Wednesday, July 29. 2015
At 110 records, the shortest Steamnotes so far this year. Also the longest time between columns -- last one was June 13. The main reason is that I spent three weeks driving northwest and visiting relatives, and didn't bother listening to anything new. (I packed three cases with 200 tried-and-proven CDs for the trip, but mostly just listened to them in the car. I streamed a couple new albums, like Miguel's, but didn't write up anything on them.)
See last month's column for a description of the Spin 1985-2014 list project. Most of this month's "old music" came from mopping up albums I hadn't gotten to then. I'm up to about 90% of that list -- when the list came out I had heard 73%. I thought I might give up on the remainders, but as I've been writing this I've picked off a couple more albums from the list -- System of a Down's Toxicity (not as bad as I expected), and Animal Collective's Sung Tongs (far worse). I think Lil Wayne (Tha Carter II) and 2Pac (All Eyez on Me) are up next, and those are things I probably should listen to (sooner or later).
A few other things have crept into the old music section, following various strategems: I checked out Silk Degrees to go with the new Boz Scaggs album (but that's as far as I went); I noticed I had an ungraded Uncle Tupelo album while I was working on Wilco, and went on to check out the Mermaid Avenue outtakes; someone sent me the Close Readers CDs. The older Four Tet records could have been filed as old or new: in general "new" means last 2-3 years, but I figured it made more sense to keep them together.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on June 13. Past reviews and more information are available here (6659 records).
Harry Allen's All-Star Brazilian Band: Flying Over Rio (2015, Arbors): Retro-swing tenor saxophonist, has shown an interest in Brazilian music before -- cf. 1997's Eu Não Quero Dançar -- but he's never made this much out of it. The All-Stars I recognize are Nilson Matta (bass) and Duduka Da Fonseca (drums), but Klaus Mueller (piano) and Guilherme Monteiro (guitar) show up my ignorance. Singer Maucha Adnet is a tougher sell when you're expecting Astrud Gilberto, but the extra grit and sass finally turned into a plus. A-
Tiffany Austin: Nothing but Soul (2015, Con Alma): Standards singer, associated with SFJAZZ, first album, definitely has a crush on Hoagy Carmichael (6 of 9 songs), offering Johnny Cash ("I Walk the Line") as a change-up, and concludes with a piece by her saxophone player, Howard Wiley. B [cd]
Kevin Bachelder/Jason Lee Bruns: Cherry Avenue (2015, Panout Music Group): Singer and drummer, respectively, mostly standards (one Bachelder original, one from saxophonist Ron Blake), including an obligatory Jobim followed up by a Beatles song, both relatively obscure, "Dear Prudence" deservedly so. B- [cd]
The Bad Plus/Joshua Redman: The Bad Plus Joshua Redman (2015, Nonesuch): Long-running (since 2000) all-star piano trio -- Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, David King -- plus a comparably established (since 1992) tenor/soprano saxophonist that should be a fair match and complement, and that's true to a point: they do manage to wind each other up. I'm just not sure what the value of this intensity is. B+(**)
John Basile: Penny Lane (2015, StringTime Jazz): Guitarist, has more than a dozen albums since 1986, plays eleven Lennon-McCartney songs, most of which have proven deadly as jazz standards ("A Day in the Life" is something of an exception). Solo, with some midi programming for percussion; not exactly muzak, not exactly not. B [cd]
Bilal: In Another Life (2015, E1): Neo-soul singer with some hip-hop touches, fourth album since 2001 but picking up the pace. B+(**)
Terence Blanchard: Breathless (2015, Blue Note): Trumpet player from New Orleans, has dabbled a lot in soundtracks to mixed success. Organized a new quintet here, E-Collective, listed on the cover as "featuring": Charlea Altura (guitar), Fabian Almazan (piano, synths), Donald Ramsey (bass), Oscar Seaton (drums), adding vocalist PJ Morton on three cuts. B+(**)
Kenny Carr: Idle Talk (2014 , self-released): Guitarist, AMG lists three previous albums. Wrote all original material and recruited Donny McCaslin, Kenny Wolleson, and Hans Glawischnig to play. The sax can really get your attention. B+(**) [cd]
Brett Carson: Quattuor Elephantis (2014 , Edgetone): Leader plays electric keyboard, which meshes nicely with Scott Siler's vibes -- the primary sound here, backed by guitar and drums. The lineup suggests a groove album, but no such thing here. B [cd]
Leoanrd Cohen: Can't Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour (2012-13 , Columbia): Relatively rare songs taken from a range of soundchecks and shows -- a tactic which forgoes the satisfaction Live in London and Live in Dublin offered of recognizing long-familiar hits. On the other hand, this is almost like discovering a fresh batch of unknown songs. B+(***)
Kris Davis Infrasound: Save Your Breath (2014 , Clean Feed): Avant-pianist from Canada, has had an impressive run of trio and quartet albums, comes out with her largest group ever, led by four clarinetists (Joachim Badenhorst, Andrew Bishop, Ben Goldberg, Oscar Noriega), with guitar (Nate Radley), organ (Gary Versace), and drums (Jim Black) but no bass. The clarinets come in all weights, but are soft-edged and in the end blend into the drone. B+(**)
Steve Davis: Say When (2014 , Smoke Sessions): Mainstream trombonist, leading a sextet in the old hard bop model: Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Harold Mabern (piano), Nat Reeves (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums). Mostly JJ Johnson pieces (6 of 11), winding up with "When the Saints Go Marching In." B+(*)
Charlie Dennard: 5 O'Clock Charlie (2015, self-released): Organ player based in New Orleans, leads a group with Todd Duke on guitar and Doug Delote and/or Geoff Clapp on drums. Usual funk grooves but nothing wrong with that. B+(*) [cd]
Jeff Denson/Lee Konitz: Jeff Denson Trio + Lee Konitz (2015, Ridgeway): Nice to see Konitz finally elected to Downbeat's Hall of Fame, especially while he's still alive and active (albeit 88). He doesn't push any boundaries here, but his brief solos are a delight. Denson is a bassist who sings a few moldy standards ("Body and Soul," "Skylark") and makes them moldier. Trio adds Dan Zemelman on piano and Jon Arkin on drums. B+(*) [cd]
Aaron Diehl: Space Time Continuum (2015, Mack Avenue): Pianist, fourth album, mostly trio but some guests drop in, including Joe Temperley and Benny Golson on sax, plus a vocal by Carenee Wade. B+(**)
Four Tet: Pink (2011-12 , Text): Kieren Hebden, laptop composer, released most of these tracks as 12-inch singles (the exceptions were "Lion" and "Peace for Earth" but they came out separately later) -- hence this is often considered a compilation, but none came out more than a year before the album, so I figure this for current work. "Peace for Earth" sounds almost like it might work. A-
Four Tet: Beautiful Rewind (2013, Text): More laptop, one piece drawing my wife's complaint that it sounds like her tablet bemoaning a low battery but here I find that less disturbing. "Aerial" is a track that got my attention both spins, so maybe the other stuff just isn't consistently at that level. Hard to tell. B+(***)
Four Tet: Morning/Evening (2015, Text): Two 20-minute tracks, the first with a nice Lata Mangeshkar sample over the bubbly. The second also harkens to something Asian or Near-Eastern, then runs through a long march-step, not as attractive. B+(*)
Nick Fraser: Too Many Continents (2015, Clean Feed): Drummer, from Canada, has a couple previous records including 2013's excellent Towns and Villages. This one is a trio with Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano sax) and Kris Davis (piano). Too abstract for anyone to work up a full head of steam, and Malaby's soprano is shrill where his tenor is invigorating, but the twists and turns are captivating, and Davis is worth the trouble. B+(***) [cd]
Chico Freeman/Heiri Känzig: The Arrival (2014 , Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, made a big splash in avant circles in the late 1970s; has recorded pretty regularly since then, although in the 1980s it seemed like he got upstaged by his father, Von Freeman. Bassist Känzig was born in New York but studied in Austria and Switzerland, and currently teaches in Luzern. Duets, very laid back, spare but gorgeous. A- [cd]
Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin: Ichigo Ichie (2014 , Libra): Extremely prolific Japanese avant-pianist, she's put together a half-dozen orchestras as she's traveled around the world, and this is one of the best. Twelve-piece group, not quite a big band but the three saxes and three trumpets are meant to solo and spar, and the two drummers rumble. A- [cd]
Satoko Fujii Tobira: Yamiyo Ni Karasu (2014 , Libra): Pianist-led quartet, with Natsuki Tamura (trumpet), Todd Nicholson (bass), and Takashi Itani (percussion). Gives you a good sense of Fujii's avant-piano, although not at breakneck fury, and adds some splashy trumpet. B+(***) [cd]
George Garzone/Jerry Bergonzi/Carl Winther/Johnny Aman/Anders Mogensen: Quintonic (2013 , Stunt): Two legendary tenor saxophonists from Boston, although Garzone is better known as an educator than for his recordings -- partly because most of his recordings were credited to his sax trio, the Fringe (1978-2005), but mostly because literally everyone who studied saxophone in Boston picked up some of his mastery. The others play piano-bass-drums. Not really a joust, much more ducking around Winther's chords than blowing them away, but that's sometimes how masters work. B+(***)
Giant Sand: Heartbreak Pass (2015, New West): Howe Gelb's long-running (since 1985) band/front, which always had a sense of rough-hewn Americana nudged even more so in that direction by their new label. B+(*)
Vance Gilbert: Nearness of You (2015, Disismye Music): Folksinger, has close to a dozen albums since 1985. Takes on fourteen jazz standards here, giving them crude guitar-vocal treatments, some laughable although "I'm Beginning to See the Light" gave me a brief glimpse of something more. B [cd]
Robert Glasper: Covered: The Robert Glasper Trio Recorded Live at Capitol Studios (2014 , Blue Note): Pianist from Houston, picked up by Blue Note for his second album in 2005 and hyped for his supposed hip-hop synthesis, something which never panned out (to my ears at least, although he has a Grammy meant to argue otherwise). Figure this as his "unplugged" album, just trio with Vicente Archer and Damion Reid, mostly covers (not that Bilal, Radiohead, or Kendrick Lamar quite rank as standards) although a 13:01 original sits in the center. Some talk, plus the studio has a live crowd, and uneven, but this is the first time I've enjoyed him. B+(**)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (2015, Constellation): Instrumental rock, sometimes called post-rock as if rock was just a path to speechlessness and incoherence. Actually, this sort of thing dates back to the early 1970s, to prog and/or fusion, but having arrived later they throw in bits of industrial and, uh, church music. Sometimes they seem to be onto something. Sometimes not. B-
Jerry Granelli Trio + 3: What I Hear Now (2014 , Addo): Drummer, started out in piano trios (Vince Guaraldi, Denny Zeitlin), has close to 20 albums as leader since 1988, leaning some towards fusion but broad ranging -- my favorite in the spoken word Sandhills Reunion (2005) -- with this three sax, one trombone sextet venturing deep into free jazz. B+(***) [cd]
Devin Gray: RelativE ResonancE (2014 , Skirl): Drummer, second album, another sax-piano-bass-drums quartet but with new collaborators: Chris Speed, Kris Davis, Chris Tordini. Speed, typically, puts a soft edge on his sax, but Davis doesn't pull any punches. B+(***) [cd]
David Hazeltine: I Remember Cedar (2013 , Sharp Nine): Mainstream pianist, in a trio with David Williams and Joe Farnsworth, offers bright and lively readings of many compositions by the late Cedar Walton, a couple originals for the occasion, and a thoroughly appropriate "Over the Rainbow." B+(***)
Vincent Herring: Night and Day (2014 , Smoke Sessions): Alto saxophonist, much recorded since 1990, in a hard bop quintet with Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Mike LeDonne, Brandi Disterheft, and Joe Farnsworth. B+(*)
Dre Hocevar Trio: Coding of Evidentiality (2014 , Clean Feed): Drummer, b. 1987 in Slovenia, second album, a trio with Bram De Looze on piano and Lester St. Louis on cello, with Sam Pluta doing "electronics, signal processing" on one track. Starts with very attractive broken field piano lead, but moves the focus around, highlighting the cello drone. B+(**) [cd]
John Hollenbeck: Songs We Like a Lot (2015, Sunnyside): Drummer, his interests ranging from a big band to the often fabulous Claudia Quintet, returns with a sequel to 2013's Songs I Like a Lot, again with Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry singing, Uri Caine on piano, and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band's pomp and circumstance. Mostly songs I don't care about one way or the other, except for "Up Up and Away." B
Charlie Hunter Trio: Let the Bells Ring On (2015, CHT Publishing): Seven-string guitarist, has leaned toward fusion but never stuck in one place long. Trio adds trombonist Curtis Fowlkes (Jazz Passengers) and drummer Bobby Previte, and Fowlkes pretty much sets the tone: slow, abstract, profound. B+(**)
Ahmad Jamal: Live in Marciac: August 5th 2014 (2014 , Jazz Village): In his 80s, still an impressive performer, a master of melody who can kick it up a notch. With Reginald Veal (bass), Helin Riley (drums, and Manolo Badrena (percussion). [Rhapsody omits 2 cuts + second-disc DVD]. B+(*)
Max Johnson Trio: Something Familiar (2014 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist-led trio with Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Ziv Ravitz on drums. Nothing very familiar here, as confounding as their previous outing as The Invisible Trio. Both records sound rather distant to me, but maybe there's more depth on the CDs, or maybe it just takes more effort to break through the inscrutability. B+(***)
Joyfultalk: Muuixx (2015, Drip Audio): "Composed, performed and recorded by Jay Crocker at the Prism Ship in Crousetown, Nova Scotia." Aside from Jesse Zubot doing the mastering, that's all the credits I have to go by, but sounds like quasi-industrial guitar, bass, percussion, some synth (presumably all overdubbed by Crocker) and, uh, violin (Zubot?). B+(**) [cd]
Ku-Umba Frank Lacy & Mingus Big Band: Mingus Sings (2014 , Sunnyside): The Mingus Big Band dates back to 1993, or as Mingus Dynasty to 1982, shortly after the great bassist-composer's death, so they know the pieces/arrangements here cold -- indeed, the usual knock against them is that they're too cool and assured, where Mingus' own bands lived in constant fear of their leader's tantrums. Lacy started off as a trombonist in Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy and the Henry Threadgill Sextett, but has lately moved toward singing, his specialty gut-bucket blues. Given limited choices, you get four lyrics from Joni Mitchell, two more from Elvis Costello. B
Marsa Fouty: Concerts (2015, Fou): French duo, some sort of play on the names of Fred Marty (contrebasse) and Jean-Marc Foussat (dispositif électro-acoustique) -- bass and electronics. The combo can get loud and ugly, and even the quieter patches can get under your skin. B [cd]
Michael McNeill Trio: Flight (2014 , self-released): Pianist from Buffalo, blew me away with his debut (Passageways) and continues to impress, aided by Ken Filiano on bass and Phil Haynes on drums. This is considerably more, uh, nuanced, building slowly, repaying patient attention. A- [cd]
Bob Mintzer Big Band: Get Up! (2015, MCG Jazz): Tenor saxophonist, probably best known for several decades in the Yellowjackets, but has been running his big band almost as long. Not exceptional, but his past titles namecheck Trane and Basie, and that gives you the idea. B+(*) [cd]
Ashley Monroe: The Blade (2015, Warner Music): Country singer-songwriter, one-third of Pistol Annies, had an album before she started hanging out with the other thirds, then a breakthrough last year -- admittedly, it felt small, almost too easy. This one is less consistent, but takes more risks, and they often pay off. A-
Kacey Musgraves: Pageant Material (2015, Mercury Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, second album, knows that not all girls are built for beauty pageants, that you don't get to pick your family, and that life can still be gravy for those who mind their own biscuits. On the other hand, I'm still not sure how "love hard, live fast, die fun" works. B+(***)
Simon Nabatov/Mark Dresser: Projections (2014 , Clean Feed): Piano-bass duets. Nabatov was born in Russia, moved to Rome, New York, and eventually to Köln, and has more than two dozen albums since 1988 -- avant-garde with a classical grounding. Dresser, of course, is one of the great bassists of our era, and reminds you why frequently. B+(***) [cd]
Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity: Firehouse (2014 , Clean Feed): Norwegian drummer, has played in several bands since 2007: Puma, Bushman's Revenge, Lord Kelvin, Cortex (the latter's Live! an A- last year), as well as collaborations with Eirik Hegdal, Tore Brunborg, and Mathias Eick, but I'll score this as his first as leader: an avant-sax trio with Andre Roligheten and Petter Eldh, and everything you'd want there, blistering hot and completely cogent. A- [cd]
OZO: A Kind of Zo (2015, Shhpuma/Clean Feed): Portuguese duo, Paulo Mesquita on prepared piano, Pedro Oliveira on prepared drums. The preparations aren't that extreme, and the dynamic is simple enough: the piano sets up a rhythmic vamp, and the drums kick it to another level. A- [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Whit Dickey: Tenorhood (2014 , Leo): Tenor sax-drums duets, Dickey most often associated with Matthew Shipp. Title tune plys five more dedicated to eminent tenor saxophonists: Mobley, Webster, Coltrane, Ayler, Rollins. A little schizzy around the edges, sort of a fractal effect. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Callas (2015, Leo, 2CD): Tenor sax-piano duos, inspired by opera diva Maria Callas (1923-77), not that there are any words here, nor vocals, just two avant-gardists trying to recapture some imagined spirit. What they come up with is real enough. A- [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Joe Morris: Counterpoint (2015, Leo): Tenor sax, viola, guitar, all joint improv, with Maneri both the dominant voice and the odd man out. Scratchy, squawky, not clear what Morris is doing but Perelman does a fine job of softening the edges and shining them up. B+(**) [cd]
Jack Perla: Enormous Changes (2013 , Origin): Pianist, second album, wrote these songs with lyrics sung by Crystal Monee Hall, Jordan Carp, and Robin Coomer, backed by a band that includes cello and pedal steel but no horns. Moves into soft rock territory without the usual mawkishness. B [cd]
R5: Sometime Last Night (2015, Hollywood): Nominally an LA teen pop group with three brothers (like the Beach Boys?) and a sister (unlike the Beach Boys). Not as catchy as they need to be, but off to a nice start. B+(*)
Mason Razavi/Bennett Roth-Newell: After You (2015, First Orbit Sounds Music): Guitar-piano duets, Bay Area musicians. Razavi has a couple previous albums. Mix of originals and covers -- Clifford Brown, Joe Zawinul, "Yesterday." B+(*) [cd]
Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: The Otherworld Cycle (2014 , Edgetone): Alto saxophonist, one of the more consistently interesting figures of recent years, assembles fourteen musicians for "a new music Odyssey inspired by ancient Finnish mythology and the Kalevala [a 19th century compilation of epic poetry from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore]." The vocal concept seemed like too much clutter at first, but that was forgotten least once the sinewy grooves kicked in, and the sax approached A Love Supreme's stratosphere. A- [cd]
Roots Magic: Hoodoo Blues & Roots Magic (2014 , Clean Feed): Group name not clear from the album cover, nor is there much in the way of liner notes, but label is clear on the point. Alberto Popolla (clarinets), Enrico DeFabritiis (alto sax), Gianfranco Tedeschi (double bass), Fabrizio Spera (drums), plus guest Luca Venitucci (organ, melodica, amplified zither). Can play free but mostly prefer blues riffs. B+(***) [cd]
Boz Scaggs: A Fool to Care (2015, 429 Records): In his 70s now, started out in blue-eyed soul occasionally descending into ordinary white pap, but as he's aged the logical progression is into blues, which he's taken at the same langourous pace he's always had. His Memphis was easily overrated, but this more unassuming effort hits the spot: a collage of covers that takes you back without tempting you to play your own oldies. A-
Skydive Trio: Sun Moee (2014 , Hubro): Guitar trio, led by Norwegian Thomas T. Dahl (first record as leader), with Mats Eilertsen on bass and Olavi Louhivuori on drums. Understated grooves, the guitar spare but eloquent, only rarely building up much pressure. B+(***)
Omar Souleyman: Bahdeni Nami (2015, Monkeytown): Syria's famed wedding singer, who "transformed traditional dabke music into a hyperactive electronic stomp" [Guardian]. With his home turf turned into a battleground between ISIS and the Kurds (and the US and/or Bashar Assad), he's turned west, picking up Kieran Hebden as a producer, who in turn decided to leave well enough alone. A-
Terell Stafford: Brotherlee Love: Celebrating Lee Morgan (2014 , Capri): Mainstream trumpet player, eighth album since 1995, hasn't shown a lot of devotion to Morgan over the years but takes the challenge to show off his chops. Hard bop quintet, with Tim Warfield on tenor sax, Bruce Barth on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Dana Hall on drums, playing seven Morgan compositions, "Candy," and a new one by the leader. B+(**)
Ben Stapp & the Zozimos: Myrrha's Red Book: Act 1 (2014 , Evolver): Tuba player, not very prominent here with all the voices, trumpets, clarinets, and cornet although he does produce a distinct bottom if you dig for it. The voices fit the definition of opera, with multiple characters forcing their voices around melodic curves that don't quite fit, exuding drama I don't have the ears for. Some remarkably complex music, and occasionally some shard of libretto lodges in my brain -- I suspect it's all very smart. B+(**) [cd]
Tame Impala: Currents (2015, Caroline): Australian alt/indie group led by Kevin Parker, who is credited/blamed for shifting the emphasis from guitar fuzz to cleanly melodic synths. Regarded as a big deal by critics and fans, I've never quite seen the point, although this one went down so easy I scarcely noticed. B+(*)
The Warren Vaché Quintet: Remembers Benny Carter (2014 , Arbors): Cornet player, retro when he was young but now seems to have extended his time almost as long as Carter, an alto sax great twenty years before and forty years after Charlie Parker. Flanked by Houston Person on tenor, backed by Tardo Hammer, Lisa Parrott, and Leroy Williams, with Parrott singing several songs, Vaché one. B+(***)
Veruca Salt: Ghost Notes (2015, El Camino): Postpunk band from the 1990s (only second album since), quartet fronted by singer-guitarists Nina Gordon and Louise Post, named after a character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ("a spoiled child who demands every single thing she wants"). The closer "Alternica" gets a bit heavy-handed, but everything else is sharp and chipper. A-
Eyal Vilner Big Band: Almost Sunrise (2014 , Gut String): Alto saxophonist, also plays flute, composed two pieces, arranged and conducted the rest, mostly from swing-schooled boppers, backstopped by Ellington. Six (of 13) cuts have vocals, mostly Charenee Wade. B+(**) [cd]
Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Intercambio (2014-15 , Patois): Bay Area trombonist, has run this group for many years now. Includes a few guest slots -- mostly flutes, which may seem like a nice contrast, but I prefer the trombone leads. B+(*) [cd]
Johannes Wallmann: The Town Musicians (2013 , Fresh Sounds New Talent): Pianist, fifth album, lively postbop on the hard side; band includes Russ Johnson (trumpet), Gilad Hekselman (guitar), Sean Conly (bass), and Jeff Hirshfield (drums), plus Dayna Stephens (tenor sax) joins on two cuts. Over 75 minutes, everyone makes a strong impression. B+(***) [cd]
Wilco: Star Wars (2015, dBpm): Leads off with a guitar skronk instrumental, and even when they settle into recognizable pop they push more boundaries than they had in the last couple albums. B+(***)
Tony Wilson 6Tet: A Day's Life (2012 , Drip Audio): Guitarist, based in Vancouver, has a handful of albums, three with this sextet: JP Carter (trumpet, electronics), Jesse Zubot (violin), Peggy Lee (cello), Russell Shulberg (bass), Skye Brooks (drums). One especially strong groove track ("The Train Keeps Rollin'") suggests what they can do when everyone is in sync. B+(**) [cd]
Florian Wittenburg: Aleatoric Inspiration (2009-14 , NurNichtNur): German pianist, has a couple previous albums, this one piano miniatures which sometimes grab your attention, and sometimes let it go. B+(*) [cd]
Jamie XX: In Colour (2015, XL/Young Turks): Jamie Smith, electronic music producer, first noticed in a band called The XX (more commonly xx although to my typographic eyes it looks like they're using two multiplication signs). First solo album (not counting remixes from a collaboration with Gil Scott-Heron) after two group efforts. B+(***)
John Yao and His 17-Piece Instrument: Flip-Flop (2014 , See Tao): Trombonist, big band arranger, his "17-piece instrument" the band, and with musicians like saxophonists John O'Gallagher and Jon Irabagon on not always of one mind. B+(***)
Omri Ziegele Billiger Bauer: So Viel Schon Hin: 15 Herbstlieder (2014 , Intakt): Alto saxophonist from Switzerland, sixth album since 2002, three with this nonet (not counting singer Isa Wiss). The autumn songs in German are arch and arty (not that I can follow), Wiss splitting the difference between opera and Weill, as best she can given that the music is so slippery. B+(*) [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Alex Chilton: Ocean Club '77 (1977 , Norton): At 27, the peak year for baseball players and rock martyrs, the Memphis singer-songwriter already had the AM-savvy Box Tops and the obscure-but-legendary Big Star on his résumé and was starting to sort out a solo career. Still, his live set, backed with bass and drums, mostly looks back, including "The Letter" run through the Big Star grinder. B+(**)
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: The Conny Plank Session (1970 , Grönland, EP): A vault discovery from the estate of German sound engineer Plank (best known for Marlene Dietrich), just three takes of "Alerado" and three takes of "Afrique" (including a vocal). First surprise is the prominence of the organ (Wild Bill Davis), although it's more pronounced in the riff-based "Alerado" than in the trickier "Afrique." Six tracks, 29:21. B+(**)
Percussions: 2011 Until 2014 (2011-14 , Text): Rhapsody files this under Four Tet, but most sources say Percussions and refer back to a series of vinyl EPs collected here. I file them under Kieran Hebden, who appears to be the sole artist. Fairly minimal concept pieces -- "Bird Songs" are beats with chirps. B+(**)
Boredoms: Super AE (1998, Birdman): Japanese band, from Osaka, fifth album, some vocals but mostly instruments, mostly electronic ones; most tracks kicking off with strong beats, framed by some noise, nothing I particularly relate to. B+(**)
Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue, Vol. III (1998-2000 , Nonesuch): Leftovers from a project which released seminal albums in 1998 and 2000, where the English folk provocateur and Americana vet Jeff Tweedy worked up some music for lyrics Woody Guthrie had jotted down but hadn't found melodies for yet. None of the songs appeared before, and while most don't grab you right away, one that does is "Ain'ta Gonna Grieve." B+(**)
Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions (1998-2000 , Nonesuch, 3CD): This wraps all three volumes up in a tidy box, worthwhile if you're missing the first two as the inessential third is at least good for more quirky context. A-
C86 [Compact Digital Edition] (1986 , Cherry Red): Originally a cassette released by British rock zine NME, this captured a moment in Britpop's evolution, with a heavy guitar clang, or sometimes jangle. Only four tracks from the original 22, filling out 17 with even more obscurities, so this hardly deserves the same name (which the cover provides, along with "NME 022" -- the original released number). [Docked a notch for making me do the paperwork.] B+(*)
The Close Readers: Group Hug (2010 , Austin): New Zealand group, a vehicle for singer-songwriter Damien Wilkins, who won some prizes for writing fiction in the 1990s (but isn't famous enough to dislodge Dominique Wilkins' nephew from Google's search lead). Christgau picked their 2014 The Lines Are Open and after I concurred the back catalog showed up in my mail. On this debut it's clear he studied the Go-Betweens for songcraft while writing songs titled "Elton John" and "Iris DeMent." Gets a little tangled up on "Bipolar," but maybe that's a point. B+(***) [cd]
The Close Readers: New Spirit (2012, Austin): Usual sophomore album traits: songs fall off a bit but also get more ambitious, musicianship improves -- they rock more, also try more production tricks. But the basics are solid, especially the lyrics, and if they sound a lot like the Go-Betweens, I'd put that in the plus column. B+(***) [cd]
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: F# A# ∞ (1997 , Kranky): Canadian post-rock group, from Montreal, took their name from a Japanese film about a biker gang named the Black Emperors. Title pronounced "F-Sharp, A-Sharp, Infinity." Album originally released as a 32:22 LP (with one of those infinite lock grooves at the end), then a year later was reorganized as a 3-track 63:27 CD. B+(**)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000, Kranky, 2CD): Second album, four pieces running 18:57 to 23:17, each a mini-suite, usually resetting toward the middle. B+(*)
Janet Jackson: Control (1986, A&M): No one I'm aware of takes her teen efforts seriously, but turning 20 for her third album, Jam & Lewis feed her some serious beats, echoing family trademarks. While she claims control, she's not quite there yet. "Nasty," for instance, is something boys do. B+(*)
Jimmy Eat World: Bleed American (2001, Grand Royal): Emo band from Arizona, fourth album, first to chart and only (of 8, 1994-2013) to go platinum. Or that's their rep: emo seems to apply to a range of sounds but depend on lyrics I rarely can follow. All I can say is that they're fairly tuneful and a little baleful. B-
Mastodon: Blood Mountain (2006, Reprise): Heavy metal band from Atlanta named after a lumbering prehistoric beast, third album. A band which gets critical support beyond metalheads, although I can't see why. There's the speed drumming and the time shifting slide into cacophony, but it's mostly just the usual deep sludge. B-
Mobb Deep: The Infamous (1995, Loud): Gangsta rap duo from Queens, second album, beats came easy, bullshit too. B+(**)
Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine (1989, TVT): First album by Trent Reznor's industrial rock group, although his notion of industrial is closer to New Order new wave, but with a harder metallic gleam and more dystopian attitude. A-
Nine Inch Nails: The Fragile (1999, Interscope, 2CD): Third album, five years after The Downward Spiral, a sprawling set, heavy, dreary, not totally without interest, but lacking something -- charm, maybe? Second disc does get better. B+(*)
Nine Inch Nails: With Teeth (2005, Nothing): Even-keeled, showing his future in soundtracks but occasionally turning some songs on. B+(**)
Nine Inch Nails: The Slip (2008, The Null Corporation): I see the genre list here includes "dark ambient" -- not something I've run across before, but a reasonable description here. B+(**)
Oasis: Definitely Maybe (1994, Epic): First album by Manchester UK group that was taken as the second coming of the Beatles in some parts. I don't hear that: just a loud backbeat and plenty of guitar up front. B+(*)
Oasis: Be Here Now (1997, Epic): Third album, makes me want to check my volume levels because they are so dedicated to pumping it up. While I find that annoying I also find it surprisingly invigorating -- enough so that I can see why they became so big, but not enough to become a fan myself. B+(*)
Orbital: In Sides (1966 , FFRR, 2CD): British electronica, something like jungle 'n' bass, with industrial touches and occasional references to Satan -- the latter on the bonus disc, added in 1997, ending in a live track with something familiar. B+(**)
Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995, Loud): Debut album for Wu-Tang rapper Corey Woods. Not following the skits, which presumably knit the concept together, but the beats dazzle, the raps cut, and it seems to add up to some sort of worldview, probably no more strange than the ghetto itself. A-
Boz Scaggs: Silk Degrees (1976 , Columbia/Legacy): Far and away his most successful album -- quintuple platinum with his two higest charting singles, "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle" -- but while it made a big splash it's not especially memorable, borrowing much of its energy from disco, but not quite the way you remember it. B+(***)
Snoop Doggy Dogg: Doggystyle (1993, Death Row): Calvin Broadus, later just Snoopy Dogg, was already a celebrity before dropping this G-funk debut, an upbeat rush of faux-gangsta fables built on P-Funk samples -- my favorite just repeats "tha bomb" every bar. B
Sunny Day Real Estate: Diary (1994, Sub Pop): Seattle alt/indie group, usually tagged as emo but not far removed from grunge, at least on this first album. I'm not sure "emo" is the same thing as overwrought, but at least they pound it furiously into shape. B
Teenage Fanclub: Bandwagonesque (1991, DGC): Scottish alt/indie group, has that pop twist to the guitar band sound, but not enough spit and polish to make it real. B+(*)
Uncle Tupelo: Anodyne (1993 , Rhino/Sire): Seminal alt-country band from Illinois with Jay Farrar (Son Volt) and Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) -- their debut album was taken as the title for genre-defining No Depression magazine -- on their last album. B+(*)
Wilco: A.M. (1995, Sire): Debut from Jeff Tweedy's post-Uncle Tupelo group, a more-than-promising mix of vocal twang and uncommonly sharp guitar. A-
Wilco: Summer Teeth (1999, Warner Brothers): The end of their notion that true American music should be rooted in the so-called heartland, partly by moving to the California melting pot, which doesn't quite a Beach Boys album make. B+(**)
Yo La Tengo: Ride the Tiger (1986 , Matador): Hoboken alt/indie group, Ira Kaplan the main writer/singer, first album, missing among the 19 LPs and EPs Christgau has reviewed (5 A-, 2 A), so the original label (Coyote) must have been awfully obscure in the day. The band had a knack for surfing over the guitar line, a lightness that makes everything crisp and clear. The CD reissue adds some murkier cuts, but that just raises the intensity. A-
Yo La Tengo: New Wave Hot Dogs (1987, Coyote): Second album, moves forward, backwards, and sideways from the first, so yeah, less consistent, a mix of punkish raves and more sedate spots. B+(**)
Yo La Tengo: President Yo La Tengo (1989, Twin/Tone): I spoke admiringly of the lightness of their debut, but two albums later it's the heaviness you hang onto, especially the guitar squelch of the 10:35 "The Evil That Men Do." [Matador reissued on CD in 1996 with New Wave Hot Dogs and "Asparagus Song" tacked onto the end; this is the version Rhapsody has, but I split it up for review.] A-
Yo La Tengo: Fakebook (1990, Bar/None): Mostly a covers album, done simply, although five songs are credited to Ira Kaplan, two of those also to drummer Georgia Hubley. Obscure song choices, not that "Griselda" (Antonia) or "Andalucia" (John Cale) are obscure to me. B+(*)
Yo La Tengo: May I Sing With Me (1992, Alias): First album for bassist James McNew, joining Ira Kaplan (mostly guitar) and Georgia Hubley (mostly drums). The greater depth allowed them to move into Sonic Youth territory, and the guitar (in particular) sometimes reminded me of avant-jazz, especially in an extended feedback freakout, but also in certain solos. As an alt/indie band they've long fit into the Velvets lineage, so the growth may just be recessive genes coming back into play. A-
Yo La Tengo: Painful (1993, Matador): Sounds like an attempt to consolidate the sonic gains of their recent albums without doing anything shocking or weird or pathbreaking -- a plus for their alt/indie audience, but less interesting for me. Or maybe they just wanted to give their new bass player more leads. B+(***)
Yo La Tengo: Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo (1988-95 , Matador, 2CD): Two hours of "rarities, alternate versions, and out-takes" -- the first disc songs with vocals, the second just instrumentals, ranging from an 8-second "Drum Solo" to the 26:22 closer, "Sunsquashed." Obviously something for fans only, but it gives you a fair taste of where they've been, and their sound is distinct enough to justify the latter disc. B+(**)
Yo La Tengo: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (2000, Matador): Follow-up to I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One -- probably the group's best record: catchy songs, with an impressive flow. This one is similar, but sometimes slower and prettier. Christgau advises "play loud" but can that be right? 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:
Yo La Tengo: Electr-O-Pura (1995, Matador): If Painful didn't quite mark the point where they merged their early songcraft with their hard-earned sonics, this was. [was: B+] A-
Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section:
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, July 27. 2015
Music: Current count 25190  rated (+36), 453  unrated (-4).
Bumper crop of A-list records this week: if I kept this up I'd have 400 for the year, which would blow my credibility all to bits. (Actually, I have 58 new and 7 old so far this year, so that's, if anything, below last year's pace.) First two records I graded last week were A- (both jazz but very different: Harry Allen and OZO), then nothing much happened until Saturday when I hit a streak of three (Ashley Monroe, Chico Freeman, Omar Souleyman). In between I went to check out the new Four Tet and found a couple I hadn't heard before, including Pink -- on Christgau's 2013 Dean's List but never reviewed in Expert Witness. Also surprised that I gave Satoko Fujii's Berlin big band the edge over the Tobira quartet -- I usually prefer the small groups, not least because her piano is more prominent. Veruca Salt was a tip from Michael Tatum (a solid A-, he said). I originally had it a notch lower, but a recheck (actually, a couple) convinced me. Among the high B+, Johannes Wallmann most tempted me -- terrific solos by Russ Johnson and Gilad Hekselman, and the piano never quits. I must admit that I ran out of patience with Wilco, but there could be more there.
One thing that changed the week around was that I got my crashed "media" computer back up and running. I put a new hard disk drive in ($50 buys one terrabyte these days) and did a fresh install of Xubuntu 14.04.2 (Desktop). I haven't mounted the old disk yet, so I haven't recovered the missing data (mostly downloads), but it was a treat to listen to Rhapsody through decent speakers. (I had been using the Chromebook's built-in speakers, since the Bose Mini-Link had proven unusable.) Veruca Salt especially benefitted.
For "old music" I'm still picking at the Spin 1985-2014 list, but losing interest as I'm going along. The unheard records are down to 31, so about 10%. That number will drop a bit in future weeks, but I don't know how much or how fast. I was more interested in finding those missing Four Tet albums. (Kieran Hebden, by the way, is producer on the Omar Souleyman album.)
Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes before the end of the month. It's been more than a month, but I lost those three weeks on the road, so the draft is only average-sized at present (105 records). But that should be big enough for any month.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, July 20. 2015
Music: Current count 25154  rated (+34), 457  unrated (-5).
Came back from my trip exhausted, and if anything grew wearier over the course of the week. Unpacking has been slow, and while I managed to catalog all the waiting CDs last week I still have a pile of snail mail to read (or otherwise dispose of). I did at least start to get back into a music routine, at least until disaster struck. I've been using a recycled Linux machine for streaming music, downloading PR links, playing DVDs, and occasionally checking up on Facebook. I've kept this machine rigorously up to date, so when I got back there were a huge number of software updates ready. I started to install them while I was streaming something, and a few minutes later the machine crashed with a kernel panic. It seemed to reboot, but a few minutes later froze up, with I/O errors on the console. Repeated attempts merely shortened the time to freeze. At the very least the software installation has been left in an inconsistent state. Also possible that the disk drive is malfunctioning.
I had another (not-so-good) computer setup for streaming, so the main effect of losing the machine was that I lost all of the download music I had received over the last six months -- mostly from ECM and Cuneiform, since I don't bother with most other links that come my way. They're always a pain, and I had been slow at dealing with them anyway, so I was well behind reporting on them. Also, ECM's links are time-limited, and I think Cuneiform's are locked against multiple downloads. And going forward, my methodology for downloading them is broken, so that's something else to bother with. In the long run I'll probably be able to recover the lost data by mounting the disk on a working machine, but that's also in principle true of the previous "media machine" that crashed in 2014 and is still sitting on the sidelines. (It ran Windows Vista, and was similarly corrupted by a software update. My understanding is that I can fix the corruption if I can find the original installation discs, but thus far I haven't found them. If/when I give up on that search I can still try to mount the discs on a Linux system and scrounge around for useful data, but that hasn't been much of a priority.)
Meanwhile, the new streaming setup is the one I used on the road: a Toshiba Chromebook and Bose MiniLink Bluetooth speakers. The latter, even when they're working properly, are much inferior to the Klipsch computer speakers on the "media machine," which are in turn much inferior to the B&O speakers on my now aged stereo system. (The speakers and the Yamaha receiver are close to 30 years old.) But it turns out that the Bose speakers rarely work right: the bluetooth connection often fails, and the auxiliary connection -- a direct wire with stereo jacks from the computer to the speakers -- has a really weird effect that I'll explain below. (It's quite possible that both of these problems are the fault of the Toshiba, which among other things has very little in the way of diagnostic tools.) The upshot is that I've had to fall back on the Toshiba's built-in speaker, lame and tinny as you'd expect. That possibly puts the streamed records at a disadvantage, even more than usual. Factor that in if you like, but looking at the grade list below I suspect I've already done so.
The weird effect? When I streamed Frank Lacy's Mingus Sings I was surprised to find that the record had virtually no vocals -- maybe some vocal rumbling submerged in the background. I was mostly streaming jazz and hadn't noticed much amiss, but when I switched to Boz Scaggs' A Fool to Care again the vocals were buried, leaving a lushly attractive guitar groove album. OK, I thought. The Leonard Cohen showed evidence of background vocals but no Cohen, and that, too, had some appeal. I didn't pull the plug until I got to Kacey Musgraves and thought her doing an instrumental album was just too bizarre. And when I pulled the plug, her voice popped right up -- on the Toshiba's built-in speaker.
Evidently there is such a thing as a "vocal eliminator" filter, which is used to create karaoke versions from standard stereo. How such a thing got into the Bose and/or the Toshiba beats me. (The bluetooth path to the Bose speakers didn't filter out the vocals, so it was only the wired connection. The Toshiba manual describes the jack as "headphone/microphone" but when I plug the Bose in it is recognized as a headphone, and I can't find any more audio controls. Just spent an hour researching and testing this and I know nothing more than I did.)
After discovering this glitch, I went back and relistened to about ten albums. Oddly enough, I wound up grading the Lacy and Hollenbeck albums down. The others didn't move much, although the vocals are certainly a plus for Scaggs, Cohen, and Musgraves. The filter had also knocked Joshua Redman's sax out of the Bad Plus album, but that was neither much of a loss or gain. Could be that I've misheard more of the [r] albums below, so take them with more than the usual grain of salt. (I think the list that I didn't recheck was: Blanchard, Davis, Diehl, Garzone, Glasper, Hazeltine, Herring, Hunter, Jamal, Johnson, Skydive Trio; most were probably heard accurately enough. I didn't notice a problem with the old [r] records -- Bragg, Uncle Tupelo, Wilco -- so the problem must have occurred after I heard several of the above jazz records. I did recheck Silk Degrees, which improved a lot.)
I should probably add a note on the two A- records this week. I've given Rent Romus and Michael McNeill A- grades in the past, and gave these two records more than the usual fair chance -- McNeill probably wound up with eight or more plays. Both have corresponded with me -- McNeill even weirded me out when he said he'd check out Vijay Iyer on my recommendation. Could it be that I'm softening up and playing favorites? I'll stick with them: in fact, the clincher for McNeill was that I want to hear the album again.
By the way, Devin Gray, Max Johnson, and Skydive Trio were recommended by Chris Monsen on his Fave Jazz of 2015 mid-year list: 3 of the 9 records I hadn't heard, all good ones. Of the other B+(***) albums, the one I'd definitely spin again if I had the CD is Warren Vaché's. Scaggs and Cohen were hinted at in Christgau's parting missive (as well as the Nelson-Haggard album I like, and "giant sand/springsteen/bishop" -- I'd guess the latter is Elvin's Can't Even Do Wrong Right, which is as right as he's gotten in a long time, but I have no idea about the others).
I may get around to Rhapsody Streamnotes near the end of the week. Certainly by the end of the month.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, July 13. 2015
Music: Current count 25120  rated (+4), 462  unrated (+23).
Got back from my west coast drive just before midnight Saturday. In retrospect I should have packed a boombox. I did bring along 200 old CDs which we played in the car, but most of most days went music-less. I did make a token effort to stream the new Miguel on Rhapsody, but couldn't tell much (other than that I didn't get into it -- saw him do an amusing skit on Jimmy Kimmel). So the "newly rated" above and below was just what I picked up Saturday (and early today, relatively speaking). Surprised I found an A-list item in that short time.
I did manage to get the mail unpacked, below. Even after rechecking everything, there is a minor discrepancy in the numbers: rated count is only +4 but I listed 5 newly rated records below; unrated count is +23, which matches 28 newly catalogued items minus 5 newly rated. It's hard to keep all of my interlocking lists in sync.
One thing I wanted to do during the trip was to rethink what I should be doing. It helped to talk through my various book proposals, particularly with my sister, and they all seem to make sense. Harder to tell about my music website RFC: thus far, I've received no serious comments and very little interest, despite the usual boost such project ideas get when Robert Christgau's consumer guide loses its patron (see Expert Witness at Cuepoint/Medium.
Recommended music links:
Normally, the unheard items on lists by these particular critics would be priorities for my own listening. Indeed, many of the unheard items on the Soto and Weiss lists are June-July releases. Unfortunately, the machine I use for streaming has been flaky today and just crashed (for the second time). Could be a major setback for me.
Mid-year best-of lists are becoming increasingly common. I checked out one from Rolling Stone, and found pretty much what I expected: more not-so-good records, and more stuff I didn't know about or hadn't bothered with. The breakdown: 4 A- (Kendrick Lamar, Courtney Barnett, D'Angelo [they're a bit slow], Mbongwana Star); 7 *** (Madonna, Jack Ü, Jamie XX, Rae Sremmurd, Sufjan Stevens, Joey Badass, Jazmine Sullivan); 4 ** (Pops Staples, Blur, Kamasi Washington, Rhiannon Giddens); 4 * (Sleater-Kinney, Alabama Shakes, Earl Sweatshirt, Death Grips); 2 B (Drake, Father John Misty); 1 C (Bob Dylan); 22 unheard (Björk, Mark Ronson, Mumford & Sons, Kacey Musgraves, Florence, Muse, Kid Rock, Marilyn Manson, Leonard Cohen, Faith No More, Zac Brown, Sonics, Chris Stapleton, Future Brown, Fifth Harmony, Refused, Metz, Leon Bridges, Steven Wilson, Bosse-de-Nege, Downtown Boys, Hop Along).
New records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail when I got back:
Monday, June 22. 2015
Music: Current count 25116  rated (+0), 439  unrated (+0).
About three days of work here -- less than half a week. On the fourth day I was totally distracted, and on the fifth day I took off for the upper northwest. Although I spent a good deal of time swapping discs out of and into my travel cases, virtually nothing that I'll be taking with me is new work. Rather, I'll have three weeks to listen to things I really liked at some point but haven't had time to play recently.
I don't expect to post much over the next three weeks. I should be reachable via email, at least by the end of the day. Hopefully, I'll get some reading done, and find some time to think about what I want to write about in the future.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, June 15. 2015
Music: Current count 25103  rated (+34), 429  unrated (-3).
Most of this week's report was scooped by last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. Since then I've kept going down the Spin list, picking up Raekwon, Yo La Tengo (hey), and moving into Oasis (ugh). On the new jazz front, I've played all three new Ivo Perelman records, but only rated one (the most marginal; the others need another play or two). I almost have a full basket of unrated new jazz. Not much mail this week. (So little I added Monday's mail to Unpacking but it's not yet factored into the current count above.)
Sorry to say I didn't get any time last week to work on the book blurbs. Two days were taken up with people working on the big elm tree in the backyard. (If I recall correctly, Google has an aerial view of the neighborhood where the tree dwarfs the house we live in.) Then there was the Ornette Coleman post, Rhapsody Streamnotes, and a little thing on building a music website.
As you may know, Terminal Zone was a one-shot magazine Don Malcolm and I put together in 1977. A few years back I registered the terminalzone.net domain name with the idea of building a music website there. It's gone through three or four (or five or six) design iterations since then, but still isn't anything substantial. But every time Robert Christgau's blog hits the shoals of web-media indifference, I think there might be some value to dusting it off. (Cuepoint failed to post Christgau's June 5 and 12 columns. No word on whether this hiatus is permanent or just a temporary blip.) So I spent a couple days last week touching up the Terminal Zone Website RFC (request for comments, common jargon for Internet specs). I sent it around to a couple people last week but didn't get any response, so I figured I'd mention it here ("run it up the flagpole to see who salutes").
I see two pieces to the website. One is a ratings database, where some number of invited critics file and track record ratings (although in principle it could be used to track non-participating critic ratings, such as Metacritic does). A while back Chuck Eddy suggested that "you" (this was addressed to the Expert Witness Facebook Group) should put together something like the Pazz & Jop Product Report that the Village Voice ran in 1976-77. At the time, I wrote these notes, which of course resemble the new RFC -- PJPR is really just one view into the ratings database. This all requirse a fairly substantial amount of programming, which I am interested in doing. In addition to supporting the website, the software could be used for other niche-oriented websites, and could be tailored as a ap for anyone who wants to keep their own personal ratings list. This could be developed as free software, or could have some value if someone wants to build a business around it (and, of course, there are various hybrid options).
The other piece would be a blog which mostly consists of diary entries from critics briefly describing what they've been listening to and what they think of it. I'm thinking of something sort of midway between my Music Week and Rhapsody Streamnotes posts, occurring more or less weekly. These wouldn't be full-fledged record reviews, even in the "ultra-brief" sense of CG reviews. But they would have links to the ratings database, so one could scan the diary entries for mention of an interesting record, then click on the link to get more information on the record (including more critics' views). One of the better examples of the diary format is the pieces collected in Philip Larkin's All That Jazz: A Record Diary.
My guess is that the minimal thresholds for a useful website would be close to ten diarists and 20-30 raters, and it could scale up to much more. We would need a team of editors to keep the copy flowing and clean. (I'm not looking to be one of the people involved in day-to-day content management.) We might come up with a board of "executive editors" to add some prestige and overall direction. (That's more my speed, although at least initially I'm offering to do software development, provide a server free of charge, and the domain name.) The blog part could be created almost immediately. My own database and writings can be freely plundered for initial content. Initially I don't expect to make any money on this, and assume that contributions would have to be gratis (non-exclusive license granted but all other rights retained). I'm open to other business proposals.
By the way, earlier draft were oriented toward doing something more Wikipedia-ish: building a more extensive reference database. Recently I've been looking for something more manageable, easier to do, more simply useful for a certain community -- music fans like you and me who don't find timely information and guidance from the usual music media resources.
Write me if you want more info, or to kick this thing around. Especially if you have editing, writing, rating, sysadmin, and/or engineering skills you'd be interested in contributing.
My own time is likely to be disrupted over the next 3-4 weeks. I'm planning on taking a long car trip starting Friday (Oregon and Washington, if that makes any difference). Most places are connected, so I should have email pretty much everywhere (if not all the time). I do hope to get some writing done along the way, but I imagine things like website updates will be few and far between. And historically I've never managed to do much music rating/reviewing on the road.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, June 13. 2015
Another month (plus one day) since last one, this one by far the largest of the year so far, but actually the new records are way down: 59 (including new compilations) compared to 103 last month, and before that: 101, 114, 97, 132. The difference is a mop-up operation in the old music section, focusing on bands which placed records in a list published by Spin of their Top 300 Albums: 1985-2014. What I've tried to do was not just to fill in grades for listed albums I had missed but to pick up most of the previously unrated records of those artists. In some cases those records were highly recommended by others. In others I just felt like the context would help me out. And for completeness sake, I list the previously rated albums in the Notes below. (The file linked above has the complete list plus all of my grades to date.)
That exercise was made possible by streaming from Rhapsody, and in some cases was limited by it. I've only gotten a little more than half way through the list, but thus far I've looked for the following records but not found them:
The second half will have more records to look up. I was originally missing 81 records from the list (27%). Thus far I've whittled that down to 46 (15%). Not surprisingly, as Spin's list gets more obscure, my coverage of it becomes a bit more scanty. Among the missing record artists to come: Aaliyah, Aerosmith, Tori Amos, Animal Collective, The Books, Boredoms, Neko Case, Cursive, The Deftones, The Field, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Green Day, Janet Jackson, Jimmy Eat World, The Killers, Frankie Knuckles, Lil Wayne, Mastodon, Maxwell, M83, The Microphones, Mobb Deep, My Chemical Romance, Nine Inch Nails, Oasis, Orbital, Ride, Sigur Rós, Slint, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Sunny Day Real Estate, Swervedriver, System of a Down, Teenage Fanclub, The Unicorns, 2Pac, Wilco, Yo La Tengo. Most of those I've heard at least one record by. Just evidently not the right one.
During the first two decades of the years in question, I only heard records I bought, and I made a point of only trying to buy records I would probably like. Rhapsody has allowed me to listen to more stuff I wouldn't have bothered with before, and more often than not it proves my instincts right. (Admittedly, I'm not a big alt/indie fan, and my hip-hop proclivities run away from gangsta and toward underground, so Spin has never been a very good predictor of my taste.) Indeed, of the records I've filled in so far, the grade breakdown suggests that I was mostly right to skip those records: A-: 4, B+(***): 4, B+(**): 6, B+(*): 5, B: 13 (40.6%) -- that split suggests some of the latter should have been graded lower, as probably would have happened had I bothered to play them more than once. By the way, Christgau had two of my four A- records at A- (both hip-hop), the other two at ** (but he had a different Built to Spill at A-).
Even before the Spin piece, I started on this path by trying to clean up a pair of long-owned but never-graded Bright Eyes CDs. And at the last minute, I added a couple jazz albums while I was working on my Ornette Coleman post. Not big news that the unheard Colemans made the A-list, but I was surprised by two records with sideman appearances (not something he ever did much of).
I'll keep chugging away on the Spin records next month, so the new record count may remain depressed. On the other hand, I have been skimming fairly efficiently, coming up with 12 A-list new releases this month vs. 8 last month (albeit 15 in April and 14 in March). Some of what I found this month was due to a premature mid-year best-of from Spin. I expect we'll see more "so far" lists at midyear approaches, so that should help identify prospects.
As for the new records, this is landing at a point when Robert Christgau's weekly Expert Witness column has been suspended. I don't have any idea how to get the attention of Medium/Cuepoint and apply any pressure to renew the column -- I gather this isn't hopeless at this point, even if the odds aren't great. If he stops publication, there will certainly be worthwhile new albums that I (or pretty much anyone else) will never notice. I figured I could illustrate that with stats from this column, but it looks like he's only reviewed 2 of my 55 recent releases -- Cracker and Slutever, ones I was totally unaware of before he wrote them up (and don't like as much as he does). Still, those are things I wouldn't have heard of otherwise, and most month there are more of them. It also seems likely that he would eventually weigh in on several albums I like below: Bassekou Kouyate, Shamir, maybe Mbongwana Star and Willie & Merle. I also wonder whether he'll find something in Jason Derulo that eluded me. (And to a lesser extent, in all respects, Young Thug.) On the other hand, he's only noticed Murs on occasion (White Mandingos but no ¡Mursday!), and thus far he hasn't noted Colin Stetson (who may be a jazz guy but that isn't his fan base) at all.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on May 12. Past reviews and more information are available here (6549 records).
Aguankö: Invisible (2015, Aguankö Music): Latin jazz septet led by Alberto Nacif on congas, with trumpet, trombone, sax/flute, piano, bass, more percussion, and guests (including a vocal). Four (of nine) cuts are cha cha chas, two each mambos and guaguankos. B+(**) [cd]
All Included: Satan in Plain Clothes (2014 , Clean Feed): Scandinavian freebop group, one I file under saxophonist Martin Küchen's name because he organizes lots of groups like this, but Thomas Johansson's trumpet and Mats Äleklint's trombone are every bit as prominent, and the bass-drums of Jon Rune Strøm and Tollef Østvang keeps it all roiling -- so, yeah, all included. Just not sorted out as well as Küchen's Angles groups. B+(***) [cd]
Aimée Allen: Matter of Time (2013-14 , Azuline): Singer-songwriter, born and raised in Pittsburgh but moved to Paris (some songs in French), fourth album, about half originals, half standards, including a particularly nice "Corcovado" with Romero Lubambo. B+(**) [cd]
American Wrestlers: American Wrestlers (2014 , Fat Possum): Scottish singer-songwriter Gary McClure, formerly of Working for a Nuclear Free City, moved to St. Louis and came up with this understated but tuneful album. B
Priscilla Badhwar: Mademoiselle (2014 , self-released, EP): Not clear where she comes from, but this 6-track (21:17) CD was recorded in Austin, TX, featuring French tunes, some in French, some in English. B+(**)
Blur: The Magic Whip (2015, Parlophone): First group album since 2003's Think Tank, although Damon Albarn has been busy in the meantime, with last year's solo album and various projects, most famously Gorillaz, perhaps best 2002's Mali Music. I take it the band has been periodically touring all along, and this album came together when they found themselves with some free time in Hong Kong. Less guitar and more pop than their 1990s albums; likable and professional. B+(**)
Randy Brecker/Bobby Shew/Jan Hasenöhrl: Trumpet Summit Prague (2012 , Summit): Three trumpet stars backed by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and St. Blaise's Big Band, arranged and conducted by Vince Mendoza. The trumpets are fiery enough, but the only tune that gets everyone swinging is "Caravan" (so they play it twice). B [cd]
Built to Spill: Untethered Moon (2015, Warner Brothers): First album in six years, only their third since 2001, the new group (aside from leader Doug Martsch) ever farther removed from the old group, except inasmuch as it was only the guitar that really mattered. Opens fiercely, then settles in for the long haul -- recapitulating the band's career. B+(*)
Cannibal Ox: Blade of the Ronin (2015, iHipHop): Underground hip-hop duo, Vast Aire and Vordul Megilah, dropped their debut album, produced by El-P, in 2001 (The Cold Vein), went on to three or four solo albums each, and finally regrouped for their second album here (mostly produced by Bill Cosmiq). B+(***)
François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Io (2013 , FMR): Alto sax-drum duets, force the former to work harder which usually pays off but leaves some rough edges. B+(***) [cd]
François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Unknowable (2014 , Not Two): Recorded live at Alchemia Jazz Klub in Krakow, in most ways comparable to the alto saxophonist's many recent records, with sidekick Lambert on drums, but Mazur's electric bass guitar rounds out the sound, adding a resonance that is missing in the duo. A- [cd]
Hugo Carvalhais: Grand Valis (2014 , Clean Feed): Portugese bassist, third album, a lovely avant-chamber thing with Dominique Pifarely on violin, Gabriel Pinto on keyboards (including organ), and Jeremiah Cymerman credited with "electronic manipulation." B+(**) [cd]
Joan Chamorro & Andrea Motis: Feeling Good (2012 , Whaling City Sound): Motis is a 20-year-old singer -- 16 when this was recorded -- from Spain who plays up the cuteness in her voice and works her way one fine standard after another -- "Lover Man" twice, once with strings and one without. Charmorro plays bass and tenor sax, leading a band that grows or shrinks almost unnoticeably. Motis also contributes some trumpet and alto sax. B+(***) [cd]
Lorin Cohen: Home (2014 , Origin): Bassist, from Chicago, based in New York, first album. I guess we can call the group a hornless septet, unless you want to count Yvonnick Prene's harmonica; the rest of the line up is piano (Ryan Cohan), vibes (Joe Locke), drums, steel pan, and percussion. B [cd]
Colours Jazz Orchestra: Home Away From Home: Plays the Music of Ayn Inserto (2013 , Neu Klang): Maybe I should refile this under Ayn Inserto, the conductor as well as composer. She studied at New England Conservatory, most notably under the late Bob Brookmeyer, and teaches and has her own big band in Boston. CJO is based in Italy, where this was recorded. Some nice passages, especially when they mix in that Latin tinge. B+(*) [cd]
Cracker: Berkeley to Bakersfield (2014, 429 Records, 2CD): Former Camper Van Beethoven frontman David Lowery's country-rock outfit, off-and-on since 1992, but I don't think I ever noted the connection before. The Berkeley disc is straight-ahead rock, with occasional barbs about billionaires. The Bakersfield one breaks out the steel guitar and goes country, for better music if not politics. B+(***)
Cuir: Chez Ackenbush (2014 , Fou): French avant-jazz group: John Cuny (prepared piano), Jérôme Fouquet (trumpet), Jean-Brice Godet (clarinet), Yoram Rosilio (bass), Nicolas Souchai (trumpet) -- part of Jean-Marc Foussat's crazed stable. Rough going at first before they find some sort of interplay. B+(*) [cd]
Dan Deacon: Gliss Rifter (2015, Domino): Plays synths and sings, his electronica not especially danceable, most interesting when the beat gets jumbled and trash avalanches from the shelves, but he has yet to marshall that into a real noise aesthetic. B+(*)
Jason Derulo: Everything Is 4 (2015, Warner Brothers): I liked his 2014 album Talk Dirty as much as (nearly) anyone, and expected more here. First couple tracks seemed plausible, but then the first guest feat. (K. Michelle) tripped on a pet peeve then got worse. More slumming with the stars doesn't help. B+(*)
Deux Maisons: For Sale (2013 , Clean Feed): Avant-chamber group, two French (brothers Théo and Valentin Ceccaldi, violin and cello respectively), two Portuguese (Luis Vicente on trumpet and Marco Franco on drums). The strings scratch and itch, the drums and trumpet help pass the time. B+(**) [cd]
Chris Dingman: The Subliminal & the Sublime (2013 , Inner Arts Initiative): Vibraphonist, second album, commissioned by Chamber Music America, an impressive group with Loren Stillman (alto sax), Fabian Almazan (piano), Ryan Ferreira (guitar), Linda Oh (bass), and Justin Brown (drums). Aims for sublime but sometimes that just means pretty, or plodding. B+(*) [cd]
The Eye: The Future Will Be Repeated (2015, Ba Da Bing): Experimental rock group from New Zealand, early albums (like 2005's Black Ice) have minimal cover artwork, perhaps with drones even simpler and starker than this minor klang. B+(**)
Scott Hamilton: Scott Hamilton Plays Jule Styne (2015, Blue Duchess): Tenor saxophonist, a retro-swing throwback in the late '70s who's scarcely budged an inch since then, except maybe to deepen his feel for ballads. Styne's tunes range from "Sunday" in 1927 to "People" in 1964, a few you'll know instantly. With Tim Ray on piano, Dave Zinno (bass) and Jim Gwin (drums), plus a bit of guitar on one tune. Had I given this a casual spin, I would have said "typically fine," but it's been stuck in my changer for three days and I'll be sad when I have to move on. A- [cd]
Fred Hersch Trio: Floating (2014, Palmetto): With John Hébert on bass and Eric McPherson on piano, starts with a rip roaring "You & the Night & the Music," ends with "If Ever I Would Leave You" (Al Lerner) and "Let's Cool One" (Monk), the filler originals dedicated to various contemporaries (as near as I can tell), and all the more exquisite when he slows down. (Came out last year and made a lot of lists.) A- [dl]
Joe Hertenstein/Pascal Niggenkemper/Thomas Heberer: HNH2 (2013 , Clean Feed): Drums, bass, and cornet respectively, the latter with the more substantial career (credits back to 1987 including some with ICP Orchestra, at least five albums under his own name), but the drummer gets much larger type as well as first billing (compositions: Hertenstein 4, Heberer 3, group 4). Nothing on the cover to distinguish this title from 2010's HNH but the liner notes refer to HNH2. Free jazz, not very flashy but engaging. B+(**) [cd]
I Love Makonnen: Drink More Water 5 (2015, OVO Sound): Rapper Makonnen Sheran, released a legit EP last year and hitched a big single to Drake but returns here with a mixtape, his thirteenth since 2011. Not easy to find a streamable source of this, and I don't quite know what to make of it -- least of all a video I snagged with lots of drugs and exploding heads. Probably meant to be funny. B+(**) [dl]
Christoph Irniger Trio: Gowanus Canal (2012 , Intakt): Swiss tenor saxophonist, trio with Raffaele Bossard on bass and Ziv Ravitz on drums. They play free jazz, but mostly at a moderate pace you can follow, logic you can appreciate, and none of that screech or yowl. B+(***)
Christoph Irniger Pilgrim: Italian Circus Story (2014, Intakt): Quintet, the leader's tenor sax still the only horn with Stefan Aeby on piano and Dave Gisler on guitar -- Aeby gets a lot of space. B+(**)
Christoph Irniger Trio: Octopus (2014 , Intakt): Once again, a mild-mannered free jazz tenor sax trio, impressive logic that sneaks up on you without threatening to blow you away. A- [cd]
Eugenie Jones: Come Out Swingin' (2015, Open Mic): Singer, second album, wrote 8 (of 12) songs here, the covers covering ground from "Begin the Beguine" and "All of Me" to "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." B [cd]
The Knocks: So Classic (2015, Big Beat, EP): NY duo, Ben "B-Roc" Ruttner and James "JPatt" Patterson aim for dance pop, with singles back to 2010 (including one called "Classic" dropped in here in two mixes) and an album in the works. Five tracks, 20:54. B+(*)
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Ba Power (2015, Glitterbeat): Ngoni player from Mali, his group featuring his wife, powerful singer Amy Sacko. Broke out a bit with 2013's Jama Ko, and this is comparably intense. A-
Brian Landrus Trio: The Deep Below (2014 , BlueLand/Palmetto): Usually a baritone saxophonist, has at least thre previous records, offers a tour of the deeper single reeds -- six cuts on bari, five on bass clarinet, two on bass flute, one with bass sax. Lonnie Plaxico gets some bass spots too. Billy Hart is the drummer on an album that is not only deep but softly understated. B+(***) [cd]
Deborah Latz: Sur L'Instant (2013 , June Moon): Standards singer, also acts, based in New York but recorded this third album in Paris, backed by piano (Alain Jean-Marie) and bass (Gilles Naturel). B+(**) [cd]
Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House: Roulette of the Cradle (2014 , Intakt): Tenor (and soprano) saxophonist, from Germany, adopted this group name from a 2010 album, and you can see why she wants to keep the group going: Mary Halvorson (guitar), Kris Davis (piano), John Hébert (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums), joined on two tracks by Oscar Noriega (clarinet). Davis and, especially, Halvorson enjoy some remarkable runs here. B+(***) [cd]
Major Lazer: Peace Is the Mission (2015, Mad Decent): Dancehall project of hip-hop producer Diplo, originally with British house DJ Switch (Dave Taylor), although Diplo has a new crew of collaborators here, plus adds featured vocalists on most cuts. B+(*)
Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa (2015, World Circuit): From Congo, led by two musicians (Coco Ngambali, Theo Nsituruidi) from Staff Benda Bilili, at first seem to fall short of the classic soukous romps, but a ballad (of all things) convinced me they are for real, and they pick up the pace when Konono No. 1 drop in to resuscitate the beat, a bit of thumb piano that sweetens the guitar. A-
The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble: Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland (2015, Planet Arts): McFarland (1933-71) played vibraphone, but is probably best remembered (when at all) as a composer and associate of Bill Evans and Bob Brookmeyer. Drummer Michael Benedict directed this quintet, with Joe Locke (vibes), Sharel Cassity (sax), Bruce Barth (piano), and Mike Lawrence (bass), as they skip through eleven McFarland pieces. Mostly breakneck bop, the leaders get a terrific workout -- most impressively Locke, his best performance in a long time. A- [cd]
Monster Rally & Jay Stone: Foreign Pedestrians (2014 , Gold Robot): Ted Feighan, with several previous albums as Monster Rally, does the beats, while Stone raps -- sometimes: second half is instrumental, sort of like Clams Casino. B+(*)
Murs: Have a Nice Life (2015, Strange Music): Underground rapper Nick Carter, ninth album since 1997, although lately he's been most impressive on side projects, like White Mandingos' The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me and ¡Mursday! (with ¡Mayday!). Rapid-fire raps run rings around the ups and downs of ghetto life, the usual topics but not the usual take. A-
Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard: Django and Jimmie (2015, Legacy): Reinhardt and Rodgers on the tribute, adapted but not penned by the leaders, and not exactly proven here or elsewhere, though they're not the sort of fools not to be fans. Another tune written for them is "It's All Going to Pot," which starts like a Haggard rant but winds up in Nelsonland. Haggard does claim four credits, including a "Swinging Doors" remake and a yarn about Johnny Cash, while Nelson shares four with Buddy Cannon, including a plug for "Alice in Hulaland." The other cover you know is from Bob Dylan, but don't give it a second thought. A-
Pixies: Indie Cindy (2014, Pixiesmusic): Band reformed after a 23-year break, evidently a better brand than Frank Black and the Catholics, reuniting with Joey Santiago (guitar) and Dave Lovering (drums) but not Kim Deal (bass). Album is actually a compilation of three EPs, a strategy that diffused the reunion's impact. B
Jeff Richman: Hotwire (2015, Nefer): Guitarist, more than a dozen albums since 1986. Credits are broken out cut-by-cut, but most pieces feature Jimmy Haslip (bass, producer), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), and George Whitty (keybs), with guitarist Mike Stern present on a couple cuts -- only two cuts have horn bits. That all points back to '80s-vintage fusion, with hot guitar in the lead. B+(*) [cd]
Shamir: Ratchet (2015, XL): First name, last name Bailey, twenty years old, dropped an EP last year that lots of critics liked, returns with debut LP this year. Sings like a girl without overdoing it, beats are understated, the whole finish leans toward matte so nothing blows you away, but it's still sneaky catchy. A-
Slutever: Almost Famous (2015, self-released, EP): Philadelphia-born, Los Angeles-based, two women (nameless on their website but reportedly Rachel Gagliardi and Nicole Snyder), eighth release on Bandcamp but that includes a digital track, a "cassingle," a 7-inch with two songs, 4- and 6-song EPs, an 8-track Demos. This 6-track, 15:51 EP supposedly shows their bigger sound and more accomplished songcraft, and it sort of does. B+(**) [bc]
Enoch Smith Jr.: Misfits II: Pop (2013 , Misfitme Music): Pianist, second album, what makes this one "pop" is the vocals, mostly Sarah Elizabeth Charles although the only one I'd hang onto is Dee-1's rap. B [cd]
Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld: Never Were the Way She Was (2015, Constellation): Saxophone-violin duets, with Stetson's saxes on the low end (tenor and bass sax, and contrabass clarinet) and probably responsible for some evident percussion, while Neufeld is also credited with voice (possibly processed, no clear lyrics). All live, no overdubs (something they're proud of, partly because it isn't obvious). Nominally jazz although Stetson's distribution and following slops over into rock and the duo have some soundtrack background. A-
Davide Tammaro: Ghosts (2014 , self-released): Guitarist, from Naples in Italy but a Berklee grad based in New York, first album. With alto sax, various keybs, bass, and drums, pleasant groove without pushing unpleasant fusion buttons. B [cd]
Henry Threadgill Zooid: In for a Penny, In for a Pound (2014 , Pi, 2CD): Four album with this group (more or less); Jose Davila (trombone, tuba), Liberty Ellman (guitar), Christopher Hoffman (cello), Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums). Threadgill seems to play less flute this time (or more bass flute), but it's the alto sax you notice, rotating against Davila's low notes, the strings swirling around. He called an earlier band Very Very Circus, but he's rarely juggled this adroitly. Might have squeezed the music onto a single disc (40:14, 38:58). A- [cd]
U2: Songs of Innocence (2014, Interscope): First album in five years, backed by producers like Danger Mouse who never sounded like this elsewhere and won't again. Unlike the 1990's albums (below), this captures the grand sound of the band -- i.e., what's always made them rather annoying. B
Universal Indians w/Joe McPhee: Skullduggery (2014 , Clean Feed): Seems like McPhee will play with anyone, a trait which has helped maked him such an inspiration to free jazz musicians around the world. He plays pocket trumpet and various saxes in this live recording from Belgium, with John Dikeman on more saxes, Jon Rune Strøm on bass, and Tollef Østvang on drums (the rhythm section from All Included). B+(***) [cd]
Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo: Swing Zing! (2015, FV): Guitarists, Vignola a specialist at swinging standards, Raniolo previously unknown to me but has an album and acted in Boardwalk Empire. Guests include guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli, Gene Bertoncini, and Julian Lage -- the first two did much to invent Vignola's style, enough for a PBS special on Four Generations of Guitars -- and singer Audra Mariel. B+(**) [cd]
Kamasi Washington: The Epic (2015, Brainfeeder, 3CD): Saxophonist, has quite a few side credits since 2001, including groups Young Jazz Giants and Throttle Elevator Music, plus work in Gerald Wilson's big band, with Phil Ranelin, also with Flying Lotus (who produces here) and Kendrick Lamar. His debut album is a monster, not just in length but in the 10-piece funk band, 32-piece orchestra, and 20-voice choir he blows over, through, and up. Still, I find the masses turn anonymous, even the singers (and there's much too much of that). He finds firmer ground when the third disc goes historical, with a sharp take on "Cherokee," some first-rate trumpet, and a Malcolm X sample. B+(**)
Juan Wauters: Who Me? (2015, Captured Tracks): Former front-man for Queens-based lo-fi postpunk band the Beets, goes solo, as singer/songwriters do. B+(*)
Young Thug: Barter 6 (2015, 300/Atlantic): Originally named Carter 6 in a cheap stab at grabbing some Lil Wayne biz, still hard to take him seriously but perhaps it's better that way. B+(**)
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
The Ornette Coleman Quartet: The 1987 Hamburg Concert (1987 , Domino, 2CD): On the alto saxophonist's superb 1987 then-and-now album, In All Languages, these guys were billed as "The Original Quartet" -- Don Cherry (cornet), Charlie Haden (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums) -- as opposed to his new-fangled Prime Time fusion group. Live, the old guys play classics, which sound as tricky then (and now) as they did when they knocked the jazz world on its ear back in 1959. A-
The Red Line Comp: A DCHC Compilation (, self-released): Twelve-cut compilation of DC-based hardcore bands, presumably of recent vintage, only one cut exceeding 2:04 -- Genocide Pact's "Trials in Nihilism" -- totalling 18:24. B+(*) [bc]
Willi Williams: Unification: From Channel One to King Tubby's (1979 , Shanachie): A minor roots rasta singer, had a 1978 hit called "Armagideon Time" that was covered by the Clash. This set was recorded a year later with Yabby You, so predictably it's a bit softer than the era's classics but still sounds terrific. A-
Yabby You: Dread Prophecy: The Strange and Wonderful Story of Yabby You (1972-85 , Shanachie, 3CD): Vivian Jackson, left home at age 12 and was hospitalized for malnutrition at 17, leaving him with crippling arthritis but eventually he found Jah and King Tubby, had a signature hit in 1972 called "Conquering Lion," and recorded a good deal of dub in the following decade-plus, more sporadically until his death in 2010. Shanachie took an interest and released two albums -- One Love, One Heart (1983) and Fleeing From the City (1985) -- and now they've assembled this memorial box. To call the first disc "Classics" is a stretch but they sketch out his minor hits, only slightly better known (and better) than the "Rarities" on the third disc. Better still is the middle disc, "The Many Moods of Yabby You," including some of his production work. Reportedly comes with a 30-page booklet which may make the difference. B+(***)
Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992, R&S): Presented like a compilation, as far as I can tell all the pieces were initially released on the album. The alias belongs to Richard D. James, from Ireland, his debut album an elegent set of simple synth pieces, less quiet than Eno's early ambient, and not without a few disruptive squiggles. B+(***)
Aphex Twin: I Care Because You Do (1990-94 , Sire): Skipping over a second (2CD) volume of Selected Ambient Works, some EPs (later collected as Classics), and an album as Polygon Window (Surfing on Sine Waves) we get to his next (in some ways first) proper album. Mostly drum machine loops with analog synth washes, nothing very ambient. Tempted to dock it for the self-portrait cover, but there's something to be said for the geek moving up front. A-
Aphex Twin: Richard D. James Album (1996, Elektra): For the cover, James swapped his crude self-portrait painting in for a more menacing self-photo, perhaps to emphasize his transition from analog synths to digital. The change produces faster beats and some sharper sounds, but it also tempts him to work in some processed voice vocals. B+(***)
Beyoncé: B'Day (2006, Columbia): The breakout star from Destiny's Child, second solo album although the intervening group album gives you a chance to forget how bad the first was. This starts out promising enough, but it seems inevitable she's going to pull out something truly wretched (e.g., "Resentment"). B+(*)
Beyoncé: I Am . . . Sasha Fierce (2008, Music World/Columbia, 2CD): Divide at the ellipsis to get the concept, originally spread out over two discs to emphasize the contrast, but the combined run-time only comes to 41:40, so later editions crammed it all together, then tacked on a second disc of videos -- her real talent? I suppose the two-disc trick is worthwhile. The second runs at dance tempos, but the first is deadly. C+
Björk: Debut (1993, Elektra): Not really a novice after three albums fronting Iceland's original pop-rock group, the Sugarcubes, though even earlier she appeared in a punk band called Spit and Snot and in a jazz fusion group called Exodus. Has an art streak that threatens to get the best of her, but only "The Anchor Song" risks her beat, which "Violently Happy" raised. B+(*)
Björk: Post (1995, Elektra): Her electropop shows some promise, but she also has this penchant for arty dramaturgy which can (and in the future will) spoil an album. B
Björk: Greatest Hits (1993-2001 , Elektra): I never regarded her as a singles artist, just a wildly slapdash album conceptualizer, so I'm impressed by how consistently strong the rhythm tracks are at least two-thirds of the way through this, so much so I'm prepared to accept her warblings without trying to make sense of them. B+(***)
Mary J. Blige: What's the 411? (1992, Uptown/MCA): Debut album, about 21 at the time, has a strong voice but rather than going all diva on us, exec. producer Puff Daddy goes for a hip-hop beat and framework. B+(**)
Mary J. Blige: No More Drama (2001, MCA): Long, ran 76:55 in its original edition, before being reshuffled and reissued in 2002 with a different cover. She knocks out eighteen songs here, like some sort of assembly line, which means for once she doesn't oversing them, or overwrite them. B+(**)
Blur: Leisure (1991, SBK): First album by one of the top British rock groups of the 1990s, the sort of group that shows up repeatedly in UK all-time lists (along with Oasis and Manic Street Preachers) but never in US lists (unlike Radiohead). Guitar riffs remind me of the Kinks and the Jam. Songs don't. B
Blur: Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993, SBK): After an unsuccessful US tour, the band doubled down on their Britishness, so while the music stayed upbeat the lyrics slumped, and the music occasionally turned circusy. B-
Blur: 13 (1999, Virgin): Hit and miss, which I guess is the definition of a singles band. B+(**)
Bright Eyes: A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997 (1995-97 , Saddle Creek): I.e., roughly from when Omaha native Conor Oberst was 15-17, a period when he led a group called Commander Venus but this starts out solo vocal with guitar, adds occasional backing but not clear who does what. He doesn't have an appealing voice, and much of this is crudely done, but it feels way too grizzled to be labeled juvenilia. B+(*)
Bright Eyes: Letting Off the Happiness (1997-98 , Saddle Creek): Second album, first conceived as such, figure it as more of a band album in that Oberst aims for a coherent sound -- still lo-fi, masking his folkie voice with rough-hewn guitar and bass. Final piece runs 25:46, mostly static drone with too little payback at the end. B
Bright Eyes: Fevers and Mirrors (1999 , Saddle Creek): For once I have detailed credits, which show they're not really a band -- Mike Mogis adds something trivial to nearly every cut (piano, guitar, vibes, pedal steel, lap dulcimer, hammer dulcimer, mandolin, guiro, percussion, "atmosphere"; but drummer Joe Knapp only appears on 7 (of 14) songs, and a half-dozen others come and go. Includes a prying radio interview, where he reveals, "I want people to feel sorry for me." Sometimes it's hard to get what you want, and vice versa. B+(*)
Bright Eyes: Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (2002, Saddle Creek): This is where Oberst started to get noticed. Starts with a grumble then an exaggerated Dylanish grunt, then seems to evolve before your ears, picking up polish if not quite hooks, and turning into someone you might want to spend some time with. Still only 22, but he's starting to get hold of his voice. B+(**) [cd]
Bright Eyes: I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (2005, Saddle Creek): Conor Oberst has finally worked out all the kinks in his voice and songcraft, in the process shedding his connections to folk music -- economic as much as any other -- yet remains as odd as ever, serenading a woman in a crashing airplane, favoring the winning side in senseless wars, and so forth. B+(***) [cd]
Broken Social Scene: You Forgot It in People (2002, Arts & Crafts): Canadian alt/indie group led by Kevin Drew, second album, stretches out with some impressive guitar grind but can still back off for a ballad. B+(***)
Broken Social Scene: Broken Social Scene (2005, Arts & Crafts): Third album, Brendan Canning shares all song credits with Kevin Drew. Again they push the guitar hard before opening up into something odder. B+(**)
Built to Spill: Ultimate Alternative Wavers (1992, C/Z): Alt/indie band from Boise, first album, murky as you'd expect but sometimes the thrash turns into rave. B+(***)
Built to Spill: There's Nothing Wrong With Love (1994, Up): Second album, shows solid advances in songwriting and poise, so the guitar is sparser, but used to greater effect. A-
Built to Spill: Keep It Like a Secret (1999, Warner Brothers): Fourth studio album, first to chart (120 US), the sort of group -- guitar-heavy '90s alt/indie -- I tend to find boring, but this is eminently listenable, maybe even substantial. A-
Built to Spill: Ancient Melodies of the Future (2001, Warner Brothers): What happens when a group that has always gotten along by framing everything with its distinctive guitar sound tries to change its focus, here to melody -- nice enough, as far as it goes. B
Built to Spill: You in Reverse (2006, Warner Brothers): Continues in the previous album's "melodic" vein, but with more muscle, a shift you were probably hoping for. B+(**)
Built to Spill: There Is No Enemy (2009, Warner Brothers): The band is clearly slowing down, really just Doug Martsch's vehicle, and he's doing things he's done many times before, including stellar guitar solos. B+(*)
Kate Bush: The Kick Inside (1978, EMI America): Not quite 20 for her debut, her warbly voice doesn't seem like much of an asset but does the trick on "Wuthering Heights." B+(**)
Kate Bush: Lionheart (1978, EMI America): Just 20, no doubt a hero for bookish young girls, her increasingly sophisticated music reminds me first of opera -- the arena where her soprano is most abused, but I note a comic twist both to her voice and to the shifting melodies. Not sure that it's intentional, but it helps cut the bombast. A very ambitious young lady, and talented enough she's worth indulging. B+(**)
Kate Bush: Never for Ever (1980, EMI America): Third album, adds a couple singles for her best-of, otherwise more professional chops, less inspired innovation. B+(*)
Kate Bush: The Dreaming (1982, EMI America): After two plays I still have no idea. I do know that she was sole producer this time, and that she threw the kitchen sink into the mix -- dozens of exotic instruments, and I noted Danny Thompson and Eberhard Weber among the bassists. [Also that Spin's actual pick, 1985's Hounds of Love, isn't on Rhapsody.] B
Ornette Coleman: Twins (1959-61 , Atlantic): A little something Atlantic cobbled together out of scraps a decade after the fact: outtakes from most of the album sessions, including the 16:56 first take of "Free Jazz" -- the five cuts are spread out on as many discs in Rhino's session-oriented 6-CD Beauty Is a Rare Thing box (which with its booklet is the one you probably want, and not prohibitively expensive). The comp was reissued in 1982 with a different cover, reverted to the original cover for a 2005 digital release by Rhino, then was picked up by Water for a 2008 CD. The opener gives you a good sense of the double quartet album, and there's no obvious reason the rest was shelved -- in fact, the quartet sides are so good this could be a box sampler. A-
The Cure: Three Imaginary Boys (1979, Fiction): First album from Robert Smith's long-lived band which later on became an icon of art school intellectualism. At this point they were fashionably new wave, with echoes of Wire on occasion and Joe Jackson more often -- although more strained. B+(*)
The Cure: The Head on the Door (1985, Elektra): Sixth studio album -- 1980's Boys Don't Cry isn't on Rhapsody, and the rest are so poorly regarded I didn't see any need to bother. But this starts a run of 1985-89 albums that do have a critical rep (and substantial sales), and it's easy enough to see why. Robert Smith has gained flexibility and range as a singer, and the music sports new looks -- even if they're as derivative as his early new wave, he's kept his models up to date. B+(*)
The Cure: Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (1987, Elektra): Originally 2-LP, squeezed onto a single CD by droping one song (restored in the 2006 reissue). The extra length lets them air out a more expansive sound, more suited to the larger venues their newfound popularity opened up. Louder, but not necessarily better. B
The Cure: Disintegration (1989, Elektra): The band gets bigger, as does its music, which by contrast makes the personal impression of Smith that much smaller, not to mention less interesting. B
Daft Punk: Homework (1993-96 , Virgin): French electronica duo, big enough they moved into arenas and talented enough to make their arena-pomped sound work, at least on Alive 2007 (if not the more relevant here Alive 1997). Still, this debut seems rather sketchy and gamey. B
Depeche Mode: Speak & Spell (1981, Sire): Debut album by British synthpop group, a sizable hit (gold, peak 10) in the UK, barely grazed the US charts (192), a pattern which would gradually improve as they got their videos on MTV, but their first US top-10 album was nine years later. Aside from the last cut, the vocals seem distant, buried under unimpressive beats, none of which prepare you for the "Schizo Remix" of their third single, "Just Can't Get Enough." B
Depeche Mode: A Broken Frame (1982, Sire): Second album, where Martin Gore (keyboards) takes over songwriting duties from departed Vince Clarke (keyboards, everyone but lead singer Dave Gahan plays keyboards) -- not that the songs offer much to brag about. Sound is more consistent, but less catchy. B-
Depeche Mode: Construction Time Again (1983, Sire): Third album, Alan Wilder (keyboards, of course) joins and writes two songs, Martin Gore the rest. Some evidence of an evolving political consciousness ("the grabbing hands grab all they can"). B
Depeche Mode: Some Great Reward (1984, Sire): The dour vocals seem typical of British bands of the period -- Ian Curtis proved more prophetic than Johnny Rotten, at least of the Thatcher era -- but the extra blips on the keyboards offer small delights, and when they sparkle enough you get a single. B+(*)
Depeche Mode: Catching Up With Depeche Mode (1980-85 , Sire): US alternative to the UK-released Singles 81-85, dropping four songs (notably "People Are People" -- their highest charting pop single, 4 UK, 13 US) while picking up two B-sides. Their albums suggest they may be a singles band, but roll them up and they sound more like a decent but forgettable album. B+(**)
Depeche Mode: Black Celebration (1986, Sire): Dark gloom as a formal aesthetic, even though the keybs would be happier shining up dance grooves. B
Depeche Mode: Violator (1990, Sire/Reprise): Their biggest album to date, the scale coming through in the music even if it isn't clear that it signifies anything. B
Depeche Mode: Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993, Sire/Reprise): Their only album to top the charts in US as well as UK, followed by a 14-month "Devotional Tour" which ended without Alan Wilder. Heavier, denser, dumber too. B-
Destiny's Child: Destiny's Child (1998, Columbia): R&B vocal group, often termed teen pop since the four singers, including lead Beyoncé Knowles, were 16-17 at the time. Still, the producers got an adult sound, blending the voices and inserting guest rappers Wyclef Jean, Jermaine Dupri, Master P, and Pras. B+(*)
Destiny's Child: The Writing's on the Wall (1999, Columbia): Second album, still four faces on the cover although they're starting to separate out, with LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson soon to split. This is where they blew up, with two number one singles and the album selling over six million copies. Very professional but not much to get excited about. A personal turn off was the a cappella "Amazing Grace" at the end. B+(**)
Destiny's Child: Survivor (2001, Columbia): Down to three, with Beyoncé clearly first among unequals. The title cut always struck me as a cliché, but it's the catchiest single here, even if "Bootylicious" sounds more appetizing. B+(**)
J Dilla: Donuts (2006, Stones Throw): Detroit hip-hop producer James Yancey, also recorded as Jay Dee, released his best-known album on his 32nd birthday then died three days later, suffering from the blood disease TTP. This is a pastiche, 31 short pieces, most built around a single loping beat with sampled vocal bits that never turn personal. B
Dinosaur Jr.: You're Living All Over Me (1987, SST): Second album, group led by J. Mascis, who has kept it going although he's recorded more solo than group albums since 1996. The singer's drawl could (and eventually would) imply folkiness, but at this point they're still young, and all they really want is to let the guitar(s) squeal. B+(**)
The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin (1999, Warner Brothers): Neo-psychedelia from Oklahoma City, the group led by Wayne Coyne already had eight albums I haven't heard before this one got dubbed "the Pet Sounds of the 1990s" -- presumably for the lush melodies, thick vocal harmonies, and shimmering synths, although I could just as well aver kinship to Frank Zappa, as artists who make farce without being particularly funny. B
The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002, Warner Brothers): Robot synths and comic characters mixed in with a few things that are nicely shaped as songs. B+(***)
Rolf Kühn & Friends: Affairs (1997 , Intuition): German clarinetist, started recording in 1957, called in a lot of favors for his front cover: Randy Brecker, Ornette Coleman, Eddie Daniels, Buddy DeFranco, Wolfgang Haffner, Dieter Ilg, Dave Liebman, Chuck Loeb, Albert Mangelsdorff -- Coleman and Mangelsdorff only appear on one track each (duets with Kühn), Liebman and Brecker two (the latter on a track called "There Is a Mingus Amonk Us"). But the clarinet reigns, especially when all three join together for "Just Friends" and "Three Bopeteers." A-
John Lewis: Jazz Abstractions (1960, Atlantic): Fuller title: John Lewis Presents Contemporary Music 1: Jazz Abstractions: Compositions by Gunther Schuller & Jim Hall. Not clear what MJQ pianist Lewis is doing here, other than that he seems to have cornered the market on Third Stream, a phrase that Schuller invented to describe a jazz-classical fusion. The actual pianist here is Bill Evans, but the strings are more prominent (violin-viola-cello, also George Duvivier and Scott LaFaro on bass and Hall on guitar), the drums supplemented by Eddie Costa's vibes, and the horn section is limited to Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman. The first cut is very avant for the period. The others explore their abstractions in various ways, each fascinating in its own way, all expertly done. A-
Nas: Illmatic (1994, Columbia): Legendary debut album from Nasir Jones, son of jazz/blues guitarist Olu Dara, it doesn't really grab you from the first spin but grows on you, the beats subtle but richly textured, a rapper who has something to say and the flow to put it over. A-
Neutral Milk Hotel: On Avery Island (1995 , Merge): This is singer-songwriter Jeff Mangum's debut, produced by Robert Schneider of Apples in Stereo, the latter playing organ and fuzz bass, with a few guest spots for accordion, violin, flute, and trombone -- folkie lo-fi with a dash of exotica. B
Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998, Merge): Jeff Mangum's second album, got off to a rocky start but gradually built a substantial cult following. Mangum's voice is rough, his strumming emphatic, a harshness that grates at first then picks up speed and threatens to cohere into an irresistible force. B+(**)
Pixies: Come On Pilgrim (1987, 4AD, EP): Boston alt/indie group led by a guy known as Black Francis, cut a demo tape before signing, roughly half of which (eight songs, 20:28) were quickly dumped onto this mini-LP (originally a cassette). I never really got into them for reasons I never bothered to figure out, but their sonic appeal was clear even here, their penchant for slipping in and out of time something that can now been seen as anticipating 1990's groups like Pavement. The rest of the demo tape was released in 2002 as Pixies, but I haven't heard it. B+(*)
Pixies: Surfer Rosa (1988, 4AD/Elektra): Official first album. Again, the appeal is primarily sonic, fancy guitar riffs over an urgent beat with little else especially clear. One thing that throws me is a short rant called "You F*ckin' Die" that doesn't seem to be on the original album. B+(*)
Primal Scream: XTRMNTR (2000, Astralwerks): Scottish group, best known for their third album, Screamadelica (1991, not on Rhapsody). Dense, industrial-grade guitar-bass with synth washes, often danceable. One might worry about lyrics like "Swastika Eyes," but not the music. A-
Radiohead: Pablo Honey (1993, Capitol): First album from one of the biggest groups to emerge in the 1990s. One of the first lyrics I noticed was "I want to be Jim Morrison" -- OK, but at this point this is more of a guitar band, and more impressive for that. B+(**)
Radiohead: The Bends (1995, Capitol): Second album, on most songs the guitar gives way to sweet, lonely vocals, so it's good to bump into something like "My Iron Lung" where you get some actual thrash. B
Radiohead: Hail to the Thief (2003, Capitol): Sixth studio album, runs 14 songs, 56:31, a lot to focus on for an album that doesn't focus on much of anything. B+(*)
Slayer: Reign in Blood (1986, Def American): Speed (and/or thrash) metal group, fast anyway, wish I could quantify that for you but not one of my skills. Words are probably full of shit, but they're fast too, no point pondering. I enjoyed the first wave of bands dubbed metal -- roughly Led Zeppelin to Blue Oyster Cult -- but something happened in the early 1980s that turned metal into a cult music and made it incomprehensible to me, and damn annoying as well. Looking at this band's pics, I'd guess that was Kiss, a group that was always a joke but also provided a seed for young bands that wanted to push their logic into ever more extreme directions. Slayer, I suppose, is transitional, which makes this rather tolerable. (Or maybe it's just Rick Rubin producing?) B
Slutever: Sorry I'm Not Sorry (2010, self-released, EP): First recording, notes that "Rachel & Nicole both play guitar, drum, and sing" and that it was "recorded in a bathroom and hot, sweaty room, Philadelphia" and "overdubbed in bedrooms, Seattle and Los Angeles." Six songs, 12:22, sound so tinny I can't make out a word. B
Slutever: Slutever Demos (2013, self-released, EP): At eight tracks, 27:53, their most substantial effort ever but they're not the sort who'd risk their no-long-player strategy by packing on too much weight. Two songs they later released as a single ("1994/Spit") verify that these are indeed demos, even if they are much better recorded than their first EP. B+(*) [bc]
Smashing Pumpkins: Gish (1991, Caroline): A rather proggish band that emerged on the artier end of the 1990s grunge spectrum, led by Billy Corgan, who eventually became the only constant through their discography. First album, demonstrated their ability to fill a stage. B
Smashing Pumpkins: Siamese Dream (1993, Virgin): All Christgau had to say: "hooked on sonics." I'm afraid I didn't even get that much, although "Sweet Sweat" does sound better after the sonic freak-out than it would have on its own. B
Smashing Pumpkins: Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1993, Virgin, 2CD): A sprawling 28-track album, 121:39 on 2-CD, longer still on triple (or quadruple) vinyl, with an "extended edition" stretched to 351:19, nearly six hours. There is clearly merit both in the harder and softer tracks, but figuring out what/when/where is a task bound to take a lot more effort than I feel up to. B
Elliott Smith: Either/Or (1997, Kill Rock Stars): Singer-songwriter, third album, basically just sweet and melancholy voice over guitar. B
The Smiths: The Smiths (1984, Sire): Big group in England during the 1980s, one I didn't notice until they split in 1987. The group's appeal depended on how you reacted to singer Morrissey -- Slant described him as "a mordant, sexually frustrated disciple of Oscar Wilde who loved punk but crooned like a malfunctioning Sinatra" -- but much of the early hype revolved around guitarist-cowriter Johnny Marr, unfathomably regarded as some kind of genius. Both seem fairly ordinary here. B+(*)
The Smiths: Hatful of Hollow (1983-84 , Sire): A compilation of early singles and several John Peel sessions, not clear how much of it predates the group's first album, appeared in UK in 1984 to much success but was held back in the US for nine years (with some tracks appearing on the 1987 US compilation Louder Than Bombs). The first thing you notice is that it makes a much better case for Johnny Marr the guitarist. B+(***)
The Smiths: Meat Is Murder (1985, Sire): Second studio album, self-produced, I find this rolls past me without anything registering much, even the singer's perpetual whine. Cover photo is from Vietnam, but as they say, "Barbarism Begins at Home." But I think not with meat. B
The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead (1986, Sire): Spin picked this as the 5th greatest album of the last 30 years, or should I say slotted it between Daft Punk's Discovery and Radiohead's OK Computer? Title cut definitely takes the music to a new level, which makes much of the rest sound like filler. B+(**)
The Smiths: The World Won't Listen (1984-86 , Sire): Guessing on the US release date -- this second odds and sods collection appeared in the UK on Rough Trade in February 1987 and promptly went into Sire's sausage machine to be turned into Louder Than Bombs later that year. The singles mix adds some snap early on, but they run short of material. B
The Smiths: Strangeways, Here We Come (1987, Sire): Fourth and last studio album -- Morrissey would move on to a solo career without skipping a beat, while Johnny Marr pretty much vanished (until a 2013-14 mini-comeback). Whatever tension existed between the two is buried in their routine performances, the songs a little wordy but that's the singer's trademark. B
The Smiths: Rank (1986 , Sire): Live best-of, a handy contract filler once the group broke up. Not a group I have any sentimental attachment to, but this seemed to pick up a little when Morrissey introduced "Ask" ("latest single"), and I liked the one they rocked out on. B+(*)
The Smiths: Singles (1983-87 , Reprise): Eleven singles from the four albums (six in album versions), plus seven more that were collected on compilations (six on Louder Than Bombs). They don't strike me as an especially strong singles band, but the selection is consistently tighter and stronger than the source albums. A-
The Smiths: The Sound of the Smiths (1983-87 , Reprise, 2CD): First disc adds five tunes to the 18-cut Singles, and second disc adds more stuff -- mostly b-sides but also the title cut and three other songs from The Queen Is Dead. I figure that makes the first disc a slight improvement over Singles, while the second just broadens the picture. Michael Tatum, who is much more of a fan than I am, favors this option. He could be right, but having slogged through all of this I'm still not sure this is an essential, or even a very important, band. A-
The Stone Roses: The Stone Roses (1989, Silvertone): Manchester band, considered a very big deal in the UK when their eponymous debut album dropped. I missed this one but bought and liked their second and last from 1994 (admittedly one I scarcely remember), so I was surprised to see how indifferently Byrds-ish this one started out. Picks up a bit toward the end. B+(*)
Jamaaladeen Tacuma: Jamaaladeen Tacuma's Coltrane Configurations (2008 , Jazzwerkstatt): Bass guitarist, closely associated with Ornette Coleman during his Prime Time run. Modelled on the Quartet, with Orrin Evans on piano, Tim Hutson on drums, and Tony Kofi handling the tenor role with great aplomb on alto sax. Starts with a 15:23 "India" and closes with a 11:05 "A Love Supreme." B+(***)
Tears for Fears: The Hurting (1983, Mercury): British new wave/synthpop band, principally Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith on guitar and bass, plus extra keyb/drum programming. Debut went number 1 in UK charting three singles that aren't immediately obvious but their cloistered drama grows on you. B+(*)
Tears for Fears: Songs From the Big Chair (1985, Mercury): A bigger hit, at least in the US, although only "Shout" stands out, and the preponderance of slow songs undercuts both the new wave grind and the synthpop bubble. B
Tears for Fears: The Seeds of Love (1989, Mercury): Third album, another bestseller (UK 1, US 8), but the only single is a belabored Beatles rip ("Sowing the Seeds of Love"), and the dramatic vocals elsewhere range from kitsch to sludge. B-
TLC: CrazySexyCool (1994, La Face): Hip-hop era R&B vocal trio (T-Boz, Chilli, Left Eye), cut three albums before 2002 when the latter was killed in a car accident, sold 65 million albums and went bankrupt for their trouble. This is their second, the big one, but I'm having trouble sifting the hits from the filler (OK: "Waterfalls"; "Creep"). B+(**)
TLC: Fanmail (1999, La Face): A stronger album, I think, which has as much to do with production values as anything else -- less hip-hop, for instance, but better pop hooks. B+(***)
A Tribe Called Quest: Midnight Marauders (1993, Jive): Third album, beats soft and jazzed up a bit, several rappers floating around the rhythm, one of those underground things that threatened to break out, partly because they snuck so much tradition inside. A-
A Tribe Called Quest: Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996, Jive): Hard to distinguish this from its two fine predecessors, but I find it a big lighter, airier, and don't deem that a minus. A-
A Tribe Called Quest: The Love Movement (1998, Jive): Fifth and final album -- Q-Tip moved on to release Amplified the following year. They stay well within their limits. B+(**)
U2: Achtung Baby (1991, Island): In the late 1970s I made a point of tracking down everything Eno was associated with -- even the Portsmouth Synphonia albums -- so expected something more out of this big Irish band than they ever delivered, only to give up before their marginal prog move here. "One" at least is one of their better songs. B+(*)
U2: Zooropa (1993, Island): Several surprises here, including receding vocals and electronic textures that finally suggest producer Eno is having an effect -- still, don't believe the reviews that regard this as EDM -- and a country song at the end ("The Wanderer") that sounds like it was written for Johnny Cash, not least because Cash guests on it. B+(**)
U2: Pop (1997, Island): Post-Eno, the new producers get a compelling pop thrash on occasion (e.g., "Moto") but then the result sounds nothing at all like U2, and when it does it doesn't. B+(*)
Weezer: Weezer (1994, DGC): Los Angeles band's first album, one of those 1990s alt-rock groups that drove me to focus on jazz, not that I paid this particular one enough notice to let them annoy me, nor that their simple rock cheer is all that annoying. First of three eponymous albums (of nine albums through 2014), conventionally color-coded (blue here; green in 2001 and red in 2008). B
Weezer: Pinkerton (1996, Geffen): Second album, shows considerable variety compared to the first album's pop-guitar thrash, which isn't always for the better -- a couple of the early rockers are tighter, and the closer is an acoustic ballad, an apologia. 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 ag
Monday, June 8. 2015
Music: Current count 25069  rated (+45), 432  unrated (+10).
When I counted the number of newly rated records below, I found more than my count this week. I went back and rechecked the database, and found four albums listed as unrated that I should have filled in grades for. Then the count exceeded the list, so I went to the Streamnotes draft file and checked what I had written up against the Music Week lists, and found more discrepancies. I added them to the list below, and now the list is longer than the rated count increase again. Most likely that's the Pixies, who probably should have been reported last week. (At least seems to me like it's been a while.) Of course, if I had a system where I didn't have to update my records 4-5 times when I file a grade, I'd make fewer mistakes. But they'd also be harder to fix, so I guess there's that.
The large quantity of old music is due to my attempt to fill in the holes in Spin's Top 300 Albums: 1985-2014 list. I'm a little more than a third of the way through the list. I'm not just doing albums on the list: if I find something else that has a substantial rep and/or looks interesting, I'll slip it in too. Still working on Built to Spill. Next up is Kate Bush (list isn't alphabetical). I'm not spending a lot of time with them, although the A- records get at least two spins, as do some near misses. I'm also not reviewing anything I've graded before, even though some of them look like I may have underrated a bit. It's impossible to keep a list as long as mine in lockstep.
New records include two jazz A-listers from old favorites, albeit of very different stripes. But I have been dragging my feet on the jazz queue, which has been growing at a surprising rate. The main source of new records this week was Spin's 50 Best Albums of 2015 . . . So Far (my comp list is buried in the June 1 notebook). That led me to: American Wrestlers, Cannibal Ox, Dan Deacon, Eye, I Love Makonnen, Knocks, Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, Monster Rally & Jay Stone, Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld, and Young Thug -- two more A-list records there, with Cannibal Ox real close and nothing real bad. I expected Jason Derulo on that list too -- it was plugged as "Spin album of the week" on the same page, and has gotten rapturous reviews from critics I usually agree with, and I loved Talk Dirty as much as they did. I played it twice and it irritated me more than my low B+ grade reveals. The other two new A-list records were obvious things to listen to (Murs, Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard). For a while last week I was logging so many A- records I wondered if I was going soft.
As you may have noticed, Medium's music venture Cuepoint hasn't added any new content since June 2, notably missing last Friday's expected appearance of Robert Christgau's Expert Witness. I don't have any inside info on what's happening, but there's evidently some sort of shakeup going on. The basic idea behind Medium is to sucker people into contributing free content, but Christgau at least has been paid from the start. It wasn't unreasonable at first to seed the free content with some commissioned pieces, but sooner or later some bean counter is going to insist on cutting expenses, and freelancers are easy to stiff. So one possibility is that Medium is tightening the screws. Another is that the "vertical" websites like Cuepoint built on Medium's platform haven't clicked. I think one problem with Cuepoint is that they've never had anyone else doing the sort of thing Christgau does -- either as a columnist with a regular schedule or as a reviewer. Everything else is feature writing, and I only recognize two writers on their current homepage, so they're not exactly trying to build a prestige roster. One result is that I've never found anything other than Christgau worth reading there.
You may recall that something similar happened at the previous home of Christgau's consumer guide, MSN Music. They had a slightly better music site, probably because living off the fat of Microsoft's monopoly they had more money to throw at it. They had a few columnists, although none generated as much as 5% of Christgau's comment traffic. They hired Christgau to write some live reports, and occasionally you could find something else worth reading there, but it was never organized very well. There are other music websites that seem to be successful, but they do so by cultivating a niche audience and covering that niche at considerable depth -- I'm thinking of Pitchfork, PopMatters, All About Jazz, not that I know how much money they really make. But both MSN Music and Cuepoint seemed to have the idea that they could build a mass audience by covering music at the most superficial level. That they failed should not be a big surprise.
Christgau wrote for MSN Music and for Cuepoint for the most pedestrian of reasons: because they paid him to do something he wanted to do anyway. If Cuepoint folds this could be the end of Christgau's Consumer Guide. Or he could find another web angel willing to lose money on him (though it's hard to imagine an infinite chain of them). He could even publish a few CG reviews in a non-paying outlet -- he had written a number of them during his last hiatus just because writing had become an integral part of the way he understands records, and was thinking about giving them to Odyshape (which more or less suspended operations last September). I'd be happy to publish them on his website, where at least they'd add value and interest.
Or he could just hang it up -- something I think about, even after I reconciled myself to writing for free. Could be time to start thinking about a post-Christgau website.
Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Current draft has 50 new records, 3 new compilations, and 75 old records, so that should be plenty. I'm also working on a series of book blurb posts. I came back from New Jersey last fall with many pages of notes I took in various bookstores, but technical problems have kept me from working on them. The last Book Roundup was on July 3, 2014, so nearly a year. There should be several hundred books worth mentioning in that time.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, June 1. 2015
Music: Current count 25024  rated (+19), 422  unrated (+2).
Missed four days for my trip to Arkansas. Fortunately, caught a break in the moonsoon on both travelling days, although it rained a lot the two full days at my cousin's house. They let me cook. I opted for comfort food on Friday -- boiled chicken with biscuits with green beans on the side -- and for blowout eight-dish Chinese on Saturday. Still, best meal was probably the standard Arkansas breakfast my second cousin put together Sunday morning -- including the chocolate gravy her grandmother (my aunt) was famous for, although I prefer the sausage gravy on my biscuits.
For "old music" I continue to pick off unheard albums from Spin's 1985-2014 list. Sometimes I go deeper into back catalogs I never paid much attention to back in the day, and sometimes not. In the case of Blur I started with a couple of early unheard albums, then skipped to the one selected (13), then checked out this year's reunion album, but I left a few holes I didn't bother with. I started from the git go with Depeche Mode, but doubt I'll go beyond the list album (1990's Violator). Running across more records not on Rhapsody, like Dr. Dre's The Chronic and Guided by Voices' Bee Thousand.
Didn't get to much new jazz last year, but did find two surprises: a teenaged standards singer from Spain, Andrea Motis, and a tribute album to little-remembered vibraphonist Gary McFarland. I wrote a little tweet-review of the former mostly to share the bandcamp link. The McFarland tribute was an even bigger surprise: I hear a lot of fine mainstream postbop, but almost by definition the genre sticks with ordinary conventions. But after sitting on the fence for a couple plays, the sparkling performances paid off here.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, May 25. 2015
Music: Current count 25005  rated (+34), 420  unrated (+13).
Rated count creeped over the 25,000 mark yesterday. Much of last week's haul was picked up on Rhapsody as I've been filling in the previously unheard records on Spin's Top 300 1985-2014 list. Thus far I've filled in all but one of the top 75 slots -- Metallica won't allow their precious music (ranked 34 was 1986's Master of Puppets) to be exposed through a cheap streaming service, so fuck them too. I've only found two A-list albums in this exercise so far -- Nas' Illmatic last week and, more marginally, Aphex Twin's I Care Because You Do this week (not actually on Spin's list but I checked it out and gave it a slight edge over two high-B+ albums on the list, Selected Ambient Works 85-92 and Richard D. James Album). (Oh, already forgot about those two Smiths best-ofs, not on the list but picked up in my sweep.)
Not sure if I'll stick with this exercise. I was only missing 11 of the top 75 albums (14.6%), but I haven't heard 64 of the remaining 225 (28.4%), and wouldn't be surprised if the law of diminishing expectations kicks in. Indeed, it may alraedy have: I played three Smashing Pumpkins albums yesterday (including Gish, not on the Spin list). All three were better than I expected, but pricked no personal interest whatsoever. Slayer (77) comes next. Then Bikini Kill (80), but not on Rhapsody. Then A Tribe Called Quest (84), Pixies (86), J Dilla (90), Daft Punk (93), Blur (96), TLC (99), Guided by Voices (100) -- a stretch of records I can look forward to.
I've been rather slow going through the incoming mail, but this week brought in a new batch of Clean Feeds, two records from François Carrier, three from Ivo Perelman, and a pleasant change-of-pace from Scott Hamilton (I've had to go to Rhapsody to pick up six of his last eight albums). Still, may be a while before I get to them. I'll be out of town most of this coming week.
Memorial Day hadn't really sunk into my consciousness yesterday even though I wrote two Weekend Roundup items on the Iraq War and its beleaguered veterans. Thinking back today, one thing I wonder is when did the military come to dominate Memorial Day (or as it used to be called, Decoration Day). Many of my extended family members served in the armed forces during WWII, including my father, but none of them were killed in the war (one uncle war shot and partially disabled; another uncle saw sailors killed on both sides of him, but came out unscathed, only to die in a car accident six years later). Another bunch got caught up in Korea. One second cousin was killed in Vietnam (probably by a soldier under his command, an utter waste). But I don't recall singling out soldiers when as a child we'd go to cemeteries on Decoration Day -- we'd often wind up at the Flutey Cemetery in Arkansas, where several generations of my mother's family were buried. (Or more rarely at the Spearville [KS] Cemetery, where a comparable set of my father's relatives rested.) It used to be a day of remembering where you came from, one more poignant to my parents, who recalled more of the buried, than it ever was to me.
Before WWII most Americans had little experience with war or the army, aside from two notable instances. My grandfather (father's side, the only one I knew) was swept up in WWI and sent to Europe. A great-great-grandfather and his sons fought for Ohio in the Civil War and settled afterwards in Arkansas. About 405,000 Americans were killed in WWII, but that was still a small percentage of the population (0.307%), so the odds of a family like mine, with a dozen or more WWII soldiers, finishing with no death aren't bad. (Percentage-wise, the wars fought on US soil were much higher: 2.385% for the Civil War, 0.899% for the Revolutionary War. The shorter WWI was 0.110%. For other recent wars: Vietnam 0.030%, Korea Korea 0.020%, Iraq/Afghanistan ["War on Terror"] 0.002% -- source.)
The real difference is that wars up through WWII were exceptions to long periods where the US had virtually no Army. But since 1945 the US has fielded a huge standing Army as well as more clandestine operations like the CIA, and as such the nation has perpetually been on a war footing, more often than not actively engaged. If you look at the table of "United States military casualties of war" cited above, the only post-1945 years without military operations are: well, none. If we exclude the 1947-1991 USSR Cold War and 1950-1972 China Cold War lines, you get: 1954 (Korea ended in 1953, although a state of cold war continues to this day; Vietnam started in 1955, although the US supported France until its defeat in 1954); 1976-1979 (Vietnam ended in 1975, also followed by a cold war; operations in Iran and El Salvador started in 1980), and 1985 (between Beirut 1982-1984 and bombing Libya in 1986). The basic fact is that the United States has been at war all around the world ever since 1945. Of course, those wars produce dead soldiers, and those dead soldiers produce popular sympathy, so it's not surprising that the people who promote those wars should use Memorial Day to reinforce and perpetuate their warmongering. One irony of this is that we no longer have a day of rememberance for the people who actually built this country, the vast majority of our forbears who lived normal and industrious lives, because that day has been turned over to only recognize those Americans who have had their lives snatched away by America's imperial ambitions. That may not be so bad if we took the day to remind ourselves of the folly of those deaths, but officially at least we don't: we fly flags, salute, play taps, sometimes with pride swelling up, more often just self-pity. And we never comment on the deaths and destruction our wars have wrought: the chart above has no column for deaths and injuries we have caused. Indeed, in many cases we have no idea: estimates of Vietnamese dead range from 1.450 to 3.595 million (between 25 and 62 times the number of American dead). Nor could we care less.
Let me end this with a quote from Ray McGovern: How to Honor Memorial Day:
Meanwhile, enjoy the week's new music. It will help you get past today's orgy of necrophilia.
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, May 18. 2015
Music: Current count 24971  rated (+31), 407  unrated (+5).
Still closing in on 25,000 records rated -- odds about 50-50 that can be announced next week, although it still seems like a tall order. My "new records" count was way down last week, so the only way I cleared 30 was with "old records" -- more on that below.
Rhapsody Streamnotes appeared last week, so some of the following list was scooped there -- although at this point that seems like a long time ago. Dmitry Baevsky appeared there. The Fred Hersch set was well-regarded from last year, but I wasn't serviced on it and couldn't find it on Rhapsody. Turns out that a friendly publicist did handle the record and a download link showed up in a back catalog mailing. Maybe they figured I shouldn't be bothered with a mainstream piano trio, and that's probably a fair rule. However, it's a damn good one, and not the first A- Hersch has scored (OK, it's the second, along with dozens of eminently fine B+ records). Chris Monsen had it on his A-list last year.
Zooid (Henry Threadgill) will be a serious top-ten list contender. I was tempted to give it a full A, but felt that grade needs more time, and as a double I didn't feel like giving it that much time now -- I think I played one disc twice and the other three times. The group has historically done better in critics polls than on my lists, so go so far as to rank it the current favorite for EOY polls. (Main competition so far is the Lovano-Douglas Sound Prints album, and maybe the Jack DeJohnette title I haven't heard, Made in Chicago.) My list is still topped by Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter, fewer critics have heard it.)
Cracker's Berkeley to Bakersfield was a Christgau pick last week, and I gave it three plays before deciding it fell just short (though had they split it up I would have given the Bakersfield disc an A-). Turns out it was a late 2014 release, getting 1 point in last year's EOY Aggregate. The Willi Williams rasta-reggae disc was also a 2014 release, and didn't make the EOY Aggregate at all. I saw a review in Downbeat and gave it a chance.
Spin published a list last week with their picks for the 300 best albums of 1985-2014. I copied their list down here and added my grades, mostly to get a sense of how much I've missed over the years (initially, 81 records, for 27%). A fair number of those are albums I've been credibly warned against, but still I thought I'd make an effort to fill in the cracks. Working my way down, the Smiths' The Queen Is Dead was number 5 on the list, so I started there, followed by Nas (Illmatic was number 23) and Weezer (their first eponymous album was number 31). I skipped Metallica (Master of Puppets at 34, but not on Rhapsody), and I'm working on U2's Achtung Baby (number 37) as I write this. Coming up: Elliott Smith, Neutral Milk Hotel, Flaming Lips, Björk, Aphex Twin, The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, Slayer, Bikini Kill (number 80). Given that I've already rated 25 B, 13 B-, and 3 C+ records from the list, I don't expect much, but I also have slightly more than a third (103) at A- or above, now including Illmatic.
I suppose the thing that most disappointed me about the list was the seemingly inevitable first place finish for Nirvana's Nevermind -- a record (and for that matter a group) I find utterly ordinary, totally uninteresting. (I'm on record, after all, saying that I turned to jazz in the mid-1990s in reaction to my disinterest in grunge and gangsta.
Of course, the bigger issue is what's missing, which is quite a lot. Here's a first draft list of 44 omissions (not including jazz or best-ofs or compilations of older music), only one per artist (with some "also" notes). Everything here is A or higher, and I could probably double the list without dipping into A- records.
I went long on the Smiths, partly because I had Michael Tatum's Downloader's Diary Guide. He's more of a fan than I am, and also paid much more attention and writes at much greater depth. I miss his writing since Odyshape closed shop. Bright Eyes placed one record on Spin's list, but I just got to it before the list appeared. I had two of their CDs that I bought used a decade ago and found on the unrated shelf, so I thought I'd do some housekeeping, and wound up checking out the earlier albums for context. The unrated albums are organized better now, and I'll try to do a better job closing them out. (Unlike Bright Eyes, most are freebies I never had any interest in -- lot of soundtracks and gospel albums -- so we'll see.)
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Tuesday, May 12. 2015
Two days short of a month since April's column. As I approach the end of each column, I think I should hustle around and round up something special I haven't publicized before, but I've only added six albums since the latest Music Week, and it's just as possible that the most timely adds (Rhett Miller, Best Coast) got rushed. Playing Kamasi Washington as I write this, at least partly to forestall adding anything else late -- it's a 3-CD debut called The Epic which is sure to try my patience, but that can wait for later.
I won't bother repeating my comments from the last four Music Week columns, but check them for more info on, e.g., why I bothered with all those old Charles Lloyd albums. I will remind you that reviews with no bracketed source (e.g., "[cd]") are things I found on Rhapsody (hence the column name). As of Jan. 2014 I folded what was previously Jazz Prospecting into here, figuring that my share of jazz promos was declining and would continue to diminish. Still, I have 45 [cd] tags in the following, 4 more [cdr], but no [dl] -- a tag indicating a download link, usually something publicists prepare and send out. There should be more of the latter -- Lord knows I get 5-10 in emails per day, but the extra hassle rarely seems worth the trouble. (Actually, I do have quite a bit of new ECM piled up. But for me at least, the hassle is not just in the downloading but also in the playing. And I still don't have that Jack DeJohnette that everyone likes so much.)
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on April 14. Past reviews and more information are available here (6396 records).
Tony Adamo: Tony Adamo & the New York Crew (2015, Urban Zone): Does something he calls "hipspokenword" -- a fast-paced narration-commentary set against a fast swing rhythm, with trumpet (Tim Ouimette) and alto sax (Donald Harrison) for accents and swirls. You get a capsule history of several decades of jazz, plus some Pablo Picasso stories. Four previous albums, so maybe this isn't sui generis, but it's close. B+(***) [cd]
Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color (2015, ATO): Alabama group with a black female singer-guitarist who does a remarkable Otis Redding impression, originally a covers band and not far beyond that on their debut, but this album makes a strong move toward finding their own sound. I'm duly impressed, especially on the title song, but not consistently so, and sometimes they get on my nerves. B+(*)
Harry Allen: For George, Cole and Duke (2015, Blue Heron): A batch of Gershwin, Porter, and Ellington standards, played by the tenor saxophonist, backed by Ehud Asherie (piano), Nicki Parrott (bass), and Chuck Redd (drums and vibes), and Little Johnny Rivero (percussion, three cuts), with the seductive Parrott singing three tunes. Lovely, but perhaps a little too easy. B+(***)
Dmitry Baevsky: Over and Out (2014 , Jazz Family): Alto saxophonist, mainstream guy, from St. Petersburg in Russia, based in New York, fourth album -- only other one I've heard was his second, Down With It (2010), superb. Three originals, most of the rest shows a jazz pedigree -- a Jobim, a Monk, two Ellingtons. Very facile with a lovely tone, he continues to impress. A- [cd]
Juan Pablo Balcazar: Reversible (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish bassist, sets up attractive rhythms for piano trio with Marco Mezquida and Carlos Falanga, then adds tenor saxophonist Miguel "Pintxo" Villar for some added color. B+(**)
Perry Beekman: S'Wonderful: Perry Beekman Sings and Plays Gershwin (2015, self-released): Guitarist-singer, based in the old Borscht Belt, third album of standards (pecking order was Cole Porter, then Rodgers & Hart). Great songs. Not so great singer. Accompanied by Peter Tomlinson (piano) and Lou Pappas (bass). B [cd]
Thomas Bergeron: Sacred Feast (2015, self-released): Trumpet player, don't know if he's related to big band specialist Wayne Bergeron but after this record I should be able to tell them apart. "Inspired by the music of Olivier Messiaen" -- his previous album did something similar with Debussy -- who like most classical composers is mostly a namecheck to me. Melodies have some promise, and the trumpet is neatly woven in, but Becca Stevens' diva act is a huge turnoff. C+ [cd]
David Berkman: Old Friends and New Friends (2014 , Palmetto): Pianist, ten albums since 1995 although he seems to have stalled after 2004. Three saxes here -- Dayna Stephens, Billy Drewes, Adam Kolker -- plus bass (Linda Oh) and drums (Brian Blade). B+(**)
Best Coast: California Nights (2015, Harvest): California duo, Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno, third album as they try to update, or just slog behind, LA's pop legacy. Too much wall of sound for me to hear anything clearly or sort any of it out. If they've gotten deeper, tell me. If they've just gotten louder, forget it. B+(*)
Pat Bianchi Trio: A Higher Standard (2015, 21-H): Organ, guitar (Craig Ebner), drums (Byron Landham) trio. Standards are mostly jazz fare, but start with "Without a Song" and end with Stevie Wonder, sneaking in two Bianchi originals. B+(*) [cd]
Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers: Loved Wild Lost (2015, Little Sur): When a review suggested a back-to-the-country '70s hippie sound, I flashed on Joy of Cooking which isn't off by much. Real attractive sound, but the songs still need some sorting -- may just be that Joy was lead by two distinctive women whereas the Gramblers are led by the singer's husband. B+(**)
Joshua Breakstone: 2nd Avenue (2014 , Capri): Guitarist, has close to twenty albums since 1983, subtitles this one "The Return of the Cello Quartet" -- meaning Mike Richmond on cello, Lisle Atkinson on bass, and Andy Watson on drums. Mostly jazz standards, with one original each from Breakstone and Atkinson -- the former include an "I'm an Old Cowhand" cribbed from Sonny Rollins. B+(*)
Chicago Reed Quartet: Western Automatic (2014 , Aerophonic): Saxophone quartet with the occasional clarinet thrown in: Nick Mazzarella (alto), Dave Rempis (alto, tenor, baritone), Mars Williams (sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor), and Ken Vandermark (tenor, baritone, clarinet, bass clarinet). Lot of action especially on the baritone. B+(**) [cd]
Christine and the Queens: Saint Claude (2015, Neon Gold, EP): French group, or duo, or maybe just Héloïse Létissier, debut album (Chaleur Humaine) popped up on French EOY lists last year. Five cuts, 18:38. B+(**)
Ciara: Jackie (2015, Epic): Soul singer, still under 30 but she's been around more than a decade and this, named after her mother, shows signs of advance and maturity, not to mention tighter songwriting and stiffer resolve. She's not always a "bad motherfucker," but can rise to the occasion. B+(***)
Steve Coleman and the Council of Balance: Synovial Joints (2014 , Pi): Alto saxophonist, former M-Base impressario, comes up with a 21-piece orchestra (counting vocalist Jen Shyu, fair because she just blends in) that feels rather smaller, often playing a unison line that rarely shakes the idiosyncratic beat. Remarkable stuff, although I'm not that much of a fan. B+(***) [cd]
Marilyn Crispell/Gerry Hemingway: Table of Changes (2013 , Intakt): Piano-drums duo, recorded live at various spots in Europe. Third album by the Duo since 1992, although they go back further to Anthony Braxton's famed 1980s Quartet (with Mark Dresser). The knockabout opener is as remarkable as anything the format gets -- cf. Cecil Taylor and Irène Schweizer with various drummers -- and while they don't sustain that intensity, they serve up plenty of interesting variations. A- [cd]
Dead Sara: Pleasure to Meet You (2015, Pocket Kid): Hard rock band from LA, singer is Emily Armstrong (also on rhythm guitar), lead guitarist is Siouxsie Medley, with males filling in on bass and drums. Pretty good tune sense and a no shit attitude, but hard rock remains the opposite of nimble, and I'm not a volume person. B+(*)
Death Grips: The Powers That B (2014-15 , Electro Magnetic/Harvest, 2CD): From Sacramento, sort of a trash metal group lead by math rock drummer Zach Hill plus a rapper, Stefan Burnett nudging them into hip-hop or plain old brutality. I've never cared for them, still don't, but their noise attack is not without interest. Album incorporates last year's downloadable, Niggas on the Moon, with its Björk samples, not that I noticed much difference. The second disc is Jenny Death. B+(*)
Michael Dees: The Dream I Dreamed (2014 , Jazzed Media): Classic crooner, has been hired to fill in where Frank Sinatra was called for but unavailable (e.g., for HBO's The Rat Pack documentary, and for a Simpsons episide. Past 70, but doesn't seem to have much recorded. Surprise here is that he's doing all originals, while keeping the sound down pat. Mostly backed by Terry Trotter's piano trio, with a little sax from Doug Webb (aka Lisa Simpson). B+(***) [cd]
Roberta Donnay & the Prohibition Mob Band: Bathtub Gin (2015, Motéma Music): Former singer for Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks does another batch of 1920s standards. B+(*)
Dave Douglas: High Risk (2014 , Greenleaf Music): There was a buzz in jazz circles a decade or so ago over something called jazztronica. The main source was Thirsty Ear's (or should I say Matthew Shipp's) Blue Series, but many others dabbled, especially trumpet players (who could look back to Miles Davis, or forward to Nils Petter Molvaer), including Douglas, who resumes his interest with this quartet: Jonathan Maron (electric and synth basses), Mark Guiliana (acoustic and electric drums), and Shigeto (electronics). Still, I don't think I've ever heard electronics employed with such restraint, so what you get is elegiac trumpet, often quite lovely, over an indecipherable haze. B+(**) [cd]
Harris Eisenstadt: Golden State II (2014 , Songlines): Drummer-composer, originally formed this as a sort of chamber jazz group around his wife's bassoon (Sara Schoenbeck), with Nicole Mitchell on flute and Mark Dresser on bass. Second album was recorded live in Vancouver, with clarinet (Michael Moore) instead of the flute. B+(***) [cd]
Lorenzo Feliciati: Koi (2015, Rare Noise): Electric bassist, sometimes fretless, also plays guitar, keyboards, and does some programming here. Core group is a bass-keyb-drums trio, but there's also a horn section and various guests. Fusion, but much more going on. B+(***) [cdr]
Hugo Fernandez: Cosmogram (2014 , Origin): Guitarist, not sure where he's originally from (more specifically than "the American continent") but studied in New Orleans and at Berklee, moved to Madrid in 2006. Second album, quartet with tenor and soprano sax (Ariel Bringuez), bass (Antonio Miguel), and drums (Antonio Sanchez). Straight postbop, a little grit in the sax. B+(**) [cd]
Oleg Frish: Duets With My American Idols (2014 , Time Out Media): Russian singer, entertainer, TV personality, member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, moved to New York in 1992, reputed to sing in 24 languages. American idols? Connie Francis introduces, followed by Peggy March, Ben E. King, B.J. Thomas, Chris Montez, Lainie Kazan, Tony Orlando, Melissa Manchester, Lou Christie, Bobby Rydell ("Volare") -- it's hard to doubt a foreigner whose taste in Americana runs to such kitsch. B+(***) [cd]
Ghost Train Orchestra: Hot Town (2013 , Accurate): Trumpeter Brian Carpenter's third dive into "music from 1920's Chicago and Harlem, with a group more postmodernist than antiquarian: Dennis Lichtman, Andy Laster, and Petr Cancura on reeds, Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, Cynthia Sayer on bajo, Ron Caswell on tuba, and when they want to break out the train sounds Colin Stetson drops in on bass sax. Mazz Swift's two vocals aren't high points, but her violin adds something beyond trad. B+(***) [cd]
Ben Goldberg: Orphic Machine (2015, BAG): Clarinetist, has a substantial discography since 1991, describes this as his "most ambitious project" -- seems a fair assessment. The nine-piece band is intricate and precise, more tightly controlled than you'd expect with improvisers like Myra Melford and Nels Cline. Only three horns -- Rob Sudduth's tenor sax adds depth and Ron Miles' trumpet shine -- with violin and vibes in the mix. Violinist Carla Kihlstedt also sings, the lyrics from the late poet/critic Allen Grossman (1932-2014), a mentor of Goldberg's. B+(***)
Ayelet Rose Gottlieb: Roadsides (2014, Arogole Music): Canada-based Israeli vocalist offers this "possible peaceful vision of the Middle-East through a wise arrangement of Israeli and Palestinian poetry" (quote from Eyal Hareuveni's review), sung in Hebrew (with English trots in the package I don't have), so much of that I'll have to take on faith. Anat Fort's piano is delicate and precise, Ihab Nimer adds oud and violin, and the band includes guitar-bass-drums. B+(***)
Rich Halley 4: Creating Structure (2014 , Pine Eagle): Tenor saxophonist from Portland, has created an impressive body of work since he retired from his day job. Quartet with Michael Vlatkovich on trombone, Clyde Reed on bass, and son Carson Halley on drums. His sax intro is as impressive as ever, and when the trombone enters they bat things around at a furious pace. I wondered whether the ending was too much -- reportedly this is all free improv, by-product from another session -- but after many plays it fit right in. A- [cd]
Lauren Henderson: A La Madrugada (2015, self-released): Latin-tinged jazz singer from Massachusetts, has Latin roots and sings several songs in Spanish, wrote more than half the bunch (including the four Spanish titles). Jazz combo includes two trumpets and alto sax, but doesn't have much more than the usual Latin tinge. B+(**) [cd]
Hu Vibrational: Presents the Epic Botanical Beat Suite (2014 , MOD Technologies): A group of seven drummers, principally Adam Rudolph, credited with "compositions and organic arrangements" -- the only other name I recognize is Brahim Fribgane, whose favored drum is cajon (none of the seven use a trap set). The rhythm is as pleasant as one could imagine, and "special guests" (most famously Eivind Aarset on guitar and Bill Laswell on electric bass) add some tinsel. B+(***) [cd]
José James: Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday (2015, Blue Note): Nine songs well remembered from Holiday's songbook, saving "God Bless the Child" and "Strange Fruit" for last. James is sauve and tasteful, and the band is far more understated than you'd expect from Jason Moran, John Patitucci, and Eric Harland. B+(*)
Tyler Kaneshiro & the Highlands: Amber of the Moment (2013 , self-released): Trumpet player, based in New York, first album, intricately (and sometimes lushly) layered postbop, with Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on tenor sax, both guitar and piano, bass and drums. Stefon Harris produced. B+(**) [cd]
Kirk Knuffke: Arms & Hands (2015, Royal Potato Family): Cornet player, has been very prolific since 2007, especially in group or supporting roles -- his website lists 11 "upcoming in 2015" albums, three under his own name, and notes four more recorded but not yet scheduled. This is a trio with Mark Helias on bass and Bill Goodwin on drums, with guest spots for Brian Drye (trombone), Daniel Carter (alto sax), and Jeff Lederer (soprano/tenor sax). The Ernest Tubb closer "Thanks a Lot" is a delight. B+(***)
Heikki Koskinen/Teppo Hauta-Aho/Mikko Innanen: Kellari Trio (2011 , Edgetone): Finish group, translates as Cellar Trio (founded in Hauta-Aho's cellar), trumpet-bass-alto sax respectively although all play related instruments (trombone-cello-bari sax/flute) and get credits for percussion. Still, short on beat, feel close to chamber jazz but less classical than horror soundtrack. B+(*) [cd]
Urs Leimgruber/Jacques Demierre/Barre Phillips: 1 - 3 - 2 - 1 (2012 , Jazzwerkstatt): Avant sax trio, with Demierre on piano and Phillips on bass, the leader playing tenor and soprano. Fifth group album since 2001, the leader having a couple dozen since 1983. Title simplified above -- it actually includes various symbols and arrows. RAther abstract and not particularly gripping. B
Charles Lloyd: Wild Man Dance (2013 , Blue Note): Six-part suite commissioned by Jazzlopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland, where this was recorded live. The saxophonist brought a piano trio for backup -- Gerald Clayton, Joe Sanders, Eric Harland -- and picked up Sokratis Sinopoulos on lyra and Miklos Lukacs on cimbalom, who set up the eerie opening texture. Builds powerfully when the old man gets on his horn, but you get a lot of set up before much happens. B+(**)
Joe Locke: Love Is a Pendulum (2014 , Motéma Music): Vibraphonist, prolific since 1990, supplements his piano-bass-drums quartet (Robert Rodriguez, Ricky Rodriguez, co-producer Terreon Gully) with guests -- notably Rosario Giuliani on alto sax and Donny McCaslin on tenor, but also bits of guitar and steel pans and a Theo Bleckmann vocal -- for some sprightly and exceptionally complex postbop, most interesting when the timing gets slippery. B+(***) [cd]
LoneLady: Hinterland (2015, Warp): Julie Campbell's second album, her early work described as "art-punk," perhaps moderated by working on an electronica label although her song craft remains sharp and pointed. B+(***)
Lord Huron: Strange Trails (2015, Iamsound): Originally from Michigan, now based in LA where their indie folk shtick has picked up resonances from the Byrds to the Eagles. B+(**)
Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas: Sound Prints: Live at Monterey Jazz Festival (2013 , Blue Note): This comes down to chops, which is what you'd expect from two of the very top musicians on their instruments, tenor sax and trumpet, respectively. They're backed by Lawrence Fields (piano), Linda Oh (bass), and Joey Baron (drums): your basic hard bop lineup. Six pieces, two each from the leaders, plus two from Wayne Shorter to evoke the heyday of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. A-
Low Cut Connie: Hi Honey (2015, Ardent Music/Contender): From Philadelphia, third album, AMG classifies them as "retro-rock" but I don't see them as going back so much as plundering the past with postmodernist glee. Basically a guitar band until you notice the Jerry Lee piano -- where most groups are advised to find their own distinct sound, this one revels in all of them. A-
Harold Mabern: Afro Blue (2015, Smoke Sessions): Mainstream pianist, will turn 80 next year, backed by John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, with Eric Alexander's tenor sax on ten (of 14) tracks, Jeremy Pelt's trumpet on six, Steve Turre's trombone on four, and Peter Bernstein's guitar on one. So far, so good, but they decided to fill the album up with guest singers -- Gregory Porter, Norah Jones, Jane Monheit, Kurt Elling, Alexis Cole. The only one of those I would have kept was Jones, and maybe just on "Fools Rush In." B
The Magic Words: The Day We Ran Away (Magic Words Demos) (2015, self-released): Lisa Walker (of Wussy fame) side project, released a very limited edition album (Junk Train in 2006, recycled as a digital album last year. No info on when these demos were done, but only one song ("Watch Yer Back" in two takes) reappears. Demo-quality sound, rather down in the dumps. B+(*) [bc]
Phil Maturano: At Home Everywhere (2015, self-released): Drummer-led piano trio -- actually two, one with Matthew Fries and Phil Palombi, the other with Christian Torkewitz and Michael O'Brien or Irio O'Farril -- four (of nine) pieces by the drummer, one by Fries, others from jazz sources (Shorter, Gillespie, Carrisi). First album. Leader pushes them hard. B+(*) [cd]
Donny McCaslin: Fast Future (2014 , Greenleaf Music): Terrific tenor saxophonist, at least when he gets to blast through a solo on someone else's record. His own albums tend toward fancy postbop, but keyboardist Jason Lindner steers this toward dance grooves, which sort of confuses everyone. B+(*)
Barney McClure: Show Me! (2014 , OA2): Organ player, has a handful of albums since 1998, this one exceptional in that he's backed by a full big band (Central Western University Jazz Band, conducted by Chris Druya), mostly Phil Kelly arrangements. They breathe some fresh life into the old humdrum. B+(*) [cd]
Metallic Taste of Blood: Doctoring the Dead (2015, Rare Noise): Led by Eraldo Bernocchi (guitars, electronics), second group (bass-drums-keybs) album since 2012. Bass-heavy lead riffs, far short of heavy metal in intensity, which is to say more bearable, some kind of fusion form. B+(**) [cdr]
Marcus Miller: Afrodeezia (2015, Blue Note): Funk bassist, has a couple dozen albums since 1983, nothing I've paid much attention to but this one has some prestige due to the label and his recent "work as a UNESCO artist for peace." Core group with sax, trumpet, piano, guitar and drums, plus a long list of guests climaxing with Chuck D. Album has its moments: "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" is one tune which holds up to the minimal bass fuzz technique, Ben Hong's Bizet feature is lovely, and Mocean Worker creats a soft cell for D's short rap. B+(*)
Rhett Miller: The Traveler (2015, ATO): Leads a pretty decent alt-rock band called Old 97's since 1992 but has a half-dozen solo albums, some pretty good (too), most with titles like this (The Instigator, The Believer, The Dreamer, a covers album The Interpreter). The solos are a bit lighter, more keyb than guitar. This starts off remarkably jaunty, but my one-spin intuition is that the songs won't stick. B+(**)
Allison Moorer: Down to Believing (2015, E1): Country singer/songwriter, ninth album since 1998, has a credit in all the songs here except for the John Fogerty cover. Recently divorced from Steve Earle -- never struck me as a match but this one is much stronger than her last few (e.g., "Mama Let the Wolf In"). B+(**)
The Mowgli's: Kids in Love (2015, Republic): L.A. pop group, named after a dog named after a Kipling Jungle Book character, with a gratuitous apostrophe noted on Wikipedia as "sic." Seven players, boy and girl lead singers and everyone joining in the crowd choruses. When I was growing up irony provided a refuge for art, but these days you're more likely to hear that irony is dead, so maybe it's time someone made something out of such earnestness. I might have hated them forty years ago -- indeed, I recall groups like them then -- but they're one of the few things that make me feel good about kids today. Wonder if they know Kipling's a notorious racist? I'm sure they'd be appalled. A-
Brad Myers: Prime Numbers (2014-15 , Colloquy): Guitarist, second album (at least), in a quintet with tenor sax (Ben Walkenhauer), vibes (Chris Barrick), bass and drums. Has a background playing funk, but this is straight up postbop, with nice little accents. B+(*) [cd]
Pascal Niggenkemper: Look With Thine Ears: Solo (2014 , Clean Feed): Bassist, describes himself as German-French, based in New York, has a few records under his own name, more as PNTrio and Baloni. This is solo, bass and "preparations" which set loose a wide range of industrial klang, some quite captivating. B+(**) [cd]
Michael Oien: And Now (2014 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist-composer, first album, postbop quintet leads with guitar (Matthew Stevens), layering the piano (Jamie Reynolds) and alto sax (Nick Videen), adding an extra tenor sax (Travis Laplante) on the third song for a high point. Three "Dreamer" parts follow, where the bass comes back into focus. B+(***) [cdr]
Opus: Definition (2014 , BluJazz): Jazz quintet from Wisconsin, look like they've been around a while but first album I can find. Electric guitar, bass, and keybs, plus Curt Hanrahan on woodwinds (four saxes and quite a bit of flute). B [cd]
Mario Pavone: Blue Dialect (2014 , Clean Feed): Bassist, has a couple dozen albums since 1982. This is a piano trio, with Billy Mitchell and Tyshawn Sorey, and it's lively, inventive, what you'd hope for in a piano trio. Still, after four or five plays, this never did more than impress me. I wondered if maybe it's that "problem" I have with piano trios, but I looked it up and found I gave Pavone's previous piano trio, 2013's Arc Trio, an A-. That one was with Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver. B+(***) [cd]
Peach Kelli Pop: Peach Kelli Pop III (2015, Burger, EP): Third short album (10 songs, 20:24) for Allie Hanlon's lo-fi punk/pop project, this one assembled as a band. B+(*)
Plunge: In for the Out (2014 , Immersion): Third group album I've been filing under trombonist Mark McGrain, who dominates even with two saxophones, aided no doubt by Kirk Joseph on sousaphone. Robert Walter moves things along with a funk groove on organ. B+(*) [cd]
Protoje: Ancient Future (2015, Indiggnation Collective/Overstand): A young reggae artist, gets something of the traditional sound with a more contemporary sheen. Interesting how something so basic still sounds so compelling. A-
Jure Pukl: The Life Sound Pictures of Jure Pukl (2014, Fresh Sound New Talent): Saxophonist (tenor, soprano) from Slovenia, has a couple albums, this one recorded in New York with Sam Harris (piano), Adam Rogers (guitar), Joe Sanders (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). Strong driving originals, a solo (tenor) take on "Lush Life," a guest vocal by Sachal Vasandani. B+(**)
Billie Rainbird: Deep Blue (2015, Phantom): Canadian singer-songwriter, also does some modeling and acting, figures this her "major album" debut, produced by drummer Simon Phillips who keeps it rocking hard. B+(*) [cd]
The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Cash and Carry (2014 , Aerophonic): Dave Rempis, first noticed on alto sax when he replaced Mars Williams in the Vandermark 5, where he was so impressive he started crowding Vandermark out of the tenor sax slot (plays some impressive baritone here too). Fifth album by his two drummer (Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly) quartet, with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass. Basically a blowing session, recorded live at the Hungry Brain in Chicago -- what more could you ask for? A- [cd]
Gloria Reuben: Perchance to Dream (2014 , MCG Jazz): Canadian actress, from Toronto, parents from Jamaica (mother black, father Jewish), had a role on ER for six years. Wikipedia lists 19 films and 14 television series she appeared in, but no records. Standards (but not very), arranged by trombonist Jay Ashby, her voice grows on you. B+(**) [cd]
Eve Risser: Des Pas Sur La Neige (2013 , Clean Feed): Solo piano, mostly prepared, but goes for long stretches at a barely audible level -- makes it hard to focus or say anything, although the plucked strings and klang are not without interest. First album, after a half-dozen side credits since 2009. B [cd]
Claire Ritter: Soho Solo (2014 , Zoning): Solo piano, mostly original pieces plus one by Ran Blake and one by Harold Arlen. Takes some time to settle in, but I particularly liked her The Stream of Pearls Project (2011), so gave it the extra spins. B+(***) [cd]
Harvie S/Sheryl Bailey: Plucky Strum (2014 , Whaling City Sound): Bass-guitar duets, the former, oft-misspelled Mr. Swartz well established even under his adopted name, the latter a guitarist with eight (or so) albums since 1995. Not as amusing, or as light, as the cover suggests. B+(*) [cd]
Marta Sánchez Quintet: Partenika (2014 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist from Madrid, Spain, debuts with a "New York Quintet" including two saxes (Jerome Sabbagh and Román Filiú), bass and drums. Postbop, the saxes adding to the pervasive sense of flow. B+(**) [cd]
Nisse Sandström Quintet: Live at Crescendo (2014 , Moserobie): Swedish tenor saxophonist, b. 1942, not as well known as Bernt Rosengren but their 1984 album together was titled Summit Meeting. Quintet includes a second tenor, the much younger Jonas Kullhammar, an avant player with respect for his elders -- his superb Gentlemen from last year included a few cuts with Rosengren. Mainstream, a friendly pairing, reminds me of those Al Cohn-Zoot Sims soirées. B+(***) [cd]
Elliott Sharp: Octal: Book Three (2013 , Clean Feed): Solo guitar, third in this series but there must be dozens in Sharp's vast catalogue. Manages both to coax unusual sounds from the instrument and to marshall them in unexpected ways, but they feel like sketches, almost as if he were presenting assignments for his I Never Meta Guitar series colleagues to follow up on. B+(***) [cd]
Shlohmo: Dark Red (2015, True Panther Sounds): Henry Laufer, LA beatmaker, goes for shrill synths to open but soon finds one of the more compelling rhythm runs of recent times. B+(***)
Adam Shulman Sextet: Here/There (2014 , OA2): Pianist, has a few records, Sextet includes trumpet and two saxes, good enough for the usual range of postbop sonorities. B [cd]
Skrillex/Diplo: Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü (2015, Mad Decent/OWSLA): I've seen the artists listed both ways, in and out of the title. Skrillex provides his usual outlandish sonic fireworks, but at least they have some content to support -- presumably thanks to Diplo, although all but the intro have feat. credits -- Justin Bieber, Bunji Garlin, 2 Chainz, etc. Tatum says this is a "nonstop pleasure machine." B+(***)
Steve Smith and Vital Information NYC Edition: Viewpoint (2011 , BFM Jazz): Fusion/crossover drummer, called his 1983 debut Vital Information and has enjoyed that as a band name ever since -- the qualification suggesting some recent personnel juggling. Indeed, only bassist Baron Browne and guitarist Vinny Valentino return from previous albums; the newcomers are Mark Soskin (keybs) and Andy Fusco (alto sax), with tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf joining for a couple cuts. Aims less for pop jazz than for its own classic status, including covers of "Bemsha Swing," "Take Five," and "Oleo." B+(*) [cd]
Mavis Staples: Your Good Fortune (2015, Anti, EP): Produced by Jeff Tweedy, four songs, 14:05: a first-rate protest anthem in "Fight," one on luck, one on death, one on God, each brought with the conviction of one of the great gospel singers. B+(***)
Sult: Svimmelhed (2014, Humbler/Conrad Sound): Norwegian group, two contrabasses, acoustic guitar, percussion -- third album, more like experimental noise than jazz although I don't doubt an improvisational element. B+(**) [cd]
Tal National: Zoy Zoy (2015, Fat Cat): Group from Niger, second album (at least outside of Niger), brings the Sahara's spare desert aesthetic to more sophisticated sources, triangulating between Senegal's ever-shifting Afro-Cuban rhythms and Kinshasa's junkyard percussion -- fancy and crude at once, and overpowering. B+(***)
Toro y Moi: What For? (2015, Carpark): Chez Bundick, from South Carolina, cranks up the Beatles-ish harmonies for his fuzzy electropop. B+(*)
Boubacar Traoré: Mbalimaou (2014 , Lusafrica): Guitar and vocals from a Malian (and Parisian) singer-songwriter, with a soft touch and reassuring but resonant voice, about as basic as desert blues can get. B+(**)
John Tropea: Gotcha Rhythm Right Here (2014 , STP): Guitarist, cut his first album in 1975 after side credits with Deodato and Billy Cobham, may explain the heavy disco vibe to his "gotcha rhythm" here. B- [cd]
Tyler, the Creator: Cherry Bomb (2015, Odd Future): After two records where Tyler Okonma seemed intent on establishing his own peculiar twist on juvenilia, he's growing up a bit. Still not ready to emerge clearly from the murk, but now he's wondering if murk isn't its own reward. B+(*)
Viet Cong: Viet Cong (2015, Jagjaguwar): Guitar band from Calgary, had an EP last year that got some attention but I thought undistinguished. On their debut album here, however, they have a coherent sound, a fast-paced metallic clang and drone, just one that has yet to generate substantial songs. B+(**)
Eli Wallace/Jon Arkin/Karl Evangelista: Cabbages, Captain, & King (2014 , Edgetone): Cover just has title, so a good case can be made for that as the group name, but I cribbed the artist name off the hype sheet and prefer the extra information. Besides, this is very much Wallace's album, all compositions his, his piano much more prominent than Evangelista's guitar or Arkin's drums. Eloquent, too, and develops some edge. B+(***) [cd]
Katharina Weber/Fred Frith/Fredy Studer: It Rolls (2014 , Intakt): Piano-guitar-drums trio, although it's less than obvious that Frith's unexpected sounds come from a guitar. Weber is Swiss, from Bern, with a couple previous albums. Her piano provides a solid center here; less sure what to make of Frith. B+(**) [cd]
Daniel Weltlinger: Koblenz (2012-13 , Rectify): Violinist, from Australia with "French-Hungarian-Israeli" roots, goes for a gypsy jazz vibe, rotating many guest-collaborators in and out, including a guitarist named Lulo Reinhardt. B+(**) [cd]
Ben Williams: Coming of Age (2014 , Concord Jazz): Bassist, second album, won one of those Monk prizes which condemns you to record for Concord. Group includes both guitar and piano aiming at their least common denominator, middleground melodic mush, and he gets surprisingly little out of Marcus Strickland. The guests, including vocalist Goapele, add little, not that I didn't enjoy W. Ellington Felton's "Toy Soldies" rap. B-
Dwight Yoakam: Second Hand Heart (2015, Warner Brothers): Strikes not one but two rockabilly poses on the cover, and truth is he rocks this album harder than ever before, while his voice still has enough twang to hold his audience -- and if that doesn't work, he covers "Man of Constant Sorrow." I should be pleased, but mostly I'm just annoyed. B
Young Fathers: White Men Are Black Men Too (2015, Big Dada): Not really fair to judge this on one spin, but I don't feel like giving it another, even hearing things that are new and pathbreaking. Nominally a hip-hop trio from Edinburgh, there is little rap here -- murk more like Black Messiah done up by Death Grips. Title song, by the way, is more qualified: "some white men" which strikes me as something else. [OK, gave it a second spin, and nudged it up a little.] B+(**)
Young Guv: Ripe 4 Luv (2015, Slumberland): Solo project from Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook, eschews the group's post-hardcore sound for a sprightly beat and some guitar jangle while kicking the vocals into a much sweeter register. B+(***)
Zubatto Syndicate: Zubatto Syndicate 2 (2015, Boscology): Fourteen-piece big band from Seattle led by guitarist Andrew Boscardin, group includes two brass, three saxes, five other reeds including oboe and two bassoons, electric keybs -- instrumental prog rock more than anything else, not that I feel like dissecting it. C+ [cdr]
Zun Zun Egui: Shackles' Gift (2015, Bella Union): UK funk-metal-worldbeat-pop group from Bristol, led by Mauritian singer-guitarist Kushal Gaya and Japanese keyboardist Yoshino Shigihara. B+(*)
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Art-i-facts: Great Performances From 40 Years of Jazz at NEC (1973-2008 , New England Conservatory): A little scattered, but they must have had tons of material to pick from, so eclecticism is diplomacy. The lineup reads like a hall of fame of jazz education -- George Russell, George Garzone, Gunther Schuller, Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Giuffre, Steve Lacy, Rakalam Bob Moses, Ran Blake -- with the fine print filled by students (probably some famous names there too). Highlights include Garzone showing us how to play Coltrane, and Schuller dredging up old ragtime. B+(***) [cd]
James Booker: Gonzo: Live 1976 (1976 , Rockbeat, 2CD): The fanciest of New Orleans pianists, dead young at 43 in 1983, his thin catalog mostly recorded live with these sets from Germany adding a couple hours -- redundant in some cases, remarkable in most. A-
Wild Bill Davison: The Jazz Giants (1968 , Delmark/Sackville): Cornet player, came up in Eddie Condon's group, his first recordings under his own name in 1943 for Commodore (cf. The Commodore Master Takes, collected in 1997 by GRP and highly recommended). Standard trad fare here, a sextet with Herb Hall on clarinet, Benny Morton on trombone, and Claude Hopkins on piano, his own tone towering and shining. A- [cd]
Dion: Recorded Live at the Bitter End August 1971 (1971 , Omnivore): Author of many doo wop hits in the late-1950s, Dion DiMucci had a notable second act as a folksinger -- see Bronx Blues: The Columbia Recordings (1962-1965) -- and a couple not completely unsuccessful comeback years later (2012's Tank Full of Blues is one of the better ones). Tempting to say this is where he hit bottom, but that's the inevitable thinness of solo performance, with just his acoustic guitar for comfort. Only reprises two of his hits far down the set list, but finds something in "Too Much Monkey Business" much weightier than what Chuck Berry had in mind. B
The Kingbees: The Kingbees (1980 , Omnivore): Rockabilly revival band led by Canadian-born Jamie James, who went on to release a couple solo albums after two group albums. This is the first, the original ten cuts (two covers, Don Gibson and Ahmet Ertegun) expanded to eighteen cuts -- the last three show them to be a first-rate cover band ("Bo Diddley," "Not Fade Away," and a "Somethin' Else" uncannily echoing the Flaming Groovies version from a decade earlier). B+(**)
Bob Marley & the Wailers: Easy Skanking in Boston '78 (1978 , Island/Tuff Gong): Possibly the beginning of a flood of live Marley on top of the two live albums released in his lifetime -- the magnificent Live (1976) and the tedious Babylon by Bus (1978) -- this at least delivers greatest hits with a little extra heat, and reminds me that while they yearned for peace they didn't expect it to come easy. Probably packaged with a DVD, which I haven't seen (and probably never will). A-
Next Stop Soweto, Vol. 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco and Mbaqanga 1975-1985 (1975-85 , Strut): This series has generally tried to stay off the beaten path that produced such classic compilations as The Indestructible Beat of Soweto (five volumes), The Kings and Queens of Township Jive, and Soweto Never Sleeps, the result being second-rate trivia. Same here, but the rock and disco here is deliriously derivative, transposing familiar riffs into an alternate universe where they become iconic. Fun, too. A-
PC Music Volume 1 (2013-15 , PC Music): Sampler from a UK label, ten short songs (29:46) by seven artists (two each by Hannah Diamond, A.G. Cook, and GFOTY), mostly cartoonish dance-pop with "high-pitched, cutesy female vocals." B+(**)
Punk 45: Burn Rubber City, Burn! Akron, Ohio: Punk and the Decline of the Mid West 1975-80 (1975-80 , Soul Jazz): A relatively small scene, but it produced Chris Butler and Ralph Carney and their bands (Tin Huey, the Waitresses), Devo, the Bizarros, Rubber City Rebels, Jane Aire, Chi Pig, a few more -- nice to see them rounded up like this. B+(***)
Punk 45: Extermination Nights in the Sixth City: Cleveland, Ohio: Punk and the Decline of the Mid West 1975-82 (1975-82 , Soul Jazz): My recollection was that Cleveland was always a bit less populous than Baltimore, and by 1975 Houston (and possibly others) were larger, but Cleveland's bona fides were such that they built a Rock & Roll Museum there. The obscure punk bands archived here were sharp as tacks, and Pere Ubu was brilliant (for some reason Rhapsody omits two Pere Ubu cuts plus one from the related Rocket From the Tombs -- songs I know so well I can fill them in from memory; beware they're also missing from the MP3 release). A-
Leroy Smart: The Don Tells It Like It Is . . . (1972-77 , Kingston Sounds): Prolific reggae musician -- Discogs credits him with 39 albums and 368 singles, and lists this as a compilation, with Bunny Lee as producer, Jackie Mittoo on piano, Sly & Robbie the rhythm. Still, I was only able to track down half the songs, some (like "Pride and Ambition") appearing several times, some with variant titles (e.g., "Man Is Great" vs. "Man Is So Great"), so my dates are little more than a guess -- the main clue being that Smart started producing himself in 1977. B+(***)
James Booker: Junco Partner (1976, Rounder): First record by the New Orleans "piano wizard," shows his classical pedigree by opening with a Chopin waltz, then moves on to "Goodnight Irene," "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "Make a Better World," and a medley that wraps it all up and throws in the kitchen sink. Sings some, too, which isn't his forte. B+(**)
Jaki Byard and the Apollo Stompers: Phantasies II (1988 , Soul Note): A cutting-edge postbop pianist usually heard in small groups, surprisingly comes up with a retro-flavored big band, complete with singers Vincent Lewis ("June Night") and Diane Byard ("Send in the Clowns"). B+(**)
King Curtis & Champion Jack Dupree: Blues at Montreux (1971 , Atlantic/Rhino): Basically, the New Orleans piano blues master's standard set, something he started working out in the 1940s -- see New Orleans Barrelhouse Boogie (1940-41 , Columbia/Legacy) -- and aged like fine wine up to 1991's Forever and Ever (Bullseye). But the tenor saxophonist was built to play blues riffs, and he not only answers every line Dupree feeds him, he elicits some spectacular piano. A-
Ben Goldberg: Eight Phrases for Jefferson Rubin (1996 , Victo): In memory of Jefferson Darrow Rubin (1959-95), a sculptor and childhood friend of Goldberg's. Clarinet, with Larry Ochs (tenor/soprano sax), John Schott (guitar), bass and drums. A little flighty at first, but Ochs pushes it over to the free side. B+(**)
Coleman Hawkins/Henry "Red" Allen: Reunion in Hi-Fi: The Complete Classic Sessions (1957-58 , Lone Hill Jazz, 2CD): Rhapsody has a different cover and subtitle (Complete 1950s Studio Recordings), drops Allen from the credit, and lists the label as Plenty Jazz, but it looks to match this set from the Fresh Sound subsidiary. Hawkins and Allen met in Fletcher Henderson's orchestra and recorded together in 1934, hence the reunion. Hawkins moved on through bebop in the 1940s, so this is one of his few later trad-oriented recordings: indeed, the first disc is a session that was originally released under Allen's name as Ride, Red, Ride (1957) and reissued as World on a String (1991, RCA -- I gave it a full A). The second disc includes three sessions, released on two LPs and collected as Standards and Warhorses (1987, Jass). I gave the latter a B, but no longer hear much drop off. For Allen's classic work, see his 1929-30 New York Orchestra (two volumes on JSP), his 1930s recordings on Collector's Classics (four volumes, especially the first), and his 1933 with Hawkins, but he never sounded better than on the first disc here. Hawkins was always great. A-
Charles Lloyd: Discovery! (1964, Columbia): After associations with Chico Hamilton and Cannonball Adderley, the tenor saxophonist's first album, a quartet with Don Friedman on piano, Eddie Kahn or Richard Davis on bass, J.C. Moses or Roy Haynes on drums. Reveals an impressive new "voice" on tenor sax. Also a guy who plays more flute than is warranted. B+(**)
Charles Lloyd: Nirvana (1962-65 , Columbia): Skipping past Of Course, Of Course (I have the 2006 Mosaic reissue, a very solid A-), Lloyd's third (and last) Columbia album didn't appear until his Atlantic success. Album is split: Side A is attributed to "Charles Lloyd & His Quintet" but sources credit Gabor Szabo, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams (or Pete LaRoca); Side B is an older 14:38 track from Lloyd's tenure with the Chico Hamilton Quintet (also with Szabo). B+(**)
The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Dream Weaver (1966, Atlantic): The saxophonist had already cut three albums for Columbia (including the excellent Of Course, Of Course), but this was the first on Atlantic and his first with these young future all-stars -- Keith Jarrett (21), Cecil McBee (31), and Jack DeJohnette (24). My main quibble is that Lloyd opens and closes on flute. B+(***)
Charles Lloyd: Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd at Monterey (1966 , Atlantic): Lloyd's early tenor sax style was often dismissed as "Coltrane light" but he takes that as a badge of courage here, and even shows a nice ballad style. Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette are rarely short of brilliant, and Cecil McBee's bass ties it all together. A-
The Charles Lloyd Quartet: The Flowering of the Original Charles Lloyd Quartet (1966 , Atlantic): Drawn from two live dates in France and Norway (the latter also the source for Charles Lloyd in Europe). Seems like a lot of flute here: one plus is that it doesn't overwhelm the very bright rhythm section. B+(**)
The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Charles Lloyd in Europe (1966 , Atlantic): Live set, recorded Oct. 29 in Oslo, Norway, again with Jarrett-McBee-DeJohnette. All Lloyd originals this time, starting with two name-checking India ("Tagore" and "Karma"). B+(**)
The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Love-In (1967, Atlantic): Recorded live at the Fillmore in San Francisco, the cover wrapped in day-glo, a plunge into the hippie market with pieces like "Tribal Dance" and "Temple Bells," a Beatles cover, two pieces by enfant terrible pianist Keith Jarrett, and a blues jam. Sounds a little thin, but a credible attempt to sell avant-jazz to the masses. Ron McClure replaces Cecil McBee on bass. B+(***)
The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Journey Within (1967, Atlantic): More from the Fillmore, and more scattered, with some upbeat boogie/blues, more avant edge, especially on the cut where Jarrett jumps in on soprano sax -- always a scary proposition. B+(*)
The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Charles Lloyd in the Soviet Union (1967 , Atlantic): Recorded live in Tallinn in the Estonian SSR, four longish cuts totalling 47:54 -- by all reports a very successful tour by one of the period's most successful jazz groups. All of Lloyd's 1960s albums have leaned avant, but he's rarely come out as aggressively as here. And when he does back off (actually, switch to flute) Jarrett is quick to pick up the slack. B+(***)
Charles Lloyd: Soundtrack (1968 , Atlantic): Actually, another live quartet album, this one from Town Hall in New York City. Four pieces, a Latin groove on the 10:26 opener and a rockish one on the 16:51 closer, both busting open by Jarrett and DeJohnette -- soon to leave Lloyd for Miles Davis, then go on to major careers as leaders (although DeJohnette wound up playing in Jarrett's Standards Trio for more than thirty years). B+(***)
Paul Motian: The Story of Maryam (1983 , Soul Note): Rhapsody, which has a habit of misfiling records on Black Saint and Soul Note, lists this under Joe Lovano. Motian led a long-term trio with Lovano and Bill Frisell, expanded here to quintet with Jim Pepper on tenor/soprano sax and Ed Shuller on bass. B+(**)
Paul Motian Quintet: Jack of Clubs (1984 , Soul Note): Same group, better balance, which is to say Frisell's guitar and Pepper's soprano sax are more evident, amplifying the warped indeterminacy of Motian's zen beat. But wanders more too. B+(**)
Manfred Schulze Bläser Quintett: Nummer 12 (1985 , FMP): German baritone saxophonist (1934-2010), only led a handful of records. For this one he assembled a sax choir (two sopranos and a tenor) plus Johannes Bauer on trombone, a wild card as usual. One 40-minute piece, split on the original LP. B+(**) [bc]
Leroy Smart: Superstar (1977, Justice): First proper album after a number of singles, produced by Bunny Lee, engineered by King Tubby and Prince Jammy, effectively the confluence of all those sources with due respect to Jah. But for a singles artist he doesn't seem to have a well developed feel for the hook. B+(**)
Stooges Brass Band: It's About Time (2003, The Gruve Label): New Orleans brass band, formed by Walter Ramsey in 1996 after seeing Rebirth Brass Band and thinking he could do the same thing only hipper and more raucous. Group's still kicking around, with some recent live albums I've looked for but haven't found. Stumbled on this debut. Horns owe more to Fred Wesley than to Kid Ory, the polyrhythms run amok, the raps fall short of state of the art. B+(**)
Cecil Taylor Workshop Ensemble: Legba Crossing (1988 , FMP): One of eleven CDs released from the avant-jazz pianist's big month in Berlin, a ten piece orchestra with flute, oboe, three saxes, trombone, violin, piano (Paul Plimley, not Taylor), bass, and drums, plus Trudy Morse's voice, with Taylor directing the controled chaos. B+(***) [bc]
Additional Consumer News:
I went with the original LP lineups for Charles Lloyd's Atlantics above. They have been much reissued on CD, often in "twofer" (2-on-1) formats. I have one combining Journey Within with In Europe (1966-67 , Collectables), and a 2-CD combination of Dream Weaver and Love-In released as Just Before Sunrise (1966-67 , 32 Jazz, 2CD). Collectables also released twofers of Soundtrack/Charles Lloyd in the Soviet Union (1999), and The Flowering of the Original Charles Lloyd Quartet/Warne Marsh (1999), the latter having nothing to do with Lloyd. A better deal is Forest Flower/Soundtrack (, Rhino/Atlantic) -- currently the easiest way to find the former, and the latter drops off very little.
Monday, May 11. 2015
Music: Current count 24940  rated (+31), 402  unrated (-5).
Did a count check late last night and was at 29 -- tempting to cut off there since that seems to be my number, but I filed two more discs before getting around to reshuffling the bits this afternoon. I made some progress sorting through the CDs in my work area, finding a lot of things I haven't seen in years -- even some CDs that I never managed to list in the database. Still have five baskets on the floor for sorting, but that should reduce to one for the incoming queue, or I might even manage to slip them into a mostly empty shelf right in front of me. Next step after that will be to clear off the desktop clutter. When I was working, I used to regard anyone with a clear desk as unproductive (to say the least), but it is nice to periodically get to the bottom of it all and clear out the most useless crud.
This week's new jazz mostly confirms old favorites, although I should note that five former A-list artists fell a bit short (David Berkman, Steve Coleman, Dave Douglas, Claire Ritter, Elliott Sharp; I haven't heard anything previous by Nisse Sandström, but Jonas Kullhammar is on the record). The Coleman and Douglas records will certainly have their fans, and will fare better in year-end polls than Crispell/Hemingway or Rempis.
As for old jazz, Red Allen's World on a String (RCA) is an old favorite, and accounts for the first half of the Hawkins/Allen compilation. Turns out I had heard, and almost certainly underrated, nearly all of the rest. I've often shied away from playing Fresh Sound's reissues -- often things like 4 LPs on 2 CDs -- on Rhapsody because it's hard to focus over such length. (At least with real CDs it's normal to absorb box sets piecemeal, but the extra work that demands when streaming usually defeats me.) Otherwise, they have a lot of recent releases that would tempt me (that I might even buy if the dollar was stronger and I was in an acquisitive mood): especially the 4-CD Lars Gullin: Portrait of the Legendary Baritone Saxophonist: Complete 1956-1960 Studio Recordings -- based on what I've heard, quite possibly a solid A. They also have two collections of George Russell's early work: the 2-CD Complete 1956-1960 Smalltet & Orchestra Recordings and the 4-CD Sextet & Septet: The Complete 1960-1962 Decca & Riverside Album Collection. You can find grades for most of the constituent LPs in my database, starting with the solid A (and long out-of-print) 1956 Jazz Workshop.
Most of the non-jazz below was suggested by Spin's Overlooked Albums Report. I didn't A-list anything there, but Ciara and LoneLady came real close, followed by Shlohmo and Young Guv. Nothing bad on Spin's list. I've started to include some limited grade info in the 2015 Music Tracking file, although there's little chance that I'll keep it up to date. Does help to give me hints as to what to look for.
Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes tomorrow (or something like that). Draft file currently has 118 records, so if anything it's overdue. Note that I'm probably two (maybe three) weeks away from crossing the 25,000 rated albums mark.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, May 4. 2015
Music: Current count 24909  rated (+20), 407  unrated (+3).
Rated count fell significantly this week. I'd like to blame it on Rhapsody, which did one of those redesign things "to give you a better experience" and got rid of the "Browse" option. My modus operandi of late has been to play a new CD when I'm not at the computer -- the stereo is set up to play in the kitchen/dining room and basement as well as in my office space -- then look on Rhapsody when I know I'm going to be on the computer for a while. Sometimes I have something I've searched for there, but often I just browse to see what pops up. Except I can't do that any more. I've written two angry letters. Maybe it's time to drop them and pick up Spotify? My experiments with the latter were far from satisfactory, but that was with their "free" account. I've never found much difference in what's available, so it's mostly a choice between one sucky/piggy UI and another.
But there's another reason for the rated count drop. I've spent several days on a woodworking project: building a wheeled cabinet on which I'll mount my cheapo Ryobi router table (basically designed as a table-top unit, although it's really too high on top of a full workbench). Got it assembled and a first coat of paint on it. Should take another coat plus some touch-up and a handle, so a couple days (depending on weather). I've never done much with it (or any of my routers), although it should be a sweet setup. Does at least get it off my floor, and adds a storage drawer which should be more than enough to hold all my router bits. Organization of the tools areas is if anything a more pressing need than clean up of books or CDs.
Probably a week away from May's Rhapsody Streamnotes (tempted to drop the brand name there). Currently have 75 records in the draft file. Four (of six) A-list records this week come from scrounging through the Expert Witness notices -- Booker from Christgau, Protoje from Gubbels, Marley and King Curtis/Champion Jack Dupree from Phil Overeem. I got hep to Rich Halley many years ago. I don't think the new one is his best, but it may be the hardest, and after six or seven plays I gave up my reservations. As for Davison, I still hold that the old jazz is the real jazz. A cornet player, he's a name I'm familiar with but haven't listened to much -- shows up mostly on Eddie Condon records -- but he sounds brilliant here, even way past his prime. Someone to look into deeper.
No time for Weekend Roundup yesterday. No telling when the tweet reviews will resume.
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, April 27. 2015
Music: Current count 24889  rated (+34), 404  unrated (-4).
Another very frustrating week, leaving me very little to say here. The two A- compilations are marginal, but scratched particular itches. The Cleveland comp should be even better with the missing Pere Ubu and Rocket From the Tombs cuts restored (the latter was "Life Stinks," which later appeared on Pere Ubu's The Modern Dance -- a good candidate for my all-time top ten). Soul Jazz generally has excellent booklets, but I haven't seen this one. The three previous Next Stop Soweto comps got various shades of B+. They nibble around the edges of South African pop, but what made the difference here wasn't better songs so much as a trashier, more amusing (and more upbeat) vibe.
Lots of Christgauvians will go for the Low Cut Connie (see Jason Gubbels) but I fear that no one I know will like the Mowgli's. First thing I read about them talked about Beach Boys-Byrds L.A. pop, but they're closer in spirit and feel to the Fifth Dimension -- stuff that I thought was hopelessly square back in the day, but gives me hope today. Best jazz record this week is probably Kirk Knuffke (again, see Gubbels; also for the Mavis Staples EP, which has a couple of the week's best songs). Or maybe Ben Goldberg -- in both cases I'm working off Rhapsody, while letting my own queue of promo CDs age a bit.
I ordered a copy of Michaelangelo Matos' new book, The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America, expected to arrive on its release date, tomorrow. I don't have much time to read about music these days, but this is one combination of author and subject I couldn't miss.
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: