Music Week [0 - 9]

Monday, January 24, 2022


Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 37154 [37117] rated (+37), 140 [137] unrated (+3).

I wrote quite a bit about political matters in yesterday's Speaking of Which. One point I want to emphasize because this isn't a commonly stated point: NATO was never about defending Europe from Russian aggressiveness. It was a tool for imposing American control over Western Europe without the risk and expense of maintaining an occupation force. The main effect was to force Europe to turn its colonies over to local oligarchs, opening them up for American (and ultimately other globalized) business interests. The "spectre of communism" was more worrisome in the "third world," but was necessary to sell NATO, and in helped conservative business interests control their labor problems and left-leaning publics.

The current demonization of Russia and China is every bit as manufactured as the Cold War was, and predictably falls into the same rhetoric and logic. Why it's happening is rather harder to understand, given that China and (especially) Russia are governed by the same sort of repressive oligarchs that the US has been happy to do business all along. It's possible that it's no more than a scam by the politically influential arms industry to sell more arms. That was pretty clearly the point of NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, where nations were led to believe that if they joined NATO (and bought new weapons systems) they'd get a chance to join the EU. And that, in turn, has created a cycle of aggressive pettiness that seems to be coming to a head.

Another point that I didn't get into is that Putin (and Xi) are far from political geniuses. The US (and not just Trump) is leaving them a lot of moral high ground they aren't showing much consideration for. Part of this is that they misjudged Trump as someone they could deal with, oligarch to oligarch. Worse was Putin's election meddling, which served mostly to make Democrats more irrationally anti-Russian. The obvious thing would be to offer serious arms limitation talks, while trying to shift international conflict resolution back to the UN (which Russia and China would have to buy into, and which the US could still veto, but responsibility for failures there would be clearer). I could go on and on, especially if we allowed for some positive attitude adjustment on both sides. China doesn't need to treat the Uighurs as brutally as it does, and doesn't need to keep pressure on Taiwan. Russia doesn't need to help its clients repress democracy movements, or to annex bits of neighboring territory. The US doesn't need Ukraine in NATO or the EU. All sides need to cut back on the cyberwarfare. Russia did a good thing last week in arresting the REvil hacker group, but they're not getting any credit because the US propaganda machine only ratchets toward war. All three could benefit from a change of heart that prioritizes peace, openness, and mutual support over zero-sum antagonism.


Nothing much to say about this week's music. I've slowed down on the EOY list aggregate, but I'll probably continue a bit until the end of the month. I'm having a hard time finding things to play, which led to two strategies this week: I spent a bunch of time on the Ezz-Thetics Bandcamp page, including playing some things I had heard in earlier editions (like the Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman Blue Notes); and I went back to my list of unheard Christgau-graded albums, particularly as some I hadn't been able to find on Napster show up on Spotify (or sometimes YouTube).

Calendar shows one more Monday in January, so we'll wrap up the month, then -- effectively the year as well. Maybe I'll have some numbers to talk about then.

Note that I've added a couple of old Carola Dibbell pieces to her website, on Jeanne Moreau and Moe Tucker. Robert Christgau's latest Xgau Sez is also publicly available.


New records reviewed this week:

Alice Phoebe Lou: Glow (2021, self-released): Singer-songwriter from South Africa, surname Matthew, has lived in Paris and seems to be based in Berlin, third album (fourth later in 2021). B+(*)

Alice Phoebe Lou: Child's Play (2021, self-released): Fourth album. More ambient, which in a pop star should be a downer, but in this case isn't. B+(*)

Scott Burns/John Wojciechowski/Geof Bradfield: Tenor Time (2021 [2022], Afar Music): Three tenor saxophonists, backed by piano (Richard D. Johnson), bass (Clark Sommers), and drums (Greg Arby). Eight pieces, two each for the saxophonists and Johnson. B+(*) [cd] [01-21]

Chris Castino & Chicken Wire Empire: Fresh Pickles (2022, self-released): Singer-songwriter for a Minnesota jam band called the Big Wu, tries his hand as a leader, drawing on bluegrass guests like Jerry Douglas and Peter Rowan, but dropping a little Tex-Mex into the mix. B+(***) [cd] [02-04]

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet With Wynton Marsalis: The Democracy! Suite (2020 [2021], Blue Engine): "Jazz music is the perfect metaphor for democracy," sez Marsalis, who taps into vintage brass band traditions and adds considerable swing and swagger. B+(***)

The Killers: Pressure Machine (2021, Island): Rock band from Las Vegas, principally Brandon Flowers (vocals), early albums sold millions, and they sound more arena than indie to me. Seventh album since 2003. Not unappealing once it settled down. There's also an "abridged version," which knocks out 5 minutes of spoken introductions. B+(*)

Man on Man: Man on Man (2021, Polyvinyl): Pandemic lockdown recording by 58-year-old Imperial Teen Roddy Bottum, with boyfriend Joey Holman. B+(**) [sp]

Joe McPhee: Route 84 Quarantine Blues (2020 [2021], Corbett vs. Dempsey): Numbered 2 following Ken Vandermark's solo album, another pandemic solo outing, for tenor sax and found sounds. Odds and ends, most touching his Mingus-on-Lester-Young, "Goodbye Porky Pig Hat." B+(**)

Matt Olson: Open Spaces (2021 [2022], OA2): Tenor saxophonist, leads a sprightly postbop quintet with alto sax, guitar, bass, and drums. B+(**) [cd]

Hank Roberts Sextet: Science of Love (2021, Sunnyside): Cellist, one of the few in jazz following his 1987 debut, ten or so albums as a leader, three with Arcado String Trio, regular side credits with Tim Berne and Bill Frisell. Nicely balanced sextet with Mike McGinniss (clarinet/soprano sax), Brian Drye (trombone), Dara Lyn (violin), Jacob Sacks (piano), and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums). B+(**)

Rostam: Changeophobia (2021, Matsor Projects): Last name Batmanglij, US-born, parents Iranian, founding member of Vampire Weekend, second solo album. Has a good command of popcraft. B+(*)

Anna B Savage: A Commmon Turn (2021, City Slang): English singer-songwriter, first album. Remarkable voice, just one I don't particularly enjoy. B

Elvie Shane: Backslider (2021, Wheelhouse): Country singer from Kentucky, got the drawl, the testosterone, a "public education in the back of the bus," blind props to God and Country, an anthem that could be hateful or maybe just dumb: "Amazing Grace/how sweet the sound/of Sundays in the South." B+(*)

Ayanda Sikade: Umakhulu (2021, Afrosynth): South African drummer, second album, credit info hard to come by, but looks like: Nduduzo Makhathini (piano), Simon Manana (alto sax), Nhlanhla Radebe (bass). Early on barely hints at township jazz heritage, but as the album develops, first the piano then the sax come into focus. Manana is described as "young," but he impresses like Dudu Pukwana. A- [bc]

Ken Vandermark: The Field Within a Line (2020 [2021], Corbett vs. Dempsey): Pandemic project: "a new book of works for solo reed instruments." B+(***) [bc]

Vario 34-3: Free Improvised Music (2018 [2021], Corbett Vs. Dempsey): German free jazz musician Günter Christmann, plays cello and trombone, played in Globe Unity Orchestra, has organized fifty-some iterations of "Vario" since 1979. Vario 34 originally recorded in 1993, returns here with 5 (of 6) original members: Christmann, Mats Gustafsson (soprano sax), Thomas Lehn (electronics), Alexander Frangenheim (double bass), and Paul Lovens (percussion). B+(*) [bc]

Villagers: Fever Dreams (2021, Domino): Irish band, principally Conor J O'Brien, sixth album since 2010. B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Albert Ayler: La Cave Live Cleveland 1966 Revisited (1966 [2022], Ezz-Thetics, 2CD): Previously unreleased (at least with any official imprimatur), three sets over two days in Ayler's home town, one a quintet with trumpet (Donald Ayler), violin (Michel Samson), bass, and drums; the other adds Frank Wright (tenor sax). B+(***) [bc]

Paul Bley Trios: Touching & Blood Revisited (1965-66 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): Canadian pianist, a decade into his career, had already played in Jimmy Giuffre's famous trio, led the quintet that first recorded Ornette Coleman, and had at least one dazzling trio album (his 1953 debut). This reissues the album Touching, recorded live in Copenhagen with Kent Carter (bass) and Barry Altschul (drums), plus the 18:45 title piece from the follow-up album Blood, with Mark Levinson taking over bass. Three of his own songs, one from first wife Carla, four from second wife Annette Peacock. Black Lion's 1994 CD of Touching includes the same bonus. B+(**) [bc]

Marion Brown: Why Not? Porto Novo! Revisited (1966-67 [2021], Ezz-thetics): Alto saxophonist, reissues two major albums: a quartet with Stanley Cowell, Sirone, and Rashied Ali, that originally appeared on ESP-Disk; and a trio recorded in the Netherlands with Maarten Van Regerten Altena and Han Bennink, that appeared on Polydor in 1969, and later on Freedom and Black Lion (the latter added two later cuts, not included here). A- [bc]

Don Cherry: Complete Communion & Symphony for Improvisers Revisited (1965-66 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): Cornet player, in with Ornette Coleman's legendary quartet, early appearances with Albert Ayler, Steve Lacy, George Russell, and John Coltrane. These were his first albums as leader, released on Blue Note, and squeezed down to 79:24 for this compilation. The quartet with Gato Barbieri (tenor sax), Henry Grimes, and Ed Blackwell is epic. The larger group, adding Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax), Karl Berger (vibes & piano), and a second bassist -- is more unruly. B+(***) [bc]

Ornette Coleman: New York Is Now & Love Call Revisited (1968 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): Two 1968 albums, the end of Coleman's brief 1960s fling with Blue Note, still best remember for his live trio sets, At the "Golden Circle" Stockholm: Volume One and Two. This was a quartet, with Dewey Redman (tenor sax) plus Coltrane's former bass-drums duo, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. Not always top drawer material, but often amazing anyway. A- [bc]

Instant Composers Pool: Incipient ICP (1966-71 [2021], Corbett Vs. Dempsey): First tremors of the Dutch avant-garde, with Misha Mengelberg (piano), Willem Breuker (reeds), and Han Bennink (drums) in on the ground floor. The group eventually settled on ICP Orchestra, and recently released a 53-CD box set collecting their work -- the group continues today, although Breuker and Mengelberg have passed. A- [bc]

The New York Contemporary Five: Copenhagen 1963 Revisited (1963 [2021], Ezz-Thetics): Before Archie Shepp emerged as a leader, he spent some time in Copenhagen, with local alto saxophonist John Tchicai and a few fellow New Yorkers (notably cornetist Don Cherry). They went on to record two volumes in 1964, and reunited for a 1966 album. This early live set eventually appeared on Storyville in 1972, reissued on CD in 1992. This has same songs, but finally reordered in set sequence, with enough applause and chatter removed to squeeze it down to 79:30. Exciting music. A- [bc]

New York Contemporary Five: Consequences Revisited (1963-64 [2020], Ezz-Thetics): Reissue of their 1966 album, originally recorded in August 1963 in New York except for one cut from Copenhagen (October 1963), plus three more cuts (total 68:15) from a 1964 session in Newark, with Ronnie Boykins (bass) and Sunny Murray (drums) replacing Don Moore and J.C. Moses, and Ted Curson instead of Don Cherry on two tracks. B+(***)

Akira Sakata/Takeo Moriyama: Mitochondria (1986 [2022], Trost): Japanese duo, alto sax and drums, fairly intense free jazz, not least because the drummer is not just engaged but commands attention even on his solos. B+(***) [bc]

Old music:

The Robert Cray Band: Shame + a Sin (1993, Mercury): Blues singer-guitarist, touted as the next great hope but came up as the genre was going down. Still, got a lot of ridiculous hype for 1986's Strong Persuader, and sold impressively. I eventually decided I really disliked the album, and followed him long enough to note that he got worse. I gave up before this one, the last of five Christgau A-listed (not counting his Heavy Picks comp). This is less obnoxious, but still a few cringe-inducing moments, and not enough chops, let alone inspiration, to make me care. B

The Robert Cray Band: Heavy Picks: The Robert Cray Collection (1980-97 [1999], Mercury): Spans much of his career, including albums before he had his breakthrough on Mercury. Several I recognized, but even title songs don't stand out much. Not as annoying as I feared, but not close to great either. B

Shannon Jackson & the Decoding Society: Nasty (1981, Moers Music): Drummer from Texas (1940-2013), most of his records include his first name (Ronald), first recordings in late 1960s with Albert Ayler and Charles Tyler, worked with Ornette Coleman in mid-1970s, formed his own "free funk" group in 1980. This version has three saxes (Byard Lancaster, Charles Brackeen, Lee Rozie), electric guitar (Vernon Reid), electric bass (Melvin Gibbs and Bruce Johnson), and vibes (Khan Jamal). A- [yt]

Jaojoby: Malagasy (2004, Discorama): From Madagascar, proximate to Africa but geologically far removed, and populated initially by people from Indonesia, a unique terrain, overlaid with various waves of imperialism. The most celebrated music there is Salegy, and Eusèbe Jaojoby is their star, although interest from elsewhere has been spotty. B+(***)

Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Inala (1985 [1986], Shanachie): South African male choral group, founded by Joseph Shabalala in 1960 but unknown in America until Shanachie started reissuing their Gallo albums with 1984's Induku Zethu. So while this is well into their discography, it's only number three for Americans (or number one if you started with Paul Simon's Graceland, which featured them). Only problem is they're pretty much interchangeable, although I think Classic Tracks is especially well selected. B+(***) [sp]

Lifter Puller [LFTR PLLR]: Soft Rock (1996-2000 [2002], The Self Starter Foundation, 2CD): Minnesota rock group, immediately recognizable as singer-songwriter Craig Finn, before Hold Steady. Collects much of what they recorded, sprawling out to 2:19:39. And no, there's nothing soft to it. A- [yt]

Los Guanches: The Corpse Went Dancing Rumba (1996, Corason): Cuban ensemble, a son band from Santiago de Cuba, released three albums in the late 1990s, the third also under Armando Garzón's name. This was the second, a fine balance between folkie and fancy. A- [sp]

Orchestra Baobab: La Belle Époque: Volume 2 (1973-76 [2011], Syllart, 2CD): Senegalese band, established 1970 as house band of the Baobab Club in Dakar, drawing on Star Band of Dakar. During the mid-1970s, they were the nation's most popular band, but the Club closed in 1979, and they broke up in 1987 -- only to reunite in 2001, and go on to release new albums to international acclaim. This adds to a 2-CD first volume, somewhat haphazardly, although you edit it down to one landmark disc, or credit its historical import. [Digital splits this into Volume 2 and Volume 3.] B+(***) [sp]

Frederic Rzewski: Coming Together/Attica/Les Moutins de Panurge (1973 [1974], Opus One): Composer-pianist, died last year, made his mark early with this remarkable LP. Three pieces, the first two with Steve Ben Israel speaking texts by Sam Melville and Richard X. Clark over jazzy minimalist patterns. Third piece is for percussion group. A- [yt]

Frederic Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (1986 [1990], Hat Art): His most famous composition, "36 Variations on a Chilean Song," for solo piano, often recorded. The version I first encountered was played by Ursula Oppens and released by Vanguard in 1978, but there are others: by Stephen Drury on New Albion (1994); by Marc André Hamelin on Hyperion (1998); by Ralph van Raat on Naxos (2008), by Corey Hamm on Redshift (2014); by Lee Sangwook on Audioguy (2014; by Omri Shimron on New Focus (2014); by Igor Levit on Sony (2015); by Daan Vandewalle on Etcetera (2017); and a "four hands" version by Oppens and Jerome Lowenthal (2015). Rzewski has recorded it himself at least twice: for Edizioni di Cultura Popolare in 1977, and here. B+(***)

Frederic Rzewski: North American Ballads & Squares (1991, Hat Art): Piano pieces, the four ballads -- extended improvs on trad pieces like "Which Side Are You On" and "Down by the Riverside" -- run long (38:40). The four "Squares" are briefer (19:05). B+(***)

Frederic Rzewski: De Profundis (1993 [1994], Hat Art): Two compositions (36:32 + 31:38), performed solo by Rzewski, his 1991 "Sonata for Piano" and 1992 "De Profundis for a Speaking Pianist." B+(**)


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.

Darius Jones: Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) (2019 [2021], Northern Spy): Alto saxophonist, tends to run hot and rough, solo here, settles for plug ugly. [2/5 tracks] - [bc]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Pete Malinverni: On the Town: Pete Malinverni Plays Leonard Bernstein (Planet Arts)
  • Noertker's Moxie: Walking on Blue Eggshells in Billville (Edgetone -21)
  • Noertker's Moxie: More Fun in Billville (Edgetone -21)
  • Noertker's Moxie: Pantomime in Billville (Edgetone -21)
  • Samo Salamon: Dolphyology: Complete Eric Dolphy for Solo Guitar (Samo, 2CD)

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, January 17, 2022


Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 37117 [37068] rated (+49), 137 [133] unrated (+4).

First thing I should note here is the passing of Elsie Lee Pyeatt. At 88, she was my oldest living cousin -- a status she was fifth to hold, so perhaps one should stop keeping track -- the second child of Ted Brown (1902-81), who was in turn the second child (eldest son) of my mother's parents (Ben Brown, 1868-1936, and Mary Lou Lakey, 1877-1946, who both died before I was born; Elsie Lee was the last person with any direct memory of Ben Brown). My mother's family grew up on a farm near the long-defunct town of Vidette, Arkansas (east of Henderson, east of Mountain Home). After Ben died, Ted bought out his siblings and took over the family farm. The rest of the family scattered, some to Oklahoma and Kansas, some as far as Washington and California. Ted's other children left for Washington, with Max coming back to Kansas in 1956, but Elsie Lee stayed close to home.

When I was young, we visited Ted (and Hester) and Elsie Lee (and Pete Pyeatt) about once a year. Ted lived on a farm, in a stone house he had built, with a wood stove that Hester cooked masterfully on. Elsie Lee and Pete lived on a farm about 4 miles west (although the backroads route my father invariably took made it seem much farther), in a log cabin which had been encased in concrete -- the original interior walls were about 2 feet thick -- with extra rooms slapped on most sides. We would usually spend a week, split between the two houses. Elsie Lee and Pete were married in 1956, so I always remember them together in that house, with three little girls, and eventually a son. They were the people I felt closest to there.

I spent several decades running away from my family, then gradually started reacquainting myself. After moving back to Kansas in 1999, I started visiting Arkansas regularly, usually once a year. Pete had died, and Elsie Lee was living alone back in her old farmhouse -- she had spent much of the intervening years living in Mountain Home, close to her work, but kept her farm, and Ted's until its upkeep became too much. The farm remains in the family, but she left it over a decade ago: she lived with daughter Brenda in the Fayetteville area for a while, then moved back to Mountain Home, and spent her last years in a small house next to Rhonda, another daughter, with her other children also in or near Mountain Home. Last time I saw her was a stop off on a drive back from the East Coast, 3-4 years ago. I haven't been anywhere since. Elsie Lee has been in poor health for some time, and suffered from a bit of dimentia, so talking to her became increasingly difficult. But the family did a good job of keeping touch, and I greatly appreciate their efforts.

Since getting the news, I've been in some kind of depressed daze -- not unlike after Devoe Brown's death 18 months ago. At least I got a chance to talk to Devoe regularly in his waning days, when he worked harder to cheer me up than I did for him. More to this I don't want to talk about. Unless something changes for the better (and the other direction seems much more likely), I can see myself pulling back and fading away.

One special source of aggravation this week is Hewlett-Packard. Sometimes I think I should put a boycott page up to identify companies that I consider to be especially egregious. I bought a HP 9015 OfficeJet printer a few months back, largely based on the widespread view that the HP had particularly good Linux support. It doesn't. I'm unable to scan using Xsane (which recognizes the scanner and does test scans, but craps out during data transfer; SimpleScan works, barely). Then there's the proprietary ink problem. Their whole engineering operation seems to be built around locking you into their proprietary ink scam. I signed up for their subscription program (6 months free), and they sent me replacement ink, then also bumped the monthly price up 33%, while limiting the carryover allowance to 3 months. However, I ran out of initial cyan and magenta ink (despite printing approx. zero pages in color), and that locked the machine (despite having quite a bit of black left). For the last two weeks, I've been too upset to figure out how to change the cartridges (no obvious hints either on the machine or the cartridges). I bought my first HP printer c. 1981. I'll never buy anything else from them. (Myriad minor annoyances not noted above. Some of this is probably due to me not being hip to the new ap-based wireless world, but when I can't figure something techy out, I doubt it's all my fault.)

Meanwhile, I did manage to slog through a fair number of records this week. I got some tips from Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide. (I previously had Carly Pearce at A-; Kasai Allstars, Morgan Wade, Baiana System, McKinley Dixon, and Ka at ***.) I also spent a lot of time going through Saving Country Music's 2021 Essential Albums list, which yielded most of this week's A- records. By the way, previously reviewed A- records listed there: James McMurtry: The Horses and the Hounds; Hayes Carll: You Get It All; Carly Pearce: 29: Written in Stone; Sierra Ferrell: A Long Time Coming; John R. Miller: Depreciated; Margo Cilker: Pohorylle; Loretta Lynn: Still Woman Enough.

Added some EOY lists. I added a bunch of individual ballots from Jazz Critics Poll, which increased the pro-jazz skew of my EOY Aggregate: Floating Points bumped Little Simz from the number one spot; James Brandon Lewis rose to number nine; Sons of Kemet (15), Vijay Iyer (23), Henry Threadgill (34), Ches Smith (36), Charles Lloyd (38), William Parker's Mayan Space Station (44), and Wadada Leo Smith's Chicago Symphonies (47) cracked the top 50 (with Anna Webber next at 51). I expect most of those to settle down a bit if/as I keep adding non-jazz lists, but Floating Points seems to be pulling away. I'm not a big fan, but it seems to have hit a chord for the times, and I don't disapprove. (I do disapprove of Low's Hey What, in 6th place with grade C.) Also note that a jazz record is currently the highest ranked among those I haven't heard yet: William Parker's 10-CD box, Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World. (I got a sampler but wasn't blown away by it, not that I don't love almost everything Parker does; by the way, see Britt Robson's A Guide to William Parker, also my own dated but still useful William Parker, Matthew Shipp & Friends: A Consumer Guide.) Alternatively, I've tended to ignore metal-only lists this year (even more than usual), so suspect an anti-metal skew. (The only other unheard albums down to 160 are: Every Time I Die; Gojira; Deafheaven; Mastodon; Converge. After that you get into perennial disappointments like James Blake and the Killers.) Among other lists, the long one at Aquarium Drunkard sent me off on some interesting searches.


New records reviewed this week:

Aeon Station: Observatory (2021, Sub Pop): Kevin Whelan, formerly of the Wrens -- three albums 1994-2003, the last got some critical acclaim, but a 2014 album was never released -- not sure if this is a new group or just a solo project. B+(**) [sp]

Alfa Mist: Bring Backs (2021, Anti-): British producer, real name (probably) Alfa Sekitoleko, part of "creative quartet" Are We Live, third album. I've seen it grouped as jazz, and it does have a bit of saxophone on it. B+(*)

Riddy Arman: Riddy Arman (2021, La Honda): Country singer-songwriter, from Ohio but went to Montana for a video, and Portland to record this short debut album. B+(***)

Blackberry Smoke: You Hear Georgia (2021, 3 Legged): Southern rock band, from Atlanta, 2003 debut called Bad Luck Ain't No Crime. True to form, but I jotted down two lines from the opener: "it's a helluva thing to break your back just to make another man rich" and the refrain, "let's live it up until we can't live it down." B+(*)

Garrett T. Capps: I Love San Antone (2021, Vinyl Ranch): Likes Austin but loves San Antonio, proclaimed in the first song then underscored with Tex-Mex accordion in the second. Seems almost too easy. B+(***)

Melissa Carper: Daddy's Country Gold (2021, self-released): Country singer-songwriter, also plays upright bass, second or third album, plus one as The Carper Family. B+(***)

Sharel Cassity/Rajiv Halim/Greg Ward: Altoizm (2021, Afar Music): Three alto saxophonists, from Chicago, I've seen them ordered every which way, with alphabetical making as much sense as any. Rhythm section: Richard D. Johnson (piano), Jeremiah Hunt (bass), Michael Piolet (drums). Seven tracks (2-3-2). Bebop throwback, like a Charlie Parker tag team. B+(***)

Anansy Cissé: Anoura (2021, Riverboat): Saharan blues groove from Mali, second album, nothing spectacular but true to form. B+(***)

Kiely Connell: Camulet Queen (2021, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Indiana, based in Nashville, first album. Strong voice, some grit to her songs. B+(**)

Jesse Daniel: Beyond These Walls (2021, Die True): Country singer-songwriter, third album. Fine trad sound picking and singing. One in Spanish is high-octane Tex-Mex. B+(***)

Bobby Dove: Hopeless Romantic (2021, self-released): Country singer-songwriter from Canada (Montreal), third album. Reviews display a curious lack of pronouns, but are right as to the classic form and depth of the songs (aside from the one in Spanish, which I still have doubts about). A-

Hope Dunbar: Sweetheartland (2021, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Utica, Nebraska (pop. 800), with a husband and three kids and enough housework to keep her down, but sometimes she'll write a few words and pick up her guitar and sing. Sometimes she oversings, coming off like Bruce Springsteen. B+(***)

Hope Dunbar: You Let the Light In (2021, self-released): Third album, recorded in Nashville. Powerful singer, songs strike me as a bit more generic. B+(**)

Vincent Neil Emerson: Vincent Neil Emerson (2021, La Honda): Singer-songwriter from Texas, third album after East Texas Blues and Fried Chicken and Evil Women, evidently had second thoughts about calling this one "High on Gettin' By" or "Saddled Up and Tamed." Flashes a bit of John Prine early, more Rodney Crowell (producer here) later. Part Choctaw-Apache, good for the deepest ballad here. A-

John Escreet/Pera Krstajic/Anthony Fung: Cresta (2022, self-released): Keyboards, electric bass, drums, eighth album for the leader since 2008. B+(*) [bc]

Flatland Cavalry: Welcome to Countryland (2021, self-released): Lubbock, Texas country group, singer-songwriter Cleto Cordero, fiddle hinting at western swing, third album. B+(*)

Béla Fleck: My Bluegrass Heart (2021, Renew, 2CD): Banjo player, born in New York, has long straddled jazz and bluegrass, with occasional forays elsewhere (one of his best albums is Throw Down Your Heart, recorded in Africa, and another features Zakir Hussain). Instrumental, aside from the occasional giggle, with a few recognizable bluegrass stars dropping in to jam. B+(*)

Linda Fredriksson: Juniper (2021, We Jazz): Finnish saxophonist (alto, baritone, bass clarinet, guitar, piano, synthesizer, voice), first album. With keyboards-bass-drums, soft edges, a bit of space ambiance. B+(**)

Charles Wesley Godwin: How the Mighty Fall (2021, self-released): Country singer-songwriter from West Virginia, second album. Saving Country Music's album of the year. Can't fault it for craft, but a bit too mighty for my taste. B+(*)

John Hébert: Sounds of LoveChanges-era Mingus, with Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Tim Berne (alto sax), Fred Hersch (piano), and Ches Smith (drums). B+(***)

Tom Jones: Surrounded by Time (2021, S-Curve): Welsh crooner, seemed like part of an earlier/obsolete tradition when he had his first hit in 1965, but 40 albums later it's fair to say he's proven resourceful and resilient. Past 80 he's found his blues voice, and backed it with a harsh mechanical grind. All covers, of which "Pop Star" (Cat Stevens) and "Talking Reality Television Blues (Todd Snider) are most striking. B+(*)

Koreless: Agor (2021, Young): Welsh electronica producer Lewis Roberts, first album after a couple EPs. B

Mac Leaphart: Music City Joke (2021, self-released): Nashville singer-songwriter auditioning for the next generation John Prine, aiming high and failing amiably. Aesthetes may seek originals, but many of the rest of us will settle for compatriots. And when you think about it, that's the rule for folksingers. Bob Dylan imitated all sorts of people before he became himself. A-

Rob Leines: Blood Sweat and Beers (2021, self-released): Country singer-songwriter, born in Georgia, bounced back and forth to California, second (or third) album. B+(**)

John McLaughlin: Liberation Time (2021, Abstract Logix): British fusion guitarist, pretty much invented the genre, returned to form after a sabbatical delving into Indian music. B+(*)

Mike and the Moonpies: One to Grow On (2021, Prairie Rose): Austin-based country band, albums since 2010 -- the first two announced their intentions: The Real Country and The Hard Way. B+(*)

Nation of Language: A Way Forward (2021, PIAS): Electropop trio from Brooklyn, second album. B+(**)

NTsKI: Orca (2021, Orange Milk/EM): Kyoto-based J-pop artist, debut album (although her website lists other albums, as well as EPs). B+(**) [bc]

Poppy: Flux (2021, Sumerian): Pop singer Moriah Rose Pereira, fourth album, started closer to bubblegum but moved on to flirt with metal, but the extra heft hasn't harmed her pop sense. B+(***)

Connie Smith: The Cry of the Heart (2021, Fat Possum): Popular country singer for RCA 1965-72, although I can't recommend a compilation from the period (The Essential Connie Smith is part of a generally exemplary series of single-CD compilations, but a B- for me). She moved on to Columbia through 1976 and Monument to 1978, and has recorded a few things since -- produced by Marty Stuart since they married in 1997. One I like a lot is 2011's Long Line of Heartaches, on Sugar Hill. At 80, she still has quite a voice, and more faith in Jesus than seems warranted. B+(**)

The Steel Woods: All of Your Stones (2021, Thirty Tigers): Southern rock group, founded by singer Wes Bayliss and guitarist Jason "Rowdy" Cope (d. 2021), based in Nashville, third album since 2017. Best line was about not being able to feel a broken heart, but that's a pretty low ceiling. B

Billy Strings: Renewal (2021, Rounder): Bluegrass picker William Apostol, main instrument is guitar but also plays banjo and mandolin, and sings. Third album. Classic sound. B+(**)

Aaron Lee Tasjan: Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! (2021, New West): Singer-songwriter, filed under country but latest album listed as "power pop." Indeed, sounds a bit like Marshall Crenshaw, except, you know, not as good. Sample lyric: "cartoon music for plastic people, who don't know how to feel." B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

The Beaters: Harari (1975 [2021], Matsuli Music): South African "Soweto soul" group, first album, changed their name to Harari thereafter, going on to record another dozen albums up to 1986. Not sure who plays sax on the closer. B+(**) [bc]

Chuck Berry: Live From Blueberry Hill (2005-06 [2021], Dualtone): I lived a couple years in St. Louis: one on Eastgate, across from a bagel bakery, at the east end of what was even then known as the Delmar Loop. Blueberry Hill was the local pub, and I spent a fair amount of time in there -- only Left Bank Books and Streetside Records saw more of me. I don't recall any music there, but Joe Edwards built his empire around it. His biggest coup was getting Chuck Berry to play monthly from 1996 to 2014. This picks 10 tracks from the middle of his run. His voice is shot, and the lean elegance of songs you certainly know has thickened, and the band/sound is far from spectacular, but his excitement is still palpable, and he throws in some ad libs you'll want to hear. After all, "if you love it, you ain't never too old." A- [sp]

Chuck Berry: Toronto Rock 'N' Roll Revival 1969 (1969 [2021], Sunset Blvd.): Remastered complete set of a live concert that's been variously available at least since 1978. The 9:41 "My Ding-A-Ling" is either a high- or a low-point. No debate over the 6:32 "Reelin' and Rockin'." B+(***)

Essiebons Special 1973-1984: Ghana Music Power House (1973-84 [2021], Analog Africa): A compilation of from Ghana's Essiebons label, long headed by producer Dick Essilfie-Bondzie, leans more toward Afrobeat than the earlier highlife style. I usually prefer the light grace of highlife, but this overwhelming deluge of rhythm works too. A- [bc]

Harari: Rufaro/Happiness (1976 [2021], Matsuli Music): Formerly the Beaters, second group album, kept the name of their debut album. B+(**) [bc]

I'll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground & Nico (2021, Verve): A project of the late Hal Willner, evidently his last, recreating the Velvet Underground's first album cut-by-cut, with different artists tackling each song, with widely varying degrees of inspiration. I got to the album late. I remember going to at least two people's homes, playing their copies, and having them come into the room and ask me "what is this shit?" The record soon enough became my kind of comfort food, so it's a bit unsettling to hear other people fuck around with it. B+(***)

Khan Jamal: Infinity (1982-84 [2021], Jazz Room): Vibraphone player, born in Florida but raised in Philadelphia, a founder of Sounds of Liberation in 1970. Died January 2022, at 75. Group includes Byard Lancaster (alto sax/flute), plus piano, bass, drums, extra percussion. B+(***)

Leo Nocentelli: Another Side (1971 [2021], Light in the Attic): Guitarist from New Orleans, played for the Meters back in their heyday, side credits include Labelle, Wild Tchoupitoulas, Albert King, Etta James, Taj Mahal, Trombone Shorty. Recorded this one solo album, unreleased until now. B+(*)

Tom Prehn Kvartet: Centrifuga (1964 [2021], Centrifuga): Danish pianist, recorded some remarkable free jazz as early as 1963 but I'm not sure he continued after 1970. John Corbett was a fan, reissuing some of his work in Atavistic's Unheard Music Series, and later on his Corbett Vs. Dempsey label. This is half of a 2021 reissue, but I've only been able to find the original self-released album so far. Quartet with tenor sax Fritz Krogh), bass (Poul Ehlers), and drums (Finn Slumstrup). One 44:09 piece. B+(***) [bc]

Ritmo Fantasía: Balearic Spanish Synth-Pop, Boogie & House (1982-1992) (1982-92 [2021], Soundway): From Spanish islands in the Mediterranean, most famously Ibiza, collected by Berlin-based DJ Trujillo. B+(**)

Star Lovers: Boafo Ne Nyame (1987 [2021], Hot Casa): High life group from Ghana, cover proclaims "Highlife Is Back with Star Lovers," and notes: "Frimpong Manso Production." B+(***) [bc]

The Velvet Underground: A Documentary Film by Todd Haynes (1954-70 [2021], Polydor, 2CD): Soundtrack, 11 group songs not all tied to the four studio albums, one from Nico's solo album, four more including a pre-VU Reed group (The Primitives), pieces from the Diablos, Bo Diddley, and La Monte Young -- the latter a 6:21 minimalist sax solo. The VU songs are mostly live, and often magnificent (especially the 19:04 "Sister Ray"), but they're available in other packages, so I wonder how useful this particular one has. I haven't seen the movie. [PS: Napster credits most of these songs to Amon Tobin, but other sources, including a scan of the booklet, cite the group. My ears concur.] B+(***)

Old music:

Precious Bryant: Feel Me Good (2002, Terminus): Blues singer from the Georgia side of the Alabama line, learned her guitar from an uncle, George Henry Bussey. Got recorded as early as 1967, but didn't release this debut until she turned 60. Live set, solo, just acoustic guitar and voice. B+(**)

Precious Bryant: The Truth (2004, Terminus): Second album, same sensibility but gets a lift from the extra depth of a band, not that you notice it much. Not sure of the provenance of the songs: some I thought I recognized, but not the titles. A-

Precious Bryant: My Name Is Precious (2005, Music Maker Relief Foundation): Label is a non-profit, got some recognition a couple years back with the compilation Hanging Guitar Doors, but it dates back to 1994, and started working with Bryant a decade before this album appeared. She runs through 26 songs here, nice and simple. B+(***)

Anansy Cissé: Mali Overdrive (2014, Riverboat): Guitarist-vocalist from Timbuktu in Mali, first album (at least known to the outside world), finds an undulating groove that many others have pioneered. B+(**)

Hope Dunbar: Three Black Crows (2017, self-released): First album, a dozen homespun songs, but she got some production (from Emily White), strings and percussion and backing vocals. B+(***)

Vincent Neil Emerson: Fried Chicken & Evil Women (2019, La Honda): Title song continues, "will be the death of me," and is followed by "The Bad Side of Luck." His songs flow as easy and natural as anyone's since Billy Joe Shaver. A-

Booker Ervin: Structurally Sound (1966 [2001], Blue Note): Tenor saxophonist from Texas, rarely included in the list of "Texas Tenors" but should be. Emerged as a dominant player with Prestige in the early 1960s, but less known for his late 1960s work, before his death in 1970 at 39. Standard quintet here, but Charles Tolliver (trumpet) and John Hicks (piano) were barely known at the time. Really kicked in for me on Ervin's one original, "Boo's Blues." Reissue adds four tracks. [PS: Allen Lowe included this in a list of life-changing records he first heard at 14. It was the only one I didn't know.] A-

Booker Ervin: The In Between (1968, Blue Note): Last release before Ervin's 1970 death, first actually on Blue Note (which later reissued his two Pacific Jazz albums; also this one in 2004 with no extra material). Richard Williams plays trumpet on 5 (of 6) tracks, with Bobby Few (piano), Cevera Jeffries Jr. (bass), and Lenny McBrowne (drums). Sounds very strong. B+(***)


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.

The Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band: Both Ways (2017 [2021], self-released): Holy Modal Rounders redux, download only and very skint on the samples. Bandcamp page touts this as "The Great Lost 2017 Double-Album." Christgau likes it. Maybe. [3/26 tracks] ++


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Scott Burns/John Wojciechowski/Geof Bradfield: Tenor Time (Afar Music) [01-21]
  • Eugenie Jones: Players (Open Mic) [03-11]
  • Oz Noy/Ugonna Okegwo/Ray Marchica: Riverside (Outside In Music) [01-22]
  • Mathis Picard: Live at the Museum (Outside In Music) [01-28]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, January 10, 2022


Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 37068 [37032] rated (+36), 133 [128] unrated (+5).

I published a batch of questions and answers on Sunday: on keeping track of grades, on playing vinyl, and political tactics. The latter is something I've been thinking about, but have less and less confidence of convincing anyone. Nonetheless, I've started to think about a Speaking of Which later in the week. I'd also like to do a Book Roundup post before long. I still have a long ways to go with The Dawn of Everything, but quite a bit of new stuff has come out since my latest (April 18, 2021).

Over the weekend, I tweeted a link to a Dessa single I found about Janet Yellen. Probably the best song about a major economist since Loudon Wainwright's Paul Krugman.

I continue to be perplexed as to why all this searching through EOY lists isn't generating more 2021 A- records. Thus far I've found one, vs. 14 new 2020 A- records in January 2021. This week's only new A- is the first 2022 release. Late in the week, I was having so much trouble deciding on which recent release to listen to next I reverted to my old idea of listening to unheard Christgau A-list records. I knew of a couple that I hadn't been able to find on Napster but were on Spotify -- that number is small, but it was one reason for signing up. The other main reason is that Spotify has an application that runs on Linux, whereas I've had to use Napster's web interface. The latter is both a terrible resource hog and is prone to hangs -- problems I haven't encountered on Spotify.

On the other hand, I'm finding it harder to browse for things on Spotify, and I haven't tried to put any playlists together. I assembled the Platters compilation playlist rather easily on Napster. I have a couple of other (shorter and earlier) Platters compilations I'm quite happy with -- The Very Best of the Platters (1955-60 [1991], Mercury), and The Best of the Platters [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1955-61 [1999], Mercury) -- but this particular one was the one that Christgau eventually settled on. The remaining question is whether the 2-CD The Magic Touch: An Anthology might be the better pick.

I considered doing the same thing with ChangesOneBowie, but didn't take it on until I saw a bunch of tributes on Bowie's birthday. I eventually found the extra single, then noticed that Spotify had the whole album (albeit with later remasters). So I gave it a whirl, knew everything, and appreciated the context. As I noted in the review, I had all the original vinyl LPs (but no longer), and bought the extended CD ChangesBowie early when it came out. It seems a little odd to go to the trouble of reviewing obsolete configurations, but in this case, with resurgent interest in vinyl, the original best-of got reissued (in 2016).

The Charles Brackeen record was suggested by Chris Monsen on news of the saxophonist's death. I'm not a big fan of his other Silkheart albums -- the one time he got a real chance as a leader, although he's been more impressive as a sideman.

El Intruso published their 14th Annual International Critics Poll results. I was one of 71 critics who voted in the poll. My ballot, which was pretty much off the top of my head (with occasional glances at my 2021 list), is second down here. A little less than half of the voters also participated in our Jazz Critics Poll. The El Intruso poll skews more avant than JCP, which is obvious with the results (especially for the instrument slots). More interesting to me is that it draws a lot more on non-American critics.

Still dragging my feet on indexing recent Streamnotes monthlies -- I think I'm down two at present. It's been hard keeping up.


New records reviewed this week:

Gregg Belisle-Chi: Koi: Performing the Music of Tim Berne (2020 [2021], Relative Pitch): Guitarist, based in New York, plays solo on ten pieces composed by Berne, with Berne and David Torn producing. I imagine I could recognize Berne's alto sax anywhere, but the songs themselves are another story. B+(*)

Chris Brokaw: Puritan (2021, 12XU): Singer-songwriter, graduated from Oberlin, played drums in Codeine, co-founded Come, has worked with another dozen groups, went solo around 2001, 25+ albums since then. B+(**)

Sharel Cassity/Rajiv Halim/Greg Ward: Altoizm (2021, Afar Music): Three alto saxophonists, from Chicago, I've seen them ordered every which way, with alphabetical making as much sense as any. Rhythm section: Richard D. Johnson (piano), Jeremiah Hunt (bass), Michael Piolet (drums). Seven tracks (2-3-2). Bebop throwback, like a Charlie Parker tag team. B+(***)

The Coral: Coral Island (2021, Run On, 2CD): English rock band, tenth album since 2002, indie guitars and folk/psychedelic mix. I was intimidated by the 2-CD packaging, but songs are short and the 24 split over two discs only add up to 54:04. B

Dessa: Ides (2021, Doomtree, EP): Minnesota rapper Margret Wander, also writes fiction and poetry, joined Doomtree collective in 2005, 2010 debut (A Badly Broken Code) is about as brilliantly literate as hip-hop gets, four albums and more EPs, sung more after the debut, does both here. Seven songs plus a remix, 25:55. [Bonus choice cut: check out her earlier single, Who's Yellen Now?] B+(***) [bc]

Dltzk: Frailty (2021, Deadair): First album after an EP and a couple singles, slotted under electronica or "digicore," more precisely described as "guitar music created by a Skrillex and Porter Robinson obsessive." That's pretty close to the mark. B

Derrick Gardner and the Big Dig! Band: Still I Rise (2020, Impact Jazz): Trumpet player, as was his father (Burgess Gardner; brother Vincent Gardner plays trombone), from Chicago, has a previous album from 2005 (actually a couple more that didn't show up at first), and a fair amount of big band experience. B+(**) [sp]

Myriam Gendron: Ma Délire: Songs of Love, Lost & Found (2021, Feeding Tube): Folk singer from Ottawa, second album, songs split between French and English, five originals, most of the rest are traditional. B+(**)

Pasquale Grasso: Pasquale Plays Duke (2021, Sony Masterworks): Italian guitarist, based in New York, has released a bunch of solo EPs/albums recently, all covers showing off his virtuosic technique. Here he takes on Ellington, adding bass (Ari Roland) and drums (Keith Balla), with vocal spots for Samara Joy and Sheila Jordan ("Mood Indigo," not her best voice but remarkable nonetheless). B+(*)

Fred Hersch: Breath by Breath (2021 [2022], Palmetto): Piano trio, with Drew Gress and Jochen Rueckert, plus the Crosby Street String Quartet. The writing for strings caught me by surprise, lovely at first with added layers of complexity, which the piano only adds to. A- [cd]

Sven-Åke Johansson/Niklas Fite/Joel Grip: Swinging at Topsi's (2020 [2021], Astral Spirits): Drums, acoustic guitar, double bass. Swedish drummer has been around a long time, mostly playing with German avant-garde groups. Two 25-minute sets are keep interest levels up. Ends with two short songs, sung by Johansson, not well, but that's part of the charm. B+(***) [bc]

Christof Kurzmann/Sofia Jernberg/Joe Williamson/Mats Brandlmayr: Disquiet (2018 [2021], Trost): Title generally taken as group name, but artist names are in smaller print on cover, so we'll parse it that way. Credits: lloopp/vocals, voice, double bass, drums. One 47:14 piece. Not as disquieting as expected, unless you listen closely to the words. B+(*) [bc]

Joëlle Léandre/Pauline Oliveros/George Lewis: Play as You Go (2014 [2021], Trost): Radio shot from Prague, one 43:59 piece, credits: contrabass/voice, Roland Button V-Accordion, laptop electronics/trombone. B+(**) [bc]

João Lencastre's Communion: Unlimited Dreams (2021, Clean Feed): Portuguese drummer, sixth Communion album since 2007, roster highly variable, one a trio, this one an octet, with two saxes (Albert Cirera and Ricardo Toscano), piano/electronics (Benny Lackner), two electric guitars, two basses (one electric, the other acoustic). B+(**) [bc]

L.U.M.E. [Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble]: Las Californias (2021, Clean Feed): Pianist Marco Barroso also credited with composition and direction, leading a 15-piece group in their third album. Expansive, almost circus-like atmosphere, huge swells of sound, stretches that are almost catchy, bits of random dialogue. B+(***) [bc]

Tony Malaby's Sabino: The Cave of Winds (2021 [2022], Pyroclastic): Tenor saxophonist, from Arizona, a dominating player who not infrequently steals others' albums. Group name refers back to a 2000 album, another quartet with Michael Formanek (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums) returning, with Ben Monder taking over guitar. B+(***) [cd]

Michael Mayo: Bones (2021, Artistry Music/Mack Avenue): Singer, from Los Angeles but based in New York, father played saxophone for Earth, Wind & Fire; first album, on a jazz label but at least as close to soft-edged neo-soul. B+(*)

Charnett Moffett: New Love (2019 [2021], Motéma): Bassist, father is drummer Charles Moffet, dozens more side credits. Quartet with Irwin Hall (sax/flute), Jana Herzen (guitar), and drums. Don't care much for the vocals, but one has to admire how he keeps the bass in focus. B

Perila: How Much Time It Is Between You and Me? (2021, Smalltown Soupersound): Alexandra Zakharenko, DJ/producer, based in Berlin, has produced quite a bit since 2019. Ambient, broken up by occasional clunkiness. B

John Pizzarelli: Better Days Ahead: Solo Guitar Takes on Pat Metheny (2021, Ghostlight): Second-generation guitarist, has done a lot of tributes but mostly to singers. This is nice, not that I know Metheny well enough to get the point. B

Mike Pride: I Hate Work (2021, RareNoise): Drummer, moved to New York in 2000, led a group called From Bacteria to Boys, Napster lists him as "smooth jazz," but that's some kind of sick joke: he mostly plays in free jazz groups, but is also into hardcore noise, and sometimes combines them, or in this case flips them over. Ten songs "loosely based" on Millions of Dead Cops' 1982 debut -- a connection from when Pride toured as their drummer -- done with piano trio (Jamie Saft and Brad Jones), but lest you get completely lost three cuts have guest vocals, two have Mick Barr on electric guitar or banjo, and both Pride and Saft play some electric keyboards. B+(*)

The Reds, Pinks & Purples: Uncommon Weather (2021, Tough Love): San Francisco band, principally Glenn Donaldson, who's appeared in a lot of bands since 2001, this one from 2019 and in its third album. Sound much like the Go-Betweens. B+(*)

Alex Riel/Bo Stief/Carsten Dahl: Our Songs (2021, Storyville): Danish drummer, started out in trad jazz bands before 1960, many side credits, bassist and pianist also Danish. Half standards from "My Funny Valentine" to "Giant Steps," half Danish titles. B+(**)

The Rite of Trio: Free Development of Delirium (2021, Clean Feed): Portuguese trio: André B. Sivla (guitar), Filipe Louro (bass), Pedro Melo Alves (drums), all three electric as well as acoustic. Second group album. B+(*)

Ritual Habitual: Pagan Chant (2021, Clean Feed): Portuguese/Dutch sax-bass-drums trio, with Riccardo Margona (tenor, bass clarinet, synthesizers), Gonçalo Almeida, and Philipp Ernsting. Joint improv, nods to Coltrane and Ayler, great strength in the opening and closing sax runs. B+(***) [bc]

Diego Rivera: Indigenous (2019 [2021], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist (soprano on 3 tracks), born in Michigan, family Mexican-American, teaches at Michigan State, couple previous albums, this one backed by an exceptional piano-bass-drums trio (Helen Sung, Boris Kozlov, Donald Edwards) with Etienne Charles (trumpet) joining on 3 cuts. Not Latin Jazz, but lots of joyous tinge. B+(**)

Charles Rumback: Seven Bridges (2021, Astral Spirits): Drummer, tenth album since 2009, mixed bag, vocal songs unimpressive, spots for violin (Macie Stewart) and horns more interesting, the best Ron Miles on cornet. B+(*)

Dave Stryker: As We Are (2021 [2022], Strikezone): Guitarist, many albums since 1988, backed by piano-bass-drums trio (Julian Shore, John Patitucci, Brian Blade), with Shore arranging for string quartet, which is the rub. B+(*)

The Tiptons Sax Quartet & Drums: Wabi Sabi (2021, Sowie Sound): Saxophone quartet from Seattle, has operated under several variations of the name since 1993 (originally as the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet), with a drummer since 2005, and under this name for three albums since 2014. Current saxophonists are Amy Denio (alto), Tina Richerson (baritone), Jessica Lurie (soprano/alto/tenor), and Sue Orfield (tenor), with Robert Kainar on drums. Very upbeat, some vocals. B+(**)

Carlos "Zingaro"/Pedro Carneiro: Elogio Das Sombras (2012 [2021], Clean Feed): Violin and marimba duo. Fairly limited concept, but "Zingaro" has at this for a long time now, and he keeps it interesting. B+(**) [bc]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: Berlin 1959 (1959 [2021], Storyville, 2CD): There's gotten to be a lot of live Ellington from this period: the orchestra was magnificent, and the songbook was so deep he resorted to medleys. B+(***)

Old music:

The Allman Brothers Band: One Way Out: Live at the Beacon Theatre (2003 [2004], Sanctuary/Peach, 2CD): With founders Duane Allman and Berry Oakley dead, and Dickey Betts departed, the remaining originals are singer-songwriter-keyboardist Gregg Allman and the two drummers. The vocals hold the songbook together, and new guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks provide the spark. Also helps that they pull three pieces out of the blues archive (Blind Willie McTell, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson). I've never been a big fan, but enjoyed their early work, and enjoyed this one all the way through. B+(***) [sp]

David Bowie: ChangesOneBowie (1969-76 [1976], RCA): First draft for a greatest hits package, 10 obvious songs from 7 albums plus the much-noted but little-heard non-album single "John I'm Only Dancing." Seemed superfluous back when I owned the albums, but nice to recover the high points from the weaker albums, and put them into a a context that looks like a progression. Superseded by the 1990 CD ChangesBowie. A [sp]

David Bowie: ChangesNowBowie (1996 [2020], Parlophone): Packaged like a variant of his greatest hits series, this is a live set of mostly old songs recorded by BBC, starting with unplugged versions of "The Man Who Sold the World," "Aladdin Sane," and "White Light/White Heat." B [sp]

Charles Brackeen Quartet: Attainment (1987 [1988], Silkheart): Tenor saxophonist from Oklahoma City, didn't record much: a Strata-East album in 1968, three albums for Silkheart in 1987, ten or so side-credits, but he often stole the show with his hyper-aggressive playing. Group with Olu Dara (cornet), Fred Hopkins (bass), and Andrew Cyrille (drums), plus voices and extra percussion on the title piece. B+(**) [bc]

Chicago Farmer: Quarter Past Tonight (2018, Chicago Farmer, 2CD): Cody Dieckhoff, moved to Chicago and started self-releasing his talkie folk/country albums in 2005. After six of them, he figured he had enough songs built up to try this live-double, located in Peoria, perhaps looking for a venue he could fill. A- [sp]

The Platters: Enchanted: The Best of the Planters (1956-67 [1998], Rhino): Major, best-selling vocal group of the late 1950s, more pop than doo-wop, not least because they were focused on a single lead singer, Tony Williams. Out-of-print, like all the other great cross-licensed Rhino compilations of the 1990s, I easily picked out all but the last three (inessential) songs from Mercury's 2-CD The Magic Touch: An Anthology -- probably the better deal, although every compilation has quality/quantity trade-offs. A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Black Lives: From Generation to Generation (Jammin' Colors, 2CD) [03-25]
  • Nathan Borton: Each Step (OA2) [01-21]
  • Andrew Boudreau: Neon (Fresh Sound New Talent) [02-28]
  • Julieta Eugenio: Jump (Greenleaf Music) [03-04]
  • Stephen Martin: High Plains (OA2) [01-21]
  • Matt Olson: Open Spaces (OA2) [01-21]
  • Doug Scarborough: The Color of Angels (Origin) [01-21]
  • Ben Thomas Tango Project: Eternal Aporia (Origin) [01-21]
  • Piet Verbist: Secret Exit to Another Dimension (Origin) [01-21]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, January 3, 2022


Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 37032 [37011] rated (+21), 128 [126] unrated (+2).

Update (January 4): Thought this could use another edit pass. Mostly wanted to make plain the line in bold below.


I kept last week's Music Week open until Friday, December 31, so today's report covers a mere three days. The rated count for the two weeks combined is a prodigious 89 -- nothing to sniff at. However, I am surprised that two weeks at this stage in the year would result in only three A- new music releases (well, also three A- new releases of old music, all 1960s British jazz from last week. I've been doing some mop up: I've chopped an initial list of records that I hadn't heard from the upper ranks of Jazz Critics Poll in half (leaving 16 of the top 187 unheard, mostly items I looked for but haven't found complete copies of); I've also knocked off a few of the higher-rated previously-unheards from my EOY aggregate (I've heard the top 91, balking at Deafheaven, Every Time I Die, Gojira, and Mastodon -- they smell of metal); I checked out a bunch of EPs from Dan Weiss's list (on Facebook, but it usually takes me more than EP-length to get into something); I also checked out a couple late adds to Phil Overeem's latest list. Some good stuff there, but the only new record that really stood out for me was one I hadn't heard of until I spotted it on Dave Everall's PJPRP top-ten. I've added a few PJPRP lists to my EOY aggregate, limiting myself to names I recognize for some reason.

The EOY Aggregate has been pretty stable this year, with: Little Simz, Floating Points, Olivia Rodrigo, Tyler the Creator, Dry Cleaning, Japanese Breakfast, Billie Eilish, Low, Turnstile, Arlo Parks, Lucy Dacus, Jazmine Sullivan, Weather Station, Mdou Moctar, Adele, Sons of Kemet, Wolf Alice, Lil Nas X, Nick Cave, Snail Mail (down to 20). (Well, at the top: over the course, Low, Sons of Kemet, and Nick Cave have settled down while Tyler, Billie Eilish, Jazmine Sullivan, and Adele have risen. The top jazz record is James Brandon Lewis at 22: at least that's the one that gives you a barometer of the jazz bias in my lists (he does have a few crossover votes, more than usual, but he's still very strongly identified as jazz; on the other hand, Floating Points and Sons of Kemet are about equally likely to show up on jazz and non-jazz lists). I'm not done fiddling with the EOY Aggregate, but I suspect I've already learned most of what I will.

The Old Music Aggregate has been taken over by jazz reissues, with this year's John Coltrane opening up a 2-to-1 margin over Hasaan Ibn Ali's Lost Atlantic Album. Structurally, there is little chance of anything else happening, although the effect seems greater this year, probably because I haven't been looking for reissue/compilation/archival lists. I've also moved a couple of newly-recorded various artists records into new releases (Sacred Soul of North Carolina, Kimbrough -- the former would actually be leading the Old Music list, which wouldn't be right).

Various other things I was tempted to write about but don't have in me at the moment:

  • One nice thing about the Jazz Critics Poll was that I got a small surge of new followers, edging just over 500. Also a lot of thanks for my "hard work." Didn't seem all that hard, but did turn out to be a lot of work.

  • I should note that I've gone back and replayed a few records lately, ones others like a lot and I liked enough to wonder if I should have given them more of a chance. I've raised the grades of a couple earlier this year (Dry Cleaning was one), but Little Simz, Mach-Hommy, and Maria Grand (and probably others I've already forgotten) didn't budge last week.

  • I got a question about RSS feeds. I have one, but don't know how well it works, mostly because I've never seen a RSS reader that does what I expect it to do. I was able to set up Thunderbird to read my feed (also the one for Robert Christgau).

  • I've seen a lot of folk complain about the movie Don't Look Up, and most of them are wildly off base. Still, the worst is the Wikipedia line: "The comet is an allegory for climate change and the film is a satire of government and media indifference to the climate crisis." The comet is a real thing, very unlikely, but one did hit Earth 65 million years ago, which did cause most species at the time to die, so it's something people have thought about, and crunched some numbers on, and the science and math are very clear. Climate change is different in lots of significant details: it moves slower and less dramatically, but it's locked in as a certainty; economic interests promoting it are more mundane, yet are harder to imagine changing; technical solutions are far more complex and probably harder (not that deflecting a comet is as easy as they'd have you think). But I doubt the point here is the crisis: it's the corrupt politics that fucks everything up. Back in 1979 there was a movie called Meteor with the same set up, but one big difference: even in the peak of the Cold War it was conceivable that the US and USSR could team up against a common threat, because both had a fundamental commitment to reason and to humanity. Nothing like that is possible in the world of Don't Look Up, so we're doomed. One thing the comet does, that climate change couldn't, is make that doom explicit and dramatic. If nothing else, that ending disabuses us of the tendency to think that all adversity can be overcome by willing it differently.

    For another take, see Nathan J. Robinson: Critics of Don't Look Up Are Missing the Entire Point.

  • I've been sitting on an article by Michael Hiltzik, Farewell to 2021, the stupidest year in American history. Needless to say he's wrong a lot, and not just old canards like "Britain in 1938 under Neville Chamberlain." The year before Roosevelt became president in 1933 was monumentally stupid, as were all the preludes to era-defining political changes: to Lincoln in 1861, to Jefferson in 1801, even to Reagan in 1981. (As Jimmy Carter's Fed pick wrecked the economy to slay inflation and the labor movement, while launching ill-fated conflicts with Afghanistan and Iran, Carter was such a wet rag that he made Reagan -- a Dickensian villain if ever there was one -- look like a glimmer of hope.) And how can any observer really have already forgetten Trump's last year? If 2021 seems stupid beyond that league, it's only because the media are stuck propagating Trumpist-Republican lies and bullshit. The plain and simple truth is that a lot of very positive things have happened since Joe Biden became president, and we do ourselves a grave disservice when we gloss over that. Sure, it could be better. And sure, the residual stupid, including some that has penetrated the DNA of various Democrats, is cause for concern. But 2021 would have been incomparably stupider had Trump and his fascist putschists clung onto the presidency.

  • I have a couple questions to answer. One is tricky because it starts from a major misperception from which it draws an even worse conclusion. Kind of like the Hiltik article.

I woke up today in more pain than in weeks or months, and struggled all through this. I'm spent (but, with only a bit less pain, bounced back to edit this, mosty because I felt the need to add the bold line). Sorry I don't have more good new music to share, but perhaps there's something you missed here and/or here. Lots of good new music in 2021. Despite the last week or two, I'm sure we haven't run out.


New records reviewed this week:

Charlie Ballantine: Reflections/Introspection: The Music of Thelonious Monk (2021, Green Mind): Guitarist, several albums including a collection of Bob Dylan songs, does Monk tunes here, half trio with Jesse Whitman and Chris Parker, half quartet with Amanda Gardner on sax and Cassius M. Goens III taking over on drums. I prefer the latter, especially the lovely "Ask Me Now." B+(***)

Bitchin Bajas: Switched on Ra (2021, Drag City): Side project by Cave keyboardist Cooper Crain, with close to one album per year since 2010. Eight Sun Ra tunes, played on synths with Dan Quinlivan, Rob Frye, and (sometimes) Jayve Montgomery joining in. B+(***)

Lindsey Buckingham: Lindsey Buckingham (2021, Buckingham): American singer-songwriter, erratic solo career (mostly since 2006), but formed a duo with Stevie Nicks in 1973, and together they merged with (took over?) British blues-rock band Fleetwood Mac, leading to some of the best-selling albums of the late 1970s. So, strikes me he's a little old (71) to be introducing himself with an eponymous album. Still has some songwriting and arranging skills. Still not much of a singer. B+(*) [sp]

Eris Drew: Quivering in Time (2021, T4T LUV NRG): Chicago house DJ/producer, second album. Fun beats, not much more. B+(**)

Ducks Ltd.: Modern Fiction (2021, Carpark, EP): Jangle pop duo from Toronto, with some sort of connection to Australia. First album, short (7 songs, 21:48), following an EP as Ducks Unlimited. B+(**)

Kurt Elling: Superblue (2021, Edition): Jazz singer, from Chicago, has dominated the category since joining Blue Note in 1995. I've never liked his hip swagger and undeniable chops, and see no reason to start now -- other than that Charlie Hunter's grooves are sinuous indeed, and Elling's one of the few who can follow them. B

Ezra Furman: Sex Education: Songs From Season 3 (2021, Bella Union, EP): American singer-songwriter, has some good albums, got tapped for this British comedy-drama series streaming on Netflix. Five songs, 16:12, "Don't Turn Your Back on Love" the best. B+(**)

Ezra Furman: Sex Education Original Soundtrack (2020, Bella Union): Nineteen songs, no soundtrack dross. Seems odd to pick a quintessentially American rocker for a tie in to a British TV series -- one I haven't seen, so I have no idea how or whether these songs fit. B+(**)

Slava Ganelin/Alexey Kruglov/Oleg Yudanov: Access Point (2017 [2021], Losen): Avant trio -- piano, alto/soprano sax, drums -- recorded live in Moscow. B+(***)

John Glacier: Shiloh: Lost for Words (2021, PLZ Make It Ruins): British hip-hop, or glitch hop, the beat broken and scattered but still more of a focus than the words. Short: 12 songs, 25:16. B+(**)

Charlotte Greve: Sediments We Move (2021, New Amsterdam): German-born, Brooklyn-based composer, singer, and saxophonist. Credit muddled here, as one interpretation is that she is the composer, but the performers are Wood River (a quartet she leads, with guitar, bass, and drums) and Cantus Domus (a Berlin choir conducted by Ralf Sochaczewsky). Way more vocals than I can usually handle, but not so bad here. B+(**)

Kaytranada: Intimidated (2021, RCA, EP): Electronica producer Louis Celestin, born in Haiti, grew up in Montreal, acclaimed debut album in 2016. Three tracks, 9:13. B+(*) [sp]

Lily Konigsberg: Lily We Need to Talk Now (2021, Wharf Cat): New York "polymath," has a couple EPs, some side projects (e.g., Palberta), a compilation Best Of, and has been sneaking up on an album. Not sure whether this one counts (11 tracks, 23:52). But it does earn her self-assurance: "you've got a lot of fucking things to be proud of." B+(**)

Kate McGarry + Keith Ganz Ensemble: What to Wear in the Dark (2021, Resilience): Jazz singer, 8th album since 2003, Ganz plays guitar and is her husband, band includes Ron Miles (cornet), Gary Versace (piano), bass, and drums. Standards, but she prefers late 1960s/early 1970s soft rock (Beatles, Eagles, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon). B+(**)

Youssou N'Dour Et Le Super Étoile De Dakar: Mbalax (2021, Universal Music Africa): Very little information on this, but he's brought back his original band name, and styled a tribute to the style they made famous. Sounds very much of a piece with what he's been doing forty years now. A- [sp]

Helado Negro: Far In (2021, 4AD): Roberto Carlos Lange, born in Florida, parents from Ecuador, based in New York, eighth album since 2009. Has a soft lilt appeal. B+(*)

Orquestra Afro-Brasileira: 80 Anos (2021, Day Dreamer): Brazilian group founded 1942 by Abigail Moura, continued until 1970, although recordings are scarce. Revived here under the direction of Caio Cesar Sitorio. Not sure who the singer is. B+(***) [sp]

Rainbow Girls: Rolling Dumpster Fire (2021, self-released, EP): Folkie group, female harmonies remind me of the Shams, enough to get me wondering whether there's a genius therein. Seven cuts, two of them mere fragments, so total 16:30. B+(*)

Isaiah Rashad: The House Is Burning (2021, Top Dawg Entertainment/Warner): Rapper, last name McClain, from Tennessee, has a easy delivery. B+(*)

Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine: A Beginner's Mind (2021, Asthmatic Kitty): Singer-songwriter from Detroit, prolific since 2000, recorded this collaboration locked down in a cabin in upstate New York. Fourteen songs, each inspired by a film they watched. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Black Unity Trio: Al-Fatihah (1968 [2021], Salaam/Gotta Groove): One-shot avant-garde trio, credits: Joseph Phillips (Yusuf Mumin): alto sax; Ron DeVaughn (Abdul Wadud): cello and bass; Hasan Abdur Shahid (Hassan-Al-Hut, AKA Hasan Al-Hut): percussion -- the latter was originally Amos Franklin Gordon Jr. By far the best known is Wadud, for his work with Julius Hemphill, Arthur Blythe, and others. B+(**) [bc]

Lily Konigsberg: The Best of Lily Konigsberg Right Now (2017-21 [2021], Wharf Cat): Seventeen DIY cuts posted on the sly while working on her main band, Palberta, released before her short 2021 album. Small songs, neatly done. B+(*) [bc]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Andrew Cyrille/William Parker/Enrico Rava: 2 Blues for Cecil (TUM) [01-22]
  • The OGJB Quartet: Ode to O (TUM) [01-22]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021


Music Week

December archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 37011 [36943] rated (+68), 126 [125] unrated (+1).

Final Update: December 31: Earlier versions below. The initial post (Dec. 28) was just a placeholder, a day after the expected Music Week date. I was still very busy working on Jazz Critics Poll, but I also recalled holding past end-December Music Weeks open to make a clean break of the year. I added an update on Dec. 29 with links to Jazz Critics Poll, so scroll down to get to those. In the two days since, I've been monitoring Poll reaction (although not very obsessively or assiduously), while adding a few stragglers to the reviews below, and generally decompressing.

I should do a debriefing on the poll at some point, but fear that if I start now I won't get anything out tonight. I would like to refer you to this post by Amir ElSaffar on Facebook. Also, this one by publicist Matt Merewitz, who notes his role in hooking us up with Arts Fuse. I was fully prepared to run the poll on my own, with no outside sponsorship, so Arts Fuse wasn't a make or break deal. But they were more helpful than I expected, and I've enjoyed working with them. I also have to admit that they've gotten us more eyes and clicks than would have been the case had we only had my website.

I reckon it's safe here to point out that I dropped a few lines from my essay that some readers considered "sour grapes" over our previous sponsor, NPR:

When NPR declined to support the Jazz Critics Poll this year, they explained their preference for "a mosaic of outlooks" over "rankings," but the half-dozen essays they offered instead could have used a better grasp of data. For instance, one writer was bewildered that "there wasn't a new face as consensus critical darling this year," but the Poll showed there was a clear answer: James Brandon Lewis. Another writer expounded on The Wisdom of Our Elders without mentioning Wadada Leo Smith, who celebrated his 80th year with 5 highly regarded releases, totaling 12 CDs.

The actual line I was bouncing off of was their less-than-official explanation for dropping Jazz Critics Poll:

What we've set out to accomplish here has less to do with album rankings than reflecting on some form of lived experience: presenting a mosaic of outlooks, rather than a model of consensus.

I suspect that the real reason for dropping us was simply that they wanted to cover jazz like they cover other genres, and we represented this external data-driven appendage doing something very different, an approach they weren't using anywhere else. I can see the logic of that, and I don't doubt their right to direct their coverage. But I did find it interesting that as soon as they turned up their noses out poll, they committed a number of gaffes that would have been obvious to anyone on first glance at the data.

Data analysis isn't easy. It's certainly not something that comes naturally to most people. Even in my piece, I tended to just point out isolated bits that struck me as significant, rather than digging through it all systematically. That's partly because I don't have the tools set up, and partly because we're not collecting nearly as much data as I'd like to see. I offered myself up as an example, as someone who listened to 700 new jazz albums this year -- a fairly basic figure that I don't have for any other jazz critic, although I'd guess that the range is something like 200-1000 (I've come close to the upper bound in previous years).

I should note that I've made one significant change to my Jazz and Non-Jazz EOY lists: five A-list records now appear in both, so 73 + 58 = 126. The records were ones I had originally put in Non-Jazz (Anthony Joseph, Maria Muldaur, Jaubi, Theon Cross, Ruth Weiss; four of those were non-jazz artists in front of jazz bands, the fifth is a jazz artist playing electronica). I did this because I was writing about the increasingly blurry line between jazz and non-jazz, and realized that those five were examples I wanted to buttress my case with. That's helped to shift the Jazz/Non-Jazz spit in the former's favor.

I'm surprised I didn't find more A-list Non-Jazz this week, but new Jazz fell off as well -- and frankly, the EOY list aggregate isn't kicking up a lot of interesting candidates. I've heard everything down to 90-92 (Coral, Deafheaven, Gojira). I've looked for but haven't found jazz albums that finished {19, 35, 50, 54, 79} in the poll; the highest-rated one I haven't looked for yet is Kate McGarry at 84. While that search was frustrating, I took a fairly deep dive into the Jazz in Britain Bandamp stash, so for a while I had many more new reissues/historical than new releases. We're also seeing vinyl/digital reissues of 1960s British jazz classics from Decca. As a Penguin Guide devotee, I've heard of most of these names, so exploring their lost albums has been interesting.

Should get back on schedule with a short Music Week on Monday. I haven't done the December Streamnotes indexing, so need to work on that as well. Also need to think about some New Years changes. This has been a tough year for me, and not much future bodes better.


Update: December 29: The 16th Annual Jazz Critics Poll results are now public. The poll was started by Francis Davis at the Village Voice in 2006, with 30 critics polled. Davis has kept the poll going ever since, through moves to Rhapsody (2 years) then NPR (for 8 years) and The Arts Fuse this year. At the time, I was writing a Jazz Consumer Guide column for the Voice, so got an invite to vote. I got further involved a couple years later, when Voice editor Rob Harvilla asked me to host the ballots. For a number of years, Davis would collect and tabulate everything, then dump it on me after the poll closed, requiring a lot of error-checking. Eventually I developed a few programs to simplify data entry and automate formatting of the web pages. From that point, errors were reduced to a few of my typos, easily fixed. This year we were able to tabulate results as each ballot came in, and return formatted ballots to voters so they could flag mistakes way before the results were announced. This system is also nicely scalable: this year we're up to a record 156 voters. At some point I would expect adding voters would start averaging out the results, but thus far we just keep adding diversity, making the poll more useful and valuable than ever.

We wrote two essays to accompany the results. Those essays were initially published at Arts Fuse, along with the top results. (At some point, I'll add them to the JCP website. Eventually, I hope to have all of the poll materials archived there.) Francis Davis did his usual fine job of summarizing the results, reflecting on the year in jazz, and expanding on his own ballot, in The 2021 Jazz Critics Poll: Only the Best. I wrote a second essay, focusing more on the mechanics of the poll, on what gets measured and what doesn't, and what the more marginal data in the poll reveals, in Behind the 2021 Jazz Critics Poll: A Tool for the Times. We also revived an early JCP tradition and published a R.I.P. 2021's Jazz Notables.

I still have a bit more work to do on the website. I need to add some footnotes to the results, and to add the essays to the pulldown menus. Not sure what else. I keep thinking I should be able to generate voter lists for each album, so I may still fiddle with that. I also want to make it easier to compare results over years, but that will have to be a longer-term project.

I'm still not ready to wrap up this Music Week, though it wouldn't hurt to drop another album cover. I spent a lot of time last week listening to the Ron Mathewson archival tapes, which led me to more early modernist British jazz.


Initial Post: December 28: Music Week will be delayed for a day or two (or three) this week. I'm still working on an essay to go with the 16th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, and I'm having a horrible time trying to wrap it up. The Poll results and a Francis Davis essay will be published by The Arts Fuse real soon now, at which point my Jazz Critics Poll website will go live, with complete results, and complete ballots from our 156 distinguished critics.

When I know more, I'll kick out a tweet, then update this page. By the way, this isn't the first time I've extended the last Music Week of the year. It just seems tidier to wrap up the year on the last day. Although circumstances have made this year a good deal more stressful than in the past. Gloomy, even.


New records reviewed this week:

The Baylor Project: Generations (2021, Be a Light): Husband-and-wife duo Marcus and Jean Baylor, based in New York, she a former Zhané singer, he a former Yellowjackets drummer, slotted as jazz -- with steady help from Keith Loftus (tenor sax) and Freddie Hendrix (trumpet), and guest spots including Kenny Garrett and Jamison Ross -- but effectively a vintage soul throwback. B+(***)

Melanie Charles: Y'all Don't (Really) Care About Black Women (2021, Verve): Brooklyn-born jazz singer, Haitian roots, also plays flute, has a couple previous albums but this is a big step up in terms of label. One original credit, rest standards, but most titles have an appended "(Reimagined)." This strikes me as a bold conceptual tour de force, marred by glitches in execution (though they're hard to pin down.) B+(***)

The Chisel: Retaliation (2021, La Vida Es Un Mus): Punk band, or maybe post-punk (but not by much). Short (27:55), but counts as an album (14 songs). B+(*)

Theon Cross: Intra-I (2021, New Soil): British tuba player, also trombone, plays in Sons of Kemet and other jazz projects, second album, more electronica with Emre Ramazanoglu co-producing, featured guests on 5 (of 10) tracks, adding rap and beats, but the real lesson is: everything goes better with tuba. A-

Steven Feifke Big Band: Kinetic (2019 [2021], Outside In Music): Pianist, from Boston, debug 2015, composed 7 (of 10) pieces here, conventional big band plus guitar (Alex Wintz), with Veronica Swift vocals on 2 standards ("Until the Real Thing Comes Along," "On the Street Where You Live"). B+(*)

The Generations Quartet [Dave Liebman/Billy Test/Evan Gregor/Ian Froman]: Invitation (2021, Albert Murray/John Aveni): Group name, minus definite article, was used in 2016 by a different group (three old guys, including Oliver Lake, and a young drummer). Here it's one old guy, two youngsters, and drummer Froman in between. Favors standards, with a nice, relaxed feel, even when they kick it up a notch and Liebman really shines. Label named for the producers. A-

Hutch Harris: Suck Up All the Oxygen (2021, self-released, EP): Singer-songwriter from Portland, led the Thermals with bassist Kathy Foster 2002-18. Second solo album, a short one at 17:00 but has 10 songs, only two over 2:00. Brash, sharp strummed, cynical and pessimistic. "People say a lot of things, and most of them are lies" B+(**) [bc]

Abdullah Ibrahim: Solotude: My Journey, My Vision (2021, Gearbox): South African pianist, evidently he does a solo concert every year on his birthday. For his 87th, they rushed this gentle, pensive one into print. B+(**)

Il Sogno: Graduation (2021, Auand/Gotta Let It Out): Trio -- Emanuele Maniscalco (electric piano/synthesizer), Tomo Jacobson (bass), Oliver Louis Brostrøm Lauman (drums) -- second album. Has a playful air. B+(**) [sp]

Jlin: Embryo (2021, Planet Mu, EP): Footwork producer Jerrilyn Patton, three albums, offers a 4-cut 14:18 EP. Fairly sharp beats. B+(*)

Jungle: Loving in Stereo (2021, Awal): British dance-pop group with producers Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, third album. B+(*)

Masabumi Kikuchi: Hanamichi: The Final Studio Recording (2013 [2021], Red Hook): Japanese pianist (1939-2015), moved to US to study at Berklee, wound up in New York. Perhaps best known here for his trio with Paul Motian and Gary Peacock, Tethered Moon (7 albums, 1990-2004). Last studio recording, piano solo. B+(*) [sp]

Katy Kirby: Cool Dry Place (2021, Keeled Scales): Singer-songwriter from Texas, based in Nashville, first album after an EP,a short one (9 songs, 28:17. Filed her under Country, but she doesn't much sound the part. B+(*)

Mon Laferte: 1940 Carmen (2021, Universal Music Mexico): After spending some time in Los Angeles, the Chilean-Mexican singer-songwriter works some English lyrics into her songs, implying gravitas, although the bit I heard most clearly was "couche avec moi." B+(***)

Jihye Lee Orchestra: Daring Mind (2020 [2021], Motéma): Korean composer-arranger, based in New York, second album, at 16 pieces, slightly less than a conventional big band (3 reeds). B+(**)

Lingua Ignota: Sinner Get Ready (2021, Sargent House): Alias for Kristin Hayter, whose biography includes bouts of catholocism and anorexia, fascination with serial killers and Hildegard von Bingen (source of her alias), practice in metal bands and an MFA thesis titled Burn Everything Trust No One Kill Yourself, "linking real-world examples of misogyny in music with her own personal life using a Markov chain." Fourth album, following Let the Evil of His Own Lips Cover Him, All Bitches Die, and Caligula, an EP called Epistolary Grieving for Jimmy Swaggart, and cover singles of "Jolene" and "Kim." I find this all very creepy. I've long felt that exposing children to Christianity was cruel, but have rarely seen so much evidence compacted so assiduously. B-

Mach-Hommy: Balens Cho (2021, Griselda, EP): Rapper Ramon Begon, from New Jersey but not far removed from Haiti, title Kreyol for "Hot Candles." Short: 24:07. B+(**)

Rachel Musson: Dreamsing (2020 [2021], 577): Tenor saxophonist, based in London, debut 2013, regularly works in groups with Pat Thomas, Mark Sanders, Alex Ward, and/or Olie Brice. Solo album, doesn't shy away from the rough edges. B+(**) [bc]

Oz Noy: Snapdragon (2020, Abstract Logix): Israeli fusion guitarist, based in New York since 1996, dozen albums since 2005. Unclear on credits, but certainly has some guitar chops. B+(*)

Jeff Parker: Forfolks (2021, International Anthem): Guitarist, established himself in Chicago, but now based in Los Angeles, I think of him as a jazz guy but more people probably know him from the post-rock group Tortoise. Had some kind of crossover coup in 2020 with Suite for Max Brown, but I can't say as I got it. B+(*) [bc]

Chris Pierce: American Silence (2021, Pierce): Folksinger from California, 10th album since 2002, just guitar, harmonica, and pointed political lyrics. B+(*)

Portico Quartet: Monument (2021, Gondwana): British instrumental group, originally (from 2007) built around a Chinese instrument called the hang, switched to samples after Nick Mulvey left in 2011. B+(*)

Enrico Rava: Edizione Speciale (2019 [2021], ECM): Italian trumpet player, major figure for 50+ years, leads a sextet including long-time pianist Giovanni Guidi. B+(***)

Stephen Riley: I Remember You (2019 [2021], SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, 16th album on this label going back to 2005. Quartet with guitarist Vic Juris in his last performance; also Jay Anderson (bass) and Jason Tiemann. Light, lovely tone. B+(***)

Jana Rush: Painful Enlightenment (2021, Planet Mu): Chicago DJ/producer, gets her slotted as footwork (perhaps unfairly), second album, with two cuts featuring DJ PayPal, one with Nancy Fortune. Variously unappealing but not uninteresting sounds. B

Elori Saxl: The Blue of Distance (2021, Western Vinyl): Last name Kramer, from Minneapolis, based in New York, first album, deeply hued ambient clouds. B+(*)

Serengeti: Have a Summer (2021, self-released): Prolific Chicago rapper tries his hand at pop anthems. Maybe to show anyone can do it? I'm perplexed, and annoyed. Short album (9 songs, 27:38). B [sp]

Shame: Drunk Tank Pink (2021, Dead Oceans): English post-punk group, second album, big advance over their debut (if sounding more like the Fall does the trick, which I'd say it does). B+(***)

Skerebotte Fatta: Appaz (2020 [2021], ForTune): Polish sax & drums duo, Jan Malkowski and Dominik Mokrzewski. B+(***) [bc]

Rejjie Snow: Baw Baw Black Sheep (2021, Honeymoon/+1): Irish rapper Alexander Anyaegbunam, from Dublin, father Nigerian, mother Irish-Jamaican, moved to US in 2011 to play soccer, returned to Ireland to focus on music. Second album. Nice flow, light, catchy. B+(**)

Sonic Liberation Front: Moon Rust Red Streets (2020 [2021], High Two): Baltimore jazz group, goes back to 2000, bata drummer Kevin Diehl (aka Kevobatala) the main guy. B+(**) [sp]

Tyshawn Sorey/Alarm Will Sound: For George Lewis/Autoschediasms (2019-20 [2021], Cantaloupe, 2CD): Alarm Will Sound is a large (20 piece) post-classical ensemble, originally formed at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, debut album 2005. Sorey is an important jazz drummer, but here is composer and (2nd disc) conductor. Two long pieces, the first more ambient, the second more disruptive. B+(*)

Spellling: The Turning Wheel (2021, Sacred Bones): Singer-songwriter Tia Cabral, from Sacramento, third album. Arty pop, hard to tell. B+(*)

Throttle Elevator Music: Final Floor (2021, Wide Hive): I'm at a loss to describe this group, which seems to be calling it quits after six albums (plus a Retrospective since 2012. Breakout name is tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, joined by Kasey Knudsen (sax) and Erik Jekabson (trumpet). Main figure is producer Gregory Howe (guitar/keyboards). Perhaps the idea was to start with bland background ("elevator") music, then give it some muscle tone. They've done that much pretty regularly. But it always seemed like they should have done more. B+(**)

Valerie June: The Moon and Stars: Prescription for Dreamers (2021, Fantasy): Singer-songwriter from Tennesse, last name Hockett, grew up singing gospel in church, fifth album since 2006. Doesn't register as any genre, which wouldn't matter if the songs stuck with you, but they haven't . . . yet. B+(*)

Morgan Wade: Reckless (2021, Ladylike): Country singer-songwriter from Virginia, second album. Great voice, solid songs. B+(***)

Tierra Whack: Rap? (2021, Interscope, EP): First of three-in-three-weeks EPs, three cuts, 8:39. B+(**) [sp]

Tierra Whack: Pop? (2021, Interscope, EP): Second part, 3 more songs, 8:23. More guitar jangle. B+(**) [sp]

Tierra Whack: R&b? (2021, Interscope, EP): Third try, 3 more songs, 9:20. Sings more in that neo-soul vein, which she doesn't have the voice for the usual exaggeration. B+(*) [sp]

Jamire Williams: But Only After You Have Suffered (2021, International Anthem): Drummer, second album, stradles jazz and hip-hop. Interesting sound, more underground hip-hop than jazz, but I'm finding this rather impenetrable. B+(*) [sp]

Willow: Lately I Feel Everything (2021, MSFTS Music/Roc Nation): Last name Smith, singles since 2010 and albums since 2015, seems to have started as a rapper but this is mostly indie rock, with three songs featuring Travis Barker, one more Cherry Glazerr (but also one with Tierra Whack). Brutal but short (11 songs, 26:05). B+(*)

Young Thug: Punk (2021, YSL/300 Entertainment/Atlantic): Atlanta rapper Jeffrey Williams, prolific since 2011 although this is only his second studio album. B+(***) [sp]

Brandee Younger: Somewhere Different (2021, Impulse!): Harp player, fifth album since 2011, her duo with bassist-husband Dezron Douglas was one of the best things to come out of the lockdown. B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Hasaan Ibn Ali: Retrospect in Retirement of Delay: The Solo Recordings (1962-65 [2021], Omnivore, 2CD): Pianist William Henry Langford Jr. (or Lankford, 1931-80), from Philadelphia, cut one album in 1964, released as The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan, testimony both to the pianist's local reputation and general obscurity. A 1965 album shelved by Atlantic was released to great acclaim in April, 2021, and here we have some previously unknown solo tapes from the period. B+(**)

Neil Ardley & the New Jazz Orchestra: Jazz Calendar: Olympic Studios '66 (1966 [2020], Jazz in Britain, EP): English pianist (1937-2004), was director of NJO 1964-70. This collects five tracks (21:03) from two 10-11 piece lineups. B+(*) [bc]

Neil Ardley: Kaleidoscope of Rainbows: QEH, 20th Oct 75 (1975 [2021], Jazz in Britain, 2CD): Title per front cover, means Queen Elizabeth Hall. Extended piece, a studio version released in 1976 with Ardley playing synthesizer. This live one, performed mostly with New Jazz Orchestra alumni including all of Ian Carr's Nucleus, is significantly longer, but the keyboard/guitar structures extend nicely, and the reeds section is top notch. A- [bc]

Ian Carr Double Quintet: Solar Session (1970 [2021], Jazz in Britain): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, his doppelganger here Harry Beckett, the paired saxophonists Tony Roberts and Brian Smith, the other slots a bit skewed: the drummer paired with congas, bass both acoustic and electric, the chordal instruments electric piano (Karl Jenkins) and guitar (Chris Spedding). Spacey but short (5 cuts, 26:38). B+(**) [bc]

The Allen Cohen Big Band: The Oracle [The Ron Mathewson Tapes Vol. 4] (1968 [2020], Jazz in Britain, EP): Cohen doesn't seem to have any more discography, but is director/arranger for this 11-piece outfit, with many names that since became famous (e.g., Kenny Wheeler, Mike Osborne, Alan skidmore, John Surman). Three tracks, 18:40. B+(*)

Mike Gibbs: Revisiting Tanglewood 63: The Early Tapes (1970 [2021], Jazz in Britain): Rhodesia-born British composer and bandleader, studied at Berklee and was involved with Tanglewood Music Center, also in Massachusetts, whence the title of his second (1971) album, Tanglewood 63. All five pieces that wound up on the album are here: three from late May, and two from November 1, shortly before the album sessions started (November 10). The groups here are smaller (13-16 pieces, no strings). B+(**) [bc]

Group Sounds Four & Five: Black and White Raga (1965-66 [2020], Jazz in Britain): Two rare sessions for groups led by Henry Lowther (trumpet) and Lyn Dobson (tenor sax), recorded by drummer John Hiseman: a quartet with Jack Bruce (bass), and a quintet with Ken McCarthy (piano) and Ron Rubin (bass). B+(**) [bc]

Joe Harriott: Chronology: Live 1968-69 (1968-69 [2020], Jazz In Britain): Alto saxophonist, five quintet tracks (25:54) with Kenny Wheeler (trumpet/flugelhorn), Pat Smythe (piano), bass (Ron Mathewson), and drums (Bill Eyden), followed by two tracks featuring Harriott in the Harry South Big Band (13:10). B+(**) [bc]

Joe Harriott Quintet: Formation: Live '61 (1961 [2021], Jazz in Britain, EP): Previously unreleased, four songs plus a 4:04 drum solo, total 21:11. Alto sax, with Les Condon (trumpet/flugelhorn), Pat Smythe (piano), bass, and drums. B+(*) [bc]

Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers: Ramble in Music City: The Lost Concert (1990 [2021], Nonesuch): Hype refers to the "Nashville debut of the acoustic all-star group," but the names barely register -- not that I'm up on legendary Nashville studio musicians. Wide range of songs: "Sweet Dreams" and "Save the Last Dance for Me" is a nice sequence. B+(**)

The Tubby Hayes Quartet: Free Flight [The Ron Mathewson Tapes Vol. 3] (1972 [2020], Jazz in Britain, 2CD): Britain's major tenor saxophonist of the bop era, died young (38 in 1973), recording this during his brief recovery after major heart surgery in 1971. With Mike Pyne (piano), Mathewson (bass), and Tony Levin (drums). B+(**) [bc]

Tubby Hayes Quartet: The Complete Hopbine '69 [The Ron Mathewson Tapes Vol. 7] (1969 [2021], Jazz in Britain, 2CD): Live date, a month before his on-stage collapse, "signaling the beginning of the final phase of his tragically foreshortened career." With Mick Pyne (piano), Ron Mathewson (bass), and Spike Wells (drums). B+(***) [bc]

Allan Holdsworth/Ray Warleigh/Ron Mathewson/Bryan Spring: Warleigh Manor: The Ron Mathewson Tapes Vol. 1 (1979 [2020], Jazz in Britain): Mathewson was a British bassist (1944-2020), started with Tubby Hayes in 1966, with many side credits over the years, ranging from the Earl Hines Trio to the Charlie Watts Orchestra. His private stash of tapes kicked off this label/project, with this breezy early recording of fusion guitarist Holdsworth and sax/flute player Warleigh. B+(**) [bc]

Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain (1965-1972) (1965-72 [2021], Decca): Up through the 1950s, jazz in Britain was dominated by trad bands, with occasional modernists (like Tubby Hayes and Joe Harriott) emerging toward 1960. After 1970, the British emerged as innovators in prog/fusion and avant. The missing links are found in the ferment of young modernists of the late 1960s. Jazz in Britain has picked up some marginal tapes from this period, but labels like Decca and Columbia hold most of the era's major works. The former is sampled liberally here: Kenny Wheeler, Don Rendell, John Surman, Mike Westbrook, Stan Tracey, Neil Ardley, Alan Skidmore, Michael Gibbs, Michael Garrick, Harry Beckett, and more. A-

Ron Mathewson: Memorial (1968-76 [2020], Jazz in Britain): English bassist (1944-2020), didn't lead any albums but Discogs co-credits him with 9, Wikipedia lists 24 credits, and his numbers are growing at his private tapes have formed the backbone of this label's archives. This grabs six primo pieces from various groups -- highlights include Amalgam and Harry Beckett's S & R Powerhouse Section -- then ends with a solo piece. B+(***) [bc]

Mathewson & Mathewson: Blow (1976 [2020], Jazz in Britain): Bassist Ron and his brother Mat on electric piano, from Ron's tapes. Pretty minor, and short (27:43). B

Lee Morgan: The Complete Live at the Lighthouse (1970 [2021], Blue Note, 8CD): Brilliant trumpet player, lived fast and died young (33, shot by his common-law wife), played with John Coltrane while still a teenager, starred in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, recorded a number of masterpieces under his own name. This is from a 3-day, 12-set stand, with Bennie Maupin (sax), Harold Mabern (piano), Jymie Merritt (bass), and Mickey Roker (drums), initially appearing on a 1971 2-LP set (73:08), expanded to 3-CD (183:47) in 1996, and finally complete here (with a 12-LP option). At best, an exhaustive live box lets you get lost in the music -- examples include Miles Davis: The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel (1965, 7CD), and Art Pepper: The Complete Village Vanguard Sessions (1977, 9CD). This isn't quite that, and never was, but it sure has its share of bright moments. B+(***)

The New Jazz Orchestra: Le Déjuener Sur L'Herbe (1968 [2021], Decca): Directed by Neil Ardley, who wrote the title track and arranged a Miles Davis tune, produced by Tony Reeves, a piano-less big band with most of the usual suspects contributing, including Jack Bruce on bass. B+(***)

Mike Osborne & Friends: Live at the Peanuts Club (1975-76 [2020], Jazz in Britain): British alto saxophonist, friends are all notable in their own right: Alan Skidmore (tenor sax), Harry Beckett and Marc Charig (trumpets), Harry Miller (bass), Louis Moholo-Moholo (drums), and Elton Dean (alto sax) joins in on the two standards ("Well You Needn't" and "Cherokee") -- the latter closes with a tremendous flourish. B+(***) [bc]

PAZ/The Singing Bowls of Tibet/Allan Holdsworth: Live in London '81: The Ron Mathewson Tapes Vol. 2 (1981 [2020], Jazz in Britain, EP): Dick Crouch is composer/director (presumably of PAZ), Alain Presencer is credited with the singing bowls that provide the calming center the other musicians are reluctant to disrupt: Ray Warleigh (alto sax and flutes), Holdsworth (guitar), Geoff Castle (keyboards), and Mathewson (bass). Short (4 tracks, 24:52). B [bc]

Plastic People of the Universe: Magicke Noci 1997 (1997 [2021], Guerilla): Czech rock group, founded by Milan Hlavsa in 1968, drew on Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground (a mix that never made sense to me), strugged under Soviet repression but got an album released in France in 1978. Disbanded 1988, but revived after Communist regime fell, and carried on after Hlavsa's death in 2001. This seems to have been a high-point of their post-Communist period -- I'd recommend their previous 1997 over this one, but they find their groove midway here, and finish strong. B+(***) [sp]

Elvis Presley: Elvis: Back in Nashville (1971 [2021], RCA/Legacy, 4CD): Deep dive into Presley's May-June 1971 Nashville sessions, intended as some sort of progression from his box of 1970 sessions From Elvis in Nashville, beyond his much-heralded 1969 From Elvis in Nashville. Promise here is that returning to the tapes strips away the goop added for his album releases. Unfortunately, his big hit this time was Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas, which was so awful I skipped over most of it (it's largely buried on disc 3). That leads us with two unoriginal insights: he was (still) a very great singer, and his capacity for camp was hinted at but rarely developed (for such a hint, refer to his "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"). There's a famous bootleg called Elvis' Greatest Shit. Given the laws of capitalism, it's only a matter of time before RCA legitimizes it with an official release (possibly a staggeringly huge box set). When they do so,they can draw liberally from this. And the "greatest" isn't hyperbole. Elvis is great. But he's also full of shit. B-

Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet: Blue Beginnings (1964 [2021], Jazz in Britain): Soprano/tenor sax and trumpet/flugelhorn, backed with piano-bass-drums, an important in the more conventional decade before fusion and the avant-garde became defining forces in British jazz. Title may alude to the group's 1965 album Shades of Blue. B+(**) [bc]

The Ray Russell Sextet: Spontaneous Event: Live Vol. 1: 1967-69 (1967-69 [2020], Jazz in Britain): English guitarist, started about here, most recent record was 2020. From several dates and groups, all backed with piano-bass-drums, 4 tracks with Dave Holland. B+(***) [bc]

The Ray Russell Sextet: Forget to Remember: Live Vol. 2: 1970 (1970 [2021], Jazz in Britain): Cover adds: Featuring Harry Beckett (trumpet/flugelhorn). Also Tony Roberts (saxes), Nick Evans (trombone), bass, and drums. The horns, and not just Beckett, are outstanding, but the guitar holds them together and drives them on. A- [bc]

Splinters: Inclusivity (1972 [2021], Jazz in Britain, 3CD): Short-lived group, didn't produce any albums, although a 77:30 live shot appeared in 2009 as Split the Difference. This builds on the same 100 Club performance in May (first two discs here), and adds a later set from September, two weeks before drummer Phil Seamen died. The band includes Trevor Watts (alto sax), Tubby Hayes (tenor sax), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet/flugelhorn), Stan Tracey (piano), Jeff Clyne (bass), and two drummers (Seamen and John Stevens). B+(***) [bc]

Mike Taylor Quartet: Mandala (1965 [2021], Jazz in Britain): British pianist, released two jazz albums on Columbia (UK), one with Jack Bruce on bass, and is perhaps better known as co-writer of three Cream songs (from Wheels of Fire, with Ginger Baker lyrics). Nonetheless, he was homeless when he drowned at age 30. He's gotten a it of attention recently: Ezz-Thetics released a compilation of selected works, some performed by Cream, but this is more impressive. With Dave Tomlin (soprano sax), Tony Reeves (bass), and Jon Hiseman (drums). Four Taylor compositions plus "Night in Tunisia." Tomlin didn't have much of a career, but he's impressive here. B+(***) [bc]

Old music:

Mike Gibbs: Directs the Only Chrome-Waterfall Orchestra (1975, Bronze): Evocative group name, Gibbs' compositions have a shimmering flow. Group is large and star-studded, although the list of featured soloists is much shorter, especially Philip Catherine (guitar, who wrote the only non-Gibbs piece), Tony Coe, and Charlie Mariano. A-


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.

Ikizukuri + Susans Santos Silva: Suicide Underground Orchid (2021, Multikulti Project): Portuguese trio -- Julius Gabriel (soprano sax), Gonçalo Almeida (bass), Gustavo Costa (drums/electronics) -- plus trumpet. ++ [bc]


Grade (or other) changes:

Allen Lowe: Turn Me Loose White Man (1900-60 [2021], Constant Sorrow, 30CD): Due to a bookkeeping error, it didn't occur to me to pick this as the year's top reissue/archival, in jazz or anything else. That's because I got the CDs in 2020, but the second volume of the book didn't come out until February, which merits a revised release date. Hard to overstate what an accomplishment this is. Lowe fancies himself as a renegade, unorthodox thinker, and he's entitled to that view, but in the coming decades whole generations will study it, because no one has, or probably ever will have, done a more thorough or exacting job of integrating American recorded music into a more coherent whole. [was: A-] A [cd]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Carol Liebowitz/Adam Lane/Andrew Drury: Blue Shift (Line Art) [03-04]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, December 20, 2021


Music Week

December archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36943 [36898] rated (+45), 125 [123] unrated (+2).

I should wrap this up as quickly as possible, as I have a lot more work to get into. In particular, I need to write an essay introducing the 16th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, results of which will be published by Arts Fuse the week of December 27. All the ballots have been counted. Francis Davis and I know the winners (and losers), and are each supposed to write a little something on that. I'm pretty lost at the moment, but for me the key thing isn't critical consensus but the wide spread of data. We have a record 156 voters this year. They voted for 510 releases of new music, and 96 reissues/archival. I've been drawing inspiration from scattered ballots for a couple of weeks now: this week that includes Bugpowder, Kimbrough, and Sing a Song of Bird (this week's other jazz pick, Henry Threadgill's Poof, was one I was always going to listen to as soon as I got the chance).

I've also been spending time monitoring other EOY lists, compiling my EOY aggregate list (and its poorer reissues/comps sibling). It's not as deep as in past years, but currently sources 147 lists, totalling 2826 new music albums and 254 old. For comparison, that's down from 5557 new music albums in the 2020 EOY Aggregate, with the leader dropping from 814 points (Fiona Apple) to 154 (Little Simz). I suspect that the leader drop isn't just due to fewer list inputs. There's just less consensus this year.

This list-scrounging has helped me flesh out my Jazz and Non-Jazz EOY lists. The Jazz A-list is up to 67 (still down a bit from recent years, but the 26 old music is off the charts). Non-Jazz is up to 57 new, plus a measly 6 old music. I've played about twice as much jazz as non-jazz this year, but the top numbers were close to even when I first compiled this list. Jazz has pulled ahead mostly because I've been getting better intelligence via JCP. Most years the lists even out in January, after I see more trustworthy non-jazz lists.

I've been monitoring, but haven't actually contributed anything to Glen Boothe's Pazz + Jop Rip-Off Poll in recent years. (I wasn't invited to Uproxx's post-P&J Critics Poll, so didn't have to formulate a list earlier.) If I get to it, this is what I'll likely post:

  1. East Axis: Cool With That (ESP-Disk) 14
  2. Anthony Joseph: The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives (Heavenly Sweetness) 13
  3. Gift of Gab: Finding Inspiration Somehow (Nature Sounds) 12
  4. Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future (Impulse!) 11
  5. James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms) 10
  6. Nathan Bell: Red, White and American Blues (It Couldn't Happen Here) (Need to Know) 10
  7. Magdalena Bay: Mercurial World (Luminelle) 9
  8. Maria Muldaur With Tuba Skinny: Let's Get Happy Together (Stony Plain) 7
  9. No-No Boy: 1975 (Smithsonian Folkways) 7
  10. Todd Snider: First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder (Aimless) 7

I was feeling pretty glum a month ago, when I decided to go ahead and compile the EOY Aggregates. I've been frustrated by lack of progress on both writing and technical projects, so figured I might as well submerge myself into something rote-mechanical, at least for the duration. When JCP came around, I was already in that mode, so the processing work came easy. (After all, I have a system: a set of programs that convert raw data into a website.) Still, at this point I'm feeling exhausted.

What I'd normally have to look forward to this week is cooking up a Christmas Eve dinner. Last year, I cooked more than usual, but since we couldn't have guests, I bought a lot of containers and packed up dinners-to-go for a dozen friends, who either came by and picked them up, or arranged for delivery. I spent a lot of time last year planning how to do that. (Details should be in last year's notebook. Not on the list, but I think I also made eggplant parmesan.) Probably too late to do anything like that this year. It's looking like the emptiest holiday ever.


New records reviewed this week:

Teno Afrika: Amapiano Selections (2019-20 [2021], Awesome Tapes From Africa): South African DJ/producer, his work included in Amapiano Now (below), co-credited on 6 (of 8) tracks here, suggesting to me that these "selections" were picked up from scattered singles. Steady on the beats. B+(***)

Damon Albarn: The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows (2021, Transgressive): Major British music figure since the 1990s, when he led the Britpop band Blur. In recent years he's mostly toiled as the main singer-songwriter in Gorillaz, while doing various side projects, mostly with African musicians (e.g., Mali Music in 2002, and three records with Tony Allen). He also has four soundtracks, and this is his second solo album. The album was originally planned as "an orchestral piece inspired by the landscapes of Iceland," taking its title from a poem by John Clare, but with nothing better to do during the Covid lockdown metamorphosed into a full album. Still sounds scattered to me. B+(*)

Ben Allison: Moments Inside (2021, Sonic Camera): Bassist, co-founder in New York of Jazz Composers Collective, has impressed me so much as a composer that I've voted for him in DownBeat's Critics Poll, albums since 1996. Quartet with two guitarists (Chico Pinheiro and Steve Cardenas) and drums. B+(*) [sp]

Pedro Melo Alves' Omniae Large Ensemble: Lumina (2020 [2021], Clean Feed): Portuguese drummer, group name comes from his debut Omniae Ensemble in 2017. Large (23 person) ensemble, light on brass but adds bassoon, tuba, strings, voices, and electronics. Three pieces, total 74:56. B+(*) [sp]

Roxana Amed: Ontology (2021, Sony Music Latin): Singer-songwriter from Argentina, sixth album, got JCP votes in Vocal and Latin, but sails over my head. Maybe wafts is the more apt verb? B [sp]

Patricia Barber: Clique! (2021, Impex): Jazz singer, 16 albums since 1989, writes some (one song here) but mostly does standards, also plays piano, backed by guitar-bass-drums, with saxophonist Jim Gailloreto. Every time I play this, I tune in on "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "The In Crowd," but nothing else quite hits that spot -- least of all the Brazilian option, "One Note Samba." B+(***)

Bugpowder: Cage Tennis (2020 [2021], Trytone): Amsterdam-based quartet -- Tobias Klein (alto sax/bass clarinet), Jeroen Kimman (electric/bass guitar), Jasper Stadhouders (bass/acoustic guitar), Tristan Renfrow (drums) -- plays Ornette Coleman compositions, preferring the harmolodic '70s over the now-classic '50s. Repertory from another dimension of funk. A-

Chick Corea Akoustik Band: Live (2018 [2021], Stretch, 2CD): Piano-bass-drums trio, with John Pattitucci and Dave Weckl, a lineup that dates back to their eponymous debut in 1989. I've had a lot of trouble with Corea's fusion bands over the years, but lately his trios have been very respectable. B+(**)

Joy Crookes: Skin (2021, Insanity): Singer-songwriter from London, mother from Dhaka, father from Dublin, first album after three EPs. Unusual voice reminds me of Phoebe Snow, although Crookes is framed more as a pop singer. B+(**)

Erika De Casier: Sensational (2021, 4AD): Pop singer-songwriter, both in Portugal, mother Belgian, father Cape Verdean, moved as a child to Denmark, second album. Light touch, almost raps. B+(**)

Joey DeFrancesco: More Music (2021, Mack Avenue): Organ player, so was his father Papa John DeFrancesco, lots of album since 1989, also plays keyboard, piano, trumpet, and tenor sax, this one with Lucas Brown (guitar) and Michael Ode (drums), as full of swing as ever. B+(***)

Hamid Drake/Elaine Mitchener/William Parker/Orphy Robinson/Pat Thomas: Black Top Presents: Some Good News (2019 [2021], Otoroku, 2CD): Some convoluted parsing here: Black Top is a duo of Robinson (marimba) and Thomas (piano), both also electronics, but since they're listed separately on the credit line, their place here seemed to be in the title. (They have two previous albums, each with a special guest.) Drake and Parker you know. Mitchener is a vocalist. How you react to her chatterbox scat will make or break the album. Everyone else is predictably brilliant, and when she finds a groove, she's pretty delightful too. B+(**)

John Ellis/Adam Levy/Glenn Patscha: Say It Quiet (2021, Sunnyside): Reeds (mostly tenor sax), guitars, keyboards for the headliners, also bass, drums, and vibes on 4 cuts. B+(**) [sp]

Joe Farnsworth: City of Sounds (2021, Smoke Sessions): Mainstream drummer, lots of side credits, only a handful since 2003 with his name up front. This is a piano-bass-drums trio with Kenny Barron and Peter Washington. He wrote 3 songs, Barron 2, and they do 3 standards. B+(*)

Fred Frith/Ikue Mori: A Mountain Doesn't Know It's Tall (2015 [2021], Intakt): Guitarist, also credited with various toys and other objects, duo with laptop electronics. B+(**) [sp]

Goat Girl: On All Fours (2021, Rough Trade): English band, Wikipedia says "post-punk" and another source I jotted down has them as "neo-psychedelia," but they sound to me like a fairly generic alt/indie g-g-b-d band, with appeal from lead singer/guitarist Lottie Pendlebury, calling herself Clottie Cream. Second album. aB+(**)

Cameron Graves: Seven (2021, Mack Avenue): Pianist, composer, founding member of West Coast Get Down Collective, plays with Kamasi Washington (who appears on two songs here), second album, sort of '70s fusion with a side of metal. B-

Grouper: Shade (2021, Kranky): Liz Harris solo project, albums since 2005, plays slow, ethereal electronic music, barely there, but appealing as far as it goes. B+(*)

Alexander Hawkins: Togetherness Music: For Sixteen Musicians (2020 [2021], Intakt): English pianist, debut 2008, picked up momentum around 2016. Cover continues "Feat. Evan Parker + Riot Ensemble." Latter group has a couple albums, personnel seems to be fluid, but they're large enough to fill out the roster. Horns a plus, strings less so. B+(***) [sp]

Jazzmeia Horn and Her Noble Force: Dear Love (2021, Empress Legacy): Jazz singer from Dallas, backed by a 15-piece big band. The more conventional swing standards seem to work best, or when she has something political to say. B+(*) [sp]

Michael Hurley: Time of the Foxgloves (2021, No Quartet): Folksinger, just turned 80, best remembered as the lead credit on 1976's Have Moicy!, where he provided the steady good humor while Peter Stampfel added manic excitement. On his own, he's always been steady, and that's rarely been quite enough. B+(**)

Boldy James & the Alchemist: Bo Jackson (2021, ALC): Detroit rapper James Clay Jones III, working again with L.A. producer Alan Mamam (ex-Cypress Hill). B+(*)

Kimbrough (2021, Newvelle): Quite a tribute to the late pianist Frank Kimbrough, 61 songs he wrote played by 67 musicians who had some direct relation, some famous, many not, recorded over four days, perhaps the most productive wake ever. It's a lot to take in. Seems likely I long underrated him (although I totally enjoyed his Monk's Dreams). A-

Martin Küchen & Michaela Antalová: Thunder Before Lightning (2019 [2021], Clean Feed): Swedish saxophonist, main group Angles but has a lot of projects, duo with Czech drummer. Neither is clear in some kind of industrial drone. B- [sp]

Mike LeDonne's Groover Quartet + Big Band: It's All Your Fault (2020 [2021], Savant): Organ player, respected pianist elsewhere but "Groover" spells organ, Quartet with Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Peter Bernstein (guitar), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). They play throughout, with 4 (of 8) tracks expanded to big band swagger, mostly names you'll recognize (e.g., the sax section picks up Scott Robinson, Jim Snidero, Steve Wilson, and Jason Marshall). Overkill a bit, but must have been fun. B+(*)

Dave Liebman Expansions: Selflessness: The Music of John Coltrane (2021, Dot Time): Saxophonist, huge discography since 1973, including a number of Coltrane tributes. Plays soprano sax and wood flute here, backed by keyboards (Bobby Avey), bass, and drums. B+(**)

Miko Marks & the Resurrectors: Our Country (2021, Redtone): Singer (songwriter I assume, but credits are scarce, and I recognize some covers) from Flint, Michigan; won a "best new country artist" award in 2006, back with her first album since 2007. Sounds like Bonnie Bramlett at first, then morphs into Mavis Staples. One for this year's political mixtape: "Goodnight America." A-

Miko Marks & the Resurrectors: Race Records (2021, Redtone, EP): Six songs, 22:49, countrified blues and soul-tinged country standards, reminding us that race is only in the mind of the beholder, like a fever or a fit of epilepsy. B+(**)

Terrace Martin: Drones (2021, BMG): From Los Angeles, best known as a hip-hop producer, but plays alto sax (also keyboards, drums, guitar) and sings/raps, his own albums often jazz-oriented, this one less so -- probably because most cuts have featured guests. Choice cut: "Sick of Sayin'" (thanks for the saxophone). B+(**)

Lori McKenna: Christmas Is Right Here (2021, CN, EP): Folksinger-songwriter from Massachusetts, doesn't have that country drawl but writes with detail and eloquence that puts her Nashville competitors to shame. Last thing we need from her is a Christmas album. To her credit, these six songs (19:53) don't sound like Christmas music at all, but they're not quite an album either. B+(***)

Mustafa: When Smoke Rises (2021, Regent Park Songs, EP): Canadian soul singer, parents from Sudan, last name Ahmed, first album, short (8 songs, 23:42). B+(*)

Grethen Parlato: Flor (2021, Edition): Jazz singer from Los Angeles, father was a bassist for Frank Zappa, moved to New York in 2003, sixth album since 2005. She wrote 2 songs, added some vocals. Music as a light Brazilian vibe. B+(**)

Greentea Peng: Man Made (2021, AMF): British neo-soul singer Aria Wells, Arab father, African mother, first album after two EPs and three years of singles. Soft beats, loopy, but no sooner than I wrote that down she mixed it up. B+(***)

Mariá Portugal: Erosão (2021, Fun in the Church): Brazilian drummer, from São Paulo, builds these pieces up from "song material, acoustic improvisation and electronic manipulation." The sort of disjointed experimental funk that shows up on the fringes of Brazilian music, and sometimes proves catchy. B+(**)

Jordan Rakei: What We Call Life (2021, Ninja Tune): Born in New Zealand, father Maori, grew up in Australia, wound up in London. Fourth album. Plays piano/keyboards, programs drums, voice glides toward falsetto. B+(*)

Phil Ranelin: Ininite Expressions (2020 [2021], ORG Music): Trombonist, moved to Detroit in the 1960s and co-founded the Tribe, one of the few key regional groups that kept going during the lean days of the avant-garde. Still working past his 80th, he decided to record a solo album during the lockdown, but wound up here with a little help -- especially Andre Beasley on drums. B+(**)

Porter Robinson: Nurture (2021, Mom + Pop): DJ, electronica producer from Chapel Hill, NC, second album. Synth swells and lots of vocals. I feel like he's trying to cheer me up, but it isn't working. B

Sten Sandell/Lisa Ullén: Double Music (2021, Clean Feed): Piano duo, two Swedes, Ullén established since 2009, Sandell since the late 1980s. Billed for "piano lovers," but not so delicate. B+(**) [bc]

Nitin Sawhney: Immigrants (2021, Sony Masterworks): Born in London, parents from India, albums from 1993, produces electronica, draws on Indian classical music and various other sources. Nominally a sequel to his 1999 album Beyond Skin. Interludes with topical texts, songs built from strings and beats, a little rap, a lot to say. A-

Henry Threadgill Zooid: Poof (2019 [2021], Pi): Alto saxophonist, also plays flute (more than I'd like), founded the group Air in the late 1970s, has produced a steady stream of albums since, including some of the best of the last decade. Group is an exquisitely balanced quintet, with Jose Davila (tuba/trombone), Liberty Ellman (guitar), Christopher Hoffman (cello), and Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums). I sampled a cut of two when this came out, and wasn't blown away, but it all seems to work out in the end. A- [cd]

Roseanna Vitro: Sing a Song of Bird (2017-21 [2021], Skyline): Jazz singer, from Arkansas, moved to New York in 1978, 15 albums, the best are tributes but this is unique. She only sings on 6 (of 12) songs, but is key to the networking that makes the record work. Three more singers share cover credit: Bob Dorough, Sheila Jordan, and Marion Cowings. Dorough's songs were recorded in 2017, shortly before his death (at 94). Not clear when Jordan's 4 songs were done, but she's in a band picture with Dorough. The cover also credits Special Guests Gary Bartz and Mark Gross, alto saxophonists who cut their teeth learning Bird licks. Aside from "These Foolish Things" at the end, all of the tunes are from Parker, with various lyrics. I'm not a huge fan of Parker or vocalese, but the whole album is done with such good cheer I can't help but smile (or laugh). A- [sp]

Anna Webber: Idiom (2019 [2021], Pi, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, also plays flute. First disc is her Simple Trio, with piano (Matt Mitchell) and drums (John Hollenbeck). Second is Large Ensemble, a group of 13 (including conductor Eric Wubbels). Both sides start out basic then build and build, the large ensemble more impressively, no surprise given the wealth of options. B+(***)

Michael Wollny/Emile Parisien/Tim Lefebvre/Christian Lillinger: XXXX (2019 [2021], ACT Music): German pianist, mostly plays electronic keyboards here, with soprano sax, more electronics, and drums. Basically, Weather Report instrumentation, but finds much more interesting shapes and crevices. B+(***)

Yola: Stand for Myself (2021, Easy Eye Sound): Yolanda Quartey, from Bristol, UK, black, 38, improbable for an Americana icon, but she's recorded her two albums in Nashville, and that's how the marketing folk frame her. I don't really buy it, but don't have any other ideas. B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Amapiano Now ([2021], NTS): South African dance music du jour, "the fledgling post-kwaito genre is the sound of joy in the midst of struggle . . . sweeping the globe." Sixteen tracks selected by Shannen SP and Joe Cotch. This didn't grabe me as fast as Earthworks' kwaito comp (way back in 2000), or recent South African albums by DJ Black Low or Sho Madjozi or Malcolm Jiyane, probably because it's less remarkably close to globalized electronica than township jive, but it keeps coming. B+(***)

Bob Marley & the Wailers: The Capitol Session '73 (1973 [2021], Mercury/Tuff Gong): Stranded in California after being dropped from a tour opening for Sly & the Family Stone, the Wailers headed to Hollywood to tape a live-in-studio set, only now released on DVD. I haven't seen, and probably wouldn't bother watching, the video, but here's the audio. The set's a bit pat, but half the songs I know well from their first two American albums -- Catch a Fire and Burnin', both masterpieces -- and the others fit in nicely. Ends with a rousing "Get Up, Stand Up." A-

Archie Shepp: Live in Paris (1974) (1974 [2021], Transversales Disques): Tenor saxophonist, major avant-garde figure following Ayler and Coltrane, had to scramble in the 1970s, which took him frequently to Europe. Backed by piano trio plus percussion here, no one I recognize. B+(***) [bc]

Old music:

A Soldier's Sad Story: Vietnam Through the Eyes of Black America 1966-1973 [1966-73 [2003], Kent): The first of three volumes in this series, although the third didn't appear until 2021, 16 years after the second. The latter is probably why Christgau unearthed this after 20 years, but it's legacy worth recovering. In the late 1960s I reevaluated everything I believed through the prism of how much I hated the American War in Vietnam. Not that I remember, or even ever heard, much here, but the care and resilience was notable then, invaluable still. A-


Grade (or other) changes:

James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: Jesup Wagon (2020 [2021], Tao Forms): Sitting on top of my A- list for most of the year, all this needed was another play to nudge it over the top. [was: A-] A [cd]

Magdalena Bay: Mercurial World (2021, Luminelle): Synth-pop duo from Miami, singer-songwriter Mica Tennenbaum and producer Matthew Lewin, first album after 3 EPs and 2 mixtapes. Dance beats initially reminded me of Chic. While they increasingly became distinct, they didn't lose anything. Turned out even better. [was: A-] A [cd]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Fred Hersch: Breath by Breath (Palmetto) [01-07]
  • Magdalena Bay: Mercurial World (Luminelle)
  • Roberto Magris: Match Point (JMood)
  • Tony Malaby: The Cave of Winds (Pyroclastic) [01-07]
  • Emile Parisien: Louise (ACT) [01-28]
  • The Smudges: Song and Call (Cryptogramophone) [02-18]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, December 13, 2021


Music Week

December archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36898 [36843] rated (+55), 123 [119] unrated (+4).

Spent most of last week transcribing Jazz Critics Poll ballots. Deadline was Sunday night, so in theory that's done, but we'll accept stragglers at least until tomorrow. We currently have 150 ballots, one more than last year's record. Of course, I can't talk about results now -- you should be able to see the critics list, but when you lick on the links the choices should remain blank, until we unleash them last week of December.

Still, a lot of the records in this week's haul came from picks on those ballots. The total number of records receiving votes is 673, which is about 4.5 times the number of ballots (full ballots list 16 albums). That's the third highest number of albums, behind 2020 (683) and 2019 (674), but could edge up a bit.

Second significant source for records this week was Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide. I had previously looked for Courtney Barnett and Neil Young, but only found them this week. Among other picks, good to see the Gift of Gab album I gave an A to recently, less so a Jason Isbell album that struck me as a B, in between a Parquet Courts I deemed a B+(***). That was also my initial grade for the Burnt Sugar album I revisited. I didn't get to it until after the news that Greg Tate had died, so can't meet Bob's claims to an unaffected grade, but I'm happy to have enjoyed the record more than when I rushed it before.

Something else to note this week is that I signed up for one of those three-month free trials of Spotify. I've been increasingly frustrated by hangs listening to Napster, and coverage of some labels has been spotty. I've suspected that Spotify has a small but significant number of albums not on Napster (or impossible to find on Napster), so I waited until the next offer came around, and took it. I almost immediately got pissed off at it, as the browser ap defaulted to autoplay -- the whole point of streaming for me is that I know what I'm listening to, and when it ends. However, I did some research and discovered that their Linux ap (something Napster doesn't have) has a settings switch, so I downloaded that, and plunged into Limpopo Champions League (a desired album not on Napster that I had found on Spotify). So there's a few "[sp]" records on this week's list, and more to come. One especially pleasant surprise was finding an already constructed playlist for one of the Vietnam War anthologies Christgau reviewed in the latest Consumer Guide. Unfortunately, the other two volumes don't seem to exist.


I don't have a lot to say about the late Greg Tate. He, like me, gained his first prominence as one of Robert Christgau's stable of freelancers at the Village Voice, but he was 7 years younger, and entered that orbit after I had checked out (so I never actually met him). We had one thing in common: we were both huge P-Funk fans before we hooked up with Bob. I remember Carola wondering whether Bob's late conversion might have been influenced by my arrival in New York, but Bob dismissed the idea, instead citing Parliament's Live album, appearing shortly before we saw them at Madison Square Garden (coincidentally, a first date with my future wife) -- we were all in a cluster of freeloaders on the floor, a white hole in the middle of a chocolate donut. Tate, of course, was more credible and more memorable in his enthusiasm. He was one of the few Voice critics I read regularly once I left New York. He had eye-opening insights had an astonishing gift for language. I'm not surprised as I read young critics cite him as their inspiration, but being 7 years older, I can't say that. All I can allow is that after he came around, it's just as well I had retired.

After Tate died, I jotted down some tweets:

Nate Chinen: Absolutely gutted to learn that Greg Tate has left this dimension. What a hero he's been -- a fiercely original critical voice, a deep musician, an encouraging big brother to so many of us. Total shock.

Robert Christgau: Thulani Davis led me to Greg Tate. With his first submission the word "genius" swam in my head. "The more writing like this I get the happier I'll be," I told him. And I did get more--lots. Problem was, all of it was by Greg. He was so inimitable few even tried to rip him off.

Joe Levy: I edited Greg Tate at the Village Voice for five years, '89-'94. The pieces would come in, and of course they'd be great. But there would be bits -- thoughts or language -- that Greg hadn't worked out yet. So then Greg would come in. On the fly, he would spit paragraphs of diamonds, stuff that anyone else would spend hours trying to grasp, then hours more working to articulate. And I'd type it, and then he'd say, "Nah. We can do better." And then he did. The man's verbal and mental dexterity was superhero stuff. Not human, just not possible. He made giant steps look like a casual stroll. He made everyone around him smarter. He did it with warmth and grace and humor, his basso profundo like a warm blanket of knowledge.

Michaelangelo Matos: I keep thinking of Greg Tate stories, Greg Tate quotes, and they're completely, blessedly all over the place, of course.

Moor Mother: Greg Tate was a different type of cool. A style brought to you by gaining respect with words with a vibe no university could ever teach. So they hired him to school folks on what it really means to be apart of the culture and some of us are still realizing what he did for us.

Amanda Petrusich: Gutted to hear that Greg Tate -- an extraordinary critic, the writer who taught me what's possible in this work, how criticism can vibrate, sing, lift -- is gone.

Allen Lowe: Greg Tate's 1992 anthology Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America is about as essential as any critical work I've ever read. Greg and I became friends on Facebook and happened to meet two or three times over the years. We didn't always agree but I found everything he had to say insightful and illuminating. He was also a very nice man who when I first got sick a few years back and needed some help with what became my last book, came immediately to my assistance, no questions asked, with just human kindness and a sharp literary/aesthetic eye. The news that he's just died both grieves me and makes me cringe at not just the temporary state of ideas as cultural capital but also at the temporal state of our cultural memory. Greg was the very definition of "trendy," but they were trends that he helped to root out and that he turned into a very personal critical aesthetic.

I can also cite a few articles, although the collection here is haphazard:

I'm a bit surprised that there's less out on his music. I've listened to (and liked) most of it, but don't have my scraps of writing readily available, nor have I seen much else. Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber has rarely been reviewed by jazz critics (Angels Over Oakanda has 4 JCP votes this year, probably his first ever), let alone others (only a partial exception is Robert Christgau -- page doesn't yet include his A review of Angels). I've been toying with the idea of jazz as "social music" lately, by which I mean music that organizes social movement, often with a political goal, but always as an assertion of cultural worth. I see this in the crossover jazz that's become popular in London recently. It seems to me that Tate was trying to do something like that here, even though hardly anyone's been paying attention.

Meanwhile, I seem to have misplaced my copy of Flyboy in the Buttermilk, just when I could use something new to read. Ordered a copy of Flyboy 2, but the delivery schedule on that stretches out another week. I have the Graeber/Wengrow The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity in the wings, but that seems like a big chunk to chew off. I've found Amitav Ghosh's The Nutmeg's Curse very stimulating, although not without problems (as I cling to my stubborn faith in reason).


New records reviewed this week:

Rodrigo Amado Northern Liberties: We Are Electric (2017 [2021], Not Two): I'd hazard a guess that per capita the top two jazz countries in Europe are Norway and Portugal. Small size is part of the equation, but wealth isn't: Portugal is the poorest country in western Europe, while Norway is one of the richest. But cross-pollination has helped, especially as Portugal's Clean Feed label regularly hooked Portuguese jazz masters up with peers from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. This particular meeting from the two countries -- Amado (tenor sax), Thomas Johansson (trumpet), Jon Rune Strøm (bass), and Gard Nilssen (drums) -- took place in a London club and is being released on a Polish label. Nothing particularly electric in the lineup, but they do keep you turned on. A- [cd]

Courtney Barnett: Things Take Time, Take Time (2021, Mom + Pop): Singer-songwriter from Australia, breakthrough in 2015 was driven by her guitar, which remains a strong suit here. Innovation here is her phrasing, which reminds me ever so much of Lou Reed, which sometimes rises to the level of a tic -- one I adore. A-

Rubén Blades y Roberto Delgado & Orquesta: Salswing! (2021, Rubén Blades Productions): From Panama, back in the 1980s was a pop star and actor, had a law degree, was touted as a future president of Panama, but never got further than Minister of Tourism.

Theo Bleckmann & the Westerlies: This Land (2019 [2021], Westerlies Music): Jazz singer from Germany, based in New York since 1989, albums since 1993, teaches at Manhattan School of Music. Remarkable skills, but I find his penchant for difficult music very hit and miss. The Westerlies are a brass quartet (two trumpets, two trombones). Sort of a folk Americana thing, with bits of "Wade in the Water" and "In the Sweet By and By," but also "Look for the Union Label" and "Tear the Fascists Down." B+(***) [sp]

Dean Blunt: Black Metal 2 (2021, Rough Trade): Actual name Roy Nnawuchi, London-born, bunch of mixtapes and albums since 2011 including his previous Black Metal in 2014. Hard to describe, but not that. Short: 11 songs, 25:31. B+(**)

Anthony Braxton: 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017 (2017 [2021], Firehouse 12, 12CD): Twelve compositions, numbered between 402 and 420, diagrams on cover, averaging a bit less than an hour each (6 in 40-50 minute range, 4 in 50-60, 2 a bit over 70). Unlikely that all 12 performers play on all 12 pieces, given that 4 credits are for harp, but there's generally a lot going on: notably Dan Peck on tuba, Adam Matlock on accordion and aerophones, cello (Tomeka Reid) violin, brass (Tyler Ho Bynum and Steph Richards), and reeds (Ingrid Laubrock and Braxton). Writing this a bit more than half way through, and contemplating a break. Much more than I have any desire to digest, but lots of fun, interesting things whenever I tune in. B+(***) [bc]

Patricia Brennan: Maquishti (2018 [2021], Valley of Search): Vibraphone/marimba player, born in Mexico, based in New York, first album, various side credits. Solo pieces, using "extended techniques and electronic effects." B+(*)

Bill Charlap Trio: Street of Dreams (2021, Blue Note): Mainstream pianist, albums since 1993, most (11 since 1997) with Peter Washington (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums). Standards, typically light touch. B+(**)

Boubacar "Badian" Diabaté: Mande Guitar (2021, Lion Songs): Guitarist from Mali, mostly solo acoustic. Nice. B+(**)

Mathias Eick: When We Leave (2020 [2021], ECM): Norwegian trumpet player, on ECM since 2008. Only the one horn, over an atmospheric backdrop including piano, violin,, pedal steel guitar, and percussion. B+(**)

Sam Fender: Seveneen Going Under (2021, Polydor): English singer-songwriter, second album, fairly big star in UK, not much beyond. Has a good sense of traditional rock form, including the occasional hook, and sometimes has something to say. Promising, except when the arena beckons. B

Friends & Neighbors: The Earth Is # (2021, Clean Feed): Norwegian group, fifth album since 2011, quintet with trumpet (Thomas Johansson) and tenor sax (André Roligheten, also plays flute, bass clarinet, and bass sax) up front, plus piano-bass-drums. Four composers here, all but one piece coming from the names I skipped. Helps explain why I find this rather mixed, but the saxophonist is a tower of strength throughout. B+(***) [sp]

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: G_d's Pee at State's End (2021, Constellation): Canadian "post-rock" band, had a run 1994-2003, broke up, regrouped in 2011, with 3 albums early, 4 later. Instrumental, thickly layered with intimations of magnificence. B+(*)

Muriel Grossmann: Union (2021, Dreamland): Saxophonist (alto, soprano, tenor), born in Paris, grew up in Vienna, based in Ibiza since 2004, 13th album since 2007, quartet with guitar (Radomir Milojkovic), organ (Llorenç Barceló), and drums (Uros Stamenkovic). Appealing soul jazz groove with cosmic Coltrane overtones, a combo beyond reproach. B+(***)

Thomas Heberer: The Day That Is (2021, Sunnyside): German trumpet player, based in New York, composed this during lockdown, not clear when he recorded it. Another German in New York, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, provides a second horn, backed by John Hébert (bass) and Michael Sarin (drums). B+(***) [bc]

William Hooker: Big Moon (2020 [2021], Org Music): Drummer, entered the New York loft scene in mid-1970s, debut album 1976, has been productive and remained obscure ever since. Nine musicians, including two saxes (Stephen Gauci and Sarah Manning), flute, three keyboardists, bass, and extra percussion. Runs long at 83 minutes, and can get noisy. B+(***) [bc]

François Houle/Samo Salamon: Unobservable Mysteries (2020, Samo): Canadian clarinetist, Slovenian guitarist, improvising long distance. B+(**) [bc]

Susie Ibarra: Talking Gong (2020 [2021], New Focus): Percussionist, albums since 1997, credit here is "gong, percussion, drums." Most tracks add Claire Chase (flutes) and/or Alex Peh (piano). B+(*) [bc]

Susie Ibarra: Walking on Water (2018-19 [2021], Innova): Eleven "spirituals" composed to accompany paintings for the victims of the March 11, 2011 Tohoku Great Earthquake and Tsunami, based on field recordings from underwater microphones. Various voices (most prominently Claudia Acuña), strings (Jennifer Choi), and electronics, strangely affecting. B+(**) [bc]

Frank Kimbrough: Ancestors (2017 [2021], Sunnyside): Pianist, died in late 2020 at 64, was one of the postbop musicians who made Matt Baltisaris' Palmetto an important label in the 2000s. Trio with Kirk Knuffke (cornet) and Masa Kamaguchi (bass), a rather subdued but touching session. B+(***)

Craig Klein: Talkative Horns: Musical Conversations on Lucien Barbarin (2021, Tromboklein Music): New Orleans-based trombonist, one previous album, sings some, as does Kevin Louis (long cornet). Backed with piano, guitar, bass, and drums -- the latter by Barbarin's nephew, Gerry Barbarin Anderson. Lucien Barbarin (1956-2020) was a trad jazz trombonist, and his grand-uncle was drummer Paul Barbarin, who played with King Oliver in Chicago and Luis Russell in New York, as well as leading his own bands. B+(**)

La La Lars: La La Lars III (2021, <1000): Swedish group, third album, principally drummer Lars Skogland, who wrote the songs, produced, also plays some guitar and keyboards. With Goran Kajfes (trumpet), Jonah Kullhammar (tenor sax/flute/bassoon), Carl Bagge (keyboards), and Johan Berthling (bass). B+(***) [bc]

Mary LaRose: Out Here (2021, Little (i) Music): Jazz singer, based in Brooklyn, sixth album since 1995. Title comes from Eric Dolphy, with LaRose writing lyrics to Dolphy's sinewy compositions. Band members are listed on the cover, because they're something to brag about: Jeff Lederer, Tomeka Reid, Patricia Brennan, Nick Dunston, Matt Wilson. B+(***)

James Brandon Lewis Quartet: Code of Being (2021, Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, one of the giants of his generation, backed by Aruán Ortiz (piano), Brad Jones (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums). Something less than his usual tour de force, but softer touches are appealing as well, heightened perhaps by the always present tension. A-

Harold Mabern: Mabern Plays Coltrane (2018 [2021], Smoke Sessions): Pianist, from Memphis, recorded for Prestige 1969-70, didn't find another dependable label until DIW in the 1990s, finally finding a home here from 2014 past his death in 2019. This is the 3rd release (4th CD) they've culled from Mabern's January stand. I was most impressed by the first, The Iron Man: Live at Smoke. That was quartet with Eric Alexander (tenor sax), John Webber (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). This adds a couple extra horns: alto sax (Vincent Herring) and trombone (Steve Davis). Not ideal picks for a Coltrane tribute, but energetic. B+(*)

Nick Mazzarella/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Avreeayl Ra: What You Seek Is Seeking You (2019 [2021], Astral Spirits): Alto sax/bass/drums trio, recorded in Chicago. If I hadn't heard a dozen more records like this, I'd be blown away. B+(***)

Makaya McCraven: Deciphering the Message (2021, Blue Note): Drummer, born in Paris, father an American drummer, mother a Hungarian singer, moved to Chicago in 2007, albums and mixtapes since 2008. This is a remix project, starting with Blue Note tapes from the 1960s, retooling the beats and adding contemporary players like Joel Ross (vibes), Jeff Parker (guitar), Marquis Hill (trumpet), and Greg Ward (alto sax), plus a bit of rap and chant. Not entirely successful. B+(**)

Pat Metheny: Side-Eye NYC (V1.IV) (2019 [2021], Modern): Jazz guitarist, has floundered somewhat since his 1977-2010 Group with Lyle Mays expired, comes up with an effective successor here, with James Francies (keyboards, mostly organ) and Marcus Gilmore (drums). Live set, touring shortly before the pandemic shut them down. Seven originals, plus a cover from old standby Ornette Coleman. B+(*)

Ming Bau Set: Yakut's Gallop (2020 [2021], Fundacja Sluchaj): Gerry Hemingway (drums), Vera Baumann (vocal), and Florestan Berset (guitar). Improv, although the liner notes include lyrics from Paul Eluard, Patti Smith, and Levin Westermann. B+(***) [dl]

Mogwai: As the Love Continues (2021, Temporary Residence): Scottish "post-rock" band, tenth album since 1997, three of four original members still active. Huge waves of instrumentals, only occasional vocals. B

Angelika Niescier/Alexander Hawkins: Soul in Plain Sight (2020 [2021], Intakt): Alto sax and piano duo, both on the adventurous side, impressive but doesn't always sit right. B+(***)

Stephanie Nilles: I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag: The White Flag (2019 [2021], Sunnyside): Title, and music, from Charles Mingus, focusing on his more political titles, from "Fables of Faubus" to "Remember Rockefeller at Attica." Nilles sings some, and plays a lot of solo piano. B+(**) [bc]

Joy Orbison: Still Slipping Vol. 1 (2021, XL): Real name Peter O'Grady, electronica producer, nephew of drum & bass DJ Ray Keith. Numerous singles since 2009, but this is his first album. Nice vibe to it. B+(**)

Hannah Peel: Fir Wave (2021, My Own Pleasure): Irish singer-songwriter and soundtrack producer, based in London, 7th album since 2011. B+(**)

Punkt. Vrt. Plastik [Kaja Draksler/Petter Eldh/Christian Lillinger]: Somit (2020 [2021], Intakt): Piano-bass-drums trio, group name from their 2018 release. B+(***)

Emily Scott Robinson: American Siren (2021, Oh Boy): Folk/country singer-songwriter from North Carolina, signed to John Prine's label, which isn't a lock but they do have a track record. Couple excellent songs, voice way up there. B+(***)

Andreas Røysum Ensemble: Fredsfanatisme (2021, Motvind): Norwegian clarinetist, second album leading this nonet, with flute, two saxophones (Signe Emmeluth and Marthe Lea), a low twist on a string quartet (violin, cello, two basses), and drums. Freedom can get rough. B+(**)

Paula Shocron/William Parker/Pablo Díaz: El Templo (2019 [2021], Astral Spirits): Pianist from Argentina, opens with deft runs before bringing out the strong chords that drive these four pieces. Disappointing when she back off, but then you remember who the bassist is. A- [bc]

Tyshawn Sorey/King Britt: Tyshawn & King (2021, The Buddy System): Latter's full name is King James Britt, probably best known as the DJ in the 1990s jazzy hip-hop band Digable Planets, although he has quite a bit under his own name (or aliases like Fhloston Paradigm) since 1998. He knows his way around beats, but I doubt he's ever worked with a drummer with Sorey's chops before. Loses a bit when the drummer checks out, but by they you're hooked. A-

Rossano Sportiello: That's It (2021, Arbors): Retro swing pianist from Italy, dozen-plus albums since 2003, many with Harry Allen, Scott Hamilton, or Nicki Parrott. This one is solo, mostly standards with a few originals in the mix. B+(**)

Strictly Missionary: Heisse Scheisse (2021, Astral Spirits): Brooklyn group, big names are Chris Pitsiokos (alto sax, voice, electronics, etc.), Wendy Eisenberg (guitar), and Kevin Murray (drums), plus electric bass and extra percussion. Hot indeed. B+(***) [bc]

Ohad Talmor Trio: Mise En Place (2020 [2021], Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, based in New York, albums since 1999, worked often with Lee Konitz. Trio with Miles Okazaki (guitar) and Dan Weiss (drums). Smart, tricky postbop. B+(***)

Unscientific Italians: Play the Music of Bill Frisell Vol. 1 (2019 [2021], Hora): Large (11 piece) Italian band led by pianist Alfonso Santimone, who arranged seven Frisell compositions for a band with four brass, four reeds, piano, bass, and drums. Without guitar, to my ears this doesn't sound anything like Frisell, but it's bright, energetic, amusing, and thought-provoking. A- [bc]

Butch Warren & Freddie Redd: Baltimore Jazz Loft (2013 [2021], Bleebop): Bassist, played on A-list albums 1959-65 (Sonny Clark, Leapin' and Lopin'; Herbie Hancock, Takin' Off; Jackie McLean, Tippin' the Scales; Hank Mobley, No Room for Squares; Thelonious Monk, It's Monk's Time; Horace Parlan, Happy Frame of Mind), before he suffered a mental breakdown and quit. He did start playing a bit in his 70s, a "French Quartet" album in 2011, and finally this one with Redd on piano, Matt Wilson on drums, and Brad Linde on tenor sax, just before his death. B+(**) [bc]

Martin Wind Quartet: My Astorian Queen (2021, Laika): Austrian bassist, recorded this under Matt Baltisaris at Maggie's Farm, Pennsylvania,with Scott Robinson, Bill Mays, and Matt Wilson. B+(**) [cd]

The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong All Stars: A Gift to Pops (2021, Verve): No surprise this opens with "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," but the unique voice took me aback, unquestionably Armstrong himself, plundered from a 1964 live shot. In the tribute that follows, Nicholas Payton (or is it Wynton Marsalis? or one of the not-yet-all-stars who staff this band?) offers a fair approximation of the trumpet, but no one dares the voice, and not for lack of vocals. I wish I had a track-by-track credits list, but only Common's rap on "Black and Blue" is certain. Ends with Armstrong's voice again, on "Philosophy of Life." He was a blessing, who changed the world, and people who don't know that need to listen up. Even if this tribute's a bit half-assed, it still brings me joy. A-

Neil Young/Crazy Horse: Barn (2021, Reprise): Another very solid album, mostly laid back, more comfortable in the country than in Nashville, but they can still bring some heat when they feel it's needed. A-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: First Flight to Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings (1961 [2021], Blue Note): Previously unreleased set from January 14, refuting the title of Solar's 2014 compilation Tokyo 1961: The Complete Concerts (which has sets from January 2 & 11). One of Blakey's greatest lineups -- Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, Jymie Merritt -- kicking off what was probably Blakey's greatest year (Roots & Herbs, The Freedom Rider, The Witch Doctor, Mosaic, Buhaina's Delight). So, by now familiar repertoire, but what you want from live: everything cranked up a notch. A- [sp]

Jeanne Lee: Conspiracy (1975 [2021], Moved-by-Sound): Jazz singer, first recordings were backed by Ran Blake's solo piano and dubbed The Newest Sound Around (1962), and was also striking in Carla Bley's 1971 opera Escalator Over the Hill. Most of her recordings in the 1970s were in groups led by Gunter Hampel, who plays flute, piano, vibes, and clarinet here, along with other avant figures like Sam Rivers and Steve McCall. B+(*)

Bheki Mseleku: Beyond the Stars (2003 [2021], Tapestry Works): Pianist from South Africa, self-taught, also played sax and guitar, moved to Botswana and then to London in late 1970s, half-dozen records 1991-2003, died at 53 in 2008. This is a solo piano set. B+(**)

New Life: Visions of the Third Eye (1979 [2021], Early Future): Guitar-bass-drums trio: Brandon Ross, David Wertman, and Steve Reid, drummer listed first (and he's especially inventive). B+(***) [bc]

Bola Sete: Samba in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1968 1966-68 [2021], Tompkins Square, 3CD): Brazilian guitarist Djalma de Andrade (1923-87), stage name means "Seven Ball" (a snooker reference), discography starts in 1957 but he began to pick up a US audience with 1962's Bossa Nova. Backed here with bass and drums, which help but are totally overshadowed by the guitar -- I doubt there's a single non-guitar solo here. Way too much to listen to at once, but pretty amazing when you do. A- [bc]

Ken Wheeler and the John Dankworth Orchestra: Windmill Tilter: The Story of Don Quixote (1969 [2021], Decca): Canadian trumpet player, better known as Kenny, moved to UK in 1952, and became a major artist for ECM, with a sideline of playing in many of Europe's top free jazz orchestras. Dankworth is a saxophonist, led a big band and smaller groups from the early 1950s. This was really his group, with the trumpet featured, but winds up being counted as Wheeler's debut album. B+(***) [yt]

Old music:

Sho Madjozi: Limpopo Champions League (2018, Flourish and Multiply): South African rapper Maya Wegerif, main language Tsonga but she's been around, and you'll recognize some English. Terrific beats, very impressive album. A- [sp]


Grade (or other) changes:

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Angels Over Oakanda (2018-21 [2021], Avantgroidd): Ace critic Greg Tate's jazz project, co-led by bassist Jared Michael Nickerson, 20 years and about that many records into their own long, strange trip. Conducted improv, starts evoking 1970s Miles, adds a bit of mythopoetic vocal chorus, then settles into seductive groove. [was: B+(***)] A- [bc]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rodrigo Amado Northern Liberties: We Are Electric (Not Two) [11-24]
  • Patricia Barber: Clique! (Elusive Disc)
  • Chris Castino & Chicken Wire Empire: Fresh Pickles (self-released) [02-04]
  • Henry Threadgill Zooid: Poof (Pi) [09-24]
  • Anna Webber: Idiom (Pi, 2CD) [05-28]
  • Martin Wind Quartet: My Astorian Queen (Laika) [11-12]

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, December 6, 2021


Music Week

December archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36843 [36797] rated (+46), 119 [125] unrated (-6).

Former Kansas politician and Republican majordomo Robert J. Dole has died at 98, after a long and eventful life that caused immeasurable damage to American society and politics. I remember him mostly for running one of the most scurrilous political campaigns in Kansas history, when he narrowly defeated Bill Roy for his second Senate term in 1972. Dole was the first Republican in Kansas to find a way to politicize abortion and exploit the bigotry and confusion around the issue. That was the first year I voted, and not a single person I voted for -- not even the Republican who was certainly the lesser evil running against Democratic Sheriff/Attorney General Vern Miller -- won. It was also the last time I voted until 1996, and I found myself with another chance to vote against Dole. That time, at least, I was more successful, not that Bill Clinton was much of a prize.

They say that when one dies, if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all. I rarely follow that advice, but in Dole's case I actually can say a few nice things (even if I have trouble limiting myself). Here goes:

  1. In 1952, Bob Dole attended my Uncle Allen's funeral. Dole was in the state legislature at the time, from Russell, probably not in the same district Allen lived but not far. He didn't know Allen, but saw good politics in going to the funerals of veterans, and Allen had been in the Navy during WWII. I don't remember it at all, but that was probably the only time Dole and I shared the same roof. He had already figured out how to exploit his war injuries for political gain, as he would continue to do throughout his career.

  2. Dole could be funny. I usually regard that as a redeeming human quality, as well as a sign of intelligence (as I recall John Allen Paulos' book, I Think, Therefore I Laugh). My favorite line of his was when he saw a group picture of former presidents Carter, Ford, and Nixon, and quipped "See no Evil, hear no Evil, and Evil." But I read a piece today with a selection of his humor, and few of his other zingers hold up. I also read about the teary eulogy he gave at Nixon's funeral. That doesn't necessarily mean that he stopped regarding Nixon as Evil, as he did plenty in service of Evil throughout his career. But before Watergate, Nixon was clearly Dole's role model of a politician on the make. They had very similar backgrounds, ambitions, and trajectories, although Nixon got there quicker, and more fatefully.

  3. Dole was probably the last person ever to make what used to be a common quip about the Democrats being the War Party. This was in a 1996 debate, and while Clinton may have been flattered, the moderator and the press were clearly baffled. The history was that Democrats had led the country into and through two world wars, and into stuck wars in Korea and Vietnam that were ultimately disengaged by Republicans (although Nixon took his bloody time). For much of that time, Republicans tended to be "isolationist" (a term invented to disparage those who prefer to mind their own business), but that started to shift with the rise of the anti-Communist crusaders like Nixon, Joe McCarthy, and Barry Goldwater. By the time you get to Reagan, Republicans had embraced militarism so utterly that Dole's quip fell on deaf ears, while anti-war Americans had shifted to the Democratic Party, only to be frequently betrayed by their leaders. No doubt Dole was just desperately racking his brain for a debate point, but I found his choice somewhat charming.

  4. Dole spent most of his career as an extreme partisan hack, but when he finally did decide he wanted to leave a legacy, he came up with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Which is to say, he realized that the way to be remembered for doing something good was, in the New Deal/Great Society manner, to add to the "entitlements" of a class of people discriminated against. This suggests he was still cognizant of the values system that dominated the pre-Reagan era, even though he had spent almost all of his political career fighting against it. I've seen ADA called the last bipartisan act. In other words, it was the last time Republicans ever attempted to use government to help people (although given how many disabled were victims of war, the law also paid tribute to militarism).

But that's all I have. I've never understood why people credit him with anything more. (The biggest critical lapse was by Tom Carson, who treats him as a humble folk hero in his otherwise brilliant novel, Gilligan's Wake.) He pulled Kansas hard to the right, and for a long time remained an outlier, at least compared to decent Republican senators James Pearson and Nancy Kassebaum. It was only with the rise of Sam Brownback and Todd Tiahrt in the 1990s that Dole started to look moderate, but their demagoguery on abortion starts with Dole's 1972 campaign. After his loss in 1996, he settled into the comfortable life of a Washington shill, never using what little political stature he had achieved to try to stem the Republican slide into and beyond Trumpism. He served his party, and was rewarded with wealth and fame and flattery and forbearance. Now he's being showered with flowery eulogies, a symptom of the same mental collapse as we witnessed with Colin Powell and John McCain -- rivals in the sweepstakes to see who could make the most mileage (and moolah) out of unfortunate military careers. And what did you get for all his success? Fucked.


Very busy week looking at EOY lists and playing new music. Magdalena Bay topped the list at Gorilla vs Bear, and is near the top of my A- bracket, a good chance to go full A. Everything else is toward the bottom of the A- bracket, but that mostly reflects the limited time I've been able to give each release. They are all distinctive, interesting albums, very good ones. I probably left a few more short at B+(***) -- Mexstep? Navy Blue? R.A.P. Ferreira? I don't have a good ear for lyrics, and not enough patience to properly process rap albums, so I guess a lot.

Amyl & the Sniffers topped Louder Than War's list (not a source I look to, but still). Little Simz and Floating Points have topped the most lists so far. I gave the former *** and the latter **, and should revisit both. Number three on my EOY Aggregate is Dry Cleaning, which I bumped to A- after an initial lower grade. Tyler, the Creator (another ***) has moved into 4th, displacing Low, which I'll never return to. Tyler is the only US hip-hop contender: Mach-Hommy is at 30, Vince 33, Lil Nas X 38, Doja Cat 71, Armand Hammer 96, J Cole 104.

Jazz Critics Poll ballots are due Sunday, December 12.

New Music:

  1. East Axis [Matthew Shipp/Allen Lowe/Gerald Cleaver/Kevin Ray]: Cool With That (ESP-Disk)
  2. Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future (Impulse!)
  3. James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms)
  4. Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Live at the Village Vanguard Volume II (MDW NTR) (Pi)
  5. Dave Rempis/Tomeka Reid/Joshua Abrams/Tim Daisy/Tyler Damon: The Covid Tapes: Solos, Duos, & Trios (Aerophonic)
  6. Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Standards) 2020 (New Braxton House)
  7. François Carrier: Glow (FMR)
  8. Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor: Long Tall Sunshine (Not Two)
  9. Wadada Leo Smith: Sacred Ceremonies (TUM)
  10. Rodrigo Amado This Is Our Language Quartet: Let the Free Be Men (Trost)

Reissues/Historical:

  1. Duck Baker: Confabulations (1994-2017, ESP-Disk)
  2. Total Music Association: Walpurgisnacht (1971-88, NoBusiness)
  3. Bill Evans: Behind the Dikes: The 1969 Netherlands Recordings (Elemental Music)

Vocal:

  • Anthony Joseph: The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives (Heavenly Sweetness)

Debut:

  • Malcolm Jiyane Tree-O: Umdali (Mushroom Hour Half Hour)

Latin:

  • Miguel Zenón/Ariel Bringuez/Demian Cabaud/Jordi Rossy: Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Miel Music)

Some brief notes. I jiggled New Music around to get something I found aesthetically pleasing and well-suited to the year. This list (at least at the moment) matches my Jazz EOY List. I favored albums I had physical copies of, but included two I had only streamed (Braxton and Altschul). I did enforce a CD-only policy for the old music section, so my ballot is very different from the EOY list, where the top album was Charles Mingus, Mingus at Carnegie Hall [Deluxe Edition]. The Joseph album is an irregular choice for Vocal, in that I parked it on top of the Non-Jazz EOY List, but I find myself enjoying very few jazz vocalists -- the only ones to make my A-list were Sarah Buechi and Anaïs Reno -- while Joseph's is one of the year's very best albums. I went with somewhat arbitrary choices for Debut and Latin as well. I actually have a group, Body Meπa, higher on my list than Jiyane, but we tend to frown on group debuts. I like classic Latin jazz, but I'm rarely impressed enough by recent efforts to have any of it show up on my A-list, so I usually wind up picking something tangential. This year that's Zenón's not-all-that-Latinized Ornette Coleman tribute, which I prefer over his explicitly Latin El Arte del Bolero. One curious fact from counting the JCP votes is that thus far all but one of Zenón's New Album votes are for Law Years, but all of his Latin votes are for El Arte del Bolero.

It's possible to change ballots up to Dec. 12. (Hopefully, that's incentive to send them in earlier.) I may wind up changing my ballot a bit, but I'm pretty happy with it now. I will certainly wind up changing my EOY files as I find new things, and sometimes as I further review initial grades. I'm finally streaming James Brandon Lewis' Code of Being as I write this. Supposedly, Henry Threadgill's Poof is in the mail. There are at least three Blue Note albums that I haven't been able to stream, as I have their other records for many years now. (I don't even know why does publicity there anymore, but I assume the reason they do so well in polls is the breadth of their PR operation -- I can't say much for their quality in recent years.)

Much more could be said, but I'm pressed for time, and this is enough for now. Still haven't done the indexing on the November Streamnotes file.


I thought I might note that I was pleased with the small-committee selections to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Especially Minnie Minoso, who clearly would have topped 3,000 hits had he not been excluded from the Major Leagues for the first half of his career. I'll also note that while Jim Kaat's 283 career wins were an obvious qualification, the article doesn't note how many Gold Glove awards he won (16) -- Randy Robbins throws some shade on his fielding reputation, but one thing I remember from watching him is how he always looked ready to field a ball hit back to him, unlike most pitchers, who come off their pitch off-balance and are lucky to get out of the way. Gil Hodges and Tony Oliva were slightly lesser stars I have no complaints about. I don't know the Negro League numbers, which have only recently been systematically compiled and accepted as official, like I do the old majors, so I only know Buck O'Neil by reputation (including as the inspiration for Darby Conley's Get Fuzzy cat name), and Bud Fowler less than that. The latter offers us a teachable moment, reminding us that segregation was the cardinal sin of baseball not just when O'Neil played (1937-48) but from the very beginning.


New records reviewed this week:

Adele: 30 (2021, Columbia): British singer-songwriter, last name Adkins, became a huge international star with her age-named albums 19 and 21, only her fourth album, with 25 in between. Marriage and divorce themes. I find it all overblown. B-

Amyl and the Sniffers: Comfort to Me (2021, Rough Trade): Australian post-punk band, Amy Taylor the singer. Reminded me a bit of X-Ray Spex, more of L7. Can't say I didn't get a bit tired by the end of the second play, but as solid as any such band I've heard in more than a few years, and considerable pleasure at first. A-

Florian Arbenz/Hermon Mehari/Nelson Veras: Conversation #1: Condensed (2021, Hammer): Swiss drummer, first of what promises to be a dozen albums conversing with guest musicians: in this case, a trumpeter from America and a guitarist from Brazil. Terrific mix. A- [bc]

Florian Arbenz: Conversation #2 & #3 (2020 [2021], Hammer): Swiss drummer, duo with Jim Hart (vibes/marimba), or trio adding Heiri Känzig (bass). B+(***) [bc]

Florian Arbenz/Maikel Vistel/François Moutin: Conversation #4: Vulcanized (2021, Hammer): drums, tenor/soprano sax, bass. Starts with a swinging "Bemsha Swing," one of two Monk covers, along with pieces by Bill Evans, Joe Zawinul, and Eddie Harris, as well as originals by Vistel (2) and Moutin (1). B+(***) [bc]

Blue Reality [Michael Marcus/Joe McPhee/Jay Rosen/Warren Smith]: Quartet! (2020 [2021], Mahakala Music): Cover can be parsed various ways, but different type colors lean my way. Two reeds players, two drummers, group name from Marcus' 2002 trio album (with Rosen and Taurus Mateen). B+(***)

Weedie Braimah: The Hands of Time (2021, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): Djembe master, born in Ghana, comes from a long line of notable percussionists, raised in East St. Louis, based in New Orleans, bunch of side credits (especially with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, who plays here) but this seems to be his first album. B+(**)

Chamber 4: Dawn to Dusk (2020 [2021], JACC): Trumpet (Luís Vicente) and strings: violin (Théo Ceccaldi), cello (Valentim Ceccaldi), and acoustic guitar (Marcelo dos Rios). Most impressive when the trumpet opens up. B+(***) [cd]

Margo Cilker: Pohorylle (2021, Loose): Country singer-sonwriter from Oregon, first album. Sounds just about perfect for country. Songs take a bit longer to settle in, but she's got something there too. A-

Theo Croker: BLK2LIFE // A Future Past (2021, Sony Masterworks): Trumpet player, from Florida, eighth album since 2006, sort of a funk/fusion thing, with vocals on most tracks, including Ani Lennox, Kassa Overall, and Wyclef Jean. Mixed feelings about this, even within a piece like "Hero Stomp," boldly over the top. B

Angel Bat Dawid: Hush Harbor Mixtape Vol. 1 Doxology (2021, International Anthem): Angel Elmore, from Chicago, third album plays clarinet and, well, everything here, "vocalz" included. Cover illustration goes back to slavery, and is disturbing. Same for the songs, as disquieting as they are striking. B+(**)

Indigo De Souza: Any Shape You Take (2021, Saddle Creek): Alt/indie band from Asheville, NC, and/or the lead singer, also plays guitar and keyboards and wrote the songs (10, with 2 co-credits). B+(*)

Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers: Set Me Free (2021, Louisiana Red Hot): Accordion player Dwayne Rubin, carrying on the family trade of his father Alton Rubin, better known as Rockin' Dopsie. Band has been rolling since 1999, with 10 or so albums. No idea how this one stacks up against them, but it'd be hard to top as a party record. B+(***)

Wendy Eisenberg: Bloodletting (2019 [2021], Out of Your Head): Guitarist, from Boston, dozen albums since 2017. This one is solo, a suite played through twice, once on banjo, again on guitar. B+(*) [dl]

R.A.P. Ferreira: The Light Emitting Diamond Cutter Scriptures (2021, Ruby Yacht): Initials stand for Rory Allen Philip, rapper from Wisconsin, formerly did business as Milo, third album under this (real) name. (Short one, 11 songs, 28:37.) B+(***)

Sierra Ferrell: Long Time Coming (2021, Rounder): Country singer-songwriter from West Virginia, based in Nashville, third album, big step up in labels. A bit of jazz in the bluegrass. A-

Ben LaMar Gay: Open Arms to Open Us (2021, International Anthem): From Chicago, sings, plays cornet, many other instruments. B+(*)

Ghost Rhythms: Spectral Music (2021, Cuneiform): French group, experimental rock-qua-jazz, half-dozen albums since 2007. Rhythm is relentless but wears thin. Noise helps, but too little, too late. B- [dl]

Gordon Grdina's Square Peg: Klotski (2021, Attaboygirl): Canadian guitar/oud player, has several groups, this the second album with this quartet: Mat Maneri (viola), Shahzad Ismaily (bass/moog), and Christian Lillinger (drums). Original pieces, rich harmony of strings over free rhythm. B+(***) [cd]

Gordon Grdina: Pendulum (2021, Attaboygirl): Solo guitar and oud, usual limits but he is one of the best anywhere. B+(**)

Jeff Hamilton Trio: Merry & Bright (2021, Capri): Drummer-led piano trio, with Tamir Hendelman and Jon Hamar, slant the usual tunes a bit toward the hip and/or secular ("The Little Drummer Boy," "Santa Baby"), sometimes so tastefully you can forget that crass commercialism extends even into the jazz world. B [cd]

Miho Hazama: Imaginary Visions (2021, Edition): Japanese composer and big band arranger/conductor, studied in New York, has positions with New York Jazzharmonic and Danish Radio Big Band -- the latter plays here. B+(**)

HTRK: Rhinestones (2021, N&J Blueberries): Australian duo, Jonnine Standish (vocals) and Nigel Yang (guitar and drum machine), originally Hate Rock Trio (with bassist Sean Steward, d. 2010). Sounds to me like I imagined "slowcore" might be, before Low spoiled the notion. B+(***) [bc]

Jon Irabagon: Bird With Streams (2020 [2021], Irabbagast): Tenor saxophonist, recorded this collection of Charlie Parker tunes solo in a secluded canyon in South Dakota, one of those pandemic lockdown projects that never would have been done otherwise. B

The Klezmatics: Letters to Afar (2013 [2021], Chant): Long-running New York klezmer group. Ambient-to-ominous soundtrack to Peter Forgacs' film. B+(*)

Mick Kolassa: Uncle Mick's Christmas Album (2021, Endless Blues): Blues singer-songwriter from Michigan, tenth album, wrote 2 (of 9) songs this time, the covers ranging from Mariah Carey to "Beale Street Christmas Jam." Original lyric: "and now our kisses don't need mistletoe." B [cd]

Mon Laferte: Seis (2021, Universal Music Mexico): Singer-songwriter from Chile, fairly big star, name shortened from Norma Monserrat Bustamente Laferte, moved to Mexico City in 2007, sang in a heavy metal band there. Sixth album (aside from her 2003 debut as Monserrat Bustamente), draws on regional Mexican styles. I like the fast ones, and even more so the over-the-top "La Mujer." A-

Lukah: Why Look Up, God's in the Mirror (2021, Fxck Rxp Rxcxrds): Rapper, from Memphis, third album. Comes from a harsh world, yet still finds inspiration. "God put me here to be something great" . . . like this, I guess. A- [bc]

Magdalena Bay: Mercurial World (2021, Luminelle): Synth-pop duo from Miami, singer-songwriter Mica Tennenbaum and producer Matthew Lewin, first album after 3 EPs and 2 mixtapes. Dance beats initially reminded me of Chic. While they increasingly became distinct, they didn't lose anything. Could turn out to be better. A- [bc]

Christian McBride & Inside Straight: Live at the Village Vanguard (2014 [2021], Mack Avenue): Mainstream bassist, albums since 1994, a couple (2009-13) with this quintet -- Steve Wilson (sax), Christian Sands (piano), Warren Wolf (vibes), Carl Allen (drums) -- a couple more live from this venue. B+(**)

Mexstep: Vivir (2021, Mexstep Music): Rapper from San Antonio, moniker shortened from Mexican Stepgrandfather, released an album in 2018 (Resistir) I was very taken with, this only slightly less so. Mostly works in English, but the beat seems to pick up a bit when he switches to Spanish. B+(***) [bc]

Samuel Mösching: Ethereal Kinks (2021 [2022], Bronzeville Music): Guitarist, probably from Switzerland ("Univerity of Lucerne"), based in US since 2013, also plays bass, drums, and synths, with a couple guest spots. All originals, title has nothing to do with the UK band ("without kinks life would be flat"). B [cd] [2022-02-18]

Navy Blue: Navy's Reprise (2021, Freedom Sounds): Rapper Sage Elsesser, third album. B+(***)

Adam O'Farrill: Visions of Your Other (2021, Biophilia): Trumpet player, son of Arturo, sidework mostly on the avant side of NYC postbop, second album, pianoless quartet with Xavier Del Castillo on tenor sax, Walter Stinson on bass, and brother Zack O'Farrill on drums. Impressive work all around. A-

Pino Palladino and Blake Mills: Notes Wtih Attachments (2021, Impulse): Welsh bass guitar player, has done a lot of session work, almost all with rock musicians starting with Jools Holland in 1981 (better known names include Eric Clapton, Elton John, John Mayer, and D'Angelo). First album with his name listed first. Mills has a shorter but similar resume, plays many instruments but mostly guitar. B+(*)

Barre Phillips/John Butcher/Ståle Liavik Solberg: We Met - and Then (2018-19 [2021], Relative Pitch): Bass, saxophones, drums. Recorded on two dates, note how the bass leads. B+(**)

Robert Plant/Alison Krauss: Raise the Roof (2021, Rounder): I can't say as I followed his career after Led Zeppelin, but he released an album every 2-3 years 1982-93, slowed down after that, but his 2007 collaboration with bluegrass star Krauss got my attention, even if it didn't leave much of an impression. After a long break, here's a second album together, also produced by T-Bone Burnett, with side-credits for David Hidalgo, Bill Frisell, Buddy Miller, and Marc Ribot. One original credited to Plant-Burnett, the others folk covers from both UK and US. Seems like paltry returns for all the talent employed. B+(*)

RP Boo: Established! (2021, Planet Mu): Chicago footwork producer Kavain Space. Dance beats, exhortations, couldn't be more straightforward. B+(**)

Allison Russell: Outside Child (2021, Fantasy): Singer-songwriter from Montreal, absent father from Grenada, mother put her into foster care then got her back, step-father sexually abused her (subject of first song here), first album under her own name, after group efforts with Po' Girl, Birds of Chicago, and Our Native Daughters. Hard to get a grip on, but haunting and revealing and redeeming, somewhere between folk and soul, with bits of gospel, blues, jazz, and French. A-

Jared Schonig: Two Takes Vol. 1: Quintet (2021, Anzic): Drummer, member of the Wee Trio, debut, released same day as Vol. 2: Big Band. Eight songs on both albums, this one padded out with an "Intro" and three "Drum Interludes." With Marquis Hill (trumpet), Godwin Louis (alto sax), Luis Perdomo (piano), and Matt Clohesy (bass). B+(**) [bc]

Jared Schonig: Two Takes Vol. 2: Big Band (2021, Anzic): New York big band, loaded with solo talent, playing the hell out of the same eight songs from Vol. 1: Quintet. B+(***) [bc]

Shad: TAO (2021, Secret City): Canadian rapper Shadrach Kabango, born in Kenya, parents from Rwanda, grew up in Ontario, seventh album since 2005. Conscious lyrics, knows a lot and cares a lot, but sometimes the music veers off on pop tangents that seem surreal and/or psychedelic. B+(***)

Esperanza Spalding: Songwrights Apothecary Lab (2021, Concord): Started as a jazz bassist, found a crossover niche as a singer, eighth album since 2005. Twelve numbered pieces each called "Formwela." Purportedly "designed to address specific emotions and stresses," I can't attest to the "healing power of music" here. But it does strike me as overly tricky. B

Kaidi Tatham: An Insight to All Minds (2021, First Word): British multi-instrumentalist (no credits here, but keyboards, drums, bass synth, flute, vocals elsewhere), half-dozen albums since 2008. Picked this off a jazz list, but will file under electronica with a side of hip-hop. B+(**)

Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet: Fools for Yule (2021, Housekat): Singers Ginny Carr Goldberg, Robert McBride, Holly Shockey, and Lane Stowe, only their fifth album since Half-Past Swing in 1999 (Goldberg, née Carr, and McBride were original members). Starts tolerably with "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," and does manage to swing through "Winter Wonderland," but sinks like a rock with with a truly awful "Silent Night." C [cd]

The War on Drugs: I Don't Live Here Anymore (2021, Atlantic): Indie rock band from Philadelphia, fifth album since 2008, commercial breakthrough was their third, in 2014. Adam Granduciel sings, writes, and co-produces. Nice sound, not a lot of substance. B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Oscar Peterson: A Time for Love: The Oscar Peterson Quartet - Live in Helsinki, 1987 (1987 [2021], Mack Avenue): Piano, as sumptuous as ever, the trio (Dave Young and Martin Drew) joined by guitarist Joe Pass. B+(***)

Marcos Resende: Marcos Resende & Index (1976 [2021], Far Out): Brazilian keyboard player, previously unreleased debut album, wrote 5 (of 6) tracks, bassist Rubão Sabino the other. With bass, drums, and tenor/soprano sax/flute (Oberdan Magalhães). B+(**)

Roswell Rudd & Duck Baker: Live (2002-04 [2021], Dot Time): Trombone and guitar duo. Nice pairing. B+(***)

Roseanna Vitro: Listen Here (1982 [2021], Skyline): Standards singer, originally from Arkansas, 15 records, my favorite her 1997 Catchin' Some Rays (Ray Charles). This was her first, originally released 1984, cover cites Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, Ben Riley, and Arnett Cobb (3 tracks). B+(**)

Old music:

None.


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Chamber 4: Dawn to Dusk (JACC)

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, November 29, 2021


Music Week

November archive (finished).

Music: Current count 36797 [36746] rated (+51), 125 [130] unrated (-5).

I'll keep this short, as I have a lot of other work to do, and need to get back to it. All new music this week. Mostly jazz. I have an advantage over the rest of you (except for Francis Davis) in that I'm reading Jazz Critics Poll ballots before they're posted. Six (of 7) new A- jazz albums were unknown to me before last week (although I must have received mail, perhaps even a download link, from Astral Spirits about Artifacts). The one non-jazz A-lister (note: full A) didn't come from an EOY list (yet), but I noticed it while searching AOTY for high-rated 2021 releases (this one from HipHopDX; very little hip-hop in the first wave of EOY lists). The other A- was an upgrade, after endorsements from Phil Overeem and Chris Monsen convinced me to give it another spin.

Seems like every JCP ballot I receive has 2-4 new albums, mostly ones I wasn't even aware of. Most disturbing was that early in the counting, 6 of the top 10 albums were things I hadn't heard. Most of those have proven impossible to stream, but the final number will probably drop anyway (4 at the moment, some I'll catch up with, most because other voters won't have heard them either, so they'll sink). One thing polls always wind up silently measuring is how effective publicists are, and how lack of a publicist keeps artists mired in obscurity.

November had five Mondays, so the monthly archive (link above) is exceptionally huge. I haven't done the indexing, so don't even have a count. (Well, subtracting Music Week count lines give us +257, with -24 unrated.) Pending count for 2021 promos is down to 6 (3 of which are Christmas music, and 1 was a 2018 release; I'll get to the Gordon Grdina albums later today). Mail didn't bring anything this week. I've started to get 2022 promos, but only 2 so far.

Some statistics: according to tracking file (of 2021 releases: 925 records rated (69.8% streamed), 2704 records logged. Metacritic file logs 2064 albums, plus 163 reissues/vault music. Current Best Jazz list has 53 new A-list, 25 reissues/archival A-list. Current Best Non-Jazz list has 46 new A-list, 5 reissues/archival A-list.


I published a Speaking of Which last week. I had a long Facebook comment that I thought could use wider and more lasting presentation. I also wanted to jump off the Paul Krugman links to talk about inflation. I got my main point in, but could have written much more. I don't feel up to adding more right now, but it's worth emphasizing that from the 1970s the right harped on the evils of inflation, and used it as an excuse to destroy the labor movement, impose austerity on government, and fuel the extreme financialization of the economy. Some people, like the Populists in the 1890s, drew the wrong conclusion, and tried to argue that more inflation would be a good thing. They were defeated so severely that no one argues that anymore, but it's always been the case that inflation has both winners and losers. Good policy attempts to balance this, protecting losers against their losses while limiting the windfalls to the winners. There are better ways to do this now than working through the Fed, which is designed to help bankers -- winners both when rates go up (they collect more interest, especially from variable-rate debtors) and when they go down (they get more money for speculation and leverage, inflating the stock market).

A big part of recent "inflation" (I think "price gouging" is a more accurate term) involves gasoline prices, and this has caused some sort of nervous breakdown in the Biden administration. It would help if the media had a bit of historial perspective. Current prices, for instance, are still lower than they were under GW Bush, at least until he cratered the economy in 2008. One big reason prices rose so much under Bush was disruption of supplies due to war and sanctions. If Biden wanted to cut oil prices, the easiest way would be to allow Iranian and Venezuelan oil back on the world market (which would be good as a break from the American conceit that claims the write to punish other countries for not liking American interference, but bad in that lower prices would encourage people to waste oil and further damage the environment we all depend on). The main effect of Trump's belligerency was to prop up oil prices, but Republicans never seem to get blamed for gas prices (or much else -- benefits of owning the media blame machine).

I've been saying for some time that we need higher oil taxes. Europe has long had hefty taxes on gasoline, initially to maintain a favorable balance of trade by suppressing imports. The result was that as early as the 1950s European cars were much more efficient than American cars. US oil production peaked in 1969, and in 1970 imported oil tipped the US into a losing trade balance which has only increased ever since. A smart move then would have been to increase taxes, to make people and (especially) businesses more conscious of the need to conserve, but we didn't do that. (Instead, they came up with the 55 mph speed limit. The immediate effect was for American auto engineering to atrophy, a reputation Detroit has strugged with ever since.) In the 1980s, when a lot of non-OPEC oil came online, Americans started buying gas guzzlers again, and now we're stuck with all these SUVs and heavy pickups -- not all driven by Trumpist blowhards, but there is a real skew in that direction. And, of course, they're up in arms: High gas prices are hitting heavy-duty pickup owners hard. I'm not unsympathetic, but in the long run we'd be better off pricing those machines off the road. If their lifetimes average 15 years, why not pass a series of gas tax bumps scheduled to kick in over 20 years, with a diminishing set of partial rebates? After all, good policy makes amends for those who face consequent losses. On the other hand, if you can't face such losses, you can't make progress at all. Biden's short-term moves to cut gas prices cast doubts on his commitment to slowing down climate change, and you don't have to have a very long term view to see that as mattering more.

One last note here. I mentioned the death of Dan Georgakas, but after I posted another valuable writer passed away: James Ridgeway. He did important work, especially on corporations and energy resources, like The Politics of Ecology (1970), The Last Play: The Struggle to Monopolize the World's Energy Resources (1973), Who Owns the Earth (1980), and It's All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources (2004).


New records reviewed this week:

ABBA: Voyage (2021, Polar): Swedish pop juggernaut, released 8 studio albums 1973-81, massive hits in Europe, less so in America but even here you don't have to be 60+ to know a dozen or so of their hits -- seems like they never left (in derivatives they never did). Couple passable songs, but nothing much that adds to their legacy. Some of it sounds like recycled Christmas jingles. B-

Android Trio: Other Worlds (2021, Cuneiform): Jazz-rock trio -- Andrew Niven (drums/synths), Eric Kierks (bass/synthbass), Max Kutner (guitar) -- plus guests, based in Los Angeles, associated (as producer Mike Keneally) with Frank Zappa. C+ [dl]

Artifacts [Tomeka Reid/Nicole Mitchell/Mike Reed]: . . . And Then There's This (2021, Astral Spirits): Third generation AACM (served together on the board 2009-11), playing cello, flute, and drums, group named for their superb 2015 album. All three write pieces, but they also look to the founding AACM generation (Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell). I've never been much of a flute fan, but she is the best. A-

Balimaya Project: Wolo So (2020 [2021], Jazz Re:Freshed): London-based group, 17 musicians, mostly African names with a lot of percussion, but also some brass (2 trumpets, 2 trombones). Scattered vocals, but focus is on the groove, which is relentless. A- [bc]

Blu: The Color Blu(e) (2021, Nature Sounds): Rapper Johnson Barnes III, from California, prolific since 2007. Opens with blues piano, plays off blues riffs for a while, but that's not where he really wants to go. B+(*) [bc]

The Brkn Record: The Architecture of Oppression Part 1 (2021, Mr. Bongo): Project led by Heliocentrics bassist Jake Ferguson, various featured vocalists have plenty to say about racism and police abuse in Britain. B+(***) [bc]

Francesco Cafiso: Irene of Boston: Conversation Avec Corto Maltese (2020, Eflat): Alto saxophonist, from Sicily, as a young teenager recorded duets with Franco D'Andrea and toured Europe with Wynton Marsalis. At 32, he's put together a strong discography, and he's a very impressive saxophonist. Also an ambitious composer, employing pianist Mauro Schiavone to help with arranging the London Symphony Orchestra. "Irene of Boston" is an old ship, "Corto Maltese" is a Sicilian sailor, and they are inspirations for his sprawling work. A-

Brandi Carlile: In These Silent Days (2021, Low Country Sound/Elektra): Singer-songwriter from Washington, filed under Americana if not country, seventh studio album since 2005, occasionally aces a ballad but nothing else feels quite right here. B

Ron Carter/Jack DeJohnette/Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Skyline (2021, 5 Passion): Cuban pianist, based in Florida, close to 40 albums since 1985, with bassist and drummer needing no introduction. Billing order could be alphabetical or seniority or just how the name lengths fit on the cover, but it helps to focus on Carter's bass first, before the pianist explodes. Wish he did it more often, but not for lack of appreciation for the rest of his kit. A-

Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves: Reconvexo (2020 [2021], Anzic): Clarinet and guitar duo, recorded in the latter's Rio de Janeiro. B+(*) [bc]

Isaiah Collier & the Chosen Few: Cosmic Transitions (2020 [2021], Division 81): Chicago saxophonist, second album, first appeared in Ernest Dawkins Young Masters Quartet, quartet with a big sound and cosmic ambitions. B+(***)

Eliane Elias: Mirror Mirror (2021, Candid): From Brazil, has sung on most of her recent albums -- Napster lists her as "bossa nova" -- but started off c. 1990 as a first-rate jazz pianist, and not even an especially Brazilian one. No voice, just lots of piano here: four duets with Chick Corea, interleaved with three duets with Chucho Valdés, both bringing their Latin game. B+(***)

Flukten: Velkommen Hap (2021, Odin): Norwegian quartet: Hanna Paulsberg (sax), Marius Hirth Hlovning (guitar), Bárður Reinert Poulsen (bass), and Hans Hulbækmo (drums). B+(***)

Erik Friedlander: Sentinel (2020, Skipstone): Cellist, albums since 1991. This one is a trio, with Ava Mendoza (guitar) and Diego Espinosa (drums). B+(**)

Rob Frye: Chihuahuan Desert Birdscapes (2020 [2021], Astral Spirits): Field recordings of birds from West Texas deserts, processed with Frye's synthesizers and handmade flutes. B [bc]

Nubya Garcia: Source + We Move (2021, Concord): Saxophonist, born in London, parents from Guyana and Trinidad, plays in Maisha, has a couple EPs and an album, Source, which is remixed here. B

Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trios: Songs From My Father (2021, Whaling City Sound, 2CD): Drummer, father is vibraphonist Terry Gibbs (still ticking at 97), has used Thrasher for his various outfits since 2006, his first Dream Trio in 2013 (with Kenny Barron and Ron Carter), plural here with four trios: Chick Corea and Carter, Barron and Buster Williams, Geoff Keezer and Christian McBride, also Patrice Rushen and Larry Goldings (substituting organ for bass). B+(**)

Gift of Gab: Finding Inspiration Somehow (2021, Nature Sounds): Blackalicious rapper Timothy Jerome Parker, died in June at 50, fourth solo album. Good taste in underground beats and flow, one of the fastest, most literate rappers ever, scores some important political points, but the most poignant piece was on how he kept writing through dialysis, contemplating an end he wasn't ready for, because he had so much more to do. A

Carlos Henriquez: The South Bronx Story (2021, Tiger Turn): Bassist, born in New York City, plays in Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, third album. Some vocals, no doubt a point of the story theme. B+(***)

Arushi Jain: Under the Lilac Sky (2021, Leaving): Raised on Indian classical music, based in Brooklyn, works with modular synthesizers, the structures of the ragas that underly her longer pieces only slowly become evident through the ambient clouds. Some vocals. B+(***)

Malcolm Jiyane Tree-O: Umdali (2018 [2021], Mushroom Hour Half Hour): South African trombonist, composer and arranger, debut as leader, gets strong support from saxophonist Daniel Nhlanhla Mahlangu (especially on "Life Esidimeni," which reminds me of Dudu Pukwana at his finest). Scattered vocals don't detract. They remind us this is still social music. A-

Samara Joy: Samara Joy (2020 [2021], Whirlwind): Young standards singer (23), first album, won a prize named for Sarah Vaughan but sounds more like Ella Fitzgerald. With sly backing from guitarist Pasquale Grasso's trio (with Ari Roland and Kenny Washington. B+(***)

Jacqueline Kerrod: 17 Days in December (2021, Orenda): Harp player, originally from South Africa, moved to New York 1999. Debut in 2020 was a duo with Anthony Braxton. This is "solo improvisations for acoustic & electric harp," which necessarily means it's limited and esoteric. Still, rather dreamy. B+(**) [cd] [12-03]

Stefano Leonardi/Antonio Bertoni: Viandes (2018 [2021], Astral Spirits): Italian flute and cello duo, both also play more exotic instruments (sintir, sulittu, kaval, ocarina, launeddas). B+(*) [dl]

Myele Manzanza: Crisis & Opportunity, Vol. 1: London (2021, DeepMatter): Drummer, from New Zealand, moved to London in 2019, three previous records, this one recorded in London with what's basically a hard bop quintet (trumpet, tenor sax, piano, bass) plus Mark de Clive-Lowe on synths. Exceptionally nimble within the mode, until they slide out into post-bop. B+(***) [bc]

Myele Manzanza: Crisis & Opportunity, Vol. 2: Peaks (2021, DeepMatter): Recorded in Berlin, one horn (Jay Phelps on trumpet), more focus on guitar, synths, bass, and programming. B+(*) [bc]

Hedvig Mollestad: Tempest Revisited (2021, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian guitarist, last name Thomassen, mostly with her Trio (7 albums since 2011), leads a larger group here: three saxophonists, extra drummer, vibes. B+(*)

Camila Nebbia Quartet: Corre El Río De La Memoría Sobre La Tierra Que Arrastra Trazos, Dejando Rastros De Alguna Huella Que Hoy Es Número (2020 [2021], Ramble): Tenor saxophonist from Argentina, several albums, also electronics, with Barbara Togander (vocals & turntables), Violeta Garcia (cello), and Paula Shocron (piano, vocals & percussion). Title translates as "The river of memory flows through the earth leaving traces now numbers" -- a reflection on the map of Argentina reduced to statistics after five months of pandemic lockdown (although my first thought on the title was the "dirty wars," where right-wing politicians similarly reduced the people to numbers). B+(**) [bc]

Arturo O'Farrill/The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: Dreaming in Lions (2021, Blue Note): Title usually printed with ellipses fore and aft, which makes no sense to me. Son of famed Cuban bandleader Chico O'Farrill, born in Mexico after the family fled Castro but before they arrived in New York (1965). Took over his father's reconstituted big band in 2001, aligned for a while with the Marsalis regime at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and continued to be the premier name in Afro-Cuban Jazz (at least as recognized in the US). B+(**)

The Ed Palermo Big Band: I've Got News for You: The Music of Edgar Winter (2021, Sky Cat): Saxophonist-led big band, started in 1980s, went through a phase of doing Frank Zappa tributes (three in 1997-2009), and finally got busy with 8 albums (2 doubles) since 2014. C+ [dl]

Park Hye Jin: Before I Die (2021, Ninja Tune): From South Korea, rapper-singer based in Los Angeles after living in Melbourne and London, first album, name appears first in Hangul then in parens as above, but also translates as Hye-Jin Park. Not sure that "cloud rap" captures it, except inasmuch as the "cloud" has become the globalized aether we all float through. B+(**)

PinkPantheress: To Hell With It (2021, Parlophone, EP): British pop singer, barely 20, first short mixtape (10 songs, 18:36), lighter than the title implies, genre listed as "atmospheric drum & bass," which sounds about right. B+(**)

Abbey Rader/John McMinn: Two as One (2021, Abray): Drummer I ran across some time ago as a William Parker collaborator. Duo, McMinn plays tenor & alto sax, piano, and percussion. They have a couple of previous duos, and have played together at least as far back as 2004. Rugged free improv, sax impressive but can wear on you, piano less. B+(*) [bc]

Anaïs Reno: Lovesome Thing: Anaïs Reno Sings Ellington & Strayhorn (2021, Harbinger): Standards singer, at 16 has no business singing such difficult and sophisticated songs -- she leans to the Strayhorn side of the headline -- much less with such poise and nuance. Gets help from pianist-arranger Emmet Cohen, and superb spot support from Tivon Pennicott (tenor sax) and Juliet Kurtzman (violin) -- the latter her mother, who left Houston to be a concert violinist in Europe, then returned to New York to teach music, with her own, albeit modest, recording career. A-

Sara Schoenbeck: Sara Schoenbeck (2019-21 [2021], Pyroclastic): Bassoonist, had a duo album album back in 2002 and a fair number of side credits, but not much more under her own name. But she runs the table here with nine far-ranging duets -- Roscoe Mitchell (soprano sax) is notable, followed by Matt Mitchell (piano). B+(***) [cd]

Sara Serpa: Intimate Strangers (2021, Biophilia): Vocalist-composer, from Portugal, ten or so albums since 2008, mostly intimate setting with a single accompanist (e.g., Ran Blake). This is more ambitious, with fascinating spoken word by Emmanuel Iduma (from Nigeria), more vocals by Sofia Rei and Aubrey Johnson, Matt Mitchell on piano and Qasim Naqvi on modular synth. B+(**) [cdr] [12-01]

Silk Sonic [Bruno Mars/Anderson .Paak]: An Evening With Silk Sonic (2021, Aftermath/Atlantic): A pop star in decline since his 2010 debut, and a rapper with a pop streak, a combination that must have seemed natural when they were hanging on the road, but the only distinctive voice here is the MC, Bootsy Collins. B-

Sir Babygirl: Golden Bday; The Mixtape (2021, self-released): Kelsie Hogue, non-binary, released an EP in 2019, promises "previously unreleased tracks in celebration of still being alive and music being awesome." Mostly upbeat, padded with three covers, the off-brand Joni Mitchell actually quite nice. B+(**) [bc]

Nate Smith: Kinfolk 2: See the Birds (2021, Edition): Drummer, from Virginia, debut 2017 with his first Kinfolk, also plays some keyboards but mostly has Jon Cowherd for that, and Jaleel Shaw on sax. Most songs have vocals (Michael Mayo, Kokayi, Stokley, Amma Whatti, Brittany Howard, a mixed bag), and guests drop in (Regina Carter, Vernon Reid). Has its moments, most dependably with Shaw. B

Wadada Leo Smith, Jack DeJohnette & Vijay Iyer: A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday (2016 [2021], TUM): Five original pieces by the all-stars (trumpet, drums, keyboards), the connection to Holiday tenuous at best, although Smith is in his finest Yo! Miles form, and the drummer is quite some wizard. B+(***) [cd]

Wadada Leo Smith's Great Lakes Quartet: The Chicago Symphonies (2015-18 [2021], TUM, 4CD): Trumpet, with Henry Threadgill (alto sax/flute), John Lindberg (bass), and Jack DeJohnette (drums) -- for the first three discs, recorded in 2015, replacing Threadgill with Jonathan Haffner on the 2018 fourth disc. The suites aren't terribly long (36:38-39:48 for the first three, 49:13 for the last), and I have reservations about the third, but they feel more improvised than Smith's recent major productions, and with this group that's a plus. A- [cd]

The Source: . . . But Swinging Doesn't Bend Them Down (2019 [2021], Odin): Norwegian quartet, predates its 2006 eponymous album on ECM by a dozen years, the constants saxophonist Trygve Seim, Øyvind Braekke (trombone), and Per Oddvar Johansen (drums), with Mats Eilertsen on bass. Thoughtful, intricate work, but not what I'd call "swinging." B+(***) [bc]

Vince Staples: Vince Staples (2021, Blacksmith/Motown, EP): Los Angeles rapper, started in Odd Future, or maybe the Crips, has so much rep I'm surprised how thin his discography is. This one has 10 tracks, but only runs 22:02. B+(**)

Helen Sung: Quartet + (2021, Sunnyside): Pianist, Pianist, from Texas, albums from 2003, quartet with John Ellis (tenor/soprano sax and flute), David Wong (bass), and Kendrick Scott (drums), the plus being the Harlem Quartet (strings). B+(*)

Craig Taborn: Shadow Plays (2020 [2021], ECM): Major pianist, solo this time, live concert from Vienna. B+(*)

U-Roy: Solid Gold (2021, Trojan): Legendary Jamaica toaster Ewart Beckford, recorded this star-laden pseudo-hits album shortly before his February, 2021 death at 78. Classic tunes, pumped up, sometimes over the top. Closer to its inspiration is Scientist's 15:01 closing dub. B+(*)

Will Vinson/Gilad Hekselman/Antonio Sanchez: Trio Grande (2019 [2020], Whirlwind): Sax-guitar-drums trio, recorded in the melting pot of New York (Queens, actually; originally from England, Israel, and Mexico). Not big stars, although all three have extensive discographies since 2004 or so. They add up impressively until Vinson switches to keyb, tipping them into fusion, still well above par. B+(***)

Westside Gunn: Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely, Adolf (2021, Griselda/Empire): Buffalo rapper Alvin Lamar Worthy, started this mixtape series in 2012, not his only titles to namecheck Hitler but he also trades on Flygod. Music thrashes hard, but can't find much redeeming social value. B

Westside Gunn: Hitler Wears Heres 8: Side B (2021, Griselda/Empire): First track sounds more thoughtful. Second sounds funkier. Likely this improves on its predecessor (it's certainly more varied), but over the long run -- and it does run very long -- it proves equally tedious. B

Wiki: Half God (2021, Wikset Enterprise): New York rapper Patrick Morales, started in group Ratking, third album, produced by Navy Blue. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

None.

Old music:

None.


Grade (or other) changes:

Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: (Exit) Knarr (2021, Odin): Norwegian bassist, huge discography since the mid-1990s including a long run in The Thing and various Vandermark groups. Leads an octet here, mostly Norwegians (Mette Rasmussen and Atle Nymo on sax, Eivind Lønning on trumpet), doubling down on percussion. Six pieces, named for world cities (although Oppdal, in Norway, is more of a village). Austin is funky and fun. Amsterdam is a bit overwhelming, ending the album on a high plateau. [was: B+(***)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

None.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, November 22, 2021


Music Week

November archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36746 [36694] rated (+52), 130 [128] unrated (+2).

Getting into the end-of-year crunch, so nearly everything this week is in the "new music" list. The exceptions are: a Bobby Hutcherson album that a reader recommended, and a Sonny Clark album that has a new vinyl reissue in Blue Note's Tone Poet series (but I went with the 9-track CD instead of the 6-track LP, so I counted it as old instead of as a new reissue).

Six (of 7) new A-list albums are jazz, although the break in records listened to isn't that skewed. Two of the picks (Carrier and Halley) are perennial favorites, and I tend to like everything they do. Two more are groups (Ill Considered and Irreversible Entanglements) that his fusion seams that I'm easily drawn to. So there was something semi-automatic about those four picks, not involving a lot of thought, especially as I didn't do any comparative listening with old favorites (all have multiple A/A- records in their catalogs). The other two picks were, indeed, surprises (especially Buechi; Gjerstad always seemed like a good, solid contributor, but this is his first headline record I've given an A- to).

It's been harder to identify promising non-jazz, but also I haven't stuck long enough with good records to rate them higher: Idles, Kasai Allstars, and the two Taylor Swift retreads got one play each. and part of the reason I didn't give them a second play was that I already had a track record of stopping at B+(***) for each of them (the last two Idles, two previous Kasai Allstars, and the original Swifts). On the other hand, Dua Saleh overcame my usual anti-EP prejudice with three plays (although I was pretty sure on the first).

The first EOY lists have appeared, from Mojo, Uncut, and Rough Trade -- all British but still not a lot of common ground (and literally zero interest in US hip-hop, or in US pop phenoms like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo -- although Lana Del Ray, St. Vincent, and the Weather Station got some support). I've started a Metacritic/EOY Aggregate file, but it shows very little at this point. (Also not clear when/if I'll find time to keep it up.) I'm not getting a lot of inspiration from what I've seen so far. After Black Country, Country Road, the next highest unheard record so far was Low's Hey What, a group that has gone from boring to majorly annoying (they ranked 4th both at Mojo and Uncut; Nick Cave's Carnage was 3rd and 5th, but I wasted my time on it some months ago). Still unheard in the current top 100: The War on Drugs, Paul Weller, Courtney Barnett, David Crosby, John Grant. Only one I've looked for is Barnett, but Napster only has 6/10 tracks.

Invites went out on Sunday for the 16th Annual Jazz Critics Poll. I sent 173 invitations out to voters in recent years (we had a record 149 voters last year). Got six ballots so far. Biggest surprise is how many records have already popped up that I wasn't aware of. As I learn more, I'm likely to concentrate on those records this week.

My own EOY lists (in progress): Jazz and Non-Jazz.

Feels like I should be cooking something for Thanksgiving, but I've rarely done so in the past, and thus far no one has showed any interest in me doing so this year. Boo hoo. More time for fucking lists, I guess.

Just finished Adam Serwer's excellent book on the Trump years: The Cruelty Is the Point: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump's America. He seems to be the best of Atlantic's writers (although their paywall has limited my access -- one of the very few gated publications I'm at all tempted by). Much emphasis on racism, not unwarranted but just one of many complaints I have about Trump and the Republicans. Still tempted to sketch out an outline of what I think the right book should be, but it's become increasingly clear I'm never going to get around to writing such a thing. Meanwhile, the country and world goes to hell, because even the people who can conceive of an alternative can't figure out how to implement it. (One of the things Serwer talks about is the gap between ideals and implementation.) Or more succinctly, it's impossible to build anything when people are shooting at you.

I should note that I published answers to a couple of questions last week.


New records reviewed this week:

Aesop Rock X Blockhead: Garbology (2021, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Rapper Ian Bavitz, albums since 1997, beats by Tony Simon, who produced Aesop Rock as far back as 1999. B+(**)

Fatima Al Qadiri: Medieval Femme (2021, Hyperdub): Electronica artist, born in Dakar, raised in Kuwait, based in Berlin, fourth album. Arabic string fragments veiled in synth mist, with intimations of drama. B-

Anika: Change (2021, Sacred Bones): Last name Henderson, first trimmed back from Annika, from Britain but based in Berlin, second album, a decade after her 2010 debut. B+(**)

Badbadnotgood: Talk Memory (2021, XL/Innovative Leisure): Canadian group, combines "jazz musicianship with a hip hop production perspective," half-dozen albums since 2011, last three have topped the US Contemp Jazz charts. Odd album out has them backing Ghostface Killah (Sour Soul). Aside from that, I've never been impressed. B

Black Country, New Road: For the First Time (2021, Ninja Tune): British "experimental rock" group, first album, given to highly dramatized tableaux, works often enough to pique interest. Of course, I like the saxophone. They insist on this line more than seems appropriate, but it sums them up: "I'm more than adequate!" B+(**)

The Black Keys: Delta Kream (2021, Nonesuch): Group founded in 2002, effectively a duo (Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney), has a reputation as a blues-rock powerhouse, but I can't say as I've ever felt them before. Secret this time may be that they didn't try anything original: songwriter list leans heavy on Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside (7/11 songs), spiced with John Lee Hooker, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Big Joe Williams. B+(**)

Terence Blanchard: Absence (2021, Blue Note): Trumpet player, from New Orleans, played with Lionel Hampton and Art Blakey, discography (dating from 1983) includes a lot of soundtrack work. This one, dedicated to saxophonist-composer Wayne Shorter, features E Collective (his "plugged in" band) and the Turtle Island Quartet (strings). B+(**)

Bridge of Flowers: A Soft Day's Night (2021, ESP-Disk): Label counts this as part of its "Drive to Revive Weird Rock." Jeff Gallagher sings and plays guitar, backed with guitar/keyboards, bass, and drums, group from Fitchburg, MA. Weirdest thing is the decidedly slapdash approach to sound, although the instrumental closer nicely shows off their lo-fi meander. B+(*) [cdr]

Sarah Buechi/Contradiction of Happiness & Jena Philharmonic: The Paintress (2020 [2021], Intakt): Swiss vocalist, albums since 2014, leads a septet (piano-bass-drums + strings) named for her 2018 album, reinforced by a chamber orchestra. In English, no pedestals or spotlights, voice moves gingerly and the musicians never lose step. A-

John Butcher/Dominic Lash/John Russell/Mark Sanders: Discernment (2020 [2021], Spoonhunt): Tenor saxophonist (also soprano), with bass, guitar, and drums, improv set from Cafe Oto in London. Guitarist died in Jan. 2021, so one of his last records. B+(*) [bc]

John Butcher/Sharon Gal/David Toop: Until the Night Melts Away (2019 [2021], Shrike): Another Cafe Oto set, a single 35:31 piece, saxophone plus kitchen sink: Gal is credited with "voice, electronics, bells, objects"; Toop with "lap steel guitar, flutes, bass recorder, African chordophone, objects." B [bc]

François Carrier: Glow (2019 [2021], FMR): Canadian alto saxophonist, many excellent records since 2000 as he's found his unique sound and niche in free jazz. This was recorded in Spain with two guitarists, Pablo Schvarman and Diego Caicedo, plus his regular drummer, Michel Lambert. Can't say much for the guitarists here, but doesn't matter the way Carrier is playing. A- [cd]

Neil Cowley: Hall of Mirrors (2021, Mote): British pianist, trio albums began in 2006, this is solo but broadened out with electronics into something pleasantly ambient. B+(**)

Cyclone Trio: The Clear Revolution (2020 [2021], 577): Free jazz trio, Australian ("Brisbane-based"; recorded in London, but label is based in New York). Massimo Magee (saxophones) and two drummers (Tim Green and Tony Irving). Opener runs 23:30, two more pieces bring the total to 50:51. B+(**)

Jeremiah Cymerman/Charlie Looker: A Horizon Made of Canvas (2020 [2021], Astral Spirits): Clarinet duets, Looker playing piano to open, before switching to deep, brooding guitar. B+(*) [bc]

Dos Santos: City of Mirrors (International Anthem): Chicago group, Latin orientation, on a jazz label, so there's some of that too. B+(*)

Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: (Exit) Knarr (2021, Odin): Norwegian bassist, huge discography since the mid-1990s including a long run in The Thing and various Vandermark groups. Leads an octet here, mostly Norwegians (Mette Rasmussen and Atle Nymo on sax, Eivind Lønning on trumpet), doubling down on percussion. Six pieces, named for world cities (although Oppdal, in Norway, is more of a village). Austin is funky and fun. Amsterdam is a bit overwhelming. B+(***)

Frode Gjerstad/Isach Skeidsvoll: Twenty Fingers (2021, Relative Pitch): Norwegian saxophonist (alto and clarinet here), many albums since Detail in 1983, duets with piano. Skeidsvoll has a record in the group Bear Brother, but this is his first slugline. Not fancy, just heavy chords with some abstract tinkling, but it really sets the saxophonist off. A tour de force. A-

The Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade: The Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade (2021, Nomad Eel): Two bassists, Devin Hoff (Nels Cline Singers and other groups, like Good for Cows) and Mike Watt (Minutemen, on bass guitar), plus a drummer (Joseph Berardi). B+(**)

Rich Halley/Dan Clucas/Clyde Reed/Carson Halley: Boomslang (2021, Pine Eagle): Tenor saxophonist, has been on a tear since he retired from his day job more than a decade ago. Recent records have been elevated by Matthew Shipp, so this one starts a little uncertain, but the cornet player (Clucas) opens things up with a blistering solo, and by midway Halley has found his wind. One of the major tenor saxophonists of our time. A- [cd] [12-03]

Louis Hayes: Crisis (2021, Savant): Drummer, 84, debut was with Horace Silver in 1956, group with Abraham Burton (tenor sax), Steve Nelson (vibes), David Hazeltine (piano), and Dezron Douglas (bass), with Camille Thurman singing two songs. The vibes are especially prominent. B+(**)

Natalie Hemby: Pins and Needles (2021, Fantasy): Country singer-songwriter, second album at 44 (although she was included in the star-laden Highwomen lineup). B+(*)

Hiss Golden Messenger: Quietly Blowing It (2021, Merge): Folk-rock band from North Carolina, MC Taylor and Scott Hirsch, dozen-plus albums since 2008. Comfy country. B+(*)

Jon Hopkins: Music for Psychedelic Therapy (2021, Domino): British electronica producer, sixth album since 2001. Synth sounds with minor variations. I suppose with the right drugs they could be major. B

Idles: Crawler (2021, Partisan): British post-punk band, from Bristol, fourth album, Joe Talbot the singer, basic sound reminds me of the Fall, but they experiment more. I've never stuck with them long enough to sort out the lyrics, but good politics have been reported. B+(***)

Ill Considered: Liminal Space (2021, New Soil): British group, nominally a trio -- Idris Rahman (sax), Liran Donin (bass), Emre Ramazanoglu (drums) -- but often with extras (Theon Cross and Sarathy Korwar most famous), incorporate world rhythms or just swing free. Their live albums are exciting. This is their first studio effort, and they keep the heat turned up. A- [bc]

Irreversible Entanglements: Open the Gates (2021, International Anthem): Third album, avant-jazz group with two horns -- Keir Neuringer (sax) and Aquiles Navarro (trumpet) -- bass and drums, plus a vocalist, Camae Ayewa (who also does hip-hop as Moor Mother). Often strong politically, not that the music could go some other direction. A-

Vera Kappeler/Peter Conradin Zumthor: Herd (2020 [2021], Intakt): Swiss pianist, several albums since 2009, including a previous duo with percussionist Zumthor. Runs hot and cold, or light and heavy. B+(*)

Kasai Allstars: Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound (2021, Crammed Discs): Large group in Kinshasa, Congo, assembled by Belgian producer Vincent Kenis for the label's Congrotronics series, fourth or fifth album. B+(***)

Langhorne Slim: Strawberry Mansion (2021, Dualtone): Singer-songwriter Sean Scolnick, from Pennsyvania (Langhorne), ten or so albums since 2004. High, whiny voice, no drawl but works for blues, and grows a bit as he reels off song after song. B+(**)

LoneLady: Former Things (2021, Warp): Manchester, UK electropop producer Julie Campbell, third album, strong pulse. B+(**)

Brandon López Trio: Live at Roulette (2021, Relative Pitch): Bassist, with saxophonist Steve Backowski and Gerald Cleaver on drums. B+(**)

Low: Hey What (2021, Sub Pop): Slowcore band/duo from Duluth, Minnesota, with Mimi Parker (vocals/percussion) and Alan Sparhawk (guitar/vocals), 13th album since 1994, their third produced by BJ Burton. Slow as in dirges, but more pretentious, or just annoying. C

Francisco Mela Featuring Matthew Shipp and William Parker: Music Frees Our Souls (2020 [2021], 577): Cuban drummer, studied at Berklee, close to 10 albums as leader since 2008. You know the others. B+(***) [bc]

Moor Mother: Black Encyclopedia of the Air (2021, Anti-): Poet/rapper/activist Camae Ayewa in underground hip-hop mode (as opposed to jazz mode with Irreversible Entanglements). Half-dozen albums since 2016. B+(*)

Van Morrison: Latest Record Project: Volume 1 (2021, BMG/Exile, 2CD): Perfectly generic title for a very generic Van Morrison album, reserving the option of future reuse -- but given that the thing runs over two hours (28 songs averaging over 4.5 minutes), none too anxious to get to Volume 2. The lyrics have generated bad word of mouth (aside from Armond White's rave in National Review), but I'm more struck by their triviality -- nowhere more so than on the title song (yes, there is one). B

Willie Nelson: The Willie Nelson Family (2021, Legacy): Short "collaborative" album (12 songs, 31:55), with sons Lukas and Micah, daughters Paula and Amy, and sister Bobbie, with Willie doing most of the singing (well, all that's worth saving). Songs dwell on religious themes, with "I Saw the Light" rising from the depths of "All Things Must Pass." Could credit the album to the group, but why encourage them? B

Zeena Parkins/Mette Rasmussen/Ryan Sawyer: Glass Triangle (2021, Relative Pitch): Electric harp player, not to be confused with Andrea Parkins (although both play accordion and piano), in a trio with alto sax and percussion. A little rough on the cutting edge. B+(*)

Nicholas Payton: Smoke Sessions (2021, Smoke Sessions): Mainstream trumpet player from New Orleans, also plays a fair amount of piano here, backed by Ron Carter (bass) and Karriem Riggins (drums), with George Coleman (tenor sax) guesting on two tracks (one called "Big George"). Carter-Coleman reflects back on Miles Davis, a big influence on any trumpet player of Payton's generation. B+(**)

Dua Saleh: Crossover (2021, Against Giants, EP): Born in Sudan, left at age 5 and wound up in Minnesota, makes a point of being non-binary, hip-hop but sings more than raps, third EP (7 songs, 22:56). Diverse songs, each with its own unique allure. A-

Nala Sinephro: Space 1.8 (2021, Warp): Caribbean-Belgian composer/producer, based in London, first album. Ambient, with overtones of harp. B+(*)

Josh Sinton: B. (2021, Form Is Possibility): Saxophonist, plays baritone here, solo, engaging but has its limits. B+(**) [cd] [12-10]

Snotty Nose Rez Kids: Life After (2021, Distorted Muse/Fontana North): Canadian First Nations hip-hop duo, Darren Metz ("Young D") and Quinton Nyce ("Yung Trybez"), fourth album. B+(**)

Space Afrika: Honest Labour (2021, Dais): Electronica duo, Joshua Reidy and Joshua Inyang, based in Manchester, the latter with roots in Nigeria. Third album. B+(*)

Taylor Swift: Fearless (Taylor's Version) (2021, Republic): Let's set out some ground rules: I've heard all nine of Swift's studio records, rated them favorably (A- for Speak Now), * for the debut, ** for Reputation, *** for the other 6). I even own a couple (Speak Now and Red), but I don't remember any of them, so one thing I can't do here is offer any insightful comparisons between new and old versions (although I could easily believe that she knows more about how to run a studio now, or at least can hire more expert help). Moreover, my plan, after having ignored this for six months, is to stream it once and react as if it's all new (which it effectively is to me). Big difference here is the sprawl, from 53:41 to 106:20, as the new edition re-records the 19-track Platinum Edition plus six extra songs they held back. No doubt there's a terrific album in here somewhere, waiting for an editor to bring it into focus. B+(***)

Taylor Swift: Red (Taylor's Version) (2021, Republic): Her 4th Big Machine album, 2nd to get the "Taylor's Version" treatment, which means re-recording old songs, including extras that didn't make the original release, extending the album from 65:09 to 130:26. Same basic deal. Ends with a 10:13 "All Too Well" that holds up all the wa to the end. B+(***)

Aki Takase/Daniel Erdmann: Isn't It Romantic? (2020 [2021], BMC): Piano and tenor/soprano saxophone duo. Six compositions each, plus the Richard Rodgers title song. B+(**)

Tirzah: Colourgrade (2021, Domino): Singer-songwriter, from England, second album. Sort of like trip hop but not as luxe. B+(*)

Trees Speak: PostHuman (2021, Soul Jazz): Duo from Arizona, Daniel Martin Diaz and Damian Diaz, fourth album, electric keyboards with more than an echo of Krautrock. B+(*)

Two Much [Reut Regev and Igal Foni]: Never Enough (2021, Relative Pitch): Trombone and drums duo. B+(***) [bc]

Pabllo Vittar: Batidão Tropical (2021, Sony, EP): Brazilian drag queen, given name Phabullo Rodrigues da Silva, lots of skin on the cover, mostly background. Considered forró electronico, pretty upbeat. Nine songs, 23:05. B+(*)

Summer Walker: Still Over It (2021, LVRN/Interscope): R&B singer from Atlanta, debut Over It was a sizable hit, sequel is same but longer (63:36 vs. 42:49). B+(*)

Marcin Wasilewski Trio: En Attendant (2019 [2021], ECM): Polish pianist, long-running trio with Slawomir Kurkiewicz (bass) and Michal Miskiewicz (drums). B+(*)

Jane Weaver: Flock (2021, Fire): British singer-songwriter, 11th solo album since 2006, before that she was in bands like Kill Laura and Misty Dixon. Describes this as "inspired by Lebanese torch songs, 1980s Russian Aerobics records and Australian punk," but your guess is as good as mine. Starts wobbly, but finds a shiny groove. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Mujician: 10 10 10 (2010 [2021], Cuneiform): British avant-jazz supergroup: Keith Tippett (piano), Paul Rogers (bass), Tony Levin (drums), and Paul Dunmall (soprano/tenor sax, also bagpipes). Founded 1990, did this tour with Levin turned 70. B+(**) [dl]

Old music:

Sonny Clark: My Conception (1957-59 [2000], Blue Note): Hard bop pianist, had a terrific run from 1957 to his early death (at 31 in 1963). This quintet session with Donald Byrd (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Paul Chambers (bass), and Art Blakey (drums) wasn't released until 1979. CD adds three tracks from 1957 with Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Chambers, and Pete La Roca (drums). B+(***)

Bobby Hutcherson: Medina (1968-69 [1998], Blue Note): Vibraphone player, debut in 1965 marked him as a major player, recorded a lot for Blue Note up through 1977, but seems like the label left a lot of his work on the shelf, releasing it well after the fact. This collects two sessions: this adds 5 (of 6) tracks from Spiral (released 1979, 30:21; they left out a 1965 track) to Medina (6 tracks, 40:05), which hadn't appeared until 1980. Both sessions use the same group: Harold Land (tenor sax), Stanley Cowell (piano), Reggie Johnson (bass), and Joe Chambers (drums). A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • François Carrier: Glow (FMR)
  • Amos Gillespie: Unstructured Time (self-released) [02-22]
  • Gordon Grdina: Pendulum (Attaboygirl) [10-22]
  • Gordon Grdina's Square Peg: Klotski (Attaboygirl) [10-22]
  • Samuel Mösching: Ethereal Kinks (Bronzeville Music -18)
  • Sara Schoenbeck: Sara Schoenbeck (Pyroclastic) [11-26]

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