An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, February 11, 2019
Music: current count 31103  rated (+41), 251  unrated (-2).
Last week I speculated about possibly changing the Music Week format to offer my reviews in weekly doses, so you get information sooner and in what should be more digestible doses (20-40 records per week instead of 100-200 records at the end of the month). As I thought about it, I realized that I could still archive the reviews in monthly chunks, and announce that file when it becomes public. So, I'm trying that approach this week. Actually, there is a bit of surplus here: a few records that appeared in last week's Music Week that I got to after posting January 2019 Streamnotes.
I haven't really figured the workflow out yet. What I'm thinking is that I'll collect Music Week in the notebook as usual, then swap in the reviews when I create the blog post file. Still some room for sloppy errors here, even with all the redundancy. Rated count report this week is slightly higher than actual because I came up short and found a half-dozen unregistered grades -- probably over the last 3-4 weeks, as that's about when I last checked the ungraded list.
The Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll came out last week. I didn't vote, as I wasn't invited (for the first time since when? 2002?). Relevant links:
They only listed the top 100 albums, and didn't include vote counts (just points). I scraped a copy of the ballot data but haven't yet done anything to clean up the data to make it more useful. I added the top-100 rank and a few dozen select voter ballots to my EOY Aggregate, but haven't done the one thing that would be most useful: make sure all of the records that got votes but didn't crack the top 100 get recognized in the EOY Aggregate. In recent years somewhere between 1400 and 2000 records got votes (from 400+ voters). This year should be pretty close to those numbers. My EOY Aggregate currently lists 3216 new records (plus 367 reissues/compilations/etc.). I'd guess that there are at least 100 records in the ballot fine print that I've missed. Whether it's worth pursuing this any further is hard to say.
The P&J winner this year was Kacey Musgraves' Golden Hour, but my EOY Aggregate favors Janelle MonŠe's Dirty Computer, by a pretty solid margin. Musgraves also won Uproxx's slapdash critics poll, although by a closer margin. I've had MonŠe in the lead since the second week of counting, and for most of this time Musgraves was in 3rd, behind Mitski's Be the Cowboy. Musgraves did lead Metacritic's aggregate (98.5 to 97 points), but MonŠe led at Album of the Year, with Mitski second and Musgraves a fairly distant third (364-353-295 points). Acclaimed Music Forums has had MonŠe ahead from the start, with Musgraves down at 7th as of February 6 (including P&J), after MonŠe, Low, Idles, Pusha T, Mitski, and Robyn). I'm not able to access the latter's spreadsheets, but they break lists down by US, UK, and other, and include a lot of the latter. I think it's fair to say that Musgraves benefits from US bias, not so much because American critics prefer her to MonŠe as because non-Americans don't. Idles seems to be the band with the greatest UK bias (3 at AMF, 35 P&J, followed by Arctic Monkeys (11 at AMF, 43 P&J).
I keep putting off trying to write up some commentary on the EOY lists, and will have to punt again this week. I will note that Wayne Shorter's Emanon, which won top album in our Jazz Critics Poll, finally appeared on Napster last week. I played it and while I suspected that it was overrated, I was really surprised at how painful it was to listen to. The orchestra side was one of the worst I've heard, but the live quartet sides were little better (despite momentary exceptions).
By the way, I posted a new edition of Robert Christgau's Xgau Sez questions and answers. I was struck by this line:
Actually, I do the exact opposite of this. Most of the notes below are based on a single play of an album, often while I was distracted trying to write something about a completely different topic. Worse still, sometimes I didn't even manage to jot down my thoughts: I found myself at the end of an album with a proximate grade impression but no details and no self-analysis as to why I felt the way I did -- and most importantly, no desire to correct my lapse by listening to the record again. At this point I don't even feel like trying to justify the way I work.
On the other hand, I will note that it increasingly seems like I'm working under a cloud of doubts about my ability to express myself clearly -- even in matters of much greater import than which underground rapper might be worth your while. (There are several this week, and the odds that I got the pecking order right aren't especially good.) Maybe that's why I'm having so much trouble moving on from this EOY list nonsense?
New records rated this week:
Ace of Cups: Ace of Cups (2018, High Moon): San Francisco band founded in 1967, originally five women, started to fall apart in 1970, disbanding in 1972 when no records -- some demos and live cuts eventually appeared in 2003, but regrouped for Wavy Gravy's 75th birthday party, and again in 2016 with four of the original members for this belated debut album. Period sound, mostly blues-based, until they start bringing guests in and it starts to shift and wander. B
Aceyalone & DJ Fatjack: 43rd & Excellence (2018, That Kind of Music): Underground rapper Eddie Hayes, started in 1995, attracted some attention for 2001's Accepted Eclectic but little notice lately, despite regular releases. Love the easy flow here, as well as the scratch-sample beats. Can't find anything on his producer-partner. A-
Ralph Alessi: Imaginary Friends (2018 , ECM): Trumpet player, from San Francisco, often impressive on other folks' albums, released This Against That in 2002 and has used that as a group name, eventually landing on ECM in 2013. Third album there, front cover also names Ravi Coltrane (tenor/soprano sax), Andy Milne (piano), Drew Gress (bass), and Mark Ferber (drums). Rather laid back, although Coltrane has a sweet spot. B+(*)
Ehud Asherie Trio: Wild Man Blues (2018 , Capri): Pianist, born in Israel, moved to Italy quite young, then to US at 9, taking lessons from Frank Hewitt at Smalls Jazz Club, sort of a bop-to-swing influence. Trio with Peter Washington and Rodney Green, playing eight standards, two from Charlie Parker, title tune from Louis Armstrong. B+(**) [cd]
Dem Atlas: Bad Actress (2018, Rhymesayers): Rapper Joshua Evans Turner, stylized "deM atlaS," from Minneapolis, second album. Sings some, beats rockish, melodies too. B
August Greene: August Greene (2018, Fat Beats): Billed as a hip-hop supergroup, basically an alias for Common, with Samora Pinderhughes and a few more guest vocals, backed by Robert Glasper (keyboards), Burniss Travis (bass), and Karriem Riggins (drums). B+(**)
Layale Chaker & Sarafand: Inner Rhyme (2018 , In a Circle): Violinist, in Brooklyn, backed by cello, bass, piano, and percussion -- I suspected oud, given the Middle Eastern improv, but none listed. B+(**) [cd]
Jon Cleary: Dyna-Mite (2018, FHQ): Singer-songwriter, pianist, born in England but long-based in New Orleans, called his first album (1989) Alligator Lips and Dirty Rice. Rocks out on the title song, but wimps out later on, when "Best Ain't Good Enuff" proves inadvertent. B+(*)
Marilyn Crispell/Tanya Kalmanovitch/Richard Teitelbaum: Dream Libretto (2018, Leo): Piano-violin-electronics, at least for the 5-part, 25:00 title piece, a memorial for various deaths, some old, some recent, not quite a dirge but not very lively. Teitelbaum, who wasn't very engaged in the first place, then drops out for seven improv duets, just piano and violin. B+(*)
Stephan Crump's Rosetta Trio: Outliers (2017 , Papillon): Bassist, trio adds two guitarists -- Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox -- which makes this primarily a guitar record, intricate and not overly aggressive. B+(**) [cd]
Chuck D as Mistachuck: Celebration of Ignorance (2018, SpitSLAM): Public Enemy leader, fourth solo album, one in 1996 (Autobiography of Mistachuck), third since 2014 (sandwiched around Public Enemy albums). Opens and closes with "LeBron building schools/45 building walls" then a lot of "tired of 45." He's angry, comes on hard, but also keeps it short (32:51), almost cryptic. B+(***)
Double Dee & Steinski: Lesson 4: The Beat (2018, self-released): Doug DiFranco and Steven Stein, hip-hop producer duo, gained a measure of fame in 1983 when they pieced together a 12-inch single called "The Payoff Mix" -- Christgau graded A+ a 1985 EP that added "Lesson Two" and "Lesson 3," but lacking clearances it was hard to find (at least until it appeared on Steinski's 2008 compilation, What Does It All Mean?). Not sure when this dates from, but several others continued the "Lesson" series, with a "Lesson 4" from DJ Shadow in 1991 and another from Cut Chemist in 1993. This is billed as an EP, featuring ADA (turntables) with three takes of "Lesson 4: The Beat" (11:07-14:35) and two mixes of "This Music" (3:25-4:20). Remains sketchy at best. B+(**) [bc]
Mats Eilertsen: And Then Comes the Night (2018 , ECM): Norwegian bassist, many side credits, a dozen albums since 2004, second on ECM, a trio with Harmen Fraanje on piano and Thomas StrÝnen on drums. Lovely. B+(**)
Sue Foley: The Ice Queen (2018, Stony Plain): Blues singer-guitarist, originally from Ottawa, Canada, moved to Austin at 21, becoming my favorite blues performer of the 1990s. First solo album since 2006 (discounting two duos with Peter Karp 2010-12). B+(***)
Nick Grinder: Farallon (2018 , self-released): Trombonist, from California, based in New York, second album, postbop quintet with Ethan Helm (sax) and Juanma Trujillo (guitar). B+(*) [cd]
G Herbo: Humble Beast (2017, Machine): Chicago rapper, Herbert Wright III, started out as Lil Herb, first studio album after four mixtapes. Dense. B+(*)
G Herbo & Southside: Swervo (2018, Machine/Epic/Cinematic/150 Dream Team/808 Mafia): Rapper and producer, the latter's name referencing his native Atlanta (not the rapper's Chicago). Maybe no denser, but definitely faster. B+(*)
Charlotte Hug & Lucas Niggli: Fulguratio: Live at Ad Libitum 2016 (2016 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Swiss duo, Hug's credit is "viola & voice," Niggli "drums & percussion." Hug's discography goes back to 1999, seems to be much more viola than voice; indeed, hard to call what she does here as singing, but in either mode she intensifies. B+(**) [bc]
Mick Jenkins: Pieces of a Man (2018, Cinematic): Chicago rapper, born in Alabama but mother moved him north when he was 10. Second album, more mixtapes since 2012. B+(*)
Cody Jinks: Lifers (2018, Rounder): Country singer-songwriter, born in Denton, TX, started in a thrash metal band, half-dozen albums since 2008. B+(*)
Darren Johnston/Tim Daisy: Crossing Belmont (2017, Relay): Trumpet-drums duo, Johnston born in Canada and based in San Francisco since 1997, Daisy from Chicago. Cover picture looks to be early construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, very eerie. Two pieces, 35:17 total. B+(***) [bc]
K.A.A.N.: Subtle Meditation (2018, Redefinition): Rapper Brandon Perry, from Maryland, acronym stands for Knowledge Above All Nonsense, Wikipedia lists this as his first album, after 17 mixtapes (since 2014). Underground like MF Doom. A- [bc]
Josť Lencastre Nau Quartet: Eudaimonia (2018, FMR): Alto saxophonist, name looked familiar but I had confused him with drummer Jo„o Lencastre, present here, along with Rodrigo Pinheiro (piano) and Hern‚ni Faustino (bass), two-thirds of RED Trio. Slow to get going, impressive at speed, rhythm section is key there. B+(**) [bc]
Josť Lencastre Nau Quartet: Fragments of Always (2016 , FMR): Same group, first album together, stumbles on occasion but impressive power and speed. B+(***) [bc]
Joe Lovano: Trio Tapestry (2018 , ECM): Tenor saxophonist, one of the greats, also credited with tarogato and gong, in a trio with Marilyn Crispell on piano and Carmen Castaldi on drums. While the music is tricky as expected, everyone plays it so politely you're never challenged -- except perhaps on the closer, 'The Smiling Dog." B+(**)
Ahmoudou Madassane: Zerzura (2018, Sahel Sounds): Tuareg guitarist, plays in Les Filles de Illighadad, posits his album as a soundtrack to the "first ever Saharan acid Western . . . a meditation on the mysteries of the Sahara." Evocative, preferring the background. B+(**)
Marlowe: Marlowe (2018, Mello Music Group): Hip-hop duo, beatmaker L'Orange and rapper Solemn Brigham. Beats slip and slide, spoken dressing has a Doom-ish comix air. B+(***)
Leyla McCalla: Capitalist Blues (2019, Jazz Village): Born in New York, parents Haitian, father "ran a New York based Haitian socialist newspaper," mother founded "an anti-domestic violence human rights organization," lived a couple years in Ghana, played cello in Carolina Chocolate Drops, also banjo and guitar, first solo album was a tribute to Langston Hughes. This is her third. Title song rings true, and the calypso "Money Is King" is even better. Got heavier, and the screechy guitar threw me for a loop until I looked up the song title, "Aleppo." She follows that with what sounds like a Haitian lullaby, then some Cajun woo-pitching. Not sure I'm ready for all this. A-
Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom: Glitter Wolf (2019, The Royal Potato Family): Drummer, group named for her 2010 debut album, retaining Jenny Scheinman (violin), Myra Melford (piano), and Todd Sickafoose (bass) from the debut, adding Ben Goldberg (clarinet) and Kirk Knuffke (cornet) for their second outing. That's a lot of talent, neatly balanced, the violin a bit up front. A-
Ulysses Owens Jr.: Songs of Freedom (2018 , Resilience Music): Drummer, originally from Florida, plays with Christian McBride (trio and big band), has a couple albums under his own name. A tribute to three singer-songwriters, women with some affinity for jazz and justice -- Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, and Joni Mitchell -- employing three singers: Theo Bleckmann, Alicia Olatuja, and Joanna Majoko. Other credits are scarce -- maybe because the CD doesn't drop until March, and streamers are not supposed to care. B+(*)
Phonte: No News Is Good News (2018, Foreign Exchange): Rapper Phonte Lyshod Coleman, from North Carolina, second solo album after tours with Little Brother and The Foreign Exchange. B+(**)
Jim Piela: Out of Orbit (2018 , Orenda): Alto saxophonist, studied at NYU, based in New York, has a previous album (Non Fiction). Postbop, pianoless quartet with Joey Lamb on trumpet, plus bass and drums. B+(***) [cd]
Verneri Pohjola/Maciej Garbowski/Krzysztof Gradziuk: Gemstones (2017 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Trumpet-bass-drums trio, the leader Finnish, with close to ten albums. B+(**) [bc]
Popcaan: Forever (2018, Mixpak): Jamaican dancehall shouter, second album. B+(**)
Protoje: A Matter of Time (2018, Easy Star): Reggae singer, Oje Ken Ollivierre, fifth album (plus 4 mixtapes). B+(*)
Javier Santiago: Phoenix (2016 , Ropeadope): Pianist, from Minneapolis, first album, also plays keyboards, trumpet (one track), and is credited with vocals (as is J Hoard and Proper-T), a real blight on a tolerable funk/fusion album. Other musicians come and go. Nicholas Payton even leaves a memory. B
Shannon Shaw: Shannon in Nashville (2018, Easy Eye Sound/Nonesuch): Solo debut for name singer in Oakland garage-punk band Shannon & the Clams, also involved with queercore band Hunx and His Punx. Cover looks retro, like she's been preserved in amber since the early 1960s. Nothing country about her pilgrimage -- I'm a bit reminded of Dusty in Memphis, but it's not about soul either. More big, tacky arrangements, which is Nashville's signature these days. B+(***)
Wayne Shorter: Emanon (2015-16 , Blue Note, 3CD): Came out September 14, 2018, but withheld from streaming services (and not getting anything from Blue Note these days) this wound up being the only album to finish top-40 in Jazz Critics Poll that I hadn't heard. Still, it won the poll, getting more points but fewer votes than two runners up. Two live sets from his Long-running (at least since 2001's Footprints Live!) quartet -- Danilo Perez (piano), John Patitucci (bass), and Brian Blade (drums) -- plus a string-drenched performance with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Nothing prepared me for now awful -- ponderous, hackneyed, convoluted, dispeptic -- the orchestral music is. The quartet sets hint at something better, but they're spotty. B-
Zhenya Strigalev: Blues for Maggie (2017 , Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist, from Russia, studied in London, based in New York, but recorded this (her fourth album) in Netherlands and Austria. Also credited with soprano sax, alto box, and electronics. Backed by Federico Dannemann (guitar), Linley Marthe (bass guitar, keyboards), and Eric Harland (drums). B+(*) [bc]
Tony Tixier: Life of Sensitive Creatures (2016 , Whirlwind): French pianist, twin brother Scott Tixier a notable violinist, fifth album, a trio with Karl McComas Reichl (double bass) and Tommy Crane (drums). B+(**) [bc]
Vestbo Trio: Gentlemen . . . (2019, Dog Hound): Finnish trio -- Michael Vestbo (guitar), Jesper Smalbro (electric bass), Eddi Jarl (drums), plus organ on two cuts -- several albums since 2012. Strikes me as pretty easy going, but picks up a bit. B+(*) [bc]
Nate Wooley & Torben Snekkestad: Of Echoing Bronze (2015 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Avant trumpet duo, the latter also credited with soprano sax for this improv set live in Copenhagen. Hard to get much going in this format. B [bc]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Big Star: Live at Lafayette's Music Room (1973 , Omnivore): Alex Chilton's breakthrough Memphis pop-rock band, three months after they named their debut #1 Record only to watch it flop. Not that I don't recognize nearly every song, but my memory says they should all be sharper and catchier than this. The covers pick up a bit. B+(*)
Anthony Braxton: Sextet (Parker) 1993 (1993 , New Braxton House, 11CD): A massive expansion of the sessions and live tour that produced the 2-CD Charlie Parker Project 1993. I was pretty down on Parker back then, so the first thing I noticed was that Braxton had alto sax chops Parker could only dream of (but then I often thought that Braxton was most brilliant playing other's music). I didn't recall the brilliant band Braxton assembled for the project: Ari Brown (tenor/soprano sax), Paul Smoker (trumpet/flugelhorn), Misha Mengelberg (piano), Joe Fonda (bass), and Han Bennink (drums, except for 6, of 68, cuts with Pheeroan akLaff). Too much to digest, especially on computer -- the physical package was limited to 500 copies and quickly sold out, presumably to the 1% -- and I doubt you actually need, for instance, six takes of "Klactoveedsedstene." Still, much of this is magnificent. A- [bc]
A Certain Ratio: acr:set (1980-94 , Mute): British post-punk/new wave group, recorded for Factory Records, found a dance groove in dank industrial grunge. Scattered singles, odd cuts, mixed bag. Atypical, but best rhythm track: "Si firmir o grida." B+(*)
Asnake Gebreyes: Ahadu (1988 , Buda Musique): Ethiopian singer, 25 when he released on cassette, more recently has worked in the French band UkanDanz. In some ways very typical, dry vocals and cheesy keyb, but finds a groove and breaks it in deep. B+(***)
The Louvin Brothers: Love and Wealth: The Lost Recordings (1952-55 , Modern Harmonic, 2CD): Early demos, I'm guessing on the dates ("first half of the 1950s" -- their first album appeared in 1956, first single in 1955, but I've heard other material as early as 1952). One of the great brother acts in country music, their harmonies unearthly, their souls tortured. Second half turns to their notoriously ill-tempered gospel music, starting with: "preach the gospel/regardless of who it hurts/pray that God will have His way." Not sure about Charlie, but Ira lived a life of drink and violence, running through four wives, the third marriage ending in a hail of bullets, the fourth drunk on a dark highway. B+(***)
Make Mine Mondo! (1958-69 , Ace): Compilation ("fuzzed out garage bands, manic instrumentals, wayward rockabillies") from Dore Records, founded in Hollywood, 1958 by Herb Newman and Louis Bideu. Earliest singles included Phil Spector (The Teddy Bears) and Jan & Dean, but they moved on before becoming famous, and I've only heard of one artist here (Bobby Troup). B
Oneness of Juju: African Rhythms (1975 , Strut): Afrocentric American group, based in Richmond, Virginia, led by James "Plunky" Branch, first album, after 1980 the billing changes to Plunky & the Oneness of Juju. Their African schtick isn't bad, but they have problems keeping it up. B+(*)
Neil Young: Songs for Judy (1976 , Reprise): Another trawl through the bootleg archives, selected from dates in November 1976 when he was touring with the reunited Crazy Horse and appearing solo as his own opening act. Some old hits, some current, more unreleased at the time although they've surfaced since -- two that stand out for me came out in his great albums of 1978-79. Title from a purely tangential story about meeting Judy Garland. B+(**)
Old music rated this week:
Jeb Bishop & Tim Daisy: Old Shoulders (2012, Relay): Trombone and drums duets, Chicago players, both in Vandermark 5 but would have to check to see if they overlapped (maybe, but not by much). Limits to the format, but they make the most of it. B+(**) [bc]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: