Monday, March 2, 2020

Music Week

March archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32856 [32823] rated (+33), 244 [245] unrated (-1).

[PS: Made some changes below, fixing a bad typo, and noting that Buttigieg (as well as Klobuchar) has endorsed Biden. Beto O'Rourke has also endorsed Biden.]

Might as well sweep up some loose ends missed from yesterday's Weekend Roundup, starting with Amy Klobuchar drops out of the 2020 presidential race. I didn't expect this until after Super Tuesday, where she still had a chance to win her home state, Minnesota. Instead, she's headed to Dallas to endorse Joe Biden. She may figure this "bold move" puts her in good stead to become Biden's VP pick, but I doubt there's a deal: the nomination is still pretty far off, so Biden needs to reserve his options, and she's really not that important.

When I started writing about Dylan Matthews' If anti-Bernie Democrats were serious, they'd unite around Joe Biden right now, it was still just a piece of armchair quarterbacking. I figured all the candidates had already sunk so many resources into Super Tuesday -- just three days after South Carolina, and tomorrow as I write -- that the sensible thing for all to do would be to let that play out. That Steyer, who had focused hard on South Carolina, saw his third-place finish as the end there wasn't a big surprise, but Buttigieg and Klobuchar never had a prayer in South Carolina, and could easily have waved away their inevitable failures there. (Buttigieg finished a respectable fourth there, with 8.25%, ahead of Warren's 7.06%. Admittedly, Klobuchar's 6th place 3.15% was a pretty poor showing.)

The main, and perhaps the only, reason candidates drop out of the presidential race is the money dries up. Steyer had his own money, so we can fairly assume he made his own decision. But Buttigieg and Klobuchar were dependent on donors, and big donors at that, so they were finished as soon as their donors' calculations drifted elsewhere. Indeed, both coupled their withdrawals with endorsements of Biden -- even though Buttigieg's donors seemed closer to Bloomberg, who having sunk a lot of money into Super Tuesday is still in the race. Still, part of the calculation here is recognition that Bloomberg has failed to establish himself as anywhere near as effective a candidate as Biden -- a pretty low bar. Assuming the polls are correct that Biden beats Bloomberg everywhere, you'll hear a lot next week about how Bloomberg split the "moderate" vote, putting pressure on him to drop out soon. After all, Bloomberg got into the race for fear that Biden would stumble. He was right that Biden did, but himself proved to be even more hapless.

In some circles, you'll also hear complaints about Warren splitting the progressive vote. (E.g., Sarah Jones: The most progressive thing Warren can do is leave the race.) It's certainly the case that if she can't win Massachusetts (and/or her native state of Oklahoma) it's hard to imagine where else she could win. While in theory she could still be a compromise pick at a deadlocked convention, I doubt that having lost everywhere is going to persuade delegates whose prime concern is nominating a candidate who can beat Trump. Still, I have to respect that she's not caving in on the eve of the big election -- even if all that shows is that her donors aren't as fickle as the ones who decided that Biden's 49% in South Carolina -- a state he's polled over 60% in most of last year -- makes him a juggernaut. And, frankly, her spirited evisceration of Bloomberg earns respect, even from those of us who prefer Sanders. Bloomberg may be trying to buy votes from the "moderate lane" but he's really just a "Never Trump" Republican, and his nomination would be the end of the Democratic Party as a source of hope for the vast majority of Americans.

We'll know more in a couple days. By the end of the week, the race may be down to just Sanders and Biden, to be decided over the next few months in large battleground states from New York to Illinois. Those split only slightly in favor of Clinton in 2016, with Clinton winning in party strongholds (like NYC and Chicago) and Sanders everywhere else. Sanders is better organized this year. Clinton and Biden have various tradeoffs, which don't necessarily favor one or the other.

I didn't write much about coronavirus yesterday, but we should stress one key point: while many health issues are non-contagious, and therefore even systemic failure only has piecemeal effects, this sort of contagious pandemic affects not just the individuals who get sick, but also the public that interacts with them. Therefore, this puts exceptional emphasis on public health. The US, where illness is most often seen as little more than an opportunity for business to exploit, is especially ill-prepared for this -- and would be even if the people who in charge of the public response weren't ridiculously incompetent, especially at the Trump-Pence level. (Nonetheless, I did feel it was premature to point out pieces like this one: Ryu Spaeth: The coronavirus is Trump's worst nightmare.

The virus has exposed another pretty major systemic weakness, starting with the stock market crash last week. For more on this, see Charlie Warzel: Coronavirus will test our new way of life. As Warzel explains, the search for extreme economic efficiency has left most businesses with fragile supply lines, so local disruptions quickly hit other locations, or even become global shortages.

I expected to find more pieces on the prevalence of "irritable mental gestures" at this year's CPAC, but most must have already vanished in the blogroll scrolls. Here's one I missed, touching on themes I did notice: Osita Nwanevu: At CPAC, the socialists are coming to get you.

Back to music, an exceptional number of A- records this week, all (but one) in the "new music" domain. Three came from my queue (Kenny Barron, Al Gold, TorbjÍrn Zetterberg). One was a leftover from December 2019 that only showed up in Dave Sumner's January edition of The best jazz on Bandcamp. There is quite a bit of back catalog by Muriel Grossmann, so I should probably search further, but it's also possible that Llorenš Barcelˇ's organ is what made the difference this time. Guitarist Ross Hammond was known to me, but looks like he has a bunch of records I've also missed.

Of the others, the late rapper Mac Miller's swansong is the biggest surprise, and the only record here that's been widely praised. (Well, further down the list there's Grimes, and further still Destroyer, 070 Shake, J Hus, and Beatrice Dillon.) The Evan Parker/Paul Lytton duo is the third straight A- from Intakt -- but the Tim Berne Snakeoil, despite the return of Marc Ducret from his best-ever period, didn't quite make it four straight. I suppose I should have resisted Waco Brothers' retreads, but couldn't. Stuck in my brain ever since: "$ Bill the Cowboy." [PS: Only after my initial draft did I figure out that these are reissues instead of remakes.]

I did an update to Robert Christgau's website last week, then didn't get around to making a public announcement (beyond the one on the website itself), or even my promised update to the "tech" mailing list. Added to the website are all the pieces from And It Don't Stop subscription newsletter. We had always planned on adding them sooner or later, but it proved difficult to nail down just when (even after I went ahead and did it). As subscribers know, some content there is restricted to those who pay for it ($5 per month), and some is free. I believe you can subscribe to just get the free stuff, but haven't tested that. The restricted material is primarily the new Consumer Guides, as they demand by far the most work to research and write, so it was felt that they should be withheld for a fairly long period, so subscribers get a sense of exclusivity for their money. The number they came up with is eight months, so I locked that in to the Consumer Guide columns. It was also (eventually) decided to embargo the free material for one month, but that happened after my update, so what got through is already unlocked. In the future, I'll apply the one-month lock on free articles, but not on Xgau Sez, because it's easiest (for now) just to plug it into the pre-existing unlocked framework.

A couple more technical details. I added an And It Don't Stop menu selection under "Writings," which leads you to a directory where most of the free articles reside (exceptions are Xgau Sez, 2019 Dean's List, and Consumer Guides (currently stubs, which will unlock when the time comes). I added a feature to the directory index code to pick up descriptions (copied from the article subheds) and add them to the listing, which should make it easier to identify articles. It also adds a HMTL "meta description" declaration, which may help Google (and others) with their indexing. The same format could be used for adding "meta keywords" declarations, but I'm not doing that yet. The changed code is commonly used throughout the site, so one could go back through the thousand-plus articles and use it to add descriptions and/or keywords -- a daunting but not impossible task. (One reason I did it here was that Christgau had already written text that I could use for the purpose.)

I've also added And It Don't Stop entries to the Bibliography, which gives you a serial index by date. Long ago I had planned to eventually replace these flat files with database queries, which would be more flexible for searching by date, publication, maybe even subject or keywords. Never did that, and didn't even bother imposing the five-year chunk rule to what used to be "2010-2014" (but now is "2010-" and continuing to grow). We would be better off if we did all of the indexing from the database, but I keep dragging my feet on the project, so it remains conceptual.

I haven't added the new consumer guide entries to the database yet. It appears as though they, too, have to be timelocked, so anything I did now wouldn't be visible to you for another 4-5 months. The obvious way to do this is to modify the SQL code to pull out the "ent_date" table entry, then write some PHP code to drop the review and grade on entries less than eight months old. I'd have to track down all of the places where this code exists (probably 10-20), standardize the tables, and pass them through a filter to enforce the timelock. Not hard, but I haven't yet finished converting all of the database code to work with PHP 7, so that needs to be done at the same time.

One thing I'd like to do at the same time is to grab a list of newsletter subscribers and use it to validate users, so subscribers can see the latest reviews on the website as well as via And It Don't Stop. Substack doesn't seem to have any useful API for this, so I'd have to hack something less dynamic. Not impossible, but a fair bit of learning curve (e.g., it would require use of cookies, something I've avoided so far).

It bothers me that I've made so little progress on this project. The last few weeks have been especially depressing, extending several months of lethargy. I keep thinking that once I finish the weekly posts, I'll get to doing some real work. Will see what happens tomorrow.

New records reviewed this week:

070 Shake: Modus Vivendi (2020, GOOD Music/Def Jam): Hip-hop singer-songwriter Danielle Balbuena, from New Jersey, first album (after a mixtape and an EP). B+(**)

Terry Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band: Just Like Moby Dick (2020, Paradise of Bachelors): Singer-songwriter from the western fringe of country, born in Wichita, grew up in Lubbock (title of his 1979 album, probably his best), has a reputation as a visual artist as well as over a dozen albums. B+(***)

Kenny Barron/Dave Holland Trio Featuring Johnathan Blake: Without Deception (2019 [2020], Dare2): Piano-bass-drums trio, on Holland's label, crediting him as producer. Credits favor Barron 4-2, with covers of Ellington, Monk, Mulgrew Miller, and Sumi Tonooka -- pianists all (Miller was Barron's partner for The Art of Piano Duo: Live, and Tonooka was one of his assistants at Rutgers, and a brilliant pianist in her own right). One of those rare piano trios where everything seems just right. A- [cd] [03-06]

Antoine Berjeaut: Moving Cities (2017 [2019], I See Colors): French trumpet player, third album, cover proclaims "produced by Makaya McCraven." The drummer also share composition credits, and many sources give him top-line co-credit, merited far beyond his beats. B+(**)

Tim Berne's Snakeoil: The Fantastic Mrs. 10 (2019 [2020], Intakt): Alto saxophonist, debut in 1979, released four albums on ECM with this group -- Oscar Noriega (clarinets), Matt Mitchell (piano), Ches Smith (drums), replacing Ryan Ferreira with Marc Ducret at guitar (Ducret played with Berne on many 1991-2007 albums). A bit too much clutter for my taste, but a lot of talent, with a few amazing stretches. B+(***)

Calle Loiza Jazz Project: There Will Never Be Another You (2019 [2020], self-released): Latin jazz group, from Puerto Rico, reunites a quartet first formed in 1990 -- listed first is either pianist Mark Monts de Oca or drummer Jimmy Rivera -- with ample reinforcements. B+(**) [cd]

Chicago Farmer: Flyover Country (2020, Chicago Farmer): Folksinger-songwriter Cody Dieckhoff, grew up in the small farming community of Delavan, Illinois, wound up unassimilated in Chicago, covers Hank Williams (an eery "Ramblin Man"), cites John Prine as his model. Seventh album, including a live one from 2018 that Christgau recommended and I was unable to find. Takes pride in dirty uniforms, disparages $13 beer, invokes the Mississippi Delta. A-

Destroyer: Have We Met (2020, Merge): Vancouver BC band, principally singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, twelfth album since 1996, who also lurks in the background of New Pornographers. Some nice touches here and elsewhere, but ultimately never enough to make me care. B+(*)

Beatrice Dillon: Workaround (2017-19 [2020], Pan): British electronica, mostly beats ("a hypnotic series of polymetric permutations at a fixed 1150bpm tempo"). B+(**)

Yelena Eckemoff: Nocturnal Animals (2018 [2020], L&H Production, 2CD): Russian pianist, got a good education in classical music before moving to US in 1991, where her interests eventually turned to jazz (especially from 2009 forward). Recorded this one in Oslo with all-stars Arild Andersen on bass and Jon Christensen and Thomas Str°nen on drums. B+(**) [cd]

Nick Finzer: Cast of Characters (2019 [2020], Outside In Music): Trombonist, from Rochester, based in New York (although he seems to have a connection to UNT), several albums, this a sleek postbop sextet with Lucas Pino (reeds), guitar, piano, bass, and drums. B+(*)

Al Gold: Al Gold's Paradise (2019 [2020], self-released): Bluesman from New Jersey, plays guitar and mandolin, sings, writes his own songs. Don't know much about him other than that he organizes block parties and jams. Sounds old and gritty enough for the blues, even with his light touch. Roped some jazz musicians into his project, including Dave Stryker and Jared Gold. A- [03-06]

Grimes: Miss Anthropocene (2020, 4AD): Canadian pop singer-songwriter Claire Boucher, born in Vancouver, studied in Montreal, fifth studio album since 2010. Hard to get a firm handle on this, as it gets hard and even a bit noisy toward the end, but is likely to grow on you. B+(***)

Muriel Grossmann: Reverence (2019, RR Gems): Saxophonist (soprano/alto/tenor), born in Paris, grew up in Austria, based in Ibiza (Spain), eleventh album since 2007. Quintet with guitar, organ, bass, and drums: long, sinewy groove pieces with cosmic dust, reminiscent of Coltrane at his (or her) most spiritual (do I detect a bit of uncredited harp?). A- [bc]

Ross Hammond/Oliver Lake/Mike Pride: Our Place on the Wheel (2020, Prescott): Guitarist, more than two dozen albums since 2008 -- I've heard less than a third, my favorite 2013's Cathedrals. Credited with steel guitar here, he plays a low key, almost ambient, blues, with alto sax shading and harmonizing, and percussion accents. A-

The Heliocentrics: Infinity of Now (2020, Madlib Invazion): London jazz-funk collective, core members Malcolm Catto (drums), Jake Ferguson (bass), and Jack Yglesias (keybs); original inspiration was Sun Ra, but they've adapted to key guests (Mulatu Astatke, Lloyd Miller, Orlando Julius, Melvin Van Peebles) and mostly recorded on world/funk labels (Madlib's sole credit here is executive producer). I have my doubts about the vocals, but the instrumental pieces are pretty impressive, especially the closer, "People Wake Up." B+(***)

J Hus: Big Conspiracy (2020, Black Butter): British rapper Momodou Lamin Jallow, mother a Fula from Gambia, second album. B+(**)

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: The Music of Wayne Shorter (2015 [2020], Blue Engine, 2CD): Big band, working their way through ten Shorter compositions, arranged by nine band members (Sherman Irby doubled up), with guest solos by Shorter himself. The latter stand out, but the band is uncharacteristically out of sorts. B-

Dawda Jobarteh: I Met Her by the River (2018, Stern's Africa): Singer-songwriter from Gambia, based in Copenhagen, plays kora, opens with an instrumental. B

Mike McGinniss/Elias Bailey/Vinnie Sperrazza: Time Is Thicker (2020, Open Stream Music): Clarinet/bass/drums, five joint originals, four covers, ending with a sprightly "Just One of Those Things." B+(**) [cd]

Mac Miller: Circles (2018 [2020], Warner): Rapper Malcolm McCormick, from Pittsburgh, overdosed a month after his fifth album dropped, was working on this at the time, finished off by Jon Brion. Started out as some kind of redneck rapper, sung more later, dulling his image, but nothing prepared me for these relaxed, easy going grooves. He never made it as a soul man, but somehow turned into a pretty attractive ghost. A-

John Moreland: LP5 (2020, Old Omens): Country singer-songwriter, born in Texas, based in Tulsa, fifth album with just his own name (after two with the Black Gold Band, one with the Dust Bowl Souls). I liked the last two a lot, but this seems a bit understated, or maybe (judging from the title) uninspired. B+(**)

Tami Neilson: Chicka Boom! (2020, Outside): Born in Canada, moved to New Zealand in 2007, singer-songwriter on the rockabilly side of country, fifth album, third with a bang in the title. Ten short songs, 27:51. Half rock hard, half aim for deep. B+(**)

Never Weather: Blissonance (2019 [2020], Ridgeway): Drummer Dillon Vado, grew up in San Jose, played in Rata-Tet and Electric Squeezebox Orchestra, first album for this quintet, maybe for Vado as leader. With sax (Aaron Wolf), trumpet (Josh D. Reed), bass (Tyler Harlow), and guitar (Justin Rock). Defines blissonance as "when an otherwise blissful experience in nature is disrupted by the recognition that one is having an adverse impact on that place they are ejoying by being there." In other words, postmodern irony. B+(*)

Evan Parker/Paul Lytton: Collective Calls (Revisited) (Jubilee) (2019 [2020], Intakt): Duo, tenor sax and drums, title refers back to their 1972 duo, Collective Calls (Urban) (Two Microphones). Nothing jarring here, just remarkable interaction cultivated over half a century. A-

Dan Rosenboom: Absurd in the Anthropocene (2020, Gearbox): California trumpet player, born in Berkeley, teaches in Pasadena, ranges from avant to fusion to soundtrack work, signed to a London label he tries his hand at their crossover funk and damn near nails it. B+(**)

Torbj÷rn Zetterberg & Den Stora Fragan: Are You Happy (2019 [2020], Moserobie): Swedish bassist, lots of side credits since 2005, fourth album leading this group: originally a sextet -- trumpet (Susana Silva Santos), trombone (Mats ┼lekint), sax (Jonas Kullhammar), clarinet (Alberto Pinton), drums (Jon Fńlt) -- plus organ and more drums on two cuts. A- [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Terry Allen + Panhandle Mystery Band: Pedal Steel + Four Corners (1985-93 [2019], Paradise of Bachelors, 3CD): First piece fills a 35:32 side. The latter collects four slightly shorter works (25:46-28:57). Spoken word, interesting (albeit long-winded) stories, music ambient with the occasional Texas twist. B+(*)

Mogadisco: Dancing Mogadishu (Somalia 1972-1991) (1972-91 [2019], Analog Africa): Even before war tore the country apart near the end of this period, one of Africa's poorer and more mistreated countries, which doesn't make for a particularly vibrant music scene. Twelve tracks, most similar to Ethiopian with a lot of organ and a bit of Arabic influence, three from what's probably the nation's most famous band (Dur-Dur Band), two each from Mukhtar Ramadan Iidi, Bakaka Band, and Ilfin Band. Still, a most agreeable dance groove.

The John Tchicai Quartet: Live at the Stone (2007 [2020], Minus Zero): Danish tenor saxophonist, part of New York Art Quartet back in 1964, died in 2012. Returned to New York for this date, his pick up band: Garrison Fewell (guitar), Adam Lane (bass), Vijay Anderson (drums), with Steve Dalachinsky reading a poem. B+(*)

Waco Brothers: Resist! (1995-2005 [2020], Bloodshot): Mekon Jon Langford's Chicago bar band, motto "hard times call for hard country," twenty-five years since their debut. You'd think the times would help write a new batch of songs, but they decided to pick some old ones, sounding harder than ever. Lots to resist these days, but not them. A-

Old music:

Evan Parker/AgustÝ Fernßndez: The Voice Is One (2009 [2012], Not Two): Tenor sax and piano, recorded in Barcelona, often dazzling. [4/6 tracks] B+(***)

Evan Parker & Joe McPhee: What/If/They Both Could Fly (2012 [2013], Rune Grammofon): Duo set from Konsberg Jazzfestival, Parker on tenor sax, McPhee starts on pocket trumpet but also plays soprano sax (in what sounds like an homage to Parker). Title lists the three pieces, total 39:13. Two giants, cautiously circling each other. B+(***)

Waco Brothers: Waco Express: Live and Kickin' at Schuba's Tavern Chicago (2008, Bloodshot): As befits a great bar band, a hot live sampler. B+(***)

Waco Brothers & Paul Burch: The Great Chicago Fire (2012, Bloodshot): Burch is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter with more than a dozen albums since 1996. Title cut is hot enough, rest not their sharpest. Ends with a raved-up Dylan cover. B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Franšois Carrier/Tomek Gadecki/Marcik Bozek/Michel Lambert: Wide (FMR)
  • Day Dream: Originals (Corner Store Jazz) [03-27]
  • Alex Goodman: Impressions in Blue and Red (Outside In Music, 2CD) [03-13]
  • Hayoung Lyou: Metamorphosis (Endectomorph Music) [04-17]
  • Shunzo Ohno: Runner (Pulsebeats) [04-03]
  • Carl Saunders: Jazz Trumpet (Summit)

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