Saturday, January 31. 2015
I've been waiting to add Robert Christgau's annual "Dean's List" to my EOY Aggregate file, assuming it would (as has been the case in recent years) be published by BN Review sometime after the Village Voice posted its Pazz & Jop poll results. (P&J has figured large in Christgau's annual summary articles, even after he stopped running the poll.) But it hasn't appeared yet (and I don't really know why, other than that the pace of his not-quite-monthly BN Review essays slowed last year, down from ten to five pieces in 2014). I do know why it hasn't been easy to construct a 2014 list of graded albums from Christgau's website: I have not done the work to stuff the new EW reviews into the database. One reason for that is that Medium insisted on a 90-day delay period so I couldn't post any reviews until they have aged three months. One way to handle that would be to write some additional code to check the age of CG reviews -- something I haven't had much time to do. Another is to only update reviews that have aged sufficiently, but there haven't been many of those until recently.
I've finally started working on adding the new EW reviews, and decided the first step would be to collate a list of all the reviews/grades thus far. That's what the lists below do: they are sorted by release year, then grade, then alphabetically by artist, with various artists within each grade listed last, sorted within grade and year by title. Christgau is rather inconsistent about noting release date years, so in many cases I've had to look those up. (He's also inconsistent about non-label albums, especially mixtapes, but I've given up trying to rationalize those.) The first thing I did with the list was to add his grades to the EOY Aggregate, including an unranked point for everything A- or above. (His grades, like mine, are in the comment field.)
That gives us 46 A-list albums already reviewed. In recent years, Dean's Lists settled into two levels: 2008-10 and 2013 ranged from 65 to 72, while 2011-12 wound up at 92-93. The drop-off from 2012 to 2013 came after MSN cancelled Expert Witness around September, so Christgau had less motivation to find the extra 20 albums that it would have taken to continue 2011-12 levels. Even so, the 2013 list includes 29 records that weren't reviewed in EW. (Eight of those 29 have subsequently been reviewed in the new Medium-based EW -- one of those, Arcade Fire, with a reduced grade.)
Anyhow, it seems reasonable that when/if Christgau publishes a 2014 Dean's List, it will include another 20-25 thus far unreviewed 2014 albums, though probably not the 45-46 albums it would take to reach 2011-12 levels.
Monday, January 26. 2015
Music: Current count 24422  rated (+30), 497  unrated (+4).
Closed the count out Sunday evening, trying to get a jump on posting this early, but various distractions today will make this as late in the day as usual.
To save some time, I went ahead and rushed out Rhapsody Streamnotes without having tweeted everything. The tweet reviews are meant as advance news, so seemed like a waste of time to make up lost ground below. The records that lost out: Terri Clark, Peter Evans, Porter Robinson, Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako. I was listening to the three Soundway records as I wrapped up Streamnotes, so they're the first of next column's reviews. After that, I was just browsing around for something interesting to listen to, and noticed that Rhapsody has quite a few releases from the American Music label, which was established in the early 1940s to record the older, but then still living, generation of New Orleans jazz musicians.
In the 1930s jazz moved from New Orleans-style groups -- usually five-to-seven members -- to swing, both in big bands and small groups (usually five or less), and in the 1940s jazz moved on to the more self-consciously virtuosic music known as bebop. Bucking this trend was a sudden revival of interest in traditional jazz, especially in San Francisco (with the Yerba Buena Jazz Band) and later in the '40s in England. The new trad jazz musicians were almost invariably white, but as with the folk-blues movement in the early 1960s, scholars and entrepreneurs went back to find what was left of New Orleans' early jazz musicians. The unrecorded Buddy Bolden, of course, was long gone, as was Freddie Keppard (1890-1933), who at least recorded a it in the mid-1920s. But Bunk Johnson (1879-1949) was justifiably ancient, older than King Oliver (1885-1939) let alone Louis Armstrong's slightly older peers, the late Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941) and Johnny Dodds (1892-1940), and the still active Kid Ory (1886-1973), Baby Dodds (1898-1959), and especially the trad-minded George Lewis (1900-68).
The only thing I had heard by Johnson was Bunk and Lu, a compilation of sessions with Lu Watters (one of the West Coast revivalists), so the chance to hear the vastly superior sets on American Music is most welcome -- and not just as a respite from 2014. But speaking of 2014, the latest A-list finds turned out to be two very different fringe-country artists, Kelsey Waldon and Bob Wayne. There are undoubtedly more out there, but it's becoming less and less obvious where to look next.
Sometime between now and the end of January I'll call it quits and freeze the year-end list. After last year's relatively early freeze date I added 69 records to the 2013 file. It certainly wouldn't be hard now to construct a list of 2014 releases I would like to have heard, but finding them and getting to them will be harder. And usually the pressures of the new year dim my interest in the old one. We'll see what happens this time.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, January 25. 2015
Don't have much to show here, but enough to run. I wasn't able to find anything very useful on renewed hostilities in eastern Ukraine: I gather the central ("pro-western") government broke the cease fire, and now they're complaining about civilian deaths caused by Russian rockets. This is one of four major wars from 2014 -- Israel, Iraq, and Syria -- that have been allowed to fester and grow by the inability and/or unwillingness of the US to engage in diplomacy, especially with Russia. That failure is rooted in the kneejerk US belief that foreign affairs is always a test of will where only force matters. In particular, the US has been seduced by the idea that all problems can be solved by killing "bad guys" -- a notion that's rife in American culture, that is the basic idea behind the drone warfare program, that excuses all manner of secret operations. That American Sniper beat out Selma both in the box office and Oscar nominations is par for the week.
I skipped the "Israel Links" this week, not because I couldn't find them but because I didn't feel a need to bother. If you do feel the need, the first place to look is Mondoweiss.Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, January 24. 2015
I was hoping this would be my last word on 2014, but perhaps because I'm once again planning on scaling back next year, I've been looking for more definitive closure to last one. Below you'll find review-notes on 140 records, all from 2014 but a few detours I couldn't help but follow. Neither my year-in-progress, my best jazz, my best non-jazz, nor my EOY list aggregate files are frozen yet, though I will commit to January 31 as the last possible day to do so. To limit this file -- the longest since November 30, 2013 -- I've already saved a handful of 2015 jazz releases for next time, and I'm resisting the temptation to add the three 2014 releases I've already written up today.
I don't have time to sum up the many things I've gleaned about new recorded music in 2014. At present, the year-end file provides grades for 1146 albums (plus 7 late-appearing 2013 albums). That seems like a lot, but it's actually down from last year (1150 at freeze time; 1221 by end of 2014), even more so from my peak years in 2011 (1415) and 2010 (1301), although it's slightly more than any of the frozen file totals from 2004 (first year I topped 1000) through 2009). It's harder to compare this year's EOY Aggregate to previous year Metacritic files, but it's fair to say this year's approach has been more limited (e.g., 4922 new records this year, vs. 7868 in 2013, 6341 in 2012, or 5441 in 2011. Good chance this year's 525 EOY lists are also down, but hard to say by how much.
Still, the one thing that is up this year is the size of the A-list: 147 new + 23 old (archival/reissue) records. Still, with late finds last year wound up very close (148 new + 21 old, so -1, although it was -11 back at freeze date). Previous year A-lists (post-freeze total in parens): 2012: 131+16 (24); 2011: 132+21 (15); 2010: 133+17 (16). Those A-lists are typically very close to 50% jazz. The non-jazz part of those lists is typically 15-20% shorter than Christgau's non-jazz Dean's Lists, so the notion that I'm an easy grader is probably unwarranted. (Unless you consider jazz easy?)
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on December 31. Past reviews and more information are available here (5918 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
2NE1: Crush (2014, YG Entertainment): Korean pop group, four girls, real potential for dance pop -- the title cut indeed crushes it -- and I'd give their ballads an edge over the neo-soul norm, even when I don't understand a word. Rap some, too, and most songs sneak in a line or two of English, in case you're listening. B+(**)
African Express: African Express Presents . . . Terry Riley's In C Mali (2014, Transgressive): Riley's minimalist classic dates from 1968. It has always been about repetitive rhythms, so the use of Mali's drums and percussive instruments seems like a natural, as do the voices for shading, the guitar, whatever. B+(***)
Alt-J: This Is All Yours (2014, Canvasback/Atlantic): British neo-prog group, makes a kind of chamber pop that's beguiling and pretty -- in AMG's words, "both planetarium laser light show and art installation ready." B
Grazyna Auguscik Orchestar: Inspired by Lutoslawski (2013 , Fortune): Witold Lutoslawski (1913-94) was one of the better known classical composers and conductors of the late 20th century, especially in his native Poland -- not that that's something I know much about. I have no idea what's going on here, other than that the orchestra is named for leader/singer Grazyna Auguscik and splits into three sections: a string quartet, and two "trios" with four members each, with various additional singers emerging from the crowd. Not something I would normally like, and not bad for that. B+(*) [cd]
Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires: Dereconstructed (2014, Sub Pop): A back-to-basics rock and roll band, a bit of southern twang -- perhaps they're aiming at Drive-By Truckers, but I'm finding them a little overamped and underarticulated. B
Courtney Barnett: The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas (2012-13 , Mom + Pop Music): Singer-songwriter from Australia gets a 12-cut, 56:20 LP out of two EPs (I've Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris and How to Carve a Carrot Into a Rose). Doesn't have much of a country or a lo-fi rock accent. B+(*)
Basement Jaxx: Junto (2014, Atlantic Jaxx): House (or something like that) duo, had big albums 1999-2001 and fairly steady product since then, certainly know how to keep a dance beat running. B+(**)
Jon Batiste/Chad Smith/Bill Laswell: The Process (2014, MOD Technologies): Piano-drums-bass, respectively, although it's not that simple: all three are listed as producers, and while their search for the perfect groove is fundamental here, they shuffle in guests to mix things up: various vocalists including Killah Priest, plus Toshinori Kondo on trumpet and Peter Apfelbaum on reeds. B+(***)
Gorka Benitez: Gasteiz (2012 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor saxophonist from Spain, has at least nine albums since 1999, the few I've heard always impressing me with his tone and poise. This is a trio, with Ben Monder on guitar and David Xirgu on drums, a sweet set up. Plays some flute too -- offset nicely against the guitar. B+(**)
Beverly: Careers (2014, Kanine): Duo, another Frankie Rose project (Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls), this one with singer-guitarist Drew Citron (ex-Ava Luna). Lo-fi pop, the hard edges ground down but not forgotten. B+(*)
Elvin Bishop: Can't Even Do Wrong Right (2014, Alligator): Had a great hit back in the 1970s, "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," when he was identified with the decade's southern rockers, but rather than fade away he signed with blues label Alligator 1988-2000, moved on to Blind Pig, and is now back home. And at 71 he's contemplating his own mortality . . . with the same stoned amusement he's brought to everything in life. B+(**)
The Michael Blum Quartet: Initiation (2014, self-released): Guitarist, first album, backed by piano-bass-drums. Just one song of his own, but four from bassist Jim Stinnett, with the covers including a Jobim. Fitting, as he has a light touch and tone. B+(*) [cd]
Lukasz Borowicki Trio: People, Cats & Obstacles (2014, Fortune): Guitarist, based in Denmark, seems to be his first album. Backed by double bass and drums, guitar is electric, pieces are attributed to the group except for a "bonus" solo. Wouldn't call it "raw" but it does flex some muscle. B+(**) [cd]
Peter Brendler: Outside the Line (2014, Posi-Tone): Bassist, first album as the leader, a quartet with two horns -- Rich Perry on tenor sax and Peter Evans on trumpet -- plus drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. Fast ones are unbridled bebop. Slower ones more complex, sometimes sounding wrong but more plays may set me right. Plus first jazz cover I've heard of "Walk on the Wild Side" -- his motto? B+(***)
Jonatha Brooke: My Mother Has 4 Noses (2014, Bad Dog): Singer-songwriter from Illinois; first I noticed of her was her 2008 album The Works where she started with Woody Guthrie lyrics -- possibly the best of nearly a half-dozen good-to-great albums like that. The songs were originally part of a one-woman play: a daughter's portrait of a mother descending into dementia. A-
Bushwick Gospel Singers: Songs of Worship Vol. 2 (2014, The Church of Universal Knowing): Can't find any credits or history on this group, but even though Peter Stampfel swears he's not singing here (although daughter Zoë is) his vocal stamp is obvious, and the banjo and fiddle aren't far behind. Inspirational verse: "I will turn your water into wine/white bread into rye." Disclaimer: "and they'll know we ain't no Christians, because we love." B+(***)
Caleb Caudle: Paint Another Layer on My Heart (2014, This Is American Music): Country singer-songwriter from North Carolina, has a fine ear and voice for ballads, a modest demeanor, and some pedal steel. B+(***)
Billy Childs: Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro (2014, Masterworks): Pianist, close to a dozen albums since 1988, the first few on New Age label Windham Hill. Nyro was a singer-songwriter, both a pop and cult figure following her 1968 album Eli and the 13th Confession and its successor New York Tendaberry. I dug up those albums recently and graded them B and C+, stopping short of her 1970 album Christmas and the Beads of Sweat. I wouldn't have bothered with this either, but it's been popping up on EOY lists -- as Dan Bilawsky wrote in AAJ, "this one has Grammy written all over it." Well sure, in all the worst senses: Childs' piano is fortified with strings and rare guest horns (Wayne Shorter, Steve Wilson, Chris Potter, Chris Botti) and an array of vocal stars, starting with Renee Fleming and ending with Alison Kraus. Redeemed: Ledisi's "Stoned Soul Picnic." Actually, Kraus's song ("And When I Die") isn't bad either. B-
Terri Clark: Some Songs (2014, Bare Track): Country singer from Canada, had a run on a Nashville major 1995-2005 but this modest effort -- ten songs, 32:30, generic title -- like her last two came out on a Canadian label. She has a piece of credit on half of those songs, but note that the Clark who wrote the two most memorable ones ("I Cheated on You" and "Bad Car") has first name Brandy. B+(**)
Clipping: CLPPNG (2014, Sub Pop): LA hip-hop group: Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes. Fairly minimal beats, leaning toward industrial noise; the raps monotone, dare I say clipped? Could possibly grow on you. B+(**)
Hollie Cook: Twice (2014, Mr. Bongo): British reggae singer, father was Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, mother backed up Culture Club, joined the Slits when they reformed in 2006. Diminutive voice, rhythm track is small too without much dub, but that eventually seems like a statement. B+(*)
Theo Croker: AfroPhysicist (2011 , Okeh): Trumpet player, last heard on Arbors with In the Tradition -- he is, after all, the grandson of Doc Cheatham -- but this is a significant departure, and not toward anything in particular. Dee Dee Bridgewater produced and contributes three vocals (including "Moody's Mood for Love"). Guests include Stefon Harris and Roy Hargrove, and covers span Buddy Johnson and Stevie Wonder. I find it deliriously scattershot, but at least the trumpet stands out. B+(*)
Richard Dawson: Nothing Important (2014, Weird World): British guitarist and (I guess) singer, not sure there's anything else here. Four pieces, the first instrumental (6:40), the next two over 16 minutes each: intense, distorted, their musicality hard to access but arguably there (somewhere). B
Dej Loaf: Sell Sole (2014, World): Detroit rapper, a young woman -- the voice sounded more young than female at first, aside from the tendency to go deadpan. B+(*)
DJ Quik: The Midnight Life (2014, Mad Science): David Martin Blake, discography goes back to 1991, but a "best of" his early discs still wasn't all that good. But lately he's picking up more bounce, and that helps. B+(*)
Peter Evans Quintet: Destination: Void (2013 , More Is More): Trumpet player, notably for Mostly Other People Do the Killing, backed by piano-bass-drums plus Sam Pluta's live electronics. Some major moments when the trumpet cuts loose, but I'm not sure what the other herky jerk is meant for. B+(*)
First Aid Kit: Stay Gold (2014, Columbia): Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg initially suggested a quaintly folkish Americana, but as they've gotten bigger they've become ever more generically unrooted, prisoners of their harmonies. B
The Flaming Lips: With a Little Help From My Fwends (2014, Warner Brothers): I doubt I've heard the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper in more than 20 years, but this remake brought every note and nuance back to my memory, then blew up most of them. Too gratuitously noisy, methinks, but I have to admire the advances modern chemistry has brought to psychedelia. B+(**)
Fred Frith and John Butcher: The Natural Order (2009 , Northern Spy): Guitarist Frith has a huge number of albums since his original 1974 Guitar Solos, straddling rock and jazz without fusing with either. Butcher is a tenor saxophonist, a pillar of England's free jazz underground, and a fitting match, drawing out remarkable sounds, even when most difficult. B+(**)
Alex G: DSU (2014, Orchid Tapes, EP): Alex Giannascoli's first album, a singer-songwriter with his heart on his sleeve, rather emo but not without pop resonance. Ten songs, but rather short at 24:36. B+(*)
Lee Gamble: Koch (2014, Pan, 2CD): British electronica producer, discography starts in 2006 but has a record called Diversions 1994-1996 so may be older. This is abstract and scattered, but leans toward techno. B+(*)
Bunji Garlin: Differentology (2014, RCA/VP): Soca star, from Trinidad; has a rep for introducing harder, faster ragga beats, but what I'm hearing ranges all the way to over-the-top techno, at least on several remixes. Can get overbearing, but "Red Light District" gets the mix about right. B+(**)
Herb Geller/Roberto Magris: An Evening With Herb Geller & the Roberto Magris Trio: Live in Europe 2009 (2009 , JMood): The alto saxophonist was one of the major figures in the "west coast cool jazz" from the mid-1950s until his death in 2013 at 85. I don't know how late he played -- this is the latest I've found, but he's in very good form, and the piano trio provides perfectly sound support. B+(***) [cdr]
GOAT: Commune (2014, Sub Pop): Swedish group, acronym stands for "Gathering Of All Tribes" although there is something to be said for u&lc also. Second album, following World Music, they promiscously cross borders without ever getting nailed down to any particular tribal identity, maybe because the whole world unites in amplifier distortion. A-
Gold-Bears: Dalliance (2014, Slumberland): Atlanta "twee-punk" band, which I take to be punk without sharp edges, vocals buried under a steady guitar roil. B+(**)
Tom Guarna: Rush (2014, BJU): Guitarist, has five previous albums for SteepleChase, a Danish label which has been especially devoted to American guitarists but which never answered my inquiries. Quintet, with Joel Frahm on soprano and tenor sax, Danny Grissett on piano, Orlando Fleming on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums -- a postbop set a little ripe for my ears. B
Steve Gunn: Way Out Weather (2014, Paradise of Bachelors): Singer-songwriter, Rhapsody pegs him as "progressive folk" but there's more to him, even if it isn't all that evident here -- regarded as a guitar virtuoso; has studied Indian classical music, gnawa, and La Monte Young; has two more records out this year: one on Important (avant-garde), the other on RVNG Intl. (electronica). I didn't catch much of this until the closer, "Tommy's Congo." B+(*)
Barry Guy New Orchestra: Amphi/Radio Rondo (2013 , Intakt): The two title pieces, 26:35 and 29:34, played by a large free ensemble -- four reeds, trumpet-trombone-tuba, piano, the leader on bass, and two drummers, plus (first piece only) Maya Homburger on baroque violin. Many name players with a knack for controlled chaos. B+(*)
The Heliocentrics & Melvin Van Peebles: The Last Transmission (2014, Now-Again): British group of Sun Ra devotees, tend to play a jazz-funk fusion but rather than develop that they've cut a niche by collaborating with weird old guys the world largely forgot about: Mulatu Astatke, Orlando Julius, Lloyd Miller, and now poet Melvin Van Peebles, whose spoken word gives this jazz-funk fusion reason to exist. B+(***)
Arve Henriksen: The Nature of Connections (2014, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian trumpet player, prolific since 2000, leads a string-heavy sextet here -- two violins (doubling on Hardanger fiddle), cello, double bass, and drums. Chamber jazz, I guess, on the cool side. B
Honeyblood: Honeyblood (2014, Fat Cat): Duo from Glasgow, Stina Marie Claire Tweeddale (guitar and vocals) and Shona McVicar (drums). Their roughness slots them as noise-pop, but the lyrics I noted were mostly clichés (e.g., "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger"). B
The Hotelier: Home, Like Noplace Is There (2014, Tiny Engines): Punkish group from Massachusetts, seems to have higher ambitions (like, say, La Dispute) but they're hard to decipher: one allegedly political song takes the point-of-view of a dog, which isn't all that enlightening (but does let the singer dis bitches). B+(*)
Jachna Tarwid Karch: Sundial (2013-14 , Fortune): Trio from Poland: Wojciech Jachna (flugelhorn/trumpet), Grzegorz Tarwid (piano), Albert Karch (percussion). B+(*)
Ali Jackson: Amalgamations (2013 , Sunnyside): Drummer, has dropped the "Jr." that initially distinguished him from his bassist father. Side credits include work with Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and he's brought some of them to play here. I haven't seen the breakdown, but I suspect that the 12 side credits rotate around -- especially the three bassists and four keyboard players. Maybe the horns too, but they're worth naming: Wynton Marsalis (trumpet), Vincent Gardner (trombone), Ted Nash (alto sax), JD Allen (tenor sax). Hard to get all this straight in a blindfold test. B+(**)
Leela James: Fall for You (2014, J&T): Soul singer, fifth album including a tribute to Etta James (unrelated as far as I know). Neither retro nor nu, just at ease in the modern world. B+(***)
Luke James: Luke James (2014, Island): R&B singer from New Orleans, dropped his surname Boyd. First album after a couple of mixtapes. Album takes its sweet time connecting, but his falsetto reach turns "I Want You" into a first-rate single. B+(**)
Lucien Johnson/Alan Silva/Makoto Soto: Stinging Nettles (2006 , Improvising Beings): Tenor sax-bass-drums trio, the leader from New Zealand -- seems to be his first album, but he was the main composer in a group called Shogun Orchestra (eponymous album 2012). Silva's well known in free jazz circles. I squinted through enough of the microprinted liner notes to find out that Soto is some sort of Don Cherry protégé. Basically what you want in this configuration: a high energy charge, but the saxophonist can also slow it down and keep your attention. A- [cd]
Karen Jonas: Oklahoma Lottery (2014, self-released): Country-ish singer-songwriter from Virginia, first album, shows remarkable poise spinning out stories starting with "Suicide Sal," three years on the run and running out. B+(***)
The Juan MacLean: In a Dream (2014, DFA): Actual name John MacLean. Beats are danceable, replete with a swash of disco, and the singers are equally functional. B+(***)
Amira Kheir: Alsahraa (2014, Sterns): From Sudan, a woman singing in Arabic (I presume), backed with basic trans-Saharan simplicity (or is it aridness?): acoustic guitar, bass, percussion. B+(*)
Khun Narin: Electric Phin Band (2014, Innovative Leisure): Thai group, doubt you could call this folk or pop, less sure about jazz -- no vocals, but also the beat is pretty regular. Central instrument is the phin (a 3-stringed lute), but it's run through various effects pedals so it sounds more like a guitar, and a picture shows three drummers plus a bass guitar. Four cuts, one as long as 19:28, all at racing tempos. B+(**)
Kiasmos: Kiasmos (2014, Erased Tapes): Icelandic techno duo, Olafur Arnalds (who's relatively well known) and Janus Rasmussen (actually from the Faroe Islands). Music looped together, approaching ambient but not quite ready to drop the dance beat. B+(*)
Nikola Kolodziejczyk Orchestra: Chord Nation (2011 , Fortune): Very big band, conventional plus extra reeds and strings, with leader playing piano/wurlitzer, writing all five pieces. Recorded for radio, probably where the money for such extravagances lies. B+(**)
Leszek Kulakowski Ensemble: Looking Ahead (2014, Fortune): Pianist, discography goes back at least to 1994, with a jazz orientation but close to classical -- Chopin for jazz trio and orchestra, string quartets, a "Piano Concerto," things that translate as "Cantabile in G Minor" and "In the Chamber Komeda Mood," etc. This is a sextet with trumpet and sax, also cello. Richly textured, a first-rate composer -- evidence, I think, that post-classical has moved on to jazz, even though not all jazz is post-classical. B+(**)
The Lawrence Arms: Metropole (2014, Epitaph): Chicago post-punk group, first album in 1999, back with their sixth after a hiatus, older and wiser perhaps; can't say whether they've slowed down but they do have a knack for tunes, and they swear a lot. B+(**)
Little Big Town: Pain Killer (2014, Capitol Nashville): Nashville vocal quartet, two guys (Phillip Sweet, Jimi Westbrook), two gals (Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman) -- been together since 2002, including a platinum record for 2012's Tornado, but sales are way off on this one. Could be the heavy but rote rock on most tracks, or that the love songs are a little, uh, yucky: "you're my pain killer/a little dose of you goes a long way" or "I want to taste her lips/yeah, cuz they taste like you." C+
Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited (2014, Masterworks): Cash's 1964 Indian-themed album Bitter Tears without the magic voice but plenty of sincerity, performed by "various artists" -- long on David Rawlings, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris, but highlighted by a very ragged Kris Kristofferson ("The Ballad of Ira Hayes" and Steve Earle ("Custer"). B+(**)
Jan Lundgren: All By Myself (2014, Fresh Sound): Swedish pianist, has close to forty albums since the early 1990s. This, per the title, is solo, fourteen standards, pretty straight but beautifully done. Won Jazz Journal's critics poll, beating out Paul Bley. B+(**)
Magnolia Acoustic Quartet: Cinderella (2012 , Fortune): Second group album. Pianist Kuba Sokolowski wrote all the tunes (referring to Yoko Ono on one), so figure him the leader, with Szyman Nidzworski on tenor and soprano sax, Mateusz Dobosz on bass, and Patryk Dobosz on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Microwaves: Regurgitant Phenomena (2014, New Atlantis): Noise rock/postpunk group from Pittsburgh, put this one out on vinyl so the 29:35 run time doesn't seem so EP-ish, especially with 11 cuts (two over 6 minutes, the rest much less). Vocals buried so deep I'm tempted to take this as instrumental. B
Migos: Rich Ni**a Timeline (2014, Quality Control Music): Atlanta hip-hop trio, with an 80-minute mixtape, the three voices rotating in but mostly repeating each other. All covers I've seen show asterisks. The audio is not quite so circumspect. B+(*)
Mindtroll: EP #4 (2014, self-released): Brooklyn band, popped up on top of a friendly P&J ballot unnoticed by anyone else. Three women and a guy who plays bass and sings backup, sounds much like but a little odder than the early B-52s. Four short songs, 8:36, three superb, the fourth ends with three question marks. Three previous EPs, plus a 24-cut album in 2013 with most songs well under two minutes. B+(***) [bc]
Mindtroll: And That's Just Some of the Good Ones (2013, self-released): Twenty-four tracks, including three of the songs on EP #4 (times shorter on EP), ten under two minutes but they still add up to 53:11. Greatest fear with this band is that their sketchy, disjointed punk rants will prove tedious in the end -- they do, but every now and when a song (like "I'm in the CIA") comes along to reset your attention. B+(**) [bc]
Myrczek & Tomaszewski: Love Revisited (2013 , Fortune): That would be singer Wojciech Myrczek and pianist Pawel Tomaszewski. Most songs are all vintage American standards, sung in English in classic crooner style -- "Freedom Jazz Dance" and "All Blues" are exception (that prove they should follow the rule, not that you can really ever convince a jazz singer not show off the scat). B+(*) [cd]
Tami Neilson: Dynamite! (2014, self-released): Country singer from New Zealand, has a couple previous records I should check out. Ten songs, short at 29:02, but they cover quite a range -- honky tonk, rockabilly, folkie duet, a paean to Texas, the title cut beyond category. A- [bc]
Stevie Nicks: 24 Karat Gold: Songs From the Vault (2014, Reprise): The vault songs date from 1969-95 demos, but the recordings are reportedly new, and I'm not enough of a fan to tell you whether the songs are familiar or obscure. B+(*)
Charlie Parr: Hollandale (2014, Chaperone): Guitarist, based in Duluth MN; has a pile of records since 2003. No vocals (at least not here), looks like Alan Sparhawk is also credited with guitar. Only five tracks, but runs 42:08, deeply resonant. B+(*)
PC Worship: Social Rust (2014, Northern Spy): Some kind of postrock band -- i.e., one that's exhausted its interest in the form but can't conceived of doing something else, possibly because they've fried their ears and couldn't hear themselves otherwise. B-
Perfect Pussy: Say Yes to Love (2014, Captured Tracks): Noise band from Syracuse, originally assembled to play a band in a movie. Meredith Graves is the singer. Not what one would call musical, but that would be a different concept. B-
Lee Scratch Perry: Back on the Controls (2011-13 , Upsetter Music, 2CD): Those peculiarly complex devices on the cover are vacuum tubes, state-of-the-art in the 1950s but largely obsolete during the reggae producer's 1970s heyday, except in technological backwaters (which could include Jamaica). Presumably they signal his intent to go back to that vintage period, although time and age can't deal him the same hand. The result is heavy on the dub, and I mean real heavy, but he keeps it up for 92 minutes -- old groove with new layers of murk, the effect positively postmodern. A-
Adam Pieronczyk Quartet: El Buscador (2008 , Jazzwerkstatt): Polish saxophonist, tenor primarily (although he plays some soprano here and alto elsewhere), has a substantial discography since 1995. Quartet pairs him with trombonist Adrian Mears, backed by bassist Anthony Cox (named "special guest" on the cover), and drummer Krzysztof Dziedzic, who contributes a nice Latin accent. B+(***)
Adam Pieronczyk Quartet: A-Trane Nights (2008-09 , Fortune): Same group as on El Buscador, with bassist Anthony Cox evidently a regular. Drummer Dziedzic maintains his Latin tinge, and trombonist Mears takes more leads than the leader -- he's clearly on a roll here. Main gripe is that the documentation shows two discs but the promo only includes "cd 1." B+(***) [cdr]
Adam Pieronczyk: The Planet of Eternal Life (2013 , Jazzwerkstatt): Solo sax, soprano this time, easy enough on the ears especially when played this methodically. B+(**)
Pinch & Mumdance: Pinch B2B Mumdance (2014, Tectonic): Two British dubstep/grime producers, Robert Ellis and Jack Adams, both with a history of duoing with others, push these beats deep enough under a shroud of mystery they might mean something. B+(***)
Ariel Pink: Pom Pom (2014, 4AD): Disposed of his Haunted Graffiti band moniker, his lo-fi eclecticism turns out a fantastic range of upbeat kitsch, not without a shred of humor, but so stale it begs the question: why would anyone want to subject themselves to this? [PS: First record this year I failed to finish.] C-
PRhyme: PRhyme (2014, Universal Music): Pronounced "prime": rapper Royce da 5'9", turntablist DJ Premier. the latter's beats razor sharp and squeaks dazzling, but as for Royce, admittedly he's an "aquired taste" -- "so acquire some taste," he advises, but you may just as well have to lose some. I couldn't help but notice that the first song was one of the most misogynist bitch rants I've heard in rap. Then there's money-grubbing and the don't-give-a-fuck ethos. Still, I can hear why this was HDX's record of the year, but I can also understand why no one else noticed. B+(**)
Protomartyr: Under Color of Official Right (2014, Hardly Art): Detroit post-punk quartet, roughly similar to the Fall in terms of their melodic grind, although singer Joe Casey doesn't quite have Mark Smith's accent, or class analysis. B+(**)
Eric Reed: Groovewise (2014, Smoke Sessions): Pianist, been on a Monk kick recently but wrote 8 (of 10) songs here, covering Clifford Jordan and Christian McBride. Quartet, with Seamus Blake on tenor sax, Ben Williams on bass, and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. Especially strong outing for Blake. B+(***)
Porter Robinson: Worlds (2014, Astralwerks): Young EDM producer from North Carolina, barely in his 20 but his songs have a gawky juvenile aspect, cartoonish, maybe bubble gum. I found this annoying at first, then it started to sneak up on me. B
Royal Blood: Royal Blood (2014, Warner Brothers): Brighton (UK) duo, drummer Ben Thatcher and bassist-singer Mike Kerr, first album, play blues-based hard rock, crunching chords, basically very ordinary -- beats outsmarting themselves. B
Ruby: Waiting for Light (2014, Fireweed): Brit singer-songwriter Lesley Rankine, started in punk band Silverfish, released an album as Ruby in 1995, another in 2000, now this one. At first encounter what you'd call eclectic, although several songs ("Last Life," "Note to Self," "Barricades") are striking. B+(**)
SBTRKT: Wonder Where We Land (2014, Young Turks): Second album for British dubstep producer Aaron Jerome, much less fun than the first. B
Schizophonia: Cantorial Recordings Reimagined (2014, Blue Thread Music): Guitarist Yossi Fruchter (Pitom, Zion80) put this group together, with Brian Marsella on keyboards and Shanir Blumenkranz on bass. The idea is to take old cantorial music -- something I'm not much familiar with -- and recast it as modern day rock. Not sure that it really works on either count, although the guitarist's chops leave a strong impression. B+(*) [cd]
John Schooley: The Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World (2014, Voodoo Rhythm): Artist's biography is notably "shrouded in half-truths and outright falsehood," no doubt including the ancient provenance of these recordings, which take old folk tunes -- the title tune comes from Charlie Poole -- and bury them in guitar reverb, crashing percussion, and more than a little Metal Machine Music. It's a concept, possibly brilliant, certainly wearing. B+(**)
Reg Schwager: Delphinus (2014, Jazz From Rant): Canadian guitarist, leads a quartet with piano (Don Thompson), bass (Neil Swainson), and drums (Michel Lambert). Easy going, richly melodic, not really too lush, but pointed that direction. B+(**) [cd]
Jacques Schwarz-Bart: Jazz Racine Haïti (2012 , Motema Music): Tenor saxophonist, born in Guadeloupe but connected to Haiti, put this project together to go with a documentary film, featuring several singers (most notably Erol Josué), with Etienne Charles on trumpet and several percussionists. The vocals add solemn weight, but that's not exactly a plus. What is is the sparkling horn interplay. B+(*)
Brian Settles Trio: Folk (2013, Engine Studios): Tenor saxophonist, based in DC, leads trio, free but poised, with bass (Corcoran Holt) and drums (Jeremy Carlstedt). A- [bc]
Linda Sharrock: No Is No: Don't Fuck Around With Your Women (2014, Improvising Beings, 2CD): Born Linda Chambers, 1947, sang in church and gravitated toward avant jazz in the 1960s, marrying guitarist Sonny Sharrock in 1966, singing notably on the 1969 album Black Woman and their jointly credited 1975 album Paradise. She divorced him in 1978 and he died in 1994. She has recorded occasionally on her own since 1991, so her return here is a pleasant surprise. The band -- Itaru Oki (trumpet), Mario Rechtern (reeds), Eric Zinman (piano), Makoto Sato (bass), Yoram Rosilio (drums) -- offers a spirited reminder of the avant '60s. The vocals are less clear and coherent, but the title has a point. B+(***) [cd]
Sonny Simmons & Moksha Samnyasin: Nomadic (2011 , Svart): Remarkably active in his 80s, the alto saxophonist meets a French sitar-bass-drums trio here. They provide him with a bit of rhythmic exotica, and he turns it soulful and daring. B+(***)
Skyzoo & Torae: The Barrel Brothers (2014, E1/Empire): Rap duo, both principals have albums on their own or with others. Solid album by any count. B+(**)
Sly & Robbie: Dubrising (2014, Taxi): Bassist Sly Dunbar and drummer Robbie Shakespeare, the rhythm section behind a who's who of reggae stars in the 1970s and 1980s with dozens of their own albums from Present Taxi in 1981 on, passing through dub and dancehall along the way. I count this as their 16th album with "dub" in the title. Sorry to say, this is the first I've heard, but I can't imagine it's not one of the best. A-
Sly & Robbie: Underwater Dub (2014, Groove Attack): The duo's other dub album this year, came out earlier, is much more basic, just repetitive beats with occasional accents and echoes; in the right hands, one hardly needs more. B+(***)
Emilio Solla y La Inestable de Brooklyn: Second Half (2013 , self-released): Pianist from Argentina, took me longer than it should have to locate this within nuevo tango -- Victor Prieto's accordion should have been the giveaway. The horn section is Brooklyn: Alex Norris (trumpet), Ryan Keberle (trombone), Tim Armacost and John Ellis (reeds), and Meg Okura's violin complements the accordion. B+(**) [cd]
St. Paul & the Broken Bones: Half the City (2014, Single Lock): Classic sounding soul group, based in Alabama, led by singer Paul Janeway, who does a pretty impressive Otis Redding voice and reportedly has James Brown stage moves. Band's gimmick: they're white. That may have been worth a million bucks in Sam Phillips' day, but it's depreciated since then. (Hasn't it?) B+(*)
Sylvan Esso: Sylvan Esso (2014, Partisan): First album from North Carolina duo: singer Amelia Meath and electronica producer Nick Sanborn. Both have country-ish backgrounds but scant evidence of that here. They come closer to trip hop, but don't seem to sense they are doomed. B+(*)
Throttle Elevator Music: Area J (2013 , Wide Hive): I'd rather call this "garage jazz" than fusion or even "postpunk jazz." Second group album. Gregory Howe is credited with "concept" and most of the songs, while Matt Montgomery plays bass-guitar-keybs and Mike Hughes drums, support for saxophonist Kamasi Washington to blow free and wild. B+(**)
Tom Trio: Radical Moves (2013 , Fortune): Trumpet player Tomasz Dabrowski, a name I've run across before, backed with bass (Nils Bo Davidsen) and drums (Anders Mogensen). B+(***) [cd]
Trzy Dni Pozniej: Pokoj Jej Cieniom (2014, Fortune): A vocal trio backed by viola and electronics, all songs written and arranged by Joanna Piwowar-Antosiewicz, her voice supplemented by Marta Groffik-Perchel and Marta Piwowar. Not quite all in Polish (I presume), hints at classical choral music but doesn't trip my usual alarms on that score. B+(**) [cd]
François Tusques/Mirtha Pozzi/Pablo Cueco: Le Fond de L'Air (2014, Improvising Beings): Piano trio (of sorts): no bass but Tusques plays piano and the others percussion. Or I suppose you could call it a percussion trio. B+(***) [cd]
François Tusques/François Toullec/Eric Zinman: Laiser L'Exprit Divaguer (2014, Improvising Beings, 2CD): Two discs of piano duets, both featuring Tusques, the first with Toullec, the second with Zinman. The former is more challenging. The latter latter flows easily in eight numbered but unnamed pieces. B+(**) [cd]
Viet Cong: Cassette (2014, Mexican Summer): Seven songs, 31:29, not sure I'd call that an EP. Alt/indie group from Calgary, remind me a tiny bit of Gang of Four (to cite another name from behind the Bamboo Curtain), but not a comparison they're ready for. B
Mirel Wagner: When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day (2014, Sub Pop): Born in Ethiopia, was adopted as a baby and raised in Finland. Sings in English, voice reminds me a bit of Nina Simone, treading slow over bare guitar; not much, but calm, assured, striking. B+(**)
Kelsey Waldon: The Gold Mine (2014, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Kentucky, cotton country rather than coal (let alone bluegrass), though she grew up with enough sense of class that the longest review I've found was on the World Socialist Web Site. Even without that she could probably get by on voice. A-
Scott Walker + Sunn O))): Soused (2014, 4AD): Wikipedia reports that the band, named after an amplifier logo -- the parens represent sound waves -- has reportedly been synthesizing "drone, ambient, noise, extreme metal" for 15 years now. Unfair to judge from this, where they take a back seat to one of the world's most insufferable vocalists. The combination would be funny if only it were. C
Warpaint: Warpaint (2014, Rough Trade): LA indie band, Emily Kokal is the main singer. Slow and moody, functions as dream pop. B
Watsky: All You Can Do (2014, Steel Wool Media/Welk Music Group): Real last name, dropped George. Started in poetry slams, spoken word, although this has a nice musical flair -- especially on "The One," his piece on the problems of dating (something he doesn't seem to do much). Sample line: "my dick is pretty lonely/but my nuts still got each other." B+(**)
Bob Wayne: Back to the Camper (2014, self-released): This is the real outlaw country, not just the attitude to "do everything I can until I die," but full of tales of crime that give me the willies. Too much heaven and (especially) hell, but he offers a disclaimer -- "not every song is true" -- in a name-dropping song worthy of certified outlaw David Allen Coe. And he does a Marty Robbins thing that goes way beyond the model. A-
Anna Webber's Percussive Mechanics: Refraction (2014, Pirouet): Flute/saxophone player, promotes her 2013 album title to group name, a septet with clarinet, vibes or marimba, piano, bass, two drummers. Most interesting when the rhythm breaks up, especially when the sax comes out. B+(*)
Whiskey Myers: Early Morning Shakes (2014, Wiggy Thump): Southern rock band, hails from Tyler TX to be more precise. Template is supposed to be Lynyrd Skynyrd, but reminds me more of Black Oak Arkansas -- although hippy raunch is harder to pull off when reality impinges and so many have trouble making ends meet. B+(*)
White Lung: Deep Fantasy (2014, Domino): Postpunk/riot grrrl band from Vancouver BC, fronted by blonde singer Mish May. Ten songs, so short (22:05) this could be sloughed off as an EP. On the other hand, they're so packed they don't feel short -- just fast. B+(**)
Betty Who: Take Me When You Go (2014, RCA): Pop singer, Jessica Newham, from Australia, first album after a couple EPs; cites Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus as "influences," and hits that level often enough, but has more trouble with the ballad. B+(*)
Don Williams: Reflections (2014, Sugar Hill): I wouldn't call him a major country singer, but his easy-going style has been so consistent for so long, he's produced enough to make a near-essential compilation -- e.g., 2004's The Definitive Collection. Retired in 2004, but he returned in 2012 on Sugar Hill -- a fine retirement home, free from the Nashville grind and satisfied to keep the old time music flowing. Nothing to do here but pick ten songs and play them. Nothing he can't make look easy. B+(**)
Hank Williams III: Ramblin' Man (1999-2010 , Curb, EP): Third Hank III album Curb has released since Williams' contract ran out in 2010, so these are leftovers, capped at seven tracks (26:14), probably the bottom of the barrel. His voice bears uncanny resemblance to his grandfather's but if anything has grown richer and more nuanced. Still, it's wasted on "Okie From Muskogee," and slightly perverse on his metal numbers. B+(*)
A Winged Victory for the Sullen: Atomos (2014, Kranky): Ambient music duo Duston O'Halloran and Adam Wiitzie, second album together, appealing and unthreatening. B+(**)
Ksawery Wojcinski: The Soul (2013 , Fortune): Polish bassist, also credited here with piano, guitar, percussion, and vocals -- i.e., everything. That helps explain why the album shifts feel so often, although the thick, dark bass leads seem most fundamental. Ends on a gorgeous note with a short gospel chorus of "Hold On Just a Little While Longer." B+(***) [cd]
Matt Woods: With Love From Brushy Mountain (2014, Lonely Ones): Country singer, based in Knoxville -- I guess that doesn't even qualify as Nashville's low-rent district, but it's also a statement: "I'm drunk on the wrong side of heaven/in a town gone straight to hell." I could do with less anguish here, but he's got a voice and observant songs. "I've seen some things/but my favorite thing is looking in your eyes." B+(***)
Waclaw Zimpel To Tu Orchestra: Nature Moves (2014, Fortune): Clarinetist, b. 1983, one of the more recognizable names in Polish jazz due to his frequent collaborations with Vandermark's circle. Nine-piece group, doubling up on bass and drums. The 28:44 opener, "Cycles," stretches a repeating piano figure into something hipnotically sublime, and the title suite adds new wrinkles to the formula. And when free jazz breaks out, Zimpel ties that energy into yet another pattern, raising his whole game to another level. A- [cd]
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound of Luanda 1968-1976 (1968-76 , Analog Africa): Southwest of Congo, a Portuguese colony until 1975, drained since the 16th century to the 1860s for the slave trade with Brazil, and from 1975-2002 battered by an intense civil war. Mostly pre-independence, these groove pieces are unique only in that they seem a bit washed out compared to the dominant Congo influence. B+(**)
Angola Soundtrack 2: Hypnosis, Distorsions & Other Sonic Innovations 1969-1978 (1969-78 , Analog Africa): Time frame advances but still overlaps with first volume but most likely most cuts are still pre-independence. Still, they're getting jumpier -- especially "Bazooka," by Carlo Lamartine & Águias Reals. CD comes with a 42-page booklet, so you're bound to learn something. B+(***)
Arkansas at 78 RPM: Corn Dodgers & Hoss Hair Pullers (1928-37 , Dust-to-Digital): "For the traveling recording men of the late 1920s, Arkansas offered enticing pickings." Twenty-six cuts, from as many string bands and singers, none I've ever heard of, although a few stand out above the hillbilly norm, and that scratch groove feels like roots to me. A-
Keb Darge & Little Edith's Legendary Wild Rockers 3 (1957-66 , BBE): Looking for last year's surf-oriented volume 4, I stumbled into this mostly-rockabilly comp and decided to hear it through. Mostly late-1950s, the post-1960 titles drifting surfward -- cf. the Shindigs' "Thunder Reef" and the Rebel Rousers' "The Peter Gunn Twist." Biggest name: Johnny Powers, fronting a band with Stan Getz. Pick hit: "Crawlin' (the Crawl)," by Untouchables. B+(***)
Keb Darge & Little Edith's Legendary Wild Rockers (1958-64 , BBE): Only two of four volumes in this series are on Rhapsody (2 and 4 are missing). Darge is a Scottish DJ who's assembled some two dozen compilation albums (Legendary Deep Funk and Real Funk for Real People are other series). As for Little Edith, I have no idea. Obscure singles, mostly 1958-60, not exactly rockabilly but spare and wild, often with a novelty angle -- "King Kong," "Oongawa," "The Goo Goo Muck," like that. B+(**)
I'm Just Like You: Sly's Stone Flower 1969-70 (1969-70 , Light in the Attic): Eighteen songs produced by Sly Stone as part of a record deal he got at the height of Sly & the Family Stone's popularity: artist credits are Little Sister (5), 6ix (6), Sly (4), Joe Hicks (3). All sound like loose knock-offs, so no hits but an uncommonly tight collection of little known funk. B+(***)
Chubby Jackson Big Band: New York City 1949: Ooh, What an Outfit! (1949 , Uptown, 2CD): Bassist, came up in big swing bands, notably Woody Herman's first and second herds, leading a 16-piece group at the Royal Roost, plus various odds and ends to fill up the second disc -- including a Gene Roland group where the saxophonists were named Cohn, Getz, Sims, and Mulligan, and a smaller Jackson group with Lou Levy, Terry Gibbs, and Conte Candoli. On their own, the bands play a breakneck swing-bop hybrid, each faster than the other. But there are lots of interruptions -- singers, Symphony Sid, stage patter, some interview -- not all unwelcome. B+(***)
Bill Jennings: Architect of Soul Jazz: The Complete Early Recordings 1951-1957 (1951-57 , Fresh Sound, 2CD): Guitarist, played with Louis Jordan in the 1940s, later cut soul jazz albums for Prestige (two wound up in one of those Legends of Acid Jazz comps). The completism gives you a mixed bag, with some honking sax (Leo Parker, Willis Jackson), pumping organ (Bill Doggett), scattered vocals (some by Jennings), but also duets with vibes that remain interesting despite their sparseness. B+(**)
Les Ambassadeurs: Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako (1975-77 , Sterns Africa, 2CD): Malian prince-turned griot Salif Keita's old group from its early days in Mali's capital city: Keita sings on the first disc and one song into the second, after which they used several singers. Later in 1977 the group moved to Abidjan and renamed themselves Les Ambassadeurs Internationales. A-
Native North America, Vol. 1: Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985 (1966-85 , Light in the Attic, 2CD): Interesting concept, although I suspect this will rise or fall on whether the booklet makes you care. Otherwise, these Native Americans from the northern half of North America sound much like the ubiquitous non-natives all around them, shading from folk to country to rock without any hint of "old west" soundtrack. B+(*)
The Sound of Siam Volume 2: Molam and Luk Thung From Northeast Thailand 1970-1982 (1970-82 , Soundway): Volume 1's subtitle referred to "Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz and Molam," so the shift here seems to be to something a bit more mainstream, or a bit less strange to western ears. In that I guess they've succeeded. B+(*)
Sun Ra and His Blue Universe Arkestra: Universe in Blue (1971-72 , El Saturn): "When the Black Man Ruled This Land" is worth hearing, fodder for some Black Power-era mixtape. But the two long pieces up front show little more than what can go wrong when you live on the edge -- damn near everything. (Then they're great on the closer.) C+
Junior Wells: Southside Blues Jam (1969-70 , Delmark): Guitarist Buddy Guy and pianist Otis Spann get small print on the cover, fully earned, with Earnest Johnson on bass and Fred Below on drums. Classic Chicago blues, stretched out a bit but even the restored closer only runs 7:14. B+(***)
Wilco: What's Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014 (1994-2014 , Nonesuch, 2CD): One of the most eminent alt/indie rock groups of the last two decades, with eight studio albums, all but the debut selling 200,000 or more. I've graded six of those -- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot at A-, all but one of the rest B+ -- so I'm a bit surprised I don't recognize any of these 38 plainly tuneful tracks. With one pass, I hardly know them any better now, but they're so pleasant and satisfying, as consistent as these things get. A-
X__X: X Sticky Fingers X (1978-80 , Smog Veil): Punk band from Cleveland, also known as "X Blank X," released two singles during their short lifespan. Leader was John Morton, ex- and future-leader of the somewhat better known Electric Eels, although drummer Anton Fier would eventually become more famous. The singles were "No Non ¢s" (get it?) and "Your Full of Shit" -- neither all that memorable -- and the compilers are hard-pressed to stretch them out to 16 cuts. Still sounds better than you have any right to expect. B+(**)
Elvin Bishop: Raisin' Hell: Live! (1976 , Capricorn): Live double LP culled from several shows back in Bishop's heyday, has his big hit ("Fooled Around and Fell in Love," sung by Mickey Thomas), his greatest blues romps, a cover of "Calling All Cows" and a Sam Cooke medley, backed by blaring horns. It's a cultural event, but that don't mean no one gets rowdy. A-
The Kinks: Face to Face (1966 , Sanctuary): Fourth UK album, following transitional singles "A Well Respected Man" and "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" into a second stage in the group's sound -- more wryly English even if the label tried to paint them psychedelic. Amid fluff like the amusing "Holiday in Waikiki" only one song feels fully developed: "Sunny Afternoon." The reissue adds more substantial fare like "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" and "Dead End Street." B+(**)
The Kinks: Something Else by the Kinks (1967 , Sanctuary): The year the big British Invasions bands made their plunge into psychedelia, Ray Davies kept pace, although he preferred the shallower end of the pool, quainter, less risk, you know. B+(**)
The Kinks: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968, Sanctuary): An arty song cycle about the band's modest petit bourgeois ambitions, to protect and defend a culture most artists would rather subvert. Only the title song is catchy enough to make light of such homilies, although the filler holds up better than most. B+(***)
The Kinks: Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (1970 , Sanctuary): "Get Back in Line" is so misguided I'd suspect irony but Davies tends to get cutesy when ironic, which is what makes the two singles -- "Lola" and "Apeman" -- so winning. Ends with a typically smug paean to libertarianism. And wouldn't you know, there is no Part Two. B
Tami Neilson: Red Dirt Angel (2008, self-released): First album for New Zealand's country princess. I don't see any credits, but don't recognize any covers either. Some of the album gets the big Nashville-style production, while a couple songs are tossed offhand -- "Missin' the Groom" is the funniest. And some aspiring Nashville star should look up "Same Old Devil." B+(**) [bc]
Raiders of the Lost Dub (1981, Mango): Produced by Sly & Robbie and sometimes filed (e.g., by Rhapsody) under their names. The other candidate would be Black Uhuru, with 4 (of 10) songs, vs. one each for Burning Spear, Junior Delgado, Ijahman, Wailing Souls, the Paragons, and the Viceroys, although the common rhythm section and the dub effects tie the loose ends together. B+(**)
Brian Settles and Central Station: Secret Handshake (2010 , Engine Studios): Debut album, the tenor saxophonist leading a quintet but still the only horn -- the others play piano, bass, drums, and extra percussion. The latter is most distinctive, but the saxophone is most impressive. B+(**) [bc]
Monday, January 19. 2015
Music: Current count 24392  rated (+45), 493  unrated (-10).
I thought I'd wrap up 2014 last week, freezing my year-end list and shelving my EOY aggregate, so I made a serious effort to cram in as much last-minute listening as possible. My freeze dates have typically fallen mid-to-late January (25th in 2009, 24th in 2010, 18th in 2011; 2012 was anomalous with January 1, and last year was January 9). I often wait for Pazz & Jop to post (usually later than this year's January 14). I have added the albums data to my file, and a couple dozen individual ballots. The main external event I'm waiting for now is Christgau's Dean's List: he's always based his annual summary on P&J data, and D'Angelo's surprise win -- which, by the way, he predicted several weeks ago -- gives him all the more to write about. (Also, his hiatus from posting CG reviews means he's likely to have more unreviewed records than usual on his list, and he often comes up with stuff no one else notices.)
I wound up posting the previous paragraph as a stub on my usual Monday. Two days later all I'm wrapping up is this post. If you follow my Twitter feed, you've already seen most of what follows. The 2015 records are all things I've picked up in the mail, played when I feel like listening to something that doesn't tie me down to the computer. (Although I'll note that the Red Garland set already picked up a vote in the 2014 Jazz Critics Poll -- someone got excited and jumped the gun. It and the Charles McPherson records are my first A-list finds of 2015.) I haven't checked out any 2015 releases on Rhapsody yet -- not even the Sleater-Kinney album that friends say is so good it might even overcome my usual objections.
Last two days I've still been adding to the EOY Aggregate. I have a checklist mostly derived from this link list and I'm somewhere in the R's, occasionally still picking up things of interest (e.g., the list from Potholes in My Blog). I also took the trouble of constructing a composite list from the individual staff top-tens at Reverb. I factored in a number of genre lists from Rolling Stone and Spin, and wrote quite a bit about them -- some last post and more I didn't bother posting but kept in the notebook. This will come to an end soon, but not quite yet.
Plan is still to freeze the year-end lists when I run Rhapsody Streamnotes, most likely later this week. I'd like to end the EOY Aggregate at the same time, but I do want to include Christgau's Dean's List whenever that finally appears. Last thing I'll probably do is factor in my own A-list: I haven't done that yet because it's always changing and the Aggregate is basically a record of what other people think, but I'd like to recognize a few albums that no one else has noticed, and I suppose I do count for something. (By the way, Milo Miles's late lists added a couple of those: e.g., Free Nelson Mandoomjazz and Duduvudo.)
By the way, the Aggregate remains very close and rather volatile. You may recall that War on Drugs jumped to an early lead, then lost it to FKA Twigs. Then a couple weeks ago, War on Drugs recovered the lead, only to lose it this week to Run the Jewels 2. Currently the top three points are 308-304-298, so they could well flip again. Fourth is St. Vincent at 279. Caribou is still in fifth at 200, but Flying Lotus has narrowed the gap at 196, Aphex Twin at 191, then a tie between Sun Kil Moon and Swans at 184. Swans had been in 6th recently, so I'm a bit surprised (and pleased) to see it slip. Also, Beck has slipped out of his longstanding hold on 10th place: at 163, now tied with Angel Olsen and trailing Sharon Van Etten. Taylor Swift continues to gain (now 18th), also Sturgill Simpson (22nd), Parquet Courts (26th), Azealia Banks (27th), Miranda Lambert (28th), and most of all, P&J winner D'Angelo (30th). I've never consciously played favorites here, but find it rather satisfying how neatly the standings are working out. Currently up to 487 lists with 4285 new records and 637 reissues/archives.
By the way, I haven't talked much about the reissues list, mostly because the actual sample size hasn't been very high. The leader right now has accumulated a mere 23 points -- just enough to tie Lily Allen, Mica Levi, The Juan MacLean, Pharmakon, Thee Silver Memorial Orchestra, Mark Turner, and The Twilight Sad for 163rd on the new list. I would have picked Bob Dylan's The Basement Tapes Complete as a priori favorite, and it has a fairly solid lead (23-17) right now over John Coltrane's Offering: Live at Temple University. Beyond that some surprises (Native North America) and somethings that might have been expected (the latest Miles Davis bootleg). Also three Led Zeppelin "deluxe editions" in the top-20, but that was mostly due to the practice of counting each record when listmakers came up with entries like "Led Zeppelin reissues."
I'll also note that among jazz records, Wadada Leo Smith's The Great Lakes Suites has pulled rather clearly ahead of Steve Lehman's Mise En Abime, 34-28 (111th to 138th). I'd say that the Jazz Critics Poll's results are more representative of jazz critical opinion, and Lehman beat Smith in a close race there. Third in the EOY aggregate is Mark Turner's Lathe of Heaven, which was the highest placing jazz album in Pazz & Jop this year, then fourth is Ambrose Akinmusire (second in P&J, followed by Lehman, Marc Ribot, and Bad Plus -- the latter 7th and 6th in my Aggregate).
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, January 17. 2015
Bits are cheap, so some folks at Rolling Stone scratched their heads and came up with a list, 40 Best Country Albums of 2014. It's one of those things you have to click through one album per page (and of course, the pages don't fit within a browser window so you have to scroll too). I did all that work as part of folding the data into my EOY Aggregate, but having written down the list, I thought I'd just save you the trouble and post it. (Of course, if you do click through you'll get the album covers and some reviews.) It's a decent list as these things go: I counted similar country lists from All Music Guide, Billboard, Baltimore City Paper, Exclaim, Huffpost Music Canada, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, PopMatters, Rhapsody, Something Else, The Telegraph, The Village Voice, and Wondering Sound. I think it's the deepest such list (Telegraph went to 37, and AMG is close to that) -- deeper even than the specialists. And quite properly it includes what's commonly called Americana, which is to say rock with a little country (or blues) seasoning as well as some more folkish sorts.
For a little added value, I'll include my grades in brackets (where I have them, 60% of the time; stars are shades of B+):
Only record on the list I was serviced was Dolly Parton's -- not likely to happen again. Only one I bought was Miranda Lambert's, so everything else came my way via Rhapsody (or didn't, for Williams, McKenna, Brooks, Doug Paisley, Country Funk II, and several others I looked up. Some I didn't look up -- never before heard of Sundy Best, hadn't registered much about Niemann or Brice, and I've heard way too much Lady Antebellum already.
I didn't exactly grow up with country music, but I grew up close enough I could relate. My folks watched a lot of Hee-Haw, and somehow I watched a lot of Porter Wagoner. My mother was a devoted fan of George Jones; my father was more into comics like Jimmy Dickens and Minnie Pearl. So when peers like Harold Karabell and George Lipsitz tried to steer me toward Gram Parsons and Merle Haggard, my resistance melted pretty quickly. George Jones even helped repair my schizophrenic relationship with my mother. In the 1990s I made a serious effort to catch up with every major figure in jazz, blues, and country. While that led to my Jazz Consumer Guide gig, there was also a brief period when I was getting 20-40 alt-country releases a year, and I'd usually find 3-5 very good records hardly anyone else noticed. That doesn't happen any more, but the experience gives me some hints to work from.
Not sure how many country-folk-bluegrass-Americana records I heard last year -- probably close to 100. Enough to put together, well, not a top-40 list, but maybe a top 30 (dipping down into the high HMs, which if country is your thing isn't a bad idea). A first pass on such a list looks like this:
Scheinman may not be country enough for you, but that's where the social realism fits: the genre-cross -- she is one of the world's greatest jazz violinists -- seems to have thrown everyone. Langford, Hiatt, Tolchin, the Delines, and possibly others tend to be treated as alt-rock but they're close to the fuzzy line. My original sort also picked up The Baseball Project, Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas, and Hard Working Americans, but to get down to 30 I decided they were outside the lines. Common Ground is explicitly a blues album, but you tell me the difference. In previous years I've tried explicitly grouping blues and and gospel with the country albums: had I done that here, you'd pick up: Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story (1956-63); Leo Welch, Sabougla Voices; Bushwick Gospel Singers, Songs of Worship Vol. 2; Benjamin Booker; Sleepy John Estes, Live in Japan (1974); Danny Petroni, The Blue Project; John Nemeth, Memphis Grease.
I also have 2-star HMs for (including blues): Elvin Bishop, Can't Even Do Wrong Right; Carlene Carter, Carter Girl; Rosanne Cash, The River & the Thread; Davina & the Vagabonds, Sunshine; Brigitte DeMeyer, Savannah Road; Justin Townes Earle, Single Mothers; Hurray for the Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes; EG Kight, A New Day; Link of Chain: A Songwriters' Tribute to Chris Smither; Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else; Old Crow Medicine Show, Remedy; John Schooley, The Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World; Peter Stampfel, Better Than Expected; Randy Travis: Influence Vol. 2: The Man I Am; Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited. At this level I'm not doing much more than random sampling.
Next stop, perhaps, Rolling Stone's 40 Best Rap Albums of 2014. Probably about as solid. Much more problematic is likely to be RS's 20 Best Avant Albums of 2014, but then one person's avant is another's breakfast gruel.
Monday, January 12. 2015
Music: Current count 24347  rated (+61), 503  unrated (-2).
It's been cold outside, and I've done very little but cram new lists into the EOY Aggregate File and listen to marginal list picks -- some well-regarded (and often awful), some quite rare (and occasionally wonderful). And this time they've really piled up: the 61 in the count above includes a couple corrections for bookkeeping omissions, but there are still 58 records listed below -- eight per day on average, with all the A- records getting at least two spins (although few of the ***-HMs got a shot to improve their lot -- the best prospects are Karen Jonas, Tom Trio, Matt Woods, and Wild Rockers 3). I will admit I saved a few minutes by hitting the reject on Ariel Pink -- graded it leniently as a hedge against missing something, although I hope you don't bother to call me on it. I did make it all the way through Scott Walker but playing them back-to-back was a big mistake. For the record, both are tours de force, conceptually brilliant and catchy in perverse ways -- I can see why some people love them, or at least find them amusing, but they perturb the universe in ways I find appalling. Not a lot of jazz in the list below, although I'm most of the way through the Polish Fortune (or ForTune or For Tune) albums -- surprisingly diverse for a label I had pegged as strictly avant.
The Kinks was a diversion. Their albums are gradually coming out in bonus editions, and I had written up the first three a while back. I was looking for a new 2-CD compilation on Legacy, but found a 5-CD box and a 1-CD best-of instead, and didn't really feel like bothering with either, but I found five more 1966-71 albums -- four I could swear I once had on LP but only Muswell Hillbillies had been recorded in the database (B+). For some reason, Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the English Empire) (1969) isn't available (and it looks like only about half of it is on the 5-CD box). I lost interest in the group shortly after Kink Kronikles (1972), with only Everybody's in Showbiz (1972: B) and Low Budget (1979: B+) in the database.
The EOY lists are still a work in progress, but one that should come to an end soon -- I'll add in Pazz & Jop when it appears later this week, Christgau's Dean's List whenever that appears, and maybe I'll drop in my own list (just to give Lily Allen a boost). Usually at this point the top ranks are stabilizing, even spreading out a bit, but a funny thing happened when I sorted the list a few days ago: War on Drugs (the early leader) edged back ahead of FKA Twigs for the top spot (the current margin is 272-268, with Run the Jewels a close third with 260, St. Vincent a solid fourth with 246). The other thing that's happened is that after Caribou, the 6-9 slots have tightened up and are pretty much dead even at 170-169-167-167 for Sun Kil Moon, Swans, Flying Lotus, and Aphex Twin. Beck is well back with 148 for 10th, and the next dozen or so albums have been pretty stable even though the deltas are pretty tight: 145 (Sharon Van Etten), 142 (Angel Olsen), 139 (Spoon), 130 (Future Islands), 125 (Todd Terje), 123 (Damon Albarn), 120 (Mac DeMarco), 116 (Perfume Genius), 109 (Taylor Swift), 103 (Lana Del Rey), 102 (Ty Segall), 97 (Jack White), 93 (Freddie Gibbs/Madlib). The only order change there was Del Rey passing Segall. Below that the list is a bit more dynamic, with a three-way tie at 88 between Parquet Courts, Real Estate, and Sturgill Simpson. Further down at 68, D'Angelo is still rising, most recently passing Scott Walker and Ariel Pink (two of the year's most horrible albums, by the way).
I haven't been scoring lists, but one I was struck by was David O'Brien's at Atlanta Constitution Journal: his top-50 includes 13 of my A-list albums (D'Angelo, Spoon, Leonard Cohen, Big KRIT, Mary Gauthier, Dave & Phil Alvin, Ought, The Delines, Statik Selektah, Parquet Courts, Thurston Moore, Angaleena Presley, and Cloud Nothings -- make that 14 with Tami Neilson), plus 3 more in the HMs (Rodney Crowell, Miranda Lambert, Billy Joe Shaver). I also count 7 3-star B+ and 8 more 2-star -- that's where the median lies. He likes some records I don't (Swans, Sharon Van Etten, Beck, Jack White, YG), has a minor interest in metal (Mastodon and YOB in the HMs), doesn't show any jazz or electronica (not even Caribou), or any of the more narrowly Christgauvian cult items (absence of Wussy almost certainly means he hasn't heard them).
Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. I've started to play some 2015 jazz, but mostly I'm still trying to mop up late finds from 2014.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, January 11. 2015
The big news of the week was the massacre in the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, where ten journalists (mostly cartoonists) and two police were gunned down. This was followed by a shooting of a police officer at Montrouge, and an attempt to take hostages at a kosher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes, resulting in four more deaths (five counting the assailant). French officials hunted down and killed the two Charlie Hebdo shooters, but the story doesn't end there. Whereas mass shootings by non-Muslims in Europe and America (including one in Norway in 2011 that killed 77 people) are typically treated as "lone wolf" aberrations, any such violence committed by Muslims automatically triggers a chain reaction where all the usual reactors resume the positions they took after 9/11, mostly to escalate US, European, and Israeli violence against Muslims. The effect is much like watching a train wreck, where no matter how clear every detail seems, one is helpless to prevent or even affect the crash.
The most immediate response has been a huge outpouring of racist rhetoric from Europe's right, especially from the strategically placed, shamelessly opportunistic Marine le Pen. And as rightists almost reflexively respond, this has already resulted in a number of attacks against mosques in France. Meanwhile, more respectable elites have tended to the propaganda campaign. In particular, Charlie Hebdo has become an icon of free speech, championed by people who spend billions of dollars every year to shape public discourse to advance their own agendas. Over the longer term they will use this attack as an excuse to launch -- actually, to continue -- many more of their own. Moreover, those attacks -- indeed, this week's mosque attacks -- will scarcely raise a ripple in the western press, or a twinge of conscience in the belligerent elites.
Needless to say, this kneejerk reaction is insane. If, say, one suffers and barely survives a heart attack, the normal response is to take a look at your own life and see you can do better -- stop smoking, eat differently, exercise more, take a daily aspirin, whatever. It's not to go out and bomb Afghanistan, or burn down a convenient mosque. And this is not because you feel personally culpable for the heart attack. It's more because the only change you can make is to yourself. Yet terror attacks, which for nearly everyone are mere impersonal news, are never allowed to evoke a moment's self-examination. There's a complex psychology behind this, but it's ultimately because the elites (especially the right-wingers who predominate) have something to hide, and much to fear if this is ever discussed rationally.
The attackers in Paris, for instance, identified themselves as affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda was effectively invented in the 1980s when the United States recruited Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to raise an Islamist army ("the mujahideen") to sabotage the Soviets in Afghanistan. The US was arguably naive to do so, but American Cold Warriors had often (and successfully) used religion against "Godless Communism," and colonial powers had routinely recruited Islamic clerics to help control the masses -- in fact, the US used Iranian clerics to organize the mobs that helped overthrow Iran's democracy in 1953. So what could go wrong? (This was, after all, the Reagan administration, where naivete was little less than a worldview.)
When recruited by the US, the Saudi monarchy and Pakistan's Islamist dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq built their Afghan war machine with the clerics they had in hand -- the fundamentalist Wahhabi and Deobandi sects, militantly orthodox especially in their excoriation of heretics (especially Shiites) and used to using their religious beliefs as a platform for war -- nor did they limit their scope to Afghanistan: since its founding, Pakistan has been obsessed with India, while Saudi Arabia was locked in a long struggle with secularizing, socialist, and nationalist forces throughout the Arab world. It was only a matter of time before the muhahideen turned their venom against their patrons, especially the infidel ones.
Still, jihadism was never more than a sliver movement within Islam. If you read Gilles Kepel's definitive history of jihadism up to 2000 (Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam), you will see that before 9/11 the movement had largely burned itself out. In that context, 9/11 was a "hail Mary pass" -- an effort not to strike the enemy so much as to provoke a monster, which would then invade the Land of Islam and drive the faithful to take up arms. Thanks to the ignorance and ego of GW Bush, Bin Laden was successful in his provocation. His only disappointment was in how few Muslims rose to fight alongside him. But a small number did, joining the ranks of those caught up in local wars -- some like Iraq the result of US imperial adventures, others like Syria only slightly removed -- adding a religious fire to those conflicts. And very rarely, as in Paris last week, the blowback comes home.
All this has been plainly obvious for many years, even as a succession of presidents (and both apologists and antagonists) have been oblivious to the consequences of their actions. And by consequences I don't mean the rare blowback event -- I mean the obviously direct consequences of aerial attacks and covert operations, of sanctions and propping up cruel dictators, of repeatedly proving to the world that US leaders have no respect for foreign lives, least of all Muslim ones. There are a great many reasons why the US should withdraw from such behaviors. Fear of reprisal (of blowback) is a relatively minor one, but even it isn't as silly as refusing to do the right thing, and insisting on repeating past mistakes, for fear of looking like you're giving in to terrorism. Elites like to brand terrorists as cowards, but the real cowardice is failing to do the right thing for fear of looking weak.
Only by changing our ways will this problem ever go away.
Some more links and comments follow (some on other topics):
Also, a few links for further study:
Monday, January 5. 2015
Music: Current count 24286  rated (+39), 505  unrated (-4).
A bit out of sync here, having closed the count last night but adding two incoming discs today -- otherwise last week was pretty barren at the mailbox. Actually, I could have posted this early, but what's held me back was stuffing the EOY aggregate list -- now up to 310 lists, 3470 new records, 524 reissues/comps/vault jobs. I'm getting close to wrapping that up -- the last step is usually to fold in the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop album results, or Christgau's Dean's List, whichever comes last. I've picked up some more jazz lists, including the Jazz Critics Poll (down to 150), and I've also picked up a cluster of lists from the Christgau-focused Expert Witness group -- close to two dozen ballots to Odyshape's Expert Witness Pazz & Jop album poll (see below), plus some longer lists from that direction (including 150 albums from Jason Gubbels). The top twenty albums in Odyshape's poll, followed by their bump in my aggregate file:
The EW voters aren't the only factor here: Run the Jewels has been gaining ground steadily for several weeks, and D'Angelo has picked up speed after a very late start. Nor is their (or should I say our?) representation untoward: I expect that close to two dozen critics will vote in both Odyshape and Village Voice polls, so if they/we weren't counted here, that would introduce a skew there. Even so, it's likely that a dozen or more of this list of twenty will place higher in P&J than in my aggregate.
There's probably a lot more interesting data that could be mined from the aggregate chart, but the one thing I want to point out here is that the top four have narrowed: the points are 236-223-213-205 (with Run the Jewels passing St. Vincent). Fifth place Caribou is down at 159, followed by 152, 144 (twice), 138, and 125. Usually at this point the top few slots are spreading out, so this is about as close a top bunch as you'll ever see.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Wednesday, December 31. 2014
This wraps up the year 2015. Last year I resolved to spend less time on music and more on writing my book projects, and I've pretty much been a complete failure on that. I did manage to cut some ties with music publicists, and my incoming mail is certainly down. But this year's grades list still lists 1045 records. Compared against previous years' "frozen" files -- i.e., copies saved off at roughly the end of the year -- that is the shortest since 2008 and second-shortest since 2005. Sure, the file is down about 100 lines compared to 2013, about 50 lines compared to 2012. Still, that represents a lot of records, and a lot of time.
I've tried to do several things here: to clean out my own unplayed queue, to listen to the handful of good prospects that only came out in December, and to check out some of the more interesting things on other people's EOY lists. I've depended more and more on streaming services like Rhapsody to have any chance whatsoever to cover a broad range of more/less popular music. Aside from pretty much completely ignoring metal, I feel like I've done a fairly good job of that. Checking against this year's metacritic file (limited to EOY lists, I've heard 41 of the top 50 (and less impressively 71 of the top 100). Unheard thus far:
There are a few items on the unheard list that I looked for but didn't find (Swift, Segall, Plant, Shellac, Stott, Williams), but most are records I have little personal hope for -- judging from reviews and/or experience. I don't have time to sort through the data again, but in the past there has been virtually no correlation between list placement and my grades. One little spot check here: of 970 new records I have graded, 94 are B, for 9.6%; of the 71 top-100 records I've graded, 10 are B, for 14.0%; I have 44 B- grades (4.5% of all graded), including 6 in the top 100, for 8.4%. That suggests that bad records are if anything more likely to appear in the top 100.
At the other end, I've rated 142 records A- or A this year -- probably an all-time record -- for 14.2% of my rated total. I have 10 of the top-100 at A- or A, an almost identical 14.0%. These numbers don't disprove the hypothesis that there's no correlation between quality (in my view) and list placement. The discrepancy on lower grades is probably because I'm more likely to listen to bad records on the list than off -- something that should be clear from the declining numbers of lesser grades on my list (94 B, 44 B-, 8 C+, 3 C -- a random sampling of available records should produce relatively constant numbers in each of those grades; although it could also be that I'm just not a very tough grader in that range).
No resolutions for 2015, although it is likely that I will cut back on music reviews, and possibly much else.
By the way, for another analysis of year-end list data, see Rob Mitchum: The Rock-Critic Hive Mind. He's able to draw out some basic points from a spreadsheet of 35 lists -- presumably you can download his spreadsheet and play with it (although personally I've never found spreadsheets to be all that useful; by the way, you can download my data files -- new albums, reissues/comps, legend -- and write some fairly trivial awk or perl or whatever to hack them into your favorite database or spreadsheet format). My own data is a good deal broader and deeper (his 35 lists refer to about 600 albums; my 200+ refer to about 3000 albums), although if you're only interested in the top of the lists that may not matter. I do get some slightly different results; e.g., a larger lead for FKA Twigs and much less suggestion of a UK-bias.
I've written several comments along these lines already, but will recap a bit here. My prediction is that the Pazz & Jop winner will be Run the Jewels 2, followed by St. Vincent, FKA Twigs' LP1, and War on Drugs' Lost in the Dream -- although the order of those four is actually pretty uncertain. Aphex Twin's Syro and Flying Lotus' You're Dead are certain to finish top 10 and either could break into the top-four. D'Angelo's Black Messiah is a very late-breaking entrant (release date 10 days before P&J ballot deadline). It's a good record (see below), and has received a lot of very favorable review attention very quickly, so it's clearly Mitchum's "December surprise" -- combine that with relatively soft support for the big four and the example of Beyoncé's surprise 4th place finish last year and you get a lot of wishful thinking that Black Messiah might be the upset winner. I have to say there is little chance of that, although I'd put odds of a top-five finish at about 15% and a top-ten at about 40%. The other records with an outside chance of some sort of upset are Taylor Swift's 1989 and Miranda Lambert's Platinum -- the former (unheard by me) has broader support but maybe no stronger than Lana Del Rey, the latter more intense support among a smaller sample -- and P&J became more "female friendly" during Maura Johnston's reign (though I was never able to prove she stacked the voter list).
Closer to home, Odyshape is running a poll for Robert Christgau's Expert Witness readers (ballot deadline midnight tonight). Overwhelming favorite there is Wussy's Attica!, which has a better than 50% chance of cracking P&J top-40 only because about a dozen critics overlap both polls. I ran a similar poll in 2002 and 2003, the former won by Sleater-Kinney (5th that year in P&J), the latter by Buck 65 (not in the P&J's top-40) -- so I have an idea how far Christgau's followers have diverged from the rest of criticdom. Still, usually in the past there have been a couple albums that bridged the gap -- Kanye West, Vampire Weekend, like that. This year I think the highest ranked (by my EOY list file, up to 150) albums that Christgau has graded A- or higher are:
That's not a lot of common ground -- offhand, looks like the least amount of convergence between Christgau's A-list and P&J top-40 ever (although it's probably too early to tell: Christgau got a late start with Expert Witness this year and has more A-list records not yet published). Some spreadsheet wizard should work out a formula for comparing the two sets of lists and plot them out over time. I suspect the long-term trend slope would be divergent, probably since the early 1980s, but I'll leave that task to someone else. What it looks like to me is that critics who are satisfied with many of the EOY consensus picks are just lazy: for every War on Drugs, FKA Twigs, Caribou, Beck, Sharon Van Etten, etc., it shouldn't be hard to find a matching group that is more obscure but every bit as worthy -- especially if you follow the fringes and turn over a thousand or so albums along the way.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on December 11. Past reviews and more information are available here (5778 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Yemi Alade: King of Queens (2014, Effyzzie Music Group): Singer from Nigeria, won one of those talent shows in 2009 and landed a record contract, and now this long debut album. Mixed bag, some African grooves and choruses, but other parts try to fit snugly into the western neo-soul mold, including the occasional nod toward hip-hop. Worthy single: "Tangerine." B+(**)
Melissa Aldana: Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio (2014, Concord Jazz): Young tenor saxophonist from Chile, leads a trio with Chilean bassist Pablo Menares and Cuban drummer Francisco Mela. B+(*)
Alvvays: Alvvays (2014, Polyvinyl): Not the only band that's discovered the cute typographic trick of replacing "w" with "vv," but probably the best known one: an alt-rock group from Toronto which gets pop kudos for their female singer (Molly Rankin) and a good deal of jangle mixed in with the guitars. B+(*)
Arca: Xen (2014, Mute): Alejandro Ghersi, from Venezuela, first LP after various EPs and mixes. Fairly glossy electronics, but that's just one facet of a fairly broad dramatic spectrum. B
Banks: Goddess (2014, Harvest): Singer-songwriter Jillian Banks, from California. Album gets slotted as soul but she doesn't have that post-Aretha diva complex, just a preference for slow songs, which she keeps simple enough they have an interesting charm. B+(**)
Battle Trance: Palace of Wind (2014, New Amsterdam): Sax quartet, just the four of them, with Travis Laplante the leader, plus Matthew Nelson, Jeremy Viner, and Patrick Breiner -- pretty sure they all play tenor, so this isn't an exercise in Hemphillian harmony. It's more like an attempt to amplify the distinctive sound of circular breathing into something deeply trance-like. B+(**)
Rubén Blades: Tangos (2010 , Sunnyside): Back in the 1980s he seemed like a good bet to take the world by storm -- he was even touted as a future president of his native Panama -- but his acting career settled into character parts, his Elektra contract gave way to Sony Discos, and when the elder George Bush deposed Panama's long-time dictator (former CIA stooge Manuel Noriega) Bush looked elsewhere for a new Quisling. So much later the phenom hangs on crooning classic tangos, backed by the City of Prague Symphony Orchestra. B
Michael Blake: Tiddy Boom (2014, Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, joined the Lounge Lizards after their prime in 1991, started recording his own projects in 1997. Quartet with Frank Kimbrough (piano), Ben Allison (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). Very much a sax player's album -- all original material includes titles like "Hawk's Last Rumba" and "Good Day for Pres." A-
Mary J. Blige: The London Sessions (2014, Capitol): Twenty-some years after What's the 411?, I've never been much of a fan but have to admit she's developed into a seasoned pro, as consistent as anyone needs to be. And offhand I'd say this is a tad above her norm, not so much because the guest Brits help as she's pro enough to overcome them. B+(***)
Dean Blunt: Black Metal (2014, Rough Trade): Roy Nnawuchi, from London, previously recorded as Hype Williams, moves from dance beats to darker and more dramatic gestures. B+(*)
Fiorenzo Bodrato: Travelling Without Moving (2012 , CMC): Italian bassist, from Turin, website shows five records but not this one. Spoken word vocals, including poems from Borges and Dryden, and something original by Ciro Buttari, impress like hip-hop, while the instrumental wind-down is rather sublime. B+(***) [cd]
Benjamin Booker: Benjamin Booker (2014, ATO): Rookie singer-songwriter from Florida, gets classified as blues (no doubt) because he's black but he's such a straight-up rocker he cites Jack White as his main influence. Actually, fuzzier and crankier. B+(***)
Patrick Breiner Double Double