Monday, March 10. 2014
Music: Current count 22934  rated (+52), 611  unrated (-3).
I can't say that I'm fully recovered from the Florida trip. For one thing, I still have in front of me a large pile of notes, maps, and bills from which I meant to reconstruct an itinerary of the trip. I also meant to finally unpack the CD cases so that next trip, for the first time in five years or so, I can start out fresh. Since I got back the weather has been crazy up and down, ranging from sub-zero to today's 72F. The initial blizzard when I returned made me want to hibernate, but a couple days ago it was warm enough I finally washed the car, then it got cold again, now warm again.
This week's rated count is way over the top, but most of it comes from an in-depth exploration of Johnny Cash's Columbia albums. I've wanted to do Cash for a long time. I put his name on my request list for the New Rolling Stone Album Guide but someone else grabbed him. (I wound up with George Jones and Willie Nelson.) Back in 2012 I begged Legacy for a review copy of Cash's 63-CD Complete Columbia Collection, to no avail. Then last week, while trolling through Rhapsody's "new country" list, I noticed a bunch of reissued Cash, so figured this might be the time to dig in. I had, after all, played quite a bit of Cash on the Florida trip -- including all four discs of The Legend. I tried to take the albums in chronological order, skipping compilations and some of the gospel. And they went fast: aside from the live albums, I doubt that more than five 1958-85 albums cracked 30 minutes, even near the end when the under-2-minute songs of the 1950s had gone extinct. Not everything is on Rhapsody yet, but most of it is there. I didn't bother with the Sun or Mercury albums, or his final act with Rick Rubin -- all of the latter and most of the others are in the ratings database already. Full report in the next Rhapsody Streamnotes (probably mid-month, given how fast they're piling up).
Still not finding many 2014 releases of note, other than among the jazz releases that are still finding me. With no metacritic file this year, I've started a much simpler tracking list to remind myself of what's out there. Thus far it's mostly assembled from AMG and Metacritic, certainly not the most reliable sources out there. Nothing there that I've already rated, so it's not likely to be that useful to you.
One more point worth noting: I keep running into people who recommend WordPress as a web publishing platforms, so I'm finally taking a serious look at it, in the context of several projects, including the currently stalled Terminal Zone and Notes on Everyday Life, and perhaps most urgently for Wichita Peace. Most projects need both a news series (last-in first-out, like a blog) and a cluster of static pages. WordPress is commonly used as a blog, so I need to explore how viable it is for reference pages. (For the music site, my thinking is that Mediawiki is the superior tool, but overkill for a less expansive site.) I'll also need to look into the plugin interface and possibly build something (especially for the music site). I also need to look at the commenting system. I've been using Serendipity for my blog (and several others), and its handling of comments has been pretty close to useless. If anyone has much experience with WordPress, especially going beyond the ordinary, I'd be interested in hearing from you.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Monday, March 3. 2014
Music: Current count 22882  rated (+14), 614  unrated (+18).
Only a couple days since I got back from Florida, so not much here. That the quality level is fairly high owes to Michael Tatum, who found and reviewed most of this week's newly rated albums. Sure, I'm less enthusiastic -- even New Mendicants is marginal for me, but it's the first non-jazz 2014 release to crack my A-list. On the other hand, Revolutionary Snake Ensemble is my sixth A- jazz record this year. Sure, at this pace I'll wind up with barely more than a third as many A- records as last year. I'm not opposed to the notion that 2014 is off to a slow start, but the main factor is that I'm getting to fewer albums this year. The 2014 list currently has 83 records rated, a pace that would leave me shy of 500 -- less than half last year's total. So maybe I am hanging it up -- or at least taking it easy.
Last two weeks I only listened to music in the car, and only played previously rated CDs. Few sounded better to me than the Maria Muldaur album that I decided to bump up. Granted, the line about Obama didn't pan out, but just this week John McCain reminded us again why he would have been the worst president in US history. The difference between Obama and McCain is very similar to McGeorge Bundy's characterization of the foreign policy difference between Kennedy and Johnson: JFK wanted to be viewed as smart, where LBJ insisted on proving he was tough. That impulse was what let the hawks push Johnson into such a disastrous situation in Vietnam. So it shouldn't be surprising that hawks nowadays are preoccupied with challenging Obama's virility. Of course, to win a comparison with McCain, Obama needn't be very smart -- sane suffices.
Unpacking covers two weeks, everything since February 17. Still getting more stuff than I expected, plus a lot of download links I haven't had time to pursue.
New records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail the past two weeks:
Monday, February 24. 2014
Music: Current count 22868  rated (+0), 596  unrated (+0).
In other words, no change. I've been on the road all week. Didn't take any new unrated music with me -- just three travel cases with familiar discs, about half left over from previous trips. (I thought I was going to take the new Allen Lowe set, but decided the packaging could neither be left behind nor survive the trip.) Also haven't played any Rhapsody, nor written much other than trip notes (and not much there either). I have been able to check mail nightly, but my ancient laptop isn't up for much more than that. Also, the proxy server schemes used by more and more hotels these days -- combined with my use of NoScript, but hey, it's my computer and I have my rights -- has been especially painful. (I was only able to get through Best Western's trap tonight by running Epiphany -- my usual choice is Firefox with NoScript -- and as soon as it connected the browser crashed.)
Don't know whether I'll be home next Monday -- probably, but not by much, and certainly won't have much in the way of ratings to report.
Thursday, February 20. 2014
by Michael Tatum
A month with no real pick hits encourages me to tell you that if you're going to spend your hard earned money on anything here, go for Babyface/Braxton and the New Mendicants before anything else. And note that for two guys on the side of the proletariat, Todd Snider and Bruce Springsteen give you the least value for your money.
Against Me!: Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014, Red Distribution) If you penned a dramatic thinkpiece about how this little item challenged your latent heteronormative prejudices -- even you, a sensitive leftie type! -- please pat yourself on the back and move forward three squares in the game of Cultural Enlightenment, to the space "Consider all the things Macklemore has to apologize to the African-American community for." As for those of us who are in it for hard-hitting tunes rather than self-congratulatory platitudes, it's worth nothing that Laura Jane Grace rocks harder here than she did on 2010's White Crosses as a man named Tom Gabel -- maybe she didn't have the heart for all that phony lost-youth nostalgia after all. In fact, she reveals a far more trenchant high school reminiscence on the vicious "Drinking with the Jocks," a portrait of adolescent macho insecurity in which she's conflicted between swinging her dick and sticking it between her legs, concluding with an angry, defiant "There will always be a difference/Between me and you," one of many clichés upended in this explosive context. But although I'm impressed by the subversion of such red button words as "cunt" and "faggot" and "pussy" (have those pejoratives ever been wrapped up in such pain, such anguish?), I'm disappointed by Grace's mundane self-production, pretty humdrum for a coming-out party -- alter the lyrical perspective and this could be whatever Orange County punk record you tuned out at your precocious cousin's house last week, even if Grace's tunes are more catchy-compelling rather than catchy-annoying. Still, there's no getting around that these aren't just new sentiments for Grace, they're new sentiments for rock and roll -- thrilling, even -- though I feel obligated to point out that her threat to "piss on the walls of your house" is a logistically masculine privilege. And as for the band mates that deserted her after she no longer wanted to be a him, they can sink their teeth into a soggy turd sandwich. A
Katy B: Little Red (2014, Columbia) I'll never understand UK dance music. By definition a singles genre, why would anyone bother with the records proper -- because the filler is "acceptable?" That certainly didn't make much of a difference with Katherine Brien's debut, home of the definitive dubstep crossover hit "Katy on a Mission" and not much else. And over the pond they've considered slotting singles on albums as being in bad form since "She Loves You," one of the reasons why last year's "What Love is Made of" failed to make the final cut for this, her sophomore outing. Except as it turns out, "What Love is Made of" is pretty negligible (struggled to number twenty-one -- do the charts lie?), while the record proper solves my two problems with 2011's On a Mission. First, in the zippy opener, she finally justifies her club-centric lyrical focus with one succinct chorus -- "We move on to the next thing/Until the break of dawn" -- thus rationalizing what follows by establishing the only real theme most raver kids have to offer (you know, "the futility of life" or some such). But second, and more important, producer Gordon Warren, probably having figured out that more people will be listening this time around, finally whips those rickety-rockety hooks into shape, so most of the hit-bound first half is memorable -- "beats so sick/tunes so ill," indeed, and when he goes out for fish and chips on the second half, it shows. I still am unsure about Brien's voice, caught in that inscrutable netherworld between muted-soul and low-affect, perhaps the reason why she and fellow traveler Jessie Ware name their fierce sexual rival "Aayliah." On the other hand, that voice is also the reason why I'll take the slow-burning denouement "Still" over Adele's bathetic "Someone Like You" in an automated heartbeat. A
Toni Braxton & Babyface: Love, Marriage, and Divorce (2014, Motown) In which a minor R&B genius gifted with a musicality for which the current scene has little use plays house with a minor R&B diva only as strong as her material, resulting in a concept album about a doomed relationship crafted as cannily as classic Ashford & Simpson. You want sumptuous melodies yoked to silky arrangements emboldened by mellifluous singing? You'll get them, and just to show he's learned something from his younger charges, Kenny Edmonds makes sure even the sleek ballads come fitted with forward propulsion. But with neither of the principles a stranger to the three conditions triangulated in the album title, what makes this record remarkable are the lyrics, penned not only by Kenny but by Toni, which I'm betting makes the difference. Every song carefully hones in on one discrete sentiment, unpacking details one by one until each is neatly squared away in matching his-and-her luggage. I'm leaving you today, but I hope that you're okay. I'd rather be broke than be with you. If you want to fight, let's take it to the bed tonight. I hope she hurts you, but not too much -- enough to make your life hell, but not enough so that you'll leave. As for "Reunited," I'm relieved to report it's not a Peaches & Herb cover. These two are so on they don't need covers -- unless they're getting underneath them for one last goodbye. A
Hard Working Americans: Hard Working Americans (2014, Melvin/Thirty Tigers) Often described as a roots-rock "supergroup" even though the only person I know by name besides leader Todd Snider is drummer Duane Trucks (and even that because of his more famous brother Derek), this collection of covers, despite its surface nonchalance, is thoughtfully chosen -- the average Americana fan has probably only heard two: Randy Newman's oh-so-timely "Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)" and Frankie Miller's "Blackland Farmer," the latter of which I assume Todd nicked from touring buddy Elizabeth Cook, if not Faron Young. I myself have only heard two others: Hayes Carll's hilarious "Stomp and Holler" (with its immortal boast "I'm like James Brown/Only white and taller") and the Bottle Rockets' lovely "Welfare Music," which Todd owns if only because he has charisma and, well, poor Brian Henneman (remember him? right) doesn't. Even Gillian Welch's pensive "Wrecking Ball" is derived from an independently-released album unknown to anyone who let their subscription to No Depression lapse after O Brother Where Art Thou's mainstream breakout. Yet this is the rare instance in which being a walled-off genre specialist gets you somewhere: Kevin Gordon's plaintive "Down to the Well" and Kieran Kane's "The Mountain Song," to name two, are winners salvaged from micro-indie obscurity, while Snider invests even the lesser material with his thoughtful phrasing and delivery. And the sloppy Randy Newman revival (can't have too many of those) suggests their glib moniker isn't merely an ironic wink to their dubious work ethic -- this is, after all, Todd's fourth album since 2011 -- but rather an insouciant brag that especially if you're getting dirt to do it, being on the clock is more fun on your own terms. I mean, let's face it: Randy Newman hasn't worked -- in the sense that he means it, anyway -- a day in his life. B+
