Monday, May 20. 2013
Music: Current count 21440  rated (+34), 629  unrated (+7).
Lost some ground last week, after a good start which picked up some stragglers, finding some honorable mentions but nothing to add to the A-list. Rated count is up because I've adding things to the Rhapsody Streamnotes file -- including a fair amount of jazz I didn't receive. (Including three new AUM Fidelity releases that finally make me feel not so bad about being jilted and dumped from their mailing list.) No Clean Feed package yet -- probably time to complain. Did get a package from Lithuania with tantalizing obscurities, including a 1974 item with a very young William Parker on bass (Melodic Art-Tet).
Streamnotes will run after A Downloader's Diary, whenever that's ready, certainly by the end of the month. Trying to keep up with the incoming jazz, but not worried about it. More bothered by everything else that's slipping, including a way overdue update to the Christgau website, and lots of seemingly imaginary projects of my own. I did manage to finish my "stone moat" around the back of the house -- just in time for it to get roughed up by yesterday's tornado. We didn't suffer any building damage, so whatever it was wasn't a real ground-touching tornado but it stripped a lot of leaves and twigs and deposited them in swirling patterns on our roof -- something I've never seen before.
Perry Beekman: So in Love: Perry Beekman Sings and Plays Cole Porter (2013, self-released): Guitarist-vocalist, based in Woodstock, NY; first album as far as I can tell, although he's "been playing in jazz clubs, and at private and corporate events throughout New York City for the past 25 years." Fifteen Cole Porter songs, backed by piano and bass. Hard to go wrong. B+(*)
Marc Bernstein & Good People: Hymn for Life (2012 , Origin): Saxophonist, from New York but based in Denmark, lead instrument here is bass clarinet. Fourth album since 1999, quartet with Jacob Anderskov (piano), Jonas Westergaard (bass), and Rakalam Bob Moses (drums), plus featured singer Sinne Eeg. She has a remarkable voice, dark and smoky. B+(***)
Blue Cranes: Swim (2013, Cuneiform): Group, quintet with two saxes (Reed Walsmith and Joe Cunningham), keyboards (Rebecca Sanborn), bass (Keith Brush) and drums (Ji Tanzer); based in Portland, OR; handful of albums since 2007, including a remix of the last one (not counting an intervening EP). Long guest list this time, including strings on 5 (of 9) cuts. Big slabs of sound, nothing but volume to make you think they need more than one horn. B [advance]
Freddy Cole: This and That (2012 , High Note): Nat's little brother, 14 years junior which makes him 81 now, finally found his mature voice a few years back and has been on a steady roll. Backed by pianist John Di Martino, with tasty guitar by arranger Randy Napoleon, and select sax and trombone spots. Scrounging a bit for songs he hasn't done before, but he even makes something of "Everybody's Talkin'." B+(***)
The Jay D'Amico Quintet: Tango Caliente (2012 , Consolidated Artists Productions): Pianist, sixth album since 1983, the last three subtitled "Jazz Under Glass." First tango themed album, although he's done classical- and opera-themes. Expanded his trio to include Andrew Sterman on tenor sax and flute, and Richie Vitale on trumpet and flugelhorn -- nothing that will be mistaken as authentic. Nothing caliente here; don't know the Spanish for "lukewarm," but it's not even that. C+
Marko Djordjevic & Sveti: Something Beautiful 1709-2110 (2013, Goalkeeper): Drummer, from Serbia, studied at Berklee. Recorded first album as Sveti in 1995. Group now is a piano trio (Bobby Avey and Desmond White) with tenor sax added on half the tracks (Eli Degibri and Tivon Pennicott, three cuts each). All originals. B+(**)
Satoko Fujii Ma-Do: Time Stands Still (2011 , Not Two): One of pianist Fujii's many groups, with Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass, and Akira Horikoshi on drums: their third and final album together -- Koreyasu died of a heart attack shortly after. Some typically fine moments from Fujii and (especially) Tamura, but overall a bit subdued, almost poignant in the end. B+(**)
Satoko Fujii New Trio: Spring Storm (2013, Libra): Japanese pianist, has a lot of albums but not many conventional piano trios. This one has Todd Nicholson on bass and Takashi Itani on drums. Some fine examples of her impressive block chording and much more in a more melodic vein. B+(***)
Laszlo Gardony: Clarity (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1956 in Hungary, came to US in 1983 to study at Berklee. Tenth album since 1986, a solo, all original material, inching up to a strong rhythmic vamp at the end. B+(***)
I Compani: Extended (2013, Icdisc): Dutch group, founded by saxophonist Bo van de Graaf around 1985, ten or so albums since then, their favorite subject the film music of Nino Rota, although another is Sun Ra, who provides the only non-Rota cover here, plus a song title. As the title suggests, the band has been beefed up here, to as many as 24 members, which can mean massive or mayhem but is usually slyly amusing. Weak spot is the vocals, a mix of art song and opera that easily rubs me the wrong way. B+(*)
Richard Lanham: Thou Swell (1998 , RL Productions): Singer, started out with his brothers in a doo-wop group called the Tempo Tones -- YouTube has a video dated 1957, and Discogs lists one song on an obscure, undated compilation -- and went on to sing with King Curtis, did something with Wynton Kelly, joined another group called the Boateneers -- can't find any evidence of them -- and so forth, eventually recording this debut album, which in turn was shelved for fifteen years. Tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon arranged, the songs notably checking Ray Charles and Nat Cole, with some gospel and calypso worked in, all of which are to his taste. B+(*)
Ivan Lins: Cornucopia (2012 , Sunnyside): Brazilian singer-songwriter, b. 1945, scored his first hit in 1970 and has been a major figure ever since, with over 35 albums. This one is a major production, backed by the SWR Big Band, singer Paula Morelenbaum, Themba Mkhize's South African Choir, bassist Nilson Matta, and lots of extra percussionists. B+(**)
Miki Purnell: Swingin' to the Sea (2013, Sweet and Lovely Music): Standards singer, one original on this her debut album. From San Diego, where she maintains a day job as a family practice physician. Likes vocalese (titles like "Bluesette" and "A Night in Tunisia"), doesn't scat much, has a slightly girlish voice that grows on you. Guests Tamir Hendelman (piano) and Lori Bell (flute) produce. Nice, delicate reading of "The Nearness of You," and her "Swinging on a Star" is utterly delightful. B+(*)
Sherri Roberts: Lovely Days (2011-12 , Blue House/Pacific Coast Jazz): Standards singer, fourth album, backed by pianist Bliss Rodriguez and nothing more -- she handles it well, but it doesn't feel like much, especially when the pace turns glacial on "Moon River." B
Wallace Roney: Understanding (2013, High Note): Trumpeter, has at least 16 albums since 1987, basically a mainstream hard bop guy although he's been dabbling with electronics the last few albums. No such electronics here: back to basics, and crank it up a bit. He'a also replaced his brother, saxophonist Antoine Roney, with Arnold Lee on alto and Ben Solomon on tenor. Mostly covers from the hard bop years, including two each from McCoy Tyner and Duke Pearson. One original each by Roney and Solomon. Nothing new here, but it does smoke. B+(**)
Anna Webber: Percussive Mechanics (2012 , Pirouet): Plays flute and tenor sax, originally from British Columbia, studied at McGill and moved to New York. Second (or third) album, recorded in Germany, with clarinet/alto sax, piano, vibes/marimba, bass, two drummers -- no names I recognize -- the emphasis on jangly, off-center percussion. All original compositions. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, May 13. 2013
Music: Current count 21406  rated (+23), 622  unrated (+5). Not sure what accounts for the fall off, but then don't remember much of last week.
A-list records continue to accumulate at a dizzying pace, a far cry from a couple months ago when they were scarce as hen's teeth -- clever triangulators will note that in addition to the two featured in this rather short week there are two more in the unpacking list that were first uncovered on Rhapsody. Thus far I have 41 A-list records this year, so we're still not quite on track to getting to last year's 125, but not so far behind either.
Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio + Jeb Bishop: The Flame Alphabet (2011 , Not Two): Bishop is the Chicago-based trombone player who left the Vandermark Five about five years ago, and has kept busy since then mostly guesting on projects where he easily adds to the noise level -- his tour with Cactus Truck is fresh on my mind -- but here he takes the lead without the least bit of slop in a showcase of avant-trombone that would turn the heads of Steve Swell, or for that matter Roswell Rudd: a huge improvement over Bishop's previous album with Portuguese tenor saxophonist Amado's trio, Burning Live at Jazz ao Centro. And Amado is sharp as ever, ably backed by Miguel Mira on cello and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. A-
Jerry Bergonzi: By Any Other Name (2012 , Savant): Tenor saxophonist, from Boston, has a long list of records since 1983 but has never sounded better than in his recent streak -- I have four of his last six albums at A-, the other two just a hair under. So I was surprised when this didn't kick in, but I blame Phil Grenadier's trumpet, which ties the sax up in unison work and takes solos that add up to very little. In his own spots the saxphonist is as brusque as ever -- there just aren't enough of them. Songs are all originals, but parenthetically refer to standards. B+(**)
Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: Moment & the Message (2012 , Pi): Trumpet player, first album after quality side credits with Steve Lehman, Steve Coleman, Tomas Fujiwara, and -- most likely; still haven't heard the album -- Mary Halvorson. Quintet with Miles Okazaki (guitar), David Virelles (piano), Keith Witty (bass), and Damion Reid (drums). No second horn keeps his out front, while the guitar and piano players are rising stars, sparkling soloists with an intriguingly complex interplay. A-
Hush Point: Hush Point (2013, Sunnyside): Postbop pianoless quartet, the two horns John McNeil's trumpet and Jeremy Udden's alto sax, with Aryeh Kobrinsky on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. I initially assumed this would be McNeil's show -- he's about 30 years senior -- but Udden outwrote him 4-to-3, Kobrinsky pitched in, and they picked up two Jimmy Giuffre tunes that seem like a shared connection. The hornwork is tight and sly, the rhythm slippery. Nothing spectacular, but could well grow on you. B+(***)
Steven Lugerner: For We Have Heard (2013, NoBusiness/Primary): Plays double reeds, clarinets, flutes, saxes. Second album, after his ambitious 2-CD debut (also has a group record, Dads, by Chives). Quartet with Darren Johnston on trumpet, Myra Melford on piano, and Matt Wilson on drums. Strong soloists in their rare spots, but the compositions come first, with most of the album is woven around the leader's intricate reeds. B+(***)
Jackie Ryan: Listen Here (2012 , Open Art): Standards singer, six or seven records since 2000; has a deep, flexible voice that over an album gains stature and authority. Arranged by bassist John Clayton, features pianist Gerald Clayton, with Graham Dechter on guitar and selected horn spots -- haven't heard much from him lately, but Rickey Woodard sounds splendid. B+(*)
Alex Snydman: Fortunate Action (2012 , self-released): Drummer, lives in Los Angeles, debut album, mostly piano trio with two cuts adding tenor/soprano sax (Cari Clements). He uses three pianists -- Doug Abrams (4 cuts), Chris Pattinshall (3), and Miro Sprague (2) -- and two bassists, with the pianists writing a bare majority of the songs; Snydman has 3.5 credits, plus covers of Ellington/Strayhorn and Herbie Hancock. Despite the credits jumble, it all sounds remarkably consistent. B+(**)
Al Thompson Jr.: City Mainstream (2012 , Alcalgar): Plays piano/keyboards, sings a bit, based in Connecticut. First album, a high energy groove thing, the horns stronger than anything the smooth jazz crowd favors -- gives it some appeal. B
Jacob Varmus: Terminal Stillness (2012 , Crows Kin): Trumpet player, from San Francisco, studied at University of Iowa, based in Brooklyn. Second album, six tracks cut with guitar (Nate Radley), piano (Kris Davis), bass (Ike Sturm), drums (Brian Woodruff); two with accordion (Jacob Garchik), bass (Gil Smuskowitz), and drums; the closer Varmus himself on piano. B+(*)
Renée Yoxon/Mark Ferguson: Here We Go Again (2012 , self-released): Singer and her pianist, based in Ottawa up in Canada, second album; original songs, slight edge to Yoxon with about half credited to both. Band selectively adds trumpet, trombone, sax, and/or guitar, and they flesh out the sound nicely. She likes to scat, and isn't bad at it. B+(*)
Some corrections on a recent Jazz Prospecting review:
Clipper Anderson: Ballad of the Sad Young Men (2008-10 , Origin): Bassist, originally from Montana, based in Seattle since 1992. Third album, if you count an Xmas with Greta Matassa's name first, plus a lot of side credits going back to 1984. Anderson sings as well as plays bass, moldy standards done in the old Sinatra mold, except that he's not Sinatra, and Darin Clendenin's piano trio doesn't pack much punch. B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Tuesday, May 7. 2013
This edition started with Spin's recent feature, "Top 100 Alternative Albums of the 1960s" (list only, original link, which gets you short reviews if you're patient enough). When I originally collected the list, I tacked on my grades and found that I had only heard/rated 42 of the 100. I took that as a challenge, and have since reduced my unrated list from 58 to 22. I've heard at least some of the remaining music on compilations (e.g., Desmond Dekker, Mulatu Astatke). I was able to come up with a couple items not on Rhapsody, and sometimes used Rhapsody but working back from later reissues. The reviews below sometimes consider more than one reissue, but often just focus in on the original release (in whatever state of remastering is current, not that you can tell much listening to mp3s on a computer).
Any list can be nitpicked, and this one is especially vulnerable. There's no obvious meaning for "alt" -- a term that Spin treats as its calling, almost a synonym for interesting -- in the 1960s, so they've picked a lot of things that are just obscure (and the top of the list isn't even that: the Velvet Underground, Stooges, Flying Burrito Brothers, Mothers of Invention, MC5, Captain Beefheart, and Pink Floyd were at least semi-popular and by now legendary, as is virtually everything on the Nuggets compilation. Their picks among singer-songwriters are a very mixed bag (Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Van Dyke Parks, Scott Walker, but no Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, or Randy Newman). They picked up some krautrock but paid very little attention to England, missing proto-prog (Soft Machine, King Crimson) and much else (Love Sculpture, The Move). And while they did a fair job of rummaging through American garage rock, they missed the start of a postmodern retro movement -- I'd say the best really alt-rock record not on the list is the Flamin' Groovies' Supersnazz (1969), a fully-realized masterpiece at a time when Alex Chilton and Dave Edmunds were only beginning to get their shit together.
Still, less than half of the list albums were rock. And, needless to say, stayed well clear of black music -- exceptions were proto-rap Watts Prophets, New Orleans funk band the Meters, and if you want to be generous, Rotary Connection -- and didn't touch country or blues (although they picked up a few folkies). Most of the rest of the list was filled out from three slices (13-16 records each): avant-jazz, postclassical electronica, and world music.
The latter is limited by availability, especially from Africa where only Babatunde Olatunji and Mulatu Astatke got noticed (no Franco? Sunny Ade? Rochereau? Fela? Nico? Bebey?) -- Miriam Makeba was the best known African star, but not exactly alt. Desmond Dekker was the only Jamaican listed, but Bob Marley, Toots Hibbert, Gregory Isaacs, and many others finally noticed in the 1970s were already active. So what did make the list? Three albums each from France and Brazil -- the latter much more alt than the bossa nova craze of 1963-65, the former less so -- plus two boogaloo albums from New York and some field recordings on Nonesuch's Explorer Series.
The avant-jazz list hits a lot of the decade's high points, including five Penguin Guide crown albums (Ayler, Braxton, Brötzmann, Coltrane's Ascension, and Dolphy), and many more picks will be familiar to Penguin Guide followers -- even obscure ones like AMM and Spontaneous Music Ensemble. (But had they followed Penguin Guide more closely they should have picked better records for Taylor -- Nefertiti vs. Unit Structures -- and especially for Sun Ra (and for that matter Ornette Coleman).
On the other hand, they missed lots of things too, especially near the dividing line (no Andrew Hill? Sam Rivers? Archie Shepp? Don Cherry? Steve Lacy? Horace Tapscott? Joe McPhee?). Amalgam's Prayer for Peace was one of the decade's best (and another crown album). I'd have been tempted to include Coltrane's A Love Supreme, which broke a lot of new ground, but they most likely left it out because everyone so admires it now.
The other big category remains obscure: early electronic music, mostly done by modernist composers brought up in the euroclassical curriculum -- Harry Partch is only a partial exception in that he didn't go in for electronics much, but invented his own instruments to explore his unique microtonal tunings. Riley and Reich went on to gather fairly large followings (as did Philip Glass, whose first record was 1973), but most of these names remain obscure. Some interesting records made the list, although you might be better off searching out OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music (1937-82 , Ellipsis Arts, 3CD) for a more systematic intro.
I mostly spent the month trying to catch up with the Spin list, but I couldn't help but follow occasional threads. In some cases I didn't find the listed record but reviewed something else that I did find (Axelrod, Hardy, Oliveros, Sonics). In others, I helped myself to an extra record to get a broader idea (Sanders, Subotnick, 13th Floor Elevators, Walker). In most cases I tried to focus on the original LP rosters, although in a couple cases I cite more recent reissues and try to break them down. In the process of doing this, I also ran across non-alt records I felt like checking out -- e.g., early LPs by Cream, the Lovin' Spoonful, and the Who -- so I saved them for a second 1960s-themed Recycled Goods, probably next month. And in a case like Clifford Thornton makes more sense here -- not that I won't run across more like it next time.
Special thanks to Cam Patterson for helping me track down some of this music.
The Balinese Gamelan: Music From the Morning of the World (1966, Nonesuch): An early entry in Nonesuch's Explorer Series, and as such one of the first serious attempts to discover world music beyond the usual Latin and Irish confines, David Lewiston's field recordings from Bali have an anthropological purity to them: clanging, jangly percussion; odd-pitched strings; occasional high-and-lonesome vocals. Reissued twice with different covers and subtitles, the prize is the 1988 Nonesuch CD with two extras, notably the 22:08 "Ramayana Monkey Chant," but Rhapsody has the 2003 Nonesuch reissue, Indonesia: Bali: Music From the Morning of the World, which reverts to the LP lineup, time 41:20. A- [R, dl]
Can: Monster Movie (1969, Mute): My brief experience with the Krautrockers spanned three overly regarded 1972-74 albums -- Ege Bamyasi, Future Days, Soon Over Babaluma -- when they were turning into the continent's Yes, so I was surprised by all the variety shown in The Lost Tapes surprised me, and this first debut album shows why those were outtakes. The guitar is derivative, but from the Velvet Underground, and Malcolm Mooney's vocals offer a frenetic if not fully integrated cross between Lou Reed and Syd Barrett, but what was uniquely their own was the drumming that drives the second side to 20:27. A- [R]
Karen Dalton: It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best (1969, Capitol): Folk singer, of Cherokee descent, born in Oklahoma, had two kids by 19, when she ran away to New York. This was her first album (although some earlier tracks were eventually released as 1966, and there's a live tape from 1962) and she didn't last long, living on the streets, dying with AIDS; there is a bit of Billie Holiday in her voice, but her guitar rarely connects with it -- best chance is on simple blues like "It Hurts Me Too," otherwise this takes a lot of effort. B- [R]
Love: Forever Changes (1967 , Elektra/Rhino): Los Angeles group led by singer-guitarist Arthur Lee, third album, widely regarded as a landmark -- number 40 on Rolling Stone's 2003 list of 500 among numerous others (see Wikipedia for pages of such testimony) -- reputation enough that I gave it a second spin after being dismayed by the first. I didn't (well, still don't) get why someone with his guitar chops would drape most of the album in strings, a sort of ornateness that gets dubbed baroque pop -- not that you really wind up thinking he's so prissy. More like he just wants to let the melodies sneak up on you. My CD has bonus cuts I could do without, and, bought used, lacks a booklet I wish I had. A-
Conlon Nancarrow: Studies for Player Piano (1969, Columbia Masterworks): Avant composer from the Arkansas side of Texarkana, joined the CP in the 1930s and fought in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War against Franco -- those who did were branded "prematurely anti-fascist" and regarded as security risks by the US, so he moved to Mexico, where he lived until his death in 1997. These piano pieces are richly abstract, the speed and difficulty handled by punching them into a player piano -- the result kind of like Jerry Lee Lewis pounding his way through Varèse, or Cecil Taylor playing boogie woogie. 1750 Arch Records reissued this in 1977, followed by three more LP volumes, Complete Studies for Player Piano, and Wergo came up with a fifth volume in 1988, followed by CD reissues. Rhapsody's version is the 4CD 2008 release on Other Minds: too much for a single setting, but I can't say as there's any drop off in quality. A- [R]
Tropicália: Ou Panis Et Circensis (1968, Philips): Mark Kurlansky covered the various student revolts in eastern and western Europe in his book 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, and paid heed to tumultuous events in the US, but one important place he missed was Brazil. Tropicália was as politically charged as any music in the world, with Caetano Veloso the theoretician and Gilberto Gil the melodist -- they dominate this compilation. While I can't vouch for the lyrics, I will venture that this builds on MPB like Sgt. Pepper and Their Satanic Majesties Request moved beyond the early Beatles and Stones. I wouldn't attribute any of those leaps to psychedelics, when revolution was so much more mind-blowing. A [dl]
Amon Düül II: Phallus Dei (1969 , Inside Out/Revisited): First album from the Krautrock band, split off from the original Amon Düül commune, a mix of layered guitars and keyb, violin and vibes, percussion from all over, chants, charges, and choirs; the title track runs 20 minutes, complex and enchanting; the reissue moves it up front, balancing it off with two bonus tracks, 10 minutes each, extending the vibe. B+(***) [R]
David Axelrod: Songs of Experience (1969, Capitol): A producer at Capitol in the late 1960s, this was the second album he put his name to (after Song of Innocence); instrumental, the sort of high schmaltz you often get with movie music, with at least one cut ("The Fly") transcending the level of dreck. B [R]
Ray Barretto: Acid (1968, Fania): Congalero from Spanish Harlem, with over sixty records a major figure in salsa and Latin jazz from 1960 to his death in 2006; this is widely lauded, as good a place to start as any; two English lyrics don't spoil the fun, but what you need to hear are the intense rhythm rolls. A- [R]
Blue Cheer: Vincebus Eruptum (1968, Philips): Blues-rock band from San Francisco, sort of an American version of Cream although none of the trio were musicians of the same caliber; starts with a dense "Summertime Blues," good for a cheap hit; no real hooks in the rest -- they just grind it out. B+(*) [R]
Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: Gorilla (1967, Liberty): Art school/trad jazz refugees, originally the Bonzo Dog Dada Band but they decided to go for parody and/or oom-pah -- probably too many tuba players in the band; not sure how interesting a band can be that credits Adolf Hitler on vibes and wastes one of their longest songs boring you with a complaint about being bored. B+(*) [R]
The Joe Cuba Sextet: Wanted Dead or Alive (Bang! Bang! Push, Push, Push) (1967, Fania): Born in New York in 1931, of Puerto Rican descent, Cuba played congas and developed an abbreviated, upbeat strain of salsa, making him "The Father of Latin Boogaloo"; the refrains here are almost cartoonish, which works for novelty, but the rhythm is lightyears beyond what we're used to. A- [R]
Tod Dockstader: Eight Electronic Pieces (1961, Folkways): Musique concrète pioneer, took his fascination with radio noise as a start and came up with machines to orchestrate those noises; like much early electronic music, the emphasis is on sound over melody or rhythm -- that he comes up with any is part of the surprise. B+(*) [R]
The Electric Prunes: I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night) (1967, Reprise): The title cut was a minor hit (and future nugget), by far the most impressive thing here, although the trad jazz throwback "Tunerville Trolley" is a hoot, and the filler attests to the band's integrity, even where the psychedelic fuzz is muted. B+(**) [R]
The Electric Prunes: Release of an Oath (1968, Reprise): Nominally the group's fourth album, but the original musicians had all been swapped out, replaced by composer David Axelrod and producer Dave Hassinger, who built this out of Jewish and Christian liturgy, like their previous Mass in F Minor but this 24:46 album has a much loftier reputation; B [R]
John Fahey: The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites (1964 , Takoma): The guitarist's first album, original pieces (plus one by Clarence Ashley) rather than the promised historical dip, not that history doesn't dwell everywhere Fahey picks; the CD adds four covers, offering the taste of recognition. A- [R]
Brigitte Fontaine: Comme à la Radio (1969, Saravah): French singer, her voice (here at least) almost as declamatory as Nico's, a minimalist effect playing off the exotica of the band -- otherwise known as the Art Ensemble of Chicago. B+(***) [R]
Kim Fowley: Outrageous (1968, Imperial): Son of a Hollywood actor, good enough to launch a career based on playing off his connections, gaining fame as someone who could get away with crap no one else could not so much because he could conceptualize it as because he was utterly shameless -- one such idea was releasing an LP of blank vinyl; this record took more effort, but once you learn a few blues chords and can claim incoherent screaming as a freak out and drugged out ranting as insight, it's really not what you can call work; and lest he accidentally slipped anything serious in, the title discounts it. C- [R]
The Godz: Contact High With the Godz (1966, ESP-Disk): New York folkie band with a half-dozen albums albums on this "anything the artist wants" label -- no relation to the metal band founded in 1978 in Ohio -- these nine songs run 25:01 including the 1:34 Hank Williams coda, their most memorable message "all I wanna do is lay in the sun," repeated 2:56 with strum, bang, and harmonica. B+(***) [R]
Françoise Hardy: Françoise Hardy (1963, Disques Vogue): French singer-songwriter, a star at home -- the preferred word now seems to be "icon" -- but no one speaks French here so she's exotic enough to be considered "alt"; Spin listed her debut, not this -- the second of five eponymous 1962-65 albums and the only one I could find, but I'm struck by how stock the arrangements sound. B+(*) [S]
Pierre Henry: Messe Pour Le Temps Présent (1967, Philips): Henry's musique concrète mass, co-written by Michel Colombier, starts with "Psyché Rock," then "Jericho Jerk" and "Teen Tonic" -- they rock like "Telstar," earning the sobriquet les jerks électroniques; the other pieces on what was originally 2LP and in 1997 were expanded into 2CD are indeed concrète -- scratchy, abstract, atmospheric, which is not such a bad thing; note that even the Roman Catholic Church, under Vatican II, was hipper than it is now. B+(***) [R]
The Meters: The Meters (1969, Josie): New Orleans funk band, with Art (as opposed to Aaron) Neville they didn't sing much, but pumped the organ, scratched out guitar and bass lines, and had Ziggy Modeliste on drums, and Allen Toussaint producing. B+(**) [R]
The Monkees: Head (1968, Colgems): Soundtrack to a film designed to reinvent the TV mophead group as something else -- you were expecting, maybe, Sgt. Pepper? With its skits and bits of fractured dialogue, more like The Who Sell Out, except more literal, a going-out-of-business sale: "hey hey we are the Monkees/you know we love to please/a manufactured image/with no philosophies." B+(**) [R]
The Monks: Black Monk Time (1965 , Light in the Attic): Garage rock band formed by GIs stationed in Germany, cut one obscure album, turned into a cult item after a 1994 reissue, with tributes and films since; has some definite sonic quirks, but plays like a long joke, and wears awful thin in the bonus tracks (e.g., "Cuckoo"). B+(*) [R]
Nico: The Marble Index (1969, Elektra): Christa Päffgen, a German fashion model who gained 15 minutes of fame as an Andy Warhol superstar, a more on the first Velvet Underground album, and maybe a few more for her bleak recording career; this was her second, with John Cale orchestrating, his high church organ mode at times breaking into chaos, her voice chilled, strucken down. B+(**) [R]
Pauline Oliveros: Four Electronic Pieces, 1959-1966 (1959-66 , Sub Rosa): Long ones, too, running 14-19 minutes, made up of wave generators and variable-speed tape machines, mostly noise, much of it sounding like tuning in radio tones only with a bit less fuzz, and at least some of it headache-inducing, or at least way too cathartic for everyday listening -- a more novel, and more artful, Metal Machine Music; that, of course, was the point. B+(**) [R]
Van Dyke Parks: Song Cycle (1968, Warner Brothers): Choir boy turned LA schmoozer-songwriter, played with the Byrds and Mothers of Invention but was better known for his work (and drug recreation) with Brian Wilson during the Beach Boys' darkest (and weirdest) days; first album, twelve songs, some cartoonish, some I'm not even that sure of (there's AMG again, with "Baroque Pop" ready to explain everything, followed by "Psychedelic/Garage"). C+ [R]
Pearls Before Swine: One Nation Underground (1967, ESP-Disk): Singer-songwriter Tom Rapp is basically a mild-mannered folkie, but his use of Hieronymous Bosch details for album covers made quite an impression on the LSD-addled -- turns out that psychedelia, like beauty, is in the pretty much mind of the beholder. B [R]
The Pentangle: Basket of Light (1969, Transatlantic): English folk-rock supergroup, with Bert Jansch and John Renbourn on guitar and Jacqui McShee singing; third album, the guitars gently turning over one another, the soprano vocals sinking deepest into the traditional pieces. B+(**) [R]
Perrey-Kingsley: The In Sound From Way Out! (1966, Vanguard): Jean-Jacques Perrey, from France, and Gershon Kingsley, from Germany, play early synthesizers on jaunty little tunes they wrote, mostly punctuated with extra synth sounds that seem inspired by Spike Jones; electronic music was in its infancy in the 1960s, but rarely has it been done with this much juvenile mischief. B+(**) [R]
The Red Crayola: The Parable of Arable Land (1967 , Collectables): Later Red Krayola, a band which more/less still exists, at least through its latest (2010) release; essential member is Mayo Thompson, the guitarist who also played for Pere Ubu through the 1980s; the usual classifications fall way short here: while the "free form freak-out" pieces here aren't as chaotic as the name suggests, they are very unconventional, the melodic elements skewed, percussion all over the place, atonal and arrhthmic and all that, with quasi-songs slipped in between -- "War Sucks" for one. A- [R]
The Red Crayola: The Parable of Arable Land (1967 , Sonic Boom, 2CD): Consumer options include the bare bones 1993 CD on Collectables, a twofer on Charly that adds their inferior second album, God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail in Her, and this vastly expanded edition; this upholds your interest, a case of "more is more," but caveat emptor: most of the more is redundant, including both mono and stereo mixes of the album, plus one with the songs minus the "freak outs." B+(***) [R]
Rotary Connection: Rotary Connection (1968, Cadet Concept): I'd rather call them an experiment than experimental: bassist Phil Upchurch had some minor jazz cred, and singer Minnie Ripperton was black but didn't sound like it (or much of anything else); mostly they covered contemporary hits -- "Lady Jane," "Soul Man," "Like a Rolling Stone," "Didn't Want to Have to Do It" -- twisting and tweaking them but not into anything very interesting. B [R]
Pharoah Sanders: Tauhid (1966, Impulse): Very much under John Coltrane's spell this early on -- Albert Ayler liked to refer to Coltrane and Sanders as "the father" and "the son," mostly because he saw himself as "the holy ghost" -- struggling on two long pieces (and one short one) spanning the earth and beyond, assisted by a quintet that included Sonny Sharrock on guitar and Dave Burrell on piano. A- [R]
Pharoah Sanders: Jewels of Thought (1969, Impulse): Two side-long pieces, the saxophonist sounding superb except when he occasionally coughs up a chunk of lung, which can be harrowing; the double basses can hold your attention for long vamps, and percussion is suitably exotic, and Leon Thomas alternately warbles and wows. B+(***) [R]
The Seeds: The Seeds (1966 , GNP/Crescendo): One of the Nuggets bands -- "Pushin' Too Hard" was theirs -- managed to maintain their guitar-punk sound through eleven sharp cuts, and the CD reissue doesn't lose much tacking on their second album, A Web of Sound, stretching out to a 14:27 "Up in Her Room." A- [R]
The Sonics: Introducing the Sonics (1967, Jerden): Tacoma, WA, garage band, got a reboot after their 1965 debut Here Are the Sonics!!! stiffed, repeating their local hit singles ("The Witch" and "Psycho") but with different filler -- a couple new originals ("High Time" is the nugget) and some r&b replacing the familiar r&r covers. B+(**) [R]
Alexander Spence: Oar (1969, Columbia): Canadian guitarist, sometimes drummer, played in Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, and Moby Grape before he flipped out on acid, was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and cut his one-and-only solo album; intended as a demo, comes off as a slow countryish plaint, except for moments when it flips into something else. B+(*) [R]
Morton Subotnick: Silver Apples of the Moon (1967, Nonesuch): First album from one of the pioneers of electronic music, the two 15-minute sides are composed of synthesized blips and bleeps, a fairly minimal palette by later standards, yet cohere remarkably, breaking ground both as technology and as music. A- [R]
Morton Subotnick: The Wild Bull (1968, Nonesuch): Second album, less immediately appealing but with lots more drumlike sounds, scattered drones, some entering from far stage left, as the composer is finding more angles to the music; short, a bit less consistent. B+(***) [R]
Morton Subotnick: Silver Apples of the Moon/The Wild Bull (1967-68 , Wergo): But not enough to drag this historically important twofer down. A- [R]
Sun Ra: The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (1961 , Savoy): The Arkestra lands in New York, if not from Saturn at least from Chicago, and they celebrate with a little bit of everything they do, including an odd vocal, flute solos, boogie piano, and percussion all over the place -- nothing electronic squiggles if that's what you expect by futuristic, but still way ahead of the times. A- [R]
The 13th Floor Elevators: The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators (1966 , Collectables): Legendary garage band from Austin, TX; spawned Roky Erickson, or vice versa, but while Erickson maintained his reputation for idiosyncrasy, this sounds more like a band, the guitar thick and crunchy, the psychedelic fuzz some kind of sonic parlor trick, "You're Gonna Miss Me" the hidden nugget. A- [R]
The 13th Floor Elevators: Easter Everywhere (1967 , Collectables): The sonics are less gimmicky -- just as well, they have their own sound anyway, although it's not solid enough to wholly capture the Dylan cover, but it works when they go long for two of their most remarkable songs, "Slip Inside This House" and "Postures (Leave Your Body Behind)." A- [R]
The 13th Floor Elevators: Bull of the Woods (1968 , Collectables): Third album, "noted for its moody, dreamy, and fuzzed-out psychedelic sound," which means none of the songs particularly stand out or even come through all that clearly. B+(**) [R]
The Clifford Thornton New Art Ensemble: Freedom & Unity (1967 , Atavistic): First piece was named "Free Huey" but the politics were less clear, mostly a desire to compose complexity and redouble it through improv; leader plays valve trombone, which with two bases holds the scattered horns and vibes together, barely. A- [R]
Townes Van Zandt: For the Sake of the Song (1968, Poppy): The Texas singer-songwriter's first album, shows a promising sense of detail but it's as flat and repetitive as the dust-swept plains, the songs all merging into a strange sameness. B [R]
Caetano Veloso: Caetano Veloso (1969, Philips): The second of several eponymous albums (sometimes labeled for its first song, "Irene"), the vocals recorded in jail with accompaniment added later, ranging from rockish fuzz guitar to slabs of string orch, with a few songs in English; despite everything, this has a lot of presence. A- [dl]
Scott Walker: Scott (1967, Smash): Scotty Engel, changed his surname when he joined the Walker Brothers, kept it when he split (given the governor Wisconsin, perhaps he should reconsider, but he has a much larger following in the UK); first record, mostly mordant songs from others (Jacues Brel, Barry Mann, Tim Hardin), given Spector-ish productions and operatic vocals -- not as awful as all that, but sure has the potential. B- [R]
Scott Walker: Scott 2 (1968, Smash): No clue why anyone would consider this "alternative" -- the songs are wrapped in strings, the lushness only cut by the bad attitude of a voice meant for Broadway; worth hearing once is Jacques Brel's "The Girls and the Dogs," although you probably won't like it if you're a girl, or for that matter a dog. C+ [R]
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody ([X] is some other identified stream source; otherwise assume a CD). The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments -- although that's always a risk.
For this column and the previous 107, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3666 (3227 + 439).
Additional Consumer News
Albums on Spin's "Top 100 Alternative Albums of the 1960s" that I had previously rated:
Also on Spin's "Top 100 Alternative Albums of the 1960s," but unrated by me that I also couldn't find on Rhapsody:
Update: Changes to David Axelrod.
Monday, May 6. 2013
Music: Current count 21383  rated (+45), 617  unrated (+2).
Not sure how the huge rated bump happened, but the Rhapsody work doesn't stop with this coming week's rather robust Recycled Goods. Losing a bit of ground on Jazz Prospecting, but also pulled a couple old things out of the queue: the Zingaro was literally under a pile of papers on my desk, something I was vaguely aware of having missed. The old Moffett album was in the wrong queue, and being an advance with no spine was impossible to see without rifling through the discs. Also note two high-B+ piano records (Caine and Taborn).
