Rhapsody Streamnotes: March 18, 2015

Roughly speaking, the same record count this time as the last two, but it took me a little over four weeks this time vs. three before, so maybe I'm slowing down. But part of that is that this is the first column that's mostly 2015 releases (88/113, or 78%), and 2015 itself seems to be starting a bit slow. I suspect this is because we don't yet have the benefit of year-end lists, plus the number of critics that I regularly consult is way down this year. I currently have 14 new A-list records this year, and they break down: 10 jazz, 2 hip-hop, 1 dance pop, 1 quasi-country. Most years split about 50% jazz, 50% non-jazz. The imbalance this year probably because I have my own resources for jazz (all 10 so far are records sent to me; I've also checked out 13 jazz albums on Rhapsody or via downloads, but nothing very impressive yet; I listened to all 4 of the non-jazz A- albums on Rhapsody).

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 13. Past reviews and more information are available here (6157 records).

Recent Releases

Nancy Ajram: Nancy 8 (2014, In2musica): Lebanese pop star, cut her first album in 1998 at 15 and this seems to be her 9th, her previous album (Nancy 7 or 7 or N. 7 -- same variations show up here) having sold some eight million units (more than half in Egypt, where it went 9x Platinum). I feel like I should hedge on such an obvious SFFR, but even the synth-strings resound, the ballads seem real, and the fast ones hardly need translation -- probably on a par with Shakira. A-

Béatrice Alunni/Marc Peillon: Dance With Me (2014 [2015], ITI): Alunni plays piano and wrote seven (of ten) pieces. Peillon plays bass and wrote the other three. I can't really imagine anyone dancing to this, although the liner illustrations show ballet moves, so I guess that says something about my [lack of] imagination. Pretty, though. B+(*) [cd]

Aphex Twin: Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments, Pt. 2 (2015, Warp, EP): Thirteen tracks, 27:52 long, sort of an afterthought to last year's Syro, which makes it much more interesting than the ambience Richard James had peddled for a couple decades. B+(**)

Gene Argel: Luminescent (2014 [2015], Origin): Pianist, based in Maui since 1982; Discogs credits him with a 1980 LP but this seems to be the first since. Quartet, Jay Thomas plays alto and tenor sax and trumpet, adding bright colors to the luxurious flow, with Chuck Deardorf bass and Mark Ivester drums. B+(**) [cd]

Atomic: Lucidity (2014 [2015], Jazzland): Norwegian jazz group with more than a dozen albums since 2000, with a hard bop quintet lineup that leans more toward avant -- horns (Magnus Broo on trumpet and Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor sax and clarinet) bristling, piano (Håvard Wiik) complex and slightly ornate, the rhythm section (Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass) usually a powerhouse although they lose something here with a change at drums (Hans Hulboekmo replaces Paal Nilssen-Love). B+(***) [cd]

Ab Baars Trio: Slate Blue (2014 [2015], Wig): Dutch tenor saxophonist (also plays clarinet and shakuhachi here), in a trio with Wilbert De Joode (bass) and Martin Van Duynhoven (drums) -- Baars' primary group dating back to 1990. A little mellow as these things go, a mood that suits this group. B+(***) [cd]

Ab Baars Trio & NY Guests: Invisible Blow (2012 [2015], Wig): Fine print notes that this was recorded in Amsterdam, which helps explain why the New Yorkers seem less than optimal: Fay Victor (voice) and Vincent Chancey (french horn). Much of the album is poorly articulated -- more like "Inaudible Blow" -- although Victor can make an impression when she's so inclined. B [cd]

BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah: Sour Soul (2015, Lex): Cover isn't clear, but most sources credit the Canadian jazz trio (keyboards, bass guitar, drums) first, ahead of the much more famous rapper. I'll note that three (of twelve) cuts are short instrumentals. I've never been much impressed by BBNG but their tight, noir-ish flow makes this short (32:55) album work -- not that they would hold up half as well without the rhymes. A-

Belle and Sebastian: Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (2015, Matador): Scottish group, name comes from a children's book, seems most pop when Stuart Murdoch's vocals give way to Sarah Martin's, which doesn't happen often enough here. B+(*)

Daniel Bennett Group: The Mystery at Clown Castle (2014 [2015], Manhattan Daylight): Saxophonist, has done interesting work in the past but this veers toward too much: too much circus, too much shouting, too much flute. Does have a sense of humor, and enjoys a good beat. B+(*) [cd]

Phil Bowler: Phil Bowler & Pocket Jungle (2013 [2014], Zoho Music): Bassist, cut an album in 1984 and now has two, although he has 40+ side credits going back to 1977 including Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Jackie McLean, various Marsalises, and the World Bass Violin Quartet. He tried to put this project together 20 years ago, with sax-guitar-drums that went to Grupo Los Santos, and finally got them back for a mild-mannered Afro-Cuban tryst. B+(*)

Andy Brown: Soloist (2014 [2015], Delmark): Guitarist, from Chicago; I first noticed his rather minimalist backing for singer Petra Van Nuis (Far Away Places) and his two-guitar quartet I filed under Howard Alden (Heavy Artillary -- noticing now that I misspelled that title in my database, unless you want to argue that they misspelled it on the cover). This, of course, is solo, that same understated approach left with nothing else to prop it up. Fans of George Van Eps will be more impressed than fans of Joe Pass. B+(*) [cd]

Maureen Budway: Sweet Candor (2014 [2015], MCG Jazz): Jazz singer, died at 51 in January a couple weeks before this first album came out; taught at Duquesne, married to pianist David Budway, who plays here. First thing I really noticed was the "Americana Suite" midway, noticing that "The White Cliffs of Dover" took the prize for patriotic schmaltz, and approving of the segue into "Hard Times Come Again No More" (if not "Say It With Fireworks/Song of Freedom"). The other high point is a "Gershwin Medley" all Americans can be proud of. B+(**) [cd]

Mike Campbell: Close Enough for Love (2014 [2015], ITI): Standards singer, mostly (two originals here), has at least eight albums going back to 1985, his standards here including Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan, also Kenny Loggins and Paul Williams. B+(*) [cd]

Harley Card: Hedgerow (2012 [2015], self-released): Toronto-based guitarist, second album although he's also appeared in Hobson's Choice, a group I've heard of. This group includes David French on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Matt Newton on piano/Fender Rhodes, plus either of two bass-drum pairs. Postbop, greased by the guitar. B [cd]

Ernesto Cervini: Turboprop (2014 [2015], Anzic): Drummer, from Toronto, leads a vibrant sextet with two saxes (Tara Davidson and Joel Frahm), trombone, piano, bass, and drums. Cervini wrote four pieces, picked up one from Frahm, with covers like Charlie Parker's "Red Cross" and Keith Jarrett's "The Windup" -- the latter a particularly spirited closer. B+(**) [cd]

Chamber 3: Grassroots (2013 [2015], OA2): Trio, with Christian Eckert on guitar, Steffen Weber on sax, and Matt Jorgensen on drums, although they've sensibly added a fourth wheel, bassist Phil Sparks. All three write, Eckert foremost, and the one cover makes a fair case for adding "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to the jazz repertoire. Not much what you think of as "chamber jazz" (other than tight). B+(*) [cd]

Anat Cohen: Luminosa (2014 [2015], Anzic): One of the top clarinet players in jazz, also plays bass clarinet and tenor sax here -- underrated in that more competitive category. Backed here by piano trio (Jason Lindner, Joe Martin, Daniel Freedman -- with guests periodically kicking the record into a Brazilian orientation: percussionist Gilmar Gomes, guitarist Roberto Lubambo, most importantly two cuts with Choro Aventuroso (accordion, 7-string guitar, pandeiro) that kick this into a higher orbit. B+(***) [cd]

Lainie Cooke: The Music Is the Magic (2014 [2015], Onyx Music): Standards singer, has a couple previous albums; this one, produced by Ralph Peterson, leans more toward jazz than cabaret. Myron Walden adds some sax appeal. B [cd]

Dena DeRose: Travelin' Light: Live in Antwerp, Belgium (2010 [2012], MaxJazz): Rhapsody only has 4 (of 13) tracks, so I (and you) should hedge but they're probably representative. She plays piano and sings standards here (and scats a bit) -- solo, live, some patter and applause, but mostly she holds your focus. B+(*)

Laura Dickinson: One for My Baby: To Frank Sinatra With Love (2013 [2014], Blujazz): Singer, first album under her own name but she has sung in a bunch of Disney animated films. Her selection from the "Sinatra songbook" is much more conventional than, say, Dylan's, as is the big band + strings -- conventional as in tried and proven -- while her voice is distinctive enough. B+(**) [cd]

Dahi Divine: The Element (2013 [2015], Right Direction): Tenor saxophonist from Philadelphia, first album, blows over West African rhythms while pianist Brett Williams smoothing the rough edges. B+(**) [cd]

Justin Townes Earle: Absent Fathers (2015, Vagrant): Quickie sequel to last fall's Single Mothers, more melancholia over broken relationships and busted families. B+(*)

Steve Earle & the Dukes: Terraplane (2015, New West): Reportedly this represents some kind of turn to the blues, but the songs are all originals, and these days down-and-out is just ordinary life. So why not ordinary songs to go with it? Not his best idea, nor does hiding behind the band help much. B+(**)

Silke Eberhard/Dave Burrell: Darlingtonia (2010 [2012], Jazzwerkstatt): Alto saxophonist, from Germany, has a handful of albums since 2002 including a couple by his Dolphy-tribute group Potsa Lotsa. Duet with pianist Dave Burrell, always a treat. B+(***)

Silke Eberhard/Ulrich Gumpert: Peanuts & Vanities (2011 [2012], Jazzwerkstart): Another alto sax-piano duo, but Gumpert doesn't make near the impression of Dave Burrell. Six pieces called "Peanuts" followed by six more called "Vanities," but the former are juxtaposed with two fragments of "Salt Peanuts" and the latter is followed by "The Peanut Vendor." The patterns are interesting enough, just not very exciting. B+(**)

Paul Elwood: Nice Folks (2011 [2015], Innova): Banjo player, graduate of Wichita State University and SUNY Buffalo, teaches in Colorado. Has a previous album called Stanley Kubrick's Mountain Home, which AMG files under classical. This starts out like a folk singalong, then takes off in various directions, including free jazz and deep worldly groove. Calls his band the Invisible Ensemble. Only one I've heard of is percussionist Famoudou Don Moye. B+(***) [cd]

George Ezra: Wanted on Voyage (2014, Columbia): Brit singer-songwriter; cites Dylan, Guthrie, and Leadbelly as inspirations; first album, topped UK charts and peaked at 19 in US. Strikes me as a little heavy-handed for folk-rock. Reviews use the word "spooky"; I'm tempted to add "creepy." B-

Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear (2015, Sub Pop): Singer-songwriter Josh Tillman, second album, kind of a big deal in alt/indie circles, had sort of a folkie rep early on but now that he can afford more drums and synths he's over that. But his newfound big production frames a voice I don't find appealing, and when I notice a lyric -- one I jotted down is "let's put a baby in the oven/wouldn't I make the ideal husband?" -- that's usually not a good thing. B

Lupe Fiasco: Tetsuo & Youth (2015, Atlantic): Hip-hop record, his first three were superb (and yes, I include the much-panned Lasers in that list), stretches here are equally brilliant although sometimes the rhymes seem not just forced but downright gymnastic, and elsewhere I have no fucking idea what's going on. B+(*)

Free Nelson Mandoomjazz: Awakening of a Capital (2014 [2015], RareNoise): Sax trio from Scotland, second album -- the first bore the aggrandizing title The Shape of Doomjazz to Come/Saxophone Giganticus and was as audacious as the joke. Sequel seems more modest, with Colin Stewart's fuzzy electric bass riffs more prominent because Rebecca Sneddon's snarling alto sax is less so -- or maybe just less snarling? B+(***) [cdr]

Janice Friedman Trio: Live at Kitano (2011 [2015], CAP): Pianist-singer, has a handful of albums going back to 1993, wrote three (of ten) pieces here and shares a fourth with Frederic Chopin, backed by Ed Howard on bass and Victor Lewis on drums. Has a nice touch and doesn't wear out the voice. B+(*)

Gang of Four: What Happens Next (2015, Metropolis): Leeds post-punk group, released a brilliant debut in 1979, two more very good albums in 1981-82, then bowed out in 1984 after the misnamed Hard, only to revive periodically (in 1991-95, 2005, 2011, now). But where the 2005 reunion brought the original quartet back, now only guitarist Andy Gill remains. First song ("Where the Nightingale Sings") comes up with new ways to tuck noise into the crevices between the beats, suggesting they may still be capable of an A-list album, but they have trouble sustaining that level, and sometimes even lose their sound. B+(*)

Maxfield Gast: Ogo Pogo (2014 [2015], Militia Hill): Saxophonist from Philadelphia. I file him under "jazz-pop" which is ever more off-base, but he likes synth-beats and EWI -- were it not for the saxes I'd move him to "techno." This is mostly electronica with commentary, including digressions on the differences between "serious" and "funny" music. Of course, the world isn't that simple, nor, fortunately, is Gast's music. B+(**) [cd]

Otzir Godot: In- (2014 [2015], Epatto): Finnish drummer, Jouni Koponen, has at least two previous records. This one is solo, the metallic drums most captivating, the more ambient washes of sound less so. B+(**) [cd]

Gramatik: The Age of Reason (2014, Lowtemp): Denis Jasarevic, from Slovenia, has 7 or 8 albums, 3 or 4 EPs since 2008, probably more by the time you read this, produces them cheap -- most likely splices them together on a laptop -- and gives them away, an SFFR if I ever bother, but pleased so far: electronics, of course, but embedded with chunks of hip-hop and rock, nothing obvious (or even particularly identifiable like you find with Girl Talk). B+(**)

Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: Space/Time · Redemption (2013 [2015], TUM): Graves is an avant-jazz drummer, first appearing on a number of ESP-Disk records 1963-66 (including his own Percussion Ensemble), then rarely from 1969 (Sonny Sharrock's Black Woman) to about 2000, when he started appearing (mostly on Tzadik; 1992's Real Deal, a duo with David Murray, was a rare exception). Laswell is a bassist and producer, more into fusion than free but something of a gadfly around the fringes of respectability. So not a huge surprise that the two would record together, but it is that a bass-drums duo would come up with anything so vibrantly textured. A- [cd]

The H2 Big Band: It Could Happen (2013 [2015], Origin): Big band led by Al Hood (trumpet) and Dave Hanson (piano), with Hanson arranging. Recorded near Los Angeles, credits vary a lot with horns thinning out and/or strings added on some cuts. Four cuts feature singer René Marie, who is very effective. B+(**) [cd]

Ross Hammond: Flight (2014 [2015], Prescott): Jazz guitarist, ninth album since 2003, plays this one solo, using 6-string, 12-string, and acoustic slide for a whiff of blues. Originals, several trad. pieces, "You Are My Sunshine" (which might as well be trad.): "recorded on locations throughout California" -- if not roots, at least digging in. B+(**) [cdr]

Mark Helias Open Loose: The Signal Maker (2014 [2015], Intakt): I screwed up here, originally filing this under Tony Malaby, the saxophonist whose name shows up first left-to-right mid-cover, followed by bassist Helias and drummer Tom Rainey. But when I noticed that Helias wrote all the pieces (with group help on three), I looked a little closer and found the big (but not very distinct) type. Sax trio, smolders ambitiously but never quite ignites. B+(***) [cd]

Eddie Henderson: Collective Portrait (2014 [2015], Smoke Sessions): Trumpet player, grew up on Miles Davis and never strayed far from his model, even now at 74. Classic hard bop quintet, loud and clear paired with alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, with George Cables rolling the blues riffs on piano. B+(**)

Scott Hesse Trio: The Stillness of Motion (2014 [2015], Origin): Guitarist, based in Chicago after ten years in New York, trio includes Clark Sommers on bass and Makaya McCraven on drums. B+(*)

The Ted Howe Jazz Orchestra: Pinnacle (2013 [2015], Hot Stove): Pianist-composer, although Geoff Haydon takes over the piano slot for most of the album. Slightly less than a conventional big band -- three reeds, three trumpets, two trombones, but includes guitar -- not that the loss is palpable. Cover says "featuring John Patitucci" because the bassist is the only player you're likely to have heard of. B [cd]

I Never Meta Guitar Three (2011-13 [2015], Clean Feed): Back cover adds: "Solo Guitars for the 21st Century." Third such volume Elliot Sharp has produced, eighteen solo pieces by various avant-jazz guitarists -- all electric, no devotees of Reinhardt or Montgomery or for that matter McLaughlin, a few I've heard of and many more I haven't. Scattered, but John King's opener grabs your attention. B+(**) [cd]

Ibeyi: Ibeyi (2015, XL): Twin sisters, Cuban-born, French-raised, Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz, draw on Afro-Cuban roots -- album opens with a "chant to Eleggua" -- but is moderated through trip-hop and the like so much it rarely registers. B

Mikko Innanen: Song for a New Decade (2010-12 [2015], TUM, 2CD): Finnish saxophonist, alto and baritone, plus a few odd instruments here and there (Indian clarinet, Uilleann chanter, nose flute, whistles, percussion). Should be better known, and after this will be. Two discs: the first with William Parker on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums, pretty much everything an avant-saxophonist could dream of; the second a little leaner, just a duo with Cyrille. A- [cd]

Kitten: Kitten (2014, Elektra): Pop-rock band from LA, lead singer Chloe Chaidez, first album after a couple EPs. Some songs strike me as overly pumped up, although others have a raw edginess that could develop into something. B+(**)

The Susan Krebs Chamber Band: Simple Gifts (2014 [2015], GreenGig Music): Jazz singer, fifth album; none of the songs are originals but they're not really standards either -- title song is Shaker traditional. Band credits: piano (co-producer Rich Eames), woodwinds (Rob Lockhart), percussion, violin/viola -- the latter adds a crucial weepy effect. B+(***) [cd]

Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Always With Us (2010-12 [2014], self-released): South African iscathimiya (Zulu a cappella) group founded in 1974 by Joseph Shabalala with thirty-some albums -- so many and so similar (at least for us non-Zulu speakers) one hardly notices new ones. Still, this one is different: Shabala's late wife Nellie had organized her own female choir and this memorial merges the two group's voices. A-

Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (2015, Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope): Los Angeles (or should I say Compton?) rapper spins another long (75:17) album, the uneasy path of another good kid in the mad city. Pumped up early on with rejuvenated P-Funk, fades out at the end with what seems like an interview. More here than I'll ever manage to sort out. A-

Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (2013 [2015], Clean Feed): Bassist, called his second album Bigmouth in 2003 and kept the name. Two tenor saxes (Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek), Craig Taborn on keyboards (mostly Wurlitzer, in case you need a refresher in why he wins those polls), and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Lightcap's originals tend to be strongly pulsed. The one cover is "All Tomorrow's Parties" -- simply magnificent. A- [cd]

Madonna: Rebel Heart (2015, Interscope): Much more anticipated in my world than the new Sleater-Kinney -- I suppose more successful too, but that's all relative: after five plays I've gotten to where I like nearly every song here, but none enough to program it onto a choice singles tape (let alone slip it into The Immaculate Collection). It's all clear, sharp, danceable, even pushes a few envelopes, but risks becoming routine too. Not sure what it means that I like the bonus tracks (at least "Veni Vidi Vici" and "S.E.X.") more than the common ones. B+(***)

Jenna Mammina & Rolf Sturm: Spark (2014 [2015], Water Street Music): Singer and guitarist, respectively, the former's voice light and whispy, the latter adding a gentle strum that fits the mood perfectly. One Sturm original, the covers include Carole King, James Taylor, and Elvis Costello ("Watching the Detectives"), as well as more standard fare -- including a Jobim a bit too slow. B+(**) [cd]

Nilson Matta: East Side Rio Drive (2014 [2015], World Blue): Brazilian bassist, based in New York, pretty much the go-to guy there for that sort of thing. The underlying groove is little changed since the 1960s, but he gets a wide range of looks by shuffling guests -- front cover list features Cyro Baptista (percussion), Romero Lubambo (guitar), Edsel Gomez (piano), Craig Handy (tenor sax/bass clarinet/flute), Anne Drummond (more flute), Vince Cherico (drums). Also a singer or two, with one song stripped down all the way to acoustic bass. B+(*) [cd]

Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters: Abstract Quantities (2014 [2015], Origin): Trumpet and piano/keyboards, respectively, backed by Piet Verbist on bass and John Bishop on drums, continuing the Seattle/Netherlands balance of the leaders. Postbop, so skilled I played it twice and had nary a complaint, not that I noticed much of anything. B+(*) [cd]

James McMurtry: Complicated Game (2013-14 [2015], Complicated Game): Son of a famous novelist, slowly establishing himself as a serious storyteller in his own right. Nothing here has the instant political cred or (more importantly) musical punch of "We Can't Make It Here" (from Childish Things) or "Cheney's Toy" (from Just Us Kids) but he's smart enough not to blame his hard luck songs on Obama. Several sneak up on you, especially the one about fishing out of season. A-

Chris McNulty: Eternal (2013 [2015], Palmetto): Jazz singer, originally from Australia but based in New York, seventh album since 1990; one original, standards that tend to be treacherously modernist ("A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," "What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life," "Nature Boy," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"). Steve Newcomb's Chamber Ensemble negotiates the twists and turns. B+(*) [cd]

J.D. McPherson: Let the Good Times Roll (2015, New Rounder): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, dresses his country impulses up as rockabilly. B+(**)

Myra Melford: Snowy Egret (2013 [2015], Enja/Yellowbird): On my short list for best jazz pianists since her debut in 1990, but this quintet shortchanges her piano for her compositions, centered more on Liberty Ellman's guitar and Stomu Takeishi's bass guitar. Ellman has many fine moments, Ron Miles helps out on cornet, and Tyshawn Shorey is a superb drummer. B+(***) [cd]

Billy Mintz: The 2 Bass Band . . . Live (2014 [2015], Thirteenth Note): Drummer, has appeared on nearly 50 albums since 1977 -- most frequently with Vinny Golia -- but this looks to be his first as leader (notable also that he wrote all the compositions). Group is a tentet with (as advertised) two basses (Cameron Brown and Masa Kamaguchi), four brass (Dave Scott and Ron Horton on trumpet, Brian Drye and Samuel Blaser on trombone), and three reeds (John O'Gallagher, Kenny Berger, Adam Kolker), mostly established names, not quite avant but leaning that way. B+(**)

Modest Mouse: Strangers to Ourselves (2015, Columbia): One of those alt/indie groups from the 1990s which often enough seemed so formally sharp I graded their albums up before I forgot them. After their longest hiatus -- only an EP since 2007 -- they're back, sounding more like Pavement than ever, so upfront about it I have more than my usual reservations. B+(**)

Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Hannover (2014 [2015], Jazzwerkstatt): After five superb studio albums (plus a live shot and whatever you call Blue), they have enough material they can build their live concerts from medleys -- the opener here runs over 30 minutes -- a technique pop stars use to acknowledge hits they don't want to dwell on, although here the intent is less clear. B+(***)

Tisziji Muñoz & Marilyn Crispell: The Paradox of Independence (2014 [2015], MRI): Brooklyn-born guitarist, started in a doo-wop group, worked with Pharoah Sanders in the 1970s, and started recording prolifically around 2000. Recorded live at the Falcon in Marlboro, NY; backed by a bassist and two drummers (one Rakalam Bob Moses), so not limited like a duo. I find Muñoz rather erratic, but the pianist is typically brilliant. B+(**)

Tatsuya Nakatani/Kris Tiner/Jeremy Drake: Ritual Inscription (2012, Epigraph, LP): Percussion, trumpet/flugelhorn, electric guitar, avant jazz from Bakersfield. Not sure whether they sent me the vinyl or a CDR, but the record was in my system as ungraded and when I looked it up I found it on Bandcamp, so that's convenient. Two tracks, one 18:35, the other 13:07, the ground fractured and forever shifting. B+(**) [bc]

Kyle Nasser: Restive Soul (2013 [2015], AISA): Tenor saxophonist (also soprano), first album, all original pieces, backed by guitar-piano-bass-drums, an increasingly standard postbop lineup -- guitar (Jeff Miles) can solo but mostly adds to the harmonic complexity. Plenty of that here. B+(*) [cd]

Hailey Niswanger: PDX Soul (2013-14 [2015], Calmit Productions): Young, blonde tenor saxophonist from Portland, second album, goes full r&b in a couple live sets with a lot of help, including three singers on four songs -- the bluesier the better. While I can't quite describe what she does as honking, she does let it rip. B+(***) [cd]

Not Twice: Flight Plans (2012 [2014], Epigraph, EP): Avant-trumpet player Kris Tiner plus two musicians credited with keyboards and electronics: Jordan Aguirre and Andrew Koeth. The later produce a quasi-ambient background that doesn't offer much traction for the trumpet. Very limited cassette, but short enough (26:46) to be treated as an EP. B [bc]

John O'Gallagher Trio: The Honeycomb (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): Alto saxophonist, a guy who often stands out in a crowd, up close here leading a trio with Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. A- [cdr]

Open Field + Burton Greene: Flower Stalk (2012 [2015], Cipsela): Greene's an avant-pianist, recorded a couple ESP albums in the mid-1960s, has regained a limited measure of fame since 2000. He adds notable bite to the Portuguese string trio -- João Carnões on viola, Marcelo dos Reis on guitar, and José Miguel Pereira on double bass. Viola has some bite, too, and guitar and piano are sometimes prepared. B+(***) [cd]

Ahmet Özhan: Gülmira (2014, Esen Muzik): Turkish singer, b. 1950 (or earlier), seems to be slotted under Turkish classical music rather than pop or folk, although we'd file it under World; also has a film career, but I'm not finding a lot of info. The music comes with a lot of beat as well as that classic oriental sway. And no doubt he's an authoritative singer. B+(***)

Lisa Parrott: Round Tripper (2014 [2015], Serious Niceness): Alto and baritone saxophonist from Australia, sister is bassist Nicki Parrott, discography lists three albums as "co-leader" but I think this is the first under her own name. Quintet, with Nadja Noordhuis on trumpet/flugelhorn, Carl Dewhurst on guitar, Chris Lightcap on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums. Mainstream, but the baritone gives it a little extra heft. B+(**) [cd]

Renaud Penant Trio: Want to Be Happy (2014 [2015], ITI Music): Drummer-led piano trio, with Steve Ash on piano and Chris Haney on bass. All standards, divided between jazz themes ("Quasimodo," "Bean and the Boys," Bud Powell, Cedar Walton) and songbook ("Love for Sale," "Autumn in New York," a Jobim, the title tune). B+(**) [cd]

Gretchen Peters: Blackbirds (2015, Scarlet Letter): Country singer-songwriter, close to a dozen albums since 1996 after establishing herself as a Nashville songwriter. Some of this clicks and some doesn't, and it's probably not cost-effective to sort it out further. Reprises the title song at the end, and that much pays off. B+(*)

John Petrucelli Quintet: The Way (2014 [2015], self-released, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, from New Jersey but based in Pittsburgh, first album but stretched it out. Quintet includes both piano and guitar as well as bass and drums -- no one I've heard of aside from Victor Lewis (guest on three cuts). Originals plus "I Hear a Rhapsody," "Early Autumn," a Monk. Sax bears many influences, starting with Coltrane. B+(*) [cd]

Kate Pierson: Guitars and Microphones (2015, Lazy Meadow Music): B-52s singer goes solo, brings some of the old sound with her but feels a bit narrower -- I guess Fred Schneider added the zingers even though he wasn't the one you wanted to hear. B+(**)

Roberta Piket: Emanation (Solo: Volume 2) (2014 [2015], Thirteenth Note): Pianist with close to a dozen albums since 1997, this one solo, something I almost never get excited about. Two or three originals, standards including "Con Alma" and "Ba Lue Bolivar Ba Lues" and pieces by McPartland and Hancock, winding up with "Fantasy on a Theme by Chopin." B+(*) [cd]

Lucas Pino: No Net Nonet (2013 [2015], Origin): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Phoenix, studied in New York, first album, a nine-piece group that plays smaller but with all the harmonic spots neatly tucked in -- three saxes, trumpet (Max Jodrell takes advantage of the solo space), trombone, guitar, piano, bass, drums. B+(**) [cd]

A Place to Bury Strangers: Transfixiation (2015, Dead Oceans): Sort of a heavy metal shoegaze group -- the latter aspect keeps them focused within a narrow rhythmic range, but rather than adding soft, fuzzy noise they go for the hard stuff. Their formula blows me away for a few minutes, then eventually turns wearing. Your mileage may vary. B+(***)

Potsa Lotsa Plus: Plays Love Suite by Eric Dolphy (2014 [2015], Jazzwerkstatt): Group name comes from a Dolphy composition -- was also the title of Willem Breuker's Dolphy tribute. The core quartet here (Silke Eberhard on alto sax, Patrick Braun on tenor sax, Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet, Gerhard Gschloßl on trombone) previously recorded The Complete Works of Eric Dolphy. I gather "Love Suite" was left out of the earlier album because Dolphy died before he could record it. The "Plus" adds clarinet, tuba, and live electronics. B+(**)

Chris Potter Underground Orchestra: Imaginary Cities (2013 [2015], ECM): The tenor saxophonist's underground thinking first emerged in his quartet's 2006 album. Here he expands the concept to eleven pieces, mostly by piling on stringed instruments -- guitar, bass guitar, a full string quartet -- plus Steve Nelson's vibes and marimba. His orchestral arrangements still don't amount to much, but he remains a tremendous tenor sax soloist. B+(**) [dl]

Prism Quartet: Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1 (2014 [2015], Innova, 2CD): A saxophone quartet -- Timothy McAllister, Taimur Sullivan, Matthew Levy, Zachary Shemon -- been around since 1990 (at least), but their catalog picked up in 2002 and accelerated around 2007, and this is something of a breakout project, as they've invited six better known saxophonists to compose pieces and join in: Steve Lehman, Dave Liebman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Greg Osby, Tim Ries, and Miguel Zenón. B+(**)

Reggie Quinerly: Invictus (2014 [2015], Redefinition Music): Drummer, originally from Houston, second album, composed everything here but "My Blue Heaven." Warren Wolf's vibes seem to lead here, with Yotam Silberstein's guitar and Christian Sands' piano adding to the frothy lightness. B+(*) [cd]

Nate Radley: Morphoses (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, a mild-mannered mainstream jazz guy, backed by bass (Matt Pavolka) and drums (Ted Poor) with saxophonist Loren Stillman adding some bright splotches of color. B+(*)

John Raymond: Foreign Territory (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): Not his first album but an advance, showcasing his trumpet in front of a very solid rhythm section -- Dan Tepfer (piano), Joe Martin (bass), Billy Hart (drums). Well within contemporary postbop bounds, but pretty sharp for that. B+(**) [cdr]

Dawn Richard: Blackheart (2015, Our Dawn): Aka Dawn Angeliqué, ex-singer in Danity Kane and Diddy-Dirty Money, previous album was Goldenheart. Some interesting beat production here, but I find it cluttered and cranky. B

Denia Ridley & the Marc Devine Trio: Afterglow (2014 [2015], ITI Music): Standards singer, backed by Devine's piano trio, a common formula, but she has a winning voice with just a touch of Holiday, and the songs are dependable friends, front-loaded with Gershwin and Porter, ending with "At Last" and "I Cried for You." B+(***)

Schlippenbach Trio: Features (2013 [2015], Intakt): Pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, saxophonist Evan Parker (just tenor this time), and drummer Paul Lovens. I have no idea how many records they've recorded together, but the trio goes back at least to 1972 when they recorded Pakistani Pomade (FMP, reissued by Atavistic in 2003), a "crown" record in the first edition of the Morton-Cook Penguin Guide to Jazz (and since its reissue). I should recheck that record (and whatever else I can find -- Discogs lists twelve Trio albums, and this is my fourth), but this must be one of the most fully realized. A- [cd]

Benny Sharoni: Slant Signature (2014 [2015], Papaya): Tenor saxophonist, born in Israel, parents from Chile and Yemen (to which he attributes his head start in Latin and African rhythms), moved to US in 1986. Second album, mainstream postbop with a Latin lilt, Jim Rotondi on trumpet, both piano and guitar. B+(**) [cd]

Songsmith Collective: Songsmith Collective (2014 [2015], Blujazz): A group of Western Michigan University's jazz students, writing arrangements for various poems (Yeats, Frost, Hughes, WMU professor Traci Brimhall) for nonet plus two singers, under the direction of Dr. Andrew Rathbun -- not a player here but an estimable saxophonist in his own right. Two vocalists, sounds like art-song to me but I take that as testimony to the extent jazz is displacing classical music in academia -- so one cheer, even though it's not really my thing. B [cd]

Spin Marvel: Infolding (2014 [2015], RareNoise): British group somewhere in the experimental rock/jazztronica orbit -- Martin France (drums), Tim Harries (bass), Terje Evensen (electronics), Emre Ramazanoglu (production and further drums) -- released an eponymous album in 2006 (different drummer), back here with Nils Petter Molvaer guesting on trumpet. Darker and harder than Molvaer's own records -- something else in the post-Miles underworld. B+(***) [cdr]

Pops Staples: Don't Lose This (1999 [2015], dBpm): The patriarch of gospel group the Staples Singers, Pops died in 2000 leaving this set of incomplete demos, lately fleshed out by daughter Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy. More blues than gospel, a lovely memento. B+(**)

Story City: Time and Materials (2012, self-released): Jazz-rock (why not call it fusion?) group from Minnesota -- sax, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, more percussion -- more strain in the sax and tension in the rhythm than seems safe for pop jazz, but not interesting enough to slot anywhere else. B [cd]

John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet: Live Beauty (2012 [2015], Origin): Stowell plays guitar. He cut a couple well regarded albums in New York 1977-78, then moved to Portland and mostly vanished until Origin picked him up in 1998. Zilber is a saxophonist, just credited with "saxes" but pictured with a tenor and something that looks like a curved soprano. The unnamed others are John Shifflett (bass) and Jason Lewis (drums), and they each contribute a song (Zilber wrote three, and they cover "My Funny Valentine" and John Scofield's "Wabash III." Still, the sax makes a strong impression, and whenever I notice the guitar Stowell is doing something interesting. B+(***) [cd]

Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show (2015, RCA): Tempted to say this runs the gamut from "Dumb" to "Stupid Girl," but there's more to it than that. Admittedly, nothing all that useful: living the showbiz life, what Tom T. Hall once referred to as "putting on a front," and occasional romantic angst. B+(***)

Tanya Tagaq: Animism (2014 [2015], Six Shooter): Full name Tanya Tagaq Gillis, from Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island in what used to be Canada's Northwest Territories, the eastern part now known as Nunavut. Tagaq developed her own version of Inuit throat-singing, which she deploys along with more conventional vocals framed by far from conventional music produced by jazz violinist Jesse Zubot, with percussionist Jean Martin in the band. Last song is called "Fracking," an attempt to express what the Earth feels when oilmen set explosives underground to fracture rock and break loose hydrocarbons. B+(***)

Katie Thiroux: Introducing Katie Thiroux (2014 [2015], BassKat): Bassist-singer's first album, composed three originals but relies on standards, especially for lyrics. Jeff Hamilton produced, using Graham Dechter's guitar instead of piano, adding Roger Neumann's tenor sax for color and mood, both offering standout solos as well as complementing the bass -- mixed up, it provides both signature and flow. A- [cd]

Tradisyon Ka: Gwo Ka: Music of Guadeloupe, West Indies (2014, Soul Jazz): A French colony in the Lesser Antilles since 1674, briefly independent in the 1790s when the slaveholders defied orders from the French Republic to free the slaves, regained by France in 1814 and currently an Overseas Department. (Slavery was finally abolished in 1848.) Gwo Ka is their traditional drum-and-chant music, and this group sticks to basics, with little variation even though six different singers are featured. B+(**)

Ryan Truesdell: Lines of Color (2014 [2015], Blue Note/ArtistShare): Second album by Gil Evans' ghost band, following 2012's Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans -- some more new discoveries here, but it seems more accurate to think of this as Gil Evans' Greatest Hits . . . Live! Arrangements are properly credited to Evans, dated as far back as 1947. The band has lots of star power, intricately shadowing one another while one or another breaks out in precisely framed solos. Wendy Gilles sings three tunes, including "Everything Happens to Me." A- [cd]

Tuxedo: Tuxedo (2015, Stones Throw): Retro-disco group formed by Mayer Hawthorne (aka DJ Haircut) and Jake One. Seems like a logical progression from Hawthorne's 1960s Motown shtick, gaining traction with each play. A-

Typefighter: The End of Everything (2014, Huge Witch): DC-based garage-pop band, which is to say punk basics plus accessible hooks. B+(**)

Gebhard Ullmann/Johannes Fink/Jan Leipnitz/Gebhard Gschlößl: Gulf of Berlin (2012 [2014], Jazzwerkstatt): Free quartet, respectively: bass clarinet/soprano/tenor sax, cello/double bass, drums, trombone/sousaphone -- the low reeds and brass making this an alternate, less flashy but no less substantial Basement Research. B+(***)

Wormburner: Pleasant Living in Planned Communities (2014, Dive): At first blush, the most attractive postpunk band I've heard in a long time, much credit to Hank Henry's vocals, clear and distinctive at once. Then it occurred to me that the archetype was really the Hold Steady -- still an impressive trick, though I'm not as sympathetic to battered soldiers as to wayward girls. A-

Jack Wright/Ben Wright/Kris Tiner: For Instance (2014, Epigraph): Jack Wright is a free jazz saxophonist (alto and soprano here), been around a long time, only haphazardly recorded (AMG likes a 1999 set on CIMP with Fred Lonborg-Holm on cello). Ben Wright is his son, playing bass. This was recorded when the duo wandered into trumpeter Tiner's lair in Bakersfield, with four rather tentative LP-length (32:50) improvs. B+(*) [bc]

Carlos "Zíngaro": Live at Mosteiro de Santa Clara a Velha (2012 [2015], Cipsela): Spanish violinist (surname, I think, is Alves), started in avant-classical but is increasingly recognized as a superb jazz musician. This is solo, with the usual limits that implies, but still remarkable. B+(**) [cd]

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Ata Kak: Obaa Sima (1994 [2015], Awesome Tapes From Africa): Ghanian musician Yaw Atta-Owusu recorded this in Toronto, then released it in a cassette-only run of 50 copies. Brian Shimkovitz picked up one of those copies in 2002 and liked it enough to feature it in his first Awesome Tapes From Africa blog post in 2006, which in turn led to his label, and finally this reissue. Seven tracks, 35:06, vocals tend toward rap, beats run on -- struck me as overly simplistic at first but grew on me. A-

Anthony Braxton: Trio and Duet (1974 [2014], Delmark/Sackville): Early work recorded in Toronto, originally released on Sackville in Canada. The Trio cut is one of Braxton's diagrammatic titles, running 19:08, with (not yet Wadada) Leo Smith on various trumpets and percussion and Richard Teitelbaum on Moog and percussion -- one of those tuneless abstractions that eventually become engaging. The other side of the LP was a standards duo with bassist Dave Holland -- "The Song Is You," "Embraceable You," "You Go to My Head" (all remarkable readings), with two more added for the reissue ("I Remember You" adds to the theme; "On Green Dolphin Street" doesn't). A- [cd]

Connie Converse: How Sad, How Lovely (1954 [2015], Squirrel Thing): In Greenwich Village of the mid-1950s, she worked odd jobs and wrote songs, recording these in Gene Deitch's kitchen, just her voice and guitar, effectively folk music but not that easy to pigeonhole. She gave up on music by 1961, and depressed in 1974 wrote several farewell letters and vanished without a trace. This finally appeared in 2009. Robert Forster is a fan. B+(**)

Coleman Hawkins/Clark Terry: Back in Bean's Bag (1962 [2014], Essential Jazz Classics): More mainstream swing than bop, the tenor saxophonist sounds typically grand, with the trumpet player chipping in, coming more into his own on the bonus tracks that double the reissue's length -- where the album finally won me over. Tommy Flanagan plays piano, another treat. A-

Next Stop . . . Soweto, Vol. 2: Soul, Funk and Organ Grooves From the Townships 1969-1976 (1969-76 [2010], Strut): First volume focused on mbaqanga, the signature pop music that made South Africa's townships famous, although it tried to stay on the steamier side, as if obscurity is a virtue. This favors chintzy funk grooves, obscure because they're derivative and unexceptional, not that they don't broaden your world. B+(*)

Next Stop . . . Soweto: Vol. 3: Giants, Ministers and Makers: Jazz in South Africa 1963-1978 (1963-78 [2010], Strut, 2CD): Many African bands retained "Jazz" names without coming close to western jazz, but a number of South Africans adopted modern forms (without ever losing their love of South African textures and rhythms), usually going into exile -- Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana are two such here, mixed in with the more native bands. Wide ranging, quite enjoyable, but mostly as an odd sampler. B+(**)

No Seattle: Forgotten Sounds of the North-West Grunge Era 1986-97 (1986-97 [2014], Soul Jazz, 2CD): I've often said that the early-1990s dominance of grunge and gangsta was what finally drove me to become a serious jazz fan (and to fill in all that early country-blues-r&b I missed growing up in the 1960s), so I didn't hold much hope for exploring the roots of something I never cared for in the first place, but here it is: 28 tracks by 23 bands which had at least one member who played on a bill with Nirvana. I did have some hope for Vampire Lezbos' "Stop Killing the Seals" until he rest of the lyric turned out to be "because they're my friends." Picks up a bit toward the end (Treehouse, Attica), well after I jotted down this Inspirational lyric: "I'm so bored/I'm so bored/I'm so-o bo-o-ored." The main lesson of grunge is that the laziest way to create something new is to forget all that happened before. B

The Rough Guide to African Rare Groove: Volume 1 ([2015], World Music Network): Pan-African: sax jive from South Africa, others from Mozambique, Ethiopia, Senegal, Nigeria; not many clues as to from when, but 1980s and 1990s are mostly suspect. Not top drawer stuff -- more like "spare groove." B+(**)

The Rough Guide to the Best African Music You've Never Heard ([2014], World Music Network): Like programming the continent for random play, you get bits from Senegal, Morocco, Sudan, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Mali, and probably other spots -- Lesotho if you count the "bonus disc," a reissue of a 2012 album by Sotho Sounds. Shouldn't be hard to pick out music "you've never heard" but a third of these groups have separate albums on the label's Riverboat subsidiary, and I have heard at least three of those (four counting Sotho Sounds) -- not that I remember them. B+(**)

Lennie Tristano: Chicago April 1951 (1951 [2014], Uptown, 2CD): Previously unreleased live tracks, picked from a week at the Blue Note Jazz Club in Chicago. Sextet, with Lee Konitz on alto sax, Warne Marsh on tenor sax, and Willie Dennis on trombone. The pianist developed his own unique conception of bebop, one that sounds radically explorative even sixty-some years later. A-

Old Music

Moppa Elliott: Moppa Elliott's Mostly Other People Do the Killing (2004 [2005], Hot Cup): First album -- I didn't get on board until Shamokin!!! came out in 2007, by which time the bassist-composer had taken his name off the masthead. The quartet's lineup has remained the same for more than a decade -- Peter Evans (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (saxes), Kevin Shea (drums). Elliott's originals only hint at where they're going, but the "Moanin'" cover at the end is magnificent. B+(***)

Chico Hamilton and Euphoria: Arroyo (1990 [1993], Soul Note): West coast drummer from the "cool jazz" generation, named this group after their 1989 album, built around guitar (Cary DeNigris) and electric bass (Reggie Washington), with Eric Person (alto/soprano sax) weaving in and out. B+(**)

Chico Hamilton and Euphoria: My Panamanian Friend (1992 [1994], Soul Note): A tribute to Eric Dolphy who wrote seven tunes here, all but the brief opening and closing passages. Kenny Davis takes over at bass (acoustic this time, I think), with Cary DeNegris' guitar still the focal point while saxophonist Eric Person wastes away on flute (though he does eventually get some prime sax time). B+(**)

James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards: Live in Aught-Three (2004, Compadre): Christgau likes how this sums up his early songbook (six albums from 1989 to 2002) -- having only heard one, I appreciate the economy of this option, probably also the sonic unity and the fact that he doesn't try to jerk these story songs into rave-ups. May take a little longer to get into them, but he's the sort of writer you'd rather let sink in. A-

Tangerine Dream: Phaedra (1974, Virgin): Edgar Froese's pioneering Krautrock group, fifth album, regarded by many as their peak. The title cut has a just enough rhythmic tension to maintain interest through its 17:39 length. The three pieces on the backside are more synth-ambient. B+(**)

Buddy Tate Quartet & Quintet: Tate a Tete: At La Fontaine, Copenhagen (1975 [1999], Storyville): The Texas tenor live in Denmark, his quartet one of those local pick-up bands although pianist Tete Montoilu is justly famous enough he gets "featuring" credit on the cover -- the bassist is Bo Stief, drummer Svend-Erik Nørregaard, and for a couple tracks the group grows to five with Finn Ziegler on violin. Tate sings "Buddy's Blues," and plays as only he can. B+(**)

Dinah Washington: Dinah Jams (1954 [1997], Verve): Taped in a studio with a live audience to conjure up the air of an after-hours jam session, with a rotating cast of star musicians -- the trumpeters are Clifford Brown, Clark Terry, and Maynard Ferguson -- and well-known songs, which Washington, ever the pro, nails. A-

Dinah Washington: Sings Fats Waller (1957 [2010], Fresh Sound): Adds nine cuts, mostly from The Queen, to the 1957 LP. Ernie Wilkins' big band runs hot and heavy, and Eddie Chamblee's vocal duets aren't up to snuff, but Washington's superb, and "Black and Blue" is a tour de force. B+(**)

Dinah Washington: Sings Bessie Smith (1957-58 [2010], Fresh Sound): Washington is the more polished singer, but she savors the gritty blues, and Eddie Chamblee's band drives the point home by emphasizing the trombone (Quentin Jackson or Julius Priester). B+(***)


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

  • [cd] based on physical cd
  • [cdr] based on an advance or promo cd or cdr
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [sc] available at soundcloud.com
  • [os] some other stream source
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, may be a bootleg someone made available, or may be a publicist promo