Rhapsody Streamnotes: March 6, 2012

I mostly blame the shortfall here -- I think this is the second shortest list of the last several years -- on the Detroit trip, which wiped out at least a third of the month. Until close to the end I thought I'd come up with an especially short A-list, but three items fell into my lap in the last few days -- two thanks to tips (Tatum for Prinzhorn, Monsen for Gayle). Could be some of the nine high-B+ records just need a little more time. (Cloud Nothings, Imperial Teen, and Sleigh Bells all got bumped up once already after rechecking.) One change from past years is that I've decided that Rhapsody jazz will appear here instead of in the currently off-and-on Jazz Prospecting. I'm also leaning towards putting previously unissued vault material here instead of in Recycled Goods -- Thomas Anderson is one case where that made sense.

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 February 3. Past reviews and more information are available here.

Air: Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon) (2012, Astralwerks): The French electronica duo, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, attempt a retrospective soundtrack to Georges Méliès's 1912 film (which you may more likely recognize from Martin Scorsese's film Hugo). From the first drum rumble this doesn't sound like a soundtrack: the music not only develops in the foreground, the occasional words are more than enough to drive the "fantastic trip to the moon." A-

Oren Ambarchi: Audience of One (2012, Touch): Australian guitarist, of Iraqi-Jewish descent, with twenty albums since 1999, with connections to metal and avant-garde. Mostly plays guitar, often tricked up. Four pieces here, the big one a 33:22 piece of industrial grunge called "Knots" -- takes its time coming around, but it has plenty of time. The other three pieces are 8:20 max, a cover called "Fractured Mirror" from Ace Frehley's 1978 solo album (recently graded D+ by Tatum). It's actually just a repeated riff that could go on a lot longer before wearing its welcome out. B+(***)

Thomas Anderson: The Moon in Transit (Four-Track Demos, 1996-2009) (1996-2009 [2012], Out There): Singer-songwriter originally from Oklahoma, cut an obscure album I liked a lot in 1988, a few more of note after that, but never became big enough for this to qualify as "odds and sods" -- more like a slow-gestating next album. Several striking songs ranging from the Donner Family to antihistamines to Warren Smith, packed with spooky aura to fill out the four tracks. A-

Carolina Chocolate Drops: Leaving Eden (2011 [2012], Nonesuch): Trio, inspired by the black string bands of the 1920s, with banjo and fiddle, and mostly old-time songs that don't sound so old-timey, perhaps because the band feels free to build on them without hewing to convention or stereotype. This does jump around a lot, the various looks not quite cohering although there are remarkable bits -- not least Rhiannon Giddens' acapella closer ("Pretty Bird"), not that you'd want many more like that. B+(***)

Chiddy Bang: Breakfast (2012, Virgin): Philadelphia hip-hop duo, Chidera "Chiddy" Anamerge and Noah "Xaphoon Jones" Beresin; the former held the Guinness record for longest freestyle rap, but this is pretty tight, playing both sides of the underground/pop divide, the latter with sampled choruses and even some Nelly "oohs" on top of deft rhymes. One song identifies with U. Penn, enough to suggest they're the reason Rick Santorum doesn't want the youth of America to go to college. Actually, they went to Drexel. A-

Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory (2012, Carpark): Guitar-bass-drums band from Cleveland, has a lo-fi garage sound, a slightly squeak voice in Dylan Baldi. They can tighten up tunes, or break out a bit, and the more you play it the more they turn their ordinary skills into something impressive, albeit limited. Second or third album, give or take an EP -- which this one barely exceeds: eight songs, 33:47. B+(***)

Coldplay: Mylo Xyloto (2011, Parlophone): Arena-level band, dominated by Chris Martin's piano and given to soaring space pop -- something I've often found myself enjoying, although I can't recall them ever hitting so many sour notes before, or just getting on my nerves. B-

Chick Corea/Eddie Gomez/Paul Motian: Further Explorations (2010 [2012], Concord, 2CD): The bassist and drummer suggest that Corea has developed an interest in Bill Evans, and the songlist bears that out: of 19 songs, 5 are by Evans, others are closely associated; one each is by Gomez, Motian, and Scott LaFaro, and Corea wrote an original called "Bill Evans" (one of three, plus a group credit). Of course, this doesn't much sound like Evans: Corea is an incurably extroverted player so this has a brashness to it you almost never got with Evans. But, like his Bud Powell project from a while back, this does bring Corea back to his jazz focus. B+(**)

Dion: Tank Full of Blues (2012, Blue Horizon): Smart move, refashioning himself as a blues singer since 2005's Bronx in Blue, much as he turned into a folksinger in the 1960s when doo wop went out of fashion and Bob Dylan came in. B+(**)

Escort: Escort (2011 [2012], Tirk): Brooklyn disco group, principally Dan Balis and Eugene Cho with a live and that grows to 17 members. First album after singles and remixes going back to 2006. Leads off with a Kid Creole move, but that's only one of many rips they know. Nearly every song got sharper on the second play, and I could imagine dancefloor exposure bringing them home. B+(***)

Jay Farrar/Will Johnson/Anders Parker/Yim Yames: New Multitudes (2012, Rounder): Lyrics by Woody Guthrie, whose name looms larger on the cover than the artists who had to write some music to give the songs life -- Farrar best known for Uncle Tupelo, Johnson for Centro-Matic, Yames (as Jim James) for My Morning Jacket. They go for a country rock sound with extra guitar overhang -- that seems to be Parker's specialty. B+(**)

First Aid Kit: The Lion's Roar (2012, Wichita): Two sisters, Johanna and Klara Soderberg, from Sweden, dabble in Americana -- been described as "the Swedish answer to the Pierces," speaking of questions you never would have thought to ask. The harmonies are rich at first, then overly so. And they don't always stay in character, and can get real lost when they don't. B-

Galactic: Carnivale Electricos (2012, Epitaph): New Orleans jazz-funk-jam band, about a dozen albums since 1996, first I've heard. Some zydeco samples (or guests) shuffled into the heavy funk beats, as well as various Nevilles and Mystikal. The guests offer some variation to the loud, monotonous beat but not much more. B

Charles Gayle Trio: Streets (2011 [2012], Northern Spy): Tenor saxophonist, former street busker, found God through Ayler and carried on the flame, now into his 70s. Trio with Larry Roland on bass and Michael T.A. Thompson on drums. He always runs the risk that his discordance will blur into one long shmear, but he sticks to basics here, as clear and forceful and transcendental as anything he's done in many years. A-

Grimes: Visions (2012, 4AD): Singer-songwriter from Vancouver, Claire Boucher, based in Montreal, self-released two cassettes in 2010, debuts on a well-distributed label. Music electronic, choppy but soft-edged, with thin, high vocals adding to the effect, for now a bit distant. B+(*)

Himanshu: Nehru Jackets (2012, Greedhead): Aka Heems, of Das Racist, with one of three mixtapes reportedly spawned by the combine this year -- the only one people talk much about, probably because it's got the whole package going for it, including the denser song the progression of Das Racist tapes has been aiming toward. Plus more cameos -- not necessarily a plus, but seems to be part of the cost of fame. A- [dl]

Homeboy Sandman: Subject: Matter (2012, Stones Throw, EP): Six songs, 22:08, claims his songs break new ground for hip-hop, and there's something to that -- "Canned Goods" is not just about charity but about making charity work. Some of the rhymes appear forcibly twisted, but he finds rhythm in that. B+(***)

Homeboy Sandman: The Good Sun (2010, High Water Music): Full-length debut, opposite problem of the EP: way too much stuff to sort through, at least with the attention span I'm stuck with here. Beats are tight, rhymes can feel forced, but any given couplet is likely to register. B+(***)

Hospitality: Hospitality (2012, Merge): Brooklyn band, had an eponymous EP in 2008 and now comes out with an LP with the same name. Amber Papini sings, plays guitar, gets her name on all the songs along with the band's name. Guitar band, but takes a surprising turn here and there. Ten songs, 32.53. B+(*)

Imperial Teen: Feel the Sound (2012, Merge): Possibly the most consistent alt-rock group to emerge in the 1990s, partly because they take their time -- this is only their fifth studio album since 1996. Male and female harmonies, gives them a light sound with some snap and depth. Still don't quite feel it all, but the front-loaded fast ones snapped in on the second play, and I wouldn't bet against this growing. B+(***)

Ital: Hive Mind (2012, Planet Mu): Electronica from Daniel Martin-McCormick, debut as Ital but has worked through several other aliases/groups. First piece works off a repeated title riff of "Don't Matter (If You Love Him)" for ten minutes; the rest dispenses with the vocals, keeping tight beats with an underwater feel. B+(***)

K'Naan: More Beautiful Than Silence (2012, Octone, EP): Somali-Canadian rapper with some stopgap product -- five songs, 19:08 -- three years after his second terrific album dropped. Nelly Furtado helps on the opener. The optimism of "Coming to America" ("I hope we're going to have a really good time") strikes me as misplaced, and the rest has yet to add up. B+(*)

Lambchop: Mr. M (2012, Merge): Nashville band, albeit securely ensconsed in the commercial netherworld, even after a dozen albums and countless ephemera. Kurt Wagner is the mainstay, opting for a low-key ballad groove, framed initially by movie music strings, all very noir. Wonder if the storytelling fleshes out the mood music? B+(*)

Mark Lanegan Band: Blues Funeral (2012, 4AD): Ex-front man of Screaming Trees, a 1980s group I never bothered with until way too late, his solo career starting in 1990 before the band expired in 2000. As straightforward as its blues reference suggests, his voice haunting, best suited for dirges which can go loud like "Quiver Syndrome" or soft like "Harborview Hospital" but "Tiny Grain of Truth" makes me wonder about even that. B

Kellie Pickler: 100 Proof (2011 [2012], BNA): Finished 6th place on American Idol, generally the kiss of death, but went country, listened hard to Tammy Wynette, picked up Miranda Lambert's producer and a whole lot of pedal steel guitar, and stuck close enough to neotrad convention that her third album sounds real fine, even if the depth of her sass doesn't extend much beyond "stop cheating on me/or I'll start cheating on you." B+(**)

Prinzhorn Dance School: Clay Class (2012, DFA): A husand-wife duo, Suzi Horn and Tobin Prinz, although sources also cite Dr. Hans Prinzhorn as a name source. Second album. He plays drums and takes most of the vocal leads, while she sketches out bass lines that recall, in vastly simplified form, Gang of Four, New Order, Cabaret Voltaire (especially), while they nail their clinical dance vibe precisely. A-

School of Seven Bells: Ghostory (2012, Vagrant): Electropop group, formerly with the Deheza twin sisters harmonizing, now with just Alejandra Deheza. Something of a loss, although the churning beats of "When You Sing" make up lost ground. B+(*)

Skrillex: Bangarang (2011 [2012], Big Beat/Atlantic, EP): Sonny Moore, has several previous EPs, seems to prefer the short form perhaps because it would be hard to handle anything hour-long that's this loud and cartoon loopy. This one ran seven songs, 30:08, when it came out as digital on Dec. 27, but the CD adds a 6:54 bonus track: "Skrillex Orchestral Suite by Varien" -- trips my classical gag reflex from the start, although I'm half-tempted to find humor in it somewhere. But then I'm less amused by his other excesses. B

Sleigh Bells: Reign of Terror (2012, Mom + Pop Music): Duo: Derek Miller writes songs and Alexis Krauss sings them. Second album, not as consistent as Treats because they're trying more different things, starting with a bit of live "True Shred Guitar," winding on between pop and metal, thin and brittle, the pop hooks buried waiting for fans to dig them out. B+(***)

Ringo Starr: Ringo 2012 (2012, Hip-O): The slightest Beatle, not that George and Paul didn't wind up making it a race to the bottom, but he's been steadily productive, with 20-some records over 40-some years. Not that he works hard: nine songs including two covers and co-authors on the rest, lots of friends to lend a party atmosphere not to mention Beatles-y guitar licks. The drumming and extra percussion, at least, is his signature -- good to hear, but even that wears thin, even over 28:50. C+

Tennis: Young & Old (2012, Fat Possum): Husband-wife duo from Denver (Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley), plus a drummer (good move, that). Second album. She does most of the singing, and he keeps up their jangly guitar sound. B+(*)

The 2 Bears: Be Strong (2012, Southern Fried): UK duo -- Joe Goddard (of Hot Chip) and Raphael Rundell (aka Raf Daddy) -- on their first album after three EPs last year. Synthbeats and synth horns, leans heavily on Jamaica without falling into a dub pit. Neither singer has much, but they sweeten up in harmony, and "Time in Mind" opens up so nicely I looked up the credit (but didn't find one). B+(*)

Sharon Van Etten: Tramp (2010-11 [2012], Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter from New Jersey with a stop in Tennessee; has a bit of a folkie rep I don't hear, but when the roots get this turgid you lose interest in sorting them out. Sometimes I get the feeling of Kate Bush trapped in Stuart Dempster's echo chamber: dub without any step. B-

Wire: The Black Session: Paris, 10 May 2011 (2011 [2012], Pink Flag): Live, not vintage enough to be part of their bootlegs series. I don't know their songbook well enough to be able to pick out what comes from where, how much is new (or at least recent), etc., but sonically they jump around the eras, the denser the better. After getting more applause than seems warranted for "Red Barked Trees" (title song from their latest), they launch into a 10:48 "Pink Flag" (title song from their first), which doesn't leave me missing their lost brevity. B+(*)

Betty Wright and the Roots: Betty Wright: The Movie (2011, S-Curve): A minor soul singer who broke in young but late in 1968 and has little to show since 1993 gets a revival in a soundtrack tie-in. Not sure whether this is all new, although the rap refrains thrown in by her backing band must be, and the band can do retro on demand. Runs long, stretching 14 songs to 77:41. B+(**)

Zola Jesus: Conatus (2011, Sacred Bones): Nika Roza Danilova, b. 1989 in Wisconsin, has a couple albums and/or EPs -- sometimes hard to tell. Also has a voice that portends gloom, and a drumbeat that defies it, an effective combination. B+(*)


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

  • Chicago Underground Duo: Age of Energy (2012, Northern Spy)
  • Field Music: Plumb (2012, Memphis Industries)
  • Paul McCartney: Kisses on the Bottom (2012, Hear Music)

Also, from way back:

Revised Grades

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:

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Cannonball Adderley with Bill Evans: Know What I Mean? (1961 [2011], Riverside/OJC): Starts with solo piano, then Adderley's alto sax enters in a warm rush; with Percy Heath and Connie Kay, who (unlike Paul Motian) wouldn't dream of tripping the leaders up: the result is that the oft-introspective pianist flows exuberantly -- needless to say, so does Cannonball. A-

Chet Baker: It Could Happen to You: Chet Baker Sings (1958 [2010], Riverside/OJC): Either you're touched by the poignant pathos in Baker's voice or repulsed; he has no range, scant command of nuance, and no tricks up his sleeve (other than his plaintive trumpet, rarely in evidence here), but for once he is utterly at ease with the melodies: try the bonus "You Make Me Feel So Young" -- probably cut from the original album because he sounds so skillful. B+(**)

Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers: Ugetsu (1963 [2011], Riverside/OJC): Live at Birdland, with one of Blakey's strongest lineups: Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, and Reggie Workman, stretched out on CD from 6 to 10 tracks; lots of energy, but the sound could be clearer, and they ramble a bit. B+(**)

Ornette Coleman: Something Else!!!! (1958 [2011], Contemporary/OJC): With his white plastic alto sax, scratch tone, and knack for breaking the rules and making them work, Coleman's debut album portends the shape to come, but the piano has yet to make the break and seems out of place -- despite the impressive chops Walter Norris brings to the job; easy to underrate compared to what he did in the next two years, or to overrate it if you look for prophecy. B+(***)

Miles Davis/Sonny Rollins: Dig (1951 [2010], Prestige/OJC): Davis's first album for Prestige, "featuring" Rollins -- released as a 10-inch at the time, reissued as an LP in 1956, with two bonus cuts added to the 1991 CD; he was 25 at the time, Rollins 21, and unherald Jackie McLean 19; basic bebop, most a dense thrash of rhythm with long, fast horn runs; the slower ones more articulate. B+(**)

Bill Evans Trio: Explorations (1961 [2011], Riverside/OJC): Piano trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, the studio record before the trio's justly famous Village Vanguard records; scattered covers, sometimes remarkable, more often (to me, at least) inscrutable. B+(***)

Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson: Ella and Oscar (1975 [2011], Pablo/OJC): An inevitable pairing as Norman Granz tries to extend his old label magic into his new label; Peterson is personable as always, and Fitzgerald knows her songbook, but this doesn't quite mesh. B+(*)

Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass: Easy Living (1986 [2011], Pablo/OJC): Guitarist Pass produce a widely acclaimed solo album in 1973 called Virtuoso, and he worked that title to death in subsequent years, but he just adds frosting here -- Fitzgerald is the real virtuoso, standing nearly every song up, her timing and phrasing impeccable. B+(***)

Vince Guaraldi Trio: Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (1962 [2010], Fantasy/OJC): Front cover has the hit song "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" in larger type than the title, and indeed the melody jumps right out at you; otherwise the piano trio's impressions make for minor pleasures, like the slightly oblique "Moon River." B+(**)

René Marie: Vertigo (2001, MaxJazz): Jazz singer, wrote 3 of 11 songs here. Didn't start until in her 40s, but she's brimming with poise and savvy, nailing songs from "Dem Dere Eyes" to "Blackbird" with original turns, scatting effectively, slotting in choice bits of Jeremy Pelt trumpet, Chris Potter sax, and John Hart guitar without losing her command. Only the title song overreaches, otherwise you wouldn't suspect that she has any limits. She got in trouble some years later slipping "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" into the middle of "The Star Spangled Banner" -- an idea that must have come natural after her mash-up of "Dixie" and "Strange Fruit" here. A-

Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Alone in San Francisco (1959 [2011], Riverside/OJC): Solo piano, something I've never got the hang of with Monk, probably because I expect that any pianist who would try such a thing must at least use both hands, preferably with a little extra on the left; the dissonances in Monk's original pieces create their own rhythm, especially on an opening "Blue Monk" that holds up especially well, but the most distinct thing about his covers is their simplicity. B+(**)

Wes Montgomery: Boss Guitar (1963 [2010], Riverside/OJC): With Mel Rhyne on organ and Jimmy Cobb on drums, your basic Montgomery album with his sweet, slick guitar turned inward, not nearly as imposing as the title proposes. B+(**)

Clark Terry Quintet: Serenade to a Bus Seat (1957, Riverside/OJC): After duty with both Basie and Ellington, a straight hard bop set with one of the era's premier rhythm sections -- Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums -- and the ever-combative Johnny Griffin on tenor sax; Terry holds his own, and shines on "Stardust" when Griffin lays out. B+(***)

Cal Tjader/Stan Getz: Sextet (1958 [2011], Fantasy/OJC): With Eddie Duran's guitar and Tjader's Latin vibes, this anticipates Getz's 1964 foray into bossa nova -- again, the sax seems lighter than air, floating away from the bubbly percussion and slinky guitar. B+(***)

McCoy Tyner: Horizon (1979 [1980], Milestone): Fast, not least the piano leads, but excessively fleshed out with two saxes or flutes (George Adams and Joe Ford), John Blake's violin, and Guilherme Franco's congas; sweeps you away at first, but grows tiresome by the end. B

Betty Wright: I Love the Way You Love (1972, Alston): Soul singer from Miami on her second album, just 19 but a seasoned pro -- joined her family gospel group at 3 and picked her stage name at 11 -- with her biggest hit ("Clean Up Woman") behind her, but close enough she recaps it here. 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