Monday, December 26, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 29058 [29021] rated (+37), 388 [389] unrated (-1).

Extended the week a day, which helped make up for not playing any unrated music on Christmas Eve -- was busy cooking paella for what's left of the family here. Was pleased to see that Cam Patterson finally posted a picture of his legendary crawfish étouffée -- he contacted me many years ago, mentioning his ritual and urging me to write more about my cooking. You can find a picture of my paella here -- had to drag out the big pot for it.

Finally got into the latest batch of Ivo Perelman CDs, and while I choked on Philosopher's Stone (too shrill), the rest proved remarkable. Missing below is Live in Brussels, which I had previously graded B+(**) based on Napster, before I got the CDs. I will give it another shot later on, but seemed unnecessary at the moment. Since I closed off the week, I've discovered Art Pepper's West Coast Sessions on Omnivore. I need to replay to first two volumes, but there's a good chance that all six will wind up at A- -- as did the 5-CD box The Hollywood All-Star Sessions, where I first heard most of this marvelous music. I got into the Rolling Stones boots after Laura wanted to hear Beggars Banquet. I reconsidered Angles 9 after it showed up number two on Chris Monsen's list.

Spent several days last week cleaning up the album credits for the Jazz Critics Poll listings. I noted all the new records that got votes in my 2017 EOY List Aggregate, but the process was so slow and tedious I postponed work on reissues and the vocal-debut-Latin side-polls. I got far fewer complaints about errors this year than ever before, although I've found so many since the pages went up that I suspect fatigue or indifference as much as anything else. I saw a tweet from poll winner Vijay Iyer bemoaning the shortage of women critics, but that's only one of many identity groups that got shortchanged -- one I've complained about in the past was lack of European critics. I also got a letter from someone complaining about a shortage of jazz radio dj's (we got more of them than women or Europeans). He included a top-100 chart from Jazz Week, which I'll factor into my EOY Aggregate. He stressed that the JW list wasn't a "smooth jazz" list, which is true, but it isn't very adventurous or even interesting: for instance, I only count four records also on my 79 deep Jazz A-List (Jack DeJohnette's Hudson, Katie Thiroux's Off Beat, Yoko Miwa's Pathways, and Jimmy Greene's Flowers). Part of the problem is that it doesn't include a single album from the two labels Francis Davis singled out as "gatekeepers" to the polls (ECM and Pi) -- labels which scored 9 of the top 30 new jazz albums (6 and 3 respectively; note that Pi only released 5 albums last year, placing 60% of them in the top 17, the others landing at 60 and 94).

I could just as well complain about the lack of avant-oriented (or even -curious) voters. For instance, Free Jazz Collective just released their Free Jazz Blog's 2017 Top 10 Lists, collecting 21 writers, only three of whom submitted ballots to JCP. I've never been consulted on who gets invited, and especially have no idea who got invited but didn't vote. I do know that JCP typically gets about twice as many voters as JazzTimes for their annual poll, yet relatively speaking remains more open-minded.

I was thinking I'd write something about my EOY Aggregate this week, but I'm running out of time, and it's still in flux even if not changing very fast. But I will list out the current top 20 (my grades in brackets):

  1. 205: Kendrick Lamar: Damn (Top Dawg) [A-]
  2. 143: Lorde: Melodrama (Lava/Republic) [A-]
  3. 134: SZA: Ctrl (Top Dawg/RCA) [**]
  4. 131: LCD Soundsystem: American Dream (DFA/Columbia) [**]
  5. 120: St Vincent: Masseduction (Loma Vista) [A-]
  6. 91: Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory (Def Jam) [**]
  7. 79: The War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic) [B]
  8. 78: The National: Sleep Well Beast (4AD) [***]
  9. 77: Sampha: Process (Young Turks) [*]
  10. 69: Slowdive (Dead Oceans) [*]
  11. 67: Kelela: Take Me Apart (Warp) [**]
  12. 66: Perfume Genius: No Shape (Matador) [B-]
  13. 60: Father John Misty: Pure Comedy (Sub Pop) [B-]
  14. 60: Thundercat: Drunk (Brainfeeder) [*]
  15. 57: Jay-Z: 4:44 (Roc Nation/UMG) [**]
  16. 57: Tyler the Creator: Flower Boy (Columbia) [B]
  17. 48: King Krule: The OOZ (True Panther Sounds) [B]
  18. 44: Big Thief: Capacity (Saddle Creek) [**]
  19. 42: Fever Ray: Plunge (Rabid/Mute) [*]
  20. 41: Migos: Culture (QC/YRN/300) [***]

All in all, a better bunch of records than I'm used to in EOY lists, although I always find at least one record I can't imagine why anyone would vote for -- this year it's Perfume Genius: I can't hear any reason why anyone would find it attractive, even though on balance it's not so much worse than Father John Misty or War on Drugs. I probably won't spend much more time on this, at least beyond next week. I clearly still have some things that need to be factored in, even if just for my own curiosity. I've currently collected 94 lists, which is a far cry from last year's 557 lists. Those lists have identified 1481 records so far this year, compared to 4978 in 2016. Pazz & Jop typically comes up with about 1500 records.

By the way, I didn't get an invite from the Village Voice to vote in Pazz & Jop this year. No idea why, other than that they've changed management in the last year, supposedly to a group less inclined to let things run on autopilot. My Year 2017 list is up to 1001 lines (16 pending, so rated count is 985), which doesn't strike me as bad for a critic. Granted, probably two-thirds of that is jazz -- the Non-Jazz A-List is currently a relatively anemic 51 titles long (compared to 79 jazz), so maybe it's just anti-jazz prejudice taking hold there. Still, feels like a nudge out the door.

I published a "quick and dirty" consumer guide to the recordings of the late trombonist Roswell Rudd: The Incredible Honk (one of his album titles). I was so short of time and uncertain of consciousness that I almost let it go, but it finally cleaned up easily enough. I became a Rudd fan in the late 1970s, when Arista reissued a series of album that originally came out in Paris on Freedom Records. They included two Rudd titles: one chunk of avant-squawk I hated, the other (a jaded swing quartet with Sheila Jordan singing) I absolutely loved. I then tracked down his JCOA album (another good one, also with Jordan), and a few years later I grabbed Regeneration, his Herbie Nichols/Thelonious Monk tribute. That was pretty much his last album for more than a decade, until Francis Davis wrote his 1993 profile (see link below). Rudd returned to the spotlight after that, especially after he hooked up with Verna Gillis -- evidently some kind of world music impressario, hence his albums with musicians from Mali to Mongolia to Puerto Rico. It's been a delight to follow him since I started writing JCG.

Some Rudd links:

I've been toying with the idea of writing an essay on political strategy, tentatively titled A Letter to the Democrats. It would start with a survey of American political eras: one thing I'm struck by is that for 1800-1856 the Democrats only lost two elections (both to short-lived Whig generals); from 1860-1928 the Republicans were dominant with only two Democrats were elected president (two terms each for Cleveland and Wilson); from 1932-1976 only two Republicans won (two terms each for Eisenhower and Nixon); and from 1980-2016 only two Democrats (again two terms each for Clinton and Obama). Mark Lilla talks about "two dispensations" for the last two eras, but that seems like a quaint term. There are plenty of reasons to think that the poles may switch in 2020 -- not least that each era shift was preceded by an exceptionally unpopular one-term president (Buchanan, Hoover, and Carter), and it's hard to imagine that Trump is any different (indeed, he's probably the weakest of the four). On the other hand, the current Republican phase is anomalous in many respects: especially that it represents a shift to the right, whereas all previous era shifts moved toward more democratic/liberal foundations. But there's a lot more interesting stuff that flows from this framework. The main question is how should candidates position themselves to realize the transformation that is possible.

From a practical standpoint, I figure I'd have to knock this essay out in 4-6 weeks, hoping to get it published in March/April so that it might have some immediate effect on the 2018 elections. So it will have to be short, quick, and pointed. I won't be able to do a lot of research, but I thought I'd at least start to make a survey of books I should be aware of. One of the things I did today was to search Amazon for "democrats" -- which turned up nothing of interest. I then tried to refine the search and tried "democratic party prospects" and got what has to be the most useless Amazon results page ever:

  1. The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
  2. Essential Works of Lenin: "What Is to Be Done?" and Other Writings
  3. Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, by Jonah Goldberg

I was expecting to find some more recent/less dated strategizing along the lines of E.J. Dionne: They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era (1996) and John Judis/Ruy Teixeira: The Emerging Democratic Majority (2004), but I'm finding very little of that. Sure, Dionne does have a new book, One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported, as does Teixeira, The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century Will Be Better Than You Think -- but I don't find their cheery optimism at all convincing. I did read Mark Lilla's The Once and Future Liberal, which got me thinking along these lines, but mostly because of its defects. There must be something else worthwhile. Or maybe I've discovered a market gap? Regardless, I've procrastinated so long already that if I do decide to do something, I need to move fast.

New records rated this week:

  • Yazz Ahmed: La Saboteuse (2017, Naim): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Beasley: MONK'estra Vol. 2 (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: B
  • Sam Braysher With Michael Kanan: Golden Earrings (2016 [2017], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(***)
  • Phoebe Bridgers: Stranger in the Alps (2017, Dead Oceans): [r]: B+(*)
  • Peter Brotzmann/Heather Leigh: Sex Tape (2016 [2017], Trost): [r]: B-
  • John Butcher/Damon Smith/Weasel Walter: The Catastrophe of Minimalism (2008 [2017], Ballance Point Acoustics): [r]: B+(**)
  • Collectif Spatule: Le Vanneau Huppé (2017, Aloya): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Dial & Oatts/Rich DeRosa/WDR Big Band: Rediscovered Ellington: New Takes on Duke's Rare and Unheard Music (2017, Zoho): [r]: B+(*)
  • Agustí Fernández/Rafal Mazur: Ziran (2016, Not Two): [r]: B+(*)
  • Champian Fulton & Scott Hamilton: The Things We Did Last Summer (2017, Blau): [r]: B+(*)
  • Frank Gratkowski/Simon Nabatov: Mirthful Myths (2015 [2017], Leo): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charlie Halloran: Ce Biguine! (2017, self-released): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Lilly Hiatt: Trinity Lane (2017, New West): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Jazz Passengers: Still Life With Trouble (2017, Thirsty Ear): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lee Konitz: Frescalalto (2015 [2017], Impulse): [r]: B+(***)
  • Alex Lahey: I Love You Like a Brother (2017, Dead Oceans): [r]: B+(***)
  • Christian McBride Big Band: Bringin' It (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: B-
  • Ron Miles: I Am a Man (2016 [2017], Yellowbird): [yt]: B+(***)
  • Jason Moran and the Bandwagon: Thanksgiving at the Vanguard (2016 [2017], Yes): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Zaid Nasser: The Stroller (2016 [2017], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sam Newsome and Jean-Michel Pilc: Magic Circle (2017, Some New Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dick Oatts: Use Your Imagination (2016 [2017], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Bobby Kapp: Heptagon (2017, Leo): [cd]: A-
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Nate Wooley: Philosopher's Stone (2017, Leo): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ivo Perelman/Nate Wooley/Brandon Lopez/Gerald Cleaver: Octagon (2017, Leo): [cd]: A-
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Joe Hertenstein: Scalene (2017, Leo): [cd]: A-
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Jeff Cosgrove: Live in Baltimore (2017, Leo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Red Planet/Bill Carrothers: Red Planet With Bill Carrothers (2017, Shifting Paradigm): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: The Emancipation Procrastination (2016 [2017], Stretch Music/Ropeadope): [r]: B+(**)
  • Shotgun Jazz Band: Steppin' on the Gas (2016 [2017], self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita: Transparent Water (2017, World Village): [r]: B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • The Rolling Stones: On Air (1963-65 [2017], Interscope): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rolling Stones: Live 1965: Music From Charlie Is My Darling (1965 [2014], ABKCO): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rolling Stones: Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones (1972 [2017], Eagle Rock): [r]: A-
  • The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers Live at the Fonda Theater 2015 (2015 [2017], Eagle Rock): [r]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Allen Lowe/Roswell Rudd: Woyzeck's Death (1994 [1995], Enja): [sp]: B+(*)
  • The Rolling Stones: Singles 1968-1971 (1968-71 [2005], Abkco, 9CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Roswell Rudd: Everywhere (1966 [1967], Impulse): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sex Mob: Dime Grind Palace (2003, Ropeadope): [r]: B+(***)

Grade (or other) changes:

  • Angles 9: Disappeared Behind the Sun (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [cd]: [was B+(**)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Justin Gray & Synthesis: New Horizons (self-released): January 5
  • Peter Sommer: Happy-Go-Lucky Locals (self-released)