An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, August 9, 2021
Music: Current count 356001  rated (+52), 220  unrated (+8).
I've had a miserable week. I suppose that's reflected in the high rated count, inasmuch as I didn't feel up to doing anything else. (Well, I did hack out a Speaking of Which, which as far as I can tell elicited zero interest, not even a "like" on Twitter, so did it really happen?) Woke up this morning with blurry eyes. I can barely see to type this.
Note that the number of rated records inched over the 36,000 line. Actually came up one short Sunday night, but Monday morning I moved a couple albums up to get it over with.
Midweek I was having a terrible time trying to figure out what to listen to next. Chris Monsen came to the rescue, with his 50 fave new music releases a bit past 2021s midway point. About a third were records I hadn't heard, so I scrambled to catch up. My unheard list is down to 2 now: William Parker's 10-CD Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World, and Anthony Braxton's 13-CD Quintet (Standards) 2020. Both are probably brilliant. Parker's 8-CD Wood Flute Songs: Anthology/Live 2006-2012 is a full A, as is Braxton's 4-CD 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003, with his previous 4-CD 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003 rated just a shade lower. Still, way too much music to try to digest streaming.
Two more albums from Monsen's list show up below in "limited sampling": a category for records that are only partially available online, not enough to grade but roughly sorted as prospects. Good chance the new Punkt. Vrt. Plastik album (a piano trio with Kaja Draksler) is as good as its predecessor. Intakt's Bandcamp only offers a cut or two, and only about half of their albums this year are on Napster -- three of those on my A-list (Aki Takase, Irène Schweizer, Silke Eberhard).
I also gave three of Monsen's "music of the spheres" picks another spin. (The fourth, James Brandon Lewis' Jesup Wagon, is already high on my A-list.) But I didn't find much reason to change my grades. I also checked out some of Eva Mendoza's earlier records, since Monsen regards her as the selling point to Parker's Mayan Space Station. My top-four (see list above) are: East Axis, Sons of Kemet, Lewis, and Barry Altschul, unless you count Anthony Joseph.
Before diving into Monsen's list, I returned to my checklist of records Robert Christgau has graded that I haven't heard. When I found Taj Mahal's Maestro available, I started digging deeper. There was some question whether I should bother with the early best-ofs, given that they've since been supplanted by more comprehensive ones. The first was a Christgau A-, and the second evinced some evolution in thinking about his canon, but in both I wound up referring to the 2000 The Best of Taj Mahal. In the end, I decided to substitute its cover scan for the other two. Manhattans came next, then (if/when I continue) Manfred Mann.
Couple quasi-political notes (maybe including them here will spare us another Speaking of Which):
My wife was pretty upset by Barack Obama's 60th birthday bash. As I noted in a comment to her Facebook rant, Obama now ranks 12th on Wikipedia's List of presidents of the United States by net worth, behind Bill Clinton (9th) and just ahead of GW Bush (13th). Those are certainly the top three in terms of cashing in on their "public service," more a sign of the times than of their personal greed. Bush started well ahead of the other two, but his business career was almost as inept as his presidency, with most of his wealth coming from his share as front man for the Texas Rangers, which was actually owned by much richer Texans. Clinton and Obama started out poor, but worked their way through elite colleges through a combination of obsequieousness and talent. As politicians they excelled at raising money, and in office they excelled at delivering wealth and power to their patrons. It's natural that they should aspire to belong to the class they had served so diligently. Still, Obama's extravagant party looks like one of those classic nouveau riche foibles, a case of excessive display to show the world he's arrived. Also to show that anyone who still thinks he's a community organizer (let alone a Mau-Mau) is dead wrong. But even if he is the living embodiment of "the American dream," he is a mere exception, not disproving the rule but reminding us how difficult it is for anyone less willing to prostrate themselves to the people who run the country, the ones a previous Democratic president dubbed "the malefactors of great wealth." (Note that FDR is down to number 10 on the Wikipedia list, just below Clinton.)
I should probably write something about Michele L Norris: Germany faced its horrible past. Can we do the same? I suspect the answer is no, and I'm not sure it's worth the trouble. I haven't read anything on Germany's de-Nazification process comparable to John Dower's book on postwar Japan, Embracing Defeat, but my impression is that the Germans simply didn't want to speak of their Nazi past, until the 1960s when you started seeing a bit of introspection (e.g., in the plays of Rolf Hochhuth and Peter Weiss). And really, it doesn't matter if you simply forget the past, and move on, trying to live better in the present. Israel's obsession with never forgetting the Holocaust hasn't done it, or anyone else, much good. Indeed, the persistence of the past has kept Israelis (and their morror-image Palestinians) locked in perpetual struggle over past wrongs, continuously added to). What we do need to do is stop lying about the past, and stop looking for a romanticized version of the past that justifies present inequality.
Approaching the end of Steve Benen's The Impostors: How Repubicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics. Next chapter is called "It's Like These Guys Take Pride in Being Ignorant." Indeed. Good book. Of course, he can't resist using Trump for examples, but all of his "post-policy" complaints are shown to have deeper roots and broader support in the Republican party. I still don't think "post-policy" has the right tone to it. Closer to the mark would be "nihilist."
New records reviewed this week:
Joshua Abrams/Chad Taylor: Mind Maintenance (2021, Drag City): Most sources are already taking the album title as group name, but as the actual artist names on the covers, I think I'm parsing this right. Abrams (normally a bassist) plays guimbri, while Taylor (drummer) plays mbira, I doubt for the first time. Minimalist patterns with a slight tonal shift. B+(***)
Altin Gün: Yol (2021, ATO): Dutch band, founded by bassist Jasper Verhulst, draws on Turkish folk music -- singers are Erdinc Ecevit Yildiz and Merve Dasdemir -- with funk rhythms and psychedelic overtones. Third album. Nice beat, despite foreign language, doesn't feel all that exotic. B+(**)
Miguel Ângelo Quarteto: Dança Dos Desastrados (2021, self-released): Portuguese bassist, several albums, group includes João Guimarães (alto sax), Joaquim Rodrigues (piano), and Marcos Cavaleiro (drums). B+(**) [bc]
Bleachers: Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night (2021, RCA): Jack Antonoff's group, third album since 2014, albums have sold well but he's probably better known as a songwriter and/or producer for Taylor Swift, Lorde, and Lana Del Rey. Obviously has some skills, but for some reason they work better when employed by someone interesting. B+(*)
Dr. Mike Bogle: Let There Be Light (2021, MBP/Groove): Plays keyboards and trombone, UNT graduate, managed the One O'Clock Lab Band for a few years, got a Grammy nomination in 1992 for arranging. Unclear on his discography, but seems to have two previous Trio albums, at least. Not exactly pop jazz, but I get the feeling he'd settle for that. B [cd]
Wayne Coniglio & Scott Whitfield: Faster Friends (2021, Summit): Two trombonists, backed by piano-bass-drums, with some guest spots. Relationship goes back to Whitfield's Jazz Orchestra East (2004-05), and includes a 2014 album together. Three Coniglio tunes, bunch of standards. B [cd]
Jack Cooper/Jeff Tobias: Tributaries (2021, Astral Spirits): No info available, unfortunate given that Discogs lists 10 Jack Coopers, but doesn't have this album. I have Jack Cooper (7) in my database, but this one appears to be the unnumbered Jack Cooper: based in England, has one previous album under his own name, plus several groups, like Modern Nature (5 albums, saxophonist Tobias in the group) and Ultimate Painting (5 more albums, a duo with James Hoare). Cooper's instrument seems to be guitar, picking out patterns with the sax trailing along. Might be more interesting if I wasn't also trying to figure out all this, but marginal in any case. B [dl]