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks: Wig Out at Jagbags (2014, Matador) From one forty-something with an impossible full head of floppy hair to another, there's not too much "wigging out" here, at least not compared to Malkmus' old records with Pavement, where percussionist/wild card Bob Nastanovich countered the increasing persnicketiness that has made much of Malkmus' solo career such a drag. In particular, the willful rhythm shifts are a real irritation, and not just because they point up Malkmus emerging prog-leanings -- where the Beatles made such devices so natural you didn't notice them unless you concentrated on Ringo's drumming, here the added/subtracted beats call attention to themselves in every instance, in that annoying, elementary school look-what-I-did kind of way. And yet Malkmus' critical standing hasn't yet taken a nose dive -- indeed, this improvement on his treasured jam band format has been getting the same yeah-why-not seals of shrugging approval as 2011's considerably more fastidious Mirror Traffic. But an improvement it is, not that anyone would notice -- even though he yawns he's "not contractually obligated to care," not since his eponymous debut have his tunes been this hummable, nor his jokes so outgoing, so eager to please: making room for a mopey French horn solo, coyly rhyming "chariot/lariat/carry it/bury it," wagging a finger at "all you Slim Shadys," extolling the adolescent pleasures of "Tennyson, venison, and the Grateful Dead" and "the music from the best decade ever" (the '80s apparently, a great decade for jam bands). All that's missing is an unironic embrace of conjugal monogamy and fatherhood -- which would sink his reputation with the cognoscenti pronto. A
Modern Baseball: You're Gonna Miss It All (2014, Run for Cover) A ringer for latter-day Haley Joel Osment and singing in a adenoidal warble that suggests the Cloud Nothings' Dylan Baldi irked over the size of Adam Green's trust fund -- the first of many indicators he's a stock character in a grand indie rock tradition -- Philadephia's Brendan Lukens spends more time complaining about his inability to get to second base rather than bragging about his skill at getting to first: "I hate worrying about the future/'Cause all my current problems are based around the past." He soothes his callow pain with aspirin and pizza, pores over BBC's Planet Earth for tattoo inspiration, sneaks the word "Instagram" into one of his many putdowns of ex-girlfriends, and before getting his one good night of sleep a year, sums himself up thusly: "Sharp as a tack but in the sense that I'm not smart, just a prick." Probably an exaggeration, at least in terms of intellectual rather than emotional IQ, but not without its entertainment value -- the wonky guitars jolt new life into those "high school songs" bouncing around in his head, and like Jonathan Richman before him, he parlays his failure to hit any note not pitched straight to the batter to evoke that time honored suburban collegiate anguish. Now someone tell drummer Sean Huber this ain't no fucking emo outfit. A
The New Mendicants: Into the Lime (2014, Ashmont) Canadians only by virtue of their borrowed drummer and Joe Pernice's Toronto-based microindie, Pernice and Teenage Fanclubber Norman Blake are my kind of sourpusses, ones with a sense of humor -- "mendicants" are beggars who live off of alms, like maybe the Kickstarter campaign to which they might have to resort after this record fails to move their minute fan base. Too bad -- granted, they prefer Hollies/Zombies to the Beatles because the latter are way too R&B for their construction-papered larynges. And sure, not even middle-school poets say "How can I love someone so cruel" in regular conversation. But I say two birds with one broken wing each, joined together, might actually be capable of flight, as on the bracing power pop of "Shouting Match," which sounds less like "World War III in a third-floor flat" than classic Yo La Tengo. Elsewhere, on sparkling tunecraft that only goes south on the "Sister Ray"-styled rant that closes, they cover Sandy Denny, court a girl who has no need for either one-upmanship or August Strindberg, and wander snowy streets on "a very sorry Christmas Eve" looking for redemption you can be sure they don't get. I say for Pernice to absolve the guy whose halfway-decent Bandwagonesque inexplicably beat out Nirvana in Spin's notorious 1991 album poll is deliverance enough. A
Bruce Springsteen: High Hopes (2014, Columbia) Stop picking on David Fricke and his reflexive five-star reviews -- what's the guy gonna do at this late juncture, teach non-fiction writing at a junior college? But don't let that one-stop-hype-shop put you off to a pretty good record, either -- take it from someone who dismissed (in hindsight, perhaps unfairly) 2011's Wrecking Ball as "Lee Greenwood for Liberals." The complaint that this collection of formerly orphaned songs doesn't cohere "thematically" doesn't ring true to me -- since when has Bruce ever aimed for high concept? Aside from the one about his failed marriage (every boomer has a few of those, right?) there have been electric ones and acoustic ones, with the peerless examination of blue-collar plight his only constant. As for Tom Morello's wall of guitars bringing the Boss ever closer to grandiose arena rock bluster, hasn't that always been his unapologetic métier? It's not like these objections are new ones -- weren't 80s punks nay-saying the bombast of River-era Bruce while championing the superiority of Feelies-style minimalism? Bet thirty years from now, long after the fog from the dry ice machine has cleared, this will be remembered as a sturdy half-classic, one of the rare cases (Lord forgive me) where swollen ostentation actually works, Bruce's batshit-nuts heavy metal-Celtic-gospel amalgam be damned. Compare The River's clean, bright mix to the dense, unnerving swirl of "Harry's Place" and "American Skin," two numbers that belong at the top of the Boss' canon, or Morello's white noise fury on the remake of "The Ghost of Tom Joad." And for your precious subtlety, your iron fist in a velvet glove, try the murmured, bitter "I read Robert McNamara says he's sorry." Audioslave with actual songs and cogent politics? Sign me up. B+
Tinariwen: Emmaar (2014, Anti-) In their own way, these nomadic rockers are as formalist as Crazy Horse -- to hear them perform a song in a major key (which happens on this record only once) is as jarring as it would be to hear Neil and Co. jam away in 6/4. Because their aesthetic is austere, singer/guitarist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib limited in his vocal range, and their lyrics accessible to English speakers only through trots, the only way you can tell their very similar records apart is through their guest stars. However, where 2011's particularly Spartan Tassilli at least had Nels Cline and TV on the Radio to lend color to the predominantly acoustic textures, this far more urgent sequel, though it returns to the electric guitar interplay that made many a foolish record label prez dream that Ag Alhabib might be the Muslim world's answer to Bob Marley, reduces the cameos to such luminaries as Chili Peppers guitarist Matt Klinghoffer, Chavez leader Matt Sweeney, and hapless multi-media figure Saul Williams, who dashes off some doggerel about "walking on water in the desert." Yet would you believe that the record is strongest at its most elemental: that the two pastoral departures at the end sacrifice fervor for a stab at diversity that won't register as such for most of their American fanbase? And that even there, a prosaically translated lyric such as "I no longer believe in unity/I will only believe in it again if/Those opinions serve a common ideal/That of the people from which they emanate" rings with the sublimity of great poetry in context? Maybe that speaks to their innate gifts, maybe that's the result of living through terror, exile, and kidnapping, and either way, I pray no one else from their part of the world will leave me wondering which. A
Lake Street Dive: Bad Self Portraits (2014, Signature Sounds) Boston hipster jazz-pop quartet dominated by lusty contralto Rachael Price, who strikes me as a young Carole King the morning after she sold her soul at the railroad tracks for Martha Reeves' lungs -- but sacrificed Gerry Goffin in the Faustian bargain ("You Go Down Smooth," "Bad Self Portraits") ***
Rosanne Cash: The River & the Thread (2014, Blue Note) Someone tell this subtlety junkie that there are more colors in this "big, wide world" than a "million shades of modern blue" ("Etta's Tune," "Night School") ***
Jennifer Nettles: That Girl (2014, Mercury Nashville) The Sugarland lead singer still sometimes emotes as if Steve Perry's squeezing an ovary, but in this context, underplaying Bob Fucking Seger is some kind of accomplishment ("That Girl," "Like a Rock") **
Dum Dum Girls: Too True (2014, Sub Pop) At its best, the comedy record the Cocteau Twins would have made had they not been so damn moony ("Rimbaud Eyes," "Evil Blooms") **
Irene Kelley: Pennsylvania Coal (2014, Patio) Like Ashley and Kacey, a country songsmith performing her own songs, but since Irene's weakness is bluegrass rather than rock and roll, we get lyrics about angels, babies, and gardens ("Breakin' Even," "You Don't Run Across My Mind") **
Eric Church: The Outsiders (2014, Universal) His vocals milder and his guitars crunchier, his idea of "progressive" Queen or maybe Pantera, his brightest tune squandered honoring the right-leaning left-turners at Talladega, and his album art a clear homage to the movie poster of The Expendables 2, this is where Church fritters away any outreach he might have gained with 2012's Chief. His doltish metaphors -- wrecking ball, rollercoaster, broken records -- have about as many layers as James Carville's haircut. Of course, all of these transgressions add up to is one more country music blockbuster, but two songs in particular edge this disappointment into the realm of appalling. The long, muddled monologue about Nashville paints the city as a "princess of darkness," a "tramp, slut, bitch, and mutt," and a "junkie with a limb (???)" who will "bury it in your ass," yet I'd love Eric to show me pictures of Universal Nashville president Mike Dungan's moist vagina. Then there's the revolting "Dark Side," which warns "all you thugs and ugly mugs dealing drugs and making noise" that "You can kill each other all you want, but if you touch my little boy/You begging for this bullet will be the last thing that you say," which I'm inferring from that creepy laugh might include that twelve-year old black kid wearing a hoodie innocently asking Eric's son directions to the Boys & Girls Club. In short, more proof than you need that secession may not be such a bad idea. C+
Hospitality: Trouble (2014, Merge) The first time Amber and I met it was a real Meet Cute -- even if it this doesn't turn into a fulfilling long-term relationship I reasoned, maybe she'd be the kind of girl I'd wanna hang out with every now and then. Goes to show you how much I know -- our first actual date she took me out to see goddamn Laser Floyd at the IMAX, while she rambled on about "parasols" and such like her real dream was to write Jane Austen fan fiction. How could I have misjudged her? Have I not gotten over Isobel running off with that dildo Mark Lanegan? Maybe someone who Meets Cute really isn't my type. Or maybe, better yet, like so many times before, I didn't realize how insignificant our initial Meet Cute really was. B
The Pixies: EP-2 (2014, PIAS America) Of the thirteen bands profiled in Michael Azerrad's definitive '80s indie rock chronicle Our Band Could Be Your Life, only one group recorded music in this millennium that could stand with the music they made in their respective heydays: Sonic Youth. So why should this seminal band (left out of Azerrad's book because they had the bad taste to sign with Elektra), no matter how crucial a missing link between that era and Nirvana, be expected to top, let alone equal, the gleeful imp rock they perfected on such touchstones as 1988's much-adored Surfer Rosa and 1990's underrated Bossanova? Especially with Black Francis' inside joke of a solo career manna only to his adoring claque and ethereal-voiced bassist Kim Deal -- who made far more interesting records in the interim -- completely indifferent to returning to the fold? Surprisingly, with Gil Norton once again behind the boards, the down-to-a-trio still sound remarkably like themselves. But only the occasional 7/8 measure keeps the ham-fisted "Blue Eyed Hexe" (more cowbell, please) from being mistaken for Back in Black-era AC/DC, the siren-call hook of "Magdalena" cries out for Deal's larynx, and throughout Francis doesn't sound quite as, shall we say, agitated as he did back when he anointed himself a "nimrod's son." Leaving me to speculate whether Kim's role wasn't just to be a wild man's maternal foil -- maybe having a chick in the mix really got up in his dander. B
Broken Bells: After the Disco (2014, Columbia) The dullest guests on The Barry Gibb Talk Show. B
Doug Paisley: Strong Feelings (2014, No Quarter) Daniel Romano for wistful Poco fans, which explains why, unlike Romano, Doug isn't in it for the laughs, unless repeating the first bar of Joni Mitchell's "Little Green" ad nauseam in a ditty called "What's Up is Down" counts. C+
Warpaint: Warpaint (2014, Rough Trade) Darker than you'd expect from a band the original members of which included A Knight's Tale's Shannyn Sossamon, but these days, "dark" doesn't mean shit -- betcha Lorde and Haim think "Love Is to Die" is a deep insight, too. C
Actress: Ghettoville (2014, Ninja Tune) Don't judge Darren Cunningham because he's a former footballer from the nondescript London suburb of Wolverhampton -- judge him because he thinks the ghettos he'll never really know are desolate, ugly, boring places to be. C
Monday, February 17. 2014
Music: Current count 22868  rated (+18), 596  unrated (+0).
Wrapped this up on Thursday evening so I would be ready to post it on Monday (assuming Internet access). So everything here reflects about one half of a normal week, but then the next two weeks won't be normal at all: I'll be on the road, traveling around Florida, then eventually heading back to Wichita.
Most of the half-week's newly rated records already appeared in Rhapsody Streamnotes, but Thursday added a couple pretty good new jazz records. I'm a bit on the fence about James Brandon Lewis -- hard to say exactly why I gave him the edge and held it back from Jon Irabagon's latest, but the latter slips a bit from two superior albums, and the former is a new face backed by William Parker and Gerald Cleaver. Still, seemed firm enough until I played the Craig Handy disc and loved every minute of it. Only question there is whether further play bumps it up another notch.
Adding this bit on Monday: I'm in Florida, after a pleasant if uneventful drive and a lot of minor nuissances involving living on the road -- lousy, overpriced hotels; lousy food. Stopped and spent some time with a good friend I hadn't seen in nearly a year. Saw a lot of varying degrees of swampland, but thus far not much ocean. The aged laptop computer I brought along is very slow and erratic, so it looks like I'm going to get even less done than imagined.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Wednesday, February 12. 2014
The first (and probably the last) installment for February. New records remain spotty, meanwhile I'm finding lots of old ones to recommend. Just to review, records that previously would have gone into Jazz Prospecting or Recycled Goods wind up here. The former are tailing off, but make up the majority of the new records I've heard this year.
