Sunday, January 26. 2014
At some point during the past decade I came to the conclusion that the single most important economic, political, and social problem we face is growing inequality. The problem it supplanted, preeminent in the 2000s, was war: in particular, the use of armed force to impose a "world order" that was short-sighted and injust. Needless to say, that problem is still with us, but it's faded a bit as all those wars have turned into futile quagmires. Before that, in the relative normalcy of the 1990s, we had the luxury of worrying about more chronic problems, like the long-term effects of anthropogenic climate change and future limits on natural resources -- problems we still face, of course. One could even make a case that all three of these big problems are related: on all three politicians, at least in the US, tend to split the same ways, even though one can construct sound arguments why conservatives should be wary of war and environmental disaster.
On the other hand, the very definition of conservatism -- the political ideology devoted to the preservation of the social order as dominated by whoever is richest at any given time (at various times: the landed aristocracy, slaveholders, merchants, industrialists, financiers) -- both assumes and promotes inequality.
Most conservative arguments reduce to a simple pattern: if we let X happen, we'll start down the slippery slope to communism, socialism, or some such terminal condition -- most of which actually define their goal as a fairer and more equitable society. Which is to say: once you get past the scare words you wind up debating the real question. David Brooks, of course, has no desire to argue that vast inequality is the just order of society and the masses should just buckle under and get used to their lot. As someone practiced in the art of arguing against people's better interests and nobler desires he seeks to obfuscate and confuse the issue, then blame it on someone else, then propose fixes that wouldn't work in the very unlikely event that they were ever tried.
I'm going to do something I haven't done before and quote Brooks' column, The Inequality Problem, in its entirety, stopping every paragraph or so to make some observations.
What Brooks means is that "suddenly" people like the US President and the elites at Davos are talking about inequality -- people Brooks takes seriously, people of his world. Needless to say, those people, like Brooks, have been a little slow on the uptake. Income inequality has been around forever, but it was considered less of a problem up to about 1980 because incomes from the 1930s into the 1970s, at least in the US, had been trending toward less inequality, and the purchasing power of most incomes had been increasing. Poverty among the elderly, for instance, was largely eliminated by Social Security, introduced in the late 1930s, and the socalled "war on poverty" programs started in the late 1960s at least initially -- until conservatives like Donald Rumsfeld started running those programs -- reduced residual poverty.
From 1980 on, coincident with the rise of conservatives with the Reagan administration, income inequality grew, and by the end of the 1980s the trends were clearly documented. The most obvious case, much commented on at the time, was a shocking increase in CEO compensation relative to average wages. This was accompanied by a wave of leveraged buyouts, the result of lax regulation of financial institutions and the more general "greed is good" culture that the Reagan administration encouraged at every opportunity. Reagan's marginal tax cuts were one such signal. Another was his crushing of the air-traffic controllers union.
Brooks specifies income inequality rather than wealth inequality, which is much more extreme. Ferdinand Lundberg wrote a classic study of the accumulation of wealth in 1937, America's Sixty Families, then updated it, finding little changed, in 1968 as The Rich and the Super-Rich: A Study in the Power of Money Today. The list of billionaires Forbes celebrates each year has become a bit more volatile with new money made from high tech and financial scams, but the concentration of wealth has if anything become more extreme. And the division has become so extreme that in 2008 Occupy Wall Street popularized the notion that a line separates the top 1% from everyone else: that the underclass today is 99% of the population.
As for "confusing matters more than clarifying them," that, as you will see, is Brooks' mission, starting with the next line:
Brooks' first obfuscation is his expansion of the haves to the upper 5% of incomes from Occupy Wall Street's 1%. The threshold for the top 5% of incomes was $161,000 in 2012, versus $394,000 for the top 1%. Between 1% and 5% you get into well-paid professionals and small business owners -- well-to-do, for sure, but hardly filthy rich (unless they inherited it). But the real inequalities only grow in the top 1%, so much so that Paul Krugman has suggested we focus only on the top tenth, the 0.1%, where incomes start around $1.9 million and go way up from there. Emmanuel Saez has calculated that 95% of all the income growth since the "recovery" began in 2009 has been snapped up by the top 1%, and two-thirds of that by the top 0.1%.
The bottom 80-90% of Brooks' top 5% may indeed make their money the ways Brooks enumerates, but the very top have different means: with overvalued equity in corporations and/or through the financial transactions that overvalue that equity. (CEOs make most of their "compensation" through stock options, so they gain by this process both coming and going.) This results in a series of bubbles and busts, but as long as the political fundamentals remain strong -- as long as labor markets are too weak to claim a share of productivity gains, as long as antitrust enforcement is too weak to curtail monopoly, as long as regulation is weak and tax enforcement limited -- companies will prosper on paper, even if they wallow in debt, with the rich getting all that much richer.
Since 1980 incomes for the bottom 80% have remained stagnant, and since 2000 they have lost ground. Brooks, like all conservatives, wants to blame this on the "losers," as if, for instance, CEOs had nothing to do with "the disappearance of low-skill jobs." There is no doubt that getting more education and a stable marriage helps individuals to improve their lot, but it's pretty incredible to assert that an increase in dropouts and broken families since 1980 has reversed a trend toward greater income equality under liberal governments from 1933 to 1969 (or later if you're soft on Nixon -- something I can't quite stomach).
Nor is there any real shortage of unskilled jobs these days. They are less likely to be in manufacturing or agriculture, and more likely to be in services, but what distinguishes them isn't the skill level: it's the pay. And wage levels are down almost exclusively due to political pressures. Raising the minimum wage -- a purely political act -- would help, and bringing back unions strong enough to negotiate with management would help even more.
The economy is not necessarily a zero-sum game. Some businesses, for instance, actually make things that are worth more than the sum of their costs, and those businesses -- their workers, their skills and the technology they employ -- produce added wealth ultimately for the economy as a whole (although who benefits from that wealth depends on the relative power of workers and management, and that approximates a zero-sum game). Other businesses just redistribute goods, and this can also make them more valuable. But there are other businesses which just redistribute costs: they are zero-sum or worse, although they may pretend to add value by inflating assets, creating a bubble which appears profitable until it collapses. A typical example here is what private equity firms do: buy a company at an inflated price, paid for by burying the company in debt; sell off pieces, cut costs elsewhere, and pocket tax breaks; resell the company, preferably to a firm expecting to repeat the cycle. The real effect here isn't to build a productive company but to tear one down by stripping it of its value.
Many financial schemes wind up being cases of the rich screwing the rich -- the 2007 collapse exposed cases of banks knowingly selling worthless securities to supposedly cherished customers -- but there are ways ordinary folks get hit too: their "professionally managed" retirement funds are easy game; they put pressure on many companies to cut jobs and labor costs; they help form near-monopolies which help to drive up prices. And they support politicians who help them save on taxes and regulation, creating even more returns for their predatory practices.
There are two reasons for the minimum wage. One is that it sets a minimal social standard about the value of work within the context of human life. Basically, if a job isn't worth paying minimum wage for, it isn't something humans should have to do. Secondly, it puts a limit on the relative power of employers and employees. A nation which values its citizens will insist that they be paid decently. Conservatives hate the minimum wage because it limits the ability of employers to bully their employees, and because they generally regard employees as loser scum they feel entitled to abuse.
One can argue further that the minimum wage should be at least the minimum amount it takes for a single parent to support a family above the poverty level. There is no sense in which the current US minimum wage satisfies that requirement. One may fix that by raising the minimum wage, by raising a wage alternative like the earned income tax credit, by reducing the costs of living in other ways -- e.g., through subsidized housing, food, education, health care, etc. -- or by some combination of these. One should take note that subsidies for low-wage workers are effectively subsidies for low-wage employers, which may seem distasteful, but only through subsidies can one even out variable factors like number of dependents.
Like so many right-wing pundits, Brooks cheerfully cites studies with minimal attribution and qualification, with a high likelihood of having been churned out by conservative "think tanks" that are little more than ideological publicity firms. However, even if his data that most minimum wage workers are merely supplementing the incomes of non-poor families, that proves nothing more than that he doesn't understand my first paragraph here: that the minimum wage has to do with the dignity of work -- teenagers shouldn't have to work under abusive conditions even if their parents are adequately paid -- and that the minimum wage is a lower boundary condition: it should be set high enough so that no working person should be denied a decent standard of living (at least within a nation's means).
Also note that changing the minimum wage, even doubling or tripling it, would have virtually no effect on the broader question of equality. It is merely a lower boundary: it says a lot about a nation's sense of decency, but has virtually no power to change the median or balance the spread of the incomes above it.
It's hard to believe that even Brooks wrote that first line with a straight face. Recall that the current minimum wage is set well below what most families need to be self-sufficient and out of poverty. No doubt some suffer from not being able to get 40 hours of work a week, but some work considerable overtime (probably not paid as overtime, as it is scattered across multiple jobs) and are still not able to escape poverty. Brooks is trying to argue that the fix for their problem is to give them more hours of underpaid work. Clearly, by any standard of decency, they are not being paid enough for their work.
Sorry to interrupt Brooks before his big punch line, but there is a lot to slog through here. These correlations are all true to some not-very-important extent, but the net effect (and most likely the sole intent) of choosing them is to blame the poor for their poverty. To pick out a similar truism on the other side, there is a very strong correlation between inheriting a fortune and making lots of money. (I'd invite Brooks to re-run his examples on a sample of heirs, so we can get an idea of how pregnancy, divorce, dropping out, drug abuse, etc., have on people who start out with a thick cushion of money.)
And from a policy standpoint, I have to point out that a viable alternative to single motherhood is abortion, and that blocking that option both punishes women and adds a drag on the economy. That many people who drop out of high school aren't too dumb -- they just didn't fit in (I'm an example). De-industrialization may be a problem, but but it's hard to see it as a character flaw -- except perhaps of the MBA/CEO class. And I have to wonder whether "engaging in behaviors that damage their long-term earning prospects" isn't a cheap shot at the Army, which may have been a decent jobs program during times of peace but has been an unmitigated disaster the last 12 years.
Aside from his confusion about cause and effect, not to mention his inability to distinguish dependent from independent variables when running a correlation, Brooks' third and fourth sentences are truthy enough. But the uncomfortable part he's permitting himself to ignore is class. It's true that class and money aren't exactly the same thing, but they correlate quite well, especially if you start from the beginning. In every example Brooks has cited thus far, more money would make a world of difference -- that single mother could afford childcare, that dropout could find a more suitable education -- and even more so the nurturance of an upper class environment. So perhaps the policy argument should be more than just money.
So much here we have to first turn it inside out to make any sense of it. Brooks asserts that we can only implement policy on a bipartisan basis, which gives the Republicans dictatorial control over policy, since they won't agree to any policy but their own. But the Republicans are a minority in Washington now, and are likely to become even more so if voters ever manage to figure out how much they are personally hurt by the party's slovenly allegiance to the 1%. So the first thing Brooks is trying to do here is to steer Democrats away from talking about the issue -- even as "the income inequality frame" but most of all, heaven forbid, as class.
Secondly, he's claiming that Republicans would be happy to do something about "the human capital piece" -- an obnoxious term for working people, reduced to the most miniscule cogs in machinery controlled by money. However, I haven't seen the slightest evidence of any such interest among Republicans -- not since George W. Bush conned Teddy Kennedy into his Trojan horse "No Child Left Behind" law, which did more damage to the public education system it claimed to be saving than would have happened had nothing passed. And that's now regarded as one of Bush's "big government" heresies, something no one in the party defends any more. Rather, all the Republicans seem to care about is cutting taxes, completely undermining safety net spending -- cf. their recent moves on unemployment compensation and food stamps -- and letting businesses run amok with fraud.
Brooks reaches a bit in his reading of the Democrats, but at least he acknowledges the notion that low wages are indeed "a problem caused by unequal economic power." Still, he misses an important linkage. The "human capital" he's so fond of -- education, although there's really more to it than that -- is only a means for individuals to move up the class hierarchy. Equalizing economic power, on the other hand, is the way to move an entire class to a higher standard of living -- promoting unions is one way to do it, using the government is another. (And, for what it's worth, I'm very fond of the idea of worker-owned companies, which is a private sector solution that moves beyond the conflicts inherent in union-management negotiations.)
Brooks, like most pro-business Americans, likes the idea of equal opportunity and eased mobility, because they leave the class structure and its attendant inequality intact -- they just shuffle the players. Clinton and Obama are in fact good examples of poor boys who worked their way up through the system -- by being very smart, of course, and working very hard, but also because they had unique talents for sucking up to the rich and powerful. They are, or should be, prime examples of the fabled American dream, but rank-and-file Republicans simply loathe them, and their rise coincides with the most ambitious attempt ever to close the American system: to make higher education inaccessible and unaffordable except to the upper crust; to dumb down lower education; to exempt inherited wealth and proprietors and push the tax burden down on the working class, who take home ever less for their toils; to shut down the nation's borders; and to manage the losers through a complex system of jails, courts, and parole, making sure they can't vote.
Again, Brooks has no clue as to what causes what. Increasing inequality is the thread that runs through dozens of problems. It has multiple causes, some endemic to capitalism, but many of them are purely political. And even those that are endemic may be limited and rendered reasonably safe by political means, once we have the desire and clear thinking to do so. It's been difficult to mount a serious political movement around such a basic problem. I put a lot of the blame on the Cold War, with so much ideological and propaganda investment in demonizing communism and in whitewashing capitalism. Pace Brooks, before WWII large numbers of Americans intuitively responded to populist political campaigns, and if they failed to achieve power, it was usually because liberal reforms blunted the people's direst complaints -- the New Deal being a prime example.
I won't try to prove this here, but there must be much better ways to express the truths that surround the boring statistics documenting increasing inequality. When that happens you'll start to see some real movement on this issue. It is, after all, a profound issue, at the very heart of the left-right divide. Our lives, our survival, hang in the balance.
Even though the column only ran in Wichita today, turns out I'm late to the bonfire. Here are some more links on Brooks:
Saturday, January 25. 2014
The column ended end of September, so three months (or 25%) short of the end of the year, but the additional totals 29 of 85 records, 34% of the total -- actually, not that unusual, as everyone tends to pick up stragglers toward the end of the year. I should probably knock Omar Souleyman and Latyrx off that list too -- Christgau wrote about the former in Spin and the latter at NPR, pretty much before anyone else was onto them.
Otherwise, not many actual surprises here. Michael Tatum graded a bunch of them A- or better: Lady Gaga, Eminem, The Dismemberment Plan, Tom Zé, Jon Hopkins, Tamikrest, Kool & Kass, Sleigh Bells, Pusha T, Tal National, Arcade Fire. Meanwhile, I did the same with Brandy Clark, The Road to Jajouka, M.I.A., Ezra Furman, Le Grand Kallé, White Mandingos, and Kool A.D. (although that was on a tip from Tatum, who in turn heard about the album from Christgau; and it only came out on December 21. Tatum also wrote about (and graded down) Parkay Quarts, Brandy Clark, and Yoko Ono, while I had lower grades for Sky Ferreira, Danny Brown, and Those Darlins. (I also agreed with eight of Tatum's A-s, and had lower grades for a few more.)
Net result is that the records we hadn't gotten to were: Beyoncé, Angola Soundtrack 2, Four Tet (although Tatum reviewed the new one as well as a different 2012 release), and Sidi Touré -- none, by the way, available on Rhapsody (the only one I hadn't looked for was Angola Soundtrack 2 -- a Dec. 10 release, by the way). I don't have an easy way to compare to other years, but if memory serves most Dean's Lists have 3-5 records I really didn't expect. This may roughly match those numbers but nothing here was that much of a long shot.
In his essay, Christgau reiterates last year's paradigm, taking EOY lists from Pitchfork and Rolling Stones as generational poles, and finding critical consensus in their increasing agreement and checking that against Pazz & Jop for validation. I took another look at the two top-20s and wonder whether the consensus is just convergence around an increasingly limited concept of what the market will bear. Aside from Pitchfork's number 20 pick of Jai Paul's momentarily released demos -- how hip to grab something you can't find anymore? -- and Rolling Stone's token ancients (Paul McCartney and John Fogerty), the worst P&J finish from either top-20 was Jake Bugg at 117 (RS), followed by Darkside at 59 (P4K). They not only agreed a lot, but when they diverged they did so in predictable ways. Pitchfork had slightly more hip-hop (5-to-3), electronica (3-to-2), and metal (1-to-0). Rolling Stone allowed some Americana into the mix, but their larger bias, and most of why they deviated more from P&J, came from their Brit favorites (Arctic Monkeys, Atoms for Peace, David Bowie, Laura Marling, and probably Jake Bugg -- Pitchfork had none of those. As for pop, I would have guessed wrong if asked which one had Savages-Haim-Sky Ferreira and which Lorde.
It should go without saying that there is no correct answer to a music poll. People hear different things in different ways and attach different values to them, and polling itself distorts the results. Poll ballots ultimately say as much about the voter as about the music, and one can't help but be self-conscious of that fact: one selects and orders items much as one would choose and accessorize a wardrobe. And critics are all that and more: maybe if you randomly polled people you'd wind up with a pile of data converging on a normal distribution, but with critics -- because they hear more things, and relate to them more intellectually, and categorize and value them differently, increasing the sample size just spreads the results out ever further. Christgau thinks that "the long tail may have a cutoff," but the only reason P&J totalled up fewer records this year was that the number of voters dropped. Expand the poll, as I did with this year's metacritic file, and you keep uncovering more and more albums -- up to 8,882 at the moment.
Christgau seems unusually proud of Pazz & Jop this year, citing some good features of its design -- broad participation, and a relatively late closing date which allowed early December release Beyoncé to get some in on the action. (Still, the deadline clipped off the last ten days of the year. I've already identified two A- releases from that period -- Kool A.D.'s Not O.K. and Angel Haze's Dirty Gold. Back when Christgau ran the poll, it usually didn't close until after January 1, and he made a more concerted effort to get new critics invited.) Still, I'd say that two aspects of the design limit the usefulness of the poll. One is that it forces critics to only pick ten records. When I ran a poll, I let voters expand their list as large as they felt like -- no one went much over 100 records -- and assigned the overage trivial points (3 for numbers 11-20, 2 for 21-30, 1 for everything else). The latter didn't affect the totals much, but it did expand the total number of records mentioned, and provided a lot of extra info about the voters. One could, for instance, tell who did (and who never did) play any hip-hop or country or jazz, and you could (at least with some programming) generate all sorts of interesting affinities.
The other big limitation is that 457 voters don't cover all that much. This is partly because despite its name Christgau started with and maintained a rockist bias -- as best I recall, even Voice writers like Gary Giddins and Francis Davis, Tom Johnson and Kyle Gann, never voted. I recognize close to a dozen jazz critics on the list, but most steer their ballots toward non-jazz. Ironically, this limitation is probably why Christgau, this year at least, likes the P&J results better than he does Pitchfork or Rolling Stone -- and for that matter why I like them better than my own metacritic file standings: the Voice has isolated a group with taste more like our own. But I doubt if that reflects anything more than a futile desire that the world be better aligned with our understanding of it.
As an aside, the Jazz Critics' Poll, which Francis Davis started at the Voice, regularly produces both better sorted and much deeper results than smaller and narrower polls like the one run by JazzTimes. (I suppose I could say I'm biased here, in that I vote in the former but have never been invited to JazzTimes.) Still, it could be broader, especially if JCP invited more European critics.
All these examples highlight a more basic concern. Most polls (and pollmasters) focus on the winners -- indeed, the horse race is probably the number one cliché in journalism these days -- whereas over the years I've found myself much more interested in the outliers. There is, after all, a story behind every vote, but you're more likely to discover something from a unique fringe vote -- say Christgau on Live From Festival Au Desert Timbuktu, or Michaelangelo Matos on LTJ Xperience, or Jason Gross on Stooshe, or Carol Cooper on Manu Chao and Tyler Farr, or my own votes for Billy Martin, White Mandingos, and Wayne Hancock -- than you will from all the Kanye West and Vampire Weekend and Beyoncé and Daft Punk votes combined: records with obvious appeal from famous stars, acts all critics but the most niche-bound bloggers are pretty much obligated to deal with.
Some early Pazz & Jop columns were published with selected ballots, but as the electorate expanded there was no space for that level of detail. That all changed in 2008 with some web programming that made it possible to list all the voters for each album, and to fetch the ballots for each voter -- technology which upended the horse race. Glenn McDonald was then able to take this extra data and run it through a fancy statistical analysis program, computing values like "centricity" and "kvoltosis" -- and "metalism," a genre bias factor that interested him but one he never extended to genres other people care about -- and he was able to sort out affinity networks between critics with overlapping votes. More could be done along those lines, but the key is still broadening and deepening the voter base, and collecting more metadata about voters.
Tuesday, January 21. 2014
I sent the following letter out to 50+ publicists I've been working with over the course of my jazz reviewing, and I'm posting it here for whoever I missed. This effectively ends my career as a jazz critic: you can't critique what you cannot hear, and if this letter has the same effect as the one I wrote when I stopped publishing Recycled Goods at Static Multimedia, I soon won't be hearing much of anything -- except through services like Rhapsody. Still, it's only fair to do so.
I could have dug up a great many more publicists and musicians, but wanted to focus on ones I've dealt with recently. I am, of course, very conflicted about this whole thing. Depending on publicists has never been a very good system, even when most of them are respectful of other opinions and professional in their dealings with you. One musician I wrote to way back replied that he always thought the business "ran on payola" but was taken aback by how brash my letter was. It took me many rereadings before I realized that he thought I was shaking him down -- not something I could ever imagine myself doing. He actually turned out to be a good sport about it all -- he sent me lots of records, and I reviewed them lavishly (and I still think honestly). But that's just one of many examples of how distorted the relationship is. Another is that a musician who did read the blog and who did realize that I was shutting down sent me a couple records just saying that he appreciated my work and hoped I would enjoy them. I did, and wrote about them too.
The full effect of these changes will take some time to sort out. This week I'm still doing about as much music listening and writing as I have average over last year. Unpacking today added eight more CDs to the queue, and I've only rated two albums -- lost a big chunk of time today going out to see American Hustle. I thought I'd get around to updating the Christgau website this week but now it looks like it'll be next week. And many other tasks are waiting, but I hope getting a bit closer.
Monday, January 20. 2014
Music: Current count 22739  rated (+31), 574  unrated (+1).
Thirty records has long been my standard for a productive week, but these days it means I'm still stuck in the old rut. I don't know what the new norm should be, or if there should be one, but surely it ought to be less. As it is, I'm still adding things to the 2013 metacritic file even though its ability to predict Pazz & Jop has been ended by history. The main lesson I take from comparing the data is that the P&J electorate has become an unrepresentative subset of the whole world's possible voters. For one thing, it's way more American -- most UK and European faves fell off considerably. Genrewise the big difference was a major fall off in electronica (e.g., James Blake dropped from 8th to 90th; Jon Hopkins dropped from 23rd to 84th; Boards of Canada dropped from 19th to 60th; less dramatically: Fuck Buttons dropped from 41st to 57th; Oneontrix Point Never from 32nd to 43rd; Disclosure dropped from 9th to 13th; Daft Punk dropped from a close 3rd to a distant 3rd; and Tim Hecker bucked the trend, rising from 43rd to 32nd). Hip-hop did a bit better with P&J (although crossover picks still have a waft of tokenism, including the sense that most voters only picked up one free mixtape -- this year, Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap). Metal was also up, even though it seems to me like I've put many more metal lists into metacritic file than I ought to. The other plus area was Americana, led by three young country singer-songwriters with something to say: Kacey Musgraves (up to 10th from 38th), Ashley Monroe (23rd from 71st), and Brandy Clark (45th from 85th).
Two comments on this week's newly rated records. Kool and Kass was the only one to appear in last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. I had forgotten that Michael Tatum had reviewed it favorably back in August until I finished with Kool A.D.'s more recent Not OK, so I got to it late. When I decided I had too many RS records, my initial decision was to hold back everything added this past week, but it made more sense for the two records to stay together.
The Jimmy Rushing record below is actually part of a twofer (2 LPs on 1 CD), but I decided to split it out as an old LP rather than as a new compilation. That's partly because the other half of the reissue is half of an earlier twofer, but also because it seems rather cleaner to treat the original LPs as integral wholes for reference purposes: you can then make your own decision about twofer packaging. To give a rather extreme example, I have a Jan & Dean twofer combining Drag City (1963, A-) and Jan and Dean's Pop Symphony No. One (1966, B-, perhaps way too generously) -- which is to say, an album that starts great but one I never want to hear all the way through. No such problem with Rushing: either twofer is fine, and getting an extra copy of The Jazz Odyssey of James Rushing Esq. is hardly a problem.
Records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, January 19. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, January 18. 2014
First Rhapsody Streamnotes column since I decided to suspend Jazz Prospecting and Recycled Goods and fold anything I did in either of those categories into it. In theory, that should reduce my effort and coverage, but this month that seems to have just increased the count here. I had always considered the possibility of posting Streamnotes more than once a month, and that seemed like an especially good idea as this month's draft file started looking like it would exceed 100 records. As it turns out, I held back pretty much everything I've written since Monday's "Music Week" post (but there are a few things here I hadn't reported in the "Music Week" lists, since they were written earlier).
What follows is a mix of new 2014 jazz albums -- some written up a month or two ago and held back for their release dates, but now that I'm no longer Jazz Prospecting weekly I figure I'll do them whenever I get to them -- and stragglers from 2013 lists (or in a couple cases things I stumbled upon without any list help). I'll write a bit more about the metacritic file and Pazz & Jop in this coming Monday's Music Week. I don't have time to unpack that now, but I've started to sort out the data here, so if you're so inclined, you might find something to chew on there.
One thing I will say is that the declining voting population -- Pazz & Jop is down to 457 voters, which is fewer than in 1998 (498) -- has made the results more erratic, and I think more narrow than what I get from the metacritic file. To pick a couple examples, metal does better in P&J, and electronica does much worse. Also, P&J voters are more likely to provide token crossover support for a handful of hip-hop, country, and world albums without offering much depth in any of those. (Jazz is an exception here, probably because I track a lot of jazz sources in the metacritic file, and very few P&J voters pick jazz records.) Much more could be said there, and I probably won't get around to it. After all, I'm trying to move on.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on December 29. Past reviews and more information are available here (4247 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
T.K. Blue: A Warm Embrace (2013 , Blujazz): Aka Talib Kibwe, plays sax (alto/soprano) and flute (featured in three of four photos); sixth album since 1999, previous one heavily Latin but this is pretty mainstream, with James Weidman (piano), Essiet Essiet (bass), Winard Harper (drums), and Ron Jackson or Russell Malone (guitar). I hate having to pick on flute: it has its place in the orchestral palette and doesn't have no place in jazz, but this goes from pleasant to something else when he put down the sax and picks up a flute. B- [cd]
Dean Blunt: The Redeemer (2013, Hippos in Tanks): British DJ, has a checkered career working under various pseudonyms like Hype Williams. Very rough and unsettled, odd spikes. B
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound: Howl (2013, Bloodshot): Chicago soul man on a punk-Americana label, his band neither here nor there. B
Ari Brown: Groove Awakening (2013, Delmark): Tenor saxophonist from Chicago, started in R&B bands and always seemed a pat for free jazz groups, but he finds his groove here with Kirk Brown on piano and Dr. Guz adding extra percussion. B+(***) [cd]
Buika: La Noche Más Larga (2013, Warner Music Latina): Flamenco singer, Concha Buika, born in Spain with Guinean roots, writes half her songs but also does Billie Holiday and Abbey Lincoln and a Jacques Brel song I associate more with Nina Simone ("Ne Me Quitte Pas"). B+(*)
George Cables: Icons & Influences (2013 , HighNote): Pianist, has been recording since the mid-1970s, including some of the finest albums of Art Pepper's last fling. Without a horn, his trios -- this is one with Dezron Douglas and Victor Lewis -- never quite blow me away but he's a quintessential jazz pianist, capable of stretching out past an hour without ever a slack spot. B+(***) [cd]
Rosanne Cash: The River & the Thread (2014, Blue Note): Singer-songwriter, this new batch of songs co-signed by spouse John Leventhal so they tend to look out rather than in. Lolls along easily, like those rivers that drain her neck of the woods. B+(**)
Glenn Cashman's Southland Nonet: Music Without Borders (2012 , Primrose Lane): Tenor saxophonist, has a previous LA-based big band album, this group only slightly smaller with three brass, three reeds, piano, bass, and drums. Dedicated to Doctors Without Borders, this is dashing from the start. B+(**) [cd]
Checkpoint Rock: Canciones Desde Palestina (2009, Talka): Audio for a Spanish video of Palestinian resistance songs -- the video probably helps, especially for the closer where DAM teaches his "I Don't Have Freedom" to the "Children of Lod." I like the raps better than the rockers and the more trad pieces, and I'm glad that Manu Chao joined for the title song -- otherwise I doubt I would have found this. B+(**)
The Child of Lov: The Child of Lov (2013, Domino): Martijn William Zimri Teerlinck, aka Cole Williams, born in Belgium but based in Amsterdam, and dead at age 26, a few months after this one album came out. He interacts with various semi-famous hip-hop luminaries -- DOOM and Damon Albarn get "feat." credits -- producing an unsettled work that may never come clear. B+(*)
The Computers: Love Triangles Hate Squares (2013, One Little Indian): You've heard of post-punk? Alex Kershaw's group plays post-pub-rock, recycling the rock of ages but limited through a vocal prism that can't see beyond Elvis Costello or Graham Parker -- music this upbeat should be more fun, not to mention memorable. B
Steve Davis: For Real (2013 , Posi-Tone): Mainstream trombonist, nearly 20 albums since 1996, picks up one song from pianist Larry Willis, wrote the rest. Gets a big lift from tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton, and some Latin tinge from drummer Billy Williams. B+(**) [cd]
Rob Derke & the NY Jazz Quartet: Blue Divide (2013 , Zoho): NYJAZZ seems to be related to a larger organization, but let's stick with this quartet. First album for Derke, who plays soprano saxophone with surprising vigor. Bassist Carlo De Rosa wrote a couple pieces; Aruán Ortiz plays piano, and Eric McPherson drums. B+(***) [cd]
John Di Fiore: Yellow Petals (2013 , Third Freedom Music): Drummer-led piano trio, with Billy Test on piano and Adrian Morning on bass. Di Fiore, who hails from NJ, wrote all the pieces, and if he mixes the drums up a bit, he makes that work as well. B+(***) [cd]
Donato Dozzy: Plays Bee Mask (2013, Spectrum Spools): Bee Mask is electronica producer Chris Madak, and he released a two-cut LP in 2012 including a 13:23 track called "Vaporware"; Italian DJ Dozzy's album has seven numbered "Vaporware" tracks, running 3:39-8:54, with a nice ambient feel, plus a little tinkle. B+(**)
Dub Club: Foundation Come Again (2013, Stones Throw): LA DJ Tom Chasteen rounds up and recycles some old-fashioned reggae -- names include Big Youth, Dillinger, and Josey Wales -- with all the excess echo you expect. B+(**)
Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio: Follow the Sun (2013, Delmark): Percussionist from Chicago, his long-running trio features Ari Brown on tenor sax and Junius Paul on bass, and they add two guests here: a second tenor saxophonist, Brown's mentor Doug Payne (also plays bagpipes), and singer Dwight Trible. Tempting to say the problem is Trible's overwrought vocals, but his segue into "Body and Soul" is masterful. B+(**) [cd]
The Fat Babies: 18th & Racine (2013, Delmark): Trad jazz band from Chicago, second album, bassist Beau Sample is the nominal leader but Andy Schumm (cornet, alto sax) wrote the one original and arranged most of the rest, favoring the late '20s over the later swing era. B+(***) [cd]
The Front Bottoms: Talon of the Hawk (2013, Bar/None): Indie rock duo from New Jersey, singer has quite a sneer, smart as in aleck, but the barbed hooks are catchy. B+(**)
Laurel Halo: Chance of Rain (2013, Hyperdub): From Ann Arbor, second album, electronica, reminds me a little of Drexciya but the underwater shtick isn't as nicely developed. B+(*)
Fareed Haque: Trance Hypothesis (2013, Delmark): Guitarist, born in Chicago of Pakistani and Chilean descent, starts with organ for a taste of soul jazz but touches on fusion and works in exotic spices -- actually, oud, tabla, two vocalists with Indian/Pakistani names who could just be scatting. Reminds me of Wes Montgomery -- not the real one so many other still try to sound like, but an imaginary one who saw the world and moved on. B+(**) [cd]
Taylor Haskins: Fuzzy Logic (2011-13 , Sunnyside): Trumpet player, fourth album, backed by strings -- guitar, violin, viola, cello, bass -- and drums. The trumpet parts are fine, but he also plays "native american drone flute" and melodica, and the strings are undistinguished and murky. I see in his bio that he recently received a US patent for "helping to develop proprietary music software that implemented artificial intelligence-based technology." I won't dock him for that, but probably should. B- [cd]
Angel Haze: Dirty Gold (2013, Republic): Raykeea Wilson, rapper, broke through with a good mixtape last year, got a label deal but wound up with a December 30 release, missing the big sales season and any chance for year-end notice. A-
David Helbock's Random/Control: Think of Two (2013 , Traumton): German pianist, has a couple previous records, plays various toys and electronics in addition to piano, in a trio with Johannes Bar (horns from trumpet to sousaphone and didgeridoo) and Andreas Broger (similar range of reeds), everyone pitching in on percussion. Playful. B+(**) [cd]
Honey Island Swamp Band: Cane Sugar (2013, Louisiana Red Hot): Louisiana band, guitar-wise they admire the Allmans, vocals easy-going although they can approximate a blues feel or a boogie beat; a little too sweet and gritless to care much about. B
Hookworms: Pearl Mystic (2013, Weird World): British group, from Leeds, has made surprise advances in year-end lists, no doubt because anyone who masters the tension-tone riffs the Velvet Underground bequeathed to alt-indiedom is going to sound timelessly classic -- even bands that don't last any longer than the Perfect Disaster or Lower Dens. This is another one of those. A-
Carolyn Lee Jones: The Performer (2013, Cat'nround Sound): Standards singer, second or third album (not sure what to call Live in Dallas), has a long list of musicians shuffling in and out, including a saxophonist I like and a flautist I don't mind. As usual, this rises and falls with the songs -- give me "Old Devil Moon" any time -- but she gets more mileage than most out of "Let's Get Lost" and goes for pure seductiveness after that. B+(***) [cd]
Juicy J: Stay Trippy (2013, Taylor Gang/Kemosabe/Columbia): Jordan Michael Houston, started in Three 6 Mafia, third solo joint, feats on more songs than not with Wiz Khalifa the norm. B+(*)
Manika Kaur: Satnam Waheguru: The True Name (2013 , self-released): Kirtan singer -- rooted in Sikh tradition, although I gather the form is more widespread -- born in Australia, based in Abu Dhabi: strikes me as low-key, lulling, just short of hypnotic. B+(**) [cd]
Kool A.D.: Not O.K. (2013, self-released): The less reliable half of Das Racist gets goofier, often pausing before his rhyme word as if solving some sort of real-time multiple choice test, so, sure, not the great rapper he claims, but he keeps finding new ways to throw you off. A- [bc]
Kool and Kass: Peaceful Solutions (2013, self-released): Rapper Kool A.D. ("my flow is odder than an otter with three daughters") and drummer Kassa Overall, who keeps the beats real and helps steady his peripatetic partner. A- [bc]
Greg Lewis: Organ Monk: American Standard (2013 , self-released): Organ player, tackled the Thelonious Monk songbook in his first album and has kept that title as sort of a brand name, although judging from the type it belongs as part of the title. Mostly standards here -- "Nice Work if You Can Get It," "Tea for Two," "Everything Happens to Me," "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." Trio expanded to quintet with Riley Mullins on trumpet and Reggie Woods on tenor sax. B+(*) [cd]
Logos: Cold Mission (2013, Keysound): James Parker, background seems to be dubstep, gets something quasi-industrial here, the accents staggered line spent shell casings, the ups and downs more impressive than pleasing -- cold, indeed. B+(*)
London Grammar: If You Wait (2013, Warner/Chappell): British group, from Nottingham actually, built around singer Hannah Reid -- slow, brooding, sort of a trip-hop vibe. B+(*)
Lucius: Wildewoman (2013, Mom + Pop Music): Brooklyn band, two women (Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig) singing, in front of three blokes playing drums and guitars. B+(*)
Zara McFarlane: If You Knew Her (2013 , Brownswood): British jazz singer, parents from Jamaica, second album, takes everything slow with her plaintive voice, most touching on "Police & Thieves" but less so when there's nothing more than love at stake. B [cd]
Cava Menzies/Nick Phillips: Moment to Moment (2013 , self-released): Leaders play piano and trumpet, respectively, backed by bass and drums. First album I can find by either. To call it a ballad album slights its smoky makeout appeal. B+(***) [cd]
Pete Mills: Sweet Shadow (2013 , Cellar Live): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Toronto but based in Columbus [OH], fourth album. Fluid at high speed, has a nice tone on ballads, backed by both piano and guitar, but Pete McCann has most of the memorable spots. B+(***) [cd]
Juana Molina: Wed 21 (2013, Crammed Discs): Argentine singer-songwriter, lived in exile in Paris early on, takes her musical cues from electronica producers. B+(**)
No Joy: Wait to Pleasure (2013, Mexican Summer): Montreal group, name begs contrast with Too Much Joy, which needless to say were a lot more fun. Drone-heavy shoegaze around female vocals -- Jasamine White-Gluz and/or Laura Lloyd. Not bad, but you will have to wait. B+(*)
Jeremy Pelt: Face Forward, Jeremy (2013 , High Note): Trumpet player, had impressive chops from the start but has rarely turned them into good albums, and seems almost defeated here, with Roxy Cross even more subdued on reeds, David Bryant playing way too much Fender Rhodes, three vocal cuts that signify nothing, some electric bass and drum programming that at least keeps it all moving. B- [cd]
Katy Perry: Prism (2013, Capitol): Megastar, can afford the whole megapop production experience and it suits her fine -- anything else would risk getting personal. But it can get to be a bit much. B+(*)
The Danny Petroni Blue Project: The Blue Project (2013 , DPS): Post-Sandy blues from the former New Jersey shore. Petroni plays guitar, subcontracting the vocals to Frank Lacy -- you're more likely to know him for his trombone and maybe even flumpet, but he's a forthright blues shouter and that's all this set calls for. B+(***) [cd]
Pharmakon: Abandon (2013, Sacred Bones, EP): Margaret Chardiet promised an EP, so I discarded Rhapsody's 27:07 "bonus cut," settling for four tracks totalling 26:49, which for a noise album built from blood-curdling cries and lots of dense fuzz is plenty. Not without a redeeming musical quality, although I wouldn't push that line too hard. B+(*)
Robert Prester: Dogtown (2013 , Commonwealth Ave. Productions): Pianist, probably his first album, with trumpet on four tracks, vocals on three, extra percussion to keep it loose and jumpy. B [cd]
Quadron: Avalanche (2013, Vested in Culture): Danish duo, singer Coco O (Coco Maja Hastrup Karshøj) and producer Robin Hannibal (né Braun), second album. She has a light soul accent, about half way to Diana Ross, in which case his slinky soul arrangements are half way to Babyface, not that they come off as coming up short -- they make you wonder if the problem with so much "nu soul" isn't that they overdo it. B+(**)
Radical Dads: Rapid Reality (2013, Uninhabitable Mansions): A drummer from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and two guitarists, with one -- non-dad Lindsay Baker -- doing most of the singing, giving them a little shrillness to go with the postpunk thrash, and irony enough to be radical indeed. A-
Lee Ranaldo and the Dust: Last Night on Earth (2013, Matador): Sonic Youth guitarist, has a string of avant-oriented solo albums going back to the late 1980s, but since the breakup has tried to evolved into a mainstream singer-songwriter with occasional guitar twinges, and doesn't even achieve that here. B
The Rempis/Daisy Duo: Second Spring (2013 , Aerophonic): Free jazz duets, Chicago jazzmen (and Vandermark 5 alumni) Dave Rempis on alto, tenor, and baritone sax, and Tim Daisy on drums. The saxophonist is formidable as ever, but the drummer often opts for an understated or oblique tack, and that throws the sax off a bit -- too mild if he follows, too brusque if doesn't. B+(***) [cd]
Dave Rempis/Joshua Abrams/Avreeayl Ra: Aphelion (2013 , Aerophonic): Free sax trio, bassist Abrams also playing guimbri and small harp, which gets him more solo space, and takes away from the leader's often fierce sax runs. B+(***) [cd]
Matt Renzi: Rise and Shine (2012 , Three P's): Tenor saxophonist, eighth album since 1998, starts with a trio and adds bits here and there -- Ralph Alessi trumpet, A.R. Balaskandan mridangam -- and switches off to clarinet, oboe, and flute. Not all of that works, a shame given how poised he is on sax. B+(**) [cd]
LeAnn Rimes: Spitfire (2013, Curb): Child star at 14, which was 17 years and 12 albums ago; co-writes most of her songs, not the same as the best of her songs. B+(*)
Pete Robbins: Pyramid (2013 , Hate Laugh Music): Alto saxophonist, AMG lists five albums since 2002 but that's too few, a postbop player with some edge and a terrific quartet here -- Vijay Iyer on piano, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. B+(***) [cd]
Rich Rosenthal: Falling Up (2012 , Muse-Eek): Guitarist, b. 1964, first album as leader, discography shows one side credit, in Joe Giardullo Open Ensemble. Giardullo returns the favor here, playing soprano and sopranino sax, nudging the quartet into free territory. The leader both follows along and takes some surprising turns on his own. B+(***) [cd]
Brandon Ross/Stomu Takeishi: For Living Lovers: Revealing Essence (2013 , Sunnyside): Guitarist and bassist, the latter's acoustic bass guitar is so deeply buried I'm reluctant to call these duets, but the guitar is also acoustic, and nearly as subdued. B [cd]
Anton Schwartz: Flash Mob (2013 , Anton Jazz): Tenor saxophonist, fifth album since 1998, postbopper leading a hard bop group -- Dominick Farinacci on trumpet, Taylor Eigsti on piano -- talented players who somehow never do anything interesting. B [cd]
Archie Shepp: Attica Blues Orchestra Live: I Hear the Sound (2013 , Archieball): Tenor saxophonist, cut Attica Blues back in 1971 when Rockefeller's massacre of prisoners and guards was news, and still carries the flame, in part because he pioneered a meeting of black folk and avant-jazz specific to the era and still resonant today. But his sax has mellowed over the years, as has his anger, and the singers that lead most of this revival meeting, not least Cecile McLorin Salvant, are just pros. B+(***) [cd]
Edward Simon: Venezuelan Suite (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from Venezuela, a dozen (or more) albums since 1993 -- most often trios but here he expands to a nine-piece group, with cuatro and flutes, extra percussion and Edmar Castaneda's harp. First four (of five) pieces comprise the title suite. B+(**) [cd]
Sly5thAve: Sly 5th Ave Presents Akuma (2012 , self-released): Tenor saxophonist, original name Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II, from Austin, TX; studied at UNT; has toured with Prince, and in his list of musicians he's performed and/or recorded with -- normally something I skip over -- I did notice some hip-hop names like Freddie Gibbs, Homeboy Sandman, and Blu among the usual pop (Gladys Knight) and jazz (three Marsalis brothers, Maceo Parker, but also Brad Leali) names. First album, some African themes and plenty of Latin tinge. B+(**) [cd]
E. Doctor Smith: Quantum (2013, Edgetone): Drummer by trade, credited with synths here, his transition marked by his invention of a synth-drum called the Drummstick. Wikipedia's list of his studio albums starts with True Blue, The Breakfast Club, and Like a Prayer -- two of those are more commonly attributed to Madonna, so I'd say his proper discography starts in 2001 with The Drummstick and moves on to this slab of bass-heavy fusion. Starts off that way, anyway, but then sorta piddles out. B [cd]
1032K: That Which Is Planted: Live in Buffalo and Rochester (2013, Passin' Thru): Trio: Kevin Ray on bass, Andrew Drury on drums, and Ku-umba Frank Lacy on trombone, flumpet, voice, and percussion. The vocal preaches a text familiar to anyone who grew up on the Bible (or the Byrds), one that sticks in my craw because I doubt that there's ever a justifiable "time for war" -- but the music is Mingus, with Ayler, McCall, and Threadgill also given respect. Lacy has been around a long time but only has three albums under his name. Terrific to see him the focal point here. A- [cd]
Randy Travis: The Influence Vol. 1: The Man I Am (2013, Warner Brothers): He sure isn't aging gracefully: age 54 when this was released, his previous eighteen months saw three arrests, hospitalization for heart problems and a stroke, and his voice took a beating too. Covers, some awkward, some brave, some touching, none you'll take over the originals, and not just because he risks Lefty Frizzell and Louis Armstrong. B
Steve Treseler Group: Center Song (2013 , Creative Music Adventures): Saxophonist, mostly tenor, some clarinet, based in Seattle, second album, group varies but usually includes piano (9 of 13 tracks), often guitar (6) and/or cello (5), and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen gets a featuring credit on the front cover. B+(*) [cd]
Tropic of Cancer: Restless Idylls (2013, Blackest Ever Black): Dense waves of synth drone, lacklustre wails of palpably if not audibly anguished vocals, any given 20 second passage is listenable by itself, but over an hour they add up into something oppressive. B-
Mikolaj Trzaska/Devin Hoff/Michael Zerang: Sleepless in Chicago (2011-12 , NoBusiness): Free jazz sax trio, the Polish alto saxophonist has impressed every time I've heard him, and his pick-up band in Chicago know the drill. Short enough for LP, limited to 300 copies, presumably because the market knows best. B+(***) [cdr]
Ken Vandermark/The Resonance Ensemble: Head Above Water/Feet Out of the Fire (2012-13 , Not Two, 2CD): This is Ken Vandermark's third (or fourth) generation big band project, slimmed down a bit from his Territory Band -- three brass, four reeds, doubled up at bass and drums -- but the group name befits the rich sound he gets, rare cohesiveness, harmony even, in such a large free-for-all. A-
Frank Wess: Magic 201 (2011 , IPO): A sequal to last year's Magic 101, cut a couple months later with a similar group -- Kenny Barron and Winard Harper are on both, Rufus Reid takes over at bass here, and Russell Malone joins on guitar -- a real plus. The other change is that Wess plays some flute here, not just tenor sax as before. But since his death last fall at 91, this is all the more poignant -- would be even if it didn't close with "If It's the Last Thing I Do." B+(***) [cd]
The White Buffalo: Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways (2013, Unison Music): Jake Smith, rocks hard for a folksinger, seems like he's more inspired by Springsteen than Seeger, but he's got stories, doesn't like the military, and feels like he learned that lesson the hard way, even though he's probably just smart. B+(**)
Matt Wilson Quartet + John Medeski: Gathering Call (2013 , Palmetto): Pianoless quartet plus piano player, the split horn roles filled admirably by Jeff Lederer (reeds) and Kirk Knuffke (cornet), playing two Ellington riff pieces and a bunch of the drummer's originals. The guest is neither here nor there. B+(***) [cd]
Nils Wogram Root 70 With Strings: Riomar (2012 , NWOG): German trombonist, has two dozen albums since 1994 including one called Root 70 with this quartet -- Hayden Chisholm (alto sax), Matt Penman (bass), Jochen Rueckert (drums). This adds strings (one each: violin, viola, cello), purring quietly in the background or sawing away when they get the chance. B+(*) [cd]
Barry Guy/London Jazz Composers' Orchestra/Irène Schweizer: Theoria (1991 , Intakt): I don't think LJCO has ever been anything but bassist Guy's big sandbox: the five reeds and six brass can play sweet for a minute or two but like to rumble in ways that may (or may not) make sense. What does help here is the pivotal role of Swiss pianist Schweizer, who imposes her will over much of the single-piece hour. B+(*)
Barry Guy/London Jazz Composers Orcheatra/Irène Schweizer/Marilyn Crispell/Pierre Favre: Double Trouble Two (1995 , Intakt): The doubling is at piano, worth noting that Schweizer and Crispell also have a duet album together, so have had a chance to work this out without the distraction of the monster free jazz orch, as unruly as ever, perhaps even more magnificent at times (like the ending of "Part IV"), irritating at others: in short, the whole package. B+(**)
Cecil Taylor: Air (1960, Candid): Early album, although Taylor's rhythmic idiosyncrasy is already well developed, enough to deny tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp anything resembling a secure footing, and Taylor is so explosive his own solos often venture further out. A-
Cecil Taylor-Buell Neidlinger: New York City R&B (1961, Candid): Originally issued under the bassist's name, Taylor's name added later, but the pianist is the draw, especially on the two shorter trio cuts with Billy Higgins; the other two cuts add horns: Archie Shepp (tenor sax) on both; Clark Terry (trumpet), Steve Lacy (soprano sax), Roswell Rudd (trombone), and Charles Davis (baritone sax) on the closer. B+(***)
Cecil Taylor: Cell Walk for Celeste (1961, Candid): Outtakes from the New York City R&B and Jumpin' Punkins sessions that didn't appear in album form until 1988, most quartet with Shepp, Neidlinger, and Dennis Charles, but two tracks with the extra horn quartet, with Steve Lacy's soprano sax by far the most noteworthy. B+(**)
Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:
Jon Hopkins: Immunity (2013, Domino): Thick waves with long decays, too harmonically complex for minimalism even if that seems to be the idea -- or maybe ambient is the more current term, certainly the operative word for the ending note, but even more suggestive of something that sneaks up on you. [was: B+(***)] A-
Monday, January 13. 2014
Music: Current count 22708  rated (+33), 573  unrated (-6).
On the surface at least a relatively normal music week for me. I'm still adding lists to the metacritic file. I'm still picking out interesting-looking 2013 releases and trying to check them out on Rhapsody -- although for most of the week that was impossible, so I fell back to listening to new 2014 jazz. The interruption was due to a boot problem on my Windows Vista computer -- the only one I had working with speakers, on the assumption that it would be better for multimedia than my Linux machines. But when I pulled the Windows box out from under the desk and moved the speakers to an old Linux machine I had cobbled together from spare parts, I was able to get sound, and video, and get back on Rhapsody. I still have a lot of inaccessible download data on the Vista machine, and it's taken the Epson printer offline, but I'm operational again.
The metacritic file activity will end once I add Pazz & Jop into it: probably this week, since they missed last week's original schedule date. I've been cleaning out my hypesheet files and collecting publicist names -- I haven't had a mailing list since the early days of JCG -- and that, like everything else, is going slowly.
Seems like I'm having an unusual amount of trouble finding any new 2014 jazz releases to A-list, even though there is no shortage of high HMs -- cf. 3-star albums below from George Cables, Rob Derke, Jon Di Fiore, Pete Mills, Danny Petroni (with Frank Lacy), Dave Rempis (twice), Pete Robbins, Archie Shepp, Frank Wess, and Matt Wilson. At various points I thought half of those (Derke, Robbins, Shepp, Wilson) could make the higher grade, but for one reason or another I held them back. (Also held down some good 2-stars: e.g., Glenn Cashman, Steve Davis, David Helbock, Matt Renzi.) Nonetheless, I wound up with three A- records below, all from 2013 mop-up operations. (And by the way, two weren't even in the metacritic file when I found them -- although I had gotten a reliable tip on Kool A.D. -- and the other had appeared in only one EOY list.) That in itself makes for a pretty good week.
Just an observation, but the latest issue of DownBeat has 2.5-star pans of two records I like a lot: trad clarinetist Dave Bennett's Don't Be That Way (Mack Avenue) and fringe saxophonist Rent Romus' Truth Teller. Those records represent completely different ways for an artist to distinguish himself from the pack, and also say something about what made me different as a critic. On the other hand, everyone at DownBeat loves the new Matt Wilson album. I think it's pretty good too, but not that special.
I'm thinking I'll probably post a mid-month Rhapsody Streamnotes given how much material I've already accumulated, rather than wait for a ridiculously long post toward the end of the month. The number of records hasn't dropped appreciably yet, but I am sweating the writing less.
Records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, January 12. 2014
Charles Krauthammer wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post last week which was picked up by the Wichita Eagle. His title was New generation must confront anti-Semitism, but it had nothing to do with anti-Semitism. It was just a knee-jerk neocon reaction to a minor victory for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement against Israel's continuing occupation over and debasement of more than five millions Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. This bugs apologists for Israel like Krauthammer because it shows that their propaganda is beginning to lose its grip in America and Europe. Krauthammer doubles down with this amazing paragraph:
Israel has no constitution, nor any fundamental guarantee of free speech or freedom of religion, and its courts, far from being "fiercely independent," rarely act to restrain the most extreme abuses of state power. Israel classifies its citizens, granting many exclusive privileges to those who are Jewish, and dividing up its Palestinian subjects into various classes based on where they live. Most of the latter have little freedom of movement, have limited economic opportunity, and are subject to arbitrary arrest without charges or due process. Worse still, they are constantly subjected to the threat of violence, and often, almost randomly, to its actuality, and not just from the various armed forces of the state but from ad hoc groups of Jewish citizens, who are rarely restrained and almost never punished for their transgressions.
Krauthammer tries to defend Israel by pointing to crimes of other countries, such as Syria's recent use of "'barrel bombs' filled with nails, shrapnel and other instruments of terror." Hard to see how that in any way exculpates Israel's air force for using white phosphorus munitions during its 2008 attack against Gaza. But Israel's affront to human rights goes far deeper than the inevitable atrocities of its numerous avoidable wars. In 1948 Israeli forces obtained a substantial Jewish majority population in its territory by driving over 700,000 Palestinians into refugee camps, and secured that majority by refusing to allow any Palestinian refugees to return to their prewar homes.
In 1951 Israel extended citizenship to those Palestinians who remained as a minority in Israel, making Israel in principle a nation of its residents, but in reality non-Jewish "citizens" of Israel were second-class, subject to military rule (until 1967) and discriminated against in numerous ways ever since. However, in 1967 Israel attacked Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and seized substantial territories from each. Contrary to international law, Israel moved to settle and in some cases to annex the occupied territories, but in no case has Israel offered even nominal citizenship to its new subjects. As such, Israel ceased to be a nation belonging to its residents and became a state allowing one ethnographic class (Jews), with a semblance of internal democracy, to dominate, control, restrict, denigrate, and oppress its larger population.
Europe and America have long been sympathetic to Israel. They have provided vast support, especially military, which has helped Israel to persevere and to emerge as the preëminent power in the region. It's easy enough to understand why Americans, in particular, have been so enamored with Israel, but it's gradually dawning on many Americans that the regime in Israel has become deeply inimical to the principles and ideals our country was founded on and has long, publicly at least, aspired to. (In practice, America's treatment of its own native people and the long-term persistence of a racial caste system, is one thing we have in common but would prefer to think we've overcome.) Israel's propagandists get so agitated when their system of control over Palestinians is likened to South African Apartheid because they realize that history isn't on their side. Same thing with BDS, which most people associate with the struggle for equality in South Africa.
There's no doubt that sanctions can go too far. Japan, for instance, only attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 (and invaded Indonesia) after the US shut off oil supplies. Israel's own attempt to impose "a diet" on Gaza led Hamas to launch its toy rockets into Israel. Some people, like Noam Chomsky, have opposed BDS not because they don't understand how inimical Israel has become to human rights but because they fear driving Israel to some sort of violent paranoid fit. Readers of Max Blumenthal's new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, which focuses on the extreme right in Israel and the inroads they've made on mainstream Zionist thought, will be all the more nervous in this account.
But I see two reasons why I think BDS will have a positive effect. The first is that it sends a message, or actually two: one is that the propaganda isn't working and we can see through the unfair behavior. The other is that continuing that behavior has tangible, even if not especially damaging, consequences. One big reason the right wing in Israel has gained power over the last decade is that they've managed to convince voters that no one in the west would ever push back when Israel imposed its will on the Palestinians, and left-center parties have pretty much acquiesced to that argument. BDS shows both sides that there are tangible costs now and potentially greater costs in the future, and that will help the center-left to counter against the self-destructiveness so well described in Blumenthal's book.
The other reason for pushing BDS now is that it's something small groups can do well short of gaining political power. We're a long ways from being able to turn the US government around, but the ASA -- the American Studies Association, the group Krauthammer is railing against ("an exercise in radical chic, giving marginalized academics a frisson of pretend anti-colonialism, seasoned with a dose of edgy anti-Semitism") -- is a much more practical forum, yet still one that sends the message.
Is supporting BDS anti-Semitism? The only people who see it so are those who equate the state of Israel with the Jewish people, and even then they're hard pressed to find any evidence of anti-Semitism other than a critique of the abuses of power by the armed state of Israel and its chosen people. If such people really had any concern about anti-Semitism, they wouldn't insist on equating Jews with Israel, let alone with Israel's involvement with occupation, domination, and wanton violence. But true believers in Zionism have always depended on anti-Semitism: it is the force that drives Jews to flee to Israel, the force that justifies the need to live apart from the world, the force that fuels their revenge fantasies. And if often seems like the only way they can carry on is to invent more of it.
One irony here is that Jews in the diaspora have been in the forefront of local and international movements for liberalism and socialism, for personal freedom and for social justice -- a stance which drives them increasingly to question the behavior of the Israeli state and people. The few Americans who are aware of how distorted and dehumanizing life has become in Israel, especially in its settlements and occupied territories, and who still insist on championing Israeli militarism to the hilt are on the far right here -- fascists like Krauthammer, and highly disingenuous ones at that.
Ariel Sharon, né Scheinermann, died yesterday, at age 85, although he had been incapacitated by a stroke and coma since 2006, making his earthly departure something of a non-event. Possibly the single dumbest thing that George W. Bush ever said was when he described Sharon as a "man of peace." Sharon's own autobiography, which came out about that time, was titled Warrior. He was intimately involved in every Israeli war and nearly every border skirmish and retaliatory atrocity since 1948. In 1951 he led an Israeli commando force that demolished the village of Qibya, setting a standard for flagrant abuse of power that continued unchecked until he embarrassed the IDF during the Sabra and Shatila massacres in his 1982 Lebanon War and was removed from his post as Defense Minister. After that, he worked to rehabilitate himself by promoting illegal settlements, finally became Likud party leader in 2000, wrecked the Oslo "peace process" and provoked the "Al-Aqsa Intifada," the excuse he used to viciously crush the Palestinian Authority. He was a showboating general, a flamboyant politician, a ruthless opportunist, and most likely deeply corrupt. Even when he made a step that might have led toward peace, such as his 2004 withdrawal of settlements from Gaza, he did it in such a way as to ensure that the conflict would continue. That Israel should forever be at war with everyone, not least with its own people, is his enduring legacy. It's not clear whether he would have been proud of that, but that was the only way of life he ever knew, and the only one he could stand living. He was far from the only one to have created that world -- in his youth he was devoted to David Ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan and benefited much from their favoritism -- but by the end he had come to personify and embody the wretched fruits of war.
Thursday, January 9. 2014
Back on December 4, as I was finishing my Jazz Critics Poll ballot, I posted The Best Jazz Albums of 2013, my list of 74 new jazz albums and 4 reissues. Most years I have about as many non-jazz albums in my year-end lists and Pazz & Jop ballots as I have jazz, so it's reasonable to expect I could post a comparable non-jazz list. That follows here, but first some preliminary comments.
Since December 4 I've been frantically scouring year-end lists -- my main tool there is my metacritic file (and its compilations complement) -- trying to pick up much of what I had missed. I met a second deadline on December 23 when I filed my Pazz & Jop ballot (see here), which I deliberately skewed 7-3 toward non-jazz (and for that matter inserted a jazz set, William Parker's Wood Flute Songs, that I hadn't heard before the earlier ballot). Still, I kept searching out more things -- until the computer with the speakers and the software for dealing with Rhapsody and downloads crapped out on me.
This is, in any case, as good a time as any to present a year-end list. I've updated The Best Jazz Albums of 2013, which has swelled to 87 new albums + 6 reissues. Picking up a dozen new albums in a month was due to an unusual combination of factors. Some were records I wasn't aware of until they showed up in lists (Marty Ehrlich, Odean Pope, Hunger Pangs); some were late due to transatlantic shipping (Anna Kaluza, the Two Al's); some got to Rhapsody late (Mario Pavone, Ken Vandermark; Jon Lundbom is officially a 2014 release, but showed up early); and a couple were sent by musicians (Jörg Fischer, Michael McNeil -- he sent me the Paul Smoker releases).
Hard to compare this with previous years, in part because I searched back through my review files and added most of the 2012 releases that I didn't get to until 2013: 8, including one reissue, in the jazz A-list, 96 (including 4 reissues) below that. I needed to include some 2012 releases to make up for the early December ballot dates -- my number three pick, a Billy Bang record attributed to The Group, was officially released in late December (in Lithuania no less), so nobody had a chance to include it on their 2012 lists. I devised a test to decide which 2012 releases to count -- I didn't want to pick up things that I had merely been late to (Taylor Swift's Red is a good example) -- then applied it throughout (more details in the non-jazz reference file).
The Best Non-Jazz Albums of 2013 follows (see that "reference file" link for more data). The Jazz A-list is longer than the Non-Jazz one (87 to 69), but that's mostly because I wound up listening to more than twice as many jazz albums (727 to 330). It probably also helped that most of the jazz albums were on actual CDs, whereas nearly all of the non-jazz albums were reviewed on the more limited basis of a spin (or two) on Rhapsody. On the other hand, I had a lot more help finding non-jazz records: nearly everything obscure on the list can be attributed to the discoveries of one or another (sometimes several) trusted critics. (Thomas Anderson is an exception: he sent me the CD and it doesn't appear to have reached anyone else. Wayne Hancock is another.) But I picked four records up from Jason Gross' EOY list; Daniel Wohl (and probably others) from Jason Gubbels; King DJ from Lucas Fagen; several items from Michael Tatum and even more from Robert Christgau (Yo Ma Ma and Robert Sarazin Blake were especially long stretches).
Of course, there were also many good records by relatively well known artists, and thanks to Rhapsody I was able to check most of them out. I've heard 45 of the top-50 metacritic file records (all except: My Bloody Valentine, Bill Callahan, Run the Jewels, Fuck Buttons, John Grant), and 39 of the next 50 (not heard: Mikal Cronin, Laura Mvula, Blood Orange, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Beyoncé, Jagwar Ma, Daniel Avery, Juliana Barwick, Thee Oh Sees, Moderat, Charles Bradley). It gets spottier after that, as well it should. There are dozens, maybe even a hundred or two, more albums below that to seek out, few of which we'll ever get to. After all, another year is coming.
Year after year I present my year-end lists as just that: long, mind-numbing lists like I use every day to keep track of the current year (e.g., 2013, 2012, etc.). Other people's lists generally have cover scans and brief write-ups, and it occurred to me that I have all that. Why not just table it up? I did this for the jazz albums part of my list back when I filed my ballot for the Jazz Critics Poll (the file has subsequently been updated to January 6, 2014). So this is the other side of the coin: the non-jazz list.
For A-list only: [*] indicates that I reviewed this on the basis of an advance, often a CDR copy (a good thing, I might add, for vinyl-only releases). [**] identifies a record that I've only heard via download or through a streaming service like Rhapsody.
For all lists, I've included 2012 (and in rare cases earlier) records rated after the freeze date (Jan. 1, 2013) that were so obscure they received less than five points in the 2012 metacritic file. These are marked, e.g., '12, after the label. Another 73 2012 releases (nearly all non-jazz) were graded after the freeze date but fail the metacritic test: I was aware of nearly all of those but simply got to them late.
New Music: Non-Jazz
Again, full info here:Jazz, and Non-Jazz.
Monday, January 6. 2014
Music: Current count 22675  rated (+20), 579  unrated (+7).
Jazz Prospecting is indefinitely suspended. Only way I can see bringing it back is if someone steps forward and offers me a paying gig writing a variant on the Jazz Consumer Guide format, and it has enough visibility and support to let me run it as I've long wished I could. I don't see much chance of that happening. At this point Robert Christgau is unable to get a sponsor for his Consumer Guide, and as his former editor pointed out to me: jazz is such a tiny bit of the market -- so tiny the outfit that last supported Christgau wouldn't even consider it.
Even so, I would have to decide that it is more worthwhile to spend my remaining time sorting out records than working on my long-procrastinated book project, Share the Wealth -- resurrecting the old Huey Long campaign theme, but with wrinkles and reverberations he never imagined. Still, one thing I like about the line is that it wasn't just a slogan: it came with an organization (better still, "clubs"), and it also came with a theme song. My major weakness as a jazz (or rock) critic was that I always suspected I should be doing something else, so I never put the effort into really mastering music writing. For instance, I was struck recently by a post by W. Royal Stokes where he reviews 135 Jazz, Blues, and Beyond Books Published in the Past Year or So. I've read (roughly) similar numbers of books in the last year (or two), but none of them have been on music. (Of course, expertise only goes so far: I'd take my 2013 list over Stokes' recommendations any day.)
This doesn't mean I'm going to stop listening to music, or even stop writing about it. I expect to continue with Rhapsody Streamnotes at least once a month, and I'll fold anything I might have written for Jazz Prospecting or Recycled goods into it. A week after I posted December's column (with 77 records in it) I have 25 notes more/less ready for next month. I expect the pace to slow down: I've been stuck in a mental rut trying to wrap up 2013, but that will wind down after Pazz & Jop posts on January 8th -- traditionally the last thing I do to my metacritic file is to fold in the Pazz & Jop results. (Meanwhile, I've been adding lists steadily: the file is now up to 7037 new records, and the reissues/vault jobs file is up to 1028 entries.)
Now may be the last chance I get to post metacritic file results before Pazz & Jop, so this is how the current standings go:
This file has generally been pretty indicative of Pazz & Jop performance, although it doesn't attempt to match the Voice's profile for voters, so certain skews are well known: P&J has very few UK (or for that matter non-US) voters, so artists who are weaker in the US tend to underperform (likely examples here: James Blake, Arctic Monkeys, Bill Callahan, John Grant, probably David Bowie, maybe Nick Cave); token hip-hop/R&B, and to a lesser extent pop, artists tend to do better in P&J (Chance the Rapper, Janelle Monáe, Danny Brown, Lorde, Drake, MIA; Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus will do better but both are way off the pace, at 245 and 182 respectively); older mainstream artists have usually done better in P&J (e.g., Dylan, Springsteen), but it's hard to see who's close enough to be helped this time (David Bowie?). I think it's very likely that at least two of this year's breakout country women will crack the top forty (Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Brandy Clark).
(By the way, I've looked at a lot of disagreeable lists, but Jim Farber's in the New York Daily News is easily the worst I've seen all year -- among other problems, it's the first I've seen that even mentions Natalie Maines, whose record he touts as the year's best.)
Aside from the metacritic file, I'm also updating the "Best Jazz" list originally posted a month ago to reflect what I've found since (quite a bit), and when I'm done I'll have a "Best Non-Jazz" piece to go with it. Historically, the two splits have been fairly evenly matched, but this year the jazz side is ahead 85-69 (A- or above) and 726-305 (B+ or below; both are new records including belated 2012 grades; non-jazz leads in the old music categories 39-25). I'll post these pieces later this week, at which point I'll do my annual list freeze. And I'll wrap up the metacritic file when I fold the Pazz & Jop results into it -- the results are due January 8.
Also on my schedule is to send out a letter to many of the publicists who have been sending me records, after which I expect they'll stop. (Actually, some have stopped already. Also, I don't have a definitive list, so some will no doubt learn from here, if they bother at all.) I've already covered most of this in the revised version of the file formerly titled "Send Me Music to Review." One thing I will point out there is that there remains a small residual value in still sending me stuff: I will continue to publish "Music Week" every Monday, and it will have a current rated count up top and a list of the week's newly rated albums, as well as the old "unpacking" feature, toward the bottom. Likewise, those of you who tune in each week for consumer guidance will at least get the latest grades. (Reviews, such as I bother to write, will wait for the month's Rhapsody Streamnotes.)
Arguably that's not much, but it won't take much effort beyond what I would do anyway. How valuable it turns out to be will depend previously ungraded music I listen to -- something I have no way of predicting at the moment. But I do hope this provides those who value my judgment -- I'm especially grateful for those who wrote in recently -- some reason to stay in touch.
One thing I've already discovered in compiling the recently rated list is that it would be useful to provide at least a genre tag and a source: cd=CD, r=Rhapsody, bc=Bandcamp, etc. In theory, the list below should add up to match the delta above. This week has been particulary dicey in that I had pulled much of this together after the fact this week. Mostly listening to records from 2013 EOY lists here, although I did get distracted by two Barry Guy/LCJO records I had missed.
Records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Tuesday, December 31. 2013
by Michael Tatum
A somewhat abbreviated month, at least by my usual standards -- blame those hectic holidays. But don't worry, I'm forsaking my usual habits and planning to continue sorting out 2013 in January and February of the new year. I haven't heard the Childish Gambino yet (or Beyoncé, or for that matter Katy Perry). Until then, below you'll find two of the best records of the year -- disparaged by many others, but completely beloved by me. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm exiting stage left to celebrate six years of marriage with Lady Gaga's biggest fan.
The Dismemberment Plan: Uncanney Valley (Partisan) Travis Morrison's concept album about maturity (which he dubs "the afterparty for the afterparty for the afterparty") has been roundly dismissed by brash critics who might also dismiss parenthood as "overrated," but luckily, Morrison has already anticipated their petty snickers. He refers to his forty-something self as a "fat nun on drugs/drowning in hugs" before that pop culture geek lollygagging in his parents' basement can beat him to it, then goes out on a Vegas-style high note after rationalizing to a hapless blind date why he stood her up. Meanwhile, as an upstanding representative of Corporate America, he keeps his thing in his pants on a breathless tour of America's Reston Parkways, and though I think we can all agree that Quantico, Dulles, and Ashburn are hardly loci for quality tail, we can admire his restraint regardless. Those primo yuks are all on the terrific first half. But the astonishing second half begins with two of what I can only describe as "standards," whatever that antiquated term might mean at this late date. The extraordinary "Lookin'" celebrates a lifemate long after her aura of mystery has dissipated: "Just as a painter returns to his muse/With his hands more slow and sure/Once he wanted to paint her naked/Now he only wants to paint her." And the poignant "Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer" eulogizes the things parents sacrifice for their children, then celebrates what they get in the bargain. Compare those two major statements to the emotional high point on 1999's much-loved Emergency and I, a lumbering power ballad about romantic confusion -- by comparison, kid stuff. And that same record's sentimental "You Are Invited," about a hypothetical invitation to an imaginary party, doesn't have anything on this record's carousing blowout closer: "When I say 'cluster,' you say 'fuck'/Cluster-(fuck!)/Cluster-(fuck!)" See kids, maturity can be fun -- even when it isn't. A
Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (Aftermath) I'm not especially worried Em is joining Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige in the sequel-to-a-landmark ploy, nor am I fazed by the commercial caution of the first single, which pays lame homage to Em's supposed roots in Def Jam-era Beastie Boys -- roots that no real fan of his actually believes exists anywhere other than in the abstract. I'm more concerned about a labyrinthine opener in which Stan's little brother Mitchell plays the avenging angel for "all the bullies you hate/that you became/with every faggot you slaughtered/coming back on you/every women you insult." We don't need to be told Mathers has a double standard when it comes to his daughters, and one more layer of irony won't convert those who didn't get the point in 2000 -- they won't bother trying now. We who love the artiste but might decline to send him a dinner invitation prefer the asshole, the one who boasts "there's no rhyme or reason" for all the shitty things he does, mainly because watching him catalog his psychic damage attests to the contrary. Most of the first half, from making the most of adolescent misery to insulting everyone with a vagina in range, reclaims old turf with renewed wit and verve. But the second half is something new. "Stronger than I Was," which finally gives long-suffering ex-wife twice-over Kim her say, is actually a self-loathing exercise in disguise, and considering a November 31st anniversary couldn't possibly exist, might be one more cruel lie regardless. The brave "Headlights" humbly apologizes to his mother after years of vindictive backbiting. And "Evil Twin" fuses past personas so the man behind the the multiple masks can finally step forward to accept responsibility for his shit. Who knew he would take his twelve steps off the edge of a precipice? A
The Handsome Family: Wilderness (Carrot Top) I don't relate to doleful types like Brett Sparks too much -- like many people with bipolar disorder, my lows can be just as frighteningly energetic as my highs, so when I go that awful place I'd just as soon hear something like Nirvana's cathartic In Utero, or perhaps this duo's 2002 Live at Schuba's Tavern, which leavens their greatest dirges with plenty of jokey patter. But that merely reminds me that this band's cult really revolves around Brett's better half, his lyric-writing wife Rennie, a nature-walker whose e-book Wilderness not only occasioned this companion piece, but for those of us not privy to Rennie's vast knowledge of morbid 20th century Americana, also provides plenty of pertinent (or at least entertaining) context. In the chapter on woodpeckers for example, Sparks digresses with a brief account of Mary Sweeney, "the Wisconsin Window-Smasher," who under the frequent influence of cocaine roamed the state hurling her satchel through plate glass windows, often getting arrested before she finished the job -- a story which worms its way into the record proper's "Woodpecker" (thought not Sparks' tangential discussion of the "rare" but apparently documented incidence of spontaneous human combustion in "elderly, sedentary women" -- these are three-minute songs, after all). Which should give you a taste of what to expect: more songs about log cabins, mud puddles, and death, with almost every track devoted to man going up against nature and losing, beginning the one about flies feasting on Custer, Wal-Marts swallowing up the forests, and embattled army ants winning wars in silence. A
Jon Hopkins: Immunity (Domino) A child prodigy in his native Australia, a Ravel/Stravinsky/Depeche Mode/Pet Shop Boys fan whose last two solo albums -- including the one under discussion -- were shortlisted for the Mercury Prize despite it usually being awarded to UK denizens, electronica maestro Hopkins certainly qualifies as a subject for further research. The currently-reissued 2001 debut Opalescent, well-regarded by his fans, radiates a Pink Floyd at the day spa kind of aura -- fine if you're into such things -- but this year's model is ambient in my kind of way: background music not for airports or hotels but for a middle-aged man on a forty-five minute Sprinter ride west from San Marcos, CA to Oceanside: silver dollars tinkling in a coin slot, the wheeze of an elevator pushing itself upward, the gasp of brakes as the light rail train comes to a stop, doors grudgingly shutting open and closed, the invented sound in your head of city sights whisking by silently, daydreams breaking the surface of the watery subconscious, then submerging again when someone apologizes for accidentally kicking your leg. If that's too pretentious and/or conceptual for you, I'll add that what gets this vehicle from point A to point B, especially on the urban-not-pastoral first half, is beats, my favorite being the oscillating bass line on the well-named "Open Eye Signal." And for the night ride home we have the second half, leading with the stoic piano chords and impressionistic swells of the evocative "Abandon Window" and ending with the gorgeous title track, which combines the sensibilities of both halves: the unadorned arrangements of the second and the simulated "found" sounds of the first -- so seductive I nearly missed my stop. A
Lady Gaga: Artpop (Streamline/Interscope) Word scrawled onto a bathroom stall in red sharpie, early December: ARTPOP. One week later, marked out in black, accompanied by a request and smiley-face turned ninety degrees: FUCK YOU. So it turns out everyone really is a critic, and a good thing the Gaga fan in my household encouraged me to tune them all out. Abandoning rock dreams for sexxx dreams, which for her means IDM and trap beats and black guests more alive (sorry) than Clarence Clemons, this is where Gaga delivers the pure pleasure machine her previous records only promised. Justifying the pooped-out "your anus/Uranus" pun with a boast about her own derriere, rolling around with the other swine in the mud and muck, and giving her girlfriend a "manicure" that doesn't involve an emery board (unless, of course, that's what she's into), there's enough sex here to make the uptight squeamish, which you can bet is one reason why those who turned up their noses at Erotica are doing the same here. Yet despite the PG-13 mien, I'd argue that monogamy is what's made her comfortable enough about her "body parts" to sing about a hundred ways to stimulate them, the reason why the gender-fuck classic "G.U.Y." claims power about being the girl-under-you rather than the girl-on-top. It's also why R. Kelly acts like a pure gentleman on the addictive "Do What U Want" even after Gaga gives him the red light to indulge his nastiest fantasies. She doesn't just deserve that applause, she deserves a standing ovation. Or kneeling ovation. Or squatting, straddling, hovering. Whatever you're into. One hour of this and I'm up for anything. A
Pusha T: My Name Is My Name (Def Jam) Terrence Thornton's admittance into the House of Kanye comes at almost precisely the right moment in his current benefactor's history: when West applied the cinematic prog-rock of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to Pusha's poesy for 2011's slightly overblown Fear of God II: Let us Pray, the aesthetic effect suggested the Michaels Bay and Mann, but the more pared-down production here, of a piece with Yeezus, returns Pusha to the nitty-gritty where he belongs. But though I don't necessarily demand that my cocaine rap come with a conscience, this doesn't nearly boast the depth or literary accomplishment of 2006's Hell Hath No Fury, his best record with brother Gene for the Clipse, either in terms of complex rhyme or meaty content. Applauding his born-again brother for taking "the better path" is only to be expected, confessing he never outgrew being the spoiled younger child is no surprise, and bragging he would have used that forty acres to grow poppy seeds his only shocking moment (which leads me to wonder -- has Kelly Rowland fallen so out of commercial favor she's ready to be his mule?). Granted, the simultaneously crude yet sophisticated music doesn't flag for a second, and this is the leanest and meanest Thornton has been in years. But Kendrick Lamar's tongue-twisting cameo shows up the man's more prosaic raps for the two-dimensional commercials for the "good life" they've become. And only Rick Ross' penetrating verse on "Hold On" offers any reflection: "Chasing my paper, couldn't fathom my wealth/Built a school in Ethiopia, should enroll myself." Reflection -- from Rick Ross. What has this world come to? A
R. Kelly: Black Panties (RCA) Begins with two great cunnilingus boasts, leads to two very good marriage lies, ends with several reprehensible evasions ("Cookie," "Legs Shakin'") ***
Red Hot + Fela (Knitting Factory) Second volume of Kuti covers too conceptual or not conceptual enough (Tuneyards, ?uestlove, Angelique Kidjo, Akua Nara: "Lady"; Spoek Mathambo, Zaki Ibrahim: "Yellow Fever") **
Swearin': Surfing Strange (Salinas) Meet the lesser Crutchfield twin and her lesser half ("Parts of Speech," "Dust in the Gold Sack") **
Boards of Canada: Tomorrow's Harvest (Warp) I have this childish fantasy that never will come true, but you can't blame me for dreaming. It's based on something I saw on television, in which one snobby New York socialite sneakily tricks her nemesis into blind test-tasting the latter's own brand of Pinot Grigio and asks for her "honest" opinion, which of course, she completely disparages -- to her later embarrassment. In my version, I've invited people much cooler than myself to my private listening party, in which I promise to give them a sneak preview of the new Boards of Canada record, but instead, I put on an old Tangerine Dream from 1977. "Their most cinematic and vast-sounding album yet!" cries out The Guardian's Dorian Lynskey. "Suggestive of barren plains and burning skies, wonder and dread, watching and being watched!" "There is joy in these grooves!" swoons The Independent's Laurence Phelan. "The attentive care of studio perfectionists, and the warm embrace of an old friend!" Then I give up my sneaky subterfuge and reveal my clever switcheroo, embarrassing everyone, and put on Skrillex, after which everyone angrily leaves. And you know why that scenario wouldn't play out like that? Because you know damn well all those Britcrits, much like American hipsters, drink up Tangerine Dream like they might a 2005 Domaine Stirn Cuvée Prestige Sigolsheim. Meet the new harvest, same as the old harvest. C
Britney Spears: Britney Jean (RCA) Haven fallen for her mechanical sex doll bit on 2011's Femme Fatale, I've now woken up the next morning to discover said doll has real feelings, often conveyed in (ulp!) lyrics of her own devising (albeit not sung in her "real" voice). A handful of major will.i.am beats almost redeem the enterprise (if not sister Jamie Lynn's vacuous guest shot "Chillin' With You"), but I'm not bothered by the possibility BJ thinks EDM stands for "entelligent dance music" as much as I am by two flat-out annoyances. Musically, "Work Bitch" is damn near epochal, but the empty philosophy of the lyric is Horatio Alger filtered through Andy Cohen: you don't really have to work that hard to create a lifestyle in which you spend all day sipping Martinis, driving a Lamborghini, and rocking a hot bikini (bet all the Real Trophy-Housewives think they "work hard"), and few wannabe ingénues will ever become Britney Spears no matter how hard they put their bobbed noses to the grindstone. I mean, why not brag about something truly difficult but within the realm of tangible possibility -- say, getting into Harvard Law (wait -- let me guess)? Meanwhile, the metaphorically repulsive, territorially-pissed "Perfume" begs for a video in which BJ squats over her boyfriend's new Armani jacket and squirts her initials onto the sleeve. Graded leniently for putting the banality about her newborn baby on the deluxe edition. B
The Chills: Somewhere Beautiful (Fire) There are no bad seats at a Chills concert -- unless, of course, you're the hapless sound man, twiddling knobs several blocks away. B
Neil Young: Live at the Cellar Door (Reprise) "I caught you playin' at the Cellar Door/I love these songs, but your set is a bore." B
Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience Vol. 2 (RCA) Wait a minute -- doesn't the dull bachelor party come before the boring wedding? C+
Blood Orange: Cupid Deluxe (Domino) Solange Knowles' producer-collaborator shows he can do it with his own starpower, or lack thereof. C+
Laura Marling: When I Was An Eagle (Ribbon) The Pentangle with one point: modal drones are really neat. C
This is the 35th installment, (almost) monthly since August 2010, totalling 846 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter. Comments are open (subject to moderation).
Monday, December 30. 2013
Music: Current count 22655  rated (+49), 572  unrated (-12).
Again, paying more attention to catching up on Rhapsody with what I didn't get than minding my own incoming queue -- for 2013, anyhow, now down to 5 records (compared to 9 I still haven't reviewed from 2012, or 21 I never got around to from 2006). I feel like I've worked pretty hard this year. The year-end list, which I'll make a frozen copy of sometime in the next week or two, currently shows ratings for 1109 releases this year. That's up from 976 records by freeze time in 2012 -- the current 2012 file, which I'll stop adding to tomorrow, has 1181 grades, but 205 of them were added since last year's freeze, so are really part of this year's workload -- and is probably more than in any year since I've been keeping track. I've also done some substantial Recycled Goods columns (see the 2013 index), so the actual rated count since Dec. 31, 2012 has increased by 1783 records (22655 - 20874). That's probably too much, and there are certainly cases where I didn't spend enough time or wasn't paying sufficient attention -- even a few (but really, very rarely) when I didn't finish a record.
But this has also been the first year (since 2002) when my writing income has dropped to $0, as has my website income (not that I couldn't shake some money out of some people, but I haven't been serving them very well either). And this has also been a year when my progress on my various book-like projects has come to a complete standstill, and one where my software development efforts have all the more atrophied. I also find myself totally inundated in clutter (despite the fact that I'm getting a third less CDs than I was three years ago -- they've simply run out of places to go). And all this makes me cranky, and is probably damaging my health -- certainly isn't doing my sanity any good, which always used to be the saving grace of listening to music. Even my reading has suffered -- seems like the last two books have taken about three months to slog through, whereas over the last decade (even as a slow reader) I've averaged a book every other week.
So it's time to make some changes. Starting in 2014 (which is to say Wednesday) I'm suspending Jazz Prospecting. I need to write a letter to the various publicists and musicians who have been sending me material, and who will no doubt soon join the many others who no longer do. I may wind up posting a column or two in January -- I already have a cache of reviews of 2014 releases, and there are a few more in the queue I feel obliged to acknowledge. I say "suspend" because I still would consider resurrecting Jazz Consumer Guide if I had a paying venue of some repute, or if I had an equity stake in a music website that was primarily run by someone else. (One of the things I haven't found time to do was to write a prospectus for just such a website, so that stands a slightly better chance of happening by suspending Jazz Prospecting.)
I'm also suspending Recycled Goods. (I see that I currently have three reviews in the January 2014 draft file. Not sure what to do with them -- maybe nothing, or maybe that's the final column.) Again, I would reconsider if I had a reputable paying venue interested in such a column. Back when it was a going concern (2003-07, and you might also look at the Seattle Weekly spinoff) this was my favorite column, although I'm not sure that it would be easy to reconstitute (or even much fund) given recent trends in the music recycling business (cut-rate samplers and anniversary extravaganzas in the majors, ever quainter obscurities in the minors, and lots of copyright evasion in Europe).
The column I'm most likely to continue, albeit on a reduced scale, is Rhapsody Streamnotes. It is, after all, mostly note-taking, and I may decide just to jot a grade down without an explanation -- some of yesterday's posts are already pretty much nothing. I will also continue to construct my annual file -- 2014 is already started -- and I will file "Music Week" notices in my notebook (if not necessarily on the blog). I will continue to vote in critics polls as long as I'm invited and feel I have something to contribute. I may from time to time post a little something on what I like, but I won't feel any obligation to do so.
Also, no metacritic file next year. I know I said that last year too, but reversed when I found that I wasn't collecting enough information to know what's going on. I wound up creating a file that is significantly better than previous years: it has much more detailed data about reviews and lists (not all of which is visible in the presented file). It currently has 6939 new releases and 1014 compilations, reissues, and vault raids. It tracks 90 publications and independent reviewers, and I've added over 200 year-end lists. I'll keep playing with this for another week or so, but I'm basically done with 2013 -- the end of these things usually occurs when the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll appears and I tote up the 1500 or so records that finish with any votes.
The metacritic file is something that should be a community project: its usefulness is hard to understate, but the amount of work involved is impossible for a single person to do, and it could be made even more useful if more people would pick it up. (There are, of course, various commercial entities doing bits of this, but none are doing a very good job.) Something like this will probably be worked into the website proposal.
I'll continue publishing Michael Tatum's A Downloader's Diary, at least until we find a better home. I'll post his December column tomorrow (maybe even late tonight). Beyond that he's looking at January and February to catch up with 2013 releases, and beyond that 2014.
I'll send some email out within a week, and finally revise my dated "send me music" file (no link because it's totally misleading at the moment). I'd be happy to get feedback on this, either through comments (which have been about 90% spam to date) or email (see the "Contact" link). I will miss some of the music I won't be getting -- especially Clean Feed, NoBusiness, and Toondist, who've gone so far out of their way to support me, and the many fine independent publicists who stuck with me after the Voice didn't. May even have to buy some, not that I expect my income to change (and frankly, I'm looking to enjoy some of what I already have -- something that has been nearly impossible the last few years).
Meanwhile, I've got a mess to clean up, some computers to get working, some code to figure out, some wood to work, and some books to write.
Autumn in Augusta: Songs My Mama Would Like (2013, self-released, EP): Lucy Smith sings five old songs over piano-bass-drums, one a melody from someone named Beethoven, two others from lesser known artists who sign their work as "Traditional." Just runs 18:42 but feels heartfelt, substantial. B+(***)
David Bach: Otherworld (2013, Integrity Music): Keyboard player -- Rhodes, synths, organ, even a Steinway Grand -- fifth album since 1995, backed by a large but often shuffled group, creating a sort of grand pastorale, all evanescent effects aorund the leader's melody, or more rarely a synth beat. B
Alan Blackman: The Coastal Suite (2011 , self-released): Pianist, based in Baltimore, has a couple previous albums since 2000. This extended piece was commissioned by Chamber Music America's 2011 New Jazz Works, but it's scaled down to a small jazz combo with Rogerio Boccato providing extra percussion and Donny McCaslin on tenor and soprano sax. Eloquent material, especially with McCaslin up front. B+(**)
Barry Danielian: Metaphorically Speaking (2013, Tariqah): "Our enemies are resourceful. They never stop thinking of new ways to harm the American people . . . and neither do we." Quoted here as spoken by George W. Bush, who did more damage, both here and abroad, than Osama bin Laden ever imagined, and as the quote suggests did it as much by accident as by intent. Glad to see someone hasn't forgotten that. Trumpet-led synth funk, not far removed from disco, which I don't consider a dis but does remind me that we've been there, done that. B+(*)
Jörg Fischer: Spring Spleen and Twelve Other Pieces (2012, Gligg): Drummer, from Germany, plays in Lurk Lab and has a couple other albums, including a duo with Peter Brötzmann. This one is solo percussion, the first couple pieces thoroughly enjoyable, varies less after that. B+(**)
Jörg Fischer/Matthias Schubert/Uli Böttcher: Lurk Lab (2012, Gligg): Avant sax trio, listed in front cover order: drums, tenor sax, live electronics. All joint credits, so figure improv. Böttcher seems more like a second drummer than a surrogate bassist, but that's probably an oversimplification -- he also throws in some whistles and whizzes, and at full fury the flurry can be pretty amazing. A-
Annette Genovese: Dream With Me (2013, self-released): Singer, wrote (or co-wrote) 3 of 8 songs; Discogs lists a 12-inch under her name from 1982; hype sheet says she "has performed and recorded in the New York Tri-State area for over 25 years and done 3 tours in the Middle East." She does a fine job here, with a strong opening version of "Señor Blues," and she gets some nice guitar from Rob Reich. B+(*)
Lurk Lab: Live at Shelter Sounds (2012 , JazzHausMusik): Matthias Schubert (tenor sax), Uli Böttcher (live electronics), Jörg Fischer (drums). Three live improv pieces, two topping 20 minutes. Similar to what they came up with in the lab, but the sound is a bit more distant, and the electronics can come unplugged. B+(***)
Earl McIntyre: Brass Carnival & Tribute (2010 , self-released): Trombonist, often bass trombone, sometimes tuba: first album under his name but he's been around for ages, playing in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, Mingus Big Band, George Gruntz Concert Band, Howard Johnson's Gravity, Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy. Lots of brass here, bottom-heavy with both Johnson and Bob Stewart on tuba, sometimes McIntyre too, but no reeds, and the rhythm section is just Vinnie Johnson on drums and Warren Smith on vibes and tambourine. Two Renée Manning vocals aren't high points, but I doubt they were aiming for high. B+(*)
William Parker Orchestra: Essence of Ellington: Live in Milano (2012, AUM Fidelity, 2CD): Big band, only two deep at trumpet and trombone but six saxes including Kidd Jordan, fêted as "special guest" although half the orchestra are more famous (or should be), especially the rhythm section: Dave Burrell, Parker, and Hamid Drake. This mixes Ellington standards with originals where Parker seeks what he calls "essences" -- a license to quote and maul and occasionally find some sort of synthesis. When the band eventually converges on a melody, Ernie Odoom sings familiar lyrics or, in "The Essence of Ellington," totally new ones. Messy, but also chock full of wonderful passages. Surely Duke would agree: beyond category. A-
Mary Ann Redmond/Paul Langosch/Jay Cooley: Compared to What (2013, self-released): Singer, from Virginia, based in DC area; fifth album since 1997, first with cover credits for producer-bassist Langosch and arranger-keyboardist Cooley, but the band is deeper, with Don Mattacks (drums), Dan Hovey (guitar), and Bruce Swaim (tenor sax). Two originals, ten standards counting rock-era singer-songwriters Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Lennon-McCartney. As usual, the songs make the singer, and songs like "I Got It Bad" and "Come Rain or Come Shine" are standards for good reason. B+(*)
The Ali Ryerson Jazz Flute Big Band: Game Changer (2013, Capri): Nineteen flute players counting the "guest soloists" (Holly Hofmann, Hubert Laws, and Nestor Torres), the only other names I recognize belong to Ryerson and Jamie Baum, backed by piano-bass-drums (Mark Levine, Rufus Reid, Akira Tana), running through ten famous jazz standards -- none of which I recognized while listening to this, and not because the interpretations were radical. If anything, so featureless I'm not sure I would have noticed they were playing flutes had I not been already aware. B-
Sarah Silverman: Sarah (2013, self-released): Cover just says Sarah (and in small print "featuring Bruce Barth"), downplaying her last name to avoid confusion/competition with the comedian. She plays piano on one song, otherwise deferring to Barth. She wrote two (on one adding lyrics to a Grieg melody), but mostly does standards, medleying "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "I Get Along Without You Very Well." B
Suzanna Smith: Halfway Between Heaven and Love (2012 , Ink Pen): Singer, based in Oakland, first record, most songs originals co-written with pianist Michael Coleman and backed by a fairly deep band. B+(*)
Spinifex: Hipsters Gone Ballistic (2013, Trytone): Dutch group, named for some kind of beach grass; seems like fusion at first, built around Jasper Stadhouders' guitar, but the horn players -- Gijs Levelt on trumpet, Tobias Klein on alto sax -- have their own minds, and the rhythm section doesn't guarantee regular time, or any other. Doesn't work often enough, but good for some cheap thrills. B+(*)
Corrie Van Binsbergen: Self Portrait in Pale Blue (2013, Brokken): Dutch guitarist, b. 1957. I've only heard a couple of his records, and suspect this meditative solo effort is an outlier. The pieces are numbered, probably improv but cautiously picked out, the sort of thing new age might be without the sedatives. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 29. 2013
Rushed this out as the month was coming to a close, with Jazz Prospecting (or some kind of excuse) due on Monday, and A Downloader's Diary promised by the end of the month, which means Tuesday. This file could have run at any time, and can never be satisfactorily complete. It represents my last minute interests in trying to catch as much 2013 music as possible before 2013 is over. It started with a heavy focus on jazz while I was assembling the ballots for NPR's (i.e., Francis Davis's) Jazz Critics Poll, and eventually moved into some other pursuits as it became increasingly difficult to track down such desired records as Michele Rosewoman's New-Yoruba set; ECMs I missed from Ralph Alessi, Aaron Parks, and John Abercrombie; some intriguing Sunnysides from John Hollenbeck and Alexis Cuadrado; and, of course, tons of small label avant releases. Still, I did find a few jazz albums of special interest, and may even have jumped the gun on the Jon Lundbom set, officially scheduled for release in January but recognized in the polls and available online already.
After that, I tried consulting my rapidly changing metacritic file. I've added well over 100 best-of-2013 lists to the data, and that steered me in various directions, although rather erratically. My two non-jazz A- records below came from Jason Gross's list, always a source of interesting things no one else seems to have heard of. (Of course, you'll find some of his high-rated records with lower grades here too.)
In the rush to get this out, I haven't finished my usual accounting: at post-time I have yet to put these records into my indexes and counters -- something I will catch up with in a day or two.
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 November 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (4120 records).
Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet: Ciudad de Los Reyes (2012 , Saponegro): Trumpet player, born in Lima, teaches at NYU, formed this sextet with three percussionists, bass, and guitar in 2005; a nice balance of instruments with just enough splash from the horn. B+(***)
Ralph Alessi & Fred Hersch: Only Many (2011-12 , CAM Jazz): Trumpet and piano duets, no surprise that they should come off a bit slow no one keeping time, but they don't mesh all that well either, just so many thoughtful little figure bouncing around. B
Bobby Avey: Be Not So Long to Speak (2011 , Minsi Ridge): Pianist, won a Monk award, plays in Dave Liebman's group, as a couple albums, goes for a solo this time. One thing he does a lot is flutter his off hand picking up a lot of movement on the cheap -- I'm not sure whether I like the effect, but this grows more impressive toward the end. B+(**)
Bad Religion: True North (2013, Epitaph): Started off as an LA hardcore band but that was over 30 years ago, so what? They've mellowed? Matured? I've ignored them ever since I took a dislike to Into the Unknown, but don't find anything that objectionable here: I generally approve of their lyrics, and their drummer, and the rest is a little tedious but not so bad. B+(*)
Samuel Blaser Consort in Motion: A Mirror to Machaut (2013, Songlines): Guillaume de Machaut was a medieval French poet and composer (1300-1377), the source of three songs here, inspiration for the rest. Trombonist, leading a formidable group -- Joachim Badenhorst (tenor sax, bass clarinet, clarinet), Russ Lossing (piano, keybs), Drew Gress (bass), Gerry Hemingway (drums) -- but they mostly stay close to the themes, understated with a gentle flow that could become seductive. B+(**)
Bleeding Rainbow: Yeah Right (2013, Kanine): Band from Pennsylvania, originally Reading Rainbow, female singer (Sarah Everton) but their only pop affectation is the guitar reverb the Beatles invented when they wanted to sound psychedelic, and they rap song after song in it without sounding psychedelic at all. B+(*)
Anthony Braxton: Echo Echo Mirror House (2011 , Victo): Not infrequently when I'm listening to some hideous cacophony my wife asks me if I'm playing Anthony Braxton, and for once she'd be right. Septet with many of his star students -- Taylor Ho Bynum, Mary Halvorson, Jay Rozen, Jessica Pavone, Carl Testa, Aaron Siegel; all, by the way, also credited with electronics -- doing one piece (if you're counting, "Composition No. 347") for more than an hour. Not without its glorious moments, but this does wear and tear. B+(*)
Peter Brötzmann/Steve Noble: I Am Here Where Are You (2013, Trost): Wild and wooly sax-drums duo. Unfortunately, Rhapsody only has two of five cuts (23:55 of 53:22), but with these guys that's enough to get the idea, and possibly already more than you can handle. But I'd be game to hear more, especially that tarogato. B+(*)
Burial: Rival Dealer (2013, Hyperdub, EP): Three cuts, 28:39, fits comfortably on vinyl. William Bevan's EPs rarely feel short or less-than-satisfying and this is no exception -- his skill orchestrating those beats and romps is peerless and this would be compelling if he'd left out those erratic vocal samples -- at best he begs comparison with Steinski then falls short. B+(**)
Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet & 7-tette: Navigation (The Complete Firehouse 12 Recordings) (2012 , Firehouse 12, 4CD): At least this would have been 4CD in a normal world: the $49.99 physical package gives you 2LP + 2CD, or you can buy the LP or CD halves separate, but you can't get the LP pieces on CD or vice versa. What you can do is buy a 4-track digital download, the tracks ranging between 43:25 and 54:10. The leader plays cornet, his sextet including Jim Hobbs (alto sax), Bill Lowe (bass trombone, tuba), Mary Halvorson (electric guitar), Ken Filiano (acoustic bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums, vibes); and for the two septet tracks they double down on drums-vibes, adding Chad Taylor. Attractive group, Halvorson providing the backbone and Lowe giving it some heft, but neither Bynum nor Hobbs use their advantages to step up, leaving an equitable group dynamic -- all the more even as the extended pieces keep recirculating. B+(***)
Terri Lyne Carrington: Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue (2013, Concord): Drummer, I moved her into my "jazz-pop" file a while back after a dreadful album called More to Say. She still wants to do pop things, as the rap narration that pops up here and there on this meditation on the 1962 Ellington-Mingus-Roach trio shows, but as the words make clear, she now sees all that money pop stars lust after as a mixed blessing if not a downright curse. Adds some horns here and there, but pianist Gerald Clayton is the mainstay, with Christian McBride doing his best Mingus impersonation. B+(*)/p>
Club D'Elf: Fire in the Brain (Live at Berklee) (2012 , BIRN Cooperative): Boston "Moroccan-drenched dub-jazz ensemble"; led by bassist Mike Rivard, they've been active since the late 1990s, with Now I Understand -- a 2006 compilation from many live gigs with a revolving cast of dozens -- a recommended introduction. Beyond that they have a large pile of live records, this one long on guitar groove but it's hardly that simple. B+(**)
Tomasz Dabrowski/Tyshawn Sorey Duo: Steps (2013, ForTune): Trumpet-drums duets, spare as you'd expect although the Polish trumpeter has a bright sound -- started to say "a lot of polish on his brass" -- and the American drummer is fine as always. B+(**)
Dana Coppafeel & Speak Easy: Dana Coppafeel & Speak Easy (2013, Uni-Fi): Rappers from Milwaukee, don't know much else about them, but despite the names this winds up serious and thoughtful. B+(***)
Decoy With Joe McPhee: Spontaneous Combustion (2011 , Otoroku): English piano trio with a couple twists: John Edwards (bass) and Steve Noble (drums) play more free jazz than not, and Alexander Hawkins plays organ here (piano elsewhere) -- he's generally struck me as an EST-type pianist although he's clearly got more tricks than that; on his second album with the trio, the guest plays pocket trumpet and alto sax and tilts this limited edition vinyl decisively toward freedom, not to mention chaos. B+(**)
Roberta Donnay & the Prohibition Mob Band: A Little Sugar (2011 , Motéma): Singer, has a couple previous albums before this flapper revival act, where she's as likely to sing Ida Cox as Irving Berlin. Band includes tuba but also bass. B+(*)
Dott: Swoon (2013, Graveface): Irish band, three women up front and a male drummer in the back, gives them a sound that inevitably gets labelled "pop" even though there's no reason to doubt that their plan was to be a rock band like, you know, the Beatles, or the Popinjays. B+(*)
Dr. Kay & His Interstellar Tone Scientists: The Search for True Happiness (2013, Bangles): Norwegian band, comparisons to Sun Ra's Arkestra are greatly exaggerated but not altogether wrong; the real problem is narrator Arthur Kay Piene and his wide-eyed search for answers to his trivial metaphysical questions, most having to do with true happiness. B-
Gilad Edelman: My Groove, Your Move (2011 , Sharp Nine): Alto saxophonist, first album, only bio detail that I know is that he's the son of label owner/producer Marc Edelman, which isn't a bad deal: no one gets a sharper sound out of this sort of retro-bop. One original, one by pianist David Hazeltine, the rest standards more-or-less -- title cut comes from Hank Mobley. Joe Magnarelli adds a bit of trumpet. B+(**)
Marty Ehrlich Large Ensemble: A Trumpet in the Morning (2012 , New World): Four older compositions, one as far back as 1992, run between 11:07 and 23:21 -- the latter the title piece, with a poem by Arthur Brown (1948-82) narrated by J.D. Parran -- and are bracketed by short "Prelude" and "Postlude" pieces. The Large Ensemble is amply stocked with stars -- there are so many they are staggered into shifts, the piano chair, for instance, alternating between James Weidman and Uri Caine. Rich details, strong solos. A-
Hanni El Khatib: Head in the Dirt (2013, Innovative Leisure): Singer-songwriter, mixed Filopino-Palestinian descent, grew up in San Francisco, based in LA, second album. Straightforward rock, no accent unless you consider rockabilly, clear enough for the words to come through. B+(**)
Lorraine Feather: Attachments (2012-13 , Jazzed Media): Jazz singer, daughter of legendary jazz critic and impressario Leonard Feather, which among other advantages means as a little girl she knew Billie Holiday. She co-wrote most of these pieces (most likely the lyrics), and they have an offhanded '50s vibe -- sometimes reminds me of Donald Fagen at his most jazz-nostalgic -- backed most notably by Charie Bisharat's violin over various combos of piano and guitar, bass and drums. B+(*)
FIDLAR: FIDLAR (2013, Mom + Pop Music): Skate punk band from LA, all caps for the acronym name, stands for "Fuck It Dog, Life's A Risk"; first album, leads off with "Cheap Beer," which goes: "I drink cheap beer! So what! Fuck you!" Second song: "I just wanna get really high/smoke weed until I die," insisting "there's nothing wrong with living like this," but admitting "all my friends are pieces of shit." Too many guitars, or maybe they're just too good, to play real punk, but as long as their minds are slagged in the gutter they can resist tarting the music up too much. B+(***)
Fire! Orchestra: Exit (2012 , Rune Grammofon): A Mats Gustafsson trio, similar to the Thing but different bass (Johan Berthling, also plays guitar and organ) and drums, beefed up here with an additional 24 musicians. One expects the eleven horns to thrash, but it's less pleasing when the vocalists to it (or for that matter, much of anything). B
Foxygen: We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (2013, Jagjaguwar): Second album, not counting a piece of juvenilia, not that one can say they're all grown up now: first thing I noticed were really obvious vocal cops from the young Lou Reed, although nearly every song is similarly evocative of something or other. I found this cute at first, then increasingly annoying. B-
The Garifuna Collective: Ayó (2013, Cumbancha): The backing band of the late Belizean punta musician Andy Palacios -- their 2007 album Wátina got some notice. Obvious problem is they still sound like a backing band, one with a lot of sly rhythmic touches but no punch. B+(*)
Robert Glasper Experiment: Black Radio 2 (2013, Blue Note): With featured guests on every cut, this is effectively a nu soul mixtape, the main difference being that the core group's keyb-bass-drum mix gives it all a consistent light touch, like they're aiming for the background; best when they hit it, because when you stop and notice something it's unlikely to turn out to be worth the trouble. B
Mats Gustafsson/Thurston Moore: Vi Är Alla Guds Slavar (2012 , Otoroku): The ex-Sonic Youth guitarist has a large stack of obscure side projects, including jousts with Gustafsson's pop-horror group, the Thing. This one is relatively even tempered, the saxophonist hemmed in by his choice of soprano, as well as his focus on electronics. The guitar modulates what could be described as minimalism if only it were better behaved. B+(*)
Gypsyphonic Disko: Mardi Gras Mix Tape 2013 (2013, self-released): A 33-minute mix of New Orleans funk classics and extra beats, a formula they've applied before in two volumes of Gypsyphonic Disko Nola-Phonic: pretty surefire formula. A- [dl]
Scott Hamilton: Swedish Ballads . . . & More (2013, Charleston Square): Six songs, two with Stockholm in the title, tenor sax on top of Jan Lundgren's piano trio; lovely but doesn't do much. B+(**)
Bruno Heinen Sextet: Karlheinz Stockhausen: Tierkreis (2013, Babel): Don't know much about the 1974-75 composition that this is based on, but this feels like a nicely varied set of jazz pieces, some playfully cast off Heinen's piano, others leaning more on the three horns (trumpet, tenor sax, bass clarinet) that lead the sextet. B+(***)
Gilad Hekselman: This Just In (2011-12 , Jazz Village): Israeli-born guitarist, based in New York, fourth album, quartet including tenor saxophonist Mark Turner -- not much of a factor here, partly because the guitarist is getting bolder. B+(**)
François Houle & Håvard Wiik: Aves (2011 , Songlines): Clarinet and piano duets. I'm often impressed by Wiik's fluidity, perhaps because he often plays in groups where you'd expect a more percussive pianist. His speed puts him in command here, then they slow it down and meander a long stretch. B+(*)
Hunger Pangs: Meet Meat (2013, For Tune): Avant jazz trio, Tomasz Dabrowski on trumpet, Marek Kadziela on guitar, and Kasper Tom Christiansen on drums -- the guitarist essential in that he can swing between support and lead, and when he takes charge he can be scorching. But he doesn't dominate as completely as at first, so an uncertain balance settles in. A-
Abdullah Ibrahim: Mukashi (2013, Intuition): Title is Japanese, but the venerable South African pianist is in his own world, saddened perhaps after his wife's death or just seeking some kind of peace, which leads him to a two-cello quartet and way too much flute, although Cleve Guyton's sax is eloquent and the piano has memorable passages. B+(**)
Hans Koch-Martin Schütz-Fredy Studer and Shelley Hirsch: Walking and Stumbling Through Your Sleep (2011 , Intakt): I find Hirsch's rambling avant raps almost irresistible, and this starts with the Swiss avant trio -- bass clarinet, cello, drums, respectively -- in fine form, but for some reason degenerates into abstract noise, shady metal, and histrionics. B+(*)
La Femme: Psycho Tropical Berlin (2013, Disque Pointu): French group, I figure them for electropop but they're further out than that, and not just when they sing in French. Catchy, bouncy, sly, a fair dab of Latin tinge, but not as much so as, say, Kid Creole, who perfected this fake tropicalia. B+(***)
Oliver Lake Big Band: Wheels (2013, Passin' Thru): One of the all-time alto sax greats, a rank he probably deserved long ago but the last couple years -- and note that he'll be 70 next year -- he's really surrounded terrific in at least a half-dozen records (cf., especially, his ones with Trio 3). He sounds great here, too, but has a little more trouble dragging the rest of the big band around. B+(**)
Yusef Lateef/Roscoe Mitchell/Adam Rudolph/Douglas Ewart: Voice Prints (2008 , Meta): Percussionist Rudolph is the main force here, but you can't blame him for deferring to his octogenarian saxophonists who decorate his beats with odd ease; Ewart too, his main instrument bass clarinet but he joins Lateef on wood flute and Rudolph on percussion, and probably has something to do with the title. B+(***)
Okkyung Lee: Ghil (2012 , Ideologic Organ): Solo cello and, if my memory of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music serves, amplifier feedback. Consider yourself warned. B+(*)
Kim Lenz and the Jaguars: Follow Me (2013, Riley): Singer-songwriter, I presume, based in LA, plays impeccable rockabilly but that's more formal discipline than retro, and certainly no nostalgia; she cut two 1998-99 albums, two since. This one rocks and roars, tumbles and falls and gets right up again. A-
Lydia Loveless: Boy Crazy (2013, Bloodshot, EP): Country singer, flunked out of Nashville and took her bad attitude on the road, impressing with her rough and ready Indestructible Machine. Two years later, a placeholder -- five cuts, 19:42 -- rocking harder and connecting less. B+(*)
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Liverevil (2013, Hot Cup, 2CD): Guitarist, group originally a quintet when he named it but they've picked up keyb player Matt Kanelos for this live double, where nearly everything runs past ten minutes, stomping and sliding with two saxophones (Jon Irabagon on the little ones, Bryan Murray on the big 'uns). The guitar leads are fresh and bold, and Irabagon is nothing short of sublime on "North Star." A-
MaG: Freedom (2013, self-released): Joel Daniels, second album, plenty likable but not all that memorable. B+(**) [bc]
René Marie: I Wanna Be Evil: With Love to Eartha Kitt (2013, Motéma): More to the point, "I'd Rather Be Burned as a Witch" ("than never burn at all"), but there's not enough deviltry in Kitt's songbook to carry an album, and Marie (and for that matter the band) looses the smolder on the slow ones. Just as well: I'd rather save "evil" for those who truly are, and are not just nasty, tasteless, or uncouth. B+(*)
Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra: Gipsy Manifesto (2013, Piranha): Our favorite Balkan brass band, led by father-son trumpeters, proves they can do it again, and again, and again (and when it's as good as "Gipsy House" they should). B+(***)
Pedrito Martinez: The Pedrito Martinez Group (2013, Motéma): Percussionist, born in Cuba and based in New York, the group including a second percussionist (Jhair Sala, from Peru), electric bass (Alvaro Benavides, from Venezuela), and keybs (Araicne Trujillo, also from Cuba). I don't mind the radical rhythmic jumble so much as the vocals, which demand a level of ecstasy they're unable to deliver. B
Roscoe Mitchell/Tony Marsh/John Edwards: Improvisations (2012 , Otoroku): Recorded in Berlin, Edwards on bass, Marsh on drums, the sort of guys an avant-garde legend would look to pick up for some dates in Europe -- in this case, Berlin; the four cuts are timed for album sides (16:11-17:29). The leader's saxes are a little squeaky, but that's his signature, and while I still prefer Mitchell's similar album on Wide Hive this doesn't fall far behind: he's pretty spry for 73. B+(***)
Marius Neset: Birds (2012 , Edition): Norwegian saxophonist (soprano, tenor), enjoys some crossover appeal in the UK, which judging from the leap on the cover has more to do with showmanship than making concessions to pop taste -- indeed, the rhythms here can get tricky, but that alone doesn't suffice to make this interesting. B
Paris Washboard: Swinging Castle: Paris Washboard in Concert (2012 , K&K Verlagsanstalt): French trad jazz group simplified into a quartet, with clarinet and trombone for horns, washboard for percussion, and pianist Louis Mazetier in the middle, perhaps explaining why so much of the repertoire focuses on Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion" Smith, and Fats Waller. Of the few albums I've sampled, I thought 1996's Love for Sale was exemplary. But this one is a bit slow to get in gear. B+(**)
Mario Pavone Orange Double Tenor: Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po (2010, Playscape): Released on the bassist's 70th birthday, basically a sextet with Dave Ballou on trumpet/cornet and two tenor saxmen -- Tony Malaby and Jimmy Greene -- with Peter Madsen on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Very fancy postbop, lots of whirling pieces, enough to unsettle at first, not that it might not turn beguiling. B+(***)
Mario Pavone: Arc Trio (2013, Playscape): Piano trio with Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver, the title a play on the bassist's similar 2008 piano trio, Trio Arc, with Paul Bley and Matt Wilson. Taborn's ECM trio with Cleaver and Thomas Morgan finished second in the Jazz Critics' Poll this year, so I have to wonder how many of those critics also heard this one -- to my ears both tougher and sharper, the obvious difference the bassist and his challenging pieces. A-
Perfect Pussy: I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling (2013, self-released, EP): Thrash-punk band from Syracuse, cut this four-track (12:30) demo live, the sound jarringly bad (more synthy than guitar), the vocals indistinct. Rob Sheffield put this on his list, adding: "it's also the kind of noise that can make you feel alive inside if you like that kind of thing." They're working on a real album for Captured Tracks. B [bc]
Pixel: Reminder (2011 , Cuneiform): Norwegian two horn (trumpet and sax), pianoless jazz quartet, except that the leader is bassist Ellen Andrea Wang, and she also sings -- at which point the group's jazz ambitions fall away and they turn into a fairly ordinary post-rock outfit (which is to say unnecessarily dreary). B- [dl]
Pixel: We Are All Small Pixels (2013, Cuneiform): Second album, shows considerable improvement as a jazz band, both in the horn solos and in the versatility of the bass and drums. On the other hand, the best one can say about leader Ellen Andrea Wang's vocals is that there are fewer of them. B [dl]
Polvo: Siberia (2013, Merge): Math rock band, had a run from 1992-97 then regrouped for a 2009 album. The grind gets lighter toward the end and risks becoming catchy, but not much. B+(**)
Odean Pope: Odean's Three (2011 , In + Out): Tenor saxophonist, grew up in Philadelphia, played with Jimmy McGriff in the 1960s, Max Roach in the 1970s, led a group aptly named Catalyst, is probably best known for his Saxophone Choir records, but nothing that fancy here, just a powerhouse trio with Lee Smith and Billy Hart, an hour of intense and inventive blowing. You got a problem with that? A-
Power of the Horns: Alaman (2013, ForTune): Polish big band led by trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz, forgoes full sections -- just one trumpet, one trombone, three saxes -- because they play free, but they double up on bass and use three percussionists. Three pieces, the one dedicated to William Parker topping thirty minutes, the free for all often anchored to a beat, not that that holds anyone back. B+(***)
Quest: Circular Dreaming (2011 , Enja): Quartet co-led by Richie Beirach (piano) and Dave Liebman (tenor and soprano sax), dates back to 1982 with six albums up to 1990, one live (2007) and this since. Front cover promises, "Quest plays the music of Miles' 60s," which turns out to mostly mean Wayne Shorter, the saxophonist Liebman briefly replaced in the 1970s. Very tasteful, and possibly the first time ever I find myself enjoying Liebman's soprano as much as his tenor. [Rhapsody only offers 6 of 9 cuts, omitting "Footprints," "Hand Jive," and "Paraphernalia."] B+(**)
Red Hot + Fela (2013, Knitting Factory): Second AIDS benefit album featuring the music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, following 2002's rap-and-jazz-heavy Red Hot + Riot. This is more typically eclectic -- Tune-Yards, My Morning Jacket, Kronos Quartet -- although Tony Allen returns and they never really lose the beat, just the edge. B+(**)
Reut Regev's R*Time: Exploring the Vibe (2013, Enja): Trombone player, called her previous album This Is R Time and took that as her band name, even though the only repeat member is husband/drummer Igal Foni. Jean-Paul Bourelly's three vocals are big downs, but his guitar is the essential framework the funk bounces off of, not that the trombonist is content just to have a good time. B+(**)
Adam Rudolph/Go: Organic Orchestra: Sonic Mandala (2012 , Meta): Percussionist, one of the first to make an avocation of collecting rhythms and rhythmic instruments from all around the world, and his albums often flirt with all that organic whatever mumbo jumbo, but they're also given to extended transfixing passages that somehow make it all seem worthwhile. Everything possibly including the kitchen sink goes into this, including at least six reed players doubling on bamboo flute, nearly a dozen strings, nearly as many percussionists, an oboe, a bassoon, and two guys named Haynes on cornet. B+(***)
Clotilde Rullaud: In Extremis (2011, Nota Bene): French jazz singer, second album, stitched together from bits by Piazzolla and Monk and Baden Powell and Sting not to mention Serge Gainsbrough; a bit on the dramatic side but the tension along the way is palpable. B+(*)
Huerco S.: Colonial Patterns (2013, Software): Brian Leeds, from Kansas City, favors short pieces with basic patterns, shards of electronic sound rocking (not sloshing) back and forth. B+(***)
Wadada Leo Smith & TUMO: Occupy the World (2012 , TUM, 2CD): Finnish group, acronym expands and translates to Really New Music Orchestra, with a wide spread of instruments -- brass section, not counting Smith, is one each of trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba; only two saxes (Mikko Innanen and Fredrik Ljungkvist are names worth mentioning) plus flute (Juhani Aaltonen); a string quartet (two violins) plus two basses (John Lindberg is a guest star, Ulf Krokfors the regular), piano and guitar but also harp and accordion, the only real pile up the three drummers. Had trouble focusing on these long pieces -- the title cut, adding "for Life, Liberty and Justice," rumbles on for 33:29 -- but mostly noticed a lot of bass solos. On the other hand, I'm not sure my download is quite right. B+(*) [dl]
Special Request: Soul Music (2013, Houndstooth): Paul Woolford, not the only alias he uses; fast break beats, some trite vocal refrains, most just run variations on his patterns. Basic release seems to be 3LP, so what at first I found pleasurable eventually turned a bit tedious and a lot mechanical. [Rhapsody includes another pile of remixes, possibly corresponding to a 2CD release, but I didn't feel like going that far.] B+(**)
Aki Takase: My Ellington (2012 , Intakt): Pianist, more than two dozens albums since 1982, at least three focused on Duke Ellington; solo, intimate, but doesn't push him very hard. B+(*)
Aki Takase: Plays Fats Waller in Berlin (2004 , Jazzwerkstatt): Her second album on Waller -- the first was a year earlier in Hamburg with most of the same players and songs -- done live with a quintet happy to throw a wrench into the works: Thomas Heberer (trumpet), Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet), Eugene Chadbourne (banjo/guitar), and Paul Lovens (drums). Chadbourne also sings a couple, and the pianist's full-tilt stride is always fun. B+(***)
Tarbaby: Ballad of Sam Langford (2013, Hipnotic): Trio with Orrin Evans (piano), Eric Revis (bass), and Nasheet Waits (drums), has a previous record I like a lot (The End of Fear ) and rumors of more in the works. This one, dedicated to a little known boxer from way back, adds horns: Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet) and Oliver Lake (alto sax). Some exceptional passages here, and not just with Lake, who continues his strong run of albums. B+(***)
Telekinesis: Dormarion (2013, Merge): Michael Benjamin Lerner's catchy little alt-rock pseudogroup. B+(**)
Emilio Teubal: Música Para un Dragon Dormido (2013, Bju'ecords): Pianist, born in Spain of Argentinian parents; grew up in Mexico and Argentina, winding up in Brooklyn. Rhythm section built to rumble, something Sam Sadigursky's reeds can smooth over or ruffle up -- mostly the former. [Rhapsody only provides 4 (of 9) tracks.] B+(*)
The Underachievers: Indigoism (2013, Brainfeeder): Hip hop duo from Brooklyn, Issa Gold and AK, first mixtape with another (Lords of Flatbush) out later in the year and a studio joint scheduled for 2014. Picks up momentum and coherence midway, but still suffers from a tendency to make their rhymes by ending every line with a certain N-word. B+(*)
Dean Wareham: Emancipated Hearts (2013, Sonic Cathedral, EP): First album under the name of the longtime leader of Luna -- with 7 songs, 29:52, actually more of an EP -- characteristically tuneful but hardly sweeps you away. B+(*)
David Weiss: Endangered Species: The Music of Wayne Shorter (2012 , Motéma): Trumpet player, has a knack for arranging large groups -- the New Jazz Composers Octet has been the main beneficiary so far, but this 11-piece group is further proof. Shorter established himself as a formidable composer back with Blakey and Davis, so the arranger has lots to work with. B+(**)
Luke Winslow-King: The Coming Tide (2013, Bloodshot): Singer-songwriter from Michigan, studied in New Orleans and Prague, AMG classifies him as blues, jazz, pop/rock, and country, while Rhapsody settles for folk. He starts with a gospel riff backed by trad jazz horns, and Esther Rose's harmony compensates for his slight voice. B+(*)
Nate Wooley/C. Spencer Yeh/Audrey Chen/Todd Carter: NCAT (2008 , Monotype): Trumpet, violin, cello, piano, respectively, or so say the credits, but this starts off with sounds, including screams, not easily attributable to any of those instruments, and continues to wallow in some kind of electronic feedback. Vinyl, five untitled tracks running 34:05. B-
Zevious: Passing Through the Wall (2013, Cuneiform): Guitar-bass-drums trio, experimental rock or just fusion, although the constant racing tempo and up-and-down riffing reminds me more of those soundtracks to video games, or maybe someone trying to play Spring Heel Jack on guitar-bass-drums. B [dl]
Monday, December 23. 2013
Music: Current count 22606  rated (+38), 584  unrated (+1).
Again, I played a lot more jazz on Rhapsody this week than I played from my very slim 2013 input queue. Thus far I've found four more A- records there (out of nearly 40), while the list of records that I've looked for but were nowhere to be found has grown to several score. Both those numbers were fairly predictable. The bigger surprise is three of the four A- records this week. (William Parker's grade was all but assured when I sampled most of the box on Rhapsody last month; indeed, the only issue there is that it might pick up a notch once I get used to dipping into it.) Two of the three were sent to me by pianist Michael McNeill -- not really sure of the connection, but it seems to have something to do with Buffalo. The other one came in a package from Dutch distributor Toondist. None of those three were previously in my metacritic file, nor did they show up on any of the Jazz Critics' Poll ballots. Finding them makes me feel rather unique -- not that Paul Smoker and Albert Van Veenendaal haven't established reputations that should make you take notice. They are, at any rate, names that I've learned to pay attention to.
Pazz 'n' Jop 2013 ballots are due tomorrow. At this point it would take me weeks to refine my ballot, and right now I don't even know where to start. My basic problem is that I don't have time to live with even the best albums I find, so while, say, I have no doubt that the Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire and Knife and Lady Gaga albums are quite good, I've hardly played them since first review -- indeed, I don't even have a copy of the latter.
The obvious thing to do would be to scrape the top ten albums off my 2013 list, but I wound up futzing around with them, knocking out some jazz (Barbara Morrison, Roswell Rudd, that super-late 2012 release of early Billy Bang tapes), adding the William Parker box that arrived too late for the Jazz Critics' Poll. The open slots let me delve downlist, where I could have picked very good (and contending) albums by Vampire Weekend and Deerhunter, but I love the sound of Parquet Courts (and Wayne Hancock), and I wanted to slip in a couple underground hip-hop joints. (Yeezus, by the way, was never in the running, although Chance the Rapper and Pusha T were).
MIA, by the way, wound up number one mostly because I played it a lot, and the main reason I played it so much was because I had a lot of trouble writing anything up on it. So I kept playing it, eventually wrote one cryptic sentence, and filed it. By then it wound up graded higher in my database than Arular or Kala or Maya. I can't say whether it's a better album, but given my peculiar way of working, it's the one I've enjoyed the most.
The only single I voted for was "Apocalyptic Dance" from the Janelle Monáe album, The Electric Lady. I don't keep track of singles, scarcely even think of them, so I often don't bother with that part of the ballot. But I recall that one of Glenn McDonald's statistical probes of the P&J data has something to do with "hipness" -- the "unhip" are defined as those who don't vote for singles, so I thought I'd throw some noise into that data. Great song, by the way: sold me on the album, which is one thing a single is supposed to do.
I've started to cobble together a non-jazz year-end list file similar to my jazz one. At one point I thought I'd publish it along with the Pazz 'n' Jop ballot tomorrow but there's no way that's going to happen. Maybe sometime later in the week.
The Ambush Party: Circus (2011 , De Platenbakkerij): Dutch avant-garde quartet: Natalia Sued (tenor sax, clarinet), Oscar Jan Hoagland (piano), Harald Austbø (cello), Marcus Baggiani (drums). Second album, as far as I can tell, recorded live at Moers Festival in Germany. The broken improv reaches a fine pitch in "The Tiger Is Loose" but only after a lot of ambling, with a bit of opera vocal to come. I don't know how many jazz albums refer to the circus, but a high percentage of them seem to be Dutch. B+(**)
Chris Biesterfeldt: Urban Mandolin (2013, self-released): Mandolin player, first album, a trio with bass and drums. Concept here is to retrace a broad swathe of jazz history, starting literally with "Bebop" and proceeding through Monk, Jimmy Smith, and fusion to "Some Skunk Funk," with side trips for Bach, the Beach Boys, and Frank Zappa, inserting mandolin everywhere, as if it belonged. B
Jane Ira Bloom: Sixteen Sunsets (2013 , Outline): Soprano saxophonist, one of the few specialists, with more than a dozen albums since 1980. Quartet with piano (Dominic Fallacaro), bass (Cameron Brown), and drums (Matt Wilson). Intent seems to be picturesque, and in that succeeds admirably -- a little static but very pretty. [Hype sheet has this as a 2014 release, but other sources say December 15, or earlier for Blue-ray Audio.] B+(**)
Ayman Fanous/Jason Kao Hwang: Zilzal (2011 , Innova): Fanous plays guitar (6 tracks) and bouzouki (3). He was born in Cairo, Egypt; grew up in the US, cut an album with cellist Tomas Ulrich. Hwang is one of the best known violinists in jazz, playing viola here on 4 (of 9) tracks -- either way the dominant instrument here. B+(***)
Peter Kerlin Octet: Salamander (2013, Innova): Bassist, first album, lists eleven musicians here, so presumably not all play not all of the time. Nor does Octet match up with any previous configuration: no horns here, but the compositions are scored for two vibraphones, two basses, organ, drums, percussion, and viola. (The excess on the musician list comes from three bass and three viola credits.) Dense pieces with a little sparkle, moving surely from the bottom. B+(***)
William Parker: Wood Flute Songs: Anthology/Live 2006-2012 (2006-12 , AUM Fidelity, 8CD): I previously wrote up Rhapsody Streamnotes on four digital releases -- at least they showed up on Rhapsody -- comprising six CDs here, so in my current end-of-year rush I focused on the other two discs: a septet live at the Vision Festival in 2009 with Billy Bang, Bobby Bradford, and James Spaulding joining Parker's stellar Quartet (Lewis Barnes, Rob Brown, and Hamid Drake -- they've been together since the extraordinary O'Neal's Porch in 2000); and a big band (William Parker Creation Ensemble) live shot at AMR Jazz Festival in Geneva in 2011. Both discs zing, as does, really, the rest of the box. The two early live sets weren't as consistent as I'd like (cf. 2005's Sound Unity), but their top spots are rarely equalled, and the last two discs -- an expansion of the group that cut Raining on the Moon and a revival of In Order to Survive with an outstanding performance by Cooper-Moore on piano -- just raise the bar. Music at this level deserves to go on and on and on. A-
The Paul Smoker Notet: Landings (2012 , Alvas): Quartet, actually: the leader on trumpet, Steve Salerno on guitar, Drew Gress on bass, and Phil Haynes on drums. Smoker, b. 1941 in Indiana, has a dozen albums (Wikipedia) or fifteen (AMG) or more (two recent ones are in neither list), although I had only heard one until recently. But the guitar sets the trumpet remarkably well, and Smoker is always up to something interesting. A-
Haynes & Smoker: It Might Be Spring (2013, Alvas): Phil Haynes (drums) and Paul Smoker (trumpet), just the two of them so this lacks the propulsion of their recent quartet (or Notet) record, but adds a shot of intimacy -- especially since, as the title suggests, they're mostly doing warm and fuzzy standards, including "My Funny Valentine," "My Melancholy Baby," and "Summertime." A-
Two Al's: And the Cowgirls Kept On Dancing (2013, Brokken): One Albert and one Alan, but I guess that works. Albert van Veenendaal has recorded a number of remarkable albums on prepared piano -- Predictable Point of Impact and Minimal Damage are two I particularly like. Alan Purves is credited with "percussion, squeaky toys, brim bram, little instruments" -- in other words, exogenous effects as unpredictable as the tricks wired into the piano. Works much more often than not. A-
Volcán: Volcán (2013, 5Pasion): Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba is the main talent hiding behind this eponymous group album -- wrote three (of eight songs), the others standards including "Salt Peanuts" from his mentor. The others are Jose Armando Gola (electric bass), Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez (drums), and Giovanni "Mañenguito" Hidalgo (congas, percussion), with Maridalia Hernandez singing one of two João Bosco tunes. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 22. 2013
I tried this past week to sign up for a new health care insurance policy starting January 1. I would like to think successfully, but the last information I got on the website told me that I have one more thing to do -- to pay for the first month's insurance -- then offered me no way to do that. They did leave me with a "customer service number" so we'll try calling that tomorrow and hoping that will seal the deal. The policy I wound up with costs more than I've been paying through COBRA, but the tax credit I've earned by not making any money blogging all these years helps out.
I didn't notice any terrible performance problems, other than that the site went down for maintenance three times when I was on it (late at night). But I did hit a couple of serious bugs. For one, they sent me a "message" notice in email, and when I followed the link and logged in I saw a notice that there was a message for me, but I never found a way to access that message. I then found myself arbitrarily blocked from going forward to look at plans: some pages noted an error (big red box), but nothing helped to explain the error. I used their "chat" and the only help that the other person could offer was that I should call their "help line." When I did call the "help line" I spent 30 minutes on hold waiting to speak to someone. By that time I found a form saying that I wasn't eligible for Medicaid then asking me whether I wanted to apply anyway. When I checked that "no" -- hey, I live in Kansas, remember -- the blockage cleared up and I could finally look at plans.
That turned out to be the real time consumer, and is, I think, the fundamental problem with "Obamacare": I had to sort through 26 plans (ignoring everything rated Bronze), but they only came from two companies (one of which is generally regarded as a sick joke in these parts). But those plans had all sorts of minor tradeoffs which no one can sort through intelligently, partly for lack of information but mostly because one cannot define future needs. I wound up spending several days here, including breaks to call the insurance company to verify various bits of information. And in the end I have no idea whether I did the right thing or not.
There was also a glitch concerning dental insurance, which I haven't had for most of my life and is something I can get by without having, so I tried skipping it.
So all in all, not a pleasant experience, but still seems likely to be a big improvement over the pre-"Obamacare" situation, which is one where a 63-year-old unemployed guy with a lot of medical issues would have found it virtually impossible to get health insurance of any value at any cost.
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study: