December 2011 Notebook
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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Expert Comments

Some discussion of Oklahoma, which is a topic I could go on at great length about, but didn't.

James Talley? I've done everything I can to try to convince Willie Nelson to do an album of Talley songs. Not only who could do it better, but who could get more mileage out of "Are They Gonna Make Us Outlaws Again?"

Monday, December 26, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 19174 [19149] rated (+25), 834 [825] unrated (+9).

  • René Marie: Vertigo (2001, MaxJazz): Jazz singer, wrote 3 of 11 songs here. Didn't start until in her 40s, but she's brimming with poise and savvy here, nailing down songs from "Dem Dere Eyes" to "Blackbird" with original turns, scatting effectively, slotting in choice bits of Jeremy Pelt trumpet, Chris Potter sax, and John Hart guitar without losing her command. Only the title song overreaches, otherwise you wouldn't suspect that she has any limits. She got in trouble some years later slipping "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" into the middle of "The Star Spangled Banner" -- an idea that must have come natural after her mash-up of "Dixie" and "Strange Fruit" here. A- [Rhapsody]


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ghosts of Xmas Past

Christmas Eve, already past midnight and by the time I'm done most likely well into Christmas day. I don't write much personal stuff here: seems unbecoming to my more serious ambitions, whether in music or in politics. But when I stop writing about music the first thing I'd like to throw myself into is a memoir -- not so much because I think anyone might in the least be interested as because I have a lot of things to work out.

My feelings about Christmas, for instance. I could probably figure out five or six fairly distinct periods where it meant different things in my life, but the big split was in 2000 when my parents died, and a subtler shift circa 1970-75 as I became an adult, moved away from home, and my first nephew was born. Before that there was a big shift in my life as I became a teenager but I don't recall it making much difference around Christmas time -- lost my religion, lost my expectations, lost my marbles, but Christmas was mostly something my mother organized and managed, and nothing I did fazed her (at least in this regard). Her steadfastness persisted to her death in 2000, which is why what came after seems like such a huge void.

For me, Christmas was primarily, and almost wholly, a family affair. Early on, my parents attended church on Christmas and Easter, but I don't recall going otherwise. Churchgoing picked up more when I was around ten, and for a while I got so into it that I prodded them into attendance, but that had no effect on anything we did for Christmas. We exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve, and being materialistic baby boomers we had high expectations -- I especially recall a top-line Erector set, a chemistry set, a microscope, and of course there were lots of model cars. Clothes were frowned upon, although Dad invariably picked out a new nightgown for Mom. I don't recall any guests other than the atomic family -- maybe the Kreutzers (at least for a while they bought us gifts).

We'd get more gifts on Christmas morning. My mother sewed big red stockings for each of us, hanging them on a mock fireplace for Santa's visit. No doubt we then had a large noon meal, although I don't recall them clearly: some years Freda would bring her family, and there may have been others -- I doubt that my mother would ever waste a chance to whip up a large meal. The main thing I do remember is her annual tradition of making candy: fudge, date-nut roll, pecan roll, something marshmallowy with coconut, something called "out of this world" (a soft powder sugar mix with nuts and coconut dipped in chocolate). When we were grown up, she'd pack the candy in tins and give them to us as presents.

The following weekend we'd go to my grandparents house for a big dinner, along with the rest of their (my father's) family (excepting James, who was in the Air Force and usually stationed far away). I think those dinners ended in 1964 when my grandfather died, although George's death a couple years later also took its toll, and around then I largely withdrew from family affairs.

When I went to university in St. Louis I always came home for Christmas. After I moved to New York I usually did, although I got to where I loathed the travel. Don't know when I missed my first year, but after I moved to Boston in 1984 I missed more than not. When I did return, I thought I'd turned into a pretty savvy gift shopper. I was making enough money that I could afford non-trivial presents. When I didn't return home, I cut back, rarely shipping presents, often just settling for some cash for nephews and nieces. (Although I do recall shipping them a computer one time back when that cost well over $1000, and when it later died I sprung for a couple of notebooks.)

Away from Wichita, we almost never celebrated (or even recognized) Christmas. Rebecca had a bad habit of buying Christmas ornaments in post-Christmas clearance sales, figuring next year would be different. Once, when we lived at Waterside in New York, I dragged a tree home from a stand on Second Avenue, sat it up, and put those ornaments to use, but that was the only time. There was no real feeling, no desire to do it again. We never talked about her Christmas experience. We rarely saw her family, and I don't recall anything special with them around Christmas time.

Laura, of course, could care less about it all. Her preferred "Jewish Christmas" was a movie followed by Chinese food -- which is pretty much all we did this year. We rarely saw Christmas decorations in Boston, but once we moved to Wichita we became the exception rather than the rule. My parents always had a tree, although I think it eventually gave way to a reusable metal or plastic one -- happened sometime after I moved east, so not something clear in my mind. My father would string some lights around the edge of the porch, but that was about it, and pretty much the norm for the times. Now, however, elaborate lights displays seems to be a competitive sport in Wichita.

We got into the habit of marking Hannukah with a latke dinner, plus chopped liver, herring, salt-cured salmon, sometimes caviar when I could find it cheap enough. The date had no religious overtones, and we also overlooked its affinity to modern Israeli militarism -- no candles, none of that. Still, this year we didn't even manager to get that organized (although the kitchen is well stocked with potatoes and onions, and there's sour cream and applesauce in the fridge).

When we moved to Wichita in 1999, one thing I especially looked forward to was the family Christmas. I did a dilligent job of gift shopping, but took ill and couldn't attend. My father was showing signs of his still undiagnosed illness -- purple petechiae on his feet and shins which his idiot doctors guessed was a skin problem. A month later, when I cooked dinner for my mother's birthday, he was too sick to attend, and two months after that he died. Three months later my mother also died, and Christmas was never the same.

Well, not quite. My brother's family moved into my parents house, and they carried on for a few years. I bought him a smoker one year, and he turned the annual dinner into an all-day party -- typically he'd chop off a chunk of the apple tree and smoke a turkey, a ham, a couple chickens, a pork loin, some fish, maybe a duck. Then, after a couple years, he got sacked by Boeing, started doing contract work on the road, wound up in Portland, and moved his family there.

First year later they all came back to Wichita, but for me at least the week turned disastrous. It was the year after the robbery, and I was haunted by various things. Don't want to go into details here, but I became estranged from my nephew, and more or less from everyone else. We never tried doing that again. Kathy's friends, Matt and Carrie, moved into our parents house, inheriting Steve's smoker, and they continued the family dinner tradition -- at least along the lines of Steve's smoke outs, but not every year. (This one, they spent Christmas with Carrie's family in Colorado.) I did a dinner (or two), but they became more difficult to organize. We gave fewer and fewer presents, finally hitting zero this year.

And that's about it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Expert Comments

Christgau's picks: Rihanna: Talk That Talk; and David Guetta: Nothing but the Beat:

Like Joey, I wrote something on both of these a while back. Both have pretty bad Metacritic scores (Rihanna 65, Guetta 60 although I think the early returns were even worse). I rather liked them both, but with only one play hedged a bit: Rihanna **, Guetta *. Neither record has fared well in year-end lists: Rihanna showed up on one (Entertainment Weekly, at 18), and on 9 minor lists; Guetta on 2 minor lists. Beyoncé, to take the most obvious point of comparison, shows up in 10 lists I can name (only 3 in top 10; more typical are Rolling Stone 25 and Pitchfork 27), and 19 I merely counted -- much better than I expected (ok, I gave the record a C): in my metafile she's currently just ahead of Kate Bush, Black Keys, Paul Simon, The Field, and The Roots (in a clump from 46-43; Lady Gaga is the next interesting name at 40 -- can't accuse her of being a "critic's favorite" yet).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 19149 [19123] rated (+26), 825 [827] unrated (-2). Another week where I have no fucking idea what I'm doing, nor why.


Jazz Consumer Guide (27)

Instead of Jazz Prospecting, I'm posting my Jazz Consumer Guide: number 27 in a mostly quarterly series since 2004. The previous one appeared in the Village Voice on May 10. This was was finished and handed in about August 1. The column was started after Gary Giddins was fired by the Voice in 2004. Chuck Eddy was music section editor, but Robert Christgau was the one directly handling the jazz pieces -- a legacy of having edited Giddins for thirty-some years. Those were big shoes -- ones which had long established the Village Voice as one of the world's foremost review of all things jazz -- so Christgau decided on a team approach: Francis Davis would write a monthly feature piece, I would crank out a quarterly Jazz Consumer Guide, and Nate Chinen would write occasional pieces on live performances. After Eddy and Christgau were fired, Rob Harvilla took over and continued the basic idea -- although Davis took leave to work on a book, and Chinen moved on to the New York Times.

Harvilla was replaced by Maura Johnston this spring. My May column came out a few weeks into her regime, and I submitted this column on August 1, expecting the same. Instead, she sat on it, and after much prodding decided it was too dated. Indeed, lateness and lack of space have been chronic problems from the beginning: after the first year it was clear that there would be enough quality material to run every two (as opposed to three) months, but I never pushed it hard enough, and they never found the space. Instead, I found myself writing more cryptically to squeeze more records into less space. Meanwhile, the Voice keeps losing space, tightening money, and shedding its legacy: the days when a business could provide something useful and hope to make some profit along the way have given way to the predatory ideal of sucking every value dry in the name of profit, and the Voice has given up on even trying to be an exception.

When my column was killed, Johnston proposed that I write a weekly blog entry for the Voice, covering 8-12 records. I accepted and asked some questions, but never heard from her again, so it's not clear whether this will or will not happen. Jazz Consumer Guide winds up covering about 200 records per year, so that works out to about four per week. Jazz Prospecting, on the other hand, averages 10-15 per week, so most likely what I would do would be to try to raise Jazz Prospecting to Jazz CG standards, which would entail not writing on everything that comes my way, and hopefully writing better about what I do try to cover. At first glance, I would be able to broaden my HMs down to B+(**), although I could also start writing about reissues and maybe even some non-jazz that strikes my fancy. Such a blog would be more timely -- this column, even had it come out on schedule, has a fairly large number of 2010 releases -- and I'd have space to write more expansively.

Whether it would be worth the effort is hard to say. Seven years of writing this column has been fun, interesting, and ultimately a huge amount of miserably compensated work. My house has been overrun by CDs I'm unlikely to ever play again -- good ones I'm proud to own and would be happy to play, and less good ones I haven't figured out how to get rid of. But I also wind up spending so much time working on them that I have precious little time for doing other things, including writing about things I feel a good deal more competent at than music. I don't know how I'm going to sort this out -- although I must admit that the most likely course is inertia.

I have a lot to do in the next week or two: a year-end jazz piece for Rhapsody, a system to present the individual ballots in Francis Davis's Jazz Critics Poll, a Pazz & Jop ballot, a framework for a couple of websites. Plus more personal stuff, likely to trump everything else. So I'm unsure how to wrap this up. My initial plan was to hold back Jazz Prospecting this week and run it next, as a capstone on the Jazz CG (28) cycle. Then I'll suspend Jazz Prospecting until making a decision sometime in January. In the meantime, I may (or may not) post a Jazz Consumer Guide (28). I never bothered to try wrapping it up because there was never a chance of getting it published, but I have approximately enough written to fill one out. Depends on how much I want to save for use in a blog, although we could do both, or I could wind up not doing the blog.


The Jazz Prospecting for this Jazz Consumer Guide ran from April 11 to August 1, 2011. The collected Jazz Prospecting notes are here. During this time, I made a number of decisions to not cover various records. Those were listed in my surplus file. This file includes fourteen short "consolation prize" reviews, which I've (almost certainly) posted on the blog here some time ago. The A- records extend down into the Honorable Mentions through Conference Call -- one of my space-saving tricks.

I'm very sorry, especially to the kind publicists who gave me the opportunity to hear so much wonderful music, that the exposure here is likely to be far short of what the Village Voice promised. I worked very hard to make this happen, and I'm deeply disappointd that it's come to this. On the other hand, if you're fortunate enough to find this page, you're in for some real treats -- all the way down to the tiptoes of the Honorable Mentions.


Insert text from here.


Publicist letter:

I posted my 27th Jazz Consumer Guide column yesterday:

link

The previous 26, going back to July 2004, were published by The Village Voice, approximately every three months. I posted the latest column on my website after it was rejected by the new music editor, Maura Johnston. As I understand it, the music section of the Voice has had both its space and budget cut back considerably in the last year. Francis Davis is another casualty of the cutbacks. (His annual Jazz Critics Poll has been picked up by Rhapsody. It is scheduled to appear on January 2, and I will have a year-end piece there, as I have with the Voice since the inception of the poll.)

I wrapped up the new column on August 1. After a long period of uncommunicativeness it was finally killed a couple weeks ago. At one point Johnston suggested that I write a weekly blog instead of the quarterly print column. This could be a big improvement in terms of space and timeliness -- the two biggest problems I've had in the long history of the column -- but it's been impossible to get any further information out of her, so I doubt that it will actually happen, but I'm open to it.

One thing that I'm proud of is the broad range of labels and artists that I've been able to cover, including more Europeans than hardly ever show up in the US press (not to mention more artists from Chicago and Seattle). Reverse index by label:

  • 482 Music: Mike Reed
  • AUM Fidelity: David S. Ware (2)
  • Auricle: Ellery Eskelin, Terrence McManus
  • Ayler: Humanization 4tet, Correction
  • Blue Zygo: EJ Antonio
  • Bo Weavil: Decoy/Joe McPhee
  • Cadence Jazz: Brian Landrus
  • Clean Feed: Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Jaruzelski's Dream, Ken Filiano, Stephen Gauci, Júlio Resende
  • ECM: Mathias Eick, Trygve Seim/Andreas Utnem
  • Engine: Andrew Lamb
  • Foxhaven: Honey Ear Trio
  • High Note/Savant: Jerry Bergonzi
  • High Two: Inzinzac, Sonic Liberation Front
  • Hot Cup: Jon Irabagon, Jon Lundbom
  • Jazzwerkstatt: Rakalam Bob Moses/Greg Burk, Gebhard Ullman/Steve Swell, Jamaladeen Tacuma
  • Justin Time: The Jazz Passengers
  • Leo: François Carrier
  • Naim Jazz: Barb Jungr
  • NoBusiness: Terrence McManus, William Hooker
  • Not Two: Rodrigo Amado, Avram Fefer, Steve Swell, Conference Call, Jason Stein
  • Origin/OA2: Scenes, Les DeMerle, Todd DelGiudice
  • Pi: Muhal Richard Abrams
  • Pine Eagle: Dan Raphael/Rich Halley
  • Porter: Eero Koivistoinen
  • Posi-Tone: Tarbaby
  • Smalltown Superjazz: Free Fall
  • Sunnyside: Abdullah Ibrahim, Harriet Tubman
  • Thirsty Ear: Matthew Shipp
  • Toondist (Icdisc, Vindu): I Compani, Premier Roeles

The sources would be even more diverse if I could manage to hear more of the small labels that are producing so much interesting work these days. The main thing I worry about in losing the Village Voice as an outlet is that I'll lose the opportunity to cover such a wide range of new music. For now, my intention is to plug along, somehow. I have one more column pretty much written, and one after that well researched, and still more worthwhile material in the queue. I'm going to take a bit of time to try to figure out a better way to manage this: Jazz CG would always have been better off coming out more frequently, and in smaller doses, so I need to think through how to make that work.

Given that I don't have the built-in traffic the Village Voice does, anything you can do to make people aware of this column would be most helpful. Link to it, of course. I'm also willing to let people reprint it (in toto). If your know a publication who can use an intrepid jazz blogger, let me know. Thanks again for your support.


Notes dump from bk-print:

  1. Muhal Richard Abrams: SoundDance (2009-10 [2011], Pi, 2CD): Chicago pianist, b. 1930, AACM founder and eminence grise, gets more respect in polls than I'd expect although arguably should get more. Looking back over my database, I find I'm all over the place with him -- admiring early albums like Things to Come From Those Now Gone (1972) and the recently reissued Afrisong (1975), being a bit overwhelmed by his big orchestras like The Hearinga Suite (1989), winding up pretty cautious on his recent works for Pi. I could hedge here on these two disc-long improv duos -- they're not compelling and I find myself phasing in and out -- but something tells me this is the time to show some respect. The Fred Anderson set is the easy one: he mellowed noticeably over his post-retirement decade-plus, and has rarely sounded sweeter than here -- I'm not the sort of person who gets all weepy over losing someone, but this could do the trick. The set with George Lewis is more demanding, more intellectual, as one would expect. But I do love his trombone, and the piano goes beyond abstraction to teasing him along. Bought a copy of Lewis's massive AACM history a while back, and hope to find time to read it some day. Maybe then this will come clear; until we'll just let the mystery be. A-
  2. Rodrigo Amado: Searching for Adam (2010, Not Two): Tenor saxophonist, also plays baritone here, b. 1964, Portugal, has put together an impressive discography since 2000, first with the Lisbon Improvisation Players. Quartet with Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn), John Hébert (double bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Bynum's ecstatic squeal on the opener kicks this off in high gear. Cleaver is especially formidable. A-
  3. E.J. Antonio: Rituals in the Marrow: Recipe for a Jam Session (2010, Blue Zygo): Poet, grew up in Harlem, got a MBA from NYIT, she doesn't dislose any timeline other than that she first published in 2003. First album; I've seen mention of a book but Amazon doesn't have it. Words don't strike me with the clarity of Dan Raphael's record, but she scratches raw and her praise song gospel whoop on "Pullman Porter" registers strongly. Backed with bass pulse, Michael T.A. Thompson soundrhythium, and best of all Joe Giardullo's reeds -- mostly soprano sax to my ear. Gets better along the way, which may mean I need to give it more time, but it already makes a terrific contrast to the Raphael/Halley record. B+(***)
  4. Jerry Bergonzi: Convergence (2008 [2011], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1947 (Wikipedia) or 1950 (AMG, AAJ), website doesn't offer an opinion; has thirty-some records since 1983, the ones I've heard (i.e., since 2006) consistently excellent. This one has bass, drums, two cuts with piano, and a fair amount of overdubbed soprano sax, a self-interaction that pushes him to new heights. A-
  5. François Carrier/Alexey Lapin/Michel Lambert: Inner Spire (2010 [2011], Leo): Alto saxophonist, from Canada (Quebec actually), b. 1961, has been on a tear since 1998. I've recommended a bunch of his albums. Trio, with his longstanding drummer Michel Lambert, plus pianist Alexey Lapin -- picked him up when they cut this in Moscow. He works his usual free jazz charms; piano doesn't quite come out, but has promising moments. B+(***)
  6. Conference Call: What About . . . ? (2007-08 [2010], Not Two, 2CD): Quartet, on their sixth album since 2000, the core Gebhard Ullmann (tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet), Michael Jefry Stevens (piano), and Joe Fonda (bass), with George Schuller their present and most frequent drummer -- other albums have used Matt Wilson, Han Bennink, and Gerry Hemingway. Ullmann is very prolific, but he seems to perform best when someone else sets the parameters, which Stevens does here -- most likely Fonda too, as the Fonda/Stevens group goes back even further and has been recorded even more extensively. Two live in Krakow sets, the second a bit easier to get into -- Stevens' "Could This Be a Polka?" had me thinking first of tango -- but both satisfying mixes of sour and not-quite-sweet. A-
  7. Correction: Two Nights in April (2009 [2010], Ayler): Piano trio, from Sweden: Sebastian Bergström on piano, Jaocim Nyberg on bass, Emil Åstrand-Melin on drums. First album, drawn from two live sets on two consecutive nights, the piano has a hard edge that leans free but may know a thing or two about rock. B+(***)
  8. Decoy & Joe McPhee: Oto (2009 [2010], Bo Weavil): Decoy is an organ trio of sorts, with Alexander Hawkins on the B3, John Edwards on bass, and Steve Noble on drums. The three players otherwise show up more often in avant contexts -- I noticed Hawkins recently playing piano in Convergence Quartet with Taylor Ho Bynum and Harris Eisenstadt. McPhee has been an uncompromising free tenor saxophonist for over forty years, so it's no surprise that he takes every groove and grind the trio lays out for him and rips them to shreds. B+(***)
  9. Todd DelGiudice: Pencil Sketches (2010 [2011], OA2): Highly improbable sax hero -- put more time into his classical study than into jazz, hopped around various symphonies, wound up teaching on the scablands of eastern Washington -- nothing sketchy to his originals, but the bright lustre to his tone and rich ambience really come out on the sole cover, "All the Things You Are." B+(***)
  10. The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band: Gypsy Rendezvous, Vol. One (2008 [2009], Origin): Featuring Bonnie Eisele, DeMerle's better half in all the usual senses. Both sing: she's really quite good, a better standards stylist than most of the singers I get who hog up whole albums; he's not bad, and while in the past he got by with humor, he makes do with a sense of humor here. Not sure how he conceived his version of "St. Louis Blues" -- sounds to me like a cha-cha. He's also a drummer, and manages to work in an extended solo: in the past I've been tempted to cast them as Louis Prima and Keely Smith, but you know he'd rather be Buddy Rich. As for the gypsies, that's a quartet called Gypsy Pacific, with violin, two guitars, and bass. The instrumentals, which include one from Django, one from Bird, and one from Newk, don't really stand out, but they keep the program going. My guess is that they're a lot of fun live. B+(***)
  11. Mathias Eick: Skala (2009-10 [2011], ECM): Trumpeter, also plays guitar, vibes, bass; b. 1979 in Norway; second album; about 30 side credits since 2002, including groups Jaga Jazzist (relatively good acid jazz) and Motorpsycho (some kind of metal?). This breaks through the Nordic chill which ECM more often intensifies. Trumpet is warm and bright, Andreas Ulvo's piano moving shiftly through the undergrowth. Band varies from cut to cut, often doubling up on drums (Torstein Lofthus and Gard Nilssen), with tenor sax on one cut, harp on another, here then gone. A-
  12. Ellery Eskelin/Gerry Hemingway: Inbetween Spaces (2010, Auricle): One of three new albums featuring drummer Gerry Hemingway in duets -- the obvious one to play first, especially when you're approaching year-end-list deadlines. The tenor sax seems a little subdued at first (and I've had to crank this up some to draw him out), but this is typical of Eskelin's patient, edgy focus. What's distinctive here is the percussion, how tuned in it is but also cleverly Hemingway expands the circle. A-
  13. Avram Fefer/Eric Revis/Chad Taylor: Eliyahu (2010 [2011], Not Two): Sax-bass-drums trio, with Fefer (b. 1965) playing alto and tenor here -- a change of pace from recent albums where he's focused more on clarinet, bass clarinet, and soprano sax. Tenth album since 1999. More tuneful and grooveful than you expect free jazz to be, but that's largely because the rhythm section is so together. A-
  14. Ken Filiano & Quantum Entanglements: Dreams From a Clown Car (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Bassist, a guy who has an uncanny knack of showing up on good records (John Hébert is another one), finally turns in one of his own. Two sax quartet, with Michaël Attias on baritone and alto, Tony Malaby on tenor and soprano, with Michael T.A. Thompson on drums. The two horns work in tight patterns -- not a lot of freewheeling here, but the loopy melodies and vibrant textures are engaging. B+(***)
  15. Free Fall: Gray Scale (2008 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): Ken Vandermark's clarinet trio, modelled on Jimmy Giuffre's famous trio, with Håvard Wiik on piano for Paul Bley and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass for Steve Swallow. Fourth album for the trio. I've always found this to be the hardest of Vandermark's groups to connect with, but then I was mostly baffled by Giuffre's Free Fall album -- unlike the Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd School Days, inspiration for one of his most boisterous groups. Still, this record has slowly gained on me, in part because the piano moves beyond prickly abstract to provide a multi-faceted structural underpinning, partly because of the way Vandermark can muscle up his clarinet, and partly because working all that tension out the group can occasionally just relax and enjoy the flow. Memo to self: should pull Free Fall out some time and give it another chance. A-
  16. Stephen Gauci/Kris Davis/Michael Bisio: Three (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Gauci is a tenor saxophonist, b. 1966, based in Brooklyn, leans avant, has been deserving of HM mentions his last two times out (Nididhyasana and Live at Glenn Miller Café) but somehow slipped through the cracks. He isn't an especially voluble player, and subtlety can be hard to credit. Davis is a pianist I like a lot. Her own group features the very voluble Tony Malaby, generally a plus but he tends to overwhelm her; she emerges here as a thoughtful counterpoint to the sax, and for that matter to bassist Bisio, who is always engaging on sets like this. B+(***)
  17. Harriet Tubman: Ascension (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): The Harriet Tubman you've probably (but not necessarily, especially if you've been "educated" in Texas) heard of was born in 1822, in Maryland, into slavery. She escaped, then returned to help others escape through the underground railroad, and helped guide fugitive slaves to freedom in Canada. She helped John Brown organize his ill-fated insurrection at Harper's Ferry. During the Civil War she was an armed scout and spy for the Union. After the war she worked for women's suffrage. She died in 1913, but was well remembered in the civil rights and women's liberation movements more than a half century later. A couple years ago Marcus Shelby cut a gospel-tinged jazz album called Harriet Tubman, in her honor. But this ain't that; this Harriet Tubman is a fusion band formed by Brandon Ross (guitar), Melvin Gibbs (bass), and J.T. Lewis (drums). They cut a record in 1998, another in 2000, and now a third. The new group is billed as Harriet Tubman Double Trio, the additions Ron Miles (trumpet), DJ Logic (turntables), and DJ Singe (turntables). The spiritual clash they are looking for comes with the title cut, which starts the album off with 8:09 from John Coltrane's rafter raiser, then returns periodically for more inspiration. Coltrane's piece is either one that moves you or not -- it doesn't bother trying to reason with you. Tubman more than anything else was a force for action, and that's what the band aims for -- they do aim high. B+(***)
  18. Honey Ear Trio: Steampunk Serenade (2010 [2011], Foxhaven): Erik Lawrence (tenor, baritone, alto, and soprano sax), Rene Hart (bass, electronics), Allison Miller (drums, percussion). Miller had a very good record with a completely different trio last year. Lawrence has been around since at least 1991 without making any notable impact -- AMG lists a couple dozen side credits, none I've heard (although I have the latest New York Electric Piano in the queue). Evidently a lot of Lawrence's bread-and-butter work comes from touring with Levon Helm. About all I know about Hart is that he's married to Lawrence's sister, and was involved with him, Miller, and Steven Bernstein in an "acid jazz" group called Hipmotism (note to self: check that out). Originals by all three, including one by Lawrence on Eyjafjallajokull -- last year's top natural disaster, already so dated. Rigorous sax trio, rough and tough, except for a touchingly tender "Over the Rainbow." A-
  19. William Hooker: Crossing Points (1992 [2011], NoBusiness): Drummer, b. 1946, has a couple dozen albums since 1982; seems like a lot of them are ad hoc improv duos and trios, but he usually winds up with his name on top or first -- not many side credits, although AMG lists a couple with Lee Ranaldo. This is a duo with alto saxophonist Thomas Chapin -- Hooker's name is out front of the title, with "featuring Thomas Chapin" following -- cut just as Chapin was hitting his stride (cf. Insomnia) before his early death in 1998. First piece starts out tentative and ugly, but soon enough rights itself, in large part because the drummer gets out front and dares the saxophonist to keep up. B+(***)
  20. Humanization 4tet: Electricity (2009 [2010], Ayler): Portuguese guitarist Luis Lopes has his name above the group name. Below the group name: Rodrigo Amado (tenor sax), Aaron González (bass), and Stefan González (drums) -- both sons of Dennis. Same group had an album called Humanization 4tet in 2008, which struck me as a solid HM. This one has even more juice. Lopes doesn't do a lot of soloing, but he provides a firm metallic undercarriage for Amado to blast away from. Lots of short repetitive figures, very solid. A-
  21. I Compani: Mangiare! (2010 [2011], Icdisc): Dutch group, led by saxophonist Bo van der Graaf, but they've been around a long time, with more than a dozen albums since 1985. Early albums were focused on the films of Federico Fellini and the film music of Nino Rota (who resurfaces here in the first piece). Last album was based on circus music (Circusism), and you get more than a mere taste of that here as well, but the food theme eventually takes over. Band mixes the leader's soprano and tenor sax, trumpet and trombone, violin and cello, bandoneon, piano, bass, and drums -- with some diversion on synth and "cheap organ." Less avant and even more amusing than the similar bands of Breuker and Mengelberg. B+(***)
  22. Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya: Sotho Blue (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): South African pianist, b. 1934, cut his first record in 1963, titled Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio; throughout his long career his trick card has always been to slip in South African melodies, especially bits of township jive -- there are many fine examples of this, like the 1983 album Ekaya that he later took for his band name. Spent much of his career in exile, but since the Apartheid regime fell he's been a national hero. This new album lacks any trademark South African touches even though South Africa creeps into his song titles. But it's about as Ellingtonian as anythng he's done: with three saxes plus trombone, the horns lead, the piano connects multilayered movements, with searching patches and gorgeous sweeps. A-
  23. Inzinzac: Inzinzac (2010 [2011], High Two): Guitar-sax-drums trio: says they're "an improvising jazz trio playing rock music in odd time signatures" which is about right if by rock you mostly mean loud. Whereas guitar displaced sax in rock and roll, in what we might call hardcore fusion the two instruments are often side-by-side, the guitar tuned sax-like, sometimes louder but never quite as clear as the horn. Dan Scofield mostly plays soprano here, so he consistently come out higher and clearer, providing a sharp metallic edge to Alban Bailly's guitar backbone. The "odd" time signatures include free. A-
  24. Jon Irabagon: Foxy (2010, Hot Cup): Tenor sax slasher, has a couple albums on his own including one on Concord that was his reward for winning a Monk prize. It was generally dismissed as a milquetoasty sellout -- a complaint, by the way, I don't share, but one that no one's going to make about this one here. Sax-bass-drums trio, produced by MOPDTK leader Moppa Elliott, who probably suggested playing off Sonny Rollins' old sax trio record, Way Out West. Rollins' desert cover scene has been faked on a sandy beach, the iconic figure of the sax slinger moved to the back cover to make way for a bikini on the front. Drummer Barry Altschul gets elevated to "with special guest" and gets all the girls in a booklet photo, while bassist Peter Brender gets a surfboard. Song titles: "Foxy," "Proxy," "Chicken Poxy," "Boxy," "Hydroxy," "Biloxi," "Tsetse," "Unorthodoxy," "Epoxy," "Roxy," "Foxy (Radio Edit)," and "Moxie" -- they could all be one piece, and the end is so abrupt I checked for power failure. One of the most intense, relentless sax records ever -- too fast to be free, too noisy to be bop, too ragged to for honk. Despite the grade, I have reservations -- the same ones I have not on Rollins' endlessly clever Way Out West but on his torrential A Night at the Village Vanguard, which I've only gradually warmed to while critics regard it as a pinnacle. Altschul, by the way, is terrific throughout. Reminds me that he is best known for his work with Anthony Braxton, whose take on Charlie Parker is roughly comparable (though more masterful) to Irabagon's Rollins. A-
  25. Jaruzelski's Dream: Jazz Gawronski (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Italian sax trio, with Piero Bittolo Bon on alto (and smartphone), Stefano Senni on bass, and Francesco Cusa on drums. Don't know where they came from, what they've done in the past, or why they're obsessed with all things Polish. I can begin to unravel such jokes as "Soulidarnosc" and "Mori Mari Curi" (the discoverer of radioactive elements like "Polonium" that killed her) but not "Swiatoslaw" or "Zibibboniek" or "Maria Goretti Contro Tutti." Presumably the group name honors (if that's the word) the last Communist dictator of Poland, Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski. Gawronski, however, appears to be an Italian politician, prominent in Berlusconi's Forza Italia, first name Jas, easy enough to play off. Gruff, garulous free sax, with enough beat to keep it steady. For a while I thought "Sei Forte Papa" was "New York, New York." I wouldn't put anything past them. B+(***)
  26. The Jazz Passengers: Reunited (1995-2010 [2010], Justin Time): Group formed in late 1980s by Roy Nathanson (alto sax), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), with Bill Ware (vibes) a long-time member. Cut six albums in 1990s, starting out as an avant-skronk group with occasional novelty vocals and winding up as a showcase for ex-Blondie Debby Harry. First new album since 1998, although Nathanson has had several increasingly vocal albums in the meantime. Mostly new, that is, because it ends with two live cuts from 1995 with Harry singing -- "One Way or Another" is a special treat. The other outlier is a cover of "Spanish Harlem" with Fowlkes and Susi Hyidgaard vocals and Spanish intro and outro chatter, cut in 2010. The rest were cut in 2009, with guest Marc Ribot on guitar and Sam Bardfield on violin -- the 1995 cuts included a lineup credit with Rob Thomas on violin. The one cover in that group is the title song, a 1978 hit for Peaches & Herb, the perfect joke for breaking a decade-long hiatus. Elvis Costello warbles another, strategically placed first. B+(***)
  27. Barb Jungr: The Men I Love: The New American Songbook (2009 [2010], Naim): English vocalist, b. 1954, based in London, more than 10 records since 1996, including one called Chanson and one dedicated to Nina Simone. Every now and then a jazz singer tries her hand at rock-based singer-songwriter fare from the 1960s and 1970s, and the results usually range from uninspired to lame, but this is as much of an exception as I can recall. Readings are straightforward, and the band, with cello and flute, is unnotable, but she salvages a couple of songs I wouldn't touch -- "My Little Town," "Wichita Lineman," "Once in a Lifetime" -- does a nice job of bundling "This Old Heart of Mine" with "Love Hurts" (actually from the 1950s, unless she first heard it from Nazareth, or as I did, from Jim Capaldi), makes good use of Neil Diamond ("I'm a Believer" and "Red Red Wine"), and wins my seal of approval with Todd Rundgren's "I Saw the Light" -- rivals Bruce Springsteen's "The River" for the best thing here. B+(***)
  28. Eero Koivistoinen & Co.: 3rd Version (1973 [2010], Porter): Finnish saxophonist, b. 1946, plays soprano, sopranino and tenor here, leading a band with Fender-Rhodes piano (Heikki Sarmanto), guitar (Jukka Tolonen), bass (Pekka Sarmanto), and two drummers (Craig Herndon and Reino Laine). His "selected discography" lists 35 items going back to the Hendrix-influenced Blues Section in 1967, including some UMO Jazz Orchestra records. This has a fusion angle, at least in the guitar/keyb vein, but it's much rougher and freer, even more so than the McLaughlin-influenced English avant-garde of the period. Porter has been reissuing a lot of rare gems from the early 1970s, things I hadn't heard but would have latched onto instantly at the time. Also in their catalog are three discs by the keyboard player here, Heikki Sarmanto, clearly a SFFR. A-
  29. Andrew Lamb Trio: New Orleans Suite (2005 [2010], Engine): Tenor saxophonist (also credited with flute, clarinet, and harmonica here), b. 1958 in North Carolina, grew up in Chicago and Queens, studied with Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, has a handful of records, mostly with drummer Warren Smith (e.g., The Dogon Duo). Tom Abbs (bass, cello, didgeridoo, percussion) fills out the trio. Smith takes charge early on with a rant about Katrina, "Dyes and Lyes," worth featuring on your post-Brownie mix tape. After that they settle down for some inside-out improv that won't turn heads but will pique your interest. B+(***)
  30. Brian Landrus: Foward (2007 [2010], Cadence Jazz): Reedist, b. 1978 in Reno, NV, based in New York, plays baritone sax, bass clarinet, and alto flute here, on his first album. Most cuts include Michael Cain (piano), John Lockwood (bass), Rakalam Bob Moses (drums), and Tupac Mantilla (percussion), but one is solo, one each drop Cain or Mantilla, and several add extra horns: George Garzone (2: tenor sax), Allan Chase (2: alto sax), Jason Palmer (3: trumpet). Avant-oriented label, but sounds pretty mainstream, with a steady rhythm, even a bit of swing. Sole cover is T. Monk's "Ask Me Now." B+(***)
  31. Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Accomplish Jazz (2009, Hot Cup): Guitarist, has a couple of previous albums including Big Five Chord. Group here deploys two excitable saxophonists -- Bryan Murray on tenor and Jon Irabagon on alto -- Moppa Elliott on bass, and Danny Fischer on drums. Four of five songs rock hard; the other is a Louvin Brothers tune, "The Christian Life," best known from the Byrds cover, which comes off as a solid and settled centerpiece. B+(***)
  32. Terrence McManus/Gerry Hemingway: Below the Surface Of (2008 [2010], Auricle): Guitar-drums duo; guitarist is from Brooklyn, seems to have 4-6 records since 2006 -- website doesn't have dates on anything; AMG lists one record not on website -- some solo, some in small groups he may or may not lead. Builds his own guitars, including the "nylon string stereo guitar" second-credited here. Has a distinctive ring to his electric, and holds your interest all by himself. Hemingway works around him, much as he did with Eskelin. A-
  33. Terrence McManus: Transcendental Numbers (2009 [2011], NoBusiness): With Gerry Hemingway and Mark Helias, more scattered than his duo with Hemingway alone, more because he favors scratchy abstraction here over the electrified chords there. That seems like a strategic choice, not something to pin on the bassist, who is fine as always. B+(***)
  34. Rakalam Bob Moses/Greg Burk: Ecstatic Weanderings (2002 [2010], Jazzwerkstatt): Moses is a drummer/percussionist, b. 1948, played quite young with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, moved on to Larry Coryell and Gary Burton, cut some well-regarded albums for Gramavision in the 1980s but has only sporadically appeared as a leader before or since. Not sure when he picked up the Rakalam -- actually haven't paid much attention to him, although I do have an unplayed copy of When Elephants Dream of Music around here somewhere. Burk is a pianist, 21 years younger, from Michigan, based in Rome with stops in Boston and Bratislava. Always struck me as an interesting freebopper, but this is something else: a piano-drums duo (reversing roles for 1 of 8 cuts, the most chaotic), avant improv with African allusions -- on the percussion-led "Primativo" anyhow, though other pieces push the piano out front more conventionally. B+(***)
  35. Mostly Other People Do the Killing: The Coimbra Concert (2010 [2011], Clean Feed, 2CD): Already forget where -- think it was that Spanish poll I forgot to vote in -- but I recall MOPDTK named as best live jazz group, something I have no opinion on not least because I can't recall the last time I even saw a live jazz group. I suppose I could try to form an opinion on the basis of live records, but then you'd have to compete with something like the Vandermark 5's Live at Alchemia -- 12-CDs that just grow and grow on you. MOPDTK sail through the first one here in dazzling fashion, but stall a bit on the second. And where their studio exercises are full of surprises -- and nicely documented in the liner notes so you don't miss them -- recycling their past deconstructions leaves them a bit short in their strong suit: the unexpected. B+(***)
  36. Premier Roeies: Ka Da Ver (2009 [2011], Vindu Music): Sure muddled this when I listed it for unpacking, but the cover was far from clear and I didn't recognize Dutch bassist Harmjan Roeles. The other credits, which are even more illegible on the card insert: Gerard van der Kamp (alto sax, soprano sax), Nico Hixijbregts (piano), and Fred van Duijnhoven (drums). Free jazz, nearly as muddled as the typography and as unorthodox as the packaging, but there's something to it -- like the early 1970s discs that John Corbett uncovered as "lost masterpieces" for Atavistic's Unheard Music Series. B+(***)
  37. Dan Raphael/Rich Halley/Carson Halley: Children of the Blue Supermarket (2008-09 [2011], Pine Eagle): Raphael is a poet, b. 1951 in Pittsburgh, changed his name from Daniel Raymond Dlugonski (says his driver's license reads Dan Raphael Dlugonski); influenced by the beats, studied at Cornell; moved to Portland, OR in 1977. Has six books. I've never read him -- haven't read poetry since the late 1960s, when I read everyone he was reading, Yevtushenko included. Not sure if he's ever been recorded before, but he's terrific here: the phrases just shoot out, nearly every one hitting an unexpected target somewhere beyond you. Too fast for me to scribble down -- the two I got near the end were "because night is when we get to talk back" and the last line, "my brain is the largest city in the world." Wish I had a lyric sheet. Behind him is Rich Halley, a gray-haired tenor saxophonist who spent most of his adult life as a field biologist, and a drummer with the same last name, presumably his son. Striking as the poetry might be on its own, the sax shadowing it heightens every line. He has a distinctive sound and style, comparable (not to say similar) to Von Freeman. He can't stretch out much here, but is terrific nonetheless. My only quibble is the line equating Kansas and Iowa: not the same at all (except in the middle of a corn field, of course). Suggest he read Richard Manning: Grassland and do some exploring. Not that he's wrong about Malta's low level of coronary heart disease. A
  38. Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Stories and Negotiations (2008 [2010], 482 Music): Chicago drummer. Personnel in this particular group has shifted around depending on what Reed wants to focus on, but the basic theme is 1950s proto-avant-garde jazz in Chicago, which includes pieces here from Clifford Jordan, John Jenkins, Wilbur Campbell, Julian Priester, and (especially) Sun Ra. Art Hoyle (trumpet) and Priester (trombone) are featured here, as is Ira Sullivan, a tenor saxophonist who also hails from the 1950s. The younger set includes Greg Ward (alto sax), Tim Haldeman (tenor sax), Jeb Bishop (trombone), and Jason Roebke (bass), so we get a lot of horns freebopping along. Reed wrote three originals, one for each of his featured guests. In several plays they have yet to resolve -- when I do perk up it's invariably in one or another of the covers. B+(***)
  39. Júlio Resende: Assim Falava Jazzatustra (2009, Clean Feed): Pianist, from Portugal, second album, the first (Da Alma) a strong HM. Works especially well with horn leads, primarily Perico Sambeat on alto sax here, with Desidério Lázaro added on tenor sax for one cut. Covers Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" reduced to fairly minimal piano. One vocal cut with Manuela Azevedo is neither here nor there, but otherwise another strong, beatwise effort. B+(***)
  40. Scenes [John Stowell/Jeff Johnson/John Bishop]: Rinnova (2009 [2010], Origin): Guitar-bass-drums trio. Stowell is a subtle craftsman, and Seattle's standard rhythm section lay out smartly measured postbop ambience. B+(***)
  41. Trygve Seim/Andreas Utnem: Purcor (2008 [2010], ECM): Norwegian saxophonist (tenor, soprano), has been on ECM since the late 1990s. Utnem plays piano, and these are straightforward duets, some improvised, some based on Norwegian folk songs. They grab you right away, but the record does run a little long. B+(***)
  42. Matthew Shipp: Art of the Improviser (2010 [2011], Thirsty Ear, 2CD): Pianist, one of the few I've spent enough time with to be able to follow. A decade-plus ago he was talking like he'd played everything he wanted to play and intended to stop, then he got a job with an avant-rock label and started a remarkable series of mash-ups and mergers between DJs and avant-jazzists -- his own Nu Bop and Equilibrium and Harmony and Abyss were highlights there. At his peak, Rolling Stone asked me to write up a survey of his work for their CD guide -- one of the very few jazz pianists to make a cut that excluded Ellington, Tatum, Monk, Powell, Pullen, and loads more. Even though he's hardly ever touched an electronic keyb, he started polling higher on electric than on acoustic. Since then it's as if he's backed down, seeking to regain his self-respect: he's mostly limited himself to trios and solo outings, strictly acoustic, not as avant as in his early days (although even then he was more indebted to Bud Powell than to Cecil Taylor). This time, with a title befitting Brad Mehldau, he gives you two live sets, one of each. The trio with Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums flows swiftly, the bass and drums heightening his own rhythmic conception, with a cover of "Take the A Train" to help secure your bearings. The solo takes more effort to chew, but plenty of food for thought there, too. B+(***)
  43. Sonic Liberation Front: Meets Sunny Murray (2002-08 [2011], High Two): Philadelphia group, led by percussionist Kevin Diehl, who specializes in Lukumi bata drums (Afro-Cuban, more specifically Yoruba) but has one paw rooted in the avant-garde, in no small part due to his relationship with avant-drummer Sunny Murray. Fourth album since 2000 -- the other three I recommend highly, especially 2004's Ashé a Go-Go. This one sweeps up two sessions with Murray on board, one from 2002, the other 2008. Murray's drums are worth focus, but the band sometimes loses its focus in long ambling patches, only to burst to life when Terry Lawson cuts loose on tenor sax. B+(***)
  44. Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore: Three Kinds of Happiness (2009 [2010], Not Two): Bass clarinetist, one of the few specialists around, b. 1976, based in Chicago, first showed up in Ken Vandermark's Bridge 61 group where he was utterly demolished, but keeps plugging away at it, and is getting better. Trio with Jason Roebke on bass and Mike Pride on drums, a good group that keeps him up front and makes him work. Horn doesn't have the sharp edge of a sax, but there's nothing dull about his thinking. B+(***)
  45. Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite: 5000 Poems (2007 [2010], Not Two): Trombonist, b. 1954, didn't record his own stuff until 1996 but has been prolific ever since. Group named for a 2003 album, originally a quartet with Sabir Mateen (alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, alto clarinet, flute), Matthew Heyner (bass), and Klaus Kugel (drums), now with pianist John Blum added. I've heard very little that he's done before -- especially missed out on a long series of CIMP albums -- and haven't been real impressed by what little I did hear, but this hits on every cyllinder. I'm impressed that he keeps up on a much slower instrument with Mateen. I also love how Blum breaks up the rhythm on piano. A-
  46. Jamaaladeen Tacuma: For the Love of Ornette (2010 [2011], Jazzwerkstatt): Bass guitarist, b. 1956 as Rudy MacDaniel in Hempstead, NY; played on a couple of essential Ornette Coleman records -- Dancing in Your Head (1976) and Of Human Feelings (1979) -- back when Coleman was incorporating electric guitar and bass and putting forth his harmolodic theories (Tacuma also appeared on James Blood Ulmer's Tales of Captain Black. Tacuma's own records start in 1983 as he attempted to build on his free funk patterns. AMG lists this as his 17th album, not counting things like his Vernon Reid collaboration as Free Form Funky Freqs. Here he returns to Coleman, or maybe one should say Coleman returns to him -- the great man plays alto sax here, as unmistakable as ever, but strangely subdued, with Toni Kofi's tenor sax more often up front, and bits of piano and flute floating in the ether. B+(***)
  47. Tarbaby: The End of Fear (2010, Posi-Tone): Group's MySpace website explains: "We are not TAR BABY ...... JAZZ is ..... We simply want to hug him for as long as we live." Site lists (in this order) band members as: Nasheet Waits (drums), Stacey Dillard (sax), Orrin Evans (piano), Eric Revis (bass), but Dillard doesn't appear on this, the group's first record. Instead, we have "special guests" JD Allen (tenor sax), Oliver Lake (alto sax), and Nicholas Payton (trumpet). Two group songs, two from Revis, one each from Evans and Waits, one from Lake, outside pieces from Sam Rivers, Bad Brains, Fats Waller, Andrew Hill, and Paul Motian. With Dillard this would have been a tough postbop group, but with Lake and Allen it's something else, and they bring out a dimension in Evans I've never heard before. B+(***)
  48. The Ullmann/Swell 4: News? No News! (2010, Jazzwerkstatt): There seems to be two Jazzwerkstatt labels, one based in Vienna with artists I've never heard of, the other in Berlin with a strong avant-garde roster and nice graphic design. Gebhard Ullman plays tenor sax and bass clarinet; Steve Swell trombone, Hilliard Greene bass, Barry Altschul drums. Swell has played on a couple of recent Ullmann albums, including Don't Touch My Music; also has a two-horn group with Sabir Mateen, who's a bit higher strung but similar. Ullmann has been hugely prolific since the early 1990s, but lately he's gotten much better at fitting in and finding his niche. Some unison lines seem like a waste, but their avant shuck-and-jive is a lot of fun. B+(***)
  49. David S. Ware: Onecept (2009 [2010], AUM Fidelity): Given a new lease on life thanks to a kidney transplant, Ware's comeback was a solo concert album cut in October 2009. A couple of months later he got back to the studio, with the stritch and saxello he added to his tenor sax arsenal. The addition of bass (William Parker) and drums (Warren Smith) fleshes out a sound that was pretty impressive solo. At this stage he's pretty close to automatic. I recall a while back praising Edwin Bayard as sounding like a young David S. Ware. This record makes that comparison seem silly, and makes me nervous having put Bayard's record near the top of my year-in-progress list. Only one play, so consider this grade the floor. A-
  50. David S. Ware/Cooper-Moore/William Parker/Muhammad Ali: Planetary Unknown (2010 [2011], AUM Fidelity): Continuing rehab, testing out a new quartet with two subs older than the old quartet -- no point in even thinking about replacing Parker -- with the old fire coming back, colored a bit by switching to soprano three tracks in, then winding up the seventh on stritch. Ware's soprano is distinctive but wears a bit thin. Had my doubts at first about Cooper-Moore's piano, but focusing in I hear sharp angled comping, not as fluid as Shipp but suits the leader fine. A-


Notes dump from bk-flush:

  1. Ambrose Akinmusire: When the Heart Emerges Glistening (2010 [2011], Blue Note): Trumpet player, b. 1982 in Oakland, CA; second album after one on Fresh Sound New Talent. Mostly postbop quintet, with Walter Smith III shagging him on tenor sax, Gerald Clayton on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass, and Justin Brown on drums, although Jason Moran takes two shots on Fender Rhodes. Hits quality notes over staggered rhythms. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  2. Eric Alexander: Don't Follow the Crowd (2010 [2011], High Note): Prolific tenor saxophonist, big mainstream sound, capable on ballads, even better at speed. Quartet with Harold Mabern on piano, Nat Reeves on bass, Joe Farnsworth on drums. Pretty much his typical album, although Mabern is a slight shift from his usual pianists. B+(**)
  3. JD Allen Trio: Victory! (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1972 in Detroit, fifth album since 1999. Started mainstream but has his own sound and a powerful presence, especially in sax trios like this one. With Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. B+(***)
  4. Ben Allison: Action-Refraction (2011, Palmetto): Another one I expected to show up but didn't. Pretty good bassist, even better composer: last three records on Palmetto scored A- here. Only one original here. The covers start with Monk but into rock and elsewhere: PJ Harvey, Donnie Hathaway, Neal Young, Samuel Barber, Paul Williams. Guitarists Steve Cardenas and Brandon Seabrook are central, with Jason Lindner on synth as well as piano, and Michael Blake on bass clarinet and tenor sax. Sort of an instrumental prog rock feel, but tighter, more determined. [Rhapsody]
  5. The Ambush Party (2008 [2011], Doek): Eponymous first album, group a quartet: Natalio Sued (tenor sax), Oscar Jan Hoogland (piano), Harald Austbø (cello), Marcos Baggiani (drums). Recorded in Amsterdam, no background on any of them. Free improv, what they call instant composition. Rugged not rough, with a little of that circus undertow the Dutch are so fond of. B+(**)
  6. Bill Anschell: Figments (2010 [2011], Origin): Seattle pianist, AMG counts seven albums since 1997. Solo piano this time, all covers, majority folk/rock from the 1960s (two Lennon/McCartneys, "Alice's Restaurant," "Spinning Wheel") into the early 1970s ("Big Yellow Taxi," "Desperado"). Nice as far as it goes. B
  7. Arrive: "There Was . . ." (2008 [2011], Clean Feed): Chicago group: Aram Shelton (alto sax), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), Jason Roebke (bass), Tim Daisy (drums). Same group under Shelton's name released Arrive in 2005 (recorded 2001, so they go back quite a ways). Good saxophonist, fast, inventive, would have been a slick bebopper in the day; adds a little more now. Vibes add a little fluff. B+(**)
  8. David Ashkenazy: Out With It (2009, Posi-Tone): Drummer, from Southern California, based in New York; first record, wrote 2 of 8 songs, adding covers from Shorter, Foster, Lennon/McCartney, Alberstein, Frisell, McHugh (just gives last names, only some obvious). Sax-organ-guitar quartet, usually a soul jazz cliché, but Gary Versace is one of the few organists working who manages to stay out of the usual ruts, and Joel Frahm and Gilad Hekselman are also inspired choices. Strikes me as a drummer who likes to swing as well as bop. Studied-with list offers some hints: Jeff Hamilton, Joe LaBarbera, Peter Erskine, Kenny Washington. Played some klezmer and reggae as a teen, too. B+(***)
  9. Chet Baker: She Was Too Good to Me (1974 [2010], CTI/Sony Masterworks): A lot of names on the front cover -- Hubert Laws and Paul Desmond larger than Bob James, Ron Carter, Steve Gadd, Jack DeJohnette, and "Arranged and Conducted by Don Sebesky" -- but in the end only the matinee idol matters; aside from the occasional Desmond solo, it's all shading and backdrop; Baker sings four tunes, plays his charming little trumpet on all eight, has a nice outing despite it all. B+(*)
  10. Harrison Bankhead Sextet: Morning Sun Harvest Moon (2010 [2011], Engine): Bassist, from Chicago, first album as leader but has side-credits since 1991, mostly with Malachi Thompson, Fred Anderson, Roscoe Mitchell, and Nicole Mitchell. Starts with a pair of wood flutes. Picks up the bass and a beat and even dabbles in what sounds a little like South Africa, eventually moving into more treacherous regions, although idiosyncratic, underkeyed rhythm pieces predominate. Two reed players, Edward Wilkerson Jr. and Mars Williams; James Sanders on violin (all the more useful for a Leroy Jenkins tribute); Avreayl Ra on drums and Ernie Adams on percussion. Nothing here blows you over. It keeps returning to the center, which is the bass. A- [Rhapsody]
  11. Banquet of the Spirits: Caym: The Book of Angels Volume 17 (2010 [2011], Tzadik): More John Zorn compositions, or maybe the same old ones cut up, tossed up, and redressed with a different bunch of musicians. Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista seems to be leader here -- everything is given remarkable rhythmic twists, something that drummer Tim Keiper helps with. The others flesh out those twists: Brian Marsella (piano, harpsichord, pump organ) and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (oud, bass, gimbri). All four add vocals. Not necessarily a good idea, but infectious here. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  12. Chris Barber: Memories of My Trip (1958-2010 [2011], Proper, 2CD): [Rhapsody]
  13. Diego Barber: The Choice (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Guitarist, b. 1978 in Lanzarote, Canary Islands; studied in Lanzarote, Madrid, and Salzburg, before moving to New York in 2007. Second album. Cover has small print: Featuring: Seamus Blake, Larry Grenadier, Ari Hoenig, Mark Turner, Johannes Weidenmueller. No per track credits, but their contribution is small too, and vanishes completely for the final three-track "Sonata Banc D'Arguin." B
  14. George Benson: Beyond the Blue Horizon (1971 [2011], CTI/Sony Masterworks): A rare album defying all expectations: the organ is mere window dressing, and can fold up and disappear leaving the bass line to Ron Carter; the guitarist almost never invokes Wes Montgomery, either for better or worse; and drummer Jack DeJohnette never boxes himself in; but this starts slow and leaves no strong impressions, only an eclectic vibe. B+(*)
  15. George Benson: White Rabbit (1971 [2010], CTI/Sony Masterworks): A few years shy of his pop breakthrough, so you can still treat him as a Wes Montgomery wannabe, here covering one of Montgomery's most pathetic covers ("California Dreaming"), Grace Slick, Legrand and Villa-Lobos; Sebesky arranged, focusing on the flutes and oboes this time which steadfastly refuse to emerge from the background. B
  16. George Benson: Body Talk (1973 [2011], CTI/Sony Masterworks): Not sure whether this is better or worse for Pee Wee Ellis's horn arrangements: the horns shag but never compete with the guitar line, which means they make for an ordinary background, but Benson's leads offer no surprises either -- only a better than average phrasing of what he's been doing all along. B
  17. Cheryl Bentyne: The Gershwin Songbook (2010, ArtistShare): Singer, b. 1954, best known as part of Manhattan Transfer since 1979, but has ten solo albums, most since 2002. This one is a lock, mostly top drawer songs, given light, delectable treatments with piano (Corey Allen or Ted Howe), Peter Gordon's flutes, and Ken Peplowski's bubbly clarinet. Mark Winkler joins for "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." Only disappointment is "Summertime," which has yielded so many great versions I've long wanted to dump them all into a mixtape. Here she goes falsetto, with a lot of warble to the backup, which just seems weirdly off. B+(*)
  18. Big Neighborhood: 11:11 (2006, Origin, 2CD): Group: Chris Fagan (alto sax), David White (guitar, guitar synth), Doug Miller (bass), Phil Parisot (drums). Second album. Been on my shelf a long time. Partly I've avoided it because I rarely feel up to tackling multi-disc sets by unknowns, although it turns out that all this could have been squeezed onto a single CD. White and Miller split most of the writing, with one piece by Parisot. Flows along nicely on the guitar, the sax mostly window dressing. B
  19. David Binney: Graylen Epicenter (2010 [2011], Mythology): Alto saxophonist, b. 1961, also plays soprano (especially well on this record); AMG lists 16 albums since 1989, many more side credits, a dozen or so as producer. This runs long (73:43), has a bit of kitchen sink feel -- a second sax (Chris Potter), trumpet (Ambrose Akinmusire), both piano (Craig Taborn) and guitar (Wayne Kravitz), bass (Eivind Opsvik), two drummers (Brian Blade, Dan Weiss) sometimes doubling up plus Kenny Wollesen (percussion, vibes), and occasional vocals (Gretchen Parlato) mostly in spare horn mode. Postbop largesse, plenty of dazzling passages. B+(***)
  20. Ketil Bjørnstad/Svante Henryson: Night Song (2009 [2011], ECM): Piano-cello duet. Bjørnstad was b. 1952 in Oslo, Norway; has 30-some albums since 1989, 7 on ECM; classical training, touches on folk-jazz and avant-classical and plays with the moderated intensity you expect from Manfred Eicher's pianists. Henryson was b. 1963 in Stockholm, Sweden; also moved through classical music to jazz, although he also pops up on the occasional Yngwie Malmsteen heavy metal album. Nice, relaxing, not too pretty. B+(**)
  21. Ran Blake: Grey December: Live in Rome (2010 [2011], Tompkins Square): Pianist, b. 1935, thirty-some albums since 1961, many of them solo, especially recently. Difficult player for me to get a handle on, even when he plays something as familiar as "Nature Boy." This doesn't move much, and while the melodic motifs are not without interest, I can't really tell you why. B [Rhapsody]
  22. Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: The Sesjun Radio Shows (1978-83 [2011], T2 Entertainment, 2CD): The second in a series of radio shots from Tros Sesjun in the Netherlands -- Chet Baker came out first, last year. Blakey was in the midst of a comeback in the late 1970s: his most famous lineup introduced Wynton and Branford Marsalis, but they're not in any of the three sets here. Instead, Bobby Watson and Donald Harrison play alto; David Schnitter, Billy Pierce, and Jean Toussaint tenor; Valery Ponomarev and Terence Blanchard trumpet. The May 1980 group bops hardest (Pierce, Watson, and Ponomarev, with James Williams on piano and Charles Fambrough on bass), their set split across the two discs. Blakey responds as usual, playing even harder. B+(**)
  23. Jane Ira Bloom: Wingwalker (2010 [2011], Outline): Soprano saxophonist, one of the few specialists; b. 1955, thirteenth album since 1980. Quartet with Dawn Clement (piano, Rhodes), Mark Helias (bass), Bobby Previte (drums). Eleven originals, ends with "I Could Have Danced All Night." B+(***)
  24. T.K. Blue: Latinbird (2010 [2011], Motéma): Also known as Talib Kibwe; plays alto sax and flute; b. in New York, mother from Trinidad, father from Jamaica; studied at NYU and Columbia; joined Abdullah Ibrahim 1977-80, moved to Paris for early 1980s, hooked up with Randy Weston for a long stretch. Released three albums as Talib Kibwe 1986-96; five now as T.K. Blue, starting in 1999. This one is simple enough: Charlie Parker songs with Latin percussion -- Roland Guerrero on congas, Willie Martinez on traps -- with Theo Hill on piano and Essiet Okon Essiet on bass, plus a couple guests: Lewis Nash takes over the drums on two cuts, and Steve Turre plays shells and 'bone on three. Not the overpowering player Bird was, but that's fine by me. The two originals are OK, but the one non-Parker cover is a dead spot: "Round Midnight," which subtracts rather than adds to the theme. B+(**)
  25. Bones & Tones (2009 [2011], Freedom Art): Eponymous quartet album, everyone credited with percussion as well as: vocals/kora (Abdou Mboup), vibes (Warren Smith), marimba/bells (Lloyd Haber), and bass (Jaribu Shahid). The marimba-vibes stands out in an endless African groove, not much differentiated but very listenable as is. B+(**)
  26. Brazilian Groove Band: Anatomy of Groove (2009, Far Out): Leo Gandelman project. He plays sax, flute, keyboards (here at least), has 15-20 records under his own name, the majority with obvious Brazilian themes (Brazilian Soul, Bossa Rara, Perolas Negras, Ao Vivo, like that). The horns are massed up like salsa, but the guitars work Brazilian themes, and the beats feel electronic: all seems a bit off, but not enough to be odd. Packaging at least is truthful, including the absence of definite articles. B [Rhapsody]

  27. Kenny Burrell: God Bless the Child (1971 [2010], CTI/Sony Masterworks): The guitarist can't quite escape Don Sebesky's black-tie cello arrangements, but it helps when he accents his blue notes, when Ray Barretto tricks up the rhythm track, and especially when Freddie Hubbard adds a contrasting tone. B+(*)
  28. Taylor Ho Bynum/Joe Morris/Sara Schoenbeck: Next (2009 [2011], Porter): Maybe one of those records you're supposed to play extra loud, because at my normal volume I'm not hearing much of anything here -- scattered squiggles of Schoenbeck's bassoon, scratch guitar, isolated bits of cornet. Doesn't jive with reviews I've read, and doesn't seem likely to come together even if I were inclined to give it extra effort. B-
  29. Uri Caine/Arditti String Quaret: Twelve Caprices (2011, Winter & Winter): Jazz pianist who has taken quite a bit of classical music as his starting point, some of which I've begrudgingly found interesting (e.g., Plays Mozart) and some appalling (e.g., Robert Schumann: Love Fugue), faces off for a set of improvs with Irvine Arditti's well established classical string quartet. The strings are abstractly modernistic, the piano cutting against the grain. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  30. California Concert: The Hollywood Palladium (1971 [2010], CTI/Sony Masterworks, 2CD): The label's showcase group, sort of the jazz equivalent of a package show, one where the individual stars play with each other (mostly), with a few concessions to economic reality -- e.g., not cost-effective to truck around Don Sebesky or his strings and winds; they do at least have a cohesive group sound, tied at the bottom with Ron Carter's bass, Billy Cobham's drums, Airto Moreira's percussion, and especially George Benson's streamlined guitar groove; Johnny Hammond plays organ and electric piano, Hank Crawford slips in some alto sax, but the headliners are Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, both more than capable of warming up a crowd; with three cuts that eluded previous 2-LP and 1-CD reissues. B+(**)
  31. Hadley Caliman & Pete Christlieb: Reunion (2009 [2010], Origin): Two tenor saxophonists. Caliman, b. 1932, had a few albums in the 1970s, then vanished (at least as a leader) until Origin picked him up in 2008. He titled his comeback album Gratitude and its follow-up Straight Ahead, and that's about all you need to know about him. Christlieb is a bit younger, b. 1945, evidently played some with Caliman in the late 1960s. He has a slightly more continuous career, but only one record between 1983-98, and only one other album post-2000. He is probably best known for a pair of duo albums with Warne Marsh in 1978 -- at least that's where I know him from -- which, of course, don't quite compete with Marsh's Lee Konitz duos. Presumably Caliman's the one who wants to swing and Christlieb's the one who's into more intricate postbop. Pretty enjoyable mix either way. With label stalwarts Bill Anschell, Chuck Deardorf, and John Bishop. B+(**)
  32. Fredrik Carlquist: Playing Cool (2010 [2011], FCJazz): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1969 in Jönköping, Sweden; based in Barcelona; fourth album since 1999. Two originals, ten covers intended to explore "his influences from players llike Paul Desmond, Stan Getz and Lars Gullin." Helping with the latter is "special guest" baritone saxophonist Joan Chamorro on three tracks; rest is sax-guitar-bass-drums quartet. That adds up to a pretty mild mannered sax album. One song is even called "Sweet and Lovely," but really they all are. B+(**)
  33. Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra: Hothouse Stomp: The Music of 1920s Chicago and Harlem (2011, Accurate): Trumpet player, from Florida, moved to Boston in 2000, starting a band called Beat Circus, which has three albums of "Weird American Gothic" (on Cuneiform; haven't heard them). Band here includes some well known players: Andy Laster and Matt Bauder on saxes, Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, Brandon Seabrook on guitar; also Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, violin, viola, tuba, and drums. Focuses on four bands: Charlie Johnson's Paradise Orchestra, McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Tiny Parham and His Musicians, and Fess Williams' Royal Flush Orchestra. Gets many of the pre-swing quirks right, but I'm not sure that's a plus. B+(**)
  34. François Carrier: Entrance 3 (2002 [2011], Ayler): Alto saxophonist with his longtime trio -- Pierre Côté on bass, Michel Lambert on drums, always an excellent freebop group -- recorded at the Vancouver Jazz Festival with Bobo Stenson sitting in on piano. Stenson is excellent here, but spreads the group out. B+(**)
  35. James Carter: Caribbean Rhapsody (2009-10 [2011], Decca): Starts with "Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra," composed by Roberto Sierra (from Puerto Rico), played by Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra (from Warsaw, Poland), conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero, with Carter handling the saxophones. Then we get a "Tenor Interlude" showcasing Carter; another Sierra composition, "Caribbean Rhapsody," with the Akua Dixon String Quartet, Regina Carter for a violin solo, bass, and soprano and tenor sax; finally a "Soprano Interlude." So this is basically a sax with strings thing, except that for the bulk of the record the strings are in charge. Ever since Charlie Parker saxophonists have been eager to play in front of strings, and they haven't all been atrocious -- Stan Getz's Focus and Art Pepper's Winter Moon are two resounding exceptions, but I can't think of any others offhand. The "interludes," by the way, are solo; they do help to clear out the ears. B-
  36. Ron Carter: All Blues (1973 [2010], CTI/Sony Masterworks): Bassist, best known for his work with Miles Davis, composed 4 of 6 tracks here but the Davis title track is the sweet spot; Roland Hanna and Billy Cobham make it mostly a piano trio, except with Joe Henderson appears -- even then he plays along rather than taking charge. B
  37. Rondi Charleston: Who Knows Where the Time Goes (2009 [2011], Motema): Singer, from Chicago, father taught English and played jazz piano, mother taught voice; studied at Juilliard. Third album since 2004; starts mostly covers (Sandy Denny, Stevie Wonder, Jobim of course), but winds down with four songs co-written with pianist Lynne Arriale and the annoying "Freedom Is a Voice" ("freedom is a man"; no lyric sheet but that's what it sounds like). Best thing here is "Please Send Me Someone to Love" -- but even there she'd rather come on strong. B-
  38. Steve Coleman and Five Elements: The Mancy of Sound (2007 [2011], Pi): A sequel to last year's Harvesting Semblances and Affinities, cut around the same time with the same band. I didn't care much for the previous album, and was surprised to find it polling well in year-end lists. My problem is vocalist Jen Shyu: I find her distracting and unnecessary even when I can't understand her (most of the time, especially on the 5-part Yoruba-derived "Odú Ifá Suite"). The horns -- Coleman's alto sax, Jonathan Finlayson's trumpet, Tim Albright's trombone -- weave around interestingly, and the rhythm section is superb, again. B+(*)
  39. Francis Coletta/Jonas Tauber: Port Saïd Street (2010 [2011], Origin): Coletta plays "Godin electroacoustic guitar"; b. 1957 in Marseilles, France, also the source of the title where it seems to have a Beale Street resonance; has at least three previous records, not counting countless collaborations. Tauber plays cello here, bass elsewhere; is from Switzerland, has a couple previous albums. Intimate, chamberish, flows gently, nothing fancy. B+(*)
  40. The Convergence Quartet: Song/Dance (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Artist names listed on front cover alphabetically: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn), Harris Eisenstadt (drums), Alexander Hawkins (piano), Dominic Lash (bass). All write, Bynum one song, the others two each. I filed this under Bynum, who has a substantial discography since 1999, but early on Hawkins is the focal interest, with his jumpy, blocky chords chopping up time. B. 1981 in England, based in Oxford, has a new Ensemble record I haven't heard, played organ on two Decoy albums, seems like someone to keep an ear opened for. Lash is also from England, "one of the busiest players on the UK scene." Album ends with a bang-up fractured version of a South African tune, "Kudala." I'm tempted to credit Eisenstadt, who regularly works African music into free jazz contexts, but I also see that Hawkins has played with Ntshuka Bonga, and has played in a trio with Louis Moholo-Moholo and Evan Parker. B+(***)
  41. Laurence Cook/Eric Zinman: Double Action (2009 [2011], Ayler): Zinman is a pianist; Cook is credited with drums, percussion, and Casio wk1630. Blips and bangs, broken up and swirled around, chaos made fun. B+(**)
  42. Marc Copland: Crosstalk (2010 [2011], Pirouet): Real good postbop pianist, has a couple dozen record since 1988, paired in a quartet with real good alto saxophonist Greg Osby. Wonder why it didn't work. (Thumbing through my database, I see they've done it before, only slightly more successfully, on Night Call in 2003. B+(*)
  43. Henry Darragh: Tell Her for Me (2010, self-released): Pianist, singer-songwriter from Texas; studied at San Jacinto College and University of Houston. First album, with six originals and five standards. Has a soft spot for Chet Baker, especially on "Everything Happens to Me" -- even adds some soft trumpet, by Carol Morgan. B+(*)
  44. Mon David: Coming True (2009, Free Ham): Singer, from somewhere in the Philippines, based somewhere in US. Second album. Mostly standards, some (like "Footprints") jazz pieces run through the vocalese mill. Technically impressive, and in some ways rather likable, but I have little taste for his mannerisms -- comparisons to Mark Murphy are lavishly earned -- so in the end I find this more annoying than not. Includes a duet with Charmaine Clamor, another talented Filipino. B-
  45. Jenny Davis: Inside You (2009 [2010], self-released): Singer, from Seattle, third album. Wrote one of ten songs, the others scattered standards with Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" and Lennon & McCartney's "Blackbird" on the far edges. Barely backed by Chuck Easton (guitar, flute) and Ted Enderle (bass), with Louis Aissen's tenor sax on one cut. The boppish stuff has a touch of Sheila Jordan, not pushed so far, but she doesn't need a lot of support. Ambivalent about "Blackbird" -- almost invariably a disaster -- not to mention the obligatory Jobim. B+(**)
  46. Miles Davis: Bitches Brew Live (1969-70 [2011], Columbia/Legacy): Something of a misnomer, combining three previously unreleased cuts from a pre-Bitches Brew July 1969 performance at Newport with six from an Isle of Wight set the following August. Neither group matches the album band -- Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, and Joe Zawinul are among the missing -- nor do the songs line up. The former group was stripped down with Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette; the latter was buffed up, adding Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett (on organ), and Airto Moreira. So this is basically yet another live set from the period when Davis made his transition from hard bop to fusion, and from dingy jazz clubs to stadia. Pretty hot one, too; all the more confusing since I mostly recall Bitches Brew as our favorite chill-out album of the early 1970s. B+(***)
  47. Matija Dedic Trio: MD in NYC (2009 [2011], Origin): Pianist, b. 1973 in Zagreb, Croatia; studied in Austria, is based in Zagreb, but recorded this in New York, with Vicente Archer on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums. Second album, both trios. Rather quiet, inside stuff. Don't have much more to say. B
  48. Papa John DeFrancesco: A Philadelphia Story (2010 [2011], Savant): Organ player, Joey's father, seventh album since 1992, which is to say he didn't really get his career going until after Joey started recording. Mostly trio, with John DeFrancesco Jr. on guitar and Glenn Ferracone on cover. Despite the cheesesteaks on the front cover and the girth on the back, Papa John has a light touch on the Hammond, and this skips along pleasantly. Three cuts add horns: Joe Fortunato's tenor sax on "Blues in the Closet," plus two tracks with Joey playing trumpet: doesn't stretch much but he's actually pretty good. B+(*)
  49. Deodato: Prelude (1972 [2010], CTI/Sony Masterworks): Brazilian pianist, had some bossa nova records in the 1960s before coming to America and producing this novelty fusion extravaganza, with its opening hook a sambafied take on "Also Sprach Zarathustra"; Taylor threw everything he had into the mix: strings, brass, flutes, two French horns, a lot of electric guitar and bass, and a gaggle of percussionists -- Billy Cobham, Airto Moreira, and Ray Barretto; biggest surprise is that it mostly holds together. B+(**)
  50. Paul Desmond: Pure Desmond (1974 [2010], CTI/Sony Masterworks): The alto saxophonist at his most gorgeous, but hardly pure given how much space is given over to the easy gait and shimmery tone of Ed Bickert's guitar; Ron Carter and Connie Kay keep time, never letting anyone break a sweat. B
  51. Michael Dessen Trio: Forget the Pixel (2010 [2011], Clean Feed): Trombonist, also credited with electronics. Second album; also appears in a pianoless two-horn quartet, Cosmologic, which I file under saxophonist Jason Robinson. Here, in a trio with Christopher Tordini (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums), just the trombone is out front, which slows things down a bit, but the focus is useful. B+(*)
  52. Lars Dietrich: Stand Alone (2010 [2011], self-released): Dutch alto saxophonist, based in New York, not to be confused with Bürger Lars Dietrich, a German "comedy rapper and entertainer," author of albums like Dicke Dinger. Second album. No credits given; title suggests Dietrich plays everything, which mostly sounds to me like keyboards and synth drums. Don't know about his previous album, but I'd file this one under electronica: the beats are a little less mechanical than the norm, but even when the rhythm gets slippery it's just transformed into another species of plastic. B
  53. Al Di Meola: Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody (2010 [2011], Telarc): Guitarist, b. 1954, studied at Berklee, joined Chick Corea's Return to Forever 1974-76 as they slipped into the 1970s fusion muddle; has 30-some albums since 1976, of which I've heard two (one with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia) so I'm way behind the curve here -- never quite convinced it's one worth learning. Pretty fancy here, with a wide range of Latin effects from flamenco to tango to salsa, accordion and slinky percussion (including Mino Cinelu on four cuts), bits of Gonzalo Rubalcaba piano, three songs with dripping string arrangements, two covers ("Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Over the Rainbow") with Charlie Haden on bass. Like I said, fancy. B+(*) [advance: 2011-03-15]
  54. Eldar Djangirov: Three Stories (2009 [2011], Masterworks Jazz): Pianist, b. 1987 in Kyrgyzstan, then still part of the Evil Empire. A proverbial child prodigy, "discovered" at age 9 playing in a festival somewhere in Siberia, moved to Kansas City (supposedly to soak up its jazz legacy, although I assure you no one will ever detect a trace of Bennie Moten or Pete Johnson here), cut his first record in his teens, going by first name only. First record using his last name, a welcome sign of maturity. Solo piano. He's never tried to shake his good classical education, featuring pieces by Bach and Scriabin alongside standards like "Darn That Dream" and "Embraceable You" and three originals -- only "In Walked Bud" and "Donna Lee" offer the slight whiff of jazz. B
  55. Chris Donnelly: Solo (2008 [2010], ALMA): This has been sitting around awhile: package says 2008, artist's website says released in September 2008; AMG says 2009 and also says 2010; my records say 2010; can't find the hype sheet. Pianist, from somewhere in Canada, studied and currently teaches in Toronto. Debut record -- looks like there is a later one but I didn't get it. Solo, like the title says. Donnelly wrote 7 of 11 tracks; the others are Bill Evans, Bud Powell, a set of variations on Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," and a "Cinderella Medley." Pretty decent as these things go, the originals well-conceived exercises, the covers have their intrigues. Bet he'd sound even better with bass and drums, even at the expense of some clarity. B+(*)
  56. Dave Douglas: United Front: Brass Ecstasy at Newport (2010 [2011], Greenleaf Music): Same four brass plus drums lineup as on Douglas's Spirit Moves (2009): trumpet (Douglas), trombone (Luis Bonilla), French horn (Vinent Chancey), tuba (Marcus Rojas), and drums (Nasheet Waits). Repeats four songs, plus "Spirit Moves" (which somehow missed the album it was title of) and "United Front" -- three Douglas tunes and Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Redundant if you don't care, but seems like more is more to me. Too bad I got to nag them every time out. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  57. Benjamin Drazen: Inner Lights (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Saxophonist, alto and soprano, from Roslyn, NY, b. 1972; studied at New England Conservatory with George Garzone (who else?); moved back to NYC in 1995. Debut album, quartet with piano (Jon Davis), bass (Carlo de Rosa), and drums (Eric McPherson); seven originals plus "This Is New" and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams." Fat pitch right down the middle. B+(**)
  58. Kermit Driscoll: Reveille (2010 [2011], Nineteen-Eight): Bassist, b. 1956 in Nebraska, plays acoustic and electric; studied with Jaco Pastorius, graduated from Berklee. First album on his own, although he has about 60 side-credits since 1987, many with Bill Frisell (who returns the favor here), some in groups like New and Used. With Kris Davis on piano (sometimes prepared) and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Wrote 8 of 10 songs, with Trad's "Chicken Reel" offering the best Frisell effect. (The other cover is from Joe Zawinul, also exceptional in its power riffing.) In effect, a slightly less distinctive Frisell album. B+(**)
  59. Lajos Dudas: 50 Years With Jazz Clarinet: The Best of Lajos Dudas (1976-2007 [2011], Jazz Sick, 2CD): Clarinet player, also some alto sax, b. 1941 in Budapest, Hungary; not sure when he moved to Germany, evidently by 1973 when he started teaching in Neuss, North Rhine-Westphalia. Reportedly has "over 50 Singles/LPs/CDs"; liner notes cite 17 here, plus seven cuts identified as radio shots. Fifty years goes back to his first performances, back when he was studying at the Bela Bartok Conservatory and the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. His recording career is shorter, starting around 1976 with his first Reflections on Bach -- a subject he returns to several times later. Still, this is very much jazz, even though he hardly fits into the trad, bop, or avant niches. Discs aren't strictly chronolgical, but the first one leans early (1978-94) with its Bach, Liszt, and HR Big Band (also a cut with guitarist Atilla Zoller). Second leads off with a vigorous "Summertime," then more Bach before he moves into a 1995-2007 stretch and it gets more interesting. B+(**)
  60. Eco D'Alberi: Eco D'Alberi (2008-09 [2011], Porter): First album from Italian group: Edoardo Marraffa (tenor and sopranino sax), Alberto Braida (piano), Antonio Borghini (double bass), Fabrizio Spera (drums). Four pieces, two cut at Vision Festival in New York, the others in Pisa and Zurich a year-plus later. Free jazz, improv pieces, the longest at 32:00, with scratchy sax and crashing piano and lots of ancillary noise from the back, much like it's been done ever since Ayler. B+(**)
  61. Harris Eisenstadt: Woodblock Prints (2010, NoBusiness): This album got a lot of year-end attention last year -- I think it even won a poll in Spain for best album of the year, so I figured I should check it out. The drummer is barely audible, but his compositions for nonet offer intriguing, albeit mostly plodding, moves. The group is divided into a "brass trio" (French horn, trombone, and tuba) and a "wind trio" (clarinet, alto sax, bassoon). Final piece ("Andrew Hill") picks up the pace and begins to live up to the billing. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  62. Harris Eisenstadt: Canada Day II (2010 [2011], Songlines): Drummer, b. 1975 in Toronto; has been around -- New York, Los Angeles, Gambia -- winding up in Brooklyn, where he has close to ten records since 2002 and a growing reputation as a composer. Same group did Canada Day in 2008: Matt Bauder (tenor sax), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Chris Dingman (vibes), Eivind Opsvik (bass). The horns can spin free or play postbop harmony, but in either case the vibraphone offers both a soft sell and a lot of open space. Full of surprises which may or may not work; hard to tell in a single pass. U [Rhapsody]
  63. Peter Eldridge: Mad Heaven (2011, Palmetto): Vocalist, plays piano, best known as a founding member of New York Voices, also a member of the group Moss. Third album since 2000 under his own name. Writes a little (7 of 12, with help), leaning Brazilian on most of the rest. Makes ample use of his background singers, or excessive may be more what I meant. Mostly backed with guitar-bass-drums-percussion, but a few cuts add horns, most importantly Joel Frahm (tenor sax). I've found his tics annoying in the past, but this nearly slipped by me, until his uncommonly warbly "The Very Thought of You." B-
  64. Shane Endsley and the Music Band: Then the Other (2010 [2011], Low Electrical): Trumpet player, from Denver, studied at Eastman, based in Brooklyn, second album, looks like 30-40 side credits since 1998 (with Steve Coleman). Quartet with Craig Taborn (piano), Matt Brewer (bass), and Ted Poor (drums). Good group, was feeling kind of ambivalent about the trumpet until the sharp finale, "Gallery Piece." B+(*)
  65. Peter Erskine/Bob Mintzer/Darek Oles/Alan Pasqua: Standards 2: Movie Music (2009 [2010], Fuzzy Music): Prerogatives of alphabetical order, although the label seems to be Erskine's property, and he's probably the most famous among near-equals -- you know, the drummer back in Weather Report. At least I assume that ranks him above Mintzer's long run with the Yellowjackets -- a group I've never been fond of, but the tenor saxophonist was always the best thing they had going. Pasqua and Oles are established pros with no tainted baggage. They make a nice, mild-mannered group here, easing their way through juicy themes like "Cinema Paradiso" and "Rosemary's Baby" and snagging a couple of Cole Porter songs that have far outlived their movies. B+(*)
  66. Orrin Evans: Captain Black Big Band (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Judging from the credits, seems to be a very big band, with 10 trumpets, 5 trombones, 14 saxes and a bass clarinet, 3 pianos, but I also note that it was recorded in three chunks, the first day and track in Philadelphia, two more days (4 and 2 tracks respectively) later in New York, so I wonder if everyone was really everywhere all the time. (Some of the bass and drums players are linked to specific tracks.) Pianist Evans wrote 4 of 7 pieces, the last four. The band is crackling hot, but I'm not getting much out of it, just a lot of drive and energy. B+(*)
  67. Peter Evans Quintet: Ghosts (2010 [2011], More Is More): Trumpet player, best known for his work in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, but has 7 albums under his own name since 2006. Most of those have been solo or small group, nothing as big as this, literally let alone figuratively. With Carlos Homs (piano), Tom Blancarte (bass), Jim Black (drums), and Sam Pluta (live processing) -- the latter hard to figure, or easy to blame. Aside from the processing, this rumbles and roars more like MOPDTK than anything Evans had done on his own. I'm torn here, duly impressed but not sure I really like this sort of splatter action. B+(*)
  68. Michael Feinberg: With Many Hands (2010 [2011], self-released): Bassist, b. 1987 in Atlanta, "raised on hip hop, international grooves, resurgent singer/songwriters and indie rock"; based in New York. Bio says this is his second album (looks like first was Evil Genius in 2009). Lists a sextet's worth of musicians on cover but no instrument credits: as best I can figure, Godwin Louis (alto sax), Noah Preminger (tenor sax), Alex Wintz (guitar), Julian Shore (piano), Daniel Platzman (drums). Postbop verging on freebop: jumps around a lot, shifting times, the sax(es) up front pushing limits. B+(**)
  69. Oscar Feldman: Oscar e Familia (2009, Sunnyside): Alto saxophonist, b. 1961 in Argentina, based in New York, has one previous album in 1999. Wrote most of the pieces, one with Guillermo Klein, one by Klein alone, and one each by Wayne Shorter, Astor Piazzolla, and Hermeto Pascoal. Core group features Manuel Valera on piano, John Benitez on bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums, and Pernell Saturnino on percussion, although he also taps Pablo Aslan (bass) on four cuts, Diego Urcola (trumpet, trombone), Mark Turner (tenor sax), Tito Castro (bandoneon), Cuartetango String Quartet (two cuts), and others. Fierce sax and roiling percussion will remind you of Gato Barbieri's early "chapters." B+(***)
  70. Fernandez & Wright: Unsung (2009 [2010], New Market Music): Singer Vanessa Fernandez, guitarist Steve Wright, home base Melbourne, Australia. First album, backed with piano, organ, bass, drums, percussion. Wrote their own material. Has a dark, dank sound, a resonant voice with occasional jazz fillips. B
  71. FivePlay Jazz Quintet: Five of Hearts (2008-10 [2011], Auraline): Guitarist Tony Corman and pianist Laura Klein produced and split the eleven songs 6-5 in favor of Corman. The others are Dave Tidball (saxes, clarinet), Alan Hall (drums), and Paul Smith (bass), listed in that order for no reason I can fathom. Second album, the first out in 2010. Corman has previous albums as Triceratops and as Crotty, Corman and Phipps. Klein has a previous duo with vibraphonist Ted Wolff. Looks like they intercepted in Boston -- lots of Berklee resumes -- although I also see a note that Tony and Laura got married in 1984 and moved to the Bay Area. They bill what they do as "melodic modern jazz," and that's about right. The leaders' instruments tend to hold things together and keep them flowing, and Tidball's reeds ride the waves instead of cutting against the grain. Not to be confused with Sherrie Maricle's quintet, Five Play. B+(**)
  72. Flow Trio: Set Theory: Live at the Stone (2009 [2011], Ayler): Louie Belogenis (tenor/soprano sax), Joe Morris (bass), Charles Downs (drums). Pretty basic avant sax trio. Belogenis has appeared on a couple dozen records since 1993, mostly in groups like this one. He makes playing tenor sax a study in struggle, wrenching each note in turn from the device. Title track runs 29:31. Other two 17:23 and 6:56, the latter turning to soprano where he is pleasantly asured. B+(**)
  73. Danny Frankel: The Interplanetary Note/Beat Conference (2010, self-released): Drummer, has a couple records under his own name, quite a few side credits since 1980 (very few jazz). Trio with Nels Cline on guitar, Larry Goldings on organ. Guitar is distinctive, especially for an organ trio, and the rhythm is relatively slinky, which reduces the organ to filler. B+(*)
  74. Bill Frisell: Sign of Life (2010 [2011], Savoy Jazz): Effectively a string quarter only with Frisell's guitar in place of one of the violins -- the other is Jenny Scheinman's, with Eyvind Kang on viola and Hank Roberts on cello, a group he calls his 858 Quartet. He used this lineup before on Richter 858 (2005, Songlines), which I thought took the chamber jazz concept way too far toward classical. This rarely does so, roughly splitting the difference with his Americana-ish trio. All original pieces, unlike recent albums where there's usually a couple covers to refer to. B+(**)
  75. Chantale Gagné: Wisdom of the Water (2010 [2011], self-released): Pianist, from Quebec, studied in Montreal, and later with Kenny Barron. Second album, the first a trio with Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. This adds Joe Locke on vibes. One cover ("My Wild Irish Rose"), the rest Gagné originals (one co-credited with Locke). B+(**)
  76. Roy Gaines and His Orchestra: Tuxedo Blues (2009 [2010], Black Gold): Blues shouter, an appellation commonly used for blues-based KC big band singers like Walter Brown, Jimmy Rushing, and Big Joe Turner. B. 1937 in Texas, started on piano but switched to guitar on hearing T-Bone Walker. Played in the Duke-Peacock house band (Big Mama Thornton, Bobby Bland); worked with Rushing, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Chuck Willis, Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and T-Bone Walker. Has a dozen albums since 1982. Not a top notch singer, but he gives a strong showing here, an anachronism in front of a big band, but true to his calling. B+(**)
  77. Alekos Galas: Mediterranean Breeze (2010, Ehos): Bouzouki player. No biography, but was recorded in Laguna Beach, CA; also in Glendale, Chicago, and Las Vegas. Debut record. Most (or all) originals. Backed by band: usually guitar, keyb, bass, drums, some extra percussion. Uses the word "fusion" a lot, also "smooth jazz" and "pop"; does manage to keep it breezy. B-
  78. Laszlo Gardony: Signature Time (2011, Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1956 in Hungary, studied at Béla Bartók Conservatory in Budapest, then got a scholarship to Berklee and never looked back -- teachers there now. Tenth album since 1986, a quartet with Stan Strickland on tenor sax (and voice on one song, sort of scatting along), John Lockwood on bass, and Yoron Israel on drums and vibes. Wrote six of ten songs, covering "Lullaby of Birdland," Strayhorn ("Johnny Come Lately"), and two Beatles songs ("Lady Madonna" and "Eleanor Rigby"). Straightforward, develops the melodies, puts a little kick into the rhythm. The sax comes and goes, not essential, but adds some depth and variety when it's there. B+(*)
  79. David Gibson: End of the Tunnel (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Trombone player, fifth album since 2002, the first three on retro-leaning Nagel-Heyer. Quartet, with Julius Tolentino on alto sax, Jared Gold on organ, and Quincy Davis on drums. Strong showing for Gold, who contributes two tunes (vs. five for Gibson, plus covers of Herbie Hancock and Jackie McLean), and the horn pairing works out nicely, with Tolentino aggressive and the trombone adding some much needed bottom funk. B+(**)
  80. Tania Gill: Bolger Station (2009 [2011], Barnyard): Pianist, lives in Toronto; first album, also credited with organ and voice. Group includes Lina Allemano (trumpet), Clinton Ryder (bass), and Jean Martin (drums). I don't get a strong sense of direction here; interesting little piano bits, some trumpet twists, two Gill vocals, so plain that's probably her limit, but not without charm. B+(*)
  81. Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra: Córdoba (2010 [2011], Zoho): Argentine bassist, plays electric and acoustic, moved to New York in 1996; fourth album since 2002. Orchestra has 11 pieces, many New Yorkers I recognize from elsewhere but no big names: four reeds, three brass, an extra cajón in the rhythm section. Flows elegantly, the sort of thing that shows how jazz has supplanted classical forms as a composing medium. B+(*)
  82. Jared Gold: All Wrapped Up (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Organ player, fourth album since 2008, coming out fast. I was most impressed by him on Oliver Lake's Organ Quartet album Plan. This, like the Lake record, is a quartet with sax, trumpet, and drums, but mainstreamers Ralph Bowen and Jim Rotondi can't cut the grease like Lake and Freddie Hendrix. Leaves a lot of slick spots. B
  83. Larry Goldings: In My Room (2010-11 [2011], BFM Jazz): Organ player, b. 1968, fourteen albums since 1991 and many more side credits. This is a change of pace: solo piano, rather delicate and measured. The title cut, from Brian Wilson as the Beach Boys turned introspective, is a find, although the Lennon-McCartney that closes the set drifts off into indeterminate space. About half originals, half covers (mostly from the same period, with the Stephen Foster and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" even more venerable). B+(*)
  84. GRASS on Fire: Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society Plays Catch a Fire (2010 [2011], Mightly Gowanus): "GRASS" is an acronym for Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society. Album is "produced by Sumo & Natecha," which as best I can translate are bassist J.A. Granelli and keyboardist Nate Shaw. Catch a Fire is the 1973 Wailers album, with "Kinky Reggae" and "Midnight Ravers" turned into "Kinky Midnight" and "High Tide or Low Tide" added from the bonus tracks that surfaced on several of the numerous reissues. The others I recognize are notable jazz musicians, like saxophonists Paul Carlon and Ohad Talmor -- indeed, the saxes and Mark Miller's trombone are the main things that distinguish this edition. No vocal credits, but someone can't help but sing along to "Slave Driver." B
  85. Iro Haarla Quintet: Vespers (2010 [2011], ECM): Plays piano and harp, b. 1956 in Finland, 5th album since 2001, two on the Finiish label TUM, two on ECM. Quintet gives her two horns -- Mathias Eick (trumpet), Trygve Seim (tenor/soprano sax) -- bass (Ulf Krokfors) and drums (Jon Christensen). Seems soft at first, then chilly, then you finally notice the hidden strength of the horns -- not surprising given that Eick and Seim regularly produce strong albums under their own names. B+(**)
  86. Noah Haidu: Slipstream (2009 [2011], Posi-Tone): Pianist, from Charlottesville, VA. First record, although he's in a group called Native Soul which has two records, one unplayed in my queue somewhere. Post-hardbop quintet, has a front line that should be able to generate some heat: Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto sax. They do break out on occasion, but not so often, with the piano thickly entangled. B
  87. Jim Hall: Concierto (1975 [2010], CTI/Sony Masterworks): An unassuming back-to-basics guy, called his first (1957) album Jazz Guitar, and was still trying to establish himself when Taylor handed him this blank check; too much talent to balance, with Roland Hanna's piano as prominent as the leader's guitar, alto saxophoist Paul Desmond largely wasted, but Chet Baker's trumpet is memorable, a nice fit. B+(***)
  88. Rich Halley Quartet: Requiem for a Pit Viper (2010 [2011], Pine Eagle): Consistenty superb tenor saxophonist, based in Portland, OR, has a background as a natural scientist which may make him more sympathetic to rattlesnakes than most of us. Quartet pairs him with trombonist Michael Vlatkovich. While the contrast and interplay is interesting, most of the time the two play in unison, which aside from some not especially pleasing harmonics wastes the opportunity the second horn opens up -- how much so is clear from when it happens. B+(**)
  89. Tom Harrell: The Time of the Sun (2010 [2011], High Note): Plays trumpet, flugelhorn; has close to 30 albums since 1976, a postbop player with tricky compositions and (occasionally) brilliant runs. Best moments here are on the simple side, squaring off against Danny Grissett's piano. Adding Wayne Escoffery's tenor sax seems like too much trouble, although he can impress, as always. B+(*)
  90. Atsuko Hashimoto: . . . Until the Sun Comes Up (2010 [2011], Capri): Organ player, from Osaka, Japan. Career dates from early 1990s; recorded half an album in 1999 (5 cuts, the other 5 by Midori Ono Trio), and five more since 2003. This one is a trio with Graham Dechter on guitar and Jeff Hamilton on drums. That's an old soul jazz formula, and this fits the bill nicely. Still, I wonder how much it matters. B+(*)
  91. Pablo Held: Glow (2010 [2011], Pirouet): Pianist, b. 1986 in Germany; third album since 2008, after two piano trios. This one adds trumpet, two saxes, harp, celesta/harmonium, cello, and extra bass, but doesn't sound like a large band, a nonet or even a septet. The extra instruments color and shade, sometimes to interesting effect but more often they just dissolve into the ether. Can't even complain it sounds cluttered. B
  92. Fred Hersch: Alone at the Vanguard (2010 [2011], Palmetto): Pianist, of course, has close to 30 album since 1984, cultivated his Bill Evans comparisons with 1990's Evanessence. I thought last year's Whirl was a triumph -- best thing he's ever done, although I'm not much of an expert. Guess that's all it took to get him to do another solo album -- don't know how many he has, but must be a handful (still way short of Jarrett). You know better than I whether you're up for this. Personally, I don't buy all of Art Tatum's solo piano albums, and he's a helluva lot sexier than this. But there's nothing lame or disingenous here, and I'm as happy as anyone that's he's still kicking. B+(*)
  93. Lisa Hilton: Underground (2010 [2011], Ruby Slippers): Pianist, from San Luis Obispo, CA, has 15 album since 1997, most of the early ones with titles suggesting chintzy cocktail piano and romance: Cocktails at Eight, In the Mood for Jazz, Jazz After Hours, Midnight in Manhattan, After Dark, all with alluring cover photography -- My Favorite Things may be the most alluring in that respect. I've only heard one previous album, didn't think much of it, but this one is something else. For starters, she's got a first rate group: Larry Grenadier on bass, Nasheet Waits on drums, and J.D. Allen on tenor sax. Wrote all but one Bill Evans piece. Pretty respectable outing, the piano authoritatively centered. Allen doesn't break out, as he can, but he's an asset. B+(**)
  94. Art Hirahara: Noble Path (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Pianist, from San Francisco Bay Area, based in Brooklyn. AMG lists four previous records, but only one appears on his website discography. Piano trio, with Yoshi Waki (bass) and Dan Aran (drums). Wrote 8 of 12 songs. Puts a nice spin on covers ranging from Porter to Ellington. B+(**)
  95. Ben Holmes Trio (2009, self-released): Trumpet player, based in Brooklyn, first album, trio with Dan Loomis on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. Four originals, two trad. (one Romanian, the other Turkish, I think), plus a piece called "Lev Tov" by H. Schachal. B+(***)
  96. Lena Horne: The Essential Lena Horne (1941-75 [2010], Masterworks/Legacy, 2CD): Black-white singer-dancer-actress, a tough ten years older than Eartha Kitt, but Horne knocked down many of the doors that Kitt walked through. "Stormy Weather" was her big hit in 1941, and that got her into Hollywood. Still, she was a terrific big band singer, taking firm command on the many show tunes and standards here -- most of the cuts date from 1957-62, with a few from 1941-44 and a couple later. A-
  97. Ron Horton: It's a Gadget World . . . (2009, Abeat): This shows up under Ben Allison's name both in AMG and Rhapsody -- gave me a bit of a pause as it would have broke the string of A- records mentioned in reviewing Allison's new record. Cover lists trumpet/flugelhorn player Horton up top in caps, then "featuring Antonio Zambrini" (piano, also wrote 4 of 9 tracks plus the liner notes), then way down at the bottom Allison (bass) and Tony Moreno (drums). Brisk postbop, a couple of nice piano spots, a lot of first-rate trumpet. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  98. Freddie Hubbard: Red Clay (1970 [2010], CTI/Sony Masterworks): Half-hearted as a fusion move -- Herbie Hancock plays electric piano like an acoustic but the loss of resonance scarcely matters at this pace -- but the trumpeter blasts away like hard bop at its most hearty, and as if that weren't enough Joe Henderson is champing at the bit, always eager to muscle his way in. A-
  99. Freddie Hubbard: Straight Life (1970 [2011], CTI/Sony Masterworks): Title cut picks up where Red Clay left off with a 17:27 romp where Joe Henderson's tenor sax adds muscle to Hubbard's brass and Herbie Hancock and George Benson keep a groove roiling; tails off a bit after that, and gives up after the original LP's 36:10 with no bonus tracks. B+(***)
  100. Freddie Hubbard: First Light (1971 [2011], CTI/Sony Masterworks): What made Hubbard the hottest trumpet anywhere in the early 1960s was his versatility: hard bop, avant-garde, when Herbie Hancock wanted to cut his own Miles Davis Quintet album Hubbard not only filled the bill, he offered a step up; so no surprise that he is brilliant here, it what is otherwise a ridiculous set up, with Don Sebesky's strings and winds trodding in the background to songs as absurd as "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey"; two bonus cuts, one a live take with a small group. B+(*)
  101. Freddie Hubbard: Pinnacle: Live & Unreleased From the Keystone Korner (1980 [2011], Resonance): B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  102. Marika Hughes: Afterlife Music Radio: 11 New Pieces for Solo Cello (2010 [2011], DD): Cellist, debuts with two records, has a couple dozen side credits since 1997, including Tin Hat, Ani DiFranco, and various Tzadik projects. Solo cello. Eleven pieces written by other musicians, evidently just for this project. Names I recognize (mostly string players): Charlie Burnham, Nasheet Waits, Trevor Dunn, Jenny Scheinman, Carla Kihlstedt, Abraham Burton, Todd Sickafoose, Eyvind Kang. Well, you know the problem with solo anything, and this can run thin or ragged, but she loves the sound -- story goes that she switched from violin instantly first time she plucked the low C string. Tiny bit of vocal on the mysterious twelfth track. B+(**)
  103. Marika Hughes: The Simplest Thing (2010 [2011], DD): Plays cello, wrote most of the songs (sometimes with band help), and sings them. Not jazz, although she draws on some jazz musicians, and vocal jazz isn't a very useful genre these days. CDBaby is even less helpful: they list genre as "Pop: Chamber Pop" and recommend "if you like: Eva Cassidy, Roberta Flack." I suppose there are people who like Cassidy and/or Flack, but that's shooting pretty low. On many superficial points, the obvious comparison would be to Grammy-winning bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding, but Hughes is a stronger writer, a much better arranger, has good taste in friends (cf. "Back Home," with Jenny Scheinman's violin and Charles Burnham's gravelly duet vocal), and has a lot more voice. B+(**)]
  104. Julia Hülsmann Trio: Imprint (2010 [2011], ECM): Pianist, b. 1968 in Bonn, Germany; sixth album since 2003, three on ACT, two on ECM. AMG reports that she also sings, but not here. Piano trio, very typical of Manfred Eicher's productions: clean, poised, articulate, not too fast or too free but not predictable either. B+(**)
  105. Milt Jackson: Sunflower (1972 [2010], CTI/Sony Masterworks): The names on the front cover promise lively postbop around the vibes -- Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham -- but the label promises a lot of Don Sebesky goup, sparing neither the strings nor the woodwinds; net result is a very easy listening trumpet album, the vibes neither cute nor schmaltzy. B
  106. Whitney James: The Nature of Love (2009 [2010], Stir Stick Music): Standards singer, first album, no bio; has a fairly well known band with Joshua Wolff (piano), Matt Clohesy (bass), Jon Wikan (drums), and paired almost duet-like, Ingrid Jensen (trumpet/flugelhorn). Attractive singer, but not distinctive enough to retain my focus when the song isn't as ingrained for me as "Tenderly" or "How Deep Is the Ocean." B
  107. Billy Jenkins: Jazz Gives Me the Blues (2011, VOTP): English jazz guitarist, b. 1954, has some very interesting records scattered about his discography -- 1998's True Love Collection, with its bent '60s pop retroviruses is a favorite -- but lately he's reinvented himself as a gravel-mouthed blues slinger, which is mostly what you get here, but now and then you sense the guitar wants to sneak out and play something fancy. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  108. Antonio Carlos Jobim: Stone Flower (1970 [2010], CTI/Sony Masterworks): Lush and dreamy at best, more often overgrown and muddled, with Jobim's gentle voice caressed by Eumir Deodato's unnamed strings, floating on the blips of his own electric piano, nudged on by Airto Moreira's percussion, engaging only if you reach out for it. B
  109. Clarence "Jelly" Johnson: Low Down Papa (1912-20 [2011], Delmark): Enhanced piano rolls, second volume in Delmark's series after Jimmy Blythe's Messin' Around Blues. Johnson is more obscure: was in the army 1917-19, started recording piano rolls after he got out -- no specific dates but liner notes imply 1920-23; Johnson recorded for Paramount 1923-25, but I don't know how much. Liner notes say he moved to Detroit in late 1920s, and died there on August 9, but don't say which year. Sounds pretty up-to-date if these were recorded that early -- no residual traces of ragtime which still marked most 1910's pianists. Does sound a little bloodless. B+(**)
  110. Darren Johnston/Aram Shelton/Lisa Mezzacappa/Kjell Nordeson: Cylinder (2011, Clean Feed): No recording date given -- unusual for this label -- but songs are all copyright 2011, so this may be the first recorded-in-2011 album I've gotten to. Familiar names: trumpet, alto sax/clarinet/bass clarinet, bass, drums. Each writes two songs, or three for Shelton. Free jazz, struggles a bit here and there but has lots of fine moments, especially the trumpet. B+(**)
  111. Etta Jones & Houston Person: The Way We Were: Live in Concert (2000 [2011], High Note): Blues-based jazz singer, aspired to Billie Holiday but reminds me more of Bessie Smith, b. 1928, cut quite a few records for Prestige 1960-65, got a second shot with Muse in 1975 and High Note in 1997, which is to say she owed her career to Joe Fields, an exec at Prestige and owner of Muse and High Note, and to Houston Person, his A&R man and her regular saxophonist. This starts with just the band for four cuts -- Stan Hope (piano), George Kaye (bass), Chip White (drums), and Person -- starting with "Do Nothin' 'Till You Hear From Me" and culminating in a gorgeous "Please Send Me Someone to Love." Jones enters with "Fine and Mellow," "Lady Be Good," but doesn't really take charge until the end, with "Ma, He's Makin' Eyes at Me" and a "I'll Be Seeing You" that can only be described as swinging. She died a year later, so some credit for the souvenir. B+(**)
  112. Dave Juarez: Round Red Light (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Guitarist, from Barcelona, Spain; cut this in Brooklyn, but current base is Amsterdam. First album, with Seamus Blake (tenor sax), John Escreet (piano), Lauren Falls (bass), and Bastian Weinhold (drums). Juarez wrote all of the songs, and plays a key role but Blake does his best to blow him away, in a remarkable performance I can't quite get into. B+(*)
  113. Stan Killian: Unified (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, from Texas, based in New York, debut album, mostly quartet with Benito Gonzalez on piano, bass and drums split, and guest horns featured on the cover: Roy Hargrove, Jeremy Pelt, David Binney. Postbop to open, although when he picks up the pace he sounds more like retro bebop. B+(*)
  114. Eartha Kitt: The Essential Eartha Kitt (1952-57 [2011], RCA/Legacy, 2CD): Black-white-Cherokee singer-dancer-actress with a penchant for mambos en français, mixes show tunes, standards, novelties -- her big hit was "Santa Baby," not that it was that big -- and W.C. Handy's blues. This six-year slice covers her commercial prime, the basis of her future iconic status, but she reinvented herself so many times and so effectively you're barely getting a glimpse. Still, the one you're least likely to know, unless you're a hell of a lot older than I am. B+(***)
  115. Landon Knobloch/Jason Furman: Gasoline Rainbow (2008 [2011], Fractamodi): Piano-drums duo, based in New York but originally got together in Miami. Second album together. Knoblock, b. 1982, has two other albums since 2007. Strong performance, a lot of rumble in the piano. B+(**)
  116. Adam Kolker: Reflections (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, also credited with alto flute, bass clarinet, flute, and clarinet here. Fifth album since 1999. Mostly a very reflective trio with John Hébert on bass and Billy Mintz on drumss. Adds several scattered guests: Judi Silvano and Kay Matsukawa (voice, one track each), John Abercrombie (guitar, 2), and Russ Lossing (piano, 3), but he guests never manage to perturb the mood much. Very seductive at its core. B+(**)
  117. Kathleen Kolman: Dream On (2010 [2011], Walkin' Foot Productions): Singer, from Montana, based in New England somewhere; second album, after one in 1999 called The Dreamer. Band mates come and go, although saxophonist Rick DiMuzio is gone after a promising opener. Title song is from Aerosmith; one original, three from Brazil (two Jobims, one Lins). She sings with poise and depth. B+(*) [advance]
  118. Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian: Live at Birdland (2009 [2011], ECM): New York Times advance, quoted in hype sheet, promises "soft anarchy, a gig without preparation or rehearsal," and that's pretty much it. Six standards, counting Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, given 10-15 minutes each. Mehldau is the best prepared, but Konitz is the person of interest, and he's a bit out of it, though it's hard to say why, or to dismiss what he plays, when he plays. B+(**)
  119. Ben Kono: Crossing (2010 [2011], 19/8): B. 1967, grew up in Vermont, studied at Eastman and UNT, did a stretch with the Army's Jazz Ambassadors, settled in New York in 1998. Plays reeds; credited here with: oboe, english horn, flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, shakuhachi. Has mostly appeared in big bands: John Hollenbeck, Chris Jentsch, Ed Palermo, Jamie Begian. First album, with Hollenbeck (drums), John Hébert (bass), Pete McCann (guitar), Henry Hey (keybs), and Heather Laws (voice and french horn). One thing this shows is that not all horns are created equal: the sax sections are terrific, the flutes and oboe superfluous (all the more so when Laws weighs in). B+(*)
  120. Annie Kozuch: Here With You (2009 [2010], self-released): Standards singer, raised in Mexico City, got a Dramatic Arts degree from Mills College in Oakland, CA; based in New York. First album. Leads off with Jobim, but rather than getting him out of the way she returns three songs later with one of the nicest strolls through "Corcovado" I've heard, and later on returns with a third Brazilian piece, this one by Pixinguinha. Spanish songs from Pedro Junco and Armando Manzanera are less successful, but she nails English-language songs (what she calls "jazz tracks") like "I Love Being Here With You" and "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me." B+(**)
  121. Jonathan Kreisberg: Shadowless (2010 [2011], New for Now Music): Guitarist, b. NYC, grew up in Florida, came back in 1997. AMG lists eight records since 1997. Probably too simple to take this as a fusion play, but that's easy to do with guitarists. With Will Vinson on sax, Henry Hey on piano, Matt Penman on bass, Mark Ferber on drums. Sax and piano don't add much. B
  122. Femi Kuti: Africa for Africa (2010 [2011], Knitting Factory): Fela's eldest son, also plays alto sax, grew up in his father's band and continues the Afrobeat groove, with 15 albums now since 1989. This is close to formula: the beats, the sax, the chant vocals, the politics (but the pidgin English remains far short of eloquent). Fourteen moderate-length songs adds up to a long album (total 62:56), but nothing stretches out like the old Fela albums used to. B+(**)
  123. La Cherga: Revolve (2010-11 [2011], Asphalt Tango): Not jazz, more like trans-Yugoslav dubstep, with its Balkan brass run through a Jamaican sound system. Their previous, even better album (Fake No More) featured a striking vocalist, replaced here with Adisa Zvekic (from Bosnia) and occasional guest MCs; evolution turned around -- maybe that's how they translate it. A-
  124. Alexey Lapin/Yury Yaremchuk: Anatomy of Sound (2010, SoLyd): Russian pianist, appears with François Carrier on Inner Spire so I thought I should check him out further. (Also has a new solo piano album on Leo, Parallels.) Yaremchuk is from the Ukraine; plays soprano sax (first three cuts) and bass clarinet (two more). Last two cuts offer a solo each, with Lapin engulfed in roiling chordal density where Yaremchuk spaces out the sounds of his bass clarinet. The improv together is on the ugly side of free, but picks up interest whenever they get faster and louder. U [Rhapsody]
  125. Hubert Laws: Morning Star (1972 [2010], CTI/Sony Masterworks): Flautist, cut a couple albums for Atlantic before Creed Taylor adopted him; Don Sebesky goes whole hog here, including vocals as well as strings and his bassoon fetish, although you could miss the mild brass colorings; Laws tries to keep it tastefully cosmological, something he wasn't always able to manage. B-
  126. Hubert Laws: In the Beginning (1974 [2011], CTI/Sony Masterworks): Originally a 2LP, the flautist's major league move taps Satie and trad, Rollins and Coltrane, adding one original ("Mean Lene"), and brings in Ronnie Laws for some tenor sax muscle behind the flute; strings are down to one each, percussion up to Airto and Dave Friedman's vibes, Bob James yucking it up on electric piano; still, the leads fall on the flute, which isn't really up to them. B
  127. Nguyên Lê: Songs of Freedom (2010 [2011], ACT): Guitarist, b. 1959 in Paris, France, draws on the Vietnamese music of his ancestors, also on Jimi Hendrix. Has 17 albums since 1990. Describes this record as "a tribute to those musicians who established pop culture in the '70s with their mythic songs," and proclaims them to "have truly become World Music i.e. 'music the world listens to.'" Aside from a couple short connecting pieces, the songs come from the Beatles ("Eleanor Rigby," "Come Together"), Stevie Wonder ("I Wish," "Pastime Paradise"), Bob Marley ("Redemption Song"), Led Zeppelin ("Black Dog," "Whole Lotta Love"), Janis Joplin ("Mercedes Benz"), Cream ("Sunshine of Your Love"), and Iron Butterfly ("In a Gadda Da Vida"). All feature guest singers I've never heard of (and don't expect to ever again): Youn Sun Nah, David Linx, Dhafer Youssaf, Ousman Danedjo, Julia Saar, Himiki Paganotti. (Their names strike me as selected to illustrate Lê's world music concept.) I'd have preferred more of the instrumental breaks, where Lê's electric guitar powers over tinkly vibes and percussion. B
  128. Gordon Lee: This Path (2010, OA2): Pianist, b. 1953 in New York City; studied at Syracuse and Indiana; moved to Portland, OR in 1977, worked 1980-85 in New York, then returned to Portland. Seventh album since 1982. Works with two trios here, plus a couple of solo cuts, one with Miguel Bernal on cajon. B+(**)
  129. Okkyung Lee: Noisy Love Songs (2011, Tzadik): Cellist, from Korea, moved to New York 2000; second album on Tzadik; looks like three or four others. With no lyrics one can argue whether these even are love songs. That some are noisy is beyond doubt, but not many, and not very: the cello-violin-bass can turn squelchy, but mostly plot out sweet melodies, with piano (Craig Taborn) and/or trumpet (Peter Evans) for occasional elaboration, and percussion (John Hollenbeck and Satoshi Takeishi) -- lots of tinkly tones. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  130. Gianni Lenoci: Ephemeral Rhizome (2008 [2009], Evil Rabbit): Italian pianist, has at least 7 albums since 1991, the first few on Splasc(H). My coverage of European jazz is hit and miss: Norway, Netherlands, and Portugal seem to be my first tier (and ECM, of course); Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Spain less so; Russia, Finland, Switzerland rarely. Not much at all from England, France, or Italy, which are all major jazz scenes -- CAM Jazz is the only Italian label I've seen in years, but Splasc(H) is actually one of the most prolific jazz labels anywhere, Philology is close behind, and Soul Note is still in business (not sure about RED). One result is that someone like Lenoci can avoid my radar for decades, until he shows up on a Dutch label. Solo piano, all original pieces, far ranging, dynamic, sometimes down and dirty. I'm impressed. B+(***)
  131. Les Doigts de l'Homme: 1910 (2011, ALMA): French quartet, three guitars (Olivier Kikteff, Yannick Alcocer, Benoit "Binouche" Convert) and acoustic bass (Tanguy Blum), dedicated to Django Reinhardt -- album title takes the year of Reinhardt's birth. Fourth album. Two cuts add clarinet for some welcome variation; otherwise very inside its thing. B+(*)
  132. Daniel Levin: Inner Landscape (2009 [2011], Clean Feed): Cellist, sixth album since 2003, a solo, tough to do. Gets some extra sound out early using the body for percussion, which provides some useful variety. B+(**)
  133. The Giuseppi Logan Quintet (2009 [2010], Tompkins Square): Saxophonist, b. 1935 in Philadelphia, cut two freewheeling 1964-65 quartet albums for ESP-Disk (with Don Pullen, Eddie Gomez, and Milford Graves), and was never heard from again -- until now. Leaving aside co-producer Matt Lavelle for the moment, this tries to get the old spirit back, tapping Dave Burrell, François Grillot, and Warren Smith for piano-bass-drums. Actually, only Burrell is really up to it -- he's worth the price of admission, especially at a time when piano is being phased out as a backing instrument. I take Lavelle to be the mover and shaker here, the one who put this deal together. He expands the group from four to five, playing bass clarinet to shade Logan's sax -- credit doesn't specify tenor or alto; he's played both -- and trumpet for contrast although he doesn't push it. Three covers are most amusing, especially an "Over the Rainbow" that winds up someplace else. B+(***)
  134. Vesa-Matti Loiri: 4+20 (1971 [2011], Porter): Finnish flautist, vocalist, actor; b. 1945. AMG lists 33 records, starting in 1968, but this is the only one they've evidently heard. It's a weird one, mostly flute and percussion, a guitar, sometimes adding piccolo and/or soprano sax (no less than Eero Koivistoinen). Six songs in "Mummon Kaappikello" is a change of pace, with tenor sax and cartoonish vocals. Title cut is from Stephen Stills, not that he'd recognize it. B+(*)
  135. Amy London: Let's Fly (2010 [2011], Motéma): Standards singer, b. 1957, grew up in Cincinnati, studied opera at Syracuse, moved to New York in 1980, worked on stage, taught voice. Third album, including one with longtime guitarist Roni Ben-Hur. Fancy technique, easily slips around the notes, and gets fine support from Ben-Hur and a tag team of pianists. Includes a tribute to Annie Ross. B+(*)
  136. Tom Luer: Project Popular (2009 [2011], Origin): Saxophonist (tenor and soprano), originally from Wisconsin, studied and taught at UNT, based in Los Angeles. First album, quintet with piano (mostly Fender Rhodes), guitar, bass, drums. The "popular" in the project is to mix five 1980s-vintage rock covers in with three originals, drawing on Pearl Jam, Coldplay, Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Prince. Only one that really registered with me was "Black Hole Sun" -- nice to hear, holds up well. B+(*)
  137. Steven Lugerner: These Are the Words/Narratives (2010 [2011], self-released, 2CD): Reed player -- clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, oboe, English horn -- leads a sharp quartet (Darren Johnston, Myra Melford, Matt Wilson) on one disc and a more sprawling mostly-European septet on the second. Melford is sharp as ever, but doesn't get to do much as the softer reeds tend to coalesce into fog. B+(**)
  138. Curtis Macdonald: Community Immunity (2009 [2011], Greenleaf Music): Alto saxophonist, based in New York, studied at New School, where he now teaches. First album, or as he puts it on his website, "latest record." Quintet with a second sax (Jeremy Viner on tenor), piano (David Virelles or Michael Vanoucek), bass (Chris Tordini), Greg Ritchie (drums), one-shot guests on guitar, violin, and voice (none of which I recall). The sort of tightly orchestrated postbop that makes me worry about academia. B
  139. Thomas Marriott: Constraints & Liberations (2009 [2010], Origin): Trumpet player, from Seattle, b. 1975, fifth album since 2005 (with a sixth one out since then). Quintet with Hans Teuber on tenor sax, Gary Versace on piano, Jeff Johnson on bass, and John Bishop on drums. Six originals, plus one piece by Johnson. Postbop, probably his strongest record to date, both for the clarity of his trumpet and an impressive performance by Versace. B+(**)
  140. Thomas Marriott: Human Spirit (2009 [2011], Origin): Plays trumpet/flugelhorn. Sixth album since 2005. A variation on the organ trio, with Gary Versace on the B-3 and Matt Jorgensen on drums. Marriott shares the front line with alto saxophonist Mark Taylor -- by far the most aggressive player in this group, where the organ seems an afterthought and the trumpet dressing. B
  141. Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters: Imaginary Sketches (2010 [2011], Origin): Trumpet and piano, respectively, leading a quartet with Chuck Deardorf on bass and John Bishop on drums. Third album for McCullough, not counting his work in the Kora Band; based in Seattle. The pianist was b. 1980 in Belgium; looks like he has one previous trio album, several group efforts. Pairing does a nice job of bringing out the rich lustre of the instruments. B+(*)
  142. John Medeski & Lee Shaw: Together Again: Live at the Egg (2009 [2011], ARC): Before Shaw started recording in her 70s, she taught pianos, and Medeski was one of her more famous students. With Shaw's trio, Medeski doubles up on piano or plays organ (or melodica). The piano is nice and crisp, and the organ kicks up quite a groove. B+(*)
  143. Brad Mehldau: Live in Marciac (2006 [2011], Nonesuch, 2CD+DVD): Trifold package, with a plastic tray in the middle for the DVD, the two CDs just slipped into the outer panels. Indeed, they plug this as DVD+2CD rather than the other way around, so I suppose I'm remiss in not watching the DVD, but I hardly ever bother with the things. Solo piano. My first thought was that he's aiming for his Köln Concert, and I doubt that he's ever rollicked more like Jarrett than on the first disc here. But whereas Jarrett worked one long improv, this is a program -- mostly originals on the first disc, all covers on the second (Nick Drake, Kurt Cobain, James Alan Shelton, Lennon/McCartney, Rodgers/Hammerstein, Bobby Timmons). Impressive, as usual. B+(**)
  144. Eddie Mendenhall: Cosine Meets Tangent (2010 [2011], Miles High): Pianist, bio mangled, but "directs the jazz department" at Monterey Peninsula College, seems to be from those parts, studied at Berklee, spent seven years in Japan. First album. Wrote 8 of 10 pieces, with one from vibraphonist Mark Sherman, one from Rodgers and Hart. Quartet with John Schifflett on bass, Akira Tana on drums. The vibes dominate early on in one of Sherman's finest performances. By coincidence I was writing something about MJQ while listening to this. These guys are much faster, not that that was necessarily the point. B+(**)
  145. Antoinette Montague: Behind the Smile (2009 [2010], In the Groove): Singer. Wrote the title cut, but the rest are more or less standards -- Bill Broonzy, Dave Brubeck, and Marvin Gaye are outliers. Second album. Don't see where the band is credited -- just a picture and some thank yous, but if I could line up Mulgrew Miller, Peter Washington, Kenny Washington, and a big-toned sax player like Bill Easley I'd brag about it. Everything here impresses me as well done, except for the CD packaging -- very polyethelene. B+(*)
  146. Wolfgang Muthspiel: Drumfree (2010 [2011], Material): German guitarist, b. 1965, frequently (in Europe, that is) compared to Metheny and Scofield, although I like him much more -- Bright Side was a pick hit a while back, and Black and Blue is also on my full-A list. As the title announces, no drums this time. Andy Scherrer shadows the guitar on various saxophones, and Larry Grenadier plays bass, so this works within a narrow bandwidth, its surface shimmering with little hint of depth. B+(**)
  147. Native Soul: Soul Step (2008 [2011], Talking Drum): Filed this under pop jazz, a mistake I blame on the packaging -- they sure try to look like another variant of Four Play. Actually, a mainstream postbop sax-piano-bass-drums quartet; even when they try to go with electric bass and keyb they stay firmly rooted on the jazz side. All four members contribute 2-3 songs -- bassist Marcus McLaurine is the overachiever. Two covers: one from Jimi Hendrix, the other "End of a Love Affair." B+(**)
  148. Marius Neset: Golden Xplosion (2010 [2011], Edition): Saxophonist (soprano and tenor), from Norway, 25 (1985?), did a semester at Berklee, studied more in Copenhagen, latched onto Django Bates, who plays keyboards here. Second album. The fast stuttery sax runs are fun. The ballads aren't. And Bates indulges in some keyboard overkill early on, intended to crank up the energy level, which works to a point. Some folks are blown away, but some of us are old enough to recall Bates' old sax chum, Iain Ballamy. B [Rhapsody]
  149. New Tricks: Alternate Side (2010 [2011], New Tricks): I've started referring to records by artists who can't go to the trouble to think up a label name "self-released," but the back cover here says "New Tricks Records" so credit where credit is due. Quartet: Mike Lee (tenor sax), Ted Chubb (trumpet), Kellen Harrison (bass), Shawn Baltazor (drums). Lee wrote 6 of 9 songs; Chubb the other 3. Was blogging about Miles Davis when I put this on, so I was immediately struck by the '50s vibe, bop only hotter and harder, with no piano to underwrite the chords and gum things up. Second group album -- Lee also has two under his own name; don't think any of the others do, although the bassist has some side credits. This sort of clash is bracing, but on occasion they slow down, yoke the horns together, and act like modern postboppers. B+(**)
  150. New York Electric Piano: Keys to the City: Volumes 1 & 2 (2011, Buffalo Puppy, 2CD): Pat Daugherty-led group, sixth album since 2004. He plays keyboards and sings. Split this release into two discs, one with vocals, one instrumental. On the vocal volume he trades off with Deanna Kirk and Ava Farber. Erik Lawrence is notable in the band, playing various saxes and alto flute. Some nice stuff on both discs, but not consistently so. B
  151. Vince Norman/Joe McCarthy Big Band: Bright Future (2009 [2010], OA2): Norman plays various saxophones, tenor probably his first choice; his father, Ray Norman, played in the big bands of Claude Thornhill and Charlie Barnet, and he played in the Army's Jazz Ambassadors. McCarthy, a drummer, played in the Navy's Jazz Ensemble. Second album together, both big bands, the only thing unconventional is that they rely on guitarist Gary Malvaso for more than rhythm. B+(*)
  152. Hubert Nuss: The Book of Colours (2008 [2010], Pirouet): Pianist, b. 1964 in Germany (Neckarsulm, near Stuttgart -- interesting to compare the bare bones English and extraordinary German Wikipedia pages on Neckarsulm). Fourth trio album since 1998, with John Goldsby (bass) and John Riley (drums). Rather quiet and contained. B+(*)
  153. The NYFA Collection: 25 Years of New York New Music (1988-2010 [2010], Innova, 5CD): I've been avoiding this, if for no more reason than sheer length. NYFA is the New York Foundation for the Arts, set up in 1983. Since then they've provided fellowships for over 200 new music composers, and they're showing off 52 of them in this set. They run the gamut, but have been programmed to flow somewhat: the third disc is the most jazz-centric, with Iconoclast, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Fred Ho, John Lindberg (sometimes d/b/a BLOB), Newman Taylor Baker. The fourth and fifth shade more classical. The first is more avant, mostly primitivist rhythm pieces. Packaged in a double-width jewel case with a loose booklet for each disc packed with lots of information in small type, and priced like a sampler. B+(**)
  154. Bill O'Connell: Rhapsody in Blue (2009 [2010], Challenge): Pianist, b. 1953 in New York, got a rep for Latin jazz working for Mongo Santamaria. AMG lists 7 records since 1978. Mostly originals, the title bit from Gershwin, "Bye Bye Blackbird"; has a few Latin flourishes, especially Richie Flores percussion on two tracks, but is mostly straightforward, ebullient mainstream jazz, with Steve Slagle on alto and soprano sax. B+(*)
  155. Mark O'Connor Quintet: Suspended Reality (2007 [2011], OA2): Saxophonist, lists alto first but all the pics I see show him with a tenor. Originally from Austin, TX; studied at UNT; now based in Chicago, writing a doctoral dissertation on Joe Farrell. Second album. Quintet includes trumpet (Victor Garcia), piano (Ben Lewis, or Mark Maegdlin on one track), bass (Jonathan Paul), and drums (Tom Hipskind). Wrote 8 of 10 tracks, all but "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" and a Johnny Griffin tune ("A Monk's Dream"). A mixed bag. At first I was impressed by the sax tone and presence, but the trumpet detracts from that. Then I noted the complex Afro-Cuban rhythms of "Cady's Groove," but those too were a passing fancy. Some real talent at play here; just not sure for what. B+(**)
  156. Mark O'Leary/Peter Friis-Nielsen/Stefan Pasborg: Støj (2008 [2011], Ayler): Guitar-bass-drums, respectively. O'Leary is a guitarist from Ireland, has over a dozen albums since 2005 (although recording dates go back to 2000). I've heard very few of these, and don't have a good sense of what he's up to. The sound of the guitar seems unnaturally constrained, muffled even on stretches where the moves are dense and muscular; in comparison, Pasborg's drums are always sharp and clear. B+(*)
  157. Lutalo "Sweet Lu" Olutosin: Tribute to Greatness (2010, Sweet Lu Music): Singer, from Gary, IN, based in DC after passing through Atlanta and the military. He grew up on gospel, but found his calling in vocalese, drawing on King Pleasure and Jon Hendricks and writing a little himself. Don't recognize the band, but Winfield Gaylor's sax helps. B
  158. Open Graves with Stuart Dempster: Flightpatterns (2010 [2011], Prefecture): Sometimes I think it might be interesting to expand my niche a bit and try to cover anything that shows up in the post-classical contemporary composition whatever-you-call-it grabbag -- something that the Voice covered extensively for many years under Tom Johnson and Kyle Gann -- but then I remember that I don't know very much about the subject and I haven't followed it at all closely for a good twenty years. Still, I do recognize Dempster: trombonist, b. 1936, specializes in long, slow drone pieces done in huge, echo-laden chambers. Open Graves is Jesse Olsen ("multi-instrumentalist") and Paul Kikuchi (percussionist), from Seattle. This is typical of Dempster, but unless you listen to it in your own sensory-deprivation chamber you're unlikely to get much more than tinkles and faint echoes out of it. B-
  159. Operation ID: Legs (2011, Table & Chairs): Seattle group, or as they put it, "Seattle's (the world's?) only minimalistic, avant-garde, electro-pop, noise-cluster, synth-rock, free-jazz, experimental, dance-prog band": Ivan Arteaga (sax), Jared borkowski (guitar), Rob Hanlon (synthesizers), David Balatero (bass), Evan Woodle (drums). Hard to keep all those genre-fucks coexisting, so they tend to rotate from one to the other. Would be eclectic if they could space them out a bit and make at least some seem unexpected. B
  160. Orchestre National de Jazz: Around Robert Wyatt (2009 [2011], Bee Jazz, 2CD): This looks to have been one of Daniel Yvinec's first projects on becoming artistic director of ONJ. The songs are all by Robert Wyatt, arranged by Vincent Artaud. The eleven songs on the first disc all have vocals, rotating between seven guests, including Wyatt himself on four cuts; only other guest I recognize is Rokia Traore. The band does a nice job of straddling jazz and prog idioms. Second disc adds four Bonus Tracks, totalling 21:37, only one repeat from the first disc: two more Wyatt vocals, one by Traore, and a particularly luscious one by Yael Naim. B+(**)
  161. Orchestre National de Jazz: Shut Up and Dance (2010 [2011], Bee Jazz, 2CD): ONJ was founded in 1986, a legacy of Miterrand's socialism, or more specifically Culture Minister Jack Lang. AMG lists seven records since 1996, including a Led Zeppelin tribute called Close to Heaven. Various artistic directors came and went, currently Daniel Yvinec, managing the current ten-piece band: most notable trait here is the large number of people with at least some use of electronics. Program here was written by percussionist John Hollenbeck. Not my idea of dance music, but rich in percussion and electronics, scaled between his big band and his Claudia Quintet. B+(**)
  162. Matt Panayides: Tapestries of Song (2010 [2011], Pacific Coast Jazz): Guitarist, b. in Cincinnati, raised in Indianapolis; been in New York "for more than 10 years." First album, all originals; in a quartet with Rich Perry (tenor sax), Steve LaSpina (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums). Liquid tone with a slight metallic sheen, remains clear even with the sax running over it. B+(**)
  163. Evan Parker & Konstrukt: Live at Akbank Jazz Festival (2010 [2011], Re:konstrukt): Two solo shots on soprano sax (14:07 and 8:50), done as only Parker can do them, the first with a lot of circular breathing, the second less tricked up. Followed by two "collective improvisations" with Parker sparring with a Turkish group, including a second soprano sax (Korhan Futaci), guitar, drums, percussion. These average 22 minutes of engaging noise, the sort of contretemps that Parker can conjure up any time he has the inkling. [Rhapsody]
  164. William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: For Percy Heath (2005 [2006], Victo): A record on my wish list for quite a while now; finally broke down and bought a copy. Parker's liner notes recall two times he ran into the late MJQ bassist Percy Heath: the first Heath greated him as "Mr. Iron Fingers"; the second Parker asked if he could do anything for Heath, who replied, "No, just keep playing your music." One long piece here, in four parts. Parker's big band can get pretty unruly, but a lot of focus on the bass helps rein in the excesses. And when, as for much of "Part One" they do break out they're ordered enough to be awesome. A-
  165. Rich Pellegrin Quintet: Three-Part Odyssey (2010 [2011], OA2): Pianist, first album, wrote three of eight pieces, drawing on band members R. Scott Morning (trumpet, flugelhorn), Neil Welch (tenor sax), and Evan Flory Barnes (bass) for all but one of the rest -- the odd piece out is "Piano Phase" by Steven Reich. The other quintet member is drummer Chris Icasiano -- odd enough, the one name I'm most familiar with. The eight pieces are organized into three parts, hence the title. Postbop, but the horns can get pretty aggressive, and the piano blocks well. Rather like the Reich intermission too. B+(**)
  166. Ken Peplowski: In Search of . . . (2007-10 [2011], Capri): Plays clarinet and tenor sax; b. 1959, AMG lists 33 albums since 1987, plus numerous side credits, a very steady, unspectacular retro swing player. This pads a quartet session -- Shelly Berg on piano, Tom Kennedy on bass, Jeff Hamilton on drums -- with three cuts from 2007 with Greg Cohen (bass) and/or Joe Ascione (drums) and Chuck Redd (vibes) on one cut. Best when it gets lively, as in "Peps"; otherwise this shades into prettiness, which isn't so bad either. B+(**)
  167. Alex Pinto Quartet: Inner State (2010 [2011], self-released): Guitarist, b. 1985 in Silver Spring, MD (near DC); father from Mangalore, Karnataka, India, worked for World Bank which moved the family around, including a stint in Russia; mother from Wisconsin. Studied at McGill (in Montreal), wound up in San Francisco. First album. Quartet includes Jon Armstrong (tenor sax), Dave Tranchina (bass), Jaz Sawyer (drums). Pinto wrote all the pieces, working in some Indian tunings and breaking out on his solos, although Armstrong comes off even more muscular. B+(**)
  168. Pitom: Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes (2010 [2011], Tzadik): Guitarist Yoshie Fruchter's group, adopting the name of their possibly eponymous first album, as seems to happen over and over and again. With Jeremy Brown (violin, viola), Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (bass), Kevin Zubek (drums). Evidently has to do with Yom Kippur, attonement, and "punkassjewjazz." Heavy guitar riffs with dense metallic filler over Jewish riddims. No vocals, so they neither make nor break it. B+(**) [advance: Feb. 22]
  169. Debbie Poryes/Bruce Williamson: Two & Fro (2010 [2011], OA2): Piano-sax duets. Poryes, based in San Francisco area, cut an album in 1982, only a couple since. Williamson plays alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, and flute. Also infrequently recorded, his debut in 1992, one more since, plus a couple dozen side credits. Wrote one song each, plus do seven covers, jazz (Shorter, Coltrane, Davis), standards, Beatles, closing with a long, slow "Ol' Man River" that is particularly nice. B+(*)
  170. Tobias Preisig: Flowing Mood (2009 [2010], ObliqSound): Violinist, b. 1981 in Zurich, Switzerland; studied in Paris and at the New School in NYC. Looks like his second album; also has a couple with pianist George Gruntz and a few group records. Quartet with piano, bass, and drums. Title is appropriate, especially the sense of flow. Especially striking when the violin is clear and sharp. B+(**) [advance: 2010-06-01]
  171. Q.E.D. [Ben Thomas/Chris Stover/Alex Chadsey]: Yet What Is Any Ocean . . . (2010 [2011], Origin): Seattle trio; all three write songs (Thomas 4, Chadsey 3, Stover 2). Thomas plays vibes, cajon, bandoneon, percussion; has three previous albums. Stover plays trombone; Chadsey piano. Makes for a nice combination of sounds, especially when they work up a groove. B+(**)
  172. Django Reinhardt: The Essential Django Reinhardt (1949-50 [2011], RCA/Legacy, 2CD): A thin slice from Reinhardt's underappreciated postwar period, sets by two quintets with local rhythm sections recorded in Rome. The former returns to the Hot Club formula with old hand Stéphanne Grappelli on violin; the latter ditches the violin in favor of clarinet and alto sax played by André Eryan. Both work nicely, especially given a familiar tune that responds to a little gypsy swing. B+(**)
  173. R|E|D|S: Sign of Four (2009 [2011], Origin): Quartet, first group record, an anagram of initials, although the order given on the back cover and inside is: Ed Epstein (baritone sax), Bjarne Roupé (guitar), Göran Schelin (bass), Dennis Drud (drums). Epstein was born in El Paso, TX; studied at University of Oregon, and played around the west coast before relocating to Sweden in early 1970s. Has one album, a couple dozen side credits, most notably with Johnny Dyani. Rest of the group is Danish, lightly recorded as far as I can tell -- Schelin has one album, Roupé some credits with Michael Mantler. Only birth date I could find is Drud in 1967, and he seems to have the least gray hair. Understated but moves smartly, the baritone a nice contrast to the guitar. B+(*)
  174. Michel Reis: Point of No Return (2009 [2011], Armored): Pianist, b. 1982 in Luxembourg, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory -- about the two-thousandth musician I've seen to mention George Garzone on his resume. Based in New York. Third album, with flugelhorn (Vivek Patel) and soprano sax (Aaron Kruziki) adorning what's at heart a piano trio album. (The horns appear on 3 of 9 cuts, together on the first, just flugelhorn on the other two.) B+(**)
  175. Júlio Resende Trio: You Taste Like a Song (2010 [2011], Clean Feed): Portuguese pianist. Two previous albums were HMs, lifted by bravura saxophone performances. This one is just piano trio, which also does the trick. Two covers: one I don't recognize from Radiohead, one I do from Monk. B+(***)
  176. Matana Roberts: Live in London (2009 [2011], Central Control): Alto saxophonist from Chicago, always identifies herself as a member of AACM even though the Association was founded forty years before she came up -- kind of like growing up in a union family. With Robert Mitchell (piano), Tom Mason (bass), and Chris Vatalaro (drums). First song runs 27 minutes, everything skewed at odd angles, just like in the good old days. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  177. Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libre (2010 [2011], Constellation): Young alto saxophonist from Chicago, has the AACM thing going, a couple of good records under her belt. This is an ambitious dive into black history, a large band with three saxes, trumpet, piano, guitar, some strings, two bassists, drums, various odds and ends, many pieces with vocals. A lot of rage, understandable enough, but hard to follow. "I Am," for instance, starts with screams, which out of context are faintly ridiculous, then segues into a singsong rap odd but not untouching or uninteresting. There's something here, probably more than just catharsis. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  178. Jochen Rueckert: Somewhere Meeting Nobody (2010 [2011], Pirouet): Drummer, b. 1975 near Köln, Germany; moved to New York in 1995. Second album, the first dating from 1998; AMG lists 30 side credits. Wrote 9 of 11 pieces here, adding one each from Herbie Hancock and Martin Gore (Depeche Mode). Group looks superb on paper -- Mark Turner (tenor sax), Brad Shepik (guitar), Matt Penman (bass) -- but the guitar doesn't pop out, and the sax just glides along, making few waves. B+(*)
  179. Sanda: Gypsy in a Tree (2010 [2011], Barbes): Vocalist, Sanda Weigl, evidently her first album. Don't know how old she is, but she's been around: born in Romania, fled for political asylum in East Germany, then after 1968 decided that wasn't so great either. Wound up in New York, singing traditional gypsy songs in front of a band of Japanese expat jazz musicians: Shoko Nagai (piano, accordion, farfisa), Stomu Takeishi (electric bass), and Satoshi Takeishi (percussion). Also picked up some help from Doug Weiselman (guitar, clarinet) and Ben Stapp (tuba). Picked up some Brecht-Weill influence, but that only seems to have made the album even darker. B+(*)
  180. Scanner with the Post Modern Jazz Quartet: Blink of an Eye (2010, Thirsty Ear): Scanner is Robin Rimbaud, b. 1964 in London, producer, AMG credits him with 38 albums since 1992. The PMJQ advances on the classic Modern Jazz Quartet lineup: Khan Jamal on vibes, Matthew Shipp on piano, Michael Bisio on bass, Michael Thompson on drums. It's been several years since Shipp worked with a DJ, so it's nice to get some of the mechanistic beats back in play -- best part is the tail end where that's about the only thing going. Harder to read Jamal here. He's an innovative player, even further removed from Milt Jackson than Shipp is from John Lewis, but I'm having trouble picking him out. If I get a real copy I'll give this another shot. B+(**) [advance]
  181. Don Sebesky: Giant Box (1973 [2011], CTI/Sony Masterworks): Arranger, came up through the Stan Kenton band, hooked up with Creed Taylor at Verve where he dropped Don Sebesky and the Jazz-Rock Syndrome, then moved on to CTI where he had a hand in a couple dozen records; this originally came out in a 2-LP box, not so giant then and less so neatly fit onto a single CD; cover lists a dozen featured artists, with Freddie Hubbard listed first and the standout; music from Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Joni Mitchell, John McLaughlin, and Jimmy Webb (trying his hand at gospel), plus three Sebesky originals; a mixed bag, with sublime stretches and odd patches -- at least here he's taking credit instead of messing up someone else's record, and stuck with the credit he's on his best behavior. B
  182. Avery Sharpe: Running Man (2010 [2011], JKNM): Bassist, plays electric 6-string as well as acoustic, had a long association with Yusef Lateef and McCoy Tyner, has 10 records on his own since 1988, picking up the pace around 2005. Pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs is a credible Tyner clone. Craig Handy plays a lot of soprano sax and some tenor sax, does a nice job with the former. Maya Sharpe sings a couple songs. Gumbs, Handy, and drummer Yoron Israel write one each, leaving Sharpe eight. B+(*)
  183. The Lee Shaw Trio: Live at Art Gallery Reutlingen (2009 [2011], ARC): Pianist, b. 1926 in Oklahoma, switched from classical to jazz after meeting Count Basie, married drummer Stan Shaw and moved to Albany, NY, a good place to remain obscure. First record was 1996 on avant-garde label CIMP; second came after Stan Shaw died in 2001, and now she has eight. Not really a trio record: first four cuts add baritone saxophonist Michael Lutzeier, three of the last four tenor saxophinist Johannes Enders, both impressively out front on covers like "Falling in Love Again," "Body and Soul," and "Stella by Starlight." B+(**)
  184. Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Beans/Hprizm: Knives From Heaven (2011, Thirsty Ear): Basically, an Antipop Consortium joint, with Beans (Robert Stewart) rapping over High Priest (Kyle Austin, here dba Hprizm) electronics, with Shipp's piano and Parker's bass keeping it real. (Also seem to have cornered the publishing.) Would go further with better rhymes, although most of the parts without lyrics are intriguing synth fragments, the piano a plus, the bass hard to sort out. B+(*)
  185. Liam Sillery: Priorité (2009 [2011], OA2): Trumpet player, from New Jersey, studied at Manhattan School of Music. Fifth album since 2004, mostly quintets with sax-piano-bass-drums (one with organ-guitar instead of piano-bass). With Matt Blostein (alto sax) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums), who have their own band, plus Jesse Stacken (piano) and Thomas Morgan (bass). Postbop sophistication, everyone fitting in nicely, doing the things well schooled groups do these days. B+(*)
  186. Blaise Siwula/Nobu Stowe/Ray Sage: Brooklyn Moments (2005, Konnex): More background. Siwula plays alto and tenor sax, bass clarinet, bamboo flute; Stowe piano; Sage drums. Siwula was b. 1950 in Detroit; has a couple dozen albums (AMG's discography starts in 1994, which strikes me as late). All improv, rough to start although they mix it up, and the bass clarinet part softens the blows. First record by Siwula I've heard, so I'm way behind here. B+(***)
  187. Blaise Siwula/Dom Minasi/Nobu Stowe/Ray Sage: New York Moments (2006, Konnex): Siwula plays soprano, alto, and tenor sax here -- no bass clarinet; Minasi guitar; Stowe piano; Sage drums. More spontaneous composition, group improvs, twice dropping down to trio strength. At times it all works, but often it feels a bit crowded, or cramped. B+(*)
  188. Sean Smith Quartet: Trust (2011, Smithereen): Bassist; bio says he "has been an integral part of the international jazz scene for more than 20 years" but what if anything does that mean? AMG lists about 15 Sean Smiths; turns out he's the one listed under Folk, where he's described as "one of the busiest young players on the international jazz scene." Looks like he has a handful of previous records going back to 1999, a good deal of side credits -- website claims over 100 but lists under 20. Wrote all the pieces here. Quartet includes John Ellis (tenor and soprano sax), John Hart (guitar), and Russell Meissner (drums). Light and elegant postbop, tasty even. B+(***)
  189. Wadada Leo Smith: Lake Biwa (2002-04 [2004], Tzadik): Well-regarded album featuring Smith's Silver Orchestra. Can't find any track credits, so presumably the whole group plays everywhere, but I have my doubts about the three pianists, two bassists, and/or three drummers. The other slots include alto sax (John Zorn), tuba (Marcus Rojas), violin (Jennifer Choi), and cello (Erik Friedlander), as well as Smith's trumpet. Four long pieces (11:14 to 23:50), dense, cluttered, sometimes gets under your skin, then something amazing happens. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  190. Jim Snidero: Interface (2010 [2011], Savant): Alto saxophonist, b. 1958, eighteen records since 1987. I missed his early stuff on Criss Cross, RED, and Double-Time; finally caught up with Savant -- thought Crossfire was exceptional. Quartet with bass, drums, and Paul Bollenback on guitar (always a nice touch). Often sounds terrific, but this seems a bit cryptic. B+(**)
  191. The Rossano Sportiello Trio: Lucky to Be Me [Arbors Piano Series, Volume 22] (2010, Arbors): Pianist, b. 1974 in Vigevano, Italy. Plays old fashioned stride with a light touch. Joined Dan Barrett at a festival in Switzerland in 2002, and has increasingly worked himself into the Arbors swing network: second album on his own, two more charming duos with bassist-singer Nicki Parrott, side credits especially with Harry Allen. This is a trio with Frank Tate (bass) and Dennis Mackrel (drums), old standards which increasingly includes the 1950s (Thad Jones, J.J. Johnson, Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan), light and mostly delightful. Closes with something by Bach, no doubt part of his education, just not something I ever learned to care for. B+(**)
  192. Nick Stefanacci Band: 26 Years (2010, NS): Saxophonist (alto, tenor, soprano), also plays flute and keybs; based in New York; first album, not much of a bio but he could be doing one of those Adele things with his title. What throws you at first are the vocals: Kenny Simmons, reminds me of Blood Sweat & Tears, which I don't regard as damning although you might. (Still, what they mostly remind me of is a relative who confided in me that she didn't like them at first until she saw them on TV and realized they were white). Stefanacci sings some too. I find it all rather corny, and a bit sweet, but don't expect anyone else to. B
  193. Storms/Nocturnes [Geoffrey Keezer/Joe Locke/Tim Garland]: Via (2010 [2011], Origin): Second album for the trio -- previous one recorded in 2002, released with Garland's name first and Keezer's last (UK label then, US label now). Respectively: piano, vibes, saxophones/bass clarinet. Garland, as I said, is British, b. 1966, has about ten albums, plays a lot of soprano as well as tenor, was prominent enough he got "featuring" credits while he was with Bill Bruford. Keezer, b. 1970, was Art Blakey's last pianist. Has a dozen-plus albums since 1989 including major labels Blue Note and Columbia. Locke you know. Aside from the previous group album they've played around with each other. Still, I'm surprised at how little chemistry there is. The pieces don't mesh, and Garland and Locke are pretty unassertive. B-
  194. Subtle Lip Can (2010, Drip Audio): Canadian trio: Isaiah Ceccarelli (percussion, piano), Bernard Falaise (guitar), Joshua Zubot (violin, low octave violin). Falaise is the best known: b. 1965, has three records under his own name since 2000, plays in various borderline rock/jazz groups, notably Miriodor. Zubot is presumably related to violinist and label head Jesse Zubot (who is credited here with mastering the disc). He also plays in a bluegrass group called The Murder Ballads. Ceccarelli also seems like a familiar surname, but the only jazz Ceccarellis I've been able to find (two of them) are firmly rooted in Europe. First group record. Fractured, somewhat random noise, quasi-industrial with the strings and percussion. Striking at first, but doesn't grow into something you want to spend much time with. B+(*)
  195. Helen Sung: (re)Conception (2009 [2011], SteepleChase): Pianist, from Houston, TX; fifth album since 2004. Piano trio, with the stellar mainstream rhythm section of Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. She doesn't write much -- one song here, not unusual although her debut was about half originals; picks two Ellingtons, Shearing's title cut, Monk, Bacherach, Loesser, others more obscure. B+(**)
  196. Sunny Voices (1981-2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Label sampler, from a perennial contender for best jazz label of whatever year. Founded in 1982 by François Zalacain and Christine Berthet, the label's taste has always been eclectic, sometimes influenced by its ability to pick up records stranded in France. However, this sampler is limited to vocal tracks, where eclectic tastes turn into pretty idiosyncratic ones. Meredith D'Ambrosio has been on board from the beginning, and they picked up Jay Clayton in the mid-'90s; Jeanne Lee and Linda Sharrock appear via opportune reissues; most of the later tracks come from Europe or Latin America, and two (Ana Moura and Milton Nascimento) are picked up from Tim Ries' Stones World. I've heard slightly more than half of the albums (10 of 17) and don't especially recommend any. They flow rather painlessly here, but this isn't very useful. B-
  197. Jacqui Sutton: Dolly & Billie (2010, Toy Blue Typewriter): Singer, from Orlando, FL; fifty-something, first album. The Dolly Parton-Billie Holiday concept is only explicit on the first ("God Bless the Child") and last ("Endless Stream of Tears") songs. In between there's a piece from Porgy and Bess, two from BeTwixt, BeTween, & BeTwain, some more show tunes I don't quite get. Band is called the Frontier Jazz Orchestra, led by pianist-trombonist Henry Darragh, with Paul Chester on bango, Max Dyer on cello, Aralee Dorough on flute, Alan Hoff on accordion, some others. It's meant to be a little corny, and Sutton's voice careens recklessly through the maze, scattering hay bales hither and yon. C+
  198. The Sway Machinery: The House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. 1 (2010 [2011], JDub): Brooklyn collective centered around Balkan Beat Box guitarist-vocalist Jeremiah Lockwood, "inspired by ancient Jewish Cantorial music, bluels, afro-beat and rock," goes to Mali's Festival in the Desert and comes back with featured singer Khaira Arby and such guests as Djilmady Tounkara and Vieux Farka Touré, mixing it up with horns from Antibalas. Sounds interesting, and is, but the parts clash more than mesh, and much of the interest comes from the wreckage. B+(*)
  199. Craig Taborn: Avenging Angel (2010 [2011], ECM): Pianist, from Detroit, made his first impression in James Carter's quartet. Has a half dozen records under his own name, starting with a trio in 1994 and picking up the pace after 2001, and has done a lot of session work lately. In particular, he's played a lot of Fender Rhodes and is one of the few pianists who seem to improve on it. This, however, is acoustic piano, solo: figure it as a move to establish his bona fides as a real jazz pianist, and it mostly does just that. B+(**)
  200. Taeko: Voice (2009-10 [2010], Flat Nine): Singer, full name Taeko Fukao, born and raised near Kyoto, Japan; based in New York, not sure how long. Second album. Wrote one song, picks two more from Japanese sources, picks others from Ellington to Monk to Hancock and Shorter to Marvin Gaye and Sly Stone. Scats quite a bit early on. B
  201. Tide Tables [Paul Kikuchi/Alexander Vittum]: Lost Birdsongs (2005 [2010], Prefecture): Both Kikuchi and Vittum are credited with compositions, percussion, and electronics. Kikuchi is from Seattle, drummer for Empty Cage Quartet, has another collaborative record -- with Jese Olsen as Open Graves -- in my unplayed box. Vittum is based in/near San Francisco. Doesn't seem to have any other credits. This was recorded live in Seattle with a group of musicians: Daniel Carter (alto sax, flute, trumpet), Brian Drye (trombone), Matt Goeke (cello), Matt Crane (percussion), Sam Weng (percussion). CDBaby page describes this as "Milford Graves meets Aphex Twin meets Konono #1." Graves is wishful thinking, but the other two bracket the percussion range, and from the "Recommended if you like" list we can throw in Harry Partch for orientation. Package I got is a clear plastic sleeve with a folded print insert. I'm tempted to treat it as an advance, but if you pay cash you'll probably get the same. B+(**)
  202. Stanley Turrentine: Sugar (1970 [2010], CTI/Sony Masterworks): Soul jazz man, cut his best records with cheezy organ and down-home grit, gets a little fancy this time -- electric piano and Ron Carter bass along with the organ, congas in addition to the drums, some of George Benson's tastiest guitar and the extra spit and polish of Freddie Hubbard's trumpet, which ultimately puts the record over the top -- also the bonus cuts, since this is music that needs to stretch out. A-
  203. Stanley Turrentine: Salt Song (1971 [2011], CTI/Sony Masterworks): The excess -- banks of strings, a chorus on the gospel "I Told Jesus" -- doesn't help but hurt much either: all you need to do is focus on the tenor sax, which is all you will be doing anyway; the title cut is from Milton Nascimento, authenticated by Airto Moreira and Eumir Deodato, and they spliced a second Nascimento tune on as a bonus, which keeps the undertow light and frothy. B+(**)
  204. Stanley Turrentine: Don't Mess With Mister T. (1973 [2011], CTI/Sony Masterworks): More strings, extra horns, organ along with keybs, Eric Gale guitar, Bob James doing the arranging, but the material sticks to blues basics, and the tenor sax is rarely anywhere but front and center; reissue adds four bonus tracks, as have several previous iterations; title cut, by the way, credited to Marvin Gaye. B+(*)
  205. Jeremy Udden's Plainville: If the Past Seems So Bright (2011, Sunnyside): Saxophonist, from Plainville, MA, the town name he took for his second album and kept for his group on this his third. Studied in Boston, played in Either/Orchestra, now based in Brooklyn. Credit here read alto sax, soprano sax, and clarinet. Group includes Brandon Seabrook on guitar, Pete Rende on keyboards (Fender Rhodes, pump organ, Wurlitzer), Eivind Opsvik on bass, R.J. Miller on drums. He seems to be seeking out plainness, hiding behind nearly transparent electronic chimes, a strategy that turns out to be rather winning in spite of itself. Two songs have vocals, as understated as everything else. B+(*)
  206. Diego Urcola Quartet: Appreciation (2010 [2011], CAM Jazz): Trumpet player, b. 1965 in Argentina, fourth album since 2003. Fronts a very capable group with Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Gawischnig on bass, and Eric McPherson on drums -- those name "featuring" on the front cover, plus Yosvany Terry is credited with chekere. All originals, each dedicated to someone worthy. B+(**)
  207. Nicholas Urie: My Garden (2010 [2011], Red Piano): Composer, b. 1985, listed as conductor here. Second album. Music for poems by Charles Bukowski, the lyrics sung by Christine Correa, who always strikes me as a tad operatic. Attractive packaging, but the light blue type on off white is too subtle, downright unreadable. The music itself has numerous interesting passages, the group only slightly below big band weight (4 reeds, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, piano-bass-drums), mostly names I recognize including John Hébert, who usually lifts everything he touches. Problem here is a common one: the curse of trying to wrap music around words meant to stand on their own. B
  208. Colin Vallon Trio: Rruga (2010 [2011], ECM): Pianist, b. 1980 in Lausanne, Switzerland; based and teaches in Bern; third album since 2004. Piano trio with Patrice Moret on bass and Samuel Rohrer on drums, both contributing songs. Played it three times. Not much snap, mostly quiet majesty. B+(**)
  209. John Vanore & Abstract Truth: Contagious Words (2010 [2011], Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet player, composer, arranger, leader of the big band he calls Abstract Truth. About the only bio I have on Vanore is that he played for Woody Herman in the 1970s, and put the first edition of his band together in 1981. Last year he reissued a 1991 album called Curiosity. This one is new, cut in June and December of 2010. Not very well defined in the early going, but sneaks up on your and closes very strong, getting a lot out the guitar and slipping a French horn into the brass. B+(*)
  210. Johnny Varro: Speak Low (2011, Arbors): Pianist, b. 1930, cites Jess Stacy and Teddy Wilson as influences, came up with Buddy Hackett, played for Eddie Condon; not much discography as a leader until he hooked up with Arbors in 1992, but this is his 11th album with them (side credits go back to 1954 with Phil Napoleon). Standards, with Warren Vaché (cornet) and Harry Allen (tenor sax) vying to see who can be the most debonair, with Nicki Parrott (bass) and Chuck Riggs (drums). Maybe a little too debonair there. [Rhapsody
  211. Matt Vashlishan: No Such Thing (2008 [2009], Origin): Alto saxophonist, b. 1982, from the Poconos, based in/near Miami, latched onto Dave Liebman, adopting not just his sound but his look as well, and more importantly a big chunk of his band for his debut album: Vic Juris on guitar, Tony Marino on bass, Michael Stephans on drums, Liebman himself on soprano and tenor sax. Paired the saxes tend to run in boppish chase sequences, light-footed and fleet. A couple of change of pace pieces show nice form and tone. Juris gets in some tasty solos, too. B+(***)
  212. Roseanna Vitro: The Music of Randy Newman (2010 [2011], Motéma): Standards singer, b. 1951 on the Texas side of Texarkana. Eleventh album since 1982. Leans too hard on Newman's movie music, not trusting his biting wit or irony -- you'd hardly recognize what "Sail Away" is about. Also leans too hard on Sara Caswell's violin. The extra sincerity does offer some returns on "In Germany Before the War." B
  213. Cuong Vu 4-tet: Leaps of Faith (2010 [2011], Origin): Trumpet player, b. 1969 in what was then called Saigon, in Vietnam. Came to US in 1975, grew up in Bellevue, WA; studied at New England Conservatory; spent some time in New York, then moved back to Seattle, teaching at UW and having a pretty significant impact on the area. He's long had a fusion focus, and I haven't been much impressed by what he's come up with, but this is an advance: adding a second electric bassist (Luke Bergman) to his trio (Stomu Takeishi on electric bass and Ted Poor on drums) adds a lot to what I reckon you can call the grunge factor -- all the more amusing when burying standards like "Body and Soul" and "My Funny Valentine" but it neatly sets off the trumpet. B+(**)
  214. Giancarlo Vulcano: My Funny Detective (2008 [2011], Distant Second): Guitarist, grew up and is based in New York, second album, the soundtrack for a movie that doesn't exist (a film noir, no less). Credits include working as music director for the TV show 30 Rock. This has some of the usual traits of soundtracks: short vignettes (6 of 12 finish in less than two minutes), fill up space, don't leave much aftertaste. Most distinctive thing is the use of two trombones (Brian Drye and Ryan Keberle) as the only horns. B+(*)
  215. Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans: Electric Fruit (2009 [2011], Thirsty Ear): Drums, guitar, trumpet, respectively -- no credits on cover or insert, but someone plays drums. Evans and Halvorson are famous names by now -- Halvorson more like infamous, since I keep missing out on what are supposed to be her best records. Took some more effort to dig up the dirt on Walter: b. 1972 in Rockford, IL; given name Christopher Todd Walter; Hal Russell protege, although he couldn't have been more than 20 when Russell died, but that left him in the company of Mars Williams and Ken Vandermark. Formed the Flying Luttenbachers by 1994: AMG lists them as Jazz, but under Styles they're Math Rock and Grindcore and Black Metal as well as Avant-Garde Jazz, so you tell me. AMG list 7 albums under Walter's name, plus he has various other groups and projects, including Lake of Dracula, Burmese, XBXRX, Hatewave, and Zs (albeit more recently than the one impressive record I've heard). Abstract and gravelly, with Halvorson's note-bending guitar tricks and the trumpet blasts shooting past each other, the drums off enough to give it all some coherence. B+(**)
  216. Cedar Walton: The Bouncer (2011, High Note): Pianist, b. 1934, has a ton of records since 1967, this one being typical, both in his lyrical runs and in the way he handles horns -- Vincent Herring (alto sax, tenor sax, flute) on 5 cuts, Steve Turre (trombone) on two. Wrote six of eight cuts, adding one from bassist David Williams, recalling one from J.J. Johnson. B+(**)
  217. Marcin Wasilewski Trio: Faithful (2010 [2011], ECM): Piano trio, with Slawomir Kurkiewicz on bass and Michal Miskiewicz on drums, first came to our attention as Tomas Stanko's "young Polish band" a few years back. Third album together, growing ever more refined, and perhaps as a result less interesting. B+(**)
  218. Christian Weidner: The Inward Song (2010, Pirouet): Alto saxophonist, b. 1976 in Kassel, Germany; studied in Hamburg, Stockholm, and Berlin, where he is currently based. Second album. Quartet with Colin Vallon on piano (Vallon has a new ECM album in my queue), Henning Sieverts on bass, and Samuel Rohrer on drums. All originals. Light, delicate sound, almost lurks behind the piano, giving it all an ECM-lite feel. B
  219. Bastian Weinhold: River Styx (2010 [2011], self-released): Drummer, b. 1986 in Germany; studied at Conservatory of Amsterdam, New School, and Manhattan School of Music; based in New York. First album, quintet with tenor sax (Adam Larson), piano (Pascal Le Boeuf), guitar (Nils Weinhold), bass (Linda Oh), and drums. Very postbop, lots of time shifts and slippery harmony, all quite fancy. B+(*)
  220. Mark Weinstein: Jazz Brasil (2010 [2011], Jazzheads): Flautist, plays an alto flute on the cover pic, credits also specify concert and bass flutes. Has about 15 records going back to 1996, mostly Latin-themed although one early title is Shifra Tanzt, and a more recent one leaned on Monk for Straight No Chaser. The Brazilian twist here comes from the rhythm section -- Nilson Matta on bass and Marceito Pellitteri on percussion -- and they come alive on the few Brazilian tunes, especially Ary Barrosa's "Brazil." Their treatment is more cautious on two Monks, "Nefertiti," pieces by Herbie Mann and Joe Henderson. Kenny Barron plays piano. B+(*)
  221. David Weiss & Point of Departure: Snuck Out (2008 [2011], Sunnyside): Trumpet player, b. 1964 in New York City but studied at NTU. Fourth album, first two on Fresh Sound New Talent 2001-04, third last year called Snuck In. State of the art postbop quintet, with Nir Felder's guitar in the middle, J.D. Allen's tenor sax the contrasting horn, and the rhythm (Matt Clohesy on bass and Jamire Williams on drums) slipping and sliding every which way. B+(**)
  222. Neil Welch: Boxwork (2009 [2011], Table & Chairs): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1985, from Seattle, studied at University of Washington, has a couple of albums. This one is solo, something that often has the air of practice exercises. He takes this slow and soft, with gentle sonic modulation, more atmospheric than anything else. Still, the low pitch keeps you from getting too comfortable. B+(**)
  223. Max Wild: Tamba (2008 [2010], ObliqSound): Alto saxophonist, from Zimbabwe; second album. "Tamba" means dance in Shona, probably the language of most of the lyrics here -- sung by various people, primarily Sam Mtukudzi. Has a joyous township vibe to it. B+(**) [advance]
  224. Jessica Williams Trio: Freedom Trane (2007 [2011], Origin): Pianist, b. 1948, has close to 40 records since 1976, a lot of solos, many more trios. Four Coltrane songs here, plus four originals. Impeccable, as usual. B+(**)
  225. Anthony Wilson: Campo Belo (2010 [2011], Goat Hill): Guitarist, b. 1968, son of big band arranger Gerald Wilson, has ten or so albums since 1997. This is a quartet with a Brazilian rhythm section: André Mehmari (piano, accordion), Guto Wirtti (bass), and Edu Ribeiro (drums). Not stereotypically Brazilian, but light and seductive nonetheless. B+(**)
  226. Curtis Woodbury (2010, Jazz Hang): Plays violin and tenor sax, impressive on both but plays much more violin here. Eponymous debut album. Don't have any bio, but album was recorded in Utah, seems to be where he's from. Group includes another Woodbury, Brian, on trombone, plus piano, bass, and drums. Two originals, six covers -- Scott Joplin, Astor Piazzolla, Sonny Stitt, Michel Camilo, Dave Holland, "You Are My Sunshine." Nice range. B+(**)
  227. Nate Wooley Quintet: (Put Your) Hands Together (2010 [2011], Clean Feed): Trumpet player, not a lot under his own name but a couple dozen side credits since 2002. Group spread out with Josh Sinton on bass clarinet, Matt Moran on vibes, Eivind Opsvik bass, and Harris Eisenstadt drums. Not much chemistry between the horns, and the vibes seem like an afterthought. "Elsa" has an appealing Monkish jerikness to it. B
  228. John Zorn: Nova Express (2010 [2011], Tzadik): Ten Zorn compositions, played by a piano-bass-vibes-drums quartet: John Medeski, Trevor Dunn, Kenny Wollesen, Joey Baron. Takes a book title from William S. Burroughs -- song titles include "Dead Fingers Talk" and "The Ticket That Exploded." Nothing MJQ-ish. The vibes add an electric ring to the piano, but compete in the same space, and both can clash fiercely. Does tail off into a nice groove-laden thing at the end. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Chris Floyd: War Without End, Amen: The Reality of America's Aggression Against Iraq: I might cavil and quibble a bit on the intro here, but it is fundamentally correct, and worth saying as forcefully as possible:

    In March 2003, the United States of America launched an entirely unprovoked act of military aggression against a nation which had not attacked it and posed no threat to it. This act led directly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. It drove millions more from their homes, and plunged the entire conquered nation into suffering, fear, hatred and deprivation.

    This is the reality of what actually happened in Iraq: aggression, slaughter, atrocity, ruin. It is the only reality; there is no other. And it was done deliberately, knowingly, willingly. Indeed, the bipartisan American power structure spent more than $1 trillion to make it happen. It is a record of unspeakable savagery, an abomination, an outpouring of the most profound and filthy moral evil. [ . . . ]

    And so Barack Obama, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the self-proclaimed inheritor of the mantle of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, went to North Carolina this week to declare the act of aggression in Iraq "an extraordinary achievement." He lauded the soldiers gathered before him for their "commitment to fulfil your mission": the mission of carrying out an unprovoked war of aggression and imposing a society-destroying occupation that led directly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. These activities -- "everything that American troops have done in Iraq" -- led to "this moment of success," he proclaimed.

    This gets to the heart of what I feel even sadder about than all the senseless destruction: that we haven't, and most likely will not, learn anything from our mistakes; that we won't recognize our crimes, and won't take measures -- least of all punishment of those culpable for the entire war -- to make sure anything like this can never happen again. There was a report last week about how half of our schools get failing grades. One tends to assume that the political campaign to starve the public sector is mostly responsible, but what Iraq shows is that we have a nationwide blindness to learning, something which politicans cater to even when they don't have to. Throughout the 2008 presidential election process, many (and ultimately most) Americans sought out the most utter rejection of the Bush administration they could find. Yet the change Obama promised turned out to be an empty promise, covering up the crimes of his predecessors, turning a blind eye to the scams of the banks, pretending all is right with a nation that is sick to its soul.

  • Alex Pareene: When Hitch Was Wrong: Somehow, I missed the whole period when the late Christopher Hitchens was regarded as some kind of leftist, so it's never been clear to me what we lost when he turned into a Muslim-hating warmonger. But we didn't lose much more by him dying.

    Upon the death of the unlamented Earl Butz, Hitchens excoriated editors who published sanitized obituaries of a man remembered solely for a vulgar racist remark made in public. Hitchens leaves a rather more varied legacy, but it's just as important not to whitewash his role in recent history.

    There was no more forceful intellectual voice in support of the Iraq War than Hitchens. There were others who were more prominent, more influential or more persuasive, but Hitchens was the perfect shill for an administration looking to cast its half-baked invasion plans as a morally righteous intervention, because only he could call upon a career of denunciations of totalitarianism and defenses of human rights. (The fact that the war was supposed to be justified by weapons Saddam was supposedly developing didn't really matter to Hitchens.)

    And so we had the world's self-appointed supreme defender of Orwell's legacy happily joining an extended misinformation campaign designed to sell an incompetent right-wing government's war of choice. The man who carefully laid out the case for arresting Henry Kissinger for war crimes was now palling around with Paul fucking Wolfowitz.

    Once he became an unpaid administration propagandist, Hitchens, formerly a creature of left-wing magazines whose largest mainstream exposure was in Vanity Fair and occasionally on Charlie Rose, was suddenly on TV rather a lot. The lesson there, I think, is that the popular American mass media will make room for even a booze-swilling atheist Trotskyite if he's shilling for a the latest war.

    Also see: Glenn Greenwald: Christopher Hitchens and the Protocol for Public Figure Deaths:

    Corey Robin wrote that "on the announcement of his death, I think it's fair to allow Christopher Hitchens to do the things he loved to do most: speak for himself," and then assembled two representative passages from Hitchens' post-9/11 writings. In the first, Hitchens celebrated the ability of cluster bombs to penetrate through a Koran that a Muslim may be carrying in his coat pocket ("those steel pellets will go straight through somebody and out the other side and through somebody else. So they won't be able to say, 'Ah, I was bearing a Koran over my heart and guess what, the missile stopped halfway through.' No way, 'cause it'll go straight through that as well. They'll be dead, in other words"), and in the second, Hitchens explained that his reaction to the 9/11 attack was "exhilaration" because it would unleash an exciting, sustained war against what he came addictively to call "Islamofascism": "I realized that if the battle went on until the last day of my life, I would never get bored in prosecuting it to the utmost."

    Hitchens, of course, never "prosecuted" the "exhilarating" war by actually fighting in it, but confined his "prosecution" to cheering for it and persuading others to support it. [ . . . ] Hitchens was obviously more urbane and well-written than the average neocon faux-warrior, but he was also often more vindictive and barbaric about his war cheerleading. One of the only writers with the courage to provide the full picture of Hitchens upon his death was Gawker's John Cook, who -- in an extremely well-written and poignant obituary -- detailed Hitchens' vehement, unapologetic passion for the attack on Iraq and his dismissive indifference to the mass human suffering it caused, accompanied by petty contempt for those who objected (he denounced the Dixie Chicks as being "sluts" and "fucking fat slags" for the crime of mildly disparaging the Commander-in-Chief). As Cook put it: "it must not be forgotten in mourning him that he got the single most consequential decision in his life horrifically, petulantly wrong"; indeed: "People make mistakes. What's horrible about Hitchens' ardor for the invasion of Iraq is that he clung to it long after it became clear that a grotesque error had been made."

  • Jon Wiener: David Montgomery, 1927-2011: A name from my distant past, one of the radical historians who had a large impact on my intellectual development in the late 1960s. I read his major book at the time, Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans, 1862-1872, published in 1967, and regarded it as one of the essential books in American labor history, but I lost track of him after that, and am unfamiliar with his other work:

    I've taught Montgomery's Fall of the House of Labor (1987) many times, and it remains a rich and compelling work. While most of us preferred to focus on the glory days of the labor movement in the 1930s and 1940s, David looked long and hard at its defeat between the 1890s and the 1920s. He started here with a vivid picture of the variety of workplace experiences in America at the turn of the century, from unskilled workers on the docks to the elite iron makers; he showed how these diverse groups united to form the Socialist Party of 1912, which won a higher proportion of the presidential vote (for Eugene Debs) than any left-wing party before or since; and he asked why this immense and powerful organization did not survive the repression of the Red Scare and return to life in the 1920s.

    David was always an organizer for labor and civil rights groups. When Yale's clerical workers went on strike in 1984 for union recognition, "he was the inspirational leader for faculty supporting locals 34/35 before, during, and after the strike," says Jean-Christophe Agnew of the Yale history department. "David's firmness about solidarity and the honoring of picket lines emboldened many faltering colleagues, especially the more vulnerable junior faculty. He was a rock."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hack List

I noticed that Alex Pareene had been pretty quiet the last couple weeks, but it turns out he was just working on his end-of-year list -- not records or movies or such like, but a very useful compilation of the worst hacks working in media these days. The run-down:

  1. Mark Halpern: "the world's laziest dispenser of conventional wisdom."
  2. Jennifer Rubin: "hateful and repetitive."
  3. Bernard-Henri Levy: "a living parody of a blowhard foreign intellectual."
  4. Erin Burnett: "a relic of a bygone age . . . still surviving on our airwaves as a zombie idea."
  5. Katie Roiphe: "not just a one-note anti-feminist hack, no!"
  6. Erick Erickson: "combines vitriol with stupidity."
  7. Robert Samuelson: "can't stop rehashing ancient, discredited Reagan-era dogma" (e.g., "super rich people are in fact hard-working small business-owning job creating Regular Americans").
  8. Piers Morgan: "alternates between fawning sycophancy and obvious contempt."
  9. Mike Allen: "trades in meaningless minutiae and serves the Beltway elite."
  10. Naomi Wolf: "feminist intellectual keeps downplaying serious rape accusations."
  11. Bill Keller: "the former Times editor isn't sorry enough about his warmongering to stop writing his awful column."
  12. David Brooks: "hides appalling opinions behind 'reaonsable' language."
  13. Megyn Kelly: "Fox's perpetually outraged anchor will sell any dubious talking point with a sneer."
  14. Joe Scarborough: "a chauvinist 'civility' crusader with a badly inflated ego."
  15. Wolf Blitzer: "watching closely and thinking rarely."
  16. Andrea Peyser: "saps the fun out of scandals with her toxic hatefulness."
  17. John Stossel: "the worst of simple-minded sensationalist television news masquerading as maverick because he's 'politically incorrect' (a term that when self-applied invariably means 'an asshole')."
  18. Jon Meacham: "for a political aficionado, he's remarkably dim on politics."
  19. Ruth Marcus: "makes up for her bland liberalism with her unquestioning fealty to authority."
  20. Brian Williams: "an annoying throwback to the outdated newsreaders of yesteryear."

Wolf seems to be on the list exclusively for her defense of Julian Assange against extradition to Sweden on rape charges. Seems to me that Pareene's being a little squeamish in this case. Maybe also that he's looking to create a sense of being above the fray by finding someone on the left to knock. Assange did the world (and the American public) a huge favor in making so many secret documents public. This doesn't give him carte blanche to behave badly, but it does mean that one should be exceptionally skeptical when some government tries to prosecute him -- a point underscored by the persecution of Bradley Manning (no other word comes close to describing what's happened to him).

Only 20 slots this year versus 30 in 2010. My guess is the the drop represents limited time/patience/stomach on Pareene's part rather than a diminished round of candidates. Indeed, he added a brief update, Hack List Alums: Where Are They Now? to account for the missing (Tina Brown, Pat Cadell, Tucker Carlson, Thomas Friedman, Jonah Goldberg, Mickey Kaus, Bill Kristol, Marty Peretz, Marc Thiessen, George Will.) How Friedman, Goldberg and Kristol (and for that matter Kaus and Will) avoided repeating is still mysterious.

Friday, December 16, 2011

EOY Notes

Scattered thoughts while collecting end-of-year lists:

The Wire: Not on line, so we only have secondary reports to go from, and at present these are limited to the top 50 albums with none of the usual genre lists. Most notable thing here is how far the publishers will go to find records. I count no less than 17 records on their list of 50 that I had to add to my list of 4001. Moreover, most of those records failed to appear at Amazon: many were limited edition vinyl, some on labels from Japan and Poland, a couple December 2010 releases (one a 4-CD set, the other 10). A couple were typos (probably the list copier's fault): Toad Blinker is evidently by Sculpture, not Structure; the Hype Williams is more likely One Nation than One Motion; and it's Garten der Unbewusstheit, not Unberwusstheit.

Their picks lean heavy toward electronica with eclectic exceptions: The Smile Sessions box, two Michael Chapman reissues, Lou Reed & Metallica. Last year's fave Oneohtrix Point Never dropped to 14. The only other contending records are PJ Harvey and Radiohead; further down Tim Hecker, the Miles Davis Bootleg, Balam Acab, Zomby, Sun Araw, Peaking Lights, Frank Ocean, and that's about it.

Gigwise: Top 50 for UK pub I've barely tracked during the year, favors electro-pop (top pick: Metronomy: The English Riviera) and features a strong home-field advantage (7 UK acts in top 10).

Spin: Top 50, topped by Fucked Up, a nice touch, but the most unusual thing is that I count 11 hip-hop albums, most free mixtape downloads, plus one black pop (Beyoncé) and two near kin (Britney Spears, Lady Gaga). Also three albums more/less country (Hayes Carll, Eric Church, Gillian Welch). Moreover, they were self-conscious enough they spun off a "40 Best Rap Albums" list -- most of which didn't get reviewed (high enough) during the year to be noted (and I have an exceptionaly low threshold for Spin -- adding up to 445 records).

Amazon: I stick with the corporate picks and ignore the customer favorites, even though it's always mysterious where they come from. Of the 100 best albums, 15 were new to my list -- a good deal more than I expected from a company whose interest is to sell what sells. A second list of 100 "albums you might have missed" duplicates most of those 15, plus it adds a further 19 records. The highest rated records on this list are by Nicolas Jaar, Josh T. Pearson, and Tennis -- the first two are intense cult items.

Prefix: Similar top-50 list to Spin, including Danny Brown at 3, Fucked Up at #4. Winner: Shabazz Palaces, one of four hip hop albums in top ten -- the others are West-Z and Drake. Tune-Yards and Bon Iver also made top-10 (6 and 8). Matana Roberts an outside jazz pick at 43.

Joey Daniewicz:

I've been up forty-seven hours straight, and I'm putting together preliminary versions of my top twenty-five albums list that will be published early January. And I need to ask my fellow listmakers . . .

Are you ever uncomfortable with just how much Xgau correlates to your year-end lists? I mean, we've probably had that demonstrated over and over again with PTB's polls, but Jesus Christ. I mean, at first I looked at it and panicked until I saw that only fifteen of twenty-five of the albums I put on my list had an Xgau A- or greater, although that goes up one if you count B+'s and up another if you count odds and ends. I'm pretty okay with that figure, but start to look at it in terms of Xgau A's and **** gets weird. Six Xgau A's are in my top twenty-five. Five Xgau A's are in my top fifteen. Four Xgau A's are in my top ten. Three Xgau A's are in my top five.

You'll all probably assure me that it's silly to worry that my sensibilities skew too Xgauvian or too Pitchforkian or too Rolling Stonian or whatever the hell, but I absolutely do fret! Even with some of the more obviously independent and brilliant minds here, you sometimes can't help but get that feeling that you guys would hate The E-N-D and love Aeroplane without him, and my tastes are younger and probably far more suspect thanks to their lack of decades of development. I'm not saying any of us are guilty of that sort of thing, but it's tricky when we're a community so united under one man and his taste.

So I sometimes do worry that my lists display not me but the websites I visit and the critics I read, although maybe displaying those things is a bit like displaying me, yeah?

So I did another calculation that put me at rest. I figured out how many albums I would have failed to discover if Xgau hadn't come back last year. Of those twenty-five albums, there are only two that I would not have found and one that I probably would have failed to investigate properly. Sure, the old man and I have a lot in common, but I'd say that seems pretty self-sustainable. And now I'll breathe easy again. And now I'll resume studying. That's a lie.

I responded:

Joey's "forty-seven hours" post has left me with a lot of thoughts rolling around in my head. I can't straighten them all out, so this will be rather scattershot. I was slightly bothered a few years back when Glenn McDonald computed that my P&J ballot was most similar to Christgau's -- as I recall, a strange convergence of Lily Allen, Leonard Cohen, Willie Nelson, Loudon Wainwright III, Oumou Sangare, and K'naan. But the correlation slipped the next year, and looking at Christgau's full A list this year it is unlikely that our ballots will share a single album -- Frank Ocean probably has the best shot, or maybe Teddybears.

On the other hand, if you go down to a top-50 or top-100, you'll find a lot of overlap. Maybe less this year than usual because I've been much more proactive about searching out things -- the metacritic file, working with Tatum, writing up my Rhapsody streamnotes. (From the latter, non-EW A-list albums: Bibio, Class Actress, Bootsy Collins, Cornershop, Beth Ditto, Fucked Up, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Girls, G-Side, Hail Mary Mallon, Lydia Loveless, Lupe Fiasco, Mekons, 9th Wonder, Scroobius Pip, Connie Smith, Swollen Members, Viceversah, William Elliot Whitmore.) I think I've listened to about 1000 records this year, so the breadth spreads things out (as well as limits the time spent on each). Back in the 1980s when I only heard what I bought and only bought what I expected to like my lists trailed Christgau more closely. Back when I ran those two year-end polls, the voters split cleanly between informed consumers (who picked Xgau-approved albums 95% of the time) and crazed critics (who came up with much longer lists based on their own resources, where Christgau was nonetheless hugely influential).

Joey's rationalization that he would have found 23-of-25 records obscures something important. Between one-quarter and one-third of the new records in EW this year weren't anywhere on my radar -- and note that my metacritic file has topped 4000 records, so I'm impressed when anyone comes up with good records I haven't heard of, let alone does so consistently. But I also have a way to map his picks against metacritic file rank, and the distribution there is almost perfectly uniform, which is to say that he is almost completely free of critical consensus.

Joey's worry that "my lists display not me but the websites I visit and the critics I read" is healthy. Everyone works from imperfect information, and coping with that is a full time job -- it helps to question everything, and insist on your own ears.

Later I thought I'd mention Matt Merewitz's email response to my pan of Anthony Wilson's Seasons:

Got this from a publicist today -- actually, one of the better ones I work with, and not a guy with a history of going knee-jerk over anything like this -- in response to something I wrote in yesterday's Jazz Prospecting. Thought I'd throw it out here, since I'd like to think I write for you all and not for publicists or musicians:

You really write some negative shit man. My clients have gotten very upset with some of th[e] stuff you've written over the years.

Aside from the B- grade (well, actually including it), I thought I was going rather mild. (One line I thought of but didn't use: "I guess the great thing about a commission is getting the cash up front.") Don't have any big point here. Guess this is just an occupational hazard.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Expert Comments

Something on EOY lists:

Catching up: Joey notes how many items on Pitchfork's EOY list weren't graded high during the year. This is true for virtually every EOY list I've seen. Presumably the difference is that the individual reviewers grade the records during the year, but the EOY lists are the result of some aggregate process. You can track this with my metacritic file: just look for xx:(#). If the record had a high grade (usually 80+) that will appear before the paren; if not, it won't. (I could have missed the grade, but in most cases I think not.) Pitchfork is not at all unusual in this regard.

Christgau:

There's no reason to beat around the bush. I prefer happy music to sad music, because I think happy music takes more strength--what Albert Murray says about the blues, which is that it's not about sadness but about triumphing over sadness in what he calls "the Saturday night function" if I have the phrase right. The problem is that fools equate sadness with seriousness when in fact they're far from identical, because sadness is weak more often than not. BUT CERTAINLY NOT ALWAYS. Layla's not such a good example because it does exactly what Murray's talking about--it's a transmutation. But My Life sure is. After the Gold Rush sure is. Don't Leave Just Now on FDII sure is. And I suppose younger people with those different histories I was talking about in re Abebe might argue that Bon Iver's sadness speaks precisely to their historical condition. For all I know that's exactly what P4K will say about it. But somehow I doubt I'm gonna be convinced. I'm not even convinced by Adele.

Christgau, again:

I want to go to bed, so let me be brief. Justin Vernon doesn't impress me very much (if at all). But as the parent of a 26-year-old who's taught aspiring music professionals in college since 2005, I want to say that this is one shitty time to be growing up. My generation's self-pity was more or less a total crock. Self-pity in the wake of the War on Terror, the return of the Republican Party to the great tradition of John Calhoun, and especially the Great Recession is far more reality-based--although in the end pretty much a crock as well.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 19123 [19093] rated (+30), 827 [831] unrated (-4). Monthly rollover completed with Recycled Goods and Rhapsody Streamnotes posted. Trying to push as much Jazz Prospecting through as possible, but running out of gas. Next week need to work on my EOY jazz piece, plus the ballots (don't have them yet).

  • Julius Hemphill: Julius Hemphill Big Band (1988, Nonesuch): A rigorous avant-garde alto saxophonist, best known as founder of World Saxophone Quartet, run as a lab in harmonics; somehow got a major label to give him a stab at a big band, and came up with a typically cantankerous mix of stuff that coheres elegantly and drives you to the edge; for me, the power cut backs K. Curtis Lyle's spoken word rant. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Michael Howell: Looking Glass (1973, Milestone): Guitarist, cut a couple albums in the 1970s and not much else till I ran across him in a sideman role; thought he has poise and taste, already evident here both in the horn-studded grooves and in his more intimate moments trading thoughtful lines with pianist Hampton Hawes. B+(**) [download: ile oxumare]


Jazz Prospecting (JCG #28, Part 17)

I keep procrastinating, holding off on publishing Jazz CG (27) and stretching out Jazz Prospecting. Looks like it'll be another week for both. Also, I need to write an end-of-year jazz piece for Rhapsody to go along with the Jazz Critics Poll, and figure out how to organize a jazz blog -- as well as pick off the more promising looking prospects from the pending file.

Meanwhile, I keep adding to the metacritic file, both catching up on this year's reviews and factoring in a few end-of-year lists as best I can. One thing I can say is that the album-of-the-year winner in UK publications is exceptionally clear cut: it's PJ Harvey: Let England Shake. The record clearly signifies there in ways that don't translate well over here, where it's taken as a second tier good record, along with Radiohead, Wilco, and TV on the Radio.

On the other hand, there is no clear leader among US polls -- and by the way, Pazz & Jop is on at the Village Voice, with ballots due December 23 to be published January 18. At present I'd say the contenders are: Bon Iver: Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar); Tune-Yards: Whokill (4AD); Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop); and St. Vincent: Strange Mercy (4AD). (My grades for them are, respectively: *, *, B-, and **, so one thing I don't have is a rooting interest.) Still, Metacritic only credits Bon Iver with topping two polls so far -- same as better albums by Shabazz Palaces, The Weeknd, and Girls. Harvey has won 7 polls (all UK, I think), and Adele 3 (includingRolling Stone, never a bellweather). Fleet Foxes won at PopMatters (whose risk-free list hit all of my file's top ten, and 33 of the top 40). Tune-Yards and St. Vincent haven't won yet.

Of course, if I was really interested in what other people think, I'd take the Grammys seriously, but I don't. I use these lists for prospecting, in which case the more idiosyncratic the better.


Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms: Spacer (2011, Delmark): Vibraphone player, based in Chicago, the one guy everyone out there goes to for the craft. Trio with Nate McBride (bass) and Mike Reed (drums). First-rate musicians, but the effort is a little thin all around. B+(*)

Mario Adnet: More Jobim Jazz (2011, Adventure Music): Jobim orchestrated for a not-quite big band -- runs 7 to 11 pieces -- which clears up Jobim's characteristic lightness, adding not just density but sumptuous warmth. A sequel to Adnet's 2007 Jobim Jazz, with a Baden Powell tribute in the meantime. B+(*)

Stefano Battaglia Trio: The River of Anyder (2009 [2011], ECM): Pianist, b. 1965 in Milan, has 30 albums since 1986, four on ECM -- two early ones tied explicitly to Bill Evans. Has a knack for impressing me without offering a hook on which to hang a review. B+(**)

Dan Blake: The Aquarian Suite (2011, Bju'ecords): Saxophonist (doesn't specify further), based in New York. Has a previous, self-released record called The Party Suite. This is a two-horn quartet, with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Jorge Roeder on bass, and Richie Barshay on drums. Vigorous, expansive postbop, grabs you at high speed, loses a bit when they slow it down. B+(**)

François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: All Out (2011, FMR): Alto sax-drums-piano trio, the first two long-time chums from Quebec, Lapin a Russian pianist who joined them for a slightly earlier album on Leo, Inner Spire. The two records are roughly equivalent: open-ended free improvs, more group than individuals, the piano adding something but rarely distinctive. B+(***)

Cinque: Catch a Corner (2011, ALMA): I filed this under organ player Joey DeFrancesco, but closer examination would have given it to bassist-producer-arranger Peter Cardinali -- the songs are attributed to the group (with Robi Botos on piano/fender rhodes, John Johnson on saxes, and Steve Gadd on drums) except for two covers at the end, one each from Cedar Walton and Paul Simon: "Still Crazy After All These Years" -- they wish. B

Lajos Dudas/Hubert Bergmann: What's Up Neighbor? (2011, Jazz Sick): Clarinet-piano duets, writing credits evenly distributed, although much of this feels improvised. Leans a bit toward the wayward abstract, not unlike the 1960s work of Jimmy Giuffre and Paul Bley. B+(**)

Volker Goetze Orchestra: NY 10027 (2011, G*Records): Trumpeter, from Germany; has a previous album with kora player Ablaye Cissoko listed first. This is a big band, recorded in New York, with modern tendencies, not afraid to get a little mussed up, noisy even. B

Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone: Departure of Reason (2011, Thirsty Ear): Guitar-viola duo: Halvorson is a frequently astounding young guitarist, Pavone an erratic violist, both sing some, and together they trend towards folk music, or anti-folk, or something slightly stranger. B+(*) [advance]

Denman Maroney: Double Zero (2008 [2011], Porter): Plays hyperpiano, his term for a piano that is played not just from the keyboard but by using various implements to strike, bow, or otherwise agitate the strings. The effect is to add elements of bass (or higher-pitched string instruments) and percussion, some in combination with the conventional piano sounds, some instead of. Solo hyperpiano here, one titled piece in nine parts; runs on and doesn't sustain interest although it has its moments, especially when the inner and outer approaches work in tandem. B+(*)

Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton: Play the Blues: Live From Jazz at Lincoln Center (2011, Reprise, CD+DVD): The guitarist picked the tunes, anticipating that this would turn out to be a jazz album based on blues rather than a blues album with some extra horns. I suspect his early exposure was to British trad stalwarts -- Chris Barber, Ken Colyer, Humphrey Lyttelton and their kin -- although he's enough of an Americaphile that he must know when he's treading on Louis Armstrong, and maybe even George Lewis. Marsalis arranged the pieces and went for a King Oliver front line -- two trumpets (Marcus Printup), trombone (Chris Crenshaw), clarinet (Victor Goines) -- forgoing the tuba for Carlos Henriquez's bass, adding Don Vappie's banjo, Dan Nimmer on piano, and Ali Jackson on drums and washboard. Clapton, in turn, brought along his old keyb player, Chris Stainton. Clapton has often been nicked for his lack of blues voice, but he's plenty strong here -- while managing to duck the last three songs, one going to Crenshaw, the last two to guest Taj Mahal. Can't claim that the DVD is worth the extra $6-9 it will cost you: it's a straight concert film, a bit more patter and some shots of rehearsing, all of which helps. A-

Nicolas Masson: Departures (2010 [2011], Fresh Sound New Talent): A prodigious, important label; unfortunately, I've only gotten their work via artist publicists for the last couple years. Masson is from Switzerland, b. 1972, plays tenor sax here, and bass clarinet elsewhere. Fourth album since 2001, a quartet with Ben Monder (guitar), Patrice Moret (bass), and Ted Poor (drums). Postbop, sophisticated and slippery, as is Masson's tenor tone, the steel framework provided more by Monder's guitar. B+(**)

Marilyn Mazur: Celestial Circle (2010 [2011], ECM): Percussionist, born in US, raised in Denmark, assembled this group as artist-in-residence at Norway's Molde Jazz Festival in 2008: Josefine Cronholm (voice), John Taylor (piano), Anders Jormin (double bass). Mazur's percussion is delicate and tends to get lost, although the vocals and everything else compete to be unobtrusive. B+(*)

Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood: MSMW Live: In Case the World Changes Its Mind (2011, Indirecto, 2CD): I don't see much evidence of minds changing, here or elsewhere. John Medeski, Chris Wood, and Billy Martin were probably more responsible than any other group for the resurgence of groove-heavy funk in the 1990s. True, if you listen to Martin's percussion discs and follow Medeski's side projects you'll run into some more adventurous music, but they always seem to return to form together. Guitarist John Scofield is a natural fit: he gives them an elegant lead instrument, and they rival his best organ groups from the 1980s. Plus, going live means you get to recycle. B+(**)

Martin Moretto: Quintet (2009 [2011], self-released): Argentine guitarist, based in New York. First album, a quintet with Bill McHenry (tenor sax), Phil Markowitz (piano), Santi Debriano (bass), and Vanderlei Pereira (drums). The guitar is elegant and seductive. Not sure what it means that I can't recall the sax. B+(*)

Anthony Wilson: Seasons: Live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2011, Goat Hill): The title cut is a four-part song cycle commission for guitar quartet -- Steve Cardenas, Julian Lage, and Chico Pinheiro help out -- running Winter to Autumn. After that each guitarist gets a solo piece, then one last group piece. The quartets sound like soft solos to me, with a slight Spanish/classical feel. The solos have about half the presence. Didn't watch the DVD. B-

Andrea Wolper: Parallel Lives (2011, Jazzed Media): Singer, AMG says b. 1950 (but I don't quite believe that), from California, based in New York, has three albums since 2005, two books (one called Women's Rights, Human Rights: International Feminist Perspectives). I had little to say about her previous album, but looking back at my notes I'm struck by the musicians she lined up -- Ron Affif on guitar, Victor Lewis on drums, Frank London on trumpet -- but this time even more so. In fact, her website has a daring quote from yours truly arguing that any album with bassist Ken Filiano and/or drummer Michael TA Thompson "is practically guaranteed to be superb." So she's hired Filiano and Thompson, added Kris Davis (whom I've praised repeatedly) on piano, and Michael Howell on guitar -- didn't know him, but he's a Kansas City guy, has a couple of long-forgotten 1970s records, was a sideman on Art Blakey's Buhaina and Dizzy Gillespie's Bahiana in 1973-75. She doesn't push this band very hard, but they are impossible to fault, with Howell proving to be a tasty soloist. Wolper wrote 3 of 12 songs, one more than Joni Mitchell, one from Buffy Sainte-Marie (maybe she is my age), only a couple safely wedged in the canonical songbook. Her originals are more interesting than the covers, and while she doesn't blow you away as a singer, she carries the songs. B+(***)


These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott: Ninety Miles (2011, Concord Picante): Three mainstream jazz stars, more or less, visit Cuba, hooking up with two local "piano-led Cuban jazz quartets" (meaning piano-bass-drums+percussion), one led by Rember Duharte, the other by Harold López-Nussa. The visitors have some trouble finding their bearings (especially the vibraphonist), but once Scott rips off a blistering trumpet solo the tide turns, and the percussion carries the day. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Kidd Jordan: On Fire (2011, Engine): Avant saxophonist from New Orleans, b. 1935, has recorded infrequently because there's no market for avant-garde in New Orleans. With Harrison Bankhead, who grew up under Fred Anderson's wing, on bass and cello, plus Warren Smith on drums and vibes. Starts off squawky -- always a risk with Jordan -- but steadies on slower fare, a superb bass solo, and resourceful percussion. B+(**) [Rhapsody]


No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.


Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Aimtoronto Orchestra: Year of the Boar (Barnyard)
  • The Ames Room: Bird Dies (Clean Feed)
  • Baloni: Fremdenzimmer (Clean Feed)
  • Carlos Bica: Things About Carlos Bica & Azul (Clean Feed)
  • Bobby Bradford/Mark Dresser/Glenn Ferris: Live in LA (Clean Feed)
  • Marty Ehrlich's Rites Quartet: Frog Leg Logic (Clean Feed)
  • Dennis González/João Paulo: So Soft Yet (Clean Feed)
  • Lama: Oneiros (Clean Feed)
  • Metta Quintet: Big Drum/Small World (Jazzreach/The Orchard)
  • Evan Parker/Wes Neal/Joe Sorbara: At Somewhere There (Barnyard)
  • Rampersaud Shaw Martin Neal Krakowiak: Halcyon Science 130410 (Barnyard)
  • Mike Wofford/Holly Hofmann Quintet: Turn Signal (Capri)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Before I get to the "scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week," three pieces from the Wichita Eagle this morning:

  • Rick Plumlee: The Big Question: Was Iraq Worth It?: Front page lead article, does a good job of mapping the costs back to Kansas, including a full page of pictures of 50 dead Kansas soldiers:

    Kansans have sacrificed for Iraq. Their bodies have been broken -- 409 have been injured. And 50 have died.

    Now nearly nine years of war in Iraq is ending for the United States. Only 12,000 troops remain, down from a peak of about 170,000 at the war's height. Virtually all are expected to be gone by the end of the year, except for about 200 attached to the U.S. embassy. The end comes with a high price tag: nearly 4,500 American dead, a bill approaching $1 trillion.

    Was it worth it? No one knows better than those who sacrificed in some way. Their feelings are mixed.

    This is, of course, a most minimal accounting. The tally of soldiers doesn't include the mental stress and fractures. The cash accounting doesn't anticipate future care costs for those soldiers, let alone the interest due on the debts for financing the war without taxes. Neither begins to contemplate the opportunity costs: what could have been done with the money and people had we not squandered it in Iraq. Let alone the political rot: would Bush and the Republicans have won the 2004 election without the war? If not, would the economy have been spared?

    Moreover, the article makes no mention of how the war affected the Iraqi people, as if no Iraqis were killed, none displaced, no property destroyed, no damage to their economy. Nor did the author make any efforts to find pluses to balance off the negatives. All you get is the occasional mother's sentiment that her dead son must have meant to do something good, or the conviction of a "lifer" that her "passion runs so much deeper after going over there."

    And the article draws no conclusion. It's easy to accept ambivalence because history itself is always fraught with trade-offs, but doing so means learning nothing and allowing past mistakes to be reiterated time and again in the future. But this isn't an unanswerable question: even if you factor in every positive you can imagine, it is clear that this war was wrong from the start, a disaster that could never be spun into something worth the price. Failure to acknowledge that lets those who launched it off the hook, and makes it all the more likely that such mistakes will be reiterated in the future.

  • Douglas Birch: U.S., Iran Locked in Secret War: The web article has a less provocative title -- "Loss of plane peels back layer in US-Iran spying" -- but the paper title makes the key point: we have locked ourselves into a long-term, self-escalating war with Iran, for no particular reason other than a clash of attitudes. The US feels no compunction about flying spy aircraft anywhere over Iran. Iran, on the other hand, feels that its sovereignty is violated by such flights. (The US would no doubt feel the same if the shoe were on the other foot; thankfully, "American exceptionalism" exempts the US from the notion that etiquette and ethics should bind any two countries equally.)

    Iran has charged the U.S. or its allies with waging a campaign of cyberwarfare and sabotage, and of assassinating some Iranian scientists. The U.S. has accused the Iranian government of helping kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan and plotting to murder the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

    "It's beginning to look like there's a thinly-veiled, increasingly violent, global cloak-and-dagger game afoot," Thomas Donnelly, a former government official and military expert with the American Enterprise Institute, said at a Washington conference.

    The covert operations in play are "much bigger than people appreciate," said Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser under President George W. Bush. "But the U.S. needs to be using everything it can."

    Hadley said that if Iran continues to defy U.N. resolutions and doesn't curb its nuclear ambitions, the quiet conflict "will only get nastier." [ . . . ]

    Iran protested Friday to the United Nations about what it described as "provocative and covert operations" by the U.S. The Tehran government called the flight by the drone a "blatant and unprovoked air violation" that was "tantamount to an act of hostility."

    American officials said Friday that U.S. intelligence assessments indicate that Iran played no role in the downing, either by shooting it down or using electronic or cybertechnology to force it from the sky. They contended the drone malfunctioned. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the classified program.

    US-Iranian hostility dates back to the 1979 revolution against the Shah, or more properly back to the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew a democratic Iranian government installed a dictatorship under the Shah. To prevent the CIA from fomenting a countercoup, Iranian students took over the US embassy and held its staff hostage for over a year -- a rather embarrassing moment for the world's great superpower. Ever since then the US has carried a grudge, but what's made it worse has been Israel's decision to target Iran as its great existential threat, beginning in the late 1990s -- way after the revolution, and indeed much after the revolution started showing signs of moderation -- with a series of faulty predictions that Iran would develop nuclear arms "within five years." Israeli pressure stepped up considerably in 2009 when Obama took office and promised to work on a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Since then Obama caved in to Israeli demands, aided by an election (probably fraud-influenced) in Iran that found anti-American rhetoric to be politically convenient. So now, with hard-liners secure in Tehran, Jerusalem, and Washington, we see this "cold war" redux. (If only some journalist had the gumption to decry it as farce instead of tragedy!) Comparisons to the U2 shot down over Russia in 1960 are à propos, but Iran doesn't have the resources (or most likely the desire) to reply by stationing missiles in Cuba. Indeed, Iran's relative vulnerability is what makes this situation so dangerous: if only they did have nuclear weapons Washington's warmongers wouldn't be bragging that "all options are on the table."

  • Erica Werner: Obama Makes His Move to the Middle: Original title: "Obama decides high-profile issues ahead of 2012."

    On issues from air pollution to contraception, President Barack Obama has broken sharply with liberal activists and come down on the side of business interests and social conservatives as he moves more to the political middle for his re-election campaign.

    Without a Democratic challenger who might tug him to the left, Obama is free to try to neutralize Republican efforts to tar him as a liberal ideologue by taking steps toward the political center.

    That, of course, is where he's always wanted to be. Werner, like the Republicans, tries to make something of the decision to delay the Canadian shale oil pipeline until after the election as some sort of way of triangulating pro-environment interests, but misses the most important point. Had Obama approved the pipeline, Bill McKibben and company would still be protesting, and not just in some general sense against the oil lobby but specifically against Obama. In many ways Occupy Wall Street works in Obama's favor in that it focuses attention on the banks' ability to manipulate polticians of every stripe, making Obama's own exceedingly modest gestures as reform seem downright reasonable. But the pipeline was too clear cut an issue, and McKibben is so convinced of the utter folly of digging up the world's largest shale oil deposit and converting it to atmospheric carbon dioxide that he was never going to drop the issue, least of all for the convenience of Obama's reëlection campaign -- so the real story here is score one for the protesters.


While we're still on the Eagle, here's Richard Crowson's editorial cartoon this week (more on Gingrich below):


  • Mike Konczal: Frank Luntz, Occupy and the Battle for Economic Freedom:

    Last week, Republican strategist and wordsmith Frank Luntz shared his concerns about the Occupy movement with a group of Republican governors in Florida. "I'm so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I'm frightened to death . . . They're having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism." Chris Moody wrote a must-read article on the matter, including the ten dos and don'ts that Luntz suggested to his audience.

    As Seth Ackerman pointed out, there's an entire industry around Democrats and liberals trying to get an edge on Luntz with even more carefully polled wordplay. However, by talking directly about the power of the 1 percent over our lives, the broken political process, burdensome debts, and a collapsed labor market, the Occupy movement has gotten Luntz's attention in a few short months. As Ackerman puts it:

    For twenty or thirty years, Democratic politicians . . . have been paying what must amount to billions of dollars by now to consultants, pollsters, and think tank gurus to tell them how to talk to the public about inequality in some way that might spark sustained public engagement . . . Then the Occupy movement comes along and after two and a half months shifts the national consciousness so palpably that Republican governors are scrambling to ask their Rasputins how capitalism can be defended to their constituents back in Peoria.

    Luntz suggests 10 sets of words, phrases, and concepts to abandon and has some easily defended ones to use instead. "Jobs" and "entrepreneur" are out. "Careers" and "job creators" are in. [ . . . ] Luntz suggests retreating to "economic freedom" as an easily defensible phrase conservatives can use to describe the economic status quo. This is astute, as there's been a long, 30-year conservative project to locate freedom in the laissez-faire marketplace.

    It hasn't always been this way. [ . . . ] Economic freedom as freedom from coercion was once a core part of progressive thought. Economic freedom as economic security was a central part of the New Deal and Roosevelt's four freedoms. And economic freedom as freedom from domination in the workplace is a central aspect of what unionization brings to the country. This was thought of as essential to the lives of the individuals and democracy itself -- as Samuel Gompers said, "Men and women cannot live during working hours under autocratic conditions, and instantly become sons and daughters of freedom as they step outside the shop gates."

  • Paul Krugman: Things That Never Happened in the History of Macroeconomics:

    Via Mark Thoma, David Warsh finally says what someone needed to say: Friedrich Hayek is not an important figure in the history of macroeconomics.

    These days, you constantly see articles that make it seem as if there was a great debate in the 1930s between Keynes and Hayek, and that this debate has continued through the generations. As Warsh says, nothing like this happened. Hayek essentially made a fool of himself early in the Great Depression, and his ideas vanished from the professional discussion.

    So why is his name invoked so much now? Because The Road to Serfdom struck a political chord with the American right, which adopted Hayek as a sort of mascot -- and retroactively inflated his role as an economic thinker. Warsh is even crueler about this than I would have been; he compares Hayek (or rather the "Hayek" invented by his admirers) to Rosie Ruiz, who claimed to have won the marathon, but actually took the subway to the finish line.

  • Paul Krugman: Send in the Clueless: On the Republican presidential race:

    So what kind of politician can meet these basic G.O.P. requirements? There are only two ways to make the cut: to be totally cynical or totally clueless.

    Mitt Romney embodies the first option. He's not a stupid man; he knows perfectly well, to take a not incidental example, that the Obama health reform is identical in all important respects to the reform he himself introduced in Massachusetts -- but that doesn't stop him from denouncing the Obama plan as a vast government takeover that is nothing like what he did. He presumably knows how to read a budget, which means that he must know that defense spending has continued to rise under the current administration, but this doesn't stop him from pledging to reverse Mr. Obama's "massive defense cuts."

    Mr. Romney's strategy, in short, is to pretend that he shares the ignorance and misconceptions of the Republican base. He isn't a stupid man -- but he seems to play one on TV.

    Unfortunately from his point of view, however, his acting skills leave something to be desired, and his insincerity shines through. So the base still hungers for someone who really, truly believes what every candidate for the party's nomination must pretend to believe. Yet as I said, the only way to actually believe the modern G.O.P. catechism is to be completely clueless.

    And that's why the Republican primary has taken the form it has, in which a candidate nobody likes and nobody trusts has faced a series of clueless challengers, each of whom has briefly soared before imploding under the pressure of his or her own cluelessness. Think in particular of Rick Perry, a conservative true believer who seemingly had everything it took to clinch the nomination -- until he opened his mouth.

    As for Newt Gingrich, he seems to be able to weather his insincerity better than Romney while making more of his cluelessness than Perry. (Krugman: "And my sense is that he's also very good at doublethink -- that even when he knows what he's saying isn't true, he manages to believe it while he's saying it.") So he may be not so much what the party faithful desires as the best they can do.

    Also see Krugman's All the G.O.P.'s Gekkos (as in Wall Street's "greed is good" Gordon Gekko), although the only real contender there is Romney:

    The Los Angeles Times recently surveyed the record of Bain Capital, the private equity firm that Mr. Romney ran from 1984 to 1999. As the report notes, Mr. Romney made a lot of money over those years, both for himself and for his investors. But he did so in ways that often hurt ordinary workers.

    Bain specialized in leveraged buyouts, buying control of companies with borrowed money, pledged against those companies' earnings or assets. The idea was to increase the acquired companies' profits, then resell them. [ . . . ]

    So Mr. Romney made his fortune in a business that is, on balance, about job destruction rather than job creation. And because job destruction hurts workers even as it increases profits and the incomes of top executives, leveraged buyout firms have contributed to the combination of stagnant wages and soaring incomes at the top that has characterized America since 1980.

    Now I've just said that the leveraged buyout industry as a whole has been a job destroyer, but what about Bain in particular? Well, by at least one criterion, Bain during the Romney years seems to have been especially hard on workers, since four of its top 10 targets by dollar value ended up going bankrupt. (Bain, nonetheless, made money on three of those deals.) That's a much higher rate of failure than is typical even of companies going through leveraged buyouts -- and when the companies went under, many workers ended up losing their jobs, their pensions, or both.

    For more on Gingrich, see Alex Pareene: Newt Gingrich Will Babble His Way to the White House:

    What Newt is good at -- and it's the exact thing Romney is awful at -- is defending himself against charges of apostasy. Gingrich has been all over the political spectrum during his career, but when you try to nail him on some sort of offense against conservative orthodoxy, he talks his way out of it. Glenn Beck says Gingrich compared himself to Teddy Roosevelt, lately a "Progressive" villain. Gingrich responds with a history lesson and a defense of very basic public safety regulations that no one would argue with. Beck criticizes Gingrich's support for ethanol subsidies, Gingrich responds with crowd-pleasing nationalism about competitiveness with Saudi Arabia and Venezuela and a bit of Obama-bashing.

    When directly confronted with his attack on Paul Ryan's Medicare plan, an attack that almost ended his campaign before it began, Gingrich defended himself by saying that he was right and also he'd vote for Ryan's plan.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rhapsody Streamnotes (December 2011)

Pick up text here.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A Downloader's Diary (17): December 2011

Insert text from here.


This is the 17th installment, monthly since August 2010, totalling 428 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Jazz Critics Poll Ballot

Due tomorrow, December 8. I always put this off, thinking I'll find something new -- I inevitably do, but on average it takes me two weeks or so, so I'm doomed to failure, but might as well go ahead.

  • Your name and primary affiliation(s) (no more than two, please): Tom Hull (tomhull.com, Village Voice)

  • Your choices for 2011's ten best new releases (albums released between Thanksgiving 2010 and Thanksgiving 2011, give or take), listed in descending order one-through-ten.

    1. Dan Raphael/Rich Halley/Carson Halley: Children of the Blue Supermarket (Pine Eagle)
    2. Avram Fefer/Eric Revis/Chad Taylor: Eliyahu (Not Two)
    3. Allen Lowe: Blues and the Empirical Truth (Music & Arts)
    4. Muhal Richard Abrams: SoundDance (Pi)
    5. Matt Lavelle: Goodbye New York, Hello World (Music Now!)
    6. Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya: Sotho Blue (Sunnyside)
    7. Sonny Rollins: Road Shows Vol. 2 (Doxy/Emarcy)
    8. Ellery Eskelin Trio: New York (Prime Source)
    9. Ted Rosenthal: Out of This World (Playscape)
    10. De Nazaten & James Carter: For Now (Strotbrocck)
  • Your top-three reissues, again listed in descending order

    1. Duke Ellington: Meets Coleman Hawkins/And John Coltrane (1962, Impulse)
    2. Archie Shepp: For Losers/Kwanza (1968-69, Impulse)
    3. Billy Bang's Survival Ensemble: Black Man's Blues/New York Collage (1977-78, NoBusiness, 2CD)
  • Your choice for the year's best vocal album

    1. Charles Lloyd Quartet with Maria Farantouri: Athens Concert (ECM)
  • Your choice for the year's best debut CD

    1. Carlo De Rosa's Cross-Fade: Brain Dance (Cuneiform)
  • Your choice for the year's best Latin jazz CD

    1. Alexis Cuadrado: Noneto Ibérico (Bju'ecords)

I feel the usual problems with the specialty categories. I assume Farantouri is eligible (and appropriate), despite Lloyd's name first. Otherwise: Eliane Elias: Light My Fire (Concord), or Deborah Pearl: Souvenir of You (Evening Star). De Rosa's debut relies heavily on veterans Mark Shim and Vijay Iyer. For a fresher debut, try Andrew Atkinson: Live (self-released), or Pearl, or Inzinzac (High Two). And once again I've ducked real Latin jazz, going for the Spanish Cuadrado (over the Brazilian Elias). For real Latin jazz I'd have to dip into the B+ range to pick Mambo Legends Orchestra: ¡Ten Cuidado! Watch Out! (Zoho), barely over Bobby Sanabria: Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!! (Jazzheads).

I'll also note that Bang wasn't really my 3rd highest rated reissue, but I didn't feel like going for a third Impulse twofer (Sonny Rollins: On Impulse/There Will Never Be Another You is the one that got bumped, which actually I have above Shepp). For one thing, it exposes how few reissues I get these days. But also the early Bang material is what compilers should be looking for.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Recycled Goods (92): December 2011

New Recycled Goods: pick up text here. Total review count: 3120.

Expert Comments

Christgau reviewed the Roots: Undun -- nice to get that out on release day, but only a B+.

For what little it's worth, I just folded metacritic.com's data for this weeks releases into my file, and Black Keys edged The Roots 20-17 (including the B+ here but not yet there). These are most likely the last releases this year likely to make any sort of run at the already-appearing end-of-year lists, and they certainly don't have the uplift that Kanye West had last year. (The West-Z record sits at 42 on my list, just ahead of Wild Flag and Girls.) Black Keys and Roots wound up 8 and 21 last year, and will probably suffer for their late releases this year.

Looks like there is virtually no crossover hip-hop this year: Shabazz Palaces and Beastie Boys in top 20, Watch the Throne and Undun might crack top 40, maybe Drake too. Of course, most of the fun stuff is way down the list, surrounded by stuff that's no fun at all. Hottest new record I've noticed from the lists (but haven't heard yet) is ASAP Rocky: Liveloveasap (with $ scattered liberally therein).

Monday, December 05, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 19093 [19061] rated (+32), 831 [840] unrated (-9). Some of this, some of that. Can't remember, really.

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #28, Part 16)

Still don't have much of anything fit to print about the status much less future of Jazz Consumer Guide. The Village Voice did finally cough up a kill fee for not running the 27th column, which they have been sitting on since June. I'm thinking I'll post it sometime in the next week or so, but I also have a lot of more timely posts to clean up: December's Recycled Goods and A Downloader's Diary, plus a relatively short but year-end timely Rhapsody Streamnotes. I also have to write a year-end piece for Rhapsody to post along with the Jazz Critics Poll that Francis Davis is continuing despite the disinterest of the Village Voice. I will also, once again, collate and host the individual critics ballots, and that's another sizable chunk of work on my plate.

I was thinking I'd suspend Jazz Prospecting, but as I think about it that doesn't seem possible either. I'm late posting today because I've been trying to squeeze in notes on more records -- if not for Jazz CG, for the year-end piece -- and I got more to go, and I've yet to figure out how to manage my post Jazz CG work for some sort of blog. So I'll have to keep doing what I've been doing until I figure out some better way to do it. Ugh!

Did find some relatively good records over the last two weeks.


Geri Allen: A Child Is Born (2011, Motéma Music): Solo piano/organ/clavinet/Fender Rhodes, plus "vocal soundscape engineering and design" on one track, other voices on two more. Christmas music more or less, mostly attributed to Trad. with two originals added. Sometimes the mind drifts aimlessly, but it's hard to disguise pieces like "We Three Kings" and "Little Drummer Boy." B

Harry Allen: Rhythm on the River (2011, Challenge): Thirteen "river" songs, two by Hoagy Carmichael, the only one without "river" in the title is "Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On" although the musty old Stephen Foster "Old Folks at Home" had to reach into the parents for "Swanee River" -- wonder how they missed "Old Man River"? The band gets such a charge on the four songs joined by Warren Vaché and his cornet that Allen's quartet sounds down at first. Eventually that pays off in drawing out the tenor saxophonist's sumptous balad tone. B+(***)

Charlie Apicella & Iron City: Sparks (2009 [2010], Carlo Music): Guitar-organ trio, with Apicella on guitar, Dave Mattock on organ, and Alan Korzin on drums. Second album. He's studied with Dave Stryker, but he's basically a Grant Green guy -- wrote 3 of 8 tunes, covering Green, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Lou Donaldson, Steve Cropper/Don Covay, and Michael Jackson -- he's a lightweight, but the latter was tastier than anything on Joey DeFrancesco's Jackson tome. Five cuts add Stephen Riley on tenor sax, to little effect. Two cuts add a violinist (John Blake or Amy Bateman), and that's something worth exploring further. B

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Last Time Out: December 26, 1967 (1967 [2011], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Unofficial tape, probably off the soundboard, found in a closet and dusted off. Brubeck had announced his brief retirement to start at the end of 1967, but in most regards this just extended the hundred-plus concerts the Quartet had given during the year. A long running, immensely popular group, With Paul Desmond, the alto saxophonist who had given the Quartet its signature sound since 1951, drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright, who had joined in 1956 and 1958 respectively. Lots of interesting stuff, ending in a "Take Five" that leaps right off the stage. B+(***)

Bryan and the Haggards: Still Alive and Kickin' Down the Walls (2011, Hot Cup): Second group album, not what I'd call enough longevity to justify the title. Two saxophonists -- Bryan Murray and Jon Irabagon, doubling up on tin whistle and penny whistle respectively -- plus John Lundbom on guitar (and banjo), Moppa Elliott on bass, and Danny Fischer on drums. Six songs written by Merle Haggard, plus two he's sung a lot ("San Antonio Rose" and "Sing a Sad Song"), with avant vamps -- the opening "Ramblin' Fever" is a real workout; great shtick, but "If We Make It Through December" gets stuck on Irabagon's clarinet and wobbles on for 10:05, making one doubt that we will. B+(***)

Dead Cat Bounce: Chance Episodes (2010 [2011], Cuneiform): Basically, a saxophone quartet (Matt Steckler, Jared Sims, Terry Goss, Charlie Kohlhase) plus bass (Dave Ambrosio) and drums (Bill Carbone). Fourth album since 1998. The quartet are just creditd with saxophones and woodwinds, and I don't know them well enough to pick them out from the photo (except that I figure Kohlhase for the baritone). Steckler wrote all the pieces, liner notes too. I've always had problems with the monophonic tones and limited harmonics of sax quartets, but the bass seems to tie them all together, as well as pick up the pace, and this group is really impressive when they pick up a full head of steam. B+(***)

Dave Douglas: Rare Metals [Greenleaf Portable Series Volume 1] (2011, Greenleaf Music): One of three new albums, each with different groups pursuing different facets of Douglas's art. This is Brass Ecstasy -- four brass horns, Vincent Chancey on French horn, Luis Bonilla on trombone, Marcus Rojas on tuba, and Douglas on trumpet, along with Nasheet Waits on drums. Third recent album by the group. Five originals, starting with a piece called "Town Hall" that brings the old brass band era back to life, but even more striking is the lone cover, a decidedly ascetic "Lush Life." B+(***)

Dave Douglas: Orange Afternoons [Greenleaf Portable Series Volume 2] (2011, Greenleaf Music): Postbop quintet, with stars Ravi Coltrane on sax and Vijay Iyer on piano, rising stars Linda Oh on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. All Douglas originals. The sort of thing Douglas did a lot of a decade ago -- and which I found annoying more often than not, ultimately throwing my hands up and figuring I'm just not smart enough to follow him. Not sure which of us is mellowing out, but I will note that neither Coltrane nor Iyer break out, which must mean they're pinned down by the compositions. B+(**)

Dave Douglas/So Percussion: Bad Mango [Greenleaf Portable Series Volume 3] (2011, Greenleaf Music): So Percussion is a quartet -- Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, and Eric Beach -- postclassical in orientation (Steve Reich's Drumming was their second album), although like Kronos Quartet they like to circulate. Ten or more albums since 2004. This is their most obvious jazz connection, and their group dynamics are so tight I'm tempted to call this a trumpet-percussion duo. Good spot for Douglas to let it fly, and the opening "One More News" makes good of that. B+(***)

Werner Hasler/Karl Berger/Gilbert Paeffgen: Hasler/Paeffgen/Berger (2010 [2011], NoBusiness): Hasler plays trumpet and dabbles in electronics; b. 1969, based in Switzerland, has a couple previous records. Berger plays vibes; he goes back a long ways (b. 1935 in Germany). Paeffgen is a drummer, b. 1958 in Germany, based in Switzerland. The vibes gives this a light and slippery background, against which the trumpet is meticulously etched. The electronics helps, too. B+(**)

Kieran Hebden/Steve Reid/Mats Gustafsson: Live at the South Bank (2009 [2011], Smalltown Superjazz, 2CD): Hebden does laptronica under the name Four Tet, and is something of a star as those things go. Somehow he hooked up with Reid -- a drummer, had a couple of obscure but quite good 1970s avant records, plus a resume that includes Motown, James Brown, and Fela Kuti; sadly, Reid died in 2010, a couple years into a very productive comeback. Gustafsson is a Norwegian saxophonist -- plays tenor and baritone, not specified which here but sounds like mostly bari -- has a group called the Thing, plays a lot with Ken Vandermark and a little with Sonic Youth. He can be unbearably noisy, but holds to an interesting range here, adding soulful depth to the blips and beats. Length 82:55. A-

Julius Hemphill/Peter Kowald: Live at Kassiopeia (1987 [2011], NoBusiness, 2CD): New old music from two dead guys, likely to be missed if you have any idea who they are, and all the more poignant for being so intimate. Kowald is the German bassist of the 20th century, always intriguing, not least solo -- his solo Was Da Ist is a Penguin Guide crown album. Hemphill was an alto saxophonist, best known for his harmonic explorations with the World Saxophone Quartet and Five Chord Stud, which left him underappreciated as a solo player. First disc here is all solo: three 6-8 minute ones by Hemphill, a 32:20 by Kowald. They feel like studies, something slightly above practice, nice examples of each one's art. Second disc brings them together in three duos, where they start out distinct and gradually merge. I'm sentimental enough to be tempted to rate this higher, but Hemphill plays a lot of soprano sax here, I haven't compared this to such similar fare as his duo Live in New York with cellist Abdul K. Wadud, and I'm unlikely to return to the solos -- although Kowald's is probably a better intro than the daunting Wa Das Ist. B+(***)

Ig Henneman Sextet: Cut a Caper (2010 [2011], Stichting Wig): Dutch viola player, b. 1945, from Haarlem. Her website lists 15 albums since 1981 -- the first two as FC Gerania, two more as Queen Mab Trio. The Sextet has no drums, giving it a chamber feel, but lots of options: Ab Baars (tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi), Axel Dörner (trumpet), Lori Freedman (bass clarinet, clarinet), Wilbert De Joode (bass), and Marilyn Lerner (piano). Difficult terrain, but Baars is as sure-footed as I've ever heard him, and Lerner's piano themes always get your attention, perhaps to regroup from the horns. B+(**)

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Samdhi (2008 [2011], ACT): Alto saxophonist, grew up in US, picked up his Indian roots on the rebound, as is so often the case. Cites Charlie Parker as influence, of course, but also Grover Washington, David Sanborn, the Brecker Brothers, and the Yellowjackets -- guess you had to be there, but he does try to fold his more complex ideas back into neatly accessible packages. Also credited with laptop here. Band includes electric guitar, electric bass, and drums, giving him a slicked back fusion sound, but also "Anand" Anantha Krishnan on mridangam and kanjira, reminding you how he's different. A-

Joe McPhee/Michael Zerang: Creole Gardens (A New Orleans Song) (2009 [2011], NoBusiness): Another case where one's reaction to the Katrina catastrophe was to keep doing what one does anyway, although one could credit the tragedy with moderating McPhee, keeping his tone in check, somber and studied. He is brilliant both on alto sax and pocket trumpet. Zerang drums along, accenting and encouraging, doing all he needs to do. A-

Wadada Leo Smith's Mbira: Dark Lady of the Sonnets (2007 [2011], TUM): For such an uncompromising avant-gardist, Smith has been remarkably catholic recently, working in all sorts of combos and forms. No mbira here (although it's a song title): trio consists of Min Xiao-Fen, from Nanjing, China, who plays pipa, and Pheroan akLaff on drums. Min has several albums -- traditional Chinese and classical, I gather. She provides an exotic twist here, but doesn't settle into a consistent role, so she mostly serves to set Smith off. B+(***)

Jason Stein Quartet: The Story This Time (2011, Delmark): Bass clarinetist, b. 1976 in Long Island, studied at Bennington (Charles Gayle, Milford Graves) and Michigan, wound up in Chicago where he hooked into one of Ken Vandermark's less successful projects (Bridge 61). Has three trio albums as Locksmith Isidore, each step showing growth, and a Solo that ain't bad for that sort of thing. Adds a second, sharper horn to get a quartet -- Keefe Jackson on tenor sax and contrabass clarinet -- along with Joshua Abrams on bass and Frank Rosaly on drums. The sax works with and against the bass clarinet. A-

John Surman: Flashpoint: NDR Workshop - April '69 (1969 [2011], Cuneiform, CD+DVD): The middle of a very rich period for the 25-year-old soprano/baritone saxophonist, coming out of Mike Westbrook's group, leading The Trio (with Barre Phillips and Stu Martin), his first album under his own name just out and his big band Tales of the Algonquin in the near future, and (this and) other projects falling through the cracks. His NDR workshop assembled four reeds (Surman, Alan Skidmore on tenor sax and flute, Ronnie Scott on tenor sax, Mike Osborne on alto sax), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet, flugelhorn), two trombones (Malcolm Griffiths and Eric Kleinschuefer), piano (Fritz Pauer), bass (Harry Miller), and drums (Alan Jackson). Five pieces: the two featuring Surman's soprano are irresistible vamps, as is the closer after they get past their everyone-raise-hell patch at the beginning. The slower pieces have more trouble gaining traction, although there are crackling solos here and there. The DVD is a straight b&w take of the album -- probably a rehearsal but close to the final mark. B+(***)


These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

Søren Kjaergaard/Ben Street/Andrew Cyrille: Femklang (2011, ILK): Pianist, b. 1978 in Denmark; co-founded the label, has a dozen or so albums since 2001. This is the third with Street (bass) and Cyrille (drums). B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Matthew Shipp/Joe Morris: Broken Partials (2010 [2011], Not Two): Piano-bass duo. Shipp is one of the few pianists I can follow all the way down to solo, probably because his attack remains so sharp, but also the flow of his lines makes sense. Morris is best known as a guitarist, but is warm and supportive on bass, and shows more edge than I expected when he gets the lead. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Sonore: Cafe Oto/London (2011, Trost): Free sax trio: Peter Brötzmann (alto/tenor sax, clarinet, tarogato), Ken Vandearmark (tenor sax, clarinet), Mats Gustafsson (baritone sax). Fourth album for group, although each has played with one or both of the others many times. Each wrote one piece; the fourth is jointly attributed, which usually means improvised on the spot. Even at 38:42 the noise can be wearing, especially since each horn has the same palette to draw from. B [Rhapsody]

Miguel Zenón: Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook (2011, Marsalis Music): Alto saxophonist, MacArthur Fellowship genius, seventh album since 2002, third specifically targeting the music of his native Puerto Rico. Tremendous player, his sax repeatedly soaring above his fine quartet -- Luis Perdomo (piano), Hans Glawischnig (bass), and Henry Cole (drums). I'm less pleased with the 10-piece wind ensemble conducted by Guillermo Klein -- flutes, clarinets, oboe, bassoon, both French and English horns -- that sometimes broadens the sound sweep and sometimes just warbles in the interstices. B+(***) [download]


No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.


Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:

Freddy V: Easier Than It Looks (2008 [2011], Watersign): Two mistakes here: I associated Fred Vigdor's old Average White Band with the Southern rock of the 1970s when in fact the band hailed from Scotland. I also misidentified Mo Pleasure as the name of another Vigdor band; actually, Mo[rris] Pleasure started out playing bass for Ray Charles, and has since worked with Earth Wind & Fire and Michael Jackson -- well, also Najee.


For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes to date for this round, look here.


Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last two weeks:

  • Harry Allen: Rhythm on the River (Challenge)
  • Gerry Beaudoin: The Return (Francesca): Jan. 30
  • Tim Berne: Snakeoil (ECM): advance, Feb. 7
  • Marco Cappelli: In the Shadow of No Towers (Mode)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: All Out (FMR)
  • The Descendents [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] (Sony Masterworks)
  • Joe Fielder Trio: Sacred Chrome Orb (YSL)
  • Danny Fox Trio: The One Constant (Songlines)
  • Volker Goetze Orchestra: NY 10027 (G*Records)
  • Aaron Goldberg/Ali Jackson/Omer Avital: Yes! (Sunnyside): Jan. 17
  • Taylor Haskins: Recombination (19/8)
  • In One Wind: How Bright a Shadow! (Primary)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Samdhi (ACT)
  • Youn Sun Nah: Same Girl (ACT)
  • Sam Pannunzio: Goin' Home (Eastside Jazz)
  • Dan Tepfer: Goldberg Variations/Variations (Sunnyside)
  • Gianluigi Trovesi/Gianni Coscia: Frère Jacques: Round About Offenbach (ECM)
  • Anne Walsh: Go (self-released): Jan. 3

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Steve Benen: Pick a Wet Blanket: Quotes from an op-ed by the "six Republians from the failed super-committee," John Boehner, Susan Collins, and George Allen, all referring to the "wet blanket" any increase in taxing the rich would place on the economy. It's one of those focus-group-tested phrases that Republicans seem to have an instant ability to align with. On the other hand, failing to extend Obama's payroll tax cut, which would actually give hard-strapped workers more spending cash, doesn't seem to merit a focus group. Benen sees this as The Looming GOP Tax Hike:

    The White House is eager, if not desperate, for the payroll break to go through 2012, with projections showing weaker economic growth next year without it. Republicans have balked and said they want taxes to go up on practically all American workers in January because, well, they haven't exactly explained why they want this. (To see how much your taxes would go up if Republicans succeed, the White House has put together an online calculator.)

    And that leaves GOP lawmakers in an interesting position. On the one hand, they're killing a super-committee deal because they refuse to raise taxes on the wealthy in 2013. On the other hand -- indeed, at the exact same time -- the identical Republicans have no qualms about supporting a tax increase on practically every American who earns a paycheck, which would kick in on Jan. 1, which is just six weeks away.

  • Adam Davidson: The Dwindling Power of a College Degree: Print version had the more evocative title: "When Did the Rules Change?" And subhed: "It used to be that if you worked hard, you were guaranteed a certain kind of life. There are reasons success is no longer a straight shot." Of course, such rules never really existed, and they were never applied universally. Still, this is enough part of conventional wisdom that Davidson can start his article off quoting Obama and Romney speaking in almost identical terms. What Davidson doesn't explain was that these "old rules" were effectively a social contract, which not only promised success to those who followed the regime but which limited the definition of success to something most people could realistically aspire to: the middle class, compared to which both upper and lower classes could be considered freak occurrences, not quite real Americans. This was undone in several assaults: first by the cult of the rich and famous (with its attendant "greed is good" ideology) which ended the idolization of the middle class, then by the economic strategies -- what Davidson calls "the new rules" -- that picked apart the middle class, elevating some and depressing most. The concept of education as a social escalator was one such strategy. What made the concept plausible was the role that expanding educational opportunity (e.g., through the GI bill) during the post-WWII period of intense growth had on social mobility. But the middle class was built from more basic stuff: the ideals of equality and economic freedom promoted by the New Deal and WWII, and on a more practical level, by the unionization of relatively uneducated workers. The "new rules" didn't grow out of the diminishing returns of higher education but the loss of commitment to living in an egalitarian, economically just society. The "new rules" are the direct result of finding ourselves in a world which celebrates the 1% while condeming the 99% for whining. Davidson puts it this way:

    A general guideline these days is that people are rewarded when they can do things that take trained judgment and skill -- things, in other words, that can't be done by computers or lower-wage workers in other countries. Money now flows around the world so quickly, and technology changes so fast, that people who thought they were in high demand find themselves uprooted. Many newspaper reporters have learned that their work was subsidized, in part, by classified ads and now can't survive the rise of Craigslist; computer programmers have found out that some smart young guys in India will do their jobs for much less. Meanwhile, China lends so much money to the United States that mortgage brokers and bond traders can become richer than they ever imagined for a few years and then, just as quickly, become broke and unemployed.

    One of the greatest changes is that a college degree is no longer the guarantor of a middle-class existence. Until the early 1970s, less than 11 percent of the adult population graduated from college, and most of them could get a decent job. Today nearly a third have college degrees, and a higher percentage of them graduated from nonelite schools. A bachelor's degree on its own no longer conveys intelligence and capability. To get a good job, you have to have some special skill -- charm, by the way, counts -- that employers value. But there's also a pretty good chance that by some point in the next few years, your boss will find that some new technology or some worker overseas can replace you.

    Davidson writes like this is normal and inevitable, but in fact it is political. The bottom line is that the owners don't need you, and don't want you: you are replaceable. Sixty years ago was a very different story: the elites couldn't fight and win WWII without you, they couldn't grow the economy out of the Great Depression without you, and as a result they felt obliged to treat you better, to make you feel important, like you were part of a great national community. They don't feel that anymore, and they don't care if society unravels under their indifference. They have their gated communities, their private security, their private schools, their police state, their media control, a government bought and paid for. They don't need you, and they don't want you, except maybe to grovel at their feet. And if you don't like it, study more, and learn to grovel better. Maybe they'll throw you a bone.

  • Mike Konczal: Unemployment Dips, but That Hardly Makes Up for a Lost Year: The official unemployment rate dropped from 9 to 8.6 percent while adding 120,000 new jobs. This sounds like good news, but the numbers don't add up, as more and more people disappear from the unemployment registers (as I did, quite some time ago).

    In fact, over the past year, employment-to-population has stayed consistently depressed. Every indicator we look at -- job openings, the rate at which people quit their jobs for new opportunities, the number of hours worked in the economy -- has stayed weak during 2011. With job growth failing to exceed population growth each month, and with no serious increase in the percent of Americans working, 2011 was a lost year for the economy.

    Lost years for the economy have major consequences. Beyond the human misery that results, they put the entire project of liberal governance at risk. Choices made early by this administration resulted in no advancement on three fronts that could bolster the struggling economy: fiscal policy (increasing the deficit through spending on investment and temporary tax cuts), monetary policy (increasing the money supply to stimulate growth), and dealing with the problems in the housing market.

    Why? Konczal goes into fiscal policy at some length, but says less about the other points. The big problem with the Fed is that it's only structured to give money to banks, and has (or takes) very little responsibility over what the banks do with the money. (Mostly they've reverted to pre-crisis form, which is good for their profit levels but bad for everyone else.) Housing is also a problem that runs square up against the banks: writing down underwater mortgage debt reflects badly on their balance sheets, but targeting higher inflation to reduce the overhang hurts them even worse. One of Obama's main failures is his inability to imagine a world where the banking industry works differently than it did pre-crisis -- or even to imagine a world where the management of those banks has been rolled over.

    Starting in late 2009, the Obama administration started framing our economic crisis as a "dual deficit problem." In other words, the administration wouldn't push for a larger short-term deficit -- spending more money to stimulate the weak economy, a key tenet of Keynesian economics -- without also cutting the long-term deficit. [ . . . ] So the administration spent much of 2011 engaging in the wrong analysis of the economy, one that looked like that of the far right. Early in the year the administration brought in new advisers, notably Bill Daley as chief of staff, in order to repair relationships with business in the wake of financial reform. This incorrectly diagnosed the problem as a liberal government beating up on unappreciated job creators, instead of weak income and mass unemployment among workers. In his 2011 State of the Union address, Obama argued that we needed to "win the future" by investing in education and bringing "discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president." Recent college graduates are suffering from high unemployment and there's no real reason to worry about government debt levels, but you wouldn't understand that from that speech.

    During the debt ceiling showdown this past summer, when the administration was trying to drum up support for long-term deficit reduction, economic advisors like Gene Sperling argued that new confidence in deficit reduction itself would help the economy, ignoring the fact that the markets, with negative real interest rates, were screaming for the government to run a bigger deficit. Meanwhile, President Obama made references to "structural" issues in the labor market, as if the pain of unemployment wasn't shared broadly across all occupations, industries and types of workers.

  • Andrew Leonard: How Wall Street Occupied the Fed:

    Bloomberg's fabulous report on the Federal Reserve Bank's "secret" bailout of U.S. banks is an example of dogged enterprise journalism at its very best. The Fed fought Bloomberg's Freedom of Information Act requests to get details of its huge loan program all the way to the Supreme Court. But Bloomberg prevailed, and on Sunday night, the news organization published its long-awaited findings, making it abundantly clear just how much the U.S. banking system -- and in particular, the six largest banks -- benefited from the Fed's helping hands.

    Just to put things in perspective, the Fed "committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year." That's also more than 10 times the size of TARP -- the bailout administered by the U.S. Treasury. It's no wonder that a long line of banking spokespeople and financial institution CEOs refused to comment to Bloomberg for the story.

    That $7.7 trillion figure is worth repeating again. I've read several big estimates of how much money was lent out -- Nomi Prins had one of the highest estimates, but if memory serves reality trumped her by more than two times. Leonard continues:

    The report is must reading for followers of the emerging history of the financial crisis for obvious reasons. But tracking the reaction to the revelations from some liberal commentators to the news has been intriguing. Paul Krugman, Matthew Yglesias (newly ensconced at Slate), Mother Jones' Kevin Drum and Mike Konczak at Rortybomb are all singing the same tune: The problem, they say, is not that the Federal Reserve moved heaven and earth to shovel trillions of dollars at the banking industry -- that, in fact, is exactly what you want the central bank to do in the middle of a banking panic. That's how Great Depressions are prevented.

    The outrage, they all agree, is that the same determination and all-in blitzkrieg wasn't aimed at unemployment and the foreclosure mess and the myriad woes affecting the rest of America. The 1 percent got a gift-wrapped bonanza, while the 99 percent got the shaft. As soon as the financial panic subsided and stock prices started to rise, policymakers started worrying far more about inflation and deficits than actual human suffering.

  • Andrew Leonard: Are U.S. Corporations Good Citizens: Starts with Milton Friedman in 1970, arguing that the only social responsibility of corporations is to raise profits -- a sentiment that sought to free corporations from public obligations, like respect for the environment, their workers, their consumers, or the nation as a whole.

    What are our ethics? How do we want our corporations to behave? And shouldn't we take our business elsewhere if we feel our values are being trampled? Legally speaking, the corporation is an "artificial person." The Supreme Court obviously believes that these artificial people are true citizens insofar as their right to free speech -- in the form of political advertising -- is concerned. But if corporations are people too, with the rights that pertain thereto, shouldn't they also bear some responsibility?

  • Alex Pareene: Newt Gingrich Talks About Inventive New Ways to Punish Drug Users: This is the first thing I've read that makes me think Gingrich might actually win the Republican nomination:

    The thing reporters always loved about Newt Gingrich -- and the thing that led many of them to mistake his free-associative rambling for intellect -- is that he will just babble, at length, on any given topic, to any reporter who'll listen. So Yahoo's Chris Moody chatted with the unlikely GOP nomination front-runner at a Books-a-Million in Florida, and Moody got Gingrich to go on for a while about drugs, for some reason, which I'm guessing is not at the top of the Gingrich campaign's list of issues to hit in interviews. (At the top of that list is actually The Battle of the Crater, a powerful Civil War historical novel by Gingrich and William F. Forstchen, available now at fine booksellers everywhere.)

    Here are Newt Gingrich's nuanced, compassionate drug policy ideas: Constant drug testing for everyone (especially poor people) and stiff "economic penalties" for use. (Yes, obviously, what poor people need are more ways to incur economic penalties and more barriers to either aid or employment. Newt Gingrich has so many IDEAS.) Also, the U.S. should be more like Singapore, where people carrying enough drugs to qualify for "trafficking" charges are put to death. [ . . . .]

    This self-contradictory word-salad leads Mike Riggs to call Newt Gingrich a "nitwit," which seems unfair to perfectly harmless nitwits everywhere.

    After all, the last Republican the press was so in love with was John McCain, and for much the same reasons: access and pseudo-candor is all the press really demand (well, maybe a bit of entertainment value). Past frontrunners like Trump and Cain were beneficiaries of this same effect, but were intrinsically marginal and wore out their welcome pretty fast. Most observers figured it's only a matter of time before Gingrich hangs himself up saying something blindingly stupid, but McCain and Bush did that regularly, and somehow never had to pay for it.

    On the other hand, when the media turns on you it's easy enough to dig up embarrassing quotes and moments. The destruction of Howard Dean in 2004 was tragic. Mopping up Herman Cain's campaign is much more amusing -- see Steve Benen: Don't Go Away Mad, Herman, Just Go Away.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Year-End Exercises

Ran across this today and it pinched a nerve: Emma Mustich: Round Table: Are There Too Many "Best Of" Lists? A couple paragraphs each from: Andrew O'Hehir (Salon: film), Robert Christgau (rock), Rob Sheffield (rock), Jason Dietz (Metacritic), Will Hermes (rock), Pamela Paul (books), Simon Reynolds (rock). The rock critics all agree as to the usefullness of the aggregate results of Christgau's Pazz & Jop Critics Poll, and they all testify to their interest in what specific critics think. Sheffield points out that the year-end lists are the one forum which forces critics to think about the lasting value of records: "What I care about is how it sounds to you in time, which is where music happens.

Sheffield sounds like he's happy to see the better lists; Christgau is more inclined to bitch about the bad ones. He name checks me here -- not sure whether for better or worse, but at least he spelled my name right:

The only individual top 10s that interest me especially as a listener and reviewer are by major critics, by the diminishing cohort whose tastes run the way mine do, and by those with specialties in world music and hip-hop, where I often run behind the curve. Aggregated lists -- notably the Pazz & Jop Critics' Poll I started 40 years ago -- are of more significance and use. I find the Pazz & Jop consensus, which sticks to critics with recognizable gigs, more reliable than the online aggregates compiled by my list-loving webmaster Tom Hull and now apparently Metacritic, too. But it's usually in the lower reaches of the polls that I occasionally find treasures.

For whatever it's worth, my main list is here (reissues here).

Metacritic has collected, weighed, and aggregated grades longer than I have, making some sort of business out of it. I draw on their data, but also collect a lot more. Even in the case of their data I present it differently, because my interests are somewhat different, and also because I don't quite agree with their methods. I'm less interested than they are in the opinions of others -- not completely uninterested, because I'm not completely uncurious about popular sensibilities, but I mostly use the lists to find prospects, and as such it's tweaked a bit toward finding things I want to find. I do, for instance, follow everything Metacritic follows, but I also add in a few jazz sources, plus some other roots, hip-hop, and electronica sources (but not much metal, which has at least as narrowly developed genre following). In practice, this doesn't have much impact on the top 100-200 records on the list, but it does cause names to register further down that Metacritic never gets to.

Also, my system is a practical compromise. It would work better if I kept much more data -- especially per-reviewer as opposed to just per-publisher -- but that would be a lot more work. If I had such data we could start running similarity comparisons between reviewers, making it easier to discover affinity networks -- you probably know a few reviewers you find useful, as many panelists noted. I don't weigh my data; I simply establish cutoff grades per publication and count everything above that threshold. Weighted data would probably be more useful for predicting weighted polls like Pazz & Jop. P&J predictability would also improve if my sample more closely matched their sample -- we know, for instance, that my list is more UK-oriented, and also that it tends slightly to underrate black music (relative to P&J, which arguably underrates it even more).

Many other programmatic things could be done to make the file more useful. It would be nice to be able to select a set of pubs and thereby recalculate the file. Or labels. Drop the EPs or present only them. If you grab the raw data file you shouldn't have too much trouble loading it into a relational database where you can make ad hoc queries. (For that matter, you might get more flexibility loading it into a spreadsheet.) I've done a little bit of programming to select genre-specific sublists, but not much. I thought about hiding the backup data and making it visible on demand, but never worked out the coding to do so. Maybe later.

Actually, the line that cut closer to home was Sheffield's: "I really don't give a giraffe's nads what anyone, even myself, thinks of a new album after one listen, or half a listen, or a third of a listen." That seems like qualified data to me -- not what you'd get with multiple careful listens, but snap reactions often prove right, and I'd rather have more data than less -- at least that's why I'm (usually) willing to commit myself after a single play. (I almost never stop early, although I was sorely tempted by a Bill Orcutt solo guitar album last night.)


My basic answer to the title question is: well, sure, if you count all the bad ones; throw those out and one can argue that there aren't enough. I find that there are three major problems with year-end music lists: 1) they come out too soon to really align with the year's production -- I'd wait until March, maybe April to start tallying; 2) they're too short -- since my main interest is in prospecting for good records, I'd like to see all the records a critic feels like recommending (in rank, even if somewhat arbitrary, order); 3) I'd like to see an indication of how broad the critic's record sample is -- how many records did one hear, and what was the genre (or better still, label) breakdown? As for Christgau's beloved "recognizable gigs" I've often wondered how those people stand up against serious independent bloggers. Those "recognizable gigs" should offer more access, but it's often hard to tell just from their ballots.


For whatever it may be worth, this is how my metacritic file ranks the top twenty albums of 2011. Ties (e.g., Bon Iver and PJ Harvey) are resolved alphabetically. Harvey has a pronounced UK bias, so I'd expect her to slip in P&J. I also expect TV on the Radio and Paul Simon to move up there. Tune-Yards is a contender for the top slot. I don't much care for the record (tried to beg a copy but couldn't), but most of the people who do like it love it a lot. St. Vincent and Wilco are probably undercounted here (late releases); same for Tom Waits just shy of the list. The new Roots album is way down, not out until next week.

  1. Bon Iver: Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
  2. PJ Harvey: Let England Shake (Vagrant)
  3. Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)
  4. Tune-Yards: Whokill (4AD)
  5. James Blake: James Blake (Atlas/A&M)
  6. Destroyer: Kaputt (Merge)
  7. TV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light (Interscope)
  8. Fucked Up: David Comes to Life (Matador)
  9. Shabazz Palaces: Black Up (Sub Pop)
  10. Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (Capitol)
  11. Wild Beasts: Smother (Domino)
  12. Lykke Li: Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)
  13. St Vincent: Strange Mercy (4AD)
  14. Yuck: Yuck (Fat Possum)
  15. Battles: Gloss Drop (Warp)
  16. Radiohead: The King of Limbs (XL)
  17. Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music)
  18. Wilco: The Whole Love (Anti-)
  19. Gang Gang Dance: Eye Contact (4AD)
  20. Iron and Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean (4AD)

Again, as Christgau said, the real finds are way down. I have no idea how to do the math, but you can look at the data. His A-list records are pretty much randomly distributed over the entire list. Mine too, although the large concentration of jazz albums may be concentrated a bit toward the bottom.

At present I've only factored one year-end list into the file (Mojo). More will follow, but I doubt if I'll grab as close to everything as I did last year.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Expert Comments

Christgau reviewed The Sway Machinery's The House of Friendly Ghosts, Vol. 1, writing: "This strange record would mean less without the bound booklet written by guitarist-vocalist, cantor's grandson, and transcultural seeker Jeremiah Lockwood." Reminded me that I had reviewed the record without the benefit of the booklet:

Was struck by Bob's comment about the value of the booklet, since my Sway Machinery copy was an advance, reviewed without benefit of such. From back in June (RG):

The Sway Machinery: The House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. 1 (2010 [2011], JDub): Brooklyn collective centered around Balkan Beat Box guitarist-vocalist Jeremiah Lockwood, "inspired by ancient Jewish Cantorial music, blues, afro-beat and rock," goes to Mali's Festival in the Desert and comes back with featured singer Khaira Arby and guests like Djilmady Tounkara and Vieux Farka Touré, mixing it up with horns from Antibalas; sounds interesting, and is, but the parts clash more than mesh, and much of the interest comes from the wreckage. B+(*) [advance]

That's one reason I flag advances. (Don't know whether it annoys publicists, but that may be another reason.) By the way, Tatum flagged this at *** back in April -- presumably without even the aid of a hype sheet.


Nov 2011 Jan 2012