Wednesday, December 4. 2013
Year after year I present my year-end lists as just that: long, mind-numbing lists like I use every day to keep track of the current year (e.g., 2013, 2012, etc.). Other people's lists generally have cover scans and brief write-ups, and it occurred to me that I have all that. Why not just table it up? So that's what I've done here, at least for the jazz half of my listening.
Normally, I would like to wait until later to get a handle on the whole year -- like March or so -- but Francis Davis set an early deadline for his Critics Poll, so that dictated the timing here. The following is a rank-order list of all the jazz (in some cases loosely defined) albums albums I graded A- (or better) this past year, split between new music (including previously unreleased archival items -- recording date provided) and reissued music (in one form or another). I've also included a half-dozen records that were released in 2012 but I didn't get to until this year -- mostly, but not all, late 2012 releases.
[*] indicates that I reviewed this on the basis of an advance, often a CDR copy (a good thing, I might add, for vinyl-only releases). [**] identifies a record that I've only heard via download or through a streaming service like Rhapsody.
Ballot calls for top three. I get virtually no reissues from publicists -- in particular, I don't get the pricey boxes from Mosaic that always win in this category, nor the voluminous "complete LPs" from Legacy, not even the well-worn classics Concord bothers to reissue. Nor anything from Europe, where most of the interesting reissues come out.
My Jazz Critics Poll ballot picks off the top 10 new releases, the top 3 reissues, and cites one record each for the following categories:
Perelman isn't normally thought of as a Latin Jazz man, but he hails from Brazil, and I didn't have much else competing for the honor: some good records in the high B+ set, but even there I keep coming up with the likes of Roger Davidson (a really fine pianist who's obsessive about Brazilian music) or Kenny Barron (another piano giant who rounded up a bunch of Brazilian musicians for this year's outing). (Actually, there are another half-dozen records on that list by legit Latinos ranging from Diego Barber to Miguel Zenón.)
It's worth noting that the list above was selected from a total of 610 records released in 2013 that I have reviewed and rated, so it represents less than 12% of that total. The number of records I have reviewed has been dropping since the Village Voice stopped running my Jazz Consumer Guide columns: we're down about 100 records since two years ago. I'm slightly up this year only because I've been compensating for the loss by more aggressively seeking out things on Rhapsody, and by reducing my unrated queue by more than half compared to this time last year. But that only goes so far, and the lack of institutional support makes it increasingly hard to review records the way I do.
It will be interesting to compare this list with the year-end lists that feed into the Jazz Critics Poll, with the more mainstream Jazz Times poll (which I don't vote in), and with some of the more avant-oriented polls in Europe (one of which I do vote in). But that's for later. This is what I think now. And if history is anything to go by, in a couple days I'll come up with a record I missed that should have been added to this list.
For further lists covering lower-graded albums, go here.
Monday, December 2. 2013
Music: Current count 22482  rated (+37), 574  unrated (+9).
No Jazz Prospecting this week. Only have two reviews in the scratch file -- at least of records that are out in 2013. Dropped 100 reviews in Saturday's Rhapsody Streamnotes, and since then I've been thinking more about Recycled Goods, which is customarily due about now and at the moment doesn't amount to much. Also, the Jazz Critics Poll, with my ballot due tomorrow. I came up with the idea of substituting that ballot for today's Jazz Prospecting, but didn't get that done either. Hopefully, I'll get my year-end (in jazz, anyway) review posted late tomorrow.
Meantime, note the latest batch of Clean Feeds in the unpacking. Given that they are 2013 releases, I'll move them up toward the head of the queue -- not that I expect any will bum rush my top ten. On the other hand, the average ellapsed time from when I send my ballot in until I find another A- record is about 2 days, and until I find something that cracks the top ten happens more years than not within 30 days. I've worried a lot about that in the past, but figure it's inevitable now, no matter how well prepared I am.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, November 30. 2013
I deliberately stretched this column out until the end of the month, then had to cheat a bit to keep it inside November. Main reason was I didn't want to scoop anyone on the Black Friday Special -- not that I could help having weighed in on four of the seventeen records there (Adam Lane Trio: A-, Revolutionary Ensemble: A-, Boz Scaggs: [**], White Mandingos: A-), but you get six more here, and half of those I wasn't aware of until I started compiling the column: only one I significantly disagree with is Blind Boys of Alabama. I also checked up on seven Turkey Shoot targets (having previously reviewed Body/Head [B-], Dirty Beaches [*], Forest Swords [*], Haxan Cloak [*], Iceage [B], Sigur Rós [B], and Tyler the Creator [B]). That doesn't quite cover them all, and some I'm not as annoyed with as the other critics are, but I'm pretty sure nothing in the Turkey Shoot is worth bothering with, and everything (except Blind Boys of Alabama -- sorry about that) in the Black Friday Special is likely to be interesting.
Aside from the advance intelligence those projects brought me, I've been sniffing around quite a bit lately. Some of what follows are 2012 releases that I looked for back then and only found now -- I stumbled across a list I made a year ago and felt like I ought to follow up on it. There is a little bit of pretty much everything that interests me, and more of it is good than bad. I spent very little time searching for turkeys this month -- much more interesting to check out records with some reputation, especially from quarters which monitor promising niches. Just to pick one example, I tracked down two of the more obscure records on Jason Gross' list that put Boards to Canada to shame, and gave one an A-, the other B+(***).
One thing that moved this along was that once I settled on a grade, I didn't sweat the writing. The best album this month is the one by MIA, which I played about eight times but I never put any effort into writing about it. If you want to know about Omar Souleyman or Tal National or Tamikrest (or Arcade Fire), check out Michael Tatum's reviews. I concurred quickly enough, then let them go. (I'm less impressed with Sleigh Bells, even after giving it an extra play.) And working as fast as I was, there was even less reason to try to detail a Kim Richey or a Billy Currington.
One result is that I hit 100 records this month. (It was 97 before I indexed them, so I added Dismemberment Plan and when I went looking for Gretchen Parlato I found Gretchen Wilson instead -- no improvement, I'm sure, but an easier mark for so late in the cycle.) This also pushes the overall Rhapsody index over the 4,000 record mark (since 2007, including records that went into Recycled Goods -- lately most of them).
Main thing this month has done has been to give me a jump on the annual year-end list extravaganza. My main tool here has been the metacritic file, which currently lists 5537 notable records this year (its poorer cousin, which collects reissues, compilations, and archival material, adds 706 titles). The sheer size of these files makes my 100 records seem paltry. But it offers about as thorough view of the landscape as one person can ascertain. We'll see how well that works. But one cautionary note is that six of the seventeen Black Friday Special records were missing from the metacritic file before they were nominated -- more than one-third.
One more housekeeping note: I've been showing album covers for all the A- (and above) records, and I routinely cache them. It occurred to me that I have several B+(***) records already cached (e.g., for Tatum's column) so why not show them too? Then I added links for a few more covers I found at CDConnection (a trick I started using for last year's Turkey Shoot and continued for Tatum's "trash" records). That left holes for the more obscure B+(***) records, so I tried boxing the titles rather than just (inexplicably) leaving them out. Put the A-list above the HMs. Still more words than pictures.
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 October 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (4043 records).
Jhené Aiko: Sail Out (2013, Def Jam, EP): Los Angeles singer-songwriter's debut -- seven tracks, 30:22, close to the EP/LP borderline. She has a lax beats and a languid soulfulness, makes for a nice contrast with guest rappers (Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, Vince Staples). First half is much sharper, so it's probably a good thing she quit when she did. B+(**)
Gary Allan: Set You Free (2013, MCA Nashville): Nashville slugger, earlier albums styled him as Alright Guy and Living Hard, ninth album since 1996 offers little new but it flows better than usual, never falls off the rails or off the wagon, which makes him alright in my book. B+(*)
Alsarah Débruit: Aljawal (2013, Soundway): Single-name singer and producer, respectively. Alsarah with her soaring high voice was born in Sudan, spent time in Yemen, wound up in Brooklyn. Débruit is French, has some experience remixing artists from Turkey to Africa, and sometimes gets the upper hand here. B
Arcade Fire: Reflektor (2013, Merge, 2CD): Having admired but almost never played their previous albums, my opinion on this one can't count for much. I'll leave it to other critics to suss out what it means and how it fits into a oeuvre that began with a funeral, but I mostly respond to texture and sound anyway. I can say that the first disc is close to sublime, the second somewhat less so. And it probably helps that neither is very long, and that you can choose which to play when. A- [cd]
Mulatu Astatke: Skeches of Ethiopia (2013, Jazz Village): Ethiopian composer and keyboardist, studied in London and Boston, and worked for a spell in New York with Duke Ellington. He developed his Ethio-Jazz synthesis in the 1970s, and has a handful of albums, but this is the first time he's been able to employ a big band under his own direction. A-
Balqees: Majnoun (2013, Rotana): Yemeni pop singer Balqees Fathi in a set of glitzy, chintzy productions that suggest Bollywood but the music is so much stranger -- the rhythm stops and starts as often as in Afro-Cuban and the synth strings glide around notes we don't recognize as such. Still, it has the air of shameless pop, just from another world. B+(***)
Willis Earl Beal: Nobody Knows (2013, Hot Charity/XL): Singer-songwriter born in Chicago, joined the army and got discharged, moved to Albuquerque, lived on the streets, wrote poetry and picked up some rudimentary music skills. Second album, brings a lot of gravity to his hapless songs. B
Tim Berne's Snakeoil: Shadow Man (2013, ECM): Second album for this quartet -- the leader, playing only alto sax here, has dozens of albums since 1979 -- with Oscar Noriega (clarinet, bass clarinet), Matt Mitchell (piano), and Ches Smith (drums, vibes). Album starts off on a measured note, but opens up with several long and incendiary pieces -- at least no one will wonder if Berne is toning it down to fit in at his notoriously laid back label. B+(***) [dl]
Best Coast: Fade Away (2013, Mexican Summer, EP): Seven-cut, 27:01 EP following two albums that appeal to alt fans who like pop hooks, manages to concentrate them so deftly that I would probably be won too over if I weren't so given to discounting EPs. B+(***)
Eric Bibb: Jericho Road (2013, Stony Plain): A blues singer with folk and jazz roots -- father was folksinger Leon Bibb and uncle was jazz pianist John Lewis, has more than two dozen albums since 1977, often understated with acoustic guitar and plain decency, but the bonus track ("Now") is one to avoid. B+(*)
Billy Joe + Norah: Foreverly (2013, Reprise): Green Day guitarist-singer Billy Joe Armstrong and genial superstar Norah Jones remake the Everly Brothers' 1958 album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, backed by bass and drums. Their voices don't mesh all that well, and the songs have lost significance, much as "Daddy" has lost that terrifying authority. B
Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow: Trios (2013, ECM): Piano-sax-bass, Sheppard playing tenor and soprano, his leads crisp and tantallizing, on what I gather are all Bley compositions. Lack of drums gives it a chamber effect, for better and worse, not that it wouldn't be perfectly suitable, to cite an early Bley title, for dinner music. B+(***) [dl]
Blind Boys of Alabama: I'll Find a Way (2013, Masterworks): Another long, strange trip, as a blind children's gospel group founded in Talladega in 1944 grew up and became a Grammy-winning institution, lately struggling with the sameness of their songbook by inviting guests to spruce it up -- producer Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), Merrill Garbus (Tune-Yards), Sam Amidon, Patty Griffin. I still can't help but think the old-time stuff is the best, nor do I have much use even for it. B
Boards of Canada: Tomorrow's Harvest (2013, Warp): Two Scottish brothers, Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin, offer 17 pieces, dubbed ambient techno because it doesn't do much, though some of it is pleasant enough. ("New Seeds" is better than that.) B
VV Brown: Samson & Delilah (2013, YOY): British soul singer, her retro debut was one of my favorite albums of 2010, but things haven't gone well since then. A second album was quashed by the label, and this successor veers far away from the first -- still has some dance beats, but they're more '90s than '60s. Some are even impressive (e.g., "The Apple"). B+(*)
Luke Bryan: Crash My Party (2013, Capitol Nashville): His nonstop drinking party with all those girls he imagines crashing (or crushing) could be a setup for humor (if he had such a sense), but he's wound up so tight he makes it all sound pathetic, and not like, say, Conway Twitty (to pick a name he dropped) -- indeed, the artist this most reminded me of was Meatloaf. He's such a caricature any hack in Nashville can feed him songs -- he only wheedled two co-credits here, probably slipping in lines about listening to country radio stations. C
Jake Bugg: Jake Bugg (2012 , Mercury): Young Brit singer-songwriter, plays guitar and blows harmonica so some people discern a whiff of early Dylan (without memorable words) or I might add early Elliott Murphy (without pop hooks, either), which all pleasantries aside doesn't leave much. B
The Cannanes: Howling at All Hours (2013, Chapter Music): Australian group, fourteenth album since 1985. The only Cannane in the group is guitarist Michelle, but the singers are Annabel Bleach and Stephen O'Neil. Tuneful alt-rock, more guitar focus than, say, the Go-Betweens, similar dynamic, but less to say. B+(**)
The Cannanes: Small Batch (2013, Exro FM, EP): Six cuts, 17:54, less guitar, more pop, always a good deal in my book. B+(**)
The Carper Family: Old-Fashioned Gal (2013, South Central Music): Austin string trio -- bassist Melissa Carper, Beth Chrisman on violin and Jenn Miori on guitar -- harmonizes on old-fashioned tunes, a category that doesn't exclude Neil Young's "Comes a Time." B+(**)
The Chills: Somewhere Beautiful (2011-12 , Fire): New Zealand indie pop group, principally Martin Phillips, released two fabulous albums 1990-92 but little since then, recorded this live at a New Years Eve party. So this is effectively a "greatest hits (plus a few rarities) live" -- i.e., would have been redundant product twenty years ago, but a belated memoir now. B+(**)
Chvrches: The Bones of What You Believe (2013, Glass Note): Glasgow electropop group, after a well-received EP their debut comes on big and heavy-handed. B
The Civil Wars: The Civil Wars (2013, Sensibility/Columbia): Joy Williams and John Paul White, both singers and songwriters, White plays the acoustic guitar that underlines their folk/Americana genre claim, but producer Charlie Peacock doesn't leave it at that. Second album, not counting a co-credit for a T-Bone Burnett soundtrack. I can't get enough out of the songs to care, but sometimes her voice seems to carry the song, and sometimes it ovedramatizes it. B-
Elvis Costello and the Roots: Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs (2013, Blue Note): The great hope here is the band, especially given that Ahmir Thompson shares all but one of the writing credits. Probably good enough for his best in 20 years, maybe since Blood and Chocolate. Easily the Roots' worst in that same time slice. B+(*)
Court Yard Hounds: Amelita (2013, Columbia): Sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, who formerly flanked Natalie Maines in the Dixie Chicks, with their second album. Indeed, this sounds like a Dixie Chicks album without a lead singer, which is to say more harmony than personality. Title song is rather tedious. B
Stephan Crump/Mary Halvorson: Secret Keeper: Super 8 (2011 , Intakt): Bass-guitar interaction, something Crump has had remarkable success at (although more often in his Rosetta Trio than as a duo); of course, Halvorson is less likely to follow his lead, and more likely to do something unexpected on her own. B+(**)
Billy Currington: We Are Tonight (2013, Mercury Nashville): Nashville singer, fifth album since 2002, chalk him up as a good natured pro. B+(*)
Deap Vally: Sistrionix (2013, Island): Two LA girls, Lindsey Troy (guitar) and Julie Edwards (drums), the songs mostly built on bass riffs (presumably played on the guitar, although the studio album could be beefed up beyond the concert pics, which only show the duo), the vocals adding several joke effects to a pretty amusing Robert Plant impression. Would be better without the last two cuts, where they stretch out. B+(*)
Death Grips: No Love Deep Web (2012 , Third Worlds/Harvest): Metal-edged rap group, cut this as a follow up to last year's above-ground debut, The Money Store, then when Epic balked at releasing it they dumped it out as a free mixtape, like their real debut (Exmilitary). Their sound has instant appeal but quickly turns grating. Took a little longer this time, but the relentless battering adds up all the same. B
Della Mae: This World Oft Can Be (2013, Rounder): All-female bluegrass band from Boston, mostly original material despite the quaintness of the title. B
The Devil Makes Three: I'm a Stranger Here (2013, New West): Two guitarists and a bassist, sixth album since 2002, lean a little more folk than country but got some twang and an easy touch. B+(*)
The Dismemberment Plan: Uncanney Valley (2013, Partisan): DC punk/hardcore band, at least during its initial run 1995-2003 when they were scarcely noticed, but when their albums were reissued last year they were greated as classics of a former era, so why not regroup? (It's not like Travis Morrison's solo career had gone anywhere.) However, this reunion has been panned as widely as the reissues were praised: seems they've returned as a catchy alt-pop outfit with nary a punk or hardcore bone -- unless you count the one where the audience is urged to shout "fuck" when the band sings "cluster"? Maybe in another generation this will be remembered as a classic, too. B+(**)
Don't Talk to the Cops!: Let's Quit (2012, Greedhead): Seattle group, some sketch comedy (not necessarily meant to be funny), some rap, some post-new wave something or other, with occasional pop hooks, not that they'd cop to them. B+(**)
Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (2013, Aftermath): Plenty of reasons to pass this one by -- you may even wish he'd experience one of those cardiac arrests he wishes on others for a better world. Hoping to regain the vigor of his youth, he's dialed it back to crazy, but you know the one about "history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce"? Well, it's funnier in art than in real life. And his use of sound samples remains peerless, probably because he's not afraid of using something as square and white as "The Game of Love." Nor does he stop at sampling, as he rewrites Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good" -- still good, just not that easy. A- [cd]
Ethernet: Opus 2 (2013, Kranky): Ambient electronics, with a patina of fake static to reinforce the idea of a radio searching the lonely cosmos. B+(*)
Fear of Men: Early Fragments (2011-13 , Kanine, EP): British group led by Jessica Weiss, dubbed "dream pop" but could just as well be punk with soft edges and more tune sense. This rolls up three singles and bits from two EPs, totalling eight cuts, 25:03. Nice start. B+(**)
Sky Ferreira: Night Time, My Time (2013, Capitol): First album after some EPs and a 21st birthday, the lead tease "Boys" is covered in shoegaze, but midway through the glaze starts to clear, simplifying the formula and making her more appealing; still stays on the rock side of pop as the haze returns. B+(**)
Fist City: It's 1983, Grow Up! (2012 , Black Tent Press): Four-piece punk band from southern Alberta, two singers (Brittany Griffiths, Kier Griffiths), second album, only runs 26:58 but I'm not inclined to tag an album with 12 songs as an EP. B+(**)
The Foreign Exchange: Love in Flying Colors (2013, Foreign Exchange Music): A long distance duo, with Dutch producer Nicolay mailing his beats in and North Carolina soulman Phonte Coleman laying in the vocals, or perhaps layerng them on is more accurate here. B+(*)
Josephine Foster: I'm a Dreamer (2013, Fire): Folk singer-songwriter, originally from Colorado, based in Chicago, records for a UK label. B+(*)
Ezra Furman: Day of the Dog (2013, Bar/None): Cut three albums plus a compilation of "bootlegs and road recordings" with a band he called the Harpoons, then appeared bloodied on his solo debut -- I guess it's a tough life for former Tufts U. students. This one starts with "I Wanna Destroy Myself" and, flailing that, "Tell 'Em All to Go to Hell" and "My Zero," then the title tune. Helps that they all rock (as in "rock and roll") out -- no point in us having to share his misery. A-
Future of the Left: How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident (2013, Prescriptions): British band, where there's a tradition of lefty jingoism in bands like Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, which this group sounds more like each time out -- this is rougher and scruffier than previous albums, angrier too, though not smart enough to evoke references to Mekons or Gang of Four. B+(**)
Kevin Gates: The Luca Brasi Story (2013, Atlantic): Rapper from Baton Rouge, has a stack of mixtapes since 2007 that after this one dropped (on Bread Winners Association) landed him a contract with Atlantic. Rhapsody attributes both this and his newer album to Atlantic, but I'm not seeing product there: it's just that the Rhapsody version is only 9 cuts long (vs. 22 on the mixtape). I suspect that given the gangsta theme brevity is a plus: this hangs tough until it cuts loose midway with "Idgraf." B+(**)
Kevin Gates: Stranger Than Fiction (2013, Bread Winners Association): Guess this is still a mixtape, regardless of Gates' label affiliation -- may mean it's not ready for prime time, and I can't really argue otherwise. Does hit hard, though. B+(**)
Glasser: Interiors (2013, True Panther Sounds): Cameron Mesirow, singer-songwriter working with synths, parents were both in bands, her mother a founder of Human Sexual Response. Alternately intriguing and ordinary, almost as an aesthetic statement. B+(*)
Ariana Grande: Yours Truly (2013, Island/Republic): The pictures show a cute girl who scarcely looks her 20 years, but she's been working hard for the last five and thoroughly owns her debut album, overcoming the mass of writers and producers -- most notably Babyface Edmonds -- and featured guests (including Big Sean, Mac Miller, and, hey, Mika) in her big deal production. Danceable, sure, but looking beyond the teen market, and thankfully she doesn't feel the need to show she learned to sign in church, nor to play up that she started on Broadway. B+(***)
Greenhouse [Blueprint/Illogic]: Bend but Don't Break (2013, Weightless): Two underground rappers from Ohio, Blueprint had a superb album in 2005 (1988), Illogic has five albums since 2000, and they have one previous joint as Greenhouse. Resilient beats, steady rhymes, smart and conscious. [NB: Rhapsody only has 7/11 cuts, 25:44] B+(***)
Sunna Gunnlaugs: Distilled (2013, Sunny Sky): Pianist from Iceland, with Þorgrímur Jónsson (bass) and Scott McLemore (drums). Nice, even-handed piano trio. B+(*)
Mary Halvorson Quintet: Bending Bridges (2011 , Firehouse 12): Guitarist, sometimes brilliant, flanked by Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet) and Jon Irabagon (alto sax) -- two horns that can burn down the house although they hold back here, doing little more than reiterating tricky lines laid down on the guitar. B+(**)
Mary Halvorson Septet: Illusionary Sea (2012 , Firehouse 12): Adds two lower-pitched horns to last year's Quintet -- Jacob Garchik's trombone and Ingrid Laubrock's tenor sax -- with the net effect that she's writing more leads for the horns rather than just letting them tag along after his guitar. And when her guitar does break loose she can really shine -- so why rein it all in just to spotlight your clever postbop composition? And to think, this started off looking like the year Jon Irabagon could do no wrong. Even John Hébert has his nose stuck so deep in the charts he can't save the day. B+(**)
Wayne Hancock: Ride (2013, Bloodshot): Sounds more like Hank Williams than Hank III, and on "Long Road Home" wrote a song that would do Hank proud. More mundanely, three songs feature "blues" in the title, and that doesn't count "Deal Gone Down" -- or proof he really is a modern guy: "Cappuccino Boogie." A-
Tim Hecker: Virgins (2011-12 , Kranky): From Vancouver, classified as ambient but strikes me as more oriented to sound abstractions, often starting with acoustic instruments and feeding them into various distortion electronics -- e.g., starts with a pipe organ here, which is nobody's notion of ambient. No beats, nothing danceable, perhaps in the Electronica world "ambient" just means sit down and shut up. B
Jaipur Kawa Brass Band: Dance of the Cobra (2013, Riverboat): Brass band plus percussion from India, some nods toward the local classical music but the instrumentation a "gift" courtesy of British imperialism. Was wondering how close this might match up with the Gypsy brass bands of Eastern Europe, and the answer is not much, but it's even further removed from British march band music -- one does have some choice over which "gifts" to keep. B+(*)
Ka: The Night's Gambit (2013, Iron Works): Kaseem Ryan, from Brooklyn, "been rhyming for over 20 years" but has a thin portfolio, a purist, I suppose; beats are rudimentary, voice low and talky, so he has to make those rhymes count. B+(**)
Toby Keith: Drinks After Work (2013, Show Dog Nashville): Twentieth album (counting three Xmas specials), got a voice and a guitar and half-a-brain, and makes up for the latter by hiring Bobby Pinson to co-write most of his songs -- I figure he gets credit for fixing up the couplet that goes, "could we ever get back together/or is never still a good time to call." Deluxe edition adds "Call a Marine" -- evidently, they're as effective busting up southern bars as they are at blowing up shit in Afghanistan. B
King DJ: Let Me See You Feel (2013, Bear Funk): Kristof Hilde Hugo Michiels, from Belgium, first album after a pair of EPs, offers big dance beats, a house throwback I think -- at one point I expected Fatboy Slim to jump in and sling some shit -- and when you think he might run out of steam, he doubles back and pumps up the volume. A-
Kwes.: Ilp. (2013, Warp): Artist prefers lower case and insists on those periods, annoying traits of a piece with the fussy arbitrariness of his music -- seems to be a Tricky in training, having yet to find his true Schadenfreude but willing to go through the motions anyway. B-
Lady Gaga: Artpop (2013, Interscope/Streamline): I've always found her resistible before, but she's jacked her dance-pop sound up so huge it's overwhelming. Now I wonder what insidious messages she's trying to sneak into the lyrics, but can't come up with much worse than "fashion" and something about "swine." A-
Latyrx: The Second Album (2013, Latyramid): The first album came out in 1997, so this has been a long time coming -- not that Lateef (the Truth Speaker) and (especially) Lyrics Born haven't been active in the meantime. A-
Le1f: Tree House (2013, Greedhead): Khalif Diouf, tied into Das Racist, second album, dark and dinky, then jingly. B+(*) [sc]
Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip: Repent Replenish Repeat (2013, Sunday Best): Third album for the English hip-hop duo (they each have a couple solo projects), Dan does the grime beats, Pip the words which skitter across the tracks, too many too fast for me to follow but now and then I grab something that makes me think they're on the right track. "You Will See Me" is the exception, built up grand rather than flattened out. B+(***)
Ryan Maffei: Country Town (2013, Jamrag, EP): Seven cuts, 23:32. Maffei is someone I sorta know first through the commentary on Christgau's late MSN blog -- a fan, a critic, a grad student who will probably wind up in academia but is having fun here, smart enough that even his bad ideas have panache, except for the echoey, uneven sound, which he probably thinks is part of the fun. B+(***) [dl]
¡Mayday!: Believers (2013, Strange Music): Hip hop group from Miami, rappers go by Bernbiz and Wrekonize, but group also includes a band -- like the Roots but less funky, the band stabilizes the sound and evens out the flow, sometimes making them seem more subtle than the wordsmiths intend. B+(***)
MIA: Matangi (2013, Interscope): "You keep on telling me you want to have it all/Tell me what for?" A [cd]
Oneohtrix Point Never: R Plus Seven (2013, Warp): Daniel Lopatin, ninth album under this moniker, offers electronics with a little choral camouflage, the beats intriguing at first but the slow stuff doesn't capitalize on that. B+(**)
Klaus Paier/Asja Valcic: Silk Road (2013, ACT): Duets, accordion player from Austria, also plays bandoneon when he wants to shift the model from polka to tango, and cellist from Croatia, who must have logged a lot of classical music before she reoriented toward jazz. B+(*)
Parkay Quarts: Tally All the Things That You Broke (2013, What's Your Rupture?, EP): I'm still prejudiced against these EP things, especially given that the analog group Parquet Courts has proven their mettle over LP length, but this is pretty satisfying for only five cuts, 19:38, with the short ones going punk, and the 7:38 closer stretching out a riff that could go even longer. B+(***)
William Parker Quartet: Live at Yoshi's 2006 (2006 , AUM Fidelity): First two of eight CDs in the box set Wood Flute Songs: Anthology/Live 2006-2012, all built around the superb quartet bassist Parker assembled for his 2000 album O'Neal's Porch: Lewis Barnes (trumpet), Rob Brown (alto sax), and Hamid Drake (drums), the bassist also credited with "double reeds." First disc starts off with the weepy 25:12 opener, "Tears for the Children of Rwanda." After a long intro, the horns come out to play, and they banish any thoughts of wood flutes, even on "Wood Flute Song." B+(***)
William Parker Quartet: Live in Houston 2007 (2006-07 , AUM Fidelity, 2CD): The bassist's credit includes "double reeds" and shakuhachi" -- probably the secret ingredient to the exotic vamp of "Red Desert; more song titles although they merge together like inspired long improv, and the flow benefits from two songs with "Groove" in the title; only problem, if that's the word, is when the flow breaks down for a spot of virtuoso bass (or some of that wood flute); includes two tracks evidently left over from Yoshi's. B+(***)
William Parker/Raining on the Moon: Friday Afternoon (2012 , AUM Fidelity): Group named for one of Parker's finest albums (2002), with pianist Eri Yamamoto supplementing the Lewis Barnes-Rob Brown two-horn quartet, and Leena Conquest's working her way through the difficult terrain to sing; she's remarkable in ways that remind one of Betty Carter although she makes it look easier; and by the way, it's time we point out again what a fantastic drummer Hamid Drake is. A-
William Parker/In Order to Survive: Kalaparusha on the Edge of the Horizon (2012 , AUM Fidelity): CD 8 of the box set, minus two outtakes from Corn Meal Moon considered a bonus with the box set. In Order to Survive was a Parker group from the mid-1990s: the Quartet (Lewis Barnes on trumpet, Rob Brown on alto sax, Hamid Drake on drums) plus Cooper-Moore on piano. Live set from the 2012 Vision Festival. If Rob Brown did all that high shit on alto I'm doubly impressed, although that might reinforce the notion that soprano players just don't have the dexterity. And the pianist is just amazing: sets like this make you nominate Cooper-Moore for the most underrated pianist of the last few decades. A-
Pink Martini: Get Happy (2013, Heinz): Portland, Oregon's multilingual lounge band jumps all over the map, opening with "Ich Dich Liebe," followed by "Quizás, Quizás, Quizá," and pretty soon they're into "Je Ne T'aime Plus" and "Pâná Când Nu Te Iubeam" and "Üsküdar'a Gider Iken" and "Zundoko-Bushi" before they segué into Irving Berlin from Anna McGarrigle and close with "Get Happy/Happy Days/Smile" with a brief Scott Joplin interlude. If that sounds like your kind of album, it probably is. Me, I'm always happy to hear China Forbes sing anything, but I'm less sure about the blokes who slip in here and there, like Rufus Wainwright. B+(***)
Gregory Porter: Liquid Spirit (2013, Blue Note): Jazz musicians are the world's virtuosos on every instrument, but jazz vocalists, especially male, are far from world class, trying to make up for various shortcomings with idiosyncratic affects. Beats me why so many critics think Porter has moved to the fore of their pack, but I could say the same about any of the anointed ones, from Jon Hendricks to Kurt Elling to Jamie Cullum. And now that Porter's writing more of his own songs he has fewer good ones, although his choice of covers may be help obscure that fact. B-
The Pozniaks: Pozniak Street (2013, Jamrag): First album, short (26:37, in 10 fast ones), Tim Brauer (guitars) and Ryan Maffei (keyboards), both sing and someone drums. Classic pop hooks flung about casually, recklessly even, lest someone suspect a cliché or a whiff of professionalism. Reminds me of a circa 1990 band, the Pooh Sticks, not least Joe Levy's excessive enthusiasm for them -- not warranted then, but applicable here. A- [dl]
Pusha T: My Name Is My Name (2013, Def Jam): Former Clipse MC delivers another paean to the good life of American capitalism, which means dealing drugs not just because he enjoys being knee-deep in the money but because "I gotta be me." A-
Rapsody: She Got Game (2013, Jamla): Marianna Evans, from North Carolina, has an album and several mixtapes, most produced by 9th Wonder, who doesn't go for anything too fancy; don't doubt that she's got her game, but few of the numerous male guests hold their own. B+(*)
Kim Richey: Thorn in My Heart (2013, Yep Roc): Country-ish singer-songwriter, low-keyed and observant. B+(**)
Rihanna: Unapologetic (2012, Def Jam): Missed it last year, and now that it's available it's too late to matter much, but this is as consistently hook-filled as ever -- which is to say not quite enough. B+(***)
Venissa Santi: Big Stuff: Afro Cuban Holiday (2013, Sunnyside): Jazz singer, raised in Ithaca, NY; grandfather a composer in Cuba, explaining her interest in Cuban musical forms. Holiday is Billie, whose songbook is recast in Afro-Cuban forms -- e.g., "Strange Fruit" is a bolero, "I Cover the Water Front" a guaguanco. B+(*)
São Paulo Underground: Beija Flors Velho E Sujo (2012 , Cuneiform): Fourth group release, a sister city analog to the various Chicago Underground outfits, the common denominator cornet player (and electronics dabbler) Rob Mazurek, adding Guilherme Granado on keyboards and Mauricio Takara on percussion, with everyone fiddling with electronics. The cornet is striking, but beyond that it's hard to find a rhythmic thread or much coherency in the sound jumble. B+(*) [dl]
Secret Circuit: Tactile Galactics (2013, Beats in Space): Eddie Ruscha Jr., son of the pop art painter; Discogs credits him with nine albums since 1996 but AMG has only noticed this one. A mix of things, some vocal, others ornate instrumentals, lush by electronica standards, sparse as pop. B+(***) [bc]
Zahava Seewald/Michaël Grébil: From My Mother's House (2013, Sub Rosa): Seewald, based in Belgium, has a handful of Jewish folk song albums, but this is more problematic with long stretches of spoken word in more languages than most of us can grok. Grébil's music is dense and brooding, and sometimes overwhelms the words. B+(*)
Shad: Flying Colours (2013, Black Box): Shadrach Kabango, born in Kenya, based in Canada, has a couple good records, and after a slow start this reminds you what's good about them -- conscious, everyday raps over run of the mill beats. B+(**)
Chris Shiflett & the Dead Peasants: All Hat and No Cattle (2013, Side One Dummy, EP): Foo Fighters guitarist turns out to have a country jones. I haven't heard his 2010 group album where he took the trouble to write original songs, but this quickie covers album -- ten of them, only one more than 3:04 so the total is down in EP territory at 27:41 -- is fun all the way through. B+(**)
Sleigh Bells: Bitter Rivals (2013, Lucky Number): Third album for the jangle-pop duo, relatively short with ten songs averaging less than 3 minutes. Makes a big impression with all that clang and bombast, overwhelming the skimpy vocals which try to tie the effects up into songs -- sometimes that almost works, but more often I find the result too unsettling to enjoy. B+(**)
Sons of Kemet: Burn (2013, Naim): English jazz quartet, two of them drummers which among other things means they can keep a beat going and improv on it, the other two horn players, with sax-and-clarinet player Shabaka Hutchings, born in England but raised in Barbados, leading, and tuba player Oren Marshall holding down the bottom. The upbeat stuff is uproarious, the slow stuff -- including an overly reverential "Rivers of Babylon" -- sly and subtle, but less fun. B+(***)
Omar Souleyman: Wenu Wenu (2013, Ribbon Music): Syrian wedding center, "dabke artist" to those who know of such things. A- [dl]
Speedy Ortiz: Major Arcana (2013, Carpark): Guitar band from Northampton, MA, led by Sadie Dupuis, seems to take Pavement as a model although they are too stuck in their garage to make for much of a comparison. B+(**)
Jyotsna Srikanth: Call of Bangalore (2013, Riverboat): Violinist from Bangalore in southern India, started in classical Carnatic music but also studied at Royal School of Music in London, where she is currently based. Her name on some records is preceded by Dr. -- she also has a medical degree in clinical pathology. One piece runs 39:38, the others 5-12 minutes. B+(*)
Swearin': Surfing Strange (2013, Wichita): Alison Crutchfield, started in Alabama with her sister Katie in P.S. Elliot, split and moved to Brooklyn and started this band with Kyle Gilbride. Second album, still lo-fi but muscled up the guitar, which is more fun for them than revealing for you. B+(**)
Tal National: Kaani (2013, Fat Cat): Band from Niger, the chunk of Saharan desert wedged between prolific Mali and barren Chad, north of hugely populated Nigeria and south of the empty interior of Libya. Most bands from Niger are Tuareg blues-rock outfits, and this one maintains some of their spartan rigor, but they've also tuned into the thumb piano percussion of Kinshasa. A-
Tamikrest: Chatma (2013, Glitterhouse): Tuareg group from northern Mali, deep in the Sahara, debuted on Festival in the Desert and now have three albums. Like many "Saharan blues" bands they have a spare, understated elegance, as straightforward as rock and roll but at a more measured pace. A-
The Thing: Boot! (2013, The Thing Records): Norwegian avant-sax trio -- Mats Gustafsson, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Paal Nilssen-Love -- presumably named for the horror film, a nod toward pop culture that occasionally they would reiterate by running an alt-rock tune through their machinery, but the two covers this time come from Coltrane and Ellington, a bit of sophistication the saxman beats to a bloody pulp. B+(*)
Linda Thompson: Won't Be Long Now (2013, Pettifer Sounds): Ex-partner Richard Thompson has released an album virtually every year since their breakup, a work ethic unfazed no matter how torturous the love life chronicled in his songs. His better half released one tentative album in 1985, then nothing until 2002 when she made her first steps toward a comeback. Two albums later, she's made it. B+(***)
Those Darlins: Blur the Line (2013, Ow Wow Dang): Nashville band, third album, started with three girls, album cover now shows off four bare asses and eight legs, half male. Singer Jessi Zazu has lost most of her country affects, turning the group into a straight alt-rock band, maybe a little off color. B+(*)
Valerie June: Pushin' Against a Stone (2013, Sunday Best): Surname Lockett, classed by genrefiers as folk but comes close to suggesting that the promiscuous but segregated musics of her home base of Memphis -- country, soul, and rock and roll -- have finally melted and fused, though the occasional echoes of old string bands and a whiff of gospel give her a distinctive edge. B+(***)
Gretchen Wilson: Right on Time (2013, Redneck): Still young enough she gets a kick out of grandma getting high, but old enough to discover that other people being crazy isn't always so much fun. Fact is, nothing much is fun any more -- not even having the biggest truck, or the heaviest band. B-
Gretchen Wilson: Under the Covers (2013, Redneck): Covers album, usually a look back into her roots and influences, which unsurprisingly are all rock and curiously almost all date from a couple years before or after her birth in 1973. Two of the performances even resonate (Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison); the rest don't (Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, Cheap Trick, Bad Company, Journey, Jackson Browne, Billy Squier). B
Within Reason: Transient Broadcasts (2013, Anodize): Gregory T. Kyryluk side project -- he also does work as Alpha Wave Movement and Open Canvas and has a 2005 album under his own name -- something I was tipped off to by Jason Gross' list of electronica outfits that make Boards of Canada seem blah. He does, although it's hard to say just why: perhaps that the beats never decay into ambient, but measure out time with proper milestones. A- [bc]
Youth Lagoon: Wondrous Bughouse (2013, Fat Possum): Second album, usually where the effects of life on the road are seen -- more time honing your chops, and less time for writing songs -- but when you're a one-man band (Trevor Powers of Boise, ID) those factors fold in on themselves. So here we get lots of warbly electronics obscuring whatever his subject is -- reportedly "themes of the metaphysical universe." B-
Friday, November 29. 2013
The idea here was to follow up Thanksgiving's traditional Turkey Shoot, with its takedown of the year's most overrated records, with a selection of lesser-known, underappreciated albums. One thing I noticed from last year was that some critics had no real interest in searching out bad music, or perhaps in even writing negative reviews. I actually think that's the norm for critics: they get into writing about music because they've found music they think is worth writing about -- promoting, even. I know I never looked forward for Christgau's Turkey Shoots: mostly they confirm your suspicions, occasionally dashing hopes, once in a while provoking disagreement, while offering nothing more. So this seemed like the right way to balance out the negativity. And there seemed to be a certain serendipity to the timing: most stores are closed on Thanksgiving day, while the day after -- not sure why it's called Black Friday since it seems more purple to me -- is the nominal start of the annual Christmas consumption orgy.
And this started off promisingly, with Lucas Fagen proposing three records even I had never heard of -- I say "even" because I've been maintaining a metacritic file that tries to track everything any critic notices, over 6,000 records so far this year. And we did go on to attract a few critics who had bypassed the Turkey Shoots. But we still wound up shorter than the Turkey Shoot -- partly my fault, as I have lots of the sort of records I was hoping for but couldn't find the time to revisit them and expand my exceptionally cryptic reviews. And I'll have a long post tomorrow where I'll offer my own takes on some of yesterday's and today's records.
Thanks to all the contributors here, and also to Michael Tatum and Dan Weiss for their editing help and inspiration.
Balqees: Majnoun (Rotana)
The Blind Boys of Alabama: I'll Find a Way (Masterworks)
Cedric Burnside Project: Hear Me When I Say (self-released)
Ezra Furman: Day of the Dog (Bar/None)
Kevin Gates: Stranger Than Fiction (Bread Winners Association)
G-Dragon: Coup d'Etat (YG)
Glasser: Interiors (True Panther Sounds)
King DJ: Let Me See You Feel (Bear Funk)
Adam Lane Trio: Absolute Horizon (NoBusiness)
Revolutionary Ensemble: Counterparts (Mutable)
Saâda Bonaire: Saâda Bonaire (1982-85, Captured Tracks)
Boz Scaggs: Memphis (429 Records)
Shinee: Dream Girl: The Misconceptions of You (SM Entertainment)
Thank Your Lucky Stars: Spinning Out of Orbit (Sounds Deevine
Tin Men: Avocado Woo Woo (Threadhead Records)
The White Mandingos: The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me (Fat Beats)
Thanks to all the contributors, listed below.
Thursday, November 28. 2013
Last year's "crowd-sourced" Turkey Shoot was enough of a success that I figured we should give it another shot. As most readers know, Robert Christgau came up with the idea of running a Thanksgiving week Consumer Guide with nothing but turkey in 1984, and continued it from 1988-2005. The trick in his columns was not just to pick on bad records but to find ones notable enough to be worth picking on -- some were huge popular successes, some favorites of various coteries of critics, some portended trends he wished he could nip in the bud.
We've tried to do that here: the records below have some critical cachet and/or big sales. (Only Luke Bryan is exclusively in the latter category -- even Country Weekly only gave Crash My Party a B.) And we tried to establish more of a consensus approach this year: it's safe to say that none of the records below will be showing up on any contributor's year-end ballots this year (unlike Kendrick Lamar last year). The invite this year allowed quite a bit of leeway in what we might cover, but we skipped over proposals to "pepper" (Dick Cheney's immortal phrase) records that at least some of us like a lot (Arcade Fire's was one) or that hardly anyone had noticed (such as Julieta Venegas').
Tomorrow we'll turn around and recommend some records few of you have heard of: something we call the Black Friday Special. Each year thousands of records are released and few of them ever emerge from the cracks they fall into -- in part because well-oiled publicity machines work so hard to keep you eating turkey on Thanksgiving. But we wanted to point out that there are alternatives to leftovers this weekend. The on Saturday I'll finally post my November edition of Rhapsody Streamnotes, with some second thoughts on today's and tomorrow's records.
Last year I put together a table where I tried to get everyone to rate everything, which would give you some extra context info on the records reviewed here. But it was a lot of work and it turned out that most reviewers had sensibly avoided most of the year's turkeys, so it wasn't all that worthwhile. I've missed about a third of this year's records myself. No one can listen to everything, which is why we need and read critics. Christgau quit the Turkey Shoot not because he decided it wasn't needed, but because he got sick and tired of spending so much time listening to crap. In a just society obnoxious but necessary jobs will be spread out, as we're doing today.
The Beach Boys: Made in California (Captiol, 6CD)
Willis Earl Beal: Nobody Knows (XL)
Boards of Canada: Tomorrow's Harvest (Warp)
Body/Head: Coming Apart (Matador)
Luke Bryan: Crash My Party (Capitol Nashville)
Jake Bugg: Jake Bugg (Mercury)
The Civil Wars: The Civil Wars (Sensibility Music/Columbia)
Dirty Beaches: Drifters/Love Is the Devil (Zoo)
Forest Swords: Engravings (Tri Angle)
Grant Hart: The Argument (Domino)
The Haxan Cloak: Excavation (Tri Angle)
Iceage: You're Nothing (Matador) After a bracing debut Allmusic described as "charmingly underdeveloped," these spoiled Danish teens get worse. "Unlike some groups who sign to a bigger label and beef up their sound in the wrong ways," Pitchfork warns, they've gone ahead and included an "industrial/ambient instrumental." No one's snickering when No Age does that, but they'd never make it sound like a Nuremberg Rally, which I hear is an unfortunate coincidence for Iceage. You can read about that in the blogosphere; my job's just to point out they sustain remarkable blurriness for 28 minutes, this time with the drums mixed down so as not to obscure the lack of hooks, one of many things that distinguishes their "brittleness" from Wire's. One of those takedowns for their links to fascist-whatever puts it perfectly: "I hope it's therapeutic. But if this is the best catharsis you can find, I feel sorry for you." C [DW]
Jack Johnson: From Here to Now to You (Brushfire)
MGMT: MGMT (Columbia)
Gregory Porter: Liquid Spirit (Blue Note)
Sigur Rós: Kveikur (XL)
Tyler, the Creator: Wolf (Odd Future/XL)
The Wild Feathers: The Wild Feathers (Warner Bros.)
Jonathan Wilson: Fanfare (Bella Union)
Youth Lagoon: Wondrous Bughouse (Fat Possum)
Yuck: Glow and Behold (Fat Possum)
Thanks to all the contributors, listed below.
Monday, November 25. 2013
Music: Current count 22445  rated (+49), 565  unrated (+6).
Rated count continues high because I'm focusing more on Rhapsody than on the physical jazz records covered here. November's Streamnotes column is up to 72 entries at the moment, and will have more by the end of the month when it finally runs. On the other hand, the jazz queue has been shrinking. The 18 records in this week's unpacking would have been an average week in years past but this is the first week with that many since October 7, and the overwhelming majority of this week's catch are 2014 releases.
I'm thinking about abandoning my practice of holding reviews until release weeks. Not much difference this week, nor likely to be in the near future, except that I do think it makes sense to hold back on 2014 releases until all the 2013 list-making madness ends. I have made one format change this week. It's nice to have a picture or two at the top of the post, but until now those have been reserved for A- (or better) albums. I usually reformat and cache those cover scans, but for last year's Turkey Shoot albums, and more recently for Tatum's trash albums, I've started linking album covers at cdconnection.com with my preferred size constraints. So it occured to me that I could use the same trick to grab a high B+ record when I have nothing A-. The source only has about half of the jazz albums I look for, and they don't show new records until release date so that presents a Monday/Tuesday problem. But at least I found my first choice today.
Big music review week coming up: Turkey Shoot on Thursday, November 28, followed by Black Friday Special on Friday and my wrap-up Rhapsody Streamnotes column on Saturday. One reason the latter looms to large is that I've benefited from the research of the dozen critics taking part. Another is that as the year closes I've been tightening up the metacritic file. Maybe the week after we can do some handicapping on year-end lists. I haven't seen any such lists yet this year, but they should start coming in fast and furious. (UK mags, in particular, seem to like to run them in December.) And Francis Davis is already bugging me for my Jazz Critics Poll ballot (deadline December 8), so the season will soon be upon us.
Dewa Budjana: Joged Kanyangan (2013, Moonjune): Guitarist, b. 1963 in Indonesia, has been in the band Gigi since 1994; sixth solo album since 1997, although only two are listed at AMG. Fusion-oriented band -- Larry Goldings (organ, piano), Bob Mintzer (saxes, clarinets), Jimmy Johnson (bass guitar), Peter Erskine (drums) -- although the rhythm picks up something I take to be Indonesian. Janis Siegel sings one song, breaking the flow and adding nothing. B-
George Colligan: The Endless Mysteries (2012 , Origin): Pianist, has put together an impressive discography since 1996. Front cover also names, in slightly smaller type, Larry Grenadier and Jack DeJohnette -- a rhythm section you'd want to brag about too. B+(**)
Foreign Motion: In Flight (2013, self-released): Sort of a fusion band, with Cory Wong (guitar), Kevin Gastonguay (keyboards), Yohannes Tona (bass), and Petar Janjic (drums) -- based in Minnesota, I think, although Yona was born in Ethiopia and Janjic in Serbia (the others were born in the US). Wong has a previous album and seems to be the leader but all four contribute songs, and the grooves offer some pleasant surprises. B+(**)
Brian Gephart: Standing on Two Feet (2012 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist, based in Chicago, has a handful of records with Bob Long as Gephart Long Quartet going back to 1992, and at least one Brian Gephart Quartet album. Sextet here, with trombone, guitar, piano, bass, and drums. Upbeat, hard boppish stuff, nothing grabbed me but it's certainly listenable. B
Aaron Germain: Chance (2013, Origin): Bassist, electric and acoustic, leaning electric on his second album, with Nguyen Le on guitar, Frank Martin (piano and, mostly, keyboards), and drums, plus one-track guests on flute and dan t'rung. B-
Harold López-Nussa: New Day (2013, Jazz Village): Pianist, from Cuba, still lives in Havana, has at least three previous albums. Mostly trio, favoring intense rhythm as opposed to the usual Afro-Cuban start-stop time shifts. Some cuts add Mayquel González on trumpet, dropping the piano back to a comping role. B+(***)
Sue Maskaleris: Bring Nothing but Your Heart (2013, Jazilian): Singer-songwriter, has at least one previous album; wrote everything here but "Lush Life," with a couple songs in Portuguese. Also plays piano/keyboards, violin, guitar, bass, and percussion, and gets help from a long list of musicians. B
Mumpbeak: Mumpbeak (2013, Rare Noise): Hype sheet says "takes prog-rock to a new place," but bass-heavy groove music with free frissons has been around a long time, not least in producer Bill Laswell's archives. Group includes Roy Powell (Hohner clavinet, FX pedals), Pat Mastelotto (acoustic and electronic drums, percussion), and various electric bassists -- Laswell and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz double up on most cuts, adding Tony Levin on one, replacing them with Lorenzo Feliciati on another. B+(*) [November 28]
Quartet San Francisco: Pacific Premieres: New Works by California Composers (2013, Violin Jazz): Conventional string quartet: Jeremy Cohen (violin), Matthew Szemele (violin), Chad Kaitinger (viola), Kelley Maulbetsch (cello). Group has at least six previous records since 2002 -- two playing works by Dave Brubeck. The California composers here are Gordon Goodwin, Vince Mendoza, Patrick Williams, and Cohen himself -- the first two are well-known big band composer-arrangers. B+(*)
John Stowell & Dave Liebman: Blue Rose (2012 , Origin): Duets. Stowell plays guitar, has about two dozen albums since 1977, should be better known than he is -- AMG, for instance, doesn't have a biography page on him, although they list twice as many albums as his Wikipedia page. Liebman plays soprano and tenor sax, a little piano and a bit of wooden flute. They've recorded together before, but Liebman's recorded with damn near everyone (I'm not up to counting, but it's conceivable he has more album credits than any other active saxophonist, although he's spotted Braxton and Brötzmann a decade and they're contenders). This can be a bit skimpy, but Liebman's as engabed and enjoyable here as he's been in years, probably because the guitarist is always in the right place. B+(**)
Craig Yaremko Organ Trio: CYO3 (2013, Origin): Saxophonist -- credits here are soprano, alto, tenor, flute, alto flute -- third album, with Matt King on organ, Jonathon Peretz on drums, and adding Vic Juris' guitar on two tracks. Starts off marvelously with "Jitterbug Waltz," and is generally most fun when they give you something familiar, like "Bye-Ya" or "Isfahan"; less fun when the leader shows off his flutes. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Tuesday, November 19. 2013
by Michael Tatum
As a gangly teenager I listened to two kinds of music: the classic rock of my parents and the contemporary popular music of my friends. Regarding the latter, I did lean somewhat toward the commercial/accessible side of indie -- R.E.M., the Smiths, XTC -- but these were not especially unusual bands to like in my peer group. I was aware there was some sort of schism between the two -- as well as between the current top 40 and what I was hearing on the more "alternative" 91X -- but I not only owned Phil Collins' No Jacket Required and Steve Winwood's Back in the High Life, I also owned the complete sheet music for each. In other words, I was egalitarian to the point of utter obliviousness. It wasn't until the year after I got kicked out of UCLA, working my way back into their good graces at a community college, that I discovered music that I could truly call my own: Talking Heads, Eno, Roxy Music, Bowie, and perhaps most of all, the Velvet Underground. So considering that he came into my life just at the exact moment I was having a major identity crisis, Lou Reed means a great deal to me -- I finally found music that spoke to my own inner life, rather than that of the people around me. The key line in the deceptively pretty "Sunday Morning," "I've got a feeling/I don't want to know" said more to me than anything phonies like Depeche Mode (my best friend's favorite band) ever had to offer. So I'm grateful to the late, great Lou Reed for saving my life with rock and roll -- his. May he teach the angels to play "Heroin" on de-tuned ostrich harps -- they could use some rock and roll up there, too.
I've had no time to unravel most of the big critical and/or commercial releases that everyone has been talking about the last few weeks, so you'll have to wait on my final analysis on M.I.A., Lady Gaga, Dismemberment Plan, and a few others. I still have much to catch up with from earlier in the year, too. I hope that this generous bounty after the usual dry summer will more than compensate.
