Monday, October 6. 2014
Music: Current count 23893  rated (+23), 526  unrated (+5).
Actually, the week for me ended on Friday, October 3.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Tuesday, September 30. 2014
Time to wrap another batch of Streamnotes up: 21 days after the September 9 column. I've been running these approximately every three weeks this year, and the average count has been close to 90. The Old Music section focuses on Steve Lacy, after starting out with the much smaller catalogs of Julius Hemphill and Henry Threadgill. The line between Old Music and "Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries" is vague, but generally speaking the latter were released in the last couple years -- I go back as far as 2011 there.
The usual caveats about listening to music on the computer apply. It's rare that I'll settle on an A- grade in only one play -- Sun Ra and Roger Miller are two such cases, but they cover ground I'm familiar with from elsewhere. On the other hand, low-B+ and below rarely get more than one spin: I'm not especially concerned whether I get those grades right, since plus or minus a notch makes little consumer difference. More often I'm sure enough about the grade but unclear on how to write the review: it's rarely worth my while to give a record an extra spin just to write a better review, although I did that routinely back in the days when I got paid for reviews.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on September 9. Past reviews and more information are available here (5406 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams (2014, Blue Note): Instantly regretted spinning this, knowing that by the time it was over I'd neither grasp whatever intricacies may exist in the lyrics nor care. Prolific, something like 14 albums in 14 years -- surprising at this late date he'd go to the eponymous title, usually an introduction but sometimes a fresh start, in his case more a collapsing worldview, just his face (and a lot of hair) on the cover, just guitar around his voice. B
Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms: From the Region (2013 , Delmark): Vibraphonist, has made a big splash since starting to work with Chicago avant groups a few years back. Trio with bass (Ingebrigt Håker Flaten) and drums (Mike Reed), third album together (starting with the one called Sun Rooms, natch), and goes a long ways toward establishing the vibraphone a lead instrument. B+(***) [cd]
Afghan Whigs: Do to the Beast (2014, Sub Pop): Cincinnati group, had seven albums 1988-98, broke up, returning for this one. I've only heard one of the old albums and don't recall it at all. This strikes me as heavy, an attribute in rock I have little desire for, but very accomplished for its type, I guess. B+(**)
Aphex Twin: Syro (2014, Warp): Richard D. James, enjoyed a measure of fame in the mid-1990s for his "ambient works" -- can't say as I was impressed, nor do I recall following any of the aliases he's used since the last Aphex Twin album in 2001. This, however, is fun throughout, a trippy mix of bass lines and beats, with a little ambient coda at the end. A-
Avi Buffalo: At Best Cuckold (2014, Sub Pop): Southern California group led by Avi Zahner-Isenberg, has a falsetto lead and occasionally pines for the "In My Room" side of the Beach Boys. B+(*)
Iggy Azalea: Ignorant Art (2011 , Grand Hustle, EP): Australian rapper, Amethyst Amelia Kelly, released her debut album this year (below), but on the way to checking it out, I noticed this thing -- her debut mixtape, credited as "Iggy Azalea Presents" ("Dirt in Your Pussy Ass Bitch" is someone else's sketch [T.I.?]). Runs nine tracks, 26:33, built around the video-ready single, "Pu$$y," a sharp and nasty calling card. B+(**)
Iggy Azalea: The New Classic (2014, Island): Rapper from Australia, but her mentor is T.I. and her state-of-the-world production is post-Gaga, post-Minaj even, a "pop/rap hybrid" that eschews the soft center, aiming both sharp edges at the other. "Fancy," of course, is irony, but anyone who'd describe herself as "his new bitch" is bound to be trouble. Metacritic grade: 57. A-
Daniel Blacksberg Trio: Perilous Architecture (2012 , NoBusiness): Trombonist, based in Philadelphia, background ranges from klezmer to Anthony Braxton. Backed with bass and drums, keeps it interesting. B+(***) [cdr]
Frank Catalano/Jimmy Chamberlin: Love Supreme Collective (2014, Ropeadope): Tenor sax and drums, respectively, plus Percy Jones (bass), Adam Benjamin (keys on 3 of 4 cuts), and Chris Poland (guitar on the other cut). The four cuts are laid out like A Love Supreme, but run short (21:58), and rough. B+(*) [cd]
Causa Sui: Pewt'r Sessions 3 (2014, El Paraiso): Third collaboration between the Danish "heavy psych explorers" (i.e., fusion group) and Ron "Pewt'r" Schneiderman, who evidently does similar stuff in Massachusetts. Three tracks for a vinyl-length album, expansive with a slow burn at the end. B+(**)
Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems (2014, Columbia): His "golden voice" is more gone than ever, but his tactic of using female backing vocals keeps him limping along. As for the songs, they're becoming more biblical not because he's thinking of death so much as he's pondering very old things. A-
Jack Cooper: Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra (2014, Planet Arts): Jazz Orchestra means big band -- 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, guitar, piano, bass, drums -- and Ives for that gristmill isn't far from the postmodern big band norm -- not swing but not terribly Third Stream either. B+(*) [cd]
Bo Dollis Jr. and the Wild Magnolias: A New Kind of Funk (2013, self-released): New Orleans "Indians" -- a featured story line in HBO's Treme, their showy plumes and deep funk a phenomenon many of us were hepped to in 1976 when The Wild Tchoupitoulas appeared, or even earlier in 1974-75 when the Wild Magnolias released two albums. The latter group was led by Theodore "Bo" Dollis, and now his son, born seven years later but in the crew since he was 13, is at the helm of the family business. His funk moves are hardly pathbreaking, and his use of a bit of rap is tentative, but the basic shtick is irresistible, and the best thing here is the most trad and true, a burnburning "Liza Jane." B+(***)
Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy (2014, Mello Music Group): Rapper, west coast guy, very laid back, soft-edged, which oddly enough draws you in. B+(**)
Hal Galper Trio: O's Time (2014, Origin): Piano trio, with Jeff Johnson and John Bishop -- picked them up on a Live in Seattle album in 2009 and they're back for a fourth album. They're fine players, and this album has impressive moments. B+(**) [cd]
Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio: We're Back (2014, Whaling City Sound): Drummer, son of vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, first album was called Thrasher (1995), evidently an apt nickname, his Dream Trio debuted on a 2013 album, consists of Kenny Barron and Ron Carter so I can't claim he's given to overstatement. Booklet has a picture of 13-year-old Thrasher: looks like he's been opening presents and is showing off his new LPs (two Ron Carter records). Back cover says, "Jazz Interpretations of R&B Classics," and as befits a '70s child most are from Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire -- "What's Going On" and "Pick Up the Pieces" are among the others. (Personally, I was more into George Clinton during the 1970s.) They add guest stars you notice when they're present but don't miss when they aren't: Larry Goldings (organ), Warren Wolf (vibes), Steve Wilson (alto/soprano sax). B+(**) [cd]
John Hiatt: Terms of My Surrender (2014, New West): Singer-songwriter going back to the mid-1970s, when he had a younger and weirdly slurred voice and sang about crushing ants and waterskiing to heaven; some marvelous work, but was never as good after he had a freak hit and kept cranking out albums nearly every year whether he had worthy songs or not. This is his best in ages (probably since 1983) -- the songs matter, his voice has achieved a new level of surrealism, and he's learned something from Adorno: "old people are pushy/'cause life ain't cushy." A-
Kevin Hildebrandt: Tolerance (2012 , Summit): Guitarist, sings several songs, leads a trio with Radam Schwartz on organ and Alvester Garnett on drums. Four Hildebrant originals, one from Schwartz, covers include "House of the Rising Sun," "Night and Day," "Further On Up the Road," "I Fall in Love Too Easily." Swings harder than soul jazz. B+(**) [cd]
Homeboy Sandman: Hallways (2014, Stones Throw): Underground rapper from Queens, usually sells himself short but lets this one run a healthy 41:48. Beats seem a little off, but he talks his way around them, and usually pays off. A-
William Hooker & Liudas Mockunas: Live at the Vilnius Jazz Festival (2013 , NoBusiness): Sax-drums duets, the drummer getting top billing because he's the best known or came the furthest or maybe it's just alphabetical. Mockunas, at home in Lithuania, plays soprano, alto, and tenor, and is consistently impressive on four long improvs. A- [cd]
Jennifer Hudson: JHUD (2014, RCA): Soul diva, lost her American Idol bid to Fantasia Barrino but snagged a role in the movie Dreamgirls and got an Oscar for it. Third album, built around big disco beats and that gospel wail soul divas are so given to. B+(*)
Tommy Igoe: The Tommy Igoe Groove Conspiracy (2014, Deep Rhythm): Drummer-led 14-piece Bay Area "supergroup" -- Aaron Lington is the only name among the regulars that rings a bell, but some "guest conspirators" are better known: Randy Brecker (trumpet, one track), Kenny Washington (vocals, two). Not really a groove album, just more of the usual big band blare. B- [cd]
Imarhan Timbuktu: Akal Warled (2014, Clermont): Desert blues group from Mali. First album here but group dates back to 1993. The rhythmic lilt is stock in trade for the genre, and the vocals never threaten to break ranks -- the very constancy of their sound over the entire album is their main charm, which is to say this makes for nice background music. B+(**) [dl]
Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics: Jaiyede Afro (2014, Strut): Nigerian saxophonist, one of the founders of Afrobeat -- Fela Kuti started out in Julius' band -- gets rediscovered by English quasi-jazz group which previously brought some attention to Ethio-jazz master Mulatu Astatke. In this one the sax bulls right past the beat, impressive in its own right. A-
Just Passing Through: The Breithaupt Brothers Songbook Vol. II (2014, ALMA): That would be composer Don Breithaupt and lyricist Jeff Breithaupt -- evidently a big deal in Canada and aiming at Broadway. The first volume was prefaced Toronto Sings. This one evidently casts a wider net, although I hardly recognize any of the singers. And I've yet to find a reason to care about the music, which isn't to say that it's bad. B [cd]
Kalle Kalima & K-18: Buñuel de Jour (2013 , TUM): Finnish guitarist, quartet adds Mikko Innanen (alto sax), Veil Kujala (quarter-tone accordion), and Teppo Hauta-aho (bass, percussion). The lead instruments tend to melt together into a thick, richly flavored stew. B+(***) [cd]
Sami Lane: You Know the Drill (2014, self-released, EP): DJ from Bournemouth, has uploaded several mixtapes to Mixcloud, this one a 29-minute continuous hip-hop flow, pretty hard-edged, lots of N-words. She (I think that's right) has no discernible reputation, just a Twitter account and 23 followers on Mixcloud, one of whom is Alex Wilson, who currently ranks this 23rd on his 2014 list, just behind Kris Davis (his only jazz pick) and ahead of Tacocat. I had heard 39 of his top 41 so I thought I'd track this down. One annoying problem with Mixcloud is that it keeps playing into her old catalog, which is more EDM. B+(**) [dl]
Gianni Lenoci/Kent Carter/Bill Elgart: Plaything (2012 , NoBusiness): Piano trio. Pianist Lenoci, who credits Mal Waldron and Paul Bley as teachers and plays much like them, has at least 15 albums since 1991. A spirited improv set. B+(***) [cdr]
The Mark Lomax Trio: Isis & Osiris (2012 , Inarhyme): Drummer, teaches and therefore is based in Columbus, Ohio, which keeps him and his sax trio out of the limelight. They have a previous album, The State of Black America, on my top-ten list for 2010. This one drags a bit near the start -- probably bass solos, something too soft to hear -- but when Edwin Bayard's tenor sax breaks through it's often mesmerizing. And the drummer's pretty special too. A-
Alexander McCabe/Paul Odeh: This Is Not a Pipe (2014, Wamco): Alto sax/piano duets. McCabe has impressed me in the past (cf. 2010's Quiz), and continues to in this sparer format. B+(**) [cd]
Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood: Juice (2014, Indirecto): There's more to guitarist John Scofield than the organ groove albums he did in the early 1990s although they were inspired fun; more to MMW than organ grooves too, but a nice stretch with Medeski on piano doesn't go very far. B+(*)
The Microscopic Septet: Manhattan Moonrise (2014, Cuneiform): Founded in 1980 with pianist Joel Forrester and soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston writing their songs, they broke up in 1990 and regrouped in 2006 with Mike Hashim (a superstar in my book) taking over the tenor sax spot -- group has four saxes and no brass -- and since then they've done no wrong. I'm more struck than ever by the gentle swing that permeates so many of their songs. A- [dl]
Jason Moran: All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller (2014, Blue Note): A jazz pianist, Moran's early career was auspicious, debuting on a major label with a series of brilliant albums. In 2011, he won a MacArthur "genius" grant, and that led to a project called the Fats Waller Dance Party, and ultimately this album. He tapped Meshell Ndegeocello, Lisa E. Harris, and Charles Haynes as vocalists, and added some horn spots to his trio: Steve Lehman gets a superb sax solo, and Moran's keyboard work is often dazzling, but the vocals strike me as way off base -- so serious, so dour, even on "Ain't Misbehavin'." B+(*)
Nicholas Payton: Numbers (2013 , Paytone): New Orleans trumpet player, although you'd hardly guess that from this album, where he spends most of his time noodling on a Fender Rhodes, with guitar, bass, and drums cranking out underdeveloped funk instrumentals. B-
Peripheral Vision: Sheer Tyranny of the Will (2014, self-released): Canadian postbop quartet with "co-leaders" Michael Herring (bass) and Don Scott (guitar), plus Trevor Hogg on tenor sax and Nick Fraser on drums, with Jean Martin lurking somewhere in the background (co-producer, "mixing & additional recording"). Read somewhere that their influences list is topped by Wayne Shorter and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Sounds like it. B+(*) [cd]
RED Trio & Mattias Ståhl: North and the Red Stream (2013 , NoBusiness): Portuguese piano trio -- Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, Hernani Faustino on bass, Gabriel Ferrandini on drums -- first appeared with an impressive eponymous album in 2010 (on Clean Feed). They're joined here by vibraphonist Ståhl, who does more than add tinkle but can get caught up in the grind. B+(**) [cd]
Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (2012 , TUM, 2CD): Trumpet great, has been working on large canvases lately -- I count four 2CD releases since 2009 plus the 4CD Ten Freedom Summers -- but this feels rather small and spotty as it spurts and sputters, just one more horn: Henry Threadgill (alto sax, flute, bass flute) plus bass (John Lindberg) and drums (Jack DeJohnette). It does, however, remind me what a marvelous drummer DeJohnette is. B+(***) [cd]
Wadada Leo Smith/Jamie Saft/Joe Morris/Balasz Pandi: Red Hill (2014, Rare Noise): We might have to start talking about Pandi as an exceptional drummer as well, and he's not the only surprise here. Saft first came to my attention playing organ for Joshua Redman, but his piano here is a million miles from there, out somewhere you'd have to triangulate off Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor to find. Morris, we should note, plays bass, not guitar. And while the trumpeter starts with dark tones, he can't just sit on that in this company. A-
Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: Settle (2012 , NCM East): Leader plays bass clarinet and alto sax, in a quintet with Russ Johnson on trumpet and Nir Felder on guitar -- front-line musicians who can handle the whiplash speed changes. B+(***) [cd]
Rosenna Vitro: Clarity: Music of Clare Fischer (2014, Random Act): Standards singer, has a dozen albums since 1982, more often than not trying to search out some new terrain for ye olde songbook -- an effort that works best when the songs have natural swing, like Catchin' Some Rays: The Music of Ray Charles (1997), as opposed to The Music of Randy Newman (2011). The subject here is Clare Fischer, a bit on the stuffy side, but pianist-arranger Mark Soskin lightens and opens him up, Sara Caswell's fiddle is a plus, and the singer can get by with the odd arch moment. B+(*) [cd]
Loudon Wainwright III: Haven't Got the Blues (Yet) (2014, 429 Records): Starts unexpectedly with a bit of rockabilly fluff, "Brand New Dance," but soon enough reverts to form, which is just fine ("I Knew Your Mother"), until he tries his hand at irony on a song that kicks back like an untethered Uzi: "I'll Be Killing You This Christmas." You know how much I hate Xmas music? This is one present I hope to never hear again. B+(*)
Lee Ann Womack: The Way I'm Livin' (2014, Sugar Hill/Welk): Country singer, doesn't write so has some trouble maintaining a persona -- she's too sweet to convince you she's the hopeless drunk of Chris Knight's "Send It on Down" but maybe she does sleep with the devil -- at least that's where she's picking her songs these days. (I normally tire quickly of Jesus songs, but you're not likely to run across any of these in church.) The move from countrypolitan MCA Nashville to a more trad label helps too. A-
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Rashied Al Akbar/Muhammad Ali/Earl Cross/Idris Ackamoor: Ascent of the Nether Creatures (1980 , NoBusiness): Cross was a trumpet player from St. Louis (1933-87), played in bands led by Charles Tyler and Rashied Ali, but this is the only album Discogs lists by him. Saxophonist Ackamoor was originally Bruce Baker, b. 1950 in Chicago, has a bit more, including a foundation in San Francisco. Don't know anything about bassist Al Akbar. Drummer Ali, b. Raymond Patterson in 1936, is Rashied Ali's brother, has a 1974 duo album with Frank Wright, and has appeared on some of David S. Ware's last albums. So, a two-horn free jazz quartet of some vintage, recorded in the Netherlands and reissued in Lithuania in limited edition (300 copies) vinyl. B+(***) [cdr]
Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979 (1974-79 , Analog Africa): A backwater even by African standards, but wedged between Mali and Ghana, triangulated by Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea, you get a little bit of the whole region, minus the stars. B+(**)
Aby Ngana Diop: Liital (1994 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): From Senegal, six cuts, 31:59. Mostly drums and shouted voices, the lead singer not obviously female, some synth or something on a few tracks but window dressing to the drums. B+(***)
The Evergreen Classic Jazz Band: Early Tunes 1915-1932 (1995 , Delmark): Trad jazz band from Seattle, eight pieces (at least at this point -- a 1990 album had six) including banjo and tuba (Tom Jacobus, the designated leader). Trombonist David Loomis sings a couple songs, and the clarinet (Craig Flory) is exceptional. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for this kind of music. A- [cd]
John Hiatt: Here to Stay: Best of 2000-2012 (2000-12 , New West): Christgau sent me Hiatt's first two albums in 1975 -- ones that he ultimately graded B but which became personal favorites. It may have helped that I saw him playing solo in Indianapolis, a bit of totally unplanned serendipity. So he became a guy to keep tabs on. Two of his next five albums were pretty good, but the others weren't, and I remember John Piccarella wanting to write about him in the Voice, only to get stuck with Warming Up to the Ice Age. Yet somehow I missed his 1987-94 period on A&M, which reportedly produced some hits. He moved to Vanguard in 2000 and New West in 2003, and I've been checking him out since I got onto Rhapsody, until this year finding a regular series of low B+ albums. This "best-of" does what it should, picking out his most indelible songs from six or seven albums and packing them into the only album you need from the decade. A-
The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [Second Edition]
(1980-2013 , World Music Network, 2CD): The label's second round
compilations -- never specified as such so check the artwork and numbers --
tend to recycle newer pieces that have been farmed up through the label,
and come with bonus discs reissuing albums that had no traction under the
original artists' names. Can't tell from Rhapsody whether the booklets
have improved -- in cases where I've seen them, they usually raise more
questions than they answer. This Sahara extends from Mariem Hassan of
Western Sahara/Morocco through the Mali-Niger heartland to Libya, Sudan,
and Egypt, with Ali Hassan Kuban's Nubian music the clincher and the
ringer -- much earlier if not older-sounding.
Shaver: Shaver's Jewels: The Best of Shaver (1993-2001 , New West): Billy Joe Shaver was a veteran with some very clever songs under his belt and some relatively uninspired albums when he teamed up with his guitar-playing son Eddy Shaver for five albums, a gig that ended when Eddy overdosed in 2000. The extra guitar brought some spunk and polish to the albums, and the compilation weeds out the weak spots. A-
Sun Ra & His Arkestra: In the Orbit of Ra (1957-78 , Strut, 2CD): Cover starts out "Marshall Allen Presents" -- indeed who better to pick out a centennary selection of Herman Blount's Arkestra? -- but I'm dropping Allen's name so as not to confuse this with the ghost band he still leads. These are, after all, vintage recordings -- at least I've been able to match them up to the date range above, allowing a few seconds variation for the remastering. Vocals on close to half of the tracks -- more than I wanted but they do establish a theme, one that's out of this world. A-
The Buddy Tate Quartet: Texas Tenor (1978 , Sackville/Delmark): From Sherman, Texas; played in territory bands until 1939 when he joined Count Basie, replacing the late Herschel Evans. My favorite album of his is Buck and Buddy Swing the Blues -- "Buck" of course is Basie bandmate, trumpeter Buck Clayton, and the title is exactly right. This set was originally released as The Buddy Tate Quartet as if the group was somehow more than something he picked up touring. They scarcely deserve the compliment, but every time the sax blows Tate is nothing short of resplendent. A- [cd]
Ruby Braff: Linger Awhile (1953-55 , Vanguard): Assembled from three early sessions -- wish I could find the session details, but one cut comes from a 10-inch LP called Buck Clayton Meets Ruby Braff, and the others were possibly led by trombonist Vic Dickenson -- front cover has three photos: Dickenson, Clayton, and Braff, and the credits include Edmond Hall, Buddy Tate, Nat Pierce, and Sir Charles Thompson. Varies, but most of it swings, and the ballads are lovely. B+(**)
Columbia Country Classics, Vol. 5: A New Tradition (1967-87 , Columbia): The last of five various artist volumes, released with similar artwork along with many notable single-artist compilations (see ACN?). Sony's catalog is so deep that the first two volumes -- Vol. 1: The Golden Age (1935-53) and Vol. 2: Honky Tonk Heroes (1946-61) -- are nearly as definitive as the first two volumes of Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian Collection. The next two volumes -- Vol. 3: Americana (1954-84) and Vol. 4: The Nashville Sound (1953-73) -- are far from definitive, as is this grab bag of label stalwarts (Johnny Cash, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, latecoming Merle Haggard, an out-of-his-depth Bob Dylan) and a younger generation intent on retaining the tradition (Asleep at the Wheel, Ricky Van Shelton, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash). B+(**)
Julius Hemphill: Raw Materials and Residuals (1977 , Black Saint): Sax trio, the leader playing alto and soprano, with Abdul Wadud (cello) and Don Moye (percussion). Begins with a boppish thrill ride. Ends with a tune that sticks in your head. [4/5 tracks] A-
Julius Hemphill/Warren Smith: Chile New York (1980 , Black Saint): Improv duets, Hemphill playing alto/tenor sax and flute, Smith percussion. B+(**)
The Julius Hemphill Sextet: At Dr. King's Table (1997, New World): Hemphill died in 1995 after a prolonged debilitating illness that left him unable to play from the early 1990s. But he continued to write and organize sax choirs -- he was the main driving force behind the World Saxophone Quartet. His last album was Five Chord Stud (1993), a sax quintet including a young James Carter. But he left some unrecorded music, including this set, posthumously recorded under his name by a sax/clarinet/flute sextet: Marty Ehrlich, Sam Furnace, Andy Laster, Gene Ghee, Andrew White, and Alex Harding. Some marvelous blending of harmonies here, but as is often the case with sax choirs (even WSQ) I find myself yearning for some contrasting tone, or maybe just a drum. B+(***)
The Julius Hemphill Sextet: The Hard Blues: Live in Lisbon (2003 , Clean Feed): The late saxophone choirmaster's ghost band carries on with Andrew Stewart replacing Gene Ghee -- carrying on: Marty Ehrlich, Sam Furnace, Andy Laster, Andrew White, Alex Harding. Same plus and minus ledger, although they can get a bit rowdier live, and that's a good thing. B+(***)
Orlando Julius: Super Afro Soul (1966-72 , Vampi Soul, 2CD): Nigerian saxophone player, formed a group called the Modern Aces in 1965, a missing link between highlife and Afrobeat -- Fela Kuti started out in Orlando's band. This starts with a Modern Aces album, then adds a somewhat later second disc by Orlando Julius & His Afro Sounders -- one difference is that the three-minute songs of the former give way to 6-8 minute pieces, the extra length adding to the flow. B+(**)
Steve Lacy: Early Years 1954-1956 (1954-56 , Fresh Sound, 2CD): A collection of five albums where Lacy is a sideman -- nominal leaders are: Dick Sutton (Jazz Idiom, Progressive Dixieland), Tom Stewart (Sextette/Quintette), Whitey Mitchell (Sextette), and Joe Puma (Modern Jazz Festival) -- and they illustrate the oft-made point that Lacy started in trad jazz influenced by Sidney Bechet before making the jump all the way to the avant-garde. Obviously, the story isn't that simple, as this is more transitional if never terribly boppish. B+(**)
Steve Lacy: Soprano Sax (1957 , Prestige/OJC): First album by the man who defined soprano sax over a 47-year career, up to his death in 2004. The quartet includes Wynton Kelly on piano -- not the sort of pianist Lacy would work with later but a real treat here -- as well as Buell Neidlinger (bass) and Dennis Charles (drums). A couple standards, two Ellington tunes, one Monk -- a delightful if somewhat conventional set. Gotta start somewhere. A-
Steve Lacy: The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy (1960 , Candid): Smart moves toward Lacy's unique style, working over tunes by Thelonious Monk (3), Cecil Taylor (2), and Charlie Parker (1). Mostly trio with John Ore (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums), plus Charles Davis (baritone sax) on one cut. A-
Steve Lacy with Don Cherry: Evidence (1961 , New Jazz/OJC): Quartet with bass and drums (Billy Higgins), playing four Monk tunes and two Ellingtons (at least on the original album; Rhapsody adds six "bonus cuts" with Wynton Kelly, but I can't find any physical release with them, so I dropped them on second spin. B+(***)
Steve Lacy: Scratching the Seventies/Dreams (1969-77 , Saravah, 3CD): Lacy first visited Europe in 1965 and moved to Paris in 1970. After his early albums with Prestige and Candid, he had trouble finding labels in the 1960s, but once he landed in France he recorded tons of albums for small European labels, including five for this French label, now rolled up into a 3-CD box. I decided it would be best to treat the albums one-by-one, so they follow. Overall: B+(*)
Steve Lacy: Axieme (1975 , RED): Solo soprano saxophone, originally released on two LPs then combined on a single CD. [Rhapsody only has "Parts 3 & 4" for 25:09, so is 21:40 short of the full release.] B+(*)
Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo/Kent Carter: In Concert (1976 , Ictus): Discogs agrees with Rhapsody on the title, but the best Lacy discography calls this Live (probably the title of the 1977 LP release). This version, with two extra tracks, was part of a 12CD anniversary box Ictus released in 2006. Soprano sax trio, the extra depth of Carter's bass helps round the sound out. B+(***)
Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Clangs (1977 , Ictus): Duo, mostly soprano sax and drums, but Lacy is also credited with "bird calls, pocket synthesizer, crackle box" and Centazzo employs whistles and a wide range of percussion. The result is the sort of rickety contraption imagined in the title. B+(**)
Steve Lacy Quintet: Troubles (1979, Black Saint): With Steve Potts (alto/soprano sax), Irene Aebi (violin, cello, vocals), Kent Carter (bass, cello), and Oliver Johnson (drums): Starts with a group vocal that turns into a very slippery slice. Aebi returns with a vocal called "Blues" -- another very tricky tune. In between is a short one called "The Whammies!" -- later taken as the name of a marvelous Lacy tribute group. B+(***)
Steve Lacy: The Flame (1982, Soul Note): A trio with Lacy on soprano sax, Bobby Few on piano, and Dennis Charles on drums. Still going through a phase where he flails a lot, bits of genius but lots of collateral damage. B+(*)
Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Tao (1976-84 , Ictus): Duets, soprano sax with percussion, a set of numbered pieces that appear on many Lacy albums of the period. The last four come from an earlier live performance and they fumble a bit at the start, but the later recordings are superb, constant invention highlighted by the percussion. B+(***)
Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: Live in Berlin (1984 , Jazzwerkstatt): The pianist played on Lacy's second album, Reflections, and they've appeared together many time since, especially on duos like this one -- the first recorded one is from 1971, the last 2002; Sempre Amore (1986), with its all-Ellington/Strayhorn program, is a personal favorite. This is a mixed bag, denser than most, somewhat fanciful. B+(**)
Steve Lacy Trio: The Window (1987 , Soul Note): With Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass) and Oliver Johnson (drums), all Lacy originals (one piece co-credited to Mary Frazee), six tunes, 7:00-9:14 each. A fine example of Lacy's style, dazzling actually, with none of the things that occasionally make his other albums irritating. A-
Steve Lacy: More Monk (1989 , Soul Note): Sequel, like Lacy's 1987 Only Monk all Monk tunes, done solo on soprano sax. Plays them fairly straight, which makes me wonder, why? B+(*)
Steve Lacy Double Sextet: Clangs (1992 , Hat Art): Twelve musicians (counting two vocalists, Irene Aebi and Nicholas Isherwood), but the only instrument doubled is piano (Bobby Few joins Eric Watson), the second-stringers adding trumpet, trombone, vibes, and percussion to Lacy's long-running Sextet with Steve Potts (alto and soprano sax). One revelation is that Lacy's penchant for starchy vocals isn't purely a matter of indulging his wife. But also, once you get past the vocals, he does a marvelous job of integrating the lush instrumentals. B+(**) [cd]
Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: "Let's Call This . . . Esteem" (1993, Slam): Another duo album, four Monks, Ellington, Strayhorn, two originals each. Typical of what they do, how they interact, which is to say masterful but somewhat estranged. B+(**)
Steve Lacy Trio: The Rent (1997 , Cavity Search, 2CD): Basic Lacy, a trio with longtime collaborators Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass) and John Betsch (drums), recorded live at Old Church in Portland, OR before an enthusiastic crowd. B+(***)
Steve Lacy Trio: The Holy La (1998 , Freelance): Same trio, with Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass, kalimba) and John Betsch (drums), cut in a studio in France -- the group have finally learned to stretch out and relax, with the kalimba section sounding especially lovely. Two vocals by Irene Aebi, arch and starchy as usual, but somehow I'm getting to where I can stand her. [Sunnyside reissued this in 2003; the Rhapsody version is missing a track, but Sunnyside's own website indicates that the reissue is complete.] B+(***)
Steve Lacy: The Beat Suite (2001 , Sunnyside): The soprano saxophonist expanded his trio -- Jean-Jacques Avenel on bass, John Betsch on drums -- to include George Lewis on trombone, notable sonic heft, and wife/collaborator Irene Aebi for the vocals on ten texts lifted from Beat writers (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Bob Kaufman, Lew Welch, Gregory Corso, Robert Creeley, Jack Spicer, Anne Waldman/Andrew Schelling, Kenneth Rexroth). The problem, of course, is Aebi, who would sound stilted singing Irving Berlin, much less texts written with no concern for music, then scored with Lacy's angular whimsy. B
Steve Lacy: November (2003 , Intakt): Solo session from a festival in Switzerland, a little more than six months before he died. One vocal is way off base, but the soprano sax is unique, as ever. B+(**)
Ron McClure Quintet: Descendants (1980 , Ken): Bassist, played with Blood Sweat & Tears in the 1960s, has a couple dozen albums since 1979, mostly on Steeplechase, this the only one I've heard. Features Tom Harrell (flugelhorn), with both piano (Mark Gray) and guitar (John Scofield). No real sense of how you would niche this other than postbop with prominent bass solos. B+(**) [cd]
Medeski Martin and Wood: Last Chance to Dance Trance (Perhaps): Best Of (1991-1996) (1991-96 , Gramavision): Organ-bass-drums trio, relatively popular jazz-groove merchants in the 1990s, with this collection sampling their second through fifth albums. Keyboard player John Medeski and drummer Billy Martin have since mounted serious solo careers -- forget about Chris Wood's Wood Brothers -- while keeping the group going (their first album I A-listed was 2012's Free Magic). Best example here: the medley "Bemsha Swing/Lively Up Yourself." B+(***) [cd]
Brad Mehldau: The Art of the Trio: Volume One (1996 , Warner Brothers): With Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums, the first of five Art of the Trio volumes -- a claim that rises as a challenge, and execution that plays off. Penguin Guide picked this one for their "Core Collection." I find it a smidgen on the soft side, and I'm always suspicious when jazzers take on the Beatles -- "Blackbird" is especially suspect, but they do a remarkable job. B+(***)
Brad Mehldau: Art of the Trio 4: Back at the Vanguard (1999, Warner Brothers): The Village Vanguard, that is, site of The Art of the Trio Volume Two. More snap than the first one, but not clear that makes it better. A superb pianist but I can't tell you why, partly because no single thing stands out. B+(***)
The Brad Mehldau Trio: Progression: Art of the Trio, Volume 5 (2000 , Warner Brothers, 2CD): Had this on long on the shelf, so after I played it and found it remarkable in the usual ways I've never been able to articulate, I checked Rhapsody for the Art of the Trio volumes I had missed -- turns out that Vol. 1 and Vol. 4 are the top-rated ones in Penguin Guide, while this is the bottom-rated one. Beats me why. Still a remarkable piano trio -- Larry Grenadier on bass, Jorge Rossy on drums -- stretching out on a mix of originals and standards, always precise, thoughtful, compelling, and, well, long. B+(***) [cd]
Brad Mehldau: Anything Goes (2002 , Warner Brothers): Same piano trio run through ten standards, starting with a tentative "Get Happy," including Monk, Porter, Paul Simon, Radiohead, "Smile," "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." B+(***)
Roger Miller: The Best of Roger Miller, Volume One: Country Tunesmith (1957-67 , Mercury): Anyone with a hankering for Miller's mid-1960s novelty tunes -- from "King of the Road" to "England Swings" to "You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd" and maybe "My Uncle Used to Love Me but She Died" -- should go straight to the 12-cut 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection (1964-66 , MCA), or the broader 20-cut All Time Greatest Hits (1964-85 , Mercury/Chronicles), or the deeper 21-cut The Best of Roger Miller, Volume Two: King of the Road (1957-72 , Mercury) that came out on the heels of this set. Before he was a star, Miller was a struggling Nashville songwriter, making his living feeding wry and sentimental tunes to Ray Price ("Invitation to the Blues"), George Jones (cowrote "Tall Tall Trees"), and others while his own recordings languished. Even the 3-CD 1995 box set, King of the Road: The Genius of Roger Miller, which I've long regarded as canonical, only snares 8 of these 21 tracks while adding 8 pre-1964 songs and more from the overlap period. But if you're set with (or don't care for) the hits, or just a sucker for the homelier side of honky-tonk, this opens up the most unsung period of one of country music's heroes. A-
Henry Threadgill Sextett: You Know the Number (1986 , Jive/Novus): Alto/tenor saxophonist, formerly of Air, actually runs a septet here with Rasul Siddik (trumpet), Frank Lacy (Trombone), Diedre Murray (cello), Fred Hopkins (bass), and two percussionists. Avant but very upbeat, boisterous even. A-
Henry Threadgill Sextett: Easily Slip Into Another World (1987 , Jive/Novus): This picks up where the previous one left off, adding up to some of the group's most inspired interplay. However, they also run into some tough spots, which may (or may not) include Asha Puthli's vocal. B+(***)
Henry Threadgill: Song Out of My Trees (1993 , Black Saint): Five pieces with various lineups -- three guitarists in various combinations, two cuts with Ted Daniel on trumpet, one with Myra Melford on piano, two with Amina Claudine Myers (one harpsichord, one organ), one with Mossa Bildren grieving (backed by accordion, two cellos, and that harpsichord) while Threadgill plays his most visceral sax. An odd one. B+(**)
Monday, September 29. 2014
Music: Current count 23870  rated (+27), 521  unrated (-2).
My brother was in town Sunday so I spent the day cooking old-fashioned "soul food" -- fried chicken and pan gravy, baked potatoes and cornbread, baked beans and creamed corn and greens with bacon -- with a flourless chocolate cake for dessert. Couldn't concentrate on processing records, so I wound up playing Coleman Hawkins, Lefty Frizzell, and Johnny Cash from the travel case. Couldn't come up with a Weekend Update either. Suffice it to say that the insane wars of the previous week are still with us, as are the usual stories of police brutality, corruption, inequality, bad economics, the subversion of democracy by the usual claque of billionaires, and that old standby -- global warming. Safe to say there'll be more of them next week (if there is a next week) and next month and next year as well.
Wasting Sunday kept the rated count under 30, but it was actually a remarkably good week quality-wise. I broke queue protocol and took the Buddy Tate reissue with me in the car even before I catalogued it, and it's kept me in a good mood all week -- not anyway near his most consistent record, but so glorious every time the sax appears. Roger Miller came up in some email correspondence -- I thought I had this particular album, so when I saw it unrated and on Rhapsody I dived right into it.
Four very different Sept. 23 releases wound up at A-: Aphex Twin, Leonard Cohen, Wadada Leo Smith, and Lee Ann Womack. I gave each at least three plays, hoping it's possible to be both first and right. Chris Monsen seems to prefer Smith's The Great Lakes Suites, which both overwhelmed me with its length and underwhelmed me with its music -- Red Hill has an air of danger and excitement I find lacking in the larger work, but Suites put a lot of talent on display, including Henry Threadgill and Jack DeJohnette. Microscopic Septet is another Monsen recommendation, languishing in my mailbox for months. Orlando Julius appeared on a Phil Overeem list (also Bo Dollis and a bunch of other records I haven't gotten to yet; worth noting that Overeem has John Coltrane's Offering: Live at Temple University on top of his "old stuff" list -- I wasn't all that impressed by it, but I often react negatively to Coltrane's last phase). Another EW person mentioned the Sun Ra. Only gave it one play, but it was a delight, and I think I tracked down all the dates (except for one of three previously unreleased cuts).
Given the extra overhead of managing the "faux blog" I may not have a Music Week (let alone a Weekend Update) post next week -- it may in fact be several weeks before I catch up. We're planning a trip east in October. Laura is flying to Boston and back from Newark, so that's tightly scheduled. I'll be driving, so that's real loosey-goosey -- I'm thinking Buffalo on the way out, and DC (and maybe Nashville) on the way back. There will be a few days on Cape Cod, but the main stretch will be six days at a friend's big country house in the NJ Appalachians. I'm hoping we can entice friends from NYC and environs to come out to visit. (One enticement is that I plan on cooking.)
I've lined up some new technology for the trip. I picked up a cheap Chromebook to replace the old Linux laptop, so I can try working in the cloud. That won't really allow me to do much in terms of programming, but maybe I'll focus more on writing. Also picked up a Bose MiniLink Bluetooth speaker, which works nicely with the Chromebook. I'll still have travel cases of CDs for the car, but may leave the boombox home and play Rhapsody when I'm stationary.
Should leave by the end of the week. Don't know when I'll get back. Best way to track whatever I post will be Twitter. Meanwhile, this week expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes (most likely tomorrow -- if not I'll have to rename files). Maybe a Mid-Week Roundup or a Book Report before I leave. If you want to get in touch during the trip, holler at me, and we'll see what makes sense. (I'm not looking to hook up with strangers, but know so many people along the way it's impossible to personally contact everyone I might want to see.)
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, September 22. 2014
Music: Current count 23843  rated (+29), 523  unrated (-5).
A sub-30 week. For a while I thought it was going to be even lower. On the other hand, more A- records than usual. Much of the credit for the latter goes to Robert Christgau: the return of his Consumer Guide (or as he now prefers Expert Witness) alerted me to Homeboy Sandman and Shaver, and prodded me to check out John Hiatt's latest -- I knew it was out there, but given his last half-dozen albums I wasn't in a big hurry to file another low B+. As it was, I followed up with Hiatt's best-of, which combs those low B+ albums for a much better collection. Christgau also wrote about Iggy Azalea in his new Billboard column. I knew the name and thought her appearance on the Ariana Grande album was its high point, but hadn't put together how much I might like her.
Blog status is still uncertain. I noticed I've been getting a lot of spam comments (I hardly know any other kind), which is an indication that the database is accessible. I also heard from a reader depending on the RSS feed, wondering whether I was all right. The "faux blog" doesn't generate any RSS, so that notification avenue had been blocked. (Pretty good solution: follow me on Twitter.) So I went back and added all the missing posts to the "real blog," and have kept them in sync for the last week. That's a pain, but not understanding what happened, and having no confidence that it won't happen again, for now I lack a better solution.
Shopping advice request: I'm going to be traveling a lot soon, and I'd like to buy a small Bluetooth speaker bar, like a Bose MiniLink (strikes me as pricey) or Jambox Mini (clearly not as good). Anyone have some advice/experience? I think it should allow for a wired stereo connection (so I can plug in that IPod I foolishly bought a couple years ago), but it will mostly be used with a new Chromebook, which should make it possible to listen to Rhapsody on the road (if not in the car).
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, September 15. 2014
Music: Current count 23814  rated (+39), 528  unrated (+4).
After posting Rhapsody Streamnotes last Tuesday, I kept diving into the old music, moving from Julius Hemphill to Henry Threadgill, then to Steve Lacy (still not done there). I was surprised to find that I liked the two early albums so much (both *** in Penguin Guide; I went back and replayed the 4-star all-Monk Explorations but left it at B+). And I was further surprised that none of the later albums rated that high -- though I am just filling in holes in a catalog I've previously heard much of. (Before this week I had 37 albums rated filed under Lacy's name; now 51; there are still 21 unheard albums in the database.) For the record, I previously had the following Lacy records rated A- or A (counting one filed under Roswell Rudd's name):
A couple of those came out after his death in 2003. I suppose I should also note that Lacy has more low grades (B or below) than nearly any other jazz musician of his stature: I find a lot of his 1970s work to be very sloppy, and I have a lot of trouble any time he hands the mic to his wife, Irène Aëbi (although my horror has somewhat diminished with this latest batch of records). He also has a lot of solo albums that are intrinsically limited -- Only Monk (1985) is one of the B records, even though it seems like it should be better. Some more in the queue, and any time I find something more I'll give it a listen.
Not many new records: most of last week's haul came in today and barely got catalogued. Spent a lot of time with the two TUM records. It should be noted somewhere that they have the best documentation and packaging of any jazz label in the world. Also spent quite a bit of time with Lomax, whose 2010 album, The State of Black America, made that year's top-ten list. Saxophonist Edwin Bayard is key to both, one of the most powerful young players I've heard this decade.
I've kept the original tweet grade for Loudon Wainwright III below, but the database grade is somewhat more generous. Although I single out one extraordinarily bad song, it should be noted that nothing else on the album rises to the level of Older Than My Old Man Now (my top-ranked record of 2012). Also, my complaint about that "2nd Amendment Xmas anthem" isn't political (as I tweeted, "even if it's satirical and anti-gun"). Some brilliant ideas just don't work, nor do stupid ones, regardless of artistic license. (By the way, Matt Rice has a more judicious Wainwright review here.)
Recommended music links:
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Tuesday, September 9. 2014
It's been 18-19 days since the last one, but I've kept my nose to the grindstone and come up with 101 records here. That matches 101 last time, and only trails two (of 13) columns this year -- the biggest one was back on March 19, when I cruised through the Johnny Cash catalog.
A brief reminder here: the main reason I can cram so many records in is that I don't spend much time with any of them. (That isn't totally true: I must have played Richard Galliano six times before I bumped it to A-, and I think the Margots got four spins each. But it's certainly the rule: to get a second play a record has to convince me it has some potential to rise on the grading scale. Most A- records got at least two plays (Caffeine is one exception I recall), as do many (but probably not a majority) of high B+ records.
About one-quarter of the records below are CDs that were sent to me (or, very rarely, things I bought). Almost all of those are jazz, and I still generally play everything I get no matter how awful it looks (see Ricky Kej and Novox below). The other three-quarters I play on the computer, most often from streaming sources like Rhapsody and Bandcamp (where the latter presents full albums). I also get a fair number of download links in the mail, but lately have done very little to follow them -- some recent technical problems have added to my customary disdain for such work. The streamed records are at a slight disadvantage: I'm slightly less likely to give them a second spin, my computer speakers aren't as good as the stereo speakers, nor do the MP3 sources match up in sound quality. But all of the streamed records start with some sort of rep, even if (cf. Dirty Loops) it proves unfounded or downright ridiculous. And, of course, I'm more likely to credit genres and labels of past interest -- dance pop, Americana, underground rap are things I tend to follow -- and I don't bother with stuff I generally dislike -- metal is the obvious example. As my jazz mail declines, I've tried to compensate with Rhapsody, but that only goes so far.
One thing that helps me figure out what to look for is my tracking file, which I recently expanded to retain my grade info. It includes a lot of stuff I'll never bother with but it's useful to know it exists. Not nearly as much information as past metacritic files, and as a result of not doing that work I'm not nearly so much aware of what other people are thinking. But that's just one more reason to ignore "alt/indie rock" I've never much cared for -- New Pornographers is always a good example of that.
Three sections below: new new records, new old records, and old oldies. The middle section is always the short one, but it's the sort of thing I previously covered in Recycled Goods (and would today if it wasn't totally impossible to get the goods). The old music section is a crate dig, and what shows up there varies much by my mood. Most of what's there this time are older records from Ken Vandermark's Catalytic-Sound Bandcamp stash (also shared by Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Joe McPhee, and Paal Nilssen-Love, but I've focused on Vandermark), and most of the rest come from my attempt to find Penguin Guide 4-star (and more often these days 3.5-star) jazz records -- although at present I'm just sort of poking around there (no special reason why John Lindberg and Jeff Palmer should be the main focus other than that I've missed them in the past). The odd record out, The Best of Joy Division, was suggested by Michael Tatum. I try to catch up when I can.
I've also included a two lists of Catalytic-Sound records that I didn't review this time: one (much the longer) I previously rated, and another I haven't gotten to. Note that one reason some records stuck on the latter -- notably the second Audio One -- is that the site doesn't provide the full album. Can't review what you can't hear (although sometimes it's tempting).
Good chance I'll get another one of these posted by the end of September. Beyond that, who knows?
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on August 21. Past reviews and more information are available here (5302 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Audio One: An International Report (2014, Audiographic): One of Ken Vandermark's many recent big band projects: ten pieces (four reeds, cornet, trombone, viola, bass, vibes, drums) -- much of the power in the saxes where either Vandermark or Dave Rempis is having a terrific day (I'm not betting on Mars Williams or new altoist Nick Mazzarella, although I'm sure they help beef up the roaring ensemble sound). [One reason I initially hedged here is that the same group also recorded The Midwest School starting the night before. Only one track available, not enough to review, but has more of that underlying r&b romp I so like.] A- [bc]
The Bad Plus: Inevitable Western (2014, Okeh): Piano super-trio: Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, Dave King, all three contribute songs here and do considerable work elsewhere. Heavy on the melodrama, perhaps, but such muscular chops, the sort of physical prowess you expect in a western. B+(***)
Bahamas: Bahamas Is Afie (2014, Brushfire/Island): Singer-songwriter Afie Jurvanen, from Toronto, has a winning way with the confessional ballad, and can fancy it up a bit on occasion, not that he always feels the need. B+(**)
Cory Branan: The No-Hit Wonder (2014, Bloodshot): A singer-songwriter from Mississippi who went to Memphis instead of Nashville. Still, only when he pulls out all the country tricks do the songs come alive ("Daddy Was a Skywriter," "The Highway Home"). B+(*)
The Bug: Angels & Devils (2014, Ninja Tune): Kevin Martin, produced a lot of records 1990-2003 (when I finally noticed Pressure), but they've thinned out since, this the first in six years (during which he's been involved with Black Chow and King Midas Sound). Best when he goes upbeat, possibly Jamaican, but slow can be dull, and sometimes he seems to be more interested in horror soundtracks. B+(*)
The Cellar and Point: Ambit (2011-13 , Cuneiform): Self-described as a "garage chamber" outfit. The "chamber" part is earned by the preponderance of strings -- violin (Christopher Otto), cello (Kevin McFarland), guitar (Terrence McManus and Christopher Botta, with latter doubling on banjo), and electric bass (Rufus Philpot) -- and percussion (Joe Bergen on vibes and Joseph Branciforte on drums). The latter keep this moving, but the strings all melt together. B [cdr]
Common: Nobody's Smiling (2014, Def Jam): Chicago rapper, tenth album since 1994, a major label affair though only about half of the guest spots ring a bell. Conceptually, about his hometown, not a happy place these days. Fully half of the songs are above the line, quotable even if not that notable. Dragging my feet on the other half. B+(***)
Eliana Cuevas: Espejo (2014, ALMA): Originally from Venezuela, now billed as "Canada's Latin Music Queen," has a handful of albums since 2003, writes and sings in Spanish so I'm not catching much here, but musically seems pretty generic. B [cd]
The Delines: Colfax (2014, El Cortez): Low-keyed countryish rock group from Portland though the title song suggests Denver, singer is Amy Boone although Willy Vlautin -- a novelist Christgau has written about and the leader of Richmond Fontaine -- seems to be the songwriter. Stories about working on oil rigs and wandering the streets in a PTSD fog are realer than usual. And the music reminds me of a group called the Vulgar Boatmen -- slow and cautiously lovely. A-
Dirty Loops: Loopified (2014, Verve): Swedish group, three male faces on the cover, touted as "ambitious jazz, prog rock, R&B, and electronic dance-inflected pop music" -- not sure I hear any of that, but I suppose if you jammed all that into a blender and turned it to goop you might get something like this: synth fireworks with histrionic vocals. C+
Brian Eno/Karl Hyde: Someday World (2014, Warp): Hyde is the singer from Underworld, with a dozen or so albums 1988-2010 and a solo since. He takes the songs a little faster and harder than Eno usually does, B+(*)
Simone Felice: Strangers (2014, Dualtone): Singer-songwriter, formerly of the Felice Brothers which made quietly tuneful countryish-rock albums from 2006 and continue without him. With a little more harmony, this could be another of them. B+(*)
The Felice Brothers: Favorite Waitress (2014, Dualtone): More harmony than brother Simone's album, of course, also more mayhem as "Cherry Licorice" demonstrates. B+(***)
5 Seconds of Summer: 5 Seconds of Summer (2014, Capitol): Australian group: AMG argues they're the logical intersection of Green Day and One Direction, although I don't know (or appreciate) the former well enough to hear it. But you do get "boy group" harmonies with an upbeat beach-rock vibe. Problem is it's as white as the antipodes, and sooner or later orchestrated cheer wears thin. B
Four Year Strong: Go Down in History (2014, Pure Noise, EP): After four 2007-11 albums, a five track, 16:36, EP. Very upbeat, with everyone trying to shout over guitar trying to drown everyone out -- a death spiral I see little value in. B-
Roddy Frame: Seven Dials (2014, AED): Scottish singer-songwriter, first appeared in Aztec Camera with a near-perfect 1983 debut album (High Land, Hard Rain), about as lush and catchy as pop albums get. The band folded in 1995 and he's been knocking out solo albums since 1998, but this is the first I've noticed. Still has a knack for pop melodies, but perfect is no longer an option. B+(*)
Larry Fuller: Larry Fuller (2013-14 , Capri): Mainstream pianist, started out working with singer Ernestine Anderson, has also appeared in Jeff Hamilton Trio and with John Pizzarelli. Second trio album, all standards -- "Both Sides Now" counts, but it's "C Jam Blues" and "That Old Devil Moon" that always get my attention. B+(***) [cd]
Richard Galliano: Sentimentale (2014, Resonance): French accordion player, has recorded a lot since 1990, building on the folk roots of his instrument, delving into tango and film scores, always working in the jazz tradition -- draws on Ellington and Coltrane here, Horace Silver too. With Tamir Hendelman's piano and Anthony Wilson's guitar this risks becoming overly lush, but that's sentimentalism for you. A- [cd]
Ben Goldberg/Adam Levy/Smith Dobson: Worry Later (2014, BAG Productions): Clarinet-guitar-drums trio plays ten Monk tunes. B+(**)
Ariana Grande: My Everything (2014, Island/Republic): No longer a teen star, AMG says when this dropped she "was poised to be the reigning pop diva of the mid-decade," citing her superior vocal chops -- as if her rival is Adele and her archetype is Mariah Carey. I always figured conceptual audacity was more important, but I've spent much more time listening to Madonna and Gaga (and Lily Allen and Nicki Minaj). But at least Grande has the studio budget, and gets the expected results, more or less. But one play didn't reveal the smash that will keep drawing the masses back so the rest can sink in -- unless it's "Bang Bang" (with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj) but I see that's only on the sucker-priced "deluxe edition." B+(**)
Eric Harland's Voyager: Vipassana (2014, GSI Studios): Drummer, second album but he was well established before his 2010 Voyager album, winning polls based on over 100 side credits since 1997. Don't have a detailed credits list, but hype sheet mentions Walter Smith, Julian Lage, Taylor Eigsti, Nir Felder, a couple others. The instrumental passages behind Smith's tenor sax are lush and grooveful. On the other hand, several cuts have vocals, often just as window dressing, and they're awful. B- [cdr]
Phil Haynes: No Fast Food: In Concert (2012 , Corner Store Jazz, 2CD): Drummer, coming off a very good duo record with trumpeter Paul Smoker, collects a couple of trio concerts with David Liebman (more tenor than soprano sax) and Drew Gress (bass). B+(***) [cd]
Joe Henry: Invisible Hour (2014, Work Song): Singer-songwriter with a "plain Joe" persona and a natural touch for everyday life serves up another helping. B+(*)
Horse Meat Disco: Volume IV (2014, Strut): A collective of four London DJs, remixing tracks that more/less date to the golden age of disco -- where it all comes from isn't clear at this vantage point, but the only track I immediately recogmized was "Getting to Know You," credited as "Getting to Know MC (Funked Over Mix) to Shahid Mustlaf MC, but ultimately one of my favorite ever Parliament songs. [The CD version has two discs, the second with "unmixed" versions of 12 (of 16) songs. The digital release matches CD1. The 2-LP only includes 11 (of 16) songs. Rhapsody only has 14 tracks (omitting "Got to Work (Hot Toddy Mix)" and "I Love Your Beat").] B+(**)
Ikebe Shakedown: Stone by Stone (2014, Ubiquity): Seven-piece Afrobeat band from Brooklyn, second album, section horns but no solos, no vocals either -- none of which is a big deal one way or the other. B
Jason Jackson: Inspiration (2012 , Jack & Hill Music/Planet Arts): Trombonist, has a couple previous albums, this one cut in three sessions with big bands and string orchestras -- credits list is a sore sight for tired eyes, but the names you know are mainstreamers -- Roy Hargrove, Slide Hampton, Steve Wilson, Terell Stafford, Rufus Reid. Some talented postbop there, but the strings are a huge drag. B [cd]
Ricky Kej/Wouter Kellerman: Winds of Samsara (2014, Listen 2 Africa): Indian keyboardist and South African flautist, a shared connection in Mahatma Gandhi and interest in Nelson Mandela, various voices and what not, undercutting its modest exotica with "Greensleeves." C [cd]
Wiz Khalifa: Blacc Hollywood (2014, Atlantic): Puff of smoke on the cover, follow up to Rolling Papers. Enjoyed two plays and don't have a thing to say, and no, I wasn't smoking along. Mostly thinking about something else, which the music suited fine. B+(**)
Nils Landgren Funk Unit: Teamwork (2013, ACT): Swedish trombonist, started as a mainstream player until he got on the funk bandwagon, even singing some. Nothing George Clinton needs to worry about, but more enjoyable than you'd expect. [I started listening to this year's digital-only Extended Version, then clipped it back to last year's CD -- not actually much of a trim.] B+(*)
Matt Lavelle/John Pietaro: Harmolodic Monk (2014, Unseen Rain): Monk songs, done up with tricks from Ornette Coleman as if the originals weren't kinky enough. Lavelle plays cornet, flugelhorn, and bass clarinet (like no one else). Pietaro plays vibes, bodhrán, congas, and percussion, a thin counterpart to Lavelle's brave soloing. B+(**)
Dave Liebman Big Band: A Tribute to Wayne Shorter (2014, Summit): Seven Wayne Shorter tunes, arranged by Mats Holmquist, and featuring Liebman probably because he handles both soprano and tenor sax parts much like the model, whom he famously replaced (don't recall right now how directly) in Miles Davis' band. On the other hand, Liebman's always looked back to an earlier Davis saxophonist: John Coltrane. B+(*) [cd]
The Magic Words: Junk Train (2006 , Shake It, EP): Lisa Walker (of Wussy) solo project, released in a run of 100 at the time, plus 25 more with handmade covers. Only runs 8 cuts, 28:15, so lo-fi I'm not really sure of much I've heard, but two plays suggests there's something there. B+(**) [bc]
Dean Magraw & Eric Kamau Gravatt: Fire on the Nile (2014, Red House): Guitar and drums, respectively, a duo. AMG credits Magraw with eight albums since 1994, classifying him as folk and new age, probably because one of the albums was called Celtic Hymns. The label is basically a blues outfit, but this is on the jazz side of grooveful. Gravatt (b. 1938) is older, and keeps it honest. B+(**) [cd]
The Margots: Pescado (2013, Okka Disk): Milwaukee singer-lyricist Adrienne Pierluissi got help from guitarist John Dereszynski and saxophone colossus Ken Vandermark to flesh out songs for her lyrics. The latter's horns turn out to be notably tasteful, as is the guitar, nicely setting up the deadpan tilt of the voice. I doubt the lyrics rise far enough above the music, but when she switches to Spanish I know better than to wonder. B+(***) [bc]
The Margots: Soplé (2014, Okka Disk): More of the same, but more songs rock and a few slow way down, and more are in Spanish (at least I assume that's what it is -- the Bandcamp page is tagged "brazilian jazz" and "tropicalia" but also "european free jazz" and really this sounds like none of the above). Vandermark's sax is less prominent but still tasty, and Adrienne Pierluissi is one cool chanteuse. B+(***) [bc]
J Mascis: Tied to a Star (2014, Sub Pop): Dinosaur Jr. frontman, has recorded own albums since 1996 despite the occasional band reunion. His last one, Several Shades of Why, surprised me. This was more like what I was expecting: unassuming and less than prepossessing, guitar that can get your attention, and a voice that can lose it. B+(*)
John McLaughlin & 4th Dimension: The Boston Record (2013 , Abstract Logix): Interesting that as he passes into his 70s the original fusion guitarist seems more focused on the here and now than on the transcendental goals he sought long ago. Live record, concluding a US tour with Gary Husband on keybs and drums, Etienne Mbappe on bass, and Ranjit Barot on drums. Hard edged, compressed, more than a little clunky. B
The Muffs: Whoop Dee Doo (2014, Cherry Red): Pop-punk band from LA led by singer Kim Shattuck, around since the early 1990s, back with first album since 2004, on an oldies label no less. Choppy, cheeky, cheezy even. B+(***)
Novox: Over the Honeymoon (2014, Label Z Production): French band, from Lyon, leader-guitarist Pierre Alexandre Gauthier cites George Clinton and Jimi Hendrix as chief influences, but he finds it easier to fake the funk than play like Hendrix. Two horns, synths, a turntablist, no singers but some vocal clutter. Probably more accurate to call this "post-rock" -- but not everything that's unclassifiable is interesting. C+ [cd]
Brad Paisley: Moonshine in the Trunk (2014, Arista): Bit off more than he could chew last time, ending up with his first record that didn't go gold, so this time he borrows a page from Luke Bryan and starts off with three party anthems in the first five (make that four of seven: "when life gives you limes/make margaritas") -- albeit parties I want no part of. On the backstretch, he tries to return to the sincere liberalism that won him Yankee admirers -- a JFK snippet, a song bragging about that "American Flag on the Moon," an inclusive "Country Nation," another about "Going Green," then finally he taps Tom T. Hall for the obligatory Jesus song. Still, even at his best he's awfully shallow: after all, "if you want to know who we are/it's on the logos of our caps." More and more I'm making him out as a "crunchy con." B-
Pattern Is Movement: Pattern Is Movement (2014, Hometapes): First notes here sounded like a new wave throwback, but this gets considerably softer, drippier, and drearier than that. B-
Ivo Perelman/Karl Berger: Reverie (2014, Leo): Berger plays piano here, his original instrument although he is better known for vibes, in a long career that puts him well into his 70s now. He does a lovely job of setting up -- interviewing is the word that comes to mind -- the Brazilian avant-saxophonist, who pours emotion into his leads. A- [cd]
Anthony Pirog: Palo Colorado Dream (2014, Cuneiform): Guitarist, first album, trio with Michael Formanek and Ches Smith, doesn't have much flow or groove but that's the idea, something less predictable than Montgomery or McLaughlin. Does get more interesting toward the end when he works some feedback in. B+(*) [cdr]
Jeff Richman & Wayne Johnson: The Distance (2014, ITI Music): Guitar duets, a couple with extra percussion. Richman has more than a dozen albums since 1986. Johnson has a somewhat shorter list going back to 1980. Pleasant picking, strikes me as "new age" but is a cut above what gets classified there. B+(*) [cd]
Ritmos Unidos: Ritmos Unidos (2014, Patois): Latin jazz octet from Indiana, second album, drummer Mike Mixtacki seems to be the central figure, also playing timbales and bata drums and taking the vocal leads, but the most distinctive aspect of their sound is the wash of steel pans. B+(**) [cd]
Bruce Robison/Kelly Willis: Our Year (2014, Premium): Second album for husband-wife team, both with substantial solo careers behind them. Reading credits left-to-right, I filed their first under Willis. Alternating vocals plays to their strengths, wears neither singer out. B+(***)
Jason Roebke: Combination (2014, self-released): Chicago bassist, works in avant circles, leads a quartet here with Greg Ward (alto sax), Brian Labycz (modular synth), and Frank Rosely (drums). A little thin and warbly. B+(*) [bc]
Jamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte: The New Standard (2014, Rare Noise): Piano trio, although Saft plays some organ too (good chance he's played more organ than piano over the years). All original material, with 4 (of 10) songs jointly credited, so the notion that any of these pieces will emerge as standards is far fetched. B+(*) [cdr]
Akira Sakata/Johan Berthling/Paal Nilssen-Love: Arashi (2014, Trost): Japanese alto saxophonist, born early 1945 in Kure (a naval base town near Hiroshima), so in his first six months he survived numerous conventional bombings as well as the first atomic bomb. Has a substantial discography, especially since 2000 as he's played more with free jazz figures around the world. He's on a tear here, sharply accented by a drummer who's played often with Peter Brötzmann and/or Ken Vandermark -- he most closely resembles the former, but even faster on alto, and he adds a dimension with his vocals, as harsh as his horn. B+(***)
Akira Sakata/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Ketil Gutvik/Paal Nilssen-Love: The Cliff of Time (2013 , PNL): Alto sax/clarinet, cello/electronics, electric guitar, drums. The sax is as frenzied as in Sakata's Arashi, but the sound is more muddled -- may have something to do with production or reproduction although the extra instruments are suspect as well. Terrific drummer. B+(*) [bc]
Masahiko Satoh/Paal Nilssen-Love: Spring Snow (2013 , PNL): Piano-drums duo, the pianist's name is often transliterated as Sato. He was born in 1941, and has a substantial discography since 1970, although it takes some digging to find it. Seems like a talent, in this company flashing some avant moves on two long cuts. B+(**) [bc]
Carl Saunders: America (2013 , Summit): Trumpet player, broke in as a teenager in 1960 under Stan Kenton and worked in many surviving big bands of the 1960s, including Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson, as well as in his uncle Dave Pell's octet. Has close to a dozen albums under his own name since 1995. The small group (piano, bass, drums, percussion) sets his trumpet off nicely. Seven originals, five covers -- "America the Beautiful," Chopin, Jobim, "I Can't Get Started," "How Deep Is the Ocean" -- a bit corny. B+(*) [cd]
Billy Joe Shaver: Long in the Tooth (2014, Lightning Rod): A fairly legendary songwriter, noted for songs that were often funny and catchy and corny at the same time, early on he was regularly outsung by his clients but the margins have narrowed so his biggest problem these days are songs that don't get past their titles ("The Git Go" and "Long in the Tooth"); well, that and the chances you've heard a few before -- like "Last Call for Alcohol" or "Hard to Be an Outlaw" (on Willie Nelson's latest, reprised here complete). B+(**)
Side A: In the Abstract (2013 , Not Two): Ken Vandermark sax trio, with piano (Håvard Wiik) and drums (Chad Taylor). Second album, after 2011's impressive debut, A New Margin. This is more mixed, perhaps because the slower, more abstract pieces close in on the territory of that other Vandermark-Wiik trio, Free Fall (named after the Jimmy Giuffre album) -- I prefer the harder-edged pieces where Vandermark plays baritone sax. B+(**) [bc]
Tim Sparks: Chasin' the Boogie (2013 , Tonewood): Guitar player, I file him under klezmer since many of his early albums focused on Jewish folk music -- Little Princess: Tim Sparks Plays Naftule Brandwein (2009) is one I'm particularly fond of -- but he starts out closer to the fingerpicking style of John Fahey. Doesn't chase the boogie very hard here, but everything here is very pleasant as background and intricate enough to engage you. The closing "Blue Bayou" is especially lovely. B+(***) [cd]
Spider Bags: Frozen Letter (2014, Merge): Garage-punk outfit, based in Brooklyn, singer Dan McGee has a talkie voice and a bit of a drawl. First four songs go fast (3:30 max), the other four stretch out (5:11-6:32) as they kick up the drone. B+(*)
Statik Selektah: What Goes Around (2014, Duck Down Music): DJ, so even though he gets lots of shout outs he depends on his fairly illustrious guest rappers -- slightly more than half names I recognize -- to get the messages across, or to make them up on the fly. And they aim for more gold than their underground reps should make them accustomed to. A-
Ed Stone: King of Hearts (2014, Sapphire Music): M.D. and sometime smooth jazz guitarist, third album, anesthetized grooves with a couple of nondescript vocals for those radio slots. C+ [cd]
Street Priest: More Nasty (2012 , Humbler): Guitar-bass-drums trio (Kristian Aspelin, Matt Chandler, Jacob Felix Heule), "fragmenting free funk into textural noise"; 4 cuts, 35:29, available as a download or a limited run cassette (250 copies). B+(**) [cdr]
Randy Travis: Influence Vol. 2: The Man I Am (2012 , Warner Brothers): Presumably the leftovers from the session that produced Vol. 1, so I suspect my more favorable response must be a change in me. Covers, country classics with a few lapping into the 1970s (including two Kristoffersons, too many). But also, Travis doesn't sound as broken or weary as I recall. And while no one improves on Lefty Frizzell, Travis mostly holds his own. B+(**)
Ken Vandermark's Topology Nonet: Impressions of Po Music (2013, Okka Disk): Featuring Joe McPhee, whose 1981 album Topology was the first of a handful of albums credited to "Joe McPhee Po Music" -- at the time a group varying between 7-9 players. (Later Po Music groups dropped down as far as four members.) Vandermark's group includes three saxes (McPhee, Dave Rempis, Vandermark doubling on clarinet), cornet, trombone, cello, vibes, bass, drums, but the "impressions" -- based on McPhee titles -- are pretty hit-and-miss. B+(**) [bc]
The Bill Warfield Big Band: Trumpet Story (2013-14 , Planet Arts): Trumpet player, although he's spent most of his career teaching, arranging and conducting the occasional big band album since 1988. For the trumpet theme here he leaves the big solos to Randy Brecker, but the trumpet story itself isn't all that clear or pronounced -- at least it's less clear than Vic Juris' guitar, which stands out over two pianists and the usual clatter of horns. B+(*) [cd]
Wussy: Duo (2013, Shakt It, EP): Out-of-print limited release for Record Store Day 2013, hadn't noticed it as streamable until now. Runs 7 tracks, 24:07, reportedly demos but with full band sound, and the songs are substantial enough. Just not much to it, not that their fans won't be lining up "to be the first to squeal." B+(**)
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Cables to the Ace (2014, Communicating Vessels): Label compilation -- having entered through the Green Seed I expected more hip-hop but got only two cuts, the best ones here. The balance is some kind of alt-rock, nothing memorable nor particularly annoying. Chances are some (maybe even most) of these groups could turn in a decent B+ album, but the mix doesn't help. B
Jay Clayton & John Lindberg: As Tears Go By (1987 , Jazzwerkstatt): I've seen two different reissue covers (as well as the 1988 original on ITM) and the differ, one adding & More Songs to the title, the other & Some More Songs, the latter also dropping the ampersand from the credit and slipping String Trio of New York in between. [Rhapsody has the former, but attributes the record to Various Artists.] Unable to sort this out, I reverted to the original credit/title. Lindberg appears on all tracks. His String Trio of New York colleagues James Emery and Charles Burnham join on 4 (of 8), with Marty Ehrlich on reeds (mainly clarinet) on three others. Discogs credits Clayton as singing on four, but didn't notice her on the title track. Aside from the title track and "Drifting" (Jimi Hendrix), the rest of the songs come from band members (3 Lindberg; 1 each Burnham, Ehrlich, Emery). In other words, this is something of a mess, basically a sketch for as many as three separate albums. The one I want to hear more of is the one starring Ehrlich. B+(*)
Hyperdub 10.1 (2006-14 , Hyperdub, 2CD): Ten year label anniversary sampler, specializing in a variant of electronica called dubstep. Drums have a certain hollow log feel, pretty consistent for a comp and nice when the music is loose, but there are spots when it gets tedious. The label is planning two more anniversary sets. Not sure when/if I'll get to them. B+(**)
Charles Lloyd: Manhattan Stories (1965 , Resonance, 2CD): Early, these two previously unreleased sets came on the heels of Lloyd's auspicious debut, Of Course, Of Course, retaining guitarist Gabor Szabo (also just breaking in) and bassist Ron Carter, replacing Tony Williams with Pete La Roca, and before Lloyd's more popular albums on Atlantic. Interesting parallels here both to Rollins and Coltrane, although Lloyd had a softer tone and integrates better with his group -- Szabo is terrific throughout. Both sets include a stretch on flute, very much in character. A- [cd]
Pete Magadini: Bones Blues (1977 , Sackville/Delmark): Drummer, led two albums 1976-77, two since then. This a sax quartet with Don Menza on tenor, Wray Downes on piano, and Dave Young on bass -- all strangers to me, but a mainstream blowing sessions like the old Prestiges, a strong sax man, gets off on the right foot with "Old Devil Moon." B+(**) [cd]
Don Pullen: Richard's Tune (1975 , Sackville/Delmark): The pianist's first name album, a solo cut on the road in Canada and originally released as Solo Piano Album, now named for its first song, one dedicated to Muhal Richard Abrams -- a good hint if you want to locate him, but he already has more rhythmic muscle even if his fully developed style was still a few years away. B+(***) [cd]
Suburban Base: The History of Hardcore, Jungle, and Drum 'n' Bass: 1991-1997 (1991-97 , New State, 3CD): Label comp, the label in question a side venture of a suburban London record store called Boogie Times. I haven't developed any sense of how to tell the numerous taxonomies of electronic dance music apart, and this doesn't help -- very little doc here, no names I recognize, little reason to differentiate even by disc. Still, functional, and something of a bargain. B+(***) [cd]
AALY Trio with Ken Vandermark: Hidden in the Stomach (1996 , Silkheart): The first of five records where Ken Vandermark sat in with Mats Gustafsson's sax trio (Peter Janson on bass, Kjell Nordeson on drums). Two covers help pin this down: Charlie Haden's "Song for Che" and Albert Ayler's "Ghosts/Spirits." B+(**) [bc]
AALY Trio with Ken Vandermark: I Wonder If I Was Screaming (2000, Crazy Wisdom): The last of five albums with Vandermark sitting in with Mats Gustafsson's late-1990s trio, soon to be replaced by The Thing. The perennial problem with Vandermark-Gustafsson groups is to keep the friction from melting them down. Here the trick appears to be tighter songwriting. B+(**) [bc]
Artifact iTi: Live in St. Johann (2008 , Okka Disk): Ken Vandermark (reeds) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) pick up a couple local musicians for Austria's Festival ArtActs 2008: Johannes Bauer (trombone) and Thomas Lehn (synthesizer). One long piece (36:18), two short ones (total another 11:00), highlights exciting, a few of those quiet stretches that may force a live audience to focus but on record tend to blank out. B+(***) [bc]
Billy Bang Quintet: Invitation (1982, Soul Note): With Charles Tyler (alto/baritone sax), Curtis Clark (piano), Wilber Morris (bass), and Dennis Charles (drums), a solid (but less than spectacular) outing for the violinist. B+(**)
John Wolf Brennan/Alex Cline/Daniele Patumi/Tscho Theissing/John Voirol: Shooting Stars and Traffic Lights (1993-97 , Leo): Piano, drums, bass, violin, soprano/tenor sax -- a group which later recorded (generally without drums) as Pago Libre. Effectively an avant-chamber setup, the violin more prominent than the sax. B+(**)
Caffeine: Caffeine (1993 , Okka Disk): Ken Vandermark (reeds), Jim Baker (piano), and Steve Hunt (percussion): group played together as late as 2005 but this is their only album. Not many examples of Vandermark with piano, which is surprising considering how well he plays off Baker's frenzied block chord ruckus. A- [bc]
The John Carter Octet: Dauwhe (1982, Black Saint): Clarinet player, appeared on landmark Horace Tapscott albums like The Dark Tree earlier and had a long-running quartet with cornetist Bobby Bradford, doubled in size here but not in sound -- additions include James Newton on flute, Red Callender on tuba, and Charles Owens on soprano sax, oboe, and clarinet. African references abound, but the record doesn't quite go there. B+(**)
Cinghiale [Mars Williams/Ken Vandermark]: Hoofbeats of the Snorting Swine (1995 , Eighth Day): Title sounds like the sort of noise rout both are capable of (especially in one another's company), but what we get instead are fairly balanced sax/clarinet duets exploring a wide range of possible interactions. B+(***) [bc]
DK3: Neutrons (1997 , Quarterstick): Ken Vandermark trio with a pair of rock musicians: guitarist Duane Denison (Jesus Lizard) and drummer James Kimball (Laughing Hyenas, although he also wound up with Jesus Lizard). Beats tend to be regular, and Vandermark prefers riffing along to breaking loose, so this approaches a post-rock ambience he never returned to. B+(***) [bc]
The Frame Quartet: 35mm (2009, Okka Disk): What's most distinctive here is the admixture of electronics by bassist Nate McBride and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. Otherwise, this is Ken Vandermark on tenor sax and clarinet plus Tim Daisy on drums powering their way through Vandermark 5 pieces, a little less edge without the second saxophonist, and because the electronics aren't ultimately that helpful. B+(***) [bc]
Joy Division: The Best of Joy Division (1979-80 , Rhino): I've long felt that the two albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer, stand up well enough on their own, and rated both above the Substance 1977-1980 and Permanent: Joy Division 1995 compilations, with their marginal trivia. Of course, we now know that after deep-voiced Ian Curtis hung himself the band took a turn for the better as New Order, the prototype here more tangible than the dead end. A-
John Lindberg: Trilogy of Works for Eleven Instrumentalists (1984 , Black Saint): The bassist composed the three pieces, but the most conspicuous credit alongside many genuine names is "conductor" Anthony Braxton. Four brass (including Vincent Chancey on French horn), three reeds (including Marty Ehrlich doubling on flute), piano, guitar, bass, and drums. Seems a little clunky at first but eventually coheres into something surprising. B+(***)
John Lindberg: Luminosity: Homage to David Izenzon (1992-06 , Music & Arts): Solo bass, with a couple vocal asides. Izenson was noted for his arco bass work with Ornette Coleman. B+(**)
John Lindberg: Quartet Afterstorm (1994, Black Saint): With Albert Mangelsdorff (trombone), Eric Watson (piano), and Ed Thigpen (drums), a rather freewheeling album with juicy solo spots (not least for the bassist) and taut ensemble work. A-
John Lindberg Ensemble: Bounce (1997, Black Saint): Bassist-led quartet, the tunes do favor a sort of bounciness, closer to pogoing than swing or bop, scratched out schematically by Dave Douglas on trumpet, with Larry Ochs less conspicuous on saxophones. B+(***)
John Lindberg Ensemble: A Tree Frog Tonality (2000, Between the Lines): Two-horn quartet, with Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet and Larry Ochs on soprano/tenor sax, players who are willing to stray well outside the lines, and a superb Andrew Cyrille on drums. B+(***)
John Lindberg: Ruminations Upon Ives and Gottschalk (2001 , Between the Lines): I don't know the work of Charles Ives or Louis Gottschalk well enough to connect the dots, but the credit sheet shows all original material by the bassist. The group: Baikida Carroll (trumpet), Steve Korn (reeds, bansuri), Susie Ibarra (drums, percussion). B+(***)
Paul Motian Quintet: Misterioso (1986 , Soul Note): With trio mates Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, plus a second saxophonist (Jim Pepper) and a bassist (Ed Schuller). Two Monk tunes, frequent targets for drummer Motian. The rest fractured originals. B+(**)
Paul Motian Trio: One Time Out (1987 , Soul Note): With Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, starts a bit wobbly but ends with a powerhouse piece ("Circle Dance"). B+(***)
The Kevin Norton Ensemble: Knots (1997, Music & Arts): Drummer-vibraphonist, backed with cello and bass, with Bob DeBellis on clarinet, alto sax, and bass clarinet -- looks like David Bindman and David Krakauer also play clarinet on three tracks each. B+(***)
NRG Ensemble: Bejazzo Gets a Facelift (1997, Atavistic): Saxophonist Mars Williams joined Hal Russell's band in 1979, and after Russell died in 1992 Williams kept the band going, recruiting Ken Vandermark as the other saxophonist. They cut three albums as NRG Ensemble, this last one cut after Vandermark formed the Vandermark 5, with Williams as the other saxophonist. Specialty here is the racing saxes, and like most dirt track racing there are plenty of crashes and spills, some funny, some not so. B+(***)
Pago Libre: Stepping Out (2004 , Leo): Name reportedly formed from bits of member names, although at this point that's far from obvious -- "bre" is pianist John Wolf Brennan, the one constant, here joined by Arkady Shilkloper (alphorn, flugelhorn), Tscho Theissing (violin), and Georg Breinschmid (bass). Avant-chamber jazz, with violin prominent and no drums, although this one swings more readily than their earlier efforts. B+(***)
Jeff Palmer/John Abercrombie/Arthur Blythe/Victor Lewis: Ease On (1992 , Sledgehammer Blues): Organ player, has a handful of albums with an especially notable band here -- alto saxophonist Blythe is a good deal more avant than your average soul jazz players but can work some blues licks in easily enough, while Lewis is a mainstream drummer who can touch up anything. B+(***)
Jeff Palmer/Arthur Blythe/John Abercrombie/Rashied Ali: Island Universe (1994, Soul Note): Swapping drummers (Ali replaces Victor Lewis) pushes alto saxophonist Blythe back into the avant-garde, moving this from organ-based soul jazz to something well beyond. The guitarist has always been one to go with the flow, even when it gets choppy as it does here. A-
Sten Sandell Trio: Face of Tokyo (2008 , PNL): Avant-piano trio, with Johan Berthling on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Recorded live in Tokyo in two half-hour chunks. B+(**) [bc]
Alan Skidmore: After the Rain (1998, Miles Music): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, an important figure in the British avant-garde but you'd never guess that from this collection of ballads, backed by Colin Towns' lush but undistinguished strings. Quite lovely, just a bit shy of sublime. B+(***)
Territory Band-4: Company Switch (2004 , Okka Disk, 2CD): Ken Vandermark's big band, honoring (if not really following) the old blues-based territory bands from Kansas City and points south and west. The bands were numbered, this particular edition numbering eleven musicians: two brass (Axel Dörner, Jeb Bishop); three reeds (Vandermark, Fredrik Ljungkvist, Dave Rempis), piano (Jim Baker), cello (Fred Lonberg-Holm), bass (Kent Kessler), two drummers (Paal Nilssen-Love and Paul Lytton), and Lasse Marhaug (electronics). This was the first Territory Band set to slop over to a second disc, in large part because they spread the options out more, moving beyond raw spontaneity to follow up a more deliberate plan -- if only it were more clear. B+(**) [bc]
The Thing: Action Jazz (2006, Smalltown Superjazz): Mats Gustafsson's long-running sax trio, with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. They made their first splash featuring very hoary free jazz riffs on alt-rock hits, hooked to a barely recognizable refrain. But by this point they've diversified, covering Lars Gullin, Ornette Coleman, Yosuke Yamashita, Lightning Bolt, and others plus an original named "Strayhorn." B+(**) [bc]
Vandermark Quartet: Solid Action (1994, Platypus): Second Quartet album, two years before the Vandermark 5's first record, from a time when he was just out of NRG Ensemble and still playing with avant-rock groups like the Flying Luttenbachers. This has frequent collaborators Kent Kessler on bass and Michael Zerang on drums, plus Daniel Scanlan playing violin/guitar/cornet -- as the counterpoint to Vandermark's tenor sax/clarinet/bass clarinet. Lots of interesting, surprising moves; also a tendency to get tied up. B+(***) [bc]
Ken Vandermark: Standards (1994 , Quinnah): I don't see any song credits, and don't recognize any song titles, so consider the title a joke. Vandermark plays three tracks each with four "improvising trios": Kent Kessler (bass)/Hamid Drake (drums); Mars Williams (sax)/Michael Zerang (drums); Jim Baker (piano/synth)/Daniel Scanlan (guitar/violin; and Kevin Drumm (guitar)/Steve Hunt (drums). Trying on different looks, but the final session with Drumm starts off explosively. B+(**)
Ken Vandermark: Strade d'Acqua/Roads of Water (2008 , Multi Kulti): A soundtrack to a film by Augusto Contento. Band contains many Chicago regulars including Jeff Parker (guitar) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) but no extra reeds so no jousting, just soundtrack-ish colors and moderate background pacing. B+(*) [bc]
Additional Consumer News:
Records at Catalytic-Sound I still haven't heard:
Records at Catalytic-Sound I have previously heard and rated:
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, August 25. 2014
Music: Current count 23701  rated (+43), 530  unrated (-6).
Was surprised to see rated count over 40, then looked closer and the subtraction result turned out to be an impossible 143. Looks like I slipped a digit two weeks ago. That was about when I had an editing accident and lost several hundred grades, sending me into a panic trying to figure out how to fix the breach. This seems to be the summer of things breaking -- I still figure that's better than the summers of mysterious lung diseases a few years back. Thinking about it, the 43 count means I've been listening to more Rhapsody, which I'll explain by last week's oversized Streamnotes plus the fact that my pending queue is nearly dry (18 new 2014 records, or 10 not counting this week's unpacking). I can remember days when I had more than 100 unrated in the queue. I still have some items from previous years I haven't gotten to (although only 1 of those was from 2013, a piece of vinyl I should look for), so we're talking real low priority stuff. No wonder my eye is wandering.
This year I decided not to do my all-consuming metacritic file (link is to 2013), but needing some kind of aide de memoire I've kept a running list of albums considered noteworthy and assigned priorities to them to give me something to work with. Recently, it looked like this, but since I was weeding out albums once I had heard them, it was pretty much useless for anyone else. So it occurred to me that it would be better to keep those records in, and for that matter to add my grades (where available). The combined file now looks like this. I've added some options to select based on priority levels, so you can get the old format like this if you have any reason to do so. There's also an option to get an even bigger file with all the "priority 0" records I've noted -- everything mentioned in AMG's weekly featured releases gets noted in the data file, even if I consider it to be of no interest whatsoever. Currently the data file lists 1644 records. Since last year's metacritic files ran to (7868+1100) records, I haven't been looking very hard. But as my queue drains I'll work on that some more. (I especially want to beef up the jazz listings.)
I fell behind on Twitter, wound up having to knock out nine tweets to wrap this up. Even so, I skipped a few of the "old music" albums -- they'll show up next Rhapsody Streamnotes, although you can check out Michael Tatum for Joy Division, below. Wrote one tweet for Jeff Palmer -- an organ player in my database I had no other consciousness of -- but played two albums, both good, but when you trade in Victor Lewis (a drummer I revere) for Rashied Ali you get an extra spark.
Speaking of Twitter, I retwitted one from Mike Konczal last night:
I added my own two cents:
Katz wrote a lot of books, but the only ones I read were The Irony of Early School Reform: Educational Innovation in Mid-Nineteenth Century Massachusetts (1968; reissued 2001), and Class, Bureaucracy, and Schools: The Illusion of Educational Change in America (1971; expanded 1975). He found that the early proponents of universal education like Horace Mann -- a name we knew because Wichita named a school for him -- were less concerned with offerng opportunities to Irish immigrants than with socializing them in proper New England ways, and conversely that the Irish resisted such efforts to brainwash them. I read these books when I was a high school dropout with my own intense distrust of an educational system that seemed geared to turn us into regimented factory workers (if we survived the army and Vietnam).
Katz later moved on to write about America's welfare system, in books like In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America (1986; expanded 1996), The Undeserving Poor: From the War on Poverty to the War on Welfare (1990), and Improving Poor People: The Welfare State, the "Underclass," and Urban Schools as History (1995), and more recently has published on immigration. Most recently, he wrote Why Don't American Cities Burn? (2011), about a murder in Philadelphia and all the attendant baggage of race and class. I hadn't thought much about Katz until The Undeserving Poor showed up in one of my recent book trawls. Interesting how his career developed. For more, see this In Memoriam by Thomas Sugrue (whose own books include The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (2005), Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (2008), and Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race).
One more Twitter note, or at least semi-related. Medium is either a spinoff or an independent venture funded with Twitter money -- I don't pretend to understand how it works, but I have heard that they have some money to hire writers, and have hired Robert Christgau to write some Expert Witness/Consumer Guide posts. He has an account now that you can follow. He'll explain it all in an introductory post on September 2, followed by the first actual CG reviews on September 5.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Thursday, August 21. 2014
Three-and-a-half weeks since last time, this one snuck up on me: with the summer doldrums I'm as surprised as anyone to count 101 squib-reviews below. New jazz slowed to a trickle more than a month ago, with occasional advances for September-October releases. I've scratched the bottom of my barrel, and consulted most of the usual authorities. Still, unless you've been following my Twitter feed, you're unlikely to have run across more than two of nine A- new records this month. (Golem's Tanz and Spoon's They Want My Soul -- also the Calypso set further down -- appeared in Michael Tatum's A Downloader's Diary; The Green Seed got a passing mention in one of those Expert Witness messages via Facebook.) Clean Feed and Intakt are labels I key on (although cf. Hassler and Laubrock below). I saw mention of Ricardo Lemvo and Jonah Tolchin (and Jessica Hernandez) in PopMatters -- not my idea of a reliable review source, but one has to look somewhere. Aside from a couple jazz records that dropped straight into my mailbox, everything I bother with has some critical rep behind it somewhere. I don't have a real metacritic file this year -- just a crib sheet of little use to me and probably none to you.
In the old music section, I've been following my Penguin Guide 4-star search list less than my nose: recent records on Intakt (Michael Griener, Aki Takase, Trio 3) led me down several rabbit holes, and reminded me that I had never finished those Nobu Stowe records the artist sent in many years ago. The Punk 45 compilations were recommended by Jason Gubbels (a third one is not yet on Rhapsody). Soul Jazz (and subsidiary Universal Sound) is another label I'd like to key on -- hence the Sergio Mendes one-shot. Unfortunately, looks like a lot of their catalog isn't available, especially the Studio One compilations.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on July 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (5201 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Laurie Antonioli: Songs of Shadow, Songs of Light: The Music of Joni Mitchell (2013 , Origin): Bay Area jazz singer, several albums since Soul Eyes in 1985, this a collection of Joni Mitchell songs, done much like Mitchell did them -- similar voice, keybs, guitar, only slightly burnished by Sheldon Brown's reeds. B [cd]
Clarice Assad: Imaginarium (2014, Adventure Music): Brazilian singer, daughter of guitarist Sergio Assad, straddles pop, jazz, and classical, but in "A Morte Da Flor" falls off the deep end of the latter. B-
Auction Project: Slink (2014, self-released): Quintet, name comes from a 2010 album credited to alto saxophonist David Bixler and pianist Arturo O'Farrill, with violinist Heather Martin Bixler unnamed but on cover, and bass and drums. This one adds featured guest guitarist Mike Stern on two cuts and uillean pipes on one. B+(*) [cd]
Baloni: Belleke (2012 , Clean Feed): String trio, no violin but viola (Frantz Loriot), cello (Joachim Badenhorst), and bass (Pascal Niggenkemper), touted as "slow boiling, chamber jazz-like, surrealistic soundscapes" -- I'd scratch the "chamber" clause, which implies a degree of politesse not evident here. Rather, you get a scratchy search for a profound sound that generally eludes them. B+(**) [cd]
Benyoro: Benyoro (2014, self-released): New York-based group playing West African pop music, led by vocalist Yacouba Sissoko-Kora, from Mali. One of the percussionists also hails from Mali, the bass player from Martinique, the Djembe player from New Rochelle, but authenticity isn't a problem here -- it just doesn't soar quite as high as you'd like. B+(***)
Bolt: Shuffle (2013 , Driff): Avant quartet -- Jorrit Dijkstra (alto sax, lyricon, analog electronics), Eric Hofbauer (guitar), Junko Fujiwara (cello), Eric Rosenthal (drums, percussion) -- offers scratchy little miniatures -- 19 that they recommend you shuffle -- too impolite and eccentric for chamber jazz, uprooting expectations. B+(***) [cd]
Anthony Branker & Word Play: The Forward (Towards Equality) Suite (2014, Origin): Composer and director of a septet plus singer Alison Crockett, with guest spoken word from schoolchildren who have some serious wishes for a better world (none of which involve cutting taxes on the rich). Mainstream with soul flair, the horns -- David Binney (alto sax), Ralph Bowen (tenor/soprano sax, flute), and Conrad Herwig (trombone) especially striking. B+(***) [cd]
Bobby Broom: My Shining Hour (2014, Origin): Guitarist, started out in soul jazz with Charles Earland, has close to a dozen albums on his own as well as side credits in groups like Deep Blue Organ Trio. This is a trio with bass and drums, all standards, no breakthroughs but very listenable, especially songs with a little zip like "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Jitterbug Waltz." B+(**) [cd]
Henry Butler/Steven Bernstein: Viper's Drag (2014, Impulse): Bernstein is a trumpet player who started avant with an interest in the tradition and became arranger for Robert Altman's Kansas City project, which in turn led to his Millennial Territory Orchestra. Butler is a New Orleans pianist/singer who first worked with Bernstein on Kansas City and has bumped into him a couple times since -- not clear if this was recorded at their 2012 Jazz Standard sets or that was merely the point when this concept came together. They call their nine-piece band the Hot 9 after Armstrong's Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, and there's the rub: Bernstein isn't Armstrong, nor is Butler Earl Hines (nor as a singer can he carry Jimmy Rushing's tune), and the band is full of talented musicians who can play classic jazz but none are specialists who live it. That isn't a crippling complaint -- the record is great fun and I'd love to see the band live -- but it is a bit more than a nitpick. B+(***)
Calle 13: MultiViral (2014, El Abismo/Sony Music Latin): Puerto Rican rap group, with a reggaeton streak although that's hardly the only genre they can jump, and the few bits I can understand show some political smarts (as does a guest list that includes Silvio Rodriguez, Tom Morello, John Leguizamo, and Eduardo Galeano). Even in purely musical terms, I like the hard raps best. B+(***)
Mario Castro Quintet/Strings: Estrella de Mar/Promotional Edition (2014, Interrobang): Young tenor saxophonist, from Puerto Rico, graduated Berklee, sounds like a slightly scruffier David Sanchez, promising enough, but the quintet is cluttered, the strings are crappy, and the singer, well, unnecessary. "Promotional Edition" is printed prominently on the cover in what otherwise is fancier packaging than most commercial releases see, so I decided to honor the fact rather than puzzle over it. Of course, it puts an unfathomable distance between what I heard and what you might be able to buy. B- [cd]
Collier & Dean: Sleek Buick (2013-14 , Origin): Tom Collier plays vibes, marimba, xylophone, and keyboards. Don Dean bass, percussion, keyboards, ukelele, classical guitar. Backup varies, with appearances by Don Grusin (piano) and Ernie Watts (tenor sax), and drums split between Ted Poor and Alex Acuña. Bubbly, frothy groove music. B [cd]
Wayne Coniglio/Scott Whitfield: Fast Friends (2012 , Summit): Two mainstream trombonists, looks like Coniglio's first album but Whitfield has close to a dozen since 1997. Three originals (one Coniglio, two Whitfield), "I'm Confessin'" a gem among the not-very-standard covers. B+(**) [cd]
Cortex: Live! (2014, Clean Feed): Norwegian avant jazz quartet patterned on Ornette Coleman's classic, two previous albums but no one I've heard of: Thomas Johansson (cornet), Kristoffer Alberts (reeds), Ola Høyer (bass), Gard Nilssen (drums). I have a nagging doubt that anyone so inspired could do this: rather than breaking rules and blazing new paths the sax-cornet interplay just seems so right, although it wouldn't without a lot of innovation that now seems so normal. A- [cd]
Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman Quartet: Birdies for Lulu (2013 , Intakt): Piano and violin for the leaders, bass (Scott Colley) and drums (Billy Mintz) fill the group out. He paints curtains of ice, she breaks them. B+(**)
Jorrit Dijkstra: Music for Reeds and Electronics: Oakland (2013 , Driff): Five reed players -- Dijkstra, Phillip Greenlief, Kyle Bruckmann, Frank Gratkowski, Jon Raskin -- including clarinet, oboe, and English horn as well as various saxes, three players also credited with electronics. Can get ugly in the lower reaches, or squeaky in the upper. B+(*) [cd]
Diva: A Swingin' Life (2001-12 , MCG Jazz): Drummer Sherry Maricle's long-running all-female big band, two cuts featuring Nancy Wilson recorded at MCG in 2001, the rest with quite a bit of turnover from an engagement in Lincoln Center eleven years later, with Marlena Shaw singing on two pieces, including a Basie "Blues Medley" they were born to swing. A lot of pop in the brass section. B+(**) [cd]
Dr. John: Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch (2013 , Concord): Starts with "What a Wonderful World" from the wrong end of Louis Armstrong's songbook, then segues into the worst version of "Mack the Knife" I've ever heard -- a judgment I rendered even before Mike Ladd's rap. Hard to blame the trumpet players (Nicholas Payton, Terence Blanchard, Arturo Sandoval), but the rest of the band cuts the wrong rug, and the good Dr.'s slurred vocals slide all over the place -- a sharp contrast to Armstrong, who always had his unwieldy voice under perfect control. Of course, a tribute doesn't have to sound like its target -- if it did, what would be the point? But nothing here comes close, except Bonnie Raitt's cameo, and "When You're Smiling." C
Jorge Drexler: Bailar en la Cueva (2014, Warner Music Latina): Singer/songwriter from Uruguay, based in Spain, has a dozen (or so) albums since 1992. Strikes me as closer to MPB than to salsa -- for a guy who can't tell Spanish from Portuguese he reminds me mostly of Caetano Veloso, with a slightly more eccentric beat. B+(**)
John Ellis & Andy Bragen: Mobro (2011 , Parade Light): Saxophonist, has an interestingly eclectic catalog which takes an odd turn here, providing the music for a play by Bragen, the combined effect way more operatic than I can handle. B-
Dave "Knife" Fabris: Lettuce Prey (2010 , Musea): Guitarist, has appeared on several albums with pianist Ran Blake (who gets "featuring" credit here), but this seems to be his first album. It's a "kitchen sink" conglomeration with a wild mix of fusion and classical -- a Ginastera string quartet, some Prokofiev, "Sabre Dance," one of those horrible operatic sopranos -- and some smaller pieces, including a nice bit of "Mood Indigo" at the end. B- [cd]
FKA Twigs: LP1 (2014, Young Turks): "Half-Jamaican" UK native singer-songwriter, Tahilah Barnet, nicknamed Twigs, has two EPs, now an LP, backed with trip-hoppy electronics. Her thin, warbly voice is something Tricky led us to expect, and as long as this can pass for Tricky pop it holds up OK, but doesn't have anywhere else to go. B
Danny Fox Trio: Wide Eyed (2012 , Hot Cup): Pianist, second album, trio with Chris Van Voorst Van Beest on bass and Max Goldman on drums. Played this several times and have very little to say about it -- a nice mix of Evans-esque melodic sense with a more Jarrett-like rhythmic push, I guess. B+(***) [cd]
Golem: Tanz (2014, Discos Corason): Punk-klezmer group led by accordionist-singer Annette Ezekiel Kogan, with Aaron Diskin as a second singer, the band anchored by violinist Jeremy Brown and noted jazz trombonist Curtis Hasslebring. Several albums, this the first on a Mexican label, produced by Tony Maimone (Pere Ubu). A-
Grand Fatilla: Global Shuffle (2014, self-released): Boston group, a spinoff from world-jazz eclectics Club D'Elf, pared down to a quartet: Robert Cassan (accordion), Matt Glover (electric mandolin), Mike Rivard (double bass, sintir), and Fabio Pirozzolo (percussion, voice): Argentine tangos, Italian Tarantellas, Turkish sacred Sufi songs, Irish reels, Moroccan trance, Bulgarian dance, all erudite and enjoyable, but nothing that shakes the rafters. B+(*) [cd]
The Green Seed: Drapetomania (2014, Communicating Vessels): Two rappers, two DJs, all the vinyl scratch sounds like a throwback to the '80s but the samples are more fluid, and the underground message is conscious, even when conflicted on matters of the heart. Matters of state, those are more obvious. A-
Michael Griener/Rudi Mahall/Jan Roder/Christof Thewes: Squakk: Willisau & Berlin (2012-13 , Intakt): Some parsing options here: Griener (drums), Roder (bass), and Thewes (trombone) previously recorded an album called Squakk, effectively the group name here, but Griener is listed above Squakk, the others, including newcomer Mahall (bass clarinet, clarinet, baritone sax), below. Mahall not only adds a useful change of pace, he refocuses the group. A-
Haitian Rail: Solarists (2014, New Atlantis): Rough avant-jazz group, plenty of thrash especially between the guitar (Nick Millevoi) and trombone (Daniel Blacksberg). Bassist Edward Ricart also contributes a song -- the only band member who doesn't is drummer Kevin Shea, already famous for MOPDTK, less famous for Talibam and other marginal noise projects. B+(**)
Hans Hassler: Hassler (2011 , Intakt): Folk background, "the true Swiss king of accordion," leads a quartet with two jazz clarinetists (Jürgen Kupke, Gebhard Ullmann on bass), plus percussion. Feels rushed and cramped. B
Hercules & Love Affair: The Feast of the Broken Heart (2014, Moshi Moshi): Disco group, fifth album including a DJ-Kicks. I figure cartoonishness is a bit of their shtick, but sometimes they overdo it, and more often they cut short the beats. B
Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas: Secret Evil (2014, Instant): Detroit group, has a straightforward, almost trad rock and roll form, the singer-songwriter's voice slightly off in a way that ultimately distinguishes her. First album after a couple EPs, one titled Weird Looking Women in Too Many Clothes. B+(***)
Wayne Horvitz: 55: Music and Dance in Concrete (2012 , Cuneiform): Pianist, although he only composed and mixed these pieces, collaborating with Yukio Suzuki (choreography and dance), Yohei Saito (video artist) and Tucker Martine (producer/engineer). They were recorded at Fort Worden in Port Townsend, WA (out on the Olympic Peninsula), using the concrete bunkers and cistern for resonance. The group includes five horns (trumpet, trombone, clarinet/bass clarinet, alto and soprano sax) plus strings and voice (Maria Mannisto), for a quasi-classical effect. B [cdr]
Ibibio Sound Machine: Ibibio Sound Machine (2014, Soundway): British group with roots in Nigeria, led by singer Eno Williams with musicians from Ghana and Brazil. Framed by bits of gospel, deeper beats in the middle. B+(*)
Darius Jones/Matthew Shipp: Cosmic Lieder: The Darkseid Recital (2011-13 , AUM Fidelity): Alto sax-piano duets, performed live at various spots following the 2011 studio album Cosmic Lieder. Jones is an intense player, sometimes extraordinary (cf. Man'ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing)) and sometimes just a pain in the ears (his Little Women albums, especially Lung). Shipp's dense clustering mostly slows him down, precluding either extreme. B+(*)
Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet: Afterimage (2014, Driff): Boston-based pianist with a mostly local live in Chicago group -- Dave Rempis (alto, tenor, baritone saxes), Keefe Jacckson (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Nate McBride (bass), and Frank Rosaly (drums). It's almost too much to work with, as the patches where the horns drop out reveal. B+(***) [cd]
Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: Zone (2014, Greenleaf Music): Trombonist, second album with his quartet Catharsis -- Mike Rodriguez on trumpet, also bass and drums -- adding guests Scott Robinson (tenor sax) and Camila Meza (voice). The vocals offer an intriguing tangent, but wind up too much. B+(*) [cd]
Rebecca Kilgore with the Harry Allen Quartet: I Like Men (2013 , Arbors): Standards singer collects a list of songs about men: "The Man I Love," of course, also "The Gentleman Is a Dope," "He's a Tramp," "He's My Guy," "Marry the Man Today," "The Man That Got Away," and so forth -- the biggest turnoff for me was "Goldfinger." Saxophonist Allen should be a big help here, but he doesn't add much. B+(*)
Jonas Kullhammar/Jørgen Mathisen/Torbjörn Zetterberg/Espen Aalberg: Basement Sessions Vol. 3: The Ljubljana Tapes (2013 , Clean Feed): Two tenor saxophonists (the former also credited with soprillo sax and flute), bass, and drums. The two previous volumes were trios without Mathisen, and Vol. 2 was most impressive. This live successor has its hot spots, but also tends to slip on by. B+(**) [cd]
Lake Street Dive: Bad Self Portraits (2014, Signature Sounds): Singer Rachel Price reminds me of Elvin Bishop recycling blues clichés, but Bishop was slighter and had more fun. B+(*)
Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: Live in Ljubljana (2012 , Clean Feed): An octet, with two trumpets (Nate Wooley, Susana Santos Silva), trombone (Reut Regev), three saxes (David Bindman, Avram Fefer, Mat Bauder), drums (Igal Foni), and the leader's bass mixed up so it's always audible, the heartbeat of a growing, growling organism -- the most Mingus-like of bassists, both for his compositions that sum up all worthwhile jazz history and as a bandleader who can whip a group up into something larger than itself. A- [cd]
Ingrid Laubrock Octet: Zürich Concert (2011 , Intakt): German avant saxophonist, her octet limited to two horns (Tom Arthurs' trumpet is the other), with guitar-cello-bass strings, accordion in addition to piano, and drummer Tom Rainey doubling on xylophone. Intricate layering without much solo punch, but that seems to be the idea. B+(*)
Azar Lawrence: The Seeker (2011 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, cut his first album in 1974 and doesn't have many since, but he's such a powerful presence if you've ever heard him pop up anywhere, even on the side, you're likely to remember the name. Quintet with Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Benito Gonzalez (piano), Essiet Okon Essiet (bass), and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums). Big, dramatic sound, overwhelming all else. B+(**)
Gordon Lee with the Mel Brown Septet: Tuesday Night (2014, Origin): Lee is a pianist-composer, wrote everything here (lifting a bit from Rachmaninoff), and is counted in drummer Brown's septet (two saxes, trumpet, trombone, piano, bass, drums). Feels cluttered and rushed, the solos indistinct. B- [cd]
Ricardo Lemvo/Makina Loca: La Rumba Soyo (2014, Cumbancha): The most Cuban-sounding of Congolese stars, this has outsided salsa rhythms with soukous guitar supercharge, for an unrelenting up, up, up. Crazy machine, indeed. A-
Vincent Lyn: Live in New York City (2013 , Budo): Pianist and kung-fu master, several albums, I don't doubt his proficiency but the charm here is tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana. B+(*) [cd]
Bob Mamet: London House Blues (2014, Blujazz): Pianist, from Chicago, brother of playwright David Mamet, half dozen or so albums since 1994, evidently spent some time in smooth/crossover jazz although this is an exemplary mainstream trio, two originals, familiar standards, bright, sparkling even. B+(**) [cd]
Jessica Lea Mayfield: Make My Head Sing . . . (2014, ATO): Singer-songwriter with two previous albums produced by Dan Auerbach (Black Keys). This one done with husband Jesse Newport (mostly bass) and a drummer, is distinguished first of all by the crunchy guitar, supposedly a tribute to '90s grunge. B+(**)
Medeski Martin & Wood + Nels Cline: Woodstock Sessions Vol. 2 (2013 , Indirecto): Last heard with John Scofield, as natural a fit for the organ-drums-bass trio as one could imagine, I have to say they've traded up. Cline is a guitarist more inclined to cut against the grain than go with the flow, which makes this a much rougher-edged combination. M & M (if not necessarily W) have been moving in more avant circles since their early success, and that, too, pays dividends here. B+(***)
Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble: Intergalactic Beings (2010 , FPE): She plays flute, a minor part of the sound and action here, mostly roiling around the dirty bass end with David Boykin's tenor sax/bass clarinet, Jeff Parker's guitar, Joshua Abrams' bass, and (especially) Avreeayl Ra's often stunning percussion. You also get strings (violin/cello), trumpet, and Mankwe Ndosi's voice in the messy mix. B+(***)
Hafez Modirzadeh: In Convergence Liberation (2011 , Pi): Tenor saxophonist, born in North Carolina, has a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology, probably started with his father, Jamal Modir, a Persian percussionist, but he's been all over, studying Persian, South Indian, West African, and Japanese music (among others), but most importantly he is a George Russell protégé -- his first album was called In Chromodal Discourse (1992), and the one prior to this one was Post-Chromodal Out! (2012). This one comes with equations and sketches resembling particle physics. The music itself I find even more daunting, with strings everywhere (ETHEL, a quartet), those quasi-classical vocals I hate so much, and lots of santur, plus a bit of Amir ElSaffar trumpet. B+(**) [cd]
Joe Morris Quartet: Balance (2014, Clean Feed): Guitarist, with Mat Maneri (viola), Chris Lightcap (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums) in a strings thing, with Maneri doing the main job of shaping the scratchy, abstruse sounds. B+(**) [cd]
Sam Most: New Jazz Standards (2013 , Summit): Jazz flautist, cut his first records in 1953, this one sixty years later -- a month before his death, in many ways this sums up his whole career: the high bebop lines, a side of baritone sax, a goofed up scat vocal. B+(**)
Myriad 3: The Where (2014, ALMA): Canadian piano trio -- Chris Donnelly (piano), Dan Fortin (bass), Ernesto Cervini (drums, winds) -- dabbling sometimes in electronic synths. Second album, all three write (but mostly Donnelly), postbop but suggests a bit of EST niche if not influence. B+(**) [cd]
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Hypnotic Eye (2014, Reprise): A personable young retro-rocker in the late 1970s when he introduced his lightweight "classic rock" formula, he remains personable and listenable 35 years later, and doesn't seem all that much older. B+(*)
Picastro: You (2014, Static Clang): Intriguing little group, basically slowcore with falsetto vocals, occasional fracturing or crazing around the edges. B+(*)
Pink Martini & the Von Trapps: Dream a Little Dream (2013 , Heinz): With the last surviving member of the Trapp Family Singers, Maria von Trapp, passing at age 99, the legacy vocal group is mostly filled with great-grandchildren, doing August von Trapp originals, Rodgers and Hammerstein (you know, The Sound of Music), a tango, pieces from Africa and China, and bits of schmaltz from Brahms and ABBA. Such postmodern eclecticism is a Pink Martini trademark and this is very much their album, the extra voices adding an excessively somber air. B+(*)
Greg Reitan: Post No Bills (2014, Sunnyside): Pianist, fourth album since 2009, a trio with Jack Daro and Dean Koba. Three originals, seven covers, two of those standards ("Stella by Starlight," "I Loves You, Porgy"), the others by fellow pianists (Jarrett, Sample, Silver, Corea, Zeitlin). B+(*)
Dylan Ryan/Sand: Circa (2014, Cuneiform): Drummer, group includes Timothy Young (guitar) and Devin Hoff (bass). Second album, jazz-rock fusion pushing hard on the guitar. B+(*) [cdr]
Irène Schweizer/Pierre Favre: Live in Zürich (2013, Intakt): The great Swiss pianist cut a series of duo albums from 1986 on with various drummers, and Favre's entry was possibly the best -- the closest competitor was Han Bennink. This rematch gives you a sense of the dynamics, plus an unexpected boogie-blues at the end. A-
75 Dollar Bill: Olives in the Ears (2014, self-released): Lo-fi guitar-drum project, guitarist Che Chen credits a teacher from Mauritania for his mix of Arabic modes and Saharan blues, plus drummer Rick Brown, and some others chip in here and there. Available on cassette tape as well as digital download. B+(***) [bc]
Rotem Sivan Trio: For Emotional Use Only (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, originally from Israel, now based in New York, second album, backed with bass and drums. B+(**) [cd]
Sohn: Tremors (2014, 4AD): Toph Taylor, from London, first album, singer-songwriter with electronics. Moby-ish if not quite Moby-like. B+(*)
Spoon: They Want My Soul (2014, Anti-): Texas rockers with a long history of corraling pop hooks unveil an edgier sound without losing their knack -- if anything, they've upped their game. A-
Steve Swallow/Ohad Talmor/Adam Nussbaum: Singular Curves (2012 , Auand): Electric bass, tenor sax, drums, respectively. Talmor, b. 1970 in France, is best known for his collaborations with Lee Konitz, but those feature his string arrangements, where he it is a delight to hear his mellow saxophone -- e.g., the closing "You Go to My Head," which more than once convinced me to give this another spin. B+(***) [cdr]
Aki Takase/La Planète: Flying Soul (2012 , Intakt): Starts like chamber jazz with violin (Dominique Pifarély), cello (Vincent Courtois), clarinet (Louis Sclavis) and piano/celesta (Takase), but no one -- least of all Pifarély -- wants to leave it at that, yielding a rather bracing diceyness as it develops. B+(***)
Jonah Tolchin: Clover Lane (2014, Yep Roc): First album for a young singer-songwriter from New Jersey with a vintage country/folk feel, a knack for smartly structured, sensitive and sensible songs -- if anything, reminds me most of T-Bone Burnett. A-
Trio 3 & Vijay Iyer: Wiring (2013 , Intakt): Fifth album for Oliver Lake's sax trio supergroup -- Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille -- formed in 2001, plus superstar pianist Iyer for his second ride. Remarkable talents all around, the pianist especially, but Lake doesn't grab me like he can. Cyrille's closing "Tribute to Bu" is hard to top. B+(***)
Matt Ulery: In the Ivory (2013-14 , Greenleaf Music, 2CD): Chicago bassist, has a habit of thinking big, as this sprawling opera indicates. "Contemporary classical music" always seemed like an nomenclature, but then it's never been clear what else to call new works in the Euroclassical tradition -- I, for one, am reluctant to call them jazz although as jazz gains an ever deeper toehold in the academy jazz musicians are increasingly inclined and prepared to veer that way. This sounded awful to me at first, but then the piano reps, and then the strings -- Zack Brock is the featured violinist -- started to cohere. In the end even the singers (Grazyna Auguscik and Sarah Marie Young) aren't that bad. Not that I wouldn't rather hear something that swings or bops or honks or skronks or blasts out in some new direction. B+(*) [cd]
Harvey Wainapel: Amigos Brasileiros Vol. 2 (2013 , Jazzmission): Bay Area Sax/clarinet player, follows up his 2007 Amigos Brasileiros with another volume, this with nine songs encountering nine groups of "great Brazilian musicians" for some lush lounge music. B [cd]
Seth Walker: Sky Still Blue (2014, The Royal Potato Family): Blues singer-songwriter with a handful of albums, both guitar and voice strike me as rather tepid (presumably that's not just white). Only song that hits paydirt is "Jesus (Make My Bed)." B
Reggie Watkins: One for Miles, One for Maynard (2014, Corona Music): Trombonist from West Virginia, second album, plays one Davis song, one Ferguson, one from McCoy Tyner, two from his tenor saxophonist Matt Parker (who has a postmodern feel for older jazz), three of his own. Swings hard throughout, and piles on the horns for the Ferguson piece. B+(**) [cd]
Anna Webber: Simple (2013 , Skirl): Canadian flutist, mostly plays tenor sax here, second album, trio with Matt Mitchell (piano) and John Hollenbeck (drums) doing much to stretch and skew the album. Best when all three thrash, but has a few spots when nothing much seems to be happening. B+(***) [cd]
The Whammies: Play the Music of Steve Lacy Vol. 3: Live (2014, Driff): Six-piece group dedicated to exploring Steve Lacy's slippery music take their act to Italy after two superb studio albums. All recognizable names: Jorrit Dijkstra (alto sax, lyricon), Pandelis Karayorgis (piano), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Mary Oliver (violin, viola), Jason Roebke (bass), and Han Bennink (drums). Slips a bit here and there, but many strong passages. B+(***) [cd]
Walter White: Most Triumphant (2013 , Summit): Trumpet player, from and likely still based in Michigan, refers to a "30 year career" but only a couple albums as leader. This is a quartet with piano-bass-drums, half originals, half covers ranging from Chopin to "Bye Bye Blackbird" -- easy to fall for the latter. Gets a bright, sharp tone, and while the band isn't exceptional they do move things along smartly. B+(*) [cd]
Steve Wilson/Lewis Nash Duo: Duologue (2013 , MCG Jazz): Sax-drums duets, not sure if Wilson plays anything but alto but it's mostly in that range. Three Wilson originals, two Ellingtons, Fats Waller, two Monk medleys, Gillespie, Ornette Coleman, "Freedom Jazz Dance." Wilson is fine, but this is an even better showcase for Nash, probably the best mainstream drummer since, well, ever. B+(***)
Tom Wolfe: Solerovescent (2014, Summit): Guitarist, probably his second record although with gray hair and such a common name I may not be looking hard enough. Bright postbop, with Ken Watters on trumpet, both electric and acoustic bass, and drums. B+(*) [cd]
Wooden Wand: Farmer's Corner (2013 , Fire): Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter James Jackson Toth, has something like sixteen albums since 2004. Mostly guitar, providing a nice, shambling, country-ish air. B+(**)
J.J. Wright: Inward Looking Outward (2013 , Ropeadope): Pianist, leading a trio with Ike Sturm and Nate Wood, manages to stake out a rumbling beat and ride it a long ways. B+(**) [cd]
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Calypso: Musical Poetry in the Caribbean 1955-1969 (1955-69 , Soul Jazz): Probably too many songs about reincarnation, a common trope for wits with doubts about the human condition. These wordslingers, after all, are all wits -- I'm particularly amused by the one who'd rather talk to Khrushchev than Bulganin -- and the lightweight beatwise music is always a delight. A-
Smoke Dawson: Fiddle (1971 , Tompkins Square): Folk musician born in Brooklyn in 1935, played banjo alongside Peter Stampfel's fiddle in MacGrundy's Old-Timey Wool Thumpers in 1960 -- no album, but a group name worth repeating. His only album was this 1971 solo violin effort, a cult item limited to 750 copies. Only for aficionados of the old-time music, but fine for that. B+(***)
Arto Lindsay: Encyclopedia of Arto (1996-2012 , Northern Spy, 2CD): First appeared in the late-1970s New York No Wave band DNA, rooting him in avant-noise, but as he moved on into the 1980s he revealed a second side rooted in Brazil, where he spent time growing up. First disc here collects studio tracks from 1996-2004 (O Corpo Sutil, Mundo Civilizado, up through Invoke and Salt). Second disc is taken from 2011-12 live shots and is rather dicier, more primitive, sometimes abstract, sometimes wrapped in noise, often remarkable. A-
Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66: Stillness (1971 , Universal Sound): Roughly the end of pianist Mendes' hit period which began with the bossa nova in the year he named the band. Lani Hall is the singer, quick to cover L.A. stalwarts like Stephen Stills and Joni Mitchell. B+(*)
Punk 45: Underground Punk in the United States of America, Vol. 1: Kill the Hippies! Kill Yourself! The American Nation Destroys Its Young (1973-80 , Soul Jazz): Only two songs here I know well ("The Modern Age" and "Chinese Rocks"), the remaining groups more unknown than not -- the best known, the Flamin' Groovies, shows up with a single from 1973, harder-edged than their 1969-71 albums let alone anything in their lame post-1976 pop period. While there are songs called "Kill the Hippies" (Deadbeats) and "Kill Yourself" (Lewd), they are barely proto-hardcore, way short of the Reagan-era Let Them Eat Jellybeans hardcore comp, so without seeing the booklet -- always a strong suit with this label -- it's hard to credit their "American nation destroys its young" thematic. Doesn't sound like that; just art going into a postmodern primitivist phase with more product than usual falling through the cracks. B+(***)
Punk 45: Underground Punk and Post-Punk in the UK 1977-81, Vol. 2: There Is No Such Thing as Society: Get a Job, Get a Car, Get a Bed, Get Drunk! (1977-81 (2014), Soul Jazz): More obscurities -- e.g., none of these bands showed up on Rhino's 1993 DIY: UK Punk I: Anarchy in the UK, only three I recall (Television Personalities, Swell Maps, very early Mekons). Nothing here strikes me as especially great, but they're nowhere near scraping the bottom of the barrel, as the clatter and clank flow surprisingly well. B+(***)
The Best Punk Album in the World . . . Ever! (1975-84 , Virgin, 2CD): After listening to the first two Punk 45 compilations and noting their obscure provenance, I recalled this UK set (graded A by Christgau), and while it's long out-of-print, I had little trouble finding the songs and lining them up in Rhapsody's mixer (the only one missing is Adam and the Ants' "Deutscher Girls," perhaps for the better). Each disc starts with the Sex Pistols and never hits that level of punk fury again -- no Clash or Vibrators, the US picks rarely get out of New York (Jonathan Richman, Devo, and the Tubes are exceptions) -- so they encroach upon new wave for hits, picking out relatively crunchy tunes even from Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. Not as tight thematically as Rhino's 1993 two DIY: UK Punk volumes, but no one I knew in New York in the late 1970s listened to just punk or new wave: we jumped back and forth, like the compilers here. A-
Michael Griener/Jan Roder/Christof Thewes: Squakk (2008 , Jazzwerkstatt): Avant-trombone trio, the drummer and bassist listed first, perhaps alphabetically. Unfamiliar with Thewes but this seems like par for the course as far as German trombonists go -- a course including Albert Mangelsdorff and Conrad Bauer. B+(**)
Richard Hell: Spurts: The Richard Hell Story (1973-92 , Rhino): Bassist Hell doesn't seem to have played on all of these cuts, but those he missed he (co-)wrote and/or remixed -- Neon Boys, Television, Heartbreakers, Dim Stars, bands he played with at some point or other -- and tracks 4-13 recapitulate his 1977-82 heyday with the Voidoids. Discogs credits the liner notes to Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell, but they're not (yet) on the website. I stumbled upon this by sheer accident. Nice best-of plus brilliant trivia, at least until they get to the dimly remembered Steve Shelley-Thurston Moore Dim Stars. B+(**)
Oliver Lake: Heavy Spirits (1975 , Black Lion): Second album for the alto saxophonist, pasted together from two sessions -- a quintet with Olu Dara (trumpet) and Donald Smith (piano), followed by three tracks with two violinists, a solo track, then one with trombonist Joseph Bowie plus drums. Shows promise but packs too many different looks. B+(*)
The Oliver Lake String Project: Movement, Turns & Switches (1996, Passin' Thru): Lake tries to burnish his bona fides as a composer by building this around a string quartet, some piano (Donal Fox), even laying out on a cut. Not that it doesn't work, but not really what one turns to him for. B
Oliver Lake Quintet: Talkin' Stick (1997 , Passin' Thru): A typical album for the alto saxophonist, the quintet including Geri Allen on piano and Jay Hoggard on vibes instead of a second horn. B+(**)
Oliver Lake Steel Quartet: Dat Love (2003 , Passin' Thru): Lyndon Achee's steel pan drums provide the group name and add a measure of mellow to what otherwise is a typical Lake sax trio, extended blowing on a high level, although also a bit more mellow than usual. B+(***)
Ted Rosenthal: My Funny Valentine (2007 , Tokuma): Piano trio, playing "11 standards from the vast repertoire of vocalist Helen Merrill," which is to say eleven of the juiciest standards around, from "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" to "'S Wonderful." B+(***)
Nobu Stowe & Alan Munshower with Badal Roy: An die Musik (2006 , Soul Note): Japanese pianist, based in Baltimore, with drums and tabla, not exactly a piano trio but the rich, repetitive mid-to-uptempo piano riffs limit the need for a bassist and the extra complexity to the percussion is a plus. Stowe sent me a pile of discs quite some time ago, and if this isn't the best, it's at least the easiest to get into. A- [cdr]
Nobu Stowe: L'Albero Delle Meduse (2009 , self-released): Scant evidence of this ever being released -- I'm working off an advance and assume pianist Stowe is the leader only because he sent it to me. The pieces are joint improvs (except for the closer, Jim Pepper's "Witchi-Tai-To"), and Achille Succi (alto sax, bass clarinet) is listed ahead of Stowe, the rest: Daniel Barbiero (bass), Alan Munshower (drums), Lee Pembleton (sound). B+(***) [cdr]
Nobu Stowe-Lee Pembleton Project: Hommage an Klaus Kinski (2006 , Soul Note): Pembleton's credit here is "sound" -- whatever that means. Better known are the clarinetists, Perry Robinson and Blaise Siwula, the latter doubling on tenor sax. Veers a bit toward soundtrack territory -- presumably Pembleton's responsible for the bird and bug sounds -- which also gives the pianist an excuse to get melodramatic, something his richly textured style is built for. B+(**) [cdr]
Aki Takase/Alex von Schlippenbach/DJ Illvibe: Lok 03 (2004 , Leo): Two avant pianists who have duetted in the past but not like this, mediated as it is by Illvibe's turntables and kitchen sink-ism, amplifying the noise level of musicians who can really bring it. A-
Aki Takase/Silke Eberhard: Ornette Coleman Anthology (2006 , Intakt, 2CD): Eberhard plays alto sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet, in duos with the pianist on a long list of Ornette Coleman tunes (plus one Takase original). Hot stuff, the piano jumping all over the tunes, the sax/clarinet providing just enough color contrast. A-
Aki Takase/Louis Sclavis: Yokohama (2009, Intakt): Sclavis plays clarinet, bass clarinet, and soprano sax, a lighter tone and calmer demeanor than Eberhard had on those Coleman tunes, and the pianist adjusts accordingly. Thoughtful, often lovely. B+(***)
Aki Takase/Han Bennink: Two for Two (2011, Intakt): A piano-drums duo, again a marvelous outing for the drummer, especially when the moment calls for a bit of swing although he's fine with any or no time, and he's equally adept at setting the pianist up or just amusing himself while she surprises us. A-
Tama: Rolled Up (2009, Jazzwerkstatt): Avant piano trio -- Aki Takase (piano), Jan Roder (bass), Oliver Steidle (drums) -- hits hard for the most part, block-chorded fury, not that it isn't tightly controlled. B+(***)
Leroy Vinnegar Sextet: Leroy Walks! (1957 , Contemporary/OJC): Bassist, nicknamed "The Walker" for his walking bass lines, a theme integrated into most of his handful of album titles (from his first album here to 1992's Walkin' the Basses). Cut in Los Angeles with a light, almost frothy West Coast group -- Gerald Wilson (trumpet), Teddy Edwards (tenor sax), Carl Perkins (piano), Victor Feldman (vibes), Tony Bazley (drums). B+(**)
Monday, August 18. 2014
Music: Current count 23658  rated (+24), 536  unrated (-10).
Not sure why the rated count slipped this past week -- maybe just the drag of the server problems, not to mention the drag of all sorts of everyday hassles. The server problem is that more often than not the database connections used by the serendipity blog software have failed (either not established or dropped), resulting in various cryptic error messages or plain old indefinite hangs. The ISP (addr.com) has been even more unresponsive, but through all this time (3-4 weeks now) the server has been up, it's been serving static pages (i.e., everything on the website below ocston), although it's hard for people to tell that when the root index is inaccessible. Moving the whole blog to another database on another server is a huge and daunting task -- one that I don't doubt will be necessary, but still a ways away.
So it occurred to me that a short-term kluge around the database problem would be to write up a bit of PHP code to manage the most recent part of the blog with static files. I have that code sort of working now, so I'll install it and replace the root index page with something that will explain the problem and offer either the "real blog" or the "fake blog" options. In the future, I will initially install new posts using the "fake blog" system, then try the "real blog." I may add some bells and whistles to the "fake blog," but most likely it will just be a temporary bridging system until I can get something stable working.
Trouble finding new A-list albums this week, although three (of four) releases on Driff sorely tempted me -- I had given A- grades to the first two Whammies albums, a Pandelis Karayorgis album (Mi3: Free Advice) was a Jazz CG Pick Hit back in 2007, and Eric Hofbauer's The Blueprint Project was an A- in 2003. But some combination of bad attitude and excessive nitpicking held me back on all three -- as, by the way, it did on the two Punk 45 compilations Jason Gubbels praised last week (couldn't find the third on Rhapsody), and for that matter the first two records after played after I closed this week's tally: Steven Bernstein's Viper's Drag and Anna Webber's Simple. The only new record to top A- was the Calypso comp Michael Tatum wrote about last week -- I'm always a sucker for that beat and wordplay. The other A- doesn't exist on Rhapsody, but I pieced together a mixer list from other resources and came up with 47 (of 48) songs, close enough. Still, I'm of two minds about the record. I can't knock so many great songs, but I'm not sure how useful the compilation really is, or whether I'd even want a copy. And I am sure that if I was the sort of person who liked to put playlists together, I could easily top The Best Punk Album in the World . . . Ever -- so much for the title.
Reviews on all these records are accumulating, and should trigger a Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week -- assuming nothing else awful happens in the meantime, these days pretty wishful thinking.
One aside: Publicist Matt Merewitz wrote today to nudge me on the Lee Konitz First Meeting: Live in London Volume 1 album out in June. I wrote back, and thought I might as well share this as it bears repeating:
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, August 11. 2014
Music: Current count 23634  rated (+35), 546  unrated (-8).
I've been struggling with MySQL database performance problems at my ISP (ADDR.COM), and got a frightful scare this morning when I realized they not only aren't responding to trouble reports, their "live chat" and "callback" service options are broken, and worst of all I got a message that they're not accepting phone calls. The static pages on the website continue to be served. I can login, update my files, and sometimes even login to the MySQL server. I week or so ago I was able to get an almost complete mysqldump of the blog database, but in three files as I went through the grind table-by-table, and in the end one table was hopelessly lost. Looking at the code that accesses that table, I decided that there's nothing important there, and tried hacking the code to avoid the table. Then I dropped and rebuilt the table, which didn't seem to help but is certainly cleaner. I also tried thinning out the very large "exits" table, which again isn't really useful -- unless one gets obsessive about user use patterns, and I'm not sure even then.
But late today the blog seemed to be working OK, so I posted yesterday's Weekend Update and if luck holds I'll follow up with this post. I'm not under any illusions that this will continue to work, or that I want to continue to do business with ADDR.COM. So I'm working on a couple of things to replant the site. The static pages are no problem, since I have a complete clone of them on a local machine. The blog is a problem in that it's updated on the server and not replicated elsewhere. I use a piece of free software called "serendipity" for it, and it has evolved quite a bit since I last updated the server. So for it I need to download a new copy, then figure out how the database dumps fit in with the new code. I also need to decide whether I want to continue using that code -- I've started using the competing "wordpress" code for other blog projects, mostly because it looks to be easier to train other people to use, and also because it seems to be simpler to keep up to date. And I need to decide whether to move the website to my "hullworks" server -- which has had its own problems lately -- or to go with another virtual server deal.
As a transition strategy, I'm working on a very simple version of blog software, one that uses the file system for storage and a small amount of PHP code to grease the wheels. I have some of it working now, will get more of it tonight, and if need be -- e.g., if I can't post this tonight -- I should be able to put it into use (with a limited data set and no comments or RSS feeds) tomorrow. Right now the main problem is figuring out how to use Apache URI rewrite rules, but that's only necessary to view single posts with more/less compatible pathnames. The bigger problem will be how much old data to collect under what should be temporary riggings.
But enough about my problems. Just finished a pretty productive music week, bringing the Rhapsody Streamnotes draft file up to 56 records (41+1+14). The two A- new jazz records were finds on the outstanding Swiss Intakt label -- one I hadn't noticed from 2013. Intakt also provided two A- old jazz records by Japanese-German pianist Aki Takase (the third A- Takase is on Leo, again accessible to me only through Rhapsody). The Nobu Stowe records had fallen through the cracks from a couple years back. (He's not even listed in Penguin Guide -- their loss.) I'm not normally such a piano fan, so this week is something of a fluke.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Thursday, August 7. 2014
I was queried the other day about the deadline for Downbeat's [79th] annual readers poll. Not sure when it is, but voting is currently open (link). I vote in their Critics Poll, which takes a lot more work: we generally pick three candidates in each category, and there are "rising star" subcategories (formerly "talents deserving wider recognition"), but less work means less trouble, so I voted anyway. If you have any degree of interest and expertise, you should too. If you want to compare notes, mine follow:
Hall of Fame: Lee Konitz. He's 87, and the leading candidate for the past decade. What, you want he should die first? Isn't it bad enough you voted for Pat Metheny last year? Others, la crème de la crème on the ballot: Han Bennink, Anthony Braxton, Don Cherry, Tommy Flanagan, Abdullah Ibrahim, Illinois Jacquet, Misha Mengelberg, Tito Puente, George Russell, Tomasz Stanko. Baseball HOF thinkers divide between ultra-exclusivists (who doubt that Sam Rice or Al Kaline were really such big stars) and more-inclusivists (who are more likely to think that Bid McPhee and Bill Mazeroski got snubbed). I've usually aligned with the latter (McPhee at least, but maybe not Mazeroski: both era-defining fielders, but the latter didn't have much bat, except on the day he broke my 10-year-old heart). So, sure, many more good names on the ballot -- more than they'll ever get to at the rate of two per year.
Off ballot: Red Allen, Billy Bang, Don Byas, Cab Calloway, Leroy Jenkins, Budd Johnson, Louis Jordan, Herbie Nichols, Pérez Prado, Don Pullen, Don Redman, Jimmy Rushing, Sonny Sharrock, Lucky Thompson, Mal Waldron, David S. Ware, Barney Wilen -- all dead and done. Among the living: Vinny Golia, Sheila Jordan, Joe McPhee, David Murray, William Parker, Houston Person, Roswell Rudd, Irène Schweizer, Bob Wilber, and of course one could add and add and add. Wynton Marsalis is on the ballot, so why not Dave Douglas? Wadada Leo Smith? Dennis González?
Jazz Artist: Anthony Braxton. It's a special year for him. On ballot: Dave Douglas, John Hollenbeck, William Parker, Matthew Shipp, Wadada Leo Smith, Ken Vandermark, John Zorn.
Jazz Group: Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Off ballot: Ideal Bread, the Whammies.
Big Band: ICP Orchestra. On ballot: Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra. Off ballot: Ken Vandermark/The Resonance Ensemble.
Jazz Album (June 2013-May 2014): Roswell Rudd: Trombone for Lovers (Sunnyside '13). Off ballot (and I'm very surprised by this, because the label tends to finish very well in polls but also the artist has earned a real following): Steve Lehman Octet: Mise en Abîme (Pi '14). [PS: Release date turns out ot be June 24, so the record is eligible next year. I was assuming that everything in my 2014 list is eligible for the ballot, but some of those records were released after May 31, so the lower percentage of 2014 A-list on the ballot should be expected.] I have three other full-A albums listed from the period: William Parker: Wood Flute Songs (AUM Fidelity); Paul Shapiro: Shofarot Verses (Tzadik); and Digital Primitives: Lipsomuch/Soul Searchin' (Hopscotch) -- only Parker is on the ballot.
Total nominated records: 175. My grade breakdown: A (2); A- (15); B+(***) (31); B+(**) (29); B+(*) (18); B (10); B- (9). Ungraded: 61 (34.8%). Last year's ungraded percentage was 31%, so I'm slipping a bit, but not an awful lot. The grade distribution has slipped downward a bit too (overall graded is up 29.5%, but A/A- is down from 20 to 17, and B/B- is up from 8 to 19). The six-month offset makes it hard to compare to my yearly lists, but within 2014 only 11 of my 42 jazz A/A- records (26.1%) were listed on the ballot (Jenny Scheinman, Craig Handy, Regina Carter, Mary Halvorson, Bobby Avey, Dave Douglas, Catherine Russell, Eric Revis, Sonny Rollins, Vijay Iyer, James Brandon Lewis).
Full breakdown on the ballot albums below the fold.
Historical Album (Released June 2013-May 2014): Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Vol. VIII: Live at the Winery (Widow's Taste). Despite my long interest in Recycled Goods, I get very few "historical" albums: only 10 of the 42 (23.8%) on the ballot. Given this small sample, I won't bother with grade breakdowns (other than to note that I had 4 A- records), or whatever competitive off ballot records I had (other than one A- this year: Enrico Pieranunzi: Play Morricone 1 & 2).
Trumpet: Dave Douglas. On ballot: Ralph Alessi, Steven Bernstein, Taylor Ho Bynum, Peter Evans, Rob Mazurek, Randy Sandke, Wadada Leo Smith, Tomasz Stanko. Off ballot: Dennis González, Darren Johnston, Matt Lavelle, Paul Smoker, Warren Vaché, James Zollar.
Trombone: Roswell Rudd. On ballot: Ray Anderson, Joe Fiedler, Curtis Fowlkes, Phil Ranelin, Steve Swell, Steve Turre. Off ballot: Conrad Bauer, Samuel Blaser.
Soprano Sax: Evan Parker. On ballot: Jan Garbarek, Vinny Golia, Bob Wilber. I'm not quite ready to add Dave Liebman, but he tries hard and has become notably more tolerable in the last couple years. Off ballot: Brent Jensen. Few specialists, and nearly everyone plays better on larger saxes (including Parker).
Alto Sax: François Carrier. On ballot: Tim Berne, Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman, Mike DiRubbo, Marty Ehrlich, Jon Irabagon, Lee Konitz, Oliver Lake, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Michael Moore, Ted Nash, Dave Rempis, Yosvany Terry, Henry Threadgill, Bobby Watson, Miguel Zenón, John Zorn. Off ballot: Martin Küchen, Steve Lehman, Mark Whitecage.
Tenor Sax: Ellery Eskelin. On ballot: Harry Allen, Jerry Bergonzi, James Carter, Joel Frahm, Jan Garbarek, Jon Irabagon, Charles Lloyd, Joe Lovano, Tony Malaby, Branford Marsalis, Joe McPhee, David Murray, Larry Ochs, Evan Parker, Ivo Perelman, Houston Person, Chris Potter, Sonny Rollins, Grant Stewart, Marcus Strickland, Ken Vandermark. Off ballot: Juhani Aaltonen, Rodrigo Amado, Chris Byars, Rich Halley, Scott Hamilton, Billy Harper, Dave Rempis, Archie Shepp, Tommy Smith, Assif Tsahar.
Baritone Sax: Howard Johnson. On ballot: Hamiet Bluiett, James Carter, Claire Daly, Vinny Golia, Brian Landrus, Scott Robinson, Gary Smulyan, John Surman. Not sure why we hear so little from Bluiett; otherwise no obvious choices, so I thought I'd vote for the tuba great.
Clarinet: Michael Moore. On ballot: Andy Biskin, Don Byron, Evan Christopher, Anat Cohen, Marty Ehrlich, Ben Goldberg, Rudi Mahall, Perry Robinson, Louis Sclavis, Gebhard Ullmann, Mort Weiss. Off ballot: Lajos Dudas, Avram Fefer.
Flute: Juhani Aaltonen. On ballot: Robert Dick, Nicole Mitchell.
Piano: Satoko Fujii. On ballot: Kenny Barron, George Cables, Uri Caine, Marilyn Crispell, Kris Davis, Abdullah Ibrahim, Ethan Iverson, Vijay Iyer, Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau, Myra Melford, Misha Mengelberg, Jason Moran, Enrico Pieranunzi, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Matthew d Shipp, Chucho Valdés, Denny Zeitlin. Off ballot: Nik Bärtsch, Ran Blake, Bill Carrothers, Cooper-Moore, David Hazeltine, Pandelis Karayorgis, Joachim Kühn, Steve Kuhn, Russ Lossing, Irène Schweizer, Aki Takase, Albert Van Veenendaal.
ELectronic Keyboard: Nik Bärtsch. Doesn't actually play electronic, which makes what he does all the more remarkable.
Organ: Brian Charette.
Guitar: Marc Ribot. On ballot: Rez Abbasi, Howard Alden, Peter Bernstein, Nels Cline, Bill Frisell, Mary Halvorson, Jeff Parker, Bucky Pizzarelli. Off ballot: Raoul Björkenheim, Pierre Dørge, Marc Ducret, Scott Dubois, Gordon Grdina, Billy Jenkins, Luis Lopes, Pete McCann, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Anders Nilsson, Kevin O'Neil, Samo Salamon, Brad Shepik, Ulf Wakenius.
Bass: William Parker. On ballot: Ben Allison, Arild Andersen, Pablo Aslan, Harrison Bankhead, Avishai Cohen, Mark Dresser, Moppa Elliott, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Michael Formanek, Drew Gress, Barry Guy, Charlie Haden, John Hébert, Mark Helias, Dave Holland, Marc Johnson, Christian McBride, Gary Peacock, Eric Revis, Peter Washington, Reggie Workman. Off ballot: Jason Ajemian, Reid Anderson, Michael Bates, Ken Filiano, Adam Lane, John Lindberg, Mario Pavone.
Electric Bass: Steve Swallow.
Violin: Jenny Scheinman. On ballot: Charles Burnham, Regina Carter, Jason Kao Hwang, Aaron Weinstein, Carlos Zingaro.
Drums: Hamid Drake. On ballot: Barry Altschul, Joey Baron, Han Bennink, Jim Black, Gerald Cleaver, Andrew Cyrille, Jack DeJohnette, Joe Farnsworth, Gerry Hemingway, John Hollenbeck, Billy Martin, Lewis Nash, Paal Nilssen-Love, Mike Reed, Tyshawn Sorey, Nasheet Waits, Matt Wilson. Off ballot: Harris Eisenstadt, Pierre Favre, Louis Moholo, Kevin Norton, Warren Smith, Günter Sommer.
Vibes: Kevin Norton. On ballot: Jason Adasiewicz, Joe Locke, Matt Moran, Warren Smith.
Percussion: Han Bennink. On ballot: Kahil El'Zabar, Marilyn Mazur, Satoshi Takeishi.
Miscellaneous Instrument: Rabih Abou-Khalil (oud). On ballot: Erik Friedlander (cello), Howard Johnson (tuba), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), David Murray (bass clarinet), Bob Stewart (tuba).
Male Vocalist: Freddy Cole.
Female Vocalist: Sheila Jordan. On ballot: Leena Conquest, Diana Krall, René Marie, Catherine Russell, Fay Victor.
Composer: Steve Lehman.
Arranger: Steven Bernstein.
Record Label: Clean Feed.
Blues Artist or Group: Lurrie Bell.
Blues Album (June 2013-May 2014): Leo Welch: Sabougla Voices (Big Legal Mess). I graded eight blues albums from the ballot (2 A-: Leo Welch, Lurrie Bell). My ungraded rate is 90.0% (72 of 80). Not that I dislike blues, but it's not exactly a cutting edge art form.
Beyond Artist or Group: The Roots. Can't really deal with this concept.
Beyond Album (June 2013-May 2014): M.I.A.: Matangi (Interscope). I graded 27 albums from the ballot (4 A/A-: MIA, Arcade Fire, The Road to Jajouka, Janelle Monáe; B+ split 5-7-4; B or lower 7). My ungraded rate is 40.0% (18 of 45).
Looking over my ballot, I'll note several things. One is that I always went with someone on the ballot, even though in a couple slots a write-in might be the better candidate. I do more write-ins in the Critics Poll, but figure the larger voting population here makes them even more invisible (plus they take more time than it's worth). Also, sometimes I skipped the player I generally take as best-established to pick out someone I'm especially fond of (e.g., Eskelin over Murray at tenor sax). Third, in the thinner categories I just grabbed someone and didn't sweat the details. If I filled out the ballot again tomorrow I'd probably make some changes. Indeed, from last year, I changed: Jazz Artist (was Wadada Leo Smith), Big Band (Steven Bernstein Millennial Territory Orchestra), Trumpet (Wadada Leo Smith), Alto Sax (Oliver Lake, Tenor Sax (David Murray), Baritone Sax (Vinny Golia), Electric Keyboard (Matthew Shipp), Organ (John Medeski), Guitar (Mary Halvorson), Electric Bass (Stomu Takeishi), Drums (Han Bennink), Vibes (Warren Smith), Percussion (Kahil El'Zabar), Miscellaneous Instrument (Howard Johnson), Composer (Ben Allison), Blues Artist (Eric Bibb), Beyond Artist (Neil Young). Those all look like pretty good answers, but so are this year's picks.
Continue reading "Downbeat Readers Poll"
Tuesday, August 5. 2014
Music: Current count 23599  rated (+29), 554  unrated (+13).
Music Week is a day late this week. No holiday schedule or suchlike, just a lot of tsuris, which among other things pushed Weekend Roundup from its usual Sunday to Monday. My blog has been under the weather for a couple weeks now. I've complained to the ISP (addr.com) and gotten no help whatsoever (at least none they've explained to me). I did tweak the software (serendipity, or s9y as they prefer) a bit to avoid a table that seems to be damaged and really doesn't do much good. My plan now is to try to rebuild the blog on my own server, and if it proves mobile I may very well move it to another server. The dedicated server I lease remains a problem. I set up four stub accounts there last week, including my first attempt to use WordPress for a website but have a lot to learn there, and I'm still not happy with that ISP. Other computer problems include several flurries of mailing list bounces, some caused by an listing at Spamhaus that erroneously spanned my IP addresses, others by overzealous DMARC processing -- and of course nothing frays my brain cells more than email debugging.
More pedestrian things that have broken during the last week include a faucet/lavatory drain, a toilet, a shade, an oven, and various car problems including an overnight at the garage and two trips to the tire shop. I'm pleased to report that at least I've managed to fix the plumbing issues. I've also been much more agitated than usual about politics -- obviously the situation in Gaza is especially dire, and I agree with Daniel Levy that the US (meaning Obama) could have stopped it at any point (including before anyone noticed), but I am every bit as chagrined with Obama for his mishandling of Iraq and Ukraine, so this point is the lowest regard I've ever held him in.
On the other hand, today is primary day in Kansas, with virtually all the action on the Republican side (not my registration, and only true believers are allowed to vote there). There is a well-funded "tea party" challenge to Sen. Pat Roberts (polls put Roberts ahead by 30 points but I expect it will be much closer), and two incumbent Congressmen face strong challenges: ultra-right Tim Huelskamp burned a lot of bridges in the rural 1st district getting kicked off the Agriculture Committee and voting against the big farm bill. In the 4th district Mike Pompeo (R-Koch) is being challenged by eight-term former congressman Todd Tiahrt (R-Boeing). When in Congress Tiahrt was a DeLay crony with an extreme right social record and a taste for big money, but he's been trying to run to Pompeo's left, attacking him for sponsoring Monsanto's anti-GMO-labelling law and backing NSA spying. A lot of money in that race. Sam Brownback is so unpopular Jennifer Winn will get some votes for governor. Four years ago the right was carrying out a purge of the last of the moderate Republicans, but one of the few who survived is running against neanderthal Richard Ranzau for the Sedgwick County Commission, and another moderate is trying to save us from Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The net result is that we've been flooded in anti-Obama propaganda, none of which has managed to sympathize with the guy. Rather, this feels like the further advance of Dark Ages as politicians who have done nothing but harm promise to create jobs and make government work for us.
Meanwhile, of course, there is music. Much of this appeared in last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. Since then I've slowed down a bit -- it's just been hard to concentrate. Lot of mail came in last week, and I jumped right into the Clean Feed package. Neither A- was clear the first time through, but I wound up playing them quite a bit.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Wednesday, July 30. 2014
Fewer new records, but more old ones, for one of the larger Rhapsody Streamnotes posts of the year. I've written about the various factors driving my old music searches, especially in Monday's "Music Week," so won't try to repeat that here. New records have been harder to find, so I jumped on three of this week's releases: Jenny Lewis, Shabazz Palaces, La Roux. Each came close, but only Lewis improved on the second, and not quite enough to crack the A-list.
Those with a better memory than me will recall that I folded Jazz Prospecting into Rhapsody Streamnotes back in January (and no sooner). I got confused when I expected and failed to find the William Parker box in the Rhapsody Streamnotes index, so I dusted off last year's best jazz list review and included it here. Then I realized my mistake when I looked for more omissions and found more than I thought possible. Still, I kept the revised Parker review, if for no reason than I had bumped the grade up.
Everything of note has been tweeted about -- the easiest way to follow my researches is to follow my twitter feed here. The tweets are then rolled up in my weekly Music Week posts, along with some comments. Then, sooner or later, Rhapsody Streamnotes appears, rolling it all up with blurbs not limitd to 140 characters.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on July 8. Past reviews and more information are available here (5100 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Dee Alexander: Songs My Mother Loves (2014, Blujazz): Standards singer out of Chicago, started out in gospel but the concept here gives her a secular album with classic songs -- "As Long as You're Living," "Now or Never," "What a Difference a Day Makes," two takes of "Perdido." Mostly piano-bass-drums, but the bassist is Harrison Bankhead, and the guest horns Ari Brown, Oliver Lake, and Corey Wilkes. B+(**) [cd]
Al Basile: Swing n' Strings (2013 , Sweetspot): Basically a light-toned blues singer with a touch of Mose Allison in his voice, also plays cornet, with more than ten records since 2001. The strings here turn out to be two guitars, Fred Bates and Bob Zuck (who also sings a couple). No drums, but a bit of sax. B+(**) [cd]
Gerald Beckett: The Messenger (2013 , Summit): Flute player, from Beaumont TX, studied at UNT, has a couple albums. Artwork here is very dark, but the album sloshes along agreeably, the sax boppish and the flute buoyant, flittering even. B [cd]
Kris Berg & the Metroplexity Big Band: Time Management (2014, Summit/MAMA): Bassist-led big band, second album, drew some guest stars here including Phil Woods and Wayne Bergeron. B+(*) [cd]
Todd Bishop Group: Travelogue (2014, Origin): Drummer, has a couple previous albums, leads a quartet with Richard Cole (not Richie Cole) on saxes, bass clarinet, and flute; Jasnam Daya Singh (better known as Weber Iago) on piano and fender rhodes; and Chris Higgins on bass. Flighty postbop, don't quite see the point. B [cd]
Drew Ceccato/Adam Tinkle: Eidolon (2014, Edgetone): Sax duets, Ceccato playing tenor and baritone, Tinkle alto, free and prickly but rather tethered in. B+(*) [cd]
Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra: Shrimp Tale (2013 , Crown Heights Audio Network): Pianist, based in Los Angeles, debut album featuring a 17-piece big band, not many names I recognize but sharp and contemporary, with a spoken word narrative that works. B+(*) [cd]
Dagens Ungdom: Dagens Ungdom (2014, Metronomicon Audio): Norwegian pop/rock group, debut album, recommended by Chris Monsen: "[their] sophisticated lyrical wit may not easily translate into English, but their melodies should to anyone attuned to preppy and jangly British or Kiwi guitarpop from the 80's." I wouldn't say jangly (let alone preppy, something I have no sense of), given the elegant flow. B+(***)
Jason Derulo: Talk Dirty (2014, Warner Brothers): He's always had a knack for singles hooks, finally stringing together a full album of them -- admittedly a short one (37:56), with none of eleven songs topping 3:53. A-
Drumheller: Sometimes Machine (2014, Barnyard): Canadian group, second album, best known member is drummer Nick Fraser (whose Towns & Villages I recommend), but alto saxophonist Brodie West, guitarist Eric Chenaux, trombonist Doug Tielli, and bassist Rob Clutton all contribute songs. Interesting free-ish work, but nothing really jumps out. B+(*) [cd]
Dub Thompson: 9 Songs (2013 , Dead Oceans, EP): Two 19-year-olds from Agoura Hills (near LA), Matt Pulos and Evan Laffer, debut with an eight-track 29:36 mini-album, postmodern postpunk, loud and brash but at one point ("Dograces") dissolving into distant circus sounds. A-
The Equity & Social Justice Quartet: The Whisper of Flowers (2013 , Edgetone): Bay Area group, led by bassist Markus Hunt, with Henry Hung (trumpet), David Boyce (sax), and and Timothy Orr (drums). Album benefits the Homeless Children's Network in San Francisco, not that there's a huge market payback for such understated, disciplined free jazz. B+(**) [cd]
Grenier/Archie Pelago: Grenier Meets Archie Pelago (2014, Melodic): Archie Pelago is a New York trio, classically trained, acoustic instruments (sax, trumpet, cello), providing the texture here for DJ Grenier's synth beats -- all they need to move the chamber music to the dancefloor. B+(***)
Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: What Have We Become (2014, Virgin): Heaton was the voice of the Housemartins and Beautiful South, recording some of my favorite albums, like, ever, and Abbott added her voice to the latter. I haven't sussed out all the meanings here -- is the title track only about obesity? what does "lost him to a DIY" mean? why, exactly, must Phil Collins die? -- but I'm hooked enough on the music. A- [cd]
Jazzhole: Blue 72 (2014, Beave Music): Acid jazz duo, Warren Rosenstein and Marion Saunders, sixth album since 1995, a set of 1972 pop tunes stretched into a languid downtempo groove with vocals by Saunders and several women -- Michelle Lewis, Rosa Russ, Lindsey Webster. The bossa-fied "Rocket Man" is particularly attractive. B+(**) [cd]
Jua: Colors of Life (2014, Chocolate Chi Music): Jua Howard, first name Swahili for "sun," second album, tries to cross between neo-soul and jazz, the latter helped by pianist-producer Onaje Allen Gumbs. B- [cd]
Sherie Julianne: 10 Degrees South (2014, Azul Do Mar): Singer, from the Bay Area, first album, Brazilian standards, produced by pianist Marcos Silva, who knows what he's doing. B [cd]
Dave Kain: Raising Kain (2014, Stop Time): Guitarist, third album (after Citizen Kain and No Pain, No Kain), a trio with bass and drums. All originals, nice tone, plays inside but doesn't fall into any obvious schools or traps. Vic Juris praises him. Dom Minasi too. B+(**) [cd]
Søren Kjaergaard/Ben Street/Andrew Cyrille: Syvmileskridt (2014, ILK Music): Piano trio, fourth album for Danish pianist, his rhythm partners well known, not pushed very hard in a rather stately album -- almost a series of slow march pieces, though there is much more to it than that. B+(***) [bc]
La Dispute: Rooms of the House (2014, Vagrant): Considered a "post-hardcore" group, they do grind out heavy guitar riffs but they also make way for Jordan Dreyer's more spoken than sung (or screamed) vocals, in part because he has something worthwhile to say. B+(***)
La Roux: Trouble in Paradise (2014, Cherrytree/Interscope): Elly Jackson is the singer and co-writer of all nine songs, danceable, mostly about sex. B+(***)
Le1f: Hey (2014, Terrible/XL, EP): Underground rapper, Khalif Diouf, started on Greedhead (Das Racist) and is inching his way into a major label with this 5-track, 15:36 EP. Beats are bleepy and words tumble fast but more funny than furious, until an end which could be a pop hook but hasn't snagged anything yet. B+(**)
Jenny Lewis: The Voyager (2014, Warner Brothers): I'm a sucker for women with pop hooks and brains, and this, like everything she does, at least meets the minimal formal requirements. But looking back it's possible I overrated her three previous albums (including the one with Johnathan Rice but I'm not counting Rilo Kiley here), and nothing here much impressed me until "Love U Forever," soon followed by the mythifying title tune. Gained a bit on the second play. B+(***)
Paul Marinaro: Without a Song (2014, Myrtle): Crooner, throwback to the 1950s, in fact starting with an acetate of his father singing "That Old Black Magic" -- nostalgia in many ways. B+(*) [cd]
Terry Marshall: Arrival (2014, self-released): Pianist, from DC, wouldn't quite call this smooth jazz but it is worn down into something very ordinary. Several songs have vocals from Iva Ambush or Kendra Johnson, one of the latter a particularly stilted duet with DeCastro Brown. C+ [cd]
¡Mayday x Murs!: ¡Mursday! (2014, Strange Music): Third album for "genre-buster" hip-hop group Mayday!, first to feature underground rapper Murs, nearly every track jumping the grooves. Much more here than I can sort out at the last moment, which is when I found this. Could move up. A-
Mark Meadows: Somethin' Good (2014, self-released): Pianist, sings some, has a couple previous records. This one closer to neo-soul than smooth jazz, not that either side offers much. Covers include "Come Together" and "Groovin' High." B- [cd]
Roscoe Mitchell: Conversations II (2013 , Wide Hive): A trio with Craig Taborn (piano) and Kikanju Baku (drums), like its predecessor a set of improvs where the saxophonist gets downright nasty, although not so often or so much as to spoil the adventure. B+(*)
Bob Mould: Beauty & Pain (2014, Merge): I liked Hüsker Dü well enough back in the day -- my grades usually trail Christgau's by a notch -- but hated Sugar, totally ignored Mould's solo career, and haven't listened to any of it in well over a decade, so reports that this is a return to form didn't exactly send me rushing to check it out. But yeah, those reports are mostly right: that guitar echo/rattle is his sound and he does his best to sing under it, and some of the fast ones remind one of the allure, but breaks clear on occasion (e.g., "Let the Beauty Be") and that's more promising. B+(**)
William Parker: Wood Flute Songs: Anthology/Live 2006-2012 (2006-12 , AUM Fidelity, 8CD): Got this box after reviewing three-fourths of it as digital releases -- that much appeared on Rhapsody -- then discovered much later that while I wrote this up for my year-end list I neglected it here. Let's focus on the two discs I missed: a septet live at the Vision Festival in 2009 with Billy Bang, Bobby Bradford, and James Spaulding joining Parker's stellar Quartet (Lewis Barnes, Rob Brown, and Hamid Drake -- they've been together since the extraordinary O'Neal's Porch in 2000); and a big band (William Parker Creation Ensemble) live shot at AMR Jazz Festival in Geneva in 2011. Both discs zing, as does, really, the rest of the box. The two early live sets weren't as consistent as I'd like (cf. 2005's Sound Unity), but their top spots are rarely equalled, and the last two discs -- an expansion of the group that cut Raining on the Moon and a revival of In Order to Survive with an outstanding performance by Cooper-Moore on piano -- just raise the bar. Music at this level deserves to go on and on and on. A [cd]
PJ Rasmussen: Another Adventure (2013 , Third Freedom Music): Guitarist, second album, claims "inspiration from the classic Blue Note tradition," works with piano-bass-drums plus three horns, expanded to five on two cuts. Varied program, the last piece meditative and, well, I forget the rest -- a postbop mix, I think. B [cd]
Real Estate: Atlas (2014, Domino): Third album, easy-rolling tunefulness, the gentle lope touched up with a bit of guitar jangle. B+(**)
Ellynne Rey: A Little Bit of Moonlight (2013 , self-released): Standards singer, first album, including a Jobim ("Dindi") and an English "Besame Mucho," a Monk mixed in with the Berlin and Styne. Band includes scrawny piano-bass-drums-percussion but the one thing you soon focus on is Gene Bertoncini's guitar, a sweet spot in an otherwise rather dry album. B [cd]
Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Cimmerian Crossroads (2014, Edgetone): Plays alto and soprano sax, sometimes (judging from pictures) at the same time. Has close to ten records since 1995 -- the first I heard was last year's Truth Teller, and I'm turning into a fan. I wouldn't have ID'ed the fourth cut as Ornette Coleman because it sounds to me like what Charlie Parker should have sounded like if he was really as great as they say. (But Coleman was my first alto sax crush, so I'm easily swayed on the subject.) Romus' other alto master is Arthur Blythe, who wrote one piece and is subject of another. A- [cd]
Jochen Rueckert: We Make the Rules (2014, Whirlwind): Drummer, has a couple albums, this a quartet with Mark Turner (tenor sax), Lage Lund (guitar), and Matt Penman (bass). This sort of thing is becoming the new norm for postboppers, relying most on guitar with the sax for extra flavor. B+(**) [cd]
Amanda Ruzza/Mauricio Zottarelli: Glasses, No Glasses (2013 , Pimenta Music): Guitar and drums; expecting that I was surprised by the keyboards, their prominence and how they center this fusion, and surprised again that the keyboardist is Leo Genovese, whose name (unlike the headliners) I recognize. B+(***) [cd]
Nicky Schrire: To the Spring (2013 , self-released, EP): Singer, London-born, grew up in South Africa, based in New York, has a couple albums. This six-song EP runs 30:06, backed by Fabian Almazan on piano and Desmond White on double bass. All originals, a detectable nod to Joni Mitchell (although her website also mentions Tori Amos). B- [cd]
Shabazz Palaces: Lese Majesty (2014, Sub Pop): Hip-hop duo from Seattle on an alt-rock label, descriptions range from "left-field rap" to "Basquiat-styled broken boombox boom-bap" -- emphasis I would say on "broken" as this chugs-a-lug-on, a couple points so broken I doubt it can ever recover, but more often it remains interesting. B+(***)
Paul Shapiro: Shofarot Verses (2013 , Tzadik): Saxophonist, plays alto/soprano/tenor here, also shofar, the ram's horn on the cover drawfing the alto, part of Tzadik's "Radical Jewish Culture" series although it will mostly appear to jaded r&b fans, featured in the comic, "The Book of Shapiro: A Tale of Rhythm & Jews." Not sure how that's packaged, but aside from the leader, the stars here are Adam Rudolph (frame drums, udu drum, shakers, bell) and Marc Ribot (guitar) -- the latter's most scorching performance to date. A [cdr]
Mitch Shiner and the Blooming Tones Big Band: Fly! (2014, Patois): Drummer, originally from Milwaukee, first album, an 18-piece big band, recorded in Bloomington, Indiana. Has a fondness for schmaltz standards, most obviously "When You Wish Upon a Star" and "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." Docked for the last-track vocal. B- [cd]
Sia: 1000 Forms of Fear (2014, RCA): Sia Furler, has a voice similar to Shakira but not that Latin tinge -- Australia, which at least gives her a little distance from the gloom of so many of her Anglo contemporaries. B
Donna Singer: Destiny: Moment of Jazz (2014, Emerald Baby): Standards singer, has a couple previous albums including an Xmas thing I have but haven't bothered with. Nice voice, ably backed by the Doug Richards trio (Billy Alfred on piano, Richards on bass) with various special guests. Competent enough the songs decide: I'm a sucker for "Time After Time" and "Where or When," but not "Yesterday" let alone something called "I Believe I Can Fly." B [cd]
Vinnie Sperrazza: Apocryphal (2012 , Loyal Label): Drummer ("et cetera"), has a handful of albums and many side credits, wrote everything here for a superb quartet: Loren Stillman (alto sax), Brendon Seabrook (guitar), Eivind Opsvik (bass). Can get sludgy or weepy at times, but the guitarist, in particular, is a powerhouse. B+(**) [cd]
Isabel Stover: Her Own Sweet World (2010 , self-released): Standards singer, debut album, "Nature Boy" and "The Song Is You" are two of the better ones, with Taj Mahal an outlier. Dave Tidball's sax is a plus. B+(*) [cd]
Tilting: Holy Seven (2013 , Barnyard): Montreal quartet led by bassist Nicolas Caloia, adopting as group name the group's first title. Jean Derome plays freewheeling baritone sax and bass flute to fit the bass tones, with Guillaume Dostater on piano and Isaiah Ceccarelli on drums. B+(***) [cd]
Peter Van Huffel/Michael Bates/Jeff Davis: Boom Crane (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Alto sax-bass-drums trio, the leader (from Canada, based in New York) also has a "punk-jazz" group called Gorilla Mask but achieves a comparable roughness here, the main difference being the really superb rhythm section here. A-
Anne Waldman: Jaguar Harmonics (2014, Fast Speaking Music): Poet, website lists 53 "books & pamphlets" going back to 1968 -- the highpoint of my interest in beat poetry although I don't recall her, a missed connection, as she would have impressed me back then. Website also mentions 18 audio recordings (but not this one), the last four with music by Ambrose Bye (her son), credited with "sounds and percussion" here. Striking music from cellist Ha-Yang Kim, plus free jazz horns by Daniel Carter and Devin Brahja Waldman (her nephew). A- [cd]
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Cabaret Voltaire: #7885 Electropunk to Technopop (1978-85 , Mute): Dismissed by Christgau as "dadaist dance musicians," I got to them late and have scarcely scratched the surface, but I was blown away by a 2003 comp, The Original Sound Sound of Sheffield '83/'87. This, which favors shorter 7-inch versions over the 12-inchers that so impressed me, does much the same, the beats all but regimented but irresistible, with talkie vocals marking time. A-
Miles Davis: Miles at the Fillmore (Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3) (1970 , Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): The complete four sets from June 17-20 at Fillmore East, doubling the material previously released as Miles Davis at Fillmore: Live at Fillmore East (, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD). This was one of the weakest of the five 2-CD "electric Miles" sets issued in 1997, but without comparison to the others expands nicely to full sets, and people tell me the sound is much improved (but they have CDs). The band had Steve Grossman on sax (tenor/soprano), Chick Corea on electric piano, Keith Jarrett on electric organ, Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, and Airto Moreira on percussion. Their fusion is still loose and funky, but the real attraction is the leader's knack for picking his spots. B+(***)
Nancy Harrow: Wild Women Don't Have the Blues/You Never
Know (1960-62 , Fresh Sound): Two LPs, one on Candid
back by Buck Clayton's Jazz Stars, the other on Atlantic with Gary
McFarland Orchestra and a quartet/quintet led by John Lewis. Clayton's
group is indeed stellar, with Buddy Tate and Dickie Wells standouts,
although the disclosure in Ida Cox's song is worth pondering: "wild
women are the only kind that really get by." In this company Harrow
sounds like Helen Humes, but she comes more into her own with
McFarland's relatively nondescript backing. Harrow wasn't heard
from again until 1979's Anything Goes, starting a string of
16 albums up to 2010.
Craig Leon: Early Electronic Works: Nommos Visiting (1981-82 , Aparte): Best known as the producer of rock albums, starting in the 1970s with eponymous LPs Ramones, Blondie, and Suicide along with Richard Hell & the Voidoids' Blank Generation, later Dwight Twilley, The Bangles, and the Go-Betweens' Tallulah, and much later classical albums, but in the early 1980s he released these two albums of electronic music -- too beatwise for "new music" but not snappy enough for techno, closest in spirit to the ambient exotica Jon Hassell was developing, but sui generis nonetheless. [Also available on 2LP as Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1: Nommos/Visiting (RVNG Intl.); Rhapsody omits one 15:20 track.] A-
Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Play Morricone 1
& 2: The Complete Recordings (2001-02 , CAM Jazz, 2CD):
A marvelous pianist who's made a study of all the major Italian film
composers, building on Morricone's melodies without bothering with the
rhythm or sonics of the composer's best known electronics -- puts this
back into the whitewater of piano jazz. The trio, by the way, started
long before and extends long after this peak recording. The second set
may be a bit excessive, but the reissue is a deal.
George Adams/Don Pullen: Don't Lose Control (1979 , Soul Note): Tenor sax and piano, joined Charles Mingus and drummer Dannie Richmond around 1973 and kept the group going after Mingus passed, subbing Cameron Brown at bass. Pullen was by far the more adventurous player. Adams had a gorgeous tone and enough speed to keep up, and he was a credible blues singer so you get some of that, and he lays out on Pullen's choppiest romp, then returns with fractured flute over percussion, more like Brown tapping his box than anything coming off the drum set. B+(***)
George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet: Earth Beams (1980, Timeless): Adams can growl and wail with anyone, but this really takes off four songs in with Pullen's stratospheric piano runs -- no one else has ever played piano like this. The song is "Saturday Nite in the Cosmos," and it loses little when Adams switches to flute, not that we don't appreciate the tenor's imminent return. Nothing else hits that peak, but how could it? A-
George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet: Life Line (1981, Timeless): Featuring Dannie Richmond (drums) and Cameron Brown (bass). Mixed bag of swing, postbop and avant, a couple blues with Adams singing, though nothing he aces. B+(*)
George Adams & Don Pullen: Melodic Excursions (1982, Timeless): Just a duo, the former's buttery tenor sax and some exceptional piano runs by the latter, but also a bit too much flute. B+(*)
George Adams-Dannie Richmond: Gentlemen's Agreement (1983, Soul Note): Feat. Jimmy Knepper (trombone), Hugh Lawson (piano), Mike Richmond (bass), same as their 1980 Hand to Hand. The tenor saxophonist is a more vigorous leader here, at least to start, but the record tails off a bit. B+(*)
George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet: Decisions (1984, Timeless): Ends with one of Adams' blues pieces, actually a song about marriage which he sings as a blues and the band swings around, happy for once to just play and not have to invent. B+(**)
The Chris Anderson Trio: Inverted Image/My Romance (1960-61 , Fresh Sound): Two early trio albums for the Chicago pianist, and pretty much all he recorded until the 1990s -- see the album below with Charlie Haden, my introduction to him. All standards, everything above mid-tempo with a brisk vitality and playful touch, the minority ballads touching in various ways. Certainly no clue here why he didn't have a career on a par with, oh, Sonny Clark, or Ahmad Jamal. A-
Conrad Bauer: Hummelsummen (2002 , Intakt): The trombonist with Zentralquartett (more below), has about twenty albums more/less under his own name (sometimes as Conny Bauer, or as Konrad Bauer, some with brother trombonist Johannes Bauer). This is solo, something few trombonists try: with few exceptions, the pieces feel thin, like practice, but not without interest. B+(**)
Conrad Bauer/Johannes Bauer: Bauer Bauer (1993 , Intakt): Both brothers play trombone and have substantial careers, so a duo was inevitable sooner or later. Nothing especially rough: they tend to build harmonically, getting a richly layered sound but still wholly trombone. B+(**)
Conrad Bauer/Peter Kowald/Günter Sommer: Between Heaven and Earth (2001 , Intakt): Kowald sets the tone here with his unmatched mastery of every odd sound one can squeeze out of the big bass fiddle, first pushing the trombonist to his own exploration, then opening up into more vigorously avant fare. A-
Ron Carter/Herbie Hancock/Tony Williams: Third Plane (1977 , Milestone/OJC): Piano trio, a reunion of the rhythm section of Miles Davis' legendary 1960s quintet, playing "Stella by Starlight," three Carter tunes, one each by the others. The bass is mixed way up and is a thing of beauty, and the pianist is refreshing, playing off the lines instead of hijacking them. B+(***)
Duke Ellington and Ray Brown: This One's for Blanton (1972-73 , Pablo/OJC): Bassist Jimmy Blanton joined Ellington's band in 1939, playing until he was sidelined with tuberculosis in 1941 (dead in 1942 at age 23). His tenure coincided with a golden age for Ellington, and his impact was such that the group was informally dubbed The Blanton-Webster Band -- the title of a 3-CD RCA set covering the period. These are piano-bass duets, most from the day, along with a 4-part "Fragmented Suite for Piano and Bass." B+(***)
Art Farmer: Out of the Past (1960-61 , Chess): Rolls up two albums on Argo (Art and Perception, minus one track each), both quartets, one with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Harold Mabern on the other. Mostly ballads, the latter half Farmer's first all-flugelhorn album. B+(***)
Charlie Haden: Quartet West (1986 , Verve): With Ernie Watts (tenor sax), Alan Broadbent (piano), and Billy Higgins (drums), the first of seven albums (with Lawrence Marable replacing Higgins), a series that grew increasingly sentimental and schmaltzy over time (not that I wasn't enchanted by Haunted Heart, with dubbed-in vocals by Billie Holiday, Jo Stafford, and Jeri Southern). This is closer to standard Haden, a mix of Ornette Coleman and his own tunes, a Charlie Parker, "Passion Flower," "My Foolish Heart." B+(**)
Charlie Haden/Chris Anderson: None but the Lonely Heart (1997, Naim): Bass-piano duets, Anderson (1926-2008) only lightly recorded over a long career -- two 1960-61 trios recently reissued on Fresh Sound, several 1997-98 solo and duo albums on Naim. Mostly standards, these are especially touching. A-
Fred Hersch: Fred Hersch Plays Rodgers & Hammerstein (1996, Nonesuch): Solo piano, the famous songs hewing none too close to the standard form, presumably the point. B+(***)
Earl Hines: Blues in Thirds (1965 , Black Lion): Solo piano from one of the all-time greats, remarkable both how much he does and how easy he makes it look. Not much of a singer, though. A-
Earl Hines: One for My Baby (1974 , Black Lion): Another superb solo outing, seven Harold Arlen tunes, stretching "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues" out to 12:01 (without singing any). A-
Earl Hines: Plays Duke Ellington, Volume Two (1971-75 , New World): Originally four LPs (Volume One was 2-CD, leaving just a little over an hour here), a major survey by a pianist who was a contemporary of Ellington's and in many ways a significant figure even earlier, but Hines kept up with the times and has a lot of fun playing circles around Duke's indelible melodies. B+(***)
Johnny Hodges/Earl "Fatha" Hines: Stride Right (1966, Verve): Starts with three Hines staples, followed by five prime pieces of Ellingtonia and something called "Tippin' In" -- nothing here to break a sweat on, but the principals handle the pieces as you'd expect, sublimely. As does guitarist Kenny Burrell, still several years away from his masterful Ellington Is Forever (1975). A-
New Orleans Rhythm Kings: The Complete Set: 1922-1925 (1922-25 , Retrieval, 2CD): One of the first significant jazz groups to come out of New Orleans -- a white group, although some of their recordings were joined by pianist Jelly Roll Morton -- they were considerably more advanced than the better known Original Dixieland Jazz Band (from 1917), and the latter half of this historical milestone set really starts to jump. A
Don Pullen: Healing Force (1976, Black Saint): Solo piano, a marvelous player although this early he exhibits more muscle than finesse, and hadn't yet developed his knuckle-bruising crescendos. B+(**)
The Don Pullen Quintet: The Sixth Sense (1985, Black Saint): More advanced as a pianist, but he comes up with an oddly matched quintet, with Olu Dara on trumpet and Donald Harrison on alto sax, Fred Hopkins on bass and Bobby Battle on drums. After fluttering around, they go trad on the closer, but it only lasts 1:58. B
Art Tatum: Classic Early Solos (1934-1937) (1934-37 , MCA): Not really a proponent of the stride school, just a guy who played piano with both hands so deftly you sometimes wondered if he had more. But here at least the two hands are clear, making this a fair place to start. B+(***)
Art Tatum: The Standard Sessions: 1935-1943 Transcriptions (1935-43 , Music & Arts, 2CD): Sixty-one standards ranging from "Tiger Rag" through what's since become known as the Great American Songbook, given the Tatum treatment and compiled from radio shots -- great songs always help, and here give the wizard much to work with. A-
Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume One (1953 , Pablo/OJC): One of Norman Granz's "get rich slow" (Robert Christgau's term) projects: from 1953-56 he corralled Tatum in a studio, getting him to record 119 solo pieces and a similar number of small group pieces, eventually released on 15 CDs (8 Solo Masterpieces, 7 Group Masterpieces). Tatum died in 1956 so effectively they're his last testament, blessed with the best sound quality of his career. It's impossible to casually sort through the solo discs, each studded with a few breathtaking performances, and a lot of the highly ornamental pianistics that only Tatum could perform. B+(***)
Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Two (1953-55 , Pablo/OJC): Ho hum. B+(**)
Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Three (1953-55 , Pablo/OJC): Hum ho. B+(***)
Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Six (1953-55 , Pablo/OJC): Not at his most athletic, but sometimes he takes a song you know well and turns it inside out so many times it's totally reinvented, and that's what happens on "Night and Day" here. He does that sort of thing a lot, but it's easier to follow on songs you know well. Several here give this a slight edge for me, but his more devoted fans will tell you he does it all the time. A-
Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Seven (1953-55 , Pablo/OJC): Not peak material, either in terms of songs or performance, but only when he slows down do you get a sense of how much thought he puts into his readings. B+(***)
Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Eight (1953-56 , Pablo/OJC): It's not clear to me how the eight volumes are organized, but this seems to be the only disc with pieces from the final August 1956 session. Nor do I know where the last two cuts ending in live applause come from, but this "Willow Weep for Me" is one of the series' highlights. B+(***)
Art Tatum: The Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces (1953-56 , Pablo, 7CD): Originally released on 13 LPs c. 1975, the 8 volumes available individually on CD run 15-16 songs each, but the box here saves a disc by squeezing in 18-21 songs per. I've been surprisingly resistant to the individual discs, not that I didn't recognize remarkable moments or the overall high level of consistency, but that's partly because none of them really stood out -- ok, Volume Six, barely; I'll also note that Volume Four and Volume Five were previously rated at B+. Usually when I review multi-disc sets, the grade sinks to the lowest common denominator, but as a whole this enterprise adds up to something slightly greater than its parts. It's not the pinnacle of Tatum's solo art, but it does give you a sense of how massive his accomplishment was. A-
The Cecil Taylor Quartet: Looking Ahead! (1958 , Contemporary/OJC): Taylor's second album, after Jazz Advance, is a piano trio plus Earl Griffith's vibraphone to add that extra percussiveness. B+(***)
Cecil Taylor: Silent Tongues (1974, Arista/Freedom): Solo piano, something Taylor's done dozens of times and can, like Tatum, be impossible or pointless to sort out. This one was live at Montreux Jazz Festival, a big venue, and the sustained energy blows you away. Close reading of Penguin Guide, where they credit Taylor with more 4-star albums than anyone else, suggests that they prefer For Olim (1986) and The Tree of Life (1988) among the solos. I'd say this smokes them. A-
Cecil Taylor: Algonquin (1999 , Bridge): A duo with Mat Maneri on violin, a dark and dapper cloak around Taylor's still-powerful pianistics. B+(***)
Trevor Watts Moiré Music Trio: Moire (1995, Intakt): British alto saxophonist, appears at many critical junctures in the avant-garde -- e.g., cut one of the great albums in 1969 (Amalgam's Prayer for Peace) -- but only has a spotty discography to show for it, including a large hole from 1981 to this date. With Colin McKenzie on bass guitar and Paapa J. Mensah (from Ghana) on drums, African percussion, and occasionally vocals, Watts rides the riddims looking for patterns, mixing a fair amount of soprano sax into the complex weave. A-
Trevor Watts: The Deep Blue (2008 , Jazzwerkstatt): Solo, but not just alto and soprano sax: Watts has dubbed in keyboard and percussion tracks, so he winds up playing with himself, a formula John Surman developed much earlier. The difference is that Watts' fascination with African rhythms make this a much livelier outing, upbeat and enchanting, and while at first it seems a bit pat, like another point of view might help, the backing is remarkably vivid, and the sax profound. A-
Zentralquartett [Conrad Bauer/Ulrich Gumpert/Ernest-Ludwig Petrowsky/Günter Sommer]: Zentralquartett (1990 , Intakt): Trombone, piano, alto saxophone/clarinet/flute, and drums, the same group previously recorded as Synopsis (1974-77) and Günter Sommer et Trois Vieux Amis (1984), but have since adopted this album title as their group name, and it should be applied here too. Bauer is central here, but not enough of a virtuoso to pull off anything especially remarkable, not that the others don't have interesting ideas to thrash about. B+(***)
Zentralquartett: Plié (1994, Intakt): Trombone, drums, piano, alto sax -- the trombone central for the depth of vamps and riffs and so much resonance they can dispense with a bass, in turn allowing the alto to spend much time in the stratosphere. The pianist aspires to Monkishness, but he can also kick up a fairly convincing boogie woogie. Quite extraordinary when it all comes together. A
Zentralquartett: Careless Love (1997 , Intakt): A maturing group, evoking chaos one minute then dropping into something slow and semi-minimalist with African overtones ("Fünf Andere Miniaturen"), starting the W.C. Handy title cover at a crawl then opening up the brass at something more like a fox trot. Each musician gets his due, and they all add up to an exceptional group. A-
Zentralquartett/Synopsis: Auf Der Elbe Schwimmt Ein Rosa Krokodil (1974 , Intakt): FMP's 1976 release was credited to Synopsis, but same lineup so the reissue is credited as above. This is completely of its time in Europe's early avant-garde: discordant, harsh even, with Petrowsky's alto sax clearly in the lead, the others criss-crossing chaotically. Interesting, then on the final piece ("Mehr Aus Teutschen Landen") simply amazing -- credit Ulrich Gumpert for kickingout the jams. A-
Additional Consumer News:
Nothing above on the small group sessions Norman Granz organized for Art Tatum, subsequently collected in The Art Tatum Pablo Group Masterpieces (1954-56 , Pablo, 6CD), because I previously graded all eight volumes separately. For the record, the grades:
I haven't reviewed The Complete Pablo Group Masterpieces, but I suspect that the individual volumes are better in that they keep the sessions separate, whereas to squeeze everything into six discs required splitting the sessions up, so each disc gives you part of one and part of another.
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, July 28. 2014
Music: Current count 23570  rated (+43), 541  unrated (-7).
Finally got hot here in Wichita last week, so I spent most of my time inside, listening to music, trying to add some flesh to the bones of a Rhapsody Streamnotes column that should be posted before July burns out. The new jazz queue is running low, and much of what remains (possibly including some records below) doesn't officially release until September, so I focused on Rhapsody. So I wound up going for old jazz, glancing at my Penguin Guide 4-star list but digging a little deeper when something caught my fancy -- for instance, Trevor Watts' The Deep Blue was never reviewed by Penguin Guide (although an earlier, similar solo album was). The Chris Anderson and Nancy Harrow twofers also came out later: Anderson I looked up when I was doing his Charlie Haden duo last week, and I noticed Harrow as a side-effect.
The big discovery was Conrad Bauer's wonderful Zentralquartett. I had previously heard (and graded A-) their 2006 album, 11 Songs -- Aus Teutschen Landen, back when I was on Intakt's mailing list, and had long had Plié on my "shopping list," so I expected good things and found even better. Intakt is making more and more of their catalogue available on Rhapsody, and I'm picking them up about as fast as I can find them: 27 in past Streamnotes columns (including a deep dive into Irène Schweizer's work -- her Portrait and Alexander von Schlippenbach's Monk's Casino were the two top releases of my tenure with the label) -- and eight more below. I'll also note that when I received them, their jewel boxes were packed precisely into indestructible mailers, by far the most impressive attention to detail I've seen. (Swiss, you know.)
Not much in the mail this week, but there was one prize, a book by Rick Lopez: The William Parker Sessionography: A Work in Progress. Back cover says, "Attempting a complete historical arc." The book comes to 482 large (8.5x11-inch) pages with 370 illustrations, paperback, weighs 3.2 lbs., and sells for $50 list. The data has long been accumulating on Lopez's website, conveniently in one huge file here, and it chronicles everything Parker played since January 19, 1974 (or February 1, 1974, since Parker noted that he was not at the previous concert), up to the moment. The book, of course, will be instantly obsolete -- the last entry there is for the four sets Parker played at the Nineteenth Annual Vision Festival June 11-15 this year, but it's lovely just to thumb through.
Presumably I got my copy because Lopez used a quote of mine as a blurb: "I want to point out the wonderful discographies that Rick Lopez has produced . . . -- treasure troves of information, some of the finest scholarship available on the internet today." As the plural indicates, Parker has not been the only musician blessed with Lopez's attention, but he has been by far the most prodigious. The quote saves me from writing a review -- not that I won't someday -- but for now let's add that it's also, or should soon be, some of the finest scholarship available in America's finer libraries.
My quote, by the way, comes from a piece I originally wrote for Static in 2003, called Bass Fiddles and Nu Bop: A Consumer Guide to William Parker, Matthew Shipp, et al., which offered Consumer Guide-style reviews to 57 albums. (The link goes to my archive, which includes many additional notes -- that's where you'll find the blurb comment.) The idea for the piece came up after Shipp and Thirsty Ear sent me a huge pile of albums for my Rolling Stone Record Guide entry on Shipp, then Steven Joerg of AUM Fidelity matched that with a deep selection of Parker's work for his label. Several other musicians and label heads helped out, and I made a few strategic purchases. At the time, I distilled a discography from Lopez's data (and other non-Parker sources), listing 259 records, 97 of which I had heard. At some point I should collect all the subsequent reviews and create an updated page -- there must be another 50-100 records since 2003, depending on tightly we narrow the focus on Parker.
A couple more listening notes: I finally broke down and gave the new Miles Davis bootleg one fast 4-hour spin, so the grade there is very perfunctory. The Jarrett-Corea combo is more famous than great, with neither doing what they do best but having fun nonetheless. There's a good chance that comparative listening would have found some chunks (relatively speaking) in this particular set -- certainly Dark Magus and Live at Philharmonic Hall are superior. I note that the one the new release build on is the second weakest of the five -- the worst is the slightly earlier Miles Davis Live at the Fillmore East (March 7, 1970), with Jarrett-Corea the main culprits. Still, I haven't listened to any of those records in years, so it's possible that I was swayed by the reacquaintance with the always attractive trumpet-on-rhythm shtick. On the other hand, the 4-CD set offers more choices that are less exhausting than one 4-hour fly-through. And like I said, listening through my computer I can neither confirm nor deny reports of superior sound. In a set this size, all this matters more than usual. This is one case where I requested a copy and didn't get a reply.
The New Orleans Rhythm Kings also got a relatively cursory one-shot listen. Again, actual CDs would have been a plus, but I was inclined to be generous: I have about half of this on a 1992 Milestone release (the Jelly Roll Morton sides), a set I love, and the sound here (even on computer) is clearly better; the record is a Penguin Guide Crown selection, historically important -- the sort of thing many of us would want to have just to have a proper overview of the history -- and the last third or so simply blew me away. Normally, I wouldn't give a full A to a record heard just once, but consider this a very educated guess.
That's probably true of Cecil Taylor's Silent Tongues as well, but being a single I gave it two spins. What I didn't do was any comparative listening to other Taylor solos, of which there are many. Penguin Guide has this at 4-stars, but they rate two others even higher (For Olim and The Tree of Life, both in their "core collection"). I have those records at B and B+ respectively, last heard long ago and quite possibly underrated. With Taylor as with Tatum, you are probably an all-or-nothing type -- at least most critics are, Morton & Cook included. I'm not: I admire both but don't want to be inundated by either, and I recall I went through a stage where a lot of Taylor's stuff turned me off.
More depth on all of this in Rhapsody Streamnotes, out later this week. Don't know whether I'll continue this pace into August. Maybe travel of something to take a break. By the way, three A- records among the relatively hit-and-miss new records. One was recommended by Jason Gubbels, one came off Chris Monsen's list, one came from both plus Michael Tatum (who gave me the first heads up). Also one A which just popped up in my mailbox.
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, July 21. 2014
Music: Current count 23527  rated (+26), 548  unrated (+14).
When I got back from my aunt's funeral, there was a surprisingly large pile of new records waiting. I didn't get around to listing them last week, so this week's haul looks more robust than usual. I do, however, get the sense that I've fallen well out of the realm of being a mainstream jazz critic. This week's unpacking list doesn't quite prove my point -- there are a number of reputable artists there I recognize and welcome (Todd Bishop, Bobby Broom, Wayne Horvitz, Ryan Keberle, Greg Reitan, Steve Swallow, Ohad Talmor, Adam Nussbaum, Matt Ulery) most of the records I get these days are from unknowns, with the occasional cult favorite slipping in. (Two of the latter wound up with A- grades, and I doubt that you'll be reading much about either elsewhere.) Part of this is my fault, of course: formerly reliable publicists at labels like High Note and Sunnyside took my hint and stopped sending, and I've done a poor job following up on available downloads from labels like ECM -- I'm not even sure what I do or don't have there, but haven't had time (or curiosity) to sort that out.
When I got back, I didn't feel like facing the queue, so I took a look at my Penguin Guide list and started playing some old jazz from Rhapsody. First three records were high B+, which seems like par for the course. Then Charlie Haden died so I looked up his duet album with Chris Anderson, and the more I played it the more I was entranced. I then moved on to Earl Hines and Art Tatum -- one of the biggest chunks on the Penguin list was Tatum's Solo Masterpieces, which Morton & Cook love indiscriminately. I had long ago picked up Volume Four and Volume Five (both B+), plus I had a 2003 release, The Best of the Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces (A). So I spent a big chunk of time going through the other six volumes, then for good measure I gave the whole box a spin. Much of it is indeed remarkable, none of it without interest, and I didn't mind the time.
I think the reason I graded the box over its constituent volumes is that when grading the latter the question arises as to which discs are relatively better investments, and the way they are organized makes it impossible to say -- I gave Volume Six an edge mostly because of two or three especially striking songs as opposed to the dozen or so run-of-the-mill Tatums. On the other hand, the box does make sense as a whole, and it is a remarkable accomplishment both within Tatum's career and over the entire history of jazz. Given all that, my nitpicking wasn't enough to drop it below A-. Still, I much prefer The Standard Sessions, which offers livelier performances and concentrates more great songs. Only minor sonic issues, plus my general reserve about solo piano, held it below an A.
I didn't do The Art Tatum Pablo Group Masterpieces because I own and have long graded every one of them. Tatum mostly recorded solo, so the 1954-56 Granz sessions just added to an already huge legacy, but the group sessions are almost the only time Tatum ever appeared in groups -- at least with horns. They vary more in quality, but the best are really extraordinary, both as group efforts and by freeing Tatum from having to carry the rhythm he gets a chance to perform some of his most spectacular embellishments. The best are: Volume Eight (with Ben Webster: A+); Volume Two (with Roy Eldridge: A); Volume Seven (with Buddy DeFranco: A); Volume One (with Benny Carter: A-).
Tatum is as universally revered as Charlie Parker, which may be why I quibble. I'm always reminded of what Tom Piazza wrote in The Guide to Classic Recorded Jazz: "Ask ten pianists to name the greatest jazz pianist ever and eight will tell you Art Tatum. The other two are wrong." I've made a career out of being wrong, so I don't mind telling you that my answer to that question is Earl Hines. He was easily the greatest pianist in 1928 when he (and Louis Armstrong) cut some of the most classic jazz sides ever, and he was dazzling when he toured with Armstrong's 1946 All-Stars. In between he ran a very important big band, and in the 1960s he led a wonderful quartet with Budd Johnson on tenor sax. Later still, he recorded many solo piano albums, including a couple listed below (Tour de Force is probably the first pick, at least the choice title, but these come close). That, in turn, led me to an obscure Johnny Hodges album which couldn't possibly go wrong.
After Tatum and Hines, I pulled out all those jazz vocal albums I've been avoiding and slogged through them. Poet Anne Waldman's album jumped out of that pile. It is a jazz/poetry album somewhat similar to the Rich Halley-Dan Raphael album Children of the Blue Supermarket, which was my favorite album in 2011, although vocally it reminds me more of Patti Smith, with the sax closer to Ornette Coleman (hence my tweet).
Looks like a pretty awful week coming up, both personally and all around the world. I have made some progress on the crashed server, but it's going to be a long while before it's all history.
Recommended music links:
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week (plus):