Clipper Anderson: Ballad of the Sad Young Men (2008-10 , Origin): Bassist, originally from Montana, looks like he's based in Spokane after various stretches in Portland and Seattle. Third album, if you count an Xmas with singer Greta Matassa's name first, plus thirty or so side credits, notably with fellow Montanan Jack Walrath. Anderson sings here, moldy standards done in the old Sinatra mold, except that he's not Sinatra, and Darin Clendenon's piano trio doesn't pack much punch. B
Lary Barilleau & the Latin Jazz Collective: Carmen's Mambo (2009-10 , OA2): Conga player, b. 1958 in Seattle, still based there, first album as far as I can tell, cut in two sessions, with trombonist Doug Beavers the only other musicians straddling both. B
Michael Bates/Samuel Blaser Quintet: One From None (2011 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist and trombone, leaders because they do the writing, 5-3 in favor of Bates if you're counting. Each as 3-5 records already, solid work, as is this. Band includes Michael Blake (sax), Russ Lossing (keybs), and Jeff Davis (drums). B+(***)
Geof Bradfield: Melba! (2012 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist (also credited with soprano sax and bass clarinet here), fourth album since 2003, a tribute to trombonist and big band arranger Melba Liston (noting also that two songs are named after band leaders she worked for: Dizzy Gillespie and Randy Weston). Septet includes two brass (trumpet and trombone), Jeff Parker on guitar, and Ryan Cohan on piano, with Bradfield the sole reed player. The arrangements swing, the horns slide. Ends with a brief Maggie Burrell vocal. B+(***)
Cactus Truck with Jeb Bishop and Roy Campbell: Live in USA (2012 , Tractata): Dutch sax-guitar-drums trio, guitarist Jasper Stadhouders also playing some bass; has a previous album, which got them this US tour, attracting trombonist Bishop and trumpeter Campbell to join in the mayhem. Three sets packed into one long CD, all but the tail end flat-out noisy, something I've never enjoyed unless I managed to find some coherent strand to organize the chaos around. No evidence of that here. B-
Uri Caine/Han Bennink: Sonic Boom (2010 , 816 Music): Piano-drums duet, going by the order on the spine instead of the front cover. Recorded on the drummer's home ground -- "live at the Bimhuis" -- with Bennink's artwork both inside and out. Looks like joint improvs aside from "'Round Midnight," which isn't the only debt to Monk. The drummer is especially superb, and Caine gets hotter and harder as he learns the ropes. B+(***)
Tommy Flanagan/Jaki Byard: The Magic of 2: Live at Keystone Korner (1982 , Resonance): Two major pianists, live, start out with duets on standards (first three: Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington), later on alternating solos. Bright and tinkly, Flanagan seems more at home with the material. B+(*)
Nick Fraser: Towns and Villages (2012 , Barnyard): Drummer, based in Toronto, has at least one previous album under his own name, several as Drumheller, a dozen or so side credits. Quartet, modeled loosely on Ornette Coleman's recent two-bass quartet, this one with Rob Clutton on double bass and Andrew Downing on cello. They provide an ever shifting substrate for the horn: Tony Malaby on tenor (and soprano) sax gives a bravo performance, one of his finest ever. A-
Noah Haidu: Momentum (2012 , Posi-Tone): Pianist, second album, a trio with Ariel de la Portilla and McClenty Hunter. Wrote 4 (of 9) cuts, covering Keith Jarrett and Joe Henderson along with more standard fare. Postbop, energetic, complex, hard to say more. B+(*)
The Bill Horvitz Expanded Band: The Long Walk (2011 , Big Door Prize): Guitarist, has a handful of albums since 1997; wrote this for his late brother Phil Horvitz (1960-2005), performed by a 17-piece band including a lot of orchestral instruments (oboe, bassoon, French horn, tuba, violin, cello) -- mostly musicians I recognize. Interesting bits here and there. Can't find anything that suggests that pianist Wayne Horvitz is related, but he's in the band here. B+(*)
The Alex Levin Trio: Refraction (2012 , self-released): Pianist, from Philadelphia, based in New York, third album, all standards, none remarkable but the appeal of hearing bits of great songs floating up from the mainstream piano jazz matrix is undeniable. Looks like they manage to make most of their living playing private engagements (first time I've run across Gig Salad). That's a niche they fit nicely. B+(*)
María Márquez: Tonada (2012 , Adventure Music): Singer, from Venezuela, studied at Berklee, moved to San Francisco area; fifth album since 1985, second on this label. Folkish arrangements, mostly guitar, some accordion, although there are more upbeat pieces, even some brass. Has a distinctive voice, slowly grows on you. B+(*)
Charnett Moffett: The Bridge: Solo Bass Works (2011 , Motéma): Bassist, has ten albums since 1987, many more side credits. This is all solo, and rather than searching out the far out sounds one can create with bass -- as, e.g., Peter Kowald and William Parker have done on their solo albums -- Moffett sticks to basics, picking and a little arco, and features a dozen proven melodies, adds in eight originals, and keeps them all short and to the point. B+(**)
Charnett Moffett: The Art of Improvisation (2009, Motéma): Checking on his new record, I noticed that I had never rated this old one, which I only got an advance promo of and file it in a queue that I almost never look at -- a risk that wouldn't have happened had they sent me a final copy. (Actually, this is two records back; never got the intervening Treasure in any shape or form.) Don't have the credits, so I don't know how chores were split up between two guitarists and three drummers, or which bass Moffett plays where -- my impression is that the fretless bass guitar gets a workout here. All originals, except for a Langston Hughes poem spoken by Angela Moffett and a warbly "Star Spangled Banner"; one more vocal is by Yungchen Lhamo -- no clue what the language is. The bass is always prominent, driving the groove, incorporating the world, and elaborating on it. B+(***) [advance]
Craig Taborn Trio: Chants (2012 , ECM): Pianist, from Minneapolis; cut an early album for DIW in 1994, two "Blue Series" albums that established his reputation as one of the few distinctive electric keyb players in jazz, a couple avant exercises on European labels (Clean Feed and ILK), and a very well received acoustic solo for ECM. This trio, with Thomas Morgan and Gerald Cleaver, should be his crowning success, but I keep coming up a bit short with it. B+(***)
Rich Thompson: Less Is More (2012 , Origin): Drummer, third album, basically a hard bop quintet, with Gary Versace in piano and organ, the two horns Terrell Stafford and Doug Stone. One original, the title cut (although bassist Jeff Campbell also kicks in one), two Rodgers & Hart covers, most of the rest from a who's who of jazz in the 1960s (Kenny Dorham, Ornette Coleman, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson). B+(*)
Carlos Alves "Zingaro"/Jean Luc Cappozzo/Jerome Bourdellon/Nicolas Lelievre: Live at Total Meeting (2010 , NoBusiness): Violin, trumpet/bugle, flutes/bass clarinet, percussion, respectively, a prickly combination. Zingaro, b. 1948 in Portugal, came out of the postclassical avant-garde with a long discography. Cappozzo has a few albums, including one with Herb Robertson called Passing the Torch. Don't know the others, but the drummer is terrific, someone to watch out for. Three long improv pieces, difficult but dazzling, kept a smile on my face all the way through. A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, April 29. 2013
Music: Current count 21338  rated (+36), 615  unrated (-3).
Probably spent more time last week working on Rhapsody Streamnotes (posted) and Recycled Goods (still in progress) than Jazz Prospecting, but got off to a good start when two (of three) Ivo Perelman titles came through, then two more albums got big lifts from their sax players. Result is probably the best quality week of the year so far -- actually even better if I count two Rhapsody A- albums (Allison Miller, already posted, and Roscoe Mitchell, in the file for May). More promising things in the mail, too.
JD Allen: Grace (2012 , Savant): Tenor saxophonist, from Detroit; has a handful of albums since 1999. Originally a hard charger, has backed off quite a bit lately, especially here. Quartet includes Eldar Djangirov on piano, playing with exceptional delicacy. B+(**)
Duo Baars-Henneman: Autumn Songs (2012 , Wig): Ig Henneman on viola, Ab Baars on tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi. Henneman tends to lead, pushing the limits of high lonesome. Baars is complementary, especially on clarinet. B+(***)
Michiel Braam: EBraam 3 (2012 , BBB): Dutch avant pianist, just credited with "keys" here, his bassist Pieter Douma on bass guitar, with Dirk-Peter Kölsch on drums, a group he calls "eBraam (in which case the album is just 3). Closes with a Hugh Hopper song -- not sure who does the vocal, but it comes as a surprise. B+(*)
Cristina Braga: Samba, Jazz and Love (2012 , Enja): From Brazil, plays harp and sings, tenth album since 1998 (according to AMG), some classical, but her 2010 Harpa Bossa started to recast classic samba using harp instead of guitar, and this continues in that quest. Group includes trumpet, bass, vibes, and percussion, the harp not all that obvious until your clued in. Voice reminds one of Astrud Gilberto. B+(**)
Kaylé Brecher: Spirals and Lines (2012, Penchant Four): Singer, based in Philadelphia, fifth album since 1992. Don't see song credits but most seem to be originals -- obvious covers are "When Johnny Goes Marching Home" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," but she segues the latter into a corny patriotic anthem ("The House I Live In") and updates a Mingus blues for the white collar world. Long list of musicians, none I had heard of, shuttle in and out, including four trumpet/flugelhorn players and three trombonists but her favorite accompanist is Jimmy Parker on sousaphone -- mine too. B+(***)
Boyd Lee Dunlop: The Lake Reflections (2012 , Mr. B Sharp): Pianist, b. 1926 in North Carolina and spent most of his life in Buffalo, working in steel mills and railyards and playing piano in clubs at night; a local Hall of Famer but only cut his first album after turning 85. This is his second, solo piano improvisations; doesn't try to dazzle you, but keeps the ideas flowing. B+(**)
Ross Hammond Quartet: Cathedrals (2013, Prescott): Guitarist, based in Sacramento, CA; has a handful of albums. Last cut here is a duet with drummer Alex Cline, a good chance to hone in on Hammond's attractive technique. But the rest of the album is dominated by Vinny Golia (tenor and soprano sax, flute) in an amazing tour de force that reduces Cline to keeping metronomic time. Steuart Liebig plays bass. A-
Barbara Morrison: A Sunday Kind of Love (2010-12 , Savant): Singer, b. 1952 in Michigan, got her start opposite Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson in 1974, toiled a couple decades in the Johnny Otis Show, has a dozen records since 1995. I haven't heard any of them, but would be real surprised if any hold a candle to this one. The secret isn't a fine-but-who-are-they pianio trio -- Stuart Elster? Richard Simon? Lee Spath? -- so it must be Houston Person, who is more than just featured here. But it's the singer who hits one softball after another out of the park: "I'm Just a Lucky So and So," "The Green Door," "A Sunday Kind of Love," "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "Let's Stay Together" -- only "I Cover the Waterfront" is out of her zone. Exquisite: the medley of "Smile/Make Someone Happy." I dare anyone not to. A
New York Voices: Live: With the WDR Big Band Cologne (2008 , Palmetto): Long-running vocal group, down to a quartet here -- Darmon Meader, Kim Nazarian, Lauren Kinhan, Peter Eldridge -- with seven albums since 1989. This is a live shot backed by the WDR Big Band Cologne -- a sharp group we've heard with damn near everyone, and here they provide uniformly solid support, a big help for a group where the voices slide all over the place. B-
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of the Duet, Volume One (2012 , Leo): The Brazilian avant-saxophonist has been releasing records at a furious pace recently, including two batches of three each last year, and three more recently. All of this batch include Shipp, who played piano in David S. Ware's now-legendary quartet among much else, including a 1996 duet with Perelman (Bendito of Santa Cruz). Over the last two years no one has produced more top flight music than Perelman, but I'm starting to wonder if we're getting too much of the same thing. At least that's where I was stuck on the two new quartet albums, but the duets here are clear and sparkling, both sides coherent and connected. Not that the inevitable Volume Two won't be too much . . . On to the quartets. A-
Ivo Perelman: The Edge (2012 , Leo): Tenor sax quartet with Matthew Shipp (piano), Michael Bisio (bass), and Whit Dickey (drums) -- Dickey goes way back with Shipp, and Bisio is the current bassist in Shipp's piano trio. Perelman indeed seems on edge early on, where the going is rougher than need be, but he does finds himself by the end. B+(**)
Ivo Perelman: Serendipity (2011 , Leo): Another tenor sax quartet, reportedly accidental: session was originally scheduled to be trio with Matthew Shipp (piano) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) -- that trio was recorded a week later as The Foreign Legion -- but when one was late they called in bassist William Parker and wound up with a quartet. Sometimes hard to judge exactly what Parker adds, but Perelman is remarkably relaxed and fluid from the start, and builds up to some of his most impressive blowing ever. A-
Jan Shapiro: Piano Bar After Hours (2012 , Singing Empress): Standards singer, came out of St. Louis and wound up teaching at Berklee. Has at least three previous albums. This one is almost only accompanied by piano, with five pianists in rotation -- one cut has bass and drums. A very precise, disciplined vocalist, she doesn't need much help, but great songs work better than not-so-great ones. B+(*)
Melvin Taylor: Taylor Made (2012 , Eleven East): Guitarist, sings some -- one song here, with another sung by Bernell Anderson, no better -- has a half-dozen albums going back as far as 1982. Band includes bass (a second Melvin Taylor), keyboard, and drums. Six songs, one from Isaac Hayes. Nice little groove record. B+(*)
Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet: Hustlin' for a Gig (2012, Housekat): Ginny Carr, Robert McBride, André Enceneat, and Holly Shockey, with all but one of the songs penned by Carr ("This Is the Life"). Third group album, but they (Carr and McBride, at least) claim to have been together for twenty-some years. The spirited interplay and cleverness wears on you (or me, anyway). B-
John Vanore & Abstract Truth: Culture (2012 , Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet player, came up in Woody Herman's band, should explain his taste in bright and brassy. Fourth album with his unconventional big band Abstract Truth. Pieces include a 3-part suite and an arrangement of "Footprints." Strong solos, some interesting quirks in the arrangements. B+(***)
Bob Wolfman: Transition (2012, self-released): Guitarist-singer-songwriter, from New York, first album, produced by Larry Coryell with piano, bass, and drums. Aside from the blues cover ("Born Under a Bad Sign") Wolfman's a truly awful singer. Some nifty guitar work here and there -- until proven otherwise, I'd chalk that up to Coryell. C
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Friday, April 26. 2013
Had promised to post this today, so be it. But I was tempted to slip in something else in its stead. First thing I saw in the paper this morning was a piece on Obama (and Clinton and Carter and the old man, whose face is on a T-shirt I have captioned something like "I wish I had pulled out") saying nice things about the worst president in US history on the occasion of the opening of a library built by the taxpayers in his name. There are lots of reasons to be unhappy with Obama these days, but none galls me more than his utter failure to expound on the incalculable damage that the presidency of George W. Bush did to this country. By not doing so, he let the nation forget, and thereby learn nothing. Indeed, within two years the Republican Party not only recovered as a political force, it did so under much more extremist leadership. And also by not speaking up he tacitly accepted the legacy Bush left as a new norm: hence it became his recession, his deficits, his bloody wars.
Then when I got on the net, I discovered that George Jones died. That would have been worth a post, too -- for now, let me just refer you to my Rolling Stone CD Guide piece on him. My mother was a huge fan of his, so his music became a bonding point -- going as far back as when there weren't many such points. The day Jones wrecked his SUV, I flew home to Wichita, got in real late, and let myself into her house. She had been sleeping but got up to greet me, and all she could talk about was Jones. She was crying, slobbering; I could hardly understand a word, and for the first time wondered whether she was losing her mind. Turned out, she had forgot to put her teeth in. Always wished we could have taken her to see Jones, but by the time we did get a chance to see him, she had passed, and he was barely able to sing -- very disappointing show.
Nothing much to say about the following streamnotes. I've been checking out what I could, not much taken by recent recommendations by Christgau and Tatum (although the African stuff has mostly kept out of reach), doubtful that they will approve of my minor finds. So feeling alone out here. And cranky. Damn cranky.
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 March 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (3274 records).
Actress: R.I.P. (2012, Honest Jon's): Darren Cunningham has a new EP I can't find, but last year's album has belatedly appeared. Most songs are built from simple patterns with minor oddities, adding up in interesting ways. B+(***)
Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine: White People and the Damage Done (2013, Alternative Tentacles): Eric Boucher, ex-Dead Kennedys, has nine "spoken word" albums (1987-2006), formed this band in 2009 to record The Audacity of Hype. Guitar heavy, not pop-punk but maybe power-punk, lyrics political though I'm not sure how useful. B+(*)
James Blake: Overgrown (2013, Polydor): Considered electronica for his dewy electroglop, but nothing conveys bathos like the juvenile human voice -- as AMG put it, "the faintest hints of Chet Baker's springtime loneliness buried in Blake's mumbling blue-eyed R&B vocals." Of course, he's less cracked than Baker, and more authentically bereft. What a sad world he portends. B
Bombino: Nomad (2013, Nonesuch): Tuareg guitar hero, goes with an American producer this time, who decides to crank up the guitar (and bass and drums) -- not a bad idea, but a bit limiting. B+(***)
Charli XCX: True Romance (2013, Iamsound): British electro-diva Charlotte Aitchison, age 20, first album (not counting a promo, EPs, and a couple mixtapes). Voice is so-so and her raps barely flow, but the multi-producer synth pop buoys her, at least until the tedious "How Can I." B+(**)
Chicha Libre: Cuatro Tigres (2013, Barbès, EP): Brooklyn group built around the "psychedelic cumbias from Peru" that the label first anthologized on The Roots of Chicha (2007). After two albums, a four track, 14:48, EP, starting with a cover of the Clash's "The Guns of Brixton" -- a signifier that they are of our world, as is their take on the Simpsons theme music, but "Rica Chicha" suggests a more interesting one. B+(*)
Eric Church: Caught in the Act: Live (2011 , EMI Nashville): Country singer-songwriter with three pretty good and pretty popular records under his belt, consolidates them into one 75-minute set here -- the sound cranked up to fill his arena and to keep the crowd psyched. Recorded with a lot of fan cheer, annoying at first, eventually settling into something akin to groove wear. B+(*)
Chvrches: Recover (2013, Glassnote, EP): Glassgow electropop group with singer Lauren Mayberry and two keyb players, tiptoes into the pop arena with an EP, 5 cuts, 21:23, but actually the two longest cuts are remixes of the title cut -- stretches out the undoubted pleasure, but impresses me less. B+(*)
DJ Koze: Amygdala (2013, Pampa): Stefan Kozalla, from Hamburg, Germany, has a handful of albums since 2000, titles like Music Is Okay, All People Is My Friends, and Wo Die Rammelwolle Fliegt. His beats are slight but deeper into the album become hypnotic. The vocals, some in German, are awkward, but ultimately superfluous. A-
Maxmillion Dunbar: House of Woo (2013, RVNG Intl.): "Left-field house" from Andrew Field-Pickering, has a previous album and the usual pile of short forms and DJ mixes, dishes up sparkling synth sounds that hold your interest even when he wanders from the beat. A-
Steve Earle & the Dukes (& Duchesses): The Low Highway (2013, New West): Not sure that hanging around the set of Treme did him much good -- his Cajun comes up a bit shy -- but "That All You Got?" may wind up the most memorable of Katrina songs, and two co-credits with Lucia Micarelli -- Eleanor Whitmore plays the fiddle -- wrap up a tidy package in the midst of an otherwise down-and-out album. He also treads ominously with a loner threatening to burn WalMart down, and other characters are no less sullen, but that's where he finds his purpose. A-
Jonny Fritz: Dad Country (2013, ATO): Formerly known as Jonny Corndawg, whose 2011 album Down on the Bikini Line tried to be funnier, all grown up and sober now, with a dozen songs I don't recall clearly enough, except that I'm pretty sure they don't suck. B+(**)
Ghostface Killah/Adrian Younge: Twelve Reasons to Die (2013, Relativity/Soul Temple): Cover of this mock soundtrack reads "Adrian Younge Presents . . . Starring Ghostface Killah," but I figure go with the big type first. It's another hoary gangster chronicle, replete with 1970s spaghetti western musical effects, so hackneyed it's almost funny, something that could grow on you if you never took it seriously. B+(***)
Greyboy Allstars: Inland Emperor (2013, Knowledge Room): Started out in the mid-1990s during the brief acid jazz boom with DJ Greyboy the organizing force, and while I wouldn't call them stars, at least I've heard of saxophonist Karl Denson and organist Robert Walter. The instrumental funk is not without interest (e.g., "Trashtruck"), but the vocals are. B
The Knife: Shaking the Habitual (2013, Mute, 2CD): Swedish electropop duo, Olof Dreijer and sister-singer Karin Dreijer Andersson (aka Fever Ray). Some confusion: there's a 77:18 single disc version and a 96:19 double, but Rhapsody's comes in at 86:16. Several terrific cuts here, at least when they stay upbeat and oblique, with the slow ones slipping back into the ordinary. Could be that all versions are just a hair too long. A-
The Knife: Silent Shout (2006, Rabid/Mute): The Swedish siblings' second, and probably best-regarded, record: the beats seem a bit better crafted and less exciting, the songs a bit more consistently crafted -- seems to be their level. B+(***)
Lapalux: Nostalchic (2013, Brainfeeder): Stuart Howard, English but attached to Flying Lotus, which shares a lot of the choppy pastiche, but is better at it. B+(*)
Lil Wayne: I Am Not a Human Being II (2013, Cash Money): "I would sing about my dick/but that'd be a long story." Instead, perhaps inspired by his dick, he focuses on pussy. B+(**)
Major Lazer: Free the Universe (2013, Secretly Canadian): Reggae/dancehall/ragga project by Diplo (Wes Pentz) and Switch (Dave Taylor), a bit removed from Jamaica but so is everything since roots reggae got lost in the 1980s. Third album, their most natural and most expansive, and not just because they get help on "Bubble Butt." B+(***)
The Men: New Moon (2013, Sacred Bones): Brooklyn post-whatever band, have started to mix up the punkish formula with countryish ballads and hooks wherever they can find them, but haven't found much, and are better off when they revert. B
Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom: No Morphine No Lillies (2013, Foxhaven/Royal Potato Family): Drummer, third album, her second called Boom Tic Boom a smashing piano trio with Myra Melford and Todd Sickafoose plus "guest" violinist Jenny Scheinman. Some "second system complex" here as Scheinman becomes a regular, giving the group two stars to try to keep in sync, and a new batch of guests, including a Rachel Friedman vocal, Erik Friedlander cello, and a pair of trumpets. Too much to sort out quickly, but the pianist is brilliant as ever, and the closer with the trumpets is deliriously over the top. A-
Willie Nelson and Family: Let's Face the Music and Dance (2013, Legacy): He turns 80 this year, taking it easy by doing what he's done pretty much ever since Nashville, and he's put as little effort into this as he's ever done: just a bunch of semi-standards done Family style -- less likely to tax his voice, which is still remarkably prime at a time when peers like Haggard and Jones are shot to shit. Easy suits him. B+(**)
OneRepublic: Native (2013, Interscope): Arena rock band from Colorado Springs, not something we really need, but their avalanche of synths is tuneful more often than not, and I don't detect any of the ickiness you get with bands like Journey. Sample shallow sentiment: "And if we only die once I wanna die with you." B
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: English Electric (2013, Relativity): New wave synth group from 1980, when their first two albums were fresh and danceable despite the fact that all they could do were variations on their formula -- "Enola Gay" remains the archetype. Having nothing better to do, they regrouped after a 12 year hiatus in 2008. This is pleasant filler until "Helen of Troy" earns a spot on their best-of, then this turns into more interesting filler. B+(**)
Brad Paisley: Wheelhouse (2013, Arista Nashville): What do you do about a guy who'd really like to be smarter, kinder, and more decent than his cohort, but who frets that it may cost him sales and huzzahs down at the local redneck honky tonk? Especially since it probably already has, although more for the way he keeps picking at his self-inflicted scabs than his lack of backbone. Has anyone ever written a lazier, wobblier-kneed anthem than "Southern Comfort Zone"? ("Accidental Racist"? Despite its platitudes, lazy as they are, not an anthem.) Oh, and by the way, the real lesson of Sherman's march through Georgia isn't that Dixie got wronged. It's what the man said: "War is hell." B
Palma Violets: 180 (2013, Rough Trade): British group debut, punk-related, black-and-white cover suggesting their basic approach, but a little fancier, especially with the organ -- more Jam than Ramones. B+(**)
Paramore: Paramore (2013, Fueled by Ramen): Fifth album from a band formed in Tennessee, fronted by singer-songwriter Hayley Williams, the eponymous album a way of doubling down after two other band founders split. Big voice, big beat, grand gestures, a bit of pop sheen, all of which leaves me cold -- unlike the 0:52 "I'm Not Angry Anymore," which suggests a different path. B
Pennybirdrabbit: Safer (2013, Big Beat, EP): Second EP, four songs, 14:13. The hype, aside from citing her appearance on a Skrillex joint, dwells on how cute she is, but her electronica is pretty tasteful, the vocals forthright, and the songs smarter than you had any reason to expect. B+(**) [sc]
Phosphorescent: Muchacho (2013, Dead Oceans): Group alias for Matthew Houck, singer-songwriter based in Athens, GA. Did a Willie Nelson tribute two albums back, but could also do one for Bon Iver, not that he should -- his own songs are better. B+(**)
Salva: Odd Furniture (2013, Friends of Friends, EP): Paul Salva, from LA. Five cuts, 20:04, hard beats and emphatic repetition remind some of Skrillex, not much of a recommendation in my book. B [bc]
Shlohmo: Laid Out (2013, Friends of Friends, EP): Henry Laufer, from Los Angeles, has a couple albums and a handful of EPs, this one running 5 cuts, 26:52. Even the one with the annoying vocal-like samples has a structure that makes use of them; better still when the sounds have their own appeal. B+(**) [bc]
Skrillex: Leaving (2013, Owsla, EP): Showboat techno, at least that's what I concluded after not being able to stomach his commercial breakthrough, Bangarang, although I rather liked his earlier, still extravagant, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. He files everything in his catalog as EP, but this one really is -- 3 songs, 12:41 (Bangarang ran 29:56, and three remixes pushed Scary Monsters even longer). First two bang his gong, although less irritating than before; title track is measured and pleasant. B+(*) [dl]
William Tyler: Impossible Truth (2013, Merge): Solo guitarist, in the mode of John Fahey with all the rich harmonic reverb but less of a sense that he's an authentic primitive. Rumbles a bit early on, then sweetens up: "The World Set Free" is more than a good idea. B+(**)
Kurt Vile: Wakin on a Pretty Daze (2013, Matador): Singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, name not an alias, which helps explain why he is blander -- less witty and less menacing -- than you would expect. He's also lost whatever lo-fi gestalt he started with, winding up here with a rather nice guitar groove album regardless of how the songs break. B+(*)
Charles Walker & the Dynamites: Love Is Only Everything (2013, Gemco): Veteran blues shouter fronting a Motown-tinged r&b group: hard to see what could go wrong there, but now you can construct a catalog of annoying tics, none redeemed by a hopelessly catchy hook. B-
Will.i.am: #Willpower (2013, Interscope): Black Eyed Peas majordomo, has produce some of the catchiest arena funk of the last decade but even when he steps up front he remains a background persona -- perhaps he doesn't have much else. This has been predictably panned, and indeed the rhymes are lazy and the "let's get dumb" party philosophy shallow but "Ghetto Ghetto" isn't shallow -- just a little tongue-in-cheek with the kiddie chorus. B+(*)
Wire: Change Becomes Us (2013, Pink Flag): More than any other 1970s group, the one that engineered the transition from punk to new wave, something they've immortalized in their guitar tunings and bass crunch -- cf. "Eels Sang," a throwback for more than its brevity, a rule "& Much Besides" fruitfully sets aside; other tracks less so. B+(**)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Mosquito (2013, Interscope): Despite all the vampire hoopla of the last decade, the real blood-sucking killer is the lowly mosquito, and their title song plays it up for all the horror you should feel. Half of the songs are equally remarkable -- "Sacrilege" sure is, "These Paths" burbles ominously, "Area 52" destroys the earth, and the ballad helps with the healing. A-
Wednesday, April 24. 2013
by Michael Tatum
I'm delighted by the symmetry of touting two pick hits from Mali featuring the ngoni (I'll explain in a minute), both distributed by German imprint Out Here. Unfortunately for me -- and, I'm afraid, for you -- Rokia Traoré's CD should have been re-issued stateside by Nonesuch, who as of this writing have pushed back the release date indefinitely. I have no idea if it's a licensing issue, but nevertheless, enough publications have run reviews on the record that I'm justifying its inclusion this month. If need be, do yourself a favor and hunt for a good price on the import -- or at least bug WEA to put it back on their release schedule. Good rock and roll is so hard to find these days.
Dieuf-Dieul de Thiès: Aw Sa Yone Vol. 1 (Teranga Beat) Outshone in their time by a certain nonpareil Dakar outfit, these competitors from nearby Thiès couldn't garner the necessary financial backing to commit these 1982 sessions to cassette, let alone the more expensive vinyl. So even if thirty plus years later the resulting CD is prone to the occasional channel drop out, be thankful Baobab producer Moussa Diallo had the foresight to record them live at the Sangomar Night Club gratis when no else would. Although their name translates to "collective good deeds undertaken in hopes of future profit," one gathers from the testimonials from bandleader/guitarist Pape Seck and singer Gora Mbaye -- both of whom take pains to remind us that they've had no recompense from this project -- this short-lived aggregation was a labor of love that, despite its failure to live up to its nominal promise, has been unmatched musically or spiritually for either man before or since. Mbalax fans will find much to appreciate in Bassirou Sarr's dynamic tenor, but what really distinguishes this band -- and keeps their spellbinding jams going for an average of nine minutes each -- are insinuating, serpentine rhythms that rumble rather than rock, and two wild card saxophonists whose expansive, incisive solos actually go somewhere. In short, for those who covet the idea of garage rock, but are more persuaded by the kind of scrappy upstarts who are too poor to own a car -- let alone a garage. A
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Jama Ko (Out Here) Showcasing passionate vocal performances not only from Kouyate himself but also lifemate Amy Sacko, Khaira Arby, Kassé-Mady Diabaté, and my favorite, leather-larynxed Zoumana Teretayou, you might be led into believing this is a singer's album. Of course, it is -- inasmuch as so many Malian records are -- but it owes its majesty and power mainly to the ngoni, a lowly stringed-instrument fashioned from wood or calabash and covered by a layer of dried, stretched animal skin: in other words, if one had a hankering to "shred one's ax," no match for a Fender Strat. In theory. But because its string placement makes it ideal for executing dazzling, pirouetting runs, and because this is arranged for not one but four players shadowboxing around each other, this is a guitar workout like few others, and with the help of amplification, effects pedals, and two percussionists who must have at least four hands each, their desert protest blues is powerful rock and roll indeed. Recorded with careful thought to space by Arcade Fire hand Howard Bilerman, Kouyate's leads are as lightning-quick as you'd expect, but he's equally deft at string-bending and one-note freakouts reminiscent of Santana or the Doors, resulting in an album with no dead spots, right down to the Howlin' Wolf tribute and the sprint-to-the-finish-line named after Kouyate's son. And the manic climax to "Ne Me Fatigue Pas" says more about doom and uncertainty about Mali's recent political coup than mere words ever could. A
Kate Nash: Girl Talk [Deluxe Edition] (Ingrooves) Nash's riot grrrl move makes a lot more sense when you work your way back through her discography. Compared initially to Lily Allen because each masked her privileged upbringing by cultivating a Mockney accent and a potty mouth after her egalitarian parents sent her to public school, one could argue the British record buying public cottoned to them because although they swore like Liverpudlian sailors, they remained "proper birds" about it. Even so, Allen herself would never have countenanced the tart homemade production of Nash's Made of Bricks and My Best Friend Is You, nor would Allen's bright, fluttery soprano have been capable of tackling Nash's new material -- hints of the nasal yowl the latter employs here have been hinted at in her darker timbre all along. And most crucially, many of Nash's songs, beginning with the anti-bullying "Dickhead" on the debut, address relationships with women: platonic of course (the phrase "best friend" reoccurs in song after song), romantic up in the air, and either way for you and The Daily Mirror to puzzle out. So while this first sounds like a mess, immersion reveals itself to be both a logical progression and a good way to stick it to the British pop music journalists who would turn their noses at the prospect of putting a "lightweight" on the cover of Mojo. And though the domestic release ends with a whimper -- the fey "You're So Cool, I'm So Freaky," followed by a lullaby that rubs its mawkish orchestral arrangement in old fans' faces -- the import deluxe concludes with three good-to-great tracks, including the self-explanatory "I'm a Feminist, You're Still a Whore," preceded by an ode to Pussy Riot that speaks feminism's universal language ("Meow, meow, meow, meow"). And note how Nash connects to her Russian compatriots: "They're the kinda girls that you'd be friends with/Cause they look cool and they give a shit/About the kind of things you give a shit about." Sisters gotta stick together. Brothers, take notice. A
Orchestra Super Mazembe: Mazembe @ 45rpm, Vol.1 (Sterns Africa) Although identified with Nairobi benga -- their biggest hit, the lovely "Shauri Yako," appears on the magnificent 1991 Earthworks compilation Guitar Paradise of East Africa, though not here -- the Super Earth Shakers are actually carpetbaggers who came up in the 70s from the Congo, less to flee Mobutu's kleptocracy (one could hardly argue Daniel arap Moi's vile police state as an improvement) but because Kenya promised bigger money. Their basic approach, covering both sides of an affordable, ten-shilling, 45 rpm single, will be familiar to benga/soukous/what-have-you fans: luminescent verses/choruses, followed by a brief caesura, after which the music bursts into a breakneck reverie in which voices and guitar bounce off each other so ebulliently you'll be thankful compiler Doug Paterson, as with the great 2010 D.O. Misiani compilation he also curated, painstakingly fuses both sides together (besides, who wants to get up and turn over a record while he's dancing?). Unlike most Afropop combos, there is no prime mover here: the band had as much a revolving door policy as the Drifters or Parliament-Funkadelic -- the liner notes list twenty members, plus nine confederates of indistinct involvement. And they sung the majority of their material in their native Lingala, a language denizens of their adopted country understand only slightly more than you and I. So with beauty, beats, and Atia Jo's buoyant bass their only non-variables, why do you suppose sold these records like hotcakes? Clues can be found in the included pics, one displaying the band goofing around in hardhats and yellow slickers (their name also translates to "construction workers"), another a group shot in which they lightheartedly mug for the camera. Eager to please any which way, they're almost a little too accommodating -- this isn't nearly as lively, resourceful, or magical as Guitar Paradise of East Africa, which I guess is my way of saying eleven bands are better than one. Or maybe I mean one band is better than none -- the band's lack of cohesive identity is a problem. Beauty against adversity may be Africa's gift to the world, but that's no excuse to make pleasure feel like business. A
Brad Paisley: Wheelhouse (Arista Nashville) Musically, Paisley's crazed strategy here reminds me of long-dismissed grunge reprobate Art Alexaxis: begin with a genre record, flirt with crossover, scurry to an apology, then heroically stage-dive into a full-fledged, gonzo sellout. The difference is that because he theoretically comes from right field, Paisley risks far more, not just by nodding three times to "rap" (the best by Charlie Daniels, who makes me wonder if "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" was the antebellum "The Breaks"), but with samples, my favorite from a Roger Miller song I'm willing to bet that before this no one who actually own a Pro Tools setup has actually heard. Yet the knee-jerk conservatism of the lyrics shows how much Paisley is hedging his bets. It's one thing to remind red-staters that not everyone owns a gun, another to muse affectionately about "Those Crazy Christians" (Jeff Foxworthy: "If you bless a casserole or pray before a football game, you might be a Christian"). And while I love the gleeful abusive boyfriend revenge fantasy "Karate," songs like that have been staples of the genre long before Garth Brooks. But consider "Runaway Train," where Paisley opines, "When I was a young'un, my momma used to pray/That I'd find me a Christian girl and settle down someday," without revealing what kind of strong-willed woman took that archetype's place, or "The Mona Lisa," who regardless of her status as a ne plus ultra is seen, not heard, or the beer-commercial plots of "Harvey Bodine" and "Death of a Single Man." And while I'd point out that the Bob Doles of the world don't fear Bill Cosby or Ben Carson as much as they do brothers in gold chains and do-rags, you don't have to be Dolores Kearnes Goodwin to doubt the veracity of LL Cool J's closing benediction to Robert E. Lee (!!) and Abraham Lincoln in "Accidental Racist." Next time, Paisley should ring up Chuck D. But somehow I doubt Chuck's gonna return to the calls of someone who spends two "sensitive" verses rationalizing his reasons for proudly displaying the Confederate flag on a T-shirt. B+
Rilo Kiley: Rkives (Little Record Company) Completists complain -- and don't they always? -- why not include the juvenilia from their obscure first EP? Why not "Big Break" (the desultory b-side to "The Moneymaker")? Or the acoustic "Somebody Else's Clothes" (which appears only on the Live at Fingerprints EP) or "Xmas Cake," their bummed-out contribution to Nettwerk's Maybe This Christmas Too? Diligent Youtube research reveals however that these sixteen rarities plus one hidden novelty comprise the cream. Sure, there's Blake Sennett's mealy-mouthed demo "Rest of My Life," as well his petulant title-says-it-all "Well, You Left," which lies stillborn until Jenny Lewis adds a backing vocal to a disingenuously joyous coda. Yet although it took me several spins to suss it out -- the band would never have left a potential radio hit on the cutting room floor -- this is the rare odds and sods deal that can stand with the original records, and with three of the stragglers from 2004's heartfelt More Adventurous and seven more from 2007's slicker Under the Blacklight, what it offers in sonic variety makes up for what it lacks in thematic heft. Jenny is the star -- that goes without saying. But it never before occurred to me how much Sennett brought to the table until I heard how much muscle and imagination he put even into Lewis' second-stringers -- and had the benefit of Lewis' slightly more perfunctory solo efforts with Johnathan Rice and the Watson Twins for comparison. Great singer-songwriters are one thing. Great bands are another. A
Rokia Traoré: Beautiful Africa (Out Here) You won't be disappointed if you backtrack through this Malian singer-songwriter-guitarist's four previous albums, but as a whole they're slightly static: graceful to be sure, but also a tad too subtle, understated, and as deliberate as a piano recital, thus inaccessible to "world music" holdouts who thinks Oumou Sangare's records "all sound the same." This record poses no such hurdles. Beginning with the shotgun entrance of trap drum dynamo Sebastian Rochford, this electrifying set announces itself as nothing less than a rock record -- if you're wondering what might have inspired PJ Harvey confidante John Parish to sign on as producer, Traoré's crunchy guitar riffs, off-kilter time signatures, and awe-inspiring vocal gymnastics (from trilling coo to banshee wail to playful purr) must feel like familiar territory. And with the exception of the regretful "Mélancolie" this doesn't let up, including the two in English, a tough title anthem and a gorgeous song of praise for women. Not that you should let the ones in French and Bamako scare you off -- the killer girl-group backing vocals make the parlez vous ring out like doo wah diddy, hey-ya, hey-ya. A
Wire: Change Becomes Us (Pink Flag) Some bands evolve out of necessity; some evolve out of boredom. These shrewd shell-gamers evolve as to whatever fits their currents needs. If new wave bleaches punk, we'll bleach it even further by hiring Depeche Mode's producer. If our drummer quits, we'll lean harder on the drum machines. When our drummer returns, we'll get back to basics. And when guitarist Bruce Gilbert retires, we'll recycle and renew fragments from 1981's chaotic Document and Eyewitness like we were the Rolling Stones rolling from Some Girls to Emotional Rescue to Tattoo You, though letting thirty years pass by rather than three, well that's just shrewd shell-gamers for you. Their more obscure lyrics still don't signify without memorable melody -- the breakdown in communication theme may finally justify Graham Lewis' penchant for acronymic gobbledygook on "Re-invent Your Second Wheel," but it's still gobbledygook (and no, it's not code, Graham -- I applied a substitution cipher). But especially on the first half, catchier and more propulsive than their similarly-textured 2011 Red Barked Tree, their blast-chilled art punk makes the most out of lines like "How I adore your island/You're the one who should be spared," and a pile-driving anti-anthem that makes the change promised in their album title sound like a threat. And in the embittered opener, Colin Newman re-imagines "Reuters" from the point of view of an "ally in exile": "He breaks down in this theatre, but hopes not under these lights/Specifically those which gain strategic insights/By the best of good fortune, he had provisions in store/He doubles, then trebles the locks on his door." B+
Suede: Bloodsports (Suede Ltd.) Okay I'm swayed, but the word "aniseed" appears in back-to-back songs, and "Like a cause without a martyr/Like an effigy of balsa/Like a hairline crack in a radiator/Leaking life" is from one of the good ones ("Barriers," "It Starts and Ends With You") ***
Atoms for Peace: Amok (XL) Joey Waronker isn't my idea of an Afrobeat drum titan any more than Phil Selway, but for chilly DOR he'll do ("Default," "Reverse Running") ***
Telekinesis: Dormarion (Merge) The question isn't can you be a one man band, but should you? ("Power Lines," "Dark to Light") **
The Rough Guide to Acoustic Africa (World Music Network) In which even songs I liked in other contexts are subsumed by a concept that could use its own change of pace (Syran Mbenza & Ensemble Rumba Kongo, "Mbanda Nasali Nini? (Madeleine)," Shiyani Ngcobo, "Yekanini") **
Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience (RCA) Maybe Smokey belabored the corny metaphors too, but he had the good sense not to stretch them out over an average song length of seven minutes ("Don't Hold the Wall," "Strawberry Bubblegum") *
David Bowie: The Next Day (Columbia) I have no idea what has taken hold in David Bowie's mind and body -- whether it's psychological, biochemical, or the thought of time waiting in the wings and speaking senseless things -- but whatever it is, it's scaring him to death: "Here I am/Not quite dying/My body left to rot in a hollow tree/Its branches throwing shadows on the gallows for me/And the next day/And the next/And another." Yet as he grips with the thought of his own mortality -- for real this time, no romanticized bullshit -- his Anglophile acolytes pretend, as they have for the last twenty-five odd years, that this represents a new dawning, another phase in a many storied career no one will admit has too many vacancies on the uppermost floors. Both the album title and the Dadaist appropriation of 1977's Heroes cover imply that this record is the one that should have surfaced in 1979 rather than Lodger -- a pretty bold statement, I'd say -- yet nothing here hits as hard as the first three songs on that underrated record's b-side. Meanwhile, Tony Visconti's production (another connection to his lost past) recreates old affects without that fertile period's air of discovery (the disjointed beat of "Dirty Boys" recalls "Breaking Glass," the squishy synth-snares of "Love is Lost" evoke "Sound and Vision"). Only on "The Stars Are Out Tonight" does the artist completely abjure sad nostalgia (the Potzdamer Platz, the Nurnberger Strasse) for directness and Visconti's chilly art rock find a purpose. Read the lyric sheet and you'll find that the celestial bodies in question have curious names like Birgitte, Jack, Kate, and Brad, and spend their time aimlessly wandering, never sleeping: "The dead ones and the living." And, one assumes, those in between. Peace be with you, David. B
Johnny Marr: The Messenger (Sire) You don't need to shoot him because there is no message -- message (and I use that word with reservations) was his old songwriting partner's department. So maybe the title should be Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Guitar Player? Except on the basis of this record, he doesn't have anything interesting to offer in that realm anymore either. Besides, who needs "message" anymore when your sole frame of reference is what Fran Healey and the Gallagher brothers were doing better in the '90s? Although if there's a "Some Might Say" or (ulp) "Writing to Reach You" here, I'll happily scarf up whatever Morrissey's serving up at the Staples Center. C+
Roger Knox & the Pine Valley Cosmonauts: Stranger in My Land (Bloodshot) Proves that "blacks" are alike the whole world over, singer-songwriters too. B
Josh Ritter: The Beast in Its Tracks (Pytheas Recordings) He just went through a terrible divorce -- can you tell? C+
Bilal: A Love Surreal (Entertainment One Music) Or: A Lunk Supreme: Airhead's Redux. C+
Holly Williams: The Highway (Georgiana) Shows restraint by not mentioning Grandpa Hank until track two, whose own "highway" is more lost than you think -- the title track is a self-pitying plaint about being on tour. C
Jake Bugg: Jake Bugg (Mercury) Or, The Freewheelin' Lonnie Donnegan. C
Monday, April 22. 2013
Music: Current count 21302  rated (+27), 618  unrated (+12).
Big week in that I have three -- count 'em, three -- A- records, but the inside story is that two of them took an awful lot of plays (more than a dozen each) before I set aside my usual rule-of-thumb ("if you can't make up your mind, go with the lower grade"). The exception was Halley, which clicked so fast I didn't get around to writing anything substantial about it. His sax has nearly always been so my minor reservations about past his quartet albums concerned the second horn, but they play less in sync here, with the trombone most often either comping or jumping out front, either of which helps.
Eskelin is doing more of a ballad thing this time, so he's not as aggressive as usual, and Versace doesn't push him much, but the record has some really gorgeous passages. Douglas is just being Douglas: fantastic chops, really explosive at times, but his songs can get strange and veer off in unsettling directions. Irabagon, at least, is too much of a scrapper to get boxed up in a harmony role, so this never goes splat like some Douglas albums have done. I've had an advance (and only that) for a long time, so I was tempted to wait and see if a final arrived.
More plays might help push Snidero over the edge. He's very sharp here, as he was on 2009's Crossfire. The other HMs are certainly just that. Wanted to work in the latest batch of Ivo Perelman records, but it's hard to juggle three at once, and thus far they're all sounding pretty much the same. Also held back potentially good records by John Vanore and Craig Taborn.
Should have a Downloader's Diary this week, followed by a (currently short) Rhapsody Streamnotes -- latter may cut into my jazz time, but got a lot of mail this week.
Berserk! (2013, Rare Noise): Collaboration between singer Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (aka LEF, has appeared in groups Transgender, Litania, Ashes, Costituto, Somma, Owls, Obake) and bassist Lorenzo Felicati. Extra musicians include some jazz names -- Gianluca Petrella (trombone), Jamie Saft (keybs), Eivind Aarset (guitar) -- but record is rockish, veering toward doom near the end. B+(*) [advance]
Jaimeo Brown: Transcendence (2012 , Motema): Drummer, first album, has a few side-credits going back a decade. Front cover shows an old black church, and features two additional names: JD Allen (tenor sax) and Chris Sholar (guitar, electronics). (Geri Allen might have been a better marketing pick, but she plays on only one track, where Sholar is always there.) The sax is a huge asset here, but everything else is swamped in gospel vocals -- Falu, Marisha Brown, Selah Brown, samples from Gee's Bend Singers -- a meditation on Afro-American history (including a side trip to Ghana) that doesn't seem to resolve much. B+(*)
Dave Douglas Quintet: Time Travel (2012 , Greenleaf Music): Same lineup as last year's Be Still -- Jon Irabagon (tenor sax), Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda Oh (bass), Rudy Royston (drums) -- minus the singer and the solemn tone, which gives them space to repeatedly flare out, even if the compositional matrix is the same fancy, slippery postbop Douglas has honed for years. The main thing you get is chops: he remains in a class by himself, so confident he's game to take on the hottest saxophonist he can find -- Potter, McCaslin, Strickland, now Irabagon, who is having one helluva year. A- [advance]
Ellery Eskelin: Trio New York II (2013, Prime Source): Sax-organ trio, with Gary Versace on the B3 and Gerald Cleaver on drums; second album together, the first dedicated to the tenor saxophonist's organ-playing mother. Likewise, this one is all standards, with a Monk piece, ohers like "Just One of Those Things," "After You've Gone," and "Flamingo." Versace stays clear of the usual soul jazz moves, giving this an odd delicacy, undercutting the spark but bringing out some of Eskelin's most poignant ballad craft. A-
Ken Fowser/Behn Gillece: Top Shelf (2012 , Posi-Tone): Tenor sax and vibes, respectively; fourth album together, songs split 7-3 for Gillece. Backed by a sextet, with trombone, piano, bass, and drums. Postbop, runs fast and slick. B
Rich Halley 4: Crossing the Passes (2012 , Pine Eagle): Tenor saxophonist, has recorded since the 1980s, more so since he's approached retirement age. Quartet adds a second horn -- Michael Vlatkovich's trombone -- to bass (Clyde Reed) and drums (son Carson Halley). A-
Curtis Hasselbring: Number Stations (2012 , Cuneiform): Trombonist, studied at New England Conservatory and played in Boston bands like Either/Orchestra, then moved to New York, recorded in groups as disparate as Slavic Soul Party and Ballin' the Jack, finally recording his own album as The New Mellow Edwards. That band name is "featured" here, on his third album, and they're a motley bunch: Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Trevor Dunn (bass), Matt Moran (vibes, marimba), and two drummer/percussionists: Ches Smith and Satoshi Takeishi. Compositions have something to do with numeric codings read off shortwave radio broadcasts, but what you get is a mish-mash studded with brilliant solos, much as you'd expect if a band this talented just winged it. B+(***)
Joe Locke: Lay Down My Heart: Blues & Ballads Vol 1 (2012 , Motéma): Vibraphonist, has close to 30 albums since 1983, most paired off with pianists -- Ryan Cohan here, plus David Finck on bass and Jaimeo Brown on drums. Two originals, seven covers, the most immediately appealing the ones that skip around the edges of the familiar, like "Ain't No Sunshine" (Bill Withers) or "Makin' Whoopee." B+(**)
Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge: River Runs (2011 , Summit): Composer/arranger, has three albums on Sea Breeze (1995-2004), one on MAMA. Jazz Surge is his big band, introduced on the 1995 album, so it's not like he's jumping on a bandwagon. He subtitles this "A Concerto for Jazz Guitar, Saxophone, & Orchestra," and aside from the prominence of guitar (LaRue Nickerson) and tenor sax (Jack Wilkins), this really is contemporary classical music more than jazz, especially with the added orchestra (flutes, oboes, bassoon and harp, three French horns, and a phalanx of strings, the violin solos reserved Rob Thomas). Seems like I should hate it, and I started to, then lots of little things won me over. Nice booklet. B+(*)
Shamie Royston: Portraits (2011 , self-released): Pianist, first record, piano trio, with Ivan Taylor on bass and her father Rudy Royston on drums, plus a Camille Thurman vocal. Nice piano work, with a gentle swing. Can't say the vocal is a plus. B+(*)
Markus Schwartz/Monvelyno Alexis: Vo-Duo Nou La (2011 , Lakou Brooklyn): Drummer, b. in Copenhagen, Denmark, based for the last twenty years "in the heart of Lakou Brooklyn," "learning the wealth and complexity of traditional Haitian religious music." Alexis, born and raised in Haiti, plays guitar, sings, and co-wrote most of the songs. B
Jim Snidero: Stream of Consciousness (2012 , Savant): Alto saxophonist, 17 albums since 1987, generally a mainstream/postbop guy, but looking for "strong, free-spirited younger players" this time, coming up with Paul Bollenback (guitar), Linda Oh (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). Actually, he winds up running away from them more often than not. B+(***)
Jacqui Sutton: Notes From the Frontier: A Musical Journey (2012, Toy Blue Typewriter): Interpretive singer from Houston, second album, some kind of concept on discovering America. Starts with an interesting banjo-paced take on "Summertime," then segues to something unsingable. Album continues to teeter like that, with some hot trumpet the high spot. B-
The Verve Jazz Ensemble: It's About Time (2012 , self-released): Five musicians are credited, but only four pictured: Tatum Greenblatt (trumpet), Jon Blanck (tenor sax), Matt Oestreicher (piano), and Josh Feldstein (drums) -- odd man out is bassist Chris DeAngelis. First album, six bop-era standards plus three alternate takes, nice job on each. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, April 15. 2013
Music: Current count 21275  rated (+18), 606  unrated (+1).
Not enough Jazz Prospecting to bother with this week -- just three notes in the scratch file. Can't point to the distraction of working on Rhapsody Streamnotes either -- just four records in my draft file there. Actually, most of the rated increase this week came from fixing bookkeeping errors, which I discovered while compiling this year's Downbeat Critics Poll ballot. My notes are here. Thought I'd get around to cleaning them up, expanding them a bit, and turning them into a post, but at this stage I might as well settle for a link. Besides, trying to rank musicians is somewhere between impossible and incoherent (if not quite malicious). I'm mostly looking for names I think could use a little more recognition.
Not sure what all happened last week. The Downbeat poll took a lot out of me. Also spent a couple days out of town, as I went to visit my last living aunt, 98 years old. Her dementia has gotten so bad that the best she can do is to acknowledge that she still recognizes someone in an old picture. She only knew me after prompting. I don't think she recognized her daughters when they showed up a couple days before. She has little physical strength -- is unable, for instance, to adjust her position in a chair. I baked a coconut cake, which she did enjoy. Not much one can do, other than appreciate small moments and gestures, and remember. When she was able to take care of herself she lived closer and I saw her much more often. We threw her a 90th birthday party, had 40-50 guests; she was completely at home with them. She may live to be 100, but that now seems like the last time to celebrate.
Spent more time with my cousins, who are a few years older than I am: they knew me when I was a baby, and remember their father, my uncle, who was killed in a car crash before I was two. I started to cry when I recalled the year one lived in Wichita: seems like her friendship and love was all that held me together that year. Also recall how her older sister guided me through the draft maze, where jail would have been preferable to the army -- again most likely saving my life. This could have been a very poignant week for me, but it seems like I spent the whole thing dumbstruck.
Should return with Jazz Prospecting next week -- probably a short one, but some choice records. Would be longer but it wouldn't be a bad idea to pick up some items for Rhapsody Streamnotes, plus I have ambitious plans for May's Recycled Goods.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, April 8. 2013
Music: Current count 21257  rated (+40), 605  unrated (+14).
The huge rated count is the result of working on May's 1960s-themed Recycled Goods, using Rhapsody rather obsessively to quickly check out items of interest (especially, but not exclusively, from Spin's list). It will be a while before all that appears. In the meantime, I almost forgot to do any jazz prospecting, but it's been a banner mail week, and I finally got inspired at the last minute.
Lots of distractions coming up this week, which will certainly cut into my listening time. Also need to knock off this year's Downbeat ballot, so I'll post my notes on that later this week. New Dave Douglas out this week, Time Travel. I've played the advance a lot, and held it back, as I'm still on the fence. One thing I will say is that it's certainly another feather in Jon Irabagon's cap.
Lot of incoming mail this week, including some things I'm really looking forward to.
Aguankó: Elemental (2012 , RKO): Alberto Nacif, conguero (plays congas), b. in Mexico, based in Michigan, has been in groups like Tumbao and Tumbao Bravo. First album for this group, with Jose Espinosa (b. in Havana, Cuba) on bongos, timbales, and guiro; Paul Finkbeiner on trumpet, Chris Smith on trombone, Wesley Reynoso on piano, and various others. Afro-Cuban jazz, sometimes relaxes a bit but feels plenty authentic to me. B+(***)
Anthony Branker & Word Play: Uppity (2012 , Origin): Composer, originally played trumpet but stopped after a medical problem; studied at Princeton, Miami, and Columbia, and directs the jazz program at Princeton. Sixth album, second with this group: Ralph Bowen (tenor sax) and Jim Ridl (piano) are the names you've likely heard of, plus trumpet (Eli Asher), trombone (Andy Hunter), bass (Kenny Davis), and drums (Donald Edwards). First two cuts are terrific, upbeat things just bubbling over. Less impressive when he gets solemn, with uncredited strings (Hunter also has a keyb credit) and Charmaine Lee's vocal fills on a Nigeria-themed number, but it builds to an impressive swell, whereas his similar "Ballad for Trayvon Martin" goes for elegiac simplicity. A-
Roger Chong: Live at the Trane (2012 , self-released, CD+DVD): Guitarist, based in Toronto, third album, live with a keyboards-bass-drums quartet. Originals plus three covers which provide up moments: "Exactly Like You," "Work Song," "Mo Better Blues." Light fare -- hype sheet cites George Benson and Norman Brown as his influences -- and sometimes the keyb seems in the way (but sometimes it kicks back a soul jazz vibe, or states the melody in a useful way). But it's played loose, always pleasurable, and interesting enough. B+(**)
Giacomo Gates: Miles Tones: Sings the Music of Miles Davis (2012 , Savant): Singer, from Connecticut, sixth album since 1995, but he got a late start and is probably in his 60s. The music, by or more often associated with Miles Davis, is an invitation to vocalese, which he handles ably enough -- he's one of the few singers around who can scat handily. B+(**)
The Kandinsky Effect: Synesthesia (2011 , Cuneiform): Sax trio, based in Paris, recorded this debut album in Iceland. Walter Walker, from California, is credited with "saxophone/effects," writes most of the pieces. Gaël Petrina (bass, effects), from Argentina, and Caleb Dollister (drums, laptop), from Reno or Nashville or Los Angeles and based in New York, complete the trio. Rhythm veers toward jazztronica without being overly electronic, just enough to provide a stable base for Walker to riff over. B+(***)
Daniel Lantz Trio: Plays Bond (2012 , Do Music): Pianist, b. 1976 in Sweden. Has two previous trio records, plus one record with "funk sextet" Beat Funktion. Trio includes Erik Ojala on bass and Daniel Olsson on drums, playing 12 themes from James Bond films. That should be pretty dull, but they make liberal use of two "featuring" artists, tenor saxophonist Roger Nordling and vocalist Sani Gamedze, and both do a fine job of rounding this out. B+(*)
El Niño Machuca: Searching Your South/Buscando tu Sur (2012 , Ozella): Guitarist, from Sevilla in Spain, signs his songs Paco Machuca (about half here). First album, accompanied by Neil Doyle (bass, flugelhorn), Javi Ceballas (Spanish guitar), jaleos and handclaps. B+(**)
Rob Mazurek Octet: The Skull Sessions (2011 , Cuneiform): Chicago-based cornet player, part of Chicago Underground, also São Paulo Underground, combines both angles here and then some. The Brazilian contingent: Mauricio Takara (cavaquinho [a ukulele], percussion), Guilherme Granado (keyboards, electronica), Thomas Rohrer (rabeca [a fiddle], C melody sax), and Carlos Issa (guitar, electronics). From Chicago: Nicole Mitchell (piccolo, flute, voice), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), John Herndon (drums), and Mazurek. Combination is busy, noisy, chaotic. Helps to focus on the cornet, which usually soars above, or the sheer energy vibe, especially when the cornet is engulfed. B+(***)
Reg Schwager/Michel Lambert: Trio Improvisations (2001-02 , Jazz From Rant): Guitarist Schwager was b. 1962 in Netherlands, moved to New Zealand when he was 3, moved again at 6 to Canada, based now in Toronto. Has a handful of albums since 1985. Drummer Lambert plays with François Carrier and Maïkotron Unit. To make a trio they add Misha Mengelberg (piano), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), or Michael Stuart (sax, probably tenor) for three improv cuts each. Mengelberg and Wheeler are very famous and acquit themselves well. Stuart isn't famous: b. 1948 in Jamaica, moved to Toronto in 1969, did a tour with Elvin Jones but has scant discography. (AMG gives him a couple dozen credits, but many are for engineering classical recordings, and some are dubious -- e.g., playing percussion on Love's Forever Changes.) His cuts are as strong as the stars', making him someone I'd like to hear more from. B+(***)
Jacky Terrasson: Gouache (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1966 in Germany, has about 15 albums since breaking in on Blue Note in 1994. Very eclectic here, trying lots of things -- some electric, a few cuts with bass clarinet (Michel Portal) or flugelhorn (Stephane Belmondo), two vocal cuts (Cécile McLorin Salvant), non-vocal covers of Justin Bieber and Amy Winehouse, a couple pieces that celebrate his own fleetness (one called "Try to Catch Me"). Pretty much all works, too. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, April 1. 2013
Music: Current count 21217  rated (+29), 591  unrated (-4).
Average week. Blah, blah, blah. Some new stuff in the queue may be promising, but the old stuff I've been playing (not to mention the even older stuff I'm still avoiding) hasn't offered much -- minor surprises from Reinmar Henschke and Monica Ramey, steady improvement from Edward Simon, a Chicago avant quartet that has never matched high expectations.
Should have a short Recycled Goods by the end of the week. Don't expect to add much to it, as I've started thinking about doing one on 1960s music, so my mind has already wandered off.
Antonio Adolfo: Finas Misturas (2012 , Adventure Music): Pianist from Brazil, has close to 20 albums since 1992. Half originals, half jazz covers (Coltrane, Gillespie, Evans, Jarrett, Corea), with two guitarists, bass, drums, and Marcelo Martins on tenor sax and flute. B+(*)
Akua Allrich: Live!: Uniquely Standard (2012, self-released): Singer, from Washington, DC; second album, a live one with one-and-a-half originals, the standards doubling up on Nina Simone. Allrich can be a fierce, riveting singer, as the first half of "Black Coffee" shows, but she has no restraints and can scat with the worst of them, as the second half of "Black Coffee" proves, not to mention the worst version of "Afro Blue" I've ever heard. B-
Caswell Sisters: Alive in the Singing Air (2012 , Turtle Ridge): Sara Caswell is a violinist, two albums under her name, more than a dozen side credits. Her solos here are fine, articulate, and get some real lift from pianist Fred Hersch, who does more here than any singer can ask. The other Caswell is Rachel, singer, working a standards songbook. Main complaint with her is the excessive scat, although her lyrics don't stick with you either. B-
The Engines w/John Tchicai: Other Violets (2011-12 , Not Two): Chicago quartet -- Dave Rempis (saxes), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Nate McBride (bass), and Tim Daisy (drums) -- playing live with the soon-to-be-late Afro-Danish saxophonist John Tchicai. Gets off to a rather slow start, perhaps the band too deferential to their guest, or their guest slow to suss out the band, but it picks up significantly toward the end. B+(***)
Lisa Forkish: Bridges (2012 , self-released): Oakland-based singer, originally from Oregon; second album, wrote a little more than half of the songs -- covers include "For What It's Worth," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "No More Blues" (Jobim, of course, and possibly the best thing here). Didn't sink in, but I did enjoy hearing "solidarity" in a song. B+(*)
Reinmar Henschke: On Air (2009 , Ozella): Pianist, b. 1959 in Germany; looks like his eighth album since 1988, although this is the only one AMG lists. Piano and keyb tracked with percussion and electronics, with bits of guest sax, vibes, guitar, percussion, clarinet, flute. Before I could sneer "pop jazz" it started growing on me, the rhythm figures hypnotic, the piano a bit sumptuous. One vocal, in English by Pascal von Wroblewsky (a name to remember) is a plus. B+(***)
Lisa Kirchner: Umbrellas in Mint (2012 , Verdant World): Singer-songwriter, sixth album since 2000, although her musical experience goes back further, all the way to being daughter of classical composer Leon Kirchner, whose work she has produced. Wrote all the songs this time, in contrast to her 2011 album, where she wrote lyrics to pieces by modern classical composers from Ives to Marsalis. Group here includes Xavier Davis (piano), Sherman Irby (sax), Ron Jackson (guitar), and "Bill" Schimmel (accordion). Moves along smartly, the lyrics engaging. B+(**)
The Dave Lalama Big Band: The Hofstra Project (2012 , Lalama Music): Pianist, teaches at Hofstra, pulled this big band together from Hofstra alumni, including tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama (seems to be his brother). Lalama learned his craft with Woody Herman, as should be clear from the punchy section work (not that anyone steps up to play clarinet). Not much more, though. B
Steve Owen: Stand Up Eight (2011 , OA2): Just composer-arranger here, but plays sax elsewhere. Big band, conducted by Dan Gailey, some names I recognize in the reeds -- Todd DelGiudice, Don Aliquo. Owen studied at UNT and University of Northern Colorado, and teaches at University of Oregon. First record, as far as I can tell, although he appears on similar big band efforts by Dan Gailey and Dan Cavanagh -- probably a lot of intersection in those groups. Wrote 7 of 9 pieces, covering Cole Porter and Radiohead. He gets a wide range of effects, many I don't care for, although the spoken word and shadings of "State of the Union" is an exception, and the solo spots are striking. B
Bill Peterson Trio: Ruby Diamond (2011 , Summit): Pianist, teaches at Florida State, first album, a trio with Rodney Jordan on bass and Jamison Ross on drums. Mostly originals (one by Jordan, also "Shenandoah" by trad.), mostly shout outs to fellow pianists ("Thelonious," "Horace," "Oscar," "McCoy," "Bob James," "Mr. Wynton Kelly"; "Marcus" is probably Roberts -- Jordan came from his trio). Solid grounding. B+(**)
Monica Ramey: And the Beegie Adair Trio (2012 , Adair Music Group): Standards singer, second album, rolls out 14 songs, 72 minutes, backed by Adair's piano trio plus horn spots for George Tidwell (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Dennis Soles (saxes, flute). As is often the case, this rises or slips on the songs -- "I Thought About You" caught my ear, then the pairing of "Witchcraft" and "This Could Be the Start of Something Big" -- but she frames them nicely, can turn on the gusto or sass or take a delicate ballad. The band does the job, which is all it really takes. B+(***)
Edward Simon Trio: Live in New York at Jazz Standard (2010 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from Venezuela, a dozen or so albums since 1993, at least three with this trio: John Patitucci (bass) and Brian Blade (drums). Live they stretch out on five long pieces, three Simon originals and covers of Jobim and Coltrane. Bright, lively piano jazz. B+(***)
Dayna Stephens: That Nepenthetic Place (2012 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1978, third album since 2007, I recognize him more as a sideman -- looking at his credits list I see few memorable albums, but looking at my notes he was repeatedly the standout musician on those albums. Quartet -- Taylor Eigsti (piano), Joe Sanders (bass), Justin Brown (drums) -- plus guests on scattered tracks: Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Jaleel Shaw (alto sax), Gretchen Parlato (vocals). The vocal feature's slow burn is nice in itself, the horns more dynamic, the tenor again the best thing here. Looked up "nepenthetic" and didn't find anything (else). B+(**)
Michael Webster: Momentus (2011 , OA2): Tenor saxophonist, from Ottawa, Canada; studied at Manhattan School of Music, based in New York. Second album, expansive postbop with Ingrid Jensen's trumpet/flugelhorn for contrast, Jesse Lewis on guitar, Chris Dingman on vibes, plus bass and drums. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Thursday, March 28. 2013
After a short February, up to 56 records this month. Most of the good ones were first identified elsewhere -- cf. Jason Gubbels on Bomba Estéreo; Christgau flagged Monroe, Musgraves, Nash, Overall, and Waxahatchee, although sometimes Michael Tatum and/or Gubbels got there first. They also got to Stampfel first, but I wound up enjoying the hoedown more than they did, while other picks left me with reservations. The only prime record here I can claim to have found myself is the 2008 kiss-off to our former president. I may have cut it a bit of grade slack, but I appreciate the sentiment, not to mention the analysis.
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 February 26. Past reviews and more information are available here (3227 records).
Ellen Allien: LISm (2011-12 , Bpitch Control): Ellen Fraatz, born and lives in Berlin, fourteenth album since 2001, just one 44:58 track, a soundtrack for dancers. Mostly synths, some spoken word, the themes shifting around but captivating. B+(***)
ASAP Rocky: Long. Live. ASAP (2013, Polo Grounds/RCA): Rakim Mayers, loves those dollar signs, jumped from a well-received freebie mixtape to major label much like Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar last year, except he neglected to come up with a more impressive record. Still, two songs in the middle stand out: the Skrillex-remixed "Wild for the Night" and "1Train" with Lamar and more mixtape all-stars. Before that he gets by on Clams Casino beats, and afterwards he doesn't. B+(**)
Autechre: Exai (2013, Warp, 2CD): Electronica duo, Rob Brown and Sean Booth, eleventh album since 1993, basic beats and blips in a matrix that suggests primitivism but has more going on. Runs long, rarely a problem. B+(***)
Bilal: A Love Surreal (2013, E1): Neo-soul guy from Philadelphia, dropped an album in 2001 then the label shelved his follow-up and it took him a decade to regroup. Does a nice job here, although subtlety seems to always be the neo-soul trap. B+(**)
Bomba Estéreo: Elegancia Tropical (2012 , Soundway): Colombian group, has a couple albums, closer to house than to cumbia, forsaking the latter's grind for hints among Simón Mejía's loops and bass lines, topped with Liliana Saumet's cagey vocals. A-
David Bowie: The Next Day (2013, Columbia): Last of his records I have graded in my database: 1983's Let's Dance. This is his 13th since then, as steady as his 1967-83 production, where I only missed his debut and one or two more. So score this as a comeback, a batch of new songs that manage to sound identifiably like the old songs, especially c. Heroes (whose cover pic is recycled here but mostly blotted out). B+(*)
Cakes Da Killa: The Eulogy (2013, Mishka): The "MacArthur Park" intro is as hoary as "Also Sprach Zarathustra," but the Coochie speed-rap is promising, at least until dissolving into giggles. B+(**) [bc]
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Push the Sky (2013, Bad Seeds): Someone I was warned away from early and never took an interest in, although with twenty-some records since 1979 he has both a critical and popular following. So he'd be a project if I wanted one that bad. Indeed, this is listenable (albeit dark and moody), and "Jubilee Street" got me thinking of Leonard Cohen, at least until "I got a fetus on a leash" reminded me that words matter, and so does the music. B
Chelsea Light Moving: Chelsea Light Moving (2013, Matador): Thurston Moore's post-divorce incarnation of Sonic Youth, missing Kim Gordon -- always the human touch that elevated the band from good to great -- and perhaps adding an uncharacteristic bit of restraint, like he senses that this is no time to push buttons or breach borders. B+(**)
J Cole: Yours Truly (2013, self-released, EP): Five cuts, reportedly outtakes from an unfinished album, not much time but the tempo is so relaxed they stretch out nicely. The Spanish guitar sample in "Can I Holla at Ya" is perfect, the synth on "Crunch Time" comes close, the angst for "ODB" wanders into hood lore, you make your own bed, but you don't get to pick the sheets. B+(***) [dl]
Dub Colossus: Dub Me Tender, Vols. 1 & 2 (2011 , Real World): Jamaican-Ethiopian fusion, a marriage no doubt sanctioned by Jah. My sources leave the Ethiopians anonymous, while citing Nick Page, aka Dubulah, who presumably mixes up the brew. The single CD rolls up an earlier LP (Volume 1), expanding 8 tracks to 14 (hence Volume 2). More complex and less mannered than most dub; still rolls along effortlessly, like it should. B+(**)
Mary Flower: Misery Loves Company (2011, Yellow Dog): From Indiana, once led a group called the Mother Folkers, has close to ten albums leaning heavily on blues, which she sings straightforwardly, like no big deal. B+(**)
Ben Goldberg: Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues (2008 , BAG): Clarinet player, has a dozen or so albums since 1992 not counting membership in New Klezmer Trio, Tin Hat, Myra Melford's Be Bread, etc. Joshua Redman's tenor sax blends in with the clarinet, but Ron Miles' trumpet breaks free, and provides most of the excitement. Goldberg also plays contra-alto clarinet, deepening Devin Hoff's bass. And while the group doesn't need two drummers, he evidenlty couldn't decide, so went with both of his regulars: Ches Smith and Scott Amendola. B+(***)
Ben Goldberg: Unfold Ordinary Mind (2012 , BAG): Clarinetist, arranged this group to feature his E-flat contra alto clarinet ("a weird member of the family, pitched below the bass clarinet"), with two tenor saxes at least nominally as the lead horns (Ellery Eskelin, Rob Sudduth), Nels Cline on guitar, and Ches Smith on drums. Goldberg's idea was to use his clarinet like a bass, but it's so resonant with the saxes it adds a deep well to the harmony -- except when Cline gets excited and turns this into some kind of heavy metal. B+(**)
Good Riddance, George W. Bush (2008, Selector Series): "Kill yourself," advises Immortal Technique. Mr. Lif adds, "You manifest evil." Ted Leo remains "Loyal to My Sorrowful Country," James Blood Ulmer moans over "Katrina," Sharon Jones plays the tax card, Ministry declaims "Señor Peligro," and the Blakes urge us, "don't send your money to Washington/to fight a war that's never done." This slipped out unnoticed in December 2008, ignored for the sake of hope and change, but we let him off the hook too easy. Hell, even these ten artists cut the vile motherfucker more slack than is called for. Like they say about the Holocaust: never forget. A-
Wycliffe Gordon: Dreams of New Orleans (2012, Chesky): Trombone player, could be the real life analogue of the trombone star in Treme except that he's generally more versatile -- just not here, where he not only recycles the old tunes but built a band with banjo and tuba to keep them sounding old. Why they're so subdued is another story. B
Emmylou Harris/Rodney Crowell: Old Yellow Moon (2013, Nonesuch): Crowell wrote 4 of 12 songs -- no idea whether they are new, but they needn't be, especially with Harris writing nada. She remains the greatest backing singer in country music, and she meshes as well with Crowell as she did with Gram Parsons -- enough delight to put the album over, plus they're both smart enough to pick songs worth hearing. B+(**)
Iceage: You're Nothing (2013, Matador): Danish rock band, seemed to have some promise on their 2011 debut but just get louder, heavier, denser, and dumber here. B
Koby Israelite: Blues From Elsewhere (2013, Asphalt Tango): London-based Israeli, plays everything but seems to prefer accordion, has several albums on Tzadik which I'd guess are more klezmerish, but on this Berlin gypsy label he zigs and zags and winds up no where in particular: a tough "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is followed by "East of Nashville" and "Bulgarian Boogie," winds up with "Just Cliches" and "Kashmir" (yep, Led Zeppelin's). B
Kool A.D.: 63 (2013, self-released): Das Racist MC, the less funny one, answers for his laziness by dropping two simultaneous mixtapes, named for Oakland bus lines that may or may not still run. Content? Well, it's supposed to spontaneously flow, but nearly every song has a "feat." or a guest "prod." to mix up the chemistry. B+(**) [bc]
Kool A.D.: 19 (2013, self-released): More, more, more, so much I figure this for the outtakes, but mostly because I recognize so few of the guest "feat." and "prod." credits, the more recognizable names kin the titles (like "Jaleel White" and "Jenny Holzer" and "Kriss Kross"). B+(*) [bc]
Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House: Strong Place (2012 , Intakt): German saxophonist, alto mostly, avant, has played with a lot of great musicians lately and is almost always the weakest one on their albums, not really spoiling things but making you wonder why Tony Malaby wasn't available. Here she rounds up four of them -- Kris Davis (piano), Mary Halvorson (guitar), John Hébert (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums) -- and they slow down to her speed. They even make it work, but it takes a while to get into it. B+(*)
Local Natives: Hummingbird (2013, Frenchkiss): Second album, falsetto singer and keybs tweaked high, threatening to break into something catchy, which would probably be even worse. B-
The Lone Bellow: The Lone Bellow (2013, Descendant): Three singers, Zach Williams dominant and mandolinist Kanene Doherty Pipkin his better half, play "Brooklyn country music": I wasn't sure what that meant until I heard an Eagles lick and tried mapped that onto the Dodgers, reversing their move from Flatbush to Chavez Ravine. OK, that doesn't help much. How about the Lumineers crossed with the post-crash Lynyrd Skynyrd? B-
Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition: White Buffalo (2012 , Fat Possum/Turnstile): Ex-Squirrel Nut Zipper, has a solo career now that straddles blues and Americana, grasping the forms while missing the point of each -- or at least not expressing it very well. B
The Mavericks: In Time (2013, Valory): Country-rock group, emerged in 1991, had a pretty good album in 1994 (What a Crying Shame), and never really folded up despite efforts from leader Raul Malo and others to pursue solo careers. More Tex-Mex this time, maybe with a dash of Cuban spice, like they're trying to turn into the Los Lobos of Miami. Choice cut: "As Long as There's Loving Tonight"; dud: "(Call Me) When You Get to Heaven." B
Pat Metheny: The Ochestrion Project (2012 , Nonesuch, 2CD): The guitarist's one-man band project, a room full of instruments that can be controlled from the guitar. The gear got a studio workout in 2010's Orchestrion album. Here it goes on the road. May be neat visually, but winds up a bit thin, something more than solo guitar, but not an awful lot. B
Ashley Monroe: Like a Rose (2013, Warner Brothers): Had an EP and an unreleased album as a teenager, joined Miranda Lambert as one-third of the Pistol Annies, and got another album shot here. It's a thin one, nine songs, 31:50, but most stick with you, and she has a lot more voice than Kacey Musgraves. Also has co-credits on all the songs, and a Blake Shelton duet at the end that drops two names and dismisses all too readily. A-
Gurf Morlix: Finds the Present Tense (2013, Rootball): Lucinda Williams' ex-lots-of-things, doesn't have much of a voice but can carve a song out of the blues and managed to write several good ones here, the one about guns ("Bang Bang Bang") especially right on. B+(***)
Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer Different Park (2013, Mercury Nashville): Young country singer from Texas, has a piece (but not all) of every writing credit. Not a huge voice, not much twang, but pleasantly effective, as are the twelve songs, with "Follow Your Arrow" likely to emerge as an anthem, albeit a modestly stated one. A-
Kate Nash: Girl Talk (2013, INgrooves): Third album, following two of the brighter Brit-pop records of the past decade -- not that she came close to Lily Allen. Here she kicks up the volume, tightens the rhythms toward punk. This has been roundly panned, but I liked it fine on first spin, and keep finding new things when I replay it. A-
Next Collective: Cover Art (2012 , Concord): Up and coming jazz stars -- Logan Richardson (alto sax) is the one I've been most impressed with, but also Walter Smith III (tenor sax), Matthew Stevens (guitar), Gerald Clayton (piano), Kris Bowers (keybs), Ben Williams (bass), Jamire Williams (drums), plus a couple guest spots for Christian Scott (trumpet), covering rock and rap tunes. For the most part, the instrumentation and flexibility win out, the songs losing their character and melding together into nothing much at all. B-
Kassa Overall: Stargate Mixtape (2011, Greedhead): Drummer, has some jazz cred working with Geri Allen and Peter Evans, some hip-hop with Das Racist and Kool AD, tries his own mixtape, rapping a little, along with the flow. No doc on who does what, where the samples come from, or whatever. A- [dl]
Pantha du Prince & the Bell Laboratory: Elements of Light (2013, Rough Trade): German electronica producer Hendrik Weber goes with the bells this time -- rack bells, hand bells, blossom bells, tubular bells, dobachis, gong, triangle, vibes, marimba, waterphone, all sorts of drums and percussion -- and winds up with a nice slice of ambience. B+(**)
Madeleine Peyroux: The Blue Room (2013, Emarcy): Jazz singer, close in style and phrasing to Billie Holiday, comes up with an interesting song selection this time, most successfully country tunes ("Take These Chains," "Born to Lose," "I Can't Stop Loving You," "You Don't Know Me"), although the real prize is Randy Newman's "Guilty," which shines clear of Vince Mendoza's strings -- something otherwise promising songs from Leonard Cohen and Warren Zevon fail at. B+(**)
Pissed Jeans: Honeys (2013, Sub Pop): Hardcore, I guess, from Allentown, PA, which left them with a chip on their shoulders. Wonder if I'd like them better if I could lift the words out of the murk, but when I can, I don't. B-
Pye Corner Audio: Black Mill Tapes Volume 1: Avant Shards (2010, self-released, EP): Described as a selection of 1/4" and cassette tape transfers, this has an old-fashioned synth sound, mild ambient rather than danceable, short at 27:11. B+(*) [bc]
Pye Corner Audio: Black Mill Tapes Volume 2: Do You Synthesize? (2011, self-released, EP): Same idea, similar sense that we're dealing with an earlier generation of synths, but the emphasis leads to more variety, even if the final fadeout is pure ambience. A bit longer at 32:46, but that's just what you can stream -- the product packages seem to vary. B+(*) [bc]
Pye Corner Audio: Black Mill Tapes Volume 3: All Pathways Open (2012, self-released): At 12 tracks, 44:06 (plus a higher list price), we won't tag this one as an EP. The guy who assembled these "tape transfers" calls himself the Head Technician. Still, these feel less like technical exercises than basic IDM, which is more than just the addition of some beats (although the beats are critical). B+(**) [bc]
Rhye: Woman (2013, Polydor): Electronica merger, Milosh (Mike Milosh, from Canada but living in Berlin) and Quadron (Robin Hannibal, from Denmark), first album. Not much beat to it, and no idea about the singer (reportedly Milosh mimicking Sade). B
Carrie Rodriguez: Give Me All You Got (2013, Ninth Street Opus): Country singer, plays fiddle, came up working with songwriter Chip Taylor, went solo in 2008 and continues to get her act together. B+(**)
Caitlin Rose: The Stand-In (2013, ATO): Third album for the singer-songwriter, has a countryish matter-of-fact style and can belt them out. B+(*)
Boz Scaggs: Memphis (2013, 429): Old coot cranks out an easy-going blues album, working in a Steely Dan song for a jazz tinge. Not sure if his voice is shot or he's just resting it, nor that it matters. B+(**)
Sex Mob: Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti: Sex Mob Plays Fellini (2013, The Royal Potato Family): Meaning the music of Nino Rota, of course. The group -- Steven Bernstein (trumpet), Briggan Krauss (alto/baritone sax), Tony Scherr (electric bass), Kenny Wollesen (percussion) -- has been around since 1998, aiming (mostly) at avant-jazz takes on pop culture (Sex Mob Does Bond was an early title). Fellini may seem high-brow, but they rough him up plenty, much of the music still tends toward the sublime. B+(***)
The Slide Brothers: Robert Randolph Presents: The Slide Brothers (2013, Concord): Sacred pedal steel "icons" -- Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell, Darick Campbell, Aubrey Ghent -- serve up eleven gospelish blues covers, with "My Sweet Lord" the furthest stretch and sorriest result. B
Son Volt: Honky Tonk (2013, Rounder): Jay Farrar's post-Uncle Tupelo group, founded 1995, shelved 1999, returned 2005. Title suggests a deeper twang to the usual country-rock, but this settles into a pleasant, dusty sameness, like the abused plains. B+(*)
Alexander Spit: A Breathtaking Trip to That Otherside (2013, Decon): Underground rapper, the beats functional even though he's hoping to hop around the universe. B+(**)
Peter Stampfel & the Ether Frolic Mob: The Sound of America (2013, Frederick Productions/Red Newt): Can't find credits so don't know where these songs came from, much less who beyond the utterly unmistakable leader sings or plays, but "Deep in the Heart of Texas" is a cover given previously unfathomed depth, and the others are most likely relative obscurities. The group dynamic is hootenany with a dash of Spike Jones. A-
Tegan and Sara: Heartthrob (2013, Vapor/Sire): Canadian duo, started folkie but have fleshed their sound out with pop hooks and rock drums. Gives them a sound, all right, and I suspect they have some songs, but none grabbed me right away. B+(**)
They Might Be Giants: Nanobots (2013, Idlewild): Hard to overstate how much I loved their eponymous 1986 debut, but nothing since then has come anywhere close, and there's been an awful lot of it. Not that they haven't produced witty songs -- just nothing so deliciously sublime. This one is tempting. For one thing the music seems tougher and more sinewy than usual, and of course there's much to think about, including yet another song about Tesla. For it does drag on for 25 songs: excess remains their trademark. B+(***)
Richard Thompson: Electric (2013, New West): Thirty years since Shoot Out the Lights and he still sounds incomplete, although he's standing up strong on his own, his anger toned down -- aside from a song about needing his enemy -- the tempos moderate, no more guitar flash than is needed to sustain his rep, and he saves the good stuff for the closer. B+(**)
Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience (2013, RCA): Boy group crooner turned dance-pop star, although he didn't spend the seven-year gap between his second and third albums working very hard, at least on the music -- the best stuff here sounds like watered-down Prince ("Strawberry Bubblegum" most explicitly). A couple morsels could pan out -- "Tunnel Vision" tempted me, but then I played it again. B+(*)
Torres: Torres (2013, self-released): Debut album, songs credited to Mackenzie Scott, 22, Nashville-based, no whiff of country in her voice or guitar -- more like Liz Phair, but slower, deeper into herself, less inclined to just say "fuck it," which is what this introspection needs. B+(**)
Waxahatchee: American Weekend (2012, Don Giovanni): Played this year-old debut after the new one. Eleven songs, 33:50, Feels crude and cramped, the voice struggling to be heard over the guitar strum, succeeding when she tones it down. B+(*)
Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt (2013, Don Giovanni): Katie Crutchfield, who had a punk band called P.S. Eliot with her twin sister Allison, alone here, sounding very alone with little but guitar shaping small songs on everyday subjects -- although occasional bass and drums adds muscle and flesh without detracting from the singer. A-
Omri Ziegele/Yves Theiler: Inside Innocence (2012 , Intakt): Sax-piano duets, same format as Ziegele's superb Where's Africa only substituting for the redoubtable Irène Schweizer. The previous album worked in large part because it cut against expectations into the mainstream. This one is more avant, abstract, except for some poetry. B+(*)
Tuesday, March 26. 2013
by Michael Tatum
It would be downright unprofessional for a rock critic to blame his occasional unpunctuality on "writer's block," but every now and then it certainly does feel that way. Then again, as far as inspiration goes, the artists aren't helping -- this has been an exceptionally dry month, and only one record in my current top ten is likely to be there by year's end. Maybe late March is a little too soon to declare an arts world recession, but I sure hope things pick up soon.
David Greenberger/Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound: They Like Me Around Here (Pel Pel) Commissioned by Sheboygan, Wisconsin's John Michael Kohler Arts Center for "Hiding Places," a multimedia exhibition devoted to exploring the relationship between art and memory, David Greenberger's newest batch of spoken word pieces based on conversations with octogenarians, nonagenarians, and centenarians doesn't differ thematically from anything he's curated previously. But with a real live backing band supplanting multi-instrumentalist Mark Greenberg's overdubs, Paul Cebar's arrangements are more playfully interactive than those on 2012's Tell Me That Before, and although Mac Perkins' bluesy call-and-response routine on that father-son recollection evoke Saturday Night Live at its corniest, in fact vaudevillian humor enlivened by the delightfully sideways logic of his geriatric charges is the idea: is "Nemo" a gender appropriate name for a female butterfly? Are "sentimentality" and "utilitarianism" really polar opposites? And would a father in Newton, Illinois really send for toys in nearby Quincy to perpetuate his children's belief in Santa Claus? I object to "The Thrill," in which we are set up to expect a tawdry sex story and in fact get a profound meditation on skydiving, mainly because the original speaker clearly didn't intend the double entendre implied by Cebar's musical misdirection. But I'm absolutely amazed by a piece in which a narrator's mother secretly votes for the first time in Woodrow Wilson's 1912 presidential election. At least I think it's 1912, because 1916 was Wilson's re-election. But wait a minute: only nine states (none of them Wisconsin) allowed women to vote that year. And Wilson didn't come out for women's suffrage until 1918, when political pressure forced him into it. Come to think of it, only Theodore Roosevelt included women's suffrage in his platform, and he split the Republican vote with Howard Taft, one more shift to the red state-blue state schism we're stuck in today. So who got her vote? That's the poignant, regrettably fragile thing about our memories -- we may never know, even when we think we do. A
Ashley Monroe: Like a Rose (Warner Bros.) No matter how many longtime residents of the 37203 zip code you might suspect are hiding up in the rafters pulling Hippie Annie's strings, it's Monroe's youthful sensibility -- indeed, the sensibility she shares with Kacey Musgraves and her Pistol Annies cohorts -- that rejuvenates these agreeable variations on the usual workaday moon-June-shotgun honeymoon tropes. Vince Gill's sparkling neo-trad production, fine as it is, could be anybody's (and often has been), and the nine outside song doctors do aid and abet Monroe's treatment of the standard Music Row subjects (paying the rent, unwanted pregnancy, good girl gone bad), but Monroe gets more mileage out of their meddlin' than someone twice her age precisely because at this point in time, mapping out the lives of working class post-millennial kids is undiscovered country. And with Miranda Lambert the exception and most likely the linchpin, not since the halcyon days of Dolly and Loretta has someone in this notoriously patriarchal genre this young gotten away with expressing her irascible self rather than solely depending on some hack to hand her a script, something you can't say about Kellie Pickler or (God knows) Carrie Underwood. Admittedly, Dolly and Loretta had a better developed sense of humor: although the karaoke contest in the gratifyingly broad Blake Shelton duet "You Ain't Dolly (and You Ain't Porter)" becomes even more amusing when you remember who wrote "I Will Always Love You" and for whom, the two cheeky Fifty Shades of Grey references are asinine if not downright repugnant. Let's be frank: the male protagonists in the current tidal wave of erotica are billionaires because when a rich man hits you, it's sexy, but when your trailer park sweetie hits you, it's domestic violence, a "distinction" that the author of "Gunpowder and Lead" would clear up straight away. But when Monroe abjures puns and novelty -- virginity lost in a painfully observed ballad, secret lovers treating each other cruelly in public -- you'll know who gives the Pistol Annies their soul. In the meantime, I await Angaleena Presley's solo album. A
Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer, Different Park (Mercury Nashville) As reality show singing competitions go, Nashville Star is no less meretriciously sappy than American Idol, yet it's somehow managed to produce two major artists where Idol has only squeezed out (and let's be kind here) around 0.5. Although I missed Miranda Lambert's television debut in season one (I caught up the year after, when the presumably predominately female viewership voted for snoozy Brad Cotter and George Canyon over endearingly goofy Roger Miller disciple Matt Lindahl) my best explanation for that statistical anomaly is that unlike Idol, which grooms contestants for the stultifying eventuality they will have little control over what minuscule career lays ahead of them, Star encourages versatility: singing of course, but also, crucially, songwriting. This native of Sulphur Springs, Texas (season five, finished seventh out of a field of nine) hasn't yet cultivated a distinctive vocal style, which may explain her disappointing placing. Instead, she lets her pleasing but plain-jane alto serve as the vehicle for her impressive songwriting, which though Musgraves herself would deny it, bucks traditional country hits-plus-filler philosophy by adhering to the Taylor Swift strategy, i.e., cultivating a strong batch of top ten potentials. In fact, despite Musgraves' downwardly-mobile greasy-spoon-waitress-makes-good aura, such homiletic bromides as "Silver Lining" and "Follow Your Arrow" sit firmly in the Swiftian tradition, except the more worldly Musgraves a) has no qualms shooting down sexist double standards, and b) extols bongloads and boys (". . . .or girls, if that's what you're into") as a corrective. You could argue there's more to heaven and earth than what is dreamt in her somewhat narrow philosophy, that dulling the pain of small town boredom with sex, dope, and consumer culture is no way to get off the merry go round common to blue states, as well as red. I say after years of Stepford blondes this twenty-four year old is a step in the right direction, and that's she's just getting started. A
The Rough Guide to Cumbia (World Music Network) Perhaps Senegal is on my mind because of that Rough Guide compilation I reviewed last month, but comparing that West African nation's music to the cumbia-exporting countries of Colombia, Venezuela, etc. is instructive. Though heavily influenced by that style, the Senegalese music scene is highly competitive: artists vie for the top spot in national contests, ensembles compete against each other to snare a job as a nightclub's house band, with individual members often defecting when a particularly good opportunity presents itself -- or, at least that's how it's always seemed after years of reading dramatic liner notes. By contrast, South American musicians aren't tribal so much as communal, often playing on each other's records, toiling for the handful of labels that dominate the market -- note that the majority of the songs on this compilation are borrowed from the cumbia kingpins at Disco Fuentes. I don't know what that says about Latin-African cultural differences, but I do know that on a good mbalax compilation, songs leap out, fight to distinguish themselves. On a good cumbia compilation -- like this one -- the songs string together seamlessly, with few clunkers spoiling the party, yet few tracks where you say to say yourself, "Oh man, I gotta hear that one again." Excepting the irritating opener "La Guacharaca" (named after the percussion instrument that supposedly inspired it, though "La Fluta" or "El Hustle" might be more appropriate, if anachronistic) this survey is as listenable as any I've ever heard, but boasts no peaks or climaxes, even when the music incorporates "rock" or even "hip hop" elements as a corrective to its inherent gentility. That's why I hope some smart person lassos up more of the artist on the (once again) excellent bonus disc from Los Corraleros de Majagual, whose plentiful hooks are as cheap as their esmoquines. I'll take a chatty accordion over a long-winded flute any day. A
Salva: Odd Furniture (Friend of Friends, EP) Paul Salva's 2011 debut Complex Housing isn't exactly a wash beat-wise, but it nevertheless suffers from the same musical vagaries that plague so many up and coming laptop musicians. This 5-track quickie, the title of which I can only assume is a snide jab at Tyler, the Creator's quickly disintegrating Ottoman empire, snaps to attention in the first bar with an enticing lickety-split rhythm that loops yet another obscure rapper you've never heard of: "You at the club/Every weekend/Bitch/Get a life," which even before the sampled cuíca and cell phone join the fun signal Salva's game: stupid dance music for smart people. Sure, you could complain about Salva dropping the b-word yet again into the hook for the next song, but who can resist the percussive drive of what suggests a dozen typewriters clacking in unison, accented by the whirr of a camera's rapidly advancing motor drive? Boosters insist that hip hop has always been one weapon in this producer's arsenal, but I'm betting his popular 2012 dancefloor remix of Kanye West's "Mercy" convinced him that a heavier dose of it would imbue his two-step with some much needed personality. There are some of those for whom a hook like "back back back back back back it up" repeated over and over at least a hundred times would be akin to Chinese water torture. If, like me, you're one of those people who would blast such a song over and over at the expense of your significant other's mental health, you know what to do. A
Serengeti: Saal (Graveface) I conceive Dave Cohn as sort of a hip hop John Cheever, constantly churning out snapshot vignettes illuminating the details of his place and time, with subcultural ne'er-do-wells replacing the gin-and-tonic set. Unlike Cheever however, whose main outlet still publishes forty-seven times a year, it's probably difficult to convince your otherwise sympathetic record label to pop out another dozen or so songs every time you're ready, nor will beatmasters always have copacetic beats lying around with which to frame your never ending cascade of stories. Nevertheless, the inexhaustible Cohn leapfrogs from collaborator to collaborator, label to label, exhibiting productivity so fecund you wonder why Ryan Adams even bothers. Here he's once again in avant-mode, teaming up with German minimalist musician Tobias Vethake, who provides sparse arrangements consisting of guitar, bells, and cello, against which Cohn sets some of his bleakest narratives: a lazy boyfriend who manipulates his codependent girlfriend from the comfort of his couch, a sorry creep who crashes an ex's wedding wearing a clown nose, a husband who wishes he could redo a ruined evening with his wife, who's most likely lying in the next room as he ruminates in self-pity. The wordplay is so astonishing it would be a shame if his fans lost them in the stillness of Vethake's subtle settings: an abusive mom who gives her karate-loving son "belts and stripes," a pimp who hates tennis because of "the rackets, the courts, the scoring/the time honored tradition." Think Cohn can keep this up for another thirty years, until someone consolidates his greatest hits in one capacious volume? Ask me again in three months. A
They Might Be Giants: Nanobots (Idlewild/Megaforce) In the bizarro world of Brooklyn's John Linnell and John Flansburgh, catchy tunes are like prime numbers: a multitude endlessly spiraling into infinity, mind-bogglingly random in their pattern, and when a new one is discovered, only MIT students give a shit. But though their cleverness quotient is such one figures they might one day prove Riemann's Hypothesis, it hasn't made for great longplayers since their 1986 indie debut, nor have they been able to take full advantage of the band they hired when they realized two men and a drum machine wasn't enough, and the pabulum albums they've released on their own label in the past decade have failed to make a case for autobot autonomy. That's what makes this record such a mindbender -- a dizzying song cycle suggesting the second side of Abbey Road infused with the spirit of Weird Al's polka medleys that dazzles whether the song length is three minutes or thirty seconds. While it goes without saying your subconscious won't know what to wake up humming the next morning, it's worth noting that while their usual modus operandi is to load up their tunes into an airgun, fire away, and see what sticks to the wall, here the tunes aren't just means without ends, they're often appropriated for devious cross-purposes: a sweetly meandering melody for a nonchalantly amoral drone pilot, a poignantly touching threnody for Nikola Tesla, two indelible bars of a saloon-styled singalong protesting Lyme Disease. The bouncy "You're On Fire" proves they've had sex enough times to figure out how to craft an irresistible dance song. In "Stone Cold Coup D'état," they don't just employez une expression étrangère quand anglaise suffira -- they do it twice! And in the rollicking, outrageous, and oh-so-true "Call You Mom" Linnell unashamedly dons a sailor suit and gets down to business with his own Oedipal Complex. The men don't know, but the perpetually boyish nerds understand. The men are missing out. A
Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni) While this unquestionably eclipses American Weekend's hollow bedroom demos, it would be hyperbole to claim former P.S. Eliot bandleader Katie Crutchfield has suddenly transformed her new brand from an art project into a working band. For one thing, the bass and drums -- both commandeered by roommates, one of whom happens to be her boyfriend -- drop in casually and intermittently: she arranges her opener solely for her voice and electric guitar, adds unobtrusive bass and tom-toms to the one that follows, and in both you forlornly wish the assertive crack of a snare drum would jolt the music out of its blankly wide-eyed detachment. Of course "intimacy" is one of Crutchfield's cardinal selling points, much like the early Liz Phair, who Crutchfield resembles in both her vulnerable candor and flattened alto, and certainly Exile in Guyville had its share of austerity, mooniness, woolgathering. But Phair also possessed a shrewd talent for pacing -- on Guyville, the startling immediacy of "6'1"" and "Help Me Mary" grab your attention before segueing into more challenging, nuanced material. Here, Crutchfield rounds out her first half with the loping brushstick pattern of the vaugely country-flavored "Lips and Limbs," another solo turn, then a slow-burning dirge where bass and drums provide the only accompaniment. It's not until track six -- a relationship metaphor disguised as tour van reminiscence, scuzzed up with grungy swirls of electric guitar -- that the players quit fooling around and start acting like a real band, and that song ends prematurely after an economic verse-chorus-verse in 1:46. Yet because Crutchfield no longer sings as if emoting to an opened guitar case or the dirty clothes littering her bedroom floor, now you can finally absorb her highly literate, deeply personal lyrics -- a bitterly observed wedding, an unnerving heroin confession, repressed anger boiling over on the blistering "Misery Over Dispute." And while I'm not sure the meaning of life is learning to "embrace the lows," there's enough spirit in her that I'm betting -- hoping, anyway -- that she rights herself before that swan dive into the asphalt. A
Wussy: Berneice Huff and Son, Bill Sings . . . Popular Favorites (Shake It free download) Sort of like the Beatles' Live at the BBC, except, well, the Beatles never gave it away for free ("Nomenclature," "Retarded," "Runaway") ***
Chelsea Light Moving: Chelsea Light Moving (Matador) Finds out the hard way that muculent riffs and laughably ersatz beat poetry are no way to sever the Gordonian knot ("Sleeping as I Fall," "Lip") **
Nuru Kane: Exile (Riverboat) Well-traveled Senegalese singer-songwriter-bassist does a little bit of this, a little of that, but sometimes I just wish he'd settle for making me dance ("Afrika," "Bayil") **
Marcos Valle: Previsão do Tempo (Light in the Attic) Brazilian singer-songwriter's unearthed 1973 record delights when it presages Tom Zé, intrigues when it celebrates classic tropicalia, and annoys when it blithely sails on The Love Boat ("Mentira (Chega de Mentira)," "Nem Paletó Nem Gravata") **
Richard Thompson: Electric (New West) Siobhan Maher Kennedy plays the Linda role, but not so much Richard would cede her an album credit ("Another Small Thing in Her Favour," "Where's Home?") *
Golden Grrrls: Golden Grrrls (Slumberland) I know there's no money or glory in being labeled the rightful heirs to Standard Fare, but they could up their Kelly Blue Book value by doling out their cute melodies one at a time ("Time Goes Slow," "Date It") *
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra: The Jazz Age (BMG) Don't get me wrong -- nobody likes parlor tricks, shell games, and pomo mind fucks more than I do. And for Bryan Ferry to "validate" the music he once drolly parodied by releasing an album of flapper-era recastings of eleven of his copyrights (six Roxy, seven solo) rather than the usual rehashing of the great American Songbook is pretty funny, and certainly the live-to-mono recording and pianist Colin Good's startling arrangements provide that soupçon of "authenticity." It's also downright ludicrous. Sure, the jitterbugging "Do the Strand" would have made a nifty epilogue to Roxy's For Your Pleasure. But Ferry's long suit has never really been melody -- "Love is the Drug" is many things: a dance floor classic, lead off to landmark album, the blueprint on which Duran Duran forged their sorry careers, and a great vehicle for Bryan's spiffy white tuxedo, but not necessarily a stellar tune. And stellar tunes are what Louis Armstrong and the like were elaborating on when they weren't pulling them out of thin air. I suppose it would have been fascinating to hear Louis and the Hot Fives run "Virginia Plain" or, hell, maybe even "This Island Earth" through some changes. Cornetist/trumpeter Enrico Tomasso is no Armstong. C
Iceage: You're Nothing (What's Your Rupture?) Many bloggers have accused this Danish quartet of dealing in crypto-fascism, most persuasively Scott Creney, who cites their appropriation of suspect iconography (hooded figures, Iron Crosses), their support of right-leaning bands (such as the National Socialist German death metal band Absurd), and lead singer Elias Bender Ronnenfelt's racially-charged drawings. I've also seen plenty of passionate rebuttals -- many point out drummer Dan Kjaer Nielsen is Jewish, and I've even read a testimonial from guitarist Johan Surballe Wieth's mum, who notes the band's concern over the disconcerting populist influence of the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party. I'm sure that's true. But the band has thus far been unwilling to attach their loaded imagery and whatnot to meaningful context either in print or on record -- like Nixon or Reagan, Ronnenfelt continually blames the "media" for misconceptions he's evasive about clearing up. Me myself, I hardly think they goosestep even in the privacy of their own homes -- like the pathetic young punks in my neighborhood sushi joint who bedeck their walls with swastikas, I suspect they're attracted not to ideology, but shock value: they want to be perceived as dangerous, and I'm willing to bet they didn't expect their music to be famous enough outside of Europe so that they'd have to justify their dubious ruses to, say, the American press. I suppose it's easier for me to dismiss this band's sophomore effort because it's less hooky than 2011's New Brigade if equally inscrutable lyrically, but their continuing ambivalence to align themselves anywhere politically -- nothing deeper than the passive "this is what we see and feel" -- is disturbing, and I don't mean aesthetically. The Ramones may have dabbled in this shit too, but Joey and the gang yanked it by the nose and gave it an eye poke, undercutting their brutality with a gleefulness and charity these Danes suspiciously lack. What are they tearing down? What do they want to erect in its place? I have no idea. But nothing in these forbiddingly ascetic anthems for weekend stormtroopers tempts me to find out. B
Jamie Lidell: Jamie Lidell (Warp) "People in the house! Make some noise for MICHAEL SEMBELLOOOO!" B
Pissed Jeans: Honeys (Sub Pop) Less incontinent pants than incompetent rants. B
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell: Old Yellow Moon (Nonesuch) Author of best song: Roger Miller, rounded out by more questionable entries by Patti Scialfa, Matraca Berg, Kris Kristofferson, Crowell himself, and hmmm, some guys from Harris' 70s touring band. C+
The Joy Formidable: Wolf's Law (Atlantic) Ritzy Bryan's Welsh prog-rock trio will never catch on in America -- doesn't she know Rush fans are terrified of women? C
Grouper: The Man Who Died in His Boat (1-2-3-4-Go) Q: What do you call a hundred Enya imitators at the bottom of the ocean? A: a good start. D+
Monday, March 25. 2013
Music: Current count 21188  rated (+24), 595  unrated (+9).
Relatively light week, or maybe just a lot of distractions. One of my cousins, George Edward Hull, died so I attended to various family matters. Finished my project to add some wing shelves around the medicine cabinet in the downstairs half-bath. Listened to the Machito Properbox and wrote it up for April's Recycled Goods. Spent some time fleshing out the Rhapsody Streamnotes March file, which I'll post later this week.
Not really enough Jazz Prospecting below to bother with, but I might as well get it out of the way. Jazz Prospecting from Feb. 2012 up to this week now has its own archive section. (Before that, Jazz Prospecting was collected with the Jazz Consumer Guide, so there was one prospecting file per finished column.)
Michael Blanco: No Time Like the Present (2012 , Cognitive Dissonance): Bassist, based in New York, has a previous album on FSNT. New one is a sleek postbop quintet, with John Ellis on tenor and soprano sax, Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar, David Cook on piano, and Mark Ferber on drums. Ellis does a nice job rifling through the changes. Blanco composed all the tunes, reserving one for his solo spot. B+(*)
Stan Bock & the New Tradition: Feelin' It (2012 , OA2): Plays trombone and euphonium, studied music at Fort Hays State and University of Northern Iowa, spent 19 years in the USAF band; moved to Portland, OR, and has three albums since 2003. Sextet, with two saxes (Renato Caranto and John Nastos), keybs (Clay Giberson), electric bass (Tim Gilson) and drums (Christopher Brown, also credited with alto sax). Bock wrote 4 of 13 songs, Nastos adding 3, Giberson 1, with covers from Cole Porter to Joe Zawinul to Leonard Bernstein. First cut is engagingly slippery, but much of the rest is more conventional. B+(*)
Hungry Cowboy: Dance (2010 , Prom Night): Quartet led by Jacob Wick (trumpet, compositions), with Briggan Krauss (sax), Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), and Mike Pride (drums) -- Krauss you know from Sex Mob, and Pride shows up lots of places. First group album; Wick seems to have a couple other albums (duo with Andrew Greenwald, trio with Jeff Kimmel and David Moré, group Tres Hongos and another, White Rocket). Avant horn split, loses a bit when they slow down. [bandcamp] B+(**) [advance]
Jack Mouse Group: Range of Motion (2012 , Origin): Drummer, did a tour with the USAF's Falconaires. First album; has a handful of side credits, half behind singer Janice Borla. He wrote all the pieces here (sharing one), for a typical postbop group: Scott Robinson (saxes, flute), Art Davis (trumpet), John McLean (guitar), Bob Bowman or Kelly Sill (bass). Some nice passages, especially for the horns. B+(*)
Dick Reynolds: Music & Friends (2012 , Origin): Pianist, based in Chicago, seems to be his first album although he's an old-timer, a professional musician at least since the 1960s. He wrote all the pieces here, several explicitly tributes (Ruben Alvarez, Johnny Frigo, Nancy Wilson, Carol Ettman, Ben Mocini, Stan Getz), and his friends list is extensive. The four big band cuts are crackling, the piano solo at the end a sweet coda. B+(*)
Twins of El Dorado: Portend the End (2012 , Prom Night): Art song duo, Kristin Slipp on voice (singing is a stretch) and Joe Moffett on trumpet, with a guest lyric from Emily Dickinson. Slipp's previous credits include three albums with Cuddle Magic. This is pretty arch, although the trumpet helps. [bandcamp] B-
Mark Weinstein: Todo Corazon: The Tango Album (2012 , Jazzheads): Flute player, sixteen albums since 1996, figured out early that Latin music suits his instrument, and has delved most deeply into Cuban music, with forays into Brazil and now Argentina. Can't fault his planning: Raul Jaurena is the real thing on bandoneon, and he hired bassist Pablo Aslan to arrange the classic tunes. Still comes off awfully flat. Maybe it's the flute? B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, March 18. 2013
Music: Current count 21164  rated (+33), 586  unrated (-16).
Healthy rated count, split between Jazz Prospecting below and Rhapsody Streamnotes, which may come out late this week or early next -- it's still pretty thin, both quantity and quality, with the only real find more than a presidential term old. Didn't come up with an A- record this week -- closest was Mikrokolektyw, which took about five plays before I decided the droney start should weigh in. (Similar complaint about Blaser starting slow, but that would be the runner up.) So I figured I'd rerun the Lovano pic: I wrote that album up as an A- in last month's Rhapsody Streamnotes, and a copy showed up in this week's mail.
A Downloader's Diary is coming in slow again, but I'd like to note that I got Tatum's review of David Greenberger/Paul Cebar's They Like Me Around Here before Christgau reviewed it in Expert Witness. (My own Jazz Prospecting A- note came out back on Feb. 18, so we'll call it a hat trick for an otherwise very obscure record.) He's also complained about the dearth of good new records. By my count, Christgau has only five new A- records in 2013 (Yo La Tengo, Parquet Courts, Ashley Monroe, David Greenberger/Paul Cebar, J Cole [EP]). I have 15, but 10 are jazz (or 11 if you count Greenberger/Cebar, or 12 of 16 if you count Miles Davis). Actually, I think good jazz releases have been coming along at a healthy clip. I'm just not so sure about everything else, but also I haven't been scouring the zines as closely as last year.
Neil Alexander: Darn That Dream: Solo Piano Vol. 1 (2011 , P-Dog): Pianist, looks like his second album, solo, mostly originals (obviously not the title song, here in two takes). Plays for dramatic impact, not unimpressive but leaves me cold. B-
Amikaeyla & Trelawny Rose: To Eva, With Love: A Celebration of Eva Cassidy Live! (2011, Patois): Two San Francisco singers on the make, backed by trombonist Wayne Wallace and his band. Songbook is from Evan Cassidy, who died at 33 of melanoma, had her records issue posthumously, and became something of a cult item -- I've only heard one of them, nothing there inspiring me to search further. This doesn't make me want to go back either, partly because the chances of her fronting a band this good are nil. The singers aquit themselves well, too. B+(*)
Amikaeyla: Being in Love (2012, Roots Jazz): Singer, based in Oakland, third album, wrote (or co-wrote) about half of these pieces, with covers from Jobim, Bill Withers, trad., and others -- an eclectic mix. Lots of guest spots, Weber Iago strings, a duet with "singing percussionist" Linda Tillery, flutes, pretty much the whole kitchen sink. Good singer overdoes it. B
Arnaoudov/Szymanski/Stefens/Pärt/Xenakis/Minchev: Sonograms (1974-97 , Labor): Those are the composers as their names appear on the cover and spine. They are postmodern/postclassical, and their pieces are performed by several Bulgarian musicians, usually solo, especially Benedikta Bonitz (recorders: 7 pieces) and Angela Tosheva (piano: also 7 pieces). There is one piece for string quartet (Steffens), one of the recorder pieces adds cello and Khandjari, another triangles, and one scales up to four recorders. Not quite minimalist nor merely abstract, the piano pieces have some teeth to them, and the recorders provide a nice contrast. I don't get much music like this these days, so it's hard to judge. B+(***)
Carlos Barbosa-Lima & the Havana String Quartet: Leo Brouwer: Beatlerianas (2012 , Zoho): Brouwer doesn't play here. He is a Cuban classical composer and guitarist, b. 1939, and he composed or arranged for guitar and/or string quartet the various pieces here, one quintet as early as 1957. Barbosa-Lima, b. 1944 in Brazil, plays guitar. The title piece is a string of seven Beatles songs, starting unimaginatively (for a string arranger) with "Eleanor Rigby" and ending (equally blah!) on "Penny Lane," with such obvious stops as "Yesterday" along the way. Even understood as kitsch it's hard to convey how awful it is. The later pieces do have some interest: Brouwer evidently had a modernist streak and he works some tough abstractions into the string mix. C+
Samuel Blaser Quartet: As the Sea (2011 , Hatology): Trombonist, from Switzerland, has a handful of albums since 2007. Quartet includes Marc Ducret on guitar, Bänz Oester on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums. One title, four parts, 51:14 total. Starts slow and tentative, but builds up in interesting ways, especially when the guitarist works up a sweat, giving the trombone something to bounce off. Second album I've heard by him, but looks like he has a fair sampling on Bandcamp, including a solo: someone to explore further. B+(***) [advance, bandcamp]
Robb Cappelletto Group: !!! (2012 , self-released): Guitarist, from Canada, studied at York University, "grew up listening to prog metal as much as Wes Montgomery and Buddy Guy." First album, trio with John Maharaj on electric bass and Ahmed Mitchell on drums. B+(**)
Ken Hatfield Sextet: For Langston (2012 , Arthur Circle Music): Guitarist, close to ten albums since 1998. Langston, of course, is Hughes (1902-67), poet, essayist, activist, an icon of the Harlem Renaissance, and the lyricist for fourteen songs here. The singer is Hilary Gardner, possessing one of those soprano voices I often have trouble with, and her voice is smoothed out by Jamie Baum's flute -- a combination that gives this an arty flair. On the other hand, Hatfield's guitar is as tasty as ever, and I suppose people should know more about Hughes. B+(*)
Miho Hazama: Journey to Journey (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from Tokyo, Japan; studied with Jim McNeely at Manhattan School of Music. First album, can't read the credits (microscopic pink-type-on-beige) but roughly speaking a big band (probably short in the brass section) plus a string quartet (Mark Feldman takes a solo). Half a dozen truly arresting passages pop out. B+(*)
Justin Horn: Hornology (2009 , Rotato): Singer-songwriter, studied at University of Idaho, based in Auckland, New Zealand. Qualifies for the jazz niche with his arrangements, notably a robust horn section. [bandcamp] B+(*)
Robert Hurst: Bob: A Palindrome (2001 , Bebob): Bassist, b. 1964 in Detroit, six albums since 1992 including two Unrehurst compilations, side credits include Wynton Marsalis. Draws in some big names here: Branford Marsalis (tenor/soprano sax), Bennie Maupin (alto flute, bass clarinet, tenor/soprano sax), Marcus Belgrave (trumpet/flugelhorn), Robert Glasper (piano/rhodes), Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums), Adam Rudolph (percussion). No track credits, not that it's hard to sort out the saxophonists. Liner notes mentions almost in passing that this was "originally recorded" in 2001: makes me wonder: (a) typo? (b) is this a newer recording? Everyone else goes way back, but Glasper would have been 23, two years shy of his debut. All Hurst pieces, at least one dating to 1985. No edge to the opening flute, but this picks up strength as its many facets emerge, even a thrilling bit of free thrash. B+(***)
Matt and the City Limits: Crash (2012, Island/Def Jam, EP): Singer-songwriter Matt Berman, debut, seven songs, 27:45, which combined with the major label made me think EP. Not really jazz, but he plays alto sax, keeps a tenor player at his side, and the drummer (Amir Williams) does more than keep time, and the guitarist picks out a solo rather than power through it. Intelligent songs and pretty good voice. Closes with an instrumental: "Bring It On Home to Me." B+(**)
Mikrokolektyw: Absent Minded (2012 , Delmark): Duo, from Wroclaw, Poland: Artur Majewski (trumpet, cornet) and Kuba Suchar (drums, percussion), both with electronics, which is to say pretty comparable to Chicago Underground Duo (Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor). Second album, at least on Delmark. Starts slow, agonizing drones mostly, but the pieces work out various rhythmic ideas, and in the end it depends on what the trumpet can do with, and beyond, them -- a lesson from Miles Davis' funk period, applies here too. B+(***)
Nicole Mitchell's Ice Crystal: Aquarius (2012 , Delmark): Flute player, b. 1967, based in Chicago where she's tapped into the AACM, intent on pursuing the avant-garde, but also for lack of flute specialists -- Frank Wess has dominated Downbeat's category poll for close to forty years, and he's main axe is the alto sax -- she's something of a mainstream star. I'm tempted to argue that the lack of good jazz flautists is no accident: the instrument has a limited expressive range and a high register distant from most harmony instruments; also that most jazz flautists are too rooted in classical, where they were at best pretty marginal (exceptions tend to be in Latin and other third world musics). I don't hate it all -- Sam Most's bebop is amusing enough, Robert Dick's bass flute is in its own world, James Newton and those Guadalupeans sure polished up David Murray's Creole -- but sometimes it seems that way. Credit Mitchell for steadfastly trying to make it work, as in this quartet where she finds a suitable partner in Jason Adasiewicz's vibes, or her rawest work with just bass and drums. B+(**)
Giovanni Moltoni: Tomorrow's Past (2012 , C#2 Music Productions): Guitarist, b. in Turin, Italy; has tought at Berklee since 1998. Fifth album, effectively a nice showcase for trumpeter Greg Hopkins, with Fernando Huergo on bass and Bob Tamagni on drums. Moltoni wrote 6 (of 9) songs, the others coming from the band (Hopkins 2, Huergo 1), his guitar weaving tastefully in and out. B+(**)
Dawn Oberg: Rye (2012 , Blossom Theory Music): Piano-playing singer-songwriter from San Francisco -- where "poets go to retox" -- second album, publicist tried to pass her off as the next Amy Rigby but her voice reminds me more of Dory Previn, and maybe the words as well. Literate -- lead song is "Girl Who Sleeps With Books" and she manages to rhyme Thucydides (and not just with Euripides) and name drop Fats Waller. B+(*)
Ron Oswanski: December's Moon (2012 , Palmetto): Organ player, also accordion and piano; studied at Manhattan School of Music; first album, with Tim Ries on sax, Jay Azzolina or John Abercrombie on guitar, John Patitucci on electric as well as acoustic bass. Stays away from soul jazz clichés. B+(*)
RJ and the Assignment: Deceiving Eyes (2012, self-released): Born in Chicago, based in Las Vegas, no indication of any other name pianist RJ is known by. His group, the Assignment, rotates three bassists and three drummers -- not sure I'd call that a group -- and slips in a saxophonist on two cuts, a singer on another. Half originals, with Herbie Hancock and Cedar Walton among the covers. Fine technique, moves along nicely. B+(*)
Troy Roberts: Nu-Jive 5 (2012 , XenDen): Saxophonist (probably alto), from Perth, Australia, fifth album (although only the second named Nu-Jive). Leads a quintet with guitar-bass-drums-keys, keeping up a steady funk beat which Roberts riffs over. Like many pop jazz saxophonists, he can stretch out, and unlike most he's willing to get a bit dirty. B+(*)
Dylan Ryan/Sand: Sky Bleached (2012 , Cuneiform): Rand is a drummer, hitherto mostly associated with the group Herculaneum although he has another dozen side-credits, the only one I recognize Rainbow Arabia (a good 2011 electropop album). This is a guitar trio, with Timothy Young the driving force, Devin Hoff on bass. Ryan wrote most of the pieces. Mostly keeps rockish time, so you can count this as fusion, but sometimes you sense they'd like to move beyond. B+(**)
Donna Singer: Take the Day Off: Escape With Jazz (2012, Emerald Baby): Singer, has this first album and an Xmas set from last year -- haven't gotten to the latter yet. Cover suggests the artist name should be "Donna and Doug" or "D&D" or "Donna Singer & Doug Richards" but the spine is more economical. She is married to Roy Singer, who produced and has some of the writing credits. Richards plays bass and leads the piano trio, which here and there is augmented by trumpet, alto sax, trombone, guitar, and/or extra drums. Some standards -- e.g., Richard Rodgers -- some by Richards, four by Patricia T. Morris. B+(*)
Tomasz Stanko NY Quartet: Wislawa (2012 , ECM, 2CD): Another set by the great Polish trumpeter, who started out on the avant-garde and moderated by age (70) and label still remains one of the world's most distinctive. A few years back he came up with a "young Polish quartet" who continue to work as a piano trio. Here he is traveling alone, picking up a band of locals, which in New York nets him Gerald Cleaver, Thomas Morgan, and a new pianist everyone seems to want to play with these days, David Virelles. Talented as they are, they tend to be deferential, but then it's the trumpet you want to hear anyway. By the way, "Wislawa" is Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012). B+(***)
Eli Yamin/Evan Christopher: Louie's Dream: For Our Jazz Heroes (2012 , Yamin Music): Pianist, b. 1968 in Long Island, has a handful of records since 1998's Pushin' 30, teams up with the clarinetist for salutes to Armstrong, Bechet, Ellington, Bigard, Mary Lou Williams, Mahalia Jackson, John Coltrane, and Amiri Baraka, plus a couple pieces recycled from Yamin's Holding the Torch for Liberty. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: