Monday, April 13, 2020

Music Week

April archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33094 [33056] rated (+38, 216 [216] unrated (-0).

Bernie Sanders endorsed Joe Biden today. I don't think he needed to do so this early, but he seems to be building a personal relationship which will make him more influential as the campaign progresses, and hopefully after Biden wins. Those of us who don't know Biden personally still have some distance to go to embrace the idea. But one thing that's long been clear to me is that even the worst Democrats are open to discussion of progressive ideas, while Republicans are not, locked into their right-wing echo chamber. I'd also add that Biden, unlike ideological centrists like Schumer and the Clintons, is a guy who is happy to roll with the waves. He's never been a principled defender of working people, of civil rights, of peace and justice, and that's left him with a very shoddy record to run on. But he's not a steady opponent either, and when reality shifts he tries to stick with it. That may not be what we want, but it could be what we need.

Worth reading here (and I'm sure there'll be more by the weekend):

I filled out my DownBeat Critics Poll ballot last week, the evening before the deadline. I started quite late, and quickly grew exhausted, so I wound up racing through the 20-odd pages of the ballot. Normally I take notes as I go along (this year's are here), but I wound up referring to them more than revising them. To rush things along, I wound up simply repeating last year's picks in most categories. I haven't even sorted out the jazz albums lists, and didn't bother even copying the blues and "beyond" album lists -- safe to say I've heard virtually none of the blues albums (I wound up writing in Al Gold's Paradise, the only A-list blues album I've heard all year long). Maybe I'll return to the file and clean it up a bit later -- or just try to forget this year. I've noticed that my votes rarely register in the published totals anyway, and I've never been very keen on ranking musicians, so maybe it's best not to put much effort in.

More old records this week than new ones. Not my intent, but Storyville Records keeps adding to their Bandcamp page (207 records at the moment), and I found a Buddy Tate record that tempted me. That led me into a deeper dive into Tate and his fellow Texas Tenor Arnett Cobb. Nothing I found this week quite matches their Very Saxy (with Coleman Hawkins and Lockjaw Davis), Cobb's Part Time, or Tate's two Buck & Buddy albums (with Buck Clayton), but Cobb's lesser Prestiges are pretty consistent, and Tate is often terrific (even when his bands aren't). I didn't exhaust their later European live dates, but did look out for records on France's Black & Blue label -- most were reissued c. 2000 in their Definitive series, and I've found a lot of great records there.

Some of the records below were recommended in Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide: April, 2020 (subscribers only). He also reviewed a non-album, attributed as Adam Schlesinger: The End of the Movie (Carl Wilson Spotify playlist), collecting scattered works by the late Fountains of Wayne singer-songwriter. If you're interested, you can find it in the Carl Wilson article linked below. [PS: OK, tried it, doesn't work. The playlist widget in the Consumer Guide file only gives you short fragments of each song, so it's worse than useless. Maybe if you subscribe to Spotify, you'll have better luck] I don't see any point in reviewing non-product. I saw FOW once and was bored out of my skull, although I eventually heard a couple of albums that I rather liked (in the comfort of my home): Welcome Interstate Managers (2003), and Out-of-State Plates (2005).

Of more concern, to me at least, is Christgau's dive into John Coltrane's recorded work. This is what he came up with (including a related extra; I'm adding recording dates and, in brackets, my own grades, and footnote numbers):

  • John Coltrane: The Best of John Coltrane (1956-58, Prestige) A- [B+] (1)
  • John Coltrane: Ken Burns Jazz (1956-67, Verve) *** [A-] (2)
  • John Coltrane: The Africa Brass Sessions, Vol. 2 (1961, Impulse!) A [A] (3)
  • John Coltrane: "Live" at the Village Vanguard (1961, Hallmark) A [A-] (4)
  • John Coltrane: A Love Supreme (1964, Impulse!) A- [A+] (5)
  • Pharoah Sanders: The Impulse Story (1966-73, Impulse!) *** [A-] (6)

Footnotes, before going further:

  1. Review doesn't specify release date (mine is 2004), but notes that "it does seem to be the first disc of Prestige Profiles: John Coltrane" (2005), which I also have at B+. On the other hand, I gave an A- to the 6-CD Fearless Leader box, which covers the same 1956-58 span. I don't usually upgrade boxes, but I probably got lost in sheer breadth and depth, but I seriously doubt that he did much on Prestige that rivals his early Impulse! period. Also, I don't particularly care for jazz best-ofs. Replaying this one tonight, I haven't heard anything that blows me away, or that I don't like. I'll also note that I was warned off the 16-CD The Prestige Recordings, which expands to include all of Coltrane's sideman dates. Some, of course, are important (like "Tenor Madness" with Sonny Rollins and the quickies Miles Davis cut to break his contract), but you also get a lot of him playing second fiddle to Red Garland, Kenny Burrell, and lesser lights (not that I don't like Paul Quinichette).

  2. My grade based on the 1995 2-CD release of The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions, graded A -- although note that I had previously graded Africa Brass Volumes 1 & 2 (a 1988 single-CD release which had the two albums in original order) at A-. [PS: I managed to build a playlist matching the album, and gave it a spin; could be A or A-. By the way, even though the first Africa/Brass album was credited to the Quartet, all tracks have 15-18 musicians, mostly extra brass but Eric Dolphy is hard to miss.]

  3. Coltrane barely got mentioned in Burns' Jazz documentary, but the product tie-ins were more sensibly distributed. I'm not a big "Giant Steps" fan, so I wouldn't single out that omission (among dozens of others -- especially since the Giant Steps album yields two other equally famous songs), but damn near everything that did make the cut is not just good but iconic, and the Miles Davis Quintet opener and the Rashied Ali duo closer stretch the timeline as far as one can imagine. 13:40 of "My Favorite Things" makes the point (that all future tenor saxophonists will also have to learn to play soprano), and A Love Supreme is represented with a 7:46 taste.

  4. The Hallmark release is a straight reissue of the 1962 Impulse! album (3 tracks, 35:50), which has been reissued many times (Discogs lists 90 editions, 80 on Impulse!, 1 on Verve [which owns Impulse!]; the rest are European reissue labels which picked the record up after the EU's 50-year copyright limit lapsed). Hallmark's appeared in 2014, but since it's identical to Impulse!'s original, why cite it? My A- grade came from a quick Rhapsody stream. I previously graded the expanded Live at the Village Vanguard: The Master Takes (1998) and the 4-CD The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (1997) at A, and no doubt would have done the same with the original had I not seen it as inferior value.

  5. I also gave an A to A Love Supreme [Deluxe Edition] (2002), which adds a second CD with a longer live version from Paris. By the way, I never gave much thought to this record as being spiritual. It just struck me as the most perfectly plotted single piece of jazz ever recorded.

  6. After his debut in ESP-Disk, Sanders recorded a dozen albums for Impulse, my favorites Tauhid (1966) and Village of the Pharoahs (1973), but he was less consistent than Coltrane, so I considered the survey more useful. Of course, there is also a Coltrane The Impulse Story, another solid A-.

Christgau mentions favorably Giant Steps and My Favorite Things -- two 1959-61 Atlantic albums which were eventually boxed as The Heavyweight Champion: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1995, 7-CD once you pack all the extra takes in). Coltrane was a good saxophonist at Prestige (1956-58), during which time he played in important groups with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, but he didn't become special until he figured out how to exploit modes and turn them into expansive sheets of sound. The classic formulation of that was on Davis's Kind of Blue (1959), one of the most beloved of all jazz records. Coltrane's Atlantics expanded on that discovery -- my favorite album there is the last, Olé. He put his Quartet together when he moved on to Impulse! (which later issued a box called The House That Trane Built: The Best of Impulse Records), and from 1961-64 it's hard to think of anything he did wrong (well, aside from the Johnny Hartman album, though even it has fans) -- Crescent is a good example, like one of the second tier Himalayan peaks, overshadowed by Everest and K2 but still massive and 25,000 feet high.

