Rhapsody Streamnotes: January 14, 2012

I was dilligent enough during the year, especially with maintaining my metacritic file, that an in-depth survey of the obligatory year-end lists offered few surprises. For instance, I knew that Europe (especially Britain) would turn into a landslide for PJ Harvey's Let England Shake, while US critics would prefer Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Tune-Yards, and St. Vincent. (James Blake, whose charm escapes me, did better than I expected, as did the Jay-Z/Kanye West merger

that reviewers were initially reticent about.) I'll write more about the lists later. For now I want to get this mop-up collection out -- not the best of the year, but the rest I got to as 2011 started to fade into history.

These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on December 10. Past reviews and more information are available here.

Ryan Adams: Ashes & Fire (2011, Capitol): Prolific singer-songwriter, seemed like a real Americana comer at first, but I wound up relegating the first three records I heard from him to B-dom, and when I've bothered since he's gotten worse. But this one doesn't bother me. It even impresses me with his craft, not that I wind up caring much. B+(*)

ASAP Rocky: LiveLoveASAP (2011, RCA/Polo Grounds Music): The typography litters both artist name and title with dollar signs, a tack I can do without. He's young, still insistent that "my ignorance is still a bliss," into his drugs and "counting Benjamins" while barely keeping up with his beats -- Clams Casino puts on a better show here than on their Instrumentals, and his wispy, raspy voice doesn't fight the flow. B+(***) [dl]

Atlas Sound: Parallax (2011, 4AD): Bradford Cox, also affiliated with Deerhunter, working on his own. Produces agreeable if lightweight pop melodies, occasionally marred by brain farts like "Angel Is Broken." (More songs like "Lightworks" would help.) B

Awol One & Factor: The Landmark (2011, Fake Four): Anthony Martin, has more than a dozen records since 2000, no bio at AMG, no Wikipedia page. No clue who Factor is, but Discogs shows they've worked together before. Starts dense and murky, but opens up by the end, at one point sounding uncannily like Buck 65. That's a good thing. B+(**)

Maya Azucena: Cry Love (2011, Half Note): R&B diva from Brooklyn, third album. Has a rep for political and human rights activism, but that boils down to Barack Obama, Save Darfur, and a US State Department tour. Record so-so until a hideous duet at the end. B-

Mary J. Blige: My Life II . . . The Journey Continues (Act 1) (2011, Geffen): Important enough I figure I should follow her, but not interesting enough I'm actually any good at it: after three or four cuts this turned into her average album, better than the 1994 breakthrough this sequels, but not enough to matter. Main reason it took so long is that she is terrific at framing her male rapper guests. B+(*)

BNJMN: Black Square (2011, Rush Hour): Ben Thomas, from Bournemouth (UK), second album, rather opulent as techno goes, which for me makes it comfort music. B+(**)

Bottle Rockets: Not So Loud: An Acoustic Evening With Bottle Rockets (2007 [2011], Bloodshot): Americana band, cut their first album in 1993 and ninth in 2009, tries for a loose, homespun live best-of, subbing banjo and acoustic guitar for their usual electrics -- with chatter and applause for that loose, homespun feel. Redundant, but I'm far enough behind I can't tell you how much. Not so quiet either, at least by the time they finished mixing it. B+(**)

Charles Bradley: No Time for Dreaming (2011, Daptone): Born 1948 in Gainesville, FL; has a retro-soul shout that has gets compared to self-evident models like James Brown and Otis Redding -- Percy Sledge with a real bad cold and way too many smokes is closer to the mark. No idea what he did before cutting a single in 2002 -- aside from the autobiographical-sounding song that has him chilling out in Poughkeepsie -- but he's advanced to a debut album, and makes something out of it. B+(**)

The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble: Mr. Machine (2011, !K7): German electronica group -- Daniel Brandt, Jan Brauer, Paul Friedrich Frick -- released first album under their three names but the Ensemble reflects extra musicians, including sax, trombone, tuba, violin, cello, harp, piano, bass, percussion. Of course, much of the latter can be faked, but the definition here is a plus -- e.g., the piano lead on "Bop." B+(**)

British Sea Power: Valhalla Dancehall (2011, Rough Trade): Brit-pop group, fifth album, the first one acknowledging the decline thereof. The fast anthems suggest renewed vigor, the softer ones are at least neatly tucked in with the guitars shielding the synths. B+(*)

JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound: Want More (2011, Bloodshot): Black singer from Chicago who straddles retro soul and basic rock and can reach for the falsetto but doesn't stick to it, with three white guys -- I've seen them described as like Otis Redding backed by the Stooges, but you'd have to be pretty gullible to buy either end (especially the latter). B

Danny Brown: XXX (2011, Fool's Gold): Detroit rapper, has a handful of mixtapes, this one got noticed. Doesn't really live up to the porn promise, but porn loses its interest once you've done your business, and this guy refuses to cut anything short or make it too simple. The songs about licking pussy don't romanticize or glorify but don't shirk either. Does get a quantum dumber on the one about smoking blunt after blunt. Good place to start is "Pac Blood." B+(***) [dl]

Kate Bush: 50 Words for Snow (2011, Anti-): Seven songs about snow, that few because they trudge along as such a lame pace that she's already stretched out 65:06 -- not that it doesn't feel like much more. Piano is her instrument, and it provides what scarce movement and drama resound. Not necessarily a bad idea, as a couple pieces rise to the occasion, but too few, too late. B

Canibus: C of Tranquility (2010, Interdependent Media): Takes it back "to the golden age of rap" when rap was first and foremost a matter of boasting, which he gets away with because his old-style beats are razor sharp and his words, even when short of being "lyrical," do their work. Hadn't noticed him since his 1998 debut, which means I'm more than a dozen discs behind. B+(***)

Cerebral Ballzy: Cerebral Ballzy (2011, Williams Street, EP): Punk band from Brooklyn, debut, 12 songs, enough for an LP if only they could stretch them out somewhat past 19:29. As it is, you get things like "office rocker/off his rocker" repeated for 0:59, which is far short of ad nauseum, or "don't tell me what to do" (didn't catch any more lyrics) at 1:00. Likable enough, but I'd be more impressed if there was something wittier than "Drug Myself Dumb" or "SK8 All Day." B+(*)

The Chain Gang of 1974: Wayward Fire (2011, Modern Art): DJ Kamtin Mohager, probably not his only iron in the fire, but an attractive dance pop turn with a sly twist in the vocals, except when he offers a "Taste of Heaven" with all those delusions of pomp and grandeur. B

Chase and Status: No More Idols (2011, Universal): UK dubstep duo, Saul Milton and Will Kennard to their mothers, have at least three albums out. Songs rather than pieces, the various singers playing key roles but not keeping any consistent vibe going. "No Problem" runs wicked-clever, but they'll settle for anthemic divas, or damn near anything else. B+(*)

The Civil Wars: Barton Hollow (2011, Sensibility): A folk-rock duo, Joy Williams and John Paul White, co-writing all their songs, second album. Not a profile that gets well reviewed in the indie-crazy rock press, they got a year-end boost from NPR and climbed to a respectable showing. Best piece is when White powers ahead. Otherwise, Williams is overly sweet, and their harmonies can get treacly. B

Common: The Dreamer/The Believer (2011, Warner Brothers): Two concepts for moving the world, which is the level this Chicago rapper likes to work on. Two plays and I'm still not adequately tuned in to enough of this but it's smart and snappy, for sure. B+(***)

Cunninlynguists: Oneirology (2011, RBC): Hip-hop group, from Kentucky and Atlanta, together since 2001 when they dropped Will Rap for Food. Subtler, both lyrically and beatwise, than I expected -- emphasis is on cunning, with enough political grounding to not get fooled again. Note that their one gangsta nod is built around a Marianne Faithfull sample. A-

Cut Off Your Hands: Hollow (2011, Frenchkiss): From New Zealand, third album since 2006. Tight and tuneful, catchy even. Maybe the lyrics are down and out (song titles: "Nausea," "Hollowed Out," "Oh Hell," "Fooling No One," "Down & Out," "Buried"), but the music cuts through all that. B+(***)

Deaf Center: Owl Splinters (2011, Type): Norwegian ambient project, Erik K. Skodvin and Otto A. Totland. All electronic, sheetlike drones, not much shape but they fill the space, with enough presence to get you to pay attention. B+(**)

Del the Funky Homosapien: Golden Era (2011, The Council): Available as a 3-CD budget box ($14.98) list, although I only played the first (or is it the last?) on Rhapsody -- the difference appears to be two previously free mixtapes. Got into the quirky underground flow. Didn't find anything especially notable there but was satisfied by the vibe -- seems to be his thing. B+(***)

Dirty Beaches: Badlands (2011, Zoo Music, EP): Alias for Alex Zhang Hungtai, b. in Taiwan but raised in Canada. Combines a voice patterned on a mechanically stiff Elvis impersonator with drum machines and guitar distortion -- a concept which amuses for more than half (but not all) of its 8-song, 27:01 length. B+(*)

Dum Dum Girls: He Gets Me High (2011, Sub Pop, EP): Four song shorty (13:44), came out midway between their first two albums. Title cut is a slight improvement over the lo-fi drang and strum of the albums, but there's no reason to think they/she can sustain it. B

Elzhi: Elmatic (2011, Jae B Group): Jason Powers, from Detroit, refers back to the Nas debut Illmatic, a bit of history I missed but I don't feel like I'm missing much here. Runs long, the rhythm tracks, with turntable twists and occasional oases of piano, offering basic support for words that roll on and on and on without ever losing their fascination. A-

Emika: Emika (2011, Ninja Tune): Czech-born, UK-bred, Berlin-based, has a degree in Music Technology, so she's probably much more than the voice here -- a voice buried low and emotionless, not least when she's daring someone to hit her, the soft beats and echo a chamber for her cool. Closes with a bit of solo piano which, by contrast, almost feels like "Lush Life." B+(**)

Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire: Lost in Translation (2011, Mishka): Anthony Allison, from Brooklyn, has at least one previous mixtape which I've heard is more Wu Tang. This one crosses over into Das Racist territory, all the way down to that combination Taco Bell/Pizza Hut, but most of the way he's got his own assured style and some range. Still, this runs awful long: if I could edit it down I'd bump it up a notch. Still, I'm not sure whether I'd wind up cutting the annoying rant that ends, "This is a freestyle/what the fuck you want for free?" Or the one about driving drunk. I'd sure keep the one about buying fried chicken, and the most scabrous language I've heard in these part in a long time. B+(***) [bc]

James Ferraro: Far Side Virtual (2011, Hippos in Tanks): AMG credits Ferraro with six albums; Discogs shows a couple dozen releases, all 2010-11. Born in New York, based in Los Angeles, also an actor. The Wire picked this as the album of the year, and it does stand out in lots of ways. Feels like a laptop assemblage of real instruments -- lots of piano, little swish or swoon, a bit of spoken word, rhythms remind me more of Bach than techno, and my discomfort is probably related to the ease with which he exploits classical music constructs. I could wind up hating it, but there's a place in the world for clever, and he's found it. B+(**)

Foo Fighters: Wasting Light (2011, RCA): Didn't see the point of checking this out but it kind of stands out in the color-coded metacritic file, so it's time to bury it. Plenty hard, probably snappier than anything they've done since The Colour and the Shape, which I treated with respect but never developed any fondness for -- could say the same for their mothership, but Kurt Cobain's voice took a bit of the edge off, and I couldn't understand anything he sung anyway. B

The Front Bottoms (2011, Bar/None): New Jersey group, first album after an EP; just Brian Sella singing and on guitar and Matthew Uychich on drums after the latter's brother quit the group to become a gynecologist. Sella's the one that matters anyway: vocally he splits the distance between David Byrne and Jonathan Richman, but comes closest to Craig Finn, not least because he's willing to make us uncomfortable. B+(***)

Girls Guns and Glory: Sweet Nothings (2011, Lonesome Day): Rocking countryish band led by Ward Hayden, a good old boy from Massachusetts, on their fourth album. He's not much of a singer, but is better on the slow one ("Universe Began") than the fast ones, where he gets buried in the guitars. B+(*)

Gold Panda: DJ-Kicks (2011, !K7): Looks like only the second record in this series I've heard -- Kode9 was the other. The idea, I gather, is to take various things and turn them into a long, continuous remix. Works for a long while as I can't get too much of the drum machine thump. But I can get too much of the sheets-of-sound quasi-ambience at the end. B+(*)

Gold-Bears: Are You Falling in Love? (2011, Slumberland): Atlanta lo-fi debut, their guitar fuzz tuned all the way down to a white noise background, just enough to make their hooks barely discernible, with a singer just naggingly reminds me of some well-established model but just different enough to keep me from dredging up the name. Minor accomplishments, but real ones. Choice cut: "Besides Me," where they go soft, and "Yeah, Tonight" -- loud until the burnout. B+(***)

Danny Paul Grody: In Search of Light (2011, Students of Decay): Or Danny Grody, the name on his other album, or Daniel Paul Grodinski (already lost track of where I read that), a founder (along with Jefre Cantu-Ledesma) of experimental rock outfit Tarentel, which has a huge pile of obscure records and side projects since 1998. Guitar with synth overtones, or vice versa, stately, peaceful, pleasant -- sort of what new age promised but rarely delivered. B+(*)

Grouper: A/A: Dream Loss (2011, Yellowcentric): Liz Harris, or Portland, OR, has a stack of records since 2005. This is paird with A/A: Alien Observer on two slabs of vinyl, sometimes treated as separate releases, sometimes as one. Ambient, soft slabs of plastic synth and voices, moving almost imperceptibly like clouds. Dark toned, can be haunting. B+(*)

Grouper: A/A: Alien Observer (2011, Yellowcentric): Second disc if you're buying the set. Much like Dream Loss, but even softer, less voice, even more ambient -- those things are mostly plusses, even though I can't swear I remained conscious the whole time. B+(*)

G-Side: The One . . . Cohesive (2011, Slow Motion Soundz): Hip-hop duo from Huntsville, AL; dropped two albums in 2011, but I didn't find this one until after reviewing Island -- their second, a solid A-. Like most mixtapes this is a bit short on polish and a bit long on everything else, but once they hit their stride they're a formidable group. B+(***) [bc]

Anthony Hamilton: Back to Love (2011, RCA): Soul man, cut an album in 1996 and now five more since 2003. Most of this moves like fine clockwork, only once getting heavy-handed and over the top -- lyric goes something like "you might hate the song, but you love the pain." I don't quite hate the song, but don't enjoy the pain either. B+(***)

Lalah Hathaway: Where It All Begins (2011, Stax): Daughter of Donnie Hathaway, a minor soul man during his short life (1945-79). Cut an eponymous album in 1990, and now four more in a career that is longer now but hardly more distinguished -- Christgau, who makes a point to follow black pop, has yet to praise, pan, or even acknowledge any album by either. She has a neutral voice, with technique to tap into the church vibe, but not enough to make you believe, even when focusing on the small of her back. B-

Joe Henry: Reverie (2011, Anti-): Singer-songwriter, b. 1960 in North Carolina, grew up in Michigan, has quietly put a career together with a dozen albums since 1986 plus a significant sideline producing. Maybe the latter helps explain why this goes down so easy -- too easy, in fact, since his middle American virtues need the contrast of some challenge. B+(*)

Honeyhoney: Billy Jack (2011, Lost Highway): Suzanne Santo and Benjamin Jaffe. Second album. Went all caps (but still no space) this time, after all lc last time -- never trust the typography. Countryish, although the songs suggest Cleveland more than Nashville, and those songs hit more than they miss. B+(*)

Hot Chelle Rae: Whatever (2011, RCA): AMG's critic on this: "Hot Chelle Rae will never be mistaken for serious artists." He [Tim Sendra] then goes on to liken them to Turtle Wax and Velveeta and declares the songs "about as deep as a kiddie pool." I looked them up because I noticed them on a year-end list headed by Britney Spears -- close to my ideal of a serious artist these days. I didn't pay close attention to the boy band craze a decade ago so some of what they're doing may be unnew, but they're older and more jaded, insisting that they don't care without bothering to forget why they should -- enough, they figure, to recognize that it don't work. And the songs have so much uplift they can't really be that down, for long anyway -- four, maybe six, could be pop hits ("Tonight Tonight" already qualifies, albeit barely). Renews my faith in mass culture. A-

Eileen Jewell: Queen of the Minor Key (2011, Signature Sounds): Country-ish singer-songwriter, sixth album, did a tribute to Loretta Lynn last time out but wrote everything here -- a couple cuts with an old-time rock and roll feel, the closing "Kalimotxo" with precise economy. B+(**)

Sean Jones: No Need for Words (2011, Mack Avenue): Flashy mainstream trumpet player, did a stretch with the Lincoln Center crowd, sixth album since 2004. Spars with saxophonist Brian Hogan. Orrin Evans does a fine job on piano when he's clear, but there's also organ and guitar, post-hard bop if not for the masses for those who never want to think about whether this is jazz, or why. B+(*)

Mamani Keita: Gagner L'Argent Français (2011, No Format): Singer from Mali via Paris, first came to my attention in a synthy Eurobeat context she somehow made to feel real. Title song repeats the trick (and then some), but as she returns to singing in Bambara the record settles into a groove that keeps things simple and clean -- virtues of her homeland's music, even more so with the light ease of her voice. B+(***)

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins: Diamond Mine (2011, Double Six): Hopkins has a background in ambient electronics lapping into soundtracks -- Brian Eno has been a collaborator as well as an model. Scottish singer-songwriter (with a folkie bent) Kenny Anderson recruited Hopkins to fill in the musical backdrops to his sad, sorry songs, which in the end give them much-needed dignity. B+(*)

Kid Koala: Space Cadet [Original Still Picture Score] (2011, Ninja Tune): Canadian turntablist, turned some heads with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in 2000 but lost track of him after a few years. Mostly ambient keyb sounds, not much need for complexity when you're diddling still pictures (cf. Ken Burns). B

La Dispute: Wildlife (2011, No Sleep): Punk/hardcore group from Grand Rapids, MI, with two previous records. Not part of the minimalist movement: 14 songs run 57:41, with most in the 3-4 minute range. The band is skilled enough to pump up the drama, and singer Jordan Dreyer sounds strained and stretched but in their 6:54 magnum opus "King Park" he's utterly in control. Could turn out to be a great record if you're into this sort of thing, or maybe not. B+(***)

La Vida Boheme: Nuestra (2011, Nacional): Venezuelan group, first album. I've seen it described as "retro-disco-punk" by which I think they mean that the beats are regular, sharp, fast, and very loud. Good for a kick, but can get to wear thin. B

Sonia Leigh: 1978 December (2011, Southern Ground): Countryish singer-songwriter from Atlanta, third album over the last decade-plus. Named the record for her birth date: the final song, stakes her place in the world, and slows down to make damn sure you follow. B+(**)

Limousines: Get Sharp (2011, Dangerbird): San Francisco duo, Giovanni Giusti and Eric Victorino, make a sort of shamelessly recycled electro-pop. Debut after some short forms. Second record I've heard this year to argue that "drum machines ain't got no soul" -- the first is the Teddybears, a group so similar this could be homage or rip-off, and they're certainly beyond neither. Same song asks whether rock and roll is dead? Answers: "Yeah, it's like a zombie, it'll dig itself up again." A-

Los Campesinos!: Hello Sadness (2011, Arts & Crafts): Welsh group, seven-strong back in 2006, always seemed like overkill for twee, or for that matter for arena rock, not that that's where they were headed. The fierce approach to catchy tunes seems like what made them appealing to other people, but this starts to bog down past midway into heavy sludge and murk toward the end. B+(*)

Los Chicharrons: Roots of Life (2011, Tummy Touch): Two DJs, Morten Varano from Denmark and Ramon Santana from Dominican Republic, picked up samples -- including most of the scorched vocals -- while touring Mali then mixed them in Paris. Mostly upbeat, built on guitar swells, catchy enough, perhaps a bit pat. B+(***)

Main Attrakionz: 808s and Dark Grapes II (2011, Mishka): Oakland duo or group or something, not sure how much they have out -- at least there's one more called Blackberry Kush (with the tedious but ubiquitous dollar sign). Synths and beats, easy flow with a lot of play, nothing especially deep -- at least nothing deeper than a couple of guys working hard to escape their late teens. B+(**) [bc]

Laura Marling: A Creature I Don't Know (2011, Virgin): English singer-songwriter, got started in her teens making do with a low-tech folkie approach, not much more than a Joni Mitchell voice over a Richard Thompson guitar. Not quite either, of course. B+(*)

Master Musicians of Bukkake: Totem Three (2009 [2011], Important): Seattle group, dates back to 2003, bukkake may sound exotic but it's a pretty pedantic porn genre, perhaps a way of suggesting they have a sense of humor that isn't otherwise evident. Instrumental: doesn't rock or swing or pine for nirvana -- sounds more like church music than anything else, but not always. [Just as I prematurely finish the above with one song left, they bump up the volume and find a beat, a middling exception to the rule.] B

Mazes: A Thousand Heys (2011, Fat Cat): Debut from UK group with a drummer from New Zealand. Has that basic alt sound, the layering of vocals and the guitar harmonics make for pop hooks, albeit subtle ones. B+(*)

Miracles of Modern Science: Dog Year (2011, self-released): Guitarless rock band from Princeton: mandolin, violin, cello, bass, and drums. Gives them a lot of swoosh -- reminds me of an old 1970s band called String Driven Thing -- although sometimes the vocals are so thick you can't tell. B

Tracy Nelson: Victim of the Blues (2011, Delta Groove): Singer for Mother Earth way back in San Francisco's hippie days, since 1990 has reinvented herself as a blues singer. She pulls these songs straight from the book, cranks them up and tries to muscle them around, to so-so effect. B

Oddisee: Rock Creek Park (2011, Mello Music Group): DC beat producer, Amir Mohamed, father from Sudan. Leads off with a rap but doesn't come alive until an instrumental piece busts out. But pretty soon that turns into a rut too, so the return of the MCs is welcome. B [bc]

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo: Cotonou Club (2009 [2011], Strut): Long-running dance band from Benin, sometimes sans hyphen, sometimes avec "de Cotonou" or even "de Cotonou-Dahomey" (Benin's colonial name), sometimes "Tout Puissant" or just "T.P.," with their first records cut in the early 1970s (a recent reissue of The 1st Album claims 1973, but I've also seen a 1972-75 compilation claiming to be Volume 4) -- a research project, if they're worth the trouble. Hard to tell, but they do go through the motions and sometimes the guitar shines. B+(**)

Peaking Lights: 936 (2011, Not Not Fun): Husband and wife group, originally from Wisconsin, second album; lo-fi noise pop with pronounced dub effects. Rather droll, nothing that grabs or stimulates you, but lined with comfy grooves chilled out. B+(**)

Peggy Sue: Acrobats (2011, Yep Roc): British band, from Brighton, went through various iterations of Peggy Sue and the X before shortening; fronted by two women, Rosa Slade and Katy Young, don't know which is which. Second album. No retro, a somewhat raw, dense MOR sound, occasionally revealing a song. B

People Like Us: Welcome Abroad (2011, Illegal Art): British DJ Vicki Bennett, has at least eight previous records since 1996, does paste-up and mash-down of shlocky pop tunes, mostly shit you never wanted to hear again, least of all framed this archly. You'd think she'd at least land on some inadvertent humor, but not that I noticed. (OK: "The Seven Hills of Rome"; her intros have some promise.) D+

Andy Petr: Rapper Turned Singer (2011, Mixpak, EP): Nineteen-year-old from Milwaukee, don't know that he has any history as a rapper, or for that matter much future as a singer, but he's got a 5-cut debut EP that's brimming with quirky beats and layerings and, yes, vocals, albeit mostly fluffing up the sonic mix. Tails off a bit after the second cut, so maybe brimming wasn't the right word. B+(**)

The Postelles: The Postelles (2011, +1): Indie rock band from New York, bright, upbeat, lots of guitar klang, hard to make out the words or figure out whether one should care. Reminded me of the late British Invasion, but critics with less historical perspective think they sound like the Strokes. B+(*)

Prince Polo: Brooklyn Bodega (2011, DubShot): Brooklyn-based dub producer, first album, usual echoes and such; taps an Ecuadoran (L.O.ese) for some of the vocals, and mixes a bit of cumbia in for good measure. B+(*)

The Psychic Paramount: II (2011, No Quarter): Expermental/instrumental rock group led by guitarist Drew St. Ivany and bassist Ben Armstrong, got together after their previous group, Laddio Bolocko, split in 2002, but haven't released much -- this seems to be officially their second album, but I can find lists that put it fifth. Rhapsody considers this an EP, but it runs over 40 minutes, and that's quite enough. So loud I cut the volume, then found myself revelling in the roiling groove and enjoying details in their klang. They do ease up a bit at the end, and that's fine too. B+(***)

Steve Reich: WTC 9/11 (2011, Nonesuch): Without having a program it's not clear who's doing what here. Also named on the front cover: Kronos Quartet. Not so named but presumably here somewhere (maybe just the bonus DVD) is So Percussion -- AMG, increasingly dyslexic, files this under the latter. My druthers are to file under performers rather than composer(s), but Reich is still alive and presumably has some role here. The music is clearer: the first three pieces are built from string tones with speech fragments tied to the 9/11 WTC attack: evocative, but not corny or morbid or any of the many things that could have gone wrong. The next three are mallet pieces -- fast, slow, fast -- in Reich's original minimalist style. B+(**)

Rose Hill Drive: Americana (2011, Slow and Shirley): Boulder, CO group; not quite the "heavy power trio rock" they're cracked out to be -- not that I've heard two previous records on metal label Megaforce -- but not countryish either. Their crunch has some instant appeal, but I don't see it lasting. B+(*)

Shackleton: Fabric 55 (2011, Fabric): English dubstep DJ Sam Shackleton, formerly of Skull Disco, makes his mark in the label's remix series. Tribal beats with interesting reverb effects, some tribal vocals too -- new urban jungle music. B+(***)

Shakira: Live From Paris (2011, Sony Latin Music): Released first as an audio download, later on CD and/or DVD. More Spanish than English, plus a few songs in French. Didn't really connect for me until she hit a song I knew ("Gypsy"), after which it was bang, bang, bang. Redundant, of course, the excitement of the crowd can be stipulated. Still, I wouldn't pass up a chance to leer at the DVD. B+(**)

Sleeping in the Aviary: You and Me, Ghost (2011, Science of Sound): Madison, WI group with four albums. AMG calls them quirky -- seems to be the magic word to get on the Ye Wei Blog year-end list -- and likens them to XTC and Talking Heads. Sounds to me like doo-wop, indubitably white of course, but their themes aren't far removed from the 1950s, nor are their harmonies. B+(*)

SMOD: SMOD (2011, Nacional): Rap group from Mali, three faces on the cover but the name is constructed from initials for Sam, Mouzy, Ousco, and Donsky -- Mouzy is the dropout. Sam, by the way, is the son of Mali's most famous blind couple, Amadou & Mariam. That connection most likely helped to lure Manu Chao into producing. The music has Chao's guitar feel, with less flash and power -- I guess one thing you learn in the desert is to pace yourself. B+(***)

Spank Rock: Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is a F---ing Liar (2011, Bad Blood): From Baltimore, rapper Naeem Juwan (dba MC Spank Rock) and a few others; dropped an album in 2006, then this one, replete with sketch complaining about how long it took. Beats are fast, hard, rockish -- so much so they threaten to run away with the album, giving it a superenergized prog feel with a comic twist: anything but boring, which makes the title out to be a self-referential lie. B+(***)

Stalley: Lincoln Way Nights: Intelligent Trunk Music (2011, Mishka): First record, can't find a bio or a rap sheet or anything. Runs everything medium speed, modest beats, and doesn't try to cram too many words in, just wants to raise the intelligence level a bit, but not enough to avoid a pimp song, or forgo a title like "Chimes of Freedumb." B+(**)

Boubacar Traoré: Mali Denhou (2010 [2011], Lusafrica): Guitar-playing singer-songwriter from Mali, b. 1942; a comfortable beat, with twisted strings and harmonica to contrast with his dour, gentle voice. First time out he was a welcome find, but that goes back to the early 1990s. Seventh time, you realize he's just a seasoned pro. B+(**)

Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Unknown Mortal Orchestra (2011, Fat Possum): Ruben Nielson, from Portland, ex-Mint Chicks, offers a lo-fi take on a late-1960s psychedelia sound, with echoey vocals, chiming guitars, stilted drums, meandering and confusion. Short (9 songs, 30:03). B

Tom Waits: Bad as Me (2011, Anti-): Gravel voice, gutter view, doesn't rock as hard as Keith Richards promises but hews to an ornery, sometimes angry groove. Still, when all is done the memories dissolve into that "New Year's Eve" quote of "Auld Lang Syne," reminding you he delivers what he promises. A- [cd]

Hank Williams III: Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town (2011, Hank3, 2CD): Chafing to get out of his contract with Curb, not to mention lose the surname his father never could live up to (and one he was perhaps afraid he could), Hank slagged off plenty of shit on his last few albums, and piled up way too much for his comeback -- probably figuring the supply is endless. First disc is straightforward countryish, not that "Don't You Wanna" wouldn't get him bumped off the Opry. Second disc goes cajun for a while, feeling mechanical on his way to degenerating into a horror movie soundtrack. B+(**)

Amy Winehouse: Lioness: Hidden Treasures (2002-11 [2011], Universal Republic): Pure profit taking, but may be just as well to get this shit out of the way as it was decaying faster than the body. Don't have cut-by-cut details of where it all came from, other than the Tony Bennett duet on "Body and Soul": it's tolerable as long as Bennett is singing, but Winehouse only seems to have a grip here on "Our Day Will Come," which young as the was she still seems too old for. "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" is an utter mess, and she gets mugged on "The Girl From Ipanema." C-

Wye Oak: Civilian (2011, Merge): Baltimore group (or duo, something like that), on their third album. They have a coherent backbeat (when they bother to use it), sweet harmonies, songs I didn't begin to crack but did begin to find annoying. B

Kembe X: Self Rule (2011, mixtape): Rapper from Chicago, reportedly age 17, associated with The Village crew, only producer I recognize is Apollo Brown. Too young to worry so much about not being able to quit reefer, but not too young to worry about everything else in the world. Underground beats and flow, loses volume at one point, but has shit to say and a knack for saying it. B+(***) [dl]

Yellow Ostrich: The Mistress (2010 [2011], Barsuk): Alex Schaaf, from Wisconsin; AMG describes him as the frontman for The Chairs, a group with a scantier discography than this so-called side project. Best when he doesn't sound so lonesome and lays down some extra tracks, but the lo-fi aesthetic ensures that even catchy shit sounds crappy. B

Youth Lagoon: The Year of Hibernation (2011, Fat Possum): Boise, Idaho group, mostly Trevor Powers; synthpop keybs tuned toward the gloomy side, the vocals strained, which is to say not really pop at all. B+(*)


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

  • Hayvanlar Alemi: Guarana Superpower (Sublime Frequencies)
  • Axis of Awesome: Animal Vehicle (Laughspin)
  • Balam Acab: Wander/Wonder (Tri Angle)
  • Barreracudas: Nocturnal Missions (Douchemaster)
  • The Black Keys: El Camino (Nonesuch)
  • James Blackshaw: Holly EP (Important)
  • Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Wolfroy Goes to Town (Drag City)
  • John Cale: Extra Playful (Double Six/Domino)
  • Chicago Blues: A Living History: The (R)Evolution Continues (Raisin' Music)
  • Gloria Estefan: Miss Little Havana (Verve Forecast)
  • Brian F{/=}: Sleep Rough (Grave Mistake)
  • Fennesz + Sakamoto: Flumina (Touch)
  • Johann Johansson: The Miner's Hymns (Fat Cat)
  • Los Massieras: Better Than Italian (Clone)
  • Branford Marsalis/Joey Calderazzo: Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (Marsalis Music)
  • Prefuse 73: The Only She Chapter (Warp)
  • John Prine: The Singing Mailman Delivers (Oh Boy)
  • Nicola Roberts: Cinderella's Eyes (Polydor)
  • Shackleton: Fireworks (Honest Jon's)
  • Omar Souleyman: Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts (Sublime Frequencies)
  • Standard Fare: Out of Sight, Out of Mind (Melodic)
  • Andy Stott: Passed Me By/We Stay Together (Modern Love)
  • Yob: Atma (Profound Lore)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Bachata Roja: Amor y Amargue (1960s-80s [2011], IASO): Dominican son with a back country feel that can sound arch, but in doing so the singers all the more effectively draw out the bitterness of the title. B+(***)

Black Stars: Ghana's Hiplife Generation ([2008], Out Here): I never tired of vintage highlife, but I'm not surprised that Ghana's youth has moved on, tapping rap in Twi or Ga or once colonial, now global English for hiplife or ragga for raglife. Don't have discographical details and don't recognize artists; all I've read is that this German label sampler covers the last decade plus, favoring the fast, bouncy ones which is always smart with foreign language music. Too scattered to cohere, but long enough to document an excursion you'd want a souvenir of. B+(***)

Nat King Cole: Cole Español (1958, Capitol): In his heyday Cole cranked out 3-4 records a year, so the idea of doing one in Spanish wasn't much of a gamble; the backing tracks were cut in Havana, Cole dubbed his vocals in Los Angeles, and Nelson Riddle fiddled a bit, all of which sounds more authentic, and accomplished, than it has any right to. B+(**)

Nat King Cole: A Mis Amigos (1959, Capitol): Cut on tour in a studio in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian studio cats leading off with a sharp mariachi, then settling down into a cozy ballad; Cole is game, dashing, and smooth, even slipping in a couple lyrics in Portuguese, well before the bossa nova craze. B+(**)

Julius Hemphill: Julius Hemphill Big Band (1988, Nonesuch): A rigorous avant-garde alto saxophonist, best known as founder of World Saxophone Quartet, run as a lab in harmonics; somehow got a major label to give him a stab at a big band, and came up with a typically cantankerous mix of stuff that coheres elegantly and drives you to the edge; for me, the power cut backs K. Curtis Lyle's spoken word rant. B+(**)

Michael Howell: Looking Glass (1973, Milestone): Guitarist, cut a couple albums in the 1970s and not much else till I ran across him in a sideman role; thought he has poise and taste, already evident here both in the horn-studded grooves and in his more intimate moments trading thoughtful lines with pianist Hampton Hawes. B+(**) [dl]

Steve Lacy: Live at Jazzwerkstatt Peitz (1981 [2006], Jazzwerkstatt): The most important soprano saxophonist of the latter half of the 20th century, by a margin that's hard to conceive of, takes a few pieces solo, unfettered by anything but his imagination; the results are often astonishing, but the narrow range and stringent tone of the horn itself can wear on you. B+(**)

Steve Lacy: Five Facings/Five Pianists (1996 [2008], Jazzwerkstatt): Duo pieces with five avant pianists; Marilyn Crispell warms him up; Misha Mengelberg pitches Monk tunes that are softballs for both; but Ulrich Gumpert pushes the soprano saxophonist into his top level, and Fred Van Hove joins him there, while the finale with Vladimir Miller winds down admirably. B+(***)

Pietra Montecorvino: Napoli Mediterranea (2003 [2008], Lucky Planets): Italian actress-turned-singer, hard to tell how popular she is over there -- her rather dated website only shows two albums, and I've only found one more -- but with her raspy voice and a touch of raï in the rhythms I figure her for cabaret; this has flow, grace, and poise. B+(***)

Vijana Jazz Band: The Koka Koka Sex Battalion: Rumba, Koka Koka and Kamata Sukuma (1975-80 [2011], Sterns): Lots of print to parse on the cover, including the important "Music From Tanzania 1975-1980" -- places this within the context of Guitar Paradise of East Africa, but these folks are cruder, rougher, and a lot dirtier, and jumpy enough to remind me more of Nigeria's Heavy on the Highlife than the Zaïrean soukous their compatriots and competitors leaned on. A-

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:

Rez Abbasi's Invocation: Suno Suno (2010 [2011], Enja): Guitarist, from Pakistan, eighth album since 1995, not counting his work with Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition -- a trio with Dan Weiss on drums that is expanded to five here, adding Vijay Iyer on piano and Johannes Weidenmueller on bass, only here the compositions are all Abbasi. The star power of Mahanthappa and Iyer is undeniable, but it comes off as unduly heavy, jerky, dramatic -- impressive in its own right. B+(*)

David Berkman: Self-Portrait (2011, Red Piano): Pianist, b. 1958, sixth album since 1998 -- the inevitable solo one. Mix of standards, starting with "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," and originals, four of them designated sketches. Self-assured, balanced tone, runs on cold logic, impeccable as these things go. B+(**)

The New Gary Burton Quartet: Common Ground (2011, Mack Avenue): What's new about this Quartet, as opposed to the one he recorded a live album with in 2009, is replacing guitarist Pat Metheny and bassist Steve Swallow with Julian Lage and Scott Colley: younger players, most likely cheaper too, plus they contribute songs, so the leader is down to one in ten. (Drummer Antonio Sanchez, who pitched in two songs, was kept over.) Probably a smart move for Burton, but not as smart as letting Lage take the lead, and adding a little something instead of vying for top dog. B+(**)

Gerald Cleaver/Uncle June: Be It as I See It (2010 [2011], Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, from Detroit, has a half dozen albums since 2001. No idea where the group name comes from, but it's basically a sextet with two horns (Andrew Bishop on flute, bass clarinet, soprano and tenor sax; Tony Malaby on soprano and tenor sax), piano (Craig Taborn), viola (Mat Maneri), and bass (Drew Gress), with occasional voices and a bit of guest guitar or banjo. Can be rough and noisy, smoky, or stretch out into an orchestration that is almost Ellingtonian. B+(**)

Larry Coryell: With the Wide Hive Players (2010 [2011], Wide Hive): One of the original fusion guitarists -- by the way, the answer to my question about Gary Burton's earliest quartet -- plugs in with the avant-funk house band of Gregory Howe's Berkeley label. Sax and 'bone flesh out the heavy riffing. B+(*)

Adam Cruz: Milestone (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Drummer, b. 1970 in New York City, has a lot of side credits since 1991 (Eddie Palmieri, Chick Corea, Edward Simon, David Sanchez, Danilo Pérez, Chris Potter, Steve Wilson, Ray Barretto are only some of the names; 70-some albums), but this is his first under his own name -- and a big one: wrote all eight pieces (long ones, add up to 75:49). He's joined by Potter (tenor sax), either Wilson (soprano sax) or Miguel Zenón (alto sax), Simon (piano), Steve Cardenas (guitar), and Ben Street (bass). Brash contemporary postbop, the horns stellar, especially when one or the other finds some solo room. B+(**)

Joseph Daley Earth Tones Ensemble: The Seven Deadly Sins (2010 [2011], Jaro): First album by Daley, although his discography goes back to 1971 and most of it points this way. He plays tuba and euphonium here, with a little trombone and other low register horns on his resume. Has mostly worked in big bands -- Gil Evans, Sam Rivers, Carla Bley, Muhal Richard Abrams, George Gruntz, Bill Dixon -- with side roles in Howard Johnson's Gravity and Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble. Huge group here, lots of guys you know -- Marty Ehrlich, Scott Robinson, Lew Soloff (I presume, notes say Lou), Eddie Allen, Craig Harris, Vincent Chancey, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Warren Smith, Satoshi Takeishi, and a quorum of the tuba players union, including Howard Johnson and Bob Stewart. Fast, slick, complex, oh so deep. B+(***)

Empirical: Elements of Truth (2011, Naim Jazz): English quartet: Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), Lewis Wright (vibes), Tom Farmer (bass), Shaney Forbes (drums); Farmer does most of the writing, followed by Facey (2) and Wright (1). Third album since 2007. Sax lines are cutting edge postbop, the vibes adding a light and flighty contrast. B+(**)

Vinny Golia Quartet: Take Your Time (2011, Relative Pitch): Plays the whole range of clarinets, saxes, and flutes; b. 1946, has been very prolific since 1977, releasing almost all of his work on his own Nine Winds label, but occasionally strays -- Greetings From Norma Desmond is a personal favorite. Plays soprano/alto/tenor sax here, with Bobby Bradford on cornet, Kin Filiano on bass, and Alex Cline on drums. This group generates a lot of heat, and while Golia's riffing sometimes seems a bit pat (by which I mean I've never cared for that Charlie Parker up-and-down shit), Bradford always hangs in there and adds something interesting. B+(***)

Danny Grissett: Stride (2011, Criss Cross): Pianist, from Los Angeles, studied at Cal Arts, based in New York. Fourth album since 2006, a trio with Vincente Archer on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. Has very little swing, let alone stride, to his style; basically a straight-up postbop player with a deft touch. Three originals, five covers range from Chopin to Tom Harrell and Nicholas Payton. B+(*)

Sir Roland Hanna: Colors From a Giant's Kit (1990s-2002 [2011], IPO): Pianist from Detroit, lived 1932-2002, has a couple credits in 1959 but his discography picks up in 1971 and he remain productive to the end. Solo piano, something he did at least a dozen albums of, from various sessions -- annoying that I can't find a detailed accounting. Mix of originals and covers. Can be dense and even dazzling, but I can't latch onto anything as especially interesting. B+(*)

Fred Ho and the Green Monster Big Band: The Sweet Science Suite (2011, Mutable/Big Red Media): Subtitled: "A Scientific Soul Music Honoring of Muhammad Ali." Baritone saxophonist, b. 1957 in Palo Alto, CA, of Chinese descent, has built a notable career out of bridging African, Asian, and American musics, and charging them with political immediacy, working especially in a big band context -- the last few years he's called his group the Green Monster Band, and they usually live up to the name. Numerous strong passages here, but also a few rough spots, and the vocals near the end didn't connect. [Don't have recording date. Ho has been fighting colon cancer since 2006, and at least some of his recent spate of records predate his illness, but there's some reason to think this is more recent.] B+(*)

Fred Ho and the Green Monster Big Band: Year of the Tiger (2004 [2011], Innova): Pre-illness, unreleased at the time, I'd guess, because it's a hoary mess, although it has inspired moments, ridiculous ideas, and such an enthusiastic implementation it's hard to carp. There's a big suite called "Take the Zen Train," offering "Optometry for the Vision-less" and critiquing "The Violence of Virtuosity." There are medleys of Michael Jackson and Jimi Hendrix -- the Jackson descends into a long sequence of horror movie sounds on "Thriller" that cry out for video. There's a huge people's chorus on "Hero Among Heroes" -- reminds me of Maoist mass propaganda although I wouldn't claim that it is. B

Ari Hoenig: Lines of Oppression (2009 [2011], Naïve): Drummer, from Philadelphia, part of the Smalls retro bop crowd -- cut a good album for them in 2004, The Painter. I was looking for one called Punkbop: Live at Smalls, and found this one instead. Quartet with Tigran Hamasyan on pianos, Gilad Hekselman on guitar, and either Orlando Le Fleming or Chris Tordini on bass, with various of them vocalizing, sounding rather like tapdance. Best at high speed with everyone pounding away. B+(*)

Oliver Lake & Jahi Sundance: Lakes at the Stone (2008 [2011], Passin Thru): Lake, b. 1942 in Arkansas, plays alto sax, has more than 30 albums since 1971, many more credits including his long tenure with the World Saxophone Quartet. I suspect that Jahi Sundance is his son, hence the plural Lakes. He pops up occasionally as a producer, and Discogs credits him with three albums. No credits on what he does here, but he's basically a DJ, manipulating turntable, maybe laptop samples, mostly percussion to mix with what is otherwise solo sax, but someone works in a right-on rap on "If I Knew This," and another on "Where You Is, Is Where You At." B+(**)

Lim: Lim With Marc Ducret (2010 [2011], Kopasetic): AMG files this under a French "hardcore rapper" who likes his upper case ("LIM") and has titles like Triples Violences Urbaines, Le Maxi Délinquant, and Voyoucratie -- an SFFR, I'd say, but a miss here. This group is a Swedish sax trio preferring lower case ("lim"), led by Henrik Frisk (various saxes, writes all the songs), with David Carlsson (electric bass) and Peter Nilsson (drums). The three play an admirable brand of free jazz where the rhythm section keeps everything interesting. Ducret is a French guitarist who's played most notably with Tim Berne, which is to say he's right at home here, always quick to zag when the sax zigs. A-

René Marie: Black Lace Fredian Slip (2011, Motéma Music): Singer, b. 1955, cut her first album in 2000 after raising a couple of kids. I belatedly checked out her second, the Penguin Guide crown-winning Vertigo, just before this one, with its striking standards interpretations, guest horns, swing and scat. None of that is particulary evident here, where she wrote 10 (of 13) songs, works with a rhythm section I've never heard of, has unknowns guest on two songs (harmonica and guitar). Still, even without the scat she's are remarkable singer. Too early to tell about the songs (e.g., "Rim Shot"), but the title is a salacious opener, and "Tired" is a blues that buttons the record down tight. B+(***)

Christian McBride Big Band: The Good Feeling (2011, Mack Avenue): One of the unwritten rules of jazz these days seems to be that everyone wants to (and gets to) lead a big band sooner or later. McBride's reportedly been working on his charts for years, but his ideas are pretty stock: conventional five reeds (plus Loren Schoenberg on two cuts), four trumpets, four trombones, piano, bass, and drums (no guitar), with singer Melissa Walker featured on a few cuts. Fine band, a mix of name soloists and guys who show up in everyone's big band. B+(*)

Christian McBride: Conversations With Christian (2011, Mack Avenue): Thirteen songs, each a duet between the bassist and someone else: four singers (Angelique Kidjo, Sting, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Gina Gershon), five pianists (Eddie Palmieri, Dr. Billy Taylor, Hank Jones, George Duke, Chick Corea), Regina Carter (violin), Russel Malone (guitar), and Ron Blake (tenor sax). No dates, but Jones and Taylor died in 2010. It's hard to get any sort of consistency or momentum out of this sort of thing, especially when the constant is the bass, but the vocalists are spread out, the piano-bass connecting tissue rather than filler. Also helps that McBride talks along on two vocal cuts, drawing Gershon out and keeping Bridgewater from falling over the top. B+(**)

Gretchen Parlato: The Lost and Found (2010 [2011], ObliqSound): Singer, b. 1976, third album since 2005, writes most of her own material. Has a slight whisper to her voice which is generally appealing but isn't enough to carry a song a cappella (as she attempts in "Alô, Alô"), so a good band should help. She has Taylor Eigsti (piano), Derrick Hodge (bass), Kendrick Scott (drums), and sometimes Dayne Stephens (tenor sax), all toned down to fit her demure style. One cut that works: "All That I Can Say." B-

Nicholas Payton: Bitches (2011, In + Out): Trumpet player from New Orleans, solidly grounded in the tradition, which got him a gig with Kansas City, a Louis Armstrong tribute, and a super record with Doc Cheatham, but his more modern moves haven't worked out as well -- some jazztronica, here a move into vocal-heavy 1970s-retro r&b. Like Stevie Wonder, he plays all of the instruments, leaning heavily on the keybs, although only his trumpet remains distinctive. His croon ranges from competent to annoying, occasionally supplemented by guest females -- not clear if they are the intended subject of the title, or some other form of malapropism. B

Potsa Lotsa: The Complete Works of Eric Dolphy (2009-10 [2011], Jazzwerkstatt, 2CD): Complete comes to 27 pieces, dispatched in 95 minutes over two discs. The group is led by alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard, who arranged the pieces for two brass (Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet, Gerhard Gschlobl on trombone) and two saxes (Patrick Braun on tenor, Eberhard on alto). Dolphy usually played with other horns, so there is some similarity, and the pieces to managed to evoke all facets of his range. B+(*)

Phil Ranelin: Perseverance (2011, Wide Hive): Trombonist, b. 1940 in Indianapolis. A founder of the Tribe, in Detroit in the early 1970s, and much later Build an Ark in Los Angeles, community-centric groups which bridge avant-garde and populist sensibilities. Front cover proclaims: "With Henry Franklin and Big Black"; Franklin plays bass, was also b. 1940, has a couple dozen albums and a hundred side-credits but isn't a name I recognize; Big Black (Danny Ray) plays conga, is even older (b. 1934), is someone I've run across a few times before. Both have sweet spots here, but so does everyone else, with Kamasi Washington (tenor sax) and Mahesh Balasooriya (piano) most prominent, also Louis Van Taylor (bass clarinet, alto flute), Tony Austin (drums), and a couple more percussionists. Ranelin wrote all the pieces, and sets the pace, his trombone leads rough and rugged but pitched into grooves, with vamps all around. My kind of party. A-

The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Montreal Parade (2011, 482 Music): Dave Rempis, best known as the Vandermark 5's junior saxophonist, leads, the group name reflecting that the quartet has two drummers (Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly). Even with double the drum solos, Rempis is fast and furious out front. The other member is bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, of Vandermark's School Days project (and many more). Two long pieces, free jazz blowouts. (Wonder whether another spin or two would push it over the top -- this is the third straight RPQ album with the same grade, which makes me suspect at least one should go higher.) B+(***)

Poncho Sanchez/Terence Blanchard: Chano y Dizzy! (2011, Concord Picante): Reasonable headliners for a recital of a prime slice of jazz history, but Blanchard won't risk losing his cool so has no way of touching Gillespie, and Sanchez couldn't be crazier than Pozo if his life depended on it. Starts with a medley -- "Tin Tin Deo," "Manteca," "Guachi Guaro" -- then "Con Alma" before letting Blanchard and others in the band peddle their wares. Winds up being a real nice groove album, with equally nice ballad spots, not that I understand why. B+(**)

Alex Sipiagin: Destinations Unknown (2011, Criss Cross): Trumpet player, b. 1967 in Russia, moved to US in 1991, started in big bands, has more than a dozen albums since 1998. Bright tone, dynamic, runs in fast company with Chris Potter and David Binney on sax, Craig Taborn on keyb, Boris Kozlov on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. A little fancy for hard bop, or basic (meaning hard-charging) for postbop. The long set closes with a ballad. B+(**)

Colin Stetson: New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (2011, Constellation): Saxophonist -- plays most reeds, French horn, flute, cornet, but is most noted for the big bass sax -- originally from Ann Arbor, based in Montreal where he works with Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre. AMG lists four albums, including New History Warfare Vol. 1 in 2008. This is billed as "solo horn compositions" but some percussion is evident, one song is labeled a Bell Orchestre remix, and there are occasional vocals -- Sheila Worden somewhere, Laurie Anderson spoken word on four pieces. Circular breathing turns the horn vamps into continuous tapestries, patterns repeating with various dissonances, and everything else just adds to the sonic interest. A-

Colin Stetson: Those Who Didn't Run (2011, Constellation, EP): Two ten-minute pieces. Don't have credits, but sounds like circular breathing sax vamps shagged by extra electronics, the rhythm in the repetition, the dissonance all over the place. Impressive, but on the way to wearing out its welcome when it ended. B+(**)

Ben Williams: State of Art (2011, Concord Jazz): Bassist, electric as well as acoustic. Won a Monk prize which came with a Concord record deal, and this debut is the record. Annoying that I can't find cut-by-cut credits, since he shuttles horns in and out, has John Robinson rap on one piece, uses a string quartet elsewhere. This leans toward easy electronic grooves, with Gerald Clayton favoring the Fender Rhodes, and possibly the leader his electric bass, but they're friendly and rather fun, with Jaleel Shaw and/or Marcus Strickland picking up the level on sax. I'll even applaud Christian Scott's trumpet solo on "The Lee Morgan Story" -- not because it reminds me of Morgan so much as because the rap puts me in a good mood even though the story is tragic. Just hard to think of Morgan without smiling. B+(**)

Gerald Wilson Orchestra: Legacy (2011, Mack Avenue): First glance at the title had me wondering why at 92 he's finally looking back, but the legacy he plumbs here is built on pilfering bits of Stravinsky, Debussy, and Puccini. In that he's as clever as ever, but the latter half holds more interest: a seven-part suite called "Yes, Chicago Is . . ." -- logically, this follows on from his marvellous Detroit suite. His Orchestra keeps swelling -- six reeds, six trumpets, more solo power than he can possibly use. B+(***)


Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd (but made most sense to review here)
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, or may be a promo deal