Monday, December 25, 2023

Music Week

December archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 41474 [41422] rated (+52), 21 [21] unrated (+0).

The final number of voters in the 18th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll is 159. It took quite a bit of last-minute hustling to reverse what initially looked like a small decline and turn it into a record turnout. Next thing I have to do is to write an essay to introduce that data, and try to make some sense out of it. As usual, I keep stewing on it, leaving me little option but to panic tonight or (more likely, and more panicky) tomorrow. I do have last year's essay, which looks like it might be reusable as a template.

I also have last year's other piece, with tables of past winners and a memoir/history of the Poll. We also usually do an In Memoriam, which I've barely started, but Andrey Henkin's Jazz Passings website already has much more than I need.

I need to get all the writing done by the end of the week, plus clean up some details on the Poll website, so ArtsFuse can publish the results the following week (January 1-5). Results and ballots won't be available there until ArtsFuse is set to go, but the rest of the material is available for anyone who wants to take a peek. I'd appreciate the extra eyes, especially if you catch mistakes or have suggestions to make things clearer or more useful.

I started collecting a few notes on EOY lists, before realizing that I don't have time for such indulgences right now. (Maybe after the 1st?) But here's what I had:

Tim Niland, who (sad to say) shut down his long-running "Music & More" blog mid-last year, posted this 2023 Music Rewind list on Facebook, soon to disappear forever. [PS: more permanent link.]

Some more EOY lists you won't find in AOTY's 2023 Music Year End Lists (which is the main, but not the only, source for my aggregate):

For my lists, I'll just refer you to the index. I'm continuing to update them as I find and hear more. This week's haul is, for once, mostly non-jazz. But I started off the week by exploring Joe Bebco's jazz ballot. Bebco is editor of The Syncopated Times, which is about the only outlet covering trad and swing jazz these days (or "real jazz," as I like to call it). Two of his records hit my A-list, and many more came close.

Despite everything, I managed to scratch out another abbreviated Speaking of Which yesterday. It left me in a very bad mood, especially as I ponder the relationship between the year in jazz and the year in everything else. There is much to be said for listening -- to jazz, of course, or to pretty much any kind of music, which continues to evolve in humane ways that enhance thought, reflection, and/or body movement. One might also note that even if the business seems increasingly perilous, that isn't stopping people from making music and enjoying it.

I'm not sure how I'm going to handle this, but I while I usually end months on the last Monday, I like to extend the last week of December to the end of the month, so the year ends per the calendar. In this case, that means next Sunday (Dec. 31). I didn't want to hold this post back until then, so I'll probably just declare next week over a day early. At any rate, this week isn't end-of-month.

New records reviewed this week:

A.S.O.: A.S.O. (2023, Low Lying): Berlin-based duo, initials (they prefer lc but I don't) for singer Alia Seror-O'Neill, cover photo includes producer Lewie Day (looking askance), first album, easily tagged trip hop, but much more than just another example. A- [sp]

Actress: LXXXVIII (2023, Ninja Tune): British electronica producer Darren Cunningham, tenth album since 2008. B+(**) [sp]

Aluna: Mycelium (2023, Mad Decent): British dance-pop singer-songwriter, recorded a couple albums with producer George Reid as AlunaGeorge, released a good solo album in 2020 (Renaissance), tops that here. A- [sp]

Avelino: God Save the Streets (2023, More Music/OddChild Music): London-based rapper, first album, claims the country from the streets up. B+(**) [sp]

Baby Queen: Quarter Life Crisis (2023, Polydor): Pop singer-songwriter Arabella Latham, from South Africa, headed to London at 18 with 40 demo CDs, took her six years to get a contract and an EP, follows up here with her first proper album, then doubles down with a "Deluxe edition" (9 extra songs, a second disc adding up to 73:20). A- [sp]

David Bandrowski & the Rhumba Defense: French Onion Superman (2021 [2022], self-released): New Orleans banjo player, band includes trumpet (Mark Braud), clarinet (Tom Fischer), trombone (Charlie Halloran), bass, and drums. Covers include "Johnny Too Bad" and "Dippermouth Blues," and sure, they're liable to slip into rhumba at any time, even when it seems least appropriate. B+(**) [sp]

McKendrick Bearden: Bright as the Mines Out (2023, self-released): Singer-songwriter from somewhere South, that doesn't automatically signify country, had a group called Mothers, also a side-credit with Faye Webster, before this debut. B+(*) [sp]

Benny Benack III: Third Time's the Charm (2023, La Reserve/Bandstand Presents): Singing trumpet player, third album, mostly standards, pianist Emmet Cohen is outstanding with several big solos, guitarist Peter Bernstein appears on a few cuts. A highlight is the duet with Bria Skonberg (she's another singing trumpet player) on "In a Mellotone." B+(**) [sp]

Cigar Box Serenaders: Spasm (2022 [2023], self-released): New Orleans jazz primitives, eponymous debut in 2018, all play homemade instruments: from cigar boxes for the banjo, guitar, resonator, and violin; plus a "dresser drawer bass" and "wine box drum set," with Sarah Peterson vocals on three tracks (including a "Don't You Feel My Leg." B+(**) [sp]

Jessi Colter: Edge of Forever (2023, Appalachia): Country singer, was married to Duane Eddy (1961-68) before her more famous union with Waylon Jennings (1969 to his death in 2002). Her debut album came out in 1970, with a second in 1975, but she got much more recognition for 1976's Wanted! The Outlaws, with Willie Nelson headlining. The records spaced out after 1984. This one sees her turning 80, produced by Margo Price, and mixed by her son, Shooter Jennings. B+(**) [sp]

Dan Ex Machina: Ex's Sexts (2023, self-released): As a rock critic, Dan Weiss has such widely varied taste that I keep expecting his records so develop an eclectic (if quirky) syncretism, but here, especially, he falls back on punk, not as a formalist, but maybe just because he has a lot of anger to work out, or maybe his guitar has a mind of its own. Note that Spotify has a 10:26 title song not on Bandcamp. Lyric I noted: "I want to use my fucking power to destroy the more powerful." A- [sp]

Mick Flannery: Goodtime Charlie (2023, Oh Boy): Irish singer-songwriter, eighth album since 2005. B [sp]

Frog & Henry: England & Italy: 2020-2022 (2020-22 [2022], self-released): New Orleans trad group, "string and brass band," six albums since 2017 on their Bandcamp, the second namechecking spots in or near Europe. B+(**) [bc]

The Garden of Joy: Bouncin' Around (2022 [2023], self-released): Another New Orleans trad-jazz (I'm tempted to say folk-jazz) group, promising much in their titles, and mostly delivering. Hunter Burgamy (guitar/banjo/vocals) seems to be the main guy here, with others coming and going. B+(**) [sp]

Hannah Gill: Everybody Loves a Lover (2023, Turtle Bay): Jazz singer, 25, based in New York, first album (unless she recorded something as Hanna Gill and the Hours: Wikipedia has an entry for the group, suggesting she did, but Discogs doesn't list anything). Eleven standards from the 1920s through the 1950s, with a swing band led by Danny Jonokuchi (trumpet), with sax, trombone, piano, guitar, bass and drums. The upbeat pieces are really up. B+(***) [sp]

Charlie Halloran and the Tropicales: Shake the Rum (2023, self-released): New Orleans trombonist, shows up in a number of trad jazz outfits, draws on all around the Caribbean for this ("calypsos, biguines and waltzes"). B+(***) [bc]

Charlie & the Tropicales: Presents for Everyone! (2023, self-released): Charlie, of course, is trombonist Halloran, from New Orleans, well-positioned to catch whatever blows up from the Caribbean. I hate Christmas music, but this promised to be a bit different, with few obvious standards, and calypsos to open and close ("Party for Santa Claus" and "Postcard to Sparrow"). B+(**) [bc]

Jaimee Harris: Boomerang Town (2023, Thirty Tigers): Austin-based singer-songwriter, second album. Slow to slower, gloomy till it doesn't matter any more, which helps. B+(**) [sp]

Big Chief Donald Harrison Jr.: Congo Square Suite (2023, Truth Revolution): Alto saxophonist, born into New Orleans Indian royalty, where his father and namesake was a Big Chief, but this is the first time he's adopted the title (although he did don the regalia for the cover of his 1992 Indian Blues). Serious about the "suite" here, with his quartet giving way to a classical orchestra. Bottom line: the orchestral stuff (most of it) is, ugh, patently classical (if a bit on the grand side); the quartet, when they get a chance to play, is pretty good. B [sp]

Malcolm Holcombe: Bits & Pieces (2023, Singular): Singer-songwriter from North Carolina, plays guitar, 18th album since 1994. B+(***) [sp]

Ice Spice: Like . . ? [Deluxe] (2023, 10K Projects/Capitol, EP): Bronx rapper Isis Naija Gaston, produced a six-song, 13:08 EP under this title back in January, reissued in April with a seventh song, now reissued again, this time packed with eleven songs (including two takes of "Princess Diana"), but still only 22:07. The extra heft helps, giving time to let the clipped beats and words find their own magic. A- [sp]

Wata Igarashi: Agartha (2023, Kompakt): Japanese techo producer, fifth album since 2012. B+(**) [sp]

King Krule: Space Heavy (2023, XL/Matador): English singer-songwriter Archy Marshall, relased one album under that name, four more under this alias. B+(*) [sp]

MJ Lenderman and the Wind: Live and Loose! (2023, Anti-): Singer-songwriter from North Carolina, initials for Mark Jacob, has been slotted country but rocks pretty hard here, but so does that other band he plays in, Wednesday. B+(**) [sp]

Man on Man: Provincetown (2023, Polyvinyl): Roddy Bottum, played keyboards in Faith No More and guitar in Imperial Teen, formed this duo with boyfriend Joey Holman and released an eponymous album in 2021, back with a second album that's pretty explicit. They go for an '80s new wave sound, a bit on the heavy side. B+(***) [sp]

Rainy Miller/Space Afrika: A Grisaille Wedding (2023, Fixed Abode): British singer-songwriter, produces brooding electronica, with occasional breaks and asides. Space Afrika is a Manchester-based duo, and several pieces have featured guests. B [sp]

Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday 2 (2023, Young Money/Republic): Fifth studio album, resurrects the title of her triple-platinum 2010 debut (and her 2012 sequel, and mostly her 2014 follow up). Big-time operation, lots of writers and producers and some no-doubt-pricey samples, the basic digital edition running 22 tracks, 70:14, with four other variations (mostly bonus cuts, but also a 10-track, 32:05 "physical" -- which may solve the overkill problem, but probably doesn't). Still, much more idiosyncratic than expected, not least when she leans into those Trinidadian roots. B+(***) [sp]

The New Wonders: The New Wonders (2023, Turtle Bay): New York-based trad jazz band, led by Mike Davis (cornet/vocals), named for Bix Beiderbecke's favored cornet model, backed by Roy Alexander (clarinet/alto sax), trombone, banjo, piano, bass sax, and drums. B+(**) [bc]

NewJeans: Get Up (2023, ADOR, EP): South Korean girl group, second EP, six songs, 12:10. B+(**) [sp]

Michel Pastre/Louis Mazetier/Guillaume Nouaux: Fine Ideas (2023, Camille Productions): French retro-swing trio: tenor sax, piano, drums. Pastre started out in 1996 with Tuxedo Swing Band and Paris Swing Orchestra, led his own big band on a 2001 album called Diggin' the Count, has a 2015 Charlie Christian Project. The others have similar backgrounds -- Mazetier is probably best known for Paris Washboard. B+(***) [bc]

Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra: Take Me to the Ragtime Dance (2023, Rivermont): Eleven piece "ragtime-era orchestra" directed and conducted by Andrew Greene, couple previous albums. The instrumentals play like light classical music, with occasional circus airs, while the songs -- several celebrating America's entry into WWI -- take musical theatre back into the age of operetta. B [sp]

Maisie Peters: The Good Witch (2023, Gingerbread Man): English singer-songwriter, second album. B+(**) [sp]

Grace Potter: Mother Road (2023, Fantasy): Country-rock singer-songwriter, two early albums as Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (2002-04), third solo since 2015. Rocks hard, though the change-of-pace works just as well. Message: "you can't keep a good time down." A- [sp]

Priya Ragu: Santhosam (2023, Warner): Born in Switzerland, parents Tamils from Sri Lanka, stage name shortened from Ragupathylingam. First album, story reminds one of MIA, sometimes the music does, too. B+(**) [sp]

Regal86: La Onda: Groove In-Groove Out (2023, self-released): Techno producer from Monterrey (Mexico), Discogs lists three albums (not including this one, or others on his Bandcamp). Earns its reputation as "hardgroove," which while highly repetitive never wears out one's patience. B+(***) [sp]

Logan Richardson: Holy Water (2023, Wax Industry): Alto saxophonist, from Kansas City, sixth album since 2007. B [sp]

Molly Ryan: Sweepin' the Blues Away (2022, Turtle Bay): Jazz singer, mostly swing standards, fourth album since 2008 (including one featuring Dick Hyman, another with Bucky Pizzarelli), Bandcamp page also includes three Dan Levinson albums featuring her. Hard to find credits here, but turns out Levinson is her husband, playing tenor sax and clarinet here, and Rossano Sportiello is the pianist. B+(***) [sp]

Smoking Time Jazz Club: Six Blues, Five Joys & a Stomp (2023, self-released): New Orleans-based trad jazz band, ten or more albums since 2012, nine members, Sarah Peterson the main vocalist, three horns (Charlie Halloran on trombone), lots of banjo. Thirteen songs, twelve from 1926-40 singles, mixed per title. A- [sp]

Soggy Po Boys: It's Good to Laugh Again (2022, self-released): Another trad jazz group, but this one from New Hampshire. Seven pieces (two sessions with different bassists), guitarist Stu Dias the singer. B+(***) [sp]

The Streets: The Darker the Shadow the Brighter the Light (2023, 679/Warner Music UK): English rapper Mike Skinner, appeared in 2002 with a breakout album. Beats are interesting enough, words are awkwardly hit and miss; e.g., "behind every great man, a girl rolls her eyes"; "work is so much more fun than fun"; "outside of the night club I don't know what to do/ inside it's too dark to care." B+(**) [sp]

The Third Mind: The Third Mind/2 (2023, Yep Roc): Best-known member of this "supergroup" is guitarist Dave Alvin, but Jesse Sykes is the singer, and first named, followed in a banner on the cover that I perhaps should have taken as the artist list by Alvin, David Immerglück (guitar), Michael Jerome (drugs), Victor Krummenmacher (bass guitar/harmonium/melotron). B+(***) [sp]

Leon Thomas III: Electric Dusk (2023, Ezmny/Motown): Possible that the III doesn't appear on the album, but I picked it up from a review, I'm old enough to associate the name with a jazz singer (1937-99) old enough to be his grandfather (but I'm pretty sure isn't). First album for this one, but he has a Wikipedia page as an actor and music producer. B+(***) [sp]

Dlala Thukzin: Permanent Music 3 (2023, Dlala): South African dj/producer, "famous for his versatility of blending amapiano, afro tech, and gqom." Solid groove for five tracks, 33:01. B+(***) [sp]

David Toop & Lawrence English: The Shell That Speaks the Sea (2023, Room40): Toop is an English author and curator as much as a musician, his first album New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments with Max Eastley on Brian Eno's Obscure Records (1975), his most famous the compilation Ocean of Sound, a soundtrack for his book of that name. English is an Australian in the same mold. Together, they made a darkly ambient album which never quite engaged my interest. B [sp]

Tuba Skinny: Hot Town (2023, self-released): New Orleans trad jazz band, close to a dozen albums since 2009, got on my radar when Maria Mauldaur recorded Let's Get Happy Together with them (2021). Erika Lewis and Greg Sherman sing here, with Todd Burdick's sousaphone the gravity that holds them together -- also cornet, clarinet, trombone, guitar, banjo, washboard, and bass drum. B+(***) [bc]

Marta Warelis: A Piece of Earth (2021 [2022], Relative Pitch): Polish pianist, has several co-credits with free jazz players, goes solo on this one. No details on how the piano was prepared, but I'm imagining some sort of variable-pitch table saw (aka "timbral possibilities" moving "in constantly interfering waves of energy"). B+(**) [sp]

Westside Gunn: And Then You Pray for Me (2023, Griselda/Empire): Buffalo rapper Alvin Worthy, fifth studio album (plus a lot of mixtapes). Nominally a sequel to Pray for Paris (2020). Super long: 75:17. B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Baikida E.J. Carroll: Orange Fish Tears (1974 [2023], Souffle Continu): Trumpet player, played in the Black Artist Group in St. Louis. First album as leader, of only five through 2001, omitting the initials after this one. Also plays flugelhorn and percussion, with Oliver Lake (alto/tenor sax, flutes, percussion), Manuel Villaroel (piano), and Nana Vasconcelos (percussion). Starts very hot, wanders when the piano drops out. B+(***) [bc]

Dick Hyman: One Step to Chicago: The Legacy of Frank Teschemacher and the Austin High Gang (1992 [2022], Rivermont): Not the easiest cover to parse, starting up top with "George Avakian Presents," ending "featuring Kenny Davern · Dan Levinson (clarinets)," and also lists the band members, with Hyman's name prefaced by "transcribed and directed by." Adding to the confusion, the back cover credits the first six songs to Dick Hyman and His Frank Teschemacher Celebration Band, the next seven to Kenny Davern and His Windy City Stompers, and the finale to "Dick Hyman-Kenny Hyman and Their Combined Bands." Levinson plays clarinet in Hyman's band, but Hyman plays piano in both -- the only other musician to appear in both bands is Dan Barrett (trombone), but on only two of the former's tracks. Teschemacher (1906-32) started played clarinet and alto sax with his Chicago west-side high school chums, a legendary group including Bud Freeman and Jimmy McPartland. Classic jazz, expertly done. A- [sp]

Old music:

Molly Ryan: Let's Fly Away (2014 [2015], Loup-Garous Productions): Swing-era standards singer, cobbled this together from two sessions, consecutive days but "featuring" pianist Dick Hyman only appears on half the tracks, with Mark Shane on the rest. Other personnel varies, and arrangements are split between Dan Levinson (9) and Dan Barrett (5). B+(**) [sp]

Molly Ryan: Swing for Your Supper! (2013, Loup-Garous Productions): Dan Barrett (trombone) does most of the arrangements here, 13-to-5 over Dan Levinson (clarinet/saxophones). Front cover lists Bucky Pizzarelli as "featuring," but Chris Flory plays most of the guitar (13-to-5, again). She has a fine voice for these songs, and the band -- mostly Arbors Jazz regulars -- is superb, so I'm a bit surprised that this doesn't quite take off. B+(**) [sp]

Dlala Thukzin: Permanent Music (2020, Dlala): South African dance grooves. Cover adds EP, but at 37:53 from six tracks, we'll ignore that. The grooves are compelling enough, but the occasional vocals raise the excitement. A- [sp]

Dlala Thukzin: Permanent Music 2 (2021, Dlala): Beats about the same, voices sparser and toned down a bit. Six tracks, 35:57. B+(***) [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

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