From 1965-67 he kind of freaked out, inventing (or maybe just radicalizing) the squawkiest strain of the avant-garde. I hated Ascension (1965) for the longest time before I kind of got into it, and still have Sun Ship graded C+, but his Rashied Ali duo on Interstellar Space (1967) is marvelous. Since his death, Coltrane has become the most influential tenor saxophonist since Hawkins and Young, or saxophonist period since Parker. By the 1990s, it seemed like everyone was trying to play like him (at bit less so now). Pharoah Sanders had the most direct claim -- in his trinity, he was the son, Coltrane the father, and Albert Ayler the holy ghost -- and it's tempting to say that the very best posthumous Coltrane records are Welcome to Love (1990) and Crescent With Love (1992). More recently, Nat Birchall has the sound down cold.

You can find my Coltrane grade list here. I've written much of this before, now collected in Recorded Jazz in the 20th Century, which you'd have to download all of to pick out the Coltrane pages.

Looking forward, I have some downloads that look promising, especially from Astral Spirits, but I haven't listened to them yet because they're a pain in the ass. Also got some vinyl I've been too lazy to check out, again a bunch of extra work (assuming the gear still works).

People have been dying recently, including musicians. Without looking hard, here are a few of the obituaries and tributes I've noticed:

Some of these pieces came from a longer list published by the New York Times. I noticed today that legendary Formula One driver Stirling Moss has died, age 90, evidently of something else. I was a big F1 fan as a teenager, and he was already long retired. I remember him as a very astute writer, covering the circuit for Road & Track (which I thought at the time was the best edited magazine in the world). Another prominent figure of my youth died, at 85: Al Kaline. I don't recall being conscious of baseball before 1957, but can still recite the 1957 all-star teams (that was the year Cincinnati stuffed the ballot boxes -- the NL ordered that several Reds be dropped in favor of players they beat, like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron; it was also a year when the AL picked a bunch of Tigers, including starting pitcher Jim Bunning; no one doubted that Kaline belonged in right-field, next to Mickey Mantle in center and Ted Williams in left -- nor did the NL have a problem with Frank Robinson joining Mays and Aaron).

New records reviewed this week:

John Anderson: Years (2020, Easy Eye Sound): Country singer, looks pretty weathered on the cover although he's still five years younger than me. His voice is still in good shape, and he has Dan Auerbach producing, a solid album. B+(**)

Thomas Anderson: Analog Summer (Four-Tracks and Then Some) (2020, Out There): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, has been releasing quality albums since 1988 (or '89 or '90, sources vary; Discogs counts 5, Wikipedia 7, I have 10 in my database). Subtitle suggests this is a continuation of his Four-Track Demos from 2012 and Four-Track Love Songs from 2013. Seems sloughed off until he finds a band for "You Should Be With Me" and "Johnny Wah-Wah." B+(**)

Erlend Apneseth: Fragmentarium (2019 [2020], Hubro): Norwegian, plays Hardanger fiddle, a folk instrument and not the only one here (Ida Løvli Hidle plays accordion, Stein Urheim plays fretless bouzouki as well as guitar). But they don't fall into customary grooves, their jazz touches keeping the tension palpable. B+(***)

The Exbats: Kicks, Hits and Fits (2020, Burger): Twelve punk anthems, not sure what the breakdown is between new and old songs ("I Got the Hots for Charlie Watts" was a 2018 album title but not a song thereon). B+(***)

