Rhapsody Streamnotes: August 28, 2013

Down to 44 albums this month. Was 55 in July, 58 in May, 56 in March, 60 in January, but down in the 30s every other month this year, so I figure this for an average month -- despite the fact that damn little of interest was released in August. The vast majority of this month's load is jazz -- 34 out of 44. Some go back to 2010. I got on a kick of searching out old releases on the Not Two label, and arbitrarily slotted everything from 2010 and later here -- the rest go into Recycled Goods. The most anomalous thing about this month is the shortfall of A-list records: only two. I don't have numbers handy, but it seems like I average 6-8 per month. (Turns out that July 2012 only had 1, so this isn't even a record low month.)

Just discovered that the sequence links in the archive were broken. (Trying to figure out the above.) Got the arrows working at least, but when I tried adding text to explain the links I got the wrong answers, so will have to do some further debugging there.

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 July 27. Past reviews and more information are available here (3616 records).

Harry Allen/Rossano Sportiello/Joel Forbes: I Walk With Music: The Hoagy Carmichael Songbook (2013, GAC): Tenor sax, piano, bass, respectively, resisting the temptation to read the cover left to right (which puts the pianist first), doing thirteen standards, most well known. What you want is to just luxuriate in the warm sax, which you can, just not enough to really satisfy. B+(**)

AlunaGeorge: Body Music (2013, Island): Singer Aluna Francis and producer George Reid debut, pleasant enough dance pop. B+(*)

Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble: Songs of the Metropolis (2012 [2013], World Village): Saxophonist, also plays clarinet and accordion here, based in London, born in Israel, so disillusioned by the Jewish State that he named his group after the PLO headquarters in Al Quds. I have no idea whether his political tracts are defensible, nor any desire to enter that fray, but his music has never been tactless or guileless, so we'll stick to that. Nine songs, seven named for cosmopolitan cities of the world, the eighth "Somewhere in Italy" -- the tunes secure in their melodies and swathed in rich textures, mostly reeds and keybs, with vocal cheer for Berlin. B+(***)

David Binney: Lifted Land (2012 [2013], Criss Cross): Phenomenally talented postbop alto saxophonist, has a quartet that should push him hard -- Craig Taborn, Eivind Opsvik, Tyshawn Sorey -- but records for a label that likes to settle into the sludge at the bottom of the mainstream. It's about a draw: fun when the band gets uppity, but dull when they lay back. B+(*)

Gerald Clayton: Life Forum (2012 [2013], Concord): Pianist, plays in various family businesses (Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Band, Clayton Brothers), third album on his own. He tries a lot of things here, always sharp at piano whether he's running with a beat or crossing it, and he has good taste in horns -- Ambrose Akinmusire, Logan Richardson, Dayna Stephens. On the other hand, I don't like any of the vocal bits -- Carl Hancock Rux's spoken word, Gretchen Parlato, Sachal Vasandani, or Clayton himself, and they wreck at least four songs here. B

Alex Cline: For People in Sorrow (2011 [2013], Cryptogramophone): Drummer, has a dozen albums since 1981 but nothing that prepared me for this one. First 3:55 is spoken word, lyrics by Larry Ward, titled "A Wild Thing," mostly about nature but suggests music can be a wild thing too. The remaining 63:47 is a new version of Roscoe Mitchell's "People in Sorrow," which was originally recorded by Art Ensemble of Chicago in 1969. The ten-piece band has some heavy hitters -- Oliver Lake, Vinny Golia, Myra Melford, G.E. Stinson, Jeff Gauthier, Zeena Parkins, Mark Dresser -- plus occasional Dwight Trible vocals, and they are marvelous in spots and disturbing in others. B+(*)

Chick Corea: The Vigil (2013, Concord): Past 70 now, he's had a huge career and maintains a devoted following, but I've gotten to where I expect nothing but trash from him, not that he's always obliged. This sure doesn't look promising, with a new fusion band and a conquistador cover that brings to mind Romantic Warrior -- one of his all-time worst. Still, the young rhythm section -- Charles Altura (guitar), Hadrien Feraud (bass), Marcus Gilmore (drums) -- pounds out a sure-footed groove, and it's hard to find a fusion reeds man more tasteful than Tim Garland (whose CV includes a long stretch with Bill Buford). At least for five cuts I'm impressed: then the wife sings one, and the closer's a bit awkward. Still, neither is a major misstep. B+(**)

The Creole Choir of Cuba: Santiman (2013, Real World): Ten singers, six-to-four in favor of the women, with Haitian roots and an interesting in reviving old Hatian songs, a historical turn I have no real insight into. They can get churchy or arty, but then you hear something that clicks as a timeless folk classic, like "Panama Mwen Tombe." B+(*)

Andrew Cyrille: Duology (2012 [2013], Jazzwerkstatt): The duo here is Michael Marcus (clarinet) and Ted Daniel (trumpet) -- in fact, they recorded an album together in 2006, also called Duology, which I didn't much care for at the time. This adds not just any drummer but one of the greats: helps keep the two horns alert and engaged, safe from drifting into tedium or drowning in their own harmonics. B+(**)

Dawn of Midi: Dysnomia (2013, Thirsty Ear): Piano trio, met at CalArts, a melting pot for distant Morocco (pianist Amino Belyamani), India (bassist Aakaash Israni), and Pakistan (percussionist Qasim Naqvi). Second album, moved to the label that pioneered avant jazztronica, they respond with a set of repeating rhythmic tacks, all acoustic as far as I can tell, which may prove a bit thin in the long run, or may open up, but is pretty unique either way. B+(***)

Aaron Diehl: The Bespoke Man's Narrative (2013, Mack Avenue): Pianist, has a couple previous albums, this one is trio plus Warren Wolf added on vibes on 7 (of 10) pieces, adding something without shading the piano tone. Half originals, the better half standards. B+(*)

Disappears: Kone (2013, Kranky, EP): Chicago punk group, closed out the 10-song Lux in 29:03 but went 15:57 on the 6th (and last) song on Guider, run the title cut here 15:47, adding a 4:57 second song and a 10:17 edit on the other side, so actually this is longer than those albums. So an exercise in stretch, how unpunklike! B+(*)

Disappears: Era (2013, Kranky): OK, post-punk, the seven songs averaging 6:09 (43:02), partly because they've slowed down but mostly because they're willing to kick their lines down the road. Reminds me of how the Fall evolved, and while the singer here is already more deadpan, they got the idea. B+(**)

George Duke: Dream Weaver (2013, Heads Up): Long-time keyboard player, best known for his funk quotient but has a bit of jazz cred, mostly from way back. On the other hand, when his well-itentioned "Change the World" came on, I forgot I was listening to a record and wondered where the TV jingle came from. Died shortly after this moderately funky background music came out. Just fast forward the vocals. B-

Scott Fields Ensemble: Frail Lumber (2010 [2011], Not Two): Sort of a double string quartet, with electric guitars -- Fields and Elliott Sharp -- instead of bass or extra violin; never quite escapes my inate distaste for banked strings, but doesn't otherwise fit into the classical milieu, even post. B+(*)

The Fonda/Stevens Group: Trio + 2: Live in Katowice (2009 [2011], Not Two): Long-lived piano trio, founded in 1995 and co-led by bassist Joe Fonda and pianist Michael Jeffrey Stevens, with Harvey Sorgen on drums, playing in Poland where they picked up two saxophonists: Maciej Obara (alto), Ireneusz Wojtczak (tenor, bass clarinet); the saxes are out to make a lot of noise, which takes an interesting turn on the second cut ("Fast"), when someone sings and turns it into jump blues, but eventually this returns to thrash. B+(*)

Paulo Fresu Devil Quartet: Desertico (2012 [2013], Ota): Italian trumpet player, has a couple dozen albums but mostly on local labels that get no press elsewhere. This particular group is built around guitarist Bebo Ferra, who is not just a foil for the leader but the driving force and an eloquent soloist. B+(***) [Later: B+(*)]

Robbie Fulks: Gone Away Backward (2013, Bloodshot): Country singer, Americana division, used to have a deep drawl and weathered outlook, and the nasty-looking twister on the cover makes me expect even worse, but his picking is almost delicate, and the voice reminds me of Michael Hurley, probably because the cadences are similar. B+(**)

Vince Gill & Paul Franklin: Bakersfield (2013, MCA Nashville): Some sources list Franklin, a steel guitarist with plenty of side-credits but no previous albums, ahead of the established star but the cover at least reads as above. Ten songs, five from Merle Haggard, four Buck Owens, one Tommy Collins. Hag's are better, of course, but "Together Again," especially with all that weepy steel, is nothing to sneeze at. B+(***)

Frode Gjerstad/Paal Nilssen-Love: Gromka (2008 [2010], Not Two): Norwegian saxophonist -- a rather squeaky alto plus bass and Bb clarinet -- and drummer duo: the latter has cut a lot of sax duos, especially with Ken Vandermark, Peter Brötzmann, and Joe McPhee. This is roughly in that class, although the squeakiness may turn one off. B+(**)

Goodie Mob: Age Against the Machine (2013, The Right/Warner Brothers): Cee-Lo Green returns to his original group, coming up with something that sounds (for a while, anyway) like a mashup of Rage Against the Machine and Black-Eyed Peas, the rapid stutter CL's preferred metier. B+(*)

Wycliffe Gordon: The Intimate Ellington/Ballads and Blues (2013, Criss Cross): Trombone player, although I caught myself wondering who played that blistering trumpet solo, and that was him too -- I see that on past records he's also played tuba and didjeridu. Nine Ellington tunes, three with "blues" in the title, plus "Caravan" from Ellington's own trombonist -- can't go wrong with that. Adrian Cunningham provides the only other horn (clarinet, soprano/tenor sax), but Gordon finds yet another lead instrument in Zach Brock's violin. Dee Daniels sings "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" and duets with Gordon on "Creole Love Call." B+(***)

Derrick Hodge: Live Today (2013, Blue Note): Bassist, first album under his own name but has lots of side credits since 1998, with jazz artists like Mulgrew Miller and Robert Glasper but also with soul and hip-hop artists like Musiq, Anthony Hamilton, and Common. I don't see anything on when this was recorded, but seems like he shuffles a lot of musicians and ideas for a live set -- none of the three horns plays more than two cuts, adds a string quartet for two cuts -- so while the funk grooves are pleasant enough and I like the coffee cups, that's canceled out by the dreamy folkie shit with vocals. B

Julia Holter: Loud City Song (2013, Domino): From Los Angeles, third album, music is heavy with keybs and melodrama, plodding along. The one cover, Barbara Lewis' "Hello Stranger," is done the same way, and striking, perhaps because it has a hook to hang on. B

José James: No Beginning No End (2013, Blue Note): Jazz singer-songwriter, fourth album, has a light touch and much of this seems to get by with little more than brushes on the drums. Not finding any credits online, other than that Don Was produced and singer Emily King is featured on a couple of cuts -- I'd say she steals the show but there's not much to it. B

Lean Left: Live at Café Oto (2011 [2012], Unsounds): Two guitarist from the Ex, the long-running Dutch punk group, hook up with saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Vandermark and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, as they've done a couple times before. Rough, rowdy improv, the guitarist looking for noise, which the sax repays in spades. One problem: Rhapsody only has the 30:40 opener, while Discogs indicates a 37:07 second cut, so far unheard by me, so I'll hedge a bit. B+(**)

Joëlle Léandre & Lauren Newton: Conversations: Live in Ljubljana (2010 [2012], Not Two): Bassist and vocalist, the former with dozens of albums since 1983 (AMG lists 49), the latter with at least 17 since 1983, all this stuff on avant labels. My issues, as usual, are with the vocalist: some remarkable scat, some bracing spoken word, some unlistenable diva shit, all to music that gets in your face and stays there. B

Szilárd Mezei Szabad Quintet: Singing Elephant (2010 [2012], Not Two): Viola player, Hungarian born in Serbia, prolific juggling many projects in recent years, a relatively conventional group with tenor sax (Peter Bede), trumpet (Adam Meggyes), bass and drums. B+(**)

Ulysses Owens Jr.: Unanimous (2011 [2012], Criss Cross): Drummer, first album, more recently appeared in a piano trio with Christian Sands and Christian McBride and they're the core here, supplemented by Michael Dease (trombone) on two cuts, Jaleel Shaw (alto sax) on four, and Nicholas Payton (trumpet) on five -- last three are hornless, and a bit sharper for that. B+(*)

Nicholas Payton: #BAM: Live at Bohemian Caverns (2012 [2013], BMF): Trumpet player from New Orleans, made a splash early on as a guy with one foot in the tradition and another going places, but seems like he's been floundering recently. Hashtag stands for "Black American Music" -- not sure whether he thinks he's got that cornered or is just content to work in the historical vein. Not sure what's going on here: press release just mentions that he's working with bass and drums, playing Fender Rhodes along with his trumpet. The keyb may suggest soul jazz, but this goes harder and tougher, the key work impressive in its own right, and the trumpet so sharp you don't miss the comping. B+(***)

Sam Phillips: Push Any Button (2013, Littlebox): First album in five years, a fairly minimal effort, ten songs, less than 30 minutes, sound is familiar as is the craftsmanship, but the songs don't automatically get punchier when you end them at 2:32. B+(*)

Portico Quartet (2012, Real World): English group, third album, commonly regarded as jazz but they keep a regular beat and all four members dabble in electronics -- although one, Jack Wylie, plays sax and another, newcomer Keir Vine, plays an ideophone called the hang, the thick keyb textures dominate, and singer Comelia Dahlgren helps out. B

Portico Quartet: Live/Remix (2012 [2013], Real World, 2CD): One live disc, where their proximity to jazz is less convincing than their dedication to the thick textures of electronica, and a remix disc which lets people who do that sort of thing add snappy beats and whirls. Live record is too much of a not-so-great thing, with a Cornelia vocal for a change of pace. Remix disc is more attractive, although I tend to discount such things. B

Revolutionary Ensemble: Counterparts (2005 [2013], Mutable Music): An important avant-jazz group during its original 1972-77 run, a trio of Leroy Jenkins (violin), Sirone (bass), and Jerome Cooper (drums). They eventually regrouped and recorded the marvelous And Now . . . (2004, Pi), but their second phase was cut short by the deaths of Jenkins (2007) and Sirone (2009). A 2008 release of a 2005 session offered little more, but it's more than nostalgia that lifts this release of the group's last live performance. A-

Kermit Ruffins: We Partyin' Traditional Style (2013, Basin Street): New Orleans trad guy, plays trumpet and sings, has a pile of records since 1992 but got a boost nationwide when he started showing up regularly on HBO's Treme -- sort of inevitable because his shtick fits theirs. And success has done him well: I'm not about to backtrack, but I doubt he's ever had a band this good or production this sharp, and it's given him renewed confidence -- pays off even if you know Louis Armstrong as well as he does. B+(***)

Michel Sajrawy: Arabop (2012, Dasam Studio): Palestinian-Israeli guitarist, based in his home town Nazareth, has a couple previous albums on a jazz label that leaned that way, but this one adds a couple vocals, trying to straddle pop and jazz, and not really convincing us of either. B

Susana Santos Silva Quintet: Devil's Dance (2011, TOAP): Portuguese trumpet player, her more recent records out on Clean Feed, so I thought I'd check out this debut. Quintet with tenor sax (Zé Pedro Coelho), guitar (André Fernandes), bass, and drums -- I initially thought the guitar was a postbop move but is probably more of an Iberian thing, especially on a piece like "En Febrero" where the horns graduate from scrawny to endearing. B+(**) [bc]

Alex Sipiagin: Overlooking Moments (2012 [2013], Criss Cross): Russian-born trumpet player, moved to US in 1991 and has 14 or so records since 1998, including a Woody Shaw tribute which helps locate him. Flugelhorn on the cover, a superb quartet with Chris Potter, Scott Colley, and Eric Harland. Smolders a lot, occasionally catching fire. B+(**)

Earl Sweatshirt: Doris (2013, Odd Future): Teenage Los Angeles rapper, b. Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, first commercial release after a well-received mixtape and bits on other Odd Future ventures. Sounds much older, grizzled even, complaining about bad dreams after giving up pot -- what kind of 19-year-old does that? The kind who complains about the Southern California weather, I guess. B+(**)

Albert Van Veenendaal: Minimal Damage (2007-09 [2010], Evil Rabbit): Subtitled "miniatures for prepared piano": sixteen pieces, two over 5 minutes, most of the rest close to 2; solo, mostly repeating figures, but the hardware is full of surprises, generating plucked tones like a bass and plonks like a percussionist. A-

Barrence Whitfield and the Savages: Dig Thy Savage Soul (2013, Bloodshot): Boston rocker, came out in the 1980s with a crude, raw throwback to 1950s rock and roll, and the only thing that's changed since then is that they've gotten louder. Not sure that's a plus. B

Warren Wolf: Wolfgang (2013, Mack Avenue): Vibraphone player, third album, split between two piano quartets -- his usual one with Aaron Goldberg, Kris Funn, and Billy Williams Jr., and a run with the stars: Benny Green, Christian McBride, and Lewis Nash -- plus some duo tracks with Aaron Diehl. One of the annoying things about trying to review records by streaming is the frequent lack of basic documentation, but it isn't hard to guess which tracks belong to whom. Some are real snappy, but the record goes off the rails on the last two tracks: an Ivan Lins tune with some vocal flutter, and a lullaby "Le Carnaval de Venise." B


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

  • Atomic: There's a Hole in the Mountain (2013, Jazzland)
  • Sam Baker: Say Grace (2013, self-released)
  • Ballister: Mi Casa Es En Fuego (2013, self-released)
  • Stefano Battaglia Trio: Songways (2013, ECM)
  • Bill Carrothers: Castaways (2013, Pirouet)
  • Decoy With Joe McPhee: Spontaneous Combustion (2013, Otoroku)
  • Fuck Buttons: Slow Focus (2013, ATP)
  • Clay Harper: Old Airport Road (2012, Terminus)
  • Kirk Knuffke/Mike Pride: The Exterminating Angel (2013, Not Two)
  • Evan Parker/Agustí Fernández: The Voice Is One (2012, Not Two)
  • Scoolptures: Please Drive By Carefully (2013, Leo)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Ray Anderson Pocket Jazz Band: Where Home Is (1998 [1999], Enja): The trombonist's brass band, with Matt Perine's sousaphone handling the bass, Lew Soloff's trumpet hitting the high notes, and drummer Bobby Previte hitting everything else; bridging avant and antique, especially when they reach back for Joplin ("The Pineapple Rag") and Ellington ("The Mooche"). A-

Lurrie Bell: Young Man's Blues: The Best of the JSP Sessions (1989-90 [1997], JSP): Son of harpist Carey Bell, his earliest sides already bound tightly to the classic Chicago blues tradition; Bell proves to be an adept guitarist and singer, but the sides with his dad's harmonica really stand out. B+(***)

Bobby Bland: Two Steps From the Blues (1956-60 [1961], Duke/MCA): Seven new songs salted with five older singles, long regarded as his LP-era best-of, although in the CD era you can heftier sets that maintain the quality level far longer, all the way up to I Pity the Fool: The Duke Recordings, Vol. 1 (1952-60 [1992], MCA, 2CD), which collects 10 of 12 songs here (and 34 more); on the other hand, the 2012 Soul Jam reissue tacks on 12 "bonus tracks," which make this yet another way to dive into his deep and disorganized discography. A-

Bill Dixon: November 1981 (1981 [1982], Soul Note): Avant-garde trumpet player, gained some fame (or notoreity) playing with Cecil Taylor in the 1960s, cut a series of intimate and difficult albums for Soul Note 1980-98, and staged a surprising comeback with big band albums from 2007 to his death in 2010. This is backed by two bassists (Alan Silva and Mario Pavone) and drums (Laurence Cook), the basses a complex, bubbling substrate for the trumpet to cut against, or just bounce along; and when they do cut back, the trumpet looms even more eloquently. A-

Bill Dixon: Thoughts (1985 [1987], Soul Note): A rather murky production for a relatively large production -- Marco Eineidi on alto sax, John Buckingham on tuba, Lawrence Cook on drums, and three great bassists -- Mario Pavone, William Parker, and Peter Kowald; Dixon's trumpet is as scrawny as ever, and while no one doubts that a lot of thought went into it, there is very little here to pique your interest. B-

Bill Dixon: Son of Sisyphus (1988 [1990], Soul Note): Starts with Dixon playing piano, an uneventful twist before the trumpet takes over; with Mario Pavone on bass, Laurence Cook on percussion, and John Buckingham on tuba -- the tuba adding resonance as the trumpet picks its way through what is ultimately a long, slow slog. B

Bill Dixon with Tony Oxley: Papyrus: Volume I (1998 [1999], Soul Note): Trumpet-percussion duets, although Dixon again leads off with a bit of piano; it threatens to fall into the slow rut that makes so many of Dixon's Soul Notes so difficult; Oxley don't mind slow but can't stand lazy, so he keeps prodding and gets something interesting in return. B+(**)

Bill Dixon with Tony Oxley: Papyrus: Volume II (1998 [2000], Soul Note): A second volume of trumpet-percussion duets (with a bit of Dixon piano), from the same sessions, with similar results -- most critics downgrade these a bit but I don't find much difference, may even give this a slight edge. B+(**)

Jeffrey Lewis: The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane and Other Favorites (2002, Rough Trade): Cartoon artist tries his hand at sketching out anti-folk songs, with slapdash guitar, slapdash stories too. B+(*)

Jeffrey Lewis: It's the Ones Who've Cracked That the Light Shines Through (2003, Rough Trade): Second album, anti-folk, but a big advance musically, whether he's running his monotone over a minimally repeating pattern or building something more elaborate, or even rocking out. B+(***)

George Russell Sextet: In K.C. (1961, Decca): Russell's first great album was called Jazz Workshop (1956), and he continued to cultivate unknowns in his personal vision of postbop; this is a live workshop, with Don Ellis (trumpet), Dave Baker (trombone), Dave Young (tenor sax), Chuck Israels (bass), Joe Hunt (drums), with just one piece by Russell, two by Baker, one by another Russell student (Carla Bley), and two by famous trumpet players. B+(**)

George Russell Septet: The Stratus Seekers (1962 [1989], Riverside/OJC): Don Ellis plays trumpet here, and his mad rush for the high notes recalls Russell's early association with Gillespie and the ferocity of vintage bebop, while saxophonist Paul Plummer gets the unenviable task of following Coltrane's explorations of model improvisation (another Russell innovation). A-

George Russell: The Outer View (1962 [1991], Riverside/OJC): Sextet, the three horns don't break out of the tricky compositions as on the previous album, but the postbop ambitions are similar; two more Russell discoveries: composer Carla Bley, who had debuted on his 1960 Stratusphunk, and Sheila Jordan, who sings a very striking "You Are My Sunshine." B+(***)

George Russell: The Essence of George Russell (1966-67 [1983], Soul Note): First hour-long take of "Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature" -- a later, shorter version was released under that name by Flying Dutchman -- caught live with a crackling Scandinavian big band, not much electronics but a marvelous piece of scoring, finished off with a 15-minute "Now and Then" -- a smaller band determined to sound larger. A-

George Russell: Othello Ballet Suite/Electronic Organ Sonata No. 1 (1967-68 [1981], Soul Note): These two pieces were preliminary exercises in future "third stream" -- where academics like Gunther Schuller looked to merge jazz and classical, Russell plotted to make jazz the foundation for future classical music. In Scandinavia, he employs the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, trumpeter Rolf Eriksson, the two great Swedish saxophonists of the time (Arne Domnerus and Bernt Rosengren), and young Norwegian protégés Jan Garbarek and Jon Christensen. The "Suite" is dense, a feast for the horns. The second side is a pioneering exercise in electronics playing off Russell's organ -- possibly an attempt to counter Riley and Reich with something more rooted in jazz. A-

George Russell Sextet: Trip to Prillarguri (1970 [1982], Soul Note): One of the major figures in jazz history, pianist Russell spent the late 1960s in self-imposed exile in Norway, and this is the finest fruit of his labors: a group with four young musicians fast on their way to becoming major figures: Jan Garbarek (tenor sax), Terje Rypdal (guitar), Arild Andersen (bass), and Jon Christensen (drums) -- Stanton Davis, Jr. (trumpet) is the only one who went nowhere. Rypdal is terrific, but Garbarek is titanic here, playing with a raw force and edginess that ECM never allowed, especially on the 11-minute Ornette Coleman finale. A

George Russell: Listen to the Silence (1971 [1983], Soul Note): Commissioned by the Norwegian Cultural Fund, performed in Kongsberg Church, the big band is short on horns -- just Stanton Davis on trumpet and Jan Garbarek on tenor sax -- but has organ and electric piano/guitar/bass, and lots of vocals, some choirlike but most spoken against the grain; I don't care for the vocals, but the passages without them are striking. B

George Russell: Vertical Form VI (1977 [1981], Soul Note): Commissioned by Swedish Radio, another big band piece where the big band is augmented by electric keybs and bass for a consistent, almost funky pulse, and the horns generally hold back -- at least avoid the rowdiness Russell picked up from Gillespie, not that they can't swell and flutter. B+(**)

George Russell: New York Big Band (1977-78 [1982], Soul Note): Actually, one track -- Russell's Gillespie classic, "Cubana Be, Cubana Bop" -- was cut in Sweden with a mostly Swedish ensemble, but the 1978 tracks let the New Yorkers -- prominent names include Lew Soloff, Marty Ehrlich, Ricky Ford, Cameron Brown, and Warren Smith -- strut their stuff; Lee Genesis belts out "Big City Blues" and "God Bless the Child." B+(***)

John Scofield: Still Warm (1985 [1986], Gramavision): Early album, not as firmly anchored as his later groovers, not a lot of variety either; more interesting was Don Grolnick on electric keybs. B

Sun Ra: The Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab in Egypt (1971-84 [1999], Leo Golden Years of New Jazz): Three 1983-84 tracks by the Arkestra with the Egyptian percussionist, long on drum solo, plus four earlier tracks by Ragab, the Cairo Jazz Band, and/or the Cairo Free Jazz Ensemble; the latter half turns out to be much the more interesting one, in a similar vein. B+(**)

The Sun Ra Arkestra: Live at Praxis '84 (1984 [2000], Leo Golden Years of New Jazz, 2CD): Originally released on three LPs, it's hard to imagine any of the six sides being truly compelling, but over 111:35 the kitsch mounts up -- the chants early on, the Fletcher Henderson tunes, "Cocktails for Two," "Satin Doll," "Days of Wine and Roses," a scabrous "Mack the Knife," and no shortage of space riffs, not to mention spacey vamps. B+(***)

Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Arkestra: Second Star to the Right (Salute to Walt Disney) (1989 [1995], Leo): A surprise contributor to Hal Willner's Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music From Vintage Disney Films, Ra couldn't help but fill out a whole album, his group vocals cutting all the saccharine out of songs like "Zip a Dee Doo Dah" and "Whistle While You Work" while kicking the horns up a notch and swinging like hell. B+(***)

Sun Ra & His Cosmo Discipline Arkestra: A Night in East Berlin/My Brothers the Wind & Sun No. 9 (1986-90 [1995], Leo): Live, originally two LPs, the seven tracks from Berlin long on space grunge, the 20:49 finale of uncertain providence (1988 or 1990), but with Ahmed Abdullah and Billy Bang joining in. B+(*)

Sun Ra and the Year 2000 Myth Science Arkestra: Live at the Hackney Empire (1990 [1994], Leo, 2CD): Rather late in the day -- the leader was past 75, only a couple more years to live -- but the long vamp pieces drive home the band's relentless search, and the vocal bits, the toy piano, the interpolated covers, the occasional squeals, all reiterate the oddness and whimsy at the heart of the leader's vision -- if you want to talk about a band taking "a long, strange trip" none other rivals the Arkestra. B+(***)

Sylvester: Mighty Real: Greatest Dance Hits (1977-81 [2013], Fantasy): San Francisco disco star, openly gay, had a string of dancefloor hits off the five albums he cut for Fantasy, crammed here into 79:08 and programmed for, no surprise, dancing. A-

Stevie Wonder: Signed, Sealed and Delivered (1970, Tamla): More hit and miss, even if he finally shows some evidence of moving out from long-time handlers Henry Cosby and Ron Miller, they're still hanging on. B+(**)

Stevie Wonder: Where I'm Coming From (1971, Tamla): Thirteenth album, but coming up on his 21st birthday, the first one he had full control over, his main collaborator wife Syreeta Wright, who shared credit on the songs; most of the songs are reaching for things they can't quite grasp, but "If You Really Love Me" was his first mature masterpiece. 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
  • [sc] available at soundcloud.com
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, or may be a promo deal