Dominican Jazz Project: Desde Lejos (2020-21 , Summit): Started with pianist Stephen Anderson toured the Dominican Republic in 2014, hooking up with local musicians like Guillo Carias (clavietta) and Guy Frómeta (drums), and others. They released an album in 2016, and followed up here in a Covid paste-up project. Sandy Gabriel distinguishes himself on sax. I could do without the vocal. B+(*) [cd]
Falkner Evans: Invisible Words (2021, CAP): Pianist, originally from Tulsa, moved to New York in 1985, debut 2001. Solo, dedicated to his late wife, a suicide last may. Measured, methodical, more than a little poignant. B+(**) [cd] [08-13]
Orrin Evans: The Magic of Now (2021, Smoke Sessions): Pianist, debut 1995, quartet with Immanuel Wilkins (tenor sax), Vicente Archer (bass), and Bill Stewart (drums). Wilkins impresses again. B+(***)
Fire!: Defeat (2019-20 , Rune Grammofon): Norwegian group, since 2009, occasionally expanding to Orchestra weight, but most often a trio -- Mats Gustafsson (flute/baritone sax), Johan Berthling (electric bass), and Andreas Werlin (drums) -- here adding Goran Kajfes (trumpet) and Mats Ålekint (trombone/sousaphone). Starts with flute, which at least contains Gustafsson's tendencies to excess, although he later switches to bari and sticks mostly within the groove, letting the other horns provide the highlights. A-
Michael Foster/Ben Bennett: Contractions (2019 , Astral Spirits): Saxophone and drums duo. Discogs lists 16 albums by Foster since 2013, 6 of those with Bennett, all but one of the rest collaborations with multiple credits. A bit of squawk-and-bash, but interesting for such. [On the other hand, hit reject on last track.] B+(**) [dl]
Frode Gjerstad Trio + 1: Forgotten City (2018 , PNL): Norwegian alto saxophonist, first appeared in Detail c. 1983, 20+ trio albums, twice that is other configurations. The "+ 1" here is a second bassist, Øyvind Storesund, along with regulars Jon Rune Strøm and Paal Nilssen-Love (although Storesund has played in the trio before). Leader also plays clarinet and alto flute, further softening the edge. B+(*) [bc]
Devin Gray: Melt All the Guns (2019 , Rataplan): Drummer, composed five pieces (19:17), with Ralph Alessi (trumpet) and Angelica Sanchez (piano) listed on slug line after title. B+(**) [bc]
Koma Saxo: Live (2019 , We Jazz): Swedish bassist Petter Eldh, formed this three-saxophone (Otis Sandsjö, Jonas Kullhammar, Mikko Innanen) group for his Koma Saxo album, kept the group name. With Christian Lillinger (drums). Develops a circus-like atmosphere. B+(***)
Marthe Lea Band: Asura (2020 , Motvind): Norwegian tenor saxophonist, also credited with flute, piano, guitar, voice, udu, percussion. Group adds clarinet, violin, bass, and drums. Leans hard on violin-signified folk music, builds playfully, but I'm more interested when the sax breaks out. B+(*)
Lean Left: Medemer (2018 , PNL): Group formed in 2008 as The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, and they've met up regularly since then -- this is their sixth album. The former are Terrie Hessels and Andy Moor, guitarists in the Dutch post-punk group The Ex. The latter, Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (from The Thing) and Chicago saxophonist Ken Vandermark, recorded their first duo album in 2002 (Dual Pleasure), with many more since. I haven't heard much by Vandermark over the last few years. (He's been as prolific as ever, but his Catalytic Sound Bandcamp only offers bits of albums.) But he sounds great here, pushed on by the guitar ferment, and a terrific drummer. A- [bc]
Michael Mantler: Coda: Orchestra Suites (2019-20 , ECM): Trumpet player, from Vienna, best known for his work with Carla Bley when he was her second husband. Has always had a hankering to go long and orchestral, which he indulges here -- not something I've enjoyed in the past, but this sails along enjoyably. B+(**)
Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane: Ihubo Labomdabu (2021, Unlocked Keys): South African jazz pianist, has a handful of albums since 2016. Seems to be solo, straight and thoughtful, although the cover depicts a full band. B+(*)
Calle Neumann/Ketil Gutvik/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Paal Nilssen-Love: New Dance (2020 , PNL): Alto sax, guitar, bass, drums. Live concert set. Neumann has been around, with one record going back to 1972, side credits with Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Arild Andersen, and their mentor George Russell. This group was convened to celebrate the 5-CD box set release of The Quintet: Events 1998-1999, a group with Neumann, Gutvik, and Nilssen-Love. B+(***) [bc]
Caroline Parke: Pause and Pine (2021, self-released): Canadian cowgirl, lives on a ranch in Alberta, second album, knows a thing or two about raising cattle, growing wheat, running a farm house, and Marty Robbins. B+(*)
Part Chimp: Drool (2021, Wrong Speed): English noise rock/sludge metal group, formed in 2000, not a niche I'm interested in but the sheets of sound cloak a beat so lumbering that they're tolerable on structure alone. B [bc]
Riders Against the Storm: Flowers for the Living (2021, Divide and Conjure): Husband-and-wife hip-hop duo, Chaka and Qi, releases back to 2010 (with a 2014-19 gap). Short album, 8 tracks, 29:31. Bits of global funk and old school bounce that has me thinking Sugarhill Gang. B+(***) [bc]
Aksel Rønning Trio: ART (2019 , Øra Fonogram): Norwegian saxophonist, backed by bass and drums, first album, not the guy who plays drums in Rønnings Jazzmaskin. Straight ahead, like his tone and balance. B+(***)
Claire Rousay: A Softer Focus (2021, American Dream): From San Antonio, electronic music, "field recordings for a modern world." Discogs credits her with 18 albums in just a couple years (from 2019). Ambient, perhaps something, hard to tell. B
Tine Surel Lange: Works for Listening 1-10 (2021, Sofa Music): Norwegian composer, debut album (CV lists various "works" going back to 2013), "a series of spatial electro-acoustic works . . . made in 5th order ambisonics." B+(**) [bc]
Arne Torvik Trio: Northwestern Songs (2019 , Losen): Norwegian pianist, has a previous album from 2016, drops down to trio here with bass and drums. B+(**)
Young Pilgrims: We're Young Pilgrims (2021, Stoney Lane): From Birmingham (UK), "young brass band brimming with jazz-rock energy," unmoored from trad jazz formula, not that they've found much to replace it. B- [bc]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Roy Brooks: Understanding (1970 , Reel-to-Real, 2CD): Drummer (1938-2005), from Detroit, not a lot as leader but quite a few side credits -- starting in 1960 with Blue Mitchell, Sonny Red, Horace Silver, and Buddy Tate. Previously unreleased live date from Baltimore with Woody Shaw (trumpet), Carlos Garnett (tenor sax), Harold Mabern (piano), and Cecil McBee (bass). Five cuts stretch out past 20 minutes each, one to 32:25, and most are blistering. Or, as McBee puts it, "the music was trying to express the excitement of arriving at social justice." B+(***)
Carl Magnus Neumann/Christian Reim Quartet: Molde International Jazz Festival 1976 (1976 , Jazzaggression): Norwegian group, leaders play alto sax and piano, backed with bass (Bjørn Kjellemyr) and drums (Ole Jacob Hansen). Back cover abbreviates the leader names for space, but they're obscure enough. Reim wrote five (of six) songs, the other "The Man I Love." B+(***)
Christian Reim Sextet: Mona Lisa (1973 , Jazzaggression): Norwegian pianist, b. 1945, not much discography, but this live recording of a "post-bop extravaganza in 6 parts" is expertly paced, with lots of punch: two saxophones (Carl Magnus Neumann and Knut Riisnaes), trumpet (Ditlef Eckhoff), bass, and drums. A-
The Rough Guide to the Roots of Jazz (1918-30 , World Music Network): Twenty-six songs, offers a fairly comprehensive survey of jazz in the 1920s, including most of the big names, and a number of classic songs.
Billy Bang: Outline No. 12 (1982 , Celluloid): Conduction by Butch Morris, three pieces by the leader, with three violinists (Bang, Jason Hwang, Joseph Hailes), four reed players (Frank Lowe, Charles Tyler, Henri Warner, David Murray), vibes, bass, two percussionists. [Reissued 2017 by Bill Laswell.] B+(**) [bc]
Brown Sugar: I'm in Love With a Dreadlocks: Brown Sugar and the Birth of Lovers Rock 1977-80 (1977-80 , Soul Jazz): British reggae vocal group, three women. Caron Wheeler had a brief fling at fame in the early 1990s (both solo and in Soul II Soul), as did Kofi (Carol Simms), although less memorably. B
Taj Mahal: The Taj Mahal Anthology: Volume 1 (1968-71 , Columbia): First generation best-of, selected so perfectly the same ten songs reappear in order to open 2000's canonical 17-track The Best of Taj Mahal (the one you should start with), with nine early on 2005's 2-CD The Essential Taj Mahal. Most of these were inspired covers, his theme lifted from Goffin & King and made his own: "Come with me . . . and take a giant step outside your mind." They didn't release the expected Volume 2. Not that they didn't have more songs to work with, but they never wanted to give up these ten. A
Taj Mahal: Recycling the Blues & Other Related Stuff (1972, Columbia): First side is lives, which is cheap for the artist but doesn't offer the listener much. Second side offers four new songs, most marvelously "Cakewalk Into Town." B+(*)
Taj Mahal: Ooh So Good 'N Blues (1973, Columbia): Blues revivalist Henry St. Claire Fredericks Jr., five years into a long career. A few obscurities, at least one of his own making, but he also takes songs you know ("Frankie and Albert," "Dust My Broom," "Built for Comfort") and throws them for weird curves. A-
Taj Mahal: The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973 (1969-73 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Previously unreleased. One disc of trivial from his earliest and most fertile period, often living up to the billing. The big song where is "You Ain't No Street Walker Mama, Honey But I Do Love the Way You Strut Your Stuff." A second live disc from Royal Albert Hall in 1970. B+(***)
Taj Mahal: The Best of Taj Mahal (1968-74 , Columbia): Second-generation best-of, swaps out four "must have" songs for four others -- good ones, with "Cakewalk Into Town" and "Chevrolet" top tier. "Volume 1" appears on the label, but not on the cover. Later reissued in "Collector's Choice" packaging. Still, The Best of Taj Mahal you want is the 2000 CD. A-
Taj Mahal: An Evening of Acoustic Music (1993 , Tradition & Moderne): Live radio shot from Radio Bremen, mostly solo guitar and voice, with Howard Johnson (tuba/penny whistle) dropping in for the last five tracks. B+(***)
Taj Mahal: Best of the Private Years (1993-97 , Private Music): Mahal became one of Peter Baumann's "artist re-development" projects, recording five albums for the label, only the middle three represented here. Leans toward eclectic covers, which sound good less for his added value than for starting out great. B+(*)
Taj Mahal & the Phantom Blues Band: Shoutin' in Key: Live (1998 , Hannibal): Band took its name from the 1996 Phantom Blues album. Opens with 6:19 of instrumental "Honky Tonk," before the singer enters with his usual far-ranging blues repertoire. B+(*)
Taj Mahal: Maestro (2008, Heads Up): He reccorded steadily from 1969-78, mostly for Columbia, briefly for Warners, starting in gentle country blues and picking up bits from the rest of the African diaspora, then struggled to find a label in the 1980s before picking up again in the 1990s, less consistently. He rebounds here, mostly because he's found his blues mojo again -- but he's picked up a lot of tricks and tics along the way. A-
Manhattans: Greatest Hits (1973-80 , Columbia): R&B vocal group from New Jersey, had some hits during their 1973-86 run at Columbia, but most before this mid-term best-of appeared (with two new songs projected as hits, one eventually charted). B+(**)
Manhattans: Kiss and Say Goodbye: The Best of the Manhattans (1973-85 , Columbia/Legacy): Long-running vocal group, founded in 1962, continued at least through 2008, lot of minor hits (45 charted) but only a couple big ones (the title song here, and "Shining Star"). This picks 19 songs from 11 albums, which is probably more than enough, but the mid-tempo or slower love songs (losing it as often as not) flow so effortlessly there's no need to quibble. B+(***)
Ava Mendoza: Shadow Stories (2010, Resipiscent): Guitarist, from Brooklyn, first album, solo, four originals, six covers, drawing on blues, folk, and country, relatively straight, although elsewhere she gets fairly deep into the noise weeds. B+(*) [bc]
Ava Mendoza/Dominique Leone/Nick Tamburro: Unnatural Ways (2015, New Atlantis): Guitarist, from Brooklyn, featured on William Parker's new Mayan Space Station, has an underground reputation that previously escaped me. With keyboards and drums. Vocals head back to rock, but her guitar isn't that tethered. B+(*)
Ava Mendoza's Unnatural Ways: The Paranoia Party (2019, Sleeping Giant Glossolalia): Guitar trio, with Tim Dahl (bass) and Sam Ospovat (drums). With vocals, closer in spirit and tone to noise rock, although the timing wanders and the landscape is stocked with absurdities. I can imagine being impressed, but I just find it painful. B- [bc]
Ava Mendoza/Vijay Anderson/Stephen Gauci: Studio Sessions Vol. 4 (2019, Gaucimusic, EP): Guitar, drums, tenor sax -- the common denominator in this series, yielding top billing to the other lead instrumentalist. 6 tracks, 19:26. B+(**) [bc]
Pulnoc: Pulnoc (1990 , Globus International): First official album, released after the collapse of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. The Velvets influence is strong, rhythm as much as anything else, with more adventurous guitar. Michaela Nemcova sings, less deadpan than Nico. Don't know about what, but seems perfectly at home. A [dl]
Riders Against the Storm: Riders Against the Storm (2013, self-released, EP): Self-titled EP, seemed like the place to look back for background, but had I started at the bottom of the list I would have found Speak the Truth, a full-length album billed as "a culmination of the past four years of RAS' journey through life, love, struggle, and music." First revelation here was that they seemed to start less in hip-hop than in cosmic mantras. Then they busted some rhymes on "Ghetto People." Five songs, 18:16. B+(*) [bc]
Riders Against the Storm: Speak the Truth (2010, self-released): Abbreviated RAS, first album, seems likely that more than just Chaka and Qi and the feat. guests are involved here. Twelve songs, three skits, most old school hip-hop, although the closing "Energy" is a dance anthem. B+(**) [bc]
Virunga: Feet on Fire (1991, Stern's Africa): Samba Mapangala, born 1955 in Congo, one of the main musicians to introduce soukous to Kenya and Tanzania, named his band after a volcano. He sings and wrote 6 (of 7) songs here, but his name doesn't appear on the masthead. Not a masterpiece, but the scent is redolent of East Africa's Guitar Paradise. B+(***)
Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.
Mark Feldman: Sounding Point (2020 , Intakt): Violin solo, some overdubs. [bc: 2/8]
Fred Frith/Ikue Mori: A Mountain Doesn't Know It's Tall (2015 , Intakt): Guitarist, credits "various toys and objects," and laptop electronics. [bc: 4/15] +
Alexander Hawkins: Togetherness Music: For Sixteen Musicians (2020 , Intakt): British pianist, feat. Evan Parker + Riot Ensemble. [bc: 2/6]: +
Christopher Hoffman: Asp Nimbus (2020 , Out of Your Head): Cello, with Bryan Carrott on vibes, plus bass and drums. [bc: 3/8]: +
Punkt. Vrt. Plastik [Kaja Draksler/Petter Eldh/Christian Lillinger]: Somit (2020 , Intakt): Second album by piano-bass-drums trio, assumes title of first as group name. [bc: 2/13] ++
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: