An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, May 8, 2023
Music: Current count 40158  rated (+41), 44  unrated (-4: 16 new, 28 old).
Two side projects are relevant here. Last week, I pointed out that Rick Mitchell had interviewed me and Geoffrey Himes for his JJA Buzz podcast. The topic was About Jazz Polls. I was pretty nervous about something I've never done before, but some kind souls have assured me it came out ok (a couple better than that). I figured the least I could do was collect my preliminary notes, which are here.
In the meantime, I filled out my DownBeat Critics Poll ballot (all 49 sections), and collected my notes and ruminations here. DownBeat doesn't publish individual voter ballots, so without this cross reference you'll never know how little my single ballot counts for. I will note that I spent more time this year than I've done in a while, but still far less work than I put into the first polls I was invited for.
One consequence of the DownBeat exercise is that I went on a blues kick this week. They had nominated 33 blues albums from April 2022 through March 2023, and I had heard 7 of them (21.2%, which without checking I'd guess is slightly more than usual). I checked out another 16 of them this week, which gets to 69.6%. I found two A- records there (which is two more than I had, so it wipes out my ballot), and two B+(***). Unclear whether I'll search out more, as returns have been diminishing.
I also checked out the Shirley Scott Queen Talk album, which, figuring it belongs with her other queen-sized set, I scooped out of next week's stash to include here.
On Allen Lowe, auteur of this week's two best albums (well, except for Queen Talk), see Phil Overeem's interview, I Will Not Stop Til They Bury Me. Phil also recommended Lowe's book Letter to Esperanza, so I ordered a copy.
For what it's worth, I cobbled another Speaking of Which together over my abbreviated weekend. The week will mostly be remembered for two incidents of mass murder in Texas, only one of which involved guns, and proof that you don't need to gun to murder some one on a New York City subway. (Probably an eye-opener for Trump, who always assumed he'd need a gun when he fulfilled his destiny of shooting someone down on Fifth Avenue.)
Of course, the insult added to this week's injuries is the insistence of Abbott and Cruz in Texas that guns aren't the problem, but mental illness is, and their resolve to budget more money to fix that problem. The one thing you can be sure of is that neither will lift a finger to spend a penny more on mental health. It's not just that they're cruel bastards who don't care a whit for crazy people (even the ones who they depend on for votes). Deep down, they probably understand that more crazy people with guns just helps sell more guns to people crazy enough to buy them.
I no doubt could have written more, but took Saturday off to cook a nice dinner.
New records reviewed this week:
Alaska & Steel Tipped Dove: The Structural Dynamics of Flow (2023, Fused Arrow): Latter is Joseph Fusaro, a beats producer in New York. The former appears to be rapper Tim Baker, also of New York, connected through Atoms Family. Short album (11 tracks, 31:15), underground vibe. "You want to change the world/raise a kid that's not an asshole." B+(**) [sp]
Richard X Bennett & Matt Parker: Parker Plays X (2021 , BYNK): Pianist and saxophonist, names that are hard to search, but I'm still flummoxed that I can't find either on Discogs (in my database, this is my third Bennett album, while I have three more under Parker, so these guys shouldn't be obscure -- ok, he's Matt Parker (4), but only one album listed). Bennett compositions, some designed specifically for Parker, backed by bass and drums, not avant but a bit out there. B+(***) [cd] [05-13]
Tim Berne/Hank Roberts/Aurora Nealand: Oceans And (2022 , Intakt): Alto saxophonist, goes way back, here with cello and accordion/bass clarinet/voice. Chamber jazz? B [sp]
Eric Bibb: Ridin' (2023, Stony Plain): Blues singer-songwriter, cut a couple albums 1972-83, picked up the pace from 1997 on. One of his stronger albums. B+(***) [sp]
David Binney: Tomorrow's Journey (2022, Ghost Note): Alto saxophonist, early records from 1990, picked up the pace after 2001. Postbop guy, impressive chops, gets a little fancy for my taste. Group includes trumpet, trombone, two pianists (Luca Mendoza also on organ), two bassists, drums, and Kenny Wollesen (bowed vibes/percussion). B+(*) [sp]
Rory Block: Ain't Nobody Worried: Celebrating Great Women of Song (2022, Stony Plain): Country blues singer, plays guitar, first album in 1967 was a duet with Stefan Grossman. Career picked up with signing to Rounder in 1981. Since joining Stony Plain in 2008, she's released a series of tributes -- six volumes in her "Mentor Series" (from Son House to Bukka White), and three now in "Power Women of the Blues" (first was Bessie Smith). This one picks eleven scattered pop hits from the 1960s into the early 1970s ("My Guy," "I'll Take You There," "You've Got a Friend"). B+(**) [sp]
Blue Moon Marquee: Scream, Holler & Howl (2021 , Ilda): Blues group, fourth album since 2014, principally A.W. Cardinal (vocals, guitar) and Jasmine Colette (vocals, bass), with a half-dozen guests including Duke Robillard. B+(*) [sp]
Joe Bonamassa: Tales of Time (2023, J&R Adventures): Blues guitarist-singer, thirty-some albums since 2000, more live than studio. This is one of the live ones. Heavy handed, not a great voice, reminds me of why arena rock sucks. B- [sp]
Theo Croker: Live in Paris (2021 , Masterworks, EP): Trumpeter, from Florida, has some funk crossover angles but the best thing I've heard from him in a Miles Davis tribute. Three tracks, 18:56. B+(*) [sp]
Cydnee With a C: Confessions of a Fangirl (2023, Bread & Butter, EP): From Los Angeles, light and bubbly pop though maybe more to the lyrics. Six songs, 13:42. B+(*) [sp]
Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Spirit Gatherer: Tribute to Don Cherry (2022 , Spiritmuse): Percussionist-led trio, goes way back but currently Corey Wilkes (trumpet) and Alex Harding (baritone sax), joined by featured guests here Dwight Trible (voice) and David Ornette Cherry (piano/melodica/douss'n gouni) -- the latter was Cherry's eldest son. Covers often evoking what came to be called "spiritual jazz," from Cherry, Coleman, Coltrane, Monk, and Sanders. I'd prefer fewer vocals. B+(*) [sp]
Ruthie Foster: Healing Time (2022, Blue Corn Music): Blues/folk singer-songwriter from Texas, comes from a family of gospel singers, ninth album since 1997. Strong vocals and decent sentiments. B [sp]
Ice Spice: Like . . ? (2023, 10K Projects/Capitol, EP): Bronx rapper Isis Gaston, six-song, 13:08 EP following a raft of singles, expanded to 16:01 with a second mix of "Princess Diana" (with Nicki Minaj). B+(*) [sp]
Jeremiah Johnson: Hi-Fi Drive By (2022, Ruf): From St. Louis, plays guitar, sings, probably writes, eighth album since 2003, slotted as blues these days but drop the horns and backing singers and he could've passed for rockabilly. Starts with a vintage car some ("'68 Coupe Deville"). Unfortunately, that's the high point. B [sp]
Sass Jordan: Bitches Blues (2022, Stony Plain): British-born (1962) blues/rock singer, name Sarah, moved to Montreal when she was three, tenth album since 1988. Has some depth and grit. B+(*) [sp]
Aynsley Lister: Along for the Ride (2022, Straight Talkin'): British blues singer-songwriter, from Manchester, dozen-plus albums since 1996, doesn't strike me as all that bluesy. B [sp]
London Brew: London Brew (2020 , Concord, 2CD): British jazz group assembled by guitarist Martin Terefe many top London players, including Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings (saxes), Theon Cross (tuba), and Tom Skinner (drums), aiming for an update of Bitches Brew on its 50th anniversary. B+(***) [sp]
Allen Lowe and the Constant Sorrow Orchestra: America: The Rough Cut (2014-22 , ESP-Disk): Saxophonist, a trade he's plied erratically (but sometimes voluminously) since 1988, while writing some of the deepest and broadest surveys of American music. His erudition gives him plenty of references for sprinkling about ("gospel formulations," "pre-blues ruminations," "Hank Williams-directed honky tonk," "Heavy Metal," "anti-tribute to Earl Hines," "hail Jelly Roll Morton," "old-time hillbilly rag," "my own statement on the fallibility of free jazz"), while adding "a personal appeal for a MacArthur." No doubt he deserves one, not least because the reward is meant not just to honor past work but to subsidize further. Nonetheless, I enjoy this record much less than I admire it. Blame that, if you will, on too much metal in the too much guitar. Ends with a stray piece from 2014 which kicks up the horns (Roswell Rudd and Ray Anderson on trombone, Randy Sandke on trumpet, Darius Jones on alto sax) without feeling one bit out of place. A- [cd]
Allen Lowe and the Constant Sorrow Orchestra: In the Dark (2022 , ESP-Disk, 3CD): Lowe's been complaining a lot lately about the state of avant-jazz composition, and seems to think he's found the solution here. I don't begin to understand it technically. It just sounds like he's overcome the modernist impulse and just decided to mix it all together. To that end, he's recruited previously trad players like Ken Peplowski and Lisa Parott, as well as esteemed musicologist Lewis Porter, plus many others I've barely heard of if at all. Casual listening just washes over me, but he's bothered to break this up into 31 pieces, most with historical referents if not baggage. A- [cd]
Taj Mahal: Savoy (2023, Stony Plain): Eclectic roots bluesman Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, started in 1965 in a group with Ry Cooder called Rising Sons, reunited last year in a Sonny Terry/Brownie McGhee tribute. Goes back even earlier here, reminiscing about Chick Webb in the Savoy Ballroom (some years before he was born in 1942). He sticks to top shelf songs here, risking comparison to Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Rushing -- even on the sureshot Maria Muldaur duet, "Baby, It's Cold Outside." B+(**) [sp]
Denman Maroney/Scott Walton/Denis Fournier: O KOΣMOΣ META (2021 , RogueArt): Piano-bass-drums trio, recorded in France, which may explain the credit of "piano" instead of the "hyperpiano" Maroney invented way back when -- presumably it's not something easy to schlep around, although he still gets sounds beyond the expected. B+(***) [cd]
Luiz Millan: Brazilian Match (2022 , Jazz Station): Brazilian singer-songwriter, plays piano (though maybe not here; Michel Freidenson has most of the credits, as well as arranger and conductor), fifth album since 2011, many guest credits, especially for vocals. Mostly sambas, some very nice (the female voices), some a bit too lilting and/or swimmy for my taste. B+(**) [cd]
Mud Morganfield: Portrait (2022, Delmark): Father McKinley Morganfield, legendary as Muddy Waters, grew up with his mother as Larry Williams, only took up the family trade in 2008, well after his father's death. (Same for his younger brother, now known as Big Bill Morganfield, who cut his first -- and probably best -- album in 1999.) Still, Mud's vocal likeness is uncanny. He also claims eight (of 14) writing credits (one for his father, and one for John Lee Williamson, aka Sonny Boy I). A- [sp]
Van Morrison: Moving on Skiffle (2023, Exile/Virgin, 2CD): You know him, but you may have avoided as his libertarianism morphed into right-wing crankdom. You might note that he's the right age to have gotten turned on by the skiffle movement before he discovered rock and roll and invented Celtic soul. You might even recall that's recorded with skiffle icons like Lonnie Donegan. But while there's probably some intersection here, the 23 covers here are more often old country and blues standards, and few rise even to today's diminished expectations. B [sp]
John Primer: Teardrops for Magic Slim: Live at Rosa's Lounge (2022 , Blues House): Blues guitarist-singer, born in Mississippi, grew up in Chicago, has recorded steadily since 1991. Live set, all covers, most familiar (two from Elmore James), down pat. B+(***) [sp]
Bruno Råberg: Solo Bass: Look Inside (2022 , Orbis Music): Swedish bassist, debut 1976, about 15 albums and 25 side credits. Solo, relatively quiet and short (37:49), touches on pieces by Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and the Gershwins. B+(*) [cd] [05-19]
Angela Strehli: Ace of Blues (2022, Antone's/New West): Originally from Lubbock, moved to Austin and worked as stage manager at Antone's. There she released an album in 1987, and was part of the trio Dreams Come True in 1990. Since then she's recorded occasionally (including an album as The Blues Broads with Tracy Nelson and two others), while running a blues club in Marin County, California. Now 77, this is her first since 2005, twelve golden oldies united by guitar and voice that stands up to the originals, even when eclipsing them is impossible. A- [sp]
Joanne Shaw Taylor: Nobody's Fool (2022, Keeping the Blues Alive): British singer-songwriter, identifies as blues, plays guitar, tenth album since 2009. [sp]
Billy Valentine: Billy Valentine and the Universal Truth (2020-22 , Acid Jazz/Flying Dutchman): Blues/jazz/soul singer, recorded as half of the Valentine Brothers 1977-87, made a comeback in 2017 with a collection called Brit Eyed Soul (Beatles to Clash). Relaunches Bob Thiele's Flying Dutchman label here, with a set of soul covers (Mayfield to Prince), with a couple nods to the label's old catalog (Gil Scott-Heron, Leon Thomas). B+(***) [sp]
Ally Venable: Real Gone (2023, Ruf): Young blues-rock singer-songwriter from Texas, plays a mean guitar, will kick your ass. B+(*) [sp]
Joe Louis Walker: Weight of the World (2023, Forty Below): Blues singer-songwriter, has recorded quite a bit since 1986's Cold Is the Night. B [sp]
Doug Wamble: Blues in the Present Tense (2022, Halcyonic): Singer-songwriter, fourth album since 2003, this showed up on a blues list, but has a reputation as a jazz guitarist, and adds to that here, backed by Eric Revis (bass) and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums), with Prometheus Jenkins on saxophone (which gets the band much more excited than Wamble's vocals do). B+(**) [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Ray Charles: Live in Stockholm 1972 (1972 , Tangerine): Credit continues in small print: "his Orchestra and The Raelettes." (Just eight songs, with intros and applause 38:37, half classic, if that's what you're looking for. B+(*) [sp]
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis With Shirley Scott: Cookin' With Jaws and the Queen: The Legendary Prestige Cookbook Albums (1958 , Craft): Reissues label, main business is putting old sides onto shiny new vinyl, but they also show up on streaming sources. This boxes up four albums, all recorded in 1958 but they spaced out the releases. Jerome Richardson's flute is prominent early, present to the end. Scott's organ gains both groove and subtlety over time. The tenor saxophonist is bluesy and soulful, as fits the material. [Individual notes under Old Music] B+(**) [sp]
Shirley Scott: Queen Talk: Live at the Left Bank (1972 , Reel to Real): Organ player, probably best known for her work/marriage with Stanley Turrentine, leads a very hot trio here with George Coleman (tenor sax) and Bobby Durham (drums), recorded live at the Famous Ballroom in Baltimore. Trio covers three LP sides (73:13), then singer Ernie Andrews joins for the final side (24:58), and he's no less inspired. A- [sp]
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: The Eddie "Lockjaw" Cookbook (1958, Prestige): With Shirley Scott (organ) and Jerome Richardson (flute), who take up a lot of space. B [sp]
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis: The Eddie "Lockjaw" Cookbook Vol. 2 (1958 , Prestige): "Featuring Shirley Scott & Jerome Richardson." But the tenor sax leads, more like it. B+(**) [sp]
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis With Shirley Scott: The Eddie "Lockjaw" Cookbook, Volume 3 (1958 , Prestige): Finally beginning to appreciate Jerome Richardson's flute, in doses limited enough they dropped him from cover credit. B+(**) [sp]
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis With Shirley Scott: Smokin' (1958 , Prestige): Possibly the best of the bunch, or maybe just the bluesiest. B+(***) [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: