An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Tuesday, October 24, 2023
Music: Current count 41047  rated (+44), 31  unrated (+4).
I took an extra day this weekend. I decided to hold off starting Speaking of Which until late Saturday, and then write intro instead of searching for links. I struggled Sunday with what turned out to be a false start, then wrote yet another intro, taking a break midway to collect some links. It got late, and I decided I should hold off and write up the missing outline points Monday afternoon. Took most of the day before I posted.
I then did the cutover for Music Week, but by then I didn't feel like writing any form of this intro, so I sat on it until Tuesday, fairly late. Tuesday afternoon got wiped out in grocery shopping, a first pass toward a birthday dinner later this week. Frankly, I'd rather think about that than this, but last week is in the bag, so I might as well wrap it up quick.
Next week will be short. I seriously doubt I'll get any listening in until Saturday. I certainly won't be starting another Speaking of Which. And I wouldn't mind just punting for the year. The world has a long ways to go to catch up with what I've written already.
What I do hope to write about next week is the 18th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll. I've set up the result directory locally, so I need to post that. The main thing I want to do in the next couple weeks is to expand the voter list. To that end, I'm trying to take a more systemmatic survey of who's writing what. I'd like to extend invites to another 30-50 critics -- probably half outside the US, which (I don't have a reliable count, so I'm only guessing) could double the number of non-US critics. I doubt this will skew the results much, but it should broaden the base. That would be a big plus for people like me who find the bottom two-thirds of the list more interesting than the winners.
As for this week, I started off with a premature jazz ballot, where half of the records selected were unheard by me. The Miles Davis archival piece got me looking at recent Fresh Sound reissues, mostly albums from the 1990s when Jordi Pujols set up sessions with many of his cool jazz heroes, and I wanted to hear them all. (I already knew several, especially with Herb Geller and Bud Shank, and also some very good Charlie Mariano records.)
Then I read that John Zorn's Tzadik records are returning to streaming platforms. (I followed them fairly close before they picked up their toys and headed home.) Tzadik is much more than Zorn's personal label, but he's so prolific all I managed this week was his own 2023 releases (plus a couple slightly older).
Still reading Christopher Clark's Revolutionary Spring, now almost 600 pages in, as the revolutionary hopes get dashed by right-wingers. While I'm not a fan of violence coming or going, that coming from the right is always particularly bitter.
New records reviewed this week:
Afro Peruvian New Trends Orchestra: Cosmic Synchronicities (2023, Blue Spiral): Large band (10 pieces), directed by composer Corina Bartra, first album, richly textured with engaging rhythm. B+(***) [cd]
Dmitry Baevsky: Kid's Time (2022, Fresh Sound New Talent): Russian alto saxophonist, from Leningrad, moved to New York over 20 years ago, great-grandfather was a famous Yiddish ethnomusicologist, has always shown great poise and tone (I count three previous A- albums). Trio with bass (Clovis Nichols) and drums (Jason Brown), plus guest trumpet on three tracks (Stéphane Belmondo). Nine originals with a couple standards and one from Dexter Gordon. Makes it all look easy. B+(***) [sp]
Ron Blake: Mistaken Identity (2021 , 7ten33 Productions): Tenor/baritone saxophonist, had three albums 2003-08, this his first in 15 years. With Bobby Broom (guitar), bass (Nat Reeves or Reuben Rogers), and drums (Kobie Watkins). Mainstream sound, Broom really paves the way. B+(***) [sp]
Flying Pooka! [Dani Oore & Florian Hoefner]: The Ecstasy of Becoming (2021 , Alma): Saxophonist, plays soprano here and is credited with voice, has side credits back to 2005, with piano here, a German based in Canada. I'd like this better without the voice. B+(*) [cd]
Louis Hayes: Exactly Right! (2022 , Savant): Drummer, b. 1937, started 1957 with Horace Silver and Curtis Fuller, played with Cannonball Adderley 1959-65. Scattered albums from 1960, becoming more regular after 1989. Quintet here with Abraham Burton (tenor sax), David Hazeltine (piano), Steve Nelson (vibes), Dezron Douglas (bass). B+(**) [sp]
Marie Krüttli: Transparence (2022 , Intakt): Swiss pianist, has trio and quintet albums, solo on this one. B+(*) [r]
Martin Lutz Group: LoLife/HiLife (2023, Gateway, 2CD): Danish pianist, group plays what they call "afro nordic soul jazz." The "afro" comes from a childhood spent much in eastern and southern Africa, with the horns recycling riffs you'll recognize from township jive classics, although toned down and stretched out a bit. Organized as two discs, but total is just 41:53. B+(***) [sp]
Mendoza Hoff Revels: Echolocation (2023, AUM Fidelity): Noise guitarist Ava Mendoza and bassist Devin Hoff (probably best known for the Nels Cline Singers), with drummer Ches Smith and tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis -- the bigger name here, but taking a supplementary role, mostly buried in the mix, but worth listening for. I probably should like this more than I do, but she's never clicked for me. B+(***) [sp]
Azuka Moweta & Anioma Brothers Band: Nwanne Bu Ife (2022, Palenque): Igbo highlife band, from Nigeria, seems to be their first album. B+(***) [bc]
Gard Nilssen's Supersonic Orchestra: Family (2022 , We Jazz): Norwegian drummer, has played in a number of avant groups since 2002 (Cortex was particularly memorable), runs the trio Acoustic Unity and this unconventional 17-piece big band (7 saxophones, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, 3 basses, 3 drumsets, everyone adds to the percussion), now on their second album. A- [sp]
Ivo Perelman/Nate Wooley: Polarity 2 (2023, Burning Ambulance): Tenor sax and trumpet duo, following up on a 2021 album. B+(**) [bc]
Precarious Towers: Ten Stories (2023, Shifting Paradigm): Described as "a Midwestern all-star band," I recognize Sharel Cassity (alto sax/flute) and Johannes Wallman (piano), but they aren't exactly household names, and I'm not sure I've run across the others: Mitchell Shiner (vibes), John Christensen (bass), and Devin Drobka (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Five: In the Garden (2023, Constellation): Alto saxophonist, from Chicago, debut 2002 in the trio Sticks and Stones, started the Coin Coin series in 2011, with spoken word narratives exploring ancestral history, this one a "character study" of "an ancestor of Roberts who died from an illegal abortion." B+(**) [sp]
Jim Rotondi Quintet: Over Here (2023, Criss Cross): Mainstream trumpet player, originally from Montana, debut 1997, based in Austria these days, joined here by Americans Rick Margitza (tenor sax) and Danny Grissett (piano), plus bass and drums. B+(**) [r]
Chris Speed Trio: Despite Obstacles (2022 , Intakt): Tenor sax/clarinet player, originally from Seattle, a dozen or so albums as leader, many side credits (especially Tim Berne, Jim Black, Claudia Quintet). Steady trio with Chris Tordini (bass) and Dave King (drums). B+(***) [sp]
Terell Stafford: Between Two Worlds (2023, Le Coq): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, from Miami, debut 1995, mainstream, nice sound, backed by Tim Warfield (tenor/soprano sax), Bruce Barth (piano), bass, drums, and percussion. B+(***) [sp]
Sufjan Stevens: Javellin (2023, Asthmatic Kitty): Singer-songwriter from Detroit, I was disappointed he never pushed his "50 states project" beyond Michigan and Illinois, but he's up to ten studio albums now (per Wikipedia; sometimes it's hard to tell what counts and what doesn't). Seems like he's getting more and more baroque. B+(*) [sp]
True Stomach of a Bird [Ulf Mengersen/Lina Allemano/Kamil Korolczuk]: Computation Intensive Spontaneousness (2023, self-released): German bassist, with trumpet and electronics. B+(*) [sp]
Andrea Veneziani Quartet: The Lighthouse (2022 , self-released): Italian bassist, based in New York, second album, quartet with Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Charlie Sigler (guitar), and Allan Mednard (drums). A very good setting for Knuffke, the guitar a big help. A- [cdr]
Jamila Woods: Water Made Us (Jagjaguwar): Chicago poet-rapper turned singer-songwriter, third album. Throws you various looks, most promising. B+(***) [sp]
Peter Xifaras: Fusion (2023, Music With No Expiration): Guitarist, also plays keyboards, Discogs lists one previous album, from 2000, website offers another, which like this one credits the Czech Symphony Orchestra, among the more typical electronic beats and fills. B+(*) [cdr]
John Zorn: New Masada Quartet (2021, Tzadik): When I heard that Zorn's label Tzadik is returning to streaming streaming, I knew I had my work cut out -- they neve sent out promos, but were on Rhapsody for a while, so I tried to cover them extensively. I figured I'd start with the 2023 releases: Zorn has eight so far, which makes this an average year, but the first entry was this title with a Vol. 2, so I scanned back to catch this one. The original Masada quartet appeared in 1994, with Zorn (alto sax), Dave Douglas (trumpet), Greg Cohen (bass), and Joey Baron (drums). They did a series of albums named after the Hebrew alphabet, then many live albums. Moving on, the new quartet has Zorn, Julian Lage (guitar), Jorge Roeder (bass), and Kenny Wolleson (drums). Maybe it's just that I've been out of touch, but Zorn seems especially fired up here. A- [sp]
John Zorn: New Masada Quartet, Vol. 2 (2022 , Tzadik): More of the same. Guitarist Julian Lage seems a bit better integrated, but that may just mean they're playing more at his speed, rather than challenging him to keep up with the saxophonist, who can blow up at any moment (and isn't that what we live for?). B+(***) [sp]
John Zorn: The Fourth Way (2022 , Tzadik): Credited to the non-playing composer, but played by Brian Marsella (piano), Jorge Roeder (bass), and Ches Smith (drums) -- the little spine wrapper lists another 13 "Brian Marsella Plays John Zorn on Tzadik" albums. B+(***) [sp]
John Zorn: 444 (2022 , Tzadik): No horns, just composer, arranger, conductor here, keyboard-heavy with Brian Marsella on electric and John Medeski on organ, plus electric guitar (Matt Hollenberg) and drums (Kenny Grohowski). This can get too herky-jerky for fusion, but that's not necessarily a plus. It can also settle down into a mild ambiance, not much of a plus either. B [sp]
John Zorn: Multiplicities: A Repository of Non-Existent Objects (2022, Tzadik): Half of a book of new compositions, "inspired by the writings and thought of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze," "wildly imaginative and meticulously structured, filled with unexpected twists and turns jumping from rock, jazz, and classical, to funk, metal and more." Zorn calls this group Chaos Magick: John Medeski (organ), Brian Marsella (Fender Rhodes), Matt Hollenberg (guitar), and Kenny Grohowski (drums). B+(*) [sp]
John Zorn: Multiplicities II: A Repository of Non-Existent Objects (2023, Tzadik): Described as "the acoustic companion piece to Multiplicities Volume One, ten more compositions, with Brian Marsella switching to acoustic piano, Julian Lage (guitar), Jorge Roeder (bass), and Ches Smith (drums). B+(**) [sp]
John Zorn/Bill Laswell: Memoria (2023, Tzadik): Alto sax and bass duo, three live improvs, each dedicated to a recent late great: Pharoah Sanders, Milford Graves, Wayne Shorter. B+(*) [sp]
John Zorn: Quatrain (2023, Tzadik): Composed and arranged by Zorn, played by two guitarists, Julian Lage and Gyan Riley. B+(*) [sp]
John Zorn: Homenaje A Remedios Varo (2023, Tzadik): Tribute to the Spanish painter (1908-63), who fled Spain in 1937 to escape Franco, and France in 1941 to escape the Nazis, winding up in Mexico. Quartet Incerto again, waxing sublime. B+(***) [sp]
John Zorn: Full Fathom Five (2023, Tzadik): More Zorn compositions, played by his quartet Incerto (Julian Lage, Brian Marsella, Jorge Roeder, Ches Smith). Dubbed "modern chamber music." Marsella's touch on Zorn's piano works always impresses. B+(**) [sp]
John Zorn: Nothing Is as Real as Nothing (2023, Tzadik): More compositions and conducting, this time a guitar trio, with Bill Frisell joining Julian Lage and Gyan Riley. B+(**) [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Gabe Baltazar Quartet: Birdology (1992 , Fresh Sound): Alto saxophonist (1929-2022), from Hawaii, father born in Manila, got a scholarship to Los Angeles in 1946, and an introduction to bebop (meeting Charles Parker in 1948 in New York). After Army and some time back in Hawaii, he played in the Lighthouse All-Stars, and for Stan Kenton and Oliver Nelson. He returned to Hawaii in 1969, and only has a couple of recordings after that -- although give him a side-credit for Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii. This was recorded in Los Angeles with Frank Strazzeri (piano), Andy Simpkins (bass), and Nick Martinis (drums). Two originals (title comes from his own "Birdology 101"), one by the pianist, one from Russ Freeman, the rest songbook standards (highlight: "In the Still of the Night"). A- [bc]
Basie All Stars: Live at Fabrik Vol. 1: Hamburg 1981 (1981 , Jazzline): As with Ellington, Count Basie's big band spun off smaller groups, with or without the leader. Basie recorded a couple 1983 albums after he missed this set, but here Nate Pierce is the pianist, leading a stellar alumni nonet: Marshall Royal (alto sax), Buddy Tate (tenor sax), Billy Mitchell (synth), Harry "Sweets" Edison (trumpet), Joe Newman (trumpet), Benny Powell (trombone), John Heard (bass), and Gus Johnson (drums). B+(**) [r]
Eddie Bert Sextet: The Human Factor (1987 , Fresh Sound): Trombonist (1922-2012), original name Bertolatus, played with Stan Kenton 1948-55, then switched to Charles Mingus, then Thad Jones & Mel Lewis -- well, he played with a lot of folks, all kinds. Group here has Jerry Dodgion (alto sax), Carmen Leggio (tenor sax), Duke Jordan (piano), Ray Drummond (bass), and Lewis (drums). B+(**) [bc]
Miles Davis Quintet: In Concert at the Olympia, Paris 1957 (1957 , Fresh Sound): Not the trumpet player's legendary Quintet, just a local band but names you should recognize: Barney Wilen (tenor sax), René Urtreger (piano), Pierre Michelot (bass), and American expat Kenny Clarke (drums). B+(**) [bc]
Paul Moer Trio: Plays the Music of Elmo Hope (1991 , Fresh Sound): Pianist (1916-2010), last name Moerschbacher, moved to Los Angeles after graduating Miami in 1951, played with many cool jazz luminaries, recorded a couple albums 1959-61, then this trio with John Heard (bass) and Lawrence Marable (drums). The old albums as well as this one were collected on Fresh Sound's 2018 The Amazing Piano of Paul Moer: Complete Trio Sessions 1957-1991. B+(***) [bc]
Jack Nimitz Quartet: Confirmation (1995 , Fresh Sound): Baritone saxophonist (1930-2009), joined Woody Herman in 1954, Stan Kenton in 1956, played in the big bands of Terry Gibbs and Gerald Wilson, co-founder of Supersax (1973-88), many side credits, only a few albums under his own name. This one is a quartet with Lou Levy (piano), Dave Carpenter (bass), and Joe LaBarbera (drums). All standards, title from Charlie Parker. B+(***) [sp]
The Dave Pell Octet: Plays Again (1984 , Fresh Sound): Tenor saxophonist (1925-2017), originally from Brooklyn but moved to Los Angeles in the 1940s, playing with Les Brown 1947-55, before becoming best known for his 1953-63 Octets. Med Flory (baritone sax) was the only other one who made this reunion, but the arranger list is: Marty Paich, Bob Florence (piano here), Bill Holman, Short Rogers, and John Williams (a former Octet member). B+(**) [sp]
Bill Perkins: Perk Plays Prez: Bill Perkins Recreates the Historic Solos of Lester Young (1995 , Fresh Sound): Tenor saxophonist (1924-2003), also plays clarinet, one of the west coast players who came out of the Woody Herman and Stan Kenton bands to define cool jazz -- all devoted to Lester Young, many getting an extra push on Jordi Pujol's label in the 1990s. Helping out here is the Jan Lundgren Trio. B+(***) [bc]
Frank Strazzeri and His Woodwinds West: Somebody Loves Me (1994 , Fresh Sound): Pianist (1930-2014), from Rochester, moved to New Orleans in 1954 then on to the west coast. Group here with three saxophonists (Bill Perkins, Jack Nimitz, Pete Christlieb) plus bass and drums. B+(**) [bc]
Eddie Bert Quintet: Kaleidoscope (1953-59 , Fresh Sound): Trombonist, three 1953-54 sessions with Duke Jordan (piano), Sal Salvador (guitar) or Vinnie Dean (alto sax), bass (Clyde Lombardi), and drums, collected by Savoy Jazz under this title in 1987. This reissue adds a fourth set from 1959 (same group as the second), plus a 17:33 live take of the title tune. B+(**) [r]
Martin Lutz Group: It's Swing Not Rocket Science (2011, Calibrated): Danish pianist with African roots, looks like his third group album (since 2004), tempted me with the title and lead off with an "African Polka" featuring Marilyn Mazur. Very little doc beyond that. B+(*) [sp]
Jack Nimitz and Friends: Yesterday and Today (1957-2007 , Fresh Sound): Appearing a year before the baritone saxophonist's death, this looks like an attempt to build him up a bit of discography. The old set has trombonist Bill Harris with a cast that rotated over three sessions, with various guitarists (Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Raney, Chuck Wayne), bassists (Oscar Pettiford, Russ Saunders), drummers, and strings. The recent one is a quintet with Adam Schroeder (baritone sax), John Campbell (piano), Dave Carpenter (bass), and Joe LaBarbera (drums). B+(**) [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: