Thursday, December 11. 2014
I had a scare yesterday: one of those end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it moments. Rhapsody stopped working, and when I closed and reopened the page, it came back with a totally redesigned website . . . which didn't work. The new Rhapsody depends on Adobe's Flash product -- evil incarnate, if you ask me, but my real horror was more practical. I'm running Ubuntu Linux. When I went to Adobe's home page, where Rhapsody told me to go to "get Flash," they threatened that this would be their last Linux release ever. I then followed their download instructions, which didn't come close to working. I then went searching through Ubuntu forums for help. Found one thing that didn't work. Then found another that finally did the trick -- for now. I suppose I could switch to Spotify or some other competitor, but failure would have spelled instant doom for Rhapsody Streamnotes.
On the other hand, this installment would not have been a bad way to bow out. The 116 records below (not counting 6 regrades) is the most all year, and 14 new A- records (not counting 3 promotions) is very likely the most too. Also took a belated dive into some of the year's compilations, finding three more A- records. (Old music lost out, although I couldn't pass up two older Lotte Anker albums -- I remembered Stef Gijssels raving about Live at the Loft back in 2009 -- I found along with the new one.)
I get tips from all over the place, but my project to count many 2014 EOY lists is the most systematic: I currently have counted 112 lists, identifying 1663 new albums and 174 compilations. I might note that while The War on Drugs' Lost in the Dream has led from the very first list, its current lead over FKA Twigs' LP1 is a razor-tight 96-95 (with St. Vincent 3rd at 85, Caribou's Our Love 4th at 71, and Run the Jewels 2 5th at 66). The compilations sample is still too small to draw any conclusions from. I'll probably keep adding data up to the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop list, to be published on January 14.
I keep adding to my own lists -- conveniently broken down into jazz and non-jazz sets -- and will do so at least until I cast my Pazz & Jop ballot (deadline December 26). I've opened up a second December 2014 file, so unless Rhapsody dies on me (again), expect another one by the end of the month.
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 22. Past reviews and more information are available here (5689 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Damon Albarn: Everyday Robots (2014, Parlophone): An architect of the late 1980s/1990s Brit-pop sound, best known there for Blur and here for Gorillaz, turns in a very modest little solo album. At best, reminds me of Robert Wyatt, the way he would feel his way around a song that didn't quite come together (cf. "You & Me"; "Heavy Seas of Love" is the one that does come together). B+(*)
Fatima Al Qadiri: Asiatisch (2014, Hyperdub): Born in Senegal in 1981, raised in Kuwait (occupied by Iraq in 1990), based in New York. Has an EP based on a video game based on the Gulf War. For her first album, she imagines a travelogue through China. I've seen an interview with her where she talks about Orientalism. Evidently she wants to try out both sides. B+(**)
Lotte Anker/Jakob Riis: Squid Police (2014, Konvoj): Both from Denmark, Anker plays tenor/alto/soprano sax, Riis composes fairly minimalist electronic tableaux. The latter doesn't give the saxophonist much to kick off from, although it's most interesting when she does. B+(*)
Aurelio: Lándini (2014, Real World): Surname Martinez, from Honduras, plays a style called Paranda, better known in the US as Garifuna (thanks to his debut album, Garifuna Soul). Looser and lighter than salsa. B+(***)
Iggy Azalea: Reclassified (2014, Def Jam): Yet another aggravating marketing stratagem: reissue this year's pretty good debut album, The New Classic, minus seven songs (or eight from the "Bonus Edition" -- they don't miss a trick), plus five new songs with "Beg for It" the new single. Catchiest songs are on both, another reason to only buy one (if that). Best way to handle this is to trim back to the new material, which gives us a 5-cut EP: B+(**)
Billy Bang/William Parker: Medicine Buddha (2009 , NoBusiness): I wouldn't hold much hope for violin-bass duos, but we're talking two all-time jazz greats here, and both have a tendency toward hearts-on-sleeve. Bang died in 2011, a huge loss, and I count this as his fourth posthumous release: a duo with Bill Cole didn't offer much, but the two group albums on TUM were superb. So is this. A- [cd]
Beck: Morning Phase (2014, Capitol): Released two of the best albums of the 1990s, and I still enjoyed his blue-eyed soul phase (e.g., Midnite Vulture), but I've felt no reason or desire to keep tracking him. That's because his trajectory has been toward soft and flat, and here he's pretty much arrived there: the record is occasionally pretty but nearly featureless. B-
Beyoncé: Beyoncé (2013, Columbia): Released December 13 last year, as I recall exclusively on iTunes, this bum rushed the P&J poll, finishing 4th -- probably better than any December release in history. I missed it then, and cut the newly available Platinum Edition down to size, but I don't get what the excitement was about. Fairly prosaic love songs intercut with autobiographical snapshots, nothing really awful -- which come to think of it makes this better than her median album. B+(**)
Big K.R.I.T.: Cadillactica (2014, Def Jam): Rapper from Mississippi, broke through with a big mixtape a few years back and is now toiling for a major label. Wide range of material, doesn't jump out of the grooves but flows and repays multiple spins. Could grow into one of the records of the year. A-
Bishop Nehru/MF Doom: NehruvianDOOM (2014, Lex): Collaboration between 18-year-old rapper Bishop Nehru (Markel Scott) and producer Daniel Dumile (who's used many names, the best known MF Doom). Promises "great things" once "you have to decide that you don't care what other think of you." On his way. B+(**)
Dave Burrell/Steve Swell: Turning Point (2013 , NoBusiness): Piano-trombone duets, the former a revered master who doesn't get out much, the latter probably the top avant-oriented trombonist around, exceptional here in how he fills out the melody. A- [cd]
Busdriver: Perfect Hair (2014, Big Dada): Regan Farquhar's idiosyncratic hip-hop takes several bizarre turns here, taking guests like Aesop Rock, Danny Brown, and Open Mike Eagle off several cliffs. Parts don't flow at all, and they even manage to make "eat the rich" sound unappetizing -- one of many jokes, not all of which miss. C
Call Super: Suzi Ecto (2014, Houndstooth): J.R. Seaton, from Britain but based in Berlin, stitched this techno together, very appealing little loop patterns with a tiny bit of industrial klang and a gentle woosh -- that underwater sound that Drexciya so enjoys. I could probably listen to the first few pieces indefinitely. A-
Caribou: Our Love (2014, Merge): Dan Snaith's electronica isn't disciplined enough to conform to an aesthetic or concept -- it's whatever works in support of pop songs, both pleasant and forgettable. B+(**)
Juan Pablo Carletti/Tony Malaby/Christopher Hoffman: Nińo/Brujo (2013 , NoBusiness): Drums, tenor sax, cello, respectively, with Carletti writing the songs, and Malaby articulating them wonderfully. B+(***) [cdr]
Eric Church: The Outsiders (2014, Capitol Nashville): Still one of Nashville's better singer-songwriters, but he's going through some growing pains. His idea that as he gets more popular the way to fill up those arenas is with more rock and roll has merit, but the songs pointed that direction, especially the title anthem, are awful -- note that most are co-written by Casey Beathard, although the one that goes "I'm a broke record" isn't. B+(*)
The Cookers: Time and Time Again (2014, Motéma Music): Fourth album for the all-star septet with their first personnel change: Donald Harrison replaces Craig Handy at alto sax. Two trumpets (Eddie Henderson, David Weiss), Billy Harper at tenor sax, and a rhythm section of George Cables, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart, with all but Harrison contributing songs. They promise to turn up the heat, and mostly deliver. B+(**)
The Core Trio: The Core Trio With Matthew Shipp (2014, self-released): Houston-based free jazz trio with Seth Paynter on sax, Thomas Helton on double bass, and Joe Hertenstein on drums, joined by pianist Matthew Shipp for a 42-minute improv. Simple enough idea, but Shipp is really in his own class when it comes to this sort of thing. A-
Frankie Cosmos: Zentropy (2014, Midheaven, EP): Alias for Greta Kline, daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. She's released 40-some home-recorded "albums" since 2009, but this is the first assembled in a studio, and counted as an EP because the ten songs only add up to 17:22. B+(*) [bc]
Dee Daniels: Intimate Conversations (2012 , Origin): Standards singer, AMG roots her in Sarah Vaughan and that's the idea but a stretch, at least on vocal range and timing. Ninth album since 1991, The band is star-studded -- Cyrus Chestnut, Ken Peplowski, Wycliffe Gordon, Russell Malone, Houston Person -- but they mostly stay out of the way. B- [cd]
De Beren Gieren & Susana Santos Silva: The Detour Fish: Live in Ljubljana (2014, Clean Feed): Belgian piano trio -- Fulco Ottervanger (piano), Lieven Van Pée (bass), Simon Segers (drums) -- with two or three albums (the first is called EP1), hooks up with Portuguese trumpet player Susana Santos Silva, a nice pairing on the easy side of free jazz. B+(**) [cd]
Deerhoof: La Isla Bonita (2014, Polyvinyl): San Francisco band, founded in 1994 with singer Satomi Matsuzaki joining a year later, often classified as "noise pop," which I take to be an especially erratic varient of prog. I couldn't stand the two previous albums I checked out, and wouldn't have bothered with this were it not for a brain lapse confusing them with Deerhunter. Turns out this time I find nearly all of their larks and quirks amusing, including a bit that sounds like noise-pop. I don't recognize the parts that reportedly play off Madonna, the Ohio Players, and Michael Jackson, but the thought must count for something. B+(**)
Toumani Diabaté/Sidiki Diabaté: Toumani & Sidiki (2014, World Circuit): Two kora masters from Mali, father and son, the former the guy everyone from Ali Farka Touré to Damon Albarn to Taj Mahal has played with. The latter allegedly has a hip-hop career, but plays nice here -- almost too nice. B+(**)
Ron Di Salvio: Songs for Jazz Legends (2006 , Blujazz): Pianist, has a book called Deltadiotonics: Twenty-First Century Harmony, and a handful of mostly-recent records. This is a sextet plus a vocal quartet. The songs are each inspired by jazz musicians ("Oscar-nine-inicity," "Dave's Brew," "Sonny Side Up," "Mingustino," "Bud's Blossom," "Mulligan's Stew" -- like that, in a quasi-fifties style). Too cute and not quite clever enough. B [cd]
Justin Townes Earle: Single Mothers (2014, Vagrant): Singer-songwriter, works in a country-ish vein. Played it twice and it grew comfortable on me -- maybe not the point. Looks like he has a sequel coming up, called Absent Fathers. B+(**)
Emperor X: The Orlando Sentinel (2014, self-released): Chad Matheny released a very smart singer-songwriter album in 2011, Western Teleport. That followed thirteen years of electronic experimentation, and preceded this, partly a return to form and an effort to move beyond -- the songs are less polished, the music just weirder, but both are interesting. B+(***)
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Black Is Back: 40th Anniversary Project (2014, Katalyst): Percussionist Kahil El'Zabar's two-horn trio, first recorded in 1981 with as Three Gentlemen From Chikago with Henry Huff and Edward Wilkerson on saxes, and are up to 14-15 records now. Trombonist Joseph Bowie replaced Huff in the 1980s, and Ernest Dawkins took over the sax slot in 1998. Trumpeter Corey Wilkes took over for Bowie in 2006, and an experiment with guitarist Fareed Haque ended shortly after that, the group reverting to the present trio -- the best pair of horns he's worked with. And as usual, his vocals don't help, but that's a minor issue here. B+(***)
Orrin Evans: Liberation Blues (2014, Smoke Sessions): Versatile pianist leads what's basically a hard bop group -- Sean Jones (trumpet), JD Allen (tenor sax), Luques Curtis (bass), Bill Stewart (drums) -- opens with Dwayne Burno's fiery title suite, slides into ballads later and ends with a vocalist (Joanna Pascale). B+(**)
Far East Movement: KTown Riot (2014, Interscope, EP): New jack funk group from LA, resemble Black Eyed Peas as much as anyone else but tend to duck underground, underming their pop potential. Six tracks, 21:07, guest rappers include Schoolboy Q and YG. B+(*)
Fire! Orchestra: Enter (2014, Rune Grammofon): The first Fire! was a trio whose principals -- saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, drummer Andreas Werlin, and bassist Johan Berthling, -- came from jazz, pop, and "experimental folk-electronica" backgrounds. They then scaled up to a massive orchestra -- I count 29 credits (most I recognize, a veritable who's who of Norway's avant-garde) -- with Marian Wallentin (and others) singing her arch texts: effectively, they add drama to a band built for it. B+(**)
Aretha Franklin: Sings the Great Diva Classics (2014, RCA): Acknowledging that the diva fetish in postmodern soul music was probably her own damn fault, she decides to show us how it should be done, and pretty much pulls it off. Helps that classics are classics, and that they save her the trouble of acting -- all she has to do is perform, and she's got that covered. B+(***)
Friends & Neighbors: Hymn for a Hungry Nation (2012-13 , Clean Feed): Swedish group, no one I've heard of -- André Roligheten (tenor sax, clarinets), Thomas Johansson (trumpet), Oscar Grönberg (piano), Jon Rune Strřm (bass), Tollef Řstvang (drums) -- took their name from an Ornette Coleman title. Leans toward postbop, with lush piano, shiny horns, pushed toward the edge. B+(**) [cd]
Fucked Up: Glass Boys (2014, Matador): Post-hardcore band from Canada, retains the genre's ferocious vocal snarl but cut surprising breaks into the music, turbulent as it is. B+(**)
Gazelle Twin: Unflesh (2014, Last Gang): Elizabeth Bernholz (of Brighton, England) fills her electronica with industrial klang and mordant vocals, an intriguing, chilly, and (a bit) creepy effect. B+(**)
Danny Green Trio: After the Calm (2014, OA2): Pianist, has several albums, this a trio with Justin Grinnell on bass and Julian Cantelm on drums. Working on his Latin tinge, often finding it. B+(**) [cd]
Jimmy Greene: Beautiful Life (2014, Mack Avenue): Tenor saxophonist, mainstream guy with most of his albums on Criss Cross, dedicated this one to his daughter, one of the children shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elemenary School in Newtown, CT, six years old at the time. Greene lined up a first rate rhythm section, and plays with stately grace and beauty, but he also throws in guest vocalists, including a children's choir, and this gets a little too poignant. B+(*)
Johnny Griffith: Dance With the Lady (2014, GB): Canadian alto saxophonist, name reminds you of Johnny Griffin, and so does his sax. Hard bop quintet, with Jeremy Pelt on trumpet. B+(*) [cd]
Grünen [Achim Kaufmann/Robert Landfermann/Christian Lillinger]: Pith & Twig (2012-13 , Clean Feed): Piano trio, same bass-drums as Luis Lopes' Berlin connection but you get a better sense of how they flex here. The pianist, also German, bobs and weaves in and out as well. B+(***) [cd]
David Guetta: Listen (2014, Atlantic): Hit producer, works with a wide range of guest singers and styles which gives his records a certain randomness. Not unusual for him to reel off three songs that suck then break loose with one that's pretty good. Maybe the average is better than that, but not enough better to get you through the whole thing. B
Barry Guy: Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett (2009 [2014, NoBusiness, EP): Fizzles is a collection of short pieces by Samuel Beckett, written in French mostly in 1960 and published in English in 1977 with a set of images by Jasper Johns. Guy recorded a set of bass solos under the same names in 1991, presumably the source of the pieces recorded here (but here the titles are just "Fizzle I" through "Fizzle V"). I don't have times here, but they are short enough to be released on 10-inch vinyl -- probably less than 20 minutes, resulting in the rare bass solo that if anything ends too soon. B+(**) [cdr]
Hail Mary Mallon: Bestiary (2014, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic return for a second album, their group named for the cook who at the dawn of the 20th century was so effective at infecting New York City's upper crust with typhoid fever. Underground beats, very snappy. B+(***)
Half Japanese: Overjoyed (2014, Joyful Noise): Duo goes back to the late 1970s. They made a lot of noisy, erratic albums where memorable songs were buried like rough gems, ultimately enough to fill up a remarkable 2-CD Greatest Hits in 1995. Since then not much, but their first in 13 years sounds like they never left. B+(***)
Maggie Herron: Good Thing (2014, self-released): Standards singer, from Hawaii, also plays piano. Brian Bromberg produced, and Geoff Keezer helped with the arrangements. Two songs in French, one from Joni Mitchell; classics like "Body and Soul" fare better. B+(**) [cd]
Hookworms: The Hum (2014, Weird World): Brit band, drone with pop hooks, this one grabs me less than the first (2013's Pearl Mystic); probably the organ, which comes out on top of the guitar(s) as often as not. B+(***)
How to Dress Well: What Is This Heart? (2014, Domino): Tom Krell, from Chicago, mostly sings in a falsetto, often over synth strings, an effect some consider soulful. I find it has an agreeable ambience to it, then forget what I heard once it passes. B
Hurray for the Riff Raff: Small Town Heroes (2014, ATO): Alynda Lee discards her Puerto Rican roots for Appalachain folk transplanted to New Orleans. This has gotten a surprising amount of year-end list attention. B+(**)
Russ Johnson: Still Out to Lunch (2014, Yellowbird): Trumpet player, leads a quintet including Roy Nathanson (alto/soprano sax) and Myra Melford (piano). Title honors Eric Dolphy's masterpiece, Out to Lunch!, still inspiring after fifty years. B+(**)
Kool A.D.: Word O.K. (2014, self-released): Not the oft-repeated "best rapper in the world," but perhaps the most relaxed, a "what me care?" attitude that let him release the project "outtakes" (as Not O.K.) ahead of the main course. Nor am I sure it even matters. "Some times I get paid to perform raps/other times I do it for free." Whatever, all good. A- [bc]
Jonas Kullhammar: Gentlemen (2014, Moserobie): Swedish saxophonist (credit order here: tenor, baritone, bass, stritch, saxello). I've only heard his more avant work on Clean Feed until now, so I was surprised to find this starting out so mainstream, then delighted to hear him stretch out. Four tracks add a second tenor sax, the justly renowned Bernt Rosengren. Last four tracks (Rosengren is on one of them) add Goran Kajfes on cornet and Mattias Stĺhl on vibes. Reportedly a soundtrack, but no hint of that genre's usual flaws. A- [cd]
Michel Lambert: Journal des Épisodes II (1992-2014 , Jazz From Rant): Ninety-seven short fragments of music (total 44:17) tied to a journal written in 1988. It does feel so fragmentary, even with bits of WSO string quartet (from 1992) interleaved into the more recent Guillaume Bouchard-Alexandre Grogg piano trio. B+(***) [cd]
Nikki Lane: All or Nothin' (2014, New West): Country singer on the alt-side, doesn't quite have the big Nashville voice, recoils by hanging with rockers (Dan Auerbach produced) and taking risks, sleeping with strangers, looking for the right time to do the wrong thing. B+(*)
Let's Wrestle: Let's Wrestle (2014, Fortuna Pop): English group, has an ear for writing pop songs but tends to be soft and a bit twee, which wouldn't be a problem if the songs were catchier and/or deeper. B+(*)
Luis Lopes Lisbon Berlin Trio: The Line (2014, Clean Feed): Portuguese electric guitarist, one of the most distinctive anywhere -- seems like he plays on his feedback as much as on the guitar itself -- with German bassist (Robert Landfermann) and drummer (Christian Lillinger). A- [cd]
Brian Lynch and Emmet Cohen: Questioned Answer (2012 , Hollistic Musicworks): Trumpet and piano, respectively, leading a quartet billed as intergenerational, with Lynch fifty-something, the pianist less than half that, bassist Boris Kozlov somewhere in between, and drummer Billy Hart on the far side. Both leaders are very active, B+(**)
Tony Malaby's Tubacello: Scorpion Eater (2013 , Clean Feed): As advertised, a sax quartet with a tuba (Dan Peck) and a cello (Christopher Hoffman) splitting the bass role. John Hollenbeck is the drummer. Marvelous in spots, again as you'd expect. B+(***) [cd]
Thurston Moore: The Best Day (2014, Matador): I've often thought that Kim Gordon's voice added an essential human dimension to Sonic Youth's trademark guitar tunings, but now that the group has broken up I'm beginning to appreciate the appealing lightness of his tunes, and the austere luxury of his guitar -- as trademark as ever. A-
Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Blue (2014, Hot Cup): Once out to terrorize jazz history, now they aim to mimic it, with a "note for note" recital of Miles Davis' universally adored 1959 album, Kind of Blue (the five cuts wind up 17, 10, 8, 5, and 0 seconds longer than the originals). To do this they added Ron Stabinsky to play Bill Evans -- probably the only talent not wasted here. B [dl]
Nick Mulvey: First Mind (2014, Fiction/Harvest): English singer-songwriter, recognized the name because he played percussion and hang in the jazz group Portico Quartet. Basically straightforward, although with his ethnomusicology degree I expect closer attention to pick up subtler details. B+(*)
Wolfgang Muthspiel: Driftwood (2013 , ECM): Austrian guitarist, often regarded as a follower of Metheny and Scofield, and often better than either. Trio with Larry Greandier on bass and Brian Blade on drums -- has a previous duo with Blade I recommend, 2007's Friendly Travelers. But this winds up being very laid back, as if he thought the label ordered up a Ralph Towner album. B+(*) [dl]
Naomi Punk: Television Man (2014, Captured Tracks): Math rock trio from Olympia/Seattle, second album, loud, a little stilted, but isn't spasticky just one of those awkward stages of youth? B
The New Basement Tapes: Lost on the River (2014, Island): Producer T-Bone Burnett's project, an ad hoc supergroup -- Elvis Costello, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Marcus Mumford (& Sons), Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops) -- intent on fleshing out unfinished Bob Dylan lyrics dating back to 1967 Woodstock. Pleasantly meandering Americana, but nothing indelible here, unlike similar efforts to add music to Woody Guthrie lyrics -- not sure what that says about the writer, probably more about the (less-than) supergroup. B+(*)
Jim Norton Collective: Time Remembered: Compositions of Bill Evans (2013 , Origin): Baritone saxophonist, originally from San Francisco, lately based in Seattle, assembled a 12-piece band for his arrangements of Evans' compositions. A lot of lovely detail here. B+(**) [cd]
Old Crow Medicine Show: Remedy (2014, ATO): Virginia band, allegedly grew up on grunge and hip-hop but opted to make their living with fiddles and banjos, figuring they could still kick up their shoes. Mostly upbeat, occasionally inches past the usual Nashville boundaries. Sample lyric: "it's an already mean enough world/without you." B+(**)
Old Style Sextet: Old Style Sextet (2014, Blujazz): "Old style" is closest to hard bop, with two saxes (co-leaders Michael Fenoglio and Clark Gibson switching off between alto and tenor), trombone, piano-bass-drums, but no trumpet. Band comes out of central Illinois, where most have teaching jobs. B+(*) [cd]
Parker Abbott Trio: The Wayfinders (2012-13 , self-released): Two pianists from Toronto, Teri Parker and Simeon Abbott, plus drummer Mark Segger. Both Parker and Abbott play a lot of electric keyboards, which provides some variation to their sound, which is more pop than new age and more challenging than smooth jazz, not that either are particularly high bars. B [cd]
Peaking Lights: Cosmic Logic (2014, Weird World): Husband/wife, Indra Dunis singing and Aaron Coyes doing whatever, make lo-fi synth-pop. B+(***)
Rich Pellegrin Quintet: Episodes IV-VI (2014, OA2): Pianist, leads a conventional postbop quintet with R. Scott Morning on trumpet and Neil Welch on tenor sax. Complex, leaning toward lush with the horns shining, but few surprises. B+(*) [cd]
Perfume Genius: Too Bright (2014, Turnstile): Mike Hadreas' third album, trends toward mopey, melodramatic ballads with an air of lushness for comfort. B
Rod Picott: Hang Your Hopes on a Crooked Nail (2014, Welding Rod): A singer-songwriter from New Hampshire who could pass as country if he had a bit of twang. Starts with a touching break up song, sentimentally overrates a "65 Falcon" and wonders why anyone calls the leaky tin can he lives in a "Mobile Home." B+(***)
Pink Floyd: The Endless River (2014, Rhino): Not a real band any more -- Roger Waters is long gone, Rick Wright dead, leaving David Gilmour and Nick Mason to recycle and gussy up instrumental bits that harken (and for all I know may derive) from the band's heyday. A trifle, but I find it appealing. B+(*)
Roil [Chris Abrahams/Mike Majkowski/James Waples]: Raft of the Meadows (2013-14 , NoBusiness): Piano-bass-drums trio. Abrahams, originally from New Zealand and based in Sydney, has tended to work in groups including the Necks (another piano trio), but Discogs lists 17 records (since 1985) under his name. B+(***) [cdr]
Boris Savoldelli/Garrison Fewell: Electric Bat Conspiracy (2014, Creative Nation Music): Savodelli is an eccentric Italian singer; considers Mark Murphy a mentor, but sounds more like Captain Beefheart to me, at least when he gets up to speed, which isn't often. Fewell plays guitar and composed most of the songs, with lyrics added from as far afield as Sun Ra. Covers: "My One and Only Love," "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise," "Perfect Day." B+(*) [cd]
Louis Sclavis Quartet: Silk and Salt Memories (2014, ECM): French clarinet player, many records since 1980, his avant tendencies increasingly subsumed in world music contexts, this one inspired by the great transcontinental trade routes of the middle ages. Backed with guitar (Gilles Coronado), piano/keyb (Benjamin Moussay), and percussion (Keyvan Chemirani). B+(***) [dl]
Brandon Seabrook: Sylphid Vitalizers (2014, New Atlantis): Plays tenor banjo and electric guitar ("shreds" is his preferred term), previously released a couple records as Seabrook Power Plant. This is described as a solo, but Dr. Vitalizer is also credited with drum programming. B+(*)
Serengeti: Kenny Dennis III (2014, Joyful Noise): A third album about David Cohn's Chicago rapper character, an older mentor and sometime adversary of the artist's own alter-ego Chicago rapper character, as they rendez-vous in LA, hit the road to Rockford, and eventually crack up. I suspect I've heard it before, but it's finally beginning to stick. A-
Slackk: Palm Tree Fire (2014, Local Action): Paul Lynch, first album after several EPs, several sources list this as "grime" but that's not what I think of -- almost all instrumental, electronic, something between dubstep and trip hop, which is to say not much. B
Sleaford Mods: Chubbed Up (2013-14 , Ipecac): British neo-punk group, sometimes labeled hip-hop for the monotone vocals but they sound sung to me. Also bitter, angry, sarcastic, not exactly cynical, all traits of thinking, caring beings these days. Couldn't find their 2014 album Divide and Exit, but compilation of recent odds and sods probably gives the flavor. B+(***)
Sam Smith: In the Lonely Hour (2014, Capitol): Young British singer, featured on singles by Disclosure and Naughty Boys before this debut. Everyone talks about his remarkable voice -- he sings falsetto and lower and switches between them with emotional precision -- but that hardly qualifies him as the future of soul music (even in England). Indeed, he's more likely to wind up being very annoying when he tortures second-rate songs. B-
Tommy Smith/Brian Kellock: Whispering of the Stars (2014, Spartacus): Tenor sax-piano duets, their third album together (the best is Symbiosis). Smith was incredibly fast and brash when he was young, but seems to be turning into an old softie here, inching his way through standards like "Stardust," "Round Midnight," "Moonlight in Vermont," "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," "Moonlight Serenade," even "When You Wish Upon a Star" (some in medley). B+(***)
The Soundcarriers: Entropicalia (2014, Ghost Box): Brit group, if there's a jungle influence it's from the dance genre, not from the tropics, and they lean more prog/psych than anything else. But they're not subtle: they grab your attention and run with it. B+(**)
Brian Swartz & the Gnu Sextet: Portraiture (2014, Summit): Trumpet player, fourth album since 2000. Sextet alternates two saxophonists; otherwise trombone, piano, bass, drums. Mainstream postbop, but brighter than usual, swings some. B+(**) [cd]
Sunny Sweeney: Provoked (2014, Aunt Daddy): She has the Nashville voice Nikki Lane lacks, but it doesn't always help -- a couple songs gets thick and syrupy. But she does her best to play bad, from "You Don't Know Your Husband [like I do]" to "[Here's to the working class] Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass." B+(*)
Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (2014, Big Dada): Brit rapper ("London-born performance poet"), née Kate Esther Calvert, cites Samuel Beckett and Wu-Tang Clan as influences. Dan Carey's beats give her a firm ride and the breaks seem just right, while her rhymes dazzle, and I'm a sucker for the accent. A
Tinashe: Aquarius (2014, RCA): Surname Kachingwe, b. 1993 in Lexington, KY, based in LA where she also has an acting career. Neo-soul, gets a boost when a rapper (like Schoolboy Q) drops in, or when they just pick up the beat. B+(**)
Ton Trio II: On and On (2013 , Singlespeed Music): Alto sax trio led by Aram Shelton, who left the Chicago avant scene for California, always gets a terrific sound. With Scott Brown on bass and Alex Vittum on drums. B+(**)
Mark Turner Quartet: Lathe of Heaven (2013 , ECM): Two horn (aka pianoless) quartet, the leader's tenor sax impressive on its own but most often tied up with Avishai Cohen's trumpet, which rarely cuts loose but adds lots of color. With Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. B+(**) [dl]
TV on the Radio: Seeds (2014, Harvest): Fifth studio album, with two I counted at A- but can't now remember nor recognize anything comparable here. Rather, I just get a sense of grandeur, and the best I can say is I'm not detecting its near relative, pomposity. So I figure them to be decent, likable fellows, doing honest work on some stratospheric level that fails to interest me. B
Us Free [Bill McHenry/Henry Grimes/Andrew Cyrille]: Fish Stories (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): No new talent here: tenor saxophonist McHenry has at least ten albums since 1998, and the others are a generation or two senior, nor is the tape all that fresh. Much proceeds as you'd expect, but there are some snags, also some treats, like Grimes playing violin. B+(***)
The Vamps: Meet the Vamps (2014, Island): British boy band's debut, upbeat, built on riffs that proved commercially viable as far back as the '60s (including an improved Simon & Garfunkel song as well as a Bruno Mars credit and a Demi Lovato guest spot). Actually, a lot of fun. B+(**)
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: OverTime: The Music of Bob Brookmeyer (2014, Planet Arts): Longtime house band at the Village Vanguard, originally directed by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, both long departed, but pianist Jim McNeely retains the sensibility, and the roster of horns is inspired (names include Terrell Stafford, Luis Bonilla, Rich Perry, Dick Oatts, Ralph Lalama, and Gary Smulyan). That such a big band would be attracted to Brookmeyer is no surprise. B+(*)
Velkro: Don't Wait for the Revolution (2012 , Clean Feed): European jazz trio, with Bostjan Simon (sax -- Slovenia), Stephan Meidell (guitar, bass -- Norway), and Luis Candeias (drums -- Portugal). So much propulsion here that any lapses in the groove or bursts of noise wash away, leaving you with a layered weave of tone. I wouldn't call this avant-garde, much less postbop, and certainly not fusion, but might not object to post-Velvets, if you know what I mean. A [cd]
David Virelles: Mboko (2013 , ECM): Pianist, from Cuba, calls this "sacred music for piano, two basses, drums, and biankoméko abakuá" -- the latter a set of four hand drums played by Román Diaz. They don't add a lot, but the abstract meander of the piano is something to follow. B+(**) [dl]
Jessie Ware: Tough Love (2014, Interscope): British pop singer, effectively a soft soul artist. Second album, still looking for a hit. B+(*)
Marcin Wasilewski Trio w/Joakim Milder: Spark of Life (2014, ECM): The piano trio, with Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz, was first introduced to the US as Tomasz Stanko's "young Polish group," but had some history together before and continued after the trumpeter moved on. They are as fine as ever here, and get a little extra color from tenor saxophonist Milder -- all they need. A- [dl]
Bill Watrous/Pete Christlieb/Carl Saunders/The Gary Urwin Jazz Orchestra: A Beautiful Friendship (2014, Summit): Trombone, tenor sax, and trumpet for the first three, but the main credit belongs to Urwin for arranging and leading this showy big band. B
Colin Webster/Andrew Lisle/Alex Ward: Red Kite (2014, Raw Tonk): Tenor/baritone sax, drums, guitar; based in England. Four numbered pieces, improvs I'd say, the others largely keying off the guitarist -- more like piling on when the action picks up, which is when they make the strongest impression. B+(**) [bc]
Wildest Dreams: Wildest Dreams (2014, Smalltown Supersound): Maybe the artist credit should be Harvey Bassett or DJ Harvey but the cover doesn't indicate that. The music is a throwback to late-'60s psychedelic rock -- the cover is an homage to a Randy California album. Reminds me of a 1980s group with the same basic idea, the Golden Palominos -- not least because the instrumental stretches are more compelling than the vocals. B+(**)
Wu-Tang Clan: A Better Tomorrow (2014, Warner Brothers): Twenty-some years after their debut, seven since the last, they're having trouble pulling it together, and sounding more old school than ever when they do -- even before the song credited to M.L. King Jr., or the "family reunion" retooled from Gamble-Huff. Big gestures, their specialty. B+(***)
Neil Young: Storytone (2014, Reprise): Ten songs -- one very pointed one about saving the earth, another about driving his car -- backed with big band brass and/or symphony orchestra strings, producing more than its fair share of hackneyed effects, even as they rarely detract from his singing. But if that's what you want, you're better off with the second disc of the Deluxe Edition, where he recycles the same songs solo. If you could buy it separately, I'd bump the grade up a couple notches. B+(*)
Young Thug & DJ Swamp Izzo: I Came From Nothing (2011, self-released): Atlanta rapper, first mixtape, has done two (or three) more with this title, evidently a point of pride. Rough, gravelly. [Rhapsody combines this with 2; thought it would make more sense to try to separate them out.] B+(*)
Young Thug: I Came From Nothing 2 (2011, self-released): Front cover says "Hosted by Swamp Izzo," something less than co-credit. Nearly twice as many songs. Nearly twice as difficult to tell them apart. B+(*)
Young Thug: I Came From Nothing 3 (2012, self-released): Again, hosted by DJ Swamp Izzo. A giant step forward, mostly speeding up the beats, smearing them with synths, and matching them with rapid-fire rhymes, most compatible with the Dirty South idea. B+(***)
Young Thug/Rich Homie Quan/Birdman: Birdman Presents Rich Gang: The Tour Pt. 1 (2014, Cash Money): Despite all the loose cash, not really a surfeit of riches here -- the most coherent parts do little more than reiterate the brand name. B+(*)
Zanussi 5: Live in Coimbra (2013 , Clean Feed): Bassist from Norway (father Italian), leads a quintet with three saxes -- Kjetil Mřster (tenor/soprano), Jřrgen Mathisen (tenor), Erik Hegdal (baritone), all doubling on clarinet -- and drums. Propulsive grooves set up sax wails, with the bari for deep muscle. A- [cd]
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Julian Bahula: Spirit of Malombo: Malombo Jazz, Jabula and Jazz Africa 1966-1984 (1966-84 , Strut, 2CD): South African singer, led several bands from exile in England -- quite possible that the eponymous Jabula (1975) was the first African album I bought, and I picked up a later Malombo album on pure spec. I wasn't impressed by either, but this makes more of his career, starting a bit slow but occasionally hitting full stride. B+(**)
Francis Bebey: Psychedelic Sanza 1982-1984 (1982-84 , Born Bad): From Cameroon, had some early success with the Palm Wine and Highlife styles then drifted into electronics, nicely sampled on this label's recent African Electronic Music 1975-1985 comp. This is later, the beats more minimal, the filigree stranger. B+(**)
Ted Daniel's Energy Module: Interconnection (1975 , NoBusiness, 2CD): Trumpet player, associated with New York's avant "loft scene" but recorded little -- later coming to my attention on Billy Bang's Vietnam records. But this is a find, a prime example of the era's avant-garde, with two energetic saxophonists (Daniel Carter and Oliver Lake), and relative unknowns holding their own at bass and drums. A-
Disco: A Fine Selection of Independent Disco, Modern Soul and Boogie 1978-82 (1978-82 , Soul Jazz, 2CD): Some serious crate digging here, coming up with nothing I've ever heard before by no one I've ever heard of -- all danceable, "fine" seems the apt term, wouldn't go much further than that. Label also has a large-format book, Disco: An Encyclopedic Guide to the Cover Art of Disco, with pretty much the same cover. B+(*)
Gipsy Rhumba: The Original Rhythm of Gipsy Rhumba in Spain 1965-1974 (1965-74 , Soul Jazz): I think of rhumba as a dance beat that sloshed back and forth between Cuba and Congo several times, but evidently something of the concept splashed onto Spain and was picked up by flamenco musicians there. Upbeat, sounds vaguely Mexican to me. B+(**)
Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian: Hamburg '72 (1972 , ECM): Recorded at NDR Funkhaus on June 14, 1972, the trio is three-quarters of Jarrett's "American Quartet" of the time, missing saxophonist Dewey Redman. Most interesting thing here are the stretches where Jarrett plays soprano sax, especially on "Piece for Ornette" but also on "Song for Che." Jarrett also plays some flute, which catches you off guard and ain't half bad. Of course, he plays some piano two, and this was a period when he was brash enough to carry an audience for hours -- it you want to nitpick, he doesn't do enough of that here. But that leaves room for Haden and Motian -- unique talents no longer with us. A- [dl]
Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie: December Day [Willie's Stash, Vol. 1] (2014, Legacy): The uneasy beginnings of an archival series like the "bootlegs" Sony's been pushing of Bob Dylan and Miles Davis. I haven't seen the recording dates -- before credited bassist Bee Spears died in 2011, and maybe much older (the solo "Who'll Buy My Memories?" sounds like the lead on 1991's The IRS Tapes). Nor does pianist Bobbie Nelson appear all that much. B
Salsa de la Bahia: A Collection of SF Area Salsa and Latin Jazz: Vol. 2, Hoy Y Ayer (1983-2013 , Patois, 2CD): I've complained much about the quality of world music coming out of San Francisco, but the salsa and Latin jazz on these volumes is pretty close to the mark. Vol. 1 started in 2003. This one goes back a couple decades earlier, but is still mostly recent. B+(**) [cd]
Verckys et l'Orchestre Vévé: Congolese Funk, Abrobeat & Psychedelic Rumba 1969-1978 (1969-78 , Analog Africa): Title-wise, I guess soukous doesn't ring up the cash register as much as funk, afrobeat, or psychedelia, but Verckys Kiamuangana Mateta spent a decade in the employ of Franco before spinning off Orchestre Vévé and recording this fairly classic soukous. No titles in common with RetroAfric's 2001 superb compilation, Vintage Verckys. A-
Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver: Live at the Loft (2005 , ILK Music): Danish saxophonist with piano and drums -- two American players who were just graduating to major status. Two 20+ minute pieces plus a shorter one. Quite remarkable when they're all fired up, but the saxophonist isn't always engaged. B+(***)
Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver: Floating Islands (2008 , ILK Music): This ignites on the 16:22 second cut ("Ritual") with Anker playing soprano sax over the pianist's toughest vamp. When that seems to have worn the saxophonist out, Taborn picks up the slack until she gets a second wind, and comes back even stronger. A-
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:
The Coathangers: Suck My Shirt (2014, Suicide Squeeze): Three women from Atlanta, a pretty basic punk trio, which was all I came up with on first play. Returning to them, the first thing that struck me was the rightness of the tone, which carries all but one or two of the songs. Their faces are obscured by hair on the cover, but are much clearer on record. [was: B+(**)] A-
Bette Midler: It's the Girls (2014, East/West): Lobbied into replaying this, I admit this is broader that I first thought, and she kicks it up a level when she dubs in some crowd sounds as well as the harmonies. I still find the Spector hollow, and the TLC ballad dull, and the mean song gets a shrug, but "Tell Him" is pretty great. [was: B] B+(**)
Rod Picott: Welding Burns (2011, Welding Rod): [was: B+(***)] A-
Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Live Snakes (2014, Accurate): [was: A-] A
Jenny Scheinman: The Littlest Prisoner (2014, Masterworks): [was: A-] A
Withered Hand: New Gods (2014, Slumberland): When Michael Tatum first told me this album was "awesome," I expected something other than an underwhelming Scottish Beach Boy, even if this Willson is as stuck in his room as that Wilson. I still can't say as I get, let alone appreciate, it, but the album is mightily tuneful and more than a little substantial. [was: B+(**)] A-
Young Thug & Bloody Jay: Black Portland (2014, self-released): Still not sure Christgau's pick for "rap album of the year" is worth the trouble -- I heard nothing redeeming or even very interesting the first four times through, and wouldn't have bothered but for peer pressure. This only started to sound like something after slogging through YT's back catalog, realizing it wasn't so bad, then getting a charge from the acceleration on I Came From Nothing 3. The musical breakthrough here came on "4 Eva Bloody" -- there are others, but sometimes the music threatens to vanish. Not sure there is, or ever will be, a lyrical breakthrough, or that either of these Atliens have any future. But this turns out to be a pretty unique item. [was: B-] A-
Monday, December 8. 2014
Music: Current count 24146  rated (+41), 521  unrated (+3).
Thinking about year-end lists, which has meant a mad rush to sample as much reputable but unheard music as possible. That in turn has led to the huge number of new A- records pictured to the right. Unfortunately, virtually none of them come off of the upper reaches of published lists -- the sole exception is Kate Tempest's Everybody Down, briefly in the top-20 of my metacritic aggregate file but totally unknown outside of the UK and currently tied for 44th. My other list-based find is Call Super's Suzi Ecto, a techno album that topped the list at Juno Plus but has yet to appear on a second list. Even the two records that I had previously panned but this week regraded just above the A-/B+ line, Withered Hand's New Gods and Young Thug/Bloody Jay's Black Portland, have fewer points in my aggregate (2 and 1 respectively) -- this after looming large in Odyshape's Mid-Year Report (Withered Hand won; Black Portland, which Christgau has dubbed "the rap album of the year," came in 8th on points, tied with Miranda Lambert's Platinum).
I'll also point out that my own favorite album this year, Lily Allen's Sheezus (which finished 4th in Odyshape) is also stuck with a single aggregate point (The Telegraph ranked it 47). As I proceed, I fold all the new records into my jazz and non-jazz year-end lists -- the former currently lists 62 A/A- albums, the latter 61. There are 95 lists in the current aggregate file, but very few even touch on much less specialize in jazz -- although it's worth noting that my jazz favorite, Steve Lehman's Mise en Abime, is currently leading the jazz subset by a nice margin (7-to-4 for BadBadNotGood). In previous years, I used to be able to find many jazz critics' lists at JJA, but they don't seem to be doing that today. (Also slowing me down is that Large Hearted Boy has stopped posting his invaluable list index.) Nor have I seen the results from Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll (which I've collated in past years and presumably will again this year). Looks like I'll have to start scouring the blogs. (I did just add Tim Niland's ballot, and have just found one from Lyn Horton.)
One thing that should be clear is that the top totals are no guarantee of quality. I've heard the top 19 records, so I'll list them here with my grade in brackets (and points in braces):
That works out to 2 A-, 4 ***, 3 **, 3 *, 4 B, 3 B-; which is to say that quality on the list is little better than random. Of course you probably disagree with some (or many) of my judgments here. (Michael Tatum, who correlates with me better than most, had Jack White at A- and Todd Terje at C+.) But odds are that if you have heard 300+ albums this year -- my non-jazz count is currently 322; my jazz count is 563 -- and weren't so sectarian you'd dismiss most of these records a priori you'd come up with a similar range. And the pattern would most likely repeat on down the list, albeit with diminishing returns as the records become ever more obscure (and things like jazz, country, world, and metal creep in).
The list of records I've heard breaks at 20-21 with Ty Segall and Taylor Swift -- neither on Rhapsody, and then there's another gap at 24-25 for Royal Blood and Goat (records I haven't bothered to look up). From there on down to about 150 I've heard about half, and my share thins out past there. Conversely, about one third (20) of my 61 A/A- non-jazz albums have no points so far. Eleven more have 1 point, so that covers the median. (I haven't figured my own list in yet, nor that of many similar-minded critics.) My list sorted by aggregate score:
Missing completely are records by: Big KRIT, Company Freak, Deena, Dub Thompson, Golem, The Green Seed, Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, Homeboy Sandman, Kool AD, Jon Langford, Amy LaVere, Mursday, Parkay Quarts (Content Nausea) Jenny Scheinman, Doug Seegers, Serengeti, The Strypes, Supreme Cuts, Jonah Tolchin, and Leo Welch. Notably, 6 of those 20 are rap records. I've noted previously the relative paucity of (especially US) rap records in a year that is really not lacking for good ones, so won't dwell on that here -- you can, after all, look it up.
The number of EOY lists are likely to nearly double next week, but I don't see a lot of trends in the data. The top five have been very stable (once St. Vincent overcame a shaky start). I don't put a lot of weight on differences in rank -- most lists are graded 3 for 1st place, 2 for 2-20, and 1 for everything else -- so nothing much changes with lists that include all of the top five (which is to say most of them). I'm personally much more interested in what shows up on the margins (again, see that Call Super album): that's why I count everything and don't weigh it much.
You can compare this with the top-ten-only aggregates at places like Metacritic if you want to focus on rank. The big gainers there are Run the Jewels (11-to-4), Taylor Swift (21-to-8), and La Roux (42-to-18), and those will definitely do better at P&J than in my aggregate. (The largest loser is probably Sun Kil Moon, dropping 7-to-12.)
I should be running December's first Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Draft file is pretty huge. Two things I wanted to do won't happen this time: one is to clear my queue of Xmas music (didn't happen because I can't stand the stuff); the other is to look at the "deluxe editions" that dominate major label reissues, using Rhapsody to program out the core albums so I just listen to the ephemera. I was originally thinking I'd like to sort through the Led Zeppelin reissues, but there are many more like that. Maybe next time, closer to Xmas. Or maybe next year.
One final announcement is that I'd like to invite you to take a look at Carola Dibbell's new website. It's more focused on her forthcoming novel, The Only Ones, than on her superb music writing, but there are links back to her "corner" of Robert Christgau's website. Right now it's sort of a three-headed hybrid, but in the not-too-distant future I hope to integrate it better stylistically. Let me also note that my wife has read the novel and thinks it's really terrific. Plenty of places you can order a copy. (I haven't read it, but I haven't read any novel since Tom Carson's Gilligan's Wake -- had to since he practically wrote it for me.)
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 7. 2014
I've been meaning on writing something about justice, the lack of it, or the insane perversion of it within the US, but I wanted to start off with a quote and can't find the book. In fact, I can't find most of the things I look for these days: the place is a total mess, and getting oppressively so. Don't even know where to start sorting it out. So I figured I'd skip the links post today, then found a couple already tucked away in the draft file. So it seems like I can't even follow a plan on not doing something any more.
Another thing I've been thinking about is coming up with a more systematic piece on "the four wars of 2014" -- Israel/Gaza, Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine -- and how they are mutually reinforcing, mostly due to delusions prevalent in Washington these days (some examples of which follow).
Anyhow, shorter and more scattered than I'd like, but more than I expected.
Also, a few links for further study:
Friday, December 5. 2014
I voted in a couple jazz polls today. (Does Jazz Times know who I am? Do they care?) I submitted the following to Francis Davis for NPR's Jazz Critics Poll this year:
I think I voted for Ivo Perelman under Latin jazz last year. He's from Brazil, ergo Latin, but plays free jazz, so not what you'd recognize as Latin jazz. I also have a few A-list players from Spain and Portugal (Ridrigo Amado, Luis Lopes) I'd be happy to plug. Not sure why I don't find more Latin jazz, other than that very little finds its way to me. I have several A-list Latin pop records (Shakira, Ricardo Lemvo, Fumaça Preta).
I should also note that I've been counting Jenny Scheinman's The Littlest Prisoner as a non-jazz album (where it's currently number two on my list). Obviously would have made the top-ten here had I gone that way.
Not sure when the results will be posted, but I'll be hosting the ballots again this year, so I'll probably know more before it happens.
Some preliminary stats: 60 new A-list albums, 124 new B+(***) [HM], 368 other albums for total of 552; 10 old A-list, 5 old B+(***) [HM], 11 other for total of 26. Didn't find many late-graded 2013 albums: 23 (3 new + 1 old A-list).
In 2012 (at roughly this time), I had 556 new jazz records (similar, but with 80 ungraded in queue, vs. 15 now), and 36 old records (plus 2 undgraded), so the falloff this year is less than I expected. (Not sure about 2013, as I don't seem to have the data readily available.)
I also have a request from Sergio Piccarilli to vote in El Intruso's "8th Creative Music Critics Poll 2014." I've voted in it before, but procrastinated last year and missed the deadline date (January 5th this year).
Names were mostly plucked off this year's top album list, with a few reminders from last year and a few more names from memory -- certainly doesn't constitute any serious, deep thinking: pretty sure everyone mentioned deserves mentioning, but many of those unmentioned don't deserve the slight. Several slots could have gone much deeper: drums, bass, alto sax, tenor sax, piano, trumpet. I dropped my number two and four albums somewhat arbitrarily.
Monday, December 1. 2014
Music: Current count 24105  rated (+38), 518  unrated (-0).
My 2014 jazz stocks are dwindling: the pending list is down to 12 records, including two of last week's Clean Feeds. (The package was, by the way, a little light, with only four of eight new titles. Hope they split the shipment rather than start to cut me off.) Beyond that, there's no one I recognize: many singers, at least one flute record. (I've been putting off dealing with 2015 titles -- I have 10 of them, and a few of them are more promising.) I'll square away my jazz ballot sometime in the next few days.
I continue to revise the current jazz and non-jazz lists -- currently I have 58 A-list records on the jazz side, 56 on the other. (By the way, I still need to rewrite the intros and factor the late 2013 releases into those lists. Also need to work on the 2% lists.) I've been looking at available EOY lists, and I've started to count them up. The legend is here, and the new records count is here. Almost 40 lists counted to date, most of the early ones coming from UK/Europe (main resources for me: Acclaimed Music Groups, Ilxor; still waiting for Large Hearted Boy; also see the tabulations at AOTY).
Previous metacritic files have included review grades as well as EOY lists, so I get some idea of how the year is shaping up well ahead of list season. This year I just started the file this past week, and the only data in it are EOY lists, so it started out really skewed when five of the first six lists were from UK mags and record stores (the latter often go 100 deep, since they have that more to sell; the mags usually draw the line around 50, which is about where most serious fans draw the line between A- and B+). The first time I noticed from those lists was the near complete shutout of US rap/r&b albums. For comparison, in 2013 US rap/r&b finished (and I'll throw in the usually higher Pazz & Jop finish in brackets):
Also finishing P&J top 100:
That strikes me as a pretty typical year, and while it's helped by a few big names (Kanye West, Janelle Monae, Drake, Beyonce, Eminem) it includes a fair number of names you probably hadn't heard of before the year started (Chance the Rapper, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, etc.). The shutout of the first few lists has opened up a crack, but still this is looking like the year critics forgot about black music. Currently all I see:
That's less than half as many records, and some of those are pretty marginal. (Cherry grew up in England and Scandinavia, is on a Norwegian record label, and isn't really hip-hop.) Nor do I see much in the wings. Christgau predicts that Black Portland will "finish P&J" (i.e., top 40), but that record has only one mention so far (31 on Rolling Stone's list). Nor have any of Christgau's other A-list hip-hop records this year garnered even a single mention (Atmosphere, Jason Derulo, Homeboy Sandman, Roots -- I could also add Babyface/Toni Braxton, Iggy Azalea [not US but not FKA Twigs either], Kool A.D., and with one mention Azealia Banks). From my list, aside from Pharrell only Statik Selektah has one mention, while Mursday, Green Seed, Grieves, and Serengeti are shut out. I dug up yet another list, XXL's 25 best from mid-year, and it, too, fared very poorly: only 3 (of 25) records there had been mentioned (at least when I checked; may be one or two more now).
So just because Kanye West sat this year out doesn't mean the records aren't there. What's lacking is the recognition. I suppose one reason that bugs me more than usual is news like Ferguson and the elections. Still, when I shared my early findings with Christgau, he wrote back: "And in case you didn't know, the sites you aggregate are generally speaking black-music clueless, stupidly anti-pop, heedlessly prog, and fatally faddish. . . . PJ will be better." Sure, because it is even more US-biased than my early list returns have been UK/Europe-biased, and because it still polls a lot of newspaper critics (who generally have to write about popular music once in a while, or at least be flexible enough to do so -- something not required of bloggers). But looking at the data, I have no reason to overestimate the smarts and taste of the lists: after all, the current top-10 includes four B/B- records by my counting (FKA Twigs, Beck, Sharon Van Etten, Mac DeMarco), and three more not enough better to actually recommend (Caribou, Damon Albarn, Future Islands).
By the way, I didn't get around to tweeting on the Young Thug records -- for one thing, don't have much to say -- but I have warmed somewhat on Black Portland.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, November 24. 2014
Music: Current count 24067  rated (+37), 519  unrated (-8).
The high rated count comes from hustling for last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. More generally, I'm trying to sort out year-end lists -- the working files are here for jazz and non-jazz. By some quirk of fate, both lists currently have 55 A-list albums. I think in past years I've had a fair amount more records in the jazz column, but I'm getting less and less jazz these days. For instance, Tim Niland, whose blog a few years back ran very parallel to mine, posted his Jazz Critics Poll ballot today, and his top-ten includes four records I haven't heard (John Zorn, Audio One, Lean Left, and Brandon Seabrook), and two more I didn't receive (Chicago Underground Duo, Raoul Björkenheim).
I haven't seen much else in the way of year-end lists, although they should start appearing any day now (indeed: Mojo: Beck, War on Drugs, Sleaford Mods, Jack White, St. Vincent, Steve Gunn; Q: War on Drugs, Alt-J, Damon Albarn, Manic Street Preachers, Beck, St. Vincent; American Songwriter: Sturgill Simpson, War on Drugs, Strand of Oaks, Taylor Swift, Ryan Adams, Hurray for the Riff Raff, St. Vincent at 21). Still don't have a plan on how to do a year-end list metacritic file, but thinking about it.
Did some resorting on the year-end lists, resulting in a couple of grade promotions. I'm not able to find time to play many of my favorite records after rating, but Revolutionary Snake Ensemble and Jenny Scheinman have been exceptions.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 23. 2014
This week's notable links follow, especially on Israel, where this summer's Gaza war and the coming elections, on top of nearly twenty years of Likud rule (minus two years for Ehud Barak, 1998-2000) and far-right demagoguery have left a great many Israelis more racist and bloodthirsty than ever. When I talk to people about Israel, they usually throw their hands up in the air, but this is important -- not least because the US is becoming increasingly Israelized, as you can see from Obama's latest escalations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and as is portended by the Confederate/Tea Party revolt -- the lynchings the latter dream about are now real in Israel.
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, November 22. 2014
Three weeks into November and enough to report. I'll probably do two more Streamnotes columns in December, one aimed at the post-season polls (Jazz Critics Poll ballot due December 7, don't know about Pazz & Jop but last year it was due December 24). I've started to get my ducks ordered in two currently unofficial draft files, one for jazz, the other non-jazz. Since the polls close before the year ends, it is customary to include post-Thanksgiving releases in the following year (and maybe some date discoveries from earlier in the year), but I haven't researched that part yet. I also caution you that the sorting is likely to change quite a bit. This is mostly because I don't spend much time during the year sorting the A-list. I just look for some approximate context and insert new records as I find them. (The problem was even worse below the A- level until I just decided to artist-alphabetize each grade niche.)
One thing I need some help on is the section in the year-end files that goes: "records I haven't heard estimated to have a 2% (or better) chance of making the A-list if/when I finally hear them." I haven't made a serious pass through the Music Tracking 2014 file yet, which is my next step toward filling them out. I'll also start looking at some early year-end lists, but what I'd really like would be for readers to write in with their suggestions: ideally records not on my rated list (although I won't have much trouble weeding out the duplicates). I'm not going to keep track of who suggested what, drop names, or spoil your year-end lists (although I might be motivated to listen to something I wouldn't have gotten to anyway). But the quality of those lists would greatly benefit from your input. Thanks in advance.
I'm also thinking about starting to construct a metacritic file with year-end list data -- I'm not about to go back and collect the year's review grades, but I am interested in what an aggregate year-end list might look like. I'm also not dissuaded by the fact that the lists I recognize skew slightly toward my own tastes -- that is sort of the point. I still may not do this -- the fact that I haven't started is one piece of evidence, but the underlying technology intereste me as much as the data does, so there's a chance (and if I do it it'll be useful in projects going forward).
First thing to say about this column is that the total number of records isn't record breaking (106 vs. 109 for March 19, or to go back into 2013 (when I only posted once per month) there was November 30 (185), October 30 (139), December 29 (131), July 27 (116), and May 29 (107). But in the past I've almost always gotten large totals by piling up old records, whereas this column is very heavily skewed toward new records (92 of 106; the only larger new record count was November 30, 2013, with 100 of 185).
The old records were mostly accidents. Christgau featured Jinx Lennon in an Expert Witness column. Fred McDowell and Club Ska '67 were mentioned by EW fans on Facebook. Another fan likes a recent Ross Johnson compilation: couldn't find it, but settled for this one. I checked out Bette Midler's first live album after panning her new one: a Christgau A- but rather dated. I had Jerry Lee Lewis before Christgau wrote it up for EW, but went back and bumped up the grade a bit. (Christgau didn't bother with the new one, but it's an improvement over Mean Old Man. Christgau also skipped the new Parkay Quarts EP. I may have underrated the first one -- Tally All the Things That You Broke, what with my general disinterest in EPs -- but I doubt I've overrated the new one.)
With all the new records, I'm surprised that there isn't more to recommend (or recommend more heartily). I expect I'll have a few regrades next time as I try to shape up the year-end list.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on October 31. Past reviews and more information are available here (5574 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Greg Abate Quartet: Motif (2014, Whaling City Sound): Saxophonist, plays alto/soprano/baritone here (plus some flute), always seemed to look back to bebop as the golden age -- early 1990s albums include Bop City and Bop Lives!. Leads a superb mainstream quartet with piano-bass-drums -- no one I've heard of, but note Tim Ray the pianist. Fast, brilliant sound, the rare mainstream album that jumps at you. A- [cd]
Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra: Pulsion (2014, Ubiquity): Sometimes ALVO, based in California, led by Masta Conga, misnomers pretty much all around. Rather, they produce keyb-based electronica, dense and evocative, with trumpet and sax for expression -- reminiscent of electric Miles, though more of a production. B+(***)
Allison Au Quartet: The Sky Was Pale Blue, Then Grey (2012 , self-released): Alto saxophonist from Toronto, debut album, leads a quartet with piano-bass-drums through some haunting postbop, with bits of spoken word. B+(**) [cd]
Omer Avital: New Song (2014, Motéma): Bassist, from Israel, has recorded quite a lot since he moved to New York. Standard quintet, with Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Joel Frahm on tenor sax, and Yonathan Avishai on piano. Mostly easy rhythms building up momentum toward groove. B+(*)
Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste (2014, Prospect Park): Twenty-something hip-hopper, had a breakout video a couple years ago ("212") which got her a record deal this album evidently lost. Fast tunes, the words rarely breaking the surface, sounds promising when they do. B+(***)
Batida: Dois (2014, Soundway): Angolan/Portuguese DJ Pedro Coquenăo's project, a mix of beats that suggest but don't quite belong to Africa, blips of modern electronica, and samples and raps of international hip-hop. B+(**)
Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek (2014, Interscope): Fine Italian names, Anthony Benedetto (88) and Stefani Germanotta (28), rip through eleven "jazz classics" (or fifteen on the 44:28 "deluxe version"), promising a "modern twist" but falling back on the shlock orchestral and big band arrangements of Bennett's youth -- the flutes on "Nature Boy" are the low point. His voice is fine, hers relatively anonymous but spirited, good enough for the fast ones. B+(*)
Eric Bibb: Blues People (2014, Stony Plain): Takes his title from Amiri Baraka's book and uses it to recount folklore, his own soft-spoken style one aspect in what turns out to be a very mixed bag (probably with too many guests). B+(*)
Big Freedia: Just Be Free (2014, Queen Diva): Freddie Ross, from New Orleans, started as a backup singer for bounce artist Katey Red. Doesn't really rap here so much as spit out words fast enough for beats. Kind of one note, but different. B+(*)
Maggie Björklund: Shaken (2014, Bloodshot): Pedal steel guitarist/singer/songwriter, originally from Denmark, given to open plains and melancholy with an odd shimmer about it. B
Otis Brown III: The Thought of You (2014, Blue Note): Drummer, plays in Joe Lovano's Us Five group. First album, produced by Derrick Hodge with input from Robert Glasper, forces at Blue Note pushing for some sort of crossover breakthrough, which here involves guest vocals from Bilal, Gretchen Parlato, and Nikki Ross. None of those hit the spot, but saxophonist John Ellis helps, and trumpeter Keyon Harrold makes a strong impression. B
Chingari [Ranjit Barot, U Shrinivas, Etienne Mbappé]: Bombay Makossa (2014, Abstract Logix): Drums, electric mandolin, bass, the latter from Cameroon via Paris, the others from Mumbai. Fusion, gets by on groove, loses a bit with vocals. B+(*)
Chumped: Teenage Retirement (2014, Anchorless): Post-punk band fronted by Anika Pyle, who gives them an intelligible air, variously humane and exuberant -- and contagious, the sentiment echoed by the drums, lifting this well above the norm. A-
Gary Clark, Jr.: Live (2014, Warner Brothers, 2CD): Young bluesman from Texas, his 2011 EP made him look like a breakout star, but his 2012 debut album fell awful flat. This is a corrective, but it's still not clear why we should care. B+(*)
Nels Cline & Julian Lage: Room (2014, Mack Avenue): Two jazz guitarists, duets although I rarely hear more than one guitar at a time, producing a quiet, melodious intimacy I don't really identify with Cline. Lage is much younger (b. 1988 v. 1956), got a big push when he landed a major label deal at 21, and has shown a fondness for duos. B+(*) [cdr]
Freddy Cole: Singing the Blues (2014, High Note): An odd collection of songs, something like "The Ballad of the Sad Young Men" is certainly down and out but lacks resiliency, which is what turns the blues back into a source of strength. Like his brother, Cole tends to ease on through -- aided by saxophonist Harry Allen here. B+(**)
Alessandro Collina/Rodolfo Cervetto/Marc Peillon/Fabrizio Bosso: Michel on Air (2014, ITI): "Michel" is pianist Michel Petrucciani, who wrote all but two of eleven pieces -- the covers are from Ellington ("In a Sentimental Mood") and Strayhorn ("Take the 'A' Train"). Piano, drums, bass, and trumpet respectively -- the trumpet grabbing you from the start, piano sneaking up. B+(***)
Kevin Conlon/The Groove Rebellion: In Transit (2014, Blujazz): Bassist, also sings on most cuts, plays some keyboards, guitar, and percussion -- sort of a retro-crooner effect. The band, with Mark Secosh on sax, various guitarists and drummers (no keybs), and occasional extra percussion, moves along nicely but doesn't have any funk to fake, which I'll take to be a plus. B+(*)
Chick Corea Trio: Trilogy (2010-12 , Concord, 3CD): No fusion, no scientology, just back to basics in a no nonsense, unconstrained piano trio with Christian McBride and Brian Blade. Runs 3:24:42, compiled from numerous shows scattered over three years and at least that many continents. Reminds you why people adored him in the first place, but not without the occasional wart -- err, "guest appearance." B+(***)
Tara Davidson: Duets (2014, Addo): Saxophonist, alto and soprano, in a series of duets with piano (Laila Biali, David Braid), guitar (David Occhipinti), bass (Andrew Downing), and other saxophonists (Mike Murley and Trevor Hogg). Scattered, but mostly free and often liberating. B+(**) [cd]
Michael Denhoff/Ulrich Phillipp/Jörg Fischer: Trio Improvisations for Campanula, Bass and Percussion (2014, Sporeprint, 2CD): Denhoff composed the pieces. His campanula is a bowed string instrument, similar in size to a cello but with extra tunable strings to provide more resonant harmonies. Effectively, the campanula melts into the bass, extending its range and complexity. B+(***) [cd]
Paul Dietrich Quintet: We Always Get There (2013 , Blujazz): Trumpet player from Chicago, first album, quintet with tenor sax, piano, bass, drums. All originals except for a Björk cover, all very conventional postbop -- a cut or two above ordinary, with an exceptionally lovely close. B+(*) [cd]
Ani DiFranco: Allergic to Water (2014, Righteous Babe): Resettled in New Orleans from Buffalo, pregnant, as she explains, "I'm pretty much happy all the time," and she doesn't even try to make a point of it (unlike in her previous Which Side Are You On?). Good for her, but that doesn't leave much edge. B+(*)
Brian Eno/Karl Hyde: High Life (2014, Warp): Second album this year, but where Hyde seemed like a spare wheel on Someday World this feels much more integral. Riffing guitar replaces the ambient blips of yore, every bit as captivating but more substantial. A-
Ex Cops: Daggers (2014, Downtown): Second album featuring singer Amalie Bruun (ex-Minks), with more pop aura than I expected -- "Modern World" is a choice cut. B+(*)
Ex Hex: Rips (2014, Merge): Punkish trio led by Mary Timony, previously involved in bands like Helium and Wild Flag plus a few solo albums (one from 2005 titled Ex Hex). She doesn't have a lead voice like Wild Flag's Carrie Brownstein (which in that specific case I count as a plus), so this depends a lot on flow and crunch -- abundant enough but lacking whatever it takes to get you to ignore the recycling. B+(***)
Expansions: The Dave Liebman Group: Samsara (2013 , Whaling City Sound): Quintet, Matt Vashlishan providing a second reed instrument (alto sax, flute, clarinet), Bobby Avey is a notable pianist. Fancy postbop, more adventurous than academic but still, you know, a bit slick. B+(*) [cd]
Marianne Faithfull: Give My Love to London (2014, Easy Sound): Seeking fresh blood, she recruits an odd assortment of songwriters -- Steve Earle, Roger Waters, Anna Calvi, Nick Cave -- but only on "Mother Wolf" does she fully channel the fury and disgust she's uniquely capable of. On the other hand, her parched reading of "I Get Along Without You Very Well" suggests she's not through with the songbook. B+(*)
Farmers by Nature: Love and Ghosts (2011 , AUM Fidelity, 2CD): Piano trio, one I've tended to file under drummer Gerald Cleaver because his name comes first, but that list may just be alphabetical, followed as it is by Wiliam Parker (bass) and Craig Taborn (piano). These days Taborn is the star, dancing all over the keyboard, but the rhythm section consistently raises his level. A-
Bryan Ferry: Avonmore (2014, BMG): Title hints at a return to 1982's Avalon, Ferry's last triumph although at the time it was credited to his band, Roxy Music. The music this time proves you can't go home again, although you can dream wistfully about it. B+(*)
Jean Luc Fillon: Oboman Plays Cole Porter: Begin the Night . . . (2013 , Soupir Editions): Fillon plays oboe and cor anglais, and he's backed by Joăo Paulo on piano and Frédéric Eymond on viola -- a nice little chamber group for a bunch of Cole Porter tunes that normally call for more lascivious treatment. B [cd]
Flying Lotus: You're Dead (2014, Warp): Dense and dervishy, the elements I can identify as jazz make me Steven Ellison could have had a future in the family business -- he's related to John and Alice Coltrane -- but he's probably too warped for that any more. There are also whiffs of hip-hop and dance beats and other shit, but this mostly belongs to a soundtrack to a movie I don't want to see. B+(**)
David Friesen Circle 3 Trio: Where the Light Fails (2013 , Origin, 2CD): Bassist, 50th album since 1975, another sixty-some side credits, could be the most prolific or even important jazz musician not in my database until this record showed up. Mostly piano trio, with Greg Goebel on piano and Charlie Doggett on drums, with guitarist Larry Koonse joining on 9 (of 19) cuts. Mainstream, very nice, especially if you cue in on the bass. B+(**) [cd]
Fumaça Preta: Fumaça Preta (2014, Soundway): Dutch band, led by Portuguese/Venezuelan drummer Alex Figueira, they play a rhythmically complex take on garage rock with airs of Brazilian psychedelia, a mix so unique reviewers grasp at analogous straws -- AMG mentions Os Mutantes, Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Lee, "Zappa-esque chamber music," and "Latin boogaloo meets Bollywood sitar music and breakbeats." My first thought was Pulnoc, but then I noticed a chintziness that veered toward Red Hot Chili Peppers and concluded they're pretty unique. Full of shit, maybe, but uniquely so. A-
Ananda Gari: T-Duality (2013 , Auand): Italian drummer, know very little about him, least of all how he wound up fronting a trio of American all-stars -- Tim Berne (alto sax), Rez Abbasi (guitar), Michael Formanek (bass). B+(**)
Brad Goode Quartet: Montezuma (2013 , Origin): Postbop trumpet player from Chicago, leads a quartet with Adrean Farrugia on piano, elegant and spacious with knots of tension, the sort of background trumpet was meant to break through. B+(**)
Vincent Herring: Uptown Shuffle (2014, Smoke Sessions): Alto saxophonist, has always run a little hot which is why the bebop keeps poking through the postbop. Backed by mainstreamers Cyrus Chestnut and Joe Farnsworth, plus bassist Brandi Disterheft. B+(**)
Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1: The Rite of Spring (2014, Creative Nation Music): I must have heard Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps at some point, but I wouldn't bet on it. As best I recall, Charlie Parker was a fan, and Teddy Adorno wasn't. I certainly haven't heard the recent Bad Plus version, but even if you credit Iverson's super powers, the horns -- trumpet and clarinet -- give this version an edge in firepower, and it's hard to imagine dispensing with the leader's guitar (reinforced by cello). B+(***) [cd]
Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 2: Quintet for the End of Time (2014, Creative Nation Music): Same group tackles Olivier Messiaen's "Quatour pour la fin du temps" -- no way I've ever heard that before. The emphasis falls much more on Junko Fujiwara's cello, but when the band breaks out all sorts of interesting things happen. B+(**) [cd]
Will Holshouser/Matt Munisteri/Marcus Rojas: Introducing Musette Explosion (2014, Aviary): Accordion, guitar/banjo, and tuba, with the accordion dominant, in a "musical style that somehow combines a French joie de vivre with the wistfulness of Brazilian saudade." B+(**) [cd]
Javon Jackson: Expression (2014, Smoke Sessions): Tenor saxophonist, impressive when he first appeared on Blue Note in the 1990s, but in a rut lately. He rights himself here, falling back on basics -- a straightforward quartet with Orrin Evans on piano. B+(*)
Darius Jones: The Oversoul Manual (2014, AUM Fidelity): One of the most imposing alto saxophonists to emerge in the last decade puts his horn down to conduct a quartet of operatic female voices, the Elizabeth-Caroline Unit. Something about planet Or'gen, a sacred manual, and rituals for imparting wisdom and experience to children. Not as awful as all that sounds like, but a little disjointed and uninteresting. B-
EG Kight: A New Day (2014, Blue South): Initials stand for Eugenia Gail, hails from Georgia but on hearing Koko Taylor she traded in her country/gospel roots for blues and headed for Chicago. I fell for her 2003 record Southern Comfort and don't know any others, but her formula ensures consistency. B+(**)
Lefteris Kordis: "Oh Raven, If You Only Had Brains . . .": Songs for Aesop's Fables (2010 , Inner Circle Music): Greek pianist-composer, has several albums including a group called Bebop Trio. The texts, I assume, are from the ancient Greek fabulist, and are sung operatically by Panayota Haloulakou. Aside from that, the music is charmingly whimsical, and Darryl Harper (clarine) is always welcome. B [cd]
Jonathan Kreisberg: Wave Upon Wave (2014, New for Now Music): Guitarist, ten or so records since 1997, seems to be in the middle of the dominant post-Montgomery mainstream, controlling the tempo and sound even when Will Vinson slips in some sax, or Vinson or Kevin Hays sits down at the piano. B+(*) [cd]
Kronomorfic [David Borgo & Paul Pellegrin]: Entangled (2013 , OA2): Borgo plays sax (tenor/soprano), Pelegrin drums, in a 7-or-8-piece group, plus extras -- flute, trombone, marimba, a second bass (Mark Dresser), for the 20-minute title suite. Postbop, sometimes a bit more. B+(*)
Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock & Roll Time (2014, Vanguard): At 79, he welcomes the help -- Keith Richards, Neil Young, Ron Wood, Robbie Robertson, Nils Lofgren, Shelby Lynne -- even if he doesn't need it. But producers Steve Bing and Jim Keltner do make a difference, and it's worth noting that while Lewis spent much of his career in Nashville, in the endgame he's come home to Memphis. B+(**)
Little Dragon: Nabuma Rubberband (2014, Republic): Bland Swedish electropop group fronted by exotically named but also bland singer Yukimi Nagano. B
Logic: Under Pressure (2014, Def Jam): Young rapper from Maryland, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, first album after four mixtapes. B+(**)
Low Society: You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (2014, Icehouse): Blues rockers, guitarist Sturgis Nikides and Houston-born singer Mandy Lemons left New York for Memphis to root around. Gritty, upbeat, almost a cariacature of a Janis Joplin wannabe, but "Up in Your Grave" ("I'd rather see you dead") hits its target. B+(*)
Corb Lund: Counterfeit Blues (2014, New West): Country singer from north of the border, calls his band the Hurtin' Albertans and has a song to that effect. Knows his way around the high plains, knows buckin' horses and highland steers and claims he roughest neck around. B+(*)
Harold Mabern: Right on Time (2014, Smoke Sessions): The label is a spinoff for the NYC club, Smoke, and their initial 2014 releases form a who's who of mainstream jazz. Mabern is a postbop pianist from Memphis who started recording for Prestige in 1968, survived the slack years recording for Japanese and Canadian labels, Piano trio with John Webber (bass) and Joe Farnsworth (drums), with a real feel for blues but the fast stuff is less impressive. B+(*)
Michael Mantler: The Jazz Composer's Orchestra Update (2013 , ECM): Trumpet player, co-founded the JCOA in 1964 with Carla Bley (he was the second of Bley's three famous husbands) as a collective support system for large-scale avant-jazz works. This dusts off and spruces up some of Mantler's old compositions, but rather than reorganizing JCOA he picks up a European orchestra (Nouvelle Cuisine Big Band) and a string quartet (radio.string.quartet.vienna), for a big sound that rarely rises above the clutter. B [dl]
Thomas Marriott: Urban Folklore (2013 , Origin): Trumpet player from Seattle, eighth album since 2005, a quartet with an exceptional rhythm section -- Orrin Evans (piano), Eric Revis (bass), Donald Edwards (drums) -- with the trumpeter making much of his leads. B+(*) [cd]
Delfeayo Marsalis: The Last Southern Gentlemen (2014, Troubadour Jass): The trombonist in the family band, younger than Branford and Wynton and less prolific, only a half-dozen albums since 1992. My eyes preclude me from slogging through the liner notes, which I expect to be interesting. The music, however, is painless: mostly standards, the trombone backed by piano-bass-drums (Ellis Marsalis, John Clayton, Smitty Smith), the leads sombre and quite respectable. B+(***) [cd]
Ross Martin/Max Johnson/Jeff Davis: Big Eyed Rabbit (2014, Not Two): Guitar-bass-drums. Don't know much about the guitarist, but he has trouble emerging here. B
Bette Midler: It's the Girls! (2014, East/West): Her girl group shtick had an element of camp back in the 1970s but today could just be nostalgia or repertory or lack of other ideas. First problem here is leading off with two Spector hits that stiffen up the production. After them, "Bei Mir Bist du Schön" is a whiff of fresh air, but it's soon stranded as she reverts to early 1960s fare, hitting here and missing there. B
Tony Monaco: Furry Slippers (2014, Summit): Hammond B-3 player, over ten albums since 2001's Burnin' Grooves, this one backed by guitarist Fareed Haque, with pianist Asako Itoh (Monaco) tabbed as a "special guest." Does move a bit away from groove formula, especially with covers of "Round Midnight" and "But Beautiful." B [cd]
Jemeel Moondoc/Connie Crothers: Two (2012, Relative Pitch): Avant jazz duets, alto sax and piano, each has its own strength, but they stay closely in sync, partly because neither pushes too hard. B+(*)
Naked Wolf: Naked Wolf (2014, El Negocito): Dutch group, although the names seem to come from all over (Gibson, Provan, Szafirowski, Jäger, Ex, Klemperer, vocalist Seb El Zin). Closer to rock than jazz, with its mixed vocals trumping the twisted rhythms and horns, although maybe skronk is an apt compromise -- the jazz part I find much the more appealing. B+(*)
The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers (2014, Matador): A band with several viable solo performers, none of which I've ever been enamored of either solo or together, but they know their way around pop hooks and throw out plenty here. B+(*)
Sam Newsome: The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation [The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 2] (2014, self-released): Soprano sax, went solo on Vol. 1 but usually adds percussion here with these African and African-inspired melodies, including the three-part "Microtonal Nubian Horn" experiment and one called "Good Gooly Miss Mali." A- [cd]
Miho Nobuzane: Simple Words: Jazz Loves Brazil (2014, self-released): Pianist, from Japan, based in New York, second album. The band, with Filó Machado (guitar, vocals) and Mauricio Zottarelli (drums) does a nice job with the Brazilian thing. B+(*) [cd]
Karen O: Crush Songs (2006-10 , Cult, EP): Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer knocks out fourteen demo-quality ballads, only two over 2:27 (four over 1:47) for a total of 25:04. Rather interesting for such a miniscule, even crude, effort. B+(*)
O'Death: Out of Hands We Go (2014, Northern Spy): Brooklyn band, although Greg Jamie's vocals suggest a bit of the Irish even though they took their name from the Dock Boggs tune. B+(***)
Parquet Courts: Parkay Quarts: Content Nausea (2014, What's Your Rapture?): Considered an EP, but runs 12 songs, 34:59 (even with three not breaking one minute, but one runs 6:26). Nor is the throwaway cover of "These Boots (Are Made for Walking)" worthless. Their post-Velvets drone isn't wasted on shlock; it thrives there. A-
Clarence Penn & Penn Station: Monk: The Lost Files (2012 , Origin): Drummer, leads a group with Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on sax, Donald Vega on piano, and Yasushi Nakamura on bass (acoustic and electric), through ten Monk tunes plus one original. B+(*) [cd]
Plymouth: Plymouth (2014, Rare Noise): Organ player Jamie Saft seems to be the prime mover here, but rather than signing up the usual soul jazzers he picked two avant-guitarists (Joe Morris and Mary Halvorson), backed by bass (Chris Lightcap) and drums (Gerald Cleaver). Three pieces, averaging 20-minutes, feel like a free twist on fusion. B+(*)
Bobby Previte: Terminals (2014, Cantaloupe): Drummer, composed five pieces (running 13:02 to 18:11) for percussion quartet, a role filled by SO Percussion. Each piece allows a guest soloist to improvise over the percussion, so we get: Zeena Parkins (harp), Greg Osby (alto sax), Nels Cline (guitar), Previte (drums), and John Medeski (organ). The sax sounds like a conventional jazz idea. Cline doesn't. B+(*)
Rex Richardson & Steve Wilson: Blue Shift (2014, Summit): Wilson limits himself to alto sax here. He's well known, both for his own albums, as an accompanist, and for his big band work. Richardson is news to me: his discography includes big band work (with Bill O'Connell) and classical music (a 2005 album is subtitled New Virtuoso Trumpet Music by American Composers). But he plays trumpet and flugelhorn with exceptional verve, and nearly runs away with this album. Backed by guitar-bass-drums -- Trey Pollard has some nice spots on guitar. B+(***) [cd]
Doug Seegers: Going Down to the River (2014, Rounder): Nashville singer-songwriter in his 60s, first album, a throwback to honky tonk with a few quirks and one out-of-character market sop -- a gorgeous cover of Gram Parsons' "She" (replete with Emmylou Harris). Oddly enough, after the front-loaded stuff turns to filler he finds new depths to his songs. A-
Pat Senatore Trio: Ascensione (2008-12 , Fresh Sound): Bassist-led piano trio, with Josh Nelson on the keys and Mark Ferber on drums. Evidently didn't qualify for the label's New Talent series due to the age of the leader, even though this is only his second album -- he attributes his interest in bass to hearing Scott LaFaro, and his closest brush to fame was as musical director for Herb Alpert. Two sessions here. That Nelson favors lushness is an understatement. B+(**) [cd]
Noura Mint Seymali: Tzenni (2014, Glitterbeat): Moorish griot from Mauretania, step-daughter of Dimi Mint Abba -- whose 1990 Moorish Music From Mauritania was for long the only available entry point into the desert nation -- aims for hypnotic trance groove that plays in Paris as well as Timbuktu. B+(**)
Ryan Shultz Quintet: Hair Dryers (2013 , Origin): Plays bass trumpet, based in Chicago, presumably not the same-named Chicago-based painter. Group includes electric guitar (Chris Siebold), keyboard, and bass, which opens up a fusion angle. B+(*) [cd]
Tyshawn Sorey: Alloy (2014, Pi): Drummer, I first noticed him with Vijay Iyer and he's been on most of Steve Lehman's records. His debut album, 2007's What/Not was a sprawling 2CD affair with a long stretch of piano -- as I recall, Francis Davis ranked it number two that year but the publicist snubbed me, deciding I wouldn't take it as seriously as it deserved. (Found it on Rhapsody and gave it an A-, not that you should take that as a serious review.) This returns to his piano compositions, a trio with Corey Smythe on piano and Christopher Tordini on bass. Mostly ambles aleatorically, although there is one stretch where they find a beat and some intensity -- I'm a sucker for that. B+(***) [cd]
The Spin Quartet: In Circles (2013 , Origin): Chad McCullough (trumpet), Geof Bradfield (tenor sax), Clark Sommers (bass), Kobie Watkins (drums): all four have solo albums, the horn players doing most of the writing here (one piece by Sommers, plus covers of Nick Drake and Gilberto Gil). B+(**)
Lyn Stanley: Potions: From the 50's (2014, A.T. Music): Standards, mostly from the early 1950s, at least pre-rock (although "Love Potion Number Nine" makes the cut). Can't begin to read all the fine print here, but the arrangements are tastefully conservative, the sax much appreciated. And her website starts off describing her as "known for her lush low notes" -- for once, exactly right. B+(**) [cd]
Vince Staples: Hell Can Wait (2014, Def Jam, EP): West coast rapper, has a couple mixtapes tied to Odd Future and/or Cutthroat Boyz, good for seven songs, 23:30 here. B+(*)
Aki Takase/Alexander von Schlippenbach: So Long, Eric!: Homage to Eric Dolphy (2014, Intakt): Culled from two nights in Berlin with a big band led by the wife-and-husband avant pianists -- actually two piano trios, five horns (Rudi Mahall, Tobias Delius, Henrik Walsdorff, Axel Dörner, and Nils Wogram), and Karl Berger on vibes -- tackle nine Dolphy tunes. B+(***)
Natsuki Tamura/Alexander Frangenheim: Nax (2013 , Creative Sources): Trumpet-bass duets, the former scratchy, the latter inscrutable. B+(*) [cd]
Temples: Sun Structures (2014, Fat Possum): First album from Brit psychedelic rock group, echoes of '60s guitar drone with flashes of King Crimson -- not sure you can call them flashbacks, but then I'm never sure what psychedelia really means (and am extra dubious with a pop band this coherent). Topped the first "best of 2014" list published (Rough Trade), but I doubt it'll have legs. B+(*)
T.I.: Paperwork (2014, Grand Hustle): Atlanta rapper, Clifford Harris, earned his gangsta rep the dumb way, but is smart enough to go to Pharrell for his pop hooks. Front-loaded the rote stuff, knowing the album's long enough he can catch up on the backstretch. B+(**)
Touch and Go Sextet: Live at the Novara Jazz Festival (2012 , Nine Winds): Four horns -- Aaron Bennett (tenor/baritone sax), Sheldon Brown (alto sax, bass clarinet), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Darren Johnston (trumpet) -- provide a wide range of intriguing leads, while Lisa Mezzacappa (bass) and Vijay Anderson (drums) stir the pot. B+(***) [cd]
Piet Verbist/Zygomatik: Cattitude (2014, Origin): Belgian bassist, previous album was called Zygomatik so that continues as the band name. Quintet, two saxes -- Vincent Brus on baritone is most strategic for amplifying the bass -- with keyboard player Bram Weijters favoring Wurlitzer over Fender Rhodes. B+(**)
Marlene VerPlanck: I Give Up, I'm in Love (2014, Audiophile): A "songbird," as the liner notes put it, b. 1933 in Newark as Marlene Pampinella -- she was married to arranger Billy VerPlanck for 52 years, until his death in 2009. No date on when this was recorded, but nothing suggests it isn't recent, other than that she looks and sounds so great. Standards, some with the Glenn Franke Big Band for that brassy Sinatra-ish feel, the rest with intimate groups highlighted by Warren Vaché or Harry Allen. I should delve into her back catalog some time, but I'd be surprised to find better albums than this one. A- [cd]
Elio Villafranca and His Jazz Syncopators: Caribbean Tinge: Live From Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (2011-12 , Motéma): Cuban pianist based in New York, compiled this from two sets with different groups -- Sean Jones and Greg Tardy in one, Terell Stafford and Vincent Herring in the other, combining Lewis Nash with a lot of Latin percussion -- even the latter barely qualifies as tinge. B+(*)
Ernie Watts Quartet: A Simple Truth (2013 , Flying Dolphin): Tenor saxophonist, nearing 70, always had great tone and command especially on ballads. With piano-bass-drums, no one I recognize but European. Sprints through "Bebop" for the exercise. B+(**)
Luke Winslow-King: Everlasting Arms (2014, Bloodshot): A mild singer-songwriter from northern Michigan, transplanted to New Orleans, but he's also studied Czech music in Prague and worked with Blue Gene Tyranny, so the idea that he's gone over to jazz strikes me as a stretch. B+(*)
Jason Yeager Trio: Affirmation (2014, Inner Circle Music): Piano trio, second album, with Danny Weller (bass) and Matt Rousseau (drums) plus "special guests" on five (of twelve) cuts -- saxopohonist Noah Preminger looms large, especially on the cut trumpeter Jean Caze joins in. On the other hand, Aubrey Johnson sings two -- have I mentioned recently how much I detest "Julia"? B [cd]
Yelle: Complčtement Fou (2014, Kemosabe): French singer Julie Budet, assumed the name of her dance-pop group. Not as crazy as she thinks. B+(**)
Peter Zak Trio: The Disciple (2013 , SteepleChase): Pianist, has a dozen albums since 1989, in a trio with Peter Washington on bass and Willie Jones III on drums. Three originals, seven covers, the latter all notable pianists (well, I'm not so sure of Alexander Scriabin), with Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk the standouts. B+(***)
Miguel Zenón: Identities Are Changeable (2014, Miel Music): Alto saxophonist, from Puerto Rico, won a MacArthur "genius" grant and scaled his superb quartet up to a slick big band, cutting their lush melodies with samples of Puerto Rican New Yorkers trying to sort out their identities (although their later stories are more interesting). For a musician in a postmodern world identity can provide a distinct flavoring even when it has to be recovered (e.g., Jason Kao Hwang, Rudresh Mahanthappa). Zenón's 2005 quartet album Jíbaro got the mix right, but since then identity has become something of a rut, even dressed up with big band and dialogue (here) or strings (elsewhere). [My CD has a weird repeating glitch after the last listed song -- presumably a defect -- so I rechecked on Rhapsody.] B+(*)
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Peter Brötzmann/Sonny Sharrock: Whatthefuckdoyouwant (1987 , Trost): Live improv sax-guitar duets -- the former playing alto, tenor, and bass saxes as well as tarogato. Fans of Sharrock's legendary solo Guitar will find much of interest here, although this is predictably rougher-going: when you come to play with Brötzmann, expect to bring the noise, otherwise it'll just be handed to you. B+(**)
Illinois Jacquet/Leo Parker: Toronto 1947 (1947 , Uptown): Tenor and baritone sax, respectively, combining r&b fire without conceding the aesthetic high ground to bebop -- trumpet players Joe Newman and Russell Jacquet could swing or bop as long as they broke through, while bebop pianist Sir Charles Thompson wouldn't dream of playing anything else. Sound quality is variable, but the intensity isn't. B+(***)
Jerry Lee Lewis: The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings (1970s, Time-Life): Cut in the late 1970's for Sam Phillips' son Knox -- you'd think something that recent could be dated more precisely -- ten cuts, 43:11 thanks to a long, sloppy "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" and a Chuck Berry medley. A-
Howard McGhee: West Coast 1945-1947 (1945-47 , Uptown): An early bebop trumpeter, featured on live shots from a club in Hollywood and Philo and Dial studio sessions, with a band including saxophonists Teddy Edwards and Sonny Criss and pianist Hampton Hawes. McGhee had headed west with Coleman Hawkins and was present when Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker swung through LA, and he added "A Night in Tunisia" and "Ornithology" to his repertoire. B+(**)
Hailu Mergia and the Walias: Tche Belew (1977 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): Keyboard player from Ethiopia -- I think he wound up driving a cab in BC -- offers very enchanting if slightly cocktail-ish grooves, the simplicity all the more charming. The label released a slightly later (1985) tape last year and it's every bit as enjoyable. A-
Club Ska '67 (1967 , Mango): Thirteen-cut LP back when Island was filling in historical gaps, having cornered the US market for 1970s reggae with Marley, Toots, Burning Spear, and many others. Most songs are classics, although this is less canonical than Music Club's This Is Ska! or the first disc of Island's indispensible 4-CD box Tougher Than Tough: The Story of Jamaican Music, or as deep as Sanctuary/Trojan's Rough and Tough: The Story of Ska 1960-1966 or Heartbeat's Ska Bonanza: The Studio One "Ska" Years. For that matter, Island/Mango issued at least two more comparable LPs: Intensified: Original Ska 1962-1966 and The King Kong Compilation: The Historic Reggae Recordings. A- [dl]
Ross Johnson: Make It Stop!: The Most of Ross Johnson (1979-2006 , Goner): A drummer, his credits going back to Alex Chilton's 1979 Like Flies on Sherbert. Over the years he played with Tav Falco, Monsieur Jeffrey Evans, and led a band called AMF (for Adolescent Musical Fantasy). A perpetual sideman, his jokes a little too obvious and a little two crude, his voice better suited to talk and that's how he walks through songs that become jokes just by association. B+(***)
Jinx Lennon: Know Your Station Gouger Nation!!! (2006, Septic Tiger): A spoken word album from Ireland, although like the best of the genre it's the music -- sometimes fractured, sometimes busy, sometimes basic (as with the hymn that goes, "you're not a scumbag" -- that carries the album along, but whereas singing necessarily simplifies what can be said, talk is rapidfire, sometimes scabrous. Started here because this is reportedly his best, and so far, so good. A- [bc]
Jinx Lennon: Live at the Spirit Store (2000, Septic Tiger): Early on he tried harder to sing but wasn't very good at it, the words overrunning the rhymes except when he falls into broken record mode, repeating a line for what seems like way too long. Nor does the music go much beyond hard-strummed guitar. B+(*) [bc]
Jinx Lennon: 30 Beacons of Light for a Land Full of Spite, Thugs, Drug Slugs, and Energy Vampires (2002, Septic Tiger): Few of the 32 cuts run long -- one at 4:46, five more top 3:00 -- but most plant a thought and grind it into the dirt. Cumulatively, they add up to a worldview. B+(**) [bc]
Jinx Lennon: Trauma Themes Idiot Times (2009, Septic Tiger): Backup singer Paula Flynn helps smooth out the rough spots, not that the roughness doesn't still scratch through -- the songs need that. A- [bc]
Jinx Lennon: National Cancer Strategy (2010, Septic Tiger): More focus on the songs, perhaps because they're so traumatic, but they lift the music a notch. B+(***) [bc]
Fred McDowell: Amazing Grace (1966 , Shout!/Testament): Subtitle: "Mississippi Delta Spirituals by the Hunter's Chapel Singers of Como, Miss." McDowell tends to sink in the vocal mix but his guitar is the only accompaniment here, both pacing and accenting the women as they work their way through mostly traditional tunes -- McDowell claims three of them, and they sound as venerable as the rest. A-
Bette Midler: Live at Last (1977, Atlantic): Her first live album, with a lot of stage shtick plus a wide range of songs. B+(*)
Monday, November 17. 2014
Music: Current count 24030  rated (+34), 527  unrated (-4).
Rated count topped 24,000 this week. It passed 23,000 the week of March 24, 2014, a bit less than eight months ago. That probably means June-July, 2015 for 25,000, although I wouldn't be surprised if I started to slow down. New records are down at least a hundred this year.
Francis Davis has arranged with NPR to keep his Jazz Critics Poll going for another year. Ballots have been sent out, and I have one. Even though I've listened to close to 500 new jazz albums this year, I have virtually no idea who the leading candidates are this year, let alone who will win. I barely even have a sense of who I might vote for, and that's after I went to the trouble to split out my 2014-in-progress file into two more presentable year-end lists: one for Jazz and another for Non-Jazz. Each picks up (at least initially) the text and cover scan from Rhapsody Streamnotes. As I was doing this, the first thing that occurred to me was my haphazard insertions into the list throughout the year are far from adding up to a sort. Before I declare anything even tentatively official -- the Jazz Critics Poll deadline is December 7 -- I expect to do a lot of resorting.
I still need to do quite a bit of work on the files. I'll probably reorganize them to reflect Davis' revised rules on reissue/historical. (I've moved a couple records over, but not all of them.) I also need to go back and dig up December (or post-Thanksgiving) 2013 releases, since they weren't available early enough for last year's premature ballots). Then there is the "prospect" list in the notes: technically, any record I'm aware of existing that I think might have a 2% (or greater) chance of panning out into an A-list release. This involves looking at the prospect file and various other resources.
Much more unpacking than usual this week, but nothing I'm especially looking forward to. (It occurs to me that David Friesen must be one of the best-regarded jazz musicians I've never listened to an album by, and now I got a double. Only four more names strike me as familiar, and they're not all that memorable.)
By the way, the Fred McDowell album popped up as a new digital dump, but I cited the older CD. I found the Ross Johnson set when I was looking for something newer (though probably still old) by him, and got curious.
The draft file for Rhapsody Streamnotes has about 80 records in it now. I expect I'll post it later this week, then probably do two in December as the 2014 year-end lists appear. (I will say that the two leading candidates there are St. Vincent and War on Drugs, and while neither made my A-list, neither is totally undeserving either.)
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, November 10. 2014
Music: Current count 23996  rated (+30), 531  unrated (-9).
Thought the odds I might cross the 24000 rated level this week were pretty good, but despite a fairly productive week I fell a bit short. Next week for sure. Probably not tonight. Most likely tomorrow. Just a number, and in some ways a rather low one. I recall talking to John Rockwell back in the 1970s when he had twenty-some thousand LPs in his collection. If he only had the pedestrian habit of keeping lists and jotting down grades, he could have well over 100,000 by now. I only started doing this as an aide de memoire in the 1990s, when I had about 3000 LPs and less than a thousand CDs. However, as so often happens when you start to measure something, it takes on a life of its own. I doubt Cap Anson had any clue that he had 3000 hits, nor that Sam Crawford realized he retired just short (2961). Al Kaline was conscious enough of his stats that he hung on to get 3007 hits, but I remember him saying that had he realized that 400 home runs would have put him into one of those exclusive clubs, he would have hit more. (He wound up with 399.)
Didn't get any new records this past week -- the three listed below came today, and two of those have 2015 release dates. I've had to open 2015 files, not that there is anything interesting in them yet. The 2014 metafile is currently up to 2615 records (807 rated or owned). I worked a little on it last week, mostly trying to fill in some missing jazz records -- that led me to Smoke Sessions, a generally good mainstream label (if that's your bag).
The Jinx Lennon records are on Bandcamp. Liam Smith is a fan, and he turned Robert Christgau onto them, resulting in last week's Expert Witness. I (more or less) agree, although I'll add that I didn't find Lennon's outrage either comforting or cathartic. I just find so much of what's happening today to be sad and pathetic -- not least because it wouldn't take much intelligence, sensitivity, and good will to come up with very different outcomes.
I didn't tweet about the Jinx Lennon albums, mostly because my own longer write-ups aren't very coherent. Ideally, I'd take another run at the writing (if not the albums) before Rhapsody Streamnotes posts (probably next week rather than this, although I currently have 56 reviews in the draft file).
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 9. 2014
Thought I'd do a quickie on post-election links but I've been so bummed and lethargic this week it's taken until Sunday anyway. Not just the elections, either, nor the news that the Supreme Court will practice its ideological activism on insurance subsidies for people unfortunate enough to live in states that couldn't (actually, wouldn't) get their act together under the ACA.
The takeaway from the election seems to be that voter suppression and nearly infinite money works for Republicans. The 4% "skew" toward the Democrats that Nate Silver found in the polls seems to be people who intended to vote but at the last minute either didn't or couldn't. That was enough to tilt about 5-6 senate races. But also Democrats didn't do a good job of articulating issues -- it's noteworthy that progressive issues won pretty much across the board when they weren't attached to candidates who could be linked to Obama. To pick on one example: Mark Pryor's campaign consisted of a vacuous slogan ("Put Arkansas First") and ads warning that Tom Cotton wanted to kill off Medicare and Social Security. That's not inaccurate, and would have won if voters really took Cotton to be that much of a threat, but many voters concluded that the risk wasn't that great. On the other hand, Cotton's ads did nothing more than equate Pryor with Obama. I can't tell you why that mattered, or why that worked, but it did.
Also, a few links for further study:
Wednesday, November 5. 2014
Got up this morning. The sky was clear, the air crisp, a really lovely day. People went to work. Some drove by. Others walked their dogs. The mail came. It all seems like a normal day. The ramifications of yesterday's elections will take some time to manifest themselves. It occurs to me that maybe I shouldn't fret so much. I'm 64. By the time the Republicans destroy Obamacare I'll be 65 and eligible for Medicare. By the time they kill off Medicare, I'll be dead. And otherwise I'm relatively immune to the scourges of Republican rule: I don't need decent or affordable schools, I'm unlikely to be harrassed by police or criminals (and the odds of a self-righteous gun nut striking me aren't much higher than the odds of being struck by lightning or mowed down by a tornado). I'm out of the job market, but (for now at least) don't need welfare either. And I don't have children, so while I wish good things for generations to come I don't have much skin in that game. If other Americans don't care what happens to them, why should I?
What happened? Nate Silver's postmortem claims The Polls Were Skewed Toward Democrats. I wish he had phrased this differently: the takeaway is likely to be that the pollsters were biased, something Republicans are always whining about (although Democrats usually suspect the opposite). Other reasons are possible: late shifts, volatile voter turnout levels. Pollsters try to limit their samples to "likely voters" but that can be hard to guess ahead of the fact. I don't have much data on turnout so far, but accepting the premise that people who don't vote are generally more liberal than people who do -- there's quite a bit of evidence for that -- a Democratic vote shortfall suggests a lower-than-expected turnout. One turnout figure I have is Sedgwick County in KS (Wichita), where turnout was 51.5% -- actually a bit less than in 2010, despite much more competitive races this year. I suspect a variation on the so-called Bradley Effect (where people tell pollsters something that sounds better than the truth): I suspect more people told pollsters they would vote than actually did.
Silver's data shows that Republican Senate candidates did better than their weighted poll averages in 26 (of 34) races (he leaves KS off the list; Orman ran as an independent, but everyone treated him as a Democrat, especially since the Democratic nominee dropped out and wasn't on the ballot); Republican Gubernatorial candidates did better in 28 (of 35) races. Had the polls been right, the Democrats would have won two Senate seats (North Carolina, Alaska) and four governorships (Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland) they lost, but they would have lost Connecticut. Had the Democrats run two points better than their polls, they would have saved or picked up three Senate seats (Colorado, Georgia, Iowa) and three governships (Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin). That would have turned into a decent night.
Still, polling wasn't the reason Republicans won. I hadn't taken it that seriously, but the main reason's been staring me in the face every time I visited Talking Points Memo: in their "PollTracker" Obama has had a steady job approval rating of 42.9%, ten points below is 52.9% disapproval. That number hasn't budged in months, and it's hard to imagine what Obama could do to move it. He can't legislate anything without help from Congress, and that's something the Republicans won't permit. He could, like Harry Truman when faced a Republian-controlled Congress in 1948, go out on the campaign trail and attack his "do-nothing Congress," but that's not his style (and anyway, he's not up for election). Nor does he really have much to talk about: the economy is recovering but it's not doing most people much good (nor did he do it much good); he has positive stories on issues ranging from domestic oil surpluses to reducing the national debt, but who cares?; he's managed to get back into Iraq and involved in Syria without having a clue where that's going; then there's the panic on Ebola, where the message is a boring we're doing what needs to be done. The quiet competency and subtle nudges he's always aimed for don't move anyone.
The rest of TPM's widget doesn't look so bad for Democrats: their unfavorable rating is 8 point higher than their favorable (46-38), but the Republicans are 20 points unfavorable (50-30). One troubling point is that even though Republicans are less liked and more loathed voters still give them a +2.4% (45.7% to 43.3%) edge in the generic congressional ballot (plus, in the House, they have more incumbents due mostly to gerrymandering). One reason I dismissed the top line is that some people, like me, disapprove of Obama but wouldn't think of defecting to the Republicans over it. (My main gripe is Obama's handling of what I call the Four Wars of 2014 -- Syria, Iraq, Gaza, and Ukraine.) But evidently there aren't many of us. On the other hand, in race after race Republicans figure all they have to do is to identify the Democrat (or in Kansas, independent Greg Orman) with Obama and voters will snap. I expected most people to see through something that transparent, but for various reasons (including but not limited to racism) lots of people are ready to blame Obama for whatever bugs them, no matter what. And a big chunk of the $3.6 billion spent on the campaign went into driving that one point home.
Matt Yglesias explained what's been happening in a post on Mitch McConnell's reëlection:
Anyone who's paid much attention is aware of Republican obstruction and hostage taking -- some approving and some aghast -- but many don't notice until it's too late, and it's easy for them to blame Obama, especially with the right-wing media attacking Obama for pretty much everything they can imagine. The one exception that reflects back on Republicans seems to be shutting down the government, but folks rarely notice when the safety net is shredded until they fall through and go splat. Similarly, who notices when jobs (e.g., judges and ambassadors) go unfilled as long as they don't affect you personally. But the idea isn't just to obstruct Obama, it's to make life so difficult that the Democrats don't even try to do new things -- and that has the effect of making Obama and the Democrats look ineffective, like they aren't even trying.
What McConnell and the Republicans have done isn't unprecedented -- indeed they did much the same thing to Clinton -- except in frequency and persistence: there's never been anything quite like that before. The Senate, in particular, has many arcane rules ripe for abuse, and only limited by conscience -- something rarely seen among a group who increasingly favor incompetent and unrepresentative government. Like most schemes, the only way around it is to cut through it, exposing the ill intent and holding all sides to a higher standard of public interest. One might expect the mainstream media to do just that, but their sense of even-handedness blinds them to asymmetric behavior. Nor does it help that the media are held by large corporations, not the public trust (an idea increasingly regarded as quaint).
I'm not interested in speculating on what Obama can or cannot, should or should not do during the last two years of his term. I will say that the Democratic Party needs a spokesman independent of the White House, and that they need to rebuild the party from the roots up, much like the Republicans did in the early 1990s. Obama blew his opportunity to get much done when he lost Congress in 2010, much as Clinton did in 1994. That plus eight much-worse-than-wasted years with GW Bush has left us with an increasing roll of problems, little wherewithal to solve them, and it seems even less imagination. Until the latter opens up, we're stuck in this hopeless game, where nothing is possible because nothing viable can be imagined. In this, I'd say the Democrats are as blind as the Republicans, albeit somewhat less cynical.
It's worth noting that nearly all of the actual issues on the various ballots were won by progressives, including a higher minimum wage in Arkansas, more thorough gun control checks in Washington, guaranteed sick leave in several states, and decriminalization of marijuana. (A medical marijuana initiative in Florida lost when it fell just short of a 60% supermajority requirement, after Sheldon Adelson spent millions against it.) Perhaps more Democrats should have run on issues, instead of shying away from them. It's been observed that the election results will most likely end medicare expansion in Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia, but that's due to Republican gains, not to referenda on the issue. Indeed, it's doubtful most voters in those states realize what they've done. All they think they've done is to have thwarted Obama and his nefarious plots.
 Indeed, the first turnout numbers show Preliminary Turnout Numbers Are Way Down From 2010 and 2012, the overall percentage voting dropping from 40.9% in 2010 to 36.6% in 2014. (The presidential elections Obama won in 2008 and 2012 drew 56.8% and 53.6% respectively.) Turnout varied from 59.3% in Maine to 28.5% in Texas; Kansas was 42.8%. Although the bottom of the barrel was solid red (Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma), some Democratic-leaning states had low turnouts (New York: 30.2%; California: 34.8%). I think there are at least two factors here: there is an underlying variation by state (e.g., Minnesota, which ranked 5th this year, is usually near the top, while Texas is almost always at the bottom), which are then tweaked somewhat by having competitive races.
There is also a map which compares 2014 to 2010. States with higher turnout in 2014 are: Nebraska (+7.6), Louisiana, Wisconsin, Maine, Arkansas, Alaska, New Hampshire (+3.1). Kansas was +1.1, a pretty small gain compared to campaign spending (through the roof). Colorado was +1.8, Kentucky +1.8, North Carolina +1.5, Florida +1.4.
Also, Ed Kilgore reports (What the Hell Happened to the Democratic Vote):
 By the way, here's a report on Kansas: How the Kansas Democratic Party Drove Itself to Near Extinction (Pt 1): I can't really vouch for this -- I know some people who are active in the party, but I'm not one of them -- but certainly the lack of organization, offices, and candidate support is a big problem here. The Democrat who ran for an empty Senate seat against Jerry Moran did so with a total budget of about $23,000 (vs. about $5 million, if memory serves). This makes me wonder whether the Democratic gubernatorial ticket this year would have been stronger with Jill Docking on top and Davis slotted for Lieutenant Governor. For one thing, Docking wouldn't have been characterized as a "Lawrence liberal" (she's from Wichita), nor would she have been subject to those lurid "strip club" ads. Women have a good track record in KS politics: the last two Democratic governors were women, and before that two previous Democratic governors were named Docking (Jill married into a rather famous family, as by the way did Kathleen Sebelius). Also see Pt. 2.
Monday, November 3. 2014
Music: Current count 23966  rated (+33), 540  unrated (-3).
Week didn't start until Wednesday, when I posted last Music Week, so the rate count rate was exceptionally high -- 30 is a very solid 7-day week, ridiculous for a 5-day week. Played a lot of new stuff on Rhapsody, including a couple records I had acquainted myself with on the road. While the top-rated records all got multiple spins, I didn't dawdle on the clear misses (other than Dan Weiss favorite Ex Hex).
I've especially been missing the recommendations of Jason Gubbels, so was glad to see his Third Quarter 2014 Wrap-Up -- really just a cribsheet. He tabs five records as "pretty great": Run the Jewels, Angaleena Presley, Leonard Cohen, Spider Bags, and Aphex Twin. I had three of those, but "ran the jewels" way too fast a week back to get any real feel for the record, not that I didn't like what I heard [**]. I gave Spider Bags another play: I probably have it too low [*], but not so much so that I felt compelled to regrade it. I only know about half of the "pretty goods" (including Elio Villafranca and Changari below), but only have Orlando Julius' Jaiyede Afro at A-. No major disagreements below that, although the "pretty meh" Bill Frisell was well received by my friends on the Cape (I wound up at [***]), and I dislike Jason Moran's All Rise more than my grade [*] suggests.
Thought I noticed a blip in B+(**) grades this week, so I went to the year-in-progress file to check. I assumed B+ grades would be evenly distributed, but there is a small bell curve in the middle: 168-185-162. Actually, that bump was much more pronounced last year: 222-318-262. And now that I think about it last year's distribution makes more sense: there should be fewer higher-rated records than lower, but my actual lower-rated counts are progressively attenuated as we get ever deeper into records I don't consider prospects. Consider this sequence, comparing this year's count-per-grade to last year's: [A-] 68.7%, [***] 75.6%, [**] 58.1%, [*] 61.8%, [B] 52.9%, [B-] 76.9%. The way I read this, I'm listening to less crap this year -- probably because I don't have the metacritic file to make me conscious of lousy records other people like.
By the way, adding up all these numbers shows I only have 64.2% as many records in the 2014 (738) file as in 2013 (1149 and still growing until I freeze it end of December). It seems unlikely I'll ever make that deficit up (although 1000 is probably a 50-50 proposition).
Get out and vote tomorrow. It's the only day of the year when you get to act like you live in a democracy, even though your choices aren't likely to amount to much and the powers-that-be have done all they could to rig the results. Also the day you can blame your fellow citizens for their foolish choices, as opposed to every other day when the problem is more likely to be the corruption of the system.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 2. 2014
Tuesday is election day. Six years ago Barack Obama was elected president with 69 million votes -- 52.9% of the 132 million voters (56.8 of the voting-age population, the highest share since 1968) -- and the Democrats swept both houses of Congress, even achieving what was widely touted as a "fillibuster-proof Senate" (not that I can recall them breaking any fillibusters with narrow partisan votes, aside from the ACA health care reform). Almost immediately, right wing talk radio exploded with hatred for Obama and the Democrats, and the Republican members of Congress turned into intransigent and remarkably effective obstructionists.
Meanwhile, Obama quickly pivoted from promising to change Washington to doing whatever he could to salvage the status quo, starting with the banks that had crashed the economy and Bush's military misadventures in the Middle East. Instead of using his congressional majorities, he plead for bipartisan support, often compromising before he even introduced a plan -- as when he sandbagged his own stimulus program by saddling it with ineffective tax cuts, or introduced health care reform and global warming proposals that were originally hatched in right-wing think tanks. He gave the incumbent Republican Federal Reserve chair an extra term, and he kept on the incumbent Republican Secretary of Defense -- and both screwed him in short form. Moreover, like Bill Clinton when he won in 1992, Obama dismantled a successful national Democratic Party leadership and replaced them with cronies who promptly threw the 2010 congressional election.
The 2010 elections rival 1946 as one of the dumbest things the American people ever did. The Republicans took over the House, not only ending any prospect of progressive legislation but constantly threatening to shut down the federal government. Republicans also took over many governorships and state houses, and used those power bases to consolidate their power: by gerrymandering districts, and by passing laws to make it harder to vote. It turns out that the difference between 2008 and 2010 was not just a matter of Republican enthusiasm and Democratic lethargy: it registered as a massive drop in the number of voters, from 132 million to 90 million, from 56.8% of voting-age population to 37.8% (link; note also that the 2006 turnout was only 37.1% and that produced a Democratic landslide, so it's somewhat variable who stays home).
In 2012, when Obama finally took a personal interest in an election, he was again able to get out the vote (albeit still a bit off from 2008 with 130 million, 53.6%). Obama won again, the Democrats increased their share of the Senate, and won a majority of the vote for the House (but not a majority of seats, thanks to all that gerrymandering, so the last two years have seen the same level of obstruction as the previous two). If those trends hold, turnout will be down again this year, and that will give the elite-favoring Republicans an edge: at this point, nobody expects them to lose the House, and most "experts" expect the Republicans to gain control of the Senate. That would be a horrific outcome, which makes you wonder why the Democrats don't seem to be taking it seriously, and more generally why the press doesn't talk about it as anything but a horserace. That trope suggests a race between two more-or-less equals, horses, whereas the actual race is between predator and prey: if the Democrat is a horse, the Republican is more like a lion, or a pack of wolves (or an army of flesh-eating ants). The Republicans don't back off when a Democrat wins a race. They don't socialize, and don't compromise. They keep attacking, figuring that no matter how much damage they do, the public will blame the incumbent.
It's a long story how the Republicans have gotten to be the menace they currently are -- one I can't go into with any hope of posting today. Suffice it to say they've managed to combine three threads:
I know that this sounds like a recipe for disaster, and indeed every time the Republicans have tried to put their ideas into practice they have backfired. (Reagan got away relatively free although his S&L deregulation disaster was a harbinger of things to come, and his arming of the mujahideen in Afghanistan still haunts us. But the Bushes plunged us into endless, bankrupting war, and the latter's laissez-faire bank policy wrecked the economy, while Katrina exposed the moral rot caused by Bush's privatization of government services. And right now Kansas is reeling from Gov. Brownback's "experiments" -- they say that "absolute power corrupts absolutely," and the total hammerlock of the RINO-purged ultra-right party in the Sunflower State offers further proof.) Yet much of the country, led by the fawning mainstream media, continues to accord Republicans a measure of respect they've done nothing to earn. For while the Republicans could care less about destroying the social fabric of the nation, they are always careful to honor the rich, their businesses, the military, the nation's self-important legacy, and, of course, almighty God -- their idea of the natural order of things, one no Democrat politician dare challenge. (Indeed, the Democrats' cheerleader-in-chief for those verities has been Barrack Obama -- the very man most Republicans insist is the root of all evil.)
When the dust settles the amount of money spent on this election will be staggering, not that many people will move on to the next obvious question: since businessmen always seek profits, what sort of return do the rich expect from their largesse? Thanks to modern technology -- caller ID to screen calls and a DVR to skip through commercials -- we've managed to avoid most of the deluge, but I've managed to catch enough to get a sense of how bad unlimited campaign spending has become. Kansas and Arkansas both have competitive races for Governor and Senator, and in both cases the Republicans, with their sense of entitlement, have pulled out all the stops. However, their commercials are one-note attacks on Obama, as if that's the magic word that boils voters' blood.
That acrimony is hard to fathom: a combination of prejudice and ignorance and, well, gullibility if not downright stupidity. For anyone who's paid the least bit of attention over the last six years, Obama is a very cautious, inherently conservative politician -- one who goes out of his way not to ruffle feathers, least of all of the rich and powerful. Indeed, that makes perfect sense: all his life he's strove to conform to the powers that exist, and he's been so adept at it that he's been richly rewarded for his service. The idea that he's surrepititiously out to destroy the country that so flattered him by making him president is beyond ridiculous, yet judging from their cynical ads, Republicans don't just believe this -- they take it as something so obvious they need merely to repeat it. And that's just one of many cases where the Republicans think they can simply talk their way out of reality.
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Friday, October 31. 2014
Three weeks on the road put a crimp into this month's output: I pushed the deadline out to the end of the month and still only came up with 62 records. Not a lot of finds either, although it's possible that the A-list is getting so full so early -- I currently have 100 records listed (I expected to wind up around 120, but hit 147 last year, after 131 in 2012, 132 in 2011, 132 in 2010, so maybe I'm not that far ahead) -- that I'm starting to think twice before letting anything the least bit marginal in. On the other hand, the two jazz records didn't get in by much, nor did Allo Darlin'. A larger problem is likely the breakdown of my scoutinig network, especially with the demise of Odyshape. Nor has Christgau's return been much help -- he fell so far behind I had heard most of what he's written about (with the usual adjustments up and down).
Most of the old music this month is by Oscar Peterson. I started playing him on the road when I got some flak from over some avant jazz from a piano jazz fan -- figured who could object? I held this month to records up to 1962, chiefly from the 1959 Song Book series (usually composers Peterson surveyed in 1952-54, which many reissues tack onto the later albums). Peterson is a marvelous piano player but he tends to stay in his own comfort zone, using his spectacular technique to dress up rather than deconstruct standards. He raced through the 1954 and 1959 sessions so quickly that he rarely came up with anything new, and when you listen to a lot of them the initial dazzle quickly wears off: so while those albums are uniformly good, none are really great. So the grade average is a bit off, but that's also because I skipped previously graded records, including these A- efforts: At the Concertgebouw (1957); Night Train (1962). I tried to identify Song Book reissues that pick up the 1952-54 material as a bonus, and chose not to split them apart -- in part because the early albums don't seem to be in print anywhere (although you'd think European copyright laws would allow that).
One more thing about Peterson: he was an exceptional accompanist, as is clear from albums like the following:
Peterson remained very productive well into the 1990s, and there is a lot of material on Pablo (his reunion with Norman Granz) that I haven't heard.
The odd-record-out in the old music is the Richmond Fontaine that Christgau singled out in a recent EW post. It's more or less as he says, but my two plays lean toward less, not enough to get me to dig through a catalog with a dozen titles, especially knowing that The High Country only hit B.
Recent compilations include two Rough Guides, a label I continue to loathe -- but it helps me (if not you) that I've largely given up trying to figure when the music comes from. It looks like everything they do now is coming out as 2CD sets. Their pricing suggests grading the first disc alone under its title, then their bonus disc separately as its original release. I'm not sure how well this will work out, or how much I can find, or how much I can stand, but that's working theory for now.
I bought the Spruill set on the recommendation of an EW-fan who declared it the best compilation to have come out in this millennium. I don't quite agree with that judgment, but my wife does.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on September 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (5468 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Jhené Aiko: Souled Out (2014, Def Jam): Slotted as an r&b singer, she doesn't really have the voice, but manages to turn that into a charm, at least as long as the beats hold up. B+(*)
Allo Darlin': We Came From the Same Place (2014, Slumberland): Brit guitar-rock group led by Australian singer Elizabeth Morris, third album, all at a very high level. A-
Marcia Ball: The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man (2014, Alligator): Blues-singing boogie-woogie pianist from Texas although she's also at home in New Orleans -- check out how Hot Springs is "way up in Arkansas." Always starts with a fast one, and rarely lets up. B+(*)
Kenny Barron/Dave Holland: The Art of Conversation (2014, Blue Note): Piano-bass duets, both masters who have been working since the 1960s -- Barron perhaps most famous for accompanying Stan Getz, Holland associated with Miles Davis and Anthony Braxton, but also a major bandleader of late. Despite both principals having long songbooks on their own, interesting how the Monk pieces stand out. B+(***)
David Binney: Anacapa (2014, Criss Cross): Saxophonist -- lists alto ahead of tenor then soprano and throws in some synths -- backed by John Escreet (piano, FR), two guitarists (Wayne Krantz and Adam Rogers), and electric bass (Matt Brewer). The electronic soup is neither here nor there -- neither grove-centered nor postboppy -- but sometimes the sax prevails. B+(*)
Samuel Blaser/Paul Motian: Consort in Motion (2010 , Kind of Blue): Trombone quartet, with Russ Lossing (piano) and Thomas Morgan (bass). The trombone offers a sort of gruff determination, but by the end everyone is dancing, gingerly, to the drummer's off-kilter riddim. The others help out without being too conspicuous about it. B+(***)
Buck 65: Neverlove (2014, WEA Canada): Canadian rapper, a legend in these parts, turns in an album streaked with his usual brilliance but it's also a major bummer of a breakup album, with "Gates of Hell" opening into "That's the Way Love Dies" and "Love Will Fuck You Up" and more until "She Fades." More often he's rapping against a female vocal backdrop -- Francesca Anderson or Tiger Rosa -- which with his voice veers toward Eminem, who's much clearer about his fucked up relationship(s). B+(**)
François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: The Russian Concerts Volume 2 (2013 , FMR): Alto sax, drums, piano, respectively -- the first two close collaborators from Quebec going back to the 1990s, the pianist joining them on five albums now. This one is a shade less consistent and/or impressive than Volume 1 (came out earlier this year). B+(***) [cd]
Jack Clement: For Once and for All (2014, IRS Nashville): Died in 2013, leaving this as his fourth album, including one from 1978 and another credited to Cowboy Jack Clement in 2004 -- if the name seems vaguely familiar, it's probably because he worked as Sam Phillips' engineer during Sun Records' heyday and went on to become an important Nashville producer. This record stakes his claim as a songwriter -- not a lot of classics here, but a couple songs I know well ("Miller's Cave," "Just a Girl I Used to Know") and solid fare, done with a light, gracious touch. B+(***)
Neil Cowley Trio: Touch and Flee (2014, Naim Jazz): British pianist, has a fine touch and rhythmic command that reminds me of semipopular groups like EST -- notable that he cites James Brown as an influence, ahead of Erroll Garner and Ahmad Jamal. Evan Jones (drums) has offered steady support for more than a decade now. B+(*)
Lajos Dudas Quartet: Live at Salzburger Jazzherbst (2012 , Jazz Sick): Clarinetist, b. 1941 in Budapest, Hungary, studied at conservatories named for Béla Bartók and Franz Liszt, long based in Germany. Quartet features longtime collaborator Philipp van Endert on guitar, plus Kurt Billker on drums and Jochen Büttner on percussion. Slow start but ultimately quite lovely, some tasty guitar, and the rhythm helps. A- [cd]
Lajos Dudas Trio: Live at Porgy & Bess (2009 , Jazz Sick): Back cover says "20 Years of Lajos with Philipp, 1993-2013 / The Jubilee CD" but all of this comes from a single date in Vienna, with Philipp van Endert on guitar and Leonard Jones on bass. Four originals, two pieces from Attila Zoller, standards from Monk, Gershwin, and Porter. B+(***) [cd]
Chris Dundas: Oslo Odyssey (2014, BLM, 2CD): Pianist, from Los Angeles, one previous album back in 2000, picks up a band in Norway with bassist Arild Andersen, Patrice Heral on drums, and Bendik Hofseth on tenor sax, and runs on for 1:44:21. The Dundas-composed first disc opens up gracefully for the sax. The improvised second takes a bit longer to find its métier. B+(***) [cd]
Mark Elf: Returns 2014 (2013 , Jen Bay Jazz): Jazz guitarist, has more than a dozen albums since 1987; sounds like he's picked up on the early generation of bop-oriented guitarists, like Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel (or Tal Farlow, the one he has a tribute album for). Backed by a dream band: David Hazletine, Peter Washington, and Lewis Nash, plus some extra percussion on one track. B+(**)
El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels (2013, Fat Beats): Producer and rapper, respectively, the former's deeply shrouded beats sometimes run away with the flow, otherwise are sharp and heavy, while the rapper tries to get his political points in. B+(***)
El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels 2 (2014, Mass Appeal): Usual sequel problems: longer, trying to make up for having shot their best material on the debut. Beats still hard and sharp, and Mike still has things that piss him off. Don't really make him for a killer, though. B+(**)
Bill Frisell: Guitar in the Space Age (2014, Okeh): Aside from two retro-originals, all these songs are buried deep in the 1960s, so the first point that occurs to me is that Frisell is acknowledging that the "space age" is a thing of the now-distant past. You still hear the cliche that "if we can put a man on the moon, we can do x and y," but we haven't put anyone on the moon in more than forty years, so how sure can you be that we still can? Isn't it possible that we've lost that skill to the new Dark Ages? Frisell is old enough to recall when the Space Age meant the future -- I know because I'm his age -- but now it means "Rebel Rouser" and "Pipeline" and "Telstar." That isn't nostalgia, except for a time when we felt like we had a future. B+(***)
Alice Gerrard: Follow the Music (2014, Tompkins Square): Folksinger, up around 80 these days, belonged to the Strange Creek Singers back in the 1960s along with Mike Seeger and Hazel Dickens, but is best known for her duet albums with Dickens, starting with the 1965 classic Pioneering Women of Bluegrass. Way back when her voice moderated Dickens' deep drawl, but as she's started to put together a modest solo career since 1996, Gerrard's voice has gotten strangely distinctive in its own right, especially when she goes a cappella. B+(***)
David Hazeltine: For All We Know (2014, Smoke Sessions): A fine mainstream piano player, his trio the perfect framework for tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake. B+(***)
Benjamin Herman: Trouble (2013 , Dox): Dutch sax trio expanded with piano/keyboards and vocals by Daniel von Piekartz, listened as "featuring" on the cover. The vocals are rather ambiguous sexually, stretched and sentimental -- the sax too, but so much clearer. B+(*)
Darrell Katz and the JCA Orchestra: Why Do You Ride? (2013 , Leo): A big band arranger whose work has been buried on avant labels -- first record on Cadence Jazz in 1993 -- although it's less than clear why: nothing very free here other than his desire to go his own way. This one is built around texts, often involving Albert Einstein, sung by Rebecca Shrimpton, but the most compelling music doesn't have to carry the weight of the words. B+(*) [cd]
Tove Lo: Queen of the Clouds (2014, Island): Swedish electro-pop singer, upbeat but not much fun, nothing much sticks. B
The Mike Longo Trio: Celebrates Oscar Peterson: Live (2013 , CAP): Pianist, worked for Dizzy Gillespie 1966-73, and earlier still studied with Oscar Peterson and played with Red Allen and Coleman Hawkins -- cover has a picture Peterson embracing the young pianist. Celebrating here means playing standards -- fair game since Peterson played all of them with everyone -- so from "Love You Madly" through "Daahoud" the songs carry the album. With Paul West on bass and Ray Mosca on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Branford Marsalis: In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral (2012 , Okeh): Solo sax, no evidence of the Ellington tune but the idea remains, with no effort to stretch the instrument's boundaries, to play up the percussion or such. Rather, you get a very nice "Stardust," an adapted "Sonata in A Minor for Oboe," four minor improvs, and warm applause. B+(**)
Tineke Postma/Greg Osby: Sonic Halo (2013 , Challenge): Two alto saxophonists -- Osby was something of a big deal when he first appeared but he's receded somewhat, possibly because he's taken second billing on a number of albums. (Friendly Fire with Joe Lovano was one of the first.) Here he's meshed completely with Postma. Quintet is superb all around with Matt Mitchell especially striking on piano, Linda Oh on bass, and Dan Weiss on drums. B+(***)
Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class (2014, Saddle Creek): Debut album from the last third of the Pistol Annies to make the move, and probably the best of the bunch. Noteworthy that the title song sees union membership as the key to middle class identity. A-
Prince: Art Official Age (2014, Warner Brothers): For some reason seems like an artist far removed from present concerns, even though I have to look back less than a decade to find not one but two A- records (2004's Musicology and 2006's 3121) -- it's just that I have no recollection of either, so I'm reluctant to grant too much to the perfunctory funk tracks here. B+(**)
Prince/3rdEyeGirl: Plectrum Electrum (2014, Warner Brothers): Could be the "all-female power trio" should get top billing -- I've seen this printed both ways. "Power trio" seems to mean they've memorized all of Cream's bass lines but they're less monumental when they sing. B+(*)
Joshua Redman: Trios Live (2009-13 , Nonesuch): Sax trios, from two sets (hence two token soprano cuts), both with Gregory Hutchinson on drums, Matt Penman and Reuben Rodgers the bassists. After various conceptual missteps, nice to just hear him blow. [Rhapsody has 5/7 tracks]. B+(**)
Sylvain Rifflet & Jon Irabagon: Perpetual Motion: A Celebration of Moondog (2013 , Jazz Village): Louis Hardin (1916-99), aka the Viking of 6th Avenue, aka Moondog, is a SFFR (Subject For Future Research), someone I've long meant to check out but never have. Like Hardin, both leaders play tenor sax, Rifflet with a couple albums, Irabagon with a more auspicious resume. The instrumental passages are intriguing, the saxes strong, but I'm unclear how the chorus should fit in -- seems like a distraction so far. B+(*)
Rafael Rosa: Portrait (2014, self-released): Puerto Rican guitarist, based in Brooklyn, seems to be his first album, runs warm and lyrical, playing up the guest spots and leaving plenty room for saxophonist Edmar Colon. B+(**)
Matthew Shipp: I've Been to Many Places (2014, Thirsty Ear): One of the great jazz pianist of the last thirty-so years, with yet another solo album -- I must admit I'm getting a little tired of those, not necessarily because this one seems to be thicker and heavier than usual. B+(*)
Wadada Leo Smith/Bill Laswell: The Stone (Akashic Meditation) (2014, MOD Technologies): Trumpet-bass duo, one 38-minute cut, stark and meditative. B+(*)
Spoke: (R)anthems (2013 , River): Two-horn quartet -- Andy Hunter (trombone), Justin Wood (alto sax, flute) -- backed with bass and drums, plus congas on two cuts. Tightly knit postbop, including covers from Mingus and Monk (and the unspeakable "Blackbird"). B+(*) [cd]
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives: Saturday Night/Sunday Morning (2014, Superlatone, 2CD): Ralph Stanley used the same concept and title c. 1992, but bluegrass is always looking back. The band earns its name especially on the upbeat first disc, while the singer (presumably Stuart) does a fairly grizzled Jerry Lee impression. The gospel side generally avoids the obvious, and sometimes suggests they're not really done with Saturday night. B+(*)
Tricky: Adrian Thaws (2014, !K7): Not the first alias to release an album after his original name -- Richard D. James came first to mind, but Marshall Mathers is more famous. Touches on most of his career, throwing out such a range of poses it's hard to tell who's putting on whom. B+(***)
Ulf Wakenius: Solo: Momento Magico (2013 , ACT): Swedish guitarist, played with Oscar Peterson, has a couple fine albums dedicated to pianists so he has a fine sense of melody. Solo he goes for thick chords, adding gravitas to an intrinsically lite album. B+(*)
Ezra Weiss Sextet: Before You Know It: Live in Portland (2013 , Roark): Pianist, based in Portland, sixth album since 2003, including some "children's musicals" I've neglected and The Shirley Horn Suite (which I rather liked). What lifts this above the postbop norm is some growl and fury in the horns (Farnell Newton on trumpet, John Nastos on alto sax, Devin Phillips on tenor). And after they warm up the joint, he closes with a really lovely ballad. A- [cd]
Dann Zinn: Shangri La (2014, self-released): Tenor saxophonist, also plays processed sax and wood flute here, cut his first album in 1996. This one is a trio with Chris Robinson on guitar (etc.) and Peter Erskine on drums (etc.). Originals except for Brahms, Puccini, and Green Day -- not much appeal there. B [cd]
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Charlie Haden/Jim Hall: Charlie Haden/Jim Hall (1990 , Impulse): Guitarist Hall died last year, followed by bassist Haden this year, so some nostalgia is in order. This was recorded at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1990, a year after the many volumes of The Montreal Tapes, a festival that recapitulated much of the bassist's career. Haden has done guitar duets -- Egberto Gismonti (1989) and Pat Metheny (1996) -- but he is especially tuned into Hall, whose often understated style ripens luxuriously here. A-
Jerry Heldman: Revelation(s) (1973-74 , Origin, 2CD): Credited here with acoustic bass, piano, flute, and vocals), a longtime fixture on the Seattle jazz scene, died in 2013 at age 76. Not sure if any of his work had previously been released -- cursory search suggests not. Starts with a Bible reading (I could do without), then saunters into some period fusion with Sam Lipuma on guitar and bassist David Friesen sometimes taking over the piano. B [cd]
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harry Warren & Vincent Youmans Song Books (1952-59 , Solar, 2CD): Between July 19 and August 9, 1959, Peterson's trio -- Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums -- recorded virtually the whole of the "songbooks" series, a pace which didn't produce much innovation but showcased their chops and let the songs shine. It was his second troll through Warren and Youmans, the first occurring for a pair of 1954 LPs with Brown and Barney Kessel or Herb Ellis on guitar, so those LPs are the source of most of the "bonus tracks" -- the other find is a 12:52 "Tea for Two" from a live shot in 1952. B+(***)
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Richard Rodgers Song Book (1954-59 , Solar): Most likely the same deal, with his 1954 Plays Richard Rodgers tacked on as a bonus to the 1959 frog march through the hits, although I'm not sure that's all -- e.g., where did the odd vocal come from? B+(**)
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Irving Berlin Song Book (1952-59 , Solar): Mostly such marvelous songs that Peterson's magical touch adds surprisingly little, while the occasional slip makes you wonder how such a thing could happen. Again, looks like two albums tacked together, the 1957 (recorded 1952) Plays Irving Berlin tacked onto the 1960 (recorded 1959) songbook album. B+(***)
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jimmy McHugh Song Book (1954-59 , Solar): Tunes written for the Cotton Club in the 1920s are highlights here, again given two treatments, one with bass and guitar from 1954 and the later one with bass and drums. B+(**)
The Rough Guide to Arabic Jazz (, World Music
Network, 2CD): Traditional Arabic music has long had an affinity to
jazz, but that prospect has only sporadically been developed in recent
years, leading to this skimpy and eclectic collection: the best known
musicians here are Lebanese oudist Rabih Abou-Khalil and French bassist
Renaud Garcia Fons, aside from Cuban percussionist Roberto Rodriguez
(exploring a Sephardic riff with Tunisian pianist Maurice El Médioni --
the highpoint of the album but the least Arabic thing here).
The Rough Guide to Bollywood Disco (1965-93 ,
World Music Network, 2CD): Film music, but given how often Bollywood
breaks out in dance it must not have been hard to program an ear-opening
compilation. Also, for once, relatively easy to check the dates, since
the songs are keyed to films. The pre-disco Manna Dey is a highlight,
suggesting that some day we'll see a Rough Guide to Bollywood Twist
Wild Jimmy Spruill: Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story (1956-63 , GVC, 2CD): An r&b guitarist (1934-96), Spruill cut a few sides under his own name but his story is spread out in session work, especially for producers Danny and Bobby Robinson at Fire, Fury, and other New York labels. This collects 61 songs, bracketted by two Wilbert Harrison songs, his big hit "Kansas City" and eventual sequel, "Goodbye Kansas City." Not much else here is as famous, although Solomon Burke and the Shirelles show hints of major talent, but unfamiliarity opens up the era to fresh ears. A
Lester Young: Boston, 1950 (1950 , Uptown): Recently discovered radio shots, with Jesse Drakes on trumpet, Kenny Drew on piano, Connie Kay on drums, various bassists, running through standards with Steve Allison or Symphony Sid as MC. B+(*)
Oscar Peterson: The Oscar Peterson Trio at Zardi's (1955 , Pablo/OJC, 2CD): Live trio with Herb Ellis on guitar (and occasional percussive effects) and Ray Brown on bass. Hard to quibble with, or to fault Ellis when he manages to break loose. A-
Oscar Peterson: Plays My Fair Lady (1958, Verve): Piano trio, with Ray Brown and Gene Gammage, playing songs from Lerner and Loewe's hit musical. B+(**)
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harold Arlen Song Book (1954-59 , Verve): The prototype for the recent Solar reissues above, combining Peterson's 1954 Plays Harold Arlen with his 1959 Plays the Harold Arlen Song Book, replacing guitarist Herb Ellis with drummer Ed Thigpen for the latter. B+(**)
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Cole Porter Song Book (1959 , Verve): Just the 12-cut album from the 1959 "song book" round, although I imagine it's only a matter of time before someone pads this out with cuts from 1951-52's Plays Cole Porter -- the first such album Peterson cut. Actually, the brevity is a relief after listening to many songbook combos, but one still feels that the mass production of the 1959 sessions missed some opportunities. B+(***)
Oscar Peterson: Plays the George Gershwin Song Book (1952-59 , Verve): Padded to 24 cuts with the 1954 Plays George Gershwin packed onto one disc. The early sessions with Barney Kessel (guitar) stand out. B+(***)
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Duke Ellington Song Book (1952-59 , Verve): Another twofer, picking up the 1952 Plays Duke Ellington (with Barney Kessel on guitar) along with the 1959 trio sessions. B+(***)
Oscar Peterson: A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra (1959 , Verve): Twelve songs, so snappy most don't top three minutes and only one makes it to 3:41 (total: 25:25). Sinatra needed a full big band to swing these tunes, but the trio is more than enough, the piano so bright you hardly miss the vocals -- in part because you're bound to sing along. B+(***)
The Oscar Peterson Trio: Fiorello (1960, Verve): Songs from the Broadway musical -- add an exclamation mark for the title -- by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock based on the life of New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. B+(*)
Oscar Peterson Trio: West Side Story (1962, Verve): Songs from the hit Broadway musical by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, although the only one you run across much in the standards repertoire is "Somewhere." B
Oscar Peterson: The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson/Affinity (1959-62 , Verve): Two trio albums -- Ray Brown on bass, Ed Thigpen on drums -- packed onto a single CD, with much more of the bright, fast postbop they've always excelled in. B+(**)
Richmond Fontaine: Winnemucca (2002, El Cortez): After reviewing a pile of Willy Vlautin novels, Christgau jotted down a HM squib for Vlautin's female-fronted Delines debut, then decided this old Vlautin-fronted album was the prize of more than a dozen dating back to 1997. Off and on it is, but Colfax impressed me more. B+(***)
Matthew Shipp/Guillermo E. Brown: Telephone Popcorn (2005 , Nu Bop): Piano-drums duo, two members of David S. Ware Quartet at the time. 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:
Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jerome Kern Song Book (1959 , Verve): One of the best sets to roll off the 1959 assembly line, perhaps because the juxtaposition of the bright fast ones and the delicate slow ones works to benefit both. [was: B+(**)] B+(***)