Monday, December 23. 2013
Music: Current count 22606  rated (+38), 584  unrated (+1).
Again, I played a lot more jazz on Rhapsody this week than I played from my very slim 2013 input queue. Thus far I've found four more A- records there (out of nearly 40), while the list of records that I've looked for but were nowhere to be found has grown to several score. Both those numbers were fairly predictable. The bigger surprise is three of the four A- records this week. (William Parker's grade was all but assured when I sampled most of the box on Rhapsody last month; indeed, the only issue there is that it might pick up a notch once I get used to dipping into it.) Two of the three were sent to me by pianist Michael McNeill -- not really sure of the connection, but it seems to have something to do with Buffalo. The other one came in a package from Dutch distributor Toondist. None of those three were previously in my metacritic file, nor did they show up on any of the Jazz Critics' Poll ballots. Finding them makes me feel rather unique -- not that Paul Smoker and Albert Van Veenendaal haven't established reputations that should make you take notice. They are, at any rate, names that I've learned to pay attention to.
Pazz 'n' Jop 2013 ballots are due tomorrow. At this point it would take me weeks to refine my ballot, and right now I don't even know where to start. My basic problem is that I don't have time to live with even the best albums I find, so while, say, I have no doubt that the Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire and Knife and Lady Gaga albums are quite good, I've hardly played them since first review -- indeed, I don't even have a copy of the latter.
The obvious thing to do would be to scrape the top ten albums off my 2013 list, but I wound up futzing around with them, knocking out some jazz (Barbara Morrison, Roswell Rudd, that super-late 2012 release of early Billy Bang tapes), adding the William Parker box that arrived too late for the Jazz Critics' Poll. The open slots let me delve downlist, where I could have picked very good (and contending) albums by Vampire Weekend and Deerhunter, but I love the sound of Parquet Courts (and Wayne Hancock), and I wanted to slip in a couple underground hip-hop joints. (Yeezus, by the way, was never in the running, although Chance the Rapper and Pusha T were).
MIA, by the way, wound up number one mostly because I played it a lot, and the main reason I played it so much was because I had a lot of trouble writing anything up on it. So I kept playing it, eventually wrote one cryptic sentence, and filed it. By then it wound up graded higher in my database than Arular or Kala or Maya. I can't say whether it's a better album, but given my peculiar way of working, it's the one I've enjoyed the most.
The only single I voted for was "Apocalyptic Dance" from the Janelle Monáe album, The Electric Lady. I don't keep track of singles, scarcely even think of them, so I often don't bother with that part of the ballot. But I recall that one of Glenn McDonald's statistical probes of the P&J data has something to do with "hipness" -- the "unhip" are defined as those who don't vote for singles, so I thought I'd throw some noise into that data. Great song, by the way: sold me on the album, which is one thing a single is supposed to do.
I've started to cobble together a non-jazz year-end list file similar to my jazz one. At one point I thought I'd publish it along with the Pazz 'n' Jop ballot tomorrow but there's no way that's going to happen. Maybe sometime later in the week.
The Ambush Party: Circus (2011 , De Platenbakkerij): Dutch avant-garde quartet: Natalia Sued (tenor sax, clarinet), Oscar Jan Hoagland (piano), Harald Austbø (cello), Marcus Baggiani (drums). Second album, as far as I can tell, recorded live at Moers Festival in Germany. The broken improv reaches a fine pitch in "The Tiger Is Loose" but only after a lot of ambling, with a bit of opera vocal to come. I don't know how many jazz albums refer to the circus, but a high percentage of them seem to be Dutch. B+(**)
Chris Biesterfeldt: Urban Mandolin (2013, self-released): Mandolin player, first album, a trio with bass and drums. Concept here is to retrace a broad swathe of jazz history, starting literally with "Bebop" and proceeding through Monk, Jimmy Smith, and fusion to "Some Skunk Funk," with side trips for Bach, the Beach Boys, and Frank Zappa, inserting mandolin everywhere, as if it belonged. B
Jane Ira Bloom: Sixteen Sunsets (2013 , Outline): Soprano saxophonist, one of the few specialists, with more than a dozen albums since 1980. Quartet with piano (Dominic Fallacaro), bass (Cameron Brown), and drums (Matt Wilson). Intent seems to be picturesque, and in that succeeds admirably -- a little static but very pretty. [Hype sheet has this as a 2014 release, but other sources say December 15, or earlier for Blue-ray Audio.] B+(**)
Ayman Fanous/Jason Kao Hwang: Zilzal (2011 , Innova): Fanous plays guitar (6 tracks) and bouzouki (3). He was born in Cairo, Egypt; grew up in the US, cut an album with cellist Tomas Ulrich. Hwang is one of the best known violinists in jazz, playing viola here on 4 (of 9) tracks -- either way the dominant instrument here. B+(***)
Peter Kerlin Octet: Salamander (2013, Innova): Bassist, first album, lists eleven musicians here, so presumably not all play not all of the time. Nor does Octet match up with any previous configuration: no horns here, but the compositions are scored for two vibraphones, two basses, organ, drums, percussion, and viola. (The excess on the musician list comes from three bass and three viola credits.) Dense pieces with a little sparkle, moving surely from the bottom. B+(***)
William Parker: Wood Flute Songs: Anthology/Live 2006-2012 (2006-12 , AUM Fidelity, 8CD): I previously wrote up Rhapsody Streamnotes on four digital releases -- at least they showed up on Rhapsody -- comprising six CDs here, so in my current end-of-year rush I focused on the other two discs: a septet live at the Vision Festival in 2009 with Billy Bang, Bobby Bradford, and James Spaulding joining Parker's stellar Quartet (Lewis Barnes, Rob Brown, and Hamid Drake -- they've been together since the extraordinary O'Neal's Porch in 2000); and a big band (William Parker Creation Ensemble) live shot at AMR Jazz Festival in Geneva in 2011. Both discs zing, as does, really, the rest of the box. The two early live sets weren't as consistent as I'd like (cf. 2005's Sound Unity), but their top spots are rarely equalled, and the last two discs -- an expansion of the group that cut Raining on the Moon and a revival of In Order to Survive with an outstanding performance by Cooper-Moore on piano -- just raise the bar. Music at this level deserves to go on and on and on. A-
The Paul Smoker Notet: Landings (2012 , Alvas): Quartet, actually: the leader on trumpet, Steve Salerno on guitar, Drew Gress on bass, and Phil Haynes on drums. Smoker, b. 1941 in Indiana, has a dozen albums (Wikipedia) or fifteen (AMG) or more (two recent ones are in neither list), although I had only heard one until recently. But the guitar sets the trumpet remarkably well, and Smoker is always up to something interesting. A-
Haynes & Smoker: It Might Be Spring (2013, Alvas): Phil Haynes (drums) and Paul Smoker (trumpet), just the two of them so this lacks the propulsion of their recent quartet (or Notet) record, but adds a shot of intimacy -- especially since, as the title suggests, they're mostly doing warm and fuzzy standards, including "My Funny Valentine," "My Melancholy Baby," and "Summertime." A-
Two Al's: And the Cowgirls Kept On Dancing (2013, Brokken): One Albert and one Alan, but I guess that works. Albert van Veenendaal has recorded a number of remarkable albums on prepared piano -- Predictable Point of Impact and Minimal Damage are two I particularly like. Alan Purves is credited with "percussion, squeaky toys, brim bram, little instruments" -- in other words, exogenous effects as unpredictable as the tricks wired into the piano. Works much more often than not. A-
Volcán: Volcán (2013, 5Pasion): Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba is the main talent hiding behind this eponymous group album -- wrote three (of eight songs), the others standards including "Salt Peanuts" from his mentor. The others are Jose Armando Gola (electric bass), Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez (drums), and Giovanni "Mañenguito" Hidalgo (congas, percussion), with Maridalia Hernandez singing one of two João Bosco tunes. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
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