Monday, August 17, 2020

Music Week

August archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33814 [33774] rated (+40), 221 [218] unrated (+3).

My wife announced that she's not going to watch any of the Democratic Convention speeches, figuring they'll just be depressing. Needless to say, I wasn't even considering the prospect. I can read up whatever it is I need (e.g., here's Vox's The 2020 Democratic National Convention's speaker lineup and how to watch). Looking at the lineup, the show will be sanctimonious, condescending, and more than a little nostalgic, reminding you of the opportunities past Democrats have squandered, and how little we have to show for it. I can see the value of inviting the occasional token Republican, and I'm glad Doug Jones gets a spotlight moment, but do we really need both Clintons to speak? And is the bench of Democratic prospects so weak Michelle Obama needs to be the keynote speaker? Barack Obama was nobody when he spoke in 2004, and it looks like the DNC is never going to let something like that happen again. While I'm sure Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will make the most of her token minute, bracketing her between John Kerry and Chuck Shumer is pretty much guaranteed to spoil the night. Then Sally Yates? On the other hand, at least they passed over Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler.

In past successful Democratic presidential campaigns -- by which I mean Clinton in 1992 and Obama in 2008 -- the candidates ran to the left until election, then made their accommodations with the established powers after they won, leaving most of their platforms with their luggage. To some extent, Gore did that in 2000, although not very convincingly, and even less Hillary tried that tack even less credibly in 2016. Biden seems determined to run through the vast open ground to his right, reassuring business, the suburbs, the shattered remnants of the middle and working classes, that he will restore a measure of normalcy and sanity after the batshit craziness of the Trump (and, if you still have any memory cells, Bush) fiascoes. And the left (including me) seem willing to let him call the tactical campaign shots however he sees best. On the other hand, the "democratic wing of the Democratic Party" has gradually accumulated a real power base in Congress, one that Biden and Harris will have to deal with to move forward -- not least because the real answers to the real problems are the ones coming from the left, but also because there no longer is a neoliberal Republican block like the one Clinton (and much less successfully Obama) tried to triangulate through. That residual power base is why the left doesn't need to get its message out during the rest of this campaign.

The other is that you can't build toward an egalitarian vision of peace and prosperity without first establishing a fundamental commitment to decency, honesty, and trust, and you won't have any of that if Donald Trump and the Republicans win in November. We may have differing ideas how to accomplish this, but the one that the Democrats have chosen was arrived at more or less democratically, and it is important to respect that process. Even if it means a week of boring, uninspiring TV. I really don't need any of these speakers to tell me who to vote for in November. But if you do need help, by all means tune in. You're the person they want to address.

One reason I'm not too terribly disappointed with the way the ticket has turned out is that I've been reading Thomas Frank's new book, The People, No! Eighty pages in, most of what he's covered so far has been the 1896 presidential election -- the one between William McKinley (R-OH) and William Jennings Bryan (D-NE) -- and the slanders against Bryan were harrowing. This doesn't have much relevance to the actual 2020 election. Trump's credentials as a populist are totally bogus, and Biden's aren't much better. Indeed, Biden will probably wind up raising more money than Trump (as Hillary did in 2016, and as Obama previously did). But if Sanders had won the nomination, he would have represented the most radical break in Democratic Party nominees since Bryan in 1896, following the ultra-conservative Grover Cleveland in 1892. The shift from 1968-1972 was comparatively miniscule: both Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern were midwestern liberals who agreed on virtually everything -- the one sticking point, and it was a big one, was the Vietnam War. Still, that was enough for many Democrats to sabotage their ticket by voting for Nixon.

It seems unlikely to me that establishment Democrats would have broken ranks as decisively as they had done in 1896 and 1972, if only because Trump is far too odious an alternative, but it is likely that the degree of vitriol directed at Sanders would have approached the levels aimed at Bryan. Of course, Republicans being the deranged scum they are, much the same will be aimed at Biden and Harris, but at least with them it's not something I have to take personally. (Not that I wouldn't be game to try, had Sanders won the nomination. At least the upside there justifies the risk.) One hopes that people will not only see through the slanders, but that they will reflect back properly on those who launched them. Also that they will be seen as evasions of responsibility for the tremendous harm caused by Trump and his party. (And, by all means, never attack Trump without also blaming his accomplices. He may be their nominal leader, but often as not he's the one being led around by the nose.)

I thought this was going to be a lax week, but ran the numbers and came up with 40 again. Started off with more Polish jazz left over from last week, plus another ZAUM album. Then Robert Christgau published his August Consumer Guide. As I noted in a tweet, I had previously graded several albums: Car Seat Headrest (A-), Dream Wife (A-), Haim (**), Lori McKenna (A-), X (*). Picked up almost all of the rest below. That leaves Birds of Prey, Deap Vally, and the Boswell Sisters -- I have Sony's That's How Rhythm Was Born (1931-34) in my database (B+); Christgau's pick isn't on Napster, but there are several alternatives. Three of this week's A- records come from Christgau, although only John Chibadura was an easy call -- City Girls and Kehlani could have gone either way, and probably would have fallen short without the encouragement and extra time.

Other suggestions came from all over. A couple were recommended in an Expert Witness Facebook post asking for items on Bandcamp. I can't say as they were particularly good, but they led indirectly to the new Mekons album, which is. I played a couple things I downloaded, and searched for a recent batch of Clean Feed releases. One I looked for but didn't find is a new WHO Trio album of Strayhorn/Ellington compositions. When I saw the Keith Ingham/Harry Allen records, I just had to check them out. When in doubt, I look at Napster's "featured" records, and decided to check out the live Stooges set. That reminded me of two albums I used to have but hadn't entered into the database. I probably should have looked and given them a fresh listen, but the memories were clear enough.

A couple other albums were suggested by working on Christgau Consumer Guides from September last year. Christgau wants to impose an eight month delay on them to give subscribers a sense of exclusivity, so I haven't been in any hurry to tackle them. Anyhow, finally started entering them into my private copy of the website last week. Still not sure what to do about enforcing the delay. I've long had code for handling timelocks on regular pages, so those are working on the CG columns, but I've never imposed delays on database fetches, so that will require new code. It seems to me that the way it should work would be to set up an account management system synched to Christgau's subscription newsletter, so that paid subscribers could also see restricted content on the website, but that would take a lot of work, and it's not clear how to keep the two sites in synch.

I should note that Steve Grossman died last week. I knew him mostly as one of a cluster of mainstream tenor saxophonists from the 1990s -- Bennie Wallace is the one I followed most closely, but I especially liked Grossman's 1991 In New York. Rather surprised to find that I only had one more of his albums in my database. I'll write up more next week. I'm especially glad that I started with his 1973 debut, Some Changes to Come. That dates from his tenure in Miles Davis's great fusion band, and builds thereupon.

It's been a trying week for me, with my brother hospitalized for what at first looked like Covid-19, but turned out to just be pneumonia. Had another scare with a friend in Massachusetts, which again turned out to be something else (but still quite serious). We continue to do virtually no socializing, and only rarely make even the most rudimentary shopping efforts. With this isolation, it's been a rare pleasure to occasionally post on Facebook a picture of some little meal I've managed to whip up. Some recent ones: ribs; dosas; carbonade; shrimp boil; Szechuan chicken wings; beef stroganoff; shells; Chinese ribs. (Looks like if you click on one, you can cycle through the rest, as you won't find many pictures there not of food. I think all the links are public. My rule is to only seek and accept friends that I have personal relationships with, and I very rarely bother Facebook with my writings -- that's what Twitter is for.) Not as satisfying as cooking for others, but in times like these we make do.

Still open for questions.

New records reviewed this week:

Aminé: Limbo (2020, Republic): Portland rapper Adam Daniel, goes by his middle name, parents from Ethiopia and Eritrea, second album, marking his adulthood from the death of Kobe Bryant, although I suspect the daughter had more to do with it. A-

Arbor Labor Union: New Petal Instants (2020, Arrowhawk): Alt/indie band from Atlanta, influenced by "DIY punk" and classic rock and Walt Whitman and Woody Guthrie. B+(**)

BROM: Dance With an Idiot (2019 [2020], Trost): Free jazz group, from Moscow, ninth album since 2008 -- Anton Ponomarev (alto sax), Dmitry Lapshin (bass guitar), and Yaroslav Kurilo (drums) appear to be long-time members, with Felix Mikensky (electronics, guitar) joining here, modulating the raw furor a bit, even making it a bit tuneful. B+(***)

City Girls: City on Lock (2020, Quality Control/Motown): Hip-hop duo from Miami, Caresha Brownlee (Yung Miami) and Jatavia Johnson (JT), both with too much street cred/scars too soon. Second album after a mixtape. Most frequent word: pussy, probably followed by N* and bitch (especially when they host a male guest). Over the top, but so are the trap beats. A-

Emily Duff: Born on the Ground (2020, Mr Mudshow Music): Singer-songwriter from Queens, couple albums but pretty low profile, has picked up a bit of drawl in her voice, giving her some appeal to country/Americans afficionados, picks up a roots-rock producer to sharpen her rockabilly edge. B+(***)

Tyler Higgins: Broken Blues (2016 [2020], Shhpuma): Guitarist, also plays organ, describes this as "experimental music that draws on folk/blues/jazz traditions," third album, short one (29:47), trio with upright bass and drums. Gospel pieces like "Yes Jesus Loves Me" are the clearest cases, turned into dense walls of sound with nothing especially improvisational about them. B+(**)

Kehlani: It Was Good Until It Wasn't (2020, Atlantic): Sometime around the turn of the century, r&b went slack, turning away from the dominant church-based wail to its opposite. While I'm not a big fan of the former (at least for lesser artists than Aretha), I've long had trouble getting into the latter. Three plays in, I'm barely with her, the bits of rap helping. Sex, too. A-

Martin Küchen & Landaeus Trio: Mind the Gap of Silence (2019 [2020], Clean Feed): Pianist Mathias Landaeus's trio, plus the saxophonist (soprano, alto, tenor). Fourth album together (counting the compilation Vinyl), mostly Küchen's songs. Some very strong passages. B+(***)

Makaya McCraven: Universal Beings E&F Sides (2017-18 [2020], International Anthem): Drummer, second generation, born in Paris, grew up in Massachusetts, 2018 album was a crossover hit, had four sides: one each recorded in New York, Chicago, London, and Los Angeles. These look and feel like outtakes from the same sessions. B+(**)

Paulette McWilliams: A Woman's Story (2020, Blujazz): Standards singer, had an album and a couple singles c. 1977, a couple more since 2001. Closes with a strong "Both Sides Now." B+(*) [cd]

Mekons: Exquisite (2020, self-released): Surprise release, pieced together following the formula of a surrealist game "cadavre exquis," with each remotely locked down member adding their bits remotely. Easily recaptures the sound and feel of Mekons albums everywhere. B+(***) [bc]

Dawn Oberg: 2020 Revision (2020, self-released, EP): San Francisco-based Singer-songwriter, plays piano, flirted with jazz, turned political with her Nothing Rhymes With Orange EP, offers 3 more songs here (8:52), including a lame takedown of "Mitch McConnell." B- [bc]

Larry Ochs/Aram Shelton Quartet: Continental Drift (2012-18 [2020], Clean Feed): Two saxophonists (tenor/sopranino and alto), plus bass (Mark Dresser on six cuts from 2012, Scott Walton on two from 2018) and drums (Kjell Nordeson). A-

The Rails: Cancel the Sun (2019, Psychonaut): English group, principally James Walbourne and Kami Thompson -- daughter of Richard and Linda, sister of Teddy Thompson, so tempting to call this folk-rock, but tries hard to escape. One song goes: "save the planet/ kill yourself/ it's the least that you could do," then flips that around to "kill the planet/ save yourself." B+(*)

Roots Magic: Take Root Among the Stars (2019 [2020], Clean Feed): Italian quartet, third album: Alberto Popolla (clarinets), Errico De Fabritiis (alto/baritone sax), bass, and drums, plus guest flute on two tracks, vibes on one. Starts off with an irresistible rhythm track, covers blues (Skip James, Charley Patton) and jazz (Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, Kalaparusha, John Carter, Charles Tyler), with the occasional hot spot. B+(***)

Thumbscrew: The Anthony Braxton Project (2019 [2020], Cuneiform): Trio, fifth album, the subject a natural given that Tomas Fujiwara (drums/vibraphone) and Mary Halvorson (guitar) studied under him, and Michael Formanek (bass) played in Braxton's legendary 1980s Quartet. Braxton's compositions have always been opaque to me, leaving me with the fascination of his playing around them. Halvorson has that same effect. A- [dl]

Charles Tolliver: Connect (2019 [2020], Gearbox): Trumpet player, main period recording was 1968-88, though he returned with two 2007-09 records, and now this one. Started out on the left fringe of hard bop, and hasn't budged much. Recorded this in England with Jesse Davis (alto sax) and Keith Brown (piano), adding Binker Golding (tenor sax) for 2 (of 4) tracks. B+(***)

Matt Ulery: Pollinator (2019 [2020], Woolgathering): Chicago bassist, tenth album since 2012, plays sousaphone here, in a sextet with trumpet, trombone, tenor sax, piano, and drums. Has an upbeat party vibe, before it gets too serious. B++(**)

Otomo Yoshihide/Chris Pitsiokis: Live in Florence (2018 [2020], Astral Spirits): Prolific Japanese guitarist, also turntables here, Discogs lists 119 albums since 1989; duets with alto saxophonist, also credited with electronics. Experimental, rather ragged and harsh, but has some appeal. B+(*) [dl]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Harry Beckett: Joy Unlimited (1974 [2020], Cadillac): Trumpet player (1935-2010), originally from Barbados, moved to UK in 1954, played in a number of important British jazz bands. With Ray Russell (guitar), Brian Miller (piano), bass, and drums. Opens with tension and edge, eventually settling for groove. B+(**)

Nublu Orchestra Conducted by Butch Morris: Live in Sao Paulo (2008 [2020], Nublu): Morris (1947-2013) came up with a system of conducted improvisations (conduction), and applied it extensively in his 1988-95 10-CD box Testament. He organized this group for a stand at Nublu, a club in Manhattan's Lower East Side, and they released an album in 2007, before going on tour. Plan now is to release a dozen live albums at monthly intervals. This is the second, looks like most of the 9 musicians and 4 vocalists were picked up in Brazil. Only two horns -- Graham Haynes on cornet and Ilhan Ersahin on tenor sax -- keyboards, and double guitar-bass-drums. B+(*)

The Stooges: Live at Goose Lake: August 8th, 1970 (1970 [2020], Third Man): A month (and a day) after their second album, Fun House, dropped, reprising all seven songs, and nothing else. Awkward, sloppy, has some cathartic moments in "Fun House," then blows up. B

Gillian Welch: Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs, Vol. 1 (2002 [2020], Acony): Folksinger, turned some heads with her 1996 album Revival (A- in my book), although Christgau was quick to pan her (B-). Boots seems to be her authorized bootleg series, begun in 2016 with outtakes from Revival. These songs were reportedly recorded to wrap up a record contract, but went lost along the way. B+(*)

Zam Groove: Music From Zambia ([2020], SWP): "2 deep trance tracks by xylophone master Crispin Mutanuka, 3 shining examples of the Barotse Guitar style by the Lipa Band and Libala Band, and 2 sparkling tracks with the kalimba and golden voice of Mufrika Edward." Adds up to 7 tracks, 34:36, collected by Zambian-born field-recordist Michael Baird, and that's all I know. B+(*) [bc]

Old music:

John Chibadura: The Best of John Chibadura ([1986], ZMC): From Zimbabwe (1957-99), original surname Nyamukokoko, nickname refers to his guitar prowess (impressive, indeed), recorded an album with Sunguru Boys in 1985, more with Tembo Brothers. Discogs has nothing before 1983, and I can't place these ten titles. Fast and catchy, more like a single slice than a career retrospective -- this appears to have been released just as his short career was starting. A-

Extra Ball: Birthday [Polish Jazz Vol. 48] (1976, Polskie Nagrania Muza): Polish fusion band, first of six albums 1976-83, led by guitarist Jaroslaw Smietana, with tenor sax, keyboards, bass, and drums. B

Steve Harris/ZAUM: A Is for Ox (2006-07 [2008], Amazon): Live tracks, group has extra guitar and piano, meanders some, takes shape with Geoff Hearn's saxophones. B+(***) [bc]

The Keith Ingham-Harry Allen Quintet: My Little Brown Book: A Celebration of Billy Strayhorn's Music, Volume One (1993 [1994], Progressive): English pianist, retro swing player from the late 1970s on, moved to New York in 1978, often starring on other folks' albums -- Marty Grosz's Unsaturated Fats (1990) is a favorite. Here with a fresh-faced tenor saxophonist, doing what they love most, with guitar (Chris Flory), bass (Denis Irwin), and drums (Chuck Riggs). A-

The Harry Allen-Keith Ingham Quintet: The Intimacy of the Blues: A Celebration of Billy Strayhorn's Music, Volume Two (1993 [1994], Progressive): Swapped the credit around, but same band, same three-day session. Caveat here is that Napster only has 7/16 tracks, but I'd be surprised if I ever find a more drop-dead gorgeous take of "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," and I've heard plenty. Note: the focus on ballads here actually does bring Allen to the fore. B+(***)

Keith Ingham: Rockin' in Rhythm (2010 [2011], Arbors): Piano trio with Frank Tate (bass) and Steve Little (drums), nice set of standards including some bop-era jazz pieces (Powell, Lewis, Shorter, Walton). B+(*)

Krzysztof Komeda-Trzcinski: Komeda [Polish Radio Jazz Archives 04] (1957-62 [2013], Polskie Radio): Poland's most famous jazz composer, legendary long past his early death (at 37 in 1969), even known abroad for his film scores (mostly for Roman Polanski). Trzcinski was his last name, added to some credits here, mostly writing. He was also a MD, so originally used Komeda as a stage name to keep his careers distinct. These are radio shots: four sextet tracks from 1957, three live tracks with Swedish saxophonist Bernt Rosengren, four piano trio tracks from a 1962 concert. Each slice impresses. I haven't figured out why he seems so coherent, but he does. A-

Krzysztof Komeda: Ballet Etudes (1963, Metronome): Title continues: The Music of Komeda: A Jazz Message From Poland Presented by an International Quintet. Recorded in Copenhagen, with Komeda on piano, Jan Wroblewski (tenor sax), Allan Botschinsky (trumpet), Roman Dylag (bass), and Rune Carlsson (drums). The title piece(s) run 21:56. Trumpet drops out on the second side, with long takes of "Crazy Girl" and "Alea" (12:58 + 7:06). A-

Jerzy Milian Trio: Baazaar [Polish Jazz Vol. 17] (1969 [1970], Polskie Nagrania Muza): Vibraphone/marimba player (1935-2018), recorded a couple dozen albums. Trio presumably with bass and drums, but there are also some flute and vocals (Ewa Wanat). He sounds nothing like the swingers who popularized the instrument, or the tinklers who followed them, or even the later ones who edged into the avant-garde -- moody, I guess. B+(*)

Zbigniew Namyslowski: Zbigniew Namyslowski (1977, Polskie Nagrania Muza): Alto sax quartet, plus extras all the way up to orchestra, nudging them into fusion or something. Scattered, redeemed by occasional sax solos. B

Zbigniew Namyslowski: Standards (2003, Quartet): Quartet plus guest trumpet on one track, trombone on three, all standards starting with "After You've Gone." B+(***)

Zbigniew Namyslowski: Assymetry (2006, Quartet): Quintet, the leader playing soprano as well as his usual alto sax, with trombone, piano, bass, and drums, on all original material. B+(**)

Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski Quartet: Flyin' Lady [Polish Jazz Vol. 55] (1978, Polskie Nagrania Muza): Tenor saxophonist, played in Polish Jazz Quartet (1964), remained important enough to be nicknamed "the godfather of Polish Jazz." Backed by guitar, bass, and drums, hard bop with the occasional funk riff. B+(***)

Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski Sextet: Komeda: Moja Slodka Europejska Ojczyzna [Polish Jazz Vol. 80] (2013 [2018], Warner Music Poland, 2CD): Live tribute, presumably songs from Krzyzstof Komeda, the patron saint of Polish jazz, led by his former tenor saxophonist (albeit 50 years earlier). With Robert Majewski (trumpet), Henryk Miskiewicz (alto sax), Wojciech Niedziela (piano), bass, and drums. Exhaustive, although it does have sweet spots, even majestic ones. B+(**)

Added grades for remembered lps from way back when:

  • Iggy and the Stooges: Metallic K.O. (1976, Skydog): B+
  • Iggy Pop: TV Eye 1977 Live (1977 [1978], RCA): B-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • David Berkman: Plays Music by John Coltrane and Pete Seeger: Solo Piano (Without)
  • Bruno Råberg/Jason Robinson/Bob Weiner: The Urgency of Now (Creative Nation Music)
  • Eric Revis: Slipknots Through a Looking Glass (Pyroclastic) [09-11]
  • Fumi Tomita: Celebrating Bird/A Tribute to Charlie Parker (Next Level) [09-25]

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