An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, March 13, 2023
Music: Current count 39787  rated (+57), 48  unrated (-2: 20 new, 28 old).
I thought yesterday's Speaking of Which wound up on the long side, but how long wasn't clear until I ran wc on the directory. At 7131 words, it was the second longest ever, topped only by the 7467-word July 3, 2022 entry. Only two other columns topped 7000 words: August 28, 2022, and November 13, 2022. The average over 67 columns is 4236 words.
The main reason for this week's explosion was the China-brokered normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Aside from the intrinsic value of the story -- anything that reduces a major conflict flashpoint is good news in my book -- this also underscores that most of what the American foreign policy blob says about all three countries is wrong, and that America's general view of foreign policy -- which has almost totally been given over to force projection, deterrence, and sanctions -- is misguided, or perhaps the word I'm looking for is deranged.
Given that the words came out in spurts as I picked up various articles, it's possible that some of the verbiage is redundant. The points, however, are far removed from the conventional nonsense you read everywhere else that they may take some repetition to sink in. I could -- I'm certainly tempted to -- expand on this considerably here.
For instance, Americans believe that negotiations in Ukraine -- which in private they probably admit is the end game -- will turn on how much land each side can capture. Therefore, they believe that force projection is essential to cower Russia into submission. (Of course, it doesn't help that Russians are similarly deluded.) However, that unreasonable attitude not only doesn't point toward peace -- it actually stiffens Russia's resolve to fight on. And because the US is obsessed with force, they view degrading Russian force as a zero-sum gain. Russia, on the other hand, is more likely to view it as an existential threat.
The China-Iran-Saudi deal intersects with Ukraine in three main ways. First, it shows that the US has lost a lot of credibility and influence everywhere but Europe, even among ostensible US allies like Saudi Arabia (and for that matter, Israel) -- hardly anyone else has lined up behind US sanctions. Second, the obsession with force makes it increasingly hard for nations to deal constructively with the US: Americans have gotten so used to ordering their allies around, they've lost any semblance of diplomatic skills. Third, the "pivot to Asia," with its encirclement and containment of China has opened the door for Chinese diplomatic efforts everywhere in the world that America has discarded. After the US pulled out of JCPOA Iran had no other option. The Saudis do have options, but can see the writing on the wall.
Again, mostly old jazz from the Penguin Guide unheard 4-star list. The K-M section has produced fewer A-list albums than the J section did, and I got so frustrated trying to look up entries on the M list I temporarily brought up some new 2023 albums. However, since I'm not keeping a tracking list this year, I only had a few names ready in mind.
I will note that I'm generally skipping over long box sets that are available, like Stan Kenton's Retrospective and MJQ 40. I'm also skipping past many compilation of old jazz, which are rarely available as such (e.g., Classics has mostly vanished, and many European archival labels aren't available). Obscure works from European avant-gardists are also very hard to find (although sometimes I'm surprised). On the other hand, to check items off the list, I sometimes synthesize listed compilations from various sources. (Unfortunately, three John Lewis twofers on Collectables were only half-available to stream.)
I'm able to add two more movies to the short list of 2022 releases from last week:
That brings the A- movies list for the year up from zero to two. We also rewatched the original Enola Holmes (Laura had missed it). Both were great fun, albeit (especially 2) with an excess of fighting (and bomb throwing from the mother).
She Said was as expertly constructed and paced as any newspaper/intrepid reporter film I can remember, and the lead reporters managed to keep their ambitions wrapped in decency. Too bad the New York Times can't bring such diligence to their political reporting. I doubt we'll ever see a movie about Judith Miller's Iraq propaganda (but if we do, I bet it's played for laughs).
I watched the opening and first couple Oscar awards, then decided I'd better get back to work. My distaste for all the nominated films probably had something to do with that. I had read a couple prediction pieces, and as best I recall they were all exactly right. I'm not sure why they were so accurate, but it can't think of any reason that might suggest that's a good thing. [PS: I now see Alissa Wilkinson proclaiming this "the end of predictable Oscar winners," but who didn't predict that EEAAO would win big?]
Laura still wants to see To Louise and Aftersun, so we'll probably get to them this week. Neither of us are keen to see The Whale, but a friend who sometimes comes over to watch movies with us thought it was very good. I have an interest in a couple more movies, but I'd probably prefer to spend our limited time watching crime series (Beyond Paradise is enjoyable so far; we've also been into The Nordic Murders and have just started Bloodlands).
New records reviewed this week:
Robert Forster: The Candle and the Flame (2023, Tapete): Australian singer-songwriter, joined Grant McLennan in the Go-Betweens, initially struck me as the lesser of the pair, but he's the one still ticking, and writing and singing new songs that fit nicely into the band's aesthetic. A- [r]
Ingrid Laubrock: The Last Quiet Place (2019 , Pyroclastic): German saxophonist (tenor/soprano), based in New York, with an "altered string quartet in one electrifying sextet": violin (Mazz Swift), cello (Tomeka Reid), guitar (Brandon Seabrook), bass (Michael Formanek), and drums (Tom Rainey). B+(***) [cd] [03-31]
Liv.e: Girl in the Half Pearl (2023, In Real Life): Hailee Olivia Williams, from Dallas, second album, filed her first one under rap, this one closer to r&b, but only obliquely. B+(**) [sp]
Scott Petito: Many Worlds (2022 , Planet Arts): Bassist, Discogs credits him with four albums (making this his fifth), but many more production and technical credits. This is some kind of fusion, but closer to new age than to jazz. He did, however, get a long list of recognizable jazz names to work on it. B [cd]
Mason Razavi: Six-String Standards (2021-22 , OA2): American guitarist, has several albums. Opens with a "Stompin' at the Savoy" that doesn't stomp but does manage to be beguiling -- an easier trick with "Body and Soul," "But Beautiful," "Darn That Dream," etc. B+(**) [cd]
Rich Thompson: Who Do You Have to Know? (2023, Origin): Drummer, has several albums, this one a quartet with Corey Christiansen (guitar), Bobby Floyd (organ/piano), and Peter Chwazik (bass), playing standards as chintzy muzak, most cleverly on the chintziest ("What a Wonderful World," "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing"). B+(*) [cd] [03-17]
Triogram: Triogram (2023, Circle Theory Media): Bassist Will Lyle leads a trio with Bijan Taghavi (piano) and Kofi Shepsu (drums). B+(**) [cd] [04-07]
Kali Uchis: Red Moon in Venus (2023, Interscope): Pop singer-songwriter Karly-Marina Loaiza, born in Virginia, father from Colombia, third album. B+(**) [r]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Balka Sound: Balka Sound (1981-83 , Strut): Band from Brazzaville, on the north side of the Congo River, won a recording contract in 1979. This compilation is selected from three early-1980s albums. B+(***) [sp]
Wild Bill Davis & Johnny Hodges: In Atlantic City (1966 , RCA): Davis (1918-95) was a keyboard player, mostly organ in his later years, but he played piano with Louis Jordan 1945-49. He recorded several albums with Hodges, starting with Blue Hodge in 1961. B+(**) [r]
Barry Guy & the London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Harmos (1989, Intakt): Bassist-led avant 17-piece big band, one 43:48 piece. B+(**) [r]
Barry Guy & the London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Double Trouble (1989 , Intakt): Another massive piece, 46:20, the musicians impressive when they're isolated, but less pleasing when they pile on. B+(*) [r]
Barry Guy/The London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Portraits (1993 , Intakt, 2CD): Same 17-piece group for another Zürich radio shot, long enough to sprawl over two discs. B+(**) [r]
Barry Guy/London Jazz Composers Orchestra/Irene Schweizer/Marilyn Crispell/Pierre Favre: Double Trouble Two (1995 , Intakt): Guests bring the band up to 19 players, replacing regular Howard Riley two explosive pianists. Again, they tend to pile up, but somehow that bothers me less here. B+(***) [r]
Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra: Castle Rock (1951-52 , Verve): Duke Ellington's star alto saxophonist, quit the band in the early 1950s and recorded a few albums for Norman Granz before returning for Ellington's 1956 Newport triumph -- Paul Gonsalves stole the show, but Hodges was exquisite as ever, as he is here. Tenor saxophonist Al Sears wrote the title song here and it was something of a hit. A- [sp]
Johnny Hodges: Duke's in Bed (1956 , Verve): Full credit adds: "and the Ellington All-Stars without Duke." That means Billy Strayhorn on piano, two trumpets (Clark Terry and Ray Nance), trombone (Quentin Jackson), two more reeds (Jimmy Hamilton and Harry Carney), bass (Jimmy Woode) and drums (Sam Woodyard). Hodges wrote three songs, but the title is an Ellington tune, and not the only one. B+(**) [r]
Johnny Hodges and the Ellington Men: The Big Sound (1957, Verve): Opens with Cat Anderson leading a full trumpet section on three of his own songs (plus one of six Hodges credits), after which they drop back to a smaller big band. B+(**)
Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra: Not So Dukish (1958, Verve): Title comes from bassist Jimmy Woode's song (a slow blues), seems to signify as a declaration of independence, but little else here will fail to register as Ellingtonia. Aside from Roy Eldridge, the band includes Ray Nance (trumpet), Lawrence Brown (trombone), Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet), Ben Webster (tenor sax), Billy Strayhorn (piano), and Sam Woodyard (drums). The only thing un-Dukish here is that the record never really takes off. B+(**) [r]
Johnny Hodges: Sandy's Gone (1963 , Verve): Creed Taylor produced, with Claus Ogerman arranging and conducting orchestra, attempting muzak and failing even that. [NB: A rare record I couldn't even finish.] D+ [r]
Egil Kapstad: Cherokee (1988 , Gemini): Norwegian pianist (1940-2017), in a trio with Terje Venaas (bass) and Egil Johansen (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Egil Kapstad Trio: Remembrance (1993 , Gemini): Another piano trio album, same group. B+(***) [sp]
Jan Kaspersen Quintet: Live in Sofie's Cellar in Copenhagen/Vol. 1 (1991, Olufsen): Danish pianist, albums start 1978, must be a couple dozen. This one features Anders Bergcrantz (trumpet) and Bob Rockwell (tenor sax), with bass (Peter Danstrup) and drums (Ole Rømer). One Monk song, the rest Kaspersen originals, but obviously indebted to Monk (e.g., "Another You Walked In"). Horns impressive, especially Bergcrantz. Runs 73:10. Haven't found a Vol. 2. B+(***) [sp]
Stan Kenton: Innovations in Modern Music (1950, Capitol): Pianist and bandleader (1911-79), born in Wichita, moved to Los Angeles area as a teen, started organizing his own groups in the early 1940s, including one from 1950-51 collected in 1997 in a 2-CD The Innovations Orchestra (Capitol). This is a piece, eight tracks (35:08), billed as Volume One at the time (but I'm not aware of a second volume). Big band, plus strings (directed by George Cast), June Christy vocals on two tracks, many other names among the musicians, and a staff of arrangers including Pete Rugolo and Chico O'Farrill. B [r]
Stan Kenton: New Conceptions of Artistry in Rhythm (1952 , Capitol): His first album was a set of eight songs on 10-inch 78s called Artistry in Rhythm (1946). This title appeared on another 8-song, 10-inch set in 1953, expanded to 12 tracks for CD. Crack band, but something pretentious about the whole thing. B+(*) [r]
Stan Kenton: Easy Go (1950-52 , Capitol): A compilation of singles, twenty songs none running more than 3:16 (or less than 2:36), the brevity keeping the bombast in check, and gives the faux Latin effects a chance to shine. For all the brilliant musicians here, the only one who pops out is Maynard Ferguson, and that's by design. B+(*) [sp]
Stan Kenton: City of Glass (1947-53 , Capitol): Title credit: "Stan Kenton Plays Bob Graettinger," who composed all but two tracks, and arranged those. It's not that they can't make a glorious noise, but it does get tedious over time. B [sp]
David Kikoski: Almost Twilight (1999 , Criss Cross): Pianist, from New Jersey, studied at Berklee, moved to New York, debut 1989. This is a trio with John Patitucci (bass) and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums), playing all Kikoski originals. B+(***) [sp]
Rebecca Kilgore With Dan Barrett's Celestial Six: I Saw Stars (1994 , Arbors): Standards singer, second album, tends to hang with trad/swing jazz bands like trombonist Barrett's group here, plays some guitar but here leaves most of that to Bucky Pizzarelli. With Dave Frishberg on piano and Scott Robinson on sax and clarinet. B+(**) [sp]
Rebecca Kilgore: Harlem Butterfly: A Remembrance of Maxine Sullivan (2000 , Audiophile): "Accompanied by The Bobby Gordon Trio," with Gordon (clarinet), Chris Dawson (piano), and Hal Smith (drums). Sullivan (1911-87) had her initial impact in 1937, still in the swing era but moving on. The small group preserves this ambiguity, but swings nonetheless. B+(***) [sp]
Jonny King: The Meltdown (1997, Enja): Pianist from New York, day job a lawyer, released a few albums in the 1990s, one more in 2012. High-flying septet here with David Sanchez (tenor sax), Steve Wilson (alto/soprano sax), Steve Davis (trombone), Larry Grenadier (bass), Billy Drummond (drums), and Milton Cardona (congas). B+(***) [sp]
Ryan Kisor: Power Source (1999, Criss Cross): Trumpet player, originally from Iowa, signed to Columbia for his first two albums, has another dozen albums but none since 2008, although he's continued to play in Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Quartet here faces off against Chris Potter (tenor sax), backed by James Genus (bass) and Gene Jackson (drums). B+(***) [r]
Hans Koch/Martin Schütz/Fredy Studer & El Nil Troop: Heavy Cairo Traffic (1995 , Intuition): Avant Swiss trio (reeds, cello, drums) goes to Egypt, hooks up with a trad folk group named for the river. Not clear whether the element of chaos was baked into the music from the start, or it just took these pranksters to bring it out. A- [sp]
Steve Kuhn: The Best Things (1999 , Reservoir): Pianist, from New York, first album a 1960 trio with Scott LaFaro and Pete La Roca; led a group with Sheila Jordan in the 1970s. This is a trio with David Finck (bass) and Billy Drummond (drums), plus singer Luciana Souza for the final track. B+(**) [sp]
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: The Hottest New Group in Jazz (1959, Columbia): Vocalese trio: Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, and Annie Ross. Second album after Sing a Song of Basie, where the idea was to replicate the big band with overdubbed vocals. Here they're backed by the Ike Isaacs Trio, taking standards and bop pieces and adding words (as in "Twisted" -- the Wardell Gray solo that Joni Mitchell later covered), or just scatting. Has its amusing moments, but far from surefire. B+(**) [r]
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: Sing Ellington (1960, Columbia): With the Ike Isaacs Trio. Probably seemed like a surefire idea after their Basie album, but lack of swing hurts, and many effects just seem perverse. B- [r]
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: High Flying (1961, Columbia): With the Ike Isaacs Trio. No theme to inspire them, or to drag them down. B [r]
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: The Hottest New Group in Jazz (1959-62 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Tacks two full albums (Sing Ellington and High Flying) onto their label debut, plus seven extra tracks (generally better, including two "twist" tunes, and two takes of "A Night in Tunisia"). Penguin Guide gave this 4 stars. The earlier compilation, Everybody's Boppin' (1989), hits the highlights without improving the average. B [r]
Joëlle Léandre's Canvas Trio: L'Histoire De Mme. Tasco (1992 , Hat Art): French avant-bassist, sings some (her soprano adding contrast to the bass), many credits since 1982, often duets, fairly minimal affairs. With Carlos Zingaro (violin) and Rüdiger Carl (accordion, clarinet), this has a lot of sonic depth. B+(***) [r]
Joëlle Léandre & Kevin Norton: Winter in New York (2006 , Leo): Bass and percussion duo, Norton playing vibes as well as drums, etc., and Léandre singing a bit toward the end -- not her calling, but works here. B+(***) [sp]
John Lewis: The John Lewis Piano (1956 , Atlantic): Pianist (1920-2001), best known as director of Modern Jazz Quartet, well schooled in the classics, played in groups in the Boy Scouts and the Army, moved to New York in 1945 and got a masters degree at Manhattan School of Music, and jobs with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis (Birth of the Cool). After MJQ got going, he continued to record albums on his own, like this one: a step up from solo, three tracks with minimal Connie Kay drums, two of them with Percy Heath on bass, the others duets with guitar (Barry Galbraith or Jim Hall). B+(***) [sp]
John Lewis/Bill Perkins/Percy Heath/Chico Hamilton/Jim Hall: Grand Encounter: 2° East - 3° West (1957, Vogue): Two east coast musicians (Lewis, bassist Heath) and three from the west coast (tenor saxophonist Perkins, drummer Hamilton, and guitarist Hall). This is about as cool as jazz can get. B+(***) [sp]
John Lewis: Improvised Meditations & Excursions (1959, Atlantic): Straightforward trio album, piano with bass (George Duvivier or Percy Heath) and drums (Connie Kay). Two Lewis pieces, five standards, all impeccably done. A- [sp]
John Lewis: Essence (1960-62 , Atlantic): Subtitle: John Lewis plays the compositions & arrangements of Gary McFarland. McFarland (1933-71) was a vibraphonist perhaps better known as a producer and arranger, including a few bossa nova projects (e.g., Stan Getz: Big Band Bossa Nova). Split over three sessions, with varying groups. B+(*) [sp]
Ove Lind Quartet: One Morning in May (1975 , Phontastic): Swedish clarinet player (1926-91), influenced by Benny Goodman, played in Swinging Swedes 1952-54. Quartet with piano (Bengt Hallberg), vibes (Lars Erstrand), and drums (Egil Johansen), mostly playing standards. If that reminds you of Goodman with Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa, that's probably the idea. [CD adds extra tracks.] A- [r]
Joe Lovano: Sounds of Joy (1991, Enja): Tenor sax great, from Cleveland, one of his early albums, a trio with Anthony Cox (bass) and Ed Blackwell (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Junior Mance/Martin Rivera: For Dancers Only (1983, Sackville): Pianist (1928-2021), played with Gene Ammons as early as 1947, his own albums start in 1959. This is a duo with the bassist. Not my idea of danceable, but had he been born a generation earlier, there's little doubt that Mance would have been one of the stride piano greats. B+(**) [r]
Mat Maneri Trio: So What? (1998 , Hatology): Avant violinist (electric here), father was a pioneer in microtonal music. Trio with Matthew Shipp (piano) and Randy Peterson (drums), playing four Miles Davis tunes, with five Maneri originals. Shipp makes a big difference here. B+(***) [r]
Mat Maneri Trio: For Conseqeuence (2001 , Leo): Maneri moves to viola here, as it was becoming his main instrument. Trio with Ed Schuller (bass) and Randy Peterson (drums). B+(**) [r]
Albert Mangelsdorff Trio: Triple Entente (1982 , MPS): German trombonist (1928-2005), long career, one of the most important German jazz musicians ever. Trio with bass (Léon Francioli) and drums (Pierre Favre). Play it pretty close to the vest. B+(***) [r]
Albert Mangelsdorff: Three Originals: Never Let It End/A Jazz Tune I Hope/Triple Entente (1970-82 , MPS, 2CD): Three albums collected, at least two other sets like that, this one a Penguin Guide 4-star. I previously reviewed the first at A-, the second a mid-B+, so averaging is easy: B+(***) [r]
Michael Mantler: More Movies (1979-80 , Watt): Austrian trumpet player (b. 1943), studied at Berklee and moved to New York in 1964, where he married Carla Bley and helped found the Jazz Composers' Orchestra Association (JCOA), New Music Distribution Service, and the label Watt (after the Samuel Beckett novel). He left all that when he returned to Europe in 1991, but along the way wrote a number of striking compositions, some of which he slotted as movie music. A first set called Movies appeared in 1978, followed by this one. Philip Catherine (guitar), Gary Windo (tenor sax), Bley (piano/organ), Steve Swallow (bass guitar), and D. Sharpe (drums) help out. B+(**)
Michael Mantler: Movies/More Movies (1977-80 , Watt/ECM): Combines the two LPs on one 78:40 CD. The first, with Larry Coryell (guitar) and Tony Williams (drums) and no sax (but more trumpet) is a bit meatier, but neither falls into the doldrums soundtracks are prone to. B+(***) [r]
Bill Mays Trio: Summer Sketches (2000 , Palmetto): Pianist (b. 1944), from Sacramento, several dozen albums since 1976, this a trio with Martin Wind (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums), each bringing one original to go with seven standards. B+(***) [r]
Ron McClure Quintet: Closer to Your Tears (1996 , SteepleChase): Bassist (b. 1941), from Connecticut, worked with Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, and Charles Lloyd (1966-69 Quartet), debut as leader 1979. Quintet has no horns, just: guitar (Jay Azzolina), piano (Marc Copland), drums (Billy Hart), and percussion (Manolo Badrena). B+(**) [r]
Howard McGhee/Milt Jackson: Howard McGhee and Milt Jackson (1948 , Savoy): Trumpet player (1918-87), one of the first to join the bebop movement. Early album with the vibraphonist, Jimmy Heath (sax), Vernon Diddle (piano), Percy Heath (bass), and Joe Harris (drums). Jackson adds the right touch of swing. [This set later got rolled into the 1995 CD Maggie: The Savoy Sessions.] B+(***) [r]
Marian McPartland: Contrasts (1972-73 , Jazz Alliance, 2CD): Combines two albums, Plays the Music of Alec Wilder (a delicate and thoughtful trio which I previously underrated at B), and A Sentimental Journey (a throwback to former husband Jimmy McPartland's trad jazz roots, and a personal favorite, an A). Hard to grade such a combo, but at least they come on separate discs. A- [r]
Misha Mengelberg: Mix (1994, ICP): Dutch pianist (1935-2017), founder of Instant Composers Pool (ICP Orchestra), which he led for 45 years. Solo, two pieces each 34:37. B+(***) [yt]
Helen Merrill: At Nalen With Jan Johansson (1959 , Riverside): The singer at Nalen Jazz Club in Stockholm, with the soon-to-be-famous Swedish pianist and unidentified bass and drums. B+(***) [r]
Grade (or other) changes:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: