Saturday, April 18, 2020

Music Week

Expanded blog post, May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33277 [33244] rated (+33), 214 [212] unrated (+2).

First a reminder that you can use this form to ask me a question, or just make a comment. I'll start answering when they've piled up to a presently undetermined critical mass. The form is similar to the one I created for Robert Christgau. Both use a free software captcha package to cut down on spam. I've heard it cuts down on legit submissions as well, although Christgau has received close to 1,000, so it seems to work well enough.

I hadn't noticed any prominent musician deaths in the past week. Well, Phil May, 75, singer for The Pretty Things, a Brit Invasion group that had a cult following among my Terminal Zone comrades.

I did find out about a couple of older deaths last week, when I received a PDF booklet with biographical sketches of a few dozen people who participated in antiwar protests at Washington University in St. Louis in 1970. I moved to St. Louis a couple years later, so wasn't directly involved at that stage, but wound up knowing close to a third of the people in the booklet, as well as others unlisted. Two had died a few years back: Larry Kogan, who I knew as the owner of Left Bank Books but had been one of the main figures prosecuted for burning down the ROTC building in 1970; and Fred Faust, who had edited the student newspaper and been the main technical guy for every radical publication of the period. Fred started a typesetting business called Just Your Type, and one day he came up to me in Larry's book shop and offered me a job. That was the first job I ever had, and it changed my life: taught me I could make a living and survive on my own. Incidentally, when I left academia, I got into reading rock crit, and started my own checkered career as a record reviewer.

I noticed that JazzTimes is running a readers' poll to pick the 10 best jazz albums of the 1980s. I've jotted down their ballot for future reference (162 albums). First thing I'm struck by is that I missed a majority of the albums (100, 61.7%). I bought some jazz in the late 1970s, and lots from 1995 on (increasingly shifting to promos and streaming), so what I know of jazz in the 1980s has mostly been backfill, and almost all from purchases, so I've been pretty selective. Still, I can't complain that the ballot has a lot of obviously mediocre pop jazz (some: one Kenny G, one Bob James, two George Benson, one Yellowjackets, two Bobby McFerrin). Still, a lot of stuff on that list I would like to hear sooner or later (including 12 from ECM, 6 from Soul Note/Black Saint, 3 from Enja). Still, I've only graded 17 records on the list A- or above (4 by Don Pullen, 3 by Ornette Coleman), so a lot of fairly typical B+ material.

I'm not prepared to offer a list, but here's one that Chris Monsen posted on Facebook (with my grades in brackets -- checked out the last three while writing this):

  • David Murray Octet, Ming [A-]
  • Air, 80° Below '82 [A-]
  • John Carter Octet, Dauwhe [**]
  • Tim Berne, Mutant Variations [***]
  • Detail, Okhela [] -- reissued as Day Two [**]
  • Jimmy Lyons Quintet, Sneezawee [A-]
  • Bill Dixon, Thoughts [B-]
  • Ganelin Trio, Poco-A-Poco [***]
  • Geri Allen, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Etudes [A-]
  • Henry Threadgill Sextett, Rag, Bush and All [+]

I looked for their 1970s poll, but the page has been taken down. I did manage to scrounge up a results page from Google's cache, so added it to my notebook. The results page only listed 82 albums. With a shorter list of more famous records, the share I've listened to rose to 63.4% (up from 38.3% for the 1980s). The number of A- or better albums remained close to constant (16 vs. 17, 30.7% of graded albums vs. 27.4% for the 1980s). More really low grades, too (8 B- or lower in the 1970s vs. 3 in the 1980s).

Several points on this week's haul:

  • I made a much procrastinated effort to catch up with whatever promo vinyl I've received (never much, but Astral Spirits sent three LPs recently and I had a couple more leftover from 2017). I also found an ungraded Pamelo Mounk'a album in the pile (which led me to look at streaming archives). I almost never play LPs, and I'm not equipped very well to do so. My ancient Bang & Olufsen turntables (I've had two, one from the 1970s and one from around 1980) died long ago, so I'm using Laura's 1980s Technics -- seems to run my old LPs OK, but the new platters were all warped and slipped (I wound up using downloads for reference). I got rid of most of my vinyl when we moved to Wichita in 1999, so there's never been much need to make it accessible. I should search for more ungraded records, just to clean up dangling bits in the database. But the whole setup is pretty inconvenient right now. I certainly don't see any need to invest in a new turntable, no more than I enjoy this one.

  • Robert Christgau mailed out his May 2020 Consumer Guide last week. He recommended two full A records: one by Lucinda Williams (which I gave a solid A- to last week), and the one by Fiona Apple everyone seems to love (I hedged it down to B+(***) a couple weeks ago, then nudged it up a bit on revisiting it this week, but I'm still not a huge fan). I checked out some of his other picks, and a few Phil Overeem likes.

  • Tim Niland pointed me to one of Jazz Club Ferrara's releases, which led me to their Bandcamp page, where I found sixteen volumes of "unpublished live recordings selected from [their] archives." This is one of possibly many digital releases meant to provide relief from the pandemic quarantine.

After no unpacking last week, this week bounced back to something more normal, maybe even a bit above normal.

New records reviewed this week:

The Bad Plus: The Tower Tapes #4 (2019 [2020], Jazz Club Ferrara): Trio, formed in 2000 with Reid Anderson (bass) and David King (drums), Orrin Evans taking over the piano slot in 2018. Two sets (42:48 and 57:59). B+(**) [bc]

Danny Barnes: Man on Fire (2020, ATO): Singer-songwriter from Texas, plays banjo, best known for his 1991-2000 group Bad Livers, less so for his 2014-18 group Test Apes, more than a dozen solo albums, can sound old-timey country with a hint of bluegrass, or postmodern. B+(***)

Majid Bekkas: Magic Spirit Quartet (2018 [2020], ACT Music): Moroccan singer, plays various instruments (guimbri, oud, guitar), in a Scandinavian quartet with Goran Kajes (trumpet), Jesper Nordenström (keyboards), and Stefan Pasborg (drums), with Chaouki Family adding karkabas and backing vocals on two tracks. B+(*)

Josh Berman/Paul Lytton/Jason Roebke: Trio Discrepancies (2018 [2019], Astral Spirits): Cornet, percussion, bass, second of two records for this trio. [PS: Side B didn't play cleanly.] B+(**) [lp]

Tim Berne's Snakeoil: The Tower Tapes #1 (2017 [2020], Jazz Club Ferrara): Part of a large stash of live recordings from Ferrara, Italy -- sixteen volumes at the moment, wide range of jazz groups, quickly dumped for your quarantine listening pleasure. Leader on alto sax, with his main group since 2011: Oscar Noriega (clarinet, bass clarinet), Matt Mitchell (piano), Ches Smith (percussion). Two long sets (51:41 and 51:59), no attempt to identify pieces within. B+(**) [bc]

Broken Shadows: The Tower Tapes #2 (2020, Jazz Club Ferrara): More quarantine tapes. Quartet name comes from an Ornette Coleman piece, with Tim Berne (alto sax), Chris Speed (tenor sax), Reid Anderson (bass), and Dave King (drums). Two sets (47:16 and 57:35), no songs let alone song credits. Reminds me how terrific Berne's 1990s group with Speed was, and this rhythm section may be even more of a powerhouse. A- [bc]

Wayne Escoffery: The Humble Warrior (2019 [2020], Smoke Sessions): Tenor saxophonist (some soprano), born in London, based in New York, albums since 2001. Mostly quartet with piano (Dave Kikoski), bass (Ugonna Okegwo), and drums (Ralph Peterson), adding trumpet (Randy Brecker) and/or guitar (David Gilmore) to four tracks in the middle, one with a vocal (Vaughn Escoffery). B+(*)

Bob Gluck: Early Morning Star (2019 [2020], FMR): Pianist, rabbi, professor, has written books on Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and Paul Winter; composed electronic music before moving into jazz; fifth album since 2011, group has clarinet, bass, drums, and voice (Andrea Wolper). I find the voice uncomfortably operatic, but the music is engaging. B+(*) [cd] [06-15]

The Howling Hex: Knuckleball Express (2020, Fat Possum): Rock group, principally Neil Hagerty, who co-led Royal Trux 1987-2001, closer to grunge than to punk, but similarly straightforward and sharp. More than a dozen albums since 2003. This one is on the short side (ten songs, 28:48, but two of them top 4:45). B+(**)

Sam Hunt: Southside (2020, MCA Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, second album (plus a "mixtape"), both hits, has a big sound which occasionally puts a single over. B+(*)

KVL: Volume 1 (2019, Astral Spirits): Trio, initials for Quin Kirchner (drums), Daniel Van Duerm (keyboards), and Matthew Lux (bass), each with a side of electronics. Jaimie Branch (trumpet) has a stellar turn on one cut. [PS: Vinyl was warped so bad I couldn't play Side B.] B+(*) [lp]

Rob Luft: Life Is the Dancer (2019 [2020], Edition): British guitarist, second album, quintet with Joe Wright (tenor sax), Joe Webb (organ/piano), bass, and drums. Two tracks add trumpet and voice -- latter is a problem. Some adventurous sax spots, but not much else. B

Chad Matheny: United Earth League of Quarantine Aerobics (2020, Dreams of Field, EP): Singer-songwriter, better known as Emperor X, American but based in Berlin, offers a quickie quarantine special. Seven songs (four versions of "Stay Where You Are"), 26:06, the others every bit as topical, including an inspirational labor anthem. A- [bc]

Mdou Moctar: Mixtape Vol. 1 (2020, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Niger, plays guitar, half-dozen albums, some among his region's finest. This one's a single 44:37 rack, mixed together from demos and live scraps -- the latter especially intense. B+(***) [bc]

Lido Pimienta: Miss Colombia (2020, Anti-): Singer-songwriter, born in Colombia, raised in Canada, based in Toronto, second album. In Spanish, beats a little choppy, then gets even choppier. B+(**)

Charles Rumback: June Holiday (2018 [2020], Astral Spirits): Chicago drummer, eight album since 2009, leads a trio here with Jim Baker (piano) and John Tate (bass). [NB: Couldn't play second side of LP, which slipped due to warpage. I did play an MP3 dowloads of the entire album.] B+(**) [lp]

Shabazz Palaces: The Don of Diamond Dreams (2020, Sub Pop): Hip-hop duo from Seattle, fifth album, an anomaly on their indie rock label, where they tend toward dark atmospherics and obscure iconography. B+(**)

Snotty Nose Rez Kids: Born Deadly (2020, Fontana North, EP): Canadian "First Nations" rap duo, Yung Trybez and Young D, three albums, the most recent (Trapline) recommended. Five tracks, 15:48. B+(**)

Craig Taborn/Dave King: The Tower Tapes #3 (2019 [2020], Jazz Club Ferrara): Piano-drums duo, both also credited with electronics. Two parts (57:04 and 18:22). Taborn is one of the top pianists today, but he first started winning polls in the less competitive electric keyboard category, which he returns to impressively here. B+(***) [bc]

Azu Tiwaline: Draw Me a Silence Part I (2020, IOT, EP): Electronica producer from Tunisia, Nice beat and ambience. Six songs, 27:04. A Part II is due late May, as is a 2-LP that combines the two. B+(**)

Rod Wave: Pray 4 Love (2020, Alamo): Young rapper from Florida, Rodarius Green (how young? "grew up listening to E-40"). Second album, a hip-hop lovers rock. B+(**)

Hayley Williams: Petals for Armor (2020, Atlantic): Singer-songwriter, first solo album after five fronting Paramore. Organized as three discs, but at five songs each, totals 55:47. B+(*)

Charli XCX: How I'm Feeling Now (2020, Asylum): English pop star, Charlotte Aitchison, fourth album, a quickie recorded under quarantine in her home studio in Los Angeles. Doesn't allow her the usual kitchen sink pop production, but she cranks the synths up loud enough it doesn't matter. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Derek Bailey/Greg Goodman: Extracting Fish-Bones From the Back of the Despoiler (1992 [2017], The Beak Doctor): Duo, guitar and "objets d'intérieur" (mostly percussion). Goodman has played on a dozen-plus albums 1978-2017, mostly improv settings with everyone's name on the top line. B+(**) [lp]

Emperor X: Nineteen Live Recordings (2005-13 [2020], Dreams of Field): Singer-songwriter Chad Matheny, debuted under his alias in 1998, got some notice for his 2011 album Western Teleport, released this in 2013, the date still on Bandcamp despite adding a "2020 Preface" to the page (sounds like a reissue to me, especially as the label has changed). Interesting guy, but expect rough spots. B+(*) [bc]

The Good Life: The Animals Took Over (2009 [2020], self-released): Drummer Scott Amendola put this together, taking the name from a piece on the Pat Matheny/Ornette Coleman album Song X, recorded it live in Oakland, and finally decided to donate it to Food Bank NYC. With two guitarists (John Dieterich and Nels Cline), clarinet (Ben Goldberg), and electric bass (Trevor Dunn) -- a slightly augmented Nels Cline Singers. Two Coleman tunes, an opener by Jimmy Giuffre, three originals from the band. Could be tighter, but nearly ever song peaks. A- [bc]

John Gruntfest/Greg Goodman: In This Land All the Birds Wore Hats and Spurs (1984-2008 [2017], The Beak Doctor): American alto saxophonist, only other album Discogs lists is from 1977, plus a couple of side credits. Goodman, a British gadfly who shows up on widely scattered platters with various avant-gardists, is credited with "Every Thing Else." That seems to be about right. A- [lp]

Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Egypt 80: Perambulator (1983 [2020], Knitting Factory): Two tracks, "Perambulator" (14:36) and "Frustration" (13:42). Title track appears to date from a 1978 release of Shuffering and Shmiling, but when MCA did their 1978 reissues it was replaced by "No Agreement" (the title of a 1977 album that didn't get reissued). Fairly classic groove pieces, dubious discography. B+(***)

Nina Simone: Fodder on My Wings (1982 [2020], Verve): Originally released as Fodder in Her Wings on Carrere in France, reissued in France by CY in 1988, and by Sunnyside in 2015. A mixed bag of pieces, including some Latin rhythm, an upbeat gospel, and the aptly titled "Liberian Calypso." B+(**)

Stone Crush: Memphis Modern Soul 1977-1987 (1977-87 [2020], Light in the Attic): Crate digging, 19 songs from 15 artists I've never heard of. Title cut was by O.T. Sykes, a dentist, and has a bit of Commodores funk to it. Nothing brilliant here, but the soft ballads are fetching, the nods toward disco and funk functional. B+(**)

Old music:

Luís Lopes: Noise Solo at ZBD Lisbon (2011-12 [2013], LPZ): Portuguese guitarist, has impressed me, especially with his Humanization 4tet, plays solo, focus on noise but not for its own sake. B+(*) [lp]

Pamelo Mounk'a: No. 1 Africain: Ça Ne Se Prete Pas (1982, Star Musique): Congolese singer-songwriter (1945-96), from Brazzaville, had a hit "L'Argent Appelle L'Argent" (1981), later recorded with Rochereau and M'Bilia Bel. Christgau recommended his 1983 album Propulsion!, but this was the only LP I managed to track down. Soukous groove music, but first side sounds off to me, like the speed is wobbling. Nice ballad on the flipside, and better groove. B+(*) [lp]

Pamelo Mounk'a: Propulsion! (1983, Disques Sonics): Four-track LP (30:05), found them on a compilation (L'Essentiel, on Syllart), but thought I'd review them separately as I've long looked for this particular album. Relatively light touch for soukous, but the groove wins out. A-

Pamelo Mounk'a: L'Essentiel (1981-84 [1993], Syllart): Minor soukous star from Brazzaville, on the other side of the Congo River. Ten-track compilation, the first four tracks (including hit "L'Argent Appelle L'Argent") from his eponymous 1981 album, next four from 1983's Propulsion!, plus two more I haven't found any other home for ("Le Travail, Toujours Le Travail," "Adjoussou D'Abidjan"). High point is the album Propulsion!, which you're most likely to find here. A-

Pamelo Mounk'a: L'Indispensable (1982-85 [1993], Syllart): As far as I can tell, Syllart's three compilation all appeared at the same time, and don't have clear chronology or pecking order. This starts off with the 1982 album Samantha, then adds five tracks from I know not where. At least two tracks here belong on his best-of: "Samantha" and "Camitina." B+(***)

Pamelo Mounk'a: L'Incontournable (1982-85 [1993], Syllart): Starts with Africain No. 1: Ça Ne Prete Pas (1982), adds five more songs of unknown providence. As with the other volumes, gets stronger as it goes. B+(***)

William Elliott Whitmore: Kilonova (2018, Bloodshot): Folk/country singer-songwriter from Iowa, ninth album since 1999, went with covers this time, "punk rock without the breakneck tempos." The best are the most obscure. B+(**)

Hal Willner: Whoops, I'm an Indian (1998, Pussyfoot): Record producer, best known for a series of tribute albums where various artists rehash the works of some notable composer -- my favorite has long been Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill, but he's also honored Nino Rota, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Harold Arlen, Leonard Cohen, and several genres, like Walt Disney songs, or pirate ballads, sea songs, and chanteys. But while I've filed several albums under his name, this is the only one he put his own name on, crediting Martin Brumbach and Adam Dorn (Mocean Worker) and himself as co-authors and producers. Audio collage with occasional references to trad tunes, and Ralph Carney adding some reeds. B+(***) [bc]

Grade (or other) changes:

Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters (2020, Epic): Best regarded/most hyped album of the year so far. I played it two or three times when it came out, was impressed by the drums, less convinced by the songs, so I hedged. Played it more, impressed by how effortlessly it flows together without ever seeming formulaic, so hedging it the other way. [Was: B+(***)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dave Glasser: Hypocrisy Democracy (Here Tiz)
  • Daniel Hersog: Night Devoid of Stars (Cellar Live)
  • Alain Mallet: Mutt Slang II: A Wake of Sorrows Engulfed in Rage (Origin)
  • Ted Moore Trio: The Natural Order of Things (Origin)
  • Rent Romus/Heikki Koskinen/Life's Blood Ensemble: Manala (Edgetone)
  • Shelly Rudolph: The Way We Love (OA2)
  • Thank Your Lucky Stars: Girl in Her 29s (self-released)
  • Bill Warfield and the Hell's Kitchen Funk Orchestra: Smile (Planet Arts/43 Street)

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