet), Jean-Michel Pilc (piano), and Ugonna Okegwo (drums), and covers of Duke Ellington and Kenny Wheeler. B+(**) [cd]
Mostly Other People Do the Killing: (Live) (2012 , ForTune): Bassist Moppa Elliott's piano-less quartet, with Peter Evans on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on sax, and Kevin Shea on drums, recorded live at Jazz Klub Hipnoza in Katowice, Poland. Made their reputation by blowing up bebop (and sometimes postbop) convention -- a fascinating conceptual coup on their studio albums, but just an excuse for mischief live. B+(***)
Naima: Bye (2015 , Cuneiform): Group, originally founded as a sax quartet in 2006, now a piano trio led by Enrique Ruiz, with Rafael Ramos Sanía on bass and Luis Torregrosa on drums. The trio can play acoustic or plug in. The former is interesting but not all that striking. The latter can get heavy, and hammy. B+(*) [dl]
The Phil Norman Tentet: Then & Now: Classic Sounds & Variations of 12 Jazz Legends (2015 , Summit): Near-big band, led by the tenor saxophonist, half-dozen albums since 1997, most recently an In Memoriam of Bob Florence. Repertory here, I should recognize everything but "Lullaby of Birdland" and "Manteca" jump out at me, even more so the upscaling of "Take Five." B+(***) [cd]
Lina Nyberg: Aerials (2016, Hoob Jazz, 2CD): Swedish jazz singer-songwriter, has close to twenty albums since 1993, this the first I've heard. First disc is a live set of mostly flight-themed standards backed by a rather scattered avant quartet of piano (Cecilia Persson), guitar (David Stackenäs), bass, and percussion, a provocative mix. Second disc is bird-themed, sung against the darkened backdrop of the Vindla String Quartet. This latter half is less appealing, but I'm still impressed. B+(**)
Ray Obiedo: Latin Jazz Project Vol. 1 (2016, Rhythmus): Guitarist, from the Bay Area, references suggest he's closer to pop jazz (early albums on Windham Hill) than to Latin jazz, although he's also done fusion and rock (Rhythmus 21, Sheila E) with many side credits (especially Herbie Hancock and Pete Escovedo). Rifled his phonebook for a couple dozen musicians here, picked songs with more jazz than Latin cred, and spiced them up nicely. B+(**) [cd]
Opaluna: Opaluna (2016, Ridgeway): Singer Susana Pineda and guitarist Luis Salcedo, with occasional help from "special guests" Jeff Denson (bass) and John Santos (percussion). Recorded in Berkeley, going for that fake Brazilian folkloric effect. B [cd]
Hanna Paulsberg Concept: Eastern Smiles (2015 , Odin): Third group album, Norwegian quartet led by tenor saxophonist Paulsberg, with piano (Oscar Grönberg), bass (Trygve Waldemar Fiske), and drums (Hans Hulbaekmo). Sort of a Rollins feel, a very tasteful sax-lovers album running a bit more than mainstream. A-
Ralph Peterson/Zaccai Curtis/Luques Curtis: Triangular III (2016, Truth Revolution/Onyx Music): Drummer-led piano trio. Normally I would parse the cover left-to-right and file this under pianist Zaccai Curtis, but Peterson's centered name is a tad larger, and he has two previous Triangular albums on his resume with different groups (Geri Allen and Essiet Essiet in 1988, David Kikoski and Gerald Cannon in 2000). The bassist is a familiar name, but somehow I hadn't bumped into his older brother before. B+(**)
Enrico Pieranunzi: Proximity (2013 , CAM Jazz): Italian pianist, has been recording regularly since 1975, has even become somewhat known in the US thanks to his trio with Marc Johnson and Joey Baron. Quartet here, with Matt Penman on bass, Ralph Alessi on trumpet/cornet/flugelhorn, and Donny McCaslin on tenor/soprano sax. Hard to get much speed without a drummer, but the result is often lovely. B+(**)
Enrico Pieranunzi with Simona Severini: My Songbook (2014 , Via Veneto): Piano trio plus trumpet on two cuts, sax on three, plus singer Severini. Mostly original material, nothing you can easily hang on to even though most are in English. B+(*)
Dominique Pifarély Quartet: Trace Provisoire (2015 , ECM): French violinist, records go back to 1981 though he's rarely been in charge. The rhythm ranges free, with pianist Antonin Rayon often moving out front, bassist Bruno Chevillon and drummer François Merville beating the bushes, the bits of melody blocked out abstractly. B+(***) [dl]
John Pizzarelli: Midnight McCartney (2015, Concord): Guitarist-singer arranges and records thirteen post-Beatles McCartney songs, using shifting groups, sometimes strings, sometimes horns, the occasional backing chorus, some Brazilian percussion. Aims for light and frothy, and gets that more often than not. B
Bobby Previte & the Visitors: Gone (2015 , ForTune): American drummer playing in Poland, quartet with Michael Kammers (tenor sax, organ, piano), Michael Gamble (guitar), and Kurt Kolheimer (bass), all brimming with energy and fairly compatible with the leader's fusion instincts. B+(*)
Joshua Redman & Brad Mehldau: Nearness (2011 , Nonesuch): Saxophone and piano duets, a format at least among mainstream players meant to imply intimacy, done here with a live audience. Nicely crafted, spare, often lovely, rarely inspired. B+(**)
Little Johnny Rivero: Music in Me (2016, Truth Revolution): Percussionist (conga, bongo, timbales, "and other"), has worked with Orquesta Colon and Eddie Palmieri, keeps the salsa beat moving while a band including Brian Lynch (trumpet), Zaccai Curtis (piano, Fender Rhodes), Luques Curtis (bass), drums, and various guests vamp away. B+(***) [cd]
Rřnnings Jazzmaskin: Jazzmaskin (2014 , Losen): Norwegian group: Petter Kraft (tenor sax), Martin Myhre Olsen (alto sax), Egil Kalman (double bass), Truls Rřnning (drums), the only musician without a writing credit the namesake. First album, label has the title as above but Discogs makes it eponymous. Rousing two-horn brawl for the most part, some breaks I'm less sure of. B+(***)
Jamison Ross: Jamison (2015, Concord): Singer-songwriter, also plays drums, starts with a Muddy Waters blues but mostly favors soul. B
Catherine Russell: Harlem on My Mind (2016, Jazz Village): Late-blooming singer, started at 50, some 43 years after her famous father father, bandleader Luis Russell (1902-63), passed on. This is her sixth album, perhaps her most retro -- for her father's heyday (see Retrieval's 2-CD The Luis Russell Story 1929-1934) and the following decade). Five songs arranged for tentet by Andy Farber, smaller groups directed by banjoist Matt Munisteri, all impeccable, as is the singer -- the only fault I see, but not one to get worked up about. A-
Arturo Sandoval: Live at Yoshi's (2015, ALFI): Cuban trumpet player, played in Irakere, met Dizzy Gillespie in 1977 and recorded with him several times before "defecting" to US in 1990. Has dozens of albums, ten Grammys, a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Flashy trumpet, congas, bebop-era standards plus a "Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You)," the leader both crooning and scatting. B+(*)
Shabaka and the Ancestors: Wisdom of Elders (2015 , Brownswood): Led by tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, born in London but moved to Barbados when he was six, presumably back to England as an adult, where he also plays in Sons of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming. This was recorded in Johannesburg "to immerse himself in the country's rich musical heritage," most likely with local musicians to fill out the septet plus singer (Mandla Mlangeni). I can't say as he found the real South African vibe, but still managed some interest and appeal. B+(*)
Naomi Moon Siegel: Shoebox View (2015 , self-released): Trombonist, from Seattle, recorded this on both coasts and in Costa Rica over nine months so the lineups vary, but they always provide some soft contrast for the soulful trombone leads. B+(*)
Edward Simon: Latin American Songbook (2016, Sunnyside): Pianist, from Venezuela, based on Bay Area, albums date back to 1995. Piano trio, with Joe Martin on bass and Adam Cruz on drums, picking through songs from Argentina to Cuba, thoughtfully focusing on the melodies without spicing up the rhythm. B+(**)
Ferenc Snetberger: In Concert (2013 , ECM): Hungarian guitarist, has records going back to 1991, several with Arild Andersen and Markus Stockhausen. First on ECM, a live solo, delicately played, pleasant, not without interest. B+(*) [dl]
Mark Solborg & Herb Robertson: Tuesday Prayers (2016, ILK): Guitar and trumpet, second duo album together. Agreeably abstract, but too sparse to really hold your interest. B
Sonic Liberation 8: Bombogenic (2015 , High Two): Kevin Diehl's former Sonic Liberation Front, shorn of most of the horns and voices but still built around Cuban bata drums, joined here by guests in small type: the Classical Revolution Trio (violin and two cellos), who tilt this toward post-classical weepy abstraction, and alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, who brings us back to avant-jazz. A- [cd]
Omar Sosa/Joo Kraus/Gustavo Ovalle: JOG (2015, Otá): Keyboards (piano, Fender Rhodes, Motif ESB, samplers, effects, vocals), trumpet (flugelhorn, effects, vocals), percussion. Title seems to come from first initials, and J's name appears on cover top left, but I find the album more often attributed to Sosa, often without mentioning his lesser known collaborators. The voices are spoken, a minor part of the flow like the electronics but they move the groove into novel territory, the slower bits atmospheric, the fast ones compelling. A-
Britney Spears: Glory (2016, RCA): Ninth album, big time pop production, every song written by a committee with at least two producers making sure no trick goes unturned. Still, sounds very much of a piece, with G-Eazy's second-cut rap elevating a game that doesn't bother with any more guest stars, and doesn't let you miss them. A-
Vinnie Sperrazza/Jacob Sacks/Masa Kamaguchi: Play Tadd Dameron (2015 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Piano trio, listed in drums-piano-bass order, playing pieces from a pianist who has turned out to be one of the most covered composers of the bebop era. Feels a bit skeletal to me without horns but eventually the melodies come through. B+(**)
Tomasz Sroczynski Trio: Primal (2015 , ForTune): Polish violinist, partial credit on a couple other albums but I don't know much else about him. Trio, with bass (Max Mucha) and drums (Szymon Gasiorek). Free jazz, clicks more often than not, drummer most impressive. B+(**) [bc]
Vince Staples: Prima Donna (2016, Def Jam, EP): Short, sketchy, built around fragments, short lines and short beats, some come close to working but seems like too much work to keep on top of them, and not enough reward. (Seven cuts, one cut short by a gunshot, 21:44.) B+(**)
Matthew Stevens: Woodwork (2014 , Whirlwind): Guitarist, from Toronto, seems to be his first album although he's had a couple dozen side credits since 2006, notably with Christian Scott. Original material (aside from the David Bowie cover), tricky postbop with piano (Gerald Clayton), bass and drums. B+(*)
Michael Jefry Stevens: Brass Tactics (2008 , Konnex): Avant-pianist, based in Memphis which has kept him way off the beaten path despite recording sixty-some albums. This one is solemn, built on brass tones: two trumpets (Dave Ballou and Ed Sarath) and a pair of trombones (Steve Swell and Dave Taylor), occasionally supplemented by the leader's piano. B+(*)
Eric St-Laurent: Planet (2016, Katzenmusik): Guitarist, based in Toronto, backed by piano-bass-percussion, the originals supplemented by three covers that help pinpoint the artist in space and time: Beethoven, Charlie Parker, Carly Rae Jepson. Lightweight, easy going, tends to slip past me. B+(*) [cd]
Al Strong: Love Strong Volume 1 (2016, Al Strong Music): Trumpet player, from DC, now based in Raleigh-Durham area. First album, can wax soulful on ballads, or kick up a funk storm on a Monk tune. B+(**) [cd]
Dave Stryker: Eight Track II (2016, Strikezone): Guitarist, usually works with saxophonist Steve Slagle but decided to try a no horns groove record, anchored by Jared Gold's organ with excellent sparkle from Steve Nelson's vibes. All covers, rock and soul standards -- the ones I always notice are "When Doves Cry," "Time of the Season," and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," but looking at the list I could kick myself for not identifying the rest. B+(***) [cd]
Steve Turre: Colors for the Masters (2016, Smoke Sessions): Trombonist, also plays shells to much the same effect, fronts a classic mainstream rhythm section -- Kenny Barron on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums -- adding Cyro Baptista for a little spice on "Corcovado," and saxophonist Javon Jackson to shadow his trombone leads. Hard to imagine a more risk-free can't fail project. B+(**)
The U.S. Army Blues: Swamp Romp: Voodoo Boogaloo (2008 , self-released): Your tax dollars at work, and there's no doubt the Army routinely spends more for less value this group spun off from "Pershing's Own" United States Army Band. Credits include "Leader and Commander" (Colonel Thomas Rotondi, Jr.) and "Enlisted Leader" (Command Sergeant Major Ross N. Morgan, Jr.), although neither play. Basically a mix of trad jazz ("Tiger Rag," "Millenburg Joys"), songs that sound related (Duke Ellington and Stevie Wonder), or at least belong in Louisiana ("Jambalaya," "You Are My Sunshine"), and a few fitting originals (by trombonist SFC Harry F. Watters and trumpeter SFC Graham E. Breedlove). B [cd]
Peter Van Huffel/Alex Maksymiw: Kronix (2015 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Alto sax and guitar, respectively, duets that mostly range free. B+(*)
Glauco Venier: Miniatures: Music for Piano and Percussion (2013 , ECM): Italian pianist, seems to straddle jazz and classical, mostly original pieces performed solo -- much more piano than percussion, but he's credited with both. Self-contained, thoughtful, nevery splashy. B+(**) [dl]
Cuong Vu/Pat Metheny: Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny (2016, Nonesuch): Vu is a postbop trumpet player from Vietnam, his trio including Stomu Takeishi on bass and Ted Poor on drums. Metheny helps fill in, but the trumpet remains front and center. B+(*)
Waco Brothers: Going Down in History (2016, Bloodshot): Chicago bar band, led by English painter and radical Jon Langford (Mekons, Three Johns, many other bands) and Dean Schlabowske (who called his own previous band Deano and the Purvs). Hard, straight and narrow, almost to a fault. B+(***) [sp]
The Doug Webb Quartet: Sets the Standard (2016, VSOP): Mainstream tenor saxophonist doing standards stuff, backed expertly by Alan Broadbent on piano, the charmingly named Putter Smith on bass, and Paul Kreibich on drums. But he takes a while to find his groove, tempted as he is to try out his stritch and soprano on songs that really deserve a deep tenor vibrato. B+(*)
White Denim: Stiff (2016, Downtown): Alt-indie band formed in Austin in 2006, not without hooks or appeal although they haven't broken through for me yet. B+(*)
Anthony Wilson: Frogtown (2016, Goat Hill): Guitarist, son of big band arranger Gerald Wilson, sings on several songs here, most impressively the opening blues, but he's also winning on laid back ballads. One unpleasant bit, the short instrumental "Mopeds" -- some kind of fandango? -- but several things suggest he's aiming at Ry Cooder, and sometimes he makes that work. B+(*)
Florian Wittenburg: Eagle Prayer (2014-15 , NurNichtNur): From Berlin, works with electronics, plays some piano, has a couple albums including the recent Aleatoric Inspiration. The electronics flutter and shimmer ambiently, the piano stepping tactfully. B+(**) [cd]
Nate Wooley: Seven Storey Mountain V (2015 , Pleasure of the Text): Avant-trumpeter, also credited with tape here. I count eighteen musicians, ten playing brass from piccolo trumpet to amplified tuba, a contrabass clarinet (Josh Sinton) and bass sax (Colin Stetson), two violins, two vibraphones, two drummers, but they don't have big band moves. In fact they hardly move at all, cranking out one giant 49:16 slab of noise with just enough filigree to stay interesting. B+(*)
Nate Wooley: Argonautica (2016, Firehouse 12): One 42:53 piece, "a sonic analog [built in three parts] to the epic poem of the same name," performed by what might be called a "double trio": two brass leads (Wooley on trumpet, Ron Miles on cornet), two keyboards (Cory Smythe on piano, Jozef Dumoulin on Fender Rhodes and electronics), and two drummers (Devin Gray and Rudy Royston). Has a couple dead spots where they're regrouping, but downright powerful when they all get in sync. B+(**) [bc]
Lizz Wright: Freedom & Surrender (2015, Concord): Singer from Georgia, started in the church (father was minister and musical director), fifth album since 2003, has a share of 9/13 writing credits. Not a very exciting, jazzy, or even soulful singer but calm and solid, something that works with the right song -- "Somewhere Down the Mystic," for instance, or "To Love Somebody." B+(*)
Rik Wright's Fundamental Forces: Subtle Energy (2016, Hipsync): Seattle-based guitarist, quartet with bass, drums, and soft reeds -- James Dejoie on bass and regular clarinet -- keeping subtle the energy, a fusion pulse with scant urgency. B+(*) [cd]
Pawel Wszolek Quintet: Faith (2016, ForTune): Bassist, I figure this for some form of postbop, with guitarist Lukasz Kokoszko taking most of the melodic leads and pianist Sebastian Zawadzki fattening them up, while the sole horn, Mateusz Sliwa's tenor sax, holds back until his show-stopper at the end. B+(**) [bc]
Yellowjackets: Cohearence (2016, Mack Avenue): Popular jazz group, founded thirty-five years ago in 1981 by keyboardist Russell Ferrante and bassist Jimmy Haslip (departed 2012, replaced here by Dane Anderson), picking up drummer Will Kennedy in 1987 (to 1999, returning in 2010) and saxophonist Bob Mintzer in 1991. The difference this time is that this time, aside from a lovely "Shenandoah," the rhythm -- even Ferrante's comping -- is much freer, which gives Mintzer something interesting he can riff against. B+(**)
Yells at Eels: In Quiet Waters (2013 , ForTune): Avant-trumpet trio, a family affair led by Dennis González, with sons Aaron (bass) and Stefan (drums), although each member has a long list of credits, mostly extra percussion and voice (a terminal sing-along). Quality trumpet, furious rhythm, at one point the record erupts in applause because that seems like the only way to cap the swell. B+(***) [bc]
Young Thug: No, My Name Is Jeffery (2016, 300 Entertainment/Atlantic): Aka Jeffery, Jeffery Williams' third mixtape this year, none especially long (38:03 here, not counting a "bonus track" I haven't heard). First cuts establish his mischievously crude humor, after which he needs to do is mug, although the tense beats make the difference. A-
Brandee Younger: Wax & Wane (2016, Revive Music, EP): Harpist, seems to have a couple previous self-released albums, this one a spin off from the Supreme Sonacy sessions, with a group that includes tenor sax (Chelsea Baratz), flute (Anne Drummond), violin/viola (Chargaux), guitar (Mark Whitfield), electric bass, and drums -- all sideshows to the shimmering lead. Seven tracks, 26:46. B+(*)
Denny Zeitlin: Early Wayne: Explorations of Classic Wayne Shorter Compositions (2014 , Sunnyside): Pianist, cut his first albums in 1964 five years after Shorter's debut, fifty years before he sat down for his live solo piano dive into ten of the saxophonist's 1965-74 tunes. B+(*)
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
The Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1964-65 , Universal/Apple): Pieced together from two August shows a year apart, originally released in 1977 as The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl and unavailable on CD until now, repackaged as a tie-in to Ron Howard's Eight Days a Week documentary, with four extra tracks (17 total) stretching the album to 43:27. Pre-Rubber Soul, they play basic rock and roll -- including six covers -- and play it fast, clear and crisp even given the non-stop scream torrent from the crowd. No cause to favor any of this over the studio originals (even the covers), but no reason not to revel in the whole experience either. A-
Harry Beckett: Still Happy (1974 , My Only Desire, EP): British trumpet player from Barbados, died in 2010, a player I've long meant to check out, but this radio shot may not be the place -- the trumpet and sax decent enough over pleasant but electric piano groove. Three cuts on vinyl, 28:48. B
Born to Be Blue: Music From the Motion Picture (, Rhino): Soundtrack to the Chet Baker biopic, starring Ethan Hawke and set in the late 1960s as Baker managed something of a comeback. Aside from pieces by Mingus and Odetta, Baker's music is all re-recorded by pianist David Braid's quartet, with Kevin Turcotte better than perfect on trumpet, plus occasional string sections and Hawke doing his own vocals, even sketchier than the originals. Despite Turcotte, no reason to buy this over any of many perfectly good Baker comps, although I can't complain much about anything that lets me hear "Haitian Fight Song" again. B+(*)
Peter Erskine Trio/John Taylor/Palle Danielsson: As It Was (1992-97 , ECM, 4CD): Drummer, best known for Weather Report, got his name out front on the four piano trio albums collected here, an epic of good taste and precision -- i.e., not the sort of thing Weather Report fans might care for. The albums are broken out under "old music" below, but they are so even and consistent there's no real point in doing so. B+(*) [dl]
Shirley Horn: Live at the 4 Queens (1988 , Resonance): A major jazz singer from 1965 to her death in 2005, and such a sparkling pianist she not only accompanied herself but was in demand for non-vocal sessions. At some point I need to go back and listen to the albums she released in her lifetime (only four in my database), but this is the sort of posthumous record that motivates such a search. Backed with bass, drums, and her own impeccable piano, she covers standards she made a career of (including two Jobims, and a definitive "Lover Man"), reminding us she was major indeed. A- [cd]
Miles Ahead [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] (, Columbia/Legacy): Narrated by Don Cheadle, star of the Miles Davis biopic but packed mostly with Davis classics, giving way at the end to Robert Glasper picking up the torch. Assuming what you need from Davis is better served by his own discography, and noting that an expanded set of Glasper is available on his own Everything's Beautiful, I'm inclined to rate this as background dinner music for folks who could care less. Some classic music but the only piece that caught my attention was Pharoahe Monch's closing rap, keyed to Keyon Harrold's trumpet. B+(*)
Revive Music Presents Supreme Sonacy, Vol. 1 (2015, Revive Music/Blue Note): Released to mark the tenth anniversary of Revive Music, originally "a boutique live music agency that specializes in producing genre-bending, creative-concept live music shows" but lately has been signing musicians like Maurice Brown, Marcus Strickland, and Brandee Younger and releasing albums, often with distribution via Blue Note (EMI, Universal). This is framed as a live package show with intro and interludes by Raydar Ellis, but also remixes so seems a bit patched up. Discounting the remixes, seven acts, mostly one track each, the more conventional horns impressive, the genre-bending less so. B-
Tanbou Toujou Lou: Merengue, Kompa Kreyou, Vodou Jazz & Electric Folklore From Haiti (1960-1981) (1960-81 , Ostinato): Culled from radio archives and Brooklyn basements, a stylistic hodge-podge with borrowings from Cuba and Colombia and the Dominican Republic and a hint of what later developed as Zouk, this seems more generic than you'd expect from the long independent, isolated, and impoverished half-island. B+(***)
Ray Anderson/Han Bennink/Christy Doran: A B D (1994-95 , Hatology): Trombone-percussion-guitar, same trio previously recorded the album Azurety. Prickly but scattered, the guitar most likely to surprise. B+(**)
The Beatles: 1967-1970 (1967-70 , Apple, 2CD): In 1973 Beatles manager Allen Klein picked fifty-four songs from his group's oeuvre for a pair of canonical 2-LP sets, the group's first (and aside from 2000's The Beatles 1 only) best-of compilation. Both had cover photos with the same background, the 1962-1966 showing the foursome as moptops, this one as longhairs, the former framed in red, this one in blue. The early one ended with "Eleanor Rigby" and "Yellow Submarine" (from Revolver). The late one starts with non-album singles "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane," followed by four cuts from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I replayed the short (26-cut) 1962-1966 and can confirm that it's still a full A, although that scarcely elevates it from any of its seven constituent albums (based on the UK releases, the only A- A Hard Day's Night). However, sometime in the 1970s I soured on the later albums -- the self-indulgent "white album," Abbey Road, Let It Be -- so this compilation actually has some room to improve. It does, but in a way that reminds you how bright their individual talents burnt before cooling into self-caricature. In limited doses, even the shlock can be magnificent. A
The Beatles: Anthology 1 (1958-94 , Capitol, 2CD): Trivia with short bits of after-the-fact interview, the first disc starting with juvenilia that wouldn't hold any interest had they not grown out of it -- nothing sounds remotely decent until track 11 and the first identifiable Beatles song is track 22 ("Love Me Do"). The first disc ends with five tracks (three covers) from a live shot in Stockholm. Second disc has more demos, outtakes, and live hits and covers, but at least by then you know the band. B+(**)
The Beatles: Anthology 2 (1965-95 , Capitol, 2CD): After the bait cut -- "Real Love," a John Lennon demo from 1979 the remaining ex-Beatles harmonized with in 1995 -- this trivia trawl picks up with February 1965 outtakes from Help! and ends with an alt-take of "Across the Universe" from February 1968. One thing that becomes clear here is how experimental many of the takes were, not that you'll have much trouble figuring out why these particular ones were initially released. B+(**)
The Beatles: Anthology 3 (1968-70 , Apple/Capitol, 2CD): Trivia from the period that spans three albums I never liked much -- The Beatles ("the white album"), Abbey Road, and Let It Be -- although I was surprised to find myself enjoying the highlights packed into 1967-1970. The opposite here, as the demos and outtakes lose not only the slick ickiness the album versions but also what little shape and appeal they had. One thing this dive reminded me of is what incredible earworms so many of their songs were, yet as I finished this I found nothing still rattling around in my head. B
Harry Beckett's Flugelhorn 4+3: All Four One (1991, Spotlite): Four flugelhorns, with Jon Corbett, Chris Bathelor, and Claude Deppa joining Beckett, backed by Alastair Gavin on piano, bass, and drums. Slo-mo bebop, not helped by a Jan Ponsford vocal, but picks up toward the end. B
Peter Brötzmann/Masahiko Satoh/Takeo Moriyama: Yatagarasu (2011 , Not Two): Sax-piano-drums trio, Brötzmann playing tenor, tarogato and B-flat clarinet. The latter usually soften him up a bit, but this is all slash-an
Monday, September 19. 2016
Music: Current count 27153  rated (+25), 376  unrated (+2).
First, I screwed up last night and misnumbered my Weekend Roundup post, so for various technical reasons the link I tweeted last night needs to be removed. Since the half-life of tweets seems to be less than two hours, the old one should soon be forgotten.
Second, here again is the download link for my book-in-progress, Recorded Jazz in the Early 21st Century: A Consumer Guide. It is currently at what I call Stage One, which is to say that I've collected and sorted reviews from all of the 2004-11 Jazz Consumer Guide columns, but haven't done much further editing. Stage Two will add reviews for many more records: things I'm currently collecting from my Jazz Prospecting, Recycled Goods, and Rhapsody Streamnotes files. I currently have all of the JCG prospecting notes collected, and about one-third of Recycled Goods, so I'm at least a week away from starting to revise the draft. The PDF file is unchanged from last week, so no need to download it again, but if you haven't yet, please do.
I've made a couple of piddly decisions on formatting since then: to remove the bold from the parenthetical label/year, and to change the year notation from '## to -## -- the latter because I've started to use "smart quotes" and getting all that consistent is going to be difficult. I'm also considering making a fairly substantial change to the grading system. I thought it might be better to convert the letter grades (with their 3-star subdivision of B+) into a numeric scale (1-10). My first attempt at a conversion was: 10 = A+, 9 = A, 8 = A-, 7 = B+(***), 6 = B+(**), 5 = B+(*), 4 = B, 3 = B- or C+, 2 = C or C-, 1 = any D, 0 = any E.
Two problems there, one at the top of the scale, the other near the bottom. The former started when I initially applied my letter grade scale to my records list, A and A+ made sense only for records that had stood the test of time and many plays. However, after JCG started my working methodology changed so that I almost never managed the several dozen plays those older records had enjoyed. I basically stopped using those grades. For instance, the one and only A+ I've given to a jazz record released this century was James Carter's Chasin' the Gypsy, and that was released in 2000. (I'm pretty sure my most recent A+ was Lily Allen's It's Not Me, It's You in 2009, although it didn't get promoted until several years later.)
Actually, there's not much A+ jazz earlier either: I count 41 albums, one each (or more in parens, but some are redundant) for: Louis Armstrong (5), Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Miles Davis (2), Duke Ellington (9), Ella Fitzgerald (3), Coleman Hawkins (2), Billie Holiday (2), Fletcher Henderson, Johnny Hodges (2), Louis Jordan, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Art Pepper, Don Pullen, Sonny Rollins (3), Roswell Rudd, Jimmy Rushing, Pharoah Sanders, Horace Silver, Frank Sinatra, Art Tatum. That's out of 14032 jazz albums rated, so 1/334 (0.2%). That's, well, even I have to admit that's pretty picky -- rarefied even -- especially if the concept is to grade on some sort of curve.
There are a good deal more A records, ten times as many (419, or 2.9% of the total), but they too are concentrated among older artists. From 2000 onward, I've given out 65 A grades (counting Carter's A+), an average of 4 per year (exactly, not counting 2016, which so far has 1). I don't have an easy way of counting the sample size there, but it's at least 5000 and probably closer to 7000 so we're looking at a number that will round off (probably up) to 1%. Seems to me like I could combine A and A+ at 10 and still have no more than 1% at that level -- less than 100 records covering two decades.
The other problem is at the bottom. Keeping the three subdivisions of B+, which I think is well justified by my recent practice, pegging A- at 8 pushes B down to 4, and forces me to combine lower grades. This is less important, but intuitively it seems to me that B should be 5, and that the distinction between B- and C+ is meaningful (not that the difference between 4 and 3, or 3 and 2, is really going to sway any of your buying decisions). Below that matters less, not least because I put so little effort into discerning qualitative distinctions between records I actively dislike.
In recent years my impression has been that each of the three B+ levels were fairly evenly distributed (possibly with a slight bulge in the middle, at **), with A- and B tapered off, and sub-B grades rare -- partly because I don't seek out records I'm unlikely to like, and partly because many of their publicists have given up on me. But I've never counted until now. I did three counts, first on the entire rated database (27526 albums), then on the jazz subset (14032), and finally on the post-2000 jazz subset (undercounted a bit at 8268), which breaks down thus: A+ 1 (0.01%), A 63 (0.76%), A- 883 (10.7%), B+(***) 1445 (19.0%), B+(**) 2122 (27.7%), B+(*) 1730 (22.6%), B 1064 (12.9%), B- 364 (4.4%), C+ 81 (0.97%), C 30 (0.36%) C- 15 (0.18%), D+ 2 (0.02%), D 2 (0.02%), plus 455 additional B+ albums (divided proportionately for the percentages; the overall B+ percentage is 69.56%). This actually looks rather like a pretty normal distribution, left-shifted by various factors biased in favor of selecting better records (ones I bought, sought out, or that savvy promoters sent my way) in an idiom that I broadly respect and enjoy. Or it may just be that the left-shift is to be expected, just because the skillset jazz demands is so exceptional.
Taking all this into account, a few days back I proposed to shift my grade scale a bit leftward, combining A/A+ at 10 (still just the top 1% of rated albums), moving A- to 9 (10%, so the top decile), the B+ tiers to 8-7-6 (all records that will repay your interest), B to 5, B- to 4, C+ to 3, C or C- to 2, all D to 1. Of course, the latter ranks will be underrepresented. The only real reason for flagging a bad album is to warn consumers who might otherwise be tempted, but most bad records never tempt anyone -- they come from people you don't know or care about, and quickly vanish without a trace.
So I wrote my proposal up and sent it around to various critics, most of whom didn't like it. For example, Robert Christgau wrote back: "I definitely think everything shd be a notch down, with perhaps a somewhat lenient view of what constitutes an A plus than in my system." So I should shift some A records to 10, leave the rest at 9, peg A- at 8, and let everything else fall accordingly, combining various lower grades I rarely use anyway. Splitting out more bins on the left would provide a more even distribution, but keeping 9 and 10 reserved for less than 1% also suggests a fetish for perfection that hardly anything can achieve. I'm not sure that's either useful or achievable.
A couple others mentioned the Spin guide as a familiar model, with the implication that A- should be pegged at 8 (or maybe split between 7-8). However, my copy defines 10 as "an unimpeachable masterpiece or a flawed album of crucial historical importance" and 7-9 as "well worth buying, sure to provide you with sustained pleasure," and they even have kind words for 4-6 if you're "deeply interested in the artist or genre." I'm not sure what I'd be curious to see a histogram of those grades: how does the distribution line up with my own data? My mapping would put A- through B+(**) into the 7-9 range, as various degrees of records I recommend (indeed, that I store separately from recent jazz graded lower), while the 4-6 range gets B- to B+(*) -- the latter are records that I respect and sometimes even admire but don't much feel like playing again (those usually go to the basement, but thus far I haven't discarded any).
Of course, if one started from scratch, one could devise an elegant distribution curve (say 4-7-10-13-16-16-13-10-7-4, or 2-5-9-14-20-20-14-9-5-2) and sort everything accordingly. But that assumes you can rank everything before slicing it into tranches, something that based on no small experience I find impossible. But more importantly for me, I need some way to mechanically transcribe the letter grades I have into numerical grades. So while I might get a more pleasing curve if I could move the uper half of my A- records from 8 to 9 and the upper third of my B+(***) albums from 7 to 8 and slide some slice starting at B+(*) down a notch, it would be hell for me to try to figure out how to split my existing levels. (It's going to be bad enough just to divvy up the unsorted B+ records.)
Sorry to run on like that. I imagine everyone's eyes glazed over, but mapping it all out like that is helping me think it through. I'll let you know when I reach a conclusion. Meanwhile, feedback always welcome.
Minor discrepancy in the rated count, which only includes one of the three Made to Break albums below. I wrote up the others while working on this post, but thought it made more sense to keep them grouped together. The Beatles stuff was in response to the belated CD release of the Hollywood Bowl album. I also played 1962-1966, which I had previously rated at A and found every bit as great. I hadn't previously rated 1967-1970, but knew everything on it. Even so, better than I expected. I also meant to get the third Anthology in, but had some problems with Napster that locked me out for a couple days. Finally got to it tonight and, well, it's not very good. Might as well add it too.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: