An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Music: Current count 25911  rated (+40), 383  unrated (-5).
Running a day late here: internet went down ("for maintenance," says Cox) last night, which not only prevent posting, it also threw a wrench into my writing. But also various distractions kept cropping up, not least the fact that there's always something new to be added to the EOY Aggregate File.
Another big week, despite some down time, or perhaps I mean diverted time. The deadline for the Jazz Critics Poll was Sunday, so the most urgent thing I had to do was to straighten out a very unruly list of sixty-plus poorly sorted A- new jazz albums. Almost as badly sorted were my shelves, so while I replayed a few better-remembered candidates. Ultimately I came up with something I'm reasonably pleased with, but I don't have much confidence that the same list would have resulted from extensive A:B comparison rounds.
It helped, somewhat perversely, to start toting up some EOY jazz lists, especially those at JJA. The net effect there was to reassure me that I couldn't do worse. This has less to do with the ordinariness of the leaders -- Maria Schneider's The Thompson Fields, Vijay Iyer's Break Stuff, Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls, Steve Coleman's Synovial Joints, as well as Kamasi Washington's crossover hit The Epic, all more-or-less B+ records -- than with the rather frequent inclusion of more mediocre postbop fare.
I've managed to whittle my ungraded 2015 new jazz queue down to 10 titles (plus the non-jazz Kansas album): 4 of those arrived last week, 3 are Xmas titles, 1 is a cassette I no longer have the means to play. Even though the ballot is in, there will be more discoveries, probably sooner rather than later. I just discovered this week that AUM Fidelity -- a label I used to have such good relations with that now I regard their lack of service as proof of my inability to keep going -- has just released old music by David S. Ware (Birth of a Being from 1977) and not-so-old music by William Parker (Great Spirit from 2007). At least I found those two on Rhapsody -- their other Parker set, the 3-CD box of For Those Who Are Still (recorded 2011-13) doesn't seem to be on Rhapsody.
I found out about the AUM Fidelity releases from Tim Niland's EOY list. He also voted for new records I haven't heard by Paul Dunmall/Tony Bianco, The Thing, John Zorn, plus a Sonny Rollins oldie. I rated 5 of his 7 other picks A-, so there's a good chance the ones I haven't heard would rate well. In past years it usually takes 1-3 days before I find another A- record, and 1-3 weeks before I find a record that would have bumped the 10th pick on my ballot off the list. That hasn't happened yet, but it's just a matter of time.
Anyhow, here's my Jazz Critics Poll ballot:
I didn't have any A-list vocalist albums, but the William Parker album is all songs with vocals, and Leena Conquest is terrific there. The Ernest Dawkins album also has some vocals, and there may be a couple more marginal cases (Rent Romus, Mort Weiss). HM vocal albums are not rare but tend to be eccentric:
I have the Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble rated slightly above Gard Nilssen, but I figured the latter was more in spirit with "debut album" -- a new performer as opposed to a new ad hoc group of veterans. I don't do a good job of keeping track of debuts, although Introducing Katie Thiroux is at least one more on the A-list.
I expect Kamasi Washington to easily win the debut category. I've been impressed by his work elsewhere (Phil Ranelin, Gerald Wilson), but didn't get enough out of streaming The Epic to dig further. (I made a second pass after I wrote the above. No doubt Washington can bust a solo, but I don't enjoy the choral settings, even though not all were annoying. Also, the third disc starts real strong, including an amusing take on "Cherokee." He's clearly capable of more consistently elevated albums, but unless you put a lot of weight on the grand gesture this isn't one.)
I almost picked Ivo Perelman's Callas for the "Latin jazz" album, before I recalled Allen's superior album. Band is Brazilian, and he's been working this vein for years. I've come up so lean in this category before that I've picked other Perelman albums -- he is Brazilian but plays avant-jazz. Indeed, I usually have a handful of Spanish and Portuguese players I could fall back on, but always seem to have trouble coming up with conventional clave-base picks. The HM list does have two such picks:
There's a lot of classic Latin jazz that I really like, so I'm always a bit surprised that so few new records measure up. Makes it look like I'm prejudiced against the stuff, but realistically, how much new hard bop or soul jazz measures up either? I'm not an avant purist, but it tends to dominate my list because it still offers surprises even if the bleeding edge doesn't move much.
Nine A- records this week, but only releases this year, only five new records, four picked up via Rhapsody. Could be that the agitprop of Desaparecidos or the Bob Wills tribute just hit personal soft spots -- I'm certainly a sucker for the latter. The Chemical Brothers' best-of has been on my search list for some time. It comes in two versions, so I wound up grading it twice, but using only the 2-CD version cover. Part of the George Lewis grade is sheer pleasant surprise: I've only heard a handful of solo trombone records, usually avant but limited by the instrument. The Getz and Ware reissues are every bit as good, but I came up with quibbles. The problem with The Steamer is that every other album by the Getz's coast quartet is better -- 1955's West Coast Jazz especially. As for Ware, I was a bit exhausted by the session's unrelenting fierceness.
I was steered toward Sons of Kemet by comments comparing it favorably to Kamasi Washington's The Epic. Needless to say, I agree, but I'd also say the same about the group's 2013 album, Burn. Among the high HMs, the ones that came closest were the Fall and the Resonance Ensemble: in both cases I settled for the lower grade rather than give them an extra spin to see if they'd get better.
Overlap was one of three good records I picked up from the Catalytic Sound Bandcamp site. The two others are high HMs and might have been higher had I not compared them against memories of previous similar projects. Still more there I haven't gotten to -- especially several multi-disc projects.
Good chance I'll post a Rhapsody Streamnotes column before the coming week is out. Draft currently showing 120 records.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: