Rhapsody Streamnotes: April 10, 2012

Raw numbers are up, as is the A-list: for one thing, more jazz is showing up here because it's not showing up in my mail box (although I did score the Scheinman after the review). Slow getting to the two choice underground hip-hop items (Jason Gubbels nabbed both before me). The Soriano isn't out yet, but will be later this month, and I've been sitting on a finished copy for a long time now. Tried to get a copy of Kevn Kinney but got no response: seems to me like Rhapsody screwed up, but could just be the record.

After doing the indexes, I see that the total number of records reviewed since I started Rhapsody Streamnotes has topped 2,500 -- 2,518 to be precise. Quite a resource for expanding the breadth of what I hear, even if it also means shallowing the depth.

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 March 6. Past reviews and more information are available here.

Balkan Beat Box: Give (2012, Nat Geo Music): New York group, principally Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat, describes their music as "Mediterranean-influenced" although Eastern Europe and Middle East are more like it, pumped up with beatbox electronics. The beats win out here, so much so they can slack off and still lead, framing themes like "Political Fuck" and "Money" that lack the simplicity to become anthems but are no less pointed. B+(***)

BBU!: Bell Hooks (2012, Mishka): Chicago crew (Epic, Illekt, Jasson Perez, DJ Esquire), mixed by DJ Benzi, initials stand for Black, Brown, and Ugly, or Bin Laden Blowin! Up, or something like that. Beats rock, fast and hard but nice and regular, the words just flying off, dissing gangsta, denying star ambition, rubbing in some politics, also some party-time "woo woo" background. The "feat." from Das Racist is another clue. A- [bc]

Dierks Bentley: Home (2012, Capitol Nashville): Country singer, from Tempe, AZ; attended fancy East Coast prep schools, then settled into Nashville at Vanderbilt. Sixth album since 2003, pretty conventional, but makes a virtue out of it -- especially on the long, slow "Thinking of You." B+(*)

Andrew Bird: Break It Yourself (2012, Mom + Pop Music): Singer-songwriter, from Chicago, has been prolific since 1996, first instrument was violin although he probably plays more guitar now, knows his way around classical and jazz and folk and blues without showing much evidence of any of those. Thoughtful songs, likable for sure, nothing to get excited about. B+(**)

Blu: NoYork! (2011, New World Color): Los Angeles rapper, Johnson Barnes, started with an EP in 2003 and has cranked out a huge pile of material since 2008, none of it even remotely aboveground. Several rhythm tracks here veer toward incoherent, but he's just playing with you, going for a skewed vibe giving you a slice of life in a different light. Dozens of guests and nearly as many producers shift in and out. A- [bc]

Blu: No York E Mo Work (Rmx Z 1.3) (2012, download): Remixes 9 of 17 tracks from NoYork!, the cover replacing a natural disaster with a man-made one. The added sounds obscure the charms of the original while tripping over the tricky parts. Like the towers you expect the whole edifice to crumble in the end. B [bc]

Eric Bobo/Latin Bitman: Welcome to the Ritmo Machine (2011, Nacional): Bobo comes out of rap group Cypress Hill. Bitman is a DJ from Chile. Beats first, raps in Spanish are beats too; same with the less frequent English. B+(**)

Brother Ali: The Bite Marked Heart (2012, Rhymesayers, EP): Seven cut EP, 27:26, free download dropped as a Valentine's Day special. Nice, easy, steady vibe. B+(*)

Burial: Kindred (2012, Hyperdub, EP): English techno of some sort -- AMG's stylings of garage and dubstep don't begin to get at the collage mixup of voices and occasional horn samples, not to mention the underwater beats and vinyl noise. Two albums 2006-07, since then a DJ-Kicks and some EPs. This one runs three cuts, 30:45; substantial enough to allay my anti-EP prejudice, but I'm still on the fence -- this can be mesmerizing but not consistently, and it isn't big fun. Perhaps I should get hold of the LP everyone loves, Untrue, and reboot? B+(***)

Joe Cocker: Hard Knocks (2010 [2012], 429 Records): A succés d'estime as one of the few post-Elvis intrepretive rock singers, at least from 1969-72, after which no one much cared. Still, he's cranked out a new record every couple years since -- the biggest gap I see in his discography was 1978-82, and he's rarely waited more than two years. Still has enough voice to keep it out front ahead of the orchestras and gospel choirs and whatever, but producer Matt Serletic's songs (5 of 11) have never been and never will be standards, so what's to interpret? B-

Corrosion of Conformity: Corrosion of Conformity (2012, Candlelight): Punk-metal fusion band from North Carolina, cut seven albums 1983-96, a couple more up to 2005, so this is a comeback bid, same lineup as 1985. The chunky rhythm keeps this listenable, and the hoarse vocal snarl keeps it unintelligible, which is probably for the best. B

Die Antwoord: Tension (2012, Zef): South African rap group, second album up here, quite possibly as ignorant and crass as their detractors claim -- crass seems to be a given, and the skits are plenty creepy, but I can't help but enjoy "I Fink You Freeky" and more. Does help to get rid of the '$' fetish. B+(*)

Dr. Dog: Be the Void (2012, Anti-): Journeyman group, seems like they're reaching more for significance after nearly a decade when rocksteady sufficed -- "Lonesome," they call it. B+(*)

Dr. John: Locked Down (2012, Nonesuch): Word, attested to by the cover headdress, is that this represents the Doctor's return to the Nite Tripper gris-gris of the late 1960s. Word is partly right, in that this is both harder and denser than he's played in decades -- just not more fun. B+(**)

Craig Finn: Clear Heart Full Eyes (2012, Full Time Hobby): First solo album from the leader of Hold Steady (and before that Lifter-Puller), the main difference being that he has less volume and less rhythmic drive pulling his songs forward, which makes their frequent Jesus references -- a pervasive force in his song world, a crutch and a comrade -- stand out peculiarly. And what redeems them isn't faith much less glory. More like their human frailty. B+(***)

Melanie Fiona: The MF Life (2012, Universal Republic): Surname Hallim, from Toronto, parents immigrated from Guyana, second album: a credible r&b diva until a song called "Change the Record" comes on and makes you want to. B+(*)

Fun.: Some Nights (2012, Fueled by Ramen): Indie pop outfit formed by veterans of Format, Steel Train, and Jellyfish -- doesn't mean anything to me, either. Second studio album, some catchy tunes turning on the drum mix (cf. "All Alone"), but while "It Gets Better" may be well-intentioned I doubt it's true. B

Gangrene: Vodka & Ayahuasca (2012, Decon): Side project from producer Alan Maman, best known as The Alchemist, with rapper Oh No (b. Michael Jackson, son of Otis Jackson, nephew of Jon Faddis). Dense, dirty, a bit drug-addled (one title: "Livers for Sale"), although I couldn't follow it close enough to sort out the details. B+(***)

Robert Glasper Experiment: Black Radio (2012, Blue Note): Major label pianist, got a lot of hype early on as the guy who could bridge hip-hop and jazz. I don't doubt his chops, but I also don't think he's ever made either term in the equation work. Still, he gets some mileage here, almost by not trying: he offers simple settings for a dozen featured vocalists, mostly soft soul crooners of both sexes, Lupe Fiasco and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) the lone rappers, and the softer the better. B+(*)

Kevin Gordon: Gloryland (2011 [2012], Crowville Media): Singer-songwriter from Louisiana, which slots him into Americana if not quite country. Songs are plain-felt and -spoken, so self-effacing he can't turn the title song into an anthem; guitar has some resonnance, and he loosens up with ZZ Top. B+(*)

The Habit: Lincoln Has Won (2010 [2011], Reel to Reel): Brooklyn band, aiming for all Americana, with credible songs about "Cowboys and Canyons" and "Wild Wild West." Three singers -- would like to hear the woman (Siobhan Glennon) more: she takes the lead on "War Is Done," which should have been a hit. B+(***) [cd]

Charlie Haden/Hank Jones: Come Sunday (2010 [2012], Emarcy): Bass-piano duets, one of the last things Jones did before death caught up with him at 91, a sequel fifteen years after their superb Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns and Folk Songs. Pretty straightforward, with no interest in shaking things up. Sentimental, sure. B+(*)

Beth Jeans Houghton & the Hooves of Destiny: Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose (2012, Mute): Brit singer-songwriter, from Newcastle Upon Tyne, describes herself as an "anti-folk songstress." I've also seen her pegged as punk -- she does, after all, have a song that ends, "fuck off" -- but the word that occurs to me is baroque, what with all the fiddles and choppy birdy voices. B

I See Hawks in L.A.: New Kind of Lonely (2012, Western Seeds): Country-ish group from L.A., which has a legacy of such, ranging from the Flying Burrito Brothers to the Eagles, although this group has nowhere near the ego to scrap in that company. This one is done simple, acoustic in a circle, the harmonies inexpert but the songs observed, with twang. B+(*)

King Midas Sound: Without You (2011, Hyperdub): A project of Kevin Martin, aka The Bug, with London/Trinidad poet Roger Robinson and Japanese singer Kiki Hitomi, previously on an interesting 2009 album called Waiting for You. Same or similar song titles reworked here by Kuedo, Flying Lotus, Gang Gang Dance, Hype Williams, Kode 9, Maia, and a few others I don't much recognize. Less focused than the original, as usual. B+(*)

Kevn Kinney: A Good Country Mile (2012, self-released): Frontman for the Georgia band Drivin' n' Cryin' since 1985, branched out three albums in with a solo album in 1990, staggered them for the rest of the decade, leaning more toward his solo career from 2000 on. I gather his solo albums tend more roosty-acoustic, but this one is backed by Anton Fier's Golden Palominos -- Fier even co-wrote five songs -- who get to rev guitars like Lynyrd Skynyrd, except on two slower pieces where the leader holds his own. [NB: Rhapsody has about a minute where a high volume drum riff sounds stuck; disconcerting and annoying. Docked a notch for that, but will try to check further.] B+(***)

La Sera: Sees the Light (2012, Hardly Art): Branching out project by Vivian Girls bassist Katy Goodman: rock but doesn't rock hard, pop but doesn't hook tight, safely in between almost any set of qualifiers you can come up with, doesn't sound bad but then I've already forgotten what it sounds like. B

Lyle Lovett: Release Me (2011 [2012], Lost Highway): Eleven covers, starting with a trad instrumental, plus three Lovett songs, none especially fresh, fashioned as a label kiss-off. As an interpretive singer, he makes more out of "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" than "Baby, It's Cold Outside," let alone "White Boy Lost in the Blues," but he takes them all slow enough to stretch out to 51:55, a slow burn that picks up late on "White Freightliner Blues" then drops dead on the closer. B+(*)

Madonna: MDNA (2012, Interscope): New label, moving past her new ex-husband, she's focusing on arena dance anthems again, and she comes up with more than she has since, well, Music (2000) at least. Tails off toward the end, which suggests no need to bother with the "Deluxe Edition" -- I wouldn't mind losing "Falling Free" either. A-

The Magnetic Fields: Love at the Bottom of the Sea (2012, Merge): Stephin Merritt's band/vehicle offers fifteen more love songs, as perfunctory as the famous 69 Love Songs, but with extra percussion. I still find him too arch to be seductive, let alone sexy, but he's catchy enough to be a tease, and make you wonder past your initial doubts. B+(***)

Spoek Mathambo: Father Creeper (2012, Sub Pop): South African rapper, or so they say -- the guitars can sound like they could belong to any old alt/indie band on the label, but this also falls into keyb-dominated sloughs. Also, he sings more than he raps. One song did catch my ear: "Grave." B [Later: B+(***)]

The Men: Open Your Heart (2012, Sacred Bones): Brooklyn post-punk group, second album, patently generic name -- -- at least it's less ironic than Girls. They go acoustic on one song but can't think of a better title than "Candy" ("Ripped From CCR" occurs to me). After a screecher they just walk a lead riff for three minutes before adding some vocal dirge -- liked that intro better. B+(**)

Monolake: Ghosts (2012, Imbalance Computer Music): Berlin-based group, principally Robert Henke, with ten albums since 1997, utilizing some custom hardware Henke developed. Stays within a narrow range of beats, moderately paced, offset enough to keep your interest. Quite pleasing, really, although it also seems so easy you wonder how this fits into their oeuvre, and whether it is in any way distinct. Something to hedge for now, study later. B+(***)

The New Trio [Günter Baby Sommer/Floros Floridis/Akira Ando]: Melting Game (2010 [2011], Jazzwerkstatt): Floridis, from Greece with a discography going back to the early 1980s, plays alto sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet, so figure this as an avant-sax trio. Bassist Ando is from Japan, passed through New York in the late 1980s, recorded with William Parker and Billy Bang, and wound up in Berlin. The German drummer goes back further and is better known. But this is no blow out. The trio establishes their balance early, then toward the end picks up a little groove -- if not a tango, then something comparably seductive. A-

Nneka: Soul Is Heavy (2012, Decon): Born in Nigeria, based in Germany, sings (and sometimes raps) mostly in English, fourth album, draws on reggae and hip-hop and I'm not sure what else, breaking new ground here. B+(***)

Odd Future: The Odd Future Tape Vol. 2 (2012, Odd Future): LA collective, dropped their WGKTA (Wolf Gang Kill Them All), probably after being advised of their fifth amendment rights. Despite their rep as a collective, their group thing breaks down to featured individuals, and therein lies the rub. Best known and most distinctive artists here are Frank Ocean, a singer of exceptional subtlety and taste, and Tyler, the Creator, some kind of moron. B-

Jimmy Owens: The Monk Project (2011 [2012], IPO): Trumpet player from the Bronx, has a few 1968-78 records that aren't all that well regarded but somehow wound up arranging a bunch of Monk tunes into what sounds like a New Orleans tailgate party. All of the horns swagger, with Owens bouncing off Marcus Strickland featured on tenor sax, but especially the bottom dwellers: Wycliffe Gordon on trombone and Howard Johnson on baritone sax and tuba. B+(***)

Evan Parker/Zlatko Kaucic: Round About One O'Clock (2009 [2011], Not Two): Live at the 50th Jazz Festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia -- presumably where drummer Kaucic is from. Parker dedicates the record to fellow avant-saxophonist Mike Osborne, who died in 2007. He runs through long and intricate lines -- trademark stuff, especially the circular breathing. B+(**)

Perfume Genius: Put Your Back N 2 It (2012, Matador): Mike Hadreas, from Seattle, second album, has a penchant for slow, soft-toned sulks with a fuzzy aura to pretty them up. Captivating, as such things go. B

Punch Brothers: Who's Feeling Young Now? (2012, Nonesuch): Considered bluegrass mostly because leader Chris Thile plays mandolin, abetted by Noam Pikelny on banjo, Gabe Witcher on violin, plus guitar and bass but no drums. Considered "progressive bluegrass" because they don't sound like bluegrass. Took their name from a Mark Twain story, so seems fair to ascribe literary ambitions. I never could stand to read Twain myself, not that my inability should suggest that they might really have something in mind. B

Frankie Rose: Interstellar (2012, Slumberland): Singer-songwriter, came up as a drummer in Shitstorm, Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and Crystal Stilts. Has a previous album as Frankie Rose and the Outs, but plays this one inside, with moderately toned vocals surrounded by an aura of synthy echo. Could use a drummer. B

Jenny Scheinman: Mischief & Mayhem (2010 [2012], self-released): Violinist, has done striking work in the past and returns to form here. String-focused group, with Nels Cline on guitar, Todd Sickafoose on bass, and Jim Black on drums. Faster pieces take off, sometimes with bluegrass and sometimes with rock feel; slower ones open up and enjoy the atmosphere. A- [cd]

Shearwater: Animal Joy (2012, Sub Pop): Rock group, spun off from Okkervil River but not up to six albums. Big sound, better than I expected but not something I have any real interest in. That happens on this watch. B

The Shins: Port of Morrow (2012, Columbia): A huge alt/indie rock band at least for their 2001-03 albums, with only a 2007 effort between now and then. They're still big enough that Metacritic registered 30 reviews as of release date -- possibly the most of any new record this year (Springsteen and Guided by Voices have 34 and 33 respectively in my data file, but both were re-checked after their debut date) -- but the score is a relatively modest 71 (but Pitchfork still loves them). They have a sweet pop sound and good sense for hooks, backed by the usual guitar power. I'm not indifferent, but I'm not quite smitten either. B+(*)

Todd Snider: Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables (2012, Aimless/Thirty Tigers): Starts with two pointed political songs, the topical one meant to contextualize why New York bankers aren't just clever bastards, the other wondering why "we still need religion to keep the poor from killing the rich." Then he reaches for a Jimmy Buffett cover that extends the vibe without making his head hurt. If he was thinking more clearly, he'd see that it isn't envy of people having too much shit that drives the poor against the rich. It's injustice: the sense that the rich are free to live in ways the poor cannot. When you hear conservatives moan about this or that assault on freedom, they mean on their freedom, and you should ask free to do what, and to whom. A [cd]

Joan Soriano: La Familia Soriano (2012, IASO): A "bachatero" -- a guitarist and singer from the Dominican Republic where the shantytown music is called bachata. Has a previous album (El Duque de la Bachata) that promoted him above the names that fill up the compilation lists, and is even more impressive here -- partly because his sisters Nelly and Griselda take most of the vocal leads giving the affair pop/dance élan, but the contrast deepens the soulfulness of his leads, and his guitar carries it all along. A- [cd]

Esperanza Spalding: Radio Music Society (2012, Heads Up): Bassist, sings in a little girl voice that is thankfully free of gospel inflection, a combination that seems to have enormous appeal -- I felt the tug myself on her first two albums, but had to admit the music didn't deliver much. Then she won a Grammy on her third -- a dud if I've ever heard one -- and now it's gone to her head (or at least her producer's). Pianist Leo Genevese is her only steady companion, with drums split between Terri Lyne Carrington, Jack DeJohnette, and Billy Hart. The American Music Program (Big Band) appears on three cuts -- overstuffed when you look at the credits, underwhelming on wax. Plus scads of guests on one or two cuts each -- I won't bother listing them, since they're all pretty much wasted. B-

Speech Debelle: Freedom of Speech (2012, Big Dada): Soft-spoken Brit rapper, Jamaican descent, original name Corynne Elliot, has a couple albums and a Mercury Prize. When you just get satisfied with her easy flow, she picks up the beat. B+(**)

Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball (2012, Columbia): Possibly his most political album, certainly his most polemical, and just as likely hise most obvious -- "Swallowed Up (In the Belly of the Whale)" is given its most literal treatment possible, seguing into the immigrant anthem "American Land" set to an Irish jig. Big gestures, big sound, just contained enough to acknowledge the energy crunch, a future not just greener but grayer. His early albums pumped up American myth so grotesquely it's not surprising that he believed in it. I prefer this scaled down version: his champions always insisted his integrity would prevail, and strangely enough it has. A-

Pete Swanson: Man With Potential (2011, Type): From Portland, OR, previously one-half of Yellow Swans, something of an experimental electronic noise band. Same deal here, with long stretches of repetitive patterns working sounds that are just on the cusp of being unpleasant -- especially the high-pitched warbles (good thing there are no dogs in the house). B+(*)

Tanlines: Mixed Emotions (2012, True Panther Sounds): Brooklyn duo: Jesse Cohen (drums), Eric Emm (guitar, vocals), some synths somewhere. Dance music, within its rather narrow niche, with no special wit but pleasant enough. B

THEESatisfaction: Awe Naturale (2012, Sub Pop): More capitalization nonsense, from a Seattle duo -- Stasia Irons raps, Catherine Harris-White sings -- who got their own shot after working on Shabazz Palaces' Black Up. Has a liquid feel that blurs everything together. B+(*)

Ana Tijoux: La Bala (2012, Relativity): Born in France, her parents Chileans who fled to escape Pinochet; she returned to Chile in 2004 and established herself as a hip-hop star. In Spanish I can't begin to follow, choppy little beats with synth backdrops, strikes me as dreamy, but what do I know? B+(*)

The Unthanks: Diversions, Vol. 1: The Songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & the Johnsons (2010 [2012], Rough Trade): English folkie group, formerly Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, the simpler name more respectful to autharpist, singer, and sister Becky Unthank. Fifth album, "Live from the Union Chapel, London" on two nights, the six Antony Hegarty songs grouped up front, followed by nine songs by or associated with Wyatt (one by Anja Garbarek is from Comicopera). Antony's songs are radiantly pretty but trifling. Wyatt's are more varied and substantial, and it's interesting to hear with without his voice -- a marvel of nature, but so distinct it tends to overwhelm everything else. Applause and patter break the mood, for better or worse. B+(*)

Ken Vandermark: Mark in the Water (2010 [2011], Not Two): Another solo album: 2 cuts on clarinet, 4 each tenor sax and bass clarinet, each keyed to a legendary reed player (except for the one for bluesman Fred McDowell). The portrait of Coleman Hawkins and the piece for Joe McPhee are measured and eloquent. Some of the others -- especially the hyperventilation for Steve Lacy -- can get on your nerves. B+(*)

The Vandermark 5 [Special Edition]: The Horse Jumps/The Ship Is Gone (2009 [2010], Not Two, 2CD): After putting out a record nearly every year, the latest from Ken Vandermark's "flagship group" is a couple years old, a live double from Chicago's Green Mill, and without checking I'd say these are mostly old songs. Whether the group is defunct or just lying low, this shelf filler is pretty impressive. By "special edition," they mean that there are a couple extra musicians on stage: Magnus Broo (trumpet), and Håvard Wiik (piano) -- two/fifths of Atomic for more than a decade, veterans of various Vandermark projects, including two mash-ups between Atomic and School Days. When the noise breaks up, this can sound like one of those, but mostly it's more coherent, muscular, graceful. Dave Rempis, back to alto (and baritone) as Vandermark has reclaimed his tenor slot, is the big difference, but also Wiik is fast and clever enough to pick his way through a firestorm. A-

VCMG: Ssss (2012, Mute): Joint project of Vince Clarke (Erasure) and Martin Gore (Depeche Mode), highly agreeable synth dance beats with no vocals to strain credulity. Inspirational title: "Single Blip." Faux attempt at irony: "Skip This Track." B+(**)

Paul Weller: Sonik Kicks (2012, Island): A big deal in England, with a record damn near every year since 1992, following tours leading the Jam and the Style Council, but I've scarcely paid him any attention since the Jam's debut. This has a big beat, a flair for the dramatic, some interest as noise, but little appeal, least of all as a singer. B

Tommy Womack: There, I Said It! (2007, Cedar Creek): Singer-songwriter, started in a Kentucky rock group called Government Cheese (1985-92) -- wrote a book about them, Cheese Chronicles: The True Story of a Rock 'n' Roll Band You've Never Heard Of -- went on to the Bis-quits (1994) then landed in Nashville with a solo album in 1997, and five more since then. Title here comes from a song where he admits that he'll never be a rock star, although he holds out hope for his drummer son. B+(***)

Tommy Womack: Now What! (2012, Cedar Creek): Big step forward, not so much in the stories, which were richly detailed on the previous album, as in the way the words and music fit together. High point's "Guilty Snake Blues" which lays down dozens of clever couplets against a sax riff -- "it's been a downward spiral/and an uphill climb"; "I don't care about the facts/as long as you tell me the truth"; "you can pray for anything/but don't expect God to change his mind"; "politics bore me/let's not bring it up at all/you're either preaching to the choir/or talking to the wall." A- [cd]


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

  • The Caretaker: Patience (After Sebald) (History Always Favors the Winners)
  • Hanne Hukkelberg: Featherbrain (Propeller)
  • Karantamba: Ndigal (Teranga Beat)
  • Lapalux: When You're Gone (Brainfeeder)
  • Todd Terje: It's the Arps (Smalltown Supersound)

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:

Ruby Braff: Hi-Fi Salute to Bunny (1957, RCA): A tribute to 1930s trumpeter Bunny Berigan with clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, pianist Nat Pierce, and others, bright, richly toned, a latter-day swing classic; reissued on CD in 2007 by Mosaic Select, and now dumped out digital-only. A-

Willem Breuker & Leo Cuypers: . . . Superstars (1978, FMP): Of the Dutch avant-garde, anyway, usually heard in larger conflagrations, but just the two of them here, Breuker on various saxes and clarinets, Cuypers piano; not intimate, nor even much of a duo, the two mostly switching off like tag team wrestlers, Breuker often reaching not for the right note but the funny one, and playing two saxes simultaneously on his "Kirk" tribute. B+(***) [bc]

Alex Chilton: Free Again: The 1970 Sessions (1969 [2012], Omnivore): The missing links between the teen-pop Box Tops Chilton fronted (1967-70) and the pathbreaking new wave band Big Star (1971-75) he led, although it takes a lot of redundancy to stretch them out to CD-length. B+(**)

Günter Christmann/Detlef Schönenberg Duo: We Play (1973, FMP): Trombone player, born in Poland during the war, like Roswell Rudd in many ways, including his ability to tap into Kid Ory while playing stuff from another world: free grunge, kicked left and right by his percussionist cohort. B+(***) [bc]

Karen Dalton: 1966 (1966 [2012], Delmore Recording Society): A folksinger from Oklahoma, had an underground reputation in Greenwich Village in the 1960s, yielding only two 1969-71 albums that are treasured and not bad; these newly unearthed home recordings are a minor event, mostly trad., Tim Hardin (4), and Fred Neil (2), plus a "God Bless the Child" to test her Billie Holiday rep, pinned down by the weak sound and dynamics. B

Globe Unity Orchestra: Globe Unity 73: Live in Wuppertal (1973, FMP): Alexander von Schlippenbach's pathbreaking free jazz orchestra, ten horns -- counting Peter Kowald's tuba -- plus piano, bass and drums; I might be happier had they explored "Wolverine Blues" further -- their trad jazz deconstruction anticipated Air -- or if they dabbled more in recognizable forms, like their idea of a "Bavarian Calypso" or the march "Solidaritätslied," but there's no energy crunch here: their full bore cacophony -- Schlippenbach and Kowald are credited with "conduction," more like artillery guidance, as the "Maniacs" finale brings down the house. A- [bc]

Goldfrapp: The Singles (2000-12 [2012], Mute): A decade's worth of less-than-hit electropop, plus two spare tunes the now-former label figured they might as well use as bait -- uh, singles; I liked their 2010 album and still like its singles here, but instead of bringing the older material into focus all too often they fade into fuzzy utopian dreamscapes. B+(*)

Government Cheese: Government Cheese: 1985-1995 (1985-95 [2010], Cedar Creek, 2CD): Postpunk group from Bowling Green, KY, named for a processed cheese the USDA generated from milk price support surplus and palmed off on welfare recipients. They released an EP in 1985, another in 1987, a live LP in 1989, the inevitable eponymous album in 1992, and a single in 1995: presumably most or all of that is here, along with some miscellany -- set starts off with an unreleased cover of "People Who Died," then drops into an original that quotes Stephen Foster. I figure they were scrounging for bait, but their basic three-chord thrash holds up admirably over the long haul. Bound for obscurity, they were revived by leader Tommy Womack's book (Cheese Chronicles: The True Story of a Rock 'n' Roll Band You've Never Heard Of), a reunion based on Womack's solo career, and this compilation. I checked this out because of Womack's recent solo albums. His songcraft starts to peek through on Disc 2 with "For the Battered." B+(***)

Georg Gräwe Quintet: New Movements (1976, FMP): Pianist-led group, with trumpet, sax, bass, and drums -- no names that I instantly recognize -- in what may be his first record, more than a decade earlier than anything AMG or Discogs list; the 20-year-old pianist would have been the most unknown of the lot at the time, but he shows remarkable poise in the midst of a very lively free-for-all. B+(**) [bc]

Julius Hemphill: Dogon A.D. (1972 [1977], Arista Freedom): I've missed my chance to pick this up twice now: once in 1977 when Arista picked up the Freedom catalog and I managed to snag most of their reissues, and again last year when International Phonograph decided to make their reissue one of those limited editions that is already an out-of-print collector item -- judging from year-end polls I seem to be about the only jazz critic in the US not served with a copy, and I'm only hearing this now thanks to a reader. This was Hemphill's first album, with Baikida Carroll on trumpet, Abdul Wadud on cello, and Philip Wilson on drums. The alto sax leads a weird dance which breaks free even when the rhythm holds tight -- Wilson is especially impressive. Then they do it again with the leader on flute, even bluesier. The 2011 reissue adds a 20:07 bonus cut, "The Hard Blues," cut at the same session with baritone saxman Hamiet Bluiett added, also available on Hemphill's second album, Coon Bid'ness. A- [cdr]

Bill Hicks: Philosophy: The Best of Bill Hicks (1990-93 [2001], Rykodisc): Comedian, died in 1994 at age 32 -- pancreatic cancer, a cruel irony for a guy who spent much of his time in public extolling cigarettes and drugs. Like Lenny Bruce, he blasphemes religion and flirts with philosophy, but he tends to fall back on loud and dumb, and would rather go on about porn: the two quotes I jotted down are "all governments are cocksuckers" and "by the way, there are more dick jokes coming." Should have grabbed the one about if there are any gays dumb enough to want to join the military, power to them. B+(**)

Peter Kowald: The Complete Duos: Europa America Japan (1986-90 [2003], FMP, 2CD): The German avant-garde's premier bassist cut many duets, including three albums (Europa, America, and Japan, for where they were recorded) shuffled into two CDs here -- an initial sampler released in 1991, and a second volume in 2003; 37 cuts, ranging from 2:19 to 7:00, with 26 partners, the Berlin and New York sessions with familiar names and instruments, the Tokyo sets much less so, a peculiar form of exotica; one could whittle this down -- a first approximation would be to keep the saxes, drums, and the remarkable pianist Irène Schweizer, while dropping the vocalists and thinning out the Tokyo sessions -- but largesse is the essence here, the more contexts the bassist navigates, the more impressive. B+(***) [bc]

Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky: SelbViert (1979 [1980], FMP): Saxophonist, b. 1933 in Germany and wound up in the East after the war where he seems to have been an important figure, although the records I've noted him on have been free jazz efforts in the West, including his work with Globe Unity and Zentralquartett; this is a freewheeling quartet with Heinz Becker's trumpet bouncing off his soprano, alto, and clarinet, with Klaus Koch on bass and Günter Sommer on drums; rough at first, but one dare devil move after another works, improbably for sure. B+(***) [bc]

Michael Smith Quartet: Live in Berlin: Austin Stream (1976 [1977], FMP): A pianist from Kentucky, moved to France in 1972 and cut this and one more album before returning to the US in 1980; with Claude Bernard (alto sax), Kent Carter (bass), and Laurence Cook (drums); the saxophonist makes a strong impression, as do the piano leads. B+(**) [bc]

Günter Sommer: Hörmusik (1979 [1980], FMP): German drummer, a significant figure in the avant-garde, tries his hand at a solo album -- not all drums, but everything that doesn't go bang at least flutters and twitters; one piece, 34:49, originally split over two LP sides, now pasted back together. B+(*) [bc]

Keith Tippett & Louis Moholo: No Gossip (1980 [1982], FMP): Piano-drums duets, an intense fury of percussion from both artists, with titles suggesting the South African's politics, not that anyone here dissents. B+(***) [bc]

Tronics: Love Backed by Force (1981 [2012], What's Your Rupture?): Non-group front for a Brit named Ziro Baby, who sounds a bit like a cross between Syd Barrett and Brute Force aping the Ramones ("My Baby's in a Coma") or the Modern Lovers ("Love Tan"); tacking on the contemporaneous single "Shark Fucks" would have added to the historical import, but they settled for a straight 36:20 LP reissue. 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