Monday, January 16. 2017
Music: Current count 27639  rated (+53), 370  unrated (+3).
Fifty-one records in the list below, so at most I picked up two extras I had graded but not recorded in the past, or maybe there's a record or two I added to the database but somehow forgot to list below. Either way, I clearly kept my ears to the grindstone all last week, as I was working on updating the Robert Christgau website and adding lists to this year's EOY Aggregate file. I should update the former more often than every six months, but it's done for now -- only missing last week's EW on Run the Jewels and T.I. No idea how many more EOY lists I'll add, but that project is done enough I could walk away from it at any time.
While I'm thinking of it, let me make a pitch for an Indiegogo project my nephew is working on: Help Us Save the Elizabeth M. Fink Attica Archive. Liz was a radical lawyer who joined the Attica Brothers defense team shortly after Nelson Rockefeller ordered the massacre of dozens of prisoners and guards, and saw the case to its conclusion thirty-some years later. In the process, she collected a huge amount of evidence on what actually happened. My nephew, Mike Hull, is a filmmaker and Liz entrusted him with the video evidence before her death last year. He's already digitized the video evidence, and now needs some funding to properly organize the archive for posterity. Would appreciate it if you can help him out.
By the way, we went to a screening of a new film that Mike and Jason Bailey produced. It was very funny, a pseudo-documentary about an exploitation filmmaker in the 1970s and 1980s, cutting between "newly discovered" film trailers and critics talking about how bad they were. I think the title is Lost & Found, but it's not the 2017 film by that name at IMDB, and I'm not seeing anything on it either at the Films on Consignment or Fifth Column Filmworks websites, so I'll have to get more info later.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, January 9. 2017
Music: Current count 27586  rated (+38), 367  unrated (+1).
Ran through a lot of records last week, including finally dipping into the 2017 release queue, starting with a Randy Weston joint that garnered a couple votes in the 2016 Jazz Critics Poll, then following up with Intakt's January releases and Satoko Fujii's best Orchestra album ever. Along with Run the Jewels (a December 24 digital release but I'm figuring the January 13 CD release to be more official) I already have four A-list albums for 2017. But most of the albums listed below are 2016 releases recommended by various EOY lists, whatever I could find that tickled my fancy. Good hip-hop week. Of the HMs, the one that tempted me most was by the Klezmatics.
I should note that Nat Hentoff died last week, at 91. I met him once back in the 1970s, and at the time thought of him mostly as a political columnist rather obsessed with defending free speech. Since then I've gotten an inkling of his deep commitment to jazz. It says something that the two jazz musicians I most closely link to him are Ruby Braff and Cecil Taylor -- he was a huge critical fan of both. Here's an obit from Evan Haga. Probably much more out there.
I'm more or less caught up with the EOY Aggregate file, but will probably keep adding stragglers and late finds of personal interest. One surprise at this point is that margins for two pair of high slots are currently down to one vote: Beyonce 389-388 in 2nd over Frank Ocean, and A Tribe Called Quest 298-297 in 6th over Nick Cave. Highest tie at present is 89-89 between Avalanches and Iggy Pop for 28th place.
Link to share: Can't Slow Down: Michaelangelo Matos' "notes toward a history of the pop world of 1984."
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, January 2. 2017
Music: Current count 27548  rated (+36), 366  unrated (+4).
Most of the week's discoveries have already been unveiled in Saturday's Streamnotes post, although I did add one more A- record a day later, from Venetian Snares -- a synth programmer from Winnipeg with a jazz master's sense of rhythm. Also came close to adding the new Klezmatics album, but I stretched its consideration beyond my cutoff moment. Whereas alt-country provided most of my A- finds last week, this week's winners were mostly rap albums.
I temporarily caught up with my backlog of EOY lists, not that I won't keep adding data at least up through Pazz & Jop (as it used to be known). Top of the list is pretty consistent at this point, with only minor fluctuations and no trends I can discern. The top 50 reads as follows (with my grades in brackets):
Probably the first year ever where I've heard all top-50 albums (informed as I am that this year's Chaleur Humaine is just a British repackaging of last year's eponymous Christine and the Queens album -- the one I've heard -- which was itself a reissue of the 2014 French Chaleur Humaine). The top five have been stable for a while now, even though the 2-3 margin is just 11 (I don't think the lead has ever changed). I had originally expected Beyoncé to catch Bowie but the closest they've come was about 30 points, and Bowie has been steadily building his lead over the last 2-3 weeks. I suspect she's lost votes (at least positions) to sister Solange.
Note that 6-7-8 are still very close (6 points total). Nick Cave does exceptionally well in non-English-language pubs, and I've picked up quite a few of them. Tribe got a late start, but seems to have hit a plateau, at least here -- I figure they'll finish 4th in the Voice poll, behind Bowie-Beyoncé-Ocean. The 9-10 race is also close (1 point), but 11-16 is pretty well spread out, 17-20 close (5 points), then a big jump to 21 (27 points).
My grade breakdown is: 15 A-, 10 ***, 8 **, 10 *, 3 B, 3 B-, 1 C+. I'd be real surprised if any previous year broke that favorably. (Last year I had 9 A- [-6], 11 *** [-1], 12 * [+2], and 9 B/lower [+2], with 3 unrated.) Number of lists compiled is down from 720 to 231, so there are quite a few more I could add if the spirit moves me. Total records are down from 5285 to 2402.
At this point, all of the new jazz CDs in my queue are scheduled for release in 2017, so I've felt justified in ignoring them. (I also held a few that I have listened to back for January's Streamnotes.) I'll start digging into them over the next week or two, but for a while I plan on concentrating on 2016 releases I've missed. Maybe start thinking about what to do in this coming year.
New records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, December 31. 2016
Again, backed up against the end of the month, and for that matter the year. No time to write a proper introduction, but this month's list is long enough you should have plenty to chew on. Many EOY lists fed into my effort to mop up this month, and that will continue for another month of two. Once again my New Year's Resolution is to cut back. Indeed, I did cut back a bit this year, with only 964 records in this year's rating file, vs. 1112 (1269) for 2015, 1167 (1248) for 2014, 1151 (1222) for 2013, 978 (1190) for 2012, and 1247 (1419, my all-time record, back when the Village Voice was publishing Jazz Consumer Guide) for 2011. (The numbers in parens include post-freeze grades, so it's premature to compare this year against them.)
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on November 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (8978 records).
Ab-Soul: Do What Thou Wilt (2016, Top Dawg): LA rapper, came out of the Black Hippy collective (along with Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q) but has stayed underground through four albums. This is a long one (76:57), clever words and social concerns twisted around minor beats, has some guests I've actually heard of but doesn't look to go mainstream. A-
Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids: We Be All Africans (2016, Strut): Saxophonist, b. Bruce Baker in Chicago, c. 1950, studied and toured with Cecil Taylor, also an actor, tap dancer, founder/director of San Francisco performance company Cultural Odyssey, has a handful of album since 1997 ranging from avant jazz to Afrobeat, which is more/less what this is. Vocals are rather perfunctory, but the sax leads command attention. B+(***)
Adia Victoria: Beyond the Bloodhounds (2016, Canvasback/Atlantic): Last name Paul, singer-songwriter originally from South Carolina, now based in Nashville, but I don't hear any country influence, nor blues nor gospel -- more like a non-Anglo Kate Bush, posh poesy with lush melodies but none too comfortable. B+(*)
Aesop Rock & Homebody Sandman: Lice Two: Still Buggin' (2016, Stones Throw, EP): Sequel to 2015's EP, this one also five cuts (16:06), rushes by so fast it seems even shorter. B+(***) [bc]
Harry Allen's All Star New York Saxophone Band: The Candy Men (2016, Arbors): Three mainstream tenors -- Allen, Eric Alexander, and Grant Stewart -- plus Gary Smulyan on baritone, backed by Rossano Sportiello's piano trio. Lest you doubt the obvious, they kick off with "Four Brothers." You're left marveling not just at how much the tenors sound like their mentors, but also each other. B+(*)
Babyfather: BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow (2016, Hyperdub): Alias for Dean Blunt, who's also recorded under his own name and (with Inga Copeland) as Hype Williams. Electronica with something that sounds like harp, his mantra ("that's why I'm proud to be British") falls on unreceptive ears, and the white noise of "Flames" was so insufferable I turned the volume way down low. Has some redeeming value, but not enough. B-
BadBadNotGood: IV (2016, Innovative Leisure): Jazz quartet (sax-keys-bass-drums), tempted to say they're Canada's answer to the Yellowjackets but they're a couple generations removed, their fusion more informed by hip-hop, especially in the five (of eleven) songs with featured guests -- e.g., Kaytranada and Mick Jenkins, but Colin Stetson also appears. B-
John Beasley: Presents MONK'estra Vol. 1 (2016, Mack Avenue): Pianist, here just arranges and conducts, running Monk tunes through the mill of a big band plus the occasional guest soloist -- credits are hard to come by, but one source mentions "MONK'estras" like Gary Burton and Gregoir Maret. Has some flash and sizzle, but too often rubs me the wrong way. B-
William Bell: This Is Where I Live (2016, Stax): Memphis soul singer, had some minor r&b hits for Stax in the late 1960s, is 77 now with his first album in a decade. No problem evoking the classic sound, and that almost suffices, but the songs aren't up to snuff, and not just because they're dead ass dreary. B
Sarah Bernstein Quartet: Still/Free (2015 , Leo): Violinist, has several avant recordings as Iron Dog, backed by piano trio here -- Kris Davis (piano), Stuart Popejoy (electric bass), Ches Smith (drums) -- this is sometimes polite enough for chamber jazz, but often risks something more, especially when Davis kicks it up a notch. B+(***)
Beyoncé: Lemonade (2016, Parkwood/Columbia): Not on Rhapsody, so I waited before finally breaking down to buy a copy, and hesitated again when I found I'd have to pay for a DVD in the bargain. Haven't watched the latter yet, nor have I seen the videos from the "Platinum Edition" repackaging of her eponymous 2013 album, nor have I found any time to track down her internet videos (even the one that pre-sold this album). I might not even have bothered but given the way Beyoncé broke in Pazz & Jop after its late release, this looked like this year's odds-on favorite -- and as it turns out was the only EOY Aggregate top-forty album I hadn't heard. Lots of good records on that list this year, but none I especially love. This is more impressive than most, although I doubt I'll ever care that much for someone who aspires to be "the black Bill Gates." A- [cd]
Black Art Jazz Collective: Presented by the Side Door Jazz Club (2016, Sunnyside): Sextet, hard bop lineup although they don't mean to be a throwback. Front-line horns have serious chops -- Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Wayne Escoffery on tenor sax -- and pianist Xavier Davis impresses. Two songs "inspired by Barack Obama," one each for W.E.B. Dubois, Sojourner Truth, and Joe Henderson. B+(**)
Aziza Brahim: Abbar El Hamada (2016, Glitterbeat): Singer-songwriter, born 1976 in a Sahrawi refugee camp in Algeria, at age 11 received a scholarship to study in Cuba, based in Spain since 2000. Fifth album. Don't know what the songs refer to, but I get their heartfelt depth, and the attractive, not especially exotic, beat. B+(**)
David Bromberg Band: The Blues, the Whole Blues, and Nothing but the Blues (2016, Red House): Cut four records 1971-74 for Columbia, mostly played blues but seemed so short of grit he got filed as a folksinger. Since then he's bounced down to lower rung labels -- Fantasy in 1978, Rounder in 1989, Appleseed in 2007, with sizable gaps in between, finally landing in alt-blues land. Christgau says this "smokes" the Rolling Stones' recent blues cover album, but surely that's not the right word. More like sneaks by on the sly. B+(***)
Peter Brötzmann/Steve Swell/Paal Nilssen-Love: Live in Copenhagen (2016, Not Two): The saxophonist backs a bit off his usual full fury, giving the trombone a fighting chance -- something Swell makes the most of. And the drummer is always masterful in this sort of company. A- [cd]
Jane Bunnett & Maqueque: Oddara (2016, Linus Entertainment): Soprano saxophonist, also plays flute, her interest in Cuban music going back at least to 1991's Spirits of Havana. Second album under the Maqueque banner, a group featuring several vocalists -- often the rub for me, especially on the overripe "Song for You." The flute just blows in the wind, but the sax solos impress. B
Burial: Young Death/Nightmarket (2016, Hyperdub, EP): Dubstep producer William Bevan, actually just a single, the two named tracks, 13:14 total. First cut doesn't do anything for me, but the latter hits the same sweet spot he's been mining for years, perhaps with a bit more clutter than usual. B+(*)
Taylor Ho Bynum: Enter the Plustet (2016, Firehouse 12): Cornet player, Braxton protégé, has built an impressive body of work since 1999, recently working with mid-size groups, this one much grander with fifteen names on the cover, only two I didn't immediately recognize. Unconventional big band, the six brass including French horn and tuba, only three reeds, violin (Jason Kao Hwang), cello (Tomeka Reid), bass (Ken Filiano), guitar (Mary Halvorson), drums and vibes. Three pieces, richly varied, neglecting neither group power nor individual finnesse. A-
Joăo Camőes/Jean-Marc Foussat: Ŕ La Face Du Ciel! (2014 , Shhpuma): Viola player, has a couple recent albums, this a duo where Foussat works his electronics in around the edges, just enough to keep the string sound from wearing thin. B+(***)
François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: The Joy of Being (2015 , NoBusiness): Alto sax trio, drummer Lambert is pretty much inseparable from the saxophonist, and is joined here by Mazur on acoustic bass guitar. Carrier is impressive as usual, but one hardly notices the others. B+(***) [cd]
Albert Cirera/Hernâni Faustino/Gabriel Ferrandini/Agustí Fernández: Before the Silence (2015 , NoBusiness): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, based in Lisbon, backed by the bassist (Faustino) and drummer (Ferrandini) from the RED Trio and avant-pianist Fernández. Three long pieces (average 18 minutes), plus a brief coda. Best here is the pianist -- I've mostly heard him in duos before, but he throws himself into this with abandon, certainly helped by the rhythm section, and the sax benefits as well. A- [cd]
J. Cole: 4 Your Eyez Only (2016, Dreamville/Roc Nation/Interscope): Rapper, sells well but tends to release albums in December, too late to build any EOY list momentum. Like many popular rap records of late, this slacks off and slithers underground, not so much because that's a viable strategy for business as for survival. Time and again he draws me in and pushes me away -- not that I have any business taking his shtick personal. B+(**)
Jeff Collins: The Keys to Christmas (2016, Crossroads): Pianist, arranger, producer, evidently works mostly in gospel with sides in Americana and Bluegrass, here marches a big band through eclectic medleys of some of the smarmiest melodies in the history of Christmas commercialism. Maybe I should be amused by how far over the top he goes, but I'm not. C- [cd]
Alexis Cuadrado: Poética (2016, Sunnyside): Bassist, studied in Barcelona and Paris before moving to Brooklyn. Crafts his engaging music -- with Miles Okazaki (guitar), Andy Milne (piano), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums) -- around spoken word by Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Melcion Mateu, the former close to rap, the latter in some other language, probably Catallan. B+(**)
CupcakKe: Cum Cake (2016, self-released): Rapper Elizabeth Eden Harris, from Chicago, turned some heads with her explicit raunch ("Vagina," "Deepthroat," "Tit for Tat," "Juicy Coochie" -- "don't need no drink to get naughty/ because I'm not Bill Cosby") but the strongest cut here is an acappella dis ("Reality, Pt. 2") -- not that I have any complaints against her beats. A-
Daniele D'Agaro/Giovanni Maier/Zlatko Kaucic: Disorder at the Border Plays Ornette (2015 , Not Two): Sax trio, D'Agaro playing alto, tenor, clarinet, and bass clarinet -- the ostensible group name actually a Coleman Hawkins song, but the label actually credits the musicians, and that's as plausible as anything given the cover. Sounds a bit thin for Ornette, but the alto captures the right tone. B+(**)
Deap Vally: Femejism (2016, Nevado): LA rock duo, Lindsey Troy (guitar) and Julie Edwards (drums), both sing, second album, a consistently hard thrash but two songs in the middle come clear and stand out -- one on feminism, one on critics and cynics. B+(***)
Dear Eloise: Uncontrollable, Ice Age Stories (2012 , Maybe Mars): Chinese husband-wife shoegaze duo, Yang Haisong and Sun Xia, several albums since their 2010 debut (The Words That Were Burnt. They produce indistinct vocals wrapped in a dense swarm of guitar noise punctuated by hard, regular beats. Not really my thing, but I'm impressed nonetheless. B+(*) [bc]
John Dikeman/Luis Vicente/Hugo Antunes/Gabriel Ferrandini: Salăo Brazil (2016, NoBusiness): Tenor sax, trumpet, bass, and drums, free improv recorded live in Coimbra -- "Salăo Brazil" is evidently a club there, and released on vinyl, which hopefully has more sound depth than my CDR (or maybe you're just supposed to play it louder). B+(*) [cdr]
The Dining Rooms: Do Hipsters Love Sun (Ra)? (2015, Schema): Electronic music duo from Milan, Italy, formed in 1998 by Stefano Ghittoni and Cesare Malfatti. Subtitle: "A soundtrack of cosmic funk, abstract jazz and cinematic avant-garde"; that mostly means ambient, with some overtalk exploring the title question, and more. B+(**)
The DKV Thing Trio: Collider (2014 , Not Two): Actually, a double sax trio, with Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson on various saxes and clarinet, Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten and Kent Kessler on bass, Paal Nilssen-Love and Hamid Drake on drums. Three joint improv pieces, 53:36, recorded in Krakow. Mucho squawk, but the last piece pounds the chaos into enough order to bring the noise home. B+(**)
Dog Leg Dilemma: Not This Time (2016 , self-released): Canadian (Toronto) jazz group, first album (after a live EP), Peter Bull (basses, whistling, woodblock, acoustic guitar, organ, electric whip) seems to be the leader, along with alto sax, guitar, drums, and violin on a couple tracks. Has a fusion flow but that's not really the feel. B+(*) [cd]
Pierre Dřrge & New Jungle Orchestra: Ubi Zaa (2016, SteepleChase): Guitarist, founded his Danish not-quite-big band in 1982, thinking Ellington while collaborating with South African bassist Johnny Dyani (d. 1986). Lots of dramatic build up for the guest star -- Kirk Knuffke on cornet -- but somehow their trademark swing got waylaid. B
Dave Douglas: Dark Territory (2014 , Greenleaf Music): Trumpet maestro, did some relatively early experiments with electronics but nothing very successful, takes another shot at it here with Shigeto (electronics), Jonathan Maron (electric/synth bass), and Mark Guilliana (acoustic/electric drums). B+(*)
Dave Douglas/Frank Woeste: Dada People (2015 , Greenleaf Music): Woeste is a pianist from Germany, split the writing chores five each with the trumpet star. Quartet adds Matt Brewer (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums). Only thing exceptional here is the trumpet, but you could have guessed that. B+(***)
Mark Dresser Seven: Sedimental You (2016, Clean Feed): Bassist-led septet, the lead horns -- Nicole Mitchell's flutes and Marty Ehrlich's clarinets -- are so soft they merely add coloring, while Michael Dessen's trombone adds some ring to the bass. Joshua White plays piano and Jim Black drums, but they too lurk in the background, as David Morales Boroff's violin dominates the group sound -- for better or worse. B+(**) [cd]
D.D. Dumbo: Utopia Defeated (2016, 4AD): First LP after a couple EPs for Oliver Hugh Perry, from Australia but recorded in England. Singer-songwriter, framed in a little extra pop jangle glitz. B
El Guincho: Hiperasia (2016, Nacional): Spanish laptronica producer, Pablo Diaz-Reixa, draws on tropicalia and at his best recalls Tom Zé, but his cut-up techniques are awful choppy here, so much so that the miracles that Zé routinely pulls off elude him here. B
ELEW: And to the Republic (2016, Sunnyside): Pianist Eric Lewis, has a couple of previous volumes of what he calls Rockjazz, here with a piano trio with -- smaller print on the cover -- bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. This doesn't strike me as "jazzrock" although it rolls plenty hard. Title cut built around Mark Antony's famous speech in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, I reckon to remind us how a previous republic descended into empire. B+(***)
EOLA: Dang (2016, Leaving, EP): Orlando FL-based group, principally Edwin Mathis White but probably other singers (and not much, if any, more) strikes me as bent gospel except when they're trying to make doo wop odder and more inaccessible -- I wasn't surprised to find an earlier album called The Lord's Jam. Nine cuts, 29:08. B-
Family Atlantica: Cosmic Unity (2016, Soundway): London-based group, second album, led by Jack Yglesias (Heliocentrics), featuring a Venezuelan diva (Luzmira Zerpa), a phalanx of west African percussionists, and various guests including saxophonists Marshall Allen and Orlando Julius. B+(*)
Fire!: She Sleeps/She Sleeps (2015 , Rune Grammofon): Norwegian group led by saxophonist Mats Gustafsson (big horns: tenor, baritone, bass), with Johan Berthling (bass) and Andreas Werliin (drums, lap steel guitar), plus guests on cello (2 of 4 tracks) and guitar (1 other cut). B+(**)
Paolo Fresu & Omar Sosa: Eros (2016, Otá): Trumpet and piano, backed with strings, and, as front cover notes, featuring Natacha Atlas (vocals) & Jaques Morelenbaum (cello). Fresu and Sosa also credited with percussion, a nice little beat in places but not enough to drive the vocalist on the early tracks. More atmospheric to close, which suits them better. B+(*)
Jonny Fritz: Sweet Creep (2016, ATO): Started out as a "filthy and whimsical" Brooklyn cowboy, but gave up his original alias (Jonny Corndawg) for his more mature Dad Country and loses even more this time, turning into a rather sweet but straight songster. B+(*)
Future: EVOL (2016, Epic): Atlanta rapper, puts out quite a few mixtapes in addition to legit albums like this one. Beats are pretty compelling here, but none of the raps are sticking. B+(**)
GFOTY: Call Him a Doctor (2016, PC Music, EP): Brit pop singer, Polly-Louisa Salamon, uses an acronym for "girlfriend of the year," has a half-dozen singles/EPs since 2013 plus a handful of "mixes." Elements of electropop, but bent and often broken, or maybe just spoofed -- hard to tell when you don't quite care. Nine tracks, 20:22. B-
Margaret Glaspy: Emotions and Math (2016, ATO): Singer-songwriter, plays guitar and fiddle with authority, has an idiosyncratic voice I'm not much comfortable with, and writes song with some depth that more literary-minded listeners admire. I'm not there yet. B+(**)
Macy Gray: Stripped (2016, Chesky): Soul singer, pushing 50, signs to a jazz label and recycles her songbook as standards, backed tastefully by trumpet (Wallace Roney), guitar (Russell Malone), bass and drums. Low key, stripped down, her voice not much more than a whisper, which doesn't do much to remind me of her own songs but works nicely on Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." B+(**)
Charlie Haden/Liberation Music Orchestra: Time/Life (Song for the Wahles and Other Beings) (2011-15 , Impulse): The bassist died in 2014, after the live tracks that open and close, but before the middle three studio cuts where Steve Swallow fills in. Still, fairly seamless with Carla Bley arranging throughout and no other personnel changes. Richly textured, deeply resonant. Haden gets a bit sappy at the end, but that's the way he lived his life, and we should be grateful. A-
Wayne Hancock: Slingin' Rhythm (2016, Bloodshot): Has a great country voice, all drawl and bite, mellowed a bit here as is the music, which has settled ever more into a western swing groove. Covers "Divorce Me COD," at once a smart choice and an obvious one. I'd say he's coasting, but he may just be aging gracefully. B+(**)
Freddie Hendrix: Jersey Cat (2010 , Sunnyside): Young mainstream trumpeter, first album on his own although he has close to two dozen side credits, basically fields a hard bop quintet (plus a couple guest spots). His pairing with Abraham Burton (tenor sax) works well on the fast ones, and he's got a nice slow burn on the ballads. B+(**)
Heron Oblivion: Heron Oblivion (2016, Sub Pop): Psychedelic rock "supergroup" joining ex-members of Espers, Comets on Fire, Howlin' Rain, and Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound -- I only vaguely recognize half of those band names, and only singer Meg Baird among the principals. Often I wonder what "psychedelic" means, but here I clearly hear echoes of those Jefferson Airplane guitars, so I figure that counts. B+(**)
Dre Hocevar: Transcendental Within the Sphere of Indivisible Remainder (2016, Clean Feed): Drummer, from Slovenia, leads a nine-piece group here, no one I recognize, where the first credit (Sam Pluta) is for live electronics and signal processing, and there is a synth player as well as a pianist (plus trumpet, two saxes, cello, and bass). The horns can get rough and rowdy, but the more discrete forms of chaos are hard to pin down. B+(*) [cd]
I Am Three: Mingus Mingus Mingus (2015 , Leo): Filed this under German saxophonist Silke Eberhard, who's also the leader of Potsa Lotsa, a larger group with two albums surveying Eric Dolphy compositions. This trio -- name comes from the first line of Charles Mingus' autobiography -- with Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet and Christian Marien on drums plays classic Mingus tunes, but whereas the master took small groups and blew them up to sound like big bands, they pick at and chew over the bones, often to interesting effect. B+(***)
Ich Bin Nintendo: Lykke (2016, Shhpuma): Hardcore trio, I'd guess from Norway -- guitar/vocals Christian Skĺr Winther, bass Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard, drums Joakim Heibř Johansen -- play six songs averaging more than 5 minutes each (31:17). Hard, harsh, metallic, the rhythm with one foot dangling in free jazz. A thrill at first. B+(**)
Carly Rae Jepsen: E-MO-TION: Side B (2014-15 , School Boy/Interscope, EP): Leftovers from the sessions for her 2015 album E-MO-TION, eight previously unreleased songs, 27:36. Three or four of them are good enough they reminded me of Lily Allen (although not nearly so smart and/or cheeky), while the others would make for decent filler. B+(***)
Ka: Honor Killed the Samurai (2016, Iron Works): Kaseem Ryan, Brooklyn firefighter, his rap sideline dating back to 1993 but I'm unclear on details before his 2008 solo debut. This one weaves samurai lessons into a more domestic thread, offering a sense of hard-earned accomplishment and brutal fates. A-
Bobby Kapp/Matthew Shipp: Cactus (2016, Northern Spy): First album I see to list drummer Kapp's name first, but he dates back to the avant 1960s, and more recently played in the Fine Wine Trio. Duo with the younger but much more famous pianist -- who is terrific here, thinking percussion and building on that. A-
Brian Kastan: Roll the Dice on Life (2016 , Kastan, 2CD): Guitarist, fusion with a hard rock thrash, electric bass, drums, and vocals, with Miles Griffith singing, rapping, and mostly scatting, adding yet more thrash. I suppose I should credit the closing "Black Lives Matter" -- the only piece I recall any vocal detail from -- but by then I was plain impatient for the damn thing to end. C+ [cd]
Tyler Keith & the Apostles: Do It for Johnny (2016, self-released): From Mississippi, came up in a late-1990s punk band called the Neckbones which had at least one good record, went solo with a band called The Preacher's Kids. Rockabilly junkie Phil Overeem has this number three on his 2016 list, and I sorta hear it, just not as much. B+(**) [bc]
Irene Kepl: SololoS (2016, Fou): Solo violin, saws back and forth, up and down. Final 'S' in title is mirrored in print, probably meant to convey how everything is refracted within itself. B+(*) [cd]
Alicia Keys: Here (2016, RCA): Sixth album, sales steadily declining since her 2001 debut sold 12 million copies. Still, sounds to me like her best, with catchy beats, pop hooks, and often deep lyrics. Inspirational lyric: "you glow." A-
Kirk Knuffke: Little Cross (2014 , SteepleChase): Trumpet player, prolific since 2009, with five records on Nils Winther's relatively mainstream Danish label and double that on more avant labels. This is the first of the former group I've heard, a trio with Jamie Saft on organ/synth and Hamid Drake on drums. They start with a trad gospel, then get original. Trumpet impressive, but sometimes gets snagged on Saft's keyboards. B+(*)
Konx-Om-Pax: Caramel (2016, Planet Mu): Scottish "animator, graphic designer, DJ and producer" Tom Scholefield. Thick, shimmering layers piled on beats that barely support them. B+(*)
Kornél Kovács: The Bells (2016, Studio Barnhus): DJ/deep house producer from Sweden, first album after a half-dozen singles. Minor variations and other fluff on top of fast rocking beats, a nice trick. B+(**)
Krokofant: Krokofant II (2015, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian fusion ("semi-improvising power") trio -- Tom Hasslan (guitars), Axel Skalstad (drums), Jřrgen Mathisen (sax) -- like to play it fast and hard, which can be their undoing. B+(*)
Martin Küchen/Mark Tokar/Arkadijus Gotesmanas: Live at Vilnius Jazz Festival (2016, NoBusiness): Sax trio, the Swedish saxophonist playing tenor, alto, and flute, the others bass and drums. Joint improv, takes a while to heat up, cooks when it does. B+(**) [cdr]
Lady Gaga: Joanne (2016, Streamline/Interscope): Album title is Stefani Germanotta's middle name, although it was reportedly named, like her, for her aunt Joanne Stefani Germanotta. A step toward maturity, perhaps, but pushing no buttons/boundaries gives us little more than impeccable professionalism to care for. Not sure whether I should credit that the first song I liked was in the "Deluxe version bonus tracks" ("Grigio Girls"). B
Jinx Lennon: Past Pupil Stay Sane (2016, Septic Tiger): Irish singer-songwriter, or talker, ranter, rapper, has two new records, six (or more) old ones, would probably have been a folksinger forty years ago but he's endured too much complication to settle for simple clarity. Crams 24 titles in here, though it's not clear there are that many different songs. B+(***)
Jinx Lennon: Magic Bullets of Madness to Uplift Grief Magnets (2016, Septic Tiger): Recorded with two members of the Liverpool band Clinic, this promises to be more structured, with just twelve songs averaging close to three minutes (33:16). I don't doubt that he's an interesting guy, but at some point I gave up trying to follow this. B+(**)
Live the Spirit Residency: Presents the Young Masters 1: Coming of Age (2016, self-released): The key here, of course, is tenor saxophonist Ernest Dawkins, executive director of Live the Spirit Residency, which runs after-hours jazz ed programs for Chicago youth. They put together a group called the Young Masters Ensemble -- Isaiah Collier (tenor sax), Jeremiah Collier (drums), Alex Lombre (piano), and James Wenzel (bass) -- and they're terrific even when the saxes lay out for a blues vamp. And while I suspect Dawkins plays most of the superb sax runs, they've all earned their group name. A- [cd]
The Pedrito Martinez Group: Habana Dreams (2016, Motéma): Conga player, also plays bata drums, born in Havana, based in New York since 1997, sings, which makes this strike me as more pop than jazz, even if the Afro-Cuban traditions run deep. B+(*)
Rob Mazurek & Emmett Kelly: Alien Flower Sutra (2016, International Anthem): Kelly wrote and sings the lyrics here, also strums some guitar, with most of the music coming from Mazurek's electronics (also a bit of cornet, and some guests). Very disjointed, the songs slapped onto the music (or vice versa), the discord palpable and more than a little hideous. C
Brad Mehldau Trio: Blues and Ballads (2012-14 , Nonesuch): Long-running trio, with Larry Grenadier (bass) and Jeff Ballard (drums), cover seven songs, precisely, expertly, not even fumbling tunes by the Beatles and solo McCartney. B+(**)
Mekons: Existentialism (2015 , Bloodshot): I'm at a huge disadvantage here, in that this live album ("why should a record take more time to record than it does to listen to?") from last year's Mekonception at the Jalopy Theater in Brooklyn ("with the help of 75 mekonsters") is properly part of a 96-page book ($24.95), the 12 songs accompanied with "twelve chapters of writing and art from mekons and mekon friends" -- so I can't tell you who's who, let alone the back stories and concepts. What I can say is that the music is terrific, harsh as the working life it transcends, the words biting and/or poignant. A
Myra Melford + Ben Goldberg: Dialogue (2014 , BAG): Piano and clarinet duets, working through five Goldberg pieces, eight from the pianist. There are moments when Melford does something characteristically brilliant, but more often the clarinet lays over everything like a wet blanket. B
Parker Millsap: The Very Last Day (2016, Okrahoma): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, so defaults to country. Feels at home wailing gospel and blues, and gets some liberal credit for a song about the gay son of a preacher. B+(*)
Modus Factor: The Picasso Zone (2015 , Browntasaurus): Self-described as "a modern electric groove trio," from Canada, drummer Chris Lesson evidently first among equals, alongside Brownman Ali (electric trumpet) and Ian De Souza (bass, effects). Still, the trumpet does much more than groove. B+(**)
Moker: Ladder (2016, El Negocito): Dutch jazz quintet (although Google also digs up a "brutal death metal" band), fifth album -- trumpet, tenor sax/clarinet/bansuri, guitar/alto horn, bass and drums, most also into electronics with krautrock legacy, not that they strike me as all that fusionish. B+(*)
Moor Mother: Fetish Bones (2016, Don Giovanni): Chamae Ayewa, from Philadelphia, has released more than a dozen EPs since 2012, this one more experimental postrock noise than hip-hop (no hop to it). Has a time travel motif, and refuses to overlook more than a century of violence against black folk. No fun, but I suppose that's part of the point. B
Donny Most: Swinging Down the Chimney Tonight (2016, Summit): Best known as an actor -- only regular gig seems to have been playing Ralph Malph on Happy Days -- has a previous standards album as D Most. This is just four secular (mostly Santa-themed) songs plus a non-Xmas "bonus": "C'est Si Bon"), 14:18, with an uncredited big band and backup singer. Fine voice, not bad as these things go. B [cd]
Motif: My Head is Listening (2013-15 , Clean Feed): Norwegian jazz group, half dozen albums going back to 2005, leader-composer is bassist Ole Morten Vĺgan. Sextet with trumpet, tenor sax/bass clarinet, clarinet, piano (Hĺvard Wiik), and drums. Free jazz, in some sort of a fancy chamber setting. B+(**)
Nao: For all We Know (2016, Little Tokyo): British soul singer (Neo Jessica Joshua), first album, attempts to channel some Prince funk, impressive when she actually pulls it off (i.e., not always). B+(*)
Willie Nelson: For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price (2016, Legacy): Circa 1980 Nelson a series of duet albums with peers and slightly older country legends, including San Antonio Rose with Price, whose biggest hits spanned 1956-73. Price rejoined Nelson for two even better 2003-07 casual classics, so a tribute after Price's 2013 death seems like a sure shot. Still, the strings are a bit much, Nelson is occasionally mannered, and Price's songs tend to revert to their originators without his voice. B+(*)
Nice as Fuck: Nice as Fuck (2016, Loves Way, EP): All-female indie rock trio, best known Jenny Lewis but also Erika Forster (Au Revoir Simone) and Tennessee Thomas (The Like). One of those short vinyl albums that comes up just short (9 songs, 25:51), and just shy of substantial. B+(*)
Noname: Telefone (2016, self-released): Chicago rapper Fatimah Warner, first album (err, mixtape), shuffles patiently through everyday life. B+(**) [bc]
Nots: Cosmetic (2016, Goner): Memphis punk band, second album, Alexandra Eastburn's keyboards add something to the guitar-bass-drums formula, and vocalist-guitarist Natalie Hoffmann is hard-pressed to sing over the noise, so it isn't immediately obvious that this is a grrrl band. What is obvious is that they're a damn catchy one. A-
The Nu Band: The Final Concert (2012 , NoBusiness): Avant supergroup, although the cover rightly features trumpet player Roy Campbell, whose 2014 death turned this date in Austria final. The quartet -- Mark Whitcage (alto sax), Joe Fonda (bass), Lou Grassi (drums) -- first recorded in 2001, cut a half-dozen albums over the next decade-plus, and has since recorded The Cosmological Constant with Thomas Heberer on cornet. Hesitates in spots, not the brightest recording, but a remarkable group. B+(**)
NxWorries: Yes Lawd! (2016, Stones Throw): Hip-hop duo, the rapper known as Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge. Nineteen cuts, none over 4:03, the sort of slippery beats and soft edges so much in vogue recently, talked-sung, relies a bit much on the lingo for my taste but comparable to a bunch of records I'm impressed by but can't quite get into (Chance the Rapper, for one). B+(***)
Uwe Oberg/Silke Eberhard: Turns (2015 , Leo): Two Germans, duets between piano and alto sax or clarinet, the pianist the senior player by more than a decade. Both provide originals, but they also work through covers from Jimmy Giuffre, Carla Bley, and Annette Peacock. B+(***)
Roberto Occhipinti: Stabilimento (2016, Modica Music): Canadian bassist, several albums, employs twenty-some musicians including a fairly hefty string section, although I can't see well enough to map the asterisks to the songs so I'm unsure who's playing what when. As for how, the postbop and third stream moves (including a Beethoven theme) never command much attention. B
Frank Ocean: Blonde (2016, Boys Don't Cry): Cover says blond but nearly everyone agrees that's a typo (or a "stylization"). Currently running 3rd in my EOY Aggregate, despite having a nebulous existence as product, and I'm afraid it's not much more substantial as music (with a couple exceptions). B+(**)
Phronesis: Parallax (2015 , Edition): Piano trio, based in London, half-dozen albums since 2007, leader seems to be bassist Jasper Hřiby, with Ivo Neame on piano and Anton Eger on drums, all three writing pieces (three each this time). Tight group, power moves to open and close, wide range in between. B+(**)
Populous: Night Safari (2014, Bad Panda): Italian electronica producer Andrea Mangia, looks south, across the Sahara, and dreams. B+(***) [bc]
Mark Pritchard: Under the Sun (2016, Warp): British electronica producer, has several albums, the gentle ambience of his wordless passages is pleasing, his guest vocalists/lyricists -- Stephen Wilkinson, Thom Yorke, Linda Perhacs, Beans -- are not unpleasant but don't add much either. B+(*)
Pussy Riot: XXX (2016, Nice Life, EP): Russian "feminist punk rock protest group" formed in 2011, variable cast of members, some having been arrested for "hooliganism," various previous recordings have been rumored but this three-cut, 11:37 single is the first I've managed to track down. Two of those are in English over funky beats, the third in gloomy Russian. B+(***)
Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra: Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (2016, Clean Feed): French pianist, has a half dozen previous albums, working frequently with prepared piano. This is something else: a ten-piece orchestra (two saxes, flute, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, electric guitar and bass, drums), the pieces inspired by various rugged landscapes, a rhythm section itching to break free, the horns striving to heighten the tension, not to break free. A- [cd]
The Rolling Stones: Blue & Lonesome (2016, Polydor): Still taking their cues from Chicago bluesmen, Jagger and company understand that the fount of youth for septagenarian rockers is the still the classic blues riff, and if they can't get it up to write their own, they can knock off an album of covers and make them sound great. B+(***)
Daniel Romano: Mosey (2016, New West): Canadian country singer, doesn't really have the voice for the job but impressed with his sincerity in the past. Still, this one sounds way off the mark, even when the mark seems to be Marty Robbins. B-
Ned Rothenberg/Mark Feldman/Sylvie Courvoisier: In Cahoots (2014 , Clean Feed): Leader plays various reeds (clarinet, alto sax, bass clarinet, shakuhachi), free jazz backed in chamber jazz fashion with violin and piano, respectively. B+(**) [cd]
Schoolboy Q: Blank Face LP (2016, Top Dawg/Interscope): LA rapper, actually born in Germany, like Ab-Soul came out of Black Hippy but has harder, more mainstream beats and rhymes that flirt with gangsta. B+(***)
Serengeti & Sicker Man: Doctor My Own Patience (2016, Graveface): Underground Chicago rapper David Cohn pairs off oddly Tobias Vethake from Germany for a pleasantly non-descript song cycle, with a vaguely Eno-ish vibe. Built for vinyl: 9 cuts, 31:25. B
Sleigh Bells: Jessica Rabbit (2016, Torn Clean): Noisy pop band, principally Alexis Krauss (vocals) and Derek Miller (everything else). Fourth album, still know how to bait a hook but I'm not catching much (other than desperation -- not that I didn't notice the one about tornadoes in Kansas). B
Todd Snider: Eastside Bulldog (2016, Aimless): So short (25:22) Napster considers this an EP, but it sports ten songs, only one over 2:48 but only one sub-2:00. That's because he plays fast and hard -- you could shelve this one under rockabilly. But he also writes fast and loose: only the title cut and "Come On Up" are really keepers. B+(***)
Elza Soares: The Woman at the End of the World (A Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo) (2015 , Mais Um Discos): Brazilian samba singer, b. 1937, has fifty-some albums since 1960 but I can't say as I've ever taken notice of her before. But at least at this point in her career she's way coarser and weirder than anyone in MPB -- rhythmically she's gravitated toward Tom Zé. Wikipedia notes she's been dubbed "the Brazilian Tina Turner," but I'm thinking more Alberta Hunter. A-
Regina Spektor: Remember Us to Life (2016, Sire): Singer-songwriter, born in Moscow, based in New York, has a handful of albums crossing over from Soviet Kitsch to American pop and what I suppose might be called more cultured forms -- mostly piano-based. Being an uncultured sort, I'm more impressed than enamoraed here. B+(**)
Steve Swell Quintet: Soul Travelers (2015 , RogueArt): Avant-trombonist, quintet adds Jemeel Moondoc (alto sax), Dave Burrell (piano), William Parker (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums), each adding something distinctive and remarkable to the mix. Still, I always enjoy a good trombone lead, of which there are many. Looks like this only came out on vinyl, so runs to a respectable length (4 cuts, 43:40). A- [cdr]
Steve Swell/Gebhard Ullmann/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Michael Zerang: The Chicago Plan (2015 , Clean Feed): Recorded in Chicago, home of Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics) and Zerang (drums), if not the front line (and composers) -- trombone and tenor sax/bass clarinet. The trombone leads are bracing, but the others on their own tend to melt together. B+(***) [cd]
Swet Shop Boys: Cashmere (2016, Customs): My kind of supergroup, two rappers with Indian/Pakistani heritage, although the Indian was born in Queens, New York (Heems, aka Himanshu Kumar Suri, formerly of Das Racist) and the Pakistani in London (MC Riz, aka Riz Ahmed, who had a standout acting role in HBO's The Night Of playing another Queens boy. As postmodern westerners, they see the potential of playing off their heritage, especially as they intuit it gets under the skin of less worldly westerners. A-
Tanya Tagaq: Retribution (2016, Six Shooter): Inuit throat singer, early on was just a weird blip on the world music continuum but has grown into a cosmopolitan rocker from the edges of a larger (and colder) world than you're used to. Includes a physics lesson/impending doom story remind you that "Gaia likes it cold." A-
Gregory Tardy: Chasing After the Wind (2015 , SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, got some attention 1998-2001 but fell off my radar after that -- turns out this is his ninth album since 2005 for SteepleChase. Sextet, Bruce Barth on piano, Alex Norris on trumpet, but instead of trombone the third horn is Sam Sadigursky's flute -- the weak link, I think, but also a bid to move beyond hard bop into something vaguely postbop. B
Tell Tale: Film in Music (2014 , Drip Audio): Vancouver BC group, septet, hype sheet cites cellist Peggy Lee as the leader but album lists drummer Dylan Van Der Schiff as co-producer, and the includes other well-known musicians -- indeed, they often play on one another's albums. Not sure if this is actual film music, but could be. B+(*) [cd]
A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service (2016, Epic): Hip-hop group, recorded five albums 1990-98, finding success with a jazzy underground sound before Q-Tip went solo. The reunion is also billed as a fluke, promised to be their last album even though it's much better than anything Q-Tip produced on his own (certainly since 1999's Amplified). Christgau gave this an ultrarare A+, but I can't fathom why he (or anyone else) finds it compelling -- maybe just desperate for some good news? A-
A Tribe Called Red: We Are the Halluci Nation (2016, Radicalized): Trio of "First Nations" musicians based in Ottawa, Canada; Wikipedia described them as a "Canadian electronic music group" but a better approximation would be hip-hop crew -- indeed, their name makes that explicit. Results are mixed: I'm most struck by the more radical political rants and critiques, which usually get sharper beats, than with the more generic war whoops. B+(***)
William Tyler: Modern Country (2016, Merge): Guitarist, played in Lambchop and Silver Jews before going solo in 2010. Fourth album, no vocals, not solo but often feels like it -- albeit oddly lush. B+(*)
Alexander von Schlippenbach: Jazz Now! (Live at Theater Gütersloh) (2015 , Intuition): German avant-pianist, a major player since the late 1960s, in a quartet with Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet, plus bass (Antonio Borghini) and drums (Heinrich Köbberling). They play one Monk tune, plus a mix of Herbie Nichols (3), Eric Dolphy (4), and Schlippenbach himself (5) -- longtime touchstones. B+(***)
Kelsey Waldon: I've Got a Way (2016, Monkey's Eyebrow): Singer-songwriter from an unincorporated town in Kentucky, moved to Nashville and released a debut album that deserves to be heard (The Goldmine). The first half here is at least that completely realized, and if the closing ballads slip a bit, the voice and pedal steel are sure purty. And at least one generalization has become more specific: "you can't place a crown on the head of a clown/and then hope it turns out to be a king." A-
Mat Walerian-Matthew Shipp Duo: The Uppercut: Live at Okuden (2012 , ESP-Disk): Polish alto saxophonist (also bass clarinet, soprano clarinet, flute), matched up with the pianist. They range widely here, going hard and soft, rough and not-so-rough. B+(***) [bc]
Mat Walerian/Matthew Shipp/Hamid Drake: Jungle: Live at Okuden (2012 , ESP-Disk, 2CD): Same deal as The Uppercut, plus a drummer -- a real good one -- and a few months practice. Often superb free jazz, but does run long (99:41). B+(***) [bc]
Becky Warren: War Surplus (2016, self-released): Former singer for a group called the Great Unknowns, structures her album as a "he said/she said" song cycle, loosely based on an ex-husband who flew off to Iraq and came back with PTSD crutched with alcoholism -- pretty much a cliché these days, and frankly her domestic travails rank pretty low on the scale of horrors war has produced. But as a piece of navel-gazing Americana this is pretty acute, and as country it's rock solid. A-
The Weeknd: Starboy (2016, XO/Republic): The opening Daft Punk single is fabulous, but the fall off without that level of help is pretty steep, but then several cuts return -- well, if not there, at least somewhere. One spin isn't nearly enough to sort out the peaks and troughs, but I'm not the one who decided to release 18 scattered tracks when some editing would yield a consistently pleasurable 10-cut album. B+(*)
Wilco: Schmilco (2016, dBpm): Big-time alt-indie band, as melodic as ever, just a bit softer and slower. B+(*)
Andre Williams: I Wanna Go Back to Detroit City (2016, Bloodshot): Obscure "R&B legend," wrote "Shake a Tail Feather" way back when, eventually got picked up by this very-alt country label and released a pretty remarkable album in 2012 with help from the Sadies (Night and Day). Could use some more help here. B+(*)
Jamila Woods: HEAVN (2016, Closed Sessions): Chicago R&B singer, close to hip-hop, associated with Chance the Rapper, smart and savvy but a little forced. Doesn't help that my stream source is so hard to follow. B+(*) [sc]
Neil Young + Promise of the Real: Earth (2015 , Reprise, 2CD): Live double from his Rebel Content Tour with the band he organized for The Monsanto Years -- I'll backtrack to that under "old music" -- so he works in a few (superior) old songs along with his more recent rants. It may be an existential condition for old white men to turn into cranks, but that doesn't mean they have to fall for Trump. B+(*)
Neil Young: Peace Trail (2016, Reprise): Continues his political crankiness in a more acoustic vein, although he does return to his '80s electronic treatments when he wants to give voice for a robot -- doesn't he know modern voice synthesis is all based on samples? So softer and kinder this time out. My guess is that sonic outrage will return, pretty damn soon. B+(**)
Yussef Kamaal: Black Focus (2016, Brownswood): London jazzy electronica group -- can't peg them as "pop jazz" -- principals are Henry Wu (keyboards) and Yussef Dayes (drums), with some others credited for tenor sax (Shabaka Hutchings), trumpet, electric bass and guitar, and "words" (Gordon Wedderburn). B+(*)
Tom Zé: Cançőes Eróticas De Ninar (2016, Circus): Brazilian singer-songwriter, took tropicalia to idiosyncratic extremes back in the 1970s and has cultivated his eccentricity ever since, often winning me over. Released as he turned 80, other print on the cover reads Para Dançar O Sobe Ni Mim and Urgéncia Didatica. Not sure if this one is exceptional, but few records sustain this level of jaunty playfulness. A-
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Dave Burrell and Bob Stewart: The Crave (1994 , NoBusiness): Piano and tuba duets, the fine print reads "play the music of Jelly Roll Morton and Dave Burrell." Three of each, but Burrell was likely thinking of Morton when he wrote his. Indeed, this set follows Burrell's 1991 album The Jelly Roll Joys, and improves upon it, the not-so-secret ingredient Stewart's tuba. A- [cdr]
Bob Dylan: The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert! (1966 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Evidently the much-bootlegged "Royal Albert Hall" concert officially released in 1998 as Volume 4 of The Bootleg Series was actually recorded at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, so what makes this "real" is geographical, but not much more. Both concerts were divided into solo-acoustic and band sets (the future Band billed as The Hawks), and the set lists are exactly the same. Times vary slightly, as do the catcalls, but all in all: pretty redundant. B
Dizzy Gillespie & Friends: Concert of the Century: A Tribute to Charlie Parker (1980 , Justin Time): Concert in Montreal, different venue but same city as 1953's legendary Parker-Gillespie-Powell-Mingus-Roach Jazz at Massey Hall. Group here is nearly as stellar -- Gillespie, James Moody, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Philly Joe Jones -- but much further into their respective careers. B+(*)
Betty Harris: The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul (1964-69 , Soul Jazz): Born 1941, she cut 15 singles during the 1960s, mostly for Allen Toussaint and backed by the Meters, only three scratching the charts, none remembered as classic, but professional enough for this solid, unremarkable compilation. B+(**)
Steve Lehman's Camouflage Trio: Interface (2004 , Clean Feed): I've been meaning to dig up the alto saxophonist's slightly earlier FSNT album (Artificial Light), the only one I've heard that I didn't much care for. This was cut a year later, an avant trio with Mark Dresser (bass) and Pheeroan Aklaff (drums), and has now been remastered. His hard freebop style is fully formed, the spots given over to Dresser more iffy. B+(***)
Joe McPhee & Raymond Boni: Live From the Magic City (Birmingham, Alabama) (1985 , Trost): McPhee is credited with soprano sax, electronics and voice; Boni with electric guitar and electronics. Duet, titles like "Set 1" and "Set 2 Part A." Interesting how the electronics defocuses the lead instruments, but more exciting when they clash. B+(**) [bc]
Evan Parker/Daunik Lazro/Joe McPhee: Seven Pieces: Live at Willisau 1995 (1995 , Clean Feed): Three saxophonists -- tenor/soprano, alto/baritone, and alto/soprano + alto clarinet and pocket trumpet -- although I wouldn't call them a sax choir: it's not like three free improvisers are concerned much with harmony. Still, it's rare when an all-sax record doesn't leave you wishing for something more, and this previously unreleased tape is that. B+(***) [cd]
Howard Riley: Constant Change 1976-2016 (1976-2016 , NoBusiness, 5CD): British avant-pianist, a Penguin Guide favorite. I've heard very little aside from a couple of outstanding 1968-70 albums (Angle, The Day Will Come), but he's still active in his 70s -- indeed, three-fifths of this solo piano trove date from 2014 or later. That later material is interesting, but the early discs -- especially the first from 1976-80 -- is more like exciting. Includes a short booklet by Brian Morton. B+(***) [cd]
Pat Thomas: Coming Home: Original Ghanaian Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1967-1981 (1967-81 , Strut, 2CD): Still active at 65, this label picked up his new record last year, and finally decided to dig into his long-forgotten prime period, before he left Ghana for Germany. Not exceptionally great, nor at least consistently so, but there are few beats I enjoy more than classic highlife, and he was definitely part of that scene. A-
Urgent Jumping! East African Musiki Wa Dansi Classics (1972-82 , Sterns Africa, 2CD): Benga, rhumba, Afrobeat, pop dance singles from Tanzania and Kenya, not as slick as the legendary Guitar Paradise of East Africa compilation or several other compilations I've heard (one called Muziki Wa Dansi actually covers the following decade), but I still find the uplift irresistible. A-
David S. Ware & Matthew Shipp Duo: Live in Sant'Anna Arresi, 2004 (2004 , AUM Fidelity): Half of Ware's fabulous Quartet, perhaps before the pianist became a star in his own right but he does much more than comp here on this posthumous tape (Ware died in 2012, and this is the second of what promises to be an archive series). B+(***)
Neil Young: Bluenote Café (1987-88 , Reprise, 2CD): In the late 1980s Young seemed to be desperately trying out new styles, producing an eclectic mix of poorly received albums. On one, This Note's for You, he fronted a lounge band with soul horns. This is from that band's live tour, part of an ongoing archives series. It works mostly as a blues set, the horns present but not so much as the guitar. B+(*)
Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings: Other Stories (2003-05 , 482 Music): Cornet player, first album to introduce his strings group (two violins, viola, two cellos, guitar) plus tuba, vibraphone, and drums. Three extended sequences, ambitious compositions, tricky and fragile. B+(*)
Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet: Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths (2008, Hatology): At full strength (only for the three-part centerpiece, "WhYeXpliCitieS," although that's most of the album), the leader's cornet, Matt Bauder (bass clarinet/tenor sax), two guitars (Evan O'Reilly and Mary Halvorson), viola (Jessica Pavone), and drums (Tomas Fujiwara). Scattered results, although I do love the intro to "Part 3" -- reminds me of South Africa's pennywhistle jive. B+(**)
Neil Young + Promise of the Real: The Monsanto Years (2015, Reprise): Band was borrowed from Lukas Nelson -- Willie'son, joined here by brother Micah -- after a Farm Aid concert, with Young providing a gaggle of anti-corporate protest songs, joining Monsanto to Walmart, Starbucks, Chevron, and others. Some I recognize from the live Earth, but I like them better here -- the guitars ring louder, and the backup singers stay in the background. B+(**)
Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:
Miranda Lambert: The Weight of These Wings (2016, RCA Nashville, 2CD): Greg Morton convinced he to give this another spin, and he may still right that this is even better than I can presently acknowledge. [was: B+(***)] A-
Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section.
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, December 26. 2016
Music: Current count 27512  rated (+47), 362  unrated (-21).
This week's rated count when I first ran make was +24, but when I counted the rated records this week, I came up with 28, so clearly I had missed at least four. I made a deeper search of unrated records and found them plus a bunch more (+19), hence this week's inflated count. Actually, I lost a couple days this week to cooking, but I also made up ground by leaning rather hard on Napster and Bandcamp, as I checked out interesting records from various EOY lists. Most helpful this week was Tom Lane's list (emailed personally), as it yielded about a dozen albums I hadn't previously tracked, including two of this week's A- finds (Kelsey Waldon and Becky Warren).
NPR published the 11th Annual Jazz Critics Poll this year. Francis Davis organized the poll of 137 jazz critics, and wrote two essays:
Once again, I compiled all of the critics' ballots into presentable form here, and tabulated them all to provide complete results down to the most obscure single votes. My own ballot is here, which includes, I believe, four singular votes (Keita, Person, Lucas, Rempis -- plus Lucas and Sonic Liberation 8 in the special categories; Amado got one other vote, and Rudd two; Damana got two other votes for Debut). I voted for records which finished 1st (Threadgill), 13th (Allen), 14th (Murray), and tied for 30th (Coleman), but I also graded eight other top-31 finishers A- (DeJohnette, Haden, Lehman, Bloom, Ward, Holland, Rollins, and Hersch), and ten more B+(***) (Smith, Halvorson, Formanek, Wilson, Sorey, Cyrille, Davis, Ortiz, Guy, Brown), plus five B+(**) (Iyer, Argue, Lloyd, Finlayson, Dresser). I didn't manage to hear two (Harrell, Moran). So all in all I find this a very respectable consensus -- in fact, probably fewer records here I disfavor than ever before.
Since the Jazz Critics Poll went up, I've mostly been trying to bring my EOY Aggregate up to date. Thus far I've mostly tried to pick up the (mostly foreign) polls listed at Acclaimed Music Forums. I'm currently up to 166 lists (as compared to about 750 lists last year, a total I'm not even remotely hoping for this year). (By the way, the list-of-the-week is from Dan Weiss. And while I haven't read/counted it yet, here's one from Jason Gross).
The current top-10: David Bowie, Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, Radiohead, Solange, Nick Cave, Kanye West, A Tribe Called Quest, Bon Iver, and Chance the Rapper. Second 10: Angel Olsen, Anohni, Anderson .Paak, Car Seat Headrest, Leonard Cohen, Danny Brown, Kaytranada, Blood Orange, Rihanna, and Mitski. The recent infusion of non-Anglo lists has helped fuel bubbles for Nick Cave (up to 6 from 9 last week), Bon Iver (9 from 11), and Anohni (11 from 13). I suspect those three will settle down a bit as the list focus moves back to America. That should also help Beyoncé, but at this point it's pretty clear that Bowie will wind up in first place (current margin +83), and it's not inconceivable that Beyoncé will lose second place to Frank Ocean (her lead is currently 306-300, so very close). I still expect Beyoncé to win the Village Voice Critics Poll, but my own scheme doesn't allow enough weighting for high finishes to make such a lead reversible.
I was invited to vote in El Intruso's annual poll, so this is what I sent in. They asked for "no more than three choices in each category." Most of those are for musicians-by-instrument. I don't think it makes much sense to try to rank musicians, so please consider this just an exercise in name-dropping.
I also voted in the Village Voice Music Critics Poll 2016 (formerly Pazz & Jop, originally -- i.e., 1971 -- named for a similar poll published by Jazz & Pop magazine). The poll asks critics to vote for their 10 favorite albums, dividing up 100 votes among them (5 minimum, 30 maximum), and also for 10 songs (with no point system).
I haven't been tracking singles, so have no idea what to vote for there, and no time at the moment to figure out how to fake it. I only picked five records from my 2016 Jazz List and one (Lucas) was picked ahead of order because it's more pop/vocal, with five more from the 2016 Non-Jazz List. For a variety of reasons, my present integrated EOY list is rather heavily skewed toward jazz (for one thing, I have 71 A-list jazz records, vs. 51 A-list non-jazz). But the former hardly ever get any Pazz & Jop support, and I don't wish to be totally marginal there. For one thing, we've lost way too many elections already this year.
On the other hand, I'm not terribly excited by the records leading the EOY Aggregate count. Looking at my grades for the top 20 (and I still haven't heard Beyoncé), I come up with zero A records, 8 A- (Chance the Rapper , A Tribe Called Quest , Anderson .Paak , Leonard Cohen , Kaytranada , Rihanna , Danny Brown , Blood Orange ), 4 B+(***) (David Bowie, Kanye West, Angel Olsen, Car Seat Headrest), 2 B+(**) (Frank Ocean, Solange), 3 B+(*) (Bon Iver, Anohni, Mitski), 1 B (Radiohead), 1 B- (Nick Cave), nothing really worse than that. While I can't say as I understand the attraction of the bottom two, the average year has 3-4 times as many "deplorables," so it's hard to complain about this year's polls. In fact, it's never been clearer that the Trump demographic has never been more culturally impotent (or should I just say eclipsed?).
New records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, December 19. 2016
Music: Current count 27465  rated (+32), 383  unrated (-2).
Spent most of last week building the website for the 11th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, which NPR will publish tomorrow, or maybe a bit later. I won't disclose anything here, other than that we received 139 ballots, down a bit from last year's record 147 (where's John Chacona? Steven Dollar? David Hajdu? Lyn Horton? Garrett Shelton?). When they do go up, my pages will look a lot like last year's. Francis Davis again deserves a big round of applause for making this happen.
Mostly picking things off lists opportunistically, as well as mopping up a few 2016 stragglers in my queue: down to 6 pending records. With all the JCP work, I've done very little on my own EOY Aggregate file: today belatedly adding only a few of the recent lists (Blare, Gigwise, Line of Best Fit, Pitchfork, Q, Tiny Mix Tapes). I'll add more when I get some time next week, although several things are going to slow me down. For one, I have dinners to cook on Tuesday and Saturday. For another, I have ballots due for the Village Voice (evidently not Pazz & Jop anymore) and El Intruso polls, though those at least I can safely wing.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, December 12. 2016
Music: Current count 27433  rated (+30), 385  unrated (+16).
Two leftover thoughts from yesterday's Weekend Roundup:
One problem with doing these rush posts is that real points, themes even, get lost in the nest of links. Just wanted to reiterate those two points. And I'll add a possible third one: in order for the Democratic Party to provide effective resistance against Trump's oligarchs, they have to actively, consistently, as a matter of principle, oppose war and support and promote equality. Quite frankly, if they don't step up to that challenge -- the real threat that Trump and the Republicans pose -- they're helpless and worthless.
Thirty newly rated albums below. Last time that happened was Oct. 10, eight weeks ago. I still don't have the newly rebuilt computer all hooked up -- still have a printing problem -- and I still haven't restored my unplayed (not to mention played) downloads, but I've been able to listen to Napster and Bandcamp. I've also been plowing through EOY lists, so my searching has been more inspired and better targeted than usual. One result is no less than eleven A- records. In particular, I finally got a chance to catch up with Robert Christgau's last two months of Expert Witness picks. Given how far behind I was, I'm a bit surprised that I didn't concur with more. As it is, I more/less agreed with five (Alicia Keys, Tanya Tagaq, A Tribe Called Quest, Pat Thomas, and Urgent Jumping), while six others didn't quite do it for me (Margaret Glaspy, Macy Gray, Pussy Riot, Regina Spektor, and Jinx Lennon twice).
I also added five A- records to my EOY Jazz List shortly after voting for the Jazz Critics Poll closed -- seems like it always works out that way. Four were late arrivals to my mailbox (Albert Cirera, Eve Risser, Steve Swell, and a vault treat from 1994 with Dave Burrell and Bob Stewart), and I picked up the fifth (Taylor Ho Bynum) on Napster. The eleventh was one by Tom Zé that I only found out about from Phil Overeem's list (also my source for Tyler Keith).
I've continued adding EOY lists to my . EOY Aggregate file. I currently have 97 lists compiled, which I assemble in two weight groups: one for longer lists which scores 5 points (1), 4 (2-5), 3 (6-10), 2 (11-20), and 1 (everything else); the other for shorter lists, scoring 3 (1), 2 (2-5), and 1 (everything else). Unranked lists are noted + (sometimes ++ or +++ if they are somehow tiered). I've also scored grades by Robert Christgau and myself (A/A+ 5, A- 4, B+/*** 3, ** 2, * 1), and will probably do that for Michael Tatum as well. These grades have a minor effect of biasing the results towards things I/we like, but then my point isn't to offer some kind of objective, impersonally scientific ranking. It's, as always, to help identify records worth searching out.
Speaking of which, I've tended to skip over lists dedicated to genres I have no real interest in, which mostly means metal. I'll also note that in addition to Overeem (who picked enough records this year to qualify as a major listmeister), I've picked up a couple lists from Facebook friends where I've noticed them (Thomas Walker and Joe Yanosik). I'll do more of that when I find them. I haven't picked up Chris Monsen's still-evolving favorites list, but at some arbitrary point will do so.
Current standings according to my way of counting (counts in opening brackets, my grades in closing):
Album of the Year's Aggregate has same top seven, but a closer race for the top spot (Bowie over Beyoncé 286-282), and Solange ahead of Radiohead (225-208), They actually have the same top-twenty records, with the big difference that they move Angel Olsen up from 12th (my list) to 8th. From 21-30 they add Jenny Hval (31-26), The Avalanches (33-28), and Savages (38-29), in place of Drive-By Truckers (24-31), Parquet Courts (26-36), and Young Thug (30-37) -- three records graded A- or better by both Christgau and myself, so there's my cheat for you. (I have Hval C+, Avalanches B, Savages ***.)
My next project will be tallying the Jazz Critics Poll ballots, which I finally have but haven't really cracked into yet.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Wednesday, November 30. 2016
No time to write an introduction. Maybe I'll have something to say for next week's Music Week.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on October 29. Past reviews and more information are available here (8835 records).
Sophie Agnel/Daunik Lazro: Marguerite D'Or Pâle (2016, Fou): Piano/sax duets, Lazro on tenor and baritone, although Agnel's concept of the piano ("a real living & breathing organism") had me wondering whether they had slipped a percussionist into the mix. B+(**) [cd]
Aguankó: Latin Jazz Christmas in Havana (2016, Aguankó): Percussionist Alberto Macif's group, inspired by Havana but based in Michigan, have a couple previous albums. This one's subtitled "Cool Sounds & Warm Wishes," and is that with an extra shot of clavé, but the songs keep shaking off their dressing. Still, you could be stuck in a department store with much worse. B [cd]
Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio: Desire & Freedom (2016, Not Two): Portuguese tenor saxophonist, always an imposing figure in free jazz settings, with his most dependable group -- Miguel Mira on cello and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. Three long improv pieces, terrific all around, drummer especially. A- [cd]
Amendola vs. Blades: Greatest Hits (2015 , Sazi): Duo of drummer Scott Amendola, probably best known for his work with Nels Cline although he has his name on five previous albums (doing back to 1999), and Hammond B3 impressario Wil Blades. No known hits between them, but take the title as intending some sort of semipop move -- pop in form if not in fact -- ane enjoy the groove and pomp. B+(**) [cd]
BassDrumBone: The Long Road (2013-16 , Auricle, 2CD): Long-running free jazz trio, first album together recorded nearly 30 years ago, lineup on this seventh album the same: Mark Helias (bass), Gerry Hemingway (drums), Ray Anderson (trombone). Second disc is padded out with 31 minutes live. Studio cuts include three cuts each with Jason Moran (piano) and Joe Lovano (tenor sax), the latter making the bigger splash. Still great to hear Anderson's trombone leads, but could be further concentrated. B+(***) [cd]
Martin Bejerano: Trio Miami (2016, Figgland): Pianist, teaches at University of Miami, has a couple previous albums and side credits with Roy Haynes and Russell Malone. Leads a trio, bright and fast. B+(*)
Eraldo Bernocchi/Prakash Sontakke: Invisible Strings (2016, RareNoise): The former plays baritone and electric guitar, the latter lap steel guitar, but Bernocchi is also credited with electronics, which explains the percussion. The synthetic groove may be too regular for jazz, but sets up a seductive ambience with the layered guitar. B+(***) [cdr]
Nat Birchall: Creation (2016, Sound Soul & Spirit): British tenor saxophonist, probably sounds more like Coltrane than any saxophonist alive (including Ravi Coltrane), an effect added to by pianist Adam Fairhall and bassist Michael Bardon, although the group doubles up on drums. Unlike his last two albums, I never quite shook the sense of imitation here, though it's hard to go far wrong while hewing so close to genius. B+(***) [bc]
Karl Blau: Introducing Karl Blau (2016, Raven Marching Band): Singer-songwriter from Anacortes, Washington, with seven previous records before this seeming debut, mostly Nashville covers, done with disconcerting aloofness (no drawl, scant drama, anonymous backup singers). B
Boi Akih: Liquid Songs (2016, TryTone): Dutch group, formed in 1997, has a half-dozen previous albums. Guitarist Niels Brouwer writes the pieces, Monica Akihary sings, also with: Ryoko Imai (marimba, reyong & percussion) and Tobias Klein (bass & contrabass clarinet). Abstract, arty, hated it at first but wound up pleasantly surprised. B+(*) [cd]
Christiane Bopp/Jean-Luc Petit: L'Écorce et la Salive (2015 , Fou): Free jazz duets, Bopp playing trombone, Petit contrabass clarinet, tend to be sparse and abstract. B+(*) [cd]
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Basically Baker Vol. 2: The Big Band Music of David Baker (2016, Patois, 2CD): A fine big band based in Indianapolis, led by Brent Wallarab (credited here as conductor and musical director, but previously a trombonist) and Mark Buselli (trumpet), play compositions and arrangements by David N. Baker (1931-2016), a longtime jazz studies professor at Indiana University who back in the 1960s was affiliated with George Russell. Their original Baker tribute was recorded in 2004, this one about three months after the composer's death. An impressive big band, although the case for Baker's music is less clear. B+(*) [cd]
Oguz Buyukberber and Simon Nabatov: Wobbly Strata (2014 , TryTone): Free jazz duets, clarinet/bass clarinet and piano, respectively. The former was born in Turkey, studied in Amsterdam, probably still based there but this was recorded in Germany. Nabatov is twenty years older, born in Russia, studied in Rome and New York and wound up settling in Cologne. Brisk and challenging. B+(**)
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree (2016, Bad Seeds): One of the year's top-metarated records, no idea why unless the doom and gloom synth tones are somehow calming to the doomed and gloomy. When we were young we used to look for something cathartic to overcome a bad mood, not something that merely added to it. B-
John Chin: Fifth (2014 , Jinsy): Pianist, born in Korea, raised in LA and based in Brooklyn, has several albums. My advance copy has Chin's name scratched out, implying an eponymous group album. Chin's Bandcamp credits all five in alphabetical order: Chin, Stacy Dillard (soprano sax), Lawrence Leathers (bass), Spencer Murphy (drums), Tivon Pennicott (tenor sax). Indeed, all five have song credits, but mostly Chin (7) and Dillard (3), with one each for the others, and they go all sorts of ways, the free-ish postbop just one tendency. B+(**) [cdr]
Richie Cole: Plays Ballads & Love Songs (2015 , Mark Perna Music): Alto saxophonist, not quite 70, his discography goes back to 1976 but tails off after 1999 (several featured spots, one album in 2005). Quartet with Eric Susoeff on guitar, Mark Perna on bass and Vince Taglieri on drums -- surefire material, bright, lovely. B+(***) [cd]
Tom Collier: Impulsive Illuminations (2014-15 , Origin): Vibraphone/marimba player based in Seattle, discography starts with Northwest Jazz Sextet in 1979, and has a half-dozen albums since. Five 10-17 minute pieces here, with Richard Karpen on piano and one guest for each piece: Bill Frisell (guitar), Ted Poor (drums), Stuart Depmster (trombone/didjeridu), Bill Smith (clarinet), Cuong Vu (trumpet). Mostly reminds me of Dempster's "deep listening" pieces, so often too deep to keep me listening. B [cd]
Common: Black America Again (2016, Def Jam): Chicago rapper, can marshall guests ranging from BJ the Chicago Kid to Stevie Wonder, is as conscious as he should be of the uphill political struggle -- I can't fault him for being overly didactic, but the music doesn't always carry him. B+(**)
The Core Trio: Live Featuring Matthew Shipp (2014 , Evil Rabbit): Houston-based sax trio, with Seth Paynter on tenor, Thomas Helton on bass, and Joe Hertenstein on drums. They have two previous albums, each with a pianist added, the second an impressive match with Shipp, who returns here for two 31-34 minute sets in a Houston night club. A bit spotty, the sax never quite getting in gear, but the piano impressive (as you'd expect). B+(**) [cd]
The Delegation: Evergreen (Canceled World) (2014-15 , ESP-Disk, 2CD): Main person here is pianist-composer Gabriel Zucker, also credited with electronics and voice (along with a couple more singers). A sprawling art project, with long, complex forms and a story line that's way over my head. Group includes trumpet (Adam O'Farrill), three saxophones, violin-viola-cello, bass, drums, and additional electronics. Music has points of interest. B+(*) [cd]
Dim Lighting: Your Miniature Motion (2014 , Off): Guitar-bass-drums trio, based in Chicago, Andrew Trim, Kurt Schweitz, Deven Drobka. First album, guitar metallic, can crunch out a groove or spring free, or just bide time. B+(*) [cdr]
Andrew Downing: Otterville (2016, self-released, 2CD): Bassist, born in London, Ontario and based in Toronto, plays cello here, presenting a series of ornate landscape pieces, lovely in a rather uneventful way. Group includes alto sax, vibes, lap steel guitar, bass guitar, and drums, with occasional touches of trumpet and trombone. B [cd]
Rebecca DuMaine and the Dave Miller Trio With Friends: Happy Madness (2016, Summit): Standards singer trying to pass as good-time girl -- nothing really standard but hits the usual bases including Jobim and McCartney -- backed by piano trio and presumably more, although I have no idea who the "friends" are. B- [cd]
Earth Tongues: Ohio (2015 , Neither/Nor, 2CD): Filed this under trumpeter Joe Moffett, joined here by Dan Peck on tuba and Carlo Costa on percussion, the horn players also credited with "cassette player." Long-form industrial ambient, or (not quite) noise, the length undoes any sense of structure (or as they put it, "immersive pieces that explore dynamic and temporal extremes"). B [cd]
The Fat Babies: Solid Gassuh (2016, Delmark): Seven-piece trad jazz band, founded 2010 by bassist Beau Sample, based in Chicago, they play old stuff going back to "Maple Leaf Rag" and clearly are having fun. B+(**) [cd]
Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band: ˇIntenso! (2016, Clavo): Directed by son Brent Fischer, less a ghost band than a living memorial to the late pianist-arranger, whose clients ranged from Dizzy Gillespie to Prince. Six Clare Fischer originals (out of ten), mostly old arrangements, the band solid, a couple Roberta Gambarini vocals a plus. B+(**) [cd]
David Friesen Circle 3 Trio: Triple Exposure (2015 , Origin): Bassist-led piano trio, the pianist Greg Goebel, drummer Charlie Doggett. Friesen has a long discography going back to 1976. He composed and arranged all the pieces here, gets bright leads and patiently works his bass into the cracks. B+(*) [cd]
Clay Giberson: Pastures (2015 , Origin): Pianist, based in Portland, has five previous records plus four by his group Upper Left Trio. Draws on a strong quartet here with Drew Gress (bass), Matt Wilson (drums), and most valuable player Donny McCaslin, whose tenor sax chops dominate everything. Less so his flute and soprano, or the string quartet added on four tracks. B+(***) [cd]
Jari Haapalainen Trio: Fusion Machine (2016, Moserobie): Drummer-led sax trio, with Daniel Bingert on bass guitar, and Per 'Texas' Johansson on "the saxophone." Reminiscent of the Thing in their new wave fusion mode (though less squawky, and less free). Thirteen cuts, 28:29. B+(*) [cd]
Jason Hainsworth: Third Ward Stories (2015 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist from Houston, studied in New Orleans and Florida, teaches at Broward College. Probably his debut, a lively hard bop sextet with Josh Evans on trumpet, Michael Dease on trombone, and Glenn Zaleski on piano, makes it seem easy. B+(***) [cd]
Stu Harrison: Volume I (2016, One Nightstand): Pianist, Canadian, leads a trio with Neil Swainson (bass) and Terry Clarke (drums) through a batch of very familiar standards, teasing and tussling without losing the thread. B+(**) [cd]
Heroes Are Gang Leaders: Flukum (2016, Flat Langston's Arkeyes): Group abbreviated HAGL, led by poet Thomas Sayers Ellis (not the sole lyricist) with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and various others, most songs with vocals in various voices ("dedicated to poets Etheridge Knight and Ntozake Shange with moments of James Baldwin and Michael S. Harper thematically-seasoned in"), pushing boundaries while the sinewy music slithers around, or sometimes just enjoys a funk groove. B+(**) [cd]
Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 3: Three Places in New England (2016, Creative Nation Music): Guitarist, quintet includes trumpet, clarinet, cello, and drums. Like the two previous volumes, this picks up a piece of modernist classical music and reframes it as jazz -- the previous volumes used Stravinsky and Messaien, this one goes after Charles Ives, who patterned his own music on brass bands obliquely heard. The indirection works nicely here. B+(***) [cd]
Roger Ingram: Sklyark (2015, One Too Tree): Trumpet player, finished second for trumpet in Downbeat's 2016 Readers Poll, a complete surprise to me -- only his second album (and short ones at that, this one seven cuts, 28:40) I can find, but he has many side credits going back to Woddy Herman in 1986. Not sure of credits here, but starts solo before a big band (Jim Stewart Orchestra) with singer (Christine Cooney) enter. The vocals swing agreeably, but the instrumentals are a little gaudy. B
Erik Jekabson: A Brand New Take (2015 , OA2): Trumpet player, based in Bay Area, has a handful of records dating back to 2002. Quintet here with alto sax (Kasey Knudsen) and piano (Matt Clark), plus a couple tracks with guests -- "Thriller" is a highlight, with John Gove (trombone) and Dave Ellis (tenor sax). B+(*) [cd]
Jerome Jennings: The Beast (2016, Iola): Drummer, wrote four (of nine) songs here, leading a hard bop sextet much like the groups his bassist (Christian McBride) has led -- most obviously with Christian Sands on piano, also Sean Jones on trumpet and Howard Wiley on tenor sax. Steady pulse of energy, as if they're afraid they might be taken for retro. B+(**) [cd]
The Matthew Kaminski Quartet: Live at Churchill Grounds (2015 , Chicken Coup): Organ player, from Chicago, earns his scratch playing for the Atlanta Braves. Quartet includes guitar and tenor sax (Will Scruggs), and Kimberley Gordon sings a couple tunes. All covers, done up like a gaudy burlesque, with "Sail On Sailor" a surprise lead. B+(*) [cd]
Walter Kemp 3oh!: Dark Continent (2016, Blujazz): Pianist, sometimes adds a III to his name but styles his piano trio thusly, picking up last initials from bassist RiShon Odel and drummer David Hulett. Densely chorded pieces have some power, slower ones thoughtful. B+(*) [cd]
Frank Kimbrough: Solstice (2016, Pirouet): Pianist, first appeared as part of a New York postbop circle that included Ben Allison, Ron Horton, and Matt Wilson, and always struck me as the least adventurous of that crowd. Trio, with Jay Anderson on bass and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. One original, one standard, the rest from postmodern jazz sources like Carla Bley, Paul Motian, Andrew Hill, Maria Schneider, and Annette Peacock (twice). B+(**) [cd]
Lambchop: FLOTUS (2016, Merge): Acronym more convoluted than expected: For Love Often Turns Us Still. Band, fronted by Kurt Wagner, has recorded a dozen albums since 1994. This one's slow with a light touch, delicate even, pleasant in passing but little registers. B
Miranda Lambert: The Weight of These Wings (2016, RCA Nashville, 2CD): Twenty-four songs, runs 94:01, the first disc titled "The Nerve" and the second "The Heart." Gossip columnists tell us it's about her breakup with Blake Shelton and her current relationship with Anderson East. Still, not much tumult here -- certainly no "Kerosene" -- everything on a level keel, making me wonder why the album had to be so damn long. Probably because she's got a lot to say. B+(***)
Ingrid Laubrock: Serpentines (2016, Intakt): German tenor saxophonist, based in Brooklyn, has produced quite a few records since 1999. This one mixes in trumpet (Peter Evans), koto (Miya Masaoka), piano (Craig Taborn), electronics (Sam Pluta), tuba (Dan Peck), and drums (Tyshawn Sorey). Some bright spots, especially Taborn, but also seems rather scattered. B+(*) [cd]
Jerry Leake: Crafty Hands (2016, Rhombus Publishing): World-spanning percussionist, has a dozen or so albums as well as the books that helped name his label, but draws mostly on African and Indian here, plus a standard drum set, vibraphone, and he (and others) sing some. The others add to the "world-rock fusion" -- eclectic is their motto, making most of this enchanting, not that it all fits neatly together. B+(**) [cd]
Nate Lepine Quartet: Vortices (2016, Eyes & Ears): Tenor saxophonist from Chicago, seems to be his debut album, quartet with Nick Mazzarella on alto sax, Clark Sommers on bass, and Quin Kirchner on drums. The extra sax shadows the leads, adding depth and lustre, but beware of slowing down. B+(*) [cd]
Jasmine Lovell-Smith's Towering Poppies: Yellow Red Blue (2015 , Paint Box): Soprano saxophonist, originally from New Zealand, based in Mexico after a few years in New York. second album, quintet with Josh Sinton (bass clarinet) and piano-bass-drums. B+(**) [cd]
Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: A Day in Brooklyn: At Ibeam (2015 , Constant Sorrow, 2CD): The fifth (of six so far) installment under this title, "a series of recordings based on American song forms," something hardly no one has researched deeper than alto-saxophonist Lowe. A disparate, sprawling set of works, with two mid-sized groups and a number of guest spots -- hard to see how they could all have fit into a single day of recording. Opens with a solo piano piece by Loren Schoenberg, then another by Kelly Green -- the first of several "Mary Lou Williams Variations." Then moves on to a group with Kirk Knuffke (trumpet) and Paul Austerlitz (clarinet), later to another with Lisa Parrott (baritone sax) and Larry Feldman (violin). Not easy to follow, but even when you don't something liable to jump out and grab you. B+(***) [cd]
Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Hell With an Ocean View (2016, Constant Sorrow): Opens with some of Lowe's best alto sax, but often gives way to let the twin guitarists (Nels Cline and Ray Suhy) shine. With Matthew Shipp (piano), Kevin Ray (bass), Larry Feldman (violin, mandolin), and Carolyn Castellano (drums). The song forms range from hymns to Hendrix, each with its own fascination. A- [cd]
Thierry Maillard Trio and Philharmonic Orchestra: Ethnic Sounds (2016, Blujazz): French pianist, has perhaps a dozen albums since 1998, explains in the liner notes that "My biggest musical dream has always been to hear one day my music written for a jazz trio and a symphonic Orchestra," so I guess he can scratch that off his bucket list. He went to Prague to get the orchestra, an outfit that has never shown much finnesse around jazz, and he brought in some ringers like guitarist Nguyen Lę. The music leans toward fusion, or maybe it's just energetically muddled. B- [cd]
Mamutrio [Lieven Cambré/Piet Verbist/Jesse Dockx]: Primal Existence (2015 , Origin): Alto saxophonist, from northern Belgium, backed by bass and drums, Verbist the main writer (5/10 compositions). Subtle, relaxed postbop, sometimes pushes not out but in. B+(***) [cd]
Tom Marko: Inner Light (2016, Summit): Drummer, director of jazz studies at Illinois State, first album, lineups vary but generally a standard quintet, sometimes with added guitar, sometimes percussion. Big name here is "special guest" Scott Wendholt (trumpet), who earns his billing. Postbop moves, has some hot spots. B [cd]
Melanie Marod: I'll Go Mad (2016, ITI): Standards singer, from Michigan, based in New York, probably her debut. Has a seductive voice, eclectic taste in Anglo standards ("Spanish Harlem," "Dance Me to the End of Love," "Candy," but "Everybody's Talkin'" is a let down; plus "Corcovado" and two equally obvious Latin tunes. Backed by guitar (Masami Ishikawa), keyboards (Art Hirahara), bass and drums. B+(*) [cd]
Bruno Mars: 24K Magic (2016, Atlantic): Loved his first album, shrugged off his second, and can't say that anything really grabs me in this big-time pop production, though I continue to be wowed by his voice. B
Delfeayo Marsalis presents the Uptown Jazz Orchestra: Make America Great Again! (2016, Troubadour Jass): Big band, led by the trombone-playing Marsalis brother, takes America to be a macro-extension of black New Orleans, with Wendell Pierce narrating a spiel that reminds me of "Chocolate City," egged on by a chorus reiterating the title with just a bit of sarcasm, reminding us that the greatest traitors to America were the "rebels" who fought the union for slavery. Frames the program with "Star Spangled Banner" and "Fanfare for the Common Man." Personally, I'd rather make America good than great, but that's the effect here, too. B+(**) [cd]
MAST: Love and War_ (2016, Alpha Pup): Album cover stylizes group name as all caps followed by an inverted-V and two backslashes, sort of a broken-M, although their Bandcamp page sticks with ASCII. Second group album, leader is Tim Conley, they didn't bother to table up the credits, but it would have been a long list, including the ten-piece Fresh Cut Orchestra. Structured as a three act play, with various spoken and sung characters, lush instrumental passages, the sort of high art concept I have trouble focusing on. I will say he's better at it than the Pretty Things, though maybe not better than Sufjan Stevens (or the Who). B+(*) [cdr]
Matt Mayhall: Tropes (2015 , Skirl): Drummer, based in Los Angeles, also credited with keyboards on this debut album, leads a trio with Jeff Parker on guitar and Paul Bryan on bass guitar, plus guests on a couple cuts each: Chris Speed (tenor sax) and Jeff Babko (organ, keyboards). Rather mellow showcase for Parker. B+(*) [cd]
Donny McCaslin: Beyond Now (2016, Motema): Tenor saxophonist, has outstanding chops which he frequently flexes to steal the spotlight on others' albums, although I've only rarely been a fan of his own albums (2008's Recommended Tools is an exception). David Bowie hired him to work on his final album, Blackstar, and McCaslin returns the compliment here, using Bowie's band (Jason Lindner, Mark Giulliana, Tim Lefebvre) on a couple of Bowie songs, others from Deadmau5 and Mutemath. Leans hard toward fusion, turning into its own kind of sax blowout. B+(*)
The Monkees: Good Times! (2016, Rhino): Someone thought some sort of 50th anniversary remembrance was in order, then discovered that three of the original four actors who were tabbed for a popular TV series about an American Beatles spoof were still living, so why not a reunion? They even hired three members of Fountains of Wayne to craft fake Monkees songs. It's not like they couldn't recapture the vibe, but somehow it sounds pathetic this time around. Indeed, the whole thing turned so depressing they let the original Monkees write some of their own songs. And they dug up an unreleased 1967 track to pretend Davy Jones lives. B-
Van Morrison: Keep Me Singing (2016, Caroline): Past 70 now, knighted, one of the all-time greats, so much so that mere echoes of his great albums can blow you away. This one is that and a bit more as he's found a new comfort not just in his skin but in the warmth of his Celtic-blues soul. A-
John Moulder: Earthborn Tales of Soul and Spirit (2014-16 , Origin): Guitarist, based in Chicago, teaches at Benedictine and Northwestern, sixth album, cut in two sessions with different bass/drums and tablas on one, but Jim Trompeter (piano), Marquis Hill (trumpet), and Donny McCaslin (tenor sax) appeared on both. McCaslin flexes his chops, but this can get murky without him. B [cd]
Moutin Factory Quintet: Deep (2016, Blujazz): Twin brothers François (bass) and Louis Moutin (drums), leading a quintet with alto/sopranino sax (Christophe Monniot), guitar (Manu Codjia), and piano (Jean-Michel Pilc). One very nice Fats Waller medley, mostly just bass and drums, but the originals tend toward post-fusion (in the sense of what postbop made of bebop, I suspect Weather Report was their ur-text). B+(*) [cd]
Fredrik Nordström: Gentle Fire/Restless Dreams (2016, Moserobie, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist from Sweden, look him up and most likely you'll find a different person -- a heavy metal guitarist with the same name. This one has a half-dozen previous albums going back to 2000. Two albums here cut in the same two-day session, with the same quartet: Jonas Östhom (piano), Torbjörn Zetterberg (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums). Mixed with the gentle stuff on one disc, the restless on the other (or vice versa). Restless is better, of course, but I've played this enough I've also grown quite fond of the fire. A- [cd]
Phil Parisot: Lingo (2016, OA2): Seattle-based drummer, first album, has a couple of side-credits including the group Big Neighborhood. Sax quartet, Steve Treseler out front on tenor and soprano, Dan Kramlich on piano and Fender Rhodes, Michael Glynn on bass. Seven originals, three non-standard covers, pretty much what everyone else is doing, though lively for that. B+(*) [cd]
Felix Peikli & Joe Doubleday: It's Showtime! (2016, self-released): Clarinetist, from Norway, and vibraphonist, playing standards, backed by a swing-oriented rhythm section with Rossano Sportiello on piano. Bright, even a bit frothy. B+(*) [cdr]
Ivo Perelman/Karl Berger/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 1 (2016, Leo): Avant tenor saxophonist from Brazil, celebrated twenty years of recording back in 2009-10 with six releases, and has duplicated that feat nearly every year since. He released five records this spring (my top picks were Soul and Blue), and now for the fall he's come out with six volumes of Improv Trio -- one suspects too much and too similar, but we'll see. Berger here plays piano, a steady influence that mostly keeps the sax on track, even brings out a touch of elegance. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Whit Dickey: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 2 (2016, Leo): Tenor sax, viola, drums. Maneri is the wild card here, his microtonal meanderings sometimes lose me, but in the end he provokes the saxophonist into upping his game. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 3 (2015 , Leo): Probably the most imposing of the trio lineups, but pianist Shipp -- a frequent Perelman mate going back to 1996's Bendito of Santa Cruz -- never charges into the clear (as he sometimes managed in the David S. Ware Quartet). Still a fine showing for the saxophonist, but not exceptional. B+(**) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/William Parker/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 4 (2016, Leo): The bassist makes a difference here, setting up a groove (or at least momentum) that keeps the sax man on his toes, bobbing and weaving, never far from the edge. Moreover, he can go loud without knocking the leader out, so he has no need to hold back (as the pianists have done). A- [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 5 (2016, Leo): Morris plays electric guitar, somewhat inconspicuously poking around the edges, adding bits of color and brightness. Another strong outing for the saxophonist. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 6 (2016, Leo): Recorded in July, probably the same time as Volume 5, the difference here is that Morris has switched from guitar to bass. As with Volume 4, this both loosens up the saxophonist and lets him be fiercer or more eloquent as the opportunity arises. A- [cd]
Pink Martini: Je Dis Oui (2016, Heinz): Portland group dating back to 1994, principally pianist Thomas Lauderdale and singer China Forbes, play an ecclectic mix of jazz, chanson, and kitsch drawing on pretty much everything. More of all of that, in some ways remarkable but less satisfying than, e.g., 2007's Hey, Eugene!. B+(*)
Bobby Previte: Mass (2016, RareNoise): Jazz drummer, often leans toward fusion but has more eclectic tastes -- esoteric, too. This starts with a baroque piece by Guillaume Du Fay (1397-1474, Missa Sancti Jacobi), adds pipe organ "inspired by Olivier Messaien" (played by Marco Benevento), vocals (The Rose Ensemble), and some electric bass that could have been dubbed by Black Sabbath. I suppose if you cared about any of those things, this might seem interesting, or blasphemous, or something. C+ [cdr]
Carol Robbins: Taylor Street (2016 , Jazzcats): Plays harp, has a couple previous albums, backed here by Los Angeles musicians -- Bob Sheppard (tenor sax), Curtis Taylor (trumpet), Larry Koonse (guitar), Billy Childs (piano), Darek Oles (bass) -- generating an easy momentum without turning too smooth. B+(*) [cd]
Rudy Royston Trio: RisEofOrion (2016, Greenleaf Music): Drummer from Texas, only his second headline album but side credits go back to 1992, notably with saxophonists Fred Hess and J.D. Allen, and more recently with Jim Snidero, Doug Webb, and trumpet master Dave Douglas. This is another sax trio, with Jon Irabagon tugging him out of the mainstream, and Yasushi Nakamura on bass. B+(***) [cd]
Ken Schaphorst Big Band: How to Say Goodbye (2014 , JCA): Big band composer-conductor, chairs the jazz department at New England Conservatory, has a half dozen albums since 1989, maybe more. Plays trumpet and keyboards here, just one cut each. Band is chock full of well-known names, including Ralph Alessi, Donny McCaslin, Chris Cheek, Uri Caine, Brad Shepik, and Matt Wilson -- much solo power, some impressive passages. B+(*) [cd]
Adam Schneit Band: Light Shines In (2016, Fresh Sound New Talent): Plays tenor sax and clarinet, has two previous appearances with Old Time Musketry (both A- records), leads his debut album with Sean Moran (guitar), Eivind Opsvik (bass), and Kenny Wollesen (drums). Nice mainstream sax album, the clarinet less so. B+(**) [cdr]
Steve Slagle: Alto Manhattan (2016 , Panorama): Mainstream alto saxophonist, most often heard with Dave Stryker (who usually gets top billing), but here takes center stage and is terrific though sevel cuts, mostly burners aside from a solo "Body & Soul." He switches to flute on the last two cuts and adds congas, nice but less impressive. Joe Lovano joins in on three cuts. B+(***) [cd]
Enoch Smith Jr.: The Quest: Live at APC (2016, Misfitme Music): Pianist, born in Rochester, based in New Jersey, has several albums. Wears his religion on his sleeve -- first album was called Church Boy -- and dabbles in nursery rhymes, coming together here in two takes of "Jesus Loves Me." Uses two singers, neither adding much nuance or style. C [cd]
Snaggle: The Long Slog (2016, Browntasaurus): Jazz group, "often described as Canada's answer to Snarky Puppy," main songwriter is keyboardist (no piano) Nick Maclean, plus guitar, a couple horns (trumpet, tenor sax), bass and drums, with a "special guest" credit for second trumpet player Brownman Ali (also producer). CDBaby has a blurb from Randy Brecker saying "reminds me of a band I used to play in." Underwhelming comps pursued vigorously, leaves me uninterested. B- [cd]
Soul Basement feat. Jay Nemor: What We Leave Behind (2016, ITI): Recorded over three months in Siracusa [Sicily], Gothenburg [Sweden], and Oslo. Soul Basement is an alias for Fabio Puglisi, who plays keyboards, bass, drums, and programming, and co-wrote the songs with non-bandmember J. Harden. Nemor does the speakeasy vocals and some saxophone, making him the real focal point. All in English, including a couple timely political excursions. B+(*) [cd]
Terell Stafford: Forgive and Forget (2016, Herb Harris Music): Mainstream trumpet player, originally from Miami, last time tried his hand at a Lee Morgan tribute (BrotherLee Love), but didn't really get the vibe right until now, with a superb hard bop quintet. Pianist Kevin Hays is essential, tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield mostly shades but delivers when he gets a solo shot. But it's mostly the trumpet -- the fast ones grab you right away, the ballads take a while for the slow burn to emerge. A- [cd]
Andrew Van Tassel: It's Where You Are (2016, Tone Rogue): Alto saxophonist, also plays soprano, based in New York, probably his first album, a quartet with Julian Shore on piano and Rhodes. One cover, from Charles Ives, the originals insightful but soft-edged and pleasant. B+(*) [cd]
Anna Webber's Simple Trio: Binary (2016, Skirl): Plays tenor sax and flute, here in a prickly trio with Matt Mitchell on piano and John Hollenbeck on drums. B+(***) [cd]
Scott Whitfield: New Jazz Standards (Volume 2) (2016, Summit): Trombonist, eighth album since 1989, side credits include Toshiko Akiyoshi's big band. Quartet with Christian Jacob (piano), Kevin Axt (bass), and Peter Erskine (drums) playing song written by producer Carl Saunders. As far as I can tell, the previous volume of New Jazz Standards was released in 2014 and credited to the late flautist Sam Most -- another Saunders production. B+(*) [cd]
Basak Yavuz: A Little Red Bug (2015 , Things&): Turkish singer-songwriter, studied jazz in New York and picked up some tricks, but this second album was recorded in Istanbul with a long list of Turkish names (but no instrument credits). Music, too, is more Turkish than jazz, but its dramatic flair is informed (and stretched) by the latter -- most obviously on the "Bye Bye Blackbird" cover. B+(**) [cd]
Zarabande: El Toro (2016, AFlo): San Antonio-based marimba player Alfred Flores is billed as "El Toro" here, and seems to be the leader (listed first, producer) -- band includes Joe Caploe on vibraphone, Mark Little on piano, plus bass and drums -- and "Zarabande" is one of the song titles, but the credits are reversed, perhaps because Little and Caploe split all the song credits (6-3). Nice flow, lots of tinkle. B+(*) [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance [The Bootleg Series Vol. 5] (1966-68 , Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): His greatest group, close to mid-term, so it's fair to expect jazz of the highest order, and to be disappointed with tentative outtakes and rambling session dialogue only scholars need to hear once. The songs mostly turned into Miles Smiles (1966) with some leftovers that wound up on Water Babies (belatedly released in 1976). The false starts and not-very-audible banter especially mar the first disc, but the music on the latter discs is pretty much what you'd expect. Doesn't strike me as essential, but I also don't have the booklet that no doubt draws out the historical context. B+(*)
Erroll Garner: Ready Take One (1967-71 , Legacy): Fourteen previously unreleased tracks from three sessions late in the pianist's career. Mostly trio, some extra percussion, the sound weak enough that the bass isn't always clear. Flashes of the idiosyncrasy that marked his work in his '50s prime, but not a major find. B+(*)
Sonny Criss: The Complete Imperial Sessions (1956 , Blue Note, 2CD): Also saxophonist, cut his first albums for Imperial at age 28 (although some older recordings were released later), three albums -- Jazz USA (with Barney Kessel and Kenny Drew), Go Man! (with Sonny Clark), and Sonny Criss Plays Cole Porter (Clark again, plus Larry Bunker on vibes) -- all rounded up here. Bright and fast, manages to bridge bebop and a more mainstream standards repertoire. A- [cd]
Ella Fitzgerald & Duke Ellington: The Stockholm Concert (1966 , Jazz World): Same year as the official Ella and Duke at the Côte D'Azur -- issued in an 8-CD box and a recommended 2-CD sampler. Pretty much their standard show, opening with four Ellington pieces, closing with scat takes of "How High the Moon" and "Mr. Paganini." B+(***) [cd]
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, November 28. 2016
Music: Current count 27386  rated (+24), 362  unrated (-17).
Finally, on Saturday, got my new computer build working, hooked up, and able to stream from Napster. I'm somewhat embarrassed to finally realize that the problem all along was a faulty monitor (a Samsung, like most of the other faulty equipment in the house right now -- my big complaint is a broken ice maker in the refrigerator, and by broken I mean that the plastic tray is badly cracked on both ends, such that the screw drive that moved the ice forward jams). The monitor actually displays internally generated messages fine, but doesn't display the signal coming in through the D-SUB connection. In fact, the manual says the monitor has a self-test feature, and when I tried that the self-test came out OK. But it took weeks for it to finally sink in that the monitor was the problem.
Went out on Black Saturday and picked up a new LG 24-inch monitor for about $140. The new computer works fine with it. The old computer works fine too, so now I have a spare. It had been 5-6 years since I built the old one, so one can argue that I was due for a new one, but I hate to have blundered into it like that. The new one has an 8-core AMD FX-8350 processor, ASUS motherboard and video card (not a fancy one, but has 2GB RAM), plus I have 32GB RAM and a 2TB hard drive, a DVD burner, and a parallel printer port board so I can still hook up to my old HP laser printer. Loaded Xubuntu 16.04 desktop on it, and I've had to load a couple dozen extra software packages so I have a LAMP web server, emacs, gimp, and a few extra applications that looked promising (including a CAD system, an alt-Adobe Illustrator, and a database program for recipes). That's all free software. Had to jump through some extra hoops to get non-free (but zero cost) Adobe Flash (needed by Napster) and gstreamer drivers for playing DVDs. Probably still need some further work, but it's basically functional now. Used a cheap old box, so it's not the most elegant thing in the shop, but should be a solid machine.
Only three Napster streams among the records listed below. I also played the new A Tribe Called Quest (given an A+ last week by Christgau) but didn't get into it enough to pass any sort of judgment. (Two-thirds sounds pretty good, but nothing sounds as great as that grade implies. And it's two discs, and I'm often slow getting into hip-hop records, so I figured it best to return later).l The three rated below only got a single play. Could be that a second play might nudge Common up a notch, but Bruno Mars was disappointing and Pink Martini clearly not their best work. Playing the latest Miles Davis bootleg as I write this, but at 3-CD it's going to take a while.
Besides, I needed to make a serious dent in the incoming jazz queue, which I did. The 2016 pending list is currently down to six albums: no one I've heard of (although I filed one under Ernest Dawkins, whose last three albums came in at A-, so I need to check that one out soon). Jazz Critics Poll ballot due next week, and Francis Davis is already getting anxious about that. I did a preliminary sort on my jazz list a couple weeks ago, but I still expect to fiddle with the order quite a bit (depending on time and whether I can find things, so possibly not before I have to turn a ballot in).
I'm afraid I have no sense whatsoever how that poll is going to go. I currently list 61 A- (or better) new jazz albums. The only one in my top-ten I'm reasonably sure will finish top-ten (probably top-three) is Henry Threadgill's Old Locks and Irregular Verbs. I suppose JD Allen (Americana) and David Murray (Perfection) are possibles; further down my list Steve Lehman, Sonny Rollins, Greg Ward, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, and Fred Hersch seem likely to get a few votes, but I'll be surprised if anything else cracks the top forty. (George Coleman maybe? Rich Halley? Jane Ira Bloom?)
Rather seems more likely that some of my HM records will poll well -- Michael Formanek, Mary Halvorson, Wadada Leo Smith, Tyshawn Sorey -- or records I listed lower -- Darcy James Argue, Kenny Barron, Vijay Iyer, Charles Lloyd -- not much else I've noticed other critics liking, but I'm sure I've missed some things. As for records I've heard of but haven't heard, I scanned through my checklist file and added 13 records to the "estimated to have a 2% chance of A-" list in the EOY Jazz file cited above (also added 19 to the EOY Non-Jazz file). I'll add more as I see some actual EOY lists.
Speaking of EOY lists, the first few have appeared (starting, as usual, in the UK with NME, Mojo, Uncut, and a few record store lists). I put a lot of work into tracking these things last year, and doubted that I would again, but the last few weeks have been so stressful to me that I thought it might be calming to waste some time on them this year. After eight (or so) lists this year looks like this. (Note that I'm already counting my grades, although I've only included those on other lists.) My initial guess was that Beyoncé would win going away, with Chance the Rapper in second, and then, well, I don't know -- AOTY has Nick Cave top-rated based on review averages (a B- as far as I'm concerned), followed by Bon Iver (*), Beyonce (?), Solange (**), Radiohead (B), Frank Ocean (?), Leonard Cohen (A-), A Tribe Called Quest (probably A-), Mitski (*), and Angel Olsen (***). But at least in the UK, David Bowie jumped into a clear lead, followed by Cave, Radiohead, Olsen, Thee Oh Sees, and Iggy Pop, with Beyoncé and Chance back in the 30-40 range.
However, the first American list to appear, from Consequence of Sound, is closer to what I expect: Beyoncé, Chance, Bowie, Ocean, Anohni, Cave, Olsen, Anderson .Paak, Bon Iver, Cohen, Mitski, A Tribe Called Quest (first list appearance for a late release), Radiohead, Blood Orange, Schoolboy Q, Wilco, Tim Hecker, Car Seat Headrest, Solange; plus some further down records that may do better: Kaytranada, Danny Brown, Savages, Kevin Gates, Young Thug, White Lung.
One list that's out that I haven't bothered with is Decibel's. Last year I faithfully tracked all the metal lists, but wound up listening to fewer than five albums, so that much doesn't seem to be worth the effort this year. I suppose that makes my tally a bit less objective, but I'd rather spend my time on things I consider worthy.
I made a mistake last week in listing Heroes Are Gang Leader's new album Flukum, so corrected that and repeated it this week. I liked their previous album this year (Highest Engines Near/Near Higher Engineers) a bit more, but both should be of interest if you're interested in jazz-rap fusion. The two A- records this week are from Ivo Perelman's six-volume set, only marginally better than the others because bass seems to fit in better than piano (or viola or guitar). Could be I downgraded the one with Shipp only because I expected more (it was the one volume I singled out to listen to in the car). Perelman finishes the year with 4 A-, 4 ***, 1 **, 2 * records.
PS: Monday's mail brought a nice package from NoBusiness in Lithuania, and a new Randy Weston 2-CD that officially drops on January 20 (so I can ignore it for a couple weeks). Also email from Steve Swell offering me a couple CDs, so they'll be coming soon. Also, that new Dawkins album is pretty good.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Monday, November 21. 2016
Music: Current count 27362  rated (+24), 379  unrated (-16).
The old box had a 550W Thermaltake power supply which looked quite viable, so I decided to try an experiment: I swapped power supplies, then stuck my new video card into the old computer. I rebooted, and it came up with proper graphics. I finally was able to listen to a record on Napster (Erroll Garner, below, and got about half-way through the new Miles Davis bootleg before I went to bed). Anyhow, that seemed to work well enough I ordered yet another video card. Then next morning I got up and the video was blanked, and nothing I did made could wake it up. The blackout is so bad not even the BIOS splash screen appears. The monitor, however, displays diagnostic info (analog, digital, no cable). I just remotely did a software update, then reboot. Still no screen. Very frustrating, very perplexing.
Meanwhile, I've built the new computer, except for the new video card I expect to arrive tomorrow. Then I'll plug it in, do a fresh Xubuntu desktop install, and try to patch up the various things I need (emacs, mysql, apache, php, etc.). Should take the better part of a day, if all goes well. Not that anything's gone well in the last month or so. At some point all this frustration threatens to turn into depression.
So, all but one of this week's records were reviewed from CDs, so all are jazz. (I don't think I've bought a single CD all year.) At least I've drained about half of the queue that built up in September and October. Main thing left is six Ivo Perelman discs, giving him ten on the year. All are titled The Art of the Improv Trio then a volume number. First one is pretty good, and most likely they're all like that, so I'll be struggling with marginal distinctions for a couple days -- at least that beats the Xmas CDs, which I figure I'll suffer through sometime closer to the holiday.
I did finally flesh out my first pass at EOY lists: one for Jazz, and the other for Non-Jazz. The former is much larger (61 A-list, 120 HM, 385 other, so 566 total, 8-6-11=25 for reissues/compilations, vs. non-jazz: 41 A-list, 36 HM, 105 other, so 182 total, 11-9-6=26 for reissues/compilations). At this time last year the Jazz A-list was well ahead of the Non-Jazz, but eventually they evened out. That seems less likely this year, but is still possible. Assuming I get Napster up and running again, the ratio of Jazz/Non-Jazz further down the grade scale should reduce somewhat, but hard to see that ever balancing out. Reissues and compilations remain especially hard to get hold of.
No Thanksgiving plans. My wife never wants me to cook on that day, and all the usual friends and family have their own plans, so most likely we'll be home alone. Maybe I'll get some listening done.
Still scanning through the notebooks for stray record reviews. Up to December 2006, where I noticed that I had in fact made Thanksgiving dinner that year. Went Japanese that year:
Also planned on sushi rice with grilled unagi (eel), but evidently didn't get that done until the next day. I hardly ever cook Japanese (except for the salmon, one of the easiest really good recipes I know), so this mostly seems unfamiliar (aside from the ringers: the eggplant is one of Barbara Tropp's Chinese fusion recipes, and the cake is my Mom's recipe, an old family standard -- in fact, one of the cakes I made for her funeral reception).
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, November 14. 2016
Music: Current count 27338  rated (+9), 395  unrated (+1).
I spent Tuesday evening following the election results on a pair of computers -- my main writing (work) computer and a Chromebook I use for travel. I mostly used two websites: I followed 538's 2016 Election Night "live coverage and results," and I used the New York Times' Presidential Election Results page, which was the first one I found that gave me a map with red/blue states I could scroll over to see that state's vote totals. My first hint that anything was amiss was early in the evening when I saw that Trump was winning Indiana and Kentucky with 60-61% -- like everyone else, I expected those states to go to Trump, but those margins struck me as a bit on the high side. Still, at that point 538's monitor was still showing Clinton with a 75% chance of winning, and even when her chances started slipping it wasn't very obvious to me what was happening. I thought the Republicans were projected to hold the House way too early, and the Democrats' chances of taking over the Senate collapsed pretty early in the evening, as Indiana and Florida were called quite early. However, by the time I went to bed (about 4AM CST) I was shocked and rather sick.
I remained in a daze for several days (or maybe I'm still in one). I finally sat down and wrote up my analysis on Friday, then sat on it a day, edited some, and finally posted it on Sunday. I figure I'll follow up with a "Roundup" post some time this week (not necessarily waiting until my usual Sunday column -- a practice I'm thinking of discontinuing, unsure as I am of how much "reality" I can stand anymore). You might consider prodding me with questions and/or helping by pointing out particularly interesting links (I've grown rather weary of my usual sources).
Music should be a salve in times like this, but my first reaction was to favor silence -- there seemed to be too much noise, too much stimulus, from an Umwelt that suddenly seemed alien, hostile, and more than a little deranged. Since the election I've watched no conventional television news, nor have I returned to the late-night shows we followed regularly during the campaign. I still get stuff from the web, but aside from the numbers I used in Sunday's list, I haven't gone looking for much -- least of all opinions. Nor have I in any way been tempted to go out and protest -- I gather there have been anti-Trump protests, but have no idea how common they are. More generally, I don't see much point in getting worked up over what bad thing Trump and the Republicans might do (e.g., Ryan Plans to Phase Out Medicare in 2017). There will be plenty of opportunity in the future when we'll have tangible threats to try to stop, so you might as well save your energy for that, or prepare quietly out of sight (better to appear genuinely shocked than blanketly obstructionist).
When I did finally play some music, it was Leonard Cohen's Live in London. Partly I wanted to only hear real good stuff, partly I didn't want to be critical, and partly I had thought of "Democracy Is Coming to the USA" during a fairly optimistic Tuesday afternoon. I didn't know at the time that he had died (although I played it a couple more time after the news broke). After Cohen, I started playing some old jazz I liked, especially Coleman Hawkins. I mostly relied on my travel cases before I started picking things I hadn't heard in years from a nearby shelf. That's where I found the Sonny Criss set below: I had noticed it when looking for ungraded records in the database, so with it I finally returned to grading.
Only late in the week did I give the new jazz queue a chance. The Terrel Stafford looked old-fashioned, and turned out to be a good deal better than his Lee Morgan tribute (not coincidentally because it sounds more like prime Morgan). Rodrigo Amado's album came in the mail during the week, and jumped the queue. I wasn't sure I wanted to hear anything avant -- I had been considering Allen Lowe's latest when the cataclysm disoriented me -- but I have him down for four previous A- records, so he seemed like a pretty good prospect.
Still, only nine records rated this past week. Again, everything here comes from CDs. The computer I normally stream music on is unusable (well, it still prints, and I haven't tried workarounds like setting up an X-server or moving the speakers to a machine that still works, so I guess I haven't been trying very hard). I should remedy that some time this week: I've ordered new parts, so I'm pretty much building a whole new computer. The new one should actually be slightly more powerful than my work machine, so that opens up some possibilities for rebalancing my work.
I'll get to more new jazz next week -- I've gone through five records today since I started work on this post (none very good) -- and when I get the new machine running I should be able to check out some promising things on Napster or elsewhere. Still would be a good idea to drain the new jazz queue, as the Jazz Critics Poll deadline is December 4 -- well before anything else I'm likely to be invited for. (If you're a critic who hasn't gotten an invite and should, let me know and I'll pass you on to Francis Davis -- or you can contact him directly.)
I had rather hoped I'd get my Jazz and Non-Jazz working EOY lists set up by the time I posted this, but it now looks like all you're going to get if you follow the links is stubs. Also, at this point I have to stress that order is very preliminary. I'll get them fleshed out later this week, and will be updating them through the end of the year (and maybe next year as well -- as I've done so far for the 2015 Jazz and Non-Jazz lists).
I should point out that Robert Christgau has a piece on Leonard Cohen: Our Man, the Sophisticate. Christgau also tweeted a recommendation for another Noisey piece on Cohen: Rajeev Balasubramanyam: An American State of Grace: Darkness and Light in Leonard Cohen's Political Imagination. Most likely there are many other worthy pieces on Cohen: e.g., see Richard Gehr, Rob Sheffield, Adam Sweeting.
Comparatively little has been written about another music death last week: Leon Russell. For a few years in the 1970s I thought he was one of the greats (especially his eponymous debut album, plus his work on Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen), and with Hank Wilson's Back it looked like he could be a credible country singer. A couple of really awful albums followed (Stop All That Jazz and Will o' the Wisp) and I quickly lost interest, so I can't say much about his last forty years. I reckon I could say he was the Mac Rebennack of Tulsa, but Tulsa doesn't give a brilliant pianist and outrageous singer much to work with. Still, something else to mourn in one helluva awful week.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, November 7. 2016
Music: Current count 27329  rated (+42), 394  unrated (-29).
Actual rated count is probably 19 records -- at least that's how many are listed below. Counts for previous weeks are 15-9-19, so I'm in some kind of protracted rut. When I originally computed this week's count I came up with 18, but noticed that was less than I had listed, so I knew that I had failed to record some grade in the database. So I wound up listing all of the unrated records, and compared them to several other sources, and found a couple dozen records I hadn't counted correctly.
Almost everything below was listened to on actual CDs -- I see three exceptions, two from Napster and one from Bandcamp. Reason there is that the computer I use for streaming effectively died last Monday/Tuesday, so I haven't been able to do any of that almost all week. (It's also kept me off Facebook.) The computer isn't actually dead. I can remotely log into it, but either the screen is permanently locked or the display circuitry is dead. I replaced the power supply in that computer a couple weeks ago, and it did seem to resolve a clicking/popping problem in the audio. Also could be that a software "upgrade" triggered the problem -- screen lockouts are not unreported, although the fixes I've seen haven't solved the problem.
My current plan is to order new guts and rebuild the computer, pretty much from scratch (salvaging my new power supply and old hard drive, and re-using an old tower case, but not much else). I've started to shop for components, and have had a tough time settling on anything beyond an AMD FX-8350 AM3+ eight-core processor (for some reason Intel doesn't offer anything cost/performance-competitive). Anyhow, that CPU and comparable components might persuade me to consolidate my writing work on the new listening machine, at which point I can finally upgrade software on my "main" machine. Upgrade the network too. Important things I've been procrastinating on for way too long.
Second time in last three weeks I have no A- (or better) records to report. BassDrumBone was my big hope, and I have both discs three spins, finding much to like but not enough to get excited about. The Richie Cole album is really lovely, Eric Hofbauer strikes a fine balance for Ives-in-jazz, and Nat Birchall adds another worthy chapter to the St. John Coltrane gospel. So, some good records here -- just none cracking the 97 A-list albums already on my 2016 list. I figure I'll format this list into best-of-year format sometime in the next two weeks -- EOY lists traditionally start appearing around Thanksgiving, and it turns out I never ever froze last year's lists (split for jazz and non-jazz).
Also heard that NPR will once again support Francis Davis's Jazz Critics Poll, so I'll help out some there.
Making slow progress collecting jazz reviews. I haven't made any changes to the 21st Century book -- everything I'm scraping up is going into a scratch file for future processing -- but I have continued to add directly to the 20th Century non-book, which recently inched over the 300-page mark. I'm still thinking that what I've written there is far patchier than is needed for a real record guide, but it's getting to where I may have to take it seriously. I have, by the way, continued to use the high grade scale (A- = 9, B = 5) as I've been updating, as opposed to the low scale (A- = 8, B = 4) I used in the first pass at the Jazz CG data. When I get back to the latter, I'm pretty sure I'll switch to the high scale. Pretty much everyone I consulted preferred the low scale, but I haven't made any meaningful distinctions between A+ and A in decades, and it doesn't seem either fair or reasonable to downgrade everything else because I want to insist on some concept of perfection.
I don't expect to get much work done this coming week. For one thing, I'm sad to report that one of my oldest friends, Tony Jenkins, has died. He was 60, has struggled with liver cancer over the past year. He grew up next door, and wound up owning that house -- he was living there when we moved to Wichita in 1999, although he also had another house about a mile northeast, that he and his wife bought when they married. It was one of those tiny houses built for aircraft workers during WWII, and he transformed it into something special, tearing the roof off and building a second story with a master bedroom and bath that spanned the whole house. I spent a lot of time with him while he was doing that, trying to be helpful (but wasn't really), and he inspired much of the work I've done on our own house ever since. Haven't seen him much in the last few years, so his illness really came as shock and regret.
He is survived by his wife Kathy and a rather large dog -- when they got married nearly four decades ago they told us they were going to practice with dogs, and they stuck to that story. Tony once told me he had been surrounded with death all his life, which struck me as excessively morose. But his brother Bobby, who was a couple years older than me (so about eight years older than Tony), was killed in Vietnam -- more than any single thing his senseless death turned me against that atrocious war. He also had a much older brother, Wayne, who died in a car crash before he turned sixty, but I don't think they were close. (I barely knew Wayne, mostly by reputation as a legendary local athlete who turned down a chance to play pro baseball to pursue a lucrative business career.) I don't know when Tony's parents died, but they've been long gone -- certainly before Tony got through his 20s, though probably not while he was still in his teens.
He was a tremendous talker, the sort of guy you might be tempted to wind up a bit just to see where he takes it. He had low expectations in school -- I once prepared a very nice poetry notebook for him (not at all like the blasphemous one I prepped for my brother, the one that got him kicked out of school), and Tony declined to use it because he figured no one would believe it to be his own work. You could call that integrity -- he certainly had that. He worked in construction, doing siding for a while, then mostly ironwork for cement. Hard work, took a toll. But what he did learn, he could be downright perfectionist about. Early on I probably looked down on him as not very smart, but eventually I came to admire him, to respect his very real talents, and to appreciate his steady friendship. He was unique. He is missed, his absence an unfillable void.
New records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, October 31. 2016
Music: Current count 27287  rated (+15), 423  unrated (+5).
Another light week. Spent Friday evening through Sunday working on an overly ambitious birthday dinner. I doubt I'll ever try that again -- at least at such scale. Wound up scratching five dishes from the menu -- a couple I'll finish up tonight to keep from wasting the ingredients, a couple more can wait indefinitely. Theme was Greek, with three main dishes, baked and fresh veggies, pita bread, dips, stuffed grape leaves, and various hot mezze, with walnut cake for dessert. The bread was disappointing, the dips mixed, the grape leaves tasty but mostly ignored, the mezze reduced to meatballs and sweetbreads (especially good). The main dishes -- fish, shrimp, rabbit, and briami were all spectacular. Cake was fine too.
Biggest problem was logistical, as I was unable to get the food out in proper order, and we ran out of table space -- we probably would have been better off setting it up as a buffet, but we don't really have room for that either. Smaller dinners for six or so still seem workable, and the main dishes were pretty simple preparations -- long bakes or slow braises. Thanks to Elias Vlanton, Greek was the first non-American cuisine I fell in love with, but aside from Garithes Yiouvetsi I've rarely cooked it, having moved on and made Turkish cuisine my specialty. So it was nice to get back to basics recently.
I posted October's Streamnotes on Saturday, just before I started cooking, so there's virtually nothing new listed below. I posted a notice on Facebook, and was surprised to find that nearly all of the commentary concerned my ACN background grades on Bruce Springsteen. I often use Streamnotes as a tool for going back and checking out records I had missed, but since I didn't bother with previously rated records I figured that at least listing them would provide some useful context. German avant-pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach was a case in point this past month, as I reviewed his latest plus six older ones, then listed 18 others (including Globe Unity and a couple of joint projects with wife Aki Takase).
I started doing Springsteen after watching his appearance on Stephen Colbert plugging his memoir and a tie-in CD of odds and sods. Next I moved on to Live 1975-85, his famed 5-LP/3-CD live archive, then figured I might as well mop up the rest. Can't say as I discovered anything -- certainly nothing I wish I had bought earlier. As is well documented (e.g., here and here and here) I developed an intense dislike for Springsteen c. his Time cover -- partly my rather instinctive leanings toward antihype, partly revulsion over the hyperbolic dramaturgy of Born to Run (e.g., "Jungleland") and Darkness at the Edge of Town, and partly because I had become partisan in my fondness for the era's British pub rock movement (e.g., see the numerous references to Ducks Deluxe, op. cit.).
One commenter wrote "a universe where BTR is a B+ is a chilly place indeed." Actually, my original Born to Run grade was B-. I certainly didn't feel chilly at the time. Lots of other things I loved at the time, and it's always been relative. I've mellowed considerably since then, acknowledging the title cut as magnificent (despite some terrible lyrics, like "And strap your hands 'cross my engines") although "Jungleland" still sucks. The album that started to turn me around was The River, where he cut out most of the crap and started to hone his sound down to something classically rock but still distinctive. Took me a while, but he eventually turned into someone I liked (took him a while too) -- e.g., I don't get the problem some commenters have with The Seeger Sessions.
Still, I'm not here to argue that you shouldn't like something you actually do. If you have your own considered views, God bless you. I figure I'm mostly useful because I write about so much stuff you've never heard of, or never taken seriously. (Black Bombaim is a good case in point, or 75 Dollar Bill -- although Jason Gubbels and Robert Christgau got to the latter way before I did.) And when I do touch on something familiar, maybe that will help you correlate, as well as providing my own sanity check. Wouldn't want to miss anything important, especially if it's a widespread pick (like Springsteen, unlike Schlippenbach).
More useful was Dan Weiss' complaint that I underrated Rae Sremmurd. One of those acts I always seem to come out low on. A comment that's more likely to trigger re-evaluation is Michael Tatum's on American Honey: "Genres that aren't supposed to mix, artists I don't care for, even songs I never liked . . . no one listens to all this stuff at the same time. But somehow it works." I could blame Spotify (Napster only has like seven cuts), but I heard all that and still couldn't decide whether it justified what's basically a mixtape.
New issue of Downbeat came in the mail today, featuring their 81st Annual Readers Poll results. I've rarely felt further isolated from the jazz fans represented by the magazine (looks like about 15000 voted). The HOF winner was the late Phil Woods, a worthy candidate who narrowly edged out Wynton Marsalis -- not a personal favorite, but over 35 years now he's probably produced as many A- albums as Woods, maybe more. Woods also won for alto saxophone, where he was trailed by (get this): Kenny Garrett, David Sanborn, and Grace Kelly. Marsalis won trumpet, followed by a guy I'd never heard of, Roger Ingram (he's mostly played in big bands, going back to Louie Bellson and Woody Herman).
Most disappointing for me was the album standings -- not so much that Maria Schneider won (most critics adore her) as that she was followed by Grace Kelly, Gregory Porter, Arturo Sandoval, and many others. I count two A-, two B+(***), and various lower grades. What the hell, let's list them:
Hard to overstate how disgusted I am right now with the FBI over Hillary Clinton's emails -- easily the most boring subject in American politics for over a year now. (And while I don't doubt that Anthony Weiner is a creep, why the hell are they investigating him?) Before this broke I was actually thinking that both candidates had been treated unfairly. After all, the real primordial scum of American politics is Ted Cruz, but to go after him you'd have to talk about issues, and that's the real fear and dread of all sorts of media in America.
I minor exception to this is the Wichita Eagle, which has published detailed position charts on various candidates. Trump's isn't as awful as you'd expect, and Clinton's isn't as good as you'd hope, but that race at least is pretty clear cut. But I was saddened by how awful the Democratic congressional candidates are this time -- Patrick Wiesner for Senate and Dan Giroux for House. Given the Republican incumbents, I'll probably wind up voting or both (although I know a few people who prefer independent Miranda Allen over Giroux), but neither has much of a chance.
I'll be voting for Clinton too, although I fear my prediction that she'll be dogged by one stupid scandal after another for her entire term will turn out prescient. Very doubtful my wife will vote for her. Since the email thing broke open again, she's been hashtagging "itoldyouso" and heaping special scorn on those who claimed "she's been vetted" back in the primaries. Turns out none of the candidates were very well vetted, because the vanity and hubris presidential candidates all but require are endless generators of petty scandal.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, October 29. 2016
Slightly more than a month's worth of records here, as I ran into a couple bad weeks then found myself running out of month. Still a fairly substantial outing: 114 records (93 new, 3 recent comps, 18 oldies I'm just now catching up to -- mostly Bruce Springsteen and Alexander von Schlippenbach, both searches triggered by recent albums).
New records are mostly jazz, although I made an effort early in the month to check out many of the year's better regarded pop albums -- my main source Album of the Year's Highest Rated Albums of 2016 list. I'm still missing three of the top five (Nick Cave, Beyoncé, and Frank Ocean), one more down to ten (Dillinger Escape Plan), and three more down to twenty-five (DD Dumbo, Nails, The Hotelier) -- mostly not on Napster (although I now see that Nick Cave finally appeared).
Rated count for 2016 releases is currently 744 albums. I'm not sure how that compares year-to-date with 2015 but it's probably down by about 20%: by freeze date my 2015 list had hit 1112 albums, so if you scale that back to ten months you get 926, and 744 is 80.34% of that. Of course, in every year critics pick up their coverage rate toward the end when the annual best-of lists start to appear. Seems likely I'll wind up down closer to 10% than the current 20%.
A list this year is currently 97 long, down considerably from 150 last year (at freeze date, now up to 164). Same calculations show that current A-list is down 22.4% this year. I've actually wondered whether I'm getting faster and looser with grades this year. These numbers actually look rather normal, but that doesn't mean I haven't: I'd have to do some research to prove it, but I suspect that it's normal for A-grades to pile up late in the year. It's also normal for jazz to spurt ahead of non-jazz (currently 54-43, as I recall less than last year's split at this time, although the two columns wound up evenly balanced).
One reason for my doubts is that some of this month's picks are records that I don't regard as especially strong for the artist, but I've let them pass through anyway (Leonard Cohen, John Prine, Handsome Family, maybe even Revolutionary Snake Ensemble). On the other hand, I didn't quite bite on several jazz albums that have gotten a lot of critical play (Mary Halvorson, Wadada Leo Smith; perhaps halso Darcy James Argue and Andrew Cyrille). On the other hand, my favorites this time lean toward mainstream and/or groove (although I guess Black Bombaim and Damana don't fit either niche -- so much for predictable).
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on September 22. Past reviews and more information are available here (8746 records).
75 Dollar Bill: Wooden Bag (2015, Other Music): A duo, with Rick Brown banging on things and playing a little alto sax, and Che Chen playing guitar and more alto sax. Mostly roiling drone and percussion, and little differentiation among seven songs, but the noise is distinct and captivating, so there. B+(***) [bc]
75 Dollar Bill: Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock (2013-15 , Thin Wrist): Principally a duo, with Rick Brown playing less than a full set of drums (but "plywood crate") and Che Chen more than one guitar, with a few others adding to the discordant harmonies. Four pieces, 39:20, the vaguely Saharan grooves and harmonies minimally differentiated. A- [bc]
Stefan Aeby Trio: To the Light (2015 , Intakt): Swiss pianist, third trio album, also appears on good records by label mates Christoph Irniger and Sarah Buecchli. With André Pousaz on bass and Michi Stulz on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Joey Alexander: Countdown (2016, Motéma): Pianist, from Bali in Indonesia (full name Josiah Alexander Sila), was 11 when he cut his debut and 13 for this sophomore effort. Mostly trio with Larry Grenadier or Dan Chmielinski on bass and Ulysses Owens Jr. on drums. He's gotten the red carpet treatment so far -- even won a Grammy. And he is a surprisingly adept interpreter, as well as a fairly decent writer of genre exercises, but among mainstream jazz pianists these days, who isn't? B+(*)
JD Allen: Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues (2016, Savant): Tenor saxophonist, leads a trio with Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Sticks to basics here, doesn't strain or strive, but makes it all -- mostly original pieces, only one cover dating back to the '30s -- feel natural, unforced. A- [cd]
Amber Arcades: Fading Lines (2016, Heavenly): Alias for Dutch singer Annelotte de Graaf, with a background in law working for UN war crimes tribunals. No idea how I should alphabetize names like this. Bright, tuneful pop, framed more by guitar than keyboard. B+(*)
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Real Enemies (2016, New Amsterdam): Big band, rhythm section (including guitar) often plugged in, third album, Argue composes and conducts but doesn't play. His conspiracy themes are highlighted in spoken pieces, including a lecture on "paranoid style," and he backs it all up with stark, dramatic swells. B+(**) [bc]
Jay Azzolina/Dino Govoni/Adam Nussbaum/Dave Zinno: Chance Meeting (2016, Whaling City Sound): Listed alphabetically, all four contributing songs, as listed: guitar (best known, if not best remembered, for Spyro Gyra), tenor sax, drums, and bass. Most impressed by Govoni -- unfamiliar with him, but he teaches at Berklee, and his page there asserts the obvious: "A good saxophonist, first and foremost, has to have a tremendous sound." He does. B+(**) [cd]
Andrzej Bauer/Adam Baldych/Cezary Duchnowski/Cezary Konrad: Trans-Fuzja (2012 , ForTune): Polish string jazz trio (cello, violin, bass/electronics) plus drums. Despite the instrumentation, not close to the "chamber jazz" notion. B+(**) [bc]
Beekman: Vol. 02 (2015 , Ropeadope): Tenor sax quartet based in Brooklyn, pianist Yago Vazqauez (also Rhodes) listed first although all write with saxophonist Kyle Nasser most prolific -- 4/9 songs, vs. 3 for Vazquez, 2 for Pablo Menares (bass), 1 by Rodrigo Recabarren (drums). Boppish, flows fast and hard. B+(***) [cd]
Black Bombaim/Peter Brötzmann: Black Bombaim & Peter Brötzmann (2016, Clean Feed): Portuguese "stoner/psychedelic rock" group, a power trio with guitar-bass-drums but no singer, so they're into densely textured noise. That suits the saxophonist. He does what he's been doing for nearly fifty years, but the framing makes this more accessible without compromising his rawness. A- [cd]
Bon Iver: 22, a Million (2016, Jagjaguwar): Justin Vernon, third album, not so much a singer-songwriter as a fairly huge cult artist, his popularity and critical favor a puzzle to me -- not that I'm immune to his appeal, I just find it hard to see how such arcane chicanery and fey disposition could gain a mass following. Perhaps that says something about the ever-evolving nature of anomie. B+(*)
Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition (2016, Warp): Rapper from Detroit, apprenticed in the drug trade but has righted his career, now on his fourth album. Voice humorous similar to Young Thug, gives him a bit of lift even when the thug life doesn't deserve it. First hook goes "tell me something I don't know." Not the last, either. A-
John Butcher & Stĺle Liavik Solberg: So Beautiful, It Starts to Rain (2015 , Clean Feed): Sax and drums duets, the former playing soprano and tenor. Three pieces, 35:19, choppy and rather abstract. B+(**) [cd]
George Cables: The George Cables Songbook (2016, HighNote): Pianist, has a long list of records since 1975, many well regarded ones on SteepleChase I haven't heard so I tend to remember him best for his stellar work with Art Pepper. Something of a career recap here, with a superb trio (Essiet Essiet and Victor Lewis) augmented by sax (Craig Handy) on five tracks, percussion (Victor Kroom) on four, and vocals (Sarah Elizabeth Charles) on six. B+(***) [cd]
Lou Caimano/Eric Olsen: Dyad Plays Jazz Arias (2015 , self-released): Alto sax and piano, respectively, adding Randy Brecker (flugelhorn) or Ted Nash (tenor sax) on most pieces -- written, as advertised, by Mozart, Verdi, Bizet, Massenet, Delibes, and Barber. But without their usual strings and voices they never trigger my usual classical gag reflex. They just seem a little overblown. B [cd]
Neko Case/KD Lang/Laura Veirs: Case/Lang/Veirs (2016, Anti-): Trio of established singer-songwriters, in alphabetical order but also from most to least famous. Reviewers like to compare this to the Parton-Ronstadt-Harris "Trio" but those were much bigger stars with instantly recognizable voices. These three are much more anonymous, yet it's remarkable how evenly they blend together. B+(**)
Nels Cline: Lovers (2013 , Blue Note, 2CD): Guitarist, pays the rent by slumming in Wilco, but that evidently hasn't dulled his ambition for solo projects. Indeed, this project is gargantuan both in length and in its credits, yet none of that is evident in the orchestral music, an mix of placid and ominous, neither all that well defined. B-
Clipping: Splendor & Misery (2016, Sub Pop): Experimental hip-hop group from Los Angeles, best known member Daveed Diggs (from Hamilton), offer a concept about about a future slave (Cargo 2331) being shipped through outer space. Progress ends in very spare and mechanical beats and blips, its own cold and unforgiving dystopia. B+(*)
Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker (2016, Columbia): Slow, grim, gravelly, the octogenarian poet backs himself into a dark corner, and then a funny thing happens: the more you strain for clues (and you do) the sweeter his serenade. A-
Cymbals Eat Guitars: Pretty Years (2016, Sinderlyn): New York band, took their name from a Lou Reed quote "describing the sound of the Velvet Underground," not that they're that disciplined. Instead, we get a better-than-average rock band with solid songs and some flash, not that I find that especially interesting. B
Andrew Cyrille Quartet: The Declaration of Musical Independence (2014 , ECM): Drummer, from Brooklyn, an important figure on the avant-garde since he joined Cecil Taylor's group in 1964. With more than dozen albums under his own name, his ECM debut is a subversive little quartet, with guitarist Bill Frisell shirking the spotlight more often than not. Equally inscrutable are Richard Teitelbaum (synth/piano) and Ben Street (bass). B+(***) [dl]
Damana (Dag Magnus Narvesen Octet): Cornua Copiae (2014 , Clean Feed): Drummer-led Norwegian octet, with three saxes (alto, tenor, baritone/bass), trumpet, trombone, piano, bass: tremendous power from a horns section, but also texture, layering, and detail, propelled by a rhythm section with a hint of swing. Looks like a debut record, likely my ballot pick. A- [cd]
Dogbrain: Blue Dog (2016, Dogbrain Music, EP): Jay Ward, a countryish songwriter who sings through his stutter because the music flows so readily, has one album and three EPs. Six cuts, 18:39. B+(***)
Dreezy: No Hard Feelings (2016, Interscope): Chicago rapper-singer, has a couple of EPs, pretty good single here in "Body" (feat. Jeremih). B+(*)
Drive-By Truckers: American Band (2016, ATO): First thing you notice is how easily Patterson Hood's southern drawl flows over the contour of the melodies. Then words kick in, starting with a remarkable song about race and shooting deaths which works in a not unrelated bit of domestic violence. A-
Earprint: Earprint (2016, Endectomorph Music): Boston quartet: Tree Palmedo (trumpet), Kevin Sun (tenor sax, clarinet), Simón Willson (bass), Dor Herskovits (drums). Slippery postbop, bouncing off walls, occasionally surprising you. B+(**) [cd]
Orrin Evans: #Knowingishalfthebattle (2016, Smoke Sessions): Postbop pianist from Philadelphia sets up a high-revving group with two guitarists (Kurt Rosenwinkel and Kevin Eubanks), plus bass (Luques Curtis) and drums (Mark Whitfield Jr.), with guest spots for sax (Caleb Wheeler Curtis) and voice (M'Balia Singley) -- the latter's take of "Kooks" trips itself up, but her "That's All" is fine. B+(**)
Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: Moving Still (2016, Pi): Trumpet player, previous album (Moment and the Message) was terrific, has notable side credits with Steve Coleman, Steve Lehman, Mary Halvorson, and Tomas Fujiwara. Quintet with both guitar (Miles Okazaki) and piano (Matt Mitchell), tends to float above their postbop. B+(**) [cd]
Five in Orbit: Tribulus Terrestris (2015 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Franco-Catalan quintet, where Ramon Fossati (trombone), Olivier Brandily (alto sax/flute), and Laurent Bronner (piano) write the pieces (aside from a Lincoln-Roach cover), plus Nicolas Rageau (bass) and Luc Isenmann (drums). Fossati seems most drawn to Mingus, kicking the band into a higher orbit. B+(**)
Fond of Tigers: Uninhabit (2016, Offsesson/Drip Audio): Instrumental rock band from Vancouver, seven-piece, includes a couple of the city's notable jazzbos -- JP Carter on trumpet and Jesse Zubot on violin -- but guitarist Stephen Lyons (also credited with vocals, percussion and electronics) is most likely responsible, for the music if not necessarily the bloat. C+
Friends & Neighbors: What's Wrong? (2015 , Clean Feed): Another fine Norwegian freebop group, quintet with trumpet, tenor sax/clarinets, piano, bass, and drums -- no one I've heard of before. Four of the five contribute songs, with André Roligheten (reeds) marginally more prolific (and listed first in the credits). B+(***) [cd]
Future of the Left: The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left (2016, Prescriptions): Rock band from Wales, considered noise rock or post-hardcore but I'd slot them more as post-punk in a line that includes the Fall and the Three Johns. Not sure of the politics, but Falco's snarl exudes class conflict, so that's a start, and I've never found their basic grind more appealing. B+(***)
Robert Glasper Experiment: ArtScience (2016, Blue Note): Pianist, originally promised jazz with hip-hop influence and has straddled that concept inelegantly since 2005, but the vocals here push the balance toward postmodern r&b, which is where the beats derive anyway. B+(*)
GOAT: Requiem (2016, Sub Pop): Swedish group, called their first album World Music and has tried to expand on that thought ever since, but to the extent they specialize at all, they've come up with a psychedelicized form of afrobeat. They're not always that delectable, but I could listen to, say, the grind of "Goatband" much longer than 7:50, nor is that the only time they find such a compelling groove. B+(***)
Mary Halvorson Octet: Away With You (2015 , Firehouse 12): Guitarist, protégé of Anthony Braxton, has previous Quintet and Septet albums, here adding Susan Alcorn (pedal steel) to the latter: Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (alto sax), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax), Jacob Garchik (trombone), John Hébert (bass), Ches Smith (drums). Slippery pieces, much to admire but hard to pin them down, especially with the guitarist most elusive of all. B+(***) [cd]
The Handsome Family: Unseen (2016, Loose Music): Brett and Rennie Sparks, she (I gather) does most of the writing with its fascination for nature and science, and he does most of the singing, like the music (mostly guitar) basic but elegant. I fear some recycling of tunes, but that's mostly because they're so memorable. A-
Billy Hart & the WDR Big Band: The Broader Picture (2016, Enja/Yellowbird): The veteran drummer composed all of these pieces, some going back to the 1970s, and took over as the WDR Big Band's drummer, but the star here is Christophe Schweizer, arranger of the pieces and director of the big band. The WDR Big Band has long been one of the most competent of Europe's institutional bands, but even they have rarely brought their guest star's music so vividly to life. B+(***) [cdr]
Luke Hendon: Silk & Steel (2016, self-released): Guitarist, touches on gypsy jazz ŕ Django Reinhardt, backed by bass and drums (and sometimes violin) but you rarely notice more than the guitar. B+(*) [cd]
Dave Holland/Chris Potter/Lionel Loueke/Eric Harland: Aziza (2016, Dare2): Bass, tenor/soprano sax, guitar/vocals, drums -- not sure why I missed the first two names when I filed this (other than that my advance didn't come with a cover, and the spine only says Aziza). Strong rhythm record, moves right along. Potter, of course, is superb, and when he switches to soprano they just double down on the Latin tinge. Two songs each, the sort of balance you rarely find in a supergroup. A- [cdr]
Jenny Hval: Blood Bitch (2016, Sacred Bones): Avant goth diva from Norway, released a couple records as Rockettothesky before reverting to her birth name, turns out some kind of soundtrack about vampires -- maybe just a concept album, but it's as scattered as many soundtracks. C+
Ital Tek: Hollowed (2016, Planet Mu): Electronica producer Alan Myson, from Brighton UK, fifth album since 2008, has a bit of industrial klang shaded toward ambience. B+(**)
Nicolas Jaar: Sirens (2016, Other People): Nominally electronica, but it's the rock and roll bits -- bass throbs, drum rolls, even a little squelchy guitar -- that impress me, not that he doesn't occasionally fade into ambiance. B+(**)
Kate Jackson: British Road Movies (2016, Hoo Ha): British singer-songwriter, formerly frontwoman for the Long Blondes, debut solo album. Solid album, but not much sticks. B+(*)
Manu Katché: Unstatic (2016, Anteprima): French drummer, group includes Tore Brunborg (saxes), Jim Watson (keyboards), and Eileen Andrea Wang (bass), adding guests here and there, notably Nils Langren (trombone on five tracks). Relaxed, a bit light, easy on the ears. B+(*)
Michael Kiwanuka: Love & Hate (2016, Polydor): Born in London, parents from Uganda, straight up soul singer often tagged as retro, big star in England but barely gets noticed here. Second album, nothing fancy but a simple pleasure. B+(**)
Mike LeDonne & the Groover Quartet: That Feelin' (2016, Savant): Started as a mainstream pianist in the early 1990s but has increasingly made the organ his tool, goes for old-fashioned soul jazz with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and guitarist Peter Bernstein providing tasty leads, and dependable Joe Farnsworth on drums. Vince Herring (alto sax) joins on three cuts. B+(**) [cd]
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: I Had a Dream That You Were Mine (2016, Glassnote): Former frontman (guitar, vocals) of the Walkmen, my candidate for the most dead-ass boring alt/indie band of the last decade, working with multi-instrumentalist and producer Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of a much better band, Vampire Weekend. Splits the difference, the songs sharp and catchy, but still something I don't quite trust. B
John Lindberg Raptor Trio: Western Edges (2012 , Clean Feed): Bassist-led sax trio, with Pablo Calogero on baritone and Joe LaBarbera on drums. The deep sax meshes evenly with the bass, with no threats to break out into something crazy -- just steady, smart free jazz. B+(**) [cd]
John Lindberg BC3: Born in an Urban Ruin (2016, Clean Feed): Bassist, founder and mainstay of String Trio of New York. Trio with Wendell Harrison on clarinets and Kevin Norton on vibraharp and percussion, although more often it seems like bass duets with one or the other, or just bass solos. Each combo is interesting in its own right, but I don't see how they add up. B+(**) [cd]
Jacam Manricks: Chamber Jazz (2015 , self-released): Saxophonist, credited here with alto, soprano, tenor, flute, alto flute, and clarinet; leading a quartet with Kevin Hays on piano and Fender Rhodes, Gianluca Renzi on acoustic bass, and Ari Hoenig on drums. Nothing I think of as "chamber jazz," although he incorporates bits from some classical composers as well as Nascimento and Miles Davis, adding to the album's sheer catchiness. A- [cd]
Grégoire Maret: Wanted (2016, Sunnyside): Born in Geneva, Switzerland; based in New York; plays chromatic harmonica, an instrument which speaks blues but gets diluted in the strings and flute producer Terri Lyne Carrington brought out, not to mention the scattered soul vocals. Could be his Grammy first time out spoiled him. B-
Jřrgen Mathisen/Christian Meaas Svendsen/Andreas Wildhagen: Momentum (2015 , Clean Feed): Free sax trio from Norway, Mathisen -- also on the Damana album -- playing soprano and tenor (mostly the latter), the others bass and drums. Struggles a bit, both at full roar and in more studious stretches. B+(*) [cd]
Maxwell: blackSUMMERS'night (2016, Columbia): Gerald Maxwell Rivera, neo-soul crooner, fifth album going back to 1995, but only second since 2001, the previous title differentiated from this one's only by different case. Can't say that I docked him for that, but it didn't win him the benefit of the doubt either. B
Anna Meredith: Varmints (2016, Moshi Moshi): British, background includes compositions for classical orchestra, moving into pop in 2012 with the first of two EPs, then this debut album. Favors crashing waves of synths, where words are almost an afterthought. B
Rale Micic: Night Music (2015 , Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, born 1975 in Belgrade (Yugoslavia, now Serbia), moved to US in 1995 to study at Berklee, settled in New York, has at least three previous albums. This quartet blends his guitar nicely with Danny Grissett's piano. B+(*) [cd]
Minim Experiment: Dark Matter (2016, ForTune): Guitarist Kuba Wojcik wrote all five tunes, featuring piano (Kamil Piotrowicz) and backed by bass and drums, most attractive when the beat sustains the minimalism, but interesting even when it doesn't. B+(**) [bc]
Moonbow: When the Sleeping Fish Turn Red and the Skies Start to Sing in C Major I Will Follow You to the End (2016, ILK): All tracks composed by bassist Tomo Jacobson, born in Poland, based in Copenhagen, also in the group Mount Meander, and working on a film about William Parker (who contributed a liner note poem). Septet -- three saxes, guitar and piano, bass and drums, Kresten Osgood the only familiar name. Ambitious set, with its broad sweep and towering heights, moody colors. Still, hard to get a handle on it all. B+(**) [cd]
Kevin Morby: Singing Saw (2016, Dead Oceans): Singer-songwriter from Lubbock, recording his third album in Woodstock. Outstanding song is "Dorothy," which refines a riff from . . . "Heroin." B+(***)
The Mowgli's: Where'd Your Weekend Go? (2016, Photo Finish/Island): Pop group from Calabasas, California -- a ritzy suburb in the hills west of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. Bouncy upbeat, multiple singers with lots of vocal harmonies, a formula completely alien to the downer vibe that young critics seem to love. Me, I loved their previous Kids in Love, but while this has similar appeal, nothing here quite grabs me. B
Mudcrutch: 2 (2016, Reprise): Southern rock band, formed in 1970 in Gainesville, Florida, defunct by 1975 without an album but reformed in 2007 with five-sixths of the original lineup, the original lead singer having left by 1972 and been obsoleted by backup Tom Petty's post-group stardom. So basically, this is Petty in a nostalgic mood. B
Mark Murphy: Slip Away (2016, Mini Movie): Not the late jazz singer, this one's a singer-songwriter, plays guitar, also covers Dylan, McCartney, Newman, and Young. Band composed of name jazz musicians (Jon Cowherd, Chris Morrissey, Jeff Ballard, Gilad Hekselman, Dayna Stephens) with Maria Neckham joining for a duet, but no one stretches, the result barely registering as easy-listening rock. B [cd]
Naked Wolf: Ahum (2016, Clean Feed): Dutch group, has a previous album, looks like all members write with Felicity Proven (trumpet) and Mikael Szarfirowski (guitar) also singing (or rapping); the others are Luc Ex (bass), Yedo Gibson (reeds), and Gerri Jäger (drums). The vocals threaten to pull this into some weird post-rock vein, while the instrumentals drag it back into the domain of demented circus music. B+(*) [cd]
Steve Noble & Kristoffer Berre Alberts: Condest Second Yesterday (2015 , Clean Feed): English drummer, has a long discography since 1987 mostly with European avant-gardists, here in a duo with a relatively new tenor saxophonist from Norway -- brings tremendous energy, although he does tend to squawk. B+(***) [cd]
Sean Noonan: Memorable Sticks (2015 , ForTune): Drummer-led piano trio, with Alex Marcelo and Peter Bilenc, with Noonan adding a narration about chipping away in a salt mine, looking for treasures. Very upbeat, often emphatic, but I find the voice more distracting than not. B [bc]
Angel Olsen: My Woman (2016, Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter from St. Louis, sang backup for Bonnie "Prince" Billy, second (or third) album, adding to the critical acclaim for her 2014 Burn Your Fire for No Witness. First time through I didn't catch much, but a second spin caught my ear numerous times, even when she slows to a whisper. B+(***)
Parker Abbott Trio: Elevation (2016, self-released): From Canada, a different kind of piano trio, with both Teri Parker and Simeon Abbott playing various keyboards (including organ and good old acoustic piano, but mostly electrics), with Mark Segger on drums and percussion. B [cd]
Nicholas Payton: Textures (2016, Paytone): Around the turn of the century someone came up with the term "jazztronica" and a number of mainstream jazz artists started dabbling in that direction, including the New Orleans trumpet master. Nothing much happened, but Payton keeps plugging away, doing this solo on keyb and laptop. He succeeds in generating textures. Still doesn't amount to much by way of music. B-
Houston Person & Ron Carter: Chemistry (2015 , HighNote): Two old guys playing sax-bass duets at a casual pace on comfortable standards. Carter has probably appeared on more records than any other jazz musician (Morton & Cook once tried counting and decided Ray Brown held that distinction, but Carter has long passed Brown). Back cover has a photo of the two with an old white man sandwiched between the more imposing black figures -- presumably that's Executive Producer Joe Fields, who signed Person to Prestige in the 1960s and kept him close ever since. This isn't their first duet album. I should probably recheck that one, but for now I'm too much in love with this one. Guess I'm getting old myself. A [cd]
John Prine: For Better, or Worse (2016, Oh Boy): In 1999 Prine eased his way back from throat cancer with a remarkable album of old country tunes, the vocal duties shared with Iris DeMent and several other women. He repeats that concept here -- probably figures that at 70 he's earned another easy one, or maybe he's noticed that he hasn't written a album's worth of originals since Bush provoked him to 2005's Fair and Square. Of course, this isn't as marvelous as the first time: the songs aren't as improbable, he's lost a step, and so many young women are chasing him that DeMent only gets two highlights. None of that bothers me. And if you're waiting for a John Prine song, just wait for the end. A-
Punkt 3: Ordnung Herrscht (2015 , Clean Feed): Group named for German bassist-composer Noah Punkt, who has a previous solo album, two previous trios, and various other projects. This is a trio with saxophonist Tobias Pfister and drummer Ramon Oliveras, free jazz, sharp but not too aggressive. B+(***) [cd]
Rae Sremmurd: SremmLife 2 (2016, Eardrum/Interscope): Hip-hop duo from Mississippi, Swae Lee and Slim Jimmi, second album. Pretty ragged for pop stars, somewhat catchy, might even be funny too if I was into their B- and N-shit. B+(*)
Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: I Want That Sound! (2016, Innova): Alto saxophonist Ken Field's Boston-based answer to New Orleans' second line brass bands, actually just a sextet with two saxes, trumpet, and the trombonist doubling on tuba. Fourth album, more of their infectious funk groove. A- [cd]
Huerco S: For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) (2016, Proibito): Brian Leeds, Kansas-born, based in Brooklyn, second album, ambient electronica composed of little bits of synth, almost toy-like at first but grows into something. B+(**)
Savages: Adore Life (2016, Matador): London-based post-punk band, fronted by Jehnny Beth (Camille Berthomier), who has a bit of Patti Smith in her voice. Doom and gloom too, the sort of thing that could prove prophetic, although for now I'm on the fence. B+(***)
SBTRKT: Save Yourself (2016, self-released, EP): English "post-dubstep" group, primarily synths producer Aaron Jerome, with vocals from Sampha and The-Dream. Short LP (8 tracks, 25:55) after two longer albums. Kind of mopey, more like trip-hop, without the hop. B-
Schlippenbach Trio: Warsaw Concert (2015 , Intakt): Avant pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, with Evan Parker on tenor sax, and Paul Lovens on drums -- a trio for more than forty years. Frenetic and sketchy when they started out, now old masters to don't mind kicking up their heels. B+(***) [cdr]
John Scofield: Country for Old Men (2016, Impulse!): Easy-grooving guitarist, backed by Larry Goldings (piano and organ), Steve Swallow (electric bass), and Bill Stewart (drums), playing relatively old country songs (Shania Twain's "You're Still the One" is the only one less than thirty years old, and James Taylor's "Bartender's Blues" might not count as country), all familiar and still recognizable. B+(*)
Travis Scott: Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight (2016, Epic): Jaques Webster, Houston rapper, dreams of dollar signs in his stage name, recruits enough guests for his second album to point that way. But I mostly hear a beats record, and like it that way. B+(**)
Elliott Sharp Aggregat: Dialectrical (2016, Clean Feed): After many years as an avant-garde gadfly, mostly playing guitar, he's turned into a free jazz stalwart, here playing reed instruments (soprano/tenor sax, Bb/bass clarinet), in a group named for his 2012 album -- his best as far as I know. This one gives 76-year-old drummer Barry Altschul a "Feat." on the cover, and spreads the horns out with Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpet and Terry L. Greene II on trombone, plus Brad Jones on bass. Sharp indeed, though also a bit shrill. B+(***) [cd]
Alan Silva/Mette Rasmussen/Stĺle Liavik Solberg: Free Electric Band (2014 , ForTune): Silva, born in Bermuda, moved to New York at age 5, has been a minor figure on the avant-fringe since the early 1960s, mostly playing bass but increasingly since the 1990s keyboards. Regardless of the dilapidated upright on the cover, he plays synth here, the electric clashing with alto sax and drums. One 45:55 piece, rough around the edges, as advertised. B+(*) [bc]
Sleaford Mods: TCR (2016, Rough Trade, EP): New label, thought they'd test the water and make nice with a five track, 17:17 EP, so straightforward you can follow every word and step easily to the clipped beats. TCR stands for Total Control Racing. B+(***)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani: Sunergy (2015 , RVNG Intl.): Three pieces, 23/12/18 minutes, not sure who composed but both play various synthesizers, for something like ambient but with much more swish. B+(**)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: Ears (2016, Western Vinyl): More synths, more scattered at first with bits of voice and woodwind (Rob Frye's credit) or maybe just more slippery, with six shortish pieces between 3:05 and 4:57 then an 11:09 finale which builds into something, justifying its title, "Existence in the Unfurling." B+(**)
Wadada Leo Smith: America's National Parks (2016, Cuneiform, 2CD): Trumpet player, came of age in Chicago's AACM but remained obscure until around 2000 when he started to break out of expectations -- an album with Thomas Mapfumo (from Zimbabwe), an "Electric Miles" trbute band with Henry Kaiser, and recently a series of extended compositions (including The Great Lakes Suites and Ten Freedom Summers). This sprawling six-piece, written for his Golden Quintet (piano-cello-bass-drums) draws inspiration from all around the country, and strikes me as being as heavy and ponderous as its subject matter, but dotted with marvelous, often breath-taking details. B+(***) [cd]
Solange: A Seat at the Table (2016, Saint/Columbia): Last name Knowles, same as her older sister Beyoncé. Third album in thirteen years, a big production with scores of writers, producers, and guests, but the sound hardly suggests such scale, and the songs are laced with a male commentary which while interesting in its own right could just as well belong to a completely different album. B+(**)
Richard Sussman: The Evolution Suite (2015 , Zoho): Pianist, also credited with electronics, more importantly as composer, arranger, etc. Played keyboards in Elephant's Memory in 1969, later spent a couple years with Blood, Sweat & Tears, while his own records started up in the 1970s. Title piece runs through five movements, with a couple "radio edits" tacked on to fill out 75 minutes. Band a quintet with trumpet (Scott Wendholt) and tenor sax (Rich Perry), expanded with a string quartet (The Sirius Quartet) and Zach Brock on electric violin. Some exciting passages, but I don't much care for the strings. B [cd]
Kate Tempest: Let Them Eat Chaos (2016, Lex): British rapper with a literary bent, not sure what the story is here but it must pick up toward the end when the grime beats come together and flower into melody -- or maybe that's just the music. B+(**)
Touché Amoré: Stage Four (2016, Epitaph): Post-hardcore band from Burbank, fourth album, work up a decent grind, tight enough I'm impressed and rather pleased, as if I still liked music of this sort. B+(*)
Wax Tailor: By Any Beats Necessary (2016, Le Plan): French trip-hop producer Jean-Christophe Le Saoűt, fifth album since 2005, comes out as a blues rocker but eventually retreats to his more accustomed turf. Reminds me of a group called Was Not Was, another producer vehicle with no signature sound but a lot of smashing studio tricks. B+(*)
Whitney: Light Upon the Lake (Secretly Canadian): Alt-rock duo from Los Angeles, Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, who previously did business as the Smith Westerns, plus a drummer from Unknown Mortal Orchestra and a producer from Foxygen wrapping the falsetto vocals with orchestral dross. B-
YG: Still Brazy (2016, Def Jam): Rapper Keenon Jackson, from Compton, follow up to his 2014 My Krazy Life, still shocked that a guy with such crude rhymes and so little flow can bank on a major label contract. Inspirational lyric: "Fuck Donald Trump." B+(*)
Yoni & Geti: Testarossa (2016, Joyful Noise): Collaboration between beatmaker Yoni Wolf (of WHY?) and rapper David Cohn (aka Serengeti). Musically this reminded me first of the Beach Boys then the Beatles in their most psychedelic modes but more so by half. The raps are standard-grade 'Geti. B+(**)
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
American Honey (, UME): Soundtrack to a movie I hadn't heard of until Christgau raved about this download-only product. Evidently there are multiple versions, with a "complete" song list totalling 27 songs, but Rhapsody only has 8 so I turned to Spotify and found 23. A mixtape of hip-hop and Americana and some alt-rock. only a couple songs I recognized, although when I played Spotify the ones on Rhapsody stood out. Maybe they're the best, or maybe more familiarity will elevate more. B+(***) [sp]
Vieux Kanté: The Young Man's Harp (2005 , Sterns): Blind kamalé ngoni virtuoso from Mali, died at age 31 in 2005, leaving this recording from "shortly before he died" unreleased. Schematic solo intro before a singer and percussion join in. A-
Bruce Springsteen: Chapter and Verse (1966-2012 , Columbia): Compiled as a tie-in to Springsteen's Born to Run autobiography, so it starts with juvenilia: three cuts from his teenage bands, three more from the year he got signed (1972), plus one of those soppy ballads from his second album -- the first five previously unreleased -- before he gets his sound together on "Born to Run." The second half you probably know, not so much a best-of as a set of signposts to a life's work. Not a record you're likely to replay, except maybe for your grandchildren, who probably won't get it but might dig the early intensity. B+(***)
Black Bombaim: Titans (2012, Lovers & Lollypops): "Stoner/psychedelic rock" band from Portugal, Ricardo Miranda (guitar), Vitor Rodrigues (electric bass), and Paulo Gonçalves (drums), although this second album adds others on each of four LP-side-length tracks (three over 18 minutes, one just 10:36). Most mix-ins are guitar, some keybs, a muted vocal on first tracks, and some sax sounding prophetic. B+(***)
Black Bombaim/La La La Ressonance: Black Bombaim & La La La Ressonance (2013 , PAD/Lovers & Lollypops): A live mash up of two Portuguese instrumental rock bands, the former group a noise-oriented power trio, the latter a bit jazzier (and not just because they feature Paulo Araujo on alto sax). B+(**)
Black Bombaim: Far Out (2014, Lovers & Lollipops): A single LP, so just two pieces, total 34:44, the first side adding the superb saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, the second mixing in synth and electronics by Luis Fernandes. Rocksteady beat, of course, but what they build on it, unencumbered by vocals, is as complex as powerful. A-
Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton/Schlippenbach Trio: 2X3=5 (1999 , Leo): Two trios, the common denominator saxophonist Evan Parker, with the latter trio adding pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and drummer Paul Lovens. One 77:07 piece, the interest often drifting to the percussion, not least the piano. B+(***)
Schlippenbach Trio: Bauhaus Dessau (2009 , Intakt): Living legends, seems like every few years they tape a concert and put it out, if only to remind you they're still around, still kicking up raw improv, with Evan Parker doing his circular breathing thing for a showstopper. B+(***)
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live 1975-85 (1975-85 , Columbia, 3CD): In the 1970s most big rock groups would release a live album, usually a 2LP, either as a status item or a piece of interim product. Shortly before I moved to New York, Springsteen had played a week at the Bottom Line -- possibly the last time he played in a venue that intimate -- and those who saw him there were total converts. I wasn't, but I never saw him live, and only started to like his albums with 1980's The River (his 2LP, another of the era's status rungs). Over the next decade his songbook grew and his concerts grew longer, so when he finally did release the live album his fans had been craving, it added up to five LPs, 40 songs, 3:36:13 -- something they could also squeeze into a 3CD box. Highlights abound, including two possible national anthems we can all stand for, a story about dodging the draft, a terse take on "War." But even the 1975-78 hyper-dramaturgy I so hated at the time sounds personable framed by these arenas. B+(***)
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Hammersmith Odeon, London '75 (1975 , Columbia, 2CD): One complete concert, 2:04:52, from the tour that followed Springsteen's Born to Run breakthrough album, released as a DVD bonus to that album's 30th Anniversary Edition package, then a year later repackaged on CD. Makes me wonder whether I would have been so appalled by the studio album had I seen them live? In an age when guitar bands were the norm, the organ-piano-sax combo both invoked rock's early roots and scaled the sound up to a new level of magnificance. Still too much drama. B+(**)
Bruce Springsteen: The Promise (1977-78 , Columbia, 2CD): Outtakes from the sessions that produced my least favorite Springsteen album, the pompous and ridiculously overblown Darkness at the Edge of Town, assembled as part of a 3-CD + 3-DVD "30th anniversary edition" -- extra baggage we can dispense with here. Two songs were hits for others, and a couple more are related to things that made the finished album, but most were most likely rejected because they weren't sufficiently hyperbolic -- a human scale that I found redemptive, at least when it appeared on better songs than these. B+(*)
Bruce Springsteen: In Concert/MTV Unplugged (1992 , Columbia): Part of MTV's Unplugged series, but after the previously unreleased "Red Headed Woman" the irregular band plugged in and played a set primarily from his uninspired current albums, Lucky Town and Human Touch (8/12 songs). B-
Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995, Columbia): Title reference is to Steinbeck channeled through Woody Guthrie, not least musically where guitar and harmonica suffice for the subdued folk music. I can relate more to the lament for the lost foundries of "Youngstown" -- but not much else. B
Bruce Springsteen: Tracks (1972-95 , Columbia, 4CD): Demos and outtakes, a couple of live tracks, a few B-sides, 66 songs in all selected from a trove of some 350 at the time. I have no idea how many turned up on later albums -- the four 1972 demos made it to 1973's Greetings From Asbury Park, and much further down I see a "Born in the USA" as a Nebraska outtake. Mixed bag, of course, but follows the arc of his career -- the third disc, where the scraps fell off his two great 1980s albums, is a lot of fun. But he slipped and slowed down a bit in the 1990s. B+(*)
Bruce Springsteen: 18 Tracks (1972-99 , Columbia): A 15-cut sampler from the Tracks box set, plus three more bait cuts, no doubt figuring that's all they'd need to get fans willing to buy a 4-CD box of outtakes to buy them again. I don't think it would be hard to carve an A- record from the box, but I'd mostly go with the fast ones, and they didn't. In fact, they only picked one of the five "choice cuts" Christgau identified in the box: "Pink Cadillac." B+(**)
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live in New York (2000 , Columbia, 2CD): Recorded over two nights of a "ten-show tour-ending run at Madison Square Garden," and originally released as an HBO special (pretty sure I saw that), expanded onto two DVDs, and finally two CDs, long enough to qualify as an average Springsteen show: loud, some interesting variations, magnificent when the sax comes out on top. Due for a revival: "American Skin (41 Shots)." B+(**)
Bruce Springsteen With the Sessions Band: Live in Dublin (2006 , Columbia, 2CD): Another DVD product reissued on CD, the band refers back to the 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions -- 10 of 12 songs repeated here, plus 10 more, a mix of Springsteen's folkier oldies and even older trad fare, all given the big arena treatment by a star who can command an 18-piece band and make it cohere like a revival. B+(**)
Alexander von Schlippenbach: Payan (1972 , Enja): The avant-pianist's first solo album, not that I'm so sure where all the sounds in the 10:00 closer "Kinds of Weirdness" come from. But until weirdness takes over, you get chopped abstraction, finding its unique way in the world. B+(*)
Alex von Schlippenbach/Paul Dunmall/Paul Rogers/Tony Bianco: Vesuvius (2004 , Slam): London studio session, the pianist playing with saxophonist Dunmall's trio, Rogers playing a 7-string ALL bass. Two long pieces (29:11, 34:47), not as volcanic as hoped for. B+(**)
Alexander von Schlippenbach: Piano Solo: Twelve Tone Tales, Vol. 1 (2005 , Intakt): Twelve-tone theory is supposedly a way to break ingrained habits by spreading compositions evenly over all possible tones, but I doubt I'll ever be able to recognize that theory just by sound. Rather, I hear a sort of mid-tempo rambling, a lot of thought input but far less conveyed. [4/9 tracks: 35:50] B+(**)
Alexander von Schlippenbach: Piano Solo: Twelve Tone Tales, Vol. 2 (2005 , Intakt): More from the same session, ending the string of originals with three Dolphy tunes, "All the Things You Are," and Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle." [6/13 tracks, 34:03] B+(**)
Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section. Included extra Schlippenbach albums (Globe Unity, Aki Takase) but the Evan Parker record was picked for Schlippenbach, so this isn't the place to go through his discography (at least 26 rated records).
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, October 24. 2016
Music: Current count 27272  rated (+9), 418  unrated (+6).
One of those weeks that was just blown to shreds, as I came down with a stomach bug on Wednesday, spent a couple days pretty much stuck in bed, and still feel exhausted and a bit unsettled. Before getting sick several records got a lot of plays without quite convincing me they're A- material (Cables, Schlippenbach, American Honey). The only Schlippenbach Trio album I've given an A- to was 2015's Features, which I don't recall as being a close decision, so I thought I should at least go back and replay 1972's Pakistani Pomade -- perhaps a little wilder than the new one, but not nearly as vividly recorded. I've been playing more old Schlippenbach today, but nothing that can't wait until next week.
Birthday tomorrow, will be 66. Spent some time today wading through the Social Security online form, so maybe I'll start drawing some income (and slow down the savings burn). Had planned on cooking tomorrow, but the illness forced a postponement -- maybe Saturday. I usually pick out a national cuisine and try to overdo it. I thought Greek would be fun this year: first non-American food I learned to cook, thanks to my dear college friend Elias Vlanton. I visited Elias back in June and we cooked up a pretty smashing dinner, using The Jerusalem Cookbook and a few other Mediterranean recipes, so he's been on my mind. Finally worked out a tentative menu last night: a delicate balance of feasible and awesome.
Made very little progress on the jazz book(s) last week. I'm up to October 2005 in the notebook. I've reached a point where nearly all the reviews I'm finding had been copied to the Jazz Prospecting and/or Recycled Goods archives. Not sure yet if that means I can skip the rest, but good chance I can. For now I have one more Golden Oldies column to post, so that series will probably end with 2005.
I should get around to a Streamnotes post later this week. Currently have 102 records, which isn't a huge amount, but if quantity doesn't force a post, the calendar will. Might give me some extra motivation to cherry pick the largest incoming queue I've had in several years.
Sad to note the death of Tom Hayden, a founder of the new left even before he became one of the leading opponents of the Vietnam War. As a teenager I read his book Rebellion in Newark, and of course rooted for him in the Chicago 8/7 trial. I was pleased to see him go into mainstream California politics, and can't say much about that. (Although I did roast him for endorsing Hillary over Bernie earlier this year: post here.) In 2012, he spoke to the annual meeting of the Peace and Social Justice Center here in Wichita, and did a nice job of tracing out the continuity from the New Left to today's progressive politics.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: