Rhapsody Streamnotes: August 16, 2009

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 August 2. Past reviews and more information are available here.

J. Dilla: Jay Stay Paid (2009, Nature Sounds): Died 2006, born James Yancey in 1974, also did business as Jay Dee. This was thrown together from scraps (28 cuts), sort of a tribute. Scattered vocalists, no real themes, but the beats are of a piece, which is much the point, and the very nondescriptness of the thing is all that keeps it down in the cult niche. B+(***)

The Juan MacLean: The Future Will Come (2009, DFA): Not sure how to sort the name: could be an alias for John MacLean, or could be a group name, which would include vocalist Nancy Whang, possibly others. She sings much better than he does (or whoever he sings). Has sort of an early '80s post-disco new wave feel to it. B+(**)

Micachu & the Shapes: Jewellery (2008 [2009], Rough Trade): British singer-songwriter Mica Levi and some sort of group. Doesn't sound like they have it much together at first, but a couple of songs pick up enough of a head of steam to roll on improbably on otherwise flat tires. B+(*)

A.C. Newman: Get Guilty (2009, Matador): Canadian singer-songwriter, founded the New Pornographers, second solo album. Reminds me a bit like Rhett Miller, but the songs don't seem quite so strong or the hooks so sharp, even though he has a definite sense of popcraft and some rock muscle. B

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (2008 [2009], Slumberland): New York rock group only sounds British, wrapping their short album of smart little songs up in an envelope of Jesus and Mary Chain sonic fuzz. B+(***)

DJ/Rupture: Uproot (2008, The Agriculture): Jace Clayton, turntablist, tape mixer, picks up a lot of downer beats with Middle Eastern spices -- trip-hop in effect if not in concept. B+(**)

An Horse: Rearrange Beds (2009, Mom & Pop): Group of two or three from Brisband, Australia, fronted by singer Kate Cooper, previously of a band called Iron On. Website concedes that "An" is an erroneous article, immortalized on a gift sweater. Reminded Christgau of Go-Betweens, but they're missing several pieces there -- the melodies are more limited, the harmonics simpler, the viewpoint more singular, but Cooper makes the viewpoint work. A-

Patterson Hood: Murdering Oscar (and Other Love Songs) (2009, Ruth St.): Second solo album by Drive-By Truckers founder (still in the band as of last album). More country than rock, just enough guitar to carry the songs and hilight the details, which are sharp and detailed. A-

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (2009, Lightning Rod): Former Drive-By Trucker, not a founder but he had been with the group from 2001-07, writing a significant share, before leaving to cut a solo album. This is his second (or third: AMG lists an extra live one), an eponymous band record, although he writes everything and doesn't seem to need much help. Countryish, rocks some, several strong songs -- "However Long" has some politics and the refrain "however long the night the dawn will break again" -- but also some oddities. I don't mind the soul horns although the melody seems pretty familiar. B+(**)

Buddy & Julie Miller: Written in Chalk (2009, New West): Buddy has one of the richest drawls in country music. Julie has a harsher, more clipped sound, at least when she's hurting, as she's prone to do. Don't have all of this down, but the pacing and details carry me along and keep me interested. A-

Brad Paisley: American Saturday Night (2009, Arista): Big-time country singer, keeps the sound trad, the themes conventional, the sentiments soft. He seems to do it better than most, not that that means it's worth doing. Still, jokes like "Catch All the Fish" and "The Pants" help. B+(*)

Steve Earle: Townes (2009, New West): A batch of 15 Townes Van Zandt songs, some familiar, most not -- despite his reputation, I've only heard one Van Zandt album, got that from the library, and didn't think much of it. First pass sounded glum, almost claustrophobic, utterly lacking the ebullience that Earle brings naturally. Second pass opened up a bit. Maybe in the end Earle will win out, but I'm still not convinced Van Zandt is worth salvaging. B

Jarvis Cocker: Further Complications (2009, Rough Trade): English singer-songwriter, led the group Pulp 1983-2001, which had one great single ("Common People") and wrapped a good-enough album around it. Second solo album, has faint echoes of Pulp's greatest riffs, like the attenuated waves of the big bang. Still, more consistent and more listenable than any of Pulp's other albums, like he's finding his mode. B+(**)

Yacht: See Mystery Lights (2009, DFA): Many sources capitalize the entire name, but there's no indication that it's an acronym or such. The main guy behind this is Jona Bechtolt. Credits list vocals -- Claire Evans is the main singer -- but no musicians, so some sort of remix is likely. Has a rough awkwardness to it that turns out rather charming, maybe even catchy. B+(***)

Kronos Quartet: Floodplain (2009, Nonesuch): Don't have any details, and this is a record that could use some detailed explanation. Globetrotting modernist string quartet, they pick much of this up from somewhere in the Middle East. Sounds exotic, but still mostly limited by the string quartet format -- pretty sure that's not all that's here, but it does frame it in. B+(***)

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band: Outer South (2008 [2009], Merge): First working solo behind the mask of Bright Eyes, then Oberst comes out with his own eponymous album, and now he's fronting a whole band. I've never been able to follow him, and this is going by much too fast for me to grasp it. Sings well. Knows how to craft a song. Rocks a little. Pretty pleasant. Someday a project. B+(*)

Ida Maria: Fortress Round My Heart (2009, Upper 11/Fontana): Norwegian rock singer, full name Ida Maria Børli Sivertsen, b. 1984. Slightly punkish, with a couple of pop hooks, and one song going "I like you so much better when you're naked." B+(***)

Japandroids: Post-Nothing (2008 [2009], Polyvinyl): Debut record from punkish Vancouver band. Seems empty at first, but that's the way young punks are, at least until they achieve enough mass and density to sustain a reaction, which they do, sort of. B+(*)

Serengeti & Polyphonic: Terradactyl (2009, Anticon): Don't know who Polyphonic is -- evidently the beat maker as opposed to Serengeti the rapper. Both are subtle, deep underground, but the deadbeat raps fit the bubbly ambience, and there may be more to them. A-

St. Vincent: Actor (2009, 4AD): Singer-songwriter, don't know why she doesn't record as Annie Clark. Has a synthy pop with serious overtones which hits a sweet spot for critics and thoughtful fans. I have trouble focusing, but this gets stronger as it goes on. B+(**)

Records I looked for but didn't find on Rhapsody:

  • Ralph Alessi and Modular Theatre: Open Season (RKM)
  • Nils Petter Molvaer: Hamada (Sula)

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Naftule Brandwein: King of the Klezmer Clarinet (1922-41 [1997], Rounder): Came to New York in 1908 from Galicia via Turkey, picking up some tunes along the way; his old 78s are tightly focused on his clarinet, klezmer that may well have been novel at the time but in his readings is classic now. A-

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:

Roberto Rodriguez: Timba Talmud (2009, Tzadik): A/k/a Roberto Juan Rodriguez -- not sure how the name appears on the actual package. Percussionist, from Cuba, played some bar mitzvahs once he got to Miami and figured out how to put a Cuban spin on klezmer. He laid out the basic ideas in El Danzon de Moises and Baila! Gitano Baila!, and has been working angles and variations since then. This sextet plays his basic shtick, the percussion played down a bit so it doesn't interfere with the richness and suppleness of the melodies. A-

Roberto Rodriguez: The First Basket (2009, Tzadik): Soundtrack for a film (same name) by David Vyorst, something about the origins of the Basketball Association of America, which was founded in 1946 and merged with the National Basketball League in 1949 to form the NBA. Consists of 30 pieces, starting with a shofar solo call-to-arms, then various more/less klezmerish pieces, some less enough to be period 1930s swing. Fifteen musicians, probably split up but I have no notes. A remarkable pastiche of fragments. Technical problems kept me from following it as well as I would have liked. B+(***)

Perry Robinson/Burton Greene: Two Voices in the Desert (2008 [2009], Tzadik): Duo, two mellowed veterans from the 1960s avant fringe. Robinson plays clarinet, ocarina, wooden flute, sopranino clarinet. Greene plays piano. Almost too polite, but the closer you dig into it the more ornate it becomes. I guess small things count for a lot in the desert. B+(*)

John Zorn: Alhambra Love Songs (2008 [2009], Tzadik): Hard not to repeat some of the hype here, one of Zorn's most shameless: "touching and lyrical . . . perhaps the single most charming cd in Zorn's entire catalog . . . will appeal to fans of Vince Guaraldi, Ahmad Jamal, Henry Mancini and even George Winston!" Wow: more charming than Naked City? New Traditions in East Asian Bar Bands? Kristallnacht? Nani Nani? (The latter is the worst thing I've heard him do, absolutely hideous, but I've barely sampled 10% of his catalog, so who knows what horrors I've missed.) In case you haven't guessed, Zorn is only the composer here, not a player. The group is a piano trio: Rob Burger, Greg Cohen, Ben Perowsky. Burger isn't in Jamal's class -- he actually has more credits on accordion and organ than piano -- but Zorn's melodies have so much structural integrity he doesn't need to elaborate, especially with Cohen all but singing on bass. A-

John Zorn: O'o (2009, Tzadik): Another slice of new age music from composer/non-player Zorn, following The Dreamers (an enjoyable 2008 record, presumably same group). Song titles reflect various birds from "Archaeopteryx" on, the album title (not on the song list) honoring an extinct Hawaiian bird. Sextet: Marc Ribot (guitar), Jamie Saft (piano, organ), Kenny Wolleson (vibes), Trevor Dunn (bass), Joey Baron (drums), Cyro Baptista (percussion). Upbeat, tuneful, shows flashes of guitar power when Ribot turns it up, or splashes of vibes on lighter fare. B+(**)

Dave Douglas: Spirit Moves (2008 [2009], Greenleaf Music): You'd think I would have gotten this. Some sources credit this to Brass Ecstasy, but cover just lists the musician names, Douglas above the title, the others below. Brass Ecstasy groups four brass -- trumpet, french horn (Vincent Chancey), trombone (Luis Bonilla), and tuba (Marcus Rojas) above drums (Nasheet Waits) -- a tip of the hat to Lester Bowie. Two covers ("Mr. Pitiful" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry") are fully formed, and "Great Awakening" shines with exuberance. The other originals are less scrutable, but I've always been a slow study with Douglas. Sometimes he pays off handsomely. B+(***)

Wadada Leo Smith/Jack DeJohnette: America (2009, Tzadik): Apparently a new recording, although I keep reading about a "proposed" ECM date in 1979 of the pair, and they actually go back further, to Smith's Golden Quartet. Of course, the usual caveats about duos apply: thin sound, limited colors, slow dynamics. Still, I find it touching, and masterful. B+(***)

Borah Bergman Trio: Luminescence (2008 [2009], Tzadik): Piano trio, with Greg Cohen on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Bergman was born in 1933, took a while before he started recording (1976) and didn't record regularly until the 1990s. I have one of his records from 1983, A New Frontier, on my A-list, but haven't heard much by him. Early on he evoked Cecil Taylor, but that isn't evident here. This is one of the most even-tempered piano trio albums I've heard in a long time, the rhythm hushed, the chords masterfully sequenced. John Zorn joins on alto sax on one cut, filling in background colors. A-

John Hébert: Byzantine Monkey (2009, Firehouse 12): Bassist, originally from New Orleans, now based in New Jersey or New York. First album under own name, but he's no stranger: I recognize about 15 albums on his credits list (out of 50-some), and I've often noted his work on them. Very interesting group he's rounded up here: Michael Attias (alto sax, baritone sax), Tony Malaby (tenor sax, soprano sax), Nasheet Waits (drums), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion), Adam Kolker (4 tracks: flute, alto flute, bass clarinet). Kolker's bass clarinet holds the second track together, and his flute runs away with the third. "Blind Pig" is a slow, melancholy bass rumble, very attractive. "Cajun Christmas" seems a little wobbly, a bit of postbop harmonics sliding in. Lost track after that, but seems like a very worthy debut. B+(***)

Tony Malaby: Paloma Recio (2008 [2009], New World): Album name seems likely to return as a band name in future releases. Quartet, Malaby on tenor sax, Ben Monder on guitar, Eivind Opsvik on bass, Nasheet Waits (a busy guy all of a sudden) on drums. Malaby and Monder both have a habit of stealing other people's shows while selling themselves short on their own records. They starts out a bit reticent, but picks up some muscle as it goes along -- I'm tempted to credit Opsvik, who plays with Malaby in the Kris Davis Quartet and is a tower of strength here. Seems like the sort of record that could slowly grow on you. B+(**)

Masada Quintet: Stolas: The Book of Angels Volume 12 (2009, Tzadik): A John Zorn joint. He's listed as playing on this, but I gather he only plays on one cut. The quintet is stellar: Dave Douglas (trumpet), Joe Lovano (tenor sax), Uri Caine (piano), Greg Cohen (bass), Joey Baron (drums). I take his word that there are 11 previous Book of Angels volumes, although I have no idea how they are organized or filed. Masada was a Zorn quartet (with Douglas, Cohen, and Baron) dating back to 1994, launched with a series of records Alef, Beit, Gimel, etc., shifting to numbers later on, then finally mutating into all sorts of things around 2004. For all the stylistic pastiche Zorn works in, what this most reminds me of is Sun Ra: a case where no amount of interstellar weirdness can quite shake an inate sense of swing. B+(**)

Rashanim: The Gathering (2009, Tzadik): Group, evidently led by Jon Madof (guitar, banjo), with Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (acoustic bass guitar, bass banjo, glockenspiel, melodica, tiple, chonguri) and Mathias Kunzli (drums, percussion, jaw harp, whistling). AMG lists three Rashanim albums, plus an earlier one by Madof called Rashanim. Chantlike vocals on "Jeremiah"; otherwise intricate little groove pieces based on old Jewish themes, captivating, charming, a bit new agey. B+(**)