Monday, September 18. 2017
Music: Current count 28690  rated (+40), 392  unrated (+16).
Did almost nothing last week but listen, all jazz except for a couple items Phil Overeem recommended in tweets, only three albums coming from my recently expanding CD queue. The majority (22+5/40) of the records were Clean Feed/Shhpuma releases I never got in the mail -- I just brought up their 2017 releases pages and found it all on Napster, so easy enough. Nothing bad or especially good there: high was two B+(***), low three B. I rather expected more given that I had previously logged six A- records on Clean Feed (three on CD, three streamed). I don't believe this includes their September releases (I have some email on such, but lately they've gotten into making life difficult).
I did manage a push forward on compiling the Jazz Guide(s) last week. Up to John Hébert in the Jazz Post-2000 file (39%), which brings the post-2000 guide to 1140 pages. I was at 29% a week ago, so if I keep up the slog I still have six weeks to go (plus the groups I've shunted to the side). I'm still estimating it will hit 1500 pages, although the estimating formula I've been using shows it a bit shorter (1375, down from 1425, but that doesn't account for group entries).
By the way, some very bad political news since yesterday's already grim Roundup: John McCain announced he will "regrettably" vote for the Graham-Cassidy ACA repeal (see Arizona Governor Backs O'care Repeal, Likely Securing McCain's and Flake's Votes). The Graham-Cassidy bill is in many ways even worse than the previous Repeal/Replace bills, reminding us that as with the House bills, the key to getting more Republican support is to make the legislation even more vicious.
Perhaps even more disturbing is this report: U.S. warns that time is running out for peaceful solution with North Korea. I think the last time that precise headline was used was 1914: "Austria-Hungary warns that time is running out for peaceful solution with Serbia." By the way, it was Rex Tillerson delivering the threat. Isn't he supposed to be the adult in the Trump playpen? Slightly less ominous but still way past the cusp of sanity, there's a picture of Trump and Netanyahu shaking hands under the title Trump on Withdrawing From Iran Nuclear Deal: 'You Will See Very Soon'.
Of course, we've seen plenty of hints already of these things, but it's part of human nature to discount worst-case scenarios.
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Monday, September 11. 2017
Music: Current count 28650  rated (+23), 376  unrated (+7).
Light count, mostly because I missed three days from the middle of the week -- would have been much lower had I not hit Rhapsody hard on the weekend. On Wednesday, I took a long day trip to see my extraordinary cousins in Independence, KS. Left around noon, and got back after midnight. Actually, night before I made a chocolate cake for the occasion (much to the disappointment of those hoping for a my mother's legendary coconut cake, but I had so little time I went with simple and surefire). Friday I cooked a Turkish dinner for seven (if you're interested, I did a brain dump in the notebook). Thursday I had a doctor's appointment, then went shopping, and finally started cooking. Worn out after that, and aggravated by a couple stupid kitchen mishaps (plus a couple pieces of technology that completely discredit my reputation as a smart shopper).
Many of the records below came from Phil Overeem's latest 2017-to-date list: only things I haven't heard there now are the two AUM Fidelity jazz releases (William Parker and David S. Ware), Obnox: Niggative Approach (only 4/12 cuts on Bandcamp), and the Nots' single (or so I assume). Public Enemy was available as a free download for a week or so, but that's dried up and the only copy I found was on YouTube. Could be that more plays might raise it a notch -- ditto for Shabazz Palaces -- but I'd say odds are equal that they wouldn't. The worst, no surprise, were Dylan's songbook albums: the 2016 one was on Overeem's 2016 list but I hadn't noticed it on Napster until now.
My grade breakdown from Overeem's list: 20 A-, 14 ***, 17 **, 11 *, 3 B, 1 C+, 4 unheard. This week's only A- record comes from his list, a case where Ghana and Mozambique meet somewhere in Europe. I don't have a breakdown for how many I actually have CDs for -- probably not many (ok, 5, all but one jazz).
Haven't done anything on the jazz guides in 2-3 weeks, so my hopes of wrapping them up -- first draft, just raw collection -- by the end of the month are pretty slim. I've been stuck 29% of the way through Post-2000 Jazz, which leaves me with 1638 more artists in the file (plus 173 deferred groups), plus some relatively minor (but hard to estimate) mop up. No idea how long that will take, but the obvious answer is forever if I don't get started again.
I thought I had posted the first two links below, where various former writers and other workers at the Village Voice write about the past on the occasion of the Voice terminating its print edition, but they were still stuck in my scratch file. The others continue the thread.
I was reminded of the anniversary of 9/11/2001 today by a small article in the Eagle and a couple of items on the comics page. Theme was "never forget." So why the fuck is that? What exactly have sixteen years of obsessing over the outrage, picking at the scab, and flailing at our supposed enemies gotten us? We would have been better off to have treated it like a bad hurricane: grieved, consoled, rebuilt, moved on. And it's not as if Americans never forget. They had already forgotten why the people who hijacked and crashed those planes did so, leaving them with no better understanding of what happened than "hate our freedoms" and "axis of evil." Indeed, most Americans have forgotten lots of big things, like slavery and genocide against Indians, so why not this? The only real reason is that some people have agendas that exploit memory. Bush and company saw 9/11 as their ticket to launch a vast and endless war to reassert neocon supremacy. Most Democrats had compatible agendas, based largely on their supposed superiority at winning wars (e.g., Peter Beinart's book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror).
This fetish of victimhood on 9/11 mocks our annual remembrance of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor: both supposedly signify how an innocent and peace-loving people got dragged into war by a dastardly attack on a "day of infamy," but Americans in 2001 could hardly be described as innocent or peace-loving -- certainly not by anyone aware of the US Defense budget. The other WWII event we still celebrate isn't the end of the war: it's D-Day, when US troops landed in France -- not nearly the turning point of the war that the Soviet victory at Stalingrad was, but the best we can lay claim to. The agenda of Pearl Harbor + D-Day is to make us feel good about war, and pass those Defense budgets. (Peace people also remember Hiroshima, and again there is an agenda: to remind us that nuclear holocaust is still a real possibility.)
For once, I'm not alone in voicing these views. See: Paul Krugman: The Day Nothing Changed.
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Monday, September 4. 2017
Music: Current count 28627  rated (+37), 369  unrated (-5).
Some of this came out in the August Streamnotes, posted on Wednesday as I decided that waiting for the end of the month wouldn't net much more of major interest. Chalk that up as one of those "watched pot never boils" stories: after closing, I came up with the five A-list jazz albums to the right, plus a Swet Shop Boys EP I didn't know existed (see Christgau's Expert Witness -- by the way, third week in a row where he featured a record I had previously A-listed: Waxahatchee's Out in the Storm, Hamell on Trial's Tackle Box, and Swet Shop Boys' Cashmere; on the other hand, I panned Algiers' The Underside of Power with a B-).
Tips on the jazz albums came from all over, notably from Francis Davis returning to the Village Voice to write about Kirk Knuffke. The John Escreet album was one I was vaguely aware of (it came out in 2016 and got some Critics Poll votes) but didn't bother looking up until I saw it on Phil Overeem's latest 2017-to-date list. Similarly, Nate Wooley is on Chris Monsen's 2017 list; and DEK Trio (like Barry Altschul last week) has been recently reviewed by Tim Niland (to do list: Matt Lavelle, Matthew Shipp, Mette Rasmussen). On the other hand, Ernest McCarty Jr. & Jimmie Smith's Erroll Garner tribute came from my queue -- secret weapon there is the late pianist Geri Allen channeling the master so expertly you'll wonder if it was recorded posthumously in heaven.
Those records led me off on several tangents, which you can easily map out from the following list.
Also regarding the Village Voice, I added a bunch of recent Voice articles to Carol Cooper's website today. Interesting stuff, including a couple of tips I should follow up on.
Tweeted on Nikki Haley Says North Korea 'Begging for War':
It's getting hard to explain the Trump Administration without resorting to psychological concepts, because their disconnection from reality goes so far beyond quirks and ordinary neuroses. I stumbled across a guy the other day talking about an unprecedentedly deranged leader and it sure sounded like he was talking about Trump. Only context eventually pointed to Kim Jong-un, a person you can be virtually certain he knows absolutely nothing about. I wrote some more about Haley in the notebook today. Maybe I'll fold that into Weekend Roundup, if we get that far.
A secondary point: I entered the URL into the tweet like I usually do, but Twitter picked up a picture, the title, and a lead and put them into a box like I often see, but that never happens with my own posts. There must be some trick to that -- something websites do to tell Twitter what to use in a link. Wish I knew whatever that is.
[PS: Just after posting, I noticed this Max Blumenthal tweet:
Tweet included a link to Jim Lobe: Nikki Haley: Neocon Heartthrob. Blumenthal's "vacant space" snark may be offensive, but Lobe notes that Haley's "most influential adviser" is Graham's former chief counsel, and that Adelson contributed $250k to Haley's "A Great Day" slushfund, five times as much as number two-ranked Koch Industries.]
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Wednesday, August 30. 2017
I suppose I should make a big deal out of the fact that the rated count since I started writing this Streamnotes column in late 2007 has now topped 10,000 records. But that's only a thousand per year, 85 or so per month, less than 3 per day. The metric measures time more than anything else. And even if the records were all new at the time, my sample of what's been added to the world's pile of recorded music during this time is well under 2%, probably under 1% -- so I've lost way more ground than I've gained.
Back in 2007, I did a little work for Rhapsody, and one of the perks was a free subscription. I figured I should take notes on what I heard there, hence the column. Well, it didn't even become a column until sometime later -- the notes originally appeared in my Notebook, until I realized I was checking out enough stuff to post something regularly. At the time I was doing Jazz Consumer Guide, Jazz Prospecting, and Recycled Goods, but RG was erratic after I stopped posting at Static Multimedia, and JCG ended after 2009 -- although I continued to get jazz promos, the rate has gradually declined (currently a bit less than half the 2009 level). In January 2014 I decided to consolidate everything under the Streamnotes umbrella -- even actual CDs (about half of the jazz below (25/51 of new jazz, but adding in the old jazz changes the share to 26/87, or 29.8%). The share of non-jazz that is streamed is, like most months, 100%.
So it's fair to say that streaming has not only changed my life as a reviewer, it's the main reason I've been able to hang on. I dropped "Rhapsody" from the title when they rebranded as Napster -- an early digital music purveyor that I never used and never felt any nostalgia for -- but they remain my main source, followed by Bandcamp (not bothering with records that only have a few cuts available), then by download links provided by publicists. I've never mastered the more arcane methods of downloading, so when I run into a wall I tend to back out. And it's been a long time since I bothered to pitch or beg a release -- only one I recall in the last couple years was a letter to the since-departed Joe Fields that got me two top-rated 2016 releases: Houston Person's Chemistry and JD Allen's Americana. (If Steven Joerg is reading, the new William Parker Quartets is at the very top of my wish list -- it's also at the top of Chris Monsen's favorites list, which also notes a new JD Allen release, Radio Flyer).
So, in a sense, this column is running on fumes. This month's 119 records is down from 136 in July and 149 in June, although it's slightly above the previous three-month lull: 111-115-114. And it is August -- never a pleasant month here in Wichita, although pace global warming we've gone all month without a single 100F day, and we've had enough rain to keep the grass green (most years it's brown). Still, always glad when August is over.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments, usually based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on July 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (10029 records).
Laura Ainsworth: New Vintage (2017, Eclectus): Standards singer (not the actress), one original here, from Dallas, third album since 2012. Nice voice and phrasing, stays away from overly familiar songs, nice sax touches. B+(**) [cd]
Carol Albert: Fly Away Butterfly (2017, Cahara): Singer-songwriter, plays keyboards, seven albums since 2005, bills herself as smooth jazz but I recognize this as art-disco, the dance beat on the soft side and occasionally nodding toward MPB. Pleasant surprise. B+(**) [cd]
Barry Altschul 3Dom Factor: Live in Krakow (2016 , Not Two): American drummer, a free jazz legend since his early 1970s records with Dave Holland, later with Anthony Braxton's 1980s quartet, dropped from sight in the 1990s until 2010 when he appeared on saxophonist Jon Irabagon's Foxy, the first of a bunch of collaborations under one name or another (third as 3Dom Factor, with Joe Fonda on bass). Mostly notable for Irabagon's no holds barred sax, although the bass-and-drums duets are super too. A-
Arcade Fire: Everything Now (2017, Columbia): Alt/indie group from Montreal, fifth album since 2004, hugely popular and critically esteemed -- third album, The Suburbs, seemed to be a lock on album of the year polls until Kanye West spoiled their party. I'm not a huge fan but haven't found much cause to fault their albums. I might quibble about this being too ornate, but after five or six plays nearly every song has clicked. Still, probably won't play it again until EOY, but I have little doubt I'll enjoy it then. A-
Gerald Beckett: Oblivion (2017, Summit): Flutist, from Beaumont, TX, studied at UNT, moved on to San Francisco. Sixth album, long personnel list but typical groups have 5-6 musicians, the standout alto saxophonist Ruben Salcido. Nine covers, several (Piazzolla, Pascoal, Tjader) bringing the Latin tinge, others mainstream jazz (Davis, Mulligan, Ellis Marsalis), with a long "Out of This World" to close. B+(*) [cd]
Tim Berne's Snakeoil: Incidentals (2014 , ECM): Alto saxophonist, influenced by Julius Hemphill, which shows up strongest here in his harmonics with Oscar Noriega (clarinet, bass clarinet). Group name comes from their 2012 Snakeoil, with Ryan Ferreira (guitar), Matt Mitchell (piano/electronics), and Ches Smith (drums, vibes, percussion). Dense and turbulent, has some marvelous moments as well as puzzling ones. B+(***) [dl]
Big Bold Back Bone: In Search of the Emerging Species (2015 , Shhpuma): Swiss-Portuguese quartet: Marco von Orelli (trumpet), Sheldon Suter (prepared drums), Luis Lopes (guitar), and Travassos (electronics). One 43:02 piece, plumbs sonic depth but rarely rises to demand your attention. B
Jane Ira Bloom: Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson (2017, Outline, 2CD): Soprano saxophonist. Group: Dawn Clement (piano), Mark Helias (bass), Bobby Previte (drums), plus Deborah Rush reading Dickinson poetry on the second disc only. I'm inclined to favor the music-only disc, but while I rarely register the words, somehow the music on the second disc seems even more vibrant. B+(***) [cd]
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: All You Zombies Dig the Luminosity (2016-17 , Avant Groidd): Group assembled by noted rock critic Greg Tate back in 2001, more of a jazz group then but with more lyrics their 13th album is exceptionally jazzy funk. Steven Bernstein (trumpet) and Avram Fefer (alto sax) are probably the best known musicians, but the core is guitars (4), bass, keys, violin, and drums -- not counting Tate, creditd with guitar, bass, and "beats & loops." B+(***)
Anat Cohen & Trio Brasileiro: Rosa Dos Ventos (2017, Anzic): The clarinetist joins a Brazilian choro group -- Dudu Maia (bandolim), Douglas Lora (7-string guitar), Alexandre Lora (pandeiro, hand pan, percussion). Clarinet tends to blend in with the strings. B
Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves: Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos (2017, Anzic): More Brazilian, a duo with Cohen on clarinet and Gonçalves playing 7-string guitar, on a set of "things" from Brazilian saxophonist Santos. The clarinet is somewhat delicate here, but still stands out framed against spare guitar. B+(**)
Lana Del Rey: Lust for Life (2017, Interscope): Fifth album since 2010, started as a young pop ingenue but shifted last time into a winning slowcore groove which works even better here, especially when she plaintively demands "the fucking truth" -- helps that she doesn't evince any of the genre's depressiveness, and employs the occasional rapper. Tails off a bit at the end, but only after a trio of songs that I take to be patriotic in the best sense -- about caring for each other. A-
Beth Ditto: Fake Sugar (2017, Virgin): Mary Beth Patterson, "fat, feminist lesbian from Arkansas," singer in the so-so indie band Gossip, went solo with an EP I liked in 2011. This is her first full-length solo effort, produced by Jennifer Decliveo as exceptionally straight and clear, perhaps even a bit simplistic, major league pop. B+(***)
Miles Donahue: The Bug (2015 , Whaling City Sound): Alto saxophonist, b. 1944, didn't record until around 1992, also plays trumpet and flugelhorn here, keyboards elsewhere. Even when he switches off you get strong saxophone from Jerry Bergonzi, guitar by Mike Stern on three tracks, piano (Tim Ray), bass, and drums. B+(*) [cd]
Downtown Boys: Cost of Living (2017, Sub Pop): Radical punk band from Providence, formed by a tuba player and singer Victoria Ruiz. Third album, pounding beat, loud scream and indecipherable screed, probably smart but I like it best when topped with a little saxophone. B+(**)
The Fall: New Facts Emerge (2017, Cherry Red): Mark E. Smith's pioneering post-punk group, dating back to 1979, still featuring their trademark crunch and growl. While I'm a fan of the growl, the signature-sounding closing instrumental piece is this album's saving grace. B+(*)
Filthy Friends: Invitation (2017, Kill Rock Stars): Portland supergroup, only ones I'm familiar with are singer Corrin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), guitarist Peter Buck (REM), and bassist Krist Novolselic (Nirvana). First album, after group appeared on the politically themed Battle Hymns benefit album. Seems like a better-than-average hard rock group here, nothing more. B+(*)
Floating Points: Reflections - Mojave Desert (2017, Luaka Bop): British, someone with the memorable but not very original name Sam Shepherd, has a previous album and beaucoup short pieces, plays keyboards but works with larger groups. The dominant sound for much of this is guitar, reminding me of Pink Floyd spaced out under a vast nightsky. B+(*)
Billy Flynn: Lonesome Highway (2017, Delmark): Chicago blues guitarist-singer, originally from Wisconsin, seventh album since 1992, whips up impressive groove but somehow it all feels rote. B
Jim Gailloreto's Jazz String Quintet: The Pythiad (2016 , Origin Classical): Soprano saxophonist, with a string quartet plus bass and singer Cheryl Wilson -- a combination I don't care for on many levels, one where the classical underpinnings make it hard to hear any jazz. B- [cd]
Hal Galper and the Youngbloods: Live at the Cota Jazz Festival (2016 , Origin): Pianist, started in the mid-1970s and has had a long and remarkable career, joined here by three young musicians I've never heard of -- Nathan Bellott (alto sax), Dean Torrey (bass), and David Frazier (drums) -- on four pieces ranging from 11:08 to 17:40. I'm especially struck by Bellott and, of course, the pianist. B+(**) [cd]
Julian Gerstin Sextet: The One Who Makes You Happy (2017, self-released): Percussionist, teaches ethnomusicology in Vermont, credits here include tanbou bèlè, congas, tupan; seems to be his first album although I've found a side-credit on a 1992 album by Kotoja -- a California-based Nigerian-American group. Sextet adds clarinet, trumpet, piano, bass, and drums, plus a singer shows up on one track that sounds rather Brazilian. B+(*) [cd]
Gogol Bordello: Seekers and Finders (2017, Cooking Vinyl): Gypsy punk band from New York with roots back in Ukraine, first emerged in 1998 and has some very notable records. This one scores high marks for energy and sometimes adds insight and humor. B+(**)
Laurel Halo: Dust (2017, Hyperdub): Born in Ann Arbor, based in Berlin, third album, disjointed electronica with (presumably her own) vocals. B+(*)
Hamell on Trial: Tackle Box (2017, New West): Singer-songwriter Ed Hamell has been cranking out DIY folk tunes with punk intensity since 1989, includes a song here mostly about Trump ("The More You Know"), one about the fear even white folk have about getting shot by cops, and best of all an Australian "Mouthy B"'s critique of America (some choice lines: "I don't think your government cares about its people," "what's with all the flags? I've never seen such insecurity in all my life," "along with freedom 'heroes' is the most overused word in your national vocabulary"), as well as four "Froggy" songs. Cover shows a burning city behind a blasphemous Lady Liberty. Title song is about life coming with many hooks. A-
Hamell on Trial: Big Mouth Strikes Again: Hamell Live (2017, New West): Seems to be download only, with a code provided with the new studio album, but streams separately. Some redundancy (including another "Mouthy B"), some songs from earlier albums (like "The Happiest Man in the World"), some patter including a story about three grandmas coming up to him and asking whether he has any edgier material. He tries to satisfy them, even to the point of explaining "that's how you wave a towell." A-
Hard Working Americans: We're All in This Together (2017, Melvin): Todd Snider's hard working alt-rock band, with a few other guys I don't recognize from bands I've barely heard of (Widespread Panic, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Great American Taxi). Title cut actually works as a live band intro after their hardest guitar rave, followed by a souped up "Is This Thing Working?" and ending with a Chuck Berry anthem -- a fine encore. B+(***)
H. Hawkline: I Romanticize (2017, Heavenly): Welsh singer-songwriter Huw Gwynfryn Evans. Fourth album, has a high voice and a light, jangly feel that gradually grows on you. B
Paul Heaton + Jacqui Abbott: Crooked Calypso (2017, Virgin EMI): Main singer-songwriter behind the Housemartins and the Beautiful South, probably my favorite bands in the waning days of the 20th century. Third album with Abbott, their most problematical one, with flashes that bring back fond memories but he's packed it with way too much pomp. Deluxe edition adds four long songs (25:26), changing little B+(*)
Fred Hersch: Open Book (2016-17 , Palmetto): Solo piano. Three originals plus pieces from Monk, Jobim, Benny Golson, and Billy Joel. He reached a new plateau with 2014's Floating, and continues at that level, thoughtful, serene, touch as deft as ever. B+(***) [cd]
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Tell the Devil I'm Gettin' There as Fast as I Can (2017, Bordello/Thirty Tigers): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, called the band on his first (1976) record the Cowboy Twinkies, didn't strike me as very important until his 2010 album A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C), but has topped that good one three times since. A-
Jon Irabagon/John Hegre/Nils Are Drønen: Axis (2013 , Rune Grammofon): Saxophone-guitar-drums trio, the latter two Norwegian. Two pieces, 17:43 and 18:56, focus on stress, eventually breaking free. B+(*)
Vijay Iyer Sextet: Far From Over (2017, ECM): Pianist, very highly regarded, used to lead a group called Fieldwork with Steve Lehman on alto sax and Tyshawn Sorey on drums -- they had three superb albums 2002-08 -- and essentially doubles that group here, adding Mark Shim (tenor sax), Graham Haynes (cornet/flugelhorn/electronics), and Stephan Crump (bass). I'm not sure the extra weight helps, but Lehman remains especially striking, as is the dense piano scaffolding. B+(***) [dl]
Max Johnson: In the West (2014 , Clean Feed): Young bassist, b. 1990, fifth album, with Susan Alcorn (peddle steel), Kris Davis (piano), and Mike Pride (drums) -- the pianist making by far the biggest impression. B+(*)
Paul Jones: Clean (2017, Outside In Music): Tenor saxophonist, has at least one previous album. Postbop, all original pieces, core group a quintet with Alex LeRe on alto sax and Glenn Zaleski on piano, plus various extras including the SNAP Saxophone Quartet (5/14 tracks), the Righteous Girls (flute/piano, same 5), guest clarinet/oboe (same 5), cello (4 others), and bassoon (9). B [cd]
Noah Kaplan Quartet: Cluster Swerve (2011 , Hatology): Saxophonist (tenor and soprano), has a couple previous records. MVP here is guitarist Joe Morris, invariably the one you wind up focusing on. With Giacomo Merega (electric bass) and Jason Nazary (drums & electronics). A- [cd]
LAMA + Joachim Badenhorst: Metamorphosis (2016 , Clean Feed): Mostly Portuguese avant trio with Susana Santos Silva (trumpet), Gonçalo Almeida (bass/keys), and Greg Smith (drums), the latter two dabbling in electronics. Their guest, who also appeared on their 2015 album, plays clarinet and bass clarinet -- Chris Speed was their guest back in 2013. Wound tight, makes me think it's the bassist's album, but the horns get the best breaks. B+(*)
Steve Langone Trio: Breathe (2016 , Whaling City Sound): Drummer-led piano trio, with Kevin Harris on piano and Dave Zinno on bass. Zinno wrote two songs, one each for the others, plus pieces from Chick Corea, Richard Rodgers, and "unknown" -- "Down By the Riverside" is a highlight. B+(**) [cd]
Lean Left: I Forgot to Breathe (2015 , Trost): Fifth album, the first subtitled The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo -- the former being Terrie Hessels (aka Terrie Ex) and Andy Moor, with Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and Ken Vandermark on reeds. B+(**)
The Liberation Music Collective: Rebel Portraiture (2017, Ad Astrum): Nearly a big band -- 13 pieces, plus an extra guitar on a couple cuts, and singers, based in Chicago, founded by bassist Hannah Fidler and trumpeter Matt Riggen, citing the "activist tradition of such jazz composers as Charles Mingus, Max Roach, and Charlie Haden." Not quite, of course, and the lyrics never grab me. B+(*) [cd]
Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Passin' Thru (2016 , Blue Note): Not exactly new -- this Quartet lineup dates back to Rabo De Nube, recorded in 2007: Jason Moran (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass), Eric Harland (drums). His tenor sax is as lucid as ever, and Moran is an impressive accompanist. Flute feature has Indian airs and what sounds like guitar -- presumably bass. B+(***)
Manchester Orchestra: A Black Mile to the Surface (2017, Loma Vista): Indie rock group from Atlanta, fifth album since 2006, all serious and a bit heavy-handed. B
Rob Mazurek: Chants and Borders (2016 , Clean Feed): Trumpet player from Chicago, credited here with cornet, modular synth, sampler, and piano, with a group in Brazil that expands beyond Mazurek's São Paulo Underground group: Guilherme Granado (keyboards, synthesizer, sampler, electronics), Thomas Rohrer (rabeca, flute, soprano sax, electronics), Philip Somervell (piano, prepared piano), Mauricio Takara (drums). B+(**)
Rob Mazurek: Rome (2014 , Clean Feed): Solo, credits read: cornet, piano, prepared piano, electronics. Recorded in Rome, which inspires some titles but probably has little to do with the music. Tends toward atmospheric but doesn't intend to stay there. B+(*)
Vic Mensa: The Autobiography (2017, Roc Nation): Chicago rapper, name shortened from Mensah, first studio album after a couple of well-regarded EPs/mixtapes. This rubbed me wrong from the start -- a boast about striking it rich while keeping one's integrity -- but the teenage sex yarns aren't so bad, not that I don't get he's some kind of cad. Still no interest in the drugs or suicide. B-
Meredith Monk: On Behalf of Nature (2015 , ECM): Composer, has worked in music, dance, theatre and film since the 1960s, with a dozen records for ECM since 1981's Dolmen Music, mostly in their postclassical New Series. She sings here, often with others, against a fairly minimalist backdrop. B+(*) [dl]
Marcus Monteiro: Another Part of Me (2017, Whaling City Sound): Alto saxophonist, from Massachusetts, has at least one previous record. Quartet with piano, electric bass, and drums (Steve Langone). Wrote three originals (of 12 songs), covers ranging from Horace Silver to Michael Jackson. Fairly mainstream, but rich tone and easy swing. B+(***) [cd]
Randy Newman: Dark Matter (2017, Nonesuch): First album of new songs since 2008's Harps and Angels, not that he hasn't been busy during the Obama era: Discogs shows him with two Songbook volumes, two live albums, and five soundtracks -- by now, not just his meal ticket but his toolchest. The first three songs, with their historical-philosophical concerns, are so detailed it takes little effort to imagine the videos. The rest of the album, aside from the story of Sonny Boy the First, is unsentimental filler, and probably better for that. Christgau proclamed this an "album of the year contender" -- something I don't hear at all, but I massively underestimated Harps and Angels, doubting it for much the same offhandedness. A-
Pale Horse: Badlands (2015 , 5049): Clarinet player Jeremiah Cymerman, group name taken from the previous album by this "apocalyptic chamber ensemble" with Christopher Hoffman on cello and Brian Chase on drums. Two LP-length tracks, total 34:02. Cites as inspiration "the work of composers Scelsi & Ligeti, the novels of Cormac McCarthy, the films of Wim Wenders and the hypnotic beauty of Swans." More modest than any of those, but more pleasing than his early raw noise. B+(*) [bc]
Elan Pauer: Yamaha/Speed (2015 , Creative Sources): German pianist, real name seems to be Oliver Schwerdt -- has a previous trio album with Axel Dörner and Christian Lillinger and a couple albums as Schwerdt. This is solo, short (31:46), named for two of the three pieces (the other is the 2:21 "Farewell"). Impressive, more for the rumble he generates than for the runs. B+(***) [cd]
Richard Pinhas/Barry Cleveland: Mu (2016, Cuneiform): Pinhas is a French guitarist, formed the "electronic rock" band Heldon in the 1970s, has also recorded as Schizo and Schizotrope, and has twenty-some records under his own name, three with Merzbow. Cleveland is another guitarist ("new age and experimental ambient"), and Michael Manring (bass, elbow bass) and Celso Alberti (drums, electronic drums, percussion) are also "featuring" on the cover, if not the spine. B+(**) [dl]
John Pizzarelli: Sinatra & Jobim @ 50 (2017, Concord): Marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 encounter between the crooner and Brazil's most famous songwriter (who played piano and guitar and contributed some backing vocals) -- not a very good album for either, with Claus Ogerman's arrangements part of the problem. Pizzarelli's catalog includes titles like Dear Mr. Sinatra and Bossa Nova, so I don't doubt his dedication. He takes some liberties with the arrangements, turning two pairs of songs into medleys and interposing bits of other songs. Daniel Jobim adds his voice, Helvio Alves and Duduka Da Fonseca manage the rhythm, and someone they don't mention plays some nice sax. B-
Platform: Flux Reflux (2017, Clean Feed): French clarinet player Xavier Charles, discography goes back to 1996, second album under this name, with Katrine Schiøtt (cello), Jan Martin Gismervik (drums), and Jonas Cambien (keyboards). All improvised, the focus more on deep sound than on flow. B
Lewis Porter/Phil Scarff Group: Three Minutes to Four (2017, Whaling City Sound): Saxophonist Scarff has been a member of Aardvark Jazz Orchestra since 1993, and leads the group Natraj, which plays Indian classical music. Pianist Porter has played with AJO on several occasions, and has shown up on a couple Allen Lowe projects, but is probably better known as an author and educator. With John Funkhouse (bass) and Bertram Lehmann (drums). Can't say I hear the "east-meets-west jazz, where Indian raga merges with western classical" -- reminds me more of someone like Charlie Mariano, with a real sharp rhythm section. B+(***)
Dave Potter: You Already Know (2017, Summit): Drummer, first album, has a few side credits with Jason Marsalis (vibes), Miguel Alvarado (saxes), and Will Goble (bass), all present here. Mostly originals, one tune each by Marsalis and Alvarado, five covers, mostly jazz sources (Monk, Shorter, Golson, Watson). Cut in several sessions, using three bassists, three pianists, two trumpeters, but never more than quintets. Swings, bops, swings some more. B+(**) [cd]
Eric Revis: Sing Me Some Cry (2016 , Clean Feed): Bassist, played for Betty Carter and Branford Marsalis but has tended to be more avant on his own albums. Quartet here with Ken Vandermark (tenor sax/clarinet), Kris Davis (piano), and Chad Taylor (drums) -- an explosive combination, most often moderated by the bassist but extraordinary when he cranks them up. A-
Roots Magic: Last Kind Words (2016 , Clean Feed): Italian group, second album: Alberto Popolla (clarinet, bass clarinet), Errico De Fabritiis (alto/baritone sax), Gianfranco Tedeschi (double bass), Fabrizio Spera (drums), plus guests on organ/piano (4 tracks), cello (2), and dub effects (1). Plumbs a deep blues base drawing on Charlie Patton and similarly influenced jazz musicians like Julius Hemphill and Marion Brown, tuned up to a fine fury. A-
Mark Rubin, Jew of Oklahoma: Songs for the Hangman's Daughter (2017, Rubinchik): Folk singer-songwriter, plays a range of instruments, born in Stillwater, OK, but "Texas-reared, and now living in New Orleans" -- clearly not one to shy away from audience prejudices. He sings about being bipolar ("it's a wonder I've yet to land in prison"), shows his regional colors when he decries "the war of northern aggression," claims to have mastered barbecue with kosher beef, covers "a fun old Bad Livers tune" (a band he was in). B+(**) [bc]
Oliver Schwerdt: Prestige/No Smoking (2015 , Euphorium, 2CD): German pianist, also records as Elan Pauer, goes long here with two substantial servings of solo piano, dense and crunchy, much like the Pauer record above. B+(***) [cd]
Matthew Shipp: Invisible Touch at Taktlos Zürich (2016 , Hatology): Solo piano, recorded live at the Swiss festival, all originals except for "Tenderly." His usual impressive range from deep rumble through long lines to delicate touch. B+(***)
Skyzoo: Peddler Themes (2017, First Generation Rich/Empire, EP): Rapper Gregory Taylor, from Brooklyn, seven LPs, scads of mixtapes, third EP, eight solid tracks (30:36). B+(**)
Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (2016 , Pi): Drummer, sometime pianist -- he played a big chunk of his 2007 2CD album That/Not -- I've even seen him lately on trombone, but here just drums. I mention this because this strikes me as very much a piano album (Corey Smythe), the percussion and bass (Chris Tordini) often all but vanishing. Sometimes the piano, too. I'd prefer something more in-your-face, and there's some of that here too. A- [cd]
Chris Speed Trio: Platinum on Tap (2016 , Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, has a fairly short list of albums under his own name since 1997, but has a pretty long list of side credits. This format, with Chris Tordini on bass and Dave King on drums, pushes him out front, and he doesn't bother with the clarinet, so you get a consistent sound which grows in authority and panache. A- [cd]
Jason Stein Quartet: Lucille! (2017, Delmark): From Chicago, plays bass clarinet, quartet adds Keefe Jackson (tenor sax, contrabass clarinet), Joshua Abrams (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums) -- terrific group, with Jackson complementing the leader's airy sound. Three originals, covers from Bird and Monk, two from Lennie Tristano and another from Warne Marsh, plus one called "Roused About" that I assume honors Charlie. A- [cd]
Vieux Farka Touré: Samba (2017, Six Degrees): Guitarist-singer from Mali, father was Ali Farka Touré, pioneer of Saharan/desert blues, a tradition he carries on and extends, mostly by rocking harder. B+(***)
Triocity [Charles Pillow/Jeff Campbell/Rich Thompson]: I Believe in You (2016 , Origin): Reeds-bass-drums trio, Pillow credited with alto sax, alto flute, bass flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet -- last is certainly not least. He only has a couple previous albums, but appears in quite a few notable big bands (John Fedchock, Alan Ferber, David Liebman, Pete McGuinness, Bob Mintzer, Ted Nash, Maria Schneider, and others). Songbook and jazz standards (Monk, Parker, Davis), closing with "Cherokee" -- always a thrill. B+(**) [cd]
Tyler, the Creator: Flower Boy (2017, Odd Future/Columbia): Los Angeles rapper Tyler Okonma, started out in Odd Future collective, never seemed like he was quite ready but gets a major label deal here. Has managed to smooth off the rough edges, but that doesn't leave him with much. B
Ken Vandermark/Klaus Kugel/Mark Tokar: Escalator (2016 , Not Two): Tenor sax/clarinet trio, drums and bass respectively, recorded live at Alchemia in Krakow. I'm afraid I find the clarinet annoyingly squeaky, but Vandermark is a tower of power in this context, and remarkably adept. B+(***) [bc]
Raphael Vanoli: Bibrax (2017, Shhpuma): Guitarist, based in Amsterdam, first record, solo. Metallic tones, patiently experimental. B+(*)
John Vanore: Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (2016 , Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet player, leads a big band (16 pieces, only 2 saxes and 2 trombones, but 5 trumpets and 2 French horns) through a splashy set of Nelson pieces, with sharp solos and a certain postbop swing. B+(**) [cd]
Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Honey and Salt (2016 , Palmetto): Subtitle: "Music inspired by the poetry of Carl Sandburg." Snatches of Sandburg poetry as well, read by various members of the band and extras, as well as vocals (and guitar) by Dawn Thompson. With Ron Miles (cornet), Jeff Lederer (reeds), Martin Wind (bass), and Wilson on drums. Too many words for my taste, but sometimes remarkable music. B+(*) [cd]
Reggie Young: Forever Young (2017, Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, first album but not so young, born in 1936, started out playing rockabilly in Memphis, part of the Bill Black Combo (led by Elvis Presley's first bass player, opened for the Beatles on their 1964 US tour). Best known for session work, including "Down in the Boondocks" (Billy Joe Royal), "The Letter" (Box Tops), Dusty in Memphis (Springfield), "Suspicious Minds" (Elvis), and "I Can Help" (Billy Swan). Nice relaxed groove album with keyboards, bass, drums, and sometimes a little cello. B+(*) [cd]
Bobby Zankel & the Wonderful Sound 6: Celebrating William Parker @ 65 (2017, Not Two): Alto saxophonist, a couple years older than the famous bassist -- on board here, an event in Philadelphia, along with Steve Swell (trombone), Diane Monroe (violin), Dave Burrell (piano), and Muhammad Ali (drums). Old-fashioned avant joust, something the bassist has presided over many times. B+(**)
Omri Ziegele: Where's Africa: Going South (2016 , Intakt): Credit could be parsed several ways, including mention of Yves Theiler (keyboards, reed organ, melodica, vocals) and Dario Sisera (percussion, drums). Where's Africa is the name of a 2005 album -- a duo with pianist Irène Schweizer -- and was also used in the credit of a 2010 trio (with Schweizer and Makaya Ntshoko). Ziegele is Swiss, plays alto sax, Uzbek flute, and is credited with vocals. Not sure who sings (weirdly) and who raps (impressively), affectations which annoyed me at first as they interfered with the wonderful Township Jive-inflected groove. A- [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Albert Ayler Quartet: European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 (1964 , Hatology): Two sessions from the tenor saxophonist's banner year, a quartet -- Don Cherry (cornet), Gary Peacock (bass), Sunny Murray (drums) -- that toured Europe in the latter months of the year. Six tracks from Hilversum, three more from Copenhagen -- The Hilversum Sessions first appeared in 1980, The Copenhagen Tapes (also including a Club Montmartre date) in 2002. Strikes me as a bit hit-and-miss, which isn't quite the same as saying his avant-garde's become old hat. B+(**)
Albert Ayler Quartet: Copenhagen Live 1964 (1964 , Hatology): This is the Club Montmartre set previously released on The Copenhagen Tapes, minus the three radio shots moved into European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 -- these releases are evidently part of an Ayler Estate effort to bring some order to the various long-circulating Ayler bootlegs. Same quartet. Same chaos. B+(**)
Albert Ayler: Stockholm, Berlin 1966 (1966 , Hatology): Two dates, a week apart, same group: Donald Ayler (trumpet), Michel Sampson (violin), William Folwell (bass), Beaver Harris (drums). Tightly layered, especially with the violin, around a skeleton of gospel and circus music. B+(***)
Paul McCandless With the Paul Winter Consort: Morning Sun: Adventures With Oboe (1970-2010 , Living Music): Playing oboe mostly, some English horn (soprano sax and bass clarinet elsewhere, notably with Oregon from 1980 on), McCandless joined soprano saxophonist Winter's group for three 1969-72 albums, with several reunions from 1986 to 2010. Together they sound like medievalists trying to pass for new age, and the occasional vocals hardly qualify as either. C+ [cd]
John Prine: September 78 (1978 , Oh Boy): Recorded Sept. 23, 1978 in Chicago, after his four justly famous Atlantics and first of three mostly forgotten Asylums (Bruised Orange). Originally released on numbered orange vinyl for Record Store Day 2015, now available for the masses. I first saw him a decade later when he was reduced by playing solo, which he carried off easily on wit, but this band, with organ and flashy guitar, hems him in, although they rock impressively on his lesser known songs (one appeared later on 1980's Storm Windows, two only show up here, including one tantalizingly close to Chuck Berry). B+(***)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Not April in Paris: Live From Banlieus Bleues (2004, Trugroid): Cover reads Live 01 at Banlieus Bleues but website gives this title. This closes out the group's most intensive period, following six releases (7-CD) in three years. Personnel list omits credits, but aside from leader Greg Tate the names I don't need to look up are Vijay Iyer (keybs), Lewis Barnes (trumpet), Matana Roberts (alto sax), and Mazz Swift (violin) -- figure most of the 16 for guitar and vocals, plus bass and drums. Slippery groove, not a lot of vocals but they can swing either atmospheric or funky. B+(***)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: If You Can't Dazzle Them With Your Brilliance, Then Baffle Them With Your Blisluth (2004 , Trugroid, 2CD): Another live set, from performances in Spain, France, and New York. Unable to find a credits list, but the first concerts immediately follow Not April in Paris. "A Night in Tunisia" gives you something you can calibrate from, or try, as the multipart pieces run on and on. No idea what "blisluth" means. B+(***)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: More Than Posthuman: Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion (2006, Trugroid, 2CD): Personnel list runs to 37 names: 4 guitarists, 5 drummers, and 10 vocalists (counting "rhymes" and "recitation/oratory"), the goal "23rd century R&B," the grooves stretched and pliable. Like most of their records, especially the long ones, there are patches of brilliance and long stretches of enjoyable groove. B+(***)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Chopped and Screwed: Volume 2 (2007, Trugroid): Remixes, the title referring to a technique DJ Screw developed in Houston in the 1990s based on slowing the beat down -- something I don't know enough about to judge how it was applied here. No evidence of a Volume 1. Personnel listed as Greg Tate, Jarid Michael Nickerson, and Mazz Wright, although horns are audible, as is some spoken word (rap?). B
Jeremiah Cymerman: Purification/Dissolution (2011-12 , 5049): Clarinetist, fifth album since 2007, solo but also credited with amplifiers, synths, and electronics, which push this into the domain of avant-noise. Bit harsh for me. B [bc]
Jeremiah Cymerman/Christopher Hoffman/Brian Chase: Pale Horse (2013 , 5049): Clarinet/cello/drums, two cuts at 21:45 and 16:26. Less of a noise album, but dense and mysterious, not anything you'd take for chamber jazz. B+(*) [bc]
Jeremiah Cymerman/Evan Parker/Nate Wooley: World of Objects (2013 , 5049): The clarinetist returns to noise world through his "digital post-production." Saxophonist Parker is still unmistakable, especially on soprano, while trumpet player Wooley remains a journeyman. Not uninteresting, but my tolerance for this sort of thing is limited. B- [bc]
Bill Frisell: Ghost Town (1999 , Nonesuch): Solo guitar, sometimes banjo, mostly originals but five covers offer framework -- two old country songs, two showbiz standards, a piece from John McLaughlin. Nothing exciting, but picks carefully. B+(*)
George Garzone: Moodiology (1998 , NYC): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano), from Boston, a legendary educator and mentor to many dozens of famous saxophonists, has most often recorded as the Fringe, a sax trio as ragged as its name. With Fringe rhythm section here -- John Lockwood on bass and Bob Gullotti on drums -- plus Douglas Yates (alto sax/bass clarinet), Claire Daly (baritone sax), Kenny Werner (piano), and Mike Mainieri (vibes). Exceptional chops, but the other horns sometimes add a sour note, and some of his cover ideas don't work out so well. B+(**)
George Garzone: The Fringe in New York (2000, NYC): The Fringe albums date back to 1978, and this is the only one with the star saxophonist's name on the cover, hence the credit. Mike Mainieri joins on vibes, which can tilt the group into something merely pretty -- especially when Garzone gives up his fierce tenor for pretty soprano. B+(**)
George Garzone: Among Friends (2009, Stunt): Especially pianist Steve Kuhn, who often takes over the album, also Anders Christensen (bass) and Paul Motian (drums). The leader's tenor sax is especially eloquent on the ballads. B+(***)
Jon Irabagon/Andrew Neff/Danny Fox/Scott Ritchie/Alex Wyatt: Here Be Dragons (2009 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor sax/alto sax/piano/bass/drums, with Chris Cash (programming) a guest on one cut. Opens with the saxes neatly in sync, but the leader is hard to contain. B+(*)
Noah Kaplan Quartet: Descendants (2008 , Hatology): Same group as on the new album. Guitarist Joe Morris is the main draw, with the leader playing more soprano sax, and taking the tenor slower. B+(**)
Joe Morris Trio: Antennae (1997, AUM Fidelity): Avant guitarist, discography starts around 1990. With Nate McBride on bass and Jerome Deupree on drums, loose yet jagged. B+(**)
Joe Morris/Mat Maneri: Soul Search (2000, AUM Fidelity): Guitar and viola duets, both electric, neither overpowering, closer in effect to Maneri's bent avant-classicism than to the guitarist's usual idiosyncrasies. B+(*)
Joe Morris: Singularity (2000 , AUM Fidelity): As the title suggests, a solo album, with Morris playing steel string acoustic guitar instead of his usual electric -- adds more texture while better exhibiting his speed and dexterity. B+(**)
Joe Morris Bass Quartet: High Definition (2007 , Hatology): No fear, just one bassist -- Morris, better known at guitar but has many recordings on double bass. Two horns: Alan Chase (alto, soprano, and baritone sax) and Tyler Ho Bynum on cornet, with Luther Gray on drums. Tails off a wee bit at the end, but most of the way the horns spin gloriously, while the leader's longtime drummer keeps the rhythm surprising. A-
Joe Morris: Mess Hall (2011 , Hatology): Guitarist, emphasis on electric here, backed by Jerome Deupree on drums and (less obviously) Steve Lantner on keyboards. Five pieces from 9:01 to 11:52, dense and gnarly. B+(**)
Randy Newman: Live (1971, Reprise): Recorded at the Bitter End in New York, just singer-songwriter and his piano, after only two studio albums -- notably his likely best-ever 12 Songs (4 songs from there, 5 from his debut, 2 destined for Sail Away, 1 eventually reworked for 1977's Little Criminals, 2 more). B
Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1 (2003, Nonesuch): Reconstructed demos, just the songwriter pounding on his piano and barking out his lyrics -- except to songs you already know -- well, songs I know. Strikes me as long on history and "Political Science" (a title as well as a theme). "Rednecks" catches ever deeper in my craw, perhaps because he sings it with such gusto. He does "God's Song" the same way, and that's fine by me. B+(*)
Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 3 (2016, Nonesuch): Released five years after Vol. 2, itself eight years following Vol. 1, he's obviously in no hurry. He opens with two of his most famous/notorious songs, "Short People" and "Mama Told Me Not to Come," although he winds up picking a couple songs I don't recall (one with a surprisingly generous refrain: "it's just amazing how fair people can be"). Also one song I've been thinking about a lot as Trump and Pruitt lay waste to the environment: "Burn On," about the time the Cuyahoga River caught fire. Just piano and vocal, scaling "I Love L.A." back to human size, especially touching on "Guilty." B+(***)
Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook (2003-16 , Nonesuch, 3CD): This box rolls up the three Songbook volumes, plus four extra songs at the end, including the caustic Bush-era "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" and the presumably satiric Obama-era "I'm Dreaming" ("of a white president") with lines like: "he won't be the brightest/but he'll be the whitest/and I'll vote for that." B+(**)
Flip Phillips: Swing Is the Thing (1999 , Verve): Tenor saxophonist, original name Joseph Edward Flipelli, born 1915 in Brooklyn, came up in big bands including the Benny Goodman and Woody Herman outfits and was a Jazz at the Philharmonic regular. Died in 2001, so this was his last album: with Benny Green (piano), Howard Alden (guitar), Christian McBride (bass), Kenny Washington (drums), and guest spots for Joe Lovano and James Carter -- they bump up the energy level, but the leader's light tone swings everything else. B+(**)
Flip Phillips: Celebrates His 80th Birthday at the March of Jazz 1995 (1995 , Arbors): Big party, as befits an eminent swing-to-bop saxophonist, surrounded here by near contemporaries and younger retro players -- eighteen names in the "combined personnel," including fellow saxophonists Scott Hamilton, Phil Woods, and Bob Wilber, plus Buddy DeFranco on clarinet, Randy Sandke on trumpet; three each pianists, guitarists, and bassists; two drummers. Gives the party a JATP flavor, especially closing with "Perdido." B+(***)
John Pizzarelli: Let There Be Love (2000, Telarc): Guitarist, working on becoming a standards crooner, with band going soft to keep from overwhelming his voice -- Ray Kennedy on piano, brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass, Tony Tedesco's credit is "brushes on book." Some guests (including father Bucky Pizzarelli) show up late but don't make much of an impression. B
John Prine: Prime Prine: The Best of John Prine (1971-75 , Atlantic): Twelve songs from four albums worth owning on their own, released as soon as Prine left (was cut?) for Asylum. Christgau panned this: "Not as rewarding cut for cut as John Prine or Sweet Revenge, not as interesting conceptually as Diamonds in the Rough or Common Sense. Good songs, useless album." I wouldn't have bothered but I owned the album way back when -- probably bought it after I got my first taste on personal favorite Common Sense but before I wised up and grabbed the others. Superseded by the first disc of Rhino's Great Days, but somehow this is the one that stayed in print. So if you don't know any better: A-
John Prine: Pink Cadillac (1979, Asylum): Sixth album, second for Asylum, recorded in Memphis at Sam Phillips Recording Studio by sons Knox and Jerry Phillips, with only five Prine originals -- Billy Lee Riley joins to duet on his song, and others include Floyd Tillman's "This Cold War With You," "Baby Let's Play House," and "Ubangi Stomp." I'm not sure that any of the rockabilly moves work -- for one thing the sound leaves much to be desired -- but the Tillman cover shows that he can always fall back on country tradition, and "Down by the Side of the Road" is top-shelf. B
John Prine: Storm Windows (1980, Asylum): Midway in a series of five albums between the four Atlantics and his two brilliant 1991-95 albums (The Missing Years and Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings), a solid album I might have taken for more had I been paying attention at the time. Only two covers, and his originals are much more appealing -- a couple I know from elsewhere (probably Great Days), others that couldn't be by anyone else. A-
John Prine: John Prine Live (1988, Oh Boy): Double LP, later a single CD, with 19 songs, recorded at five spots but the only dates provided are song copyrights -- all but two 1971-79 (1981, 1986). Mostly solo, acoustic guitar and vocals, which fits my memory of the period -- I didn't pick up a lot of the patter but did recognize "the happy enchilada song" bit. Steve Goodman joins in for one song, and Bonnie Raitt takes the lead on "Angel From Montgomery." B+(*)
Schweizer Holz Trio [Hans Koch/Urs Leimgruber/Omri Ziegele]: Love Letters to the President (2008, Intakt): Swiss wood, as in woodwinds: bass clarinet/soprano sax, soprano/tenor sax, alto sax/voice. With no rhythm to move them along, the horns are erratic, prickly, and sometimes a bit warbly. B+(*)
Matthew Shipp: Duos With Mat Maneri and Joe Morris (1997-98 , Hatology): Alternates tracks from two of Shipp's Duo albums, Thesis with guitarist Morris (6/13 tracks), and Gravitational Systems with violinist Maneri (5/10). Neither were personal favorites, but the mix helps focus on the remarkable pianist. B+(*)
Chris Speed: Yeah No (1997, Songlines): The tenor saxophonist's first album, a title he later recycled as a group name. He also plays some clarinet, with Cuong Vu on trumpet, Skuli Sverrisson on bass, and Jim Black on drums. The two-horn freeplay starts in high gear, downshifts later. B+(**)
Chris Speed: Deviantics (1998, Songlines): Same group, with trumpeter Vu doing much of the slicing and dicing. B+(**)
Chris Speed: Emit (2000, Songlines): Same quartet, the leader playing some clarinet as well as tenor sax, drummer Jim Black also credited with melodica. Trumpet player Cuong Vu continues to claim the high ground. B+(***)
Chris Speed/Chris Cheek/Stéphane Furic Leibovici: Jugendstil (2006 , ESP Disk): I've been known to confuse the two Chrises: they were born a year apart, both mostly play tenor sax, have less than a dozen headline albums (starting in 1997-98) but play on many more. Cheek plays tenor and soprano here, Speed clarinet, Leibovici bass. Very minimal, soft harmonies with a little fuzz, no beat. A second disc, Jugendstil II, was released in 2010 with Lee Konitz replacing Speed. B
Chris Speed/Zeno De Rossi: Ruins (2011-13 , Skirl): Duets. De Rossi is an Italian drummer -- not much under his name but he's recorded in a couple dozen groups, especially with Franco D'Andrea but the groups also include Full Metal Klezmer and Meshuge Klezmer Band. Speed plays some of his most powerful tenor sax in this stripped down framework. A-
Chris Speed: Really OK (2013 , Skirl): Tenor saxophone trio with Chris Tordini (bass) and Dave King (drums), same as his later Platinum on Tap, pushing him to the forefront to show off his chops. Seven originals, plus pieces from Coltrane and Coleman and "All of Me." B+(***)
Omri Ziegele Billiger Bauer: The Silence Behind Each Cry: Suite for Urs Voerkel (2001 , Intakt): Alto saxophonist, born in Israel, studied in Boston and London, settled in Zürich. Group here is a nonet, named for a "workplace" (Google translates as "cheap farmer") in Zürich. Voerkel was a Swiss pianist (1949-99), honored but evidently uninvolved in this project, a four-part suite built around poems by Robert Creeley (sung operatically, presumably by Ziegele). B+(*)
Omri Ziegele Billiger Bauer: Edges & Friends (2004 , Intakt): Octet, just two horns (Ziegele on alto and Jürg Wickihalder on soprano sax), with piano, cello, two each bass and drums. Eight pieces, again structured around poetry -- Robert Creeley, Dylan Thomas, Ziegele himself. The band can impress -- especially pianist Gabriela Friedli -- but I could do without the poetry. B
Omri Ziegele's Where's Africa Trio: Can Walk on Sand (2009 , Intakt): Expands the Swiss alto saxophonist's duo with pianist Irène Schweizer from their 2005 Where's Africa, adding South African drummer Makaya Ntshoko, with Jürg Wickihalder adding his soprano sax to three cuts. Abdullah Ibrahim is a shared passion. B+(***)
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, August 28. 2017
Music: Current count 28590  rated (+27), 374  unrated (-4).
August weekly rating totals: 18, 30, 25, 27, for a total of 100, down a bit given that typical months top 120. Streamnotes draft file currently has 111 reviews, so maybe the rated counts have missed a few things. I'll post Streamnotes by the end of the month, Thursday at latest. Maybe I'll find something more by then, but I currently have 14 new A- records. That's actually a bit above average -- e.g., see my 2016 list, which shows 142 new A/A- records last year (average month just under 12). My 2017 list currently shows 88 A- (no A) records so far, so I'm averaging 11/month. The split is currently 49 jazz, 39 non-jazz. In recent years, as far back as I've noticed, jazz runs up a big edge early then non-jazz catches up when I start looking at EOY lists. Last year's split wound up 74 jazz, 67 non-jazz.
Guitarist John Abercrombie died last week. You can find my grade list here. As I recall, I had Timeless on LP back shortly after it appeared. I was rather underwhelmed at the time, but came to appreciate him over the last 10-15 years, often when he made appearances on other folks' records. Could be I still have The Third Quartet underrated. It garnered a crown in the last edition of the Penguin Guide. When I initially panned it, ECM's publicist wrote me to ask if I was feeling OK. As it happened, I wasn't -- it was shortly after a very traumatic event. I eventually went back to the album, gave it another chance, and found much more there. Died at age 72.
One piece of news last week was that the Village Voice announced they would cease publication of its print edition, which had been distributed for free since 1998. The paper was founded in 1955, and had become famous enough that I bought a subscription when I was living in Wichita in 1968 or 1969. (Somewhat before I also had a subscription to the New York Free Press; no Wikipedia and very little Google on that -- did it only exist in 1968?) I mostly read politics and theater reviews then, but several years later, after I started reviewing records for the Voice, I was able to find Robert Christgau's 1969 articles stashed away in my parents' attic. I doubt I read the Voice regularly while I was at college in St. Louis, but after I dropped out, I started reading a lot of rock crit. wrote a little, and wrote to Christgau in 1975. He wrote back and asked me to write a review of a new Bachman-Turner Overdrive album (see my archive). I moved to New York City a couple years later and got to know him pretty well, but never developed much of a relationship with the Voice except through him. I stopped writing for the Voice in 1979, moved to New Jersey to write software, and on to Massachusetts, back to NJ, and finally returned to Kansas in 1999. In 2004 Christgau asked me to write a Jazz Consumer Guide for the Voice, which continued past 2006 (when Christgau was fired) until Rob Harvilla left in 2011.
The Voice continues online, and since Peter Barbey bought the paper from New Times (the company responsible for the mass firings of 2005-06) they've started to bring back some of the writers who made the paper so distinctive. It's been over a decade since I've even seen a print copy, but still this seems like another end-of-era moment. To mark this, the following are a couple links to articles with reminiscences by several writers/editors:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, August 21. 2017
Music: Current count 28563  rated (+25), 378  unrated (+0).
First, I want to single out a link from yesterday's Weekend Roundup that I added late, barely scanned, and didn't much comment on: Heather Boushey: How the Radical Right Played the Long Game and Won. I see now that I got it way out of my usual alphabetical-by-author order, but that's not worth correcting. It's a book review. The book is Nancy McLean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. It's primarily about an economist who Charles Koch knows well even if you or I didn't: James McGill Buchanan. I've bought a copy of the book, and intend to read it soon. (I figured I'd read the new paperback of Rosa Brooks' How Everything Became War and How the Military Became Everything first, in honor [horror?] of Trump's new Chief of Staff, John Kelly.) Anyhow, if I hadn't been so rushed, I would have singled out this quote:
This is all stuff I had figured out, so the only surprise is the extent to which it was designed, and I suppose the frankness with which it was articulated as a strategy to subvert democracy and impose despotism. My own discovery started with the observation that while rich people strongly favor Republicans and poor people strongly favor Democrats in every state all across the nation, richer states tend toward Democrats (the exceptions are Alaska and Utah) while relatively poor states go Republican. The latter happens because people in those states have learned better than o expect help from their elected government, because governments long controlled by reactionaries have long disabused them of their hopes and faith in democracy.
People in richer states have more faith in government, because public institutions there serve them better, not least because a more efficient, more supportive state helps build the economy. (The Republican capture of Wisconsin is offering a real time example of turning a rich state into a poor one.) Of course, Republicans didn't need Buchanan's theorizing to understand that the first step in turning a popular program into one seen as worthless was rendering it incompetent: Richard Nixon provided a classic example of this when he put Donald Rumsfeld in charge of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Still, no one ever came out and said that's what Nixon and Rumsfeld were up to and why. They simply set up a situation which later Republicans could exploit by arguing that the OEO was a waste of money, that government never could have alleviated poverty in the first place. What Buchanan, and McLean's book, give us is the smoking gun: they show how disaster was planned, and why a few extraordinarily greedy people made it happen.
They also remind us that this is a program to subvert democracy and install despotism in its place. Once you grasp this struggle in those terms, you can see clearly how critical stealth and deception have been to their program, and start to see through them.
I've read a couple of pieces on Afghanistan in anticipation of Trump's big speech tonight. General themes: many antiwar quotes from his campaign, bits on how the hawks are delighted to have gotten rid of Bannon, and pretty much universal agreement that he's going to double down on the war and make things worse rather than better. The only twist I've heard of is a plan to coerce whoever's in charge of Pakistan this week to do its dirty work else face the wrath of America supporting India to bring Pakistan to heel -- as if nuclear brinksmanship in Korea wasn't bad enough.
Nothing really to quote yet. Meanwhile, here's Matt Taibbi misunderestimating Trump again: Why Trump Can't Quit the Alt-Right. Taibbi talks about how Trump's "secret technique" worked so well during the campaign: "He continually keeps his enemies off-balance by alternately playing the menace and the raving buffoon" -- then notes that the buffoon bit doesn't work so well for an actual president. I expect that Trump will stick to the teleprompter tonight, and therefore look semi-coherent, which in some quarters will pass as "presidential" given that he's doing what so many other presidents before him have done: blundering into a wider, deeper, and even dumber war.
Not much to say about music this week. Rated count is down a bit as I missed a day-plus cooking. Following my citation of Tim Niland's blog last week I checked out several Clean Feed and Hatology releases. Roots Magic makes two A- records I didn't get from Clean Feed (along with Eric Revis' Sing Me Some Cry, last week). I spent a lot of time on the Beth Ditto record that Robert Christgau likes -- I previously gave Waxahatchee's Out in the Storm an A-, Ivy Tripp B+(**), Paramore B+(***), and Valerie June B+(**), so we're fairly close this week. By the way, it wasn't really Ditto's solo debut: she released a quality EP in 2011, which I thought an A- at the time (and you all know how I tend to downgrade EPs).
The old music mostly came from trying to look for 2000 releases I had missed, although I poked around a bit more, not really finding anything very important. The 2000-03 period predates my Jazz Consumer Guide column, and therefore is the least well covered period as I try to collect my Recorded Jazz in the 21st Century: A Consumer Guide.
Jason Stein's album cover appeared, without mention, in last week's Music Week: I graded the record A- after I close my listings, but before I finished writing the post. Same thing this week with the new Chris Speed Trio album, Platinum on Tap.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, August 14. 2017
Music: Current count 28538  rated (+30), 378  unrated (+3).
Average week, although more old music than usual as I followed a recent Burnt Sugar album into their back catalog (still missing 2011's All Ya Needs That Negrocity), then also picked up old records from avant-jazz guitarist Joe Morris -- I found some new Ken Vandermark albums on his Catalytic Sound Bandcamp, although better still was a 2008 album Morris album with Vandermark. Unfortunately, a lot of the new Catalytic Sound albums don't come with any music, but I found several on Napster.
Another of the new Vandermark albums is under Eric Revis' name -- like his last several, a good one. It's the first album on Portugal's Clean Feed label I've reviewed since they stopped sending me CDs -- I hope they don't take the grade as positive reinforcement. I probably have download codes for more, but haven't chased them down yet. I did pick up new albums on ECM by Vijay Iyer, Tim Berne, and Gary Peacock. I spent quite a bit of time with the Iyer, and basically timed out in trying to determine whether it's an A-, so I guess it isn't. Still, the Fieldwork-times-two band dazzles here and there, and the mix is more interesting than his last couple ECM albums. Will get to the others sooner or later.
The Hamell Live album seems to be some sort of download-only bonus to the new studio album, but I figured I'd treat it as a separate release as that's how it appears on Napster. Figured it would slack off a bit, but I like it as much (if not more).
I'm a little confused about how the numbers add up, since I graded 5 CDs while only unwrapping 3 new ones, yet wound up with +3 unrated instead of -2. I've double-checked and haven't found the discrepancy.
No progress on the Jazz Guides this past week. I have started on collecting Robert Christgau's Expert Witness pieces at Noisey for a website update, probably by the end of the month. I've probably lost some of the corrections readers sent in. If you sent one in and haven't heard back from me, assume that I did and resubmit it.
I should also note that I've added @BirdIsTheWorm to my twitter feed. He probably tweets too much (13.1K tweets vs. 1815 for me, but he has 3588 followers to my 271), but I figured maybe he'd point me toward some things that I was missing, as in his latest The Round-up: What went unseen. Actually, I've seen 2 (of 5) of those new records -- both B+(*) -- but hadn't heard of the others (just added to my Music Tracking file). I also recommend following @TimothyNiland. At this moment, the front page of his Music and More blog has seven substantial album reviews on it: three of records I've heard [A-, B+(***), B+(*)], the others I will want to check out soon. (Playing Shipp as I write.)
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, August 7. 2017
Music: Current count 28508  rated (+18), 375  unrated (+10).
Basically took a break for the latter half of the week (Wednesday to Saturday). Main reason: Korean dinner. For this stretch, I mostly played CDs from one of my travel cases: Lilly Allen, Beautiful South, Bobby Bland, Manu Chao, Dance Floor Divas, Duke Ellington/Coleman Hawkins, English Beat, Franco, Girl Group Greats, Mighty Sparrow, Roger Miller, Van Morrison, Nigeria 70, Pet Shop Boys, Public Enemy, Wilson Pickett, Shirelles, Phil Spector, Velvet Underground, Mary Wells, Hank Williams. That, plus the work, kept me in a pretty good mood.
Before that, I was probably off to a typical week. The Tyshawn Sorey album took a bit of time, and I think I probably played the Elan Pauer (the only other CD in the list below) 3-4 times. Evidently Pauer is an alias for Oliver Schwerdt -- he also sent me a 2-CD under that name, one of a fair number of things in a suddenly resurgent queue (seems to be split evenly between September-October releases and things already out). For a long stretch the queue had been so depleted I stopped paying much attention to it, but I got more records in the mail last week than in any week for many months.
I spent Sunday playing Randy Newman. Robert Christgau proclaimed his new Dark Matter an "album of the year contender" on Friday. I still don't hear anything like that, but gave it five plays before parking it in the bottom half of my 2017 A-List -- didn't want to underrate it as badly as I had Harps and Angels, but I still doubt I'll wind up liking it as much. I had heard "Putin" on a late night show, and it seemed pretty awful at the time. It's funnier here with orchestra and "the Putin girls" chorus. But the opener (whence the title, but not its title) is an awkward, incoherent mess, and "Brothers" is just a bummer until it breaks into a celebration of Celia Cruz. Good song about the original Sonny Boy Williamson, and "She Chose Me" works for him.
I also went back through the Songbooks -- I had given Vol. 2 a B+(**), but missed Vol. 1 and Vol. 3, and wound up replaying the whole 3-CD "box" to pick up the songs Bob mentioned that were left off Vol. 3: "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" as timely as it was in 2008 (the death of one of those Supreme Court Italians proving inconsequential), but I'm not hip enough to his irony to stomach his 2012 "I'm Dreaming [of a white president]" ("he won't be the brightest/ but he'll be the whitest/ and I'll vote for that"). The box does offer a really terrific "A Wedding in Cherokee County."
I bumped up the grade of Lana Del Rey's Lust for Life from where I had it last Monday. Among other things, it offers a sharper political commentary than Newman does. We need more people demanding "the fucking truth." And while she's right that "critics can be mean sometimes" I'm not feeling that now.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, July 31. 2017
Music: Current count 28490  rated (+28), 365  unrated (+1).
Most of the following made its way into July Streamnotes, so not much news to report. Just seven albums in the August draft file so far: Arcade Fire, Hal Galper, Paul Jones, Manchester Orchestra, Vic Mensa, Vieux Farka Touré, Reggie Young. I think I gave Arcade Fire five (maybe six) plays. The others on Napster got one each.
Three of those came out last week. Checking AOTY, they scored: Manchester Orchestra (78/11), Arcade Fire (71/23), Vic Mensa (65/5). I'm surprised Arcade Fire has been reviewed so poorly (although it has 100 scores from NME and The Independent). They're a group I've generally admired but never felt much affection for: while I've graded their previous albums pretty high (B+ for 2004's Funeral; A- for Neon Bible, The Suburbs, and Reflektor), none of those albums scored especially high on my EOY lists (27, 27, 29). I expect this one will wind up lower (it's at 28 now, but we're only about half done -- big question is whether I ever play it again). But critics have generally liked their albums more than I have; e.g., AOTY scores for their four albums are: 95/15, 84/20, 89/33, 78/40; higher still were their Pazz & Jop finishes: 6, 5, 3, 14. Presumably this one won't fare so well, but I can't tell you why. Maybe in this day and age critics want something mopey? (Like Mount Eerie? Or Manchester Orchestra?)
On the other hand, the low critical scores for Vic Mensa's The Autobiography correlate with my disappointment, not that we necessarily agree as to why. Christgau liked his mixtapes, and there was at least something happening in There's Alot Going On. Not that there's nothing I like in Mensa's record; just a lot I don't. That contrasts, say, to Tyler the Creator's new Flower Boy, which was a total blank after one spin. I reckon that's an improvement given how offensive his early albums were. Got to it after the cutoff, so it's not in the list below -- nor is Lana Del Rey's Lust for Life, which I played a lot and like but wound up hedging. "God Bless America -- and All the Beautiful Women in It" may be the kindest patriotic anthem of the year, followed by "When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing" and "Beautiful People Beautiful Problems."
Milo Miles wrout about the remarkable Carl Craig album. Robert Christgau reviewed the Perceptionists and Oddissee (an earlier A- for me) at Noisey. Akmee and Alexander Hawkins are on Chris Monsen's 2017 Favorites list. Ergo, Led Bib, and several others were downloads I've been sitting on for a long time -- Roscoe Mitchell a more recent download. The Eddie Palmieri and Vieux Farka Touré albums are unlikely to disappoint their fans -- high HMs that might make the A- grade if I spent more time with them.