Grrrl Gang: Here to Stay (2017-18 [2020], Damnably, EP): Indonesian group, from Yogyakarta, in English, three members, one female, short compilation of previously released singles and 5-cut "mini-album": still only adds up to eight songs (two takes of "Dream Grrrl"), 25:52. Less punk than the alt-side of pop. B+(**)

Kirby Heard: Mama's Biscuits (2019, self-released): Folk singer-songwriter, formerly from "a big city in the Midwest," now settled into "a sleepy southern town," first album aside from a bluegrass duo with "Bob." Seems a little vague, but I'll hang onto "I guess you don't have to know Jesus to write a gospel song." B+(**)

Heroes Are Gang Leaders: Artificial Happiness Button (2020, Ropeadope): Jazz-poetry group, the latter mostly Thomas Sayers Ellis, although other voices predominate (most female). Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis is the other principal here, with four more names on the second line, and various guests (including William Parker and Jaimie Branch). Reminds me of Funkadelic as a community, but the funk is much bent and twisted, the messages mixed and sometimes oblique, but the interludes are transcendent. A-

Jasper Høiby: Planet B (2019 [2020], Edition): Danish bassist, based in UK, best known for group Phronesis. Trio with Josh Arcoleo (sax) and Marc Michel (drums). Spoken word intro is politically astute -- one of his groups, Fellow Creatures, derives from a Naomi Klein book -- and the music follows, impressively. A- [bc]

Large Unit/Fendika: EthioBraz (2018 [2019], PNL): Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love's avant big band plus elements from Ethiopia and Brazil, notably the Ethiopian group Fendika, its singers and dancers, Brazilian percussionists, and guitarist Terrie Ex. Closer to world music than to jazz, but the edginess is quite remarkable. A- [bc]

Ashley McBryde: Never Will (2020, Warner Nashville): Country singer-songwriter from Arkansas, based in Nashville, second album (or fourth counting two self-released efforts). Strong voice, big production. B+(**)

Grant Peeples: Bad Wife (2020, Rootball): Another folkish singer-songwriter from Florida, claims to have learned the words to every Roger Miller song by the time he turned twelve (that would be 1969), Discogs lists three albums but his store has close to a dozen. Eleven songs "written by women I've worked with in one way or another," though it wasn't easy to find the credits. B+(*)

Matthew Shipp/Mark Helias/Gordon Grdina: Skin and Bones (2018 [2019], Not Two): Piano/bass/guitar (or oud) trio. Piano and bass lock together tightly, much as I'd expect, the guitar another dimension. B+(***)

Lou Volpe: Before & After (2020, Jazz Guitar): Guitarist, from New York, recorded an album in 1973, another in 2006, not much more. No explanation of title, but front cover has pictures now and as a child with a toy guitar, back cover as a young man. Two covers, rest originals, various bass and drum combos suggest this has been recorded over some time, but no details. Nice, sweet sound. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Future/Zaytoven: Beast Mode (2015 [2020], Epic/Freebandz): Short mixtape by rapper Nayvadius Wilburn, working with producer Xavier Dotson. B+(**)

Lennie Tristano: The Duo Sessions (1968 [2020], Dot Time): Pianist, went his own way in the 1940s when everyone else was chasing Bird, Diz, Bud, and Monk, snaring a few acolytes like Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz. Previously unreleased, not sure when recorded but after he stopped performing in 1968, before he died in 1978. Six duets with tenor saxophonist Lenny Popkin (much like Marsh), two with pianist Connie Crothers (who often played with Popkin), and eight with drummer Roger Mancuso. B+(**)

Old music:

Arnett Cobb and His Orchestra: 1946-1947 (1946-47 [1999], Classics): The Texas Tenor's first recordings as a leader, prefaced by four credited to various leaders with "the Hamptone All Stars" -- Cobb started playing in Lionel Hampton's band in 1942. Mostly jump blues, a few with vocals, already a powerhouse. B+(***)

Arnett Cobb: Smooth Sailing (1959, Prestige): Tenor saxophonist from Texas, came up in big bands in the 1930s, succeeding Illinois Jacquet in Lionel Hampton's band (1942), nicknamed "the wild man of the tenor sax." He cut eight LPs for Prestige 1959-62 -- best known his Party Time and the four-sax jam Very Saxy. This seems to be his first with Prestige, a quintet with trombone, organ, bass, and drums. Soul jazz with some muscle. A-

Arnett Cobb: Movin' Right Along (1960, Prestige): Backed by piano trio -- mostly Bobby Timmons, but one cut with Tommy Flanagan -- plus congas. Less "wild man," more ballads, but "Exactly Like You" has never been done so jaunty. A-

Arnett Cobb With the Red Garland Trio: Blue and Sentimental (1960 [1993], Prestige): Reissue combines two albums, Sizzlin' and Ballads by Cobb, both with Garland on piano and J.C. Heard on drums, bass split between George Tucker and George Duvivier. The former sizzles less than Cobb's norm. His ballads are gorgeous, but the pianist could have been anyone. B+(***)

Arnett Cobb: Deep Purple [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1973 [1995], Black & Blue): Recorded in Toulouse, with Milt Buckner (organ), Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown (guitar), and Michael Silva (drums), originally released as Again With Milt Buckner, reissue moves the title song up front and adds one extra. Not great organ, but the saxophonist easily transcends such limits. B+(***)

Arnett Cobb: Jumpin' at the Woodside [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1974 [2001], Black & Blue): Live shot in Paris, with Lloyd Glenn (piano), Tiny Grimes (guitar/vocal), Roland Lobligeois (bass), and Panama Francis (drums). Originally a 6-cut LP, expanded here to 11. Cobb sounds terrific here, his blues jumping, his ballads soaring. A-

Arnett Cobb: The Wild Man From Texas [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1976 [1997], Black & Blue): Cobb has several compilations with this title, mostly early work from his post-Basie juke box days. He was less wild as he aged, but developed his knack for ballads. From Paris and Toulouse, nine musicians, including a second tenor sax (Eddie Chamblee), Earl Warren (alto sax), Milt Buckner (organ), and Panama Francis (drums). B+(***)

Arnett Cobb/Jimmy Heath/Joe Henderson: Tenor Tribute Vol. 2 (1988 [1993], Soul Note): Five more songs from the same 1988 session that produced Tenor Tribute (released 1990), including three every tenor saxophonist must know but few dare: "Cotton Tail," "Tenor Madness," "Flying Home" (on the other hand, everyone's played "'Round About Midnight"). Three tenor saxes (nearly as impressive as the quartet, including Cobb, on Very Saxy), backed by piano trio (Benny Green). B+(***)

Duke Ellington: At the Hollywood Empire (1949 [2004], Storyville): I haven't listened to much live ELlington from the late 1940s, although between The Treasury Shows and the Carnegie Hall Concerts there is quite a lot to choose from. This is a live radio shot, 17 songs, 71 minutes, an announcer introducing songs and identifying soloists -- especially triple threat Ray Nance (trumpet, violin, vocal, much bluesier than Al Hibbler's croon). B+(***)

Dexter Gordon: Jazz at Highschool (1967 [2002], Storyville): A "jazz clinic" for music students at Magleaas High School, picked up and broadcast by Danish National Radio. Gordon had moved to Denmark, found American expats Kenny Drew and Al Heath available, and was joined by Denmark's most famous bassist, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. B+(***)

Al Grey/Arnett Cobb: Ain't That Funk for You (1977 [2002], Black & Blue): Trombone and tenor sax, backed by Ray Bryant (piano), John Duke (bass), and JC Heard (drums). Closer to blues and swing than funk, but who's complaining? B+(***)

Sun Ra: Celestial Love (1984 [2015], Enterplanetary Koncepts): Originally released 1984, I count 11 musicians plus singer June Tyson on two cuts -- pretty straightforward standards ("Sometimes I'm Happy," "Smile"). They also do two Ellington pieces. [CD reissue 2020, Modern Harmonic] B+(*)

Buddy Tate: Celebrity Club Orchestra (1954 [2016], Black & Blue): Tenor saxophonist from Texas, played with Andy Kirk in the 1930s, and Count Basie 1939-48. Same title as a 1968 album, causing much confusion: both were recorded in Paris, this one with a septet plus occasional singer Inez Washington, a swing throwback where the saxophonist sounds exceptionally poised. A-

Buddy Tate/Claude Hopkins: Buddy and Claude (1960 [1999], Prestige): Hopkins was a stride pianist, spent a couple years in Paris with Josephine Baker and Sidney Bechet, returned to the US and led bands in the 1930s, and continued playing well into the 1970s. He led a 1960 album with Tate (tenor sax) and Emmett Berry (trumpet), Yes Indeed!, which is combined here with another 1960 album, headlined by Tate and featuring Clark Terry (trumpet), but no piano. B+(**)

Buddy Tate/Milton Buckner: When I'm Blue [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1967 [1995], Black & Blue): Buckner plays organ and vocalizes (a lot) -- neither very inspired, even if he does seem awfully pleased with himself. With Wallace Bishop on drums, and some tasty tenor sax. B+(*)

Buddy Tate: Buddy Tate & His Celebrity Club Orchestra [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1968 [2002], Black & Blue): Live shot from Paris, not the 1954 Celebrity Club Orchestra which Black & Blue also released. With Bud Bascomb (trumpet), Ben Richardson (flute, alto/baritone sax), Dicky Wells (trombone), Skip Hall (piano/organ), John Williams (bass), Billy Stewart (drums). Well steeped in the blues. B+(***)

Buddy Tate: Buddy Tate and His Buddies (1973, Chiaroscuro): All-star session, joining Tate is fellow Texas Tenor Illinois Jacquet, with Roy Eldridge (trumpet), Mary Lou Williams (piano), Steve Jordan (guitar), Milt Hinton (bass), and Gus Johnson (drums). B+(***)

Buddy Tate: The Texas Twister (1975 [1987], New World): A studio session in February of a year when he ultimately produced a lot of live records while touring Europe. Paul Quinichette offers a second tenor sax, allowing Tate to also play clarinet and sing (he's a pretty good blues belter). With Cliff Smalls (piano), Major Holley (bass), and Jackie Williams (drums). B+(***)

Buddy Tate: The Texas Tenor (1975 [2014], Storyville, 2CD): Two sets, one Live at La Fontaine with a European band (with Tete Montoliu on piano), the other from Antibes with a group that billed itself as All Stars Jive at Five: Doc Cheatham (trumpet), Vic Dickenson (trombone/vocal), Johnny Guarnieri (piano), George Duvivier (bass), and Oliver Jackson (drums). The Stars do shine, but Tate is often better without the competition. [NB: These sets were previously released as Tate A Tete at La Fontaine and Jive at Five.] B+(**)

Buddy Tate: Body and Soul: Live in Dublin 1976 (1976, [2008], Nagel Heyer): Live set, backed with what looks like a local piano trio (Tony Drennan, Jimmy McKay, Jack Daly), sounds as distinctive as ever on the slow ones, but still enjoys hard swing. B+(**)

Buddy Tate/Abdullah Ibrahim: Buddy Tate Meets Abdullah Ibrahim: The Legendary 1977 Encounter (1977 [1996], Chiaroscuro): Five quartet tracks, with Cecil McBee (bass) and Roy Brooks (drums), tenor sax and piano. No piano on the first tracks, no sax on the last two. B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • #Bloomerangs: Moments and Fragments (Instru Dash Mental)
  • Gordon Grdina Septet: Resist (Irabbagast)
  • Heroes Are Gang Leaders: Artificial Happiness Button (Ropeadope)

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