Monday, July 17, 2023

Music Week

July archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 40575 [40543] rated (+32), 17 [17] unrated (-0).

First up is a new Speaking of Which yesterday, with 75 links (2550 words). I do this every week, but like to provide the link here, partly because it takes a lot of work (even relatively short ones like this), and partly because my Twitter announcements for Music Week typically get more than twice as many views as my Speaking of Which announcements.

And yeah, I'm still on Twitter, and not on Mastodon or Blue Sky or (heaven forbid!) Threads (nor for that matter Instagram, or many other things I may not even be aware of; while I am on Facebook, my use is minimal, more to follow family and old friends, and not to promote my writings or even opinions; hence I rarely accept friend requests unless I know you personally). And (checking now) I see that my Twitter followers have dropped back under 600 (a pinnacle I thought I reached last week), and last week's Music Week announcement was viewed by half as many people used to be the case, so maybe it is true that Elon Musk has set fire to his $44 billion, or maybe he just wants me to take a hint.

I started yesterday's column with a pitch to ask me questions, or at least offer some feedback, only to discover that the form isn't working. That may explain why I haven't heard anything since February. The first obvious problem has to do with the captcha software, which has stopped serving images. (I just checked and the same software is till generating images on the Christgau website, so that may have just been a red herring.) I disabled it, then tried testing again, and while it seemed to work, I didn't get the forwarded mail, so there is an as-yet-undiagnosed server problem as well. So stand by, but know you don't have to use the form: regular email works.

I wrote a fairly long comment reply to one of Allen Lowe's Facebook screeds. I thought maybe I would expand it here, but don't feel up to it at the moment. A slightly better formatted version is in my notebook under "Daily Log." One point I do want to take exception to is Lowe's claim: "THERE IS NO LONGER ANY EXCUSE for critic/voters to be unaware of anyone, to just pull the lever for the same person year after year" (for which he then gives a fictional example). But there is a big excuse, which is the finite amount of listening time in each day, far short of what's available let alone of the still vast amount that isn't available (at least free, and who knows how much there is that isn't even that?).

Lowe's had a bug up his ass about jazz polls recently. I've been pretty explicit about the limits and biases built into even the best critics polls -- I also talk a bit about this in my JJA Podcast -- but please, we're doing the best we can, with limited hours and lots of other pressures (not least of which is money). (And let me add that the better I get to know my fellow critics, the more impressed I am with how much they know, and how hard they work to share their knowledge and understanding.)

Jazz polls will never give you a perfect accounting of genius (or whatever they're imagined to be measuring). What they do offer is a chance to learn something you don't already know. And that's a good thing, because the odds that you know it all are nil. As an example, at least 25% of the records that get votes in the Francis Davis Jazz Poll every year were previously unknown to me.

Also, for future reference, Phil Overeem reposted another Allen Lowe piece in response to Robert Christgau's A- review of Lowe's America: The Rough Cut. I think what he's trying to say is that roots are dirty, which is practically the definition everywhere but music.

Aside from Hwang, which I got in the mail, and who is one of those guys I've voted for "year after year" (at least since Billy Bang died), all of my picks below are someone else's recommendation. Most of the misses, too. That's just how it always works.

New records reviewed this week:

African Head Charge: A Trip to Bolgatanga (2023, On-U Sound): Dub group started in 1981, with percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah and producer Adrian Sherwood. B+(**) [sp]

The Harry Allen Orchestra: With Roses (2023, Triangle7): Tenor saxophonist, retro swing, many albums since 1994, this a fairly large band -- eight pieces, not counting guests and singer Lucy Yeghiazaryan, who I'm not especially impressed with. B [sp]

Jeff Babko/David Piltch: The Libretto Show (2022 [2023], Tudor Tones): Piano-bass duo, four Babko originals, plus covers of pianists Mac Rebennack and Denny Zeitlin, and a Jobim with a bit of guest violin. B+(*) [cd]

Caterina Barbieri: Myuthafoo (2023, Light-Years): Italian electronica composer, sixth album since 2017, mostly works with minimalist synths. B+(**) [sp]

Selwyn Birchwood: Exorcist (2023, Alligator): Blues singer-songwriter from Florida ("down where rebel flags meet Mickey Mouse""), parents from Tobago and UK, plays electric guitar and electric lap steel guitar, sixth album since 2011. Guitar most impressive. Songwriting a little iffy, but I jotted down one line: "I love you baby, like the church loves money." B+(*) [sp]

Julie Byrne: The Greater Wings (2023, Ghostly International): Singer-songwriter from Buffalo, based in New York, third album (or second if you discount the cassette-only debut). Ballads singer, something I rarely tune in for, but I did notice the ghostly calm shift toward mesmerizing. B+(**) [sp]

Carook: Best of Carook (So Far) (2021-22 [2023], Atlantic): Nashville-based singer-songwriter Corinne Savage, several singles and EPs, has a substantial Wikipedia page, where I note 839.6K TikTok followers, but the only Discogs entry is one track on a label Record Store Day sampler. Signs of a cult figure, trendily trans, which I'm little inclined to indulge, so forgive the pronoun infractions, but "they" sound her to me, so let's go with that. Eleven songs, 34:07, the first couple and at least one more too slight to consider, but she learns some tricks along the way, after which the music more than suffices. And while I rarely catch words, I did jot down a couple lines: "hey, hey it's ok/everybody feels kinda weird some days"; and "lately the weight of the world is a lot." [PS: I've seen this described as "old music," but the singles start up in 2021, though they may have been recorded earlier. Everybody releases singles ahead of the albums they belong to, so despite its name this strikes me as more of a new release. I've seen a Nov. 2022 release date, but the label release is May 12, 2023, not that I know what, beyond digital, was actually released. I've noticed that whoever insists on "(So Far)" as part of their best-of title has been cursed to never have any more hits. I doubt that applies here.] B+(***) [sp]

Carook: Serious Person (Part 1) (2023, Atlantic, EP): Seven songs, 21:12, should be more consistent but isn't. Opens with two pretty good songs that could be more musical, then reverses the formula. Only one that makes me want to hear more is the closer, which isn't like any of the others. B+(***) [sp]

Alex Coke & Carl Michel Sextet: Emergence (2022 [2023], PlayOn): Tenor saxophonist, also plays flute, from Texas, played in Willem Breuker Kollektief in 1990s. Michel is a guitarist, who wrote four songs (to 3 from Coke, out of 12). Group also includes concert harp, pedal steel, bass, and vibes. B+(*) [cd]

Maria Da Rocha/Ernesto Rodrigues/Daniel Levin/Joćo Madeira: Hoya (2022 [2023], Creative Sources): Portuguese string quartet: violin, viola, cello, and double bass. Starts off with a solo piece each (average 4:07), then six shorter duo pieces (2:15), then two quartet pieces (22:54 total). B+(**) [cd]

Oivia Dean: Messy (2023, EMI): British pop singer-songwriter, first album after several EPs. B+(*) [sp]

Deer Tick: Emotional Contracts (2023, ATO): Singer-songwriter John McCauley and band, a couple members going back to 2007, another to 2009. Eighth album, basic Americana. B+(*) [sp]

Gabriel Espinosa: Bossas and Boleros (2022 [2023], Zoho): From Mexico, based in New York, plays bass and sings, shares both roles with others, "with Kim Nazarian" noted on the cover. Five originals among ten songs. Touted guest spots include Anat Cohen, Fred Hersch, and New York Voices, none of which help much. B- [cd]

Orrin Evans: The Red Door (2020-22 [2023], Smoke Sessions): Pianist, from Philadelphia, has recorded quite a bit since 1995. Several lineups, half with horns added (mostly Nicholas Payton and Gary Thomas), three with vocals (Jazzmeia Horn, Sy Smith, and Alita Moses). B [sp]

Drayton Farley: Twenty on High (2023, Hargrove): Country singer-songwriter from Alabama, second album. B [sp]

Gel: Only Constant (2023, Convulse): Hardcore band from New Jersey, Sami Kaiser the singer, who previously fronted a band called Sick Shit. Calling them "punk" helped to get me curious, but the only resemblance is in their minimal song structures and times. First album, after a couple EPs, but at 16:29 this could be counted as another, despite ten "songs." B [sp]

Kevin Harris & the Solution: Jazz Gumbo (2023, Blujazz): Singer, no idea which of 33 of his name at Discogs might he be, but he's recovered impressively from throat cancer, and leads a band including Donald Harrison (alto sax), Will Lee (bass), and Jerry Z (organ/piano) through a list of r&b-to-jazz standards like "Yes We Can Can," "I Get Lifted," and "Freedom Jazz Dance." I'm not wild about any of them. B- [cd]

PJ Harvey: I Inside the Old Year Dying (2023, Partisan): English singer-songwriter, initials for Polly Jean, was a big deal in the 1990s -- I really disliked her first two albums, but was won over by To Bring You My Love, even though I've only intermittently enjoyed her since, liking but not being wowed by her 2011 album-of-the-year contender Let England Shake. Only her second album since, shows a lot of work, yet remains exceedingly difficult to get into. B+(*) [sp]

Jason Kao Hwang Critical Response: Book of Stories (2023, True Sound): Violinist, b. 1957 in Illinois, parents immigrated from Hunan after WWII, has spent considerable time mastering classical Chinese music but he's mostly recorded cutting-edge jazz, making him the heir apparent after the deaths of Leroy Jenkins and Billy Bang. Trio here with guitarist Anders Nilsson, who blends in beautifully, and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson. A- [cd]

The Japanese House: In the End It Always Does (2023, Dirty Hit): British singer-songwriter Amber Mary Bain, second album, after several EPs. B+(*) [sp]

The Malpass Brothers: Lonely Street (2023, Billy Jam): Country duo, Christopher and Taylor Malpass, from North Carolina, fourth album. Trad, with an easy-going manner. B+(***) [sp]

Gretchen Parlato/Lionel Loueke: Lean In (2022 [2023], Edition): Jazz singer from Los Angeles, father and grandfather were musicians, sixth album since 2005, paired here with the guitarist and occasional vocalist from Benin, usually backed by drums (Mark Guilliana), sometimes bass (Burniss Travis). Not sure if this is intended to sound Brazilian, or that's just their natural fusion. B+(*) [sp]

Bruno Parrinha: Da Erosćo (2023, 4DaRecord): Alto saxophone, solo, even with such a talented player always a difficult proposition, one that at 43:24 outlasted my patience. B+(*) [cd]

Kim Petras: Feed the Beast (2023, Island): German pop singer-songwriter, moved to Los Angeles at 19, by which point she was a celebrity as the "world's youngest transsexual." First album, after a couple mixtapes and the 2022 EP Slut Pop. I thought the latter was pretty great, but didn't care for her Grammy-winning duet with Sam Smith (which closes out this 15-song, 40:36 album). This has gotten savaged by critics (59 on Metacritic). Hard to tell whether that's prejudice -- or what kind, given that many pop albums get savaged when they fail to overwhelm. Especially given that this one does feel rote as often as not. B+(*) [sp]

Ernesto Rodrigues/Florian Stoffner/Bruno Parrinha/Joćo Madeira: Altered Egos (2023, Creative Sources): Portuguese group: viola/crackle box; electric guitar; clarinet/alto sax; double bass. B+(***) [cd]

Ernesto Rodrigues/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Flak/Joćo Madeira/José Oliveira: The Giving Tree Moving On (2023, Creative Sources): Viola/crackle box, cello, electric guitar, double bass, percussion. An extended piece in eight parts. B+(**) [cd]

Bill Scorzari: The Crosswinds of Kansas (2022, self-released): New York-based singer-songwriter, fourth album since 2014, before which he was some kind of hot shot attorney. Thirteen songs, stretched out to 71 minutes, has a long list of supporting musicians with a few tracks each, suggesting this was recorded over multiple sessions, perhaps going back to 2012. Christgau suggests reading along with the lyric sheet, but he has one, and would do that. Still mostly guitar and words, the latter almost talky. Seems like the surest way to a high grade around here is to remind me of John Prine, which happens when his usual Dylan gets off on a story. A- [sp]

Tiny Ruins: Ceremony (2023, Ba Da Bing): New Zealand singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook started this as an alias in 2011, grew it into a band. Fourth album, rather nice. B+(*) [sp]

Josie Toney: Extra (2023, Like You Mean It): Country singer-songwriter, plays violin, notably for Sierra Ferrell, first album. B+(**) [sp]

Young Thug: Business Is Business (2023, Atlantic): Atlanta rapper Jeffrey Williams, third studio album after a lot of mixtapes. [PS: Also available is (Metro's Version), where Metro Boomin' produced more tracks, but still not all of them.] B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

John Coltrane With Eric Dolphy: Evenings at the Village Gate (1961 [2023], Impulse!): Recently discovered at the New York Public Library, "eighty minutes of never-before-heard music," and who isn't psyched to listen to more vintage Coltrane, especially his 1961 group with Dolphy? After all, the same group (give or take a bassist) recorded Live at the Village Vanguard in November, a career highlight which loses nothing even in its 4-CD Complete version. This goes back to August, and while the group isn't quite as together, the sound isn't nearly as great either. Granted, by the time they get into "Greensleeves" they've hit great, but you've heard that how many times before? B+(***) [sp]

L'Orchestre National Mauritanien: Ahl Nana (1971 [2023], Radio Martiko): Music from the northwest Sahara, recorded in Casablanca, Discogs and Bandcamp have group name and album title swapped, probably the label's mixup, but across multiple editions this way makes the most sense. I can't say much either for its "revolutionary" nature (unlikely) or its supposed influence on later "desert rock" (probably not directly, but similar bands of this vintage undoubtedly existed). Still, it is rather unique, as befits a discovery from a relatively unknown corner of Africa. B+(***) [sp]

Piconema: East African Hits on the Colombian Coast (1978-84 [2023], Rocafort): Various artists compilation, no idea when these nine tracks were recorded, or indeed whether the artists hail from Palenque in Colombia or from Kenya, the home of Benga with its sweet guitar and incessant rhythm. [PS: All groups appear to be from Kenya or Tanzania, active in 1978-84, plus or minus a couple years, with all songs available as singles or in some cases on albums, although Discogs provides few dates. But the compilers first heard these songs on Colombian sound systems.] A- [bc]

Old music:

The Ultimate College Party: 50s & 60s Party Anthems (1953-62 [2014], Jasmine, 2CD): London-based, Czech-manufactured reissue label, in business since 1982, cherry-picking through the past unencumbered by America's ridiculously extended copyright regulations. Clifford Ocheltree often showcases their wares in his daily featured recordings. He reckons this one has "48 A+ songs, 7 A and 4 more A-." That's a bit high, but it looked too good not to order (and that's something I almost never do these days). Half are hits I have in other often-played anthologies and never tire of, and the other half are items I remember from my misspent youth (except maybe for "To the Aisle," a real find). I sampled the dates, so I might be off a bit, but not by much: the few 1960s cuts are early, even "Surfin' Safari." Ignore the concept: the pivotal age here is 16, even when "Tequila" is served. Also, the print is damn near impossible to read. But those hardly qualify as quibbles. A [cd]

Grade (or other) changes:

Elle King: Come Get Your Wife (2023, RCA): Singer-songwriter from from Los Angeles or New York, daughter of comedian Rob Schneider, took her mother's name, started as an actress in 1999, recorded an EP in 2012, followed by an album in 2015, with this her third, and most country, right down to the trailer cliché, which she treats as a badge of honor. [was: B+(**)] A- [sp]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Geof Bradfield Quintet: Quaver (Calligram) [08-04]
  • Aldo Fosko Collective: This One Time (Hitchtone) [05-23]
  • Max Gerl: Max Gerl (JMI) [07-28]
  • Allan Harris: Live at Blue Llama Jazz Club (Love Productions/Live at Blue Llama) [07-28]
  • Russ Johnson Quartet: Reveal (Calligram) [08-04]
  • Low Country: Low Country (Ropeadope) [07-28]
  • Chad McCullough: The Charm of Impossibilities (Calligram) [08-04]
  • Arman Sangalang: Quartet (Calligram) [08-04]
  • Mehmet Ali Sanlikol & Whatsnext?: Turkish Hipster (Dunya) [07-21]

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