I might as well announce here that I did a major update to the Robert Christgau website tonight. The CG database is now up to date, and the recent articles I'm aware of at least have stubs. Also a few new old articles.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on January 31. Past reviews and more information are available here (4414 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Actress: Ghettoville (2014, Ninja Tune): This suggests that an electronica artist can differentiate albums by coming up with successively stranger samples, but also that the more you do so, the more you are likely to come up with something unpleasant. B+(*)
Eddie Allen: Push (2013 , Edjallen Music): Trumpet player, from Milwaukee, handful of albums, I tend to think of him as a mainstream player but he started with AACM before he joined Mongo Santamaria and, later, Rabih Abou-Khalil. Septet with three horns and two keyboard players, sound up front, with a touch of funk. B+(**) [cd]
Scott H. Biram: Nothin' but Blood (2014, Bloodshot): A Texan with a half-dozen albums, wrote most of his songs but covers Mance Lipscomb, Willie Dixon, Doc Watson, and "John the Revelator" and seems closest to the blues, especially turning on his exaggerated growl. B+(***)
Lena Bloch: Feathery (2012 , Thirteenth Note): Tenor saxophonist, from Moscow, emigrated to Israel in 1990, studied in Germany and Canada and wound up in the US, recording her debut in NJ. Quartet with Dave Miller (guitar), Cameron Brown (bass), and Billy Mintz (drums), each contributing a song. Postbop tone, wouldn't call it "feathery" but it sinks into the aether, occasionally spitting out something reminding you to listen. B+(***) [cd]
John Brown: Quiet Time (2007 , Brown Boulevard): Officially a Valentine's Day release although the back cover says 2012 -- don't know if that makes this a reissue. Bassist, leads a quintet with Ray Codrington (trumpet), Brian Miller (sax), Gabe Evens (piano), and Adonis Rose (drums) through some slow, romantic ones, including an original each by Brown and Evens. B+(**) [cd]
Steve Cardenas: Melody in a Dream (2012 , Sunnyside): Mild-mannered guitarist, fond of long lines and mindful of the groove -- AMG groups him under Metheny and Scofield, but I've always considered him part of the Montgomery school, not that you'll find a contradiction there. Thomas Morgan and Joey Baron are thoughtful trio-mates, and Shane Endsley is a plus on trumpet. B+(*) [cd]
Cities Aviv: Come to Life (2014, Young One): Gavin Mays, from Memphis, more of a beat crafter than a lyricist, giving him a dense and arcane flow. B+(*)
The Wayne Escoffery Quintet: Live at Firehouse 12 (2013 , Sunnyside): Hard-charging tenor saxophonist, more than a handful of albums since 2001. Quintet includes two keyboard players: Orrin Evans on acoustic, Rachel Z on the toys. Escoffery runs hot and cold. B+(*) [cd]
Hard Working Americans: Hard Working Americans (2014, Melvin/Thirty Tigers): I'm not impressed enough by Dave Schools, Neal Casal, Chad Staehly, or Duane Trucks to call this a supergroup, or even to hear it as something other than a throwaway covers album by instantly recognizable lead singer Todd Snider. B+(***)
Jon Irabagon/Mark Helias/Barry Altschul: It Takes All Kinds (2013 , Irabbagast/Jazzwerkstatt): Tenor sax trio, as was Altschul's The 3dom Factor last year (only with a different bassist), or for that matter Irabagon's Foxy (yet another bassist). This is a bit more scattershot than the others. B+(***) [cd]
Kidd Jordan/Alvin Fielder/Peter Kowald: Trio and Duo in New Orleans (2002-05 , NoBusiness, 2CD): Avant tenor sax player, both from and based in New Orleans, looks like he recorded once in 1983 with the Improvisational Arts Quintet, but his career didn't pick up until he turned 65 in 2000. Since then he's become famous enough he got a cameo in Tremé -- when he shows up with Donald Harrison at a private after hours conclave, the trad trombonist character says something like, "ut-oh, the serious guys have arrived." Drummer Alvin Fielder was in that 1983 group and plays on both discs here, with the trio disc adding bassist Peter Kowald, who does a lot to soften the rough edges -- a plus, but the duo disc sharpens them, and that works too. A- [cd]
Daunik Lazro/Joëlle Léandre: Hasparren (2011 , NoBusiness): Baritone sax and bass duets, nothing rushed, and not as bottom-heavy as you'd expect, what with all the reaching for novel sounds, separated by satisfied drones. B+(***) [cd]
The John Lurie National Orchestra: The Invention of Animals (1993-94 , Amulet): Lurie plays soprano and alto sax and is best known for his work in the Lounge Lizards. This isn't much of an orchestra -- just Calvin Weston on drums and Billy Martin on percussion -- and appears to be old work, some live, some studio outtakes, seven cuts including the 17:40 title piece. B+(***)
Eleni Mandell: Let's Fly a Kite (2014, Yep Roc): Something innocuous to listen to on the "way to the protest march on the mall." B+(*)
Parker Millsap: Parker Millsap (2014, Okrahoma): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, likes red dirt and Jesus, which is to say he likes Oklahoma more than I do -- in fact, the most memorable line here is "Oklahoma's hotter than hell but it's better than Texas." Sometimes sounds so much like Guy Clark or John Prine you realize he isn't, but maybe he could be. B+(**)
Ian O'Beirne: Glasswork (2013 , self-released): Saxophonist (alto and tenor here, although the hype sheet pictures him with a bari), based in Philadelphia, first album, backed by guitar, Fender Rhodes, bass, and drums. Has a nice tone, and keeps the horn out front for a pleasant, unassuming album. B+(*) [cd]
Eric Paslay: Eric Paslay (2014, Capitol Nashville): Country singer-songwriter from Texas, hype talks about how he studied the music business at Middle Tennesse State University and parlayed his songwriting (he shares credits on all but one song here) prowess into a shot at a traditionally overproduced album -- just like on Nashville except we're spared the idiot romance subplot. Sound is so sureshot it's hard to complain, except when the songs get as bad as "Good With Wine." B
Amy Ray: Goodnight Tender (2014, Daemon): One of the Indigo Girls goes for a country-folk record and gets it pretty close to right. B+(***)
Rudy Royston: 303 (2013 , Greenleaf Music): Drummer, lately of the Dave Douglas Quintet, a connection he parlayed into this debut album. He wrote all but two songs, getting a bit fancy with piano and guitar, two bassists, and two horns. The softer mood stuff feels a bit slick, but no complaints when Jon Irabagon busts open a solo, unless he accidentally picks up a flute. B+(**) [cdr]
Herb Silverstein: Monday Morning (2013 , self-released): Pianist, also an MD; not sure how many records he has -- website shows a dozen but he's played with his name [Dr. HS; HS, MD; HS (Doc)] enough to throw off AMG, and I'm not sure all dozen are properly attributed to him. Subtitled "10 Original Tunes." Quintet, no one I've heard I've heard of (sax, guitar, bass, drums), although saxman Jeff Rupert is a plus. B+(*) [cd]
Snowbird: Moon (2014, Bella Union, 2CD): Simon Raymonde, formerly of Cocteau Twins, with singer Stephanie Dosen, make something variously called dream pop (probably because the pop isn't real) or ambient pop (because it isn't pop enough to register). On the other hand, as it runs on and on (and into a second disc of RX Gibbs remixes) the ambience doesn't turn tiresome, so maybe there's something to it after all. B
John Stein & the Mingotan Project: Emotion (2013 , Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, has a dozen albums since 1995, meets up here with an Argentine tango group led by drummer Matias Mingote German, including accordion, flutes, and bass. B+(**) [cd]
Helen Sung: Anthem for a New Day (2013 , Concord Jazz): Pianist, from Houston, sixth album since 2004, expansive postbop with Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and Seamus Blake on tenor/soprano sax, some extra percussion, and several guest spots. B+(*)
Camille Thurman: Origins (2013 , Hot Tone Music): Tenor saxophonist, also plays flute and sings. There is a theory, and some evidence to back it up, that vocals are the way for jazz artists to break through to a larger audience -- notably Esperanza Spalding, or I could just note George Benson, and I'll add that smooth jazzers almost invariably throw down a vocal track as radio bait. Thurman has several vocals here, pleasant but not especially interesting, amid more substantial instrumental tracks, also pleasing. B+(*) [cd]
Adam Unsworth/Byron Olson/John Vanore: Balance (2009-11 , Acoustical Concepts): Unsworth plays French horn, Vanore trumpet and flugelhorn, and the group includes tenor sax, piano (Bill Mays), bass, and drums. Olson arranged and conducted two orchestras -- strings, flute, clarinet, bassoon, one had oboe and vibes. I wouldn't have bothered with the strings although they're not awful, more busy background. B+(*) [cd]
Young Fathers: Tape Two (2013, Anticon, EP): Scottish hip-hop trio, two African-born, rap some, sing some, beats grime and/or trip-hop. Seven cuts, 20:40. B+(**)
Young Fathers: Dead (2014, Anticon): Not much longer than the previous EPS, only 33:37 from 11 cuts. The increase is mostly doom and gloom -- not enough beat for hip-hop, let alone wordplay. B+(*)
Old Music: Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Gene Ammons: The Happy Blues (1956 , Prestige/OJC): Son of the great boogie woogie pianist, Ammons pushed no boundaries but may have possessed the most readily identifiable tenor sax sound of anyone who emerged in the 1950s (Coltrane and Rollins included, but maybe not Ayler). Early jam session with Art Farmer, Jackie McLean, Duke Jordan, Candido, bass, and drums. B+(***)
Gene Ammons All Stars: Jammin' With Gene (1956 , Prestige/OJC): Names on cover: Don Byrd, Jackie McLean, Art Farmer, Doug Watkins, Art Taylor, Mal Waldron. Three cuts, shortest 10:00, mostly blues, ample space for everyone but I keep hoping for the leader. B+(**)
Gene Ammons: Funky (1957 , Prestige/OJC): The septet has loads of talent -- Art Farmer, Jackie McLean, Mal Waldron, Kenny Burrell -- but none pushes it hard nor gets out of the leader's way, so you get long jams with moments but not a lot of momentum. B+(*)
Gene Ammons' All Stars: The Big Sound (1958 , Prestige/OJC): Four jam tracks with Jerome Richardson on flute; two also have Pepper Adams on bari sax, and one of those adds John Coltrane on alto and Paul Quinichette on tenor sax -- those are the cover names, with Mal Waldron, George Joyner, and Art Taylor for rhythm. I wouldn't call that such a "big sound" especially at a time when Basie was going atomic. The most conspicuous instrument is the flute. B+(*)
Gene Ammons and His All Stars: Groove Blues (1958 , Prestige/OJC): Same day session at The Big Sound, same stars split up over four tracks: Adams (bari: 2); Coltrane (alto: 3); Quinichette (tenor: 2); Richardson (flute: 3). Still, it is Ammons himself who provides the best moments, especially when the guests clear out and the pace slows down on the closer. B+(**)
Gene Ammons/Sonny Stitt: Boss Tenors: Straight Ahead From Chicago August 1961 (1961 , Verve): Coming shortly after Boss Tenor -- possibly Ammons' greatest album -- this adds a second tenor sax and doubles down. Stitt always enjoyed a good scrap, but Ammons is too genteel for that, so they just cuddle up around some blues. B+(***)
Gene Ammons/Sonny Stitt: Boss Tenors in Orbit! (1962 , Verve): The second of many meetups between the saxmen -- a 1973 date released as God Bless Jug and Sonny: Live at the Left Bank is a personal favorite -- is jump-started by Don Patterson's organ, but by midway the two saxes are so deftly intertwined that the band ceases to matter, and they keep getting better through 9:58 of "Bye Bye Blackbird." A-
Gene Ammons: Angel Eyes (1960-62 , Prestige/OJC): Cobbled together from two earlier sessions while Ammons was in jail (1962-69) for narcotics: one with Johnny Smith on organ and Frank Wess on tenor sax and (mostly) flute, the other a quartet with Mal Waldron. The ballads are the high points, of course, but so is the upbeat "Water Jug." B+(**)
Bix Beiderbecke: Volume 2: At the Jazz Band Ball (1927-28 , Columbia): Cornet player from Iowa, joined the Wolverines in 1923, moved on to orchestras led by Jean Goldkette, Frank Trumbauer, Paul Whiteman, and others before he died, age 28, in 1931. This is the second of two volumes collecting various sides from the middle of his career, only 4 (of 23) originally credited to Bix Beiderbecke & His Gang. I've never been clear what it is that makes Beiderbecke the star here -- his solos are nowhere near as dominant as Louis Armstrong's were in the day -- but I also can't deny how attractive this jumpy, bouncy music is. Roughly on par with Volume 1, although it lacks anything as perfect as "Singing the Blues." A-
John Coltrane/Paul Quinichette: Cattin' With Coltrane and Quinichette (1957 , Prestige/OJC): The latter was a tenor saxophonist who worked so hard to adopt Lester Young's style he was nicknamed Vice-Prez. This was originally attributed to the Paul Quinichette-John Coltrane Quintet -- the first Prestige LP under Coltrane's name was recorded two weeks later, but several earlier efforts have been re-credited. Coltrane adds a lot of heft to Quinichette's airy tone, and pianist Mal Waldron ties it all up neatly. B+(***)
John Coltrane: Coltrane/Prestige 7105 (1957 , Prestige/OJC): First proper album for Coltrane -- usually just known by his name but the label/ID are prominent on the cover -- starts with a sextet anchored by bari saxist Sahib Shihab, then a gorgeous duet with piano, a quartet with Red Garland, more sextet (or quintet when Shihab drops out). Prestige seems to have thought of Coltrane has just a super-sideman, so his debut gives you lots of looks and lets him struggle for unity. B+(***)
John Coltrane With the Red Garland Trio: Traneing In (1957 , Prestige/OJC): Art Taylor is the drummer, otherwise this would be the Miles Davis Quintet minus trumpet. The leader is remarkably poised on ballads, and barrels through the fast ones. B+(***)
Miles Davis: Miles Davis and Horns (1951-53 , Prestige/OJC): Early session with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims (tenor sax) and Sonny Truitt (trombone); second with Sonny Rollins and Benny Green. The horns aren't as intrusive as I expected, nor does Davis particularly need the help. Rather, the title discloses that these sets are a bit low in energy and imagination. B+(*)
Miles Davis: Blue Haze (1953-54 , Prestige/OJC): Compilation of session scraps assembled in 1956 when Davis left Prestige for Columbia. I've noted before that in the early days of bebop there were only three competent drummers, and they're all here: Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, and Max Roach. The pianists are Horace Silver, John Lewis, and Charles Mingus. Percy Heath plays bass, and the only other horn is Davey Schildkraut's alto, just one track. Nothing fancy, but this winds up being a neat example of Davis' early craft. B+(***)
Miles Davis: Bags Groove (1954 , Prestige/RVG Remasters): Expanded with two alternate takes: 20:40 of Milt Jackson and Thelonious Monk on the title track, the rest with Sonny Rollins and Horace Silver, including three famous Rollins tunes that couldn't have been very old at the time ("Airegin," "Oleo," "Doxy"). Early stuff: the only guys here who've hit their stride are Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke, but simple as it is, this is pretty engaging. A-
Miles Davis All Stars: Walkin' (1954 , Prestige/OJC): With Horace Silver, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke, plus: Lucky Thompson and JJ Johnson on the A-side, Davey Schildkraut on the B -- not really a star but he has a nice run and Davis ups his game to close. B+(***)
Miles Davis: Blue Moods (1955 , Debut/OJC): A short one (4 cuts, 26:40) on bassist Charles Mingus' label, with Britt Woodman (trombone), Teddy Charles (vibes), and Elvin Jones (drums). Two takeaways: one is that Mingus is much more intrusive, and much more interesting, than other bassists; the other is that Davis could have had a future in ballads. Still, this is too slight to bother with. B
Miles Davis and Milt Jackson: Quintet/Sextet (1956 , Prestige/OJC): Two tracks each, short at 6:35-8:15, the delta between 5 and 6 is Jackie McLean on alto sax (playing his own songs). Nice work by all, not least Ray Bryant on piano, but nothing really stands out. B+(**)
Miles Davis: Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants (1954-56 , Prestige/OJC): Another album cobbled together after the fact (1959), combining four cuts (two takes of "The Man I Love") from a quintet with Thelonious Monk and Milt Jackson with a later "'Round Midnight" with a rather hoary tenor sax solo by John Coltrane. Only Jackson seems totally comfortable here. B+(*)
Eric Dolphy Quintet: Outward Bound (1960 , New Jazz/OJC): First record as a leader, starting a brilliant streak that ended with his death a little more than four years later. He plays alto sax, bass clarinet, and flute, opposite Freddie Hubbard and backed by Jaki Byard, a live outing pushing all sorts of boundaries. A-
Eric Dolphy: Out There (1960 , New Jazz/OJC): Only one horn, so Dolphy's reed roulette -- adding clarinet to his previous mix -- comes off as different things rather than various looks. The other novelty here is Ron Carter playing cello, contrast to George Duvivier's bass and a bit of chamber jazz. B+(**)
Eric Dolphy: Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot: Volume 2 (1961 , Prestige/OJC): With Booker Little on trumpet, dead at 23 a few months later in 1961, plus Mal Waldron, Richard Davis, and Ed Blackwell, a very vital group although the two long pieces here have more dull spots than Volume 1. B+(**)
Eric Dolphy & Booker Little: Memorial Album: Recorded Live at the Five Spot (1961 , Prestige/OJC): Two cuts, 16:29 and 14:40, recorded the same night as the two Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot volumes and released in 1964 shortly after Dolphy died, three years after Little passed. Some good spots here, but they wander a bit. B+(***)
Ray Draper Quintet: Tuba Sounds (1957 , Prestige/OJC): Tuba player gets a rare session, and it's fun to hear him try to play bebop, but the "with" names on the album cover set the tone and pace -- Jackie McLean (alto sax) and Mal Waldron (piano) -- even "introducing Webster Young" (trumpet). Also, note that adding bass and drums adds up to a sextet. B+(**)
Tommy Flanagan/John Coltrane/Kenny Burrell/Idrees Sulieman: The Cats (1957 , Prestige/OJC): With Doug Watkins and Louis Hayes, their names missing on the front cover, but that's fair if you consider this a revolving spotlight for soloists rather than a band. The four headliners handle their leads with aplomb -- especially the guitarist -- but those parts don't add up into more than the sum. B+(*)
Tommy Flanagan: Overseas (1957 , Prestige/OJC): Piano trio with Wilbur Little and a terrific Elvin Jones, a fine example of his legendary erudition and touch. A-
Tommy Flanagan: The Tommy Flanagan Trio (1960 , Prestige/OJC): Piano trio with Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes, originally released in Prestige's Moodsville series, a fact which dominates the artwork. Exceptionally measured even by Flanagan's standards, but I doubt that anyone has gotten more out of "You Go to My Head." B+(***)
Clancy Hayes: Swingin' Minstrel (1956-58 , Good Time Jazz): Banjo-playing trad jazz singer, came up in Bob Scobey's Frisco Jazz Band, on one of his few headline albums, pieced together from sessions with tuba for depth and Ralph Sutton or Jess Stacy on piano. As for the minstrel bit, I don't hear any exaggerated effect -- just a lot of good time jazz. B+(**)
Booker Little: Booker Little and Friend (1961, Bethlehem): Title has an asterisk, and front cover refers that footnote to his trumpet -- I might have guessed Eric Dolphy, but he is nowhere to be found. Little died later that year at 23, and no one else in the well known band was more than three years older: Julian Priester, George Coleman, Don Friedman, Reggie Workman, Pete LaRoca. Remarkably advance harmonically, what we would call postbop now, which can be a sticking point for me, although rarely when the leader is blowing. This makes me recognize what a loss his death was, but hearing this generation of young players just after spending a lot of time with the 1953-56 Prestige "all stars" -- Monk, Davis, Rollins, Coltrane, Ammons, McLean, Silver, none really had it together at the time -- makes me wonder if the whole generation that started out c. 1960 wasn't wiped out by the jazz market crash of the 1970s. A-
Jack McDuff and Gene Ammons: Brother Jack Meets the Boss (1962 , Prestige/OJC): Ammons started with organ players shortly before 1960 and found the soul jazz idiom they were developing fit him like a glove -- The Gene Ammons Story: Organ Combos, a 1977 2LP released on CD in 1992, adding tracks from Velvet Soul and Angel Eyes to Twistin' the Jug, is a good place to start, but there are a few others, including one led by Richard "Groove" Holmes (Groovin' With Jug) and this one under McDuff's name. B+(**)
Ken McIntyre/Eric Dolphy: Looking Ahead (1960 , New Jazz/OJC): The former's name is larger and higher placed, so Dolphy's elevation appears to have been an afterthought, perhaps some marketer's? Both play alto sax and flute, often in unison so there isn't much contrast or distinction. B+(*)
Charles Mingus: The Charles Mingus Quartet + Max Roach (1955 , Debut/OJC): With George Barrow (tenor sax), Eddie Bert (trombone), and Mal Waldron that makes five, although Roach only plays on 2 (of 6) tracks, Willie Jones taking over for the rest. Gives you a taste of where Mingus would go, but a very modest one. B
Oliver Nelson: Screamin' the Blues (1960 , New Jazz/OJC): Best known as a big band arranger, and he hints at that here, juggling three horns -- Richard Williams on trumpet, Eric Dolphy on alto sax and bass clarinet, and himself on tenor and alto sax -- on a set of basic blues forms: all they have to do to sound great is wail, but they're more talented than that. A-
Oliver Nelson with Eric Dolphy: Straight Ahead (1961 , New Jazz/OJC): Mixed messages here as Nelson seems to start heading into shifty postbop, but before long Dolphy blows right past him. B+(**)
Mel Powell: The Best Things in Life (1953-56 , Vanguard): A pianist with Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, Powell cut a number of albums for Vanguard in the mid-1950s, and this is the first of two sampler compilations. Not sure of the credits, but Buck Clayton and Edmond Hall were in Powell's Septet, Ruby Braff played elsewhere. Wish I knew more. B+(***)
Mel Powell: It's Been So Long (1953-56 , Vanguard): More from the pianist's mid-1950s Vanguard albums. I give it an edge because it starts off so strong but even when they peel back the horns and slow it down the piano is fun to follow. A-
Paul Quinichette/Shad Collins/Freddie Green/Walter Page/Jo Jones: For Basie (1957 , Prestige/OJC): The tenor saxophonist bounced around big bands from Jay McShann's in 1942-44 to Count Basie's in 1952-53, a nice landing for a guy who grew up on Lester Young. Pianist Pierce was a frequent Basie sub, and the others were all Basie vets. B+(**)
Jimmy Smith: Groovin' at Small's Paradise (1957 , Blue Note, 2CD): Early, an organ trio with Eddie McFadden on guitar and Donald Bailey on drums. The organ still feels clunky, especially on its own, but the fast guitar runs turn spots into quite a race. B+(**)
Jimmy Smith: Bashin': The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith (1962 , Verve): Minor point, but the idea of doing completely different things on each side of an LP made more sense when albums had two sides, but on CD the four big band cuts fizzle out as the trio takes over. The big band has its moments, especially on "In a Mellotone," but has its rough spots too. As for the trio, Jimmy Warren never jumps out front, so Smith stays low key. B+(*)
Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery: Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo (1966 , Verve): Oliver Nelson's big band arranging is jarring at first, and only when the band peels way back do the stars get a chance to shine -- which, of course, they do. B+(**)
Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery: Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes (1966 , Verve): Nominally a quartet (except for a couple stray big band tracks), but often intimate -- on "Maybe September" you wonder if Jimmy isn't trying to put Wes to sleep. B+(*)
Rex Stewart/Dicky Wells: Chatter Jazz (1959, RCA): Cornet and trombone, dubbed "the talkative horns" here, veterans of 1930s swing bands (Ellington and Basie, respectively, before which both played for Fletcher Henderson). They have a light touch here, almost comic as they swing through a set of standards. A-
Mal Waldron: Mal-1 (1956 , Prestige/OJC): The pianist's first album as a leader, still tied close enough to bebop that one tune's called "Bud Study." Quintet with Idrees Sulieman on trumpet and Gigi Gryce on alto sax, a fine pairing that the pianist ties together neatly. A-
Mal Waldron: Mal/2 (1957 , Prestige/OJC): Two sessions from April and May, both with John Coltrane on tenor sax, the former with Jackie McLean on alto, the latter with Sahib Shihab on alto and Idrees Sulieman on trumpet. The horns are all first rate, but the pianist is special. A-
Mal Waldron: Mal/3: Sounds (1958 , Prestige/OJC): Kind of an odd duckling set with cello and flute joining trumpet (Art Farmer), bass, and drums. B+(*)
Mal Waldron: Mal/4: Trio (1958 , New Jazz/OJC): Piano trio, with Addison Farmer on bass and Kenny Dennis on drums, neither heavyweights but Waldron is steady and impressive. A-
The Mal Waldron Trio: Impressions (1959 , New Jazz/OJC): Another piano trio, with Addison Farmer on bass and Tootie Heath on drums, picks up the pace on a couple vamp pieces which may or may not be a plus, given how thoughtfully he plays on the slow ones. B+(***)
Mal Waldron: Update (1986 , Soul Note): Solo piano, several standards like "A Night in Tunisia" and "You Are Getting to Be a Habit With Me," but also two long pieces relating to Cecil Taylor -- another example of Waldron's range. B+(**)
Mal Waldron Trio: Our Colline's a Treasure (1987 , Soul Note): Piano trio, with Leonard Jones and Sangoma Everett. Whereas Waldron's use of horns -- either duos or in groups -- was rarely less than daring, his plain piano work is carefully constructed, subtle, and somewhat magical. B+(***)
Ben Webster/Don Byas: Ben Webster Meets Don Byas (1968 , MPS): Late in the game for both tenor sax greats -- Byas died in 1972 at age 60 and Webster, only three years older, died the following year. Cut in Germany with Tete Montoliu on piano, perhaps the freshest player here, but the leaders are as recognizable as ever. B+(*)
Clarence Williams: Dreaming the Hours Away: The Columbia Recordings Volume One (1926-28 , Frog): Ran away from home at 12 to join a minstrel show, landing in New Orleans where he learned to play piano, compose, and run various businesses, then moved on to Chicago and finally New York. His personnel revolved, including at some point or other nearly every notable musician coming out of New Orleans (his 1925 "Cakewalking Babies From Home" shows up in many Louis Armstrong best-ofs) -- the cover has a long list here including King Oliver and Bennie Moten, and singers Lucille Hegman, Lizzie Miles, Ethel Waters, and Eva Taylor. For all the variations, remarkably consistent and fun. A-
Clarence Williams: Gimme Blues: Washboard Bands 1926-29 (1926-29 , Frog): This collects several washboard bands led by or featuring pianist Williams, including Dixie Washboard Band (14 cuts) and Blue Grass Footwarmers (5 cuts), most with Ed Allen on cornet and/or Bennie Morton on clarinet. They sound rougher than Williams' Jazz Kings, which may have been the point, and there are fewer vocals. B+(***)
Clarence Williams: Shake 'Em Up: The Vocalion, Brunswick, Victor, Paramount & Grey Gull Recordings (1927-29 , Frog): Some washboard band tracks, several orchestras, a few piano solos, and the front cover adds some famous names -- Henry Allen, Buster Bailey, Coleman Hawkins -- to his standbys. A-
Clarence Williams: Whoop It Up: The Columbia Recordings Volume 2 (1929-31 , Frog): Williams, especially in his Jazz Kings sides, continues to have a special feel for orchestrating small group classic jazz, but the cover list of names are a bit more obscure, with only Eva Taylor (aka Mrs. Williams) repeating among the vocalists. B+(***)
Mary Lou Williams: Zoning (1974 , Smithsonian Folkways): One of the first really important women in jazz, starting out arranging for Andy Kirk's big swing band, and lasting far enough to duet with Cecil Taylor. These are mostly trio pieces, sharp bits of piano over a rumbling bass beat, remarkable. A-
Mary Lou Williams Trio: At Rick's Café Americain (1979 , Storyville): With Milton Suggs and Drashear Khalid, two years before she died, an often dazzling set of standards material (including three Ellingtons), the sound a bit uneven and a couple flat spots the only downside. B+(***)
Lester Young, Roy Eldridge and Harry Edison: Laughin' to Keep From Cryin' (1958 , Verve): One of the tenor saxophonist's last sessions (a year before he died), lifted by two swing trumpeters, Herb Ellis on guitar, and Hank Jones on piano. Nice record, although Young seems even more evanescent than usual, happy to lurk behind the trumpets. B+(**)
Monday, February 10. 2014
Music: Current count 22850  rated (+45), 596  unrated (+1).
Rated count is very high this week. I've been snowed in all week and have wound up sitting at the computer, listening to old jazz on Rhapsody. It goes fast, mostly because I don't dawdle but also because the records are often quite short. I've mostly stuck to the 1950s, although I couldn't resist playing the Bix Beiderbecke comp that previously escaped me when it popped up in a search. I did pass on some other records that would have moved me out of the zone. Just goes to show that there's much more to mop up even if Rhapsody's coverage of jazz is rather spotty.
A couple 2014 non-jazz items in the new records. I've started a 2014 prospect list file as a sort of cribsheet to keep track of things I might want to check out sooner or later: it sort of splits the difference between the various "wish list" files I've had in the past and the all-encompassing metacritic file. I have a sort of prioritization ranking built into it, but at present the code doesn't let you scope in and out. I've also tried to add genre info (although different sources use different schemas so don't expect consistency or precision) and possibly other notes. Thus far I've only consulted AMG and Metacritic for recommendations, but I'll probably expand the search a bit. Just don't want it to become a big time sink.
I expect I'll run a February Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. As the rated lists (below and for previous weeks) show, I'll have notes on a lot of good old jazz records and a few (mostly not-so-good) new records. I did two such columns in January, and probably could this month as well, but I doubt if I'll have a second February column. I'm trying to wrap things up before a long car trip later this week. I'm headed to Florida, and probably won't be back until the end of the month. I'll pack a boom box and a bunch of CDs, but they'll mostly be old friends rather than new work. I'll take a laptop, but I've never managed to get much work done on it, so can't promise much. Should have internet access, although it will be more intermittent than usual. What may be more productive would be to take a paper notebook and sketch out some schemas for various projects. One thing long drives are good for is the chance to think, and that, combined with the break to the routine, is much of what I'm looking forward to. Of course, warmer weather will be a plus.
I've finally put all of Christgau's Expert Witness capsule reviews into my local copy of the database. I expect I'll do a major update of his website before I leave. Still have some loose ends to tie down, then I have to figure out how to actually do the update -- some things have changed on the server end. I also hope to have a Downloader's Diary to post before I leave, but if not we'll wrap it up from the road. Tatum missed January, but has moved on to new 2014 releases, and is much more enthusiastic about them than I am so far. (My only "new" A- release below is technically a 2013 release, although what happens in December in Lithuania isn't always something we can get to within the calendar year here.)
One new record in my queue that I've been playing but haven't sorted out yet is Allen Lowe's Mulatto Radio: Field Recordings 1-4 (or: A Jew at Large in the Minstrel Diaspora). Just way too much to sort out quickly. It's the one new record I'll pack for the trip, but I doubt if I'll write it up until I get back.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Monday, February 3. 2014
Music: Current count 22805  rated (+37), 595  unrated (+17).
I'm dragging my feet on new jazz -- only five new albums below -- despite having gotten way too much in in the mail this past week. (Maybe the lack of response to my publicist letter means hadly any one bothered to read it.) I'm not complaining about all of it: Mike DiRubbo wrote me before sending and sent it anyway, and the French label Fou records were a pleasant surprise -- something I hadn't been aware of, plus I always regretted not getting more from Europe. Also curious that I've started to get Zoho again after having been shut out last year. Not listed below are download offers, and not just because I haven't taken advantage of them yet.
The rather high rated count mostly went into Rhapsody Streamnotes last week, and I've continued checking out old missed albums, with batches by Jimmy Smith and Mal Waldron below, and Eric Dolphy next in line. I held the new jazz reviews back so the grades appear here first, except for Ben Flocks -- so notable I felt I should push it out.
Minor formatting change in the rated records: I've started to sort out new releases from old ones. The Lurie counts as new because it is a new release, and the music has (as far as I can tell) never been released before. The Zé counts as new because it isn't all that old. I held Hard Working Americans back from RS because Tatum and others I respect like it more than I do -- thought I might give it another shot.
I should also mention that five of the Mal Waldron albums below (three A-, the others close) are included in Real Gone Jazz's Mal Waldron: Seven Classic Albums, which lists at $19.99 (most likely on 4-CD). I've yet to buy any of the Real Gone Jazz sets, so can't speak as to packaging (I've heard it's pretty shoddy) and the packages evade US copyright laws, but they seem to offer bargains. I went a little further into Waldron's later works than I've been doing recently -- his Soul Note recordings have always been tempting, and there's another budget box available there: Mal Waldron Quintets: The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note -- The Git-Go and Crowd Scene are my favorites there. One of the great jazz pianists of all time.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, January 27. 2014
Music: Current count 22768  rated (+29), 578  unrated (+4).
Sending out the publicists letter maked the last step in decoupling myself from Jazz Prospecting. Got quite a bit of mail today -- eight CDs, logged under "unpacking" below but not factored into the rated line -- so this hasn't sunk in. Didn't get much response to the publicists letter: a couple musicians, a label head, and a publicist who may be invested in his labels -- never been clear on that. But the notes were exceptionally kind, and appreciated.
I have 40-50 new jazz records in the queue, and I haven't been in a big hurry to clear them out. Only seven in the rated list below, including my first A- of the new year: the Sonny Simmons duets, rather marginal but I played each disc 3-4 times and they hold up. Still, my rated count remains close to 30, and I may never have found as many A-list albums as I have this week. After I posted Rhapsody Streamnotes last week, I went after a couple jazz reissues and wound up searching through my 1940-50s jazz lists for unheard Penguin Guide 4-star, and occasionally following a sidetrack. I came up with eight above the A- line, and six more just below. Good chance I could keep doing that sort of thing for a long while now.
Or I could do something else. Bought some nails today.
Records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, January 25. 2014
The column ended end of September, so three months (or 25%) short of the end of the year, but the additional totals 29 of 85 records, 34% of the total -- actually, not that unusual, as everyone tends to pick up stragglers toward the end of the year. I should probably knock Omar Souleyman and Latyrx off that list too -- Christgau wrote about the former in Spin and the latter at NPR, pretty much before anyone else was onto them.
Otherwise, not many actual surprises here. Michael Tatum graded a bunch of them A- or better: Lady Gaga, Eminem, The Dismemberment Plan, Tom Zé, Jon Hopkins, Tamikrest, Kool & Kass, Sleigh Bells, Pusha T, Tal National, Arcade Fire. Meanwhile, I did the same with Brandy Clark, The Road to Jajouka, M.I.A., Ezra Furman, Le Grand Kallé, White Mandingos, and Kool A.D. (although that was on a tip from Tatum, who in turn heard about the album from Christgau; and it only came out on December 21. Tatum also wrote about (and graded down) Parkay Quarts, Brandy Clark, and Yoko Ono, while I had lower grades for Sky Ferreira, Danny Brown, and Those Darlins. (I also agreed with eight of Tatum's A-s, and had lower grades for a few more.)
Net result is that the records we hadn't gotten to were: Beyoncé, Angola Soundtrack 2, Four Tet (although Tatum reviewed the new one as well as a different 2012 release), and Sidi Touré -- none, by the way, available on Rhapsody (the only one I hadn't looked for was Angola Soundtrack 2 -- a Dec. 10 release, by the way). I don't have an easy way to compare to other years, but if memory serves most Dean's Lists have 3-5 records I really didn't expect. This may roughly match those numbers but nothing here was that much of a long shot.
In his essay, Christgau reiterates last year's paradigm, taking EOY lists from Pitchfork and Rolling Stones as generational poles, and finding critical consensus in their increasing agreement and checking that against Pazz & Jop for validation. I took another look at the two top-20s and wonder whether the consensus is just convergence around an increasingly limited concept of what the market will bear. Aside from Pitchfork's number 20 pick of Jai Paul's momentarily released demos -- how hip to grab something you can't find anymore? -- and Rolling Stone's token ancients (Paul McCartney and John Fogerty), the worst P&J finish from either top-20 was Jake Bugg at 117 (RS), followed by Darkside at 59 (P4K). They not only agreed a lot, but when they diverged they did so in predictable ways. Pitchfork had slightly more hip-hop (5-to-3), electronica (3-to-2), and metal (1-to-0). Rolling Stone allowed some Americana into the mix, but their larger bias, and most of why they deviated more from P&J, came from their Brit favorites (Arctic Monkeys, Atoms for Peace, David Bowie, Laura Marling, and probably Jake Bugg -- Pitchfork had none of those. As for pop, I would have guessed wrong if asked which one had Savages-Haim-Sky Ferreira and which Lorde.
It should go without saying that there is no correct answer to a music poll. People hear different things in different ways and attach different values to them, and polling itself distorts the results. Poll ballots ultimately say as much about the voter as about the music, and one can't help but be self-conscious of that fact: one selects and orders items much as one would choose and accessorize a wardrobe. And critics are all that and more: maybe if you randomly polled people you'd wind up with a pile of data converging on a normal distribution, but with critics -- because they hear more things, and relate to them more intellectually, and categorize and value them differently, increasing the sample size just spreads the results out ever further. Christgau thinks that "the long tail may have a cutoff," but the only reason P&J totalled up fewer records this year was that the number of voters dropped. Expand the poll, as I did with this year's metacritic file, and you keep uncovering more and more albums -- up to 8,882 at the moment.
Christgau seems unusually proud of Pazz & Jop this year, citing some good features of its design -- broad participation, and a relatively late closing date which allowed early December release Beyoncé to get some in on the action. (Still, the deadline clipped off the last ten days of the year. I've already identified two A- releases from that period -- Kool A.D.'s Not O.K. and Angel Haze's Dirty Gold. Back when Christgau ran the poll, it usually didn't close until after January 1, and he made a more concerted effort to get new critics invited.) Still, I'd say that two aspects of the design limit the usefulness of the poll. One is that it forces critics to only pick ten records. When I ran a poll, I let voters expand their list as large as they felt like -- no one went much over 100 records -- and assigned the overage trivial points (3 for numbers 11-20, 2 for 21-30, 1 for everything else). The latter didn't affect the totals much, but it did expand the total number of records mentioned, and provided a lot of extra info about the voters. One could, for instance, tell who did (and who never did) play any hip-hop or country or jazz, and you could (at least with some programming) generate all sorts of interesting affinities.
The other big limitation is that 457 voters don't cover all that much. This is partly because despite its name Christgau started with and maintained a rockist bias -- as best I recall, even Voice writers like Gary Giddins and Francis Davis, Tom Johnson and Kyle Gann, never voted. I recognize close to a dozen jazz critics on the list, but most steer their ballots toward non-jazz. Ironically, this limitation is probably why Christgau, this year at least, likes the P&J results better than he does Pitchfork or Rolling Stone -- and for that matter why I like them better than my own metacritic file standings: the Voice has isolated a group with taste more like our own. But I doubt if that reflects anything more than a futile desire that the world be better aligned with our understanding of it.
As an aside, the Jazz Critics' Poll, which Francis Davis started at the Voice, regularly produces both better sorted and much deeper results than smaller and narrower polls like the one run by JazzTimes. (I suppose I could say I'm biased here, in that I vote in the former but have never been invited to JazzTimes.) Still, it could be broader, especially if JCP invited more European critics.
All these examples highlight a more basic concern. Most polls (and pollmasters) focus on the winners -- indeed, the horse race is probably the number one cliché in journalism these days -- whereas over the years I've found myself much more interested in the outliers. There is, after all, a story behind every vote, but you're more likely to discover something from a unique fringe vote -- say Christgau on Live From Festival Au Desert Timbuktu, or Michaelangelo Matos on LTJ Xperience, or Jason Gross on Stooshe, or Carol Cooper on Manu Chao and Tyler Farr, or my own votes for Billy Martin, White Mandingos, and Wayne Hancock -- than you will from all the Kanye West and Vampire Weekend and Beyoncé and Daft Punk votes combined: records with obvious appeal from famous stars, acts all critics but the most niche-bound bloggers are pretty much obligated to deal with.
Some early Pazz & Jop columns were published with selected ballots, but as the electorate expanded there was no space for that level of detail. That all changed in 2008 with some web programming that made it possible to list all the voters for each album, and to fetch the ballots for each voter -- technology which upended the horse race. Glenn McDonald was then able to take this extra data and run it through a fancy statistical analysis program, computing values like "centricity" and "kvoltosis" -- and "metalism," a genre bias factor that interested him but one he never extended to genres other people care about -- and he was able to sort out affinity networks between critics with overlapping votes. More could be done along those lines, but the key is still broadening and deepening the voter base, and collecting more metadata about voters.
Tuesday, January 21. 2014
I sent the following letter out to 50+ publicists I've been working with over the course of my jazz reviewing, and I'm posting it here for whoever I missed. This effectively ends my career as a jazz critic: you can't critique what you cannot hear, and if this letter has the same effect as the one I wrote when I stopped publishing Recycled Goods at Static Multimedia, I soon won't be hearing much of anything -- except through services like Rhapsody. Still, it's only fair to do so.
I could have dug up a great many more publicists and musicians, but wanted to focus on ones I've dealt with recently. I am, of course, very conflicted about this whole thing. Depending on publicists has never been a very good system, even when most of them are respectful of other opinions and professional in their dealings with you. One musician I wrote to way back replied that he always thought the business "ran on payola" but was taken aback by how brash my letter was. It took me many rereadings before I realized that he thought I was shaking him down -- not something I could ever imagine myself doing. He actually turned out to be a good sport about it all -- he sent me lots of records, and I reviewed them lavishly (and I still think honestly). But that's just one of many examples of how distorted the relationship is. Another is that a musician who did read the blog and who did realize that I was shutting down sent me a couple records just saying that he appreciated my work and hoped I would enjoy them. I did, and wrote about them too.
The full effect of these changes will take some time to sort out. This week I'm still doing about as much music listening and writing as I have average over last year. Unpacking today added eight more CDs to the queue, and I've only rated two albums -- lost a big chunk of time today going out to see American Hustle. I thought I'd get around to updating the Christgau website this week but now it looks like it'll be next week. And many other tasks are waiting, but I hope getting a bit closer.
Monday, January 20. 2014
Music: Current count 22739  rated (+31), 574  unrated (+1).
Thirty records has long been my standard for a productive week, but these days it means I'm still stuck in the old rut. I don't know what the new norm should be, or if there should be one, but surely it ought to be less. As it is, I'm still adding things to the 2013 metacritic file even though its ability to predict Pazz & Jop has been ended by history. The main lesson I take from comparing the data is that the P&J electorate has become an unrepresentative subset of the whole world's possible voters. For one thing, it's way more American -- most UK and European faves fell off considerably. Genrewise the big difference was a major fall off in electronica (e.g., James Blake dropped from 8th to 90th; Jon Hopkins dropped from 23rd to 84th; Boards of Canada dropped from 19th to 60th; less dramatically: Fuck Buttons dropped from 41st to 57th; Oneontrix Point Never from 32nd to 43rd; Disclosure dropped from 9th to 13th; Daft Punk dropped from a close 3rd to a distant 3rd; and Tim Hecker bucked the trend, rising from 43rd to 32nd). Hip-hop did a bit better with P&J (although crossover picks still have a waft of tokenism, including the sense that most voters only picked up one free mixtape -- this year, Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap). Metal was also up, even though it seems to me like I've put many more metal lists into metacritic file than I ought to. The other plus area was Americana, led by three young country singer-songwriters with something to say: Kacey Musgraves (up to 10th from 38th), Ashley Monroe (23rd from 71st), and Brandy Clark (45th from 85th).
Two comments on this week's newly rated records. Kool and Kass was the only one to appear in last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. I had forgotten that Michael Tatum had reviewed it favorably back in August until I finished with Kool A.D.'s more recent Not OK, so I got to it late. When I decided I had too many RS records, my initial decision was to hold back everything added this past week, but it made more sense for the two records to stay together.
The Jimmy Rushing record below is actually part of a twofer (2 LPs on 1 CD), but I decided to split it out as an old LP rather than as a new compilation. That's partly because the other half of the reissue is half of an earlier twofer, but also because it seems rather cleaner to treat the original LPs as integral wholes for reference purposes: you can then make your own decision about twofer packaging. To give a rather extreme example, I have a Jan & Dean twofer combining Drag City (1963, A-) and Jan and Dean's Pop Symphony No. One (1966, B-, perhaps way too generously) -- which is to say, an album that starts great but one I never want to hear all the way through. No such problem with Rushing: either twofer is fine, and getting an extra copy of The Jazz Odyssey of James Rushing Esq. is hardly a problem.
Records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, January 18. 2014
First Rhapsody Streamnotes column since I decided to suspend Jazz Prospecting and Recycled Goods and fold anything I did in either of those categories into it. In theory, that should reduce my effort and coverage, but this month that seems to have just increased the count here. I had always considered the possibility of posting Streamnotes more than once a month, and that seemed like an especially good idea as this month's draft file started looking like it would exceed 100 records. As it turns out, I held back pretty much everything I've written since Monday's "Music Week" post (but there are a few things here I hadn't reported in the "Music Week" lists, since they were written earlier).
What follows is a mix of new 2014 jazz albums -- some written up a month or two ago and held back for their release dates, but now that I'm no longer Jazz Prospecting weekly I figure I'll do them whenever I get to them -- and stragglers from 2013 lists (or in a couple cases things I stumbled upon without any list help). I'll write a bit more about the metacritic file and Pazz & Jop in this coming Monday's Music Week. I don't have time to unpack that now, but I've started to sort out the data here, so if you're so inclined, you might find something to chew on there.
One thing I will say is that the declining voting population -- Pazz & Jop is down to 457 voters, which is fewer than in 1998 (498) -- has made the results more erratic, and I think more narrow than what I get from the metacritic file. To pick a couple examples, metal does better in P&J, and electronica does much worse. Also, P&J voters are more likely to provide token crossover support for a handful of hip-hop, country, and world albums without offering much depth in any of those. (Jazz is an exception here, probably because I track a lot of jazz sources in the metacritic file, and very few P&J voters pick jazz records.) Much more could be said there, and I probably won't get around to it. After all, I'm trying to move on.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on December 29. Past reviews and more information are available here (4247 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
T.K. Blue: A Warm Embrace (2013 , Blujazz): Aka Talib Kibwe, plays sax (alto/soprano) and flute (featured in three of four photos); sixth album since 1999, previous one heavily Latin but this is pretty mainstream, with James Weidman (piano), Essiet Essiet (bass), Winard Harper (drums), and Ron Jackson or Russell Malone (guitar). I hate having to pick on flute: it has its place in the orchestral palette and doesn't have no place in jazz, but this goes from pleasant to something else when he put down the sax and picks up a flute. B- [cd]
Dean Blunt: The Redeemer (2013, Hippos in Tanks): British DJ, has a checkered career working under various pseudonyms like Hype Williams. Very rough and unsettled, odd spikes. B
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound: Howl (2013, Bloodshot): Chicago soul man on a punk-Americana label, his band neither here nor there. B
Ari Brown: Groove Awakening (2013, Delmark): Tenor saxophonist from Chicago, started in R&B bands and always seemed a pat for free jazz groups, but he finds his groove here with Kirk Brown on piano and Dr. Guz adding extra percussion. B+(***) [cd]
Buika: La Noche Más Larga (2013, Warner Music Latina): Flamenco singer, Concha Buika, born in Spain with Guinean roots, writes half her songs but also does Billie Holiday and Abbey Lincoln and a Jacques Brel song I associate more with Nina Simone ("Ne Me Quitte Pas"). B+(*)
George Cables: Icons & Influences (2013 , HighNote): Pianist, has been recording since the mid-1970s, including some of the finest albums of Art Pepper's last fling. Without a horn, his trios -- this is one with Dezron Douglas and Victor Lewis -- never quite blow me away but he's a quintessential jazz pianist, capable of stretching out past an hour without ever a slack spot. B+(***) [cd]
Rosanne Cash: The River & the Thread (2014, Blue Note): Singer-songwriter, this new batch of songs co-signed by spouse John Leventhal so they tend to look out rather than in. Lolls along easily, like those rivers that drain her neck of the woods. B+(**)
Glenn Cashman's Southland Nonet: Music Without Borders (2012 , Primrose Lane): Tenor saxophonist, has a previous LA-based big band album, this group only slightly smaller with three brass, three reeds, piano, bass, and drums. Dedicated to Doctors Without Borders, this is dashing from the start. B+(**) [cd]
Checkpoint Rock: Canciones Desde Palestina (2009, Talka): Audio for a Spanish video of Palestinian resistance songs -- the video probably helps, especially for the closer where DAM teaches his "I Don't Have Freedom" to the "Children of Lod." I like the raps better than the rockers and the more trad pieces, and I'm glad that Manu Chao joined for the title song -- otherwise I doubt I would have found this. B+(**)
The Child of Lov: The Child of Lov (2013, Domino): Martijn William Zimri Teerlinck, aka Cole Williams, born in Belgium but based in Amsterdam, and dead at age 26, a few months after this one album came out. He interacts with various semi-famous hip-hop luminaries -- DOOM and Damon Albarn get "feat." credits -- producing an unsettled work that may never come clear. B+(*)
The Computers: Love Triangles Hate Squares (2013, One Little Indian): You've heard of post-punk? Alex Kershaw's group plays post-pub-rock, recycling the rock of ages but limited through a vocal prism that can't see beyond Elvis Costello or Graham Parker -- music this upbeat should be more fun, not to mention memorable. B
Steve Davis: For Real (2013 , Posi-Tone): Mainstream trombonist, nearly 20 albums since 1996, picks up one song from pianist Larry Willis, wrote the rest. Gets a big lift from tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton, and some Latin tinge from drummer Billy Williams. B+(**) [cd]
Rob Derke & the NY Jazz Quartet: Blue Divide (2013 , Zoho): NYJAZZ seems to be related to a larger organization, but let's stick with this quartet. First album for Derke, who plays soprano saxophone with surprising vigor. Bassist Carlo De Rosa wrote a couple pieces; Aruán Ortiz plays piano, and Eric McPherson drums. B+(***) [cd]
John Di Fiore: Yellow Petals (2013 , Third Freedom Music): Drummer-led piano trio, with Billy Test on piano and Adrian Morning on bass. Di Fiore, who hails from NJ, wrote all the pieces, and if he mixes the drums up a bit, he makes that work as well. B+(***) [cd]
Donato Dozzy: Plays Bee Mask (2013, Spectrum Spools): Bee Mask is electronica producer Chris Madak, and he released a two-cut LP in 2012 including a 13:23 track called "Vaporware"; Italian DJ Dozzy's album has seven numbered "Vaporware" tracks, running 3:39-8:54, with a nice ambient feel, plus a little tinkle. B+(**)
Dub Club: Foundation Come Again (2013, Stones Throw): LA DJ Tom Chasteen rounds up and recycles some old-fashioned reggae -- names include Big Youth, Dillinger, and Josey Wales -- with all the excess echo you expect. B+(**)
Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio: Follow the Sun (2013, Delmark): Percussionist from Chicago, his long-running trio features Ari Brown on tenor sax and Junius Paul on bass, and they add two guests here: a second tenor saxophonist, Brown's mentor Doug Payne (also plays bagpipes), and singer Dwight Trible. Tempting to say the problem is Trible's overwrought vocals, but his segue into "Body and Soul" is masterful. B+(**) [cd]
The Fat Babies: 18th & Racine (2013, Delmark): Trad jazz band from Chicago, second album, bassist Beau Sample is the nominal leader but Andy Schumm (cornet, alto sax) wrote the one original and arranged most of the rest, favoring the late '20s over the later swing era. B+(***) [cd]
The Front Bottoms: Talon of the Hawk (2013, Bar/None): Indie rock duo from New Jersey, singer has quite a sneer, smart as in aleck, but the barbed hooks are catchy. B+(**)
Laurel Halo: Chance of Rain (2013, Hyperdub): From Ann Arbor, second album, electronica, reminds me a little of Drexciya but the underwater shtick isn't as nicely developed. B+(*)
Fareed Haque: Trance Hypothesis (2013, Delmark): Guitarist, born in Chicago of Pakistani and Chilean descent, starts with organ for a taste of soul jazz but touches on fusion and works in exotic spices -- actually, oud, tabla, two vocalists with Indian/Pakistani names who could just be scatting. Reminds me of Wes Montgomery -- not the real one so many other still try to sound like, but an imaginary one who saw the world and moved on. B+(**) [cd]
Taylor Haskins: Fuzzy Logic (2011-13 , Sunnyside): Trumpet player, fourth album, backed by strings -- guitar, violin, viola, cello, bass -- and drums. The trumpet parts are fine, but he also plays "native american drone flute" and melodica, and the strings are undistinguished and murky. I see in his bio that he recently received a US patent for "helping to develop proprietary music software that implemented artificial intelligence-based technology." I won't dock him for that, but probably should. B- [cd]
Angel Haze: Dirty Gold (2013, Republic): Raykeea Wilson, rapper, broke through with a good mixtape last year, got a label deal but wound up with a December 30 release, missing the big sales season and any chance for year-end notice. A-
David Helbock's Random/Control: Think of Two (2013 , Traumton): German pianist, has a couple previous records, plays various toys and electronics in addition to piano, in a trio with Johannes Bar (horns from trumpet to sousaphone and didgeridoo) and Andreas Broger (similar range of reeds), everyone pitching in on percussion. Playful. B+(**) [cd]
Honey Island Swamp Band: Cane Sugar (2013, Louisiana Red Hot): Louisiana band, guitar-wise they admire the Allmans, vocals easy-going although they can approximate a blues feel or a boogie beat; a little too sweet and gritless to care much about. B
Hookworms: Pearl Mystic (2013, Weird World): British group, from Leeds, has made surprise advances in year-end lists, no doubt because anyone who masters the tension-tone riffs the Velvet Underground bequeathed to alt-indiedom is going to sound timelessly classic -- even bands that don't last any longer than the Perfect Disaster or Lower Dens. This is another one of those. A-
Carolyn Lee Jones: The Performer (2013, Cat'nround Sound): Standards singer, second or third album (not sure what to call Live in Dallas), has a long list of musicians shuffling in and out, including a saxophonist I like and a flautist I don't mind. As usual, this rises and falls with the songs -- give me "Old Devil Moon" any time -- but she gets more mileage than most out of "Let's Get Lost" and goes for pure seductiveness after that. B+(***) [cd]
Juicy J: Stay Trippy (2013, Taylor Gang/Kemosabe/Columbia): Jordan Michael Houston, started in Three 6 Mafia, third solo joint, feats on more songs than not with Wiz Khalifa the norm. B+(*)
Manika Kaur: Satnam Waheguru: The True Name (2013 , self-released): Kirtan singer -- rooted in Sikh tradition, although I gather the form is more widespread -- born in Australia, based in Abu Dhabi: strikes me as low-key, lulling, just short of hypnotic. B+(**) [cd]
Kool A.D.: Not O.K. (2013, self-released): The less reliable half of Das Racist gets goofier, often pausing before his rhyme word as if solving some sort of real-time multiple choice test, so, sure, not the great rapper he claims, but he keeps finding new ways to throw you off. A- [bc]
Kool and Kass: Peaceful Solutions (2013, self-released): Rapper Kool A.D. ("my flow is odder than an otter with three daughters") and drummer Kassa Overall, who keeps the beats real and helps steady his peripatetic partner. A- [bc]
Greg Lewis: Organ Monk: American Standard (2013 , self-released): Organ player, tackled the Thelonious Monk songbook in his first album and has kept that title as sort of a brand name, although judging from the type it belongs as part of the title. Mostly standards here -- "Nice Work if You Can Get It," "Tea for Two," "Everything Happens to Me," "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." Trio expanded to quintet with Riley Mullins on trumpet and Reggie Woods on tenor sax. B+(*) [cd]
Logos: Cold Mission (2013, Keysound): James Parker, background seems to be dubstep, gets something quasi-industrial here, the accents staggered line spent shell casings, the ups and downs more impressive than pleasing -- cold, indeed. B+(*)
London Grammar: If You Wait (2013, Warner/Chappell): British group, from Nottingham actually, built around singer Hannah Reid -- slow, brooding, sort of a trip-hop vibe. B+(*)
Lucius: Wildewoman (2013, Mom + Pop Music): Brooklyn band, two women (Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig) singing, in front of three blokes playing drums and guitars. B+(*)
Zara McFarlane: If You Knew Her (2013 , Brownswood): British jazz singer, parents from Jamaica, second album, takes everything slow with her plaintive voice, most touching on "Police & Thieves" but less so when there's nothing more than love at stake. B [cd]
Cava Menzies/Nick Phillips: Moment to Moment (2013 , self-released): Leaders play piano and trumpet, respectively, backed by bass and drums. First album I can find by either. To call it a ballad album slights its smoky makeout appeal. B+(***) [cd]
Pete Mills: Sweet Shadow (2013 , Cellar Live): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Toronto but based in Columbus [OH], fourth album. Fluid at high speed, has a nice tone on ballads, backed by both piano and guitar, but Pete McCann has most of the memorable spots. B+(***) [cd]
Juana Molina: Wed 21 (2013, Crammed Discs): Argentine singer-songwriter, lived in exile in Paris early on, takes her musical cues from electronica producers. B+(**)
No Joy: Wait to Pleasure (2013, Mexican Summer): Montreal group, name begs contrast with Too Much Joy, which needless to say were a lot more fun. Drone-heavy shoegaze around female vocals -- Jasamine White-Gluz and/or Laura Lloyd. Not bad, but you will have to wait. B+(*)
Jeremy Pelt: Face Forward, Jeremy (2013 , High Note): Trumpet player, had impressive chops from the start but has rarely turned them into good albums, and seems almost defeated here, with Roxy Cross even more subdued on reeds, David Bryant playing way too much Fender Rhodes, three vocal cuts that signify nothing, some electric bass and drum programming that at least keeps it all moving. B- [cd]
Katy Perry: Prism (2013, Capitol): Megastar, can afford the whole megapop production experience and it suits her fine -- anything else would risk getting personal. But it can get to be a bit much. B+(*)
The Danny Petroni Blue Project: The Blue Project (2013 , DPS): Post-Sandy blues from the former New Jersey shore. Petroni plays guitar, subcontracting the vocals to Frank Lacy -- you're more likely to know him for his trombone and maybe even flumpet, but he's a forthright blues shouter and that's all this set calls for. B+(***) [cd]
Pharmakon: Abandon (2013, Sacred Bones, EP): Margaret Chardiet promised an EP, so I discarded Rhapsody's 27:07 "bonus cut," settling for four tracks totalling 26:49, which for a noise album built from blood-curdling cries and lots of dense fuzz is plenty. Not without a redeeming musical quality, although I wouldn't push that line too hard. B+(*)
Robert Prester: Dogtown (2013 , Commonwealth Ave. Productions): Pianist, probably his first album, with trumpet on four tracks, vocals on three, extra percussion to keep it loose and jumpy. B [cd]
Quadron: Avalanche (2013, Vested in Culture): Danish duo, singer Coco O (Coco Maja Hastrup Karshøj) and producer Robin Hannibal (né Braun), second album. She has a light soul accent, about half way to Diana Ross, in which case his slinky soul arrangements are half way to Babyface, not that they come off as coming up short -- they make you wonder if the problem with so much "nu soul" isn't that they overdo it. B+(**)
Radical Dads: Rapid Reality (2013, Uninhabitable Mansions): A drummer from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and two guitarists, with one -- non-dad Lindsay Baker -- doing most of the singing, giving them a little shrillness to go with the postpunk thrash, and irony enough to be radical indeed. A-
Lee Ranaldo and the Dust: Last Night on Earth (2013, Matador): Sonic Youth guitarist, has a string of avant-oriented solo albums going back to the late 1980s, but since the breakup has tried to evolved into a mainstream singer-songwriter with occasional guitar twinges, and doesn't even achieve that here. B
The Rempis/Daisy Duo: Second Spring (2013 , Aerophonic): Free jazz duets, Chicago jazzmen (and Vandermark 5 alumni) Dave Rempis on alto, tenor, and baritone sax, and Tim Daisy on drums. The saxophonist is formidable as ever, but the drummer often opts for an understated or oblique tack, and that throws the sax off a bit -- too mild if he follows, too brusque if doesn't. B+(***) [cd]
Dave Rempis/Joshua Abrams/Avreeayl Ra: Aphelion (2013 , Aerophonic): Free sax trio, bassist Abrams also playing guimbri and small harp, which gets him more solo space, and takes away from the leader's often fierce sax runs. B+(***) [cd]
Matt Renzi: Rise and Shine (2012 , Three P's): Tenor saxophonist, eighth album since 1998, starts with a trio and adds bits here and there -- Ralph Alessi trumpet, A.R. Balaskandan mridangam -- and switches off to clarinet, oboe, and flute. Not all of that works, a shame given how poised he is on sax. B+(**) [cd]
LeAnn Rimes: Spitfire (2013, Curb): Child star at 14, which was 17 years and 12 albums ago; co-writes most of her songs, not the same as the best of her songs. B+(*)
Pete Robbins: Pyramid (2013 , Hate Laugh Music): Alto saxophonist, AMG lists five albums since 2002 but that's too few, a postbop player with some edge and a terrific quartet here -- Vijay Iyer on piano, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. B+(***) [cd]
Rich Rosenthal: Falling Up (2012 , Muse-Eek): Guitarist, b. 1964, first album as leader, discography shows one side credit, in Joe Giardullo Open Ensemble. Giardullo returns the favor here, playing soprano and sopranino sax, nudging the quartet into free territory. The leader both follows along and takes some surprising turns on his own. B+(***) [cd]
Brandon Ross/Stomu Takeishi: For Living Lovers: Revealing Essence (2013 , Sunnyside): Guitarist and bassist, the latter's acoustic bass guitar is so deeply buried I'm reluctant to call these duets, but the guitar is also acoustic, and nearly as subdued. B [cd]
Anton Schwartz: Flash Mob (2013 , Anton Jazz): Tenor saxophonist, fifth album since 1998, postbopper leading a hard bop group -- Dominick Farinacci on trumpet, Taylor Eigsti on piano -- talented players who somehow never do anything interesting. B [cd]
Archie Shepp: Attica Blues Orchestra Live: I Hear the Sound (2013 , Archieball): Tenor saxophonist, cut Attica Blues back in 1971 when Rockefeller's massacre of prisoners and guards was news, and still carries the flame, in part because he pioneered a meeting of black folk and avant-jazz specific to the era and still resonant today. But his sax has mellowed over the years, as has his anger, and the singers that lead most of this revival meeting, not least Cecile McLorin Salvant, are just pros. B+(***) [cd]
Edward Simon: Venezuelan Suite (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from Venezuela, a dozen (or more) albums since 1993 -- most often trios but here he expands to a nine-piece group, with cuatro and flutes, extra percussion and Edmar Castaneda's harp. First four (of five) pieces comprise the title suite. B+(**) [cd]
Sly5thAve: Sly 5th Ave Presents Akuma (2012 , self-released): Tenor saxophonist, original name Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II, from Austin, TX; studied at UNT; has toured with Prince, and in his list of musicians he's performed and/or recorded with -- normally something I skip over -- I did notice some hip-hop names like Freddie Gibbs, Homeboy Sandman, and Blu among the usual pop (Gladys Knight) and jazz (three Marsalis brothers, Maceo Parker, but also Brad Leali) names. First album, some African themes and plenty of Latin tinge. B+(**) [cd]
E. Doctor Smith: Quantum (2013, Edgetone): Drummer by trade, credited with synths here, his transition marked by his invention of a synth-drum called the Drummstick. Wikipedia's list of his studio albums starts with True Blue, The Breakfast Club, and Like a Prayer -- two of those are more commonly attributed to Madonna, so I'd say his proper discography starts in 2001 with The Drummstick and moves on to this slab of bass-heavy fusion. Starts off that way, anyway, but then sorta piddles out. B [cd]
1032K: That Which Is Planted: Live in Buffalo and Rochester (2013, Passin' Thru): Trio: Kevin Ray on bass, Andrew Drury on drums, and Ku-umba Frank Lacy on trombone, flumpet, voice, and percussion. The vocal preaches a text familiar to anyone who grew up on the Bible (or the Byrds), one that sticks in my craw because I doubt that there's ever a justifiable "time for war" -- but the music is Mingus, with Ayler, McCall, and Threadgill also given respect. Lacy has been around a long time but only has three albums under his name. Terrific to see him the focal point here. A- [cd]
Randy Travis: The Influence Vol. 1: The Man I Am (2013, Warner Brothers): He sure isn't aging gracefully: age 54 when this was released, his previous eighteen months saw three arrests, hospitalization for heart problems and a stroke, and his voice took a beating too. Covers, some awkward, some brave, some touching, none you'll take over the originals, and not just because he risks Lefty Frizzell and Louis Armstrong. B
Steve Treseler Group: Center Song (2013 , Creative Music Adventures): Saxophonist, mostly tenor, some clarinet, based in Seattle, second album, group varies but usually includes piano (9 of 13 tracks), often guitar (6) and/or cello (5), and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen gets a featuring credit on the front cover. B+(*) [cd]
Tropic of Cancer: Restless Idylls (2013, Blackest Ever Black): Dense waves of synth drone, lacklustre wails of palpably if not audibly anguished vocals, any given 20 second passage is listenable by itself, but over an hour they add up into something oppressive. B-
Mikolaj Trzaska/Devin Hoff/Michael Zerang: Sleepless in Chicago (2011-12 , NoBusiness): Free jazz sax trio, the Polish alto saxophonist has impressed every time I've heard him, and his pick-up band in Chicago know the drill. Short enough for LP, limited to 300 copies, presumably because the market knows best. B+(***) [cdr]
Ken Vandermark/The Resonance Ensemble: Head Above Water/Feet Out of the Fire (2012-13 , Not Two, 2CD): This is Ken Vandermark's third (or fourth) generation big band project, slimmed down a bit from his Territory Band -- three brass, four reeds, doubled up at bass and drums -- but the group name befits the rich sound he gets, rare cohesiveness, harmony even, in such a large free-for-all. A-
Frank Wess: Magic 201 (2011 , IPO): A sequal to last year's Magic 101, cut a couple months later with a similar group -- Kenny Barron and Winard Harper are on both, Rufus Reid takes over at bass here, and Russell Malone joins on guitar -- a real plus. The other change is that Wess plays some flute here, not just tenor sax as before. But since his death last fall at 91, this is all the more poignant -- would be even if it didn't close with "If It's the Last Thing I Do." B+(***) [cd]
The White Buffalo: Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways (2013, Unison Music): Jake Smith, rocks hard for a folksinger, seems like he's more inspired by Springsteen than Seeger, but he's got stories, doesn't like the military, and feels like he learned that lesson the hard way, even though he's probably just smart. B+(**)
Matt Wilson Quartet + John Medeski: Gathering Call (2013 , Palmetto): Pianoless quartet plus piano player, the split horn roles filled admirably by Jeff Lederer (reeds) and Kirk Knuffke (cornet), playing two Ellington riff pieces and a bunch of the drummer's originals. The guest is neither here nor there. B+(***) [cd]
Nils Wogram Root 70 With Strings: Riomar (2012 , NWOG): German trombonist, has two dozen albums since 1994 including one called Root 70 with this quartet -- Hayden Chisholm (alto sax), Matt Penman (bass), Jochen Rueckert (drums). This adds strings (one each: violin, viola, cello), purring quietly in the background or sawing away when they get the chance. B+(*) [cd]
Barry Guy/London Jazz Composers' Orchestra/Irène Schweizer: Theoria (1991 , Intakt): I don't think LJCO has ever been anything but bassist Guy's big sandbox: the five reeds and six brass can play sweet for a minute or two but like to rumble in ways that may (or may not) make sense. What does help here is the pivotal role of Swiss pianist Schweizer, who imposes her will over much of the single-piece hour. B+(*)
Barry Guy/London Jazz Composers Orcheatra/Irène Schweizer/Marilyn Crispell/Pierre Favre: Double Trouble Two (1995 , Intakt): The doubling is at piano, worth noting that Schweizer and Crispell also have a duet album together, so have had a chance to work this out without the distraction of the monster free jazz orch, as unruly as ever, perhaps even more magnificent at times (like the ending of "Part IV"), irritating at others: in short, the whole package. B+(**)
Cecil Taylor: Air (1960, Candid): Early album, although Taylor's rhythmic idiosyncrasy is already well developed, enough to deny tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp anything resembling a secure footing, and Taylor is so explosive his own solos often venture further out. A-
Cecil Taylor-Buell Neidlinger: New York City R&B (1961, Candid): Originally issued under the bassist's name, Taylor's name added later, but the pianist is the draw, especially on the two shorter trio cuts with Billy Higgins; the other two cuts add horns: Archie Shepp (tenor sax) on both; Clark Terry (trumpet), Steve Lacy (soprano sax), Roswell Rudd (trombone), and Charles Davis (baritone sax) on the closer. B+(***)
Cecil Taylor: Cell Walk for Celeste (1961, Candid): Outtakes from the New York City R&B and Jumpin' Punkins sessions that didn't appear in album form until 1988, most quartet with Shepp, Neidlinger, and Dennis Charles, but two tracks with the extra horn quartet, with Steve Lacy's soprano sax by far the most noteworthy. B+(**)
Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:
Jon Hopkins: Immunity (2013, Domino): Thick waves with long decays, too harmonically complex for minimalism even if that seems to be the idea -- or maybe ambient is the more current term, certainly the operative word for the ending note, but even more suggestive of something that sneaks up on you. [was: B+(***)] A-
Monday, January 13. 2014
Music: Current count 22708  rated (+33), 573  unrated (-6).
On the surface at least a relatively normal music week for me. I'm still adding lists to the metacritic file. I'm still picking out interesting-looking 2013 releases and trying to check them out on Rhapsody -- although for most of the week that was impossible, so I fell back to listening to new 2014 jazz. The interruption was due to a boot problem on my Windows Vista computer -- the only one I had working with speakers, on the assumption that it would be better for multimedia than my Linux machines. But when I pulled the Windows box out from under the desk and moved the speakers to an old Linux machine I had cobbled together from spare parts, I was able to get sound, and video, and get back on Rhapsody. I still have a lot of inaccessible download data on the Vista machine, and it's taken the Epson printer offline, but I'm operational again.
The metacritic file activity will end once I add Pazz & Jop into it: probably this week, since they missed last week's original schedule date. I've been cleaning out my hypesheet files and collecting publicist names -- I haven't had a mailing list since the early days of JCG -- and that, like everything else, is going slowly.
Seems like I'm having an unusual amount of trouble finding any new 2014 jazz releases to A-list, even though there is no shortage of high HMs -- cf. 3-star albums below from George Cables, Rob Derke, Jon Di Fiore, Pete Mills, Danny Petroni (with Frank Lacy), Dave Rempis (twice), Pete Robbins, Archie Shepp, Frank Wess, and Matt Wilson. At various points I thought half of those (Derke, Robbins, Shepp, Wilson) could make the higher grade, but for one reason or another I held them back. (Also held down some good 2-stars: e.g., Glenn Cashman, Steve Davis, David Helbock, Matt Renzi.) Nonetheless, I wound up with three A- records below, all from 2013 mop-up operations. (And by the way, two weren't even in the metacritic file when I found them -- although I had gotten a reliable tip on Kool A.D. -- and the other had appeared in only one EOY list.) That in itself makes for a pretty good week.
Just an observation, but the latest issue of DownBeat has 2.5-star pans of two records I like a lot: trad clarinetist Dave Bennett's Don't Be That Way (Mack Avenue) and fringe saxophonist Rent Romus' Truth Teller. Those records represent completely different ways for an artist to distinguish himself from the pack, and also say something about what made me different as a critic. On the other hand, everyone at DownBeat loves the new Matt Wilson album. I think it's pretty good too, but not that special.
I'm thinking I'll probably post a mid-month Rhapsody Streamnotes given how much material I've already accumulated, rather than wait for a ridiculously long post toward the end of the month. The number of records hasn't dropped appreciably yet, but I am sweating the writing less.
Records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Thursday, January 9. 2014
Back on December 4, as I was finishing my Jazz Critics Poll ballot, I posted The Best Jazz Albums of 2013, my list of 74 new jazz albums and 4 reissues. Most years I have about as many non-jazz albums in my year-end lists and Pazz & Jop ballots as I have jazz, so it's reasonable to expect I could post a comparable non-jazz list. That follows here, but first some preliminary comments.
Since December 4 I've been frantically scouring year-end lists -- my main tool there is my metacritic file (and its compilations complement) -- trying to pick up much of what I had missed. I met a second deadline on December 23 when I filed my Pazz & Jop ballot (see here), which I deliberately skewed 7-3 toward non-jazz (and for that matter inserted a jazz set, William Parker's Wood Flute Songs, that I hadn't heard before the earlier ballot). Still, I kept searching out more things -- until the computer with the speakers and the software for dealing with Rhapsody and downloads crapped out on me.
This is, in any case, as good a time as any to present a year-end list. I've updated The Best Jazz Albums of 2013, which has swelled to 87 new albums + 6 reissues. Picking up a dozen new albums in a month was due to an unusual combination of factors. Some were records I wasn't aware of until they showed up in lists (Marty Ehrlich, Odean Pope, Hunger Pangs); some were late due to transatlantic shipping (Anna Kaluza, the Two Al's); some got to Rhapsody late (Mario Pavone, Ken Vandermark; Jon Lundbom is officially a 2014 release, but showed up early); and a couple were sent by musicians (Jörg Fischer, Michael McNeil -- he sent me the Paul Smoker releases).
Hard to compare this with previous years, in part because I searched back through my review files and added most of the 2012 releases that I didn't get to until 2013: 8, including one reissue, in the jazz A-list, 96 (including 4 reissues) below that. I needed to include some 2012 releases to make up for the early December ballot dates -- my number three pick, a Billy Bang record attributed to The Group, was officially released in late December (in Lithuania no less), so nobody had a chance to include it on their 2012 lists. I devised a test to decide which 2012 releases to count -- I didn't want to pick up things that I had merely been late to (Taylor Swift's Red is a good example) -- then applied it throughout (more details in the non-jazz reference file).
The Best Non-Jazz Albums of 2013 follows (see that "reference file" link for more data). The Jazz A-list is longer than the Non-Jazz one (87 to 69), but that's mostly because I wound up listening to more than twice as many jazz albums (727 to 330). It probably also helped that most of the jazz albums were on actual CDs, whereas nearly all of the non-jazz albums were reviewed on the more limited basis of a spin (or two) on Rhapsody. On the other hand, I had a lot more help finding non-jazz records: nearly everything obscure on the list can be attributed to the discoveries of one or another (sometimes several) trusted critics. (Thomas Anderson is an exception: he sent me the CD and it doesn't appear to have reached anyone else. Wayne Hancock is another.) But I picked four records up from Jason Gross' EOY list; Daniel Wohl (and probably others) from Jason Gubbels; King DJ from Lucas Fagen; several items from Michael Tatum and even more from Robert Christgau (Yo Ma Ma and Robert Sarazin Blake were especially long stretches).
Of course, there were also many good records by relatively well known artists, and thanks to Rhapsody I was able to check most of them out. I've heard 45 of the top-50 metacritic file records (all except: My Bloody Valentine, Bill Callahan, Run the Jewels, Fuck Buttons, John Grant), and 39 of the next 50 (not heard: Mikal Cronin, Laura Mvula, Blood Orange, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Beyoncé, Jagwar Ma, Daniel Avery, Juliana Barwick, Thee Oh Sees, Moderat, Charles Bradley). It gets spottier after that, as well it should. There are dozens, maybe even a hundred or two, more albums below that to seek out, few of which we'll ever get to. After all, another year is coming.
Year after year I present my year-end lists as just that: long, mind-numbing lists like I use every day to keep track of the current year (e.g., 2013, 2012, etc.). Other people's lists generally have cover scans and brief write-ups, and it occurred to me that I have all that. Why not just table it up? I did this for the jazz albums part of my list back when I filed my ballot for the Jazz Critics Poll (the file has subsequently been updated to January 6, 2014). So this is the other side of the coin: the non-jazz list.
For A-list only: [*] indicates that I reviewed this on the basis of an advance, often a CDR copy (a good thing, I might add, for vinyl-only releases). [**] identifies a record that I've only heard via download or through a streaming service like Rhapsody.
For all lists, I've included 2012 (and in rare cases earlier) records rated after the freeze date (Jan. 1, 2013) that were so obscure they received less than five points in the 2012 metacritic file. These are marked, e.g., '12, after the label. Another 73 2012 releases (nearly all non-jazz) were graded after the freeze date but fail the metacritic test: I was aware of nearly all of those but simply got to them late.
New Music: Non-Jazz
Again, full info here:Jazz, and Non-Jazz.