July 2002 Notebook
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Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Music:

  • Lester Bowie: American Gumbo (1974-75, 32 Jazz, 2CD). The most accessible avant-garde plays on well-worn standards, which give you a stable background against which all the mischief plays. A good example of this is "St. Louis Blues (Chicago Style)" here. These two albums were originally called Fast Last! and Rope-a-Dope, but American Gumbo sums them up nicely: something downhome but spicy. Bowie built his career out of such jokes, which got even better as the background got riper, in Serious Fun and My Way and (especially) The Fire This Time. B+
  • Jaki Byard: Freedom Together (1968, Prestige). Amateur hour: bassist Richard Davis plays cello, drummer Alan Dawson tries out vibes and tympani, pianist Byard toys with celeste and blows a little tenor sax, Junior Parker sings. B-
  • Charles Lloyd: Just Before Surprise (1966-67, 32 Jazz, 2CD). Two mid-'60s albums, with then-unknowns Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. Lloyd's sax is precise and pungent, pretty good; Lloyd's flute is flute. B
  • The Giuseppi Logan Quartet (1964, ESP). Logan is attributed a wide range of reeds, ranging from tenor sax to "Pakistani oboe," but this mostly sounds like alto. It's a rather listenable slice of '60s avant-garde-cum-exotica, where the most valuable player is no doubt percussionist Milford Graves. (Don Pullen is also on board, but very young and hardly recognizable.) B+
  • Dizzy Reece: Comin' On! (1960, Blue Note). Very nice hard bop date, with Stanley Turrentine in exceptionally lithe form. The drum solo on "Achmet" sounds uncommonly good, which has been known to happen when the drummer's Art Blakey. A-
  • The Velvet Underground: Bootleg Series, Vol. 1: The Quine Tapes (1969, Polydor, 3CD). The sound starts thin and doesn't get much better. The songs you've heard before, mostly more clearly. Yet my only complaint is that the three versions of "Sister Ray" last a mere 24:03, 38:00, 28:43. A-

Monday, July 29, 2002

Music:

  • Rashied Ali/Frank Lowe: Duo Exchange (1972, Knitting Factory). Short (28:39), which is a plus in music this intense. I developed quite a distaste for Ali during Coltrane's furthest-out phase, but he is rarely short of brilliant here -- so good that it makes sense to concentrate on the drums and just let Lowe's saxophone cacophony float by as background. Which the bare duo format lets you do. Not that Lowe can or should be ignored -- he more than carries his end of the deal. A-
  • Bobby Battle Quartet with David Murray: The Offering (1990, Mapleshade). The "with" clause is the one that matters. Battle is a drummer who has catalogued nothing else under his name, no doubt because he also wrote nothing here. Six long, relaxed performances, the two classics (Waller and Monk) being the ones you most notice, but solid work all around. B+
  • Roy Book Binder: Polk City Ramble (1998, Rounder). A likable folk singer who learned his craft by being tutored and critiqued by Pink Anderson and Gary Davis, which makes him a blues singer with some guitar tricks up his sleeve. Which was all the more evident on Live Book, where he gets to talk about it. Here he just sings and picks, not as much fun. B
  • Andrew Cyrille: The Navigator (1982, Soul Note). One of the great drummers, but like most drummer records the front line sets the sound. This one has trumpet/piano/bass, which makes it nice and bright, almost classic. B+
  • Andrew Cyrille: X-Man (1993, Soul Note). And this one has flute/guitar/bass, which makes it soft and supple, not nearly so classic. B
  • Andy Hamilton: Jamaica by Night (1994, World Circuit). I suppose you could call him the Doc Cheatham of Jamaica: he cut his first album at age 72, but he's played his jazz-informed-by-calypso forever. (This is the follow-up.) But the opening calypso both recalls Sonny Rollins and suggests that Hamilton is to Rollins as Norris Turney was to Johnny Hodges: hopelessly outclassed. Then Hamilton takes a vocal on "Every Day I Have the Blues," and he's no Joe Williams (let along Jimmy Rushing) either. But he sings and plays at least as well as Doc Cheatham (who was no Red Allen, let alone Louis Armstrong) did when he stepped forth in his 70s, and the closing calypso leaves you wishing for more. B
  • Alannis Morissette: Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (1998, Maverick). This has been gathering dust quite a while, mostly a good record with some spots that don't quite go down as easy as I'd like. If I listened to lyrics I might learn something. Or not. B
  • Alannis Morissette: Under Rug Swept (2002, Maverick). More consistently interesting, I think, or at least more consistently listenable. B+
  • David Murray Big Band: Live at Sweet Basil, Vol. 2 (1984, Black Saint). These Butch Morris records always seem to slip by me, but now I realize that a big part of the reason is that they're so underrecorded: it takes some volume to get any detail at all. But here, at least when you can hear it, Murray is his usual brilliant self, and Craig Harris stands out among the background. I've always preferred Murray's quartets to his octet, and his octet to the big band; I may even prefer Murray's duos to his quartets. Good as this one is, there's another thirty, maybe forty, Murray albums I'd put on first. B
  • Mississippi String Bands: Volume Two (1927-35, County). Not many vocals, mostly simple fiddle tunes, none by anyone I recognize. Not what you'd call dance music, either, the occasional hoedown rhythm is rarely sustained even for a full song. But even the slow ones have stately beauty, and there's enough variety to break the background now and then. New age for my country soul. B+
  • Salsa Clasica: A Taste of Classic Latin Flavors (1962-95, Music Club). One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in New York in 1977 was salsa, on the radio and blaring from lower east side boom boxes. It sounded great, but when I went to sample LPs I rarely came up with anything I liked. Later I worked my way through the classic back catalogues of jazz, blues, country, and made significant inroads in reggae and African pop, in all cases following in the well-worn tracks of expert guides. Yet Latin remains terra incognita to me -- if you count Brazil (and why not?) the largest and no doubt richest body of unheard music in the world. [Sanity check: as I write I have 93 Latin albums rated, vs. 178 reggae/calypso/soca, 225 African/Arab, 473 blues, 564 country/bluegrass, 2875 rock, 2968 jazz; even Anglo-American folk, which I don't have much use for, comes in at 176. How small a percentage of what's really out there my 93 Latin albums are is hard to say, but it's gotta be tiny.] I have yet to find a guide that does anything more than scratch the surface here. Sometimes I think it might be a swell project to write my own (I'd call it The Gringo's Guide to Latin Music), but I've yet to develop any way of describing this music that I know so poorly. I've played this set ten times or more, and while I can't describe it, I'm sure that it's quite good, maybe even great. A-
  • Turntable Tastemakers Issue No. 1: The Sound of Cleveland City Recordings (1994, Moonshine). Basically good techno album, long sitting on my shelf for lack of a discerning opinion. B+

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Music:

  • Björk: Vespertine (2001, Elektra). I don't doubt that she's an interesting weirdo, and I'm somewhat intrigued that she's managed to assert herself as a significant pop icon. But whatever it is that people find appealing in her music doesn't work on me. This one is thickly layered, gaudily overdecorated, and wretchedly slow. Silence never sounds better than when this record ends. C-
  • Wyclef Jean: The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book (2000, Columbia). Eclectic, that would be. I couldn't stand the Fugees, but I suspect that what made them so broadly appealing was not just the gospelized warmth of Lauryn Hill but the naivete of their cultural appropriations -- which could be charming, unlike the naivete of their politics. Wyclef appears to be fount of that naivete, which here works in his favor: almost everything here is interesting, whether it works or not. B+
  • Benny Moré: La Colección Cubana (1953-59, Music Club). Don't know how well this fits or samples Moré's work, but this rises above the usual Cuban big band din. By reputation he's a giant of the genre. This sounds like a good way to make his acquaintance. A-
  • Me'shell Ndegéocello: Cookie: The Anthropological Mix Tape (2002, Maverick). The voiceover near the start promises a political critique that she doesn't fully deliver on, although it never quite disappears either. What we get instead are beats, subdued beats at that, shit you have to crane your ears to try to pick up. Interesting shit. Smart shit. A-

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Over two evenings, we managed to catch up with the Austin Powers legacy. Given that it was commercial TV, bleeped, hacked up, and (especially for the second episode) larded with promos, it would be unfair to attempt to grade these, but C+ is probably the right ballpark. The first has the advantage of an almost intelligible story-line. The latter has Heather Graham. Both have funny moments, and make clever use of music (although whatever Burt Bacharach had to do with the "swinging sixties" escapes me). And both have sub-sophomoric humor, much more often in the second. And both (again, especially the second) have much too much Mike Myers -- where tolerable quantities are asymptotically approaching zero. All of which suggests that the new movie will be even worse. (The interviews and trailer scenes with Beyonce Knowles certainly suggest that, and reports of a fourth Mike Myers character sound like an arms race with Eddie Murphy.) Maybe we'll catch it on a year or two.

One interesting line from the second movie sticks in my mind: how Starbucks sells coffee for "reasonable prices." Why not "outrageous prices"? I mean, it's (a) true, (b) funny in context, and (c) they've already paid to associate themselves with Dr. Evil's empire.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Music:

  • The Byrds: Fifth Dimension (1966, Columbia). Their big move from folk-rock to psychedelia, which mostly means that the guitar work is both spacier and denser. Two hits, much filler (to which the bonus cuts add). B+
  • The Byrds: The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968, Columbia). Further into their folky, easy-listening psychedelia. And for once, the bonus cuts add someting. A-
  • John Jackson: Front Porch Blues (1999, Alligator). Son of Country Blues and Ditties. B+
  • Elton John: Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975, MCA). When he was big, John could be counted on to hit paydirt with his plastic rock two or three times an album. Which he does here, but also typically he finds himself buried in deep Taupin much of the time, too, and the Beatles cover doesn't help. B
  • Elton John: Blue Moves (1976, MCA). No, I didn't relisten to this -- how masochistic do you think I am? But I noticed that it was missing from my list, and think I remember it well enough to assign a foreboding grade. John's last good album evidently was Rock of the Westies -- with this one John's plastic rock melted into goo. If he's done anything worthwhile since I haven't noticed. C-
  • Me'shell Ndegéocello: Bitter (1999, Warner Bros.). Not just cool, this is cold, more impressive for the precision of its flow than for its content or conviction. B+

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Music:

  • Papa Noel and Papi Oviedo: Bana Congo (2002, Tumi). I was surprised at first how Cuban this sounds, not merely explained by Oviedo's presence. The Cuban-Zaďrean connection goes deep, and resonates nicely here. A-

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Music:

  • The Blasters: American Music (1980, Hightone). Not juvenilia, just the prototypes for their great early '80s albums, the ones that put American music back on the map. B+
  • Peter Brötzmann/Hamid Drake Duo: The Dried Rat-Dog (1994, Okkadisk). I've never been much impressed with Drake, but here his drum solos are not only welcome relief from Brötzmann, they're downright enjoyable. Brötzmann, of course, can peel paint. B
  • The Capricorns: In the Zone (2002, Paroxsym). This one is fun: two young women, two cheesy Casio keyboards. Sounds a bit like Chicks on Speed, but on something else (I won't speculate as to what). A-
  • Dave Douglas/Tiny Bell Trio: Songs for Wandering Souls (1998, Winter & Winter). Only toward the end does the guitarist get in gear, which is what makes this configuration run. But working with just guitar and bass gives Douglas a lot of room for exploring, and he's not a great trumpet player for nothing. B+
  • Dave Douglas: Soul on Soul (1999, RCA). For his major label debut, Douglas threw out all the stops: picked up a pair of reed players, a trombone, a first rate rhythm section with Uri Caine on piano, and ransacked the Mary Lou Williams catalog for some tunes. It's a bit busy, but full of excitement and joy, an impressive outing. A-
  • Dekoboko Hajime/Yamantaka Eye: Nani Nani (1995, Tzadik). File under Zorn, John; shit you can get away with when you own your own record label. Just when you get sick of the exploding "toys" along comes 18:13 of one-note drone called "Bad Hawkwind." D
  • Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks: Last Train to Hicksville (1973, MCA). It seems like I used to have one or two of his albums, but they never made an impression on me, and this may be why: it seems near impossible to concentrate on something as evanescent as this. C+
  • Idlewild: Hope Is Important (1999, Odeon). Not as fast as punk, but much the same crunch. Consistent. Important? B+
  • Alan Jackson: Drive (2002, Arista). He's got an easy swing that reeks of overconfidence, but he keeps it simple enough to get by as an everyday Nashville superstar. A couple of good songs, and "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" ain't half bad (or at least could've been a lot worse). I suspect that he actually can tell you the difference between Iraq and Iran, he just doesn't want to set your expectations too high. B+
  • Patti Loveless: Mountain Soul (2001, Epic). Yet another coal miner's daughter. Yet unlike Loretta and Dolly, that seems less like a point of departure than something to get back to. So this comes off a little bit forced, not quite real -- a problem I have with the cover art more than with the music itself. But she's been pursuing the neotraditionalist muse long enough that she may even believe in it; in any case she can fake it anytime she wants to. B+
  • Ken Peplowski: A Good Reed (1997, Concord). A mixed bag: a small group for Peplowski's increasingly classical swing and Loren Schoenberg's big band for elaborately orchestral overkill. The small group version of Ellington's "Purple Gazelle" stands out. B
  • Hank Williams III: Lovesick, Broke & Driftin' (2002, Curb). His first record seemed to combine his grandfather's voice with his father's brains. This one shows a bit of progress: he's starting to become his own man, although he still leans heavy on the vocal chords to make it work. B+
  • Warren Zevon: My Ride's Here (2002, Artemis). Much hyped, and I don't doubt that this is his best album since 1987's Sentimental Hygiene, maybe even 1982's The Envoy, but there's only one song here (the title cut) that would butt its way onto 1986's A Quiet Normal Life best-of. B+
Note: Four of these records (Jackson, Loveless, Williams, Zevon) have been sitting on the B+/A- fence for a while now. That all four slipped under the line may just be crankiness (Loveless and especially Zevon), but Jackson and Williams always sounded B+ until today when they seemed to gain something, not least in contrast.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Movie: Monsoon Wedding. As slice-of-life this is certainly eye-opening, even though I have no way of ascertaining how typical it is. (Even though I do know people who've been through things like this.) There's a lot going on here, and nothing much is overstated or blown out of proportion, not the comeuppance of the rich guy nor the triumph of the not-so-rich one. A-

Music:

  • Peter Brötzman: Die Like a Dog (1993, FMP). A founding figure in the European avant-garde, in my own limited experience I've rarely found him to be coherent. But this isn't bad: a meditation on Albert Ayler, which brings out the primitive in Brötzman. Still, only the last cut raises the temperature. B
  • The McGuire Sisters: The Anthology (1952-65, MCA, 2CD). Back catalog work, a name I remember as before my time even when I was a child -- even though half of these cuts date from late enough that I could've heard them new. Part of this is because nearly everything they did was retreaded -- in the '50s they specialized in '30s songs, plus the occasional cover like their #1 "Sincerely" (written by Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows, co-credited to Alan Freed of payola fame). Still, the surprise is not just that this this flirts with gorgeous, it's jazzier than I would've imagined. Some of it, anyway. B
  • Jackie McLean: McLean's Scene (1956-57, Prestige). McLean's Prestige records are generally disparaged. At the time, Prestige specialized in cheapie jam sessions, which worked fine for players like Gene Ammons and Eddie Davis, and magnificently for Coleman Hawkins, but evidently wasn't enough of a challenge for younger players like John Coltrane and McLean -- both of whom exploded as soon as they went elsewhere. Nonetheless, this one is a rich tableau of blues and be-bop, with McLean's distinctive pinched sound in place, and a stellar sideman crew having fun. A-
  • Jackie McLean: Right Now! (1965, Blue Note). McLean's Blue Note recordings from 1959-67 are an extraordinary series, whether he be pushing the avant-garde envelope (New Soil, Freedom Now, Destination . . . Out!) or just enjoying the groove (Swing Swang Swingin'). This one sits midway: by 1965 McLean had incorporated Ornette as thoroughly as he had Parker, and was making easy music from both. Maybe too easy, but quite an accomplishment. A-
  • The Phil Woods Quintet: + One: Flash (1989, Concord). The first thing you hear is some fancy trumpet playing, which happens with astonishing regularity on albums featuring Tom Harrell. Still, most of this seems to be in some sort of orchestral limbo -- not bop nor swing, a sort of slick gloss that's neither here nor there. B

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

OK, let's do this differently. Instead of piling all of the music entries up under an old date, let's do them day-by-day. Like this:

Music:

  • Atmosphere: God Loves Ugly (2002, Fat Beats). The one cut where it looks like Slug's gonna get the girl ends, well, abruptly. It's also the one cut that's out of character, like it's meant to be a fantasy. He's angrier this time, angry as in jilted. His paean to ugly reminds me of the time my soon-to-be-ex-employer told me that I had a "bad attitude" -- gave me a concept to identify with, which hatched into a plan to not just leave, but liberate my colleagues from that same yoke. Nice corrective to Nelly, who seems to get more than he knows what to do with. A-
  • The Bottle Rockets: Songs of Sahm (2002, Bloodshot). My biggest reservation is not having a good Doug Sahm record to benchmark this against, but this is a good band with a simple concept -- Doug Sahm's Greatest Hits -- which amounts to a nicely functional album. Not country, not even alt . . . just sorta classic. A-
  • John Lee Hooker: The Complete '50s Chess Recordings (1950-54, Chess, 2CD). Hooker sounded old and surly when he was young and spry. As blues go, these sound timeless, but they also sound static -- the "endless boogie" rhythm that trademarked his next few decades still mysteriously in the future. B+
  • Moby: 18 (2002, V2). The "Oh Lawdy" sample makes this sound like a replay of the last one, but the last one was good enough that it can excuse some reiteration. None of the other pieces show much progress either, but one of those sublime little synthesizer bits perfectly reprises Another Green World, which Eno might've been better advised to reiterate a little more. A-

Sunday, July 07, 2002

Movie: Minority Report. Miserable futurism, appalling movie. If there's a theme to it, it's that the world would be a better place if Steven Spielberg was flat broke. D

Thursday, July 04, 2002

Movie. The Importance of Being Earnest. The famous story is contrived, but the legendary wit still cuts, especially when deployed against the idle upper class. B+

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Time for another record list. At start the unrated album list numbers 745, which is +3 from a month ago; the rated list is at 7593, with 33 records added in last month's list. I knocked out a script which picks out 20 random unrated albums. Maybe this'll suggest something to play, whereas the long list just causes the eyes to glaze over.

  • Air: 80 Degrees Below '82 (1982, Antilles). Carries on smartly from Air Lore, which was the avant-garde's sturdiest meditation on jazz's deep roots. This one adds another Jelly Roll Morton tune, plus three Henry Threadgill originals. Smart and precise. A-
  • Dave Alvin: Public Domain: Songs From the Wild Land (2000, Hightone). Music this archival usually comes with the appropriate scholarly exegesis. I'm dumbfounded by this one. B-
  • Chet Baker and Art Pepper: Playboys (1956, Pacific Jazz). I played this one three times today, and never got any traction. Part of the problem may be too much Baker, too little Pepper; part may be the mostly Jimmy Heath programme (without the benefit of Heath's sax). I dunno. This sounds like a lot of mid-'50s west coast cool, except too busy to really be cool. Not bad, just little traction. B
  • Chet Baker/Wolfgang Lackerschmid (1979, Inak). A lot more lively than you'd expect from the famously somnambulent trumpet player and an otherwise unknown German vibraphonist. Credit the rhythm section: guitarist Larry Coryell and a couple of Williamses (Buster and Tony). B+
  • Bob Belden: Black Dahlia (2000, Blue Note). Call it a jazz symphony -- long on texture, short on beat. The recording, of course, is impeccable, and there is some gorgeous music here -- one standout from a cast of sixty-four is Joe Lovano. YMMV, especially if you can stand classical music. I can't. B
  • Blu Cantrell: So Blu (2001, Arista). Another overproduced, overorchestrated diva job. Not bad, as divas go. B
  • John Coltrane: The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions (1961, Impulse, 2CD). Not much more than the single CD that consolidated the original two LPs. Despite Eric Dolphy and the extra horns, this is firmly anchored in the quartet, with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones distinctive and Coltrane himself utterly dominant. A
  • Fred Eaglesmith: Ralph's Last Show (2001, Signature Sounds, 2CD). Filed under Folk for no discernible reason, by this evidence he's a singer-songwriter steeped in rockabilly. The live performance gives immediacy, and let's him pick through his song catalog, which no doubt helps. A-
  • Corey Harris: Downhome Sophisticate (2002, Rounder). Sometimes this works: the one called "f'shiza (santoro remix)" is a slight rap over what sounds like one of those skewed Latin Playboys melodies. More often it doesn't work, which makes it just sound weird. B-
  • Tubby Hayes: New York Sessions (1961, Columbia). He's a legend in the UK, but in the US he is only known (if at all) as a legend in the UK. This is his only release I've seen on a US label, and it's long-out-of-print. But on this evidence he's an exceptionally fluent saxophonist -- long, eloquent postbop lines. Clark Terry's prominent billing is mostly packaging, but where he pops up he is his usual self, and Horace Parlan's piano is a treat. A-
  • Howlin' Wolf: The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues (1953-65, MCA/Chess). As I recall, the folk blues fad in the early '60s was occasioned by the discovery that ancient lonesome bluesmen like Son House, John Hurt, Skip James, and Furry Lewis were still alive and could be hired cheap. Chess opportunistically issued a series of "Real Folk Blues" anthologies, but I've never thought of the Chess artists as folk blues: these guys were protean rockers, a little too mature for the white teen market. Chess has reissued Howlin' Wolf dozens of ways, and the 3CD Chess Box never lets up, so it's hard to quibble with a 24-cut subset on a single CD. A
  • Illinois Jacquet: Jumpin' at Apollo (1945-47, Delmark). Jacquet was a giant who straddled the jazz mainstream and the r&b honkers who prefigured rock and roll: in effect, he was the missing link between '30s swing and '50s rock, a master of an increasingly unpopular instrument in a relentlessly popular medium. His '40s recordings have been inconsistently packaged and hard-to-find, but these three sessions are superb. A- A-
  • The Lilly Brothers and Don Stover: Early Recordings (1956-57, Rebel). Relatively prime bluegrass, vintage enough that it doesn't feel received. B+
  • Jack McVea: McVoutie's Central Avenue Blues (1945, Delmark). McVea's saxophone just the unifying concept for this collection of vintage r&b obscurities. Most cuts have singers (mostly the serviceable Rabon Tarrant, two cuts with Wynonie Harris). B+
  • The Meat Purveyors: All Relationships Are Doomed to Fail (2002, Bloodshot). As alt-country goes, this has real twang and real bite. The ABBA cover is a fish-out-of-water novelty, but the one called "I've Got the Devil in Me" really gets down and dirty. A-
  • Roscoe Mitchell: Nine to Get Ready (1999, ECM). I've never liked Mitchell's avant-noise, so the thought of turning him loose with a big band didn't appeal to me. But someone (easy listening producer Manfred Eicher?) managed to keep Mitchell's music textural, and this group (which matches James Carter's rhythm section with a second set of piano-bass-drums, and augments the front line with Hugh Ragin and the redoubtable George Lewis) plays small and plays it smart. And when they do crank it up, you feel it like you're supposed to. A-
  • Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra: Basie Beginnings (1929-32, RCA). Now mostly a footnote to Count Basie's career, at the time they were the hottest shit in Kansas City, and the latter sessions here, with Hot Lips Page and Ben Webster and Walter Page, swung as hard as the legendary band that Basie brought to NY. Plus five Jimmy Rushing vocals. Not archival. A-
  • Gerry Mulligan: Lonesome Boulevard (1989, A&M). A lovely, low-key album. B+
  • Nelly: Nellyville (2002, Universal). Like hometown hero Chuck Berry, Nelly soaks up America with bug-eyed fascination; like Berry, he is a bellweather for an America that is better than real; unlike Berry, he seems to be getting away with it, which I take as proof of progress. This isn't as broad as Country Grammar, but it's got hooks, a few tricks up the sleeve, and the signature singsong raps over choppy beats. STL-style, makes me proud. A-
  • Pet Shop Boys: Release (2002, Sanctuary, 2CD). They're getting older. Also getting softer. The bonus CD is a wash: it signifies less, but has a little more edge. B+
  • Prince: The Rainbow Children (2001, NPG). 75% of this is the usual funky shit he's been cranking out for 22+ years now, maybe even a little better than the norm for the latter half of that era. 25% is something else, which doesn't quite spoil the record, but makes it a little sour. B
  • Don Pullen: Milano Strut (1979, Black Saint). Not so much a duet as just two percussionists who can fill a room: Famoudou Don Moye on his usual array of devices, and Pullen pounding the piano or pushing the organ. B+
  • Rawkus Presents Soundbombing (1997, Rawkus). By this evidence, a first approximation of underground is that the beats are understated and the raps are monotonically syncopated. Fair enough, as long as it flows as consistently and hits as sharply as it does here. The most recognizable (i.e., least underground) are Mos Def and Talib Kweli, who fit in by a second approximation, which is that underground stands on principle. A-
  • Will Rigby: Paradoxaholic (2002, Diesel Only). The songs that don't flat-out crack you up will at least bring a smile to your face. A-
  • Sam Rivers: Inspiration (1999, RCA). I've never liked Rivers' avant-noise, so the thought of turning him loose with a big band didn't appeal to me. But this shows some composition cleverness and has brief snatches of stellar performance, and its excesses have more to do with big band overkill than with Rivers' well-aged avant-noise. B+
  • Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd: Live in New York (2001, Verve). Ten or so years ago, Roswell Rudd was working in a Catskills hotel when Francis Davis tracked him down to write a "whatever happened to?" article about him. Since then he's come back big enough to share top billing in this reunion of Archie Shepp's '60s quintet, soon after sharing top billing with Steve Lacy on 2000's Monk's Dream. This is the better album, partly for the obvious reason that Shepp's run-of-the-mill blues vocals are infintely preferable to Aëbi's stilted operatics. But top-of-the-line billing is not just newfound recognition for the doyen of avant-garde trombonists, this record rides on Rudd's compositions, and resounds with trombone (abetted by second trombonist Grachan Moncur). A-
  • Sonic Youth: Murray Street (2002, Geffen). No longer the same "youth" they were twenty years ago, and good for that. Short of more careful attention than they usually command or warrant, this is rather indistinct: easy-listening guitar tunings, moderately propulsive rhythm, occasional words, the obligatory noise break reduced to a single annoying note. As usual, I only perk up when Kim sings, which only happens once here. A-
  • Sonny Boy Williamson: The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues (1957-64, MCA/Chess). Cf. Howlin' Wolf. The greatest fraud in music history: Rice Miller assumed the Sonny Boy mantle after his younger namesake passed away, and proceeded to bury John Lee Williamson. A perfectly good single-CD sampler from an artist whose 2CD The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson is truly essential. A
  • Totally Hits (1999, Arista). A useful record for me -- gives me a chance to hear things that everyone else hears, but which I would never notice on my own. (I have more than one album by only one artist here: Madonna.) Good songs from unlikely sources: Sugar Ray, Santana, Cher. (Also from Madonna, of course.) Dreck too. B
  • Djelimady Tounkara: Sigui (2002, Indigo). This is one of those African albums that's almost too subtle, not to mention too sublime. It takes a while, first to realize that that's all there is, then to realize that that's enough. A-
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan: The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (1983-91, Epic/Legacy). For such a consistent artist, it's surprising to find a best-of this lackluster. B
  • The Ritchie Valens Story (1958-59, Del-Fi). Manager Bob Keane's long spoken intro is not without interest, but 19 cuts is quite a stretch for a teenager with three legit hits and a handful of pretty crude demos. B
  • Bennie Wallace: Someone to Watch Over Me (1999, Enja). Tenor sax is the sexiest of all instruments, and Wallace has the quietstorm shtick covered. With each new album he sounds more like Barney Wilen, which is serious praise. A-
  • Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002, Nonesuch). Looking past the hype and antihype, this is a slight and lovely slice of pop, less improbable than Pavement's finest, but more winning than ordinary Yo La Tengo. A-


Jun 2002 Aug 2002