Finished adding the post-2000 vocalists to the Jazz Guide (currently 968 + 747 pages). Stalled when I got into post-2000 instrumentalists (currently 6% done). When I scrolled back to the top, I realized I needed to make some edits in the front matter -- in particular I changed the grade scale so that A or A+ is 10, A- 9, B+ 8-6, B 5, B- 4, C+ 3, C 2, C- or worse 1. I think this maps closer to my actual practice, where A/A+ grades have become extremely rare, as have sub-C grades. I asked several friends about this mapping and pretty much all of them wanted more spread on top (A- = 8) with adjustments shifting some higher grades up to 9 or 10, but I really needed something I could apply more mechanically. I also didn't mind cutting my artists and publicists a bit of slack here, while readers still have a useful curve: 10 is still pretty rare (especially post-2000), and 9 isn't very common (around 10% of the total, which is about what you'd expect in a decile system).
While editing I noticed that I started this project last August, so I've been working on it a full year, during which time I've done very little of the editing that will be needed if this ever sees the light of day, and nothing at all on several other possible book projects. Feels Sisyphean, even as time seems to be running out.
Already looks like it's going to be another good week for another Midweek Roundup. Last week I described Trump as having broke out of his cage and gone on a joyride -- evidence included promoting Anthony Scaramucci, purging Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus, and two of the most embarrassing and disgusting speeches in a career with little else -- but today the joyride ended in a crash as Scaramucci got fired. Now we're going to have to suffer through stories about how Marine General John Kelly restored order and discipline to the White House, as they buckle down on the great cause of "tax reform" -- a more efficient, and less damaging, way to feather the pockets of the very rich than repealing the ACA.
On the other hand, I may be pressed for time for a Sunday Weekend Roundup, as I have a dinner scheduled for Saturday. I've been planning for some time on doing a birthday-sized Korean menu, and will finally get the chance. (I started the classic cabbage kimchi months ago.) Perfect cuisine for a "birthday feast" with all the banchan -- small side dishes, kind of like tapas but they pretty much all get the same treatment. Art Protin told me I should do a full dinner report every few months, so I'll try to follow through on that.
I am trying harder to cook occasional small dinners for just us, and they've often been superb. Last week I made my first-ever lasagna, with sausage and lamb (recipe called for beef and veal, but I didn't find the latter and decided not to make a deep search). I was a bit disappointed in it (certainly compared to the pastitsio I made a while back), but the leftovers are good enough to eat cold, along with a little horiatiki salad.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Friday, July 28. 2017
The summer here in Wichita hasn't been exceptionally hot, but it's been hot enough to be stultifying. I haven't enjoyed it, and find damn near everything else depressing, but kept my nose to the grind wheel and came up with a perfectly average month: 136 records, 108 (or 112) more or less new, the old stuff purely opportunistic as I came across various interesting tangents.
I cut the month off a couple days early rather than collide with my usual Sunday/Monday blog schedule. Kept hoping to find something new, and finally did after I thought I'd finished the column: The Perceptionists: Resolution.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on June 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (9910 records).
21 Savage: Issa Album (2017, Slaughter Gang/Epic): Rapper Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, from Atlanta, first studio album although he had an EP I liked last year (Savage Mode). I like the easy beats and delivery here. However, doesn't it seem a bit lazy to make every line rhyme by ending it with the N-word? B+(*)
John Abercrombie Quartet: Up and Coming (2016 , ECM): British guitarist, on ECM since 1974, backed here by pianist Marc Copland (wrote two songs), Drew Gress (bass), and Joey Baron (drums). B+(*) [dl]
Ryan Adams: Prisoner (2017, Blue Note): Prolific singer-songwriter, seemed promising when he first appeared in 2000 but quickly grew tiresome. I still can't find anything much to care about, but as a formal piece of guitar-driven songcraft this sounds pretty good. B+(*)
Akmee: Neptun (2016 , Nakama): Norwegian group: Erik Kimestad Pedersen (trumpet), Kjetil Jerve (piano), Erlend Albertsen (bass), Andreas Wildhagen (drums). Four songs, two by the pianist, one each bassist and drummer. Slow to develop, but powerful or eloquent when they do. B+(***)
Algiers: The Underside of Power (2017, Matador): Postpunk band from Atlanta, second album, moves both toward metal and experimental, a mix that I sometimes get a charge out of but more often find annoying. Produced by Adrian Utley of Portishead. Thom Jurek: "Algiers ultimately turn doomsday on its head unexpectedly." B-
Sebastien Ammann: Color Wheel (2016 , Skirl): Pianist, born in Switzerland, based in New York since 2008, second album, both quartets, this one distinguished by alto saxophonist Michaël Attias, whose runs keep slipping out of the grooves. A- [cd]
Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S: Plucky Strum: Departure (2017, Whaling City Sound): Guitar and bass duets, second album together -- first filed under the bassist, but cover shows Bailey in the driver seat this time. Originals from each, one together, covers from Steve Stills and Joni Mitchell. B+(*) [cd]
Big Boi: Boomiverse (2017, Epic): Like Jay-Z, another big-time rapper into real estate. Still, I prefer his boisterous, big-time pop. B+(***)
Bleachers: Gone Now (2017, RCA): Indie pop band, principally Jack Antonoff, who collaborated extensively on Lorde's Melodrama. I prefer Lorde's voice for pop, but this isn't bad, especially on relationship songs. But I did get tripped up by the closer. B+(*)
Theo Bleckmann: Elegy (2016 , ECM): German vocalist, fifteen albums since 1992, more art song than swing, often given an angelic air by his high-pitched voice. Leads a band that indulges him lavishly: Ben Monder (guitar), Shai Maestro (piano), Chris Tordini (bass), and John Hollenback (drums). B+(*) [dl]
Benjamin Booker: Witness (2017, ATO): Singer-songwriter born in Virginia, grew up in Florida, given name Benjamin Evans, adopted name suggests a gnarled bluesman but his eponymous first album didn't really fit that hole, and this one doesn't even aim for it. Garage rock seems to be the new consensus, but I see he's cited "Gun Club, Blind Willie Johnson and T. Rex as influences." More a way of triangulating what he's aiming for, a target he sometimes hits. B+(***)
Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die (2017, International Anthem): Trumpet player, based in Chicago, seems to be her first album, mostly quartet with Tomeka Reid (cello), Jason Ajemian (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums), plus some "cameos" -- notably too many cornets. I get hung up on a piece called "The Storm" -- otherwise impressive, an especially strong turn by the drummer. Choice cut: "Theme Nothing." B+(**)
Brother Ali: All the Beauty in This Whole Life (2017, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Minneapolis rapper Jason Newman, converted to Islam at age 15, sixth album: as thoughtful, good natured, well intentioned as ever. B+(**)
François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Oneness (2015 , FMR): Leader plays alto sax and Chinese oboe, accompanied by drums and acoustic bass guitar. Parts are a bit harsher than I'd like, but I love Carrier's deep, searching runs, and this is another good setting for them. A- [cd]
Cashmere Cat: 9 (2017, Mad Love/Interscope): Norwegian DJ/turntablist, Magnus August Halberg, first album after three EPs. Draws on an impressive roster of vocalists -- Kehlani, The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, Ty Dolla Sign, Selena Gomez, Jhené Aiko, and more -- while minimizing their differences. B+(*)
Charly Bliss: Guppy (2017, Barsuk): Guitar band from Brooklyn, singer-guitarist Eva Hendricks give them some pop appeal while guitarist-vocalist Spencer Fox thickens the din (something I've seen dubbed "bubble-grunge"). B+(**)
Amber Coffman: City of No Reply (2017, Columbia): Former Dirty Projectors singer, absent from this year's album although Dave Longstreet co-wrote and produced here. I find the group's fancy twists and filigree damn near unbearable, but this album is relatively free of annoyance -- just conventional stuff, mostly synth strings, nicely tucked into the background, where they frame her attractive voice. B+(**)
Avishai Cohen: Cross My Palm With Silver (2016 , ECM): Israeli trumpet player, unrelated to the bassist but brother of Anat Cohen, second ECM album, quartet with piano (Yonathan Avishai), bass (Barak Mori), and drums (Nasheet Waits). Tends to submerge under Manfred Eicher's aesthetic, which is probably the point, but the trumpet has a nice brassy air. B+(**) [dl]
Larry Coryell's 11th House: Seven Secrets (2016 , Savoy Jazz): Reunion of the guitarist's best known fusion groups, with several albums (and later archival material) spanning 1972-76. Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Alphonse Mouzon (drums/keyboards) return from the original group -- Mouzon died soon after this was recorded, and Coryell died before its release. Also adds second guitarist Julian Coryell and Mike Lee on bass. Heavy grooves, blistering trumpet, nice they got this chance to feel young again. B+(*)
Carl Craig: Versus (2017, InFiné): Pioneering electronica producer from Detroit, his 1997 album More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art a personal favorite, but I can't say as I've followed him closely since. He provides electronics and production for his tracks here, but the bulk of the sound comes from a 22-piece orchestra, arranged by Francesco Tristano to bring forth the drama, suggesting classical music but when have they ever enjoyed such danceable beats before? A- [bc]
Richard Dawson: Peasant (2017, Weird World): Singer-songwriter from Newcastle, UK; started as a folkie, winds up all over the map, with folkish harmonies and music that isn't afraid of getting dissonant. His own voice reminds me of Robert Wyatt, although I'm less inclined to forgive his idiosyncrasies and lapses, partly because it grates so much more. B
Jack DeJohnette/Larry Grenadier/John Meddeski/John Scofield: Hudson (Motéma): Cover only offers last names, although all are pretty recognizable. Hype credits this to "jazz supergroup Hudson." Names appear alphabetical, the opposite of the way I would list the credits by instrument, with guitarist Scofield up front. Indeed he is, and probably playing better than he has in two decades, but I'm tempted to chalk that up to the drummer, especially remarkable on the 10:56 title piece. Also note that nearly half of the pieces are late-1960s rock hits -- two Dylans, Hendrix, Robertson, Mitchell -- and while they're the things you notice, they're not the ones that stick with you. A-
Dirty Projectors: Dirty Projectors (2017, Domino): Formerly an indie rock band given to fancy arrangements and off-kilter rhythms, now just Dave Longstreth and extra studio musicians, notably co-producer Tyondai Braxton. I hated their/his last two albums, ones which turned them into much more than a cult band, and didn't expect anything better here. Didn't find it either: just intricately layered churchy/soulish vocals with no discernible sense of time. C
Chano Dominguez: Over the Rainbow (2012 , Sunnyside): Spanish pianist, has twenty-some records since 1980, including a couple with Martirio, one with Paquito D'Rivera, one called Flamenco Sketches. Solo, probably not the one to start with. B+(*) [dl]
Emperor X: Oversleepers International (2017, Tiny Engines): Chad Matheny, American but based in Berlin, had a thing for odd electronic music but came up with a surprising set of songs in 2011 (Western Teleport), and almost repeats that feat here -- except that I lose track somewhere after "Schopenhauer in Berlin" until the closing 11:11 minimalist instrumental. B+(***)
Noga Erez: Off the Radar (2017, City Slang): Electropop artist from Israel, works/writes with producer Ori Rousso, first album, titles in English but I'm less clear about the lyrics. Not a lot of pop appeal, closer but still not as gloomy as trip-hop.. B
Ergo: As Subtle as Tomorrow (2013 , Cuneiform): Trombonist Brett Sroka, leading a trio with Sam Harris (keyboards) and Shawn Baltazar (drums), fourth album together, where Harris produces the most unexpected sounds -- prepared piano is one of his options -- but the trombone pulls it back together. B+(***) [dl]
Kevin Eubanks: East/West Timeline (2017, Mack Avenue): Guitarist, discography starts in 1983, couple dozen albums although only one entered my database. Looks like two sessions, the first half with Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Orrin Evans (piano), Dave Holland (bass), and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums); the second with Bill Pierce (tenor sax), Rene Camacho (bass), Marvin "Smitty" Smith (drums), and Mino Cinelu (percussion). Nice either way. B+(*)
The Feelies: In Between (2017, Bar/None): NJ jangle pop band, invented their genre in 1980 and broke up as soon as they released their greatest album, 1991's Time for a Witness. As with so many bands, they ran out of better options and regrouped -- in 2006, with an album in 2011, and now this second one. No new ideas here, and for a while I thought they were slowed by age, but the reprise of the title cut is something I could dig much longer than its 9:23. B+(**)
Forest Swords: Compassion (2017, Ninja Tune): English electronica producer Matthew Barnes, second album, leaves me feeling pretty empty. B-
Free Radicals: Outside the Comfort Zone (2017, Free Rads): Houston group, "a horn-driven instrumental dance band with a commitment to peace and justice" -- I recognized the group name from chemistry, but sure, politics works too. Took no more than five seconds for me to realize they were right up my alley. Turns out they've been around for a couple decades, recording The Rising Tide Sinks All in 1998 and five albums since. Nine-piece group, three saxes, three brass (including sousaphone), guitar, bass, drums, but 15 more "guests" joined in these sessions, including two elder vibraphonists whose credits include Benny Goodman and Sun Ra (author of their one cover). For a first approximation, imagine a cross between anarchist collectives like Club D'Elf and the Tribe and a New Orleans brass band. Not without its messy moments, but surely a SFFR. A- [cd]
Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: Small Town (2016 , ECM): Guitar and bass duets, recorded live at the Village Vanguard, very low key. Three originals (one by both, two Frisell), five covers, "Wildwood Flower" recalling Frisell's Americana, an effect deepened by the title tune. Other covers: Paul Motian, Lee Konitz, Fats Domino, "Goldfinger." B+(**) [dl]
Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura: Kisaragi (2015-16 , Libra): Piano and trumpet duets, at least that's what the cover says, but I'm not hearing much of that -- a lot of submerged electronic sound, interesting here and there but never really seems to break the surface. B+(*) [cd]
Future Islands: The Far Field (2017, 4AD): Synthpop band from Baltimore, fifth album since 2008, their second title from poet Theodore Roethke -- an effect that I suppose recalls bands like the Cure. This one is more than a little catchy, but beyond that hard for me to say. B+(*)
(Sandy) Alex G: Rocket (2017, Domino): Birth name is Alexander Giannascoli, from Pennsylvania, based in Philadelphia, self-recorded lo-fi albums from 2010 on, finally getting picked up by Domino for 2015's Beach Music. This has some nice, even some noisy, stretches. B
Laszlo Gardony: Serious Play (Solo Piano) (2017, Sunnyside): Pianist, from Hungary, has recorded steadily since the early 1980s. Solo, mostly standards, avoids the obvious. B+(*) [cd]
Golden Pelicans: S/T (2014, Total Punk, EP): Punk band from Orlando, had a live cassette and a couple singles before this 12-inch vinyl, 7 short cuts, 14:25, title as given on their Bandcamp though I'd be tempted just to use the band name. Classic punk, right at you. B+(***)
Golden Pelicans: Oldest Ride Longest Line (2015, Total Punk, EP): Longer (9 cuts, 17:39), if anything faster. Needless to say, I can't parse a single line of lyrics, but for some reason that bothers me more here (maybe because one oft-repeated word sounds like "faggot," but turns out the song title is "Maggots"). B+(**)
Golden Pelicans: Disciples of Blood (2017, Goner, EP): Punk purism evolving into something they call "thug rock" -- the songs stretching out over two minutes on average (9 cuts, 20:59), so long they count this as an LP. Other advances include a label I've heard of and color on the cover. Still intense. B+(***)
Goldfrapp: Silver Eye (2017, Mute): English electropop duo, singer Alison Goldfrapp and synth player Will Gregory. Seventh album since 2000. B+(*)
Vitor Gonçalves: Vitor Gonçalves Quartet (2017, Sunnyside): Pianist, from Brazil, based in New York. First album, with Todd Neufeld (guitar), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Dan Weiss (percussion). B+(*)
Giovanni Guidi: Ida Lupino (2015 , ECM): Italian pianist, handful of records since 2006, two previous trios on ECM, this a bassless quartet: Gianluca Petrella (trombone), Louis Sclavis (clarinet), Gerald Cleaver (drums). Most satisfying when the trombone gets the upper hand. B+(*) [dl]
Marika Hackman: I'm Not Your Man (2017, Sub Pop): English singer-songwriter, father Finnish, second album after four EPs starting in 2013. Probably started as a DIY folkie but moved into on into non-glitzy pop. B+(**)
Haim: Something to Tell You (2017, Polydor): Three sisters, surname Haim, from Los Angeles. Second album: loud, catchy popular rock. B+(**)
Calvin Harris: Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (2017, Fly Eye/Columbia): Scottish DJ/producer (given name Adam Richard Wiles), called his first album I Created Disco (he was born in 1984). Ten cuts (37:40), each featuring 1-3 well-known names (e.g., "Heatstroke" features Young Thug, Pharrell Williams, and Ariana Grande). Hottest track just has one voice: Nicki Minaj. B+(*)
Joel Harrison: Stump (2013 , Cuneiform): Guitarist, has a dozen or so albums since 1996, "focus here is kon his playing and not his writing and arranging," which gets him out of a postbop quagmire I've never warmed to. Provides more details on his gear than song credits ("a mixture of Luther Vandross, Buddy Miller, George Russell, a traditional spiritual, Paul Motion, Leonard Cohen"). Backed with bass, drums, and (6/11 cuts) organ/keyboards. B+(***) [dl]
Alexander Hawkins: Unit[e] (2016-17 , self-released, 2CD): British pianist, plays in Convergence Quaret, Decoy, and other projects. First set is an explosive sextet, with Shabaka Hutchings (bass clarinet/tenor sax), Dylan Bates (violin), Otto Fischer (guitar), bass, and drums. Second set swaps drummers and replaces Hutchings, doubling the group size, adding trumpets, reeds/flutes, cello, and live electronics. B+(**) [bc]
Arve Henriksen: Towards Language (2016 , Rune Grammofon): Norwegian trumpet player, nine albums since 2001, backdrop mostly guitar and electronics -- he contributes to the latter along with Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang, and adds his voice (plus Anna Maria Friman on one track), aiming for something ethereal. B
J Hus: Common Sense (2017, Black Butter/Epic): British rapper, Momodou Jallow, born in London of Gambian descent, first album after a mixtape and several singles. Disjointed, off-kilter beats -- any hype about Afrobeat is strictly in the ear of someone else -- vocal range pretty narrow but keeps at it and ultimately catches on. B+(**)
Benedikt Jahnel Trio: The Invariant (2016 , ECM): German pianist, originally appeared in a group called Cyminology (after vocalist Cymin Samawatie). With Antonio Miguel on bass and Owen Howard on drums. Original pieces. B+(**) [dl]
Jay-Z: 4:44 (2017, Roc Nation): Big star, rapsabout what matters most (to him, anyway): his asset portfolio. Better, I suppose, than slinging dope, where he made his first fortune. Slippery beats, legendary flow, marred by the occasional operatic sample. B+(**)
Dusan Jevtovic: No Answer (2016 , Moonjune): Serbian guitarist, has at least two previous albums, this one a fusion trio with Vasil Hadzimanov on keyboards and Asaf Sarkis on drums. Strong on the upbeat, impressive for a while. B+(*) [cd]
Sean Jones: Live From Jazz at the Bistro (2017, Mack Avenue): Trumpet player, quartet includes Orrin Evans (piano), Luques Curtis (bass), and Obed Calvaire (drums), plus a couple guests join in on several cuts. B+(*)
Jonwayne: Rap Album Two (2017, The Order Label): Rapper from La Habra, CA; real name Jonathan Wayne. Follows up on 2013's Rap Album One, but he has three more albums, a half-dozen mixtapes. Runs a skit making fun of not looking like a rapper, and if the cover doesn't cinch that, the skit does. B+(***)
Alison Krauss: Windy City (2017, Capitol): Started out as a bluegrass fiddler, crediting her band on most of her albums, but she's always sung, remarkably on these ten covers. She may look like a lost mannequin on the cover, but there's nothing stiff or fake here. Especially choice cuts: "Gentle on My Mind," "Poison Love," "You Don't Know Me." A-
Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy's Demo (2017, Three Quartet, EP): From Compton, Steven Thomas Lacy-Moya, still a teenager but joined the Internet for their third album (Ego Death), spins off a six-song 13:33 "song-series" here. B
Brian Landrus Orchestra: Generations (2017, BlueLand): Baritone saxophonist, has a half-dozen albums but regards this big band + strings affair as some kind of breakthrough. Liner notes: "It's a culmination of everything I've listened to and loved over the years." Then he produces a long list of examples, including Stravinsky, Mulligan, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, J Dilla, and Hermeto Pascoal. He could have stopped after the first two: this opens with a four-part "Jeru Concerto." I vaccilate between hating it and finding myself swept up in the vast absurdity of the enterprise. B+(**) [cd]
Nikki Lane: Highway Queen (2017, New West): Alt-country singer-songwriter, originally from South Carolina, based in Nashville but doesn't really belong there. B+(**)
Led Bib: The Good Egg (2013 , Cuneiform): British group, drummer Mark Holub seems to be the leader, with two alto saxophonists (Pete Grogan and Chris Williams), keyboards (Toby McLaren), and double bass (Linan Donin). Eight albums since 2005; this one, a four-cut 33:58 live vinyl/download only, came out the same day as The People in Your Neighborhood, and has been languishing in my download queue for quite a while. Some remarkable stretches here, and for once they don't wear out their welcome. B+(***) [dl]
Led Bib: The People in Your Neighborhood (2013 , Cuneiform): Studio album, eleven tracks, 71:31, more range but maybe too much as they wander more, but still a powerhouse. B+(**) [dl]
Let's Eat Grandma: I, Gemini (2016, Transgressive): British group, from Norwich, principally Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton -- "multi-instrumentalists" although keyboards dominate and drums appear only after you start wondering why there aren't any. They harmonize in little girl voices, often taking on little girl personas. Group name derives from a joke about the comma placement, obscured and made more menacing by omission. B
Carmen Lundy: Code Noir (2017, Afrasia Productions): Jazz singer, more than a dozen albums since 1986, has one of those widely admired voices, deep and resonant, but frames it with pretty ordinary arrangements in a hornless band. B
Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo': TajMo (2017, Concord): Two bluesmen who always seemed comfortable in their retro form, a genre that Taj (Henry Saint Clair Fredericks) invented as early as 1968, although, now 75, he hasn't recorded much since 2000. Only nine years younger, Keb' (Kevin Moore) didn't record until 1994 -- he never struck me as that notable, but he's picked up three Grammy Awards and been nominated for many more. Best thing here is a relaxed, understated "Diving Duck Blues," just a duet (better, I think, than the version on Taj's debut album). However, they lose that charm when the big band chimes in, no matter how agreeable the fancy band groove gets. B
Mat Maneri/Evan Parker/Lucian Ban: Sounding Tears (2014 , Clean Feed): Viola/saxophone/piano trio, a viable chamber jazz configuration except that Parker is hard to hem in or pin down, and he provides most of the interest here. B+(*) [cdr]
Mura Masa: Mura Masa (2017, Polydor): British DJ Alex Crossan, from Guernsey, took his alias from Japanese swordsmith Muramasa Sengo. First album, draws on a wide range of singers and rappers (Damon Albarn, Nao, Héloise Letissier, A$AP Rocky) for an eclectic mix, unfied by the dance beats. B+(*)
Spoek Mathambo: Mzansi Beat Code (2017, TEKA): South African rapper, probably more accurately rooted in electro or kwaito as the beats and chants matter more than the words here. B
Father John Misty: Pure Comedy (2017, Sub Pop): Singer-songwriter Josh Tillman, cut eight albums 2003-10 as J. Tillman, played on one Fleet Foxes album, now has three albums under this moniker. Title cut is anything but, and the somber sobriety gets stifling, even when he's self-conscious, as when "Mara taunts me" saying "just what we all need/Another white guy in 2017/Who takes himself so goddamn seriously." I looked that lyric up after I heard "He's a national treasure now," and wasn't sure whether he was talking about Jesus or Trump -- turns out himself, for once not the worst-case scenario. The music does grow on you. I could imagine someone loving this -- just not me. B-
Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for the South Side (2015 , ECM, 2CD): Chicags saxophonist, joined AACM in 1965 and co-founded Art Ensemble of Chicago in 1967. Recorded this for AACM's 50th anniversary. Half nonet -- Hugh Ragin (trumpet), James Fei (reeds), Tyshawn Sorey (trombone/piano/drums), Craig Taborn (piano), Jaribu Shahid (bass), three more percussionists (Kikanju Baku, Tani Tabbal, William Winant) -- and half duo and trio subsets, which leave much open space, although not without interest or occasional surprise. B+(***)
Mokoomba: Luyando (2017, OutHere): Band from Zimbabwe, third album, translates from Tonga as "mother's love." As expected, splits the distance between Congolese soukous and South African jive, including a piece of mbube. B
The Moonlandingz: Interplanetary Class Classics (2017, Transgressive): Side project for two members of Fat White Family plus Rebecca Taylor and Sean Lennon, hard to pin down but neo-psychedelia is the genre I most often find. Dense, fast, and loud, not a mix I'm very fond of. B
Sam Newsome: Sopranoville: Works for Prepared and Non-Prepared Soprano (2017, Some New Music): Saxophonist, played tenor early on but since 2005 has focused on soprano. His innovation here is various ways to coax unusual sounds from the horn by "pareparations" -- change to the reed, obstacles that modify the airflow, and/or dangling chimes from the horn. He tries hard to make music with this setup, but it is by nature limited. B+(*)
Oxbow: Thin Black Duke (2017, Hydra Head): Underground (noise/experimental) rock group from San Francisco, dates back to 1988, principally Eugene Robinson (vocals, lyrics) and Niko Wenner (guitar, keybs, music), plus bass and drums, first album titled Fuckfest. Haven't heard the early ones but Robinson's anguished wail reflects back to the blues, set off by the hard rock Sturm und Drang. B+(*)
Ozomatli: Non-Stop: Mexico to Jamaica (2017, Cleopatra): Los Angeles band, released eponymous debut in 1998, obviously closer to Mexico than to Jamaica, which contributes occasional rhythms without being recognizable as such. Mostly in Spanish, not that "Besame Mucho" or "La Bamba" need translations any more than "Land of 1000 Dances" and "Come and Get Your Love" -- anyway, their selling point is the treatment, not the songs. B+(*)
The Ed Palermo Big Band: Oh No! Not Jazz!! (2014, Cuneiform, 2CD): Alto saxophonist, formed his big band in 1977, cut their first record in 1982, came up with the idea of arranging Frank Zappa tunes for big band in the 1990s and this is at least his third Zappa album. First disc anyway -- reminds me that I've never liked Zappa, although he's probably not the only one here to blame. Second is mostly Palermo originals, which aren't much better. C
Eddie Palmieri: Sabiduria/Wisdom (2012 , Ropeadope): Pianist, parents moved from Puerto Rico to the Bronx where he was born in 1938. Has 43 albums since 1962. Ten-piece group, eight more "special guests" (Donald Harrison, Obed Calvaire, Ronnie Cuber, Joe Locke, etc.). Rhythmically intense, bewilderingly complex. Choice cut: "The Uprising." B+(***)
Aaron Parks/Ben Street/Billy Hart: Find the Way (2015 , ECM): Pianist, originally from Seattle, cut a record for Blue Note in 2008, two now for ECM plus a couple on Stunt. Has a lot of mainstream side-credits, starting with Terence Blanchard. Trio here, all originals except the title cut, flows nicely but doesn't really draw me in. B+(*) [dl]
Nicki Parrott: Dear Blossom: A Tribute to Blossom Dearie (2017, Arbors): Bassist-singer, from Australia, mostly standards with retro swing. While early on she sang with offhanded charm, she's become more confident and polished, doing fine by this songbook. Backed by piano-vibes-drums, with guest spots for Warren Vaché on cornet and Engelbert Wrobel on clarinet and tenor sax. B+(*)
Nicki Parrott: Unforgettable: The Nat King Cole Songbook (2016 , Venus): With John Di Martino (piano), Frank Vignola (guitar), sister Lisa Parrott (baritone sax/bass clarinet), and some drums/percussion I can't find a credit for. Better songs, but not all of them work. B+(**)
Chris Pasin and Friends: Baby It's Cold Outside (2016 , Planet Arts): Trumpet player, based in New York, studied at New England Conservatory, dropped out of jazz for a stretch but returned in 2009 with something he recorded in 1987. Second album I've heard, cut last June, aside from the title mostly Xmas songs, pretty much the last thing I was in the mood for on a Fourth of July morning -- but I suppose we can take some comfort that seasons come and go. Nice trumpet, and a few vocals from Patricia Dalton Fennell. B [cd]
The Perceptionists: Resolution (2017, Mello Music Group): Alt-hip-hop group from Boston, cut Black Dialogue, a terrific album, in 2005, plus a mixtape and a live album around that time, and nothing since then until now, although Jeffrey Haynes has had a notable career as Mr. Lif, as has Jared Bridgeman (aka Akrobatik). Not sure what happened to third member DJ Fakts One, but only two faces on this cover. Smart politics, the beats more jumbled as befits our more chaotic era. A-
Peter Perrett: How the West Was Won (2017, Domino): British singer-songwriter, fronted a memorable band called the Only Ones 1976-82, recorded a solo album in 1994 as the One, and finally came out with this album under his own name. Opener recalls "Sweet Jane" but is pretty great on its own. Then you start to recognize the old band, just older, slower, wearier, more desperate. Aren't we all? A-
Chris Potter: The Dreamer Is the Dream (2016 , ECM): Tenor saxophonist, always works in some soprano, adds clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, mbira and sampler here, in a quartet with David Virelles (piano/celeste), Joe Martin (bass), and Marcus Gilmore (drums). Mostly settles into soft moods here, but occasionally busts a solo like you know he can do. B+(*)
Karriem Riggins: Headnod Suite (2017, Stones Throw): From Detroit, now based in Los Angeles, made his first impact as a jazz drummer, then as a hip-hop producer. This splits the difference, leaning toward hip-hop instrumentals, but with 29 cuts, only two over 3 minutes, it plays more like a scrapbook of ideas. B+(**)
Troy Roberts: Tales & Tones (2017, Inner Circle): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano), from Perth, Australia, half-dozen albums since 2006. Quartet with piano (Silvano Monasterios), bass (Robert Hurst), and drums (Jeff "Tain" Watts). Lively group, interesting detour on "Take the 'A' Train." B+(**)
Louis Sclavis: Asian Fields Variations (2016 , ECM): French clarinetist, long discography since the early 1980s, trio here with Dominique Pifarély (violin) and Vinent Curtois (cello) -- both names in large print on the cover below the title. Chamber jazz, but it doesn't always go down smoothly, and is more interesting when it doesn't. [NB: download order shuffled from actual release.] B+(*) [dl]
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Ruler Rebel (2017, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): Trumpet player from New Orleans, expanded his name for a 2012 album and evidently still uses it. First album of a promised trilogy, "speaking to a litany of issues": "Slavery in America via the Prison Industrial Complex, Food Insecurity, Xenophobia, Immigration, Climate Change, Sexual Orientation, Gender Equality, Fascism and the return of the Demagogue." No fixed band, but the various keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and exotic percussion add up to a derivative of Miles Davis funk, with two cuts featuring Elena Pinderhughes' flute. B+(**)
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Diaspora (2017, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): Second installment in his trilogy, credits the leader with many things in addition to his trumpet, including "sonic architecture," and doubles down early on Elena Pinderhughes' flute, adding a Sarah Elizabeth Charles vocal to close. B+(**)
Sex Mob: Cultural Capital (2016, Rex): Long-running quartet, released five albums 1998-2003, since then just one more every 3-4 years, making this their ninth. They've often done covers/spoofs in the past (e.g., Sex Mob Does Bond), but everything here was written by Steven Bernstein (slide trumpet, alto horn), with old hands Briggan Krauss (alto/baritone sax, guitar), Tony Scherr (acoustic/electric bass, guitar), and Kenny Wollesen (drums/percussion). Plenty clever tricks, but no great jokes. B+(**)
ShitKid: ShitKid (2016, PNKSLM, EP): Swedish singer-songwriter Åsa Söderqvist. Eight cuts, 17:40, three with excrement in the title, but the single is "Oh Please Be a Cocky Cool Kid." Not clear whether the distortion is an aesthetic ploy or just sloppy recording. [Same title and cover previously released as 3-song, 7:23 single.] B- [bc]
ShitKid: EP 2 (2017, PNKSLM, EP): Not quite maturity, but she's learning, using the distortion more artfully, picking up bits of melody that recall girl groups or the NY Dolls doing girl groups although they're still pretty amateurish. Four songs, 10:52. B [bc]
ShitKid: Fish (2017, PNKSLM): Nine-cut, 28:15 "LP" -- repeats two songs from EP 2, including the obvious single "Sugar Town." Fans may be disappointed that the distortion abates, but that sounds like progress to me. Only a matter of time before she picks another moniker. B+(*) [bc]
Rotem Sivan: Antidote (2017, Alma): Israeli guitarist, based in New York, leads a trio with Haggai Cohen Milo (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums). Nice tone and momentum. B+(**)
Bria Skonberg: With a Twist (2017, Okeh): Canadian, based in New York, sings and plays trumpet, fifth album, mostly novelties swung hard in Gil Goldstein arrangements. Lots of studio musicians sashaying in and out. Not as much trumpet as I'd like, but she's sassy and fun. B+(*)
Songhoy Blues: Résistance (2017, Fat Possum): Guitar band from Mali, second US album, not sure if they have any from their days in Bamako, but they've moved on from covering Ali Farka Touré. Indeed, if you buy the line that Touré plays blues like John Lee Hooker, they resemble a Southern rock band, although they occasionally slip up. B+(**)
Sorority Noise: You're Not as ____ as You Think (2017, Triple Crown): Guitar band from Hartford, CT; third album, rather short, running 10 songs in 29:38 as they turn their anxieties into excruciating pain and sometimes resolve, or something like that. B+(**)
Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet: December Avenue (2016 , ECM): Polish trumpet player, 75, discography starts around 1970 with his first ECM album in 1975 and many more from 1995 on. Quartet with David Virelles (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Supportive, although the trumpet is eloquent, and sometimes the pianist breaks out. B+(**) [dl]
Mavis Staples: I'll Take You There: An All-Star Concert Celebration (2014 , Blackbird Production Partners, 2CD): A Chicago concert for her 75th birthday celebration, chock full of guest stars who take most of the leads. Some names: Gregg Allman, Eric Church, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Taj Mahal, Buddy Miller, Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, Jeff Tweedy. (There also seems to be a 1-CD version that omits the less famous, like Joan Osborne, Otis Clay, Ryan Bingham, and Grace Potter.) They're in full raise-the-rafters mode when they mass, especially toward the end when they follow up the inevitable "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" with Talking Heads' "Slippery People," the title cut, and everyone piling onto the finale, where the stage buckles under "The Weight." B+(**)
Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory (2017, Def Jam): Young (23) rapper from Long Beach, second album plus two EPs Christgau prefers over his debut. This one's as sketchy as the EPs and not much longer (36:04). For me (three plays) the words never emerged from the beats, which were fine but not exceptional. B+(***)
Dave Stryker: Strykin' Ahead (2016 , Strikezone): Guitarist, did a lot of his early work on SteepleChase (from 1991), often teaming up with saxophonist Steve Slagle, but goes his own way here: with Steve Nelson (vibes), Jared Gold (organ), and McGlenty Hunter (drums). Hints at soul jazz but settles for a smoother, more sparkling, groove. B+(*) [cd]
Craig Taborn: Daylight Ghosts (2016 , ECM): Pianist, from Minneapolis, was a big part of James Carter's 1990s Quartet. This is another quartet, although Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet) is here more for color and shading, never threatening to run away with so much as a song. Also with Chris Lightcap on bass and Dave King on drums, both (like the leader) dabbling in electronics. A- [dl]
Talinka: Talinka (2016 , Moonjune): Principally singer-actress Tali Atzmon, produced by husband Gilad Atzmon, who also plays bass clarinet, soprano sax, and accordion, along with viola/violin, bass, and drums. Folkish, rooted in deepest, darkest Europe, a haunting vibe developed over the last few Orient House Ensemble albums. B+(***) [cd]
Katie Thiroux: Off Beat (2016 , Capri): Bassist-singer, second album, more emphasis on the vocals this time (including some scat). One original, standards ranging from Ellington to Loesser to Leiber & Stoller ("Some Cats Know"), backed by piano and drums with Ken Peplowski (tenor sax/clarinet) on half the cuts, Roger Neumann (tenor/soprano sax) on two of those. Just bass and voice on "Willow Weep for Me" -- one of the finest versions ever. A- [cd]
Ralph Towner: My Foolish Heart (2016 , ECM): Guitarist, plays classical and 12-string on this solo outing, the title cut the only standard, all else original. He's been doing this sort of thing since the early 1970s. This strikes me as having a little more bite than has been his norm. B+(**) [dl]
Harriet Tubman: Araminta (2013 , Sunnyside): Band consisting of Brandon Ross (guitar), Melvin Gibbs (bass guitar), and J.T. Lewis (drums), released two albums 1998-2000, a third in 2011, and now this fourth, where they are joined by trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. Named for the famous abolitionist, born into slavery in 1822 as Araminta Ross, and lately picked to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Smith is especially striking here, expanding and building upon the band's dense industrial-funk fusion. A- [dl]
Waxahatchee: Out in the Storm (2017, Merge): Fourth band album for Katie Crutchfield, joined here by twin sister Alison Crutchfield -- the pair previously fronted P.S. Eliot, then split with Alison recording as Swearin' before her solo album early this year. The hard anthems up front start as din but 3-4 songs in I start to follow, and even discern a bit of Alabama drawl. A-
Florian Wittenberg: Don't Push the Piano Around (2017, NurNichtNur): Avant composer, previously used electronics, wrote these pieces for piano and recruited Sebastiaan Oosthout to play them on a Fazioli 212 grand. Minimalist, mostly repetitive figures lapsing into more meditative passages. B+(**) [cd]
Wizkid: Sounds From the Other Side (2017, Starboy/RCA): Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, from Lagos, Nigeria, b. 1990, third album, first on a major label, genres listed as "Afrobeat, Afropop, reggae, dancehall, hip-hop" -- probably best known for a featured spot with Drake. Of those, the reggae/dancehall is most conspicuous, both on the opening and closing tracks. B+(**)
Glenn Zaleski: My Ideal (2014 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from Massachusetts, based in New York, started with a 2010 duo with his saxophonist brother Mark. This is a trio with Dezron Douglas (bass) and Craig Weinrib (drums), plus one track with Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax. B+(*) [dl]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Battle Hymns (2017, Quasi Band): Various Portland-based artists, few I've heard of but Janet Weiss fills in more often than not on drums, Sam Coomes is nearly as common on bass, Corrin Tucker has a group called Filthy Friends, and Carrie Brownstein appears as MEDS. Released soon after the election, "pay what you want" with the proceeds split between Planned Parenthood, ACLU, and 350.org. Indie rock that's still indie. Mixed bag of songs, with "Love in the Time of Resistance" my favorite. B+(***)
The Bob's Burgers Music Album (2010-16 , Domino, 2CD): From the animated sitcom. Pretty sure I've seen a couple episodes (out of 129 in 7 seasons), but not recent enough to contextualize any of the 112 tracks that fill up 1:56:13. In fact, I wouldn't have bothered if Matt Rice hadn't recommended it so highly, and he probably knows all that context. What I can say is that most songs are just sketches -- a few amusingly familiar -- and most are about food. Still, they play to me like light operetta, even if rock-based. Also lots of dialogue. B+(*)
Miracle Steps (Music From the Fourth World 1983-2017) (1983-2017 , Optimo Music): Jon Hassell, whose 1980 album with Brian Eno coined the "Fourth World" meme, contributes a piece, along with 13 others I don't recognize. At the time earth was conventionally carved into three worlds, so the implication is that this music is rather distant from all three. Here we get a surfeit of mallets and hazy reeds/flutes, so Larry Chernicoff's bent saxophone is a welcome surprise -- not that the usual stuff doesn't grow on you. B+(***) [bc]
Allen Ravenstine + Albert Dennis: >Terminal Drive (1975 , Smog Veil, EP): Pere Ubu trivia, supposedly the entire original 15:39 version of the piece which appeared in shorter form in the 1996 Datapanik in the Year Zero box. Ravenstine, a keyboard player, joined the group in 1975, and worked with them through 1989. Dennis plays string bass here. Strikes me as much ado about damn little. B
Albert Beger's 5: Listening (2004, Earsay): Israeli saxophonist, plays tenor on five tracks, alto on the other two, sparring with Yoni Silver (bass clarinet/alto sax/organ), backed with guitar, bass, and drums. Dedicated to the late Steve Lacy. Sometimes settles into a groove, more often fights its way out. B+(**)
Albert Beger/Gerry Hemingway: There's Nothing Better to Do (2011 , OutNow): Sax-drums duo, Beger playing tenor and soprano. Only really comes together when both push each other hard. [3/6 cuts] B+(*) [bc]
Willem Breuker Kollektief: In Holland (1981, BV Haast): Dutch avant group, dates back to 1974, ten pieces here, the leader playing three saxophones and two clarinets. Sometimes they veer too close to classical for my taste, more often they make rousing circus music, and occasionally throw in a tango, but you never doubt they're having a blast. B
Willem Breuker Kollektief: To Remain (1983-89 , BV Haast): Mostly recorded in 1989, including the 12-part title suite, with a few earlier tracks stuck on at the end. Continues their avant mix of classical and circus music, at times turning downright cartoonish -- especially when they quote familiar tunes. All in good fun, I'm sure. B-
Daniel Carter/Toby Kasavan/Mark Hennen/William Parker: Feels Like It (2000 , BDE-BDOP): Kasavan and Hennen both play piano/keyboards; Carter alto sax, flute, and trumpet, and Parker, of course, bass. Nothing on this album in Discogs, but thanks to Rick Lopez' magnificent Parker sessionography we know that Kasavan played with Parker once before (in 1977), while Hennen appears many times, from Jemeel Moondoc's Ensemble Muntu in 1973 all the way to 2008. Two long pieces, strong early as long as Carter can carry it. B+(*)
Larry Coryell: Lady Coryell (1968 , Vanguard): The guitarist's first album, after his band Free Spirits' 1967 debut and a "featuring" credit under Chico Hamilton. First side seems aimed at some kind of psychedelic/Hendrix thing with vocals (not very good). Second side is jazzier, especially when Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison move in. B
Larry Coryell: Introducing the Eleventh House With Larry Coryell (1972 , Vanguard): The guitarist's most famous band started here, five years after Coryell's debut, and continued through 1976. With Randy Brecker (trumpet), Mike Mandel (keybs), Danny Trifan (bass), and Alphonse Mouzon (drums). Compared to the 2016 reunion, the guitar is more central, the groove more fluid, and Brecker has yet to discover "skunk funk." B+(*)
Larry Coryell: The Restful Mind (1974 , Vanguard): Featuring Ralph Towner (guitar), Collin Walcott (tablas/congas), and Glen Moore (bass); i.e., three-quarters of Oregon with the soft reeds replaced by more guitar power. Actually, pretty impressive when they turn that power on. B+(***)
Hamid Drake/Albert Beger/William Parker: Evolving Silence Vol. 1 (2005, Earsay): Tempted to file this under Beger -- Israeli tenor saxophonist, also plays alto flute, b. 1959, album cut on his home turf, name centered on the cover, and of course his brash free runs dominate the sound -- but the spine and all other sources favor the drummer. Beger starts tentative but soon finds his voice, and charges hard until they close out with some kind of chant. B+(***)
Hamid Drake/Albert Beger/William Parker: Evolving Silence Vol. 2 (2005 , Earsay): More from the same sessions [but just 2/4 cuts on Napster]. "Funky Lacy" lives up to its title. B+(**)
Emperor X: Tectonic Membrane/Thin Strip on an Edgeless Platform (2004, Discos Mariscos): Second album, seems to have been reissued by Bar/None in 2012 after they released Western Teleport in 2011. There's much more on his Bandcamp page, but this at least has the form of a song album, albeit with more blips and more bits where he just sits on a riff, but they're interesting in their own right. B+(**)
Free Radicals: The Rising Tide Sinks All (1998, RWE): The title presumably a play on "a rising tide lifts all boats" -- a phrase John F. Kennedy made famous when he argued for reducing the marginal income tax rate on the rich nearly two decades before Arthur Laffer's napkin, probably his second most disastrous legacy (after his decision to dig deeper into Vietnam, rather than get the hell out). Several titles are political, but the one that best captures the vibrant music is "Circus of Life." And when a vocal appears on the third track, it's some kind of Muslim prayer sung over hip hop tabla beats. A-
Free Radicals: Our Lady of Sunny Delights (2000, Rastaman Work Ethic): Second album, the core group augmented by close to fifty musicians, working through 31 pieces ranging from 9 seconds to 5:56, with fewer vocals but much exuberance -- even a song about the "Irrational" kind. B+(**)
Free Radicals: Aerial Bombardment (2004, Rastaman Work Ethic): Fifty musicians, 32 tracks, opens with a nod toward reggae but the occasional vocals take a turn toward hip-hop, with the instrumentals favoring beat pieces over their usual horns. B+(**)
Free Radicals: The Freedom Fence (2012, Free Radicals): Back after eight years, "an epic collaboration of 48 musicians to create a highly danceable funk, klezmer, dub, ska, jazz, hip hop, and salsa-soaked satire of borders, apartheid, and gentrification" -- I can't attest to all of that as I've only heard 10/23 tracks, but they still add up to 33:59, and they cover a lot of ground. B+(**)
Free Radicals: Freedom of Movement (2015, Free Radicals): Here Houston's radical collective reins in their usual eclecticism to work with "Houston's renowned breakdancing collective Havikoro." The funk beats are relentless, but the politics rarely advances beyond the song titles. B+(***)
Lisbon Improvisation Players: Motion (2002 , Clean Feed): Second of three albums by this "group" -- first album was all-Portuguese, but only player on all three is saxophonist Rodrigo Amado (tenor/baritone here), with Acácio Salero on drums and two visiting Americans: Steve Adams (soprano/tenor sax) and Ken Filiano (bass). B+(*)
Taj Mahal: Taj Mahal (1968, Columbia): Henry Saint Clair Fredericks Jr., born in Harlem 1942, grew up in Massachusetts; father a West Indian jazz arranger and piano player, mother sang in the church choir. Father was killed in an industrial act when Henry was 11, and his mother married the nephew of bluesman Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, pointing him toward guitar blues. In 1964 he formed a band with Ry Cooder before they both moved on to solo careers (Cooder plays rhythm guitar here). Eight blues standards done up as classic blues rock -- an impressive debut he then spread out from. B+(***)
Taj Mahal: Natch'l Blues (1968, Columbia): The debut proved he could play straight, hard, electric blues, but here is where he starts to sound distinctive, especially on his arrangement of "Corinna." He wrote five originals too, reducing the covers to four including a couple of soul efforts (William Bell and Homer Banks, but they suggest and fall short of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett). B+(***)
Taj Mahal: Happy Just to Be Like I Am (1971, Columbia): More scattered, as he's starting to work in some things from his father's homeland in the West Indies, replete with Andy Narell's steel drums. Probably the most interesting thing here. On the other hand, his takes on such old fare as "Stealin'" and "Oh Susanna" come off a little hard. B+(**)
William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: Spontaneous (2002 , Splasc(H)): The bassist's big band, never the most disciplined of units but well stocked with free-thinkers (e.g., trumpets: Lewis Barnes, Matt Lavelle, Roy Campbell), in full improv fury, live at CBGB's in New York. Two half-hour pieces, "Spontaneous Flowers" (Ayler) and "Spontaneous Mingus." B+(*)
William Parker Bass Quartet Featuring Charles Gayle: Requiem (2004 , Splasc(H)): The four bassists -- Parker plus Henry Grimes, Alan Silva, and Sirone -- set the tone and limit the momentum, with Gayle occasionally joining in on alto sax for a bit of spit and polish. B+(**)
Rising Sons: Featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder (1965-66 , Columbia/Legacy): First band for the future roots stars, the 17-year-old Cooder recognizable vocally because he wasn't ready yet, although I can't complain about his bottleneck guitar. The 23-year-old Taj's voice is more obvious (even before he dubbed the final three tracks in 1992), and the vocals I can't place probably belong to Jesse Lee Kincaid -- he seems to have been the de facto leader of the group. Rounding out the band were Gary Marker (bass) and Ed Cassidy (drums, later replaced by Kevin Kelley). Terry Melcher produced an album, but it was shelved until being recast here, probably because their mixed bag country-rock needed a clearer voice to be recognized (like Gram Parsons, or Glenn Frey). Not that there isn't a decent blues EP here somewhere. B
Matthew Shipp Trio: The Trio Plays Ware (2003 , Splasc(H)): With William Parker (bass) and Guillermo E. Brown (drums), not just any piano trio but David S. Ware's legendary quartet minus the saxophonist. Lacks the rough edges Ware couldn't help but add, and some of the emotional force as well, while revealing how centered the melodies were. B+(***)
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, July 24. 2017
Music: Current count 28462  rated (+34), 364  unrated (+0).
Very little new jazz in the queue, so I spent most of the week looking elsewhere -- including some old music by Taj Mahal and the late Larry Coryell following their latest albums. Seems like I'm increasingly diverging from Robert Christgau, although for once I like the Peter Perrett album more than he did (but Jay-Z less). He has yet to review my other A- records this week (Alison Krauss and Waxahatchee, though I'll be surprised if he doesn't like the latter). Only three records this week came from CDs.
On the Jazz Guides project, I managed to get 73% of the way through my Vocals 2000- file, bringing the 21st Century guide to 911 pages (vs. 746 for 20th Century). That's up 84 pages in one week. Some quick envelope math based on the remaining Jazz 2000- file suggests I'll wind up with about 1450 pages about three weeks into September. With some stragglers, probably best to nudge those figures out/up a bit: probably 750 + 1500 pages shortly after October 1. Assuming, of course, I keep at it reasonably hard, as I did last week.
I should publish Streamnotes on Friday or Saturday, before the usual Weekend Roundup and Music Week posts on Sunday and Monday (the last two days of July). Currently 121 records (94 new + 4 recent comps) in the draft file.
I filled out a ballot for the 82nd Annual DownBeat Readers Poll. So should you. Tried to spend as little time as possible here. Came up with this:
That took about an hour, as compared to the 8-10 hours I usually spend on the Critics Ballot. I did look at my 2017 crib sheet about midway through, which encouraged me to be more consistent. I had also looked at Tim Niland's ballot, although I only wound up agreeing on 5-6 picks (for one thing, unlike Tim I didn't do any write-ins). The one thing that took some extra time was that I copied down the Album of the Year nominees, checked my grades, and added things I wasn't aware of to my 2017 music tracking file. I found that I haven't heard 40 of the nominated new jazz albums (of 126, so 31.7%). My grade breakdown was A: 1, A-: 12, ***: 17, **: 25, *: 19, B: 6, B-: 6.
I also copied down the nominated "historical albums": I've heard 9/43 (20.9%), which is probably better than in recent years (although the new album share is probably worse). I didn't bother with blues albums -- indeed, my pick there wasn't even an A- record. "Beyond" is a concept I don't find meaningful, even trying to pictures it from the magazine's jazz/blues perspective.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, July 17. 2017
Music: Current count 28428  rated (+38), 364  unrated (+3).
Sad to note that Joe Fields, still active at 88, died last week. Since the 1960s, when he started out with Prestige Records, he has been responsible for an extraordinary number of great mainstream jazz records. He founded a series of labels -- Cobblestone, Muse, Onyx, High Note, and Savant, running the latter two with his son Barney since 1996. Along the way he cultivated many artist careers -- perhaps most notably, Houston Person started with him at Prestige and followed him through Muse and High Note. If Fields had a signature, it was picking up artists discarded from major labels and giving them second (or third) careers.
Pending queue only has six albums in it, including the four that arrived last week. I only reviewed three records from CD last week (two came up A- after I played them a dozen or more times -- the other A- got three spins on Napster). Still, a pretty high rated count, so not much else got that kind of attention -- and the six EPs went especially fast.
As promised, I got into the download queue last week: 10 albums, mostly from ECM, none as good as Craig Taborn's Daylight Ghosts last week. I probably have another dozen saved up, and could dig up more if I went through my mail (although some may have expired). A few of the items below came from mid-year lists by Phil Overeem and Matt Rice (linked to last week). Others came from thumbing through the August DownBeat.
The latter has their 65th Annual Critics Poll results, which I voted in and annotated my ballot back in April. Especially pleased to see Don Cherry and Herbie Nichols added to their Hall of Fame (along with George Gershwin and Eubie Blake -- no complaints there either; the latter three came from their Veterans Committee). The category winners -- minus a few I care less about; RS = Rising Star; in parens: first number is my 1-2-3 pick (if winner on my ballot), otherwise my pick and finish (if on list); ergo: (1) means my pick won:
Looking back, several of my picks were just whims. I probably should have voted for Bloom over Newsome, and I can't fault De Johnette (cf. this week's record -- drumming is amazing there, something I can't imagine anyone else matching) or Revis, or begrudging any recognition of Barron. Rempis started on alto, but I think his tenor sax is his main instrument now -- still, I don't think of him on baritone at all, so that came as a surprise. Two of my picks were write-ins (Schweizer and Salamon -- both serious ballot omissions), so of course they didn't finish. Smith and Halvorson also won other categories, so they were featured in articles.
Preminger was well down my list at tenor sax (a long list), but he's put together a fine series of relatively mainstream albums (two A-, one ***, two **), so I shouldn't be surprised that he's getting some recognition. I also credit Mahanthappa with six A- (or in one case A) albums, so he's a pretty reasonable pick (albeit in a real competitive category: Carrier has 10 A- records, Anthony Braxton 19, Steve Lehman 5 + 3 in Fieldwork + 1 with Mahanthappa [the A], not that I counted before voting).
Continuing to make progress on compiling my jazz reviews into two guides: a haphazard retro-survey of the 20th century, and a somewhat more systematic guide to post-2000 (21st century) jazz. I started by collecting the reviews from their various column sources into a huge text file. Since then I've been scanning through my database files, adding dates and instruments where I had them, pulling out whatever reviews I had, and adding any other rated but unreviewed records. It took many weeks to work through Jazz '80s-'90s (1516 artists). Since then, I picked up three much shorter files: Latin Jazz (147), Pop Jazz (249), and Avant-Garde (156).
The pop jazz list was rather depressing, as it is far from comprehensive: in fact, mostly concentrated in the early Jazz CG days (2004-06) after which it became clear that I wasn't likely to review those records favorably. It would probably be easier to cut them out than it would be to cover them anywhere near as comprehensively as I cover mainstream and avant jazz. One saving grace was that it lowered the grade curve, although probably not significantly.
The "avant-garde" list was more interesting, but again is far from comprehensive. The definition I tended to follow was AMG's genre classification, which itself stradled minimalism, experimental rock, and modern (or, a term I prefer, post-classical) composition, but only rarely avant-jazz. I tried to take an interest in such music back in the 1970s, so one thing I noticed was that several dozen LPs I vaguely recall never got into the database (e.g., I probably had five or so albums by Karlheinz Stockhausen, but none were listed). On the other hand, the "shopping list" included quite a few albums from Kyle Gann's 1998-99 Consumer Guides -- most by people I hadn't heard of otherwise.
The compilation files are now up to 746 pages (20th century, 288k words) and 827 pages (21st century, 403k words). There are a few odds and ends that I've been including but were tucked away in odd database files (e.g., Astor Piazzolla in "latin," John Fahey in "folk"), but basically the 20th century compilation is about as large as it's going to get. Page sizes are different, but that probably makes it about 25% of the size of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings -- a human impossibility to match. On the other hand, the 21st century book will continue to grow, perhaps considerably. The Jazz (2000-) file will add 2248 artists, and Vocals (2000-) has another 484 artists.
Back in April I estimated that I might have the compilation done sometime from August to October. Looks like the most I can do in a day is about 150 artists, so I'm looking at another 20 days actual work time -- for various reasons I've had trouble spending more than 4 days/week on this, so let's figure another 5 weeks. Labor Day? Maybe. Not sure what happens then, but I'll try to convert it to some distributable format. Still needs a massive amount of editing to be publishable. Don't know when/if that will ever happen.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, July 10. 2017
Music: Current count 28390  rated (+31), 361  unrated (-5).
Not much to say here. The Pending list is down to five albums, including this week's three arrivals. The new Free Radicals album spent several days in the CD changer, finally replaced by some golden oldies -- Swamp Dogg's "We Need a Revolution" emerged as the perfect soundtrack for reading Bernie Sanders Our Revolution. I was delighted enough by the new Free Radicals album I went back and checked out their five previous albums. Houston band with many hangers-on, similar to Boston's Club D'Elf though less into world music and more into hip-hop.
Aside from Free Radicals, only three more records were reviewed from CD (or CDR), including Chris Pasin's Xmas album, release date October 6. So I spent most of the week scrounging around on Napster, checking out various pop albums including Amber Coffman and Bleachers -- recommended last Friday in Robert Christgau's Expert Witness. Having given Lorde's Melodrama an A-, and Dirty Projectors a C (fairly generous I thought), I've rarely found an EW more out of sync with my ears. Nor did other well-regarded recent albums turn out to be very appealing. I even slogged through The Bob's Burgers Music Album, recommended high in Matt Rice's Mid-Year Top 30 (five more albums I haven't heard on that list, though I'm not in a big hurry to get to At the Drive-In).
One thing I looked for was William Parker's Quartets album (reviewed here by Tim Niland). I didn't find it, but did notice several Parker albums I hadn't heard, especially on the Italian Splasc(H) label, which led me to the albums by Matthew Shipp, Hamid Drake, Daniel Carter, Albert Beger, and Willem Breuker. I gave up on the latter when two Penguin Guide ***(*) records didn't pan out.
Finally, I broke down and started playing some of the downloads I had picked up over the year, including very well regarded albums by Craig Taborn and Harriet Tubman (number two on Chris Monsen's 2017 Favorites list, and number three for Phil Overeem). I still have a couple dozen on the computer, and probably more untapped in my mail files, so I should keep plugging away at this. Playing the new Tomasz Stanko as I write this. Should also see what else (aside from the Mat Maneri) Clean Feed didn't send me.
I'll also note my surprise that both Overeem and Rice are big fans of Zeal & Ardor's Devil Is Fine (number 1 and 2, respectively). Christgau liked the album back in April, and even I gave the record a B+(***) in May, noting: "fuses black field hollers (or chain gang chants) with black metal (and a little xylophone) -- a fairly amusing rather than overbearing combination." Also, I should issue a correction: Overeem lists (at 12) Dalava: The Book of Transfigurations, which last month I incorrectly identified as "self-released." The label is Songlines.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, July 3. 2017
Music: Current count 28359  rated (+35), 366  unrated (-2).
Most of the week's new finds made it into the June Streamnotes post which came out on Friday -- the best new one is yet another good one from François Carrier. The Streamnotes post included a 30-album wild-ass guess at what a mid-year critics poll list might look like, with my grades for the 27 albums I had checked out. I've since added the 3 I had missed, so the top-30 grade curve looks like this:
That's still pretty left-shifted from normal, but note I decided to include Jens Lekman and Magnetic Fields (both Christgau picks) instead of artists with more supporting data such as Ryan Adams, Julie Byrne, Alex G, and/or Harry Styles. I'll also concede that I can imagine other people liking most of the bottom half of the list more than I do (well, Perfume Genius and Dirty Projectors seem pretty hard to like).
I got a couple of reprieves from my computer problems. The website ISP found a bit of free disk space, but at 95% used it could go away fast, and the company has become impossible to communicate with. I got around my local browser problem by switching to Chromium, which has held up fairly well, although I haven't put anyway near the load on it I used to do with Firefox. I still need to save everything off, do a fresh operating system load, and put it all back together again, but it's tempting to keep muddling by for a while until I face up to all that. It would be good, for instance, to update the Christgau website before I break my local copy. It would be even better if I could migrate the website to HTML5 and UTF-8 when it comes back. Presumably there are tools that help with that sort of thing, but I haven't searched them out yet. We've also talked a bit about making it more phone-friendly or even converting it to some kind of phone ap, but that's another learning curve. Anyone who has advice or suggestions about this, please get in touch through normal channels.
Tried turning on the old Dell laptop today, but it came up with an ominous message about the "disk drive failing" that suggests it's soon to be a goner. It's running Ubuntu 10.04, so it's even further behind than my main machine. For most practical purposes I replaced it with a Chromebook a few years ago, but I never got into the habit of using cloud storage, so I really just use it for web surfing. I suppose a new real laptop is in order.
Meanwhile, about the only thing I've actually been enjoying has been cooking. The hardest thing has been lining up guests so I get an excuse to stretch a little -- I still haven't done the big Korean bash I planned out 3-4 months ago. I did cook Indian for my sister's birthday, but that's about all. On the other hand, I've been picking up small packages of meat and scattered vegetables that I can cook for the two of us. Today I turned a pound of hamburger into picadillo -- sort of a Cuban sloppy joe mix -- served with pan-fried potatoes and fried egg (a "caballo").
Lately I've found myself going back to Chinese recipes, some I haven't made in years. On Sunday I made a version of sweet & sour pork and some fried rice. I made lettuce wraps with a chicken and pine nut filling and fried cellophane noodles. I found some frozen pork chops and turned them into pork & pickle soup (the "pickle" is Szechuan preserved vegetable -- mustard stem), adding some dried mushrooms. Another time I made braised pork ribs with fermented black beans. Then there was the "hoisin-exploded" chicken. I have a pretty good pantry of Chinese odds and ends, so I can usually turn a package of meat or fish and whatever vegetables are handy into a remarkably tasty meal. The hard part is keeping fresh scallions and ginger on hand.
My mother was the master of always having a pantry (and two freezers) stocked with anything she might need should, say, a relative show up in need of a full meal and maybe a pie or cake. After she died, I made three typical cakes, knowing that all the ingredients would be on hand. We grew up on stories of Aunt Hester receiving guests at 3AM with full meals prepared on her wood-fired stove. I don't think Mom ever had to do that, but she was prepared.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Friday, June 30. 2017
Ran up against the end of the month again, although this month has more records than any since February, when I finally started running out of interest in 2016 EOY lists. This month's resurgence is probably related to having looked through a couple dozen mid-year lists -- they've become almost as automatic in the music press as EOY lists. Lot of records below I wouldn't have noticed otherwise. On the other hand, those lists are no guarantee of merit. Back on June 12, I published my wild-ass guess how the top-20 of list aggregate might look. Here's a slightly revised top-30 with some recent releases and a few longer-shots (my grades in brackets):
I'll probably get to the three unrated albums shortly. Lorde has only made five MY lists (vs. 13 for The XX and 15 for Drake) but she's currently number two at Album of the Year, with a 92/27 just behind Kendrick Lamar's 92/28. Took me a long time to get to A- but I finally did (much longer than it took me with Lamar). Drake has more/better lists than XX but I think we have a hip-hop selection bias (unlike the norm for EOY lists) -- plus I've heard the album and can't quite see what people like so much about it. Vince Staples is currently number 4 at AOTY (88/18), and SZA is at 11 (85/10) -- SZA has done better on lists so far, but had a two-week head start.
Of course, most of the good records I found don't show up on those MY lists. For country, I got some tips from Saving Country Music (Jason Eady, John Moreland, Colter Wall -- not that I wasn't already on Moreland). Christgau has reviewed Chuck Berry, Steve Earle, Oumou Sangaré, and Starlito (and written about without reviewing Omar Souleyman), but not my other two rap picks (Joey Bada$$ and Oddisee) or the electropop (Sylvan Esso, Charli XCX). Three of five jazz albums came from my queue, but I had to go to Napster for Jimmy Greene and to Bandcamp for Joshua Abrams. I was so delighted with the latter I played all of his Eremites on Bandcamp (but didn't find any more Ari Brown sax).
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on May 31. Past reviews and more information are available here (9774 records).
Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society: Simultonality (2014-15 , Eremite): Chicago bassist, appeared in avant-garde circles around 2002 but at this time highly patterned, repetetively rhythmic music, close in spirit to minimalism but subtly more complex. Abrams himself is also credited with guimbri, small harp, and bells, and is joined by Lisa Alvarado (harmonium, Leslie, percussion), Ben Boye (chromatic electric autoharp, piano, Wurlitzer), Emmett Kelly (electric guitar), and two percussionists (Michael Avery and Frank Rosaly) -- plus a real nice closing track tenor sax spot (Ari Brown). A- [bc]
Ambrose Akinmusire: A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard (2017, Blue Note, 2CD): Trumpet player, born and raised in Oakland, now 35 -- as one reviewer noted, the same age as Coltrane when he recorded his own Live at the Village Vanguard in 1961. Highly regarded: he topped DownBeat's Critics Poll for Best Trumpet last year, following his third studio album, which placed 3rd in 2014's Jazz Critics Poll. (Say, didn't Coltrane have a couple dozen albums by 1961?) Quartet, with Sam Harris (piano), Harish Raghavan (bass), and Justin Brown (drums). (Coltrane's Quartet members weren't any more famous at the time, and extra Eric Dolphy had only cut his first albums the year before.) I've never been much impressed, at least until I heard "Trumpet Sketch (milky pete)," the intense trumpet-drum parlay that closes the first disc. Still, took a long time to warm up to that point, and the second disc only comes close to reprising it on the last track. This leaves me with two thoughts: first, this could have benefited from a lot of editing, and second, this group isn't able to sustain their few moments of excitement over a set or a side. B+(*)
Tony Allen: A Tribute to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers (2017, Blue Note, EP): Drummer from Nigeria, best known for his work with Fela Kuti. Can't recall him ever playing on a jazz record before, but also can't imagine any reason he wouldn't admire the principal inventor of hard bop, especially as Blakey himself developed a fascination with African drumming. Four tracks, 24:34, including Blakey's own "The Drum Thunder Suite." Septet based in Paris, the horns a bit light and flighty, the rhythm more skittish than hard. B+(**)
Joey Bada$$: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ (2017, Pro Era/Cinematic): Brooklyn rapper Jo-Vaughn Scott, second studio album after three mixtapes. Despite his fondness for dollar signs, this finds him thinking hard about injustice in the nation, and while the "three K's" isn't deep, I don't mind him dropping a little kitsch into the dialectic. Nor an occasional obscenity, like "fuck Trump." A-
Ignacio Berroa Trio: Straight Ahead From Havana (2017, Codes Drum Music): Drummer, from Cuba, left in 1980, joined Dizzy Gillespie in 1981 until his death. First album, Codes (2006) was superb, but I haven't heard anything since. This is a piano trio featuring Martin Bejerano with Josh Allen on bass, playing Cuban tunes recalled from Berroa's childhood in a very straightforward bop style, a little extra percussion on a couple tracks, and a Ruben Blades vocal on one. B+(**) [cd]
Chuck Berry: Chuck (1991-2014 , Dualtone): Legend, content to rest on his laurels since Rock It in 1979, then announced this album on his 90th birthday, but didn't live long enough to see its release. Eight originals, two fair approximations. Of the originals, two are obvious glosses on classics ("Lady B. Goode," "Jamaica Moon") but "Wonderful Woman" veers just far enough from "Back in the USA" to seem like a new hit. A couple others offer off-handed surprises, and nowhere does he struggle to top himself like on his '70s albums. A-
Steve Bilodeau: The Sun Through the Rain (2017, self-released): Guitarist, from Boston, has a half-dozen previous albums (all on Bandcamp). This is a trio, with Richard Garcia on sax and Dor Herskovitz on drums. Neither free nor fusion, a more complex form of ambience, dense and rather dark. B+(*) [cd]
Scott H. Biram: The Bad Testament (2017, Bloodshot): Singer-songwriter from Texas, country drawl with a harder edge, started out in 1998 as The Dirty Old One Man Band, fourth album got picked up by Bloodshot in 2005, and this is his fifth since (ninth overall). Seems incapable of putting together an album without rough patches or gratuitous offense, but sometimes just that works best -- as on the gospel singalong or the closing blues instrumental. B+(**)
Mary J Blige: Strength of a Woman (2017, Capitol): I've never had a good ear or much patience for this r&b star, but she hit it big in 1992, and while she hasn't gone platinum since 2007 that's more the industry's fault: she projects great strength and perseverance, even when wielding the "survivor" cliché, and she hasn't let up one iota here. Of course, I'm tempted to say she oversings and overpowers everything, but that's just how she rolls. B+(***)
Blondie: Pollinator (2017, BMG): A New York group I loved in the 1970s, up to and including their oft-maligned 1980 album Autoamerican. Their big hiatus was between 1982-99, but I didn't notice their last two albums (2011, 2014). This one makes a strong, distinctive pop impression, but leaves me wondering what they really have to say. B
Erik Bogaerts/Hendrik Lasure/Pit Dahm: Bogaerts & Lasure + Dahm (2016, self-released): Sax, piano, and drums, although the latter is so quiet I've already forgotten it, leaving a rather chamber-ish piano-sax dialogue. Bogaerts is from Antwerp, Belgium. B- [bc]
The Brother Brothers: Tugboats E.P. (2017, self-released, EP): Country/folk group from Brooklyn, brothers are Adam and David Moss. Six tracks, 18:43, harmonies can be Everly, main instruments are fiddle and cello, the one cut where they drop them for something accordion-like is a must to avoid. B-
Burial: Subtemple/Beachfires (2017, Hyperdub, EP): William Bevan, British dubstep producer, released two albums 2006-07, the latter to much acclaim, but since then has only dribbled out EPs or singles -- this one skimpier than most, the two songs total 17:13. Rather glum and obscure, makes one wonder why we should bother. B
Burning Ghosts: Reclamation (2017, Tzadik): LA-based jazz-metal fusion quartet, second album: Daniel Rosenboom (trumpet), Jake Vossler (guitar), Richard Giddens (bass), Aaron McLendon (drums). Trumpet player is terrific -- he's building a very interesting career, mostly behind group aliases but his Astral Transference and Seven Dreams is worth searching for. The metal offers some solid crunch but not a lot of flash. B+(***) [cdr]
Julie Byrne: Not Even Happiness (2017, Ba Da Bing): Singer-songwriter from Buffalo, second album, rather short (9 songs, 32:37). Plays guitar and sings, so a folkie by default, dressed up with an aura of strings. Doesn't seems like much, especially given a first instinct to compare her to Joni Mitchell, but grows on you. B+(**)
Gerald Cannon: Combinations (2017, Woodneck): Mainstream bassist, one previous album in 2003, numerous side credits back to 1995, has trouble working all his friends in so they're rotated with a few cuts each: alto saxophonists Gary Bartz, Sherman Irby, and Steve Slagle; trumpeters Duane Eubanks and Jeremy Pelt; pianists Rick Germanson and Kenny Barron. Willie Jones III gets most of the drum work, but Will Calhoun gets one cut, and guitarist Rick Malone gets three. Five originals, six covers. B+(**) [cd]
Regina Carter: Ella: Accentuate the Positive (2017, Okeh/Masterworks): Violinist, ten albums since 1995, won a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2006. This coincides with the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald's birth, but it's hard to see an organic connection to Carter's work -- I suspect it was the label's idea (like when they directed her cousin to Billie Holiday), and with its ready-made songbook seemed easy. Two vocals (Miche Braden and Carla Cook, spread wide), the rest instrumentals featuring the leader backed with guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums. B+(*)
Playboi Carti: Playboi Carti (2017, AWGE/Interscope): Atlanta rapper Jordan Terrell Carter, previously dba $ir Cartier, first mixtape. Rhythmically resembles Young Thug, but hasn't really found message or meaning yet. B+(*)
Chastity Belt: I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone (2017, Hardly Art): Indie band, four women from Walla Walla, Washington, so post-punk they're almost lackadaisical, which is not because they're boring, let alone happy. B+(*)
Chicano Batman: Freedom Is Free (2017, ATO): Los Angeles band, third album, mostly in Spanish, started out sounding erratically dissonant, or maybe just out of tune, then started to cohere somewhat -- even got interesting on one song I could follow ("The Taker City"). B-
Gerald Clayton: Tributary Tales (2017, Motéma): Pianist, son of bassist John Clayton, fourth album. Group includes three saxes (Logan Richardson, Ben Wendel, Dayna Stephens), bass, and drums. The saxes provide some attractive big band harmonics, but this doesn't generate much lift or propulsion. B
Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse: Morphogenesis (2016 , Pi): Alto saxophonist, thirty-some albums since 1985, has broken new ground several times and this is probably another -- I've played it many times, never really making up my mind as it keeps shifting in unexpected directions. Large group with a chamber jazz air -- only has percussion on 5/9 tracks, never significant, although there are many sources of rhythm -- three reeds, trumpet, violin, piano, bass, with Jen Shyu's voice shadowing. A- [cd]
Bill Cunliffe: BACHanalia (2013-16 , Metre): Pianist, has a dozen or so records since 1993 (e.g., Bill Plays Bud, Bill in Brazil, A Paul Simon Songbook), has worked in big bands, and has written five books. This was recorded over three sessions, some with big band. Two (of eight) titles credit JS Bach, one more CPE Bach, but nothing here triggers my Bach reflex -- nor does the Prokofiev, but I only recognized the Cole Porter when the singer took over, so none of this strikes me as very clear (or inspiring). Featuring credits for singer Denise Donatelli and trumpeter Terell Stafford, who also gets a shout-out from the leader. B- [cd]
Dálava: The Book of Transfigurations (2016 , Songlines): New York guitarist Aram Bajakian, of Armenian heritage but I'm not finding much biography, nor credits here. He has a previous Dálava album (2014): Moravian folk songs, sung by his wife Julia Ulehla, transcribed by her great-grandfather over a century ago. Figure this for more: while the vocals harken back to an age that aspired to opera, the guitar is decidedly new. B+(*) [bc]
Roger Davidson Trio With Hendrik Meurkens: Oração Para Amanhã/Prayer for Tomorrow (2016 , Soundbrush): Pianist, based in New York but fell hard for Brazilian music long ago, something he has in common with the German vibraphonist/harmonica player. With Eduardo Bello on bass, Antonio Santos on drums, for fast sambas with boppish touches. B+(**) [cd]
Rick Davies: Thugtet (2015 , Emlyn): Trombonist, originally from Albuquerque, played Latin jazz for many years in New York, recorded this three weeks before his death in December 2015. Billed as "an energetic meld of danceable Latin with jazz and a good taste of funk," features Alex Stewart (tenor sax) and Ray Vega (trumpet) as guests, doubling up on the congas. B+(**) [cd]
Joey DeFrancesco and the People: Project Freedom (2017, Mack Avenue): Names his band but the publicist doesn't bother to list credits. Some sleuthing suggests the leader plays his usual organ plus some trumpet, along with Troy Roberts (tenor/soprano sax), Jason Brown (drums), and Dan Wilson (probably guitar). Starts with a whiff of "Imagine," and includes titles like "Lift Every Voice and Sing," "A Change Is Gonna Come," and "Stand Up" -- probably some originals too. B+(*)
The Deslondes: Hurry Home (2017, New West): New Orleans group, generically Americana, draws on country rock with Cajun flavors including a guy who doubles on fiddle/pedal steel. B
Dalton Domino: Corners (2017, Lightning Rod): Singer-songwriter, alt-country division, has some grit in his voice and in his songs. Last few songs do tend to blur together. B+(**)
Drake: More Life: A Playlist by October Firm (2017, Young Money/Cash Money): Canadian rapper, destined to be a big deal in 2010 but he's never really delivered, even though he's been rather prolific. Probably his most critically acclaimed album since Thank Me Later, but it's packaged as a throwaway and that's pretty much what he delivers. I'm sure there are other rappers who are as regularly upstaged by guests and samples, but I can't recall their names. B+(*)
Jason Eady: Jason Eady (2017, Old Guitar): Country singer-songwriter, born in Mississippi but seems to be associated with Texas, with a half-dozen albums since 2005 on obscure labels. Picks his way through unassuming songs, easy and graceful, most with stories to tell. A-
Justin Townes Earle: Kids in the Street (2017, New West): Singer-songwriter, drawl much weaker than his father's which shades him away from country toward folk, and personality seems less commanding as well. Nice record, though. B+(**)
Steve Earle & the Dukes: So You Wannabe an Outlaw (2017, Warner Brothers): There's nothing glamorous about those outlaw songs, but the roots grow thick, not least with the fiddle. A-
Silke Eberhard Trio: The Being Inn (2016 , Intakt): Plays alto sax and bass clarinet (here), based in Berlin, has done tributes to Dolphy, Coleman, and Mingus; credited with writing everything here, although I hear echoes of Ornette. Trio with Jan Roder (bass) and Kay Lubke (drums). A- [cd]
Eliane Elias: Dance of Time (2017, Concord): Brazilian pianist, early albums from 1985 on were instrumental but at some point she started to sing -- most winningly on 1998's Eliane Elias Sings Jobim -- and lately it's turned into her shtick, light and charming. B+(*)
The Four Bags: Waltz (2017, NCM East): With no drums, I suppose you could characterize this as chamber jazz, just not very formal or polite. Trombone (Brian Drye), accordion (Jacob Garchik), clarinet (Mike McGinnis), and guitar (Sean Moran) -- all leaders on their own (Garchik primarily on trombone), each contributing pieces here (plus three takes of "Valse des As" by G. Jacques). B+(*) [cd]
Art Fristoe Trio: Double Down (2017, Merry Lane, 2CD): Piano trio, seems to be pianist Fristoe's debut, a double, with Tim Ruiz on bass and Richard Cholakian or Daleton Lee on drums. Six originals, mostly on the second disc, plus eleven covers, opening with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and closing with "Speak Low." For some reason he decides to sing "Blackbird," and it's not pretty. B [cd]
Future: Future (2017, Epic/A1/Freebandz): Rapper Nayvadius Cash, fifth studio album since 2012 (he also has a dozen mixtapes and 62 singles). Stretches himself thin over 17 tracks, 62:47, and still wasn't done. B+(**)
Future: Hndrxx (Epic/A1/Freebandz): And, dropping a week after Future, his Sixth studio album. Most critics, including Christgau, regard this as the better half. It does start stronger, but once he settles into his slack groove it's hard for me to discern any difference. B+(**)
Gabriel Garzón-Montano: Jardin (2017, Stones Throw): Brooklyn-born, father French, mother Colombian. Album has a soul vibe but can slow down to just airy. B
Gato Libre: Neko (2016 , Libra): Trio, seventh album since 2004, led by trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, with Yasuko Kaneko on trombone and Satoko Fujii on accordion -- sort of a miniature/avant brass band, the accordion adding a folkish flair. Some lovely passages, especially toward the end, but it rarely jumps out at you. B+(**) [cd]
Kate Gentile: Mannequins (2016 , Skirl): Drummer, also plays vibes, from Buffalo, based in New York since 2011. First album, quartet with Jeremy Viner (clarinet/tenor sax), Matt Mitchell (piano/electronics), and Adam Hopkins (bass). All original material by Gentile, interesting mix of rhythmic vamps and free jazz, both good for the pianist. Runs long: 72 minutes. B+(***) [cd]
Terry Gibbs: 92 Years Young: Jammin' at the Gibbs House (2016 , Whaling City Sound): Vibraphonist, born 1924, cut his first record in 1949 (or 1951), led an outfit he called the Dream Band circa 1959 (his son, drummer Gerry Gibbs, present here, has his own Dream Band). First record since 2006, cut in his living room with John Campbell on piano and Mike Gurrola on bass, mostly swing and early bop standards, and indeed they are delightful. B+(***) [cd]
The Brett Gold New York Jazz Orchestra: Dreaming Big (2016 , Goldfox): Big band, 18 pieces when the guitar's present, Gold composed and arranged but doesn't play, more than half of the New York musicians are recognizable from their own careers. Certainly has some exciting passages, especially when the trombones come out. B+(*) [cd]
Alex Goodman: Second Act (2017, Lyte): Guitarist, from Canada, first album nominated for a JUNO as "Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year" -- probably doesn't mean pop jazz -- at least this isn't -- but fancy, intricate, thoughtful postbop, impressive but not especially interesting. Band here includes sas/EWI (Matt Marantz), keyboards, bass, drums, vocal credits I never quite noticed in two plays, fluffed out to 75 minutes. B [cd]
The Great Harry Hillman: Tilt (2017, Cuneiform): Swiss group, from Luzern: Nils Fischer (reeds), David Koch (guitar/efx), Samuel Huwyler (bass), Dominik Mahnig (drums). Namesake was a sprinter who won three gold medals in the 1904 Olympics. Hard to pigeonhole this -- hype sheet compares them to postrock bands like Radian and Tortoise, throwing in a little Mary Halvorson, which may be the idea, but the actuality is less settled, or predictable. B+(**) [cdr]
Jimmy Greene: Flowers: Beautiful Life, Volume 2 (2017, Mack Avenue): Tenor saxophonist, based in Sandy Hook, CT, where his 6-year-old daughter was among those murdered in the infamous school shooting there. He bounced back with his 2014 album Beautiful Life and won a Grammy, but I prefer this edgier album, full of probing, searching saxophone. Two piano trios split the backing (Renee Rosnes/John Patitucci/Jeff "Tain" Watts vs. Kevin Hays/Ben Williams/Otis Brown III), and two songs get guest vocals. A-
Halsey: Hopeless Fountain Kingdom (2017, Astralwerks): Young pop singer from New Jersey, Ashley Frangipane, second album after her debut, Badlands, went platinum (and made my A-list). This isn't as immediately appealing, perhaps because the fated lovers saga seems contrived, borrowed, or just too much trouble. Still has a knack, though. B+(**)
Louis Hayes: Serenade for Horace (2017, Blue Note): Drummer, was still in his teens in 1956 when he joined the Horace Silver Quintet -- for the next decade one of the greatest of all hard bop groups. Hayes moved on to Cannonball Adderley in 1959, and Oscar Peterson in 1965-67 and 1971, and led his own groups from 1972 on, sometimes sharing billing with Junior Cook or Woody Shaw. David Bryant plays piano, Josh Evans trumpet, Abraham Burton tenor sax, Steven Nelson vibes, Dezron Douglas bass. Silver's tunes still sound terrific, especially when Burton takes charge (he even salvages the Gregory Porter vocal), with the vibes accenting the swing. B+(***)
Wade Hayes: Old Country Song (2017, Conabor): Country singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, first two records (1995-96) went gold, next two charted, fifth was self-released nine years later, and since then he's had a close call to cancer. Neotrad, not especially inspired, but I rather like "I Don't Understand" ("all I know about love"). Also "Going Where the Lonely Go." B
The Heliocentrics: A World of Masks (2017, Soundway): London jazz-funk group "based around" drummer/producer Malcolm Catto, name derived from Sun Ra, have done especially notable work in their surprising collaborations (Mulatu Astatke, Lloyd Miller, Orlando Julius, Melvin Van Peebles). Dense world fusion, front-loaded with vocals (Barbora Patkova, from Slovakia). B+(***)
Joseph Huber: The Suffering Stage (2017, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Milwaukee, played banjo in .357 String Band, considered folk or country but rocks pretty hard for the former. Bandcamp has two bonus tracks. B+(***)
Innocent When You Dream: Dirt in the Ground (2017, self-released): Canadian group, evidently led by Aaron Shragge, credited with "dragon mouth trumpet/shakuhachi," joined by tenor sax (Jonathan Lindhorst), guitar (Ryan Butler), bass (Dan Fortin), drums (Nico Dann), and on most tracks pedal steel (Joe Grass). Not quite pop, but they maintain a groove and soar a little. B+(*) [cd]
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound (2017, Southeastern): Alabama boy, one of the songwriters in the Drive-By Truckers, left ten years ago for a solo career still yoked to a band name. Christgau likes his last four albums more (sometimes a lot more) than I do, which probably means I should pay more heed to the lyrics and worry less about the unexceptional music -- here nothing I would chalk up as "Nashville sound" even given that as Nashville pursues the arenas they've been rocking harder than ever. But Isbell doesn't rock hard, nor does he play up his roots, and while a couple songs are clear and poignant, others pass right by. B+(**)
Japandroids: Near to the Wild Heart of Life (2017, Anti-): Canadian garage punk duo/group, third record, five years after their second. Brash and loud, works for them. B+(**)
The Jesus and Mary Chain: Damage and Joy (2017, ADA/Warner): Scottish noise-pop band, principally brothers Jim and William Reid, a big deal in 1985-94, broke up after their 1998 album flopped, reunited for lack of anything better to do in 2007 but didn't rush into the studio: this is their first album in 19 years. Easily a return to form, one I thoroughly enjoyed without being much impressed (well, until "Get On Home" came on). B+(**)
J.I.D: The Never Story (2017, Dreamville/Interscope): Atlanta rapper Destin Route, signed to J Cole's label, first album after an EP, trips lightly through ten producers, who don't treat him quite as well. B+(***)
Kano: Made in the Manor (2016, Parlophone): British rapper, file under grime, fifth album since 2005, snagged a Mercury nomination and made some UK EOY lists last year, tied for 211 in my EOY aggregate so I noticed it but failed to check it out (note that I graded 9/17 records at that level, 5 of them A-). B+(***)
Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: Find the Common, Shine a Light (2017, Greenleaf Music): Trombonist, fifth album with this group -- Mike Rodriguez (trumpet), Jorge Roeder (bass), Eric Doob (drums) -- with former guest singer Camila Meza (also plays guitar) moving into center stage. Beatles ("Fool on the Hill") and Dylan ("The Times They Are A-Changin'") covers are surprisingly striking, the original material more mixed. B+(**) [cd]
Zara Larsson: So Good (2017, Epic/TEN): Swedish pop singer, still a teenager first album a hit in Scandinavia, this second an international breakout. In English, primed for the world market, danceable but not as hot, say, as Robyn. Not unthoughtful either. Still, how come the lyric I noticed was "you can be the next female president"? Then the refrain went "make that money girl" -- as if that's the ticket. B+(**)
Llop: J.Imp (2017, El Negocito): Quartet, Belgian (I think): Erik Bogaerts (sax), Benjamin Sauzereau (guitar), Jens Bouttery (drums, electronics), Brice Soniano (bass). Mostly improv, surprisingly ambient, pleasant even. B+(*) [cd]
Lord Echo: Harmonies (2017, Soundway): From New Zealand, aliases Mike August and Mike Fabulous, bills himself as "underground super-producer." Sounds more soul than anything but not as retro as Mayer Hawthorne, but you might triangulate that with disco and nu and rocksteady and find something fresh. A-
Lorde: Melodrama (2017, Lava/Republic): Pop star from New Zealand, cut her first album in her teens, released this second album to much acclaim at 20. Co-writes most of her songs with Jack Antonoff, avoids the big producer-centric glitz most pop artists aim for, even has a way of talking her way into them that recalls Lily Allen. Not as fucking brilliant, but already pretty damn sharp. A-
Low Cut Connie: "Dirty Pictures" (Part 1) (2017, Contender): Philadelphia alt/indie band named for a memorable waitress, fourth album, led by Adam Weiner, who has lately shifted focus from guitar to piano, gaining a raucous honky-tonk sound. The piano is more central than ever here, but that only helps when they keep it upbeat, not when maturity turns to flab. B
Alex Maguire/Nikolas Skordas Duo: Ships and Shepherds (2016 , Slam, 2CD): Pianist Maguire has been around, playing in Hatfield and the North, Elton Dean's Newsense, Pip Pyle's Bash, Sean Bergin and M.O.B., a couple albums with Michael Moore. This seems to be the debut for Skordas, who plays tenor/soprano sax, gaida (bagpipe), tarogato, flutes, bells, and whistles. He doesn't exactly put his best foot forward by starting with the bagpipe, a harshness that recurs as part of their volatile chemistry. B [cd]
Brian McCarthy Nonet: The Better Angels of Our Nature (2016 , Truth Revolution): Alto/soprano saxophonist, second album. Nonet arrays trumpet, trombone, four saxes, and piano-bass-drums for rich and varied textures, occasionally dipping into Civil War-vintage tunes -- the title draws on Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address. B+(***) [cd]
John McLean/Clark Sommers Band: Parts Unknown (2017, Origin): Guitar and bass, both have other albums as leaders. Front cover also mentions Joe Locke (vibes) and Xavier Breaker (drums). By turns, slick, slinky, and frothy. B- [cd]
Tift Merritt: Stitch of the World (2017, Yep Roc): Singer-songwriter, usually taken for country but that doesn't seem necessary here. B+(*)
Molly Miller Trio: The Shabby Road Recordings (2017, self-released): Guitar-bass-drums trio, young enough to consider Jackson Browne and Tom Waits tunes standards, plus some more trad fare (even beyond Smokey Robinson). Ten songs, 29:22. B [cd]
Charnett Moffett: Music From Our Soul (2017, Motéma): Bassist, more than a dozen albums since 1987, many side credits (only 7 listed on his Wikipedia page but AMG's credits table runs 290 lines). Group here includes Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax), Cyrus Chestnut (piano), Stanley Jordan (guitar), and rotates between three drummers (Jeff "Tain" Watts, Mike Clark, Victor Lewis). The big three do what you'd expect, with Sanders all sharp edges, Jordan polished grooves, and Chestnut richly florid vamps. Could have used more Sanders, but he sounds great when he gets the chance. B+(***)
Thurston Moore: Rock N Roll Consciousness (2017, Caroline): Sonic Youth guitarist, side projects date back to circa 1995 but were usually experimental and minor until the band broke up. This seems in between, only five songs, two over 10 minutes (total 42:51), the words coming late and reluctantly. B+(*)
John Moreland: Big Bad Luv (2017, 4AD): Country singer-songwriter, born in Texas, moved around a lot including a spell in Kentucky but counts Tulsa as his home. Title was a throw-away line in the upbeat closer but his non-Nashville label must have dug it. Fine collection of songs, some fast, some slow, he does it all. A-
Gurf Morlix: The Soul & the Heal (2017, Rootball): Singer-songwriter, played with and produced Lucinda Williams, cut his first album in 2000 and is up to ten here. Pretty good songs rooted in Austin's view of the country. B+(**)
Kyle Motl: Solo Contrabass (2016 , self-released): Bassist, top two associations are with Abbey Rader and Peter Kuhn, so avant and not so famous; also has a duo album with Adam Tinkle and two group albums led by Drew Ceccato. Solo bass albums tend to be more about drawing sounds out of their instrument than music, but this does both. B+(**) [cd]
The Mountain Goats: Goths (2017, Merge): John Darneille's group front, in business since 1991, sixteenth album. Name drops various groups he grew up listening to, while remaining truthful to his own unique songcraft. B+(***)
MUNA: About U (2017, RCA): Los Angeles guitar band, three women, genre said to be "dark pop," got a rave review in The Nation but two plays slipped by me without leaving a lasting impression, other than certainly, not bad. B+(*)
Amina Claudine Myers: Sama Rou: Songs From My Soul (2016, Amina C): Pianist-organ player-vocalist, originally from Arkansas, steeped in church music, moved to Chicago and joined AACM, then on to New York. First two albums focused in Marion Brown and Bessie Smith, a range she's stradled ever since -- at least up to 2000, when the discography fizzles out. This is solo and seems to be new, released after she turned 74. Most striking on the back half's spirituals. B+(*)
Quinsin Nachoff/Mark Helias/Dan Weiss: Quinsin Nachoff's Ethereal Trio (2016 , Whirlwind): Tenor saxophonist, several albums since 2006, this sax-bass-drums trio by far his best. Original pieces, mostly mid-tempo, nothing fancy or frantic, but it holds together superbly. A- [cd]
The Necks: Unfold (2017, Ideologic Organ): Exceptionally long-running Australian piano trio -- Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums), Lloyd Swanton (bass) -- with 22 albums going back to 1989. This was designed for 2-LP with four side-long pieces 15:35-21:47. Less jazz than shimmering, resplendent ambient, nicely pitched for a label handled by Editions Mego. B+(***)
Vadim Neselovskyi Trio: Get Up and Go (2017, Blujazz): Ukrainian pianist, based in New York but teaches at Berklee in Boston. Third album, a tightly melodic piano trio with some vocal shadowing I neither like nor mind. B+(**) [cd]
Ed Neumeister & His NeuHat Ensemble: Wake Up Call (2014 , MeisteroMusic): Trombonist, a veteran of many big bands from the 1980s, with several albums as leader. This is a big band thing, with Dick Oatts and Rich Perry in the reeds, Steve Cardenas on guitar, John Hollenbeck on percussion -- more than half of the players are names I recognize. B+(*) [cd]
The New Vision Sax Ensemble: Musical Journey Through Time (2017, Zak Publishing): Saxophone quartet: Diron Holloway (soprano/alto plus clarinet), James Lockhart (alto), Jason Hainsworth (tenor), Melton Mustafa (baritone). Their journey proceeds back through time, starting with a Bobby Watson piece, then "Night in Tunisia" and "'Round Midnight" through a Gershwin medley and "These Foolish Things" and on to Scott Joplin and "Amazing Grace" -- crowd pleasers that let them show off their clever layering. B+(*) [cd]
Larry Newcomb Quartet With Bucky Pizzarelli: Living Tribute (2016 , Essential Messenger): Guitarist, got a PhD from University of Florida in 1998, CV and "musical influences" mostly rock but he comes off more as a soul/swing guy here, or maybe that's just his new mentor Pizzarelli. Quartet includes Eric Olsen on piano. Starts with standards, then moves into originals, which continue the vibe. Two nice vocals toward the end, by Leigh Jonaitis. B+(*) [cd]
North Mississippi Allstars: Prayer for Peace (2017, Legacy): Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, sons of Memphis producer Jim Dickinson, formed this band in 1996 although Luther also plays for Black Crowes. Southern rock with more nostalgia for Martin Luther King than for Dixie, dipping more than a few times into old blues -- I actually had "Stealin'" in my head before I heard this delightful version. B+(***)
Oddisee: The Iceberg (2017, Mello Music Group): Amir Mohamed el Khalife, rapper born in Maryland, based in DC, father from Sudan, prolific since 2005 (Wikipedia counts 11 studio albums, 10 mixtapes). Beats acoustic, band rocks, even swings a little, the raps fast and impressively level-headed. A-
Zephaniah OHora & the 18 Wheelers: This Highway (2017, MRI): Country singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, uses a lot of old-fashioned pedal steel but lacks that old-time twang in his voice, which gives his oft-effortless crooning a peculiar air. And when he goes for a cover, he comes up with "Something Stupid." B+(**)
Aruán Ortiz: Cubanism: Piano Solo (2016 , Intakt): Pianist, b. 1973 in Cuba, based in Brooklyn, half-dozen albums since 2005. Last year's trio Hidden Voices was especially well regarded, and this solo effort is every bit as thoughtful. Original pieces, oblique references to Afro-Cuban, nothing too obvious. B+(**) [cd]
Jeff Parker: Slight Freedom (2013-14 , Eremite): Jazz guitarist from Chicago, plays in avant groups but also in post-rock Tortoise. Solo guitar with effects and sampler -- the latter adds some beat, which makes this attractive without a lot of virtuosity. B+(**)
Perfume Genius: No Shape (2017, Matador): Stage name for Mike Hadreas, has several albums that strike me as fey and arty -- this one even more so. B-
Errol Rackipov Group: Distant Dreams (2015 , OA2): Plays vibraphone and marimba, studied at Berklee and Miami, second album -- had a song on a Jazziz sampler in 1997 but only source I've found on the album gives its date as 2015. Group has two saxophones, piano, bass, and drums -- very energetic with the mallets. B+(*) [cd]
Rag'n'Bone Man: Human (2017, Columbia): British singer-songwriter Rory Charles Graham, first album, title single works the cliché that the definition of being human is fucking up. He has an impressive voice that I can't peg in any genre -- it belies any possible claim to blues or gospel, reminding me more than anything of a Marine Corps drill sergeant, an effect only enhanced by the backup singers. It's the sort of record that sounds impressive first, but you grow tired of quickly. B-
Mason Razavi: Quartet Plus, Volume 2 (2016 , OA2): Guitarist, based in San Francisco area, has a couple previous albums. Quartet adds piano/keyboards, acoustic/electric bass, and drums, the "plus" expanding into a smallish big band (three reeds, one each trumpet/trombone) for the second half, most obvious (if not best) on the sole cover, "Caravan." B [cd]
Mike Reed: Flesh & Bone (2016 , 482 Music): Chicago drummer, has done a heroic job of absorbing and furthering the avant-jazz tradition of his city, usually attributing his work to two groups rather than appearing on the masthead alone. Of course, he's not alone: the credits are structured as a two-sax quartet (Greg Ward and Tim Haldenam), with Jason Roebke on bass, but two more horns spread out the sound: Jason Stein on bass clarinet and Ben Lamar Gay on cornet. Reed refers to this as "my dream-like reflections" and that's the weak spot, when it gets too dreamy. But things wake up with Marvin Tate's spoken word rants and ravings -- I sneered at first, then found them interesting, and ultimately decided they were an intrinsic part of the album's musicality. B+(***) [cd]
Jeremy Rose: Within & Without (2016 , Earshift Music): From Australia, plays alto sax and bass clarinet, has at least three albums. Plays off here against Kurt Rosenwinkel's guitar, backed by piano-bass-drums. B+(*) [cd]
Samo Salamon Sextet: The Colours Suite (2016 , Clean Feed): Guitarist from Slovenia, has consistently produced interesting records. Wrote eight pieces named for colors, and brought this sextet for Jazz Festival Ljubljana, with "two of my favorite drummers" (Roberto Dani and Christian Lillinger), Pascal Niggenkemper (bass), Achille Succi (bass clarinet), and Julian Arguelles (tenor and soprano sax). The horns contrast well, the sharper sax piercing the airier bass clarinet, most impressively when they crank it up. A- [cd]
Oumou Sangaré: Mogoya (2017, No Format): Wassoulou singer from Bamako, the capitol of Mali. She's recorded super albums since 1991's Moussolou. While Christgau detects a loss of "engagement" here, I find myself enjoying it just fine. A-
Scenes: Destinations (2016-17 , Origin): Guitar-bass-drums trio -- John Stowell, Jeff Johnson, John Bishop -- have a number of albums together. Stowell is an intricate stylist, and gets helpful but unimposing support. B+(*) [cd]
Shinyribs: I Got Your Medicine (2016 , Mustard Lid): Country-soul, swamp-funk band from Austin, originally just Kevin Russell (vocals, guitar, ukulele, mandolin) but nowadays they got horns and backing singers which lets them swing a little. Sample verse: "he once was a verb, now just a noun." On the other hand, great cover of "A Certain Girl." Also recommended: "I Don't Give a Sh*t." B+(*)
Sleaford Mods: English Tapas (2017, Rough Trade): British duo -- rapper Jason Williamson and musician Andrew Fearn -- with their postpunk beats and working class screeds. Been around long enough they're starting to get automatic, and been successful enough you start to wonder if they're losing their edge. They are, somewhat, but still can catch a riff and/or a rant often enough to remind you how unique they are. B+(***)
Slowdive: Slowdive (2017, Dead Oceans): British shoegaze/dream pop group led by singers Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, released three albums 1991-95, broke up, regrouped and after 22 years came up with their fourth album -- like Jesus and Mary Chain, except not so famous (or good). Short on fuzz, but enough shimmer to drown in. B+(*)
Smino: Blkswn (2017, Zero Fatigue/Downtown): Rapper from St. Louis, Christopher Smith, debut album after a couple EPs. Small voice, small beats, likes to sing, which occasionally threatens to get catchy but more often is just oddly appealing. B+(**)
Jay Som: Everybody Works (2017, Polyvinyl): Alias for Melina Duterte, born in Oakland, parents Filipino. Sort of a DIY pop thing, a novel, interesting voice. B+(*)
Omar Souleyman: To Syria, With Love (2017, Mad Decent): Syrian wedding singer, a style known as dabke, currently based in Turkey, was introduced to the United States in 2006 via the first of four Sublime Frequencies comps, and has since become an international star. Hard to choose between his last three albums, but this is the hottest, heaviest, most frenetic albums I've heard this year, so it stands out clearly from everything else. A-
Chris Stapleton: From a Room: Volume 1 (2017, Mercury Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, maybe "alt" but he's so died-in-wool I wouldn't dare quibble. Solid bunch of songs, mostly down-and-out, but that's realism these days. B+(***)
Starlito & Don Trip: Step Brothers Three (2017, Grind Hard): Two rappers from Tennessee, Nashville and Memphis, released their first Step Brothers in 2011. Midtempo beats, rhymes unroll methodically, everything so loose you're surprised to find it holding together. Christgau tweeted "best hip-hop album of a year that should damn well be generating better ones." Took me three plays and I'm still not convinced, but desperate times are upon us. A-
John Stein/Dave Zinno: Wood and Strings (2016 , Whaling City Sound): Guitar and bass duets, mostly standards (4 Stein pieces, 1 Zinno, 9 others, with Sam Rivers the outlier). Very intimate, the bass resonant, the guitar light as a feather. B+(***) [cd]
Dayna Stephens: Gratitude (2017, Contagious Music): Tenor saxophonist. Eighth album as leader, although it seems like I run into him more often in others' side credits. Quintet is likely better known: Brad Mehldau (piano), Julian Lage (guitar), Larry Grenadier (bass), and Eric Harland (drums). Marvelous tone, on the upbeat pieces anyway -- when they slow down the guitar tends to get in the way. B+(**)
Becca Stevens: Regina (2017, GroundUp): Singer-songwriter, fourth album, has some jazz cred but I'm not particularly hearing that here, and "Mercury" is flat-out pop. Guest spots for Laura Mvula, Jacob Collier, and David Crosby. Two covers, one from Stevie Wonder (botched). B-
Matthew Stevens: Preverbal (2017, Ropeadope): Guitarist, from Toronto, studied at Berklee, based in New York, second album, a trio backed with bass (Vicente Archer) and drums (Eric Doob). Too uncertain for fusion. Last track goes verbal, feat. Esperanza Spalding. B
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives: Way Out West (2017, Superlatone): A long-time bluegrass stalwart, leans here toward the Western end of C&W, which sounds fine at first but somehow gets lost in the tumbleweeds. B
Sylvan Esso: What Now (2017, Loma Vista): Electropop duo from North Carolina, singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn. Second album. Terrific. A-
SZA: Ctrl (2017, Top Dawg/RCA): Neo soul singer Solana Rowe, first album after two mixtapes and an EP, an instant hit although not so obvious to me -- certainly likable, with guests like Travis Scott and Lamar Kendrick checking in to mix it up. B+(**)
Tamikrest: Kidal (2017, Glitterbeat): Tuareg band from in/around Kidal in northeast Mali, on their fifth album here. A remarkably calming record, in stark contrast to the rhythmically similar (but fancier) Omar Souleyman or even other Saharan groups (e.g., Mariem Hassan's). I count that as a plus, but a limited one. B+(**)
Dylan Taylor: One in Mind (2015-16 , Blujazz): Plays bass and cello, second album, wrote 3/10 songs here, fewer than his more famous sideman, the late guitarist Larry Coryell (5), who provides the sweet tooth here. Also with drummer Mike Clark. B+(*) [cd]
Thundercat: Drunk (2017, Brainfeeder): Stephen Bruner, mostly plays bass guitar, started more as a producer, has dozens of side-credits including Flying Lotus and Kendric Lamar, but three albums in has evolved into some kind of soul man, just very hard one to pin down. Runs through 23 tracks in 51:24. B+(*)
Thurst: Cut to the Chafe (2017, self-released): Los Angeles post-punk band, two siblings, Kory and Jessie Seal -- he does most of the vocals and she drums -- plus a bass player. Rough, but I suppose that's the point. B+(**) [bc]
Trombone Shorty: Parking Lot Symphony (2017, Blue Note): New Orleans trombonist, albums date from 2002 but he took off when Verve picked him up in 2010. Also credited here with vocals and another dozen instruments, backed by another dozen musicians and a choir. Basically soft soul, with delusions of grandeur. I moved him into my pop jazz file a while back, but he's not even that anymore. B-
Urbanity: Urban Soul (2017, Alfi): Australian duo, Phil Turcio (keyboards) and Albert Dadon (guitars, aka Albare). Genial, pleasant groove music. B [cd]
The Vampires: The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke (2016 , Earshift Music): Hard for me to see Loueke as making for an especially momentous meeting, although he does what he usually does here, adding some sinewy, sweet guitar and (eventually) vocals. The group is a two-horn quartet, Jeremy Rose (alto/tenor sax, bass clarinet) and Nick Garrett (trumpet), plus bass and either of two drummers. The strike me as typical rock fans who moved on to jazz because it's more demanding, and don't want to hear about fusion. B+(*) [cd]
Carlos Vega: Bird's Up (2016 , Origin): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano), from Miami, teaches in Tallahassee, recorded this in Chicago. Second album, both with "Bird" in the title. Impressive on a straight charge, although I find the various change ups (including a guest vocal) a bit muddled. B+(*) [cd]
Mat Walerian/Matthew Shipp/William Parker: Toxic: This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People (2015 , ESP-Disk): Polish alto saxophonist (also bass clarinet, soprano clarinet, flute), with piano and bass legends; Walerian's third album for the label, each with a group name that I've slid into the title (not that it makes much sense this time). Five long pieces, 79:11. Leader strikes me as more tentative here than on the previous albums, but Shipp and Parker think of lots of ways to amuse themselves. B+(**)
Colter Wall: Colter Wall (2017, Young Mary's): Young (21) singer-songwriter from Saskatchewan, first album, has a deep voice which sounds much older, especially on slow ones (i.e., most of the time). Has some DJ patter in the middle, something about flipping the record over, which makes him out to be a much bigger deal than he is. Then the second half makes me think maybe he should be. A-
Charlie Watts/The Danish Radio Big Band: Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band (2010 , Impulse): Drummer for the Rolling Stones, has released eleven albums on his own since 1986, mostly jazz. Gerald Presencer arranged the pieces, opening with "Elvin Suite" and including two Stones pieces ("You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "Paint It Black") -- both highlights, especially for Per Gade's guitar. B+(**)
Shea Welsh: Arrival (2017, Blujazz): Guitarist. based in Los Angeles. Seems to be his first album. Groups vary, including two vocalists, and dropping down to solo guitar on "Both Sides Now" and "Moonlight in Vermont." B- [cd]
Wire: Silver/Lead (2017, Pink Flag): England's first postpunk group, timed this album release for the 40th anniversary of their "first proper Wire gig" -- their label-defining debut Pink Flag came out later in 1977. Trademark sound, but they don't push it very hard. B+(*)
Jaime Wyatt: Felony Blues (2017, Forty Below, EP): Singer-songwriter from Los Angeles. I see more comparisons of her to Linda Ronstadt than to country singers, but more still buy into her outlaw thing. Probably the big voice and big production. Seven cuts, but only one less than 4:00 so they add up to 29:57. B+(*)
Charli XCX: Number 1 Angel (2017, Asylum): British pop singer Charlotte Aitchison considers this a mixtape though why is unclear to me. Same for the characterization as "avant-pop" -- possibly looking for something that conveys how beyond ordinary it is. A-
Young Thug: Beautiful Thugger Girls (2017, 300/Atlantic): Rapper Jeffrey Williams, first studio album after scads of mixtapes, so he's settling into the more modest release pace of a major label star -- gets him more guests, but not necessarily better songs. Takes a while to get going, but his comic voice and rapid fire vocal rhythm finally wins out. Still hard for me to tell if there's anything special here. B+(***)
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
American Epic: The Soundtrack (, Columbia/Third Man/Legacy): Tied into a three-part PBS program on the early recording history of American music, which the labels plan on expanding to a whole cottage industry, this being the most select, most succinct product: 15 songs [14 on Napster, dropping "Jole Blon"], all stone cold classics, skewed toward an oft-overlooked diversity (not just blues and country but Latin, Cajun, Hawaiian, and Native American -- but no jazz), expertly remastered. Too short, especially compared to the voluminous treasure troves Harry Smith and Allen Lowe have compiled, and I don't yet have an opinion on the series' 5-CD box set. But extraordinary. Maybe America was indeed once great. A-
Alice Coltrane: The Ecstatic Music of Turiyasangitananda [World Spirituality Classics 1] (1982-95 , Luaka Bop): Title can be parsed variously, often with her name (larger print) in the middle, and I've seen the label's series moniker placed first, but I've generally preferred to bracket it last. She was pianist Alice McLeod, from Detroit, before she married John Coltrane, recorded a dozen or so jazz albums on her own, dove into Indian religion and adopted the Sanskrit Turiyasangitananda (sometimes just Turiya Alice Coltrane). These tracks come from a series of recording she made for Avatar Book Institute, originally produced in small quantities for members of her ashram. She plays organ, synthesizer, and harp, backed with strings, percussion, and many singers. Oddly, I'd say surprisingly, uplifting. B+(**)
Dave Liebman/Joe Lovano: Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane (2007 , Resonance): Two major tenor saxophonists, Liebman also playing soprano, Lovano working in alto clarinet and Scottish flute, backed by Phil Markowitz (piano), Ron McClure (bass), and Billy Hart (drums). Liebman has released a number of Coltrane tributes over the years, including a blast through Ascension, so this seems to be his thing. B+(***) [cd]
Hayes McMullan: Everyday Seem Like Murder Here (1967-68 , Light in the Attic): Delta bluesman, born and lived in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Played with Charley Patton in the 1920s but never recorded until these sessions, which in turn weren't released until now. Just guitar and voice, a fair amount of talking, nothing here that really distinguishes McMullan from better-known contemporaries like Skip James (also born in 1902) or Furry Lewis (b. 1893), but nice to hear something new this old. B+(***)
The Rolling Stones: Some Girls: Live in Texas '78 (1978 , Eagle Rock): DVD released in 2011, packaged with a CD which only recently became available on its own. You may recall 1978 was the year when they got past their aging anxieties and released Some Girls, their best album since 1972's Exile on Main Street (still true). The key there was Keith inserting some country twang, but live they turn the new songs into long vamps -- best is "Miss You" but they can wear thin, and "Far Away Eyes" just gets cornier -- and they push out the old songs, though not two Chuck Berry covers. B+(**)
The Rolling Stones: Totally Stripped: Paris (1995 , Eagle Rock): Their 1995 Stripped album was based on studio sessions in Tokyo and Lisbon plus live "small venue" performances in Amsterdam, Paris, and London. This year they've rounded up all of that for a variety of product configurations -- Discogs lists 14 and that doesn't include this one, which seems to be a carve-out of the Paris concert. The 1995 album sounded remarkable, but the completeness here adds both weakness and redundancy. No doubt they do, however, put on one helluva show. B+(**)
The Rough Guide to Hillbilly Blues (1920s-30s , World Music Network): As with the Jug Band Blues compilation below, this strong compilation of white country blues includes a handful of fairly well known pieces and a lot of background context, perfect for beginners, sufficient for most (although certainly not the last you need to hear from Jimmie Rodgers or Charlie Poole). A-
The Rough Guide to Jug Band Blues (1920s-30s , World Music Network): I should track down these dates -- always a problem with this label, but at least it's possible with old blues, unlike much world music -- but this does a nice job of rounding up a coherent style, highlighted by outfits like the Memphis Sheiks, Cannon's Jug Stompers, the Memphis Jug Band, and various bigger names backed by Jug Bands (Tampa Red, Memphis Minnie, Jimmie Rodgers). A-
Umoja: 707 (2017, Awesome Tapes From Africa, EP): Group is South African, led by Alec Khaoli, but adopted a Swahili (East African) word for its name, signifying "unity." They cut a half-dozen records from 1982-91, including this little post-disco EP, four cuts, 18:01 (dropping two remixes from the original LP). Pick hit: "Money Money (Bananas)." B+(**)
Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Thunder of the Gods (1966-71 , Modern Harmonic): Previously unreleased, three cuts, dates uncertain but the tapes were found among others that establish this range (1966's Strange Strings, 1971's Universe in Blue). Big band, but most of the time they're switching off to strings or percussion, so horns are minimal and swing is non-existent. B-
Joshua Abrams: Natural Information (2010-12 , Eremite): Bassist, made his initial impact on the Chicago avant scene but sometime around here moves off in another direction that emphasizes repetitive rhythms and exotic instruments -- his other credits here include bells, dulcimer, guimbri, kora, harmonium, sampler, synthesizer, and that catchall percussion. Others on the original six-track 2010 LP play drums and sometimes guitar. Two later tracks with a larger group added to CD reissue. Rougher and more intense than his latest album, which moves this album name into the credit slot. A- [bc]
Joshua Abrams: Represencing (2011 , Eremite): Follow-up to Natural Information, although the later extra tracks there mess up my sort order. This, too, originally came out on vinyl (2012 vs. 2011), and the later CD adds a 24:46 live bonus. Recorded at home, with widely varying lineups for scattered effects -- the usual crew, plus several Chicago notables show up for a track each: Nicole Mitchell, Jeff Parker, Tomeka Reid, Jason Stein, Chad Taylor, Michael Zerang. B+(**) [bc]
Joshua Abrams: Magnetoception (2013 , Eremite): Alternates between beat pieces, which remain fascinating, and ambient ones, less so even if that's the idea. Abrams plays bass, celeste, clarinet, guimbri, small harp, and bells, and gets major help from Hamid Drake on tabla and various drums; also Emmett Kelly and Jeff Parker on guitar, Ben Boye on autoharp, and Lisa Alvarado on harmonium. B+(***)
Amina Claudine Myers: Salutes Bessie Smith (1980, Leo): Pianist, originally from Arkansas, moved to Chicago and joined AACM, then on to New York. Second album after a set based on Marion Brown's piano music. Also plays organ and sings here, backed with bass (Cecil McBee) and drums (Jimmy Lovelace), starting with four Bessie Smith songs, t