Monday, November 27, 2023

Music Week

November archive (finished).

Music: Current count 41262 [41210] rated (+52), 2 [9] unrated (-7).

I posted another substantial Speaking of Which last night (5716 words, 106 links). The writing went late, and I had to cut it off with a lot of unfinished business. In particular, I was taken aback by opposition to my plan to end the war by splitting Gaza off from Israel. My intro starts to sketch out the distinction between left as teleology and as practical politics -- one that should be easy enough to keep clear, but again and again we see practical proposals that would actually do some good torpedoed by people who quite rightly want something better. I might get a better response pitching my plan as the only achievable "two-state solution" to the mainstream crowd who still entertains the possibility. (It is the only version that Israel could be persuaded to agree to, and as we should know by now, nothing is possible without Israel's consent.) But no one in that crowd reads me or cares what I think, so I find myself in this dark spiral, ever more convinced of the necessity of moving left, and of the impossibility of actual left politics.

That's already more than what I meant to say here. Other than to note that if I was serious about political writing, I'd be shopping around an essay right now on "Why I've Never Called Myself Pro-Palestinian, and Why It Doesn't Bother Me if You Do." The first part of that I've been considering for a while. The second part is a reaction to a recent conversation with a friend complaining about "the pro-Palestinian left." My core point is that the left is not your problem. Good people having occasional bad thoughts is not your problem. Your problem is quite simply on the right.

Meanwhile, we have quite a bit of business to deal with below.

I'm continuously updating my year-end lists for Jazz and Non-Jazz. Currently there are 65+1 A-list entries in jazz, 44+3 in Non-Jazz. The + numbers are albums in previous years' tracking files that I only got to this year. Other 2022 releases appear in the main lists if they weren't even in the tracking files (or were released on or after Dec. 1, 2022).

The split has increased in recent weeks, as I've focused on new jazz, and had little time to do any non-jazz prospecting.

I've made two promotions this week from A- to A (Irreversible Entanglements and Steve Lehman). These were not surprises, nor would the current number 4: James Brandon Johnson's For Mahalia, With Love.

One thing to note is that my entire 2022 demo queue has been reviewed. No new mail this past week, but I have two unopened packages today: one from Portugal, the other from France, so they are probably 2022 releases. I am sitting on a couple of 2024 releases, but I'm in no hurry for them (well, maybe for Ballister).

It's almost two weeks since the first batch of ballot invites for the 18th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll went out. I have 24 ballots counted, naming 264 albums. (Maximum is 16 per ballot: 10 new, 3 old, 1 each vocal, debut, latin.) As new records receive votes, I add them to my tracking file and to the unheard section of my 2024 jazz list. (Note to self: I should write a program to pull up all of the albums with jazz poll votes, sorted by artist so I don't give away the standings.)

Hopefully the ballots will start rolling in soon. Deadline is December 15. I still have a bunch of notes on possible voters. I'm not done sending out invites, but I haven't had much time to vet them yet. But this is probably your last chance to make a case, for you or someone else, to vote. My approximate guidelines are that you should have listed to more than 200 new jazz records in the last year, and that you should have written about ten or more. As for "broadcast journalists," I have no idea what the criteria should be. Francis Davis invited several dozen, and a few others nominated themselves or others. They've generally been a credit to the Poll, but as someone who literally never listens to jazz radio, I'm in no position to judge.

It's impossible to tell whether we'll wind up with more than last year's 151 voters, but it is very likely that we'll see an increase in ballots from outside the US.

One thing I haven't done yet is set up an EOY aggregator, like I've did for 2022, 2021, etc. It's easy enough to do, and it's probably the only way I'll ever get a handle on non-jazz prospects. But my first glance at the AOTY Aggregate is pretty dismal (top 20, w/my grades): Lankum [**], Sufjan Stevens [*], Young Fathers [***], Julie Byrne [**], Boygenius [B], Wednesday [*], Blur [*], Lana Del Rey [**], PJ Harvey [*], Grian Chatten [**], Caroline Polachek [*], Mitski [*], Paul Simon [B], Yo La Tengo [A-], Anohni [**], Nation of Language [?], JPEGMafia & Danny Brown [*], Kelela [*], Yussef Dayes [A- this week], Overmono [*]. A/A- down in the next 25: Billy Woods & Kenny Segal (28), Robert Forster (32), Joanna Sternberg (43), Olivia Rodrigo (45). That's only 6 of 44 non-jazz A/A- records I've already found this year.

Of course, the real value of the EOY lists isn't who gets the most mentions, but what are the interesting records deep down in isolated lists. I will note that so far 7 of the top 10 new releases in our Jazz Critics Poll are A/A- in my book. That's a freakishly high share, but evens out with just 2 in the second 10, and just 1 of the second 20. Also, after 27 you get into the single-vote albums, most of which won't get more than a couple more votes, if that.

November Streamnotes archive is closed, but not indexed yet.

New records reviewed this week:

Ambrose Akinmusire: Beauty Is Enough (2023, Origami Harvest): Trumpet player, from Oakland, became a star when Blue Note picked up his second album in 2010, and remained near the top of the polls with five albums through 2020. However, this self-released solo album appeared with little fanfare, and will remain an item of minor interest. B+(*) [sp]

Balimaya Project: When the Dust Settles (2023, New Soil): West African (Mandé) group, based in London, led by djembe player Yahael Camara Onono, second album. Vocals suggest afropop, but they're playing for a jazz crowd. B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Bergonzi: Extra Extra (2023, Savant): Tenor saxophonist, steady stream of albums since 1984, With Sheryl Bailey (guitar), Harvie S (bass), Luther Gray (drums), plus Phil Grenadier (trumpet) on 3 tracks. B+(*) [sp]

John Butcher/Pat Thomas/Dominic Lash/Steve Noble: Fathom (2021 [2023], 577): English avant-saxophonist, records started appearing around 1985, more frequently after 1998. Live set from Cafe Oto, with regulars on piano, bass, and drums. B+(*) [dl]

Gunhild Carling: Good Evening Cats (2022, Jazz Art): Swedish singer, multi-instrumentalist (trombone seems to be her first choice, but double bass, banjo, flute, bagpipes, and harp are barely half of the list), started out at 10 in her family's Hot Five band. Old-fashioned swing with a touch of cabaret, not all in English but that just adds to the charm. B+(***) [sp]

Daniel Carter/Leo Genovese/William Parker/Francisco Mela: Shine Hear Vol. 1 (2021 [2023], 577): Sax, piano, bass, drums, with Carter and Parker (who also plays gralla and shakuhachi) going way back. B+(**) [dl]

Joan Chamorro & Friends: Jazz House Sessions With Scott Hamilton (2023, Associació Sant Andreu Jazz Band): Spanish bassist, sometime saxophonist, has led several bands, principally the swing-oriented Sant Andreu Jazz Band (others worth noting include Barcelona Hot Seven and the Fu Manchu Jazz Servants). He has a dozen or so albums where he "presents" guests, starting with Scott Robinson in 2011. This one collects pieces from four sessions, going back to 2013 (but no specific credits). Hamilton sounds terrific with a hard-swinging band. I'm less taken by the vocals, which sound Brazilian. B+(**) [sp]

Yussef Dayes: Black Classical Music (2023, Brownswood/Nonesuch): British drummer, first solo album although he had a group called United Vibrations, and duos with Kamaal Williams and Tom Misch. Big album (19 songs, 73:54), a dozen guest spots, I wouldn't say it's jazz, much less classical, but crosses over into a rarefied atmosphere of groove and light, an ambience you can dance in. A- [sp]

Paul Dunmall Ensemble: It's a Matter of Fact (2022 [2023], Discus Music): British saxophonist (tenor/soprano here), very polific since 1986, ensemble here with Julie Tippetts (voice), Martin Archer (alto/baritone sax), trumpet, trombone, guitar, bass, and drums. B+(**) [bc]

Paul Dunmall: Bright Light a Joyous Celebration (2022 [2023], Discus Music): The saxophonist leads a sextet here, with two more saxophonists (Soweto Kinch and Xhosa Cole), vibes (Corey Mwamba), bass (Dave Kane), and drums (Hamid Drake). The drummer goes without saying, but I'm really impressed by the vibes here, and the saxophones live up to the title. A- [bc]

Paul Dunmall New Quartet: World Without (2021 [2023], 577): Tenor/alto sax, backed by guitar (Steven Saunders), bass (Dave Kane), and drums (Mike Levin). Intense, for better or worse. B+(**) [dl]

Peter Evans [Being & Becoming]: Ars Memoria (2022-23 [2023], More Is More): Trumpet player, formerly of Mostly Other People Do the Killing, group name derived from a 2020 album, also with Joel Ross (vibes) and Nick Jozwlak (bass), but with a different drummer: this time it's Michael Shekwoaga Ode. B+(***) [bc]

Kate Gentile: Find Letter X (2021-23 [2023], Pi, 3CD): Drummer, based in New York, several albums since 2015, including a 6-CD 2021 box with pianist Matt Mitchell that was too much for me to handle. Mitchell returns here, with electronics as well, Kim Cass (acoustic and electric bass), and Jeremy Viner (tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet). Might be remarkable, but that there's so much of it makes it hard to tell (or care). B+(***) [dl]

Terry Gibbs Legacy Band: The Terry Gibbs Songbook (2022 [2023], Whaling City Sound): Vibraphonist, birth name Julius Gubenko, recorded for Savoy in 1951, kicking off a very long career, leading his Dream Band, up to a fine 2017 record called 92 Years Young. At 98, he's even credited with a bit of "2-fingered piano" here (also the amuising "vocals on track 4"). The sextet features singer Danny Bacher and tenor saxophonists Scott Hamilton and Harry Allen, with son Gerry Gibbs on drums. B+(***) [sp]

Frode Gjerstad With Matthew Shipp: We Speak (2022 [2023], Relative Pitch): Norwegian alto saxophonist, started in the early 1980s with Detail, then Circulasione Totale Orchestra. Also plays clarinet here, in duets with piano. Hard to think of anyone better in that role than Shipp. B+(**) [sp]

Rich Halley Quartet: Fire Within (2023, Pine Eagle): Tenor saxophonist from Portland, Oregon, has turned his retirement project into a remarkable career. (Checking myself, I find that he had a few albums as far back as 1986 before I first noticed him in 2005 with Mountains and Plains, and that he was only 58 then, but the model stuck in my head, partly because I have other examples, like Fred Anderson and Mort Weiss.) I can't say that he's getting better, but he's been remarkably inspired for two decades, aided here by his best rhythm section ever: Matthew Shipp (piano), Michael Bisio (bass), and Newman Taylor Baker (drums). A- [cd] [12-01]

Matthew Halsall: An Ever Changing View (2023, Gondwana): British trumpet player, 11th album since 2008, also plays keyboards and many percussion instruments, and is credited with several field recordings. He likens this to landscape painting, which gives you the idea. B+(**) [sp]

Scott Hamilton Quartet: At PizzaExpress Live: In London (2022 [2023], PX): Tenor saxophonist, has been "a good wind" blowing retro-swing since 1978, here with his long-running quartet of John Pearce (piano), Dave Green (bass), and Steve Brown (drums), playing standards with consummate ease and grace. B+(***) [sp]

Eirik Hegdal/Jeff Parker/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Øyvind Skarbø: Superless (2022 [2023], Øyvind Jazzforum): Norwegian saxophonist (here: C melody, sopranino, bass clarinet, synth), probably best known for his Team Hegdal, although he's played in the larger Angles configurations, in Gard Nilssen's Supersonic Orchestra, Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, and else where. With guitar, bass, and drums, in an eponymous group album where he wrote five (of 8) compositions. B+(***) [sp]

Henry Hey: Trio: Ri-Metos (2023, self-released): Pianist, has another Trio album from 2003, but many side credits since 1994, including Rod Stewart and David Bowie, also the fusion band Forq. Drummer Jochen Rüeckert returns from his previous trio, with Joe Martin on bass. All contribute songs, plus a standard and two from Vince Mendoza. B+(***) [dl]

Homeboy Sandman: I Can't Sell These Either (2023, self-released): New York rapper Angelo del Villar II, has dropped short albums/long EPs several times a year since 2007, the best in recent years a compilation of stray tracks called I Can't Sell These, hence the title of this 20-track, 59:07 monster. I suspect the commercial lapses have more to do with uncleared samples than any weakness in the material, which certainly isn't obvious. A- [bc]

Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars: Live at the Ear Inn (2023, Arbors): Trad jazz trumpet player, from Detroit, based in New York, where he's led this band on Sunday nights since 2007. This draws on two dates, so there are some personnel shifts, but most tracks feature Scott Robinson (sax), John Allred (trombone), Matt Munisteri (guitar), and Neal Miner (bass). Catherine Russell sings the closer, "Back O' Town Blues." B+(***) [sp]

Snorre Kirk: Top Dog (2021 [2023], Stunt): Drummer, from Denmark, fifth album since 2012, playing original pieces that aim to swing like Ellington and Basie. Quintet, the saxophone divided between Stephen Riley and Michael Blicher, backed by piano, guitar, and bass. Very nice. B+(***) [sp]

Location Location Location [Michael Formanek/Anthony Pirog/Mike Pride]: Damaged Goods (2023, Cuneiform): Bass, guitar, drums, jointly credited, but still mostly the guitarist's record, which is to say fractured fusion. Group name derives from recording this piecemeal, from different places, then splicing it together. B+(*) [dl]

Harold López-Nussa: Timba a la Americana (2023, Blue Note): Cuban pianist, ten or so albums since 2007. Several albums since 2007, this one a quintet with Gregoire Maret plus lots of rhythm. B+(**) [sp]

John Paul McGee: A Gospejazzical Christmas (2023, Jazz Urbano): Pianist, from Baltimore, teaches at Berklee, coined "gospejazzical" in his dissertation on "A Sound for Distressed Souls" -- the "ical" is the tail end of "classical." Probably weighs out to a third of each, stealthily sneaking up on Xmas standards (with one original). B [cd]

Thandi Ntuli With Carlos Niño: Rainbow Revisited (2019 [2023], International Anthem): Pianist, from South Africa, also sings, title refers back to a song from her 2019 album. Duo with the percussionist, recorded on his turf in Los Angeles. B+(**) [sp]

Øyvindland Med Eirik Hegdal & Erik Johannessen: Nonett (2021 [2023], Øra Fonogram): Leader, and composer, here is Norwegian trumpet player Øyvind Frøberg Mathisen, who has one previous album under his own name. Featured guests play C melody sax/bass clarinet and trombone, and they're counted in the nonet, along with Karl Hjalmar Nyberg (clarinet/tenor sax), guitar, piano, bass, and drums. B+(**) [sp]

Engin Ozsahin: Conversations in Chaos (2023, self-released): Turkish pianist, studied at New England Conservatory but returned to Istanbul. Second album, sextet, not a lot of details, but sounds like very fancy postbop. B+(**) [sp]

Robert Prester & Adriana Samargia: Quenara (2023 [2024], Commonwealth Ave. Productions): Piano and voice, normally the singer would get top billing. He has, uh, a previous album from 2013, on this same label. She doesn't, but has a very distinctive voice and delivery on standards as well worn as "You Go to My Head," "Lover Man," "Body and Soul," and "Sophisticated Lady." Not one I especially like, but one she deserves credit for. He wrote the title song, which I've already forgotten. B+(*) [cd] [01-19]

Quartet San Francisco/Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band/Take Six: Raymond Scott Reimagined (2023, ViolinJazz): String quartet led by violinist Jeremy Cohen, trained in classical but prefers "non-traditional and eclectic," a definition that could have been coined for Scott. This is clearly their project, with the other well-established artists, a big band and a vocal group, brought in for scale and depth. With interview snippets from Scott. B+(***) [sp]

Red Hot + Ra: Solar [Sun Ra in Brasil] (2023, Red Hot Org): New York-based 50(c)(3) non-profit, raises money for "organizations on the front lines of global health epidemics, epidemics, and health crises," notably by organizing star-studded benefit albums, starting with Red Hot + Blue in 1990, taking aim at AIDS. Twenty-some albums later, this is neither their first venture into Brazil nor their first to focus on Sun Ra. Eight tracks by as many groups, with Brazilian rhythms where you might expect swing, and some rap mixed in the vocals. B+(***) [sp]

Red Hot + Ra: Nuclear War: A Tribute to Sun Ra: Volume 1 (2023, Red Hot Org): Only four artists here, all very specifically in tune with Sun Ra: Georgia Anne Muldrow (3:39), Angel Bat David (30:25), Malcolm Jiyane Tree-o (12:09), and Irreversible Entanglements (18:22). B+(**) [sp]

Ernesto Rodrigues/João Madeira/Hernâni Faustino: No Strings Attached (2023, Creative Sources): Portuguese avant-string trio, Rodrigues plays violin, the other two double bass, at least for the 8-part "Expecting String Expression" (30:56). This is followed by a 32:00 live set, with Rodrigues on viola. B+(**) [bc]

Sam Ross: Live at the Mira Room, Vol. II (2023, self-released): Pianist, also plays rhodes here (mostly), in a trio with Simba Distis (upright and electric bass) and Dr. Mimi Murid (drums), following up on a similar 2021 album. Also credit the crowd, which is boisterous enough to deserve a credit, and maybe even steal the show. Short: 5 tracks, 29:51. B+(**) [cd]

Andreas Røysum Ensemble: Mysterier (2022 [2023], Motvind): Norwegian clarinetist, third group album, twelve-piece group of considerable power, plus vocals that don't help much. B+(**) [sp]

John Scofield: Uncle John's Band (2022 [2023], ECM, 2CD): Guitarist, trio with Vicente Archer (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums). Fourteen songs (86:41), half originals, closes with the Grateful Dead song, opens with "Mr. Tambourine Man." B+(**) [sp]

Elijah Shiffer: Star Jelly (2021 [2023], self-released): Alto saxophonist, based in New York, describes this as a "sax-heavy version of a Nwe Orleans-style 'brass' band" -- three or four saxes (the extra is bass sax on 5 of 8 tracks), trumpet, trombone, a revolving cast of stringed instruments, and drums. The trad jazz angle is a sweet spot for me, but the arrangements are very slippery, leaving me with wonder whether what seems exceedingly clever at first will hold up for the long haul. A- [bc]

Elijah Shiffer: City of Birds: Volume 1 (2023, self-released): Ten songs, each named for a bird sighted in New York City. Third album, alto sax, plus Kevin Sun on tenor sax, Dmitry Ishenko (bass), and Colin Hinton (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Apostolos Sideris: Past-Presented (2023, Parallel): Bassist, from Greece, seems to be in Paris now, after Istanbul and New York, with a previous album on a Spanish label. Sextet, with piano (Leo Genovese), ney, violin, bass, drums, extra percussion, with some background vocals. B+(*) [bc]

Speakers Corner Quartet: Further Out Than the Edge (2023, OTIH): Originally the house band for "the infamous hip-hop/spoken-word open-mic night Speakers' Corner in Brixton, London." Slotted as jazz, but sounds more like trip-hop, with different guests for each song, names (but not voices) I mostly recognize. B+(**) [sp]

Jason Stein/Damon Smith/Adam Shead: Hum (2022 [2023], Irritable Mystic): Bass clarinetist, has a number of albums since 2007, some quite impressive; backed here by bass and drums, for two 21-minute improv pieces. B+(**) [bc]

Elias Stemeseder/Christian Lillinger: Penumbra (2021 [2022], Plaist): Austrian pianist, German drummer, both with sides in synthesizers and other electronics. Agreeably choppy. B+(**) [sp]

Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Jazz Is Dead 17: Lonnie Liston Smith (2023, Jazz Is Dead): Funk-fusion keyboard player, led the Cosmic Echoes 1973-85, first new record since 1998. B+(*) [sp]

Dhafer Youssef: Street of Minarets (2023, Back Beat Edition): Tunisian singer-songwriter, plays oud, has lived in Europe since 1990, mostly playing with jazz musicians: here including Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Herbie Hancock (keybs), Nguyên Lê (guitar), Dave Holland or Marcus Miller (bass), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), Rakesh Chaurasia (bansuri), and Adriano Dos Santos (percussion). B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Chantal Acda & Bill Frisell: Live at Jazz Middelheim (2017 [2023], self-released): Dutch/Belgian singer-songwriter, has records going back to 1999, backed here by the famed guitarist. Originally released by Glitterhouse in 2018. B+(*) [sp]

Johnny Griffin: Live at Ronnie Scott's (1964 [2023], Gearbox): Tenor saxophonist, an unabashed be-bopper, first records 1956, including a particularly notable appearance with Thelonious Monk. Quartet here, with a local band: Stan Tracey (piano), Malcolm Cecil (bass), and Jackie Dougan (drums), on three side-long pieces (53:54). Not to be confused with a 2008 same-title (In+Out). B+(***) [sp]

Alon Nechushtan: For Those Who Cross the Seas (2006 [2023], ESP-Disk, 2CD): Israeli pianist, based in New York, has a half-dozen albums, mostly 2011-14. Two live sets here, the first disc called "Astral Voyages," the second "Cosmic Canticles." Band names also appear on front cover, offset just enough to spare me listing them all on the slugline, but worth mentioning here: Roy Campbell (flute/trumpet), Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen (saxophones/clarinet), William Parker (bass), and Federico Ughi (drums). A- [cd]

Old music:

Peter Evans/Joel Ross/Nick Jozwlak/Savannah Harris: Being & Becoming (2019 [2020], More Is More): Billed as a new group, but since the names are on the cover, handy to just credit them: trumpet, vibes, bass, drums. Ross has gotten a lot of praise for his Blue Notes, but this is much trickier, and he's really superb. [was: U++] A- [bc]

Elijah Shiffer and the Robber Crabs: Unhinged (2017 [2018], self-released): Alto saxophonist, first album, group with Andrew Shillito (guitars and banjo), electric bass, and drums, with Jay Rattman on two cuts (bass saxophone and slide whistle). He has a unique sound, drawing on trad jazz but with impossibly funky rhythms. A- [bc]

Limited Sampling: Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

Kate Gentile/International Contemporary Ensemble: B i o m e i.i (2022 [2023], Obliquity): + [yt]

Grade (or other) changes:

Irreversible Entanglements: Protect Your Light (2023, Impulse!): [was: A-] A

Steve Lehman/Orchestre National de Jazz: Ex Machina (2023, Pi): [was: A-] A

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:


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