An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Sunday, September 15, 2019
No time (or stomach?) for an introduction.
Some scattered links this week:
Tweeted this along the way:
Monday, September 9, 2019
Music: current count 32047  rated (+27), 229  unrated (+2).
I've had a couple weeks of nagging technology problems. Got up and found both computers dead, resembling an overnight power shutdown but no indications of that anywhere else in the house. Both are on UPS's. One definitely has a bad battery, so turns out to be very interruptible. The other (my main computer) remains a mystery, and repeated a few days later, but second time was easier to power cycle. No data loss, but a bit unnerving. Main computer developed a speaker glitch after that, introducing a lot of static into music I was streaming. Haven't figured that out either, but switched to secondary computer for streaming (but speakers are inferior). It's old and I'm finding it extremely slow. The thing that bothers me most is how slow it is to wake up: closer to a minute than the 2-3 seconds of the main computer. Monitor has something to do with that, but slow as it is, it still displays connect status 5-10 seconds before getting a screen image. Tempts me to build a new one, especially as some newer and faster technology has become affordable.
Synology backup server appears to be working, although I've only set up two machines to backup so far, and I haven't checked them for updates carefully. More things I need to learn about it. One source of frustration is that I'm using an appliance router/firewall that I don't totally understand. In particular, I have it providing DHCP addresses, but it doesn't seem to provide DNS, so my computers have no way (other than fixed /etc/hosts addresses, not necessarily right with DHCP) to find my other computers. Looking at the router manual now, and don't see anything about DNS (although it does have stuff on DHCP and DDNS).
Most disconcerting glitch of the week was not being able to log into my dedicated server last night to post my Weekend Roundup. I've been informed that CPanel (the web server management gui interface software) has been bought up by the same vulture capitalists who own Plesk (their competitor). CPanel's management is celebrating their newfound monopoly by raising their prices, and enforcing this by requiring new licenses, breaking my server. Took several hours to get the hosting company to fix it, and will cost me more bucks in the future (CPanel is already almost a third of my monthly charge). Things like this make me wonder if the server's worth the cost and trouble -- or perhaps remind me that it isn't.
Lots of other things made life difficult. I could begin to enumerate them, but may not come out the other end. Some of the just boil down to being old and decrepit, which no one wants to hear about. Much pain the day I tried to cook dinner for friends, ending with two planned dishes abandoned, my kitchen stool crashed to the ground, and the front door handle falling off. On the other hand, the dishes I did manage to finish were magnificent: duck à l'orange; a salad with grilled asparagus, zucchini, and bread cheese, over arugula with roasted tomatoes and basil pesto; a sweet potato gratin, and spiced carrots; with triple chocolate mousse cake for dessert (Laura has a pic on Instagram, but I can't find it).
Some of these things cut into my listening time, which was pretty scattered anyway. Two records I had held back from last week managed to slip over the A- cusp. After making a dent in my new jazz queue, I got stuck on Avram Fefer's Testament, which I've played at least five times without writing up a grade. Release date isn't until November 8, so I'm tempted to put it aside until then. At some point I started looking for country music, and was struck at how the first four albums I sampled -- Tanya Tucker, Molly Tuttle, Dee White, Matt Carson -- wound up at the same B+(**) with different virtues and flaws. Four more records were easier to spread out (Mercury Rev, Highwomen, Ian Noe, Weldon Henson). Checked out a couple of old Bobbie Gentry albums after listening to Mercury Rev, and was surprised to find that the "classic" was a much bigger mess than the revival.
Thought I'd work on a Book Roundup mid-week, then got confused by some sloppy bookkeeping. I managed to clean that up, and will try to have a post ready mid-week (but the way things are going, could be months). I'm slowly trudging my way through Tim Alberta's American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump, which is a useful map of the various schisms on the Republican side since 2008, although it falls short of exploring the deeper roots of their cravenness and corruption. That's kept me from reading a couple of promising books I picked up at the library: Joseph Stiglitz's People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent, and Astra Taylor's Democracy May Not Exist, but We'll Miss It When It's Gone.
Also got a third book at the library, which I'm definitely not going to read but should at least crib some notes from: Mining the Social Web: Data Mining Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Github, and More (3rd edition). The one thing I want to do with it is to copy down a list of on-line resources, especially the APIs. On the other hand, I'm not finding many things I want to do in the examples. Maybe I should build a tech resources link page, if only for my own use. (I had several long ago, didn't update it, and finally disconnected them to stop getting mail from wannabe adds.)
New records reviewed this week:
Matt Carson: No Regrets (2019, Bunba): Country singer-songwriter from South Carolina, first album, a short one -- 9 songs, 29:22, six originals, three context-setting covers). A serious young man with hurt in his voice. B+(**)
James Carter Organ Trio: Live From Newport Jazz (2018 , Blue Note): From Detroit, the most impressive of the "tough young tenors" to emerge in the 1990s, unclear why he's been so rarely heard since 2011 (unless he's been holding out for another major label). He formed his Organ Trio for a live album in 2005, revived it for another in 2011, then nothing until this festival date. With Gerald Gibbs on organ and newcomer Alexander White on drums. Some extraordinary saxophone. Organ doesn't strike me as anything special. B+(***)
Avishai Cohen/Yonathan Avishai: Playing the Room (2018 , ECM): Two Israelis, trumpet and piano, very intimate. B+(*)
Marco Colonna/Agustí Fernandez/Zlatko Kaucic: Agrakal (2017 , Not Two): Clarinet/baritone sax, backed by piano and drums. Tends toward harsh, but the rhythm can get energetic enough to overcome that problem. B+(**)
Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell (2019, Polydor/Interscope): Sixth album, starts with a dollop of strings and proceeds so slyly, so ethereally, I never really notice the title in the title song. Still, nearly every song seduces me in the end, maybe with a riff on "Summertime," or a choice expletive I happened to notice. Ends with: "Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have." Claims it anyway. A-
Jeff Denson/Romain Pilon/Brian Blade: Between Two Worlds (2019, Ridgeway): Bass-guitar-drums trio, Denson and Pilon splitting the writing credits. Nothing very splashy, but intricate, nicely done. B+(*) [cd]
Eliane Elias: Love Stories (2019, Concord): Jazz pianist from Brazil, pretty well established before she started playing (1990) or singing (1994) Jobim, but vocals and Brazilian rhythms have increasingly dominated her work, as is evident here. That's not necessarily a problem, but sometimes the strings are. B+(*)
Frode Gjerstad/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Matthew Shipp: Season of Sadness (2018 , Iluso): Alto sax/clarinet, cello, and piano. "We are living in a sad moment in time." Avant music that demands thinking, that doesn't lull you into a comfort zone, but also doesn't offer many answers. B [bc]
Weldon Henson: Texas Made Honky Tonk (2018, Hillbilly Renegade): Country singer-songwriter, grew up in Humble, Texas, sounds a lot like vintage Joe Ely. The voice, anyway -- doesn't have the piano, but gets by with his guitar (and some pedal steel), especially when he doesn't dawdle. (Not that I have any complaints about "Not the Kind to Hang Around.") A- [os]
The Highwomen: The Highwomen (2019, Elektra): Patterned on the Highwaymen -- the 1984 supergroup of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson -- starting with Jimmy Webb's title melody, keeping the syllable count from "waymen" to "women." Not so super voices, but accomplished writers -- Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires -- with guest slots (Yola, Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert). Lot of talent. Not much to show for it. B
Florian Hoefner Trio: First Spring (2018 , ALMA): German pianist, based in St. John's, Newfoundland (not a town I've ever associated with jazz before). Fifth album I've heard, trio with Andrew Downing (bass) and Nick Fraser (drums). Always strikes me as a sharp, thoughtful player, roughly comparable to Fred Hersch. B+(***) [cd]
Urs Leimgruber/Jacques Demierre/Barre Phillips/Thomas Lehn: Willisau (2017 , Jazzwerkstatt): Cover lists the saxophonist (tenor/soprano) above the title, the others (piano, bass, analogue synthesizer) below, Lehn standing out in red (like the title). Joint improv, has some moments but widely scattered. B
Mercury Rev: Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited (2019, Partisan): Indie rock band from Buffalo, debut album 1991, Christgau described their fifth (first gold) album as "soundtrack-rock." This is their tenth, something different: a remake of most of the one-hit country wonder's 1968 second album with an "Old to Billie Joe" thrown in for good measure. Each song has a guest singer, starting with Norah Jones and finishing with Lucinda Williams, but most could be anonymous. B
Ian Noe: Between the Country (2019, National Treasury): Country singer-songwriter, from Kentucky, first album, after an EP. B+(***)
Purple Mountains: Purple Mountains (2019, Drag City): One-shot album by singer-songwriter David Berman, who recorded as Silver Jews 1994-2008, released less than a month before his suicide at 52. Seems like a very solid effort, open and accessible, perhaps something that grow on you. B+(**)
Michele Rabbia/Gianluca Petrella/Eivind Aarset: Lost River (2018 , ECM): Italian percussionist, albums start in 1996 but he rarely gets top billing. Here with trombone and guitar, everyone also credited with electronics or "sounds." Fades into ambient, and doesn't do much there. B
Rapsody: Eve (2019, Roc Nation): Rapper Mariana Evans, from North Carolina, old enough to cite MC Lyte as a model. She had a commercial breakthrough last time out, netting more guests and samples here, 16 songs that run long, that will no doubt pay dividends if given more attention than I can muster. B+(***)
Enrico Rava/Joe Lovano: Roma (2018 , ECM): With Giovanni Guidi (piano), Dezron Douglas (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums), listed on cover below the title. Leaders play trumpet and tenor sax (plus tarogato), and are justly famous. Live meeting, must have seemed like a big deal, but only occasionally seems to connect. B+(*)
Raphael Saadiq: Jimmy Lee (2019, Columbia): Soul singer-songwriter, started in the group Tony! Toni! Toné! (1988-96), went solo in 2002, only his fifth album, eight years after Stone Rollin' took the critics' polls by storm. Ghetto drama, lament for a dead brother, but the music is strong enough to persevere. Highlight is a rap, Change of pace is a gospel in lieu of a funeral. A-
Leo Sherman: Tonewheel (2019, Outside In Music): Bassist, seems to be his first album, originals plus one cover of a Victor Jara song. Quintet, with tenor sax (Paul Jones), guitar (Alex Goodman, piano (Ben Winkelman), and drums (Dan Pugach). Tries to do a lot of different things: Jones' more avant stretches always catch my ear before moving on to something else. [10-25] B+(*) [cd]
Tanya Tucker: While I'm Livin' (2019, Fantasy): Country singer, been around so long I'm surprised she's only 60, but she was 13 when she broke her first hit. Twenty-fifth album, her first since 2009's My Turn, which without much research I ventured was her best ever. (I did listen to The Upper 48 Hits: 1972-1997, and gave it a B.) Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings produced this one, with Carlile co-writing 7 (of 10) songs (only one co-credited to Tucker). Still, the covers are more striking. B+(**)
Molly Tuttle: When You're Ready (2019, Compass): Bluegrass singer-songwriter from Santa Clara County, California, plays banjo and guitar. Played in family group the Tuttles, at 13 recording an album of duets with her father Jack Tuttle. First solo album, fortified by her fingerpicking. B+(**) [bc]
Dee White: Southern Gentleman (2018, Easy Eye Sound/Warner Music Nashville): Country singer-songwriter from Alabama, long-haired male barely 20, first album. Oddly enough, song that most impressed me was his drippiest ballad ("Oh No"). Brings out something in his voice. B+(**)
Young Thug: So Much Fun (2019, 300/Atlantic/YSL): Atlanta rapper Jeffery Williams, officially his debut studio album (although I have a dozen others in my database). B+(***)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
The Vaughn Nark Quintet: Back in the Day (1982-83 , Summit): Trumpet player, based in DC, spent twenty years with the USAF Airmen of Note, spanning the period when this was recorded. Three originals, repertoire from Gillespie through Walrath with a few standards like "Caravan" and "Over the Rainbow." Has some chops. B [cd]
Bobbie Gentry: Ode to Billie Joe (1967, Capitol): Roberta Lee Streeter, born in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, recorded seven albums 1967-71, first album named for his crossover pop single. Second best song: "Bugs." B
Bobby Gentry: The Delta Sweete (1968, Capitol): Second album, reissued in 1971 as Tobacco Road and 1972 as Way Down South. No hits, a very scattered mix ranging from delta blues to Cajun hoedown to baroque pop (very baroque). C+
Weldon Henson: Weldon Henson's Honky Tonk Frontier (2015, Hillbilly Renegade): Fourth album, does a nice job of working up his light, breezy honky tonk sound, closer to Lubbock than his home town of Humble (near Houston, in 1903 an oil boomtown, later the name of one of the Standard Oil companies). B+(***)
Weldon Henson: One Heart's Gone (2011, self-released): Working backwards, seems closer to his honky tonk roots, but keeps his head down. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, September 8, 2019
Hurricane Dorian, which last weekend was still wreaking unimaginable damage in the Bahamas while trudging slowly toward the Florida coast (or, for one poor soul with a rigidly linear flat-Earth imagination, Alabama), and a week later still exists, albeit downgraded to to post-tropical cyclone status, as it threads the strait between Newfoundland and Labrador, expected some time Monday to pass off the south coast of Greenland. The eye never crossed land on the east coast of the US, but came close enough to produce hurricane-force winds, storm surges, and scattered tornadoes from Florida to North Carolina. When it finally made landfall in Nova Scotia, it was still producing Category 2 winds, and Category 1 as far north as Newfoundland. It is officially tied with a 1935 "Labor Day" hurricane as the strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic.
Since Dorian formed in the tropical Atlantic on August 23, three more named storms have come and gone: Erin, which formed over the Bahamas ahead of Dorian, proceeded northeast to Florida then out into the Atlantic, eventually producing heavy rains in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick; Fernand, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico and landed in Mexico; and Gabrielle, which formed in the mid-Atlantic and is now headed toward Ireland and Scotland. The Atlantic hurricane season continues to November 30, with Humberto the next name.
The Atlantic put a paywall on their website this week, limiting readers to 5 "free" articles per month, so I probably won't bother with them any more. They've moved to the right over the past year (although not especially toward Trump -- David Frum and Conor Friedersdorf are regulars), which cuts down on their utility. My wife subscribes to a bunch of things, and I take advantage of that, but haven't added to her list myself. Back when we bought a lot of magazines, I recall liking Harper's more than Atlantic (at least when Lewis Lapham was editor), but I haven't read them in ages. Looks like they offer a better subscription deal than Atlantic.
My own website remains free in every sense of the word (including free of advertising and pitches for money), so I feel entitled to my high horse. Of course, I realize the need publications have to raise money to continue operations, and I understand that it's generally good for writers to get paid, especially for serious work. But I also recognize that few people have the wherewithal (much less the interest) to read everything of likely interest. In this world, paywalls help balkanize public discourse, helping to herd us into isolated, self-selected hives. This isn't a good system. Nor is advertising a good answer. Nor do we have the political will to support a development system that would make public goods (like, but not limited to, news) universally accessible. But that's the sort of solution we should be thinking about.
Some scattered links this week:
Monday, September 2, 2019
Music: current count 32020  rated (+36), 227  unrated (-9).
Rated count topped 32,000 this week. I'd count that as a milestone, if not exactly news, as the accumulation has been as steady as time since I posted my first rated count of 8,080 in January 2003. That was about the time I started writing Recycled Goods plus the occasional Village Voice review, leading up to Jazz Consumer Guide, and a bit of work for Rolling Stone, Seattle Weekly, and F5. Those outlets opened up a stream of promo copies that continues (somewhat abated, often just a trickle) to this day. But as the mail thinned out, I resorted increasingly to streaming to make up the difference and expand my horizons. Since 2003, I've averaged a bit less than 30 per week (28.75), a bit less than 1,500 per year (1495). If I made a chart of that, I imagine it would show an upward slant from 2003-11 (when Jazz CG ended, then a plateau, tailing off a bit the last couple years).
Before 2003, that 8,080 came from close to 30 years of record buying (with a few promos in the late-1970s). That averages out to about 5 records per week, 270 per year, but a graph wouldn't be flat: you'd find an initial bulge peaking around 1977-78, a long trough, and a marked increase from 1995 on. I listened to music in my teens, but never bought much until I got my first steady job around 1973. My early music writings start in 1974, including a few reviews for the Village Voice in 1975-79. I gave them up around 1980, when I landed an engineering job and moved to New Jersey. I cut way back on my record buying there, and it's possible that some years I bought less than 100, maybe as few as 50. I moved to Boston in 1985, and found myself spending more time in record stores. I started buying CDs relatively late, and my pace picked up around 1995 when I got into a big jazz/roots kick. That continued when I returned to Kansas in 1999, as I built up the level of expertise that allowed me to write Recycled Goods and Jazz Consumer Guide.
But what really got me back into writing, aside from losing my software engineering job and finding few suitable opportunities, was encouragement from Michael Tatum, Bob Christgau, and (decisively) Laura Tillem. Still, I never planned on making music my central (let alone exclusive) writing focus, and I've sometimes wondered whether it hasn't just been a zero-sum game. I could have spent the last 20 years writing free software (as I had started in the 1990s with Ftwalk. I put a fair amount of effort into an open source business plan for home automation, and could have returned to that, or developed any number of tangential ideas. I also had a scheme for writer-oriented websites, of which Robert Christgau's was intended as a prototype. (One more I built was for Carol Cooper.) Several things distracted me from those paths (although I still maintain those two websites).
The other path I considered was writing political philosophy, which had been my main interest before getting sidetracked into music critique in the mid-1970s. I had soured on politics by 1975, and as I turned away from music around 1980 I wound up reading mostly science (making up for turning away from my early interest), engineering, and business. Laura reminded me that I still knew quite a bit about politics and history, and I toyed with the idea of writing a political book in the late 1990s. September 11, 2001 got me to reading history, politics, and economics again. (You can peruse my reading list -- the data file for my "Recent Reading" blog widget, newly formatted -- here.) I wound up writing several tons of political commentary -- not quite what I envisioned, but scattered with a fair number of serious ideas (some much more distinctive than the grunt work I've cranked out on music).
Seems like I've always been a notoriously slow reader and a poky, easily distracted writer, so for a good while I just took some comfort in getting any writing done at all. The on-line notebook has about 6.5 million words since 2000, and I've compiled much of that into nine ODT files averaging 1500 pages each (4 on music, 4 on politics, 1 personal). I can't claim they're very good, but when I dip into them I often find things worth remembering and even repeating. Still, these days I'm more likely to think of them as opportunity costs: if only I had focused on one thing or the other, maybe I'd have something much better to show for all the effort. Rating (and more/less reviewing) 32,000 records has been a pretty ridiculous thing to do -- as proven by the fact that no one else has been so foolish to do something that required nothing more than a lot of disposable hours. The only thing that would have been a bigger waste of time was not bothering to take notes.
As I wrote the above, I listened to three more albums, including a rather nice one by Florian Hoefner that is certain to remain below damn near everyone's interest threshold. I have little more to add on the records listed below. One thing is that there's only one non-jazz album among the new releases (but three in the recent compilations). Partly, I played quite a few new albums from the promo queue. I also added the 4.5/5.0 star reviewed records from The Free Jazz Collective to my 2019 metacritic file, and that pointed me to more new jazz (including several 2018 releases I had missed). But partly it was just one of those weeks when I felt much more certain about the jazz I heard than the non-jazz. The non-jazz exceptions this week came from Phil Overeem's latest list update (ok, Two Niles was on his 2018 list, but I found it on the Bandcamp page for Star Band De Dakar).
I listened to two other non-jazz records from this list, but couldn't make up my mind and held them back: Lana Del Rey's Norman Fucking Rockwell (number 5) and Raphael Saadiq's Jimmy Lee (18). I'm attracted to and resistant to both, which means they'll probably wind up high B+, but I'm not certain enough to say. Thanks to working on the metacritic file, I'm probably more aware of new non-jazz right now than any time this year, but less sure of my ears. On the other hand, this is definitely a good year for jazz.
New records reviewed this week:
Sophie Agnel/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Aqisseq (2016 , ONJazz): French pianist, close to a dozen albums since 2000, backed by bass and drums. Piano sounds prepared, never quite where you expect it. B+(**)
Kenyatta Beasley Septet: The Frank Foster Songbook (2019, Art Vs Transit, 2CD): Trumpet player, from New Orleans, regards Foster (alto saxophonist, a major arranger for Count Basie, died 2011) as a mentor. Beasley's septet is effectively a big band, especially with a batch of special guests. Unabashed swing, runs long. B+(**)
Ray Blue: Work (2019, Jazzheads): Tenor saxophonist, several records since 2001, wrote a couple songs here but mostly sticks with standards. Backed by guitar, piano, bass, drums, and occasional guests (some trombone, plus piano spots for Kirk Lightsey and Benito Gonzalez). Easy listening as it should be. B+(**) [cd]
Cat in a Bag: Cat in a Bag (2019, Clean Feed): Quartet, recorded in Berlin but Portuguese musicians: Bruno Figueira (sax), João Clemente (guitar), João Lucas (bass), Duarte Fonseca (drums). Rockish in spots, although too avant to fit easily into the fusion bag. B+(***)
Corey Christiansen: La Proxima (2019, Origin): Guitarist, sixth album since 2008, backed by bass, drums, and more percussion. Long on groove, with a touch of Abercrombie. B+(*) [cd]
Peter Eldridge/Kenny Werner: Somewhere (2019, Rosebud Music): Jazz singer, member of New York Voices and Moss, has several previous albums on his own. Werner, of course, is the well-known pianist, so you might hope for something like the Tony Bennett/Bill Evans duets, but the music starts off with thick (hype sheet says "lush") strings. Better on the rare occasions when they let up, but not much. C- [cd]
Haruna Fukazawa: Departure (2019, Summit): Flute player, from Japan, based in New York, has a previous record as Jazz Triangle. Quintet with Steve Wilson (soprano sax/flute), piano, bass, and drums. Four originals, four covers, nice arrangements of Strayhorn and Silver. B+(*) [cd]
Olli Hirvonen: Displace (2019, Ropeadope): Finnish guitarist, based in New York, third album, quartet with piano (Luke Marantz), bass, and drums. Got some high-flying groove. B+(**) [cd]
I Jahbar and Friends: Inna Duppy SKRS Soundclash (2019, Bokeh Versions): Jabari Miller, aka Jahbar I, album cover (and Bandcamp page) suggests this parse. Dancehall evolves, picking up all sorts of cosmic crud. B- [bc]
Michael Gregory Jackson Clarity Quartet: Whenufindituwillknow (2019, Golden): Guitarist, recorded the album Clarity in 1976 with future stars Oliver Lake, David Murray, and Leo Smith, plus a few more into the 1980s when he turned more to pop and started using the name Michael Gregory. Reclaimed his full name, and his avant-jazz rep, recently. Quartet with alto/soprano sax (Sion Spang-Hanssen), bass, and drums. B+(**) [bc]
Roberto Magris Sextet: Sun Stone (2019, JMood): Pianist, from Italy, mainstream player fond of cool jazz icons -- has featured Herb Geller, and here sets the tables for Ira Sullivan (flute, alto/soprano saxes). Sextet adds trumpet (Shareef Clayton), tenor sax (Mark Colby), bass, and drums. Lush isn't the right word, but does seem like some kind of luxury. B+(***) [cd]
Todd Marcus: Trio+ (2019, Stricker Street): Bass clarinet player, based in Baltimore, fifth album, the trio is with Aleem Saleem or Jeff Reed on bass and Ralph Peterson or Eric Kennedy on drums, the plus is Sean Jones (trumpet) on four cuts. B+(**) [cd]
Joe McPhee/John Edwards/Klaus Kugel: Journey to Parazzar (2017 , Not Two): McPhee plays tenor sax and pocket trumpet, free and hard, backed by bass and drums. B+(***)
Dave Miller Trio: Just Imagine (2019, Summit): Need to sort this out some time. Initially file this under guitarist Dave Miller, but this one plays piano, somewhere in Northern California, "for quite a few years," with a previous album identified as his fifth. Backed by bass and drums, this is a romp through the George Shearing songbook, which is to say standards (including Charlie Parker) done bright and frothy. B+(**) [cd]
Nérija: Blume (2019, Domino): London jazz collective, mostly female septet, best-known is Nubya Garcia (tenor sax), also includes alto sax (Cassie Kinoshi), trumpet (Sheila Maurice-Grey), trombone (Rosie Turton), guitar (Shirley Tetteh), bass (Rio Kai), and drums (Lizy Exell). Some groove with their slick post-bop. B+(*)
Bill O'Connell and the Afro Caribbean Ensemble: Wind Off the Hudson (2019, Savant): Pianist, New Yorker, first album 1978, since then moved into Latin jazz, mostly with the Latin Jazz All-Stars. The Latinos here are mostly in the rhythm section (Robby Ameen, Roman Diaz), while the horn section is chocked full of stars (Craig Handy, Ralph Bowen, Gary Smulyan, Alex Sipiagin, Conrad Herwig). B+(**) [cd]
The Ogún Meji Duo: Spirits of the Egungun (2019, CFG Multimedia): Duo, drums (Mark Lomax) and tenor saxophone (Edwin Bayard), looks like the seventh duo album since #BlackLivesMatter in 2014, although I'm finding very few details on this particular one. They've worked together at least since 1999, powerful in small groups, intense as a duo. The main thing I worry about is that when I go back their trademark sound is so imposing I'll be unable to differentiate and get bowled over by all of them. A-
Mike Pachelli: High Standards (2019, Fullblast): Guitarist, several previous albums. Trio with Tony Levin (bass) and Danny Gottlieb (drums), playing standards. B+(*) [cd]
Jason Palmer: Rhyme and Reason (2018 , Giant Step Arts, 2CD): Trumpet player, half-dozen albums since 2014. Pianoless quartet, second horn is Mark Turner's tenor sax, backed by Matt Brewer (bass) and Kendrick Scott (drums). Four longish pieces on each disc, very solid work. B+(***)
Jeff Parker/Jeb Bishop/Pandelis Karayorgis/Nate McBride/Luther Gray: The Diagonal Filter (2018, Not Two): "The Diagonal" seems to be a group name, but even the label parses the album this way. Boston-based piano trio with two Chicagoans: Parker on guitar and Bishop on trombone. Each impressive on his own, they don't quite fit together seamlessly. B+(**)
Pearring Sound: Nothing but Time (2018 , self-released): Alto saxophonist Jeff Pearring, from Colorado, based in New York since 2002, has a previous album under this moniker. Trio with Adam Lane (bass) and Tim Ford (drums), with a bit of edge and a steady hand. B+(***) [cd]
David Sanchez: Carib (2018 , Ropeadope): Tenor saxophonist from Puerto Rico, had a strong run of albums for Columbia 1994-2004 (pick hit: Obsesion), haven't heard much from him since Ninety Miles in 2011. Lots of percussion here, featuring the barril de bomba as well as Obed Calvaire's drums. With Luis Perdomo on keyboards, Lage Lund on guitar, Ricky Rodriguez on bass. Of course, the sax sounds terrific. B+(***)
Dana Saul: Ceiling (2018 , Endectomorph): Pianist, first album, all original pieces, sextet with Kevin Sun (tenor sax), Adam O'Farrill (trumpet), Patrick Brennan (vibes), bass, and drums. Early on the music builds tension while featuring the vibraphone to introduce tiny fissures. Then the horns fill in and finally build the whole thing up. A candidate for debut album of the year (as was Sun's 2018 debut, Trio). A- [cd]
Rob Scheps: Comencio (2019, SteepleChase): Saxophonist (pictured with a tenor, but plays the whole gamut), originally from Oregon, studied at New England Conservatory, may be first album as leader. With Jamie Reynolds (piano), Cameron Brown (bass), and Jesse Simpson (drums). B+(**)
Harvey Sorgen/Joe Fonda/Marilyn Crispell: Dreamstruck (2018, Not Two): Drums-bass-piano trio, no obvious reason why they are listed in this order, as most pieces are joint improvs (two covers, one from Crispell's long-time drummer Paul Motian). Starts with a soft one, then adds more strength here and there, drawing you in. A-
Lyn Stanley: London With a Twist: Live at Bernie's (2019, A.T. Music): Standards singer, from Tacuma, half-dozen albums, did a Julie London tribute last year. Reprises three songs here, adds nine more. "You Never Can Tell" jumps out at me, but I'm also taken by her "Body and Soul." B+(**) [cd]
The Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet: Sweet Oranges (2017 , Not Two): Thornton was an avant trumpet player (1936-89), did most of his work 1966-78, including a couple of big years with Archie Shepp, other notable side work from Sun Ra to Joe McPhee to Anthony Braxton. Group here: Daunik Lazro (baritone/tenor sax), Joe McPhee (valve trombone/tenor sax), Jean-Marc Foussat (synthesizer), and Makoto Sato (drums). Title piece runs 43:58, followed by an 8:25 "Encore." B+(*)
Tucker Brothers: Two Parts (2019, self-released): Nick (bass) and Joel (guitar) Tucker, first album, with Sam Imboden (sax) and Brian Yarde (drums), plus scattered guests (best known is tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III). B [cd]
Ken Vandermark/Klaus Kugel/Mark Tokar: No-Exit Corner (2016 , Not Two): Tenor sax and clarinet, a set recorded live at Alchemia Club Krakow, with local bass (Tokar) and drums (Kugel). I should hedge this a bit, but this is the full-throated way you like to hear him play. [3/5 tracks] B+(***)
Luís Vicente/Vasco Trilla: A Brighter Side of Darkness (2018 , Clean Feed): Trumpet and percussion duo, from Portugal and Spain respectively. Three extended pieces, rather difficult going, but they do surprise now and then. B+(*)
John Yao's Triceratops: How We Do (2018 , See Tao): Trombonist, based in New York, has several previous albums including a big band affair. Quintet with two saxophonists (Billy Drewes and Jon Irabagon), bass and drums. Like its namesake, slow and dull at first, but formidable when they finally get moving. B+(**) [cd]
Jason Yeager: New Songs of Resistance (2018 , Outside In Music): Pianist, based in New York, fifth album, mostly originals (Chico Buarque gets a cover), most with words (sung by Erini, Farayi Malek, or Mirella Costa), piano trio with guest spots for horns and cello. Much to resist these days, but I doubt these will prove at catchy as the folkies of yore or various hip-hoppers. B+(*) [cd]
Miguel Zenón: Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera (2019, Miel Music): Tribute to the Puerto Rican singer-songwriter (1931-87), known as El Sonero Mayor. Starts disconcertingly with vocals, what sounds like a sample, but soon the alto saxophonist's superb quartet takes over: Luis Perdomo (piano), Hans Glawischnig (bass), and Henry Cole (drums). Dazzling at speed, soulful on the ballads. A- [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Prince: Originals (1981-91 , NPG/Warner Brothers): Previously unreleased demos for songs Prince wrote (or co-wrote) for other artists. As demos go, these are far from minimal, although the backup is fairly generic. Not sure why I find them so tedious. Not his better songs, although the exception ("The Glamorous Life") was simply better in other hands (nod to Sheila E.). B-
Sounds of Liberation: Unreleased (Columbia University 1973) (1973 , Dogtown): Avant-jazz group from Philadelphia led by Byard Lancaster (reeds) and Khan Jamal (vibes), with Monnette Sudler (guitar), Billy Mills (bass), Dwight James (drums), and William Brister (percussion). Group recorded one studio album, which I know from its 2010 reissue as Sounds of Liberation, but was originally (and most recently) titled New Horizons. Lancaster's sax is the strong voice here, but he defers early to the vibes, and B+(*)
Star Band De Dakar: Psicodelia Afro-Cubana De Senegal (1960s-70s , Ostinato): Formed a year after the Cuban Revolution -- this is billed as a 60th anniversary tribute -- Ibrahim Kassé's band, a forerunner of Etoile de Dakar and Orchestra Baobab -- was one of the first to bring Cuban music back to its African roots. Not clear when these particular tracks were recorded. [The band's works have been collected in 12 volumes, but no dates on them either. The songs on this compilation are from volumes 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, and 12.] B+(***)
Two Niles to Sing a Melody: The Violins & Synths of Sudan (1970s-80s , Ostinato): Mostly recorded in Khartoum before the 1989 coup turned the nation toward Salafi Islam and against pop music, although it's possible some tracks were recorded later, in exile -- this label doesn't offer discographical details. Closer to Ethiopia than to Egypt, more emphasis on groove, also on cheese. A- [bc]
Louis Moholo-Moholo: Duets With Marilyn Crispell: Sibanye (We Are One) (2007 , Intakt): South African drummer, duets with the pianist, in her usual good form here. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, September 1, 2019
The lead story for most of next week will be Hurricane Dorian, which as I write this (see here and here) is a Category 5 Hurricane moving slowly through the Bahamas toward the coast of Florida. It is expected to turn north and follow the coast (possibly without the eye making landfall) up to North Carolina, where it will most likely head back into the Atlantic. The current tracking forecast puts it off the coast of Palm Beach around 2PM Tuesday, Jacksonville 2PM Wednesday, close to the SC/NC border 2PM Thursday, and straight east of the NC/Va border 2PM Friday. Presumably the storm will lose intensity as it drifts north, but not as quickly as it would if it landed. Rain forecasts are relatively mild, but the coast will see storm surges and a lot of wind.
Dorian was still a tropical storm when it passed over the Windward Islands last Monday (55 mph winds in Barbados, 4.1 inches of rain in Martinique). It wasn't much stronger when it crossed Puerto Rico, but was predicted to intensify to Category 3 or 4 as it headed through the Bahamas to Florida. It did more than that, reaching sustained winds of 185 mph and gusts to 225 mph. The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season has been relatively mild so far, even compared to the forecasts (12 named storms, 5 hurricanes, 2 major). With the season about half over, there have been 5 named storms (TS Erin was named after Dorian, but has already dissipated), 2 hurricanes, 1 major (Dorian). The season continues through the end of November, so we're not much below expectations.
Some scattered links this week:
Monday, August 26, 2019
Music: current count 31984  rated (+40), 236  unrated (-7).
Spent most of last week listening to old records from my "unrated" list. Most, I think, are used CDs I bought between 1999, when we moved back to Wichita, and 2003-04, when I started getting a lot of promos for Recycled Goods and Jazz Consumer Guide. During that period I used to make regular trips to Oklahoma City (sometimes Tulsa, once even to Kansas City) where I'd pile up 30-50 CDs at a time. Also made a few cross-country trips in those years, where I would spend whole days traipsing around cities like Denver and Phoenix, scrounging around. In several cases I cleaned up on store closeouts. Actually, I did that for a few more years, but stopped buying locally after Yesterdays and Wherehouse went out of business, and that did much to break the pattern. (Wichita still has a number of CD Tradepost stores, but I've never liked them. Google also lists a Spektrum Muzik, which I should probably look into -- although at this point I'd be more tempted to sell than to buy.) Of course, the other thing that broke my shopping habit was Rhapsody. I started doing Streamnotes in late 2007, and my purchases plummeted after that.
Some unrated records are older LPs. Not sure when I started keeping a ratings list. I've had personal computers since about 1980 (an Ithaca Intersystems DPS-1 with a Z-80, 64K RAM, S-100 bus, two 8-inch floppy discs, ran CP/M, ran me close to $5,000, not counting the Heathkit terminal I soldered together; I actually had an Apple II before that, but decided it was crap and never bought from Apple again), so I could have started any time after that, but I certainly had one by the mid-1990s. That list didn't always have grades -- I assigned them mostly from memory, which had already begun to fail on many older/less played LPs. I sold off most of my LPs in 1999 before moving to Wichita, so may no longer have some items logged as unrated. (On the other hand, I recall dozens of early albums not on the records list, so it was never perfectly accurate.)
I started counting up unrated records in March 2003, when my rated count was 8,067 and the unrateds totalled 821. The unrated count jumped to 899 the next week after a bout of shopping. It went down for a few weeks, then shot up again, finally peaking at 1,157 in July 2004. I've gradually whittled it down since then, dropping under 1,000 in December 2004, under 800 in July 2007 (although it climbed back to 888 in April 2011), under 600 in December 2012, under 400 in April 2015, and under 300 in September 2018, and 243 last week. I thought I'd try to knock it down further this week. I gathered up a bunch of CDs from the list, and streamed a few I didn't bother hunting down. That explains both why I have so much "old music" this week, and why it seems so abritrarily selected. Still, my efforts were undone by a sudden burst of incoming mail (bringing the recent queue up to 26 albums, although most of their release dates are well into Fall).
Working off my unrated list results in some curious choices below. For instance, the Lenny Breau/Brad Terry album is only about a third of the one you'd probably buy these days, 2003's The Complete Living Room Tapes, but I cut that down to match the one I owned (didn't find it, but I remember the cover). Similarly, you'd buy the Michael Mantler twofer, where I only had the Silence half (probably on vinyl, but in this case I did bother to stream the other half. I listened to extra albums where they struck my fancy: by Arrow, Hackberry Ramblers, Jasper Van't Hof, Papa Wemba, and Jack DeJohnette (and threw in an average grade for the latter's box, since I've heard all the pieces and that's how they're available on Napster). But I didn't bother with the first Songhai album, or the earlier and later volumes by the Bluegrass Album Band, to mention a couple of obvious series. I imagine I'll keep nibbling away at the unrated list, but already I'm seeing diminishing returns.
Expect a new edition of XgauSez by the time you read this. I should also have an update to the Consumer Guide database real soon now. I've added the last batch of Expert Witness reviews to my local copy so I should be able to do an update any time. I'll send mail to the tech email list when I do, and go into more detail about redesign plans.
I reckon I can pass on a link that Joe Yanosik sent me: a piece by Geoff Edgers called The summer of 1969, when Elvis made his true comeback, which includes some bits of interview with Christgau.
Tried to get my new Synology backup server running last week, and ultimately failed. I'll take another shot at it this week. The machine also has potential as a media server -- something I have a clear need for, but never put enough time into to really figure out. Also made another Friday dinner for Max Stewart. Thought I'd do something easy/lazy this time, so made pastisio, a green bean ragout, and horiatiki salad: basic Greek country cooking. I felt good enough about it I might try something a bit more challenging next time.
New records reviewed this week:
Clairo: Immunity (2019, Fader): Singer-songwriter Claire Cottrill, self-released songs on Bandcamp since she was 15, scoring a viral video his with "Pretty Girl" in 2017. First proper album, a modest improvement over lo-fi, some catchy tunes (Rostam Batmanglij co-produced), but I'm still having trouble tuning into the lyrics. B+(***)
CP Unit: Riding Photon Time (2018 , Eleatic): Initials stand for Chris Pitsiokos (alto sax/electronics), third album with this group, personnel changes but formula remains electric guitar, electric bass, and drums (Sam Lisabeth, Henry Fraser, Jason Nazary). Live album from two sets in Germany and Austria, covering some pieces from their studio albums. The bent township jive of "A Knob on the Face of a Man" is my choice cut, but everything connects, on occasion hitting a raw nerve. A-
G-Eazy: The Beautiful & Damned (2017, BPG/RVG/RCA): White rapper from Oakland, hit the charts with his 2014 album, this his fourth, got some brutal reviews (59 at Metacritic), not obvious to me why. Like Eminem, he builds on sung choruses and sampled hooks. Also makes extensive use of featured guests (most notably Cardi B), making it hard to locate him either in the ghetto or the suburbs. Runs long (74:22). Closer nails Trump: called "Easy," it's about what isn't. B+(***)
Steve Lehman Trio/Craig Taborn: The People I Love (2018-19 [2019[, Pi): Alto saxophonist, an Anthony Braxton protégé, a very smart composer with outstanding chops, is in near-perfect form here. A very tight quartet, the banner "trio" accounting for Matt Brewer on bass and Damion Reid on drums, while allowing the more famous pianist's name to grace the front cover. A [cd]
Nils Lofgren: Blue With Lou (2019, Cattle Track Road): Singer-songwriter, probably better known as a guitarist-for-hire used by Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, although he has a pretty long list of solo albums (Wikipedia lists 27; I'm surprised to only find one in my database: his eponymous debut, which I gave an A-; I do have several listings for his 1971-74 group Grin). "Lou" is Reed. Lofgren co-wrote three songs on Reed's 1979 album, The Bells -- one ("City Lights") reprised here. B+(*)
Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark: Screen Off (2019, PNL): Long-running avant drums and reeds duo, sometimes credited the other way around. Twenty-one bits here, audio skimmed from unofficial YouTube videos and pasted together like a mixtape into a 42:00 track. Does bounce around a bit. B+(**) [bc]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Cannonball Adderley: Swingin' in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1967 (1966-67 , Reel to Reel): Alto saxophonist, ran one of the top hard bop jazz groups from 1958, although they faded in the late 1960s as mainstream labels collapsed and musicians gravitated toward fusion. This is a quintet with brother Nat Adderley on cornet, Joe Zawinul on piano, Victor Gaskin on bass, and Roy McCurdy on drums. A previously unreleased live tape. B+(***)
Big Stick: Some of the Best of Big Stick (1985-91 , Drag Racing Underground): John Gill and Yanna Trance met in art school, formed this very underground punk-industrial band, cut a few short records, including a 10-inch EP Christgau liked, and a 23-track CD I bought and shelved somewhere. They resurfaced in 2019 with a possibly new LP and a 15-track Most of the Best of Big Stick, but all I found was this cut-down 10-cut, 25:01 sampler. Move into Sonic Youth territory on "California Dreamin'." B+(**)
Marvin Gaye: You're the Man (1972 , Motown): "Lost" album, intended to follow What's Going On, but was cancelled after the title cut was released as a single. Most of it was released in dribs and drabs over the years. His sound is intact, the songs a mixed bag but the title one scores points. B+(**)
Arrow: Soca Savage (1984, Arrow): Soca star from Montserrat, Alphonsus Cassell (1949-2010), thirty albums 1972-2002, this the only one I picked up, distributed worldwide by London. Big beat, lots of enthusiasm, recorded a little harshly. B+(*)
Arrow: Knock Dem Dead (1987 , Mango): First album picked up by Island, hoping soca might be the next thing after interest in reggae wanes. Leads off with "Groove Master," and winds up with two remixes of same. B+(**)
The Bluegrass Album Band: The Bluegrass Album, Vol. 3: California Connection (1983, Rounder): Tony Rice sings and plays guitar, backed by other semi-famous bluegrass players -- J.D. Crowe (banjo), Jerry Douglas (dobro), Bobby Hicks (fiddle), Doyle Lawson (mandolin), Todd Phillips (bass), with Crowe and Lawson also singing. Starts with a Gram Parsons song ("Devil in Disguise") but that seems to be it for California. After that it's back to Kentucky, with no less than five Lester Flatt tunes. B+(**)
Lenny Breau & Brad Terry: The Living Room Tapes (1978 , Dos): Guitar and clarinet duo. Breau (1941-84) was born in Maine, grew up in Canada, and wound up in Los Angeles, with two 1969 records on RCA, a few other scattered about, often with country musicians like Chet Atkins and Buddy Emmons. These were taped in a farmhouse in Maine, first appearing in 1986. More sessions followed up to 1982, ultimately compiled into in a 2-CD Complete set (2003). B+(*)
Jack DeJohnette: Sorcery (1974, Prestige): The drummer was mostly thought of as a fusion player at this point, acknowledged here by playing keyboards as well as drums, with Dave Holland on bass, either John Abercrombie or Mick Goodrick on guitar, and Bennie Maupin on bass clarinet for the first side, Michael Fellerman on trombone for both. Still, never bogs down in fusion clichés, not that it commands close attention. B+(*)
Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition: Tin Can Alley (1980 , ECM): Drummer, group named for his 1980 album, although the personnel is a bit less special here: Chico Freeman and John Purcell replacing Arthur Blythe and David Murray, with Peter Warren remaining on bass and cello. DeJohnette vocal on "I Know," over a blues riff. B+(**)
Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition: Inflation Blues (1982 , ECM): Continues with sax/reed players Freeman and Purcell, adds Baikida Carroll on trumpet (4/5 tracks), with Rufus Reid taking over at bass. DeJohnette's rant on the title track doesn't impress me, but I don't mind his muted play on reggae. The horns are strong throughout, and no one can complain about the drumming. B+(*)
Jack DeJohnette: Special Edition (1979-84 , ECM, 4CD): Boxes up the original Special Edition album, with David Murray and Arthur Blythe (but not at their best), the two albums above, and the final Album Album. Figure the grade for an average, with the first half a shade better. B+(*)
Jack DeJohnette: Parallel Realities (1990, MCA): Surprised we don't see more names on the cover, as the drummer's cohort are if anything more famous: Pat Metheny (guitar and synths) and Herbie Hancock (piano, mostly acoustic). Metheny co-produced and wrote half of the pieces, so no surprise this is right up his alley. B+(*)
Manu Dibango: Wakafrika (1994, Giant): From Cameroon, plays sax and vibes, some keyboards, sings, has 50+ albums from 1968 until he turned 80 in 2013. This is one of his better-distributed ones, incorporating touches from the far corners of Africa (and electronica beyond), which only seems fitting given the central location of his home. B+(**)
Luderin Darbone's Hackberry Ramblers: Early Recordings: 1935-1950 (1935-50 [2003, Arhoolie): Classic cajun group, formed in 1933 Darbone (fiddle) and Edwin Duhon (accordion), with Glen Croker entering at some point, taking over lead guitar and most of the vocals. These are mostly Bluebird singles, most in French but occasionally they venture into blues or Western Swing. B+(***)
Luderin Darbone's Hackberry Ramblers: Jolie Blonde (1963-65 , Arhoolie): Chris Strachwitz's label took a brief interest in the Ramblers, rounding up this mix of studio, home, and live recordings, skewed toward the Cajun classics. B+(**)
The Hackberry Ramblers: Cajun Boogie (1992, Flying Fish): Founded in 1933, the legendary cajun group didn't record much after 1948, but the founders kept the group going until their deaths (Edwin Duhon in 2006, Luderin Darbone in 2008, and Glen Croker in 2011). This live set was their first LP, old tunes but a lot of fun. A-
The Johnson Mountain Boys: At the Old Schoolhouse (1988 , Rounder): DC-based bluegrass group, active 1978-88 with occasional reunions, this live double capping their initial run. B+(***)
Ketama/Toumani Diabate/José Soto: Songhai 2 (1994, Hannibal): Spanish group, formed 1985, combines flamenco and salsa, joined here by the Malian kora master and a Spanish guitarist-singer (replacing English bassist Danny Thompson, from the previous Songhai album). B+(*)
Shoukichi Kina: Peppermint Tea House: The Best of Shoukichi Kina (1980-91 , Luaka Bop): Rock singer-songwriter from Okinawa, David Byrne's second (and last) pick for his Asia Classics series. Slight countryish air to go with funkier-than-usual J-pop bubblegum. B+(**)
Tony Lakatos/Rick Margitza/Gábor Bolla: Gypsy Tenors (2017, Skip): Margitza is a mainstream tenor saxophonist -- one of my favorites in the 1990s but I've rarely run across him since 2001. He was born in Michigan, but claims a Hungarian Gypsy grandfather. The other two are Hungarian (not sure about Gypsy), also playing tenor sax, and they're backed by piano-bass-drums. B+(**)
Yo-Ya Ma: The Soul of the Tango: The Music of Astor Piazzolla (1998, Sony Classical): Cellist, born in Paris, grew up in New York, child prodigy, graduated from Juilliard and Harvard, very famous and not just in classical circles, as he's dabbled far and wide, notably with his Silk Road Ensemble. I haven't followed him, but did hear his 2-CD Sony sampler (The Essential Yo-Yo Ma) and liked it enough for a B+. Moreover, I love Piazzolla's tangos so much I picked this up (then forgot about it). Starts with a remarkably poised "Libertango." Bandoneon and violin, guitar and piano keep it flowing. B+(**)
Michael Mantler: No Answer (1973 , Watt): Carla Bley's second husband (after Paul Bley, before Steve Swallow), they named their label after one of Samuel Beckett's novels. Mantler honors Beckett further by composing an opera for his text, sung by bassist Jack Bruce, featuring Bley (piano) and Don Cherry (trumpet). B-
Michael Mantler: Silence (1976 , Watt): More compositions for words, this time from Harold Pinter, sung by Kevin Coyne and Robert Wyatt, played by Carla Bley (piano/organ), Chris Spedding (guitar), Ron McClure (bass), Wyatt (percussion), and Clare Maher (cello, the only name missing from the cover). Not without interest, but takes a lot of work. B
Michael Mantler: No Answer/Silence (1973-76 , Watt, 2CD): Reissue, combining the two albums without trying to cram them into one overlog disc. B
Oujda-Casablanca Introspections, Vol. 1 (1988-93 , Barbarity): With Algeria torn by civil war, rai producer Ben Omar Rachid crosses the border into Morocco in search of grooves and ululations. A- [cd]
Romeo Must Die: The Album (2000, Virgin): Soundtrack to Andrzej Bartkowiak's movie, roughly Romeo and Juliet set in Oakland with rival African-American and Chinese gang families, starring Jet Li, Delroy Lindo, and at least two musicians who appear on the soundtrack (Aaliyah and DMX). Aaliyah, Timbaland, and Barry Hankerson produced the soundtrack. B+(***) [cd]
Wallace Roney: The Wallace Roney Quintet (1995 , Warner Bros.): Trumpet player, throwback to the hard bop 1960s, second Warners album after an earlier run on Muse. With brother Antoine Roney on tenor sax, Carlos McKinney on piano, plus bass and drums. Album runs over 78 minutes. B [cd]
Archie Shepp/Jasper Van't Hof: Live in Concert: Mama Rose (1982, SteepleChase): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, from the SWF Festival in Germany, backed by the Dutch keyboardist (mostly electronics), who provides what passes for rhythm and shading. Shepp recites a poem on the title track, which Van't Hof supports niftily. B+(*)
Third World Cop [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] (1999 , Palm Pictures): Soundtrack to Chris Browne's movie, produced by Island impressario Chris Blackwell. Sly & Robbie claim four of the first six songs, and probably play on the rest -- all in the contemporary dancehall style -- most notably, the Marley Brothers on "Call the Police," Lady G on "Man a Bad Man," and Luciano on the inevitable "Police & Thieves." A-
McCoy Tyner Big Band: Journey (1993, Birdology): Pianist, broke out of John Coltrane's Quartet for a distinguished solo career, including three albums in his big band phase (1989-93). This is the third, many star players, the trumpet solos (Jerry Gonzalez and Eddie Henderson) especially stand out. B+(**) [cd]
Jasper Van't Hof/Ernie Watts/Bo Stieff Face to Face: Canossa (1998, Canossa): Keyboards, tenor sax, bass -- trio also using the name of their 1995 album -- with Nippie Noya on percussion. Gets stronger as it progresses, which doesn't necessarily mean better. B+(*) [cd]
Viva La Musica & Papa Wemba: Pôle Position (1995, Sonodisc): Wemba is a singer-bandleader from Congo, nearly as prolific and monumental as Franco and Rochereau. I went looking for an unrated, but found more than I can manage to sort out. (Sounds like a job for Joe Yanosik.) Here he puts the band name first, and their soukous groove is nearly flawless. A-
Papa Wemba: Papa Wemba [Destin Ya Moto] (1988, Disques Espérance): One of two eponymous (or untitled?) albums to appear at/near this time, one of which is in my database but missing physically -- I recall this album cover, but noted the label and catalog number of the other. Took me some time finding this, as Napster lists it as Destin Ya Moto, for the first (of four) songs. Subtle groove, sweet guitar, B+(**)
Papa Wemba: Papa Wemba [M'Fono Yami] (1988 , Stern's Africa): The other one, produced by Martin Meissonnier with more keyboards, also released by Celluloid (as M'Fono Yami?) and EMI France. [4/7 tracks, 20:48] B+(**)
Papa Wemba: M'zée Fula-Ngenge (1999, Sonodisc): Starts a bit odd, and has a couple of odd spots (including a tiny bit of English), but soon enough finds its groove, and quite a groove it is. B+(***)
Steve Williamson: A Waltz for Grace (1990, Verve): Alto saxophonist, born in London, parents Jamaican, played in Jazz Warriors before this auspicious debut album. Only recorded one more for Verve (in 1992), only a couple more after that. Abbey Lincoln's guest vocal is supposed to be a high point, but slipped by me twice with scant notice. The rest, cobbled together from multiple sessions in US and UK, is engaging. B+(**) [cd]
Yosuke Yamashita/Bill Laswell/Ryuichi Sakamoto: Asian Games (1988 , Verve Forecast): Japanese pianist, started 1974, output has tailed off since 2004. I think of him as a strong postbop player, although in this context -- Laswell is an electric bassist who leans toward fusion albeit in underground tones, and Sakamoto is a well known electronica producer -- he sticks to the groove. B [cd]
Grade (or other) changes:
Viva La Musica/Papa Wemba: Nouvelle Écriture: Dans L' (1998, Sonodisc): For a while I thought this CD wasn't in my database, but I was confused by the cover, which literally (top-to-bottom) reads: "Viva La Musica / nouvelle écriture / dans L' / avec PAPA WEMBA." Discogs reduced this to L'. Strong soukous groove. No recall why I initially graded it so low. [was: B] B+(***) [cd]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 25, 2019
There are more than a few "Trump's gone nuts" moments below. Not the first time this has happened, but the count is definitely rising (and continuing as the G-7 articles arrive). The Fallows links below offer an extended opportunity to plot Trump's decline. Also see Steve M: Even if Trump is impaired, he won't go quietly. He cites Charles Pierce recalling the 1984 Reagan-Mondale debate as the occasion when he realized that Reagan exhibited clear signs of Alzheimer's. I recall watching that debate, and thinking I've never seen a more one-sided drubbing, yet Reagan went on to a landslide victory that November. On the other hand, I also came away very annoyed with Mondale, who scored many of his points by being more resolutely (recklessly even) anti-communist than Reagan -- whose own Cold War ardor was undoubted but, at least in person, tempered by his genial incoherence.
Trump's incoherence is less benign, partly because he projects a degree of menace (resentment and vitriol) Reagan never projected. But also Reagan was never his own man. He was the front guy, hired as the face and mouth, reading from prepared scripts, happy to be playing a role, while his evil "kitchen cabinet" called the shots. Trump has always been a one-man show, with few (if any) competent advisers, but with great faith in his ability to wing it. Early on, all presidents are dazed and overwhelmed at first, allowing their staffs to hold sway over the administration. However, deference and ego eventually favor the president, who eventually take charge of what matters most. It took GW Bush well into his second term to get out from under Cheney's thumb. Obama and Clinton evolved faster because they knew more, but in both of those cases early staff decisions did a lot of damage. Trump got saddled with a lot of hardcore GOP regulars early on, but most of them have been purged, allowing Trump to replace them with flunkies distinguished mostly by their sycophancy. The result is that when Trump wigs out, we no longer have the comfort of "adults in the room" to contain the damage.
I imagine you could plot two curves here. One shows the increased fragility of the administration (and really the whole country) as competent people are replaced with ones who are less so (and/or are too crooked to know better). The other would is the increasing likelihood that Trump himself will break down and blow something up. (Too early to call his performance at G-7, but it should be enough to give you a fright.)
The Democratic presidential campaign thinned out a bit, with Seth Moulton, Jay Inslee, and John Hickenlooper ending their campaigns. Meanwhile, Joe Walsh will offer Trump some token ultra-conservative opposition.
Some scattered links this week:
Monday, August 19, 2019
Music: current count 31944  rated (+42), 243  unrated (-16).
Rated count needs some explanation. There are only 28 records listed below, so everything else comes from finding bookkeeping errors from previous weeks (or possibly longer). I refer to my "ratings database," but it's nowhere close to normalized. When I rate a record, I usually have to note that fact in 4-5 different places, which makes it pretty easy to miss one (or two). On the other hand, that gives me something better than my memory for checking errors. The process is tedious, so I don't do it often, but once I noticed a couple of errors, I made a pretty thorough effort this time.
The actual week count should be even lower. By the time I finished my bookkeeping exercise, I had added 4-5 more records since my usual Sunday evening cutoff. Normally, I would have saved those grades for next week, but under the circumstances, I figured I might as well get all the anomalies out at once. Two things cut into last week's count: I spent a day cooking and playing oldies; and I spent the better part of four days streaming through a single title: Mark Lomax's 400. The latter is actually 12 albums rolled into one. Parts of it are on Napster, so I started there, but after thrashing over how to grade the various parts, I decided to just stream the whole thing, broken up over 5-6 sessions over 4 days. The cumulative experience was so overpowering I wound up giving it an A, an exception to my usual rule of giving that grade only after repeated play over time. (Five plays is usually minimal; I've only played all of 400 once, although some parts did get two or three listens; on the other hand, my cumulative time is 12-15 hours, so I wouldn't call this grade casual.)
Afterwards, I went back and streamed several of Lomax's earlier albums, but had trouble grading them: even his earliest work is close in power and depth to his latest, but I tended to hedge the grades down rather than turn myself into a rubber stamp. I should note that I've heard two of his albums before: The State of Black America was a Jazz CG pick hit at the time (2010, grade: A), and Isis and Osiris was an A- in 2014. I hadn't noticed anything else he did until I stumbled across the new one (it showed up when I added all of this year's 4.5+ star All About Jazz reviews into my in-progress EOY Aggregate). There's more I haven't explored yet on his website.
Aside from Lomax, more old music this week. I checked out several old SABA/MPS albums after I found Cosmic Forest on Napster. Finally, when I was doing my bookkeeping it occurred to me that this might be a good time to cut down on my "unrated" count by streaming records I own(ed) but never graded. That list was once up in the 700-range (from back when I was buying used CDs by the ton), but it's been bouncing around 250 for quite a while now. I started with the Milton Babbitt record last night, and I built a checklist today, so I'm likely to do more of that in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, I'll note that this week's unpacking are all October/November releases, and indeed most of what I have in the physical queue doesn't drop until the Fall. So I'm not feeling a lot of urgency there.
I mentioned that dinner, so might as well file a note on it here. I didn't have time to plan much, but thought salmon teriyaki would be easy. I make it fairly often, but usually just serve it with a couple of Chinese sides, as I've only rarely dabbled in Japanese cuisine. I thought I would try some things this time, but had only the vaguest plan, bought groceries as options, and wound up swapping in Chinese and Korean recipes when they seemed likely to be tastier. Final menu was something like this:
I originally planned on stir-frying the cooked noodles with cabbage and other vegetables, but I overcooked them and figured the best way to salvage them would be to sauce them quickly, and recalled the Tropp recipe. It called for the carrot and daikon I was planning on using anyway, plus cucumber (so I scratched my planned cucumber salad; I had enough carrot and daikon to use them in the noodles and separately as a salad). I had a Japanese recipe for the mushrooms, but decided the similar Korean version would be tastier (adds onion and garlic to the braising liquid, which uses dark instead of regular soy, and maple syrup instead of sugar). Max Stewart was a big help in pulling this off.
Various technical projects up in the air at present. I got stuck in trying to update the Christgau database, so will have to get back to that. He does have a new piece on Jimi Hendrix, and I've added a lecture on music and politics he gave shortly after Trump took over. I've also bought a new Synology box for backups, but don't have it configured yet. Everything's a struggle these days.
New records reviewed this week:
Don Aliquo/Michael Jefry Stevens: Live at Hinton Hall: The Innocence of Spring (2019, self-released): Sax and piano duo, the former a Pittsburgh native who teaches in Nashville, the latter long Memphis-based, now seems to have moved to North Carolina. No info on album, but nice sound in an intimate space. B+(**) [bc]
Arashi [Akira Sakata/Johan Berthling/Paal Nilssen-Love]: Jikan (2017 , PNL): Alto sax/bass/drums trio, group named for their 2014 album together. Various malign looks and feels, including scarifying vocals, but Sakata is a terrific full blast saxophonist, and the drummer keeps up. B+(**) [bc]
Mark Doyle: Watching the Detectives: Guitar Noir III (2019, Free Will): Guitarist, "seemed destined for a career in jazz piano until The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan," switched to rock and joined a band called Jukin' Bone that released two albums in 1972. Jumping forward, formed Mark Doyle and the Maniacs in 2009, still a going concern, so chalk this up as a side project. Starts with a bit of Elvis Costello's title song merged into "Detectives Medley." I thought I heard some "Peter Gunn" but don't see it in the credits, so maybe that's just a common riff? B+(*) [cd]
Moy Eng/Wayne Wallace: The Blue Hour (2018 , Patois): Chinese-American poet-vocalist, born in New Jersey, based in San Francisco where she's executive director of something called the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST). First album, with lots of musician credits as the trombonist brings his Latin tinge. B [cd]
Binker Golding & Elliot Galvin: Ex Nihilo (2018 , Byrd Out): English tenor saxophonist, best known as half of Binker & Moses, in a nominal duo with keyboardist Galvin (no credit for drums, but they vanish after first track, as everything thins out). B+(*)
Joel Harrison: Angel Band: Free Country Volume 3 (2018, HighNote): Guitarist, subtitle links this back to his 2003 album Free Country, "a collection of old Country and Appalachian tunes arranged in unusual, even radical, ways." (Volume 2 appears to be So Long 2nd Street, from 2004, "with David Binney" on the cover.) The 15-year break makes me wonder about his commitment, but then so does the music, with "America the Beautiful" and "Wichita Lineman" especially poor picks. Several vocals (Alecia Chakour, Everett Bradley, Theo Bleckmann, Harrison himself). Binney is often superb. B
David Kikoski: Phoenix Rising (2019, HighNote): Pianist, from New Jersey, twenty-some albums since 1989, mostly quartet with Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Peter Washington (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). Very mainstream, but it's been quite a while since the saxophonist sounded this good. B+(***)
Dr. Mark Lomax, II: 400: An Afrikan Epic (2019, CFG Multimedia, 12-CD): Drummer, had a Jazz CG Pick Hit in 2010 but only one more album came to my attention, until I got wind of this massive undertaking. Turns out he's been busy, teaching at Ohio State, giving TED Talks, adding to his academic credentials, and recording albums I want a shot at sooner of later. This here is his encyclopedia of African and Afro-American history and lore, organized as 12 parts or albums -- hard to tell with digital these days. The first chunk, which Napster has as The First Ankhcestor, is all drums, primal but also deeply felt and highly developed. He moves on to his extraordinary quartet -- Edwin Bayard (tenor/soprano sax), Dr. William Menefield (piano), and Dean Hulett (bass) -- with some pointed spoken word on the opening of the transatlantic slave trade. They carry most of what follows, especially Bayard (imagine Coltrane, Sanders, and Ayler -- as Sanders put it, "the father, the son, and the holy ghost" -- raised to a higher level. Less sonically appealing are sections done up in strings, but even violins and cellos can't bury the rhythm. Toward the end the drums take over again. Took me a half-dozen sittings over four days just to stream the whole thing, which makes this hugely impractical to review and nearly unfathomable, but it is chock full of magnificent music. [PS: Initially wrote this last line while listening to "Afro-Futurism 09-8: Transcendence," but many pieces are comparable. Edited it a bit while finishing up. I initially wrote up reviews of Parts 1, 3, and 4. Not wanting to flood the A-list, I hedged the grades, and ultimately dropped the reviews. I decided not to sort out the twelve parts, but only the string-heavy section might drop below A-, and that's not a lock. I usually reserve the A grade for albums I've played numerous times, and that's not the case here. Still, 10+ hours is quite a bit of experience to draw on, and the effect is cumulative. A lesser grade would imply caveats and hedges I no longer have.] A [dl]
New York Voices: Reminiscing in Tempo (2017-18 , Origin): Vocal group, five voices in 1987 including Peter Eldridge, Darmon Meader, and Kim Nazarian, with two women dropping out, Lauren Kinhan joining in 1992. Similar to Manhattan Transfer, but influenced more by vocalese. I've never been a fan, but this is exceptionally chipper, and their shtick fits nicely with a song like "In My Life." B [cd]
Paal Nilssen-Love: New Brazilian Funk (2018 , PNL): Avant-drummer from Norway, recorded this at Roskilde with Frode Gjerstad on alto sax and three presumed Brazilians: Felipe Zenicola (electric bass), Kiko Dinucci (electric guitar), and Paulinho Bicolor (cuica). The latter thrash more than funk, which gives the Norwegians something they can build on. B+(**)
Paal Nilssen-Love: New Japanese Noise (2018 , PNL): Norwegian drummer teams up with presumed Japanese this time, also at Roskilde Festival: Kiko Dinucci (electric guitar), Kohei Gomi (electronics), Toshiji Mikawa (electronics), Akira Sakata (alto sax, Bb clarinet, voice) -- latter has been a major avant-jazz figure in Japan since 1975. First cut is as chaotic as you'd expect. Third starts to turn into something, but soon enough gets noisy again -- so much so the vocal even helps. B+(*)
Houston Person: I'm Just a Lucky So and So (2018 , HighNote): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, started in the 1960s when his label (Prestige) was home to greats like Coleman Hawkins and Gene Ammons, and followed Joe Fields from there through a series of labels, eventually emerging as a great himself -- the last of that particular line. A fine quartet (Lafayette Gilchrist, Matthew Parrish, Kenny Washington) augmented on most tracks with trumpet (Eddie Allen) and guitar (Rodney Jones). Fairly typical effort, but at this point that's all he needs. A- [cd]
Pom Poko: Birthday (2019, Bella Union): Norwegian noise-pop group, although when I looked them up I got a Japanese film instead. By then I was thinking Shonen Knife, but never could stand bubblegum-punk (or however you want to characterize it). Can't really stand this either, but any given moment is as likely as not to hit a pleasure center. B+(*)
Michael Jefry Stevens Quartet: Red's Blues (2017 , ARC): Pianist, has dozens of albums filed under other names because co-led groups usually listed his partner first. Wrote all these pieces, setting aside his avant chops for something "more traditional, swinging." With Todd Wright (saxes), Zack Page (bass), and Rick Dilling (drums). B+(**) [bc]
Anders Svanoe: 747 Queen of the Skies: State of the Baritone Volume 3 (2018, Irrabagast): Saxophonist, based in Wisconsin, plays them all but specializes in the baritone, has a book on Sonny Red, a duo album with Jon Irabagon, and has helped fill out large bands led by Evan Parker and Roscoe Mitchell. This is styled as a double trio, with two bassists, two drummers, and a second horn -- Jim Doherty, on trumpet. B+(**) [bc]
Ezra Weiss Big Band: We Limit Not the Truth of God (2019, OA2): Conventional big band, extra percussion but no guitar, the leader listed as conductor but he also interjects some spoken word, a long and rather touching yarn of contemporary liberal angst. The music can weep along, or rise up. B+(**) [cd]
Saul Williams: Encrypted & Vulnerable (2019, Pirates Blend): Nominally a spoken word artist, but he's been recording since 2001, and picked up enough skills to occasionally lose himself in the music. Probably worth the effort to figure out what he's saying. B+(*)
Gabriel Zucker: Weighting (2016 , ESP-Disk): Pianist, from New York, has a previous record as The Delegation. You could call this a bass-less quartet: two horns (Adam O'Farrill on trumpet and Eric Trudel on sax), piano, drums (Tyshawn Sorey), no bass. Despite the small group size, this comes off rather heavy, with crescendos and such. Dramatic, I guess B [bc]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Nicola Conte Presents: Cosmic Forest: The Spiritual Sound of MPS (1965-75 , MPS): German label, founded in 1968 by the owner of the earlier SABA label, the "S" standing for the Black Forest (Schwarzwald). The label was active up to 1983, when the catalog was sold to Philips, then Polydor, winding up in Universal. Conte is a DJ turned producer, with several "presents" albums. "Spiritual jazz" has come back into vogue recently, but hard for me to define, picking here mostly from cross-cultural hybrids (Indian, African, Latin, some chants or soul vocals, but we also have Dexter Gordon playing straight bop). Not sure of all of the dates, but a couple tracks come from SABA (pre-1968) albums. B+(**)
George Gruntz: Noon in Tunisia (1967, SABA): Swiss pianist, early work included several Jazz Goes Baroque albums, later ran a well-regarded big band. Recorded in Germany with a bunch of musicians from the Mahgreb playing trad instruments -- Jelloul Osman's mezoued (bagpipes) most prominent, although the percussion is most numerous. The jazz contingent includes Jean-Luc Ponty (violin), Eberhard Weber (bass), Daniel Humair (drums), and Sahib Shihab (soprano sax/flute -- an American born 1925 as Edmund Gregory, changed his name when he converted to Islam, played in a long list of eminent big bands). The pianist doesn't play a lot, but is notable when he does. B+(***)
George Gruntz: St. Peter Power (1968, MPS): Credit says organ, but we're talking pipes, not Hammond, so this collection of standard pieces ("Summertime," "My Funny Valentine," "Lonely Woman," "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," etc.) is very churchy ("recorded at Kloster- und Pfarrkirche St. Peter/Schwarzwald"). With Eberhard Weber (bass) and Daniel Humair (drums). Not intolerable but pretty tedious. C+
The Mark Lomax Sektet: Tales of the Black Experience (1999 , Blacklisted Music): The drummer's first record, incorporating poems by Scott Woods and Vernell Bristow. Group is a sextet with two saxes (Stephen Lomax and Edwin Bayard), trumpet (Arisyn Banks), bass, and extra percussion. Same musical strengths as in his later work -- not least, the drums. B+(***)
The Mark Lomax Trio: Lift Every Voice! (2004, Blacklisted Music): Drummer-led trio with William Menefield (piano) and Dean Hulett (bass), subtitled The Spirituals & the Blues Vol. I, a set of "popular negro spirituals" arranged by Lomax. B+(**)
The Mark Lomax Quartet: We Shall Overcome: Spirituals & the Blues Vol. 2 (2013 , CFG Multimedia): Adds the powerhouse saxophonist Edwin Bayard to the Vol. 1 piano trio for five more spirituals, three in the 8-12 minute range, "Oh, Freedom!" at 20:37, and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" stretched way out to 29:56. Such length can lose track of the themes, although not for lack of inspiration. B+(***)
The Mark Lomax Quartet: Requiem for a Fallen King: A Tribute to Elvin Jones (2013 , CFG Multimedia): Four-part suite (50:42), written in 2004 when Jones died and performed for only the third time in almost ten years. Same quartet Lomax has worked with since the beginning (Edwin Bayard, William Menefield, Dean Hulett): one capable of great power, B+(***) [os]
Jas. Mathus and His Knock-Down Society: Play Songs for Rosetta (1997, Mammoth): Founder of Squirrel Nut Zippers, a folkie group that favored trad jazz and blues songsters, this was his first solo effort, the first of four albums with variants of this group credit, later trading James in for Jimbo. I'm a sucker for that old-timey jazz, but I'm less convinced by his blues. B+(*)
Dewan Motihar Trio/Irene Schweizer Trio/Manfred Schoof/Barney Wilen: Jazz Meets India (1967, SABA): Indian sitar player (with Keshay Sathe on tabla and Kusum Thakur on tambura) plus Swiss pianist (with Uli Trepte on bass and Mani Neumeier on drums) plus German cornet/trumpet layer and French saxophonist (soprano/tenor). Three pieces: two from Motihar, one from Schoof. Same time as Ravi Shankar was wowing western audiences and the Beatles were dabbling with sitar comes this pioneering avant-jazz fusion. Don't know much about Motihar but the jazz musicians aquit themselves well here, especially the 26-year-old pianist in one of her first records, already very distinctive. B+(**)
Robert Taub: Milton Babbitt: Piano Works (1985 , Harmonia Mundi): Old LP, which I've long filed under the composer's name, but lately I'm more inclined to file under the performer. The pieces range from 1947 to 1985, feel more like improv than classical to me, which may just mean that I like them. B+(***)
Waiting to Exhale [Original Soundtrack ALbum] (1995, Arista): Babyface's soft-soul Soundtrack to Forrest Whitaker's romance film starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett. Houston gets three songs, the others scattered among the era's lesser or greater lights -- Toni Braxton, Mary J. Blige, Brandy, Chanté Moore, Faith Evans, TLC, SWV, plus a few legends of yore (Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle). Nothing stands out, but the lush ambience flows nicely. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 18, 2019
Too late to write an introduction now. Maybe I'll add a postscript later.
Some scattered links this week:
Monday, August 12, 2019
Music: current count 31902  rated (+42), 259  unrated (+0).
Running late again, mostly because I've been fiddling with the 2019 Metacritic file, adding extra points for high grades (not just midyear list picks) for most of the publications tracked by Album of the Year. The specific lists are noted here: in most cases one point for grades scored 80+, although for some relatively generous publications I've used 90+ (e.g., for AllMusic Guide, I'm counting 4.5 star records, but not 4.0 star ones). My latest project there has been to add points for All About Jazz grades of 4.5+ stars (4 stars is probably their median grade; at any rate it's very common). I've worked my way back to March 26, and the work has slowed down as I've had to check more release dates to separate 2019 releases out from the earlier ones (mostly late 2018's, but sometimes they review older releases). AOTY doesn't track AAJ (or any other jazz sources), so this has started to generate some jazz coverage. I should probably do Downbeat next.
Many of this week's picks are things I stumbled onto from various lists, and they're a pretty patchy group. I've finally started adding the final/latest Christgau EW reviews to his database, so a couple records (like the Diana Gordon EP) were suggested there -- which, by the way, led me to find Taana Gardner's disco classic (one of very few Christgau-rated A records I missed). Phil Overeem's latest list (link last week) led me to several things, including the George Jones United Artists Rarities, which sent me on a minor dive with a side of Little Jimmy Dickens.
The bigger dive this week was into the works of Jon Lundbom and Bryan Murray. This started with Balto Beats and swept up pretty much everything I had missed. (I had heard their often excellent records on Moppa Elliott's Hot Cup label, but missed almost everything else.)
The other smaller dive was into country singer-songwriter Tyler Childers. I initially graded his new one B+(***), but wondered if I shouldn't revisit 2017's Purgatory -- graded B+(**) by me at the time, but later a Christgau A-. Both of my initial reviews admitted that more spins may be called for, and it didn't take many. Also found two relatively crude earlier releases, which really brought his songwriting into focus. A couple more spins of the live EPs will raise could that grade as well, but the best songs are repeats from the debut -- probably still the best place to hear them.
One minor note: I've taken the time lock off the August Streamnotes draft file, which is where the monthly archive winds up. I won't do any indexing of the file until the end of the month, nor am I likely to be citing the URL in my weekly posts (although it's appeared in the notebook since I went weekly). But the naming convention is likely to be consistent moving forward, and you might spy something for the next Music Week there (e.g., the records I'm listening to as I'm writing this).
New records reviewed this week:
Leila Bordreuil/Michael Foster: The Caustic Ballads (2016, Relative Pitch): Cello and saxophone duo. Abstract, scratchy. B+(*) [bc]
Tyler Childers: Country Squire (2019, Hickman Holler/RCA): Alt-country singer-songwriter from Kentucky, impressed a lot of folks (including me belatedly) with his 2017 Purgatory and should get similar attention for this one. Another batch of strong songs, with a lot of fiddle in the band. A-
The Cinematic Orchestra: To Believe (2019, Domino): British group, founded by Jason Swinscoe in 1999, only their fourth studio album (first since 2007, not counting two soundtracks). My first sources filed this under jazz, but while there may be some improv in the mix, this strikes me more as prog rock, with bits of electronica, turntablism, and soundtrack pastiche. Nonetheless, pretty appealing. B+(**)
Mark De Clive-Lowe: Heritage (2018 , Ropeadope): Keyboardist, from New Zealand, spent time in Japan, Boston (Berklee), and London before settling in Los Angeles. Recorded live over three nights at Blue Whale in Los Angeles, a fairly nice groove record that doesn't demand much. B+(*)
Mark De Clive-Lowe: Heritage II (2018 , Ropeadope): More from the same sets, titles nearly all in Japanese. More of the same, with interest on the decline. B
Elephant9: Psychedelic Backfire I (2019, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian fusion band founded in 2006, a bass-drums-keyboards trio, I'm sure I've run across the names elsewhere but they've never stuck in my mind (Nikolai Haengsle Eilertsen, Ståle Storløkken, Torstein Lofthus). Pretty upbeat. B+(*)
Elephant9 With Reine Fiske: Psychedelic Backfire I (2019, Rune Grammofon): Fiske plays guitar, has joined the fusion group before. That guitar makes a difference here. B+(**)
Diana Gordon: Pure (2019, self-released, EP): Previously known as Wynter Gordon, r&b singer-songwriter, has a 2012 album plus a half-dozen EPs. Five cuts. Has a single here, some promising filler. B+(*) [yt]
Harbinger: Extended (2018 , OA2): Piano trio, met in New Orleans: Oscar Rossignoli (from Honduras), Matt Booth (from Pittsburgh), and Brad Webb (home turf). All three write, especially the drummer (5/10 pieces). B+(**) [cd]
Mike Holober/The Gotham Jazz Orchestra: Hiding Out (2017 , Zoho, 2CD): Pianist, based in or around New York, works almost exclusively with big bands like the Westchester Big Band and this one -- recorded in Mt. Vernon, but stocked with some of the city's finest. Two long, multi-part pieces, plus two takes of "Caminhos Cruzados." Some delightful stretches. B+(***) [cd]
Anne Mette Iversen's Ternion Quartet: Invincible Nimbus (2018 , Bju'ecords): Danish bassist, in New York 1998-2012, where she was a founder of Brooklyn Jazz Underground, now based in Berlin. Second Ternion Quartet album, with Silke Eberhard (alto sax), Geoffroy De Masure (trombone), and Roland Schneider (drums). Eberhard impresses when they speed up. They lose something on the slower ones, although that's where the trombone especially shines. B+(***)
Mark Kavuma: The Banger Factory (2019, Ubuntu Music): Trumpet player, based in London, second album. With a saxophone or two, guitar, vibes, piano and/or organ, bass, drums, sometimes sounding like yesteryear's hard bop, occasionally with a postbop twist. B+(*)
LSD: Labrinth/Sia/Diplo Present . . . LSD (2019, Columbia): British producer Timothy McKenzie, released an album in 2012, joins here with the Australian pop singer and American DJ. Nu soul vibe, but works so erratically it's hard to be sure, or care. B-
Lage Lund: Terrible Animals (2018 , Criss Cross): Norwegian guitarist, studied at Berklee and Juilliard, won a Monk Prize, based in New York, eleventh album since 2007, quartet with piano (Sullivan Fortner), bass (Larry Grenadier), and drums (Tyshawn Sorey). B+(*)
Jon Lundbom/Bryan Murray: Beats by Balto! Vol. 1 (2018 , Chant): Some dispute on artist credit, with Bandcamp page favoring Balto Exclamationpoint (Murray, responsible for the beats, also plays various saxophones), while others list the guitarist first. Also in the group is Jon Irabagon (alto/mezzosoprano/slide saxophones), giving them three free-wheeling leads. The beats provide a platform, setting the leads free without letting them fly off the rails. A-
Moutin Factory Quintet: Mythical River (2019, Laborie Jazz): Brothers François and Louis Moutin, bass and drums, in a postbop quintet, with alto/soprano sax, guitar, and piano. Something wrong with my copy, but nothing I've heard makes me want to figure out what -- certainly not the promise of vocal credits. B- [cd]
Simon Nabatov Quintet: Last Minute Theory (2018 , Clean Feed): Russian pianist, moved to New York in 1979, studied at Juilliard, close to four dozen albums since 1989, mostly avant duos and trios on Leo. Lots of fire power here, with Tony Malaby (tenor/soprano sax), Brandon Seabrook (guitar), Michael Formanek (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). B+(**)
Ola Onabulé: Point Less (2019, Rugged Ram): Born in London, spent ten years of childhood in Nigeria before returning home. Eight or more albums since 1994. Bits of soul and jazz here, nothing that makes me want to sort it all out. B [cd]
Mario Pavone Dialect Trio: Philosophy (2018 , Clean Feed): Bassist-led piano trio, with Matt Mitchell and Tyshawn Sorey. Live set from Firehouse 12. Pavone originals, one joint credit, two Annette Peacock covers. B+(***)
Alberto Pibiri & the Al Peppers: The Nacho Blues (2019, Alberto Pibiri Music): Italian pianist, based in New York, has at least one previous album. This one is a tribute to Herb Alpert, with Dan Blankinship on trumpet, Daniel Foose (double bass), and Brian Floody (drums). Mix of originals and standards, none of which remind me of Alpert -- except, perhaps, for a bit of jauntiness. B+(*) [cd]
The John Pizzarelli Trio: For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole (2019, Ghostlight): Son of retro-swing guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, plays guitar himself and sings, lately fluffing up his catalog with various tributes. This is his third round with Cole, the others in 1994 and 1999. Trio with Konrad Paszkudzki on piano and Mike Karn on double bass. Fourteen well-worn songs, nicely swung, voice close enough to Cole's sweet spot. B+(**)
Noah Preminger: After Life (2018 , Criss Cross): Tenor saxophonist, made a strong impression when he first appeared (c. 2008), built on that, then coasted. Postbop quintet with Jason Palmer (trumpet), Max Light (guitar), Kim Cass (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums), playing originals plus a bit of Händel. B+(**)
Jenny Scheinman/Allison Miller: Jenny Scheinman & Allison Miller's Parlour Game (2019, Royal Potato Family): Violin and drums, have several fine albums together in Miller's Boom Tic Boom. Quartet with Carmen Staaf (piano) and Tony Scherr (bass). Has some moments, but fewer than expected. B+(***)
Fabrizio Sciacca Quartet: Gettin' It There (2019, self-released): Bassist from Italy, studied at Berklee, based in New York, seems to be his first album, with Donald Vega (pianist, from Nicaragua), Billy Drummond (drums), and Jed Levy (alto sax). Satisfying just as a piano trio, the sax unnoticed until it is. B+(**) [cd]
Paul Silbergleit: January (2018 , Blujazz): Guitarist, based in Milwaukee, has at least two previous albums (his debut was Silberglicity, from 1996). Mainstream quartet with bass, drums, and tenor sax (Eric Schoor). No spectacle, but grows on you. B+(**) [cd]
Paul Zauner's Blue Brass feat. David Murray: Roots n' Wings (2019, PAO/Blujazz): Austrian trombonist, handful of albums with variants of this group, an octet here including his guest star. Zauner played some with Murray in the late 1980s. Good to hear him here, but two other saxes and trumpet vie for attention. B+(***) [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Tyler Childers: Live on Red Barn Radio I & II (2013-14 , Hickman Holler, EP): Country singer-songwriter from Kentucky, self-released his debut (Bottles and Bibles) in 2011, also these two live EPs, compiled following his 2017 breakthrough Purgatory. Eight tracks, 29:28. B+(***)
George Jones: United Artists Rarities (1962-64 , EMI Nashville): Twelve songs, three listed as alternate takes, no idea how they got picked or how they fit within (or beyond) the 13 Jones LPs United Artists released 1962-65. Part of my confusion is that the title is recycled from a 6-cut EP released on Record Store Day 2012. Songs aren't very memorable, but the voice is. B+(***)
Masayuki Takayanagi New Directions Unit: April Is the Cruelest Month (1975 , Black Forms Editions): Pioneering Japanese avant guitarist, cut his first record in 1961, died 1991. Quartet with Kengi Mori (alto sax/flute/bass clarinet), bass/cello, and percussion. Three cuts, 37:04. I've grown more tolerant of noise squalls over the years, but this is still a bit much. B-
Balto!: Balto! (2016, self-released): Google isn't any help here, as the word/name has multiple referrents, including a roots Americana band, but this here is Bryan Murray, credited with tenor, alto and balto! saxophones, pipeapone, trumpet, drums, keyboard, programming and sampling. Fond of noise, given to vamps. B+(**) [bc]
Balto!: Two Cans of Soup (2017, self-released, EP): Solo balto! sax ("alto sax fitted with a bari mouthpiece and plastic reed") and looper. Website description: "I made this shit" (5 tracks, 19:51). B- [bc]
Balto!: Taco Cat Poops (2018, self-released, EP): Free download, five cuts, 24:12, title in emojis. Presumably solo, with electronics and percussion as well as noisy saxophone. B+(**) [bc]
Balto Exclamationpoint/Plaidworthy: If the Big Hurt (2015, self-released): Canonical artist name on Bandcamp, but this is the only album cover I've seen it spelled out on. Sax and drums duo, relatively straightforward, which is a plus. B+(***) [bc]
Baltbom!: ¡!Baltbom!¡ (2015, self-released): Duo: Jon Lundbom (guitar) and Bryan Murray (aka Balto!, playing his personally modified Balto! saxophone). Seventeen short pieces, a mixed bag, but the 1:12 closer ("Boys") has a fun country twist. B+(*) [bc]
Baltsticks!!: Play You, Play Me (2016, self-released): Bryan Murray again (saxophones, vocals, talzmer, pipeaphone, irish whistle, recorder, mandolin), in a trio with Plaidworthy (drums and vocals) and Magbooch Spooner (synths). More rhythm here, almost works as jive. B+(*) [bc]
Bryan and the Haggards/Eugene Chadbourne: Merles Just Wanna Have Fun (2012 , Northern Spy): Third album by saxophonist Bryan Murray's Merle Haggard tribute band, the first with guest vocalist (also on banjo and dobro). Chadbourne doesn't have the expected voice, but at least he articulates the songs the band seems intent on murdering. The band, with Jon Irabagon (saxes), Jon Lundbom (guitar), Moppa Elliott (bass), and Danny Fischer (drums) -- think bebop-terrorists Mostly Other People Do the Killing gone to seed -- give you even less of what you expect. Still, comes together midway, and likely to get even better with more plays. A- [bc]
Tyler Childers: Bottles and Bibles (2011, Hickman Holler): First album, eight songs (30:29), minimal production, but the songs are so bleak they don't want to cheering up. Message: "that coal is gonna bury you." On love: "I feel like a Hank song, since she went away." And when the bibles and bottles start fighting, the whiskey wins. A-
Little Jimmy Dickens: 16 Biggest Hits (1949-65 , Columbia/Legacy): Just short of five feet tall, I knew him from his 1965 crossover novelty hit "May the Bird of Paradise (Fly Up Your Nose)," but also as the only musician I ever heard my father mention. He was thinking of Dickens' first hit, "Take an Old Cold Tater (And Wait)," probably to make a point about what a poor country boy he was. Dickens recorded a lot of singles between those two, but few charted (10 from 1949-65, 8 here, only 1 from 1951-61). While he liked a crude joke, and rarely missed an opportunity to make fun of himself, the filler here mostly consists of shitkickers like "Hillbilly Fever" and "Salty Boogie," and the odd ballad can be poignant. B+(***)
Taana Gardner: Heartbeat (1981, West End, EP): Disco singer, cut an album in 1979, but is better known for this later single, the two versions adding up to 16:17 (hence, an EP in my book). Probably wouldn't have bothered but this is one of the very few Christgau full-A records I hadn't found. Stumbled on this by accident, so figured I had to give it an ear. And while I'm not so blown away, I can imagine putting it on repeat for hours on end. A-
George Jones: Sings the Hits of His Country Cousins (1962, United Artists): Second of thirteen quickie albums Jones cut during his 3-year stint at United Artists. A dozen covers, some usual suspects from Roy Acuff and Eddy Arnold to Hank Williams and Bob Wills with some less orthodox picks: "Peace in the Valley" gets bogged down in the choir, but Burl Ives' "A Little Bitty Tear" is the sort of fluff Jones imbues with depth. B+(***)
George Jones: My Favorites of Hank Williams (1962, United Artists): Fourth UA album, an obvious choice, a subject he previously visited for Mercury. Twelve songs, all short (28:14 total), played and sung so straightforwardly it winds up feeling a bit hollow. B+(*)
George Jones: Sings Like the Dickens! (1964, United Artists): Near the end of his UA contract, a tribute to Little Jimmy Dickens -- not an obvious choice fifteen years after Dickens' breakout, and a year shy of his one crossover moment. Odd choice of songs too: only four from 16 Biggest Hits, none trademarks. Pappy Daily's production is as corny as ever, but the voice is magnificent. B+(**)
Jon Lundbom: Big Five Chord (2003 , self-released): Guitarist, first album, took this title as his group name for most later albums (at least through 2019's Harder on the Outside). With Jon Irabagon (alto sax), Dominic Lalli (tenor sax), Moppa Elliott (bass), and Justin Wake (drums). Five originals, plus covers from Syd Barrett and Dr. Seuss. This drops some hints of where the band is headed. B+(*)
John Lundbom & Big Five Chord: All the Pretty Ponies (A Live Recording) (2004 , self-released): Two personnel changes: Bryan Murray joins on tenor sax, starting a long association, and Andrew Bain takes over on drums. They come out loud, making up in attitude what they sacrifice in coherence. B
Bryan Murray: What You Don't Forget (2007, Jazz Excursion): Saxophonist, first album, a fairly impressive free jazz outing with guitarist Jon Lundbom plus bass (Michael Bates) and drums (Chris Carroll). B+(***)
John Pizzarelli: P.S. Mr. Cole (1996-97 , RCA): The guitarist-singer's second Nat King Cole tribute, after 1994's lukewarm Dear Mr. Cole. With Ray Kennedy on piano, brother Martin Pizzarelli on double bass, and a couple of spots for Harry Allen (tenor sax). Less famous songs than on the first and latest tributes (e.g., "I Like Jersey Best"). B+(***)
Grade (or other) changes:
Tyler Childers: Purgatory (2017, Hickman Holler): Saving Country Music's favorite record of 2017. Gave it a spin, loved the trad sound, complaind that "the songs don't manage to stick." Obvious now it just needed another listen. [Was B+(**)] A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: