Sunday, January 7, 2024

Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 41584 [41531] rated (+53), 23 [21] unrated (+2).

Back on regular schedule after the holiday calendar confusion. The 18th Annual Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll came out quickly on January 2. Article links at ArtsFuse:

The complete results and all 159 ballots are on my Jazz Poll Website.

After the fact, and not as part of the package, I wrote up a little Music Week: Jazz Poll blog piece. I offer a little bit of analysis there, not so much about the winning records but of the process of putting the Poll together. Obviously, I could have written a lot more, but I was frustrated by the lack of analysis tools. [PS: One mistake in that piece was citing Pyroclastic when I meant Tao Forms, for James Brandon Lewis's label. Both are small, artist-owned labels that extend significantly beyond their owner's albums, and in our Poll punch way over weight. Pyroclastic, whose ace publicist is Braithwaite & Katz, has 16 albums by 10 artists in our top-fifties. Tao Forms has 5 top-fifties by 3 artists, with two wins.]

But one bit of data I did manage to include is a list of albums that made my Jazz A-list (80 new and 22 old albums) but didn't show up on any of the voters' ballots: 16 new and 3 old. On the other hand, I calculated that, even after enjoying the advantage of seeing voters' ballots weeks in advance of their publication, and having logged grades for 865 jazz albums this year, I still hadn't heard 34% of the 535 new albums that got votes, or 39.8% of the old.

If/when I get time, I'd like to do some more analysis of the data. And, of course, I'd like to see what other people can do in terms of analyzing the data. At some point I hope to collect some of the mail and discussion based on the Poll. One thing I can point you to now is a Facebook post by Matt Merewitz (the publicist for the winning album), which I also collected notes from in my notebook.

Several people have offered to help, which I much appreciate -- although I haven't had time yet to figure out what help I most need. At this point, the things that would be most useful for me are to take a critical look at the website, especially the early years, and note where information needs to be improved (or in some cases, provided in the first place). Also, send me questions. I started to write a FAQ file, but it's always harder to think of questions than it is to answer them. I'm usually pretty diligent about working off assigned tasks, but I tend to flounder when I have to figure out what to do myself.

One thing I want to do more of is to compare our Poll against others. I haven't added much jazz data to my ever-growing EOY aggregate file, but will try to remedy that next week. In particular, I should then be able to generate a list of albums that appeared on other jazz lists but not on our ballots.

Meanwhile, one poll I want to mention here is one just published this week by the Spanish jazz magazine, El Intruso (which I voted in). Short on albums, with only a top five, and long on categories (instruments, groups, functions -- for them, with no pretense of significance, I just pick a few names off the top of my head, figuring they deserve mention, but of course so do many others). The top six albums (our finish in brackets):

  1. Steve Lehman & Orchestre National De Jazz, Ex Machina (Pi) 43 [3]
  2. Sylvie Courvoisier, Chimaera (Intakt) 40 [19]
  3. Jaimie Branch, Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war)) (International Anthem) 30 [9]
  4. James Brandon Lewis/Red Lily Quintet, For Mahalia, With Love (TAO Forms) 27 [1]
  5. Darius Jones, fLuXkit Vancouver (i-t-s suite but sacred) (We Jazz Records/Northern Spy) 23 [15]
  6. Rodrigo Amado The Bridge, Beyond The Margins (Trost) 23 [24]

I often tack my grades onto lists like this one, but the only one here that didn't make my A-list was Jaimie Branch's, after two previous ones that did (perhaps one I should revisit?). Their poll tilts more toward European artists (two in the top six; the same two finished highest among Europeans in our poll, but at 19 and 24). That's no surprise, given that our share of American voters is still up around 80%, where theirs is a bit less than 40% (still a pretty large bloc). They also lean slightly more avant, although I can't say how much of that has to do with nationality as opposed to taste and interest.

Of El Intruso's 62 voters, 31 also voted in our poll; 7 more were invited but didn't respond; leaving 24 not invited (some I knew the names of but hadn't gotten around to vetting, and probably didn't have email for, plus a few more I wasn't even aware of). Given that their ballots and credentials are included in the poll, I should have studied harder.

I mentioned the EOY Aggregate file above. I've been trying to add specialized lists for hip-hop into it, as those records seem to be especially underrepresented in the lists collected by outfits like Album of the Year. By far the most useful list I've found is HHGA's The Best Hip Hop Albums of 2023. That send me looking for more than a dozen albums I was previously unaware of, eight of which I wound up adding to my Non-Jazz A-List just this week (stretching it out to 68 albums, still well short of the 80 on the Jazz A-List.

Although it seems like list-making season should be over now, there are still a lot of lists I haven't gotten to (current total: 238; last year: 565). No chance I will come close to 2022, but I have yet to factor in the Jazz Critics Poll (aggregate and most individual ballots), and while I've picked up some ballots from PJRP on the fly, I haven't yet made a systematic trawl through their feed. I also haven't counted sources like Ye Wei Blog, or Saving Country Music. Nor have I looked through the many international lists at Acclaimed Music Forums. I haven't even glanced at Uncle Fester yet (and may not, given how metal-heavy his lists are).

I'm torn right now because I have a lot of momentum toward wrapping up Music Year 2023, and readying the jazz poll for next year's round. On the other hand, I've resolved to spend the next month making a serious push toward writing the long-simmering political book. It's getting late to have any practical effect in 2024, and plenty of people will tell you that this is the year that will break democracy in America . . . if we don't rally and do lots of things to change people's minds. Those things seem clear enough in my mind to write without getting bogged down in research. So I figure I should give it a month, and see if what I come up with makes my friends think the effort is worth the trouble.

I've been pacing myself with my weekly Speaking of Which posts -- the first under that name dating to June 18, 2021, the latest yesterday (110 of them, with 561,232 words, but there are more similar pieces going back to the early days of the notebook, the political pieces collected into four Last Days book files: 2000-09 (766k words), 2009-2013 (768k), 2013-2017 (675k), 2017-2020 (651k), so I can look back on 3.4 million words. Reducing them to 60k would be a daunting amount of work, but remembering enough basic ideas to rattle off 30k from the top of my head should be easy. From that point, I could use some help checking facts, adding fine points, and tightening up the prose a bit, but there's reason to think that help might not be too hard to come by. Getting the thing started is, and has always been, the problem.

I won't start today, and I may not tomorrow -- it going to snow tonight, and I'm going to make meatloaf tomorrow -- plus I have some fairly urgent housekeeping chores I've been putting off. But sometime in the next week or so I am resolved to set out and start grinding down on it.

One more pretty major correction: in my review of Don Fiorino/Andy Haas: The Accidentals (from Dec. 4, 2023) I wrongly assumed that Jay Dee Daugherty was the same person as the late Bush Tetras and Radio I-Ching drummer Dee Pop. Daugherty, who appeared with Fiorino and Haas at a tribute for Dee Pop (Dimitri Papadopoulos), is very much alive.

New records reviewed this week:

Alfa Mist: Variables (2023, Anti-): British nu jazz producer Alfa Sekitoleko, plays keyboards, fifth album since 2017. B+(*) [sp]

Beneficence & Jazz Spastiks: Summer Night Sessions (2023, Ill Adrenaline): Rapper Rahim Muhammad, from New Jersey, eighth album since 2004, with earlier efforts going back to 1991. First I've heard from him, but he sounds familiar, reminding me of groups like Downtown Science and the Perceptionists. Jazz Spastiks is a group, based in Scotland, of jazz-oriented hip-hop beatmakers, with ten or so albums since 2010. They're terrific here. A [sp]

Mykki Blanco: Postcards From Italia (2023, Transgressive, EP): Michael Quattlebaum, from Orange County, trans (gender, but everything is hard to pin down), started as a poet, then rapper, but sings here, six songs, 15:46. B+(*) [sp]

Cautious Clay: Karpeh (2023, Blue Note): Singer-songwriter Joshua Karpeh, from Cleveland, studied jazz but leaned r&b on here is encouraged to explore those "jazz roots." He plays sax/reeds/flute, guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, but gets help from label mates, like Immanuel Wilkins, Julian Lage, Joe Ross, and Ambrose Akinmusire. B+(*) [sp]

Chembo Corniel Quintet: Artistas, Músicos y Poetas (2023, Chemboro): Puerto Rican percussionist, several albums since 2006, second Quintet, with "featuring" names on the front cover: Don Pancho Terry, Andrea Brachfeld, Felipe Luciano, and Ismael East Carlo -- but the quintet consists of Hery Paz (tenor sax/flute), Carlos Cuevas (piano/fender rhodes), Ian Stewart (electric bass), and Joel E. Mateo (drums). B+(***) [sp]

Chino XL & Stu Bangas: God's Carpenter (2023, Brutal Music/1332): Rapper Derek Barbosa, released debut album in 1996, also has an acting career, working here with producer Stuart Hudgins. He's remarkably fast, not least because he has a lot to say, and the beats serve him well. A- [sp]

Czarface: Czartificial Intelligence (2023, Silver Age/Virgin): Hip-hop "supergroup" -- Inspectah Deck, 7L, Esoteric -- twelfth album since 2013, all with comix covers and comic grooves, perpetual adolescence as proof of vitality: "better check your pulse if you don't feel it." A- [sp]

Day Tripper: What a Day to Be Dead (2023, self-released): Atlanta rapper, originally from North Carolina, has several albums, one as far back as 2004 signed "DT & Osama." B+(**) [sp]

Elzhi X Oh No: Heavy Vibrato (2023, Nature Sounds): Rapper Jason Powers, debut with Slum Village 2002, several solo albums since 2008. Oh No is Michael Jackson Woodrow, son of soul singer Otis Jackson and brother of Madlib/Quasimoto. Terrific flow here, lyrics dancing not just on the beats but surrounded by dazzle. A- [sp]

Fatboi Sharif X Steel Tipped Dove: Decay (2023, Backwoodz Studioz): New Jersey rapper, third album, with producer Joseph Fusaro. B- [sp]

Four Elements & Beyond: Clock the Chemistry (2023, Four Elements & Beyond): "Boom bap hip hop crew from New York," second album. B+(***) [sp]

Derrick Gardner & the Jazz Prophets: Pan Africa (2022 [2023], Impact Jazz): Trumpet player, from Chicago, has several albums, brother is trombonist Vincent Gardner (plays here), with Robert Dixon (alto/tenor sax), George Caldwell (piano), Obasi Akoto (bass) and, most importantly, Kweku Sumbry (drums/African percussion). B+(***) [sp]

Sam Gendel: Cookup (2023, Nonesuch): Saxophonist, offers "simultaneous synchronized sonic construction/deconstruction" of r&b/soul hits from 1992-2004, which is to say songs that I've probably heard but am unlikely to recall, especially toned down and flattened out like this. Includes one Meshell Ndegeocello vocal, in case radio needs something to fixate on. B [sp]

Nabihah Iqbal: Dreamer (2023, Ninja Tune): British electronica producer, Pakistani descent, worked with Sophie as a singer, some vocals here, songs even. Second album, captivating. B+(***) [sp]

Kid Abstrakt & Leo Low Pass: Still Dreaming (2023, Melting Pot Music): Los Angeles rapper, parents from Brazil and Nicaragua, a "young emcee with an old soul aims to give you nostalgic vibes and provide jazzy hip hop sounds," which he certainly does. The producer, from Amsterdam, helps out. A- [sp]

King Kashmere X Alecs DeLarge: The Album to End All Alien Abductions (2023, High Focus): British rapper Obiesie Adibuah, aka Iguana Man, or some combination thereof. Debut EP 2002, this a double-LP (24 tracks, 58:43). B+(*) [sp]

Kool Keith & Real Bad Man: Serpent (2023, Real Bad Man): Rapper Keith Thornton, started in 1984 with Ultramagnetic MCs, went solo in 1996 as Dr. Octagon, later as Dr. Dooom, Black Elvis, and most often as Kool Keith, with close to fifty albums so far. His producer here is Adam Weisman, who's grabbed co-credits since 2020 with Boldy James, Pink Siifu, Smoke DZA, and Blu. B+(***) [sp]

Madlib/Meyhem Lauren/DJ Muggs: Champagne for Breakfast (2023, Soul Assassins): Producer Otis Jackson, rappers James Rencher and Lawrence Muggerud, all active more than 20 years, the latter since co-founding Cypress Hill in 1988. B+(***) [sp]

Neak: Die Wurzel (2023, self-released): Chicago rapper, digs deep roots, all the way back to 1619. B+(**) [sp]

Ivan Neville: Touch My Soul (2023, The Funk Garage): From New Orleans, "the greatest place on earth," second generation, son of Aaron Neville, joined his uncles in the Neville Brothers, cut a solo album in 1988, has a few more but this is the first since 2004. Agreeable funk sliding into ballad artistry. B+(**) [sp]

Offset: Set It Off (2023, Motown): Rapper Kiari Kendrell Cephus, from Georgia, started in the group Migos, second solo album. Has a nice, steady flow. B+(*) [sp]

Dolly Parton: Rockstar (2023, Butterfly/Big Machine): For those who still count, album number forty-nine, conceptual payback for getting elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, although we can argue whether it establishes her bona fides or makes a mockery of them. Thirty songs, 141:18, although there may be editions with more (or less?), six she had a hand in writing, the rest covers, many I never care to hear again -- some in any form, some in this one, although a few I can't help but find amusing (e.g., the 10:45 "Freebird"). None of which denies that in the most generic sense of the term, she's long been a rockstar. If she wasn't, she couldn't have begun to pull off this monstrosity. B [sp]

Vinnie Paz: All Are Guests in the House of God (2023, Iron Tusk Music): Italian-born Philadelphia rapper Vicenzo Luvineri, started in Jedi Mind Tricks, solo debut EP 1996. B+(**) [sp]

Prins Emanuel: Diagonal Musik II (2023, Music for Dreams): Swedish producer Emanuel Sundin, fourth album. B+(**) [sp]

Purelink: Signs (2023, Peak Oil): Chicago-based electronica trio, very ambient. B+(*) [sp]

Quantic: Dancing While Falling (2023, Play It Again Sam): English soul/funk musician/producer Will Holland, has operated under various aliases since 2001, but since moving to Colombia in 2007 has also released records as Combo Bárbaro, Los Miticos del Ritmo, and Ondatrópica, bringing some of the rhythm back here. B+(***) [sp]

Raw Poetic: Away Back In (2023, Def Pressé): Rapper Jason Moore, from Virginia, several albums since 2014, most (like this one) with Damu the Fudgemunk, one with his uncle, Archie Shepp. B+(**) [sp]

Recognize Ali: Back to Mecca II (2023, Greenfield Music): Ghanaian rapper Nii Ayitey Ajin Adamafio, has quite a few albums/mixtapes since 2014. B+(***) [sp]

Jay Royale: Criminal Discourse (2023, self-released): Baltimore rapper Justin Johnson, part of Umbrella Collective, fourth album since 2015. B+(**) [sp]

Shabazz Palaces: Robed in Rareness (2023, Sub Pop, EP): Hip-hop group from Seattle led by Ishmael Butler, formerly of Digable Planets, albums since 2011. Seven tracks, 24:03. B+(*) [sp]

Kavita Shah: Cape Verdean Blues (2023, Folkalist): Singer, at least per her degree, born in New York, parents Gujarati from Mumbai, majored in Latin American studies at Harvard and jazz voice at Manhattan School of Music (with Sheila Jordan); studied in Ecuador, Peru, China, and Brazil; "trained in styles ranging from opera to gospel to folk music in more than 20 languages." Subject here is Cesária Évora, and once again she is the perfect student. B+(***) [sp]

Jae Skeese: Abolished Uncertainties (2023, Empire): Rapper from Buffalo, fourth album since 2020, tight with Conway the Machine, but this really gets interesting on the later guest shots -- Jillian Haynesworth on "Red Koolaid" over free jazz sax, and "1 of 1" with Kota Savia channeling Digable Planets. Loosens him up too. A- [sp]

Jorja Smith: Falling or Flying (2023, FAMM): British singer-songwriter, father Jamaican, second album. B+(***) [sp]

Cleo Sol: Heaven (2023, Forever Living Originals): British soul singer Cleopatra Nikolic, third solo album. B+(*) [sp]

Cleo Sol: Gold (2023, Forever Living Originals): Fourth album, came out just two weeks after Heaven, and is a slightly more substantial effort (42:03 vs. 32:04), with slightly more Chic (or maybe just Sault?) reverberations. B+(**) [sp]

Stik Figa X The Expert: Ritual (2023, Rucksack): Rapper John Westbrook, originally from Kansas but based in Fort Worth, Discogs style is "conscious," which I take to mean smart and coherent, which he most certainly is. The Expert is Irish hip-hop producer Cian Galvin, who earns his moniker. A- [sp]

AJ Suede & Televangel: Parthian Shots (2023, Fake Four): Rapper from Seattle, debut 2015; Discogs lists several alias for the producer, including Ian Taggart. B+(*) [sp]

Walter Wolfman Washington: Feel So at Home (2022 [2023], Tipitina's Record Club): Blues guitarist-singer from New Orleans, records start in 1981. Last record before he died in December 2022, feints toward easy listening until his guitar finds the right note. B+(*) [sp]

Sam Wilkes: Driving (2023, Wilkes): Bassist, producer, has worked with saxophonist Sam Gendel, plays various instruments and sings some here. B+(*) [sp]

Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Jazz Is Dead 16: Phil Ranelin & Wendell Harrison (2023, Jazz Is Dead): Jazz didn't really die in the 1970s, but while Miles Davis and the fusioneers were filling arenas, and most of the real stuff went underground (mostly to be sustained on European labels), there were others struggling to maintain a populist connection, even if the business didn't validate them. The idea here is for the producers to seek out long-forgotten jazz-funk heroes and revive them with fresh grooves. The guests here were main guys in a protean Detroit group, the Tribe, playing trombone and tenor sax. B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Cannonball Adderley Quintet: In Concert: Falkoner Centret, Copenhagen, Denmark, April 13, 1961 (1961 [2023], SteepleChase): Hard bop group, with brother Nat Adderley (trumpet), Victor Feldman (piano/vibes), Sam Jones (bass), and Louis Hayes (drums), playing a long set (8 songs, 4 by Feldman to 1 by the leader, 71:59). B+(***) [sp]

Dorothy Ashby: With Strings Attached (1957-1965) (1957-65 [2023], New Land): Jazz harpist (1932-86), probably the only one of note before recent years brought us Edmar Castañeda and Brandee Younger (sure, Alice Coltrane dabbled a bit). This box, which finished 7th in this year's Jazz Critics Poll, remasters her first six LPs on fresh vinyl. I can't speak to the sound quality, but having reviewed all of the albums (see below), I can say that the concept is more intriguing than the realization. B+(*) [r/yt]

Danger Mouse & Jemini: Born Again (2003-04 [2023], Lex): Hip-hop producer Brian Burton and rapper Thomas Smith (also known as Jemini the Gifted One), released an album together as Ghetto Pop Life, then recorded this one, shelved until this release -- meanwhile, Danger Mouse achieved a measure of fame for his Beatles remix, The Gray Album. This really hops. A- [bc]

Evan Parker: NYC 1978 (1978 [2023], Relative Pitch): British avant-saxophonist, first trip to America, six numbered pieces named for the venue (Environ), all solo, four on soprano, two on tenor. B+(***) [sp]

Old music:

Dorothy Ashby: The Jazz Harpist (1957, Regent): From Detroit (1932-86), started on piano but switched to harp by 1952, was the first jazz musician to establish herself on the instrument. First album, with Frank Wess (flute), Ed Thigpen (drums), and bass (Eddie Jones or Wendell Marshall). Aside from the occasional fancy frill, first thought is this could be guitar, so the real question may be how you feel about flute. B+(**) [yt]

Dorothy Ashby With Frank Wess: Hip Harp (1958, Prestige): Their second harp and flute album, with Herman Wright on bass and Art Taylor on drums, playing three Ashby originals and four standards. Goes a bit soft. B [r]

Dorothy Ashby and Frank Wess: In a Minor Groove (1958, New Jazz): Third album, Roy Haynes takes over drums, two originals to six covers. Very minor. B [r]

Dorothy Ashby: Soft Winds: The Swinging Harp of Dorothy Ashby (1961, Jazzland): Fourth album, only one original ("With Strings Attached," which would be the title of her box), title from a Benny Goodman tune, backed by Terry Pollard (piano and vibes), Herman Wright (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums). B [yt]

Dorothy Ashby: Dorothy Ashby (1962, Argo): Fifth album, first with just a trio, her harp with bass (Herman Wright) and drums (John Tooley). In some ways, the focus helps. B+(**) [yt]

Dorothy Ashby: The Jazz Harpist (1957-62 [2012], Fresh Sound, 3CD): A remaster of her first five albums, which leaves it one short of the more recent (and much more expensive) With Strings Attached vinyl box. B+(*) [r/yt]

Dorothy Ashby: The Fantastic Jazz Harp of Dorothy Ashby (1965, Atlantic): The first thing you notice here is a big improvement at bass, with Richard Davis taking over, although Willie Bobo adds some extra percussion. The trombones don't enter until the third track, and return for six (of ten) tracks. B+(*) [yt]

Dorothy Ashby: Afro-Harping (1968, Cadet): With anonymous orchestra, "arranged and conducted by Richard Evans," who also wrote the "featuring" song on the cover, "Soul Vibrations." Evans seems to think that a little more groove will help, and it does, but only so much. B+(*) [sp]

Dorothy Ashby: Dorothy's Harp (1969, Cadet): Richard Evans producing again, also wrote two pieces, as did the harpist, combined with seven covers that are light at best, or maybe the word I want is "treacly"? B- [sp]

Dorothy Ashby: The Rubáiyát of Dorothy Ashby (1969-70 [1970], Cadet): "Original compositions in spired by the words of Omar Khayyam, arranged and conducted by Richard Evans." Ashby plays koto (pictured on the cover) as well as harp, and sings. This is supposed to be a pioneering world jazz album, but Davis keeps it a bit too pat. B [sp]

Danger Mouse & Jemini: Ghetto Pop Life (2003, Lex): Rapper Thomas Smith had an EP in 1995, then this collaboration and its only-recently-released sequel, and that's about it -- while producer Brian Burton keeps recruiting new collaborators. This isn't quite as consistent as the sequel. B+(***) [sp]

Grade (or other) changes:

  • James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: For Mahalia, With Love (2023, Tao Forms, 2CD): [cd]: [was: A-]: A

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Bill Anschell: Improbable Solutions (Origin) [01-19]
  • Peter Erskine and the Jam Music Lab All-Stars: Bernstein in Vienna (Origin) [01-19]

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