Arcade Fire: Reflektor (Merge) The worst mistake you could make in approaching this difficult but ultimately deeply satisfying record would be to let its sycophantic admirers -- you know, the kind of people who until last week thought that Either/Or was merely the title of a "classic" Elliot Smith album -- deafen you to its virtues. To begin with, this isn't a "dance" or "disco" or Haitian rara record any more than, say, "Fool in the Rain" represented Led Zeppelin's serious attempt to break into the samba market. In both cases, the genre borrowings are merely novel ways for an art rock band to vary up their increasingly arena-friendly music, with Arcade Fire's lack of instrumental virtuosos an undeniable plus no matter how much difficulty Jeremy Gara has handling any rhythm involving more than two thuds per measure. Their worthy theme is a "reflective age" in which people look at the world expecting to see an echo of themselves rather than accepting the world the way it is: husbands and wives, a gay son and his disappointed father, the "normal people" haranguing the new kid, teenage boys and online porn, Christian missionaries and poor Haitian natives, indie tastemakers and "Joan of Arc," Eurydice and Orpheus separated -- then united -- by cultural differences. And though I wish they hadn't extended this metaphor by allowing two long ambient noodlings to bookend ("reflekt") two separate discs that could have been squeezed onto one, they've never gone to such musical or lyrical lengths to connect with their audience, nor have they ever written this eloquently about the risks and rewards of conjugal commitment. "Supersymmetry" is their resplendent reward. A
Best Coast: Fade Away (Mexican Summer, EP) Bethany Cosentino will never make an album with James Murphy, nor will she ever suddenly discover desert blues and travel to Mali to make a record with local musicians. Every album she will ever make will boast the same whopper hooks and lushly decorous melodies, and unless excessive bong smoke fries her larynx to a charred crisp, she'll always have that big contralto to bail out her nonchalantly commonplace prose and indifferent rhymes ("won" and "one?"). In other words, she's so unlikely to hit an artistic growth spurt, me having to tell you this new EP sounds pretty much like everything that's come before it is wholly redundant. And yet despite her predictability, there's still psychology to dissect -- once again, she cops to an identity crisis that she is seemingly unaware connects to her desperate need to people-please. "I won't change/I'll stay the same" circumscribes her narrow conception of independence -- she could be talking about her music as much as her inner life -- while the sad "I don't know how to tell you I love you" ironically justifies (and perhaps even softens me up to) her chronic banality. I'd like to think Shirley Alston would approve -- even if Shirley wouldn't have wasted time wavvving that heartbreaking "charmer" goodbye. A
Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap (free download) Chi-Town's Chancellor Bennett has his vices: Jack Daniels, weed, LSD, 'shrooms, the red pill Neo took from Morpheus in The Matrix, and Xanax (the latter provided a psychiatrist hasn't prescribed it). That regardless of his admitted perpetual truancy he probably boasts a wider vocabulary than the English teachers to whom he gave grief in high school constitutes one of those ironies more English teachers should take a moment to ponder -- "But I'd fight if a nigga said I talk white/And both my parents was black/But they saw it fit that I talk right" is a bold statement of purpose for all language lovers everywhere, whether or not they adore the playfulness of slang as much as Chance and I do. Those who have no moral objection to getting crunked up but have reservations to it as a frequent thematic concern should be reassured Bennett takes his bong to places undreamt of by Wiz Khalifa and Gucci Mane -- in the poignant "Cocoa Butter Kisses" he confesses to hitting the Mary Jane to ease the pain of his dysfunctional familial dynamic, while sadly acknowledging his beloved Nana won't kiss him if she can smell it on his breath. Still, any rapper that can coax his proud papa to show his support on a winning outro has earned the right to this playfully contorted quatrain: "Flip the candy yum/That's the fuckin' bombest/Lean all on the square/That's a fuckin' rhombus." A
Brandy Clark: 12 Stories (Slate Creek) Perhaps I'm a little bitter after being inundated with a year's worth of hype, but I'm impressed more by Clark's marketing strategy than the album it promotes. When was the last time a country album by a female artist didn't feature an alluring picture of the babe-artiste on the cover? The two typewriter keys against a field of stark black suggest we're dealing with a songwriter, not an ingénue, and while I'm convinced of the latter -- no flash or charisma for this young lady, no sir -- I'm not quite won over by the former claim either. This is someone who can take such classic country tropes as killing the cheating boyfriend, sleeping with another woman's husband, and getting high and buying lottery tickets sound downright perfunctory, less cries from the trailer park than genre exercises intended to rope in urban outsiders like you and me, lifted neither by spunky voice, catchy melodies, sprightly arrangements, or clever turn of phrase. If Ashley Monroe is hard country and Kacey Musgraves is mainstream C&W with a difference, Clark is a folkie -- smarter and more heartfelt than Mary Chapin Carpenter, but equally as middlebrow. I'm not sure I would have noticed "Stripes" or "Crazy Women" (attention-getters in this company) on a Pistol Annies record, and speaking as someone who wouldn't be writing this sentence without the benefit of pharmaceuticals, I'm here to tell you the one-dimensional "Take a Little Pill" is "Mother's Little Helper" sanitized for the Redbook crowd. Having read Ann Fessler's masterly mid-century adoption chronicle The Girls Who Went Away -- in which much of the conception is far from immaculate or even consensual -- "Illegitimate Children" is as wrongheaded as it is sanctimonious. And filler like "Hold My Hand" and "What'll Keep Me Out of Heaven" is goopy balladry for sure. B+
Four Tet: Beautiful Rewind (Text/Temporary Residence) Laptop collagists like Kieran Hebdan don't really have any interest in overarching concepts or controlled environments in the vein of Moby or DJ Shadow, they merely have sounds they find "interesting" -- Hebdan's records often feel more like elaborate show-and-tell presentations than starry nights or majestic cathedrals. Having said that, this is one of Hebdan's finest collection of rocks, twigs, and matryoshka dolls: certainly stronger than Pink, last year's peculiar collection of bland twelve-inch singles, and on par with 2003's celebrated Rounds and 2005's strangely underrated Everything Ecstatic. That this isn't earning nearly the same huzzahs as the recently-reissued Rounds (tenth anniversary! a whole eon in Pitchfork years!) shows how much more credit you get the first time hipsters take notice, though Hebdan's newfound keenness for -- shame! -- the human voice shouldn't be discounted. Purists, shut-ins, and other anthropophobes might dismiss such mnemonics as thrills of the cheapest sort, but to provincial rubes like yours truly they're fine how-do-you-do's -- not just the usual dancefloor exhortations ("Hey! Hey! Hey!" "We got it! We got it!") and comely sirens beckoning you to the shore, but chopped and screwed bits of barely parsable babble that may or not incorporate smutty vulgarities. All of which inspires me to say, "Hey, Kieran -- 'where you bee fuck you bee shet you beyet fuck' to you, too." A
Oneohtrix Point Never: R Plus Seven (Warp) Having suffered through ambient offerings from Tim Hecker and Matthew Hebert, I feel compelled to ask: what makes this elctro-twaddle so different from other records like it? I'm reminded of Andy Warhol complaining about the birds and insects unknowingly flying into the frame of the eight hour Empire -- the difference between an artist who waits for things to happen, and one who makes things happen: really chaos fans, sometimes order and forethought count for something. On 2011's Replica, Daniel Lopatin treated us to the sounds of scouring pads, looped pianos, exhaling automans, a disembodied melodica, the cries of digitized gulls, and a gremlin running in a hamster wheel, with samples directly procured from television advertisements -- not that one would ever have known that, of course. Brighter, grander, and with a touch of the ecclesiastic (the opening pipe organ drone could be straight out of Bach, or Arcade Fire's "Intervention"), this peels off a layer of Replica's aural mystery without any sacrifice of its basic fragmented aesthetic: a plucked kora, laptops communicating to each other in Morse Code, wind chimes pealing in a hermetically sealed bubble on the moon, and a subversion of that hoariest of banalities, the children's choir. But hey there -- "Inside World" even boasts something resembling a chord progression. What's next -- snippets from self-help or stand-up comedy records to deflate the flatter, more "somber" moments? Um, is Lopatin lowbrow enough to do requests? A
Lee Ranaldo and the Dust: Last Night on Earth (Matador) I mean, whoa man, wotta hippie -- Ranaldo's second album showcasing actual songs features (I can't get over this) wah-wah guitars that his former Simpsons co-star Peter Frampton could get behind. Excepting "Late Descent #2," which begins with an out of character harpsichord line (!!!) redolent of Nicky Hopkins on mid-'60s Kinks records, the tracks are on average much longer than those on last year's Between the Times and the Tides, ranging from five to eleven and a half minutes. The climactic "The Rising Tide" appears to be about an acid reminiscence at a seventies Dead show, while on the intro of the title track, Lee sees fire, rain, and sunny days he think will never end. So is this where the avowed Joni Mitchell acolyte finally loses -- hell, maybe even ditches -- the Sonic Youth crowd? I sure hope not -- with the backing players more fully integrated into the music than last time out, the tunes themselves more assured, and the words more direct without sacrificing the auteur's basic spaciness, Ranaldo makes a far better singer-songwriter than he does beat poet -- especially since no other ex-hippie, with the perennial exception of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, can fashion guitar noise this satisfying, dynamic, plainly beautiful. And Neil and the Horse haven't been this hot in this mode since Sonic Youth themselves opened for them way back in, oh, 1991. B+
Sleigh Bells: Bitter Rivals (Mom + Pop) Young tastemakers could get behind 2010's Treats because of the audaciousness of the loud concept, but now that the process of sneaking melodic structure that began on 2012's Reign of Terror is complete, they've got their doubts -- in her Pitchfork review, Lindsey Zoladz resembles a distraught parent begging the kids to turn down the volume. But fuck that: musically, this is a quantum leap forward, and not merely because they've started consistently writing songs to justify their aesthetic -- Derek Miller proves that the acoustic guitar is first and foremost a percussion instrument, just as Pete Townshend taught us, while not only unsheathing a sword and letting the dogs out on the defiantly codependent title track, but putting cows out to pasture right after the number about young legends dying. But this is primarily Alexis Krauss' triumph, not merely showcasing her versatility as a vocalist -- from girlish whispers to high-pitched wails that will blow out your cocker spaniel's cochlea -- but crafting lyrics that rise to Miller's musical challenge, from burning down sugarcane fields to lighting her ponytail on fire, to sending gummy bears to the electric chair, the latter accompanied by the jingle of actual sleigh bells. Who says Def Leppard fans don't have more fun? A
Omar Souleyman: Wenu Wenu (Ribbon) This certainly isn't the wildest example of the Syrian wedding music known as dabke you can find, especially considering that up to this point Souleyman's corybantic output has been recorded predominantly on site at nuptial celebrations, then passed around on bootlegs, rather than captured in the studio under the auspices of a proper producer. But I'm not sure the studio has tamed Souleyman quite as much as Kieran Hebdan, who with his other identity as Four Tet brings the promise of the magic hat, the kitchen sink, the bag of tricks, but instead here mutes his own eclectic influence, settling for knob-twiddling without providing the interference that theoretically makes such aesthetic transcontinental summits worth the cost of the plane picket. Then again, the clean mix and patented modal themes make for great converting stratagems for your electronica loving brother who likes the idea of a touch of strange in theory but is too timid to go whole hog into more bacchanalian territory. I would suggest next time Hebdan get in touch some guest rappers (there must be some in the UK, despite all the evidence I've heard to the contrary) but perhaps an even better way to loosen everybody up would be shots of good scotch whiskey all around. I mean, hey -- it works at wedding receptions, doesn't it? A
Tal National: Kaani (Fat Cat) To those excited I'm finally writing at length about that Brooklyn by way of Cincinnati indie rock quintet and their overrated 2013 record on which I wasted valuable ear-time several months back, please move on to the next graf. This mighty aggregation hails from landlocked Niger, a country not associated with a specific Afropop style, perhaps why you'll hear elements of soukous here, desert blues there, Afrobeat everywhere. Led by guitarist Hamadal Moumine -- a moonlighting judge, former soccer player, and current ambassador for the SOS orphan foundation in Niamey -- their fierce, almost Springsteenian momentum has been undeniable for their countrymen, who delight in their marathon, five-hour performances, which the band sometimes stretches logistically by splitting their thirteen revolving members into two separate, simultaneously running gigs. And yet miraculously, they still found time (via cloning, perhaps?) to record this dynamite set, their third overall since 2006 and first for international release. We're so conditioned to expecting fleet guitar and hypnotic cadences from this music that it's almost de trop to continue pointing it out as a virtue, but aside from the sharp, defined production, the real surprise here is the rhythms, intense and forceful where proper Tuareg bands often settle for insinuating and gentle: here the combined effect of full drum kit and talking drum suggests an avalanche beating the shit out of a landslide. Max Weinberg and Bryan Devendorf might cower in a corner. But I'd like to think Ahmir Thompson would turn this shit up. A
Tamikrest: Chatma (Glitterbeat) One more Tuareg rock band that took up guitars when others took up weapons, this Malian quintet began covering their fellow countrymen Tinariwen before writing their own material, but the generation gap between them and their forebears is palpable -- these are young people savvy enough to have heard Hendrix, Santana, Pink Floyd, and Dire Straits via downloaded MP3s rather than discovered them piecemeal through bootlegged cassettes. Perhaps that's why, formally and aesthetically, this resembles traditional "classic rock" more than any competing desert blues yet: the perfect entry point for your cranky (grand)father who believes there hasn't been a great album since Abraxas. Where Tinariwen combine the ubiquitous modal guitar with indigenous percussion, the lineup here adds a full drum kit augmented by congas, enervating where others settle for merely "mesmerizing." Not only that, they understand the flow and pacing of albums -- those who complain this style sounds like "one long song" will find much to love between the variegated balance of hard rockers and soft acoustic numbers (though I blame that gratuitous snippet of backwards guitar on their German producer). As for "big concepts," start with the title, which translates to "sisters," as in: "The sisters are waiting for their freedom," or "Freedom is my soul's ultimate goal/In my land, the desert/Where my sisters live." If that fierce sloganeering doesn't satisfy the authors of Salon think-pieces, how about the painful protest: "The desert is not for sale/It shelters the tombs of our ancestors/And men pay the price of freedom with their lives." Or the ultimate statement of rhetoric defiance: "I remember our words/I didn't leave anything out/I said it all." A
Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady (Bad Boy) More guests is a great idea -- how about some that like hooks more than she does? ("Dance Apocalyptic," "Prime Time," "Givin' 'Em What They Love") ***
Parquet Courts: Tally All the Things You Broke (What's Your Rupture?, EP) If it ain't broke, don't stretch it out to 7:38 ("You've Got Me Wonderin'," "Descend") ***
Randy Travis: Influence Vol. 1: The Man I Am (Warner Bros.) The singing (and album subtitle) suggests he's immersing himself in the past because he's terrified of the future ("Tonight I'm Playing Possum," "Saginaw, Michigan") **
Haim: Days Are Gone (Columbia) If the Nu Shooz fit, wear 'em. ("Honey and I," "Forever") **
Miley Cyrus: Bangerz (RCA) Better bangerz than ballads, better ditzy than Disney, better French Montana than Hannah Montana. ("SMS," "4X4") **
Court Yard Hounds: Amelita (Columbia) Most of the best songs are about the titular blowhard/killjoy, whose full name I can only assume is (find the anagram) "Amelita Iannes" ("Sunshine," "Amelita") **
Drake: Nothing was the Same (Cash Money/Universal) Having needed Kanye West, Alicia Keys, and the like to help him break through, the Canadian child star is now free to slow it down a bit, because apparently a hundred beats per minute is way too taxing to rap across unless you're pimping Sprite. Over fifteen songs in an hour that drags on for what feels like at least twice that, Aubrey Graham bears his "soul": "I don't wanna fuck/I wanna make love," and that such a transparent lie is processed to Auto-Tune, then justified later by one more backing singer who avows she "understands him" ("I'll love you for both of us," ho boy), shows how far this born liar will risk for "honesty." But gunning to be hip hop's answer to Jackson Browne is one thing. If you really want to track this poseur's errant laziness, check out his indolently epistrophic poesy: not counting choruses (where repetition is often a smart literary device) and the word "nigga," note how many times Graham repeats words because he's too lazy to open up his rhyming dictionary, apotheosized by what could be the worst opening quatrain by a "major" artist: "Comin' off the last record/I'm gettin' 20 million off the record/Just to off these records/Nigga that's a record." But please, don't talk to him like he's famous. Pretend it's five years from now -- if that. C
Paul McCartney: New (Hear Music) Conventional wisdom regarding Sir Paul's solo career posits that he desperately needs a collaborator brave-faced enough to inform him when his lyrical and musical ideas are shit. Sir Paul interprets this to mean that he needs a foil who can disguise his old ideas in contemporary garb, or at least make them presentable enough for the widest possible audience, a misperception that's put him in the orbit of some far-flung haberdashers: Elvis Costello, 10cc's Eric Stewart, Police/Phil Collins producer Hugh Padgham, Radiohead "sixth member" Nigel Godrich, mashup DJ Freelance Hellraiser. Meanwhile, those of us who hear the virtues of 1999's post-Linda rock and roll revival Run Devil Run and 2007's mortality-conscious Memory Almost Full aver that nothing beats a meaningful context (or at least attempting one) -- something that ain't gonna happen when the recently-married artiste is the most happily complacent he's been since the early '90s. Calculate all of these factors together and you have an embarrassing bomb of cataclysmic magnitude. With the exception of George Martin's progeny Giles, all of McCartney's current helpmates have made their names helming teen-identified music -- Paul Epworth with Adele, Marc Ronson with Lily Allen, Ethan Johns with Mumford and Sons -- and their combined full-court-press production gloss is the aesthetic equivalent of enlisting a high-priced Beverly Hills plastic surgeon to spruce up a department store mannequin. That's why the uncomfortably pained vocal of the acoustic "Early Days" registers as his only moment of grace. Sure, it's his 5,000th song about being in a rock band with John Lennon. But at least there he's -- somewhat -- acting his age. C
Moby: The Innocents (Mute) Having never displayed a knack for (white, living) collaborators, this time he enlists Skylar Grey, Damien Jurado, Mark Lanegan, and Wayne Coyne, the latter of whom seems to believe the Polyphonic Spree are an Actual Spiritual Happening. Not to suggest of course, that a cameo from Clade Jeter himself would justify the artiste's somber musical pacing, which suggests God slouching across the film of a mud puddle, with the interminable, nine-and-half-minute solo piece "The Dogs" the nadir. Titled The Innocents because The Hopelessly Naïve would have been way too candid. B
Minor Alps: Get There (Barsuk) In which Nada Surfer Matthew Caws and former Blake Baby Juliana Hatfield make like Buckingham/Nicks on, er, Buckingham Nicks. B
Robbie Fulks: Gone Away Backward (Bloodshot) Yeah, yeah, country, "that's where you're from" -- but no male folkie has been able to get away with a boast like "nobody can sing like me" since Woody Guthrie beyond the grave. B
The Chvrches: The Bones of What You Believe (Glassnote) I'm not sure if Lauren Mayberry's girlish soprano redeems such maladroitly high school poesy on the order of "Float like a pretty box of your evil," but compared to such obvious forerunners as David Gahan, I sure burst into uncontrollable laughter a lot less often. C+
Amanda Shires: Down Fell the Doves (Lightning Rod) Asked for Emmylou Harris with songs, got Tracy Bonham without a fluke hit. C
VV Brown: Samson & Delilah (YOY) Nah, last time she was just joshing you with all that Motown shit -- really, she's into Bauhaus and Dead Can Dance: "I'll be your drug, I'll be your heroin/Put me inside your veins and let me in." Yuck. C
This is the 34th installment, (almost) monthly since August 2010, totalling 830 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter. Comments are open (subject to moderation).
Monday, November 18. 2013
Music: Current count 22396  rated (+53), 559  unrated (-4).
Ratings glut is partly slop over from last Recycled Goods -- I ended the previous week early because the rated count was already ridiculous -- and partly looking at new releases for Rhapsody Streamnotes. Jazz Prospecting continues to lag, although both the review count and the incoming mail are up a bit from last week. Very little in the queue by familiar names right now, and one might note that the best records this week came from the best known musicians -- I'll even add that Jon Hamar and Doug Webb, down in the mid-B+ range, are names I know and look forward to.
I go back a long ways with Roswell Rudd, to two records of his I picked up in the mid-1970s: Numatik Swing Band, recorded for JCOA and impossible to find nowadays, and Flexible Flyer originally on Freedom, picked up by Arista, and wound up in the Black Lion catalog which has been kicked around several times but is easy enough to find online these days. Those two albums introduced me to Sheila Jordan, my favorite female vocalist ever since, but Rudd's combination of playing avant and retro made a huge impression. Trombone for Lovers may be his best record since then -- or maybe Regeneration in 1982 with Steve Lacy. I got my copy at least a month ago, played it immediately, and gave it a lot of time since then. It took a while to sink in -- I was thrown at first by the Bob Dorough vocal, and then by the extended Joe Hill opus, but worked through them. In theory, if I spent comparable time with other records they might grow on me in the same way, but Rudd is really a unique character.
That reminds me that I still haven't cracked open Call It Art, a fancy wood box with five vinyl LPs in it collecting a previously unavailable sessions by the New York Art Quartet. I complain about all the things I haven't gotten, yet I've been sitting on this (and several other vinyl-only releases) for months (and in other cases for years). (Also recall that Rudd's partner in that venture, the late John Tchicai, led another vinyl-only outing this year, Tribal Ghost, which I graded A- on the basis of a CD-R.)
Seems like I was offered a download of the New York Art Quartet box, but lost track of that. I'm having a lot of trouble figuring out how to handle downloads: in particular, I have at least half a dozen items on my computer that I can't figure out how to play more than a single track of -- some programs don't with with .wav files, most can't handle .zip archives (which in the Windows file manager look like they've been exploded even when they haven't). I sent out a letter to a couple dozen friends and associates last week begging them for info on how they cope with this mess. Got a few answers back, but nothing especially helpful. I would also like to move as much music as possible onto Linux if I can get that to work, but haven't had much luck there either. If you have any advice, please mail me.
A Downloader's Diary will run tomorrow. Turkey Shoot looks to be in good shape, although I'm a little disappointed we didn't get more proposals for the Black Friday Special -- not that we won't have some surprises there. I'll run November's Rhapsody Streamnotes after the Thanksgiving specials -- I think there's one more day left in the month. I have close to 35 records in the draft file already, and expect to have quite a few more -- especially if I can figure out how to play those damn downloads.
Tarun Balani Collective: Sacred World (2012 , self-released): Drummer, from India, based in New Delhi; first album, all original pieces by Balani, backed with piano, guitar, bass, and sarangi (a bowed string instrument said to resemble a human voice, although its player, Suhail Yusuf Khan, is also credited with vocals). B+(*)
Laurent Coq: Dialogue (2012 , Sunnyside): French pianist, eighth album since 1998, also shared the headline on Miguel Zenón's recent Rayuela. The dialogues are pretty straightforward here, mostly with Ralph Lavital on guitar, and on 5 (of 11) tracks Nicolas Pelage sings. B+(*)
Phill Fest: Projeto B.F.C. (2013, self-released): Guitarist, b. in Minneapolis, based in Florida; father was Brazilian keyboardist Manfredo Fest (1936-99), who recorded a number of albums for Concord back in their heyday. Second album, previous one called Smooth Edges. Front cover makes a point of "Introducing Robert Prester" -- keyboard player, I gather (credits are hard to find as most of the type is illegible, but I did notice a pic of harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens. B+(*)
Ricardo Grilli: If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (2012 , Dark House): Guitarist, b. in São Paulo, Brazil; studied at Berklee, now at NYU. First album, with sax (Gustavo D'Amico), piano (Christian Li), bass (Jared Henderson), drums (Lee Fish). B+(**)
Jon Hamar: Idyl Wild (2012 , Origin): Bassist, based in Seattle, fourth album since 2005, quartet with two saxes (Rich Perry on tenor and Todd DelGiudice, who wrote two pieces, on alto) and drums. The saxophonists are aggressive enough to generate an interesting postbop clash. B+(**)
Clarence Johnson III: Watch Him Work (2013, Like Father Like Son Music): Tenor saxophonist (soprano too), fourth album, not smooth enough for smooth jazz, more like a throwback to the honking r&b saxophonists of the 1950s but with all the modern keyboard "sound design" doesn't quite reach there either. Fun, at least, until he lays it on too thick -- definitely in the closer. B
Ray Marchica: A Different View (2013, Sons of Sound): Drummer, second album, a group effort with Tim Ries (tenor/soprano sax), Ted Kooshian (piano), and Rodney Jones (guitar) contributing ten songs to the leader's one. Group adds a second sax (Morris Goldberg), bass, and percussion. Mainstream leaning a bit toward swing, jaunty even. B+(*) [November 19]
Roswell Rudd: Trombone for Lovers (2013, Sunnyside): With the "Joe Hill" suite at the end, this could have been called Trombone for the Masses: I don't mind the rapper there but the NYC Labor Choir takes some getting used to even though I feel like saluting the political point. Everything else is just superb: the opening "Ghost Riders in the Sky" with Steven Bernstein's slide trumpet, Bob Dorough on "Here, There & Everywhere," Fay Victor on "Trouble in Mind," Michael Doucet's violin on "Autumn Leaves" and "Tennessee Waltz," familiar songs that seem perfect when they pop up: "Baby, It's Cold Outside," "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," "Green Onions," "Unchained Melody," "September Song." As for "Joe Hill," well, organize. A [November 19]
Tim Warfield: Inspire Me! (2013, HHM): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, has mostly recorded for Criss Cross -- I thought his early records there were terrific (e.g., A Cool Blue and Gentle Warrior) -- but the label tends to underwhelm, and Warfield's releases have tailed off over the years. (Some Criss Cross artists also show up on labels like Sharp Nine and Posi-Tone that consistently get sharper, more vibrant sound.) Warfield returns here with a warm and comforting sound, with Antoine Drye's trumpet on five cuts, Kevin Hays on piano, plus bass and drums. Herb Harris produced, and sings two pieces -- offhand and odd at first, now just part of the flow. B+(***)
Doug Webb: Another Scene (2013, Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, based in Los Angeles, did a lot of studio work early on and only recently established himself as a lead artist. Quartet, with Peter Zak (piano), Dwayne Burno (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). I figured him to be a mainstream guy but this is mostly fast stuff, postbop with the emphasis on the bop. B+(**)
Randy Weston/Billy Harper: The Roots of the Blues (2013, Sunnyside): Piano and tenor sax duets, with each taking one solo turn. Pianist is 85, one of the few still working who started in the 1950s. Mostly his songs (10-to-1 over Harper -- the covers touchstones like "Body and Soul," "How High the Moon," "Take the A Train"), and most with allusions to Africa, at least in the title -- no American pianist has searched deeper or longer into the mother continent, going back as far as Weston's 1955 album African Sunrise. Harper is pushing 70 himself, still possessing that rich, gospel-infused tone. B+(***) [November 19]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, November 11. 2013
Music: Current count 22346  rated (+54), 563  unrated (-3).
Big rated count this week is due to working virtually non-stop on Recycled Goods, which you will see later this week (probably later rather than sooner).
Not much Jazz Prospecting below, but not much coming in either. The input queue is probably the shorter now than it's been since I started writing Jazz Consumer Guide, and very little of what's left in it looks promising (aside from the new Roswell Rudd, next week). Part of this problem is seasonal: most labels have shot their wad on 2013 but don't have their new year's releases ready yet -- this is, after all, still a season to sell in. On the other hand, the trend of less service is real and likely to continue. Sometimes this just means getting dropped. And sometimes I'm offered digital downloads where I used to get CDs -- after a long silence, it now looks like ECM's in that category. My rule has always been that downloads don't go into Jazz Prospecting: if I have to listen to something on the computer, it goes into Rhapsody Streamnotes. The long-term trend, then, is that Jazz Prospecting will continue to shrink, making it less worthwhile both for me and you readers. So unless something changes -- e.g., someone comes forward with a venue that is respectable enough to pay me something -- most likely I'll give it up come January.
Some weeks ago I promised a piece on "Searching for Music After Christgau" -- basically a rough spec for a cooperative webzine and reference database. I started on that, got stuck, got distracted, and am still floundering. I still expect to get to it sometime, and I still plan on throwing together some software for at least a limited subset of it. Francis Davis has arranged for a new sponsor for his Jazz Critics Poll this year, and we've talked a bit about building a permanent website for past and future ballots, so that's where it's likely to happen first, but the basic schema applies elsewhere.
Deadline has just passed for Turkey Shoot/Black Friday Special proposals, which doesn't mean it's too late for you to get involved, but it is pretty urgent that you do so. I haven't tallied it all up yet -- I've been feeling bad and not doing much for a week now -- but we should have a nice-sized Turkey Shoot column, but we're still somewhat short for the Black Friday Special.
Kevin Coelho: Turn It Up (2013, Chicken Coup/Summit): Organ player, second album, trio with guitar and drums. Covers Jimmy Smith, "Come Together," "The World Is a Ghetto," "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," "Georgia on My Mind." Two originals, songs anyway. Tacks on two radio edits as bonus cuts. B
Eric DiVito: The Second Time Around (2013, Pioneer Jazz Collection): Guitarist, originally from Long Island, based in New York, second album: builds on a trio with bass (Corcoran Holt) and drums (Alyssa Falk Verheyn), most notably with the alto sax of Steve Wilson on three tracks -- a sweet counterpart to the leader's guitar. Also two songs with singer Mavis Swan Poole. B+(*) [November 12]
Ghost Train Orchestra: Book of Rhapsodies (2012-13 , Accurate): I think the leader here is trumpet player Brian Carpenter, whose previous album was also historically themed, Hothouse Stomp: The Music of 1920s Chicago and Harlem. This one explores the 1930s work of Alec Wilder, Raymond Scott, Reginald Forsythe, and John Kirby's Sextet (including Charlie Shavers). The music veers from jazz into classical, sometimes too much for my taste (nor do I care for the choir), but the band is chock full of interesting characters -- Andy Laster, Petr Cancura, Curtis Hasselbring, Tanya Kalmanovitch -- and makes use of violin and tuba. B+(**)
Outer Bridge Ensemble: Determined (2013, self-released): Quartet -- Mark DeJong (saxes), Steve Hudson (keyboards), Jerome Jennings (drums), David Freeman (conga, djembe, percussion) -- plus various friends, including James Zollar on trumpet. Website touts their "original sound based in jazz, afro-beat, afro-cuban rhythm, and funk," but almost all of what I hear is fairly inventive postbop. B+(**)
Colin Stranahan/Glenn Zaleski/Rick Rosato: Limitless (2012 , Capri): Drummer-led piano trio -- Zaleski is the pianist. Dedicates one song to Fred Hersch, and works mostly in that vein, a bit on the quiet side. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, November 4. 2013
Music: Current count 22292  rated (+38), 566  unrated (-3).
A relatively short week: didn't have anything saved up, haven't been getting much, and had several days that didn't pan out. Even today, when I added two records, I spent most of my time working on Recycled Goods. November's column is no longer near-empty, but it's still way short of what I'd like to put out, so rather than rushing it out I'll hang on a bit.
We still need proposals and contributions to the 2013 Turkey Shoot and (especially) Black Friday Special. The rules are explained here. When I checked this last week I found that the file had been attacked by trackback spam. Since then I removed over 200 spam links and hacked a bit on my blog code to make it impossible to add more trackbacks. It wasn't much of a change, but felt good to dive in there and solve a problem that has been bothering me for years.
Unpacking continues to be very light, with about half of this week's loot lapping into 2014.
The George Bouchard Group: Listen to Your Dreams (2013, self-released): Tenor saxophonist, born and raised in Buffalo, NY; teaches at Nassau Community College. Has at least four albums, and a textbook called Intermediate Jazz Improvisation. Group, recorded "live at Mirelle's," includes a second tenor sax (Andrew Grossbard), trumpet (Dave South), piano, bass, and drums, playing a robustly upbeat postbop I couldn't get into. B
Fabric Trio: Murmurs (2010 , NoBusiness): Sax trio, recorded in Berlin: Frank Paul Schubert (soprano/alto sax), Mike Majkowski (bass), Yorgos Dimitriadis (drums). First album, a limited edition (300 copy) vinyl LP, which seems to be a market niche. Free jazz, joint improv, as the title suggests they tend to keep their adventures toned down -- no screech, no bombast, but also no clichés, nothing pat. I find them refreshing, but not very distinct from dozens of other fine records. I'm also glad I have a CD-R and don't have to flip the thing over (although the second side runs on so quietly I might not bother). B+(**) [advance]
Kidd Jordan/Hamid Drake: A Night in November: Live in New Orleans (2011 , Valid): Louisiana boys, the saxophonist (alto and tenor) a lifelong resident of the Big Easy, the drummer a childhood emigré to Chicago where he was mentored by Fred Anderson, eventually recording several duo albums together. Jordan is a fair substitute, a little squeakier, and Drake is masterful, as always. B+(***)
Dana Lyn: Aqualude (2012 , Ropeadope): Violinist, b. 1974 in California, studied at Oberlin, based in Brooklyn, has spent a good deal of time learning Irish folk fiddle; has a couple previous albums, more side-credits including the Walkmen and Louodon Wainwright. Quintet with Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), Clara Kennedy (cello), Mike McGinniss (clarinets), Vinnie Sperrazza (drums). Soft instruments, chamber music (I guess): doesn't swing, can't bop, and sure ain't free. C+ [advance]
Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Vol. VIII: Live at the Winery September 6, 1976 (1976 , Widow's Taste): Pepper got out of jail in 1965 but played very little until 1975 when he kicked off his final comeback with the brilliant album Living Legend. Most of the previous seven Unreleased Art volumes focus on live gigs from his last years, 1980-82, working with regular touring bands. This catches him a few years earlier, at the Paul Masson Winery in Saratoga with a no-name pickup band from the Bay Area. They aren't bad -- pianist Smith Dobson acquits himself particularly well -- but Pepper plays with exceptional verve, right out of the gate with a fast "Caravan" up through the "Straight Life" encore. Most of these songs are staples on his numerous live albums from the era, but he rarely raced through this this fast and with this much vigor. A- [November 5]
John Tchicai/Charlie Kohlhase/Garrison Fewell/Cecil McBee/Billy Hart: Tribal Ghost (2007 , NoBusiness): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1936 in Copenhagen, Denmark; mother Danish, father Congolese; d. 2012. This was recorded in 2007 at Birdland, Tchicai's trio with saxophonist Kohlhase and guitarist Fewell rounded out with bass and drums. Four cuts, one of those limited edition vinyl deals, no timings given but works out to about 35 minutes. Fewell wrote three of the pieces, his guitar tying them into neat little grooves, the saxes not clashing but embroidering. A- [advance]
Fay Victor Ensemble: Absinthe & Vermouth (2013, Greene Avenue Music): Vocalist, originally from Trinidad or Tobago, raised on Long Island, studied at Syracuse and Brooklyn Conservatory of Music; sixth album since 1999. Betty Carter is less an influence than one of her few peers in jazz history: someone who makes art more difficult and demanding than we're often comfortable with, a singer who commands a band as disciplined and prickly as the star. Victor's Ensemble includes Anders Nilsson, one of the most distinctive jazz guitarists working today, and Ken Filiano, one of those bassists who makes everyone sound better -- his presence is as reliable a stamp of quality as casting Harry Dean Stanton in a movie. B+(***) [November 5]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Wednesday, October 30. 2013
Fifty-seven records below, a rebound from last month's 25 and the third-most of any month this year, trailing May (58) and January (60). Could have been more, as I've held a couple records back for further listening or just because I don't want to take advantage of my insider knowledge of next month's Turkey Shoot/Black Friday Special. (By the way, we're still looking for hunters, especially ones who have a secret favorite to reveal in the latter column.)
By the way, I've closed up comments again. Not sure whether technical problems prevented participation -- I've heard that Chrome users have found it impossible to submit comments -- but the fact is that more than 80% of the comments that have gotten through have been utter nonsense. An example (by no means the worst -- just one that I hadn't deleted from my mail yet):
Reminds me of an old UNIX program called "fortune" which picks random lines from a file of fortune cookie text. Many are complimentary. Some even ask coherent questions I wouldn't mind replying to but they have no particular bearing on the post. I've also found the trackback feature to be totally useless: wish I could turn off the blog's efforts to ping blogs I link to (they almost never work) as well as incoming connects.
Not especially happy with the writing below. Seems like I'm running across more and more records I care less and less about, so I'm brush them off rather than wait for something useful to come. Nor is every short review below a dismissal.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on September 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (3859 records).
AFI: Burials (2013, Republic): Initials stand for A Fire Inside, but I haven't seen any periods lately, not that I'm up for looking through ten album covers to see when they disappeared. A hard rock group with hooks, listenable (sometimes even cheesy) although I stopped trying fifteen minutes ago, giving up especially on trying to figure out whether they're full of shit, which they probably are. B-
The Harry Allen Quintet: Plays Music From the Sound of Music (2011, Arbors): Following up on previous discs of songs from Guys and Dolls and South Pacific, the tenor sax great and his old fashioned swing group -- Rossano Sportiello, Joe Cohn, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs -- move on through the Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook. Rebecca Kilgore and Eddie Erickson sing, not as witty as Guys and Dolls but still "as corny as Kansas," and the sax leads are sublime. B+(***)
Allo Darlin': Europe (2012, Slumberland): English indie group, guitar-guitar-bass-drums, fronted by singer Elizabeth Morris who's clear and credible, too much so for the "twee" tag. In one song she thinks the coming day will be "amazing," and you believe her. A- [bc]
Thomas Anderson: On Becoming Human: Four-Track Love Songs (2013, Out There): A wordsmith first and foremost, he starts this off improbably with an instrumental, then returns with several odd tales involving Bo Diddley and Walter Mondale and then the longest, most improbable yarn of all, "The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover." Some of the connections I don't get -- I always figured Mondale lost that last Senate race because Minnesota voters didn't like to be taken for granted, and he didn't much care anyway. A- [cd]
Babyshambles: Sequel to the Prequel (2013, Parlophone): Ex-Libertines singer Pete Doherty's vehicle, starts with a couple rockers that that suggest his first profound imprint of rock was from the Clash, but soon enough he moves on to songs catchy enough you might expect them in pub singalongs save for their offhanded obscurity. B+(***)
Sam Baker: Say Grace (2013, self-released): Pretty basic, even when the horns come in behind a lyric that says it all with "isn't love great?/isn't love grand?" and a bit of piano or a wash of violin shows that he's not just a guy with a guitar -- a folkie on technical grounds, sentimental too. Some day I should dig through the back catalog. A-
Dave Bennett: Clarinet Is King: Songs of Great Clarinetists (2010, Arbors): Clarinet player, first record was a tribute to Benny Goodman and this sequel doesn't fall far from the tree. Without the booklet I'm not even sure how all of these fit into the canon -- Artie Shaw and Barney Bigard, of course, and "Stranger on the Shore" was a hit for Acker Bilk, but "Where or When" and "You Are My Sunshine" could have been anyone. Backed by Tad Weed's piano trio, taking a much more reserved, or reverent, tone than Bennett's new album. B+(*)
Jim Black/AlasNoAxis: Antiheroes (2012 , Winter & Winter): Drummer's sixth album with this quartet since its eponymous debut in 2000 features Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet) and Hilmar Jensson (guitar), interesting as long as the rhythm is quirky with Speed in contrast, less so when it starts to sound like ordinary fusion. B+(*)
Robert Sarazin Blake with Jefferson Hamer and the Powderkegs: Put It All Down in a Letter (2011, Same Room): Wordy focus, like spoken word poetry except sometimes Hamer's band gallops along so infectiously Blake has to sing to keep up even though he doesn't have the voice to make it graceful. One piece runs 18:41, another 12:45, eight more are shorter, every one makes me strain harder for the words -- something I rarely go out of my way for. A- [bc]
Danny Brown: Old (2013, Fool's Gold): Rapper, has quite some mouth on him, maybe because he works out so hard. B+(***)
Cornell Campbell Meets Soothsayers: Nothing Can Stop Us (2013, Strut): Jamaican singer, cut his first single in 1956 at age 11 and enjoyed his peak success in the 1970s with the lovers rock boomlet. Soothsayers seem to be a UK-based band with a horn section and a handful of albums since 2008. Campbell still has that sweet voice, and the band gets a fairly classic groove going, so what's not to like? B+(**)
Brandy Clark: 12 Stories (2013, Smith Music Group): Started off as a songwriter with a taste for the ordinary slice of life, which means broken homes, love as drunken illusion before the not inevitable marriage that strips it bare, a preference to cope by getting high rather than drowning your sorrows, and enough good sense to think twice before committing a "crime of passion" (unlike those other crazy women). Several potential clichés-in-the-making here, and I would argue that the political cult against abortion has more to do with making illegitimate children than drunken cab rides and lowering inhibitions, but this much substance is still rare enough in Nashville it's worth celebrating. A-
Cults: Static (2013, Columbia): Singer Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion, second album, first album cover suggested clean-cut dance frenzy, this one is all mottled -- I think posterized is the technical term. The pop tunes are jumpy enough, but strike an annoying tone, which belies the point, like trying to come up with unsweet candy. B-
Miley Cyrus: Bangerz (2013, RCA): Show biz kid, father is Billy Ray Cyrus -- someone I forgot about so long ago I it never crossed my mind -- worked her way through the Disney machine, dropping her fifth album at age 20. Looks like a corporate effort: I count 35 writer credits, 84 personnel credits (only 19 musicians, mostly violin); half the tracks were produced by Mike Will Made-It and P-Nasty, two by Pharrell Williams, the rest scattered, and five have featured guests -- Britney Spears and four rappers (Nelly, Future, Big Sean, and French Montana, whose "FU" is a riot, although I'm not sure FM can claim any credit). She's an unremarkable singer, so the big production may be her only shot, but it mostly works: this is roughly comparable to last year's Nicki Minaj thang, nothing close to the peak moments but a lot more consistent. Fairly good chance it would grow on me if I gave it the chance. B+(***)
Deer Tick: Relativity (2013, Partisan): John McCauley, singer-songwriter from Rhode Island with enough twang and middling classness to work in Americana, or what's left of it. B+(**)
Deltron 3030: Event 2 (2013, Bulk): Back in 2000 rapper Del the Funkee Homosapien, producer Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, and turntablist Kid Koala got together for a one shot sci-fi album called Deltron 3030. Well, they're back, and projected even further into the future. A-
Dirty Beaches: Drifters/Love Is the Devil (2013, Zoo Music): Alex Zhang Hungtai's "low slung, lo-fi, post-rockabilly" project sprawls to 16 pieces and 75 minutes, for the most part dark, shadowy, haunting instrumentals -- guitar, I think, from the attack, but the sample-and-hold morphs into keyb tones, prolly a laptop. Interesting in moderate doses, but does run on too long. B+(*)
DJ Khaled: Suffering From Success (2013, Cash Money): Palestinian-American DJ, b. in New Orleans, based in Miami, seventh album in as many years; big, booming sound, the pieces thick with guest shots -- a single song pitches Big Sean, Rick Ross, French Montana, 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, Ace Hood, and Timbaland -- most hard to distinguish, although Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj are exceptions. B+(*)
DJ Rashad: Double Cup (2013, Hyperdub): Chicago juke music producer: some interesting beats, but also a lot of junk, leaving little desire to trying to suss it all out. B-
Drake: Nothing Was the Same (2013, Cash Money/Republic): Canadian rapper, first album's basic underground sound set him up as a nice guy contender, while second album suggested success was going to his head. This is somewhere in between: long, perplexed, shallow, steady. B
Heidi Feek: The Only (2013, Western Pin-Up): Showbiz kid from Nashville although I'm not clear on the details, writes songs in the realist tradition but rocks them out harder than is the local custom -- kind of like the young Marshall Chapman, which makes me wonder how she'll flesh out once she experiences some of life's hard knocks. Closes with a "Heartbreak Hotel" that is less harrowing than John Cale's, but headed in that direction. B+(***)
Joe Fiedler's Big Sackbut: Sackbut Stomp (2013, Multiphonics): Second album for Fiedler's "low brass" choir -- three trombones (Fiedler, Ryan Keberle, Luis Bonilla) and Marcus Rojas on tuba, plus they've nabbed Steven Bernstein (slide trumpet) as featured guest. After the title stomp, "King of the Road" comes off as the novelty it's meant to be, establishing the band's limits -- not much speed or sizzle, but over album length the pumping humor comes out, and liabilities turn into assets. B+(***)
Chris Flory: The Chris Flory Quintet Featuring Scott Hamilton (2012, Arbors): Guitarist, only a half dozen albums since 1988, first two on Concord, rest on Arbors -- not a unique career path, reunited with the tenor saxophonist who led the "young fogey" movement -- Flory was on eight Hamilton records, so this hook up is about as comfortable as can be. B+(***)
Ghostpoet: Some Say I So I Say Light (2013, Play It Again Sam): British rapper Obaro Ejimiwe, draws his sluggish beats (and increasingly his ominous drones) from trip hop, while the lyrics pick up from his debut, aplty titled Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam. B+(**)
Gordon Grdina/Mark Helias: No Difference (2012 , Songlines): Guitar- and oud-player from Vancouver, always inventive, in duets with bassist Helias and quartet tracks with tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Kenton Loewen -- the former remain sketchy, the latter ramp up into real power. B+(**)
Marty Grosz & the Hot Winds: The James P. Johnson Songbook (2010 , Arbors): Guitarist, plays banjo and sings some, son of legendary anti-Nazi satirist Georg Grosz. Now in his eighties, playing music originating from the great pianist, mostly from the decade before Grosz's birth. With a terrific trad jazz band: Jon-Erik Kelso (trumpet), Scott Robinson (saxes), Dan Block (clarinets), James Dapogny (piano), Vince Giordano (bass, bass sax, tuba), and Arnie Kinsella (drums) -- the '20s roar again. A-
Haim: Days Are Gone (2013, Columbia): Three sisters, common surname Haim, grew up in Los Angeles, first album although the group dates back to 2006; tight, polished production with pop hooks and standout drums -- their father, Mordechai Haim, was the group's initial drummer but Danielle Haim and Ariel Rechtshald are credited with drums here. Don't have a fix on the lyrics, but will say neither the critics tying them to Fleetwood Mac nor the band's preference for R&B groups like TLC come close to the mark. B+(**)
Hera/Hamid Drake: Seven Lines (2013, Multikulti): Polish avant-jazz band, best known member (at least the only one I was aware of) is clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel, with a lineup that includes tenor/soprano sax, guitar, hurdy-gurdy, bass, and drums -- the latter redundant given the special guest. But rather than push the edge of modernism, they globetrot, with the first three songs namechecking Asian spots -- Baluchistan, Kyoto, Tibet -- with much of the music settling into fierce grooves. Recorded live, so you get a Drake drum solo too. B+(***)
Richard X. Heyman: X (2013, Turn-Up): Singer-songwriter from New Jersey, started in a garage rock band called the Doughboys, regarded as "power pop," his voice and guitar approximating Marshall Crenshaw. This is the first of nine albums (going back to 1988) I've heard, and its basic sound is right up my alley. Just haven't detected any great songs yet. B+(*)
Homeboy Sandman: All That I Hold Dear (2013, Stones Throw, EP): Seven songs, 25:26, vinyl release, second EP this year in a career strategy that seems to prefer short product, much as the rapper eschews big statements as much as bling and glitz; the pieces are built on idiosyncratic rhythm tracks, in some cases (like the opening "King Kong Got Nothing on Me") totally slipped out of the joint. B+(**)
Icona Pop: This Is . . . Icona Pop (2013, Big Beat/Atlantic): Swedish synthpop group, big dance beat, layered synths and vocals; nominally their second album, but starts by repeating their hit single "I Love It," as infectious a pop confection as I've heard all year. They sustain that vibe through three cuts before you start to notice they're a bit stiff and exhuberant isn't all that distinct from loud. Closes strong with "Then We Kiss." B+(*)
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts: Unvarnished (2013, Blackheart): Journeyman rocker, still insists on crediting her band on her seven-year-hiatus-ending thirteenth album. The beat's basic, the songs pro forma, but "Bad as We Can Be" is her baseline and it's hard to fault that. B+(**)
Jonwayne: Oodles of Doodles (2012, Stones Throw, 2CD): Hip-hop MC from Los Angeles, came out with an album in 2011, has a bunch of mixtapes since, and this "instrumental" set -- does have a few vocals on it adding to the rhythmic chunkiness but they don't make much difference one way or another. "Oodles" means a lot -- not sure if Rhapsody has everything Discogs lists for two discs, but it has a lot; "doodles" are sketchy rhythm tracks, often just squiggles of keyb run long enough to sink in. B+(*)
The Julie Ruin: Run Fast (2013, Dischord): Kathleen Hanna, formerly of riot grrrl groups Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, returns after nearly a decade, recycling a 1998 side project name. Some of it is typically punky but it also bounces around a lot, and occasionally you get a male voice -- don't know who but the songs are co-credited to a Kenny Mellman -- as a foil. A-
John Paul Keith: Memphis Circa 3AM (2013, Big Legal Mess): Singer-songwriter from Memphis, calls his band the One Four Fives, third album -- bet that's not his real name, but at least it's more plausible than the more accurately aspirational Johnny Jerry Lee Elvis. Actually, he sounds a lot more like Marshall Crenshaw than Richard X. Heyman does, and the songs are up a notch too -- too bad Johnny Cash never got the chance to sing "There's a Heartache Going 'Round." B+(***)
Kelela: Cut 4 Me (2013, Fade to Mind): Another first name R&B singer, last name Mizanekristos, raised in Maryland and based in Los Angeles. B+(*)
King Krule: 6 Feet Beneath the Moon (2013, True Panther Sounds/XL): Brit singer-songwriter, Archy Marshall, age 19 although he's got a deep old voice that doesn't need much support to be arresting. Strikes me as an effort to forge a new blues far removed from the tradition -- similar to trip hop, but harder to do with guitar than electronics. Could grow on you if you give it a chance. B+(**)
Jessy Lanza: Pull My Hair Back (2013, Hyperdub): Canadian singer/electronica producer, previously worked with Junior Boys, does a sketchy downtempo thing that works most of the way through, haunting and alluring. B+(**)
Lorde: Pure Heroine (2013, Lava/Republic): From New Zealand, where this 16-year-old's debut album topped the charts and spawned two number one singles, and has done nearly as well in the US; stage name for Ella Yellich-O'Connor. Wrote or (mostly) co-wrote ten songs with producer Joel Little. Mostly mid-tempo, doesn't sound like teen pop, but nicely finished, accessible, unpretentious. B+(**)
Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet: In a World of Mallets (2012 , Basin Street): Youngest son of the Marsalis clan, started on drums, moved on to vibes (not sure when; at least by 2009), plays some xylophone, marimba, and glockenspiel here, backed by piano-bass-drums. Nothing particularly interesting, the waltzes least of all. C+
Moby: Innocents (2013, Little Idiot): After 20 years this seems like the perfect median of his sound, with its built-up synth layers and the occasional gospel whoop. Which is to say it dredges up the old more than it ushers in the new, but I can imagine it subbing admirably well. B+(**)
Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady (2013, Bad Boy): Second album after the critically acclaimed The Archandroid, draws "feats" from artists who've been there and done that (Prince, Erykah Badu) and others aimed that way (Miguel, Esperanza Spalding). Humorous dj skits about gay android sex, one leading into the album's standout track ("Apocalyptic Dance"), before which this rates as a pretty good funk album, after which even the ballads come crystal clear. A-
Elizabeth Morris: Optimism (2013, self-released, EP): Australian singer-songwriter, better known as the singer for pop group Allo Darlin', turns in a 4-cut, 13:20 EP, two over skeletal piano, the others a basic guitar strum, nothing fancy, poignant nonetheless. B+(***) [bc]
Ted Nash Big Band: Chakra (2013, Plastic Sax): Alto saxophonist, second big band album, the commission coming from a man whose life had evidently been saved by a Chinese chakra healer, the task to write seven movements corresponding to the points in the symbolism. Powerful piece, lots of movement, not a lot of solo definition although the 16-piece band doesn't lack for star power. B+(*)
Nelly: M.O. (2013, Republic): St. Louis rapper with a great fondness for catchy choruses, so much so that twelve years past his breakout there's hardly a rap left on his new record. Not much here, but the basic vibe remains, and I've found it so enjoyable for so long I'm not about to throw it out yet. B
Willie Nelson: To All the Girls . . . (2013, Legacy): A singer so pliable he can handle anything you throw at him -- well, maybe not Black Sabbath or Matchbox 20 -- but he's able to knock out an infinite series of new product. Here the concept is to pair him with female duettists, who probably picked their own songs given how scattered they are. Eighteen women signed up: when product is so easy, why skimp? B+(*)
Cyril Neville: Magic Honey (2013, Ruf): The fourth and youngest Neville Brother, now 65, turns out a straightforward blues album with a lot of muscle tone -- he was, after all, the drummer. B+(***)
Gary Numan: Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind) (2013, Machine Music): How odd: I recall Numan's first three albums (1979-80), especially liking the debut (Replicas), but had no conscious sense of any of his 37 albums until this one popped out. Mostly he got heavier, with more sludge, although something like "Love Hurt Bleed" still shows some knack. B-
Lindi Ortega: Tin Star (2013, Last Gang): Canadian singer-songwriter transplanted to Nashville; third album, progressing, a nice twist on the Linda Ronstadt voice. B+(**)
Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile (2013, Constellation): Alto saxophonist, newcomber to Chicago's AACM tradition, still in pursuit of "great black music" -- this with its share of history lessons and a dicey, shifty abstractness to the jazz, at odds with Jeremiah Ablah's stiff, operatic "tenor vocals"; Roberts' own vocals are fine (cf. "Thanks Be You"). B+(**)
Serengeti: Saal (2013, Graveface, EP): Chicago underground rapper goes nine cuts, 27:53, a near-album that earns its EP status by seeming cheap, tossed off with random noises and sing-song lyrics. B
Bryan Shaw and the Hot Shots: The Bluebird of Happiness (2013, Arbors): Trumpet player, not to be confused with the Brian Shaw who teaches baroque trumpet at LSU; this one has led a sheltered career in California, occasionally appearing in trad jazz outfits like High Sierra Jazz Band or South Frisco Jazz Band, or appearing with trombonist Dan Barrett, who brokered Shaw's 2000 debut and this belated sequel, a septet with Barrett, Evan Amtzen on clarinet and sax, Ehud Asherie on piano, and Brad Roth on guitar and banjo. Old-fashioned swing ably done. B+(**)
Eddie Spaghetti: The Value of Nothing (2013, Bloodshot): Original surname Daly, bassist-singer for Supersuckers since 1988, fourth solo album since 2004. Good econ joke-line in the title cut, nothing fancy to the music, and the lyrics have a disarming coarseness -- "Waste of Time," "People Are Shit," "Fuckin' with My Head," "When I Go, I'm Gone." Tempted to overrate it to show off the cheesecake cover. B+(***)
Rossano Sportiello/Nicki Parrott/Eddie Metz: Live at Jazz Corner (2012, Arbors): Piano-bass-drums trio, also known as the Eddie Metz Jr. Trio or the Ed Metz Jr. Trio -- the drummer may be coming out on his own since Ed Metz Sr. (a notable pianist) died in 2009, but also Sportiello and Parrott have a couple of fine duo albums and at this point are probably better known. Parrott sings two tunes, "Besame Mucho" and "Fever," and goes for smoldering. The pianist goes for fast ones, except for that Chopin thing he learned back in the old country. B+(**)
Rokia Traoré: Beautiful Africa (2013, Nonesuch): Singer-songwriter from Mali via Paris, fifth album, enchanting as ever in her native language, and I would add the French I can barely follow, but I'm less assured by her English -- suggests the music doesn't have enough juice to render such concerns superfluous. B+(***)
Chucho Valdés & the Afro-Cuban Messengers: Border-Free (2013, Jazz Village): Cuban pianist, for speed and flair one of the few you might ever be tempted to compare to Art Tatum, at his best with bass, drums, and extra percussion, but can get tripped up on the cuts where he brings in a horn or two -- Reinaldo Meilan on trumpet and/or Branford Marsalis on tenor and soprano sax. Maybe "tripped up" isn't the right verb -- more like he ducks for cover. B+(*)
Bob Wilber: Bob Wilber and the Three Amigos (2012, Arbors): The leader is closing in on 85 here, playing soprano sax and clarinet, as are amigos Pieter Meijers and Antti Sarpila, backed by a fine group of early jazz afficionados -- Rossano Sportiello, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Cocuzzi (vibes), Nicki Parrott, and Eddie Metz Jr. They play three Ellington tunes from the 1920s, Bechet, Jolson, Waller, "The Best Things in Life Are Free." B+(***)
Monday, October 28. 2013
Music: Current count 22254  rated (+28), 569  unrated (-11).
Rated count is down this week because I spent a couple days listening to old music and not writing anything. Still managed 16 records below, with three complete surprises edging over the A- line, and very different records at that: one trad, one avant, one of those fancy orchestral big band albums I never like (except this one). Dave Bennett's two albums on Arbors don't come close to new one on Mack Avenue -- I checked the second after writing the review below. Rent Romus is a guy who's been under my radar for a long time: turns out he's been on a couple records I've heard, but they weren't very good records (and that probably wasn't his fault). Then there's Idan Santhaus' debut record, which I fully expected to dismiss with one play and a one-liner and wound up getting six spins. None are year-end list contenders, but they are real good records that opened my ears up.
Only two records in the unpacking list, by far the most barren week since I started writing Jazz CG. (Nor are those two records things I have the slightest desire for -- not that the unknown Abu Dhabi chanteuse is the certain dud that the Xmas album is.) Also note that one of those is the first 2014 release I've received, so it carries with it the extra burden of opening up next year's list file. So there's probably a seasonal aspect here, but as the year is closing I'm looking back to see what I missed, and that's a lot. I'll post Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week, and I should have close to ten jazz albums there. But there's hundreds more inaccessible through Rhapsody. I just caught up with adding records from the Free Jazz blog to my metacritic file and noticed, for instance: two new Adam Lane albums on CIMP, one on Okkadisk from Ken Vandermark/Joe McPhee, Anthony Braxton on Victo, Dennis González on Ayler, Paul Dunmall on FMR, Mary Halvorson/Kirk Knuffke on Relative Pitch, Evan Parker/Matthew Shipp on RogueArt, Lisa Mezzacappa on Not Two, a self-released Chris Kelsey project, a dozen or so records on Tzadik (most but not all by John Zorn), and much more.
Some reminders: still looking for people who want to take part in this year's Turkey Shoot (see link here). Deadline for requests is November 10 and for finished reviews is November 24, but earlier would be better. Still plenty of fat game out there, and if you want to kick around some ideas write me. Also, we have even fewer commitments to the Black Friday Special, so if you have a favorite new release this year which hardly anyone knows about, this is your opportunity to get the word out.
The monthly Jazz Prospecting rollup for October is here. This month's total is 59 records, up slightly from the previous two months, well below the 85 in July and 78 in June. The monthly rollup archive goes back to February 2012, roughly when it became clear that the Village Voice was no longer interested in publishing Jazz Consumer Guide. (Before that Jazz Prospecting was collected in column cycles. At some point I may bring them forward, and I'm also thinking about folding Rhapsody Streamnotes reviews of jazz records in here.)
Dave Bennett: Don't Be That Way (2013, Mack Avenue): Clarinet player, from Michigan, an unabashed Benny Goodman fan -- his two previous albums are Dave Bennett Salutes 100 Years of Benny and Clarinet Is King: Songs of Great Clarinetists. Mostly stays with the classics here: "Slipped Disc," "Begin the Beguine," "Sing, Sing, Sing," "Woodchopper's Ball," and reaches back even further for "St. James Infirmary" (with a vocal) and the closing "When the Saints Go Marching In." Even the one faux pas ("Yesterday," normally a kiss of death) is flat out gorgeous. With Tad Weed on piano, and Reg Schwager on guitar. A-
Randy Brecker: The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion (2011 , Piloo, CD+DVD): The Brecker Brothers were a popular band 1975-81, with Heavy Metal Be-Bop their conceptual coup although I never heard them as more than a middling funk band. They reunited for two 1992-94 albums, and dissolved irreparably when saxophonist Michael Brecker died in 2007. He's replaced by Ada Rovatti here. Only bassist Will Lee returns from the original band, but Mike Stern (guitar), George Whitty (keyboards), and Dave Weckl (drums) were on The Return of the Brecker Brothers and possibly older records. They and Oli Rockberger play on the DVD. The CD shuttles some other musicians in, with more emphasis on vocals. Some fine trumpet here, and some of the funk grooves start to win me over, but the CD ends on a down streak. B
George Cotsirilos Trio: Variations (2013, OA2): Guitarist, originally from Chicago, based in/near San Francisco, was in a group called the San Francisco Nighthawks; fifth album under his own name, third Trio, backed by Robb Fisher on bass and Ron Marabuto on drums. Seven originals, one of the covers from Ivan Lins. B+(**)
Shauli Einav: Generations (2012 , Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1982 in Israel, studied at Jerusalem Academy of Music & Dance, then moved to US to Eastman School of Music, landing in New York for seven years before eventually relocating to Paris. Third album, cut in New York with a group that includes Don Friedman on piano and Itai Kriss on flute, plus bass and drums. Two Einav originals, one from Friedman, covers favor saxophonists and include two pieces by Harold Land. The tenor sax has some zip and depth, and Friedman has occasion to remind you what a fine pianist he is. A fourth album, recorded in France, is due any day now. B+(**)
Sérgio Galvão: Phantom Fish (2013, Pimenta): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, b. 1965 in Brasilia, Brazil. Debut, piano split between Leo Genovese and Aruán Ortiz, guitar between Leni Stern and Alex Nolan. Upbeat, exhuberant even, reminds one of Gato Barbieri long ago but less willing to rough it. B+(***)
Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio: Dream a Little Dream (2012 , Whaling City Sound): Drummer, son of vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, released an album called The Thrasher in 1996 and has kept the handle through various group projects (Thrasher Band, ELectric Thrasher Orchestra, etc.) His Dream Trio is Kenny Barron on piano and Ron Carter on bass, and it's hard to quibble over that. Four Gibbs originals, including dedications to McCoy Tyner and Don Pullen. One song each from the others, and a long list of covers including one Monk, two Hancocks, and a bit of Stevie Wonder. B+(***) [October 29]
Todd Londagin: Look Out for Love (2013, self-released): Standards singer, also plays trombone; second album after one in 2003. Band includes Pete Smith (guitar), Matt Ray (piano), Jennifer Vincent (bass), David Berger (drums). Songs like "Pennies From Heaven" and "I Concentrate on You" have seen better days, and the genre twist on Jazmine Sullivan's "Bust Your Windows" is exactly wrong. B-
Justin Morell Dectet: Subjects and Compliments (2012 , Sonic Frenzy): Guitarist, studied at UCLA and got his Ph.D. at University of Oregon; currently teaches in Atlanta. Don't know how many records he has released -- a Quartet in 1999, The Music of Steely Dan in 2002, several others possibly lapping into classical music (at at least "smaller chamber works"). Dectet has four reeds (including Bob Sheppard and Ben Wendel), three brass (trumpeter John Daversa and two trombones), guitar, piano, bass, and drums. Titles are like "Fugue in B-flat, in three voices" and "Fugue in E, in four voices" -- but the voicings are often remarkable, and the guitar adds some silk to the rhythmic flow. B+(***) [October 29]
Project Them (2013, Miles High): Bob Franceschini (tenor sax, flute) and Mark Sherman (vibes) are the leaders, with Mitchell Forman or Paolo Di Sabatino (piano), Martin Gjakonovski (bass), Adam Nussbaum (drums). Everyone in the group (save Forman) contributes songs, plus one Johnny Mandel cover. Upbeat, more hard bop than postbop, especially impressed with Franceschini -- b. 1961, nothing under his name but makes a strong impression. B+(*)
Howard Riley: Live With Repertoire (2011 , NoBusiness): Pianist, b. 1943 in England, cut some remarkable albums 1969-70 (Angle, the Penguin crowned The Day Will Come). He has a large pile of records since then -- AMG shows a gap 1971-88 but my database shows six albums in that gap and I doubt that it's anywhere near complete. (The Penguin Guide authors are huge fans, but I hadn't heard anything from Riley except the early albums.) This is solo, three original pieces with most of the others Monk tunes. B+(*)
Rent Romus' Life's Blood: Truth Teller (2013, Edgetone): Avant-saxophonist (alto/soprano), from San Francisco, studied at UC Santa Cruz in the late 1980s, drifted through various Bay Area groups (e.g., the Lords of Outland); at least eight albums since 1995. Mostly trio, with bass (Kim Cass and/or Markus Hunt) and drums (Timothy Orr), plus Rhodes on one cut. The rough stuff is sharp, engaging, and the softer spots draw you in. Hadn't recognized him before: seems like a potential SFFR. A-
Adam Rongo: Tell Your Story (2013, D Clef): Alto saxophonist, from Michigan, studied at MSU and has a couple of his professors on board for his debut album -- Etienne Charles (trumpet), Rodney Whitaker (bass) -- as well as Michael Dease (trombone), Emmet Cohen (piano), Behn Gillece (vibes), Ulysses Owens Jr. (drums), and various guests. Three originals, two pieces from the band (Dease, Gillece), a couple standards and pieces by other saxophonists (Jimmy Heath, Johnny Griffin, Steve Wilson). Upbeat, a little busy but closer in spirit to original bebop than to academically fashionable postbop. B+(*) [October 29]
Idan Santhaus: There You Are (2008-11 , Posi-Tone): Big band arranger, born and raised in Israel, moved to New York in 2001. First album under his own name, but has a couple of arranger credits, including A Different Porgy & Another Bess for Brussels Jazz Orchestra. His instrument is flute, but he only plays on one cut here. Recorded in two sets with a minority of overlapping musicians. The solos feel composed through, but he has a remarkable knack of drawing them out. A-
Nicky Schrire: Space and Time (2013, self-released): Singer, second album, wrote 4 of 12 songs, covers about half standards and half less standard (not sure where "Here Comes the Sun" goes); does them with the barest of piano accompaniment, rotating Fabian Almazan, Gerald Clayton, and Gil Goldstein. Back cover looks like it was printed in invisible ink, another example of how she shies away from contrast. Not bad, but strains my ability to discern. B
Ricardo Silveira/Vinicius Cantuária: RSVC (2013, Adventure Music): Two Brazilian guitarists, Cantuária also provides percussion and sings. This edges a bit back into Cantuária's MPB turf as opposed to the more jazz-centric Silveira; still, lovely within its limits. B+(*)
Ben Wanicur: The Excluded Middle (2012 , Middle Path): Bassist, based in San Diego, first album, with Ian Tordella on sax, Peter Sprague on guitar, and Charlie Weller on drums. Wanicur wrote five originals, added five covers including two from Wayne Shorter. Mainstream postbop, nothing you haven't heard before, but it's very nicely done. Tordella has a couple recent albums I haven't heard. Sprague cut his first in 1979 and has a lot of records I haven't heard, although I run into him often enough to recognize the name. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, October 21. 2013
Music: Current count 22226  rated (+39), 580  unrated (+1).
No new A- records this week. My covers scans have a little border because I originally picked them up from CDConnection.com although in practice I have to composite about half of the ones I use, laying a scaled scan image over their blank frame. I've found that I can bypass having to cache the image in cases where they have a scan, and I can use HTML height-and-width attributes to force them into a uniform form factor, so I've started to use that trick, especially for Downloader's Diary duds I don't feel like caching. Thought I'd look up the high HMs here and use that trick, but none of them currently exist. (Some may show up on Tuesday when they're officially released.)
The pecking order on the B+(***) HMs is probably (although I've stopped trying to sort this level out): Elton Dean, Myra Melford, Enrico Granafei, Tom Harrell, Amir ElSaffar, Diane Hubka, Scott Jeppesen. With the first two I at least entertained the idea of grading them A-, eventually hedging because a 28:29 bass-drums duet and a whole album of solo piano feel a bit undressed. The others never came close, but they are consistently enjoyable records -- as are, really, the next tier.
I have 98 A/A- records in the 2013 (plus 6 reissues/compilations -- how pathetic is that?), so I'm probably on a good pace to match (or, more likely, exceed) my 2012 list (128 + 16, with Allo Darlin's Europe the latest add).
To reiterate some old news, we're still looking for contributors for next month's Turkey Shoot and Black Friday Special -- for details, scroll back to October 16. Also, my Terminal Zone offer stands. I haven't shipped them out yet -- haven't even exhumed them from the basement, but I did pick up some envelopes and labels -- again, scroll or search until you find more details. The second "post-Christgau" piece that I had promised a couple of weeks ago is still unwritten, so stand by. My problem with ECM is still unresolved, and I'm rather shocked that I haven't even gotten the courtesy of a reply. I do know that Jason Gubbels likes the new Tim Berne's Snakeoil album -- you should be reading his reviews, as well as the extracts he pulls out like the Paul Bley Blindfold Test.
Comments remain open. One reader tells me that his inability to post comments ended when he switched from Chrome to Firefox. (I don't use Chrome and haven't investigated why.) Still, not netting much there. Also note that I'm tending to delete even favorable comments if they are vacuous and/or atrociously written, especially if I notice they're attached to spam links. Also, the website is still semi-broken. I notice this more in admin tasks than you do, but I haven't necessarily found (let alone fixed) all the breaks.
Jeri Brown: Echoes (2013, Jongleur Productions, CD+DVD): Singer, b. 1952 in St. Louis, wound up in Canada (Montreal, I think, but this label is based in Nova Scotia). Thirteen albums since 1991. This one was recorded live at Catalina Jazz Club in Los Angeles, backed by a piano trio with Mon David joining as a second singer on 6 (of 11) cuts. Standards -- aside from the title cut by Leon Thomas and two originals with "Echo" in the title -- most upbeat, with both singers slinging an awful lot of scat. DVD presumably the same show. B+(*)
David Buchbinder's Odessa/Havana: Walk to the Sea (2013, Tzadik): Trumpet player, joined with pianist Hilario Duran for a Cuban-Jewish fusion album in 2007, Odessa/Havana, returns for more here. Duran wrote one piece and adapted two trad. Ladino songs. With John Johnson on clarinet/sax/flute, Roberto Occhipinti on bass/guitar, Aleksandr Gajic on violin/viola, various oud and trés players, dumbeq and bata, one vocal by Michal Cohen, three by Maryem Hassan Tollar. B+(**) [advance]
Marco Cappelli Acoustic Trio: Le Stagioni del Commissario Ricciardi (2013, Tzadik): Guitarist, b. 1965 in Naples, Italy; has at least seven records since 2002. This is a string trio with Ken Filiano on bass and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion -- sort of a proto-soundtrack based on detective novels of Maurizio De Giovanni (collectively, "the four seasons of Detective Ricciardi"). B+(**) [advance, October 22]
Chaise Lounge: Dot Dot Dot (2013, Modern Songbook): Small swing band, fourth album, Charlie Barnet is the main force, writing most of the songs and playing guitar, piano, accordion, and tenor banjo, while Marilyn Older is the singer, Gary Gregg plays tenor sax and clarinet, Joe Jackson trombone, Pete Ostle bass, and Tommy Barrick drums. Covers like "Let's Face the Music and Dance" are most immediately appealing. B+(**)
Elton Dean/Paul Dunmall/Paul Rogers/Tony Bianco: Remembrance (2004 , NoBusiness, 2CD): Alto saxophonist Dean died in 2006, after a career that started up in the 1960s with the prog rock group Soft Machine but moved ever further into avant-jazz. He plays on three (of four) long cuts here, the first in a trio with Rogers on bass and Bianco on drums; then in a quartet that adds Dunmall on tenor sax; and finally a second trio. The sax here, and Dunmall only adds to this, is relentlessly probing and engaging throughout. The other track is a 28:29 duet with Rogers and Bianco, starting the second disc off a bit obscurely but interesting in its own right. B+(***)
Amir ElSaffar: Alchemy (2013, Pi): Trumpet player, b. 1977 in Chicago, father Iraqi, studied classical music at DePaul and still tends to orchestrate his albums -- this is the fourth since 2007 -- as suites. Quintet with Ole Mathisen on tenor sax, John Escreet on piano, François Moutin on bass, and Dan Weiss on drums. B+(***) [October 22]
Enrico Granafei: Alone and Together (2012 , CAP): Plays chromatic harmonica, DB guitar, and sings on two cuts -- very effectively, not that I follow. From Italy, studied classical guitar at Conservatory of l'Aquila, later got a masters at Mahnattan School of Music under Toots Thielemans; now owns a jazz club in Montclair, NJ. With Amina Figarova on piano and Billy Hart on drums, guest spots for Vitali Imereli on violin, Vic Juris and Dave Stryker on guitar, Wallace Roney on trumpet. The harmonica is rich and vibrant, Imereli's violin turns even "Yardbird Suite" into romantic fare, and, as I said, the vocals are touching. B+(***)
Tom Harrell: Colors of a Dream (2013, High Note): Postbop trumpeter, b. 1946, has about 35 albums since 1978, has impressive chops but in recent years I've had problems with his compositions and combos. Not so here -- even though it doesn't strike me as a good idea to have Esperanza Spalding sing and (mostly) scat along with most of this, the rhythm section of Ugonna Okegwo (bass) and Jonathan Blake (drums) hurries her along (looks like Spalding also plays bass on most of this), and saxophonists Jaleel Shaw and Wayne Escoffery give Harrell quite a run -- best moments are the ones without Spalding, but she actually does a marvelous job of filling in for the missing keyboard. B+(***) [October 22]
Diane Hubka: West Coast Strings (2012 , SSJ): Standards singer, has a half-dozen previous albums since 1998. The strings here are guitarists, rotating with a couple cuts each (some overlap, including Hubka playing guitar on three tracks: Anthony Wilson, Ron Eschete, Mimi Fox, Larry Koonse, John Pisano, Peter Sprague, and Barry Zweig. Starts with Wes Montgomery's "West Coast Blues," with Wilson but it sets the tone for everyone who follows; then "Moondance," a Jobim, one from Horace Silver, on to "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" and ending with another blues. Voice is clear and fits the guitar especially well. B+(***)
Scott Jeppesen: El Guapo (2013, Creative Bottle Music): Saxophonist (credit plural plus bass clarinet, pictures show a tenor), based in Los Angeles, first album, with Larry Koonse (guitar), Josh Nelson (piano), bass, drums, and John Daversa (trumpet, flugelhorn) on two tracks. Wrote 8 (of 10) tracks -- one cover from Richie Beirach, the other a romp through "Don't Fence Me In." Has especially good feel for ballad tempo. B+(***)
Myra Melford: Life Carries Me This Way (2013, Firehouse 12): Pianist, very important, one I occasionally vote for in Downbeat polls over dozens of worthy competitors; AMG lists 16 albums since 1992, which for practical purposes is short as she often turns a side credit into a tour de force. But this is solo, so it only occasionally blows you away -- the rest is first-rate dancing around the melody or sneaking up on her next surprise. B+(***) [October 22]
Houston Person: Nice 'n' Easy (2013, High Note): Tenor sax legend, follows in the tradition of Ben Webster and Stanley Turrentine -- a progression which also means less vibrato, but no less soul -- approaching his 80th birthday next year. He takes this one exceptionally easy, a bit of Chuck Redd's vibes splashing over John di Martino's piano, with Ray Drummond and Lewis Nash barely needed to nudge things alone. Nice? Of course! B+(**) [October 22]
Ed Reed: I'm a Shy Guy (2013, Blue Shorts): B. 1929, grew up in Watts, joined the army, became a junkie, did four stints in San Quentin and Folsom, at one point singing in a combo with fellow inmate Art Pepper, got out in 1985 and finally decided to straighten up and fly right. Cut his first album at 77 in 2006, and this is his fourth, "A Tribute to the King Cole Trio & Their Music." Randy Porter plays piano, Jamie Fox guitar, Arkira Tana drums, and he's expanded the trio to include bass (John Wiitala) and tenor sax (Anton Schwartz). Reed sings those old songs about as well Freddy, and it's a delight to hear them. B+(**)
Gary Smulyan/Dominic Chianese: Bella Napoli (2013, Capri): I've always heard that the pizza on the cover is primarily an American invention, but the vintage Italian (or should I say Napolitano?) songs are old country, and Chianese -- best known for his role as Corrado Soprano -- sings them as classics. Can't find any instrument credits, but Smulyan plays baritone sax, the sturdy backbone of the songs, the nontraditional turn that holds everything else together. With Gary Versace, Matt Wilson, Jeff Lederer, and someone [Joe Brent] on violin. [Also Martin Wind on mandolin.] B+(**)
Phil Woods & the Festival Orchestra: New Celebration (2013, Chiaroscuro): Alto saxophonist, learned bebop at Bird's feet, but outgrew it and is still active at 82, often showing up as the featured soloist in gigs like this. The COTA Festival Orchestra started out as the Al Cohn Memorial Orchestra in 1988. Can't say as I recognize anyone here, nor does any instrument other than alto sax stand out. They do eight Woods tunes and close with two covers, the last an Al Cohn arrangement of "You Don't Know What Love Is" with a vocal by Najwa Parkins. B-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Wednesday, October 16. 2013
Throughout most of the history of Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide, he broke with his usual format and published a "Turkey Shoot" on or near Thanksgiving, where he dumped on 12-20 grade B or (most often) worse records: some just plain bad, but most distinguished by some level of critical or popular support which made them especially annoying. Christgau stopped writing Turkey Shoot columns once he left the Village Voice, explaining that listening to so much bad music so intensively was a miserable waste of time. Still, it's part of every critic's job to listen to bad music so you don't have to, so last year it occurred to me that we could gain valuable warnings and spread out the misery a bit if we got a bunch of people to take on one or two pet peeves each and collect them into a group-sourced Turkey Shoot.
Last year's Turkey Shoot Invitational (archived here) was received well enough that it's worth trying again. We had 13 contributors and they reviewed 19 records. That was quite adequate, but we might have done better had we started with more lead time -- last year's invitation was only posted on November 6, so we're a couple weeks ahead of that. (Also Thanksgiving falls later in the month this year.) Anyone who sees this can offer to contribute, but I'll also be sending out direct invites to past contributors and other select friends, and you should pass this link on to other possible critics.
One big change this year: in addition to running the Turkey Shoot on Thanksgiving Thursday (November 28 this year), I want to also run a second column on the day after Thanksgiving, the customary start of Xmas Shopping Season, where we will offer a second set of reviews of relatively unknown records you might actually want to buy. Let's call this the Black Friday Special, and search far and wide for rare gems most reviewers have missed. This was, of course, something Robert Christgau was exceptional at, and is all the more needed now that MSN has killed off his Expert Witness blog.
Rules and procedures are roughly the same as last year. Each reviewer can review up to 4 records in each column. The records have to be assigned. Send your requests in to me by Sunday, November 10. (My email address is on the Contact page) Once assigned, your reviews are due no later than Sunday, November 24. The reviews should be paragraph-sized, each with a letter grade at the end -- for the Turkey Shoot, B or less (E is the bottom of the barrel); for the Black Friday Special B+ (preferably A) or higher. Like last year, if the review is long enough I will include a cover scan. If it is exceptionally short I'll omit the cover. Best not to write more than you really need to.
Turkey Shoot records should meet some standards of notability. In particular:
For the Black Friday Special, the notability requirement is roughly reversed:
The Christgau exclusions are because I'm assuming that what he's written about is common knowledge among readers -- the world at large may have no clue who Sam Baker, Clay Harper, Fat Tony, and Young Fathers are, but let's face it, you do, so "me-too-ism" would be a lazy way to do the Black Friday Special, and far less useful as well. And I see the Turkey Shoot as filling a gap, and I'd rather not fill it up with snipes against his past writings.
I considered extending the exclusions to Tatum and myself, but in the end figured you don't take us nearly that seriously -- plus we do have our disagreements. Still, you might bear that in mind, especially for the Black Friday Special.
It's OK with me for reviewers to adapt their previously published writings. It's OK for reviewers to contribute to only one column -- a number of people I contacted last year were squeamish about turkeys but might have had a secret favorite.
Like last year, all reviewers will be given a chance to submit numerical grades (1-to-10) on all reviewed records, which will be added as a table.
Again, results will be published on my blog.
Again, there is no money to this (at least none that I'm handling). Copyrights are retained by the contributors. We assume that submission constitutes permission to publish. Any questions, ask me.
Monday, October 14. 2013
Music: Current count 22187  rated (+42), 579  unrated (-0).
Wrapped up that Recycled Goods '60s special. Tom Lane wrote in to take exception to my (implicit) dis of Three Dog Night and Fifth Dimension -- "Good singles acts, I'd say" -- so, recalling that my brother was a fan once and that I could recall some singles I sorta liked, I went on to work as far through the former as I could stand. None of the albums hold up very well, but more surprisingly few of the 17 top-20 singles they scored 1968-74 are things you'd ever want to hear again. (Anyone else in that period comparable? Chicago? John Denver? Too early for Journey.) One thing that helped them then and not now was their knack for blowing up singer-songwriters that were too sketchy for AM: listeners today are more likely to hear Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson than Three Dog Night, some of us even know Thomas Jefferson Kaye better, and I found myself wanting to play some of those old Hoyt Axton albums my first wife loved so much. Fuller report next time. Fifth Dimension remains a SFFR: my vague recollection/expectation is that the singles are better but the albums are worse, but we'll see.
Meanwhile, some Jazz Prospecting. The breakout records this week are avant, with Darius Jones and Rodrigo Amado doing most of the squawking but the controls are held by bassist Adam Lane and guitarist Luis Lopes -- two musicians who have regularly impressed me. The Lopes album is a good deal rougher, but also peaks higher. I should have written up a second album by Lopes here, but he sent me an LP and I've been to lazy to put it on. I have several other pieces of vinyl pending, including a huge, lovely box of 1960s New York Art Quartet sessions that cost someone a small fortune. Presumably the turntable still works, but it's been so long I may have forgot how to run it.
Windows computer glitch is temporarily fixed, so I'm back on Rhapsody again, and way behind the curve for recent releases, so I may lean that direction instead of Jazz Prospecting the next week or so, especially as I don't seem to be that far behind my jazz backlog. Also, I am working on the promised post-Christgau piece -- it's just coming slow as it tumbles gently in my mind.
Dave Askren/Jeff Benedict: It's All About the Groove (2013, DaWay Music): Guitar and alto sax, leading a quartet with John Belzaguy on bass and Ramon Banda on drums. Askren has three previous albums, starting with a guitar trio take on Bill Evans. Benedict has two previous albums. Forget the title's suggestion of pop jazz. This is mainstream, maybe even a little retro-swing, so yes there's a groove, just not standard groove music. Reminds me more than a little of the group Dave Stryker and Steve Slagle ran, and those are pleasant memories. B+(**)
Jim Beard: Show of Hands (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1960 in Philadelphia, sixth album since 1990, side credits with Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, David Liebman, Mike Stern, Peter Erskine, Michael Brecker. Solo, 12 originals (several named after Haiku), 8 covers including "But Beautiful" and "Honeysuckle Rose." B+(*)
Wilford Brimley With the Jeff Hamilton Trio (2012 , Capri): Veteran character acter specializing on old West coots, b. 1934 in Salt Lake City, got into movies as a stunt man, had a recurring role in The Waltons, and has appeared in dozens of movies, most often in in roles "Sheriff" or "Grandpa." Cut a record in 1990 called I'm Old Fashioned, and another recently with Riders in the Sky, Home on the Range. This one is with a drummer-led piano trio -- Tamir Handelman is the pianist -- songbook standards with no country/western identity. Neither slick nor deep, but he's nimbler than you'd expect, even on a too-slow ballad like "This Love of Mine." B+(*)
John Escreet: Sabotage and Celebration (2012 , Whirlwind): Pianist, fifth album since 2009, seems to be an exceptional player and ambitious composer. This is a stellar quintet -- David Binney and Chris Potter on saxes, Matt Brewer on bass, Jim Black on drums -- plus guests plus, at least part of the time, a string section and/or a brass section. Starts off with a really dreadful string intro, and the strings never get better, but when they lay out the group is every bit the powerhouse you imagine. B+(*) [October 15]
Brian Haas/Matt Chamberlain: Frames (2013, Royal Potato): Piano and drums, respectively. Third album under Haas' name, most of his work having appeared as the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Chamberlain has done a lot of (mostly rock) session work since Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians in 1990, including some things that lap over into jazz, like Bill Frisell's Floratone group. Repeating patterns, improvisations in riddim. B+(*) [October 15]
Mike Jones Trio: Plays Well With Others (2012 , Capri): Pianist, b. 1962, sixth album since 1993, trio with Mike Gurrola on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums. Two originals, rest standards with "Besame Mucho" leading off and "Corcovado" midway, the rest songbook fare like "It's a Wonderful World" and "I'm Old Fashioned." Doesn't push any boundaries, but all rather delightful. B+(**)
Adam Lane Trio: Absolute Horizon (2010 , NoBusiness): Bassist, justly known for his compositions but decided to wing it here with a full set of spontaneous improv. Trio includes Darius Jones on alto sax and Vijay Anderson on drums. Jones is an imposing player in his own right -- still disappointed that AUM Fidelity stopped sending me new records, especially Jones' latest -- and does a nice job of threading the rhythm here. Seems too easy, but that's what talent does. A-
Mary LaRose: Reincarnation (2011 , Little(i) Music): Singer, based in Brooklyn, fifth album since 1995, one on avant label CIMP with Steve Swell, Jeff Lederer, and Dominic Duval. Lederer (clarinet, tenor sax) appears on three cuts here, with Kirk Knuffke (cornet) on three more, but the band is dominated by strings (2 violin, viola, cello, bass) for an arch chamber feel. Mostly jazz pieces by Coleman, Mingus, Dolphy, or Ayler with lyrics by LaRose -- the odd song out is Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." B+(*)
Jeff Lederer: Jeff Lederer's Swing n' Dix (2012 , Little(i) Music): Saxophonist (tenor, alto, plays some clarinet too), second album, side credits mostly with Ted Kooshian and Matt Wilson. Wilson is drummer here, with old-fashioned brass -- Kirk Knuffke on cornet and the redoubtable Bob Stewart on tuba. Starts with "Honeysuckle Rose," includes pieces by Duke Pearson and Pee Wee Russell, also a trad Shaker hymn, plus originals by Lederer, Knuffke, and Wilson. Mary LaRose sings the Shaker hymn, and the group semi-sings the closing title piece. But all through it's the tuba that keeps this moving. B+(***)
Luis Lopes/Humanization 4tet: Live in Madison (2011 , Ayler): Guitarist, from Portugal, has several albums with this quartet, mixing it up with tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, backed by Texan brothers Aaron and Stefan González. Leads off with Arthur Blythe's "Bush Baby" where the see-saw leads are especially infectious. Rest are originals, three from Lopes, one from Amado, and a roughhousing blues from Aaron G. A-
Bill Mays Inventions Trio: Life's a Movie (2012 , Chiaroscuro): Pianist, b. 1944, AMG lists 18 albums since 1982; he has dabbled in classical, and done a lot of LA studio work. Trio adds Marvin Stamm on trumpet and Alisa Horn on cello, a small group that covers a lot of instrumental range without much harmonic depth. Starts with a "Homage to Bill Evans" and ends with a "Monk Tribute." In between there's a 4-part Mays original, "Life's a Movie: 4 Cues in Search of a Film," and short takes of "Concierto de Aranjuez" and Chick Corea's "Spain." B
Mike McGinnis: Ängsudden Song Cycle (2012 , 482 Music): Clarinet/bass clarinet player, two new albums out, a previous one from 2000 as well as membership in the Four Bags (four albums 1999-2012). This project started out as a set of paintings and poems in Tagalog by visual artist MuKha. They were translated into Swedish and English, and are sung here by Kyoko Kitamura to McGinnis' music, arranged for clarinet, bassoon, cavaquiño, guitar (Sean Moran), viola (Jason Kao Hwang), bass, and percussion (Harris Eisenstadt). Slow, abstract, arty, interesting. B+(**)
Carol Morgan: Retroactive (2012 , Blue Bamboo Music): Trumpet player, fifth album, mostly with guitar-bass-drums, Rhodes added on three cuts. The guitar, split between Chris Cortez and Mike Stern, is often striking. Four Morgan originals, plus one by Cortez, and give covers, ranging from "Jitterbug Waltz" to "Tea for Two" to "When the Levee Breaks -- the former especially enchanting. B+(**)
Chris Parker: The Chris Parker Trio (2013, GPR): Drummer-led piano trio, with Kyoko Oyobe on piano and Ameen Saleem on bass. Parker has at least one previous album under his own name, a group called Toph-e & the Pussycats, plus many side credits going back to 1969 (Earl Hooker), more with rock singer-songwriters (Don McLean, Bonnie Raitt, Todd Rundgren, Phoebe Snow, Lou Rawls, Sinead O'Connor, Loudon Wainwright III, Natalie Cole) than in jazz contexts. Oyobe has a previous album, Cookin' at Smalls. She contributes two songs here, Parker three, plus six scattered covers. B+(**)
RED Trio: Rebento (2012 , NoBusiness): Piano trio from Portugal: Rodrigo Pinheiro (piano), Hernani Faustino (bass), and Gabriel Ferrandini (drums). Their eponymous debut (on Clean Feed) was one of the most exciting piano trios of 2010, and they've since recorded albums with John Butcher and Nate Wooley. Here they're back to trio form on an LP/download deal. First side is sharp as ever, but the slower second is harder to hear. B+(*) [CDR]
Swing Fever Presents Clark Terry/Buddy DeFranco/Terry Gibbs and Guest Vocalist Jackie Ryan: Grand Masters of Jazz (1998-2001 , Open Art, CD+2DVD): Swing Fever is a band led by trombonist Bryan Gould, usually five horns plus guitar, bass, and drums. Not sure if they have any albums on their own, but in the four concerts these cuts were selected from, they form the sturdy backup for guest stars Terry (trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals), DeFranco (clarinet), Gibbs (vibes), and Ryan (vocals). This comes from four sessions, two with Terry, one each with DeFranco and Gibbs -- Ryan appears in all four. The DVDs add some patter like Gibbs' story about Benny Goodman not being able to memorize any names, and it's worth watching Clark Terry work off a lyric sheet in his "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" duet with Ryan. The audio CD hits the highlights -- about half vocal pieces -- with brief intros. The Gibbs set appears to be the same on both DVDs. B+(***) [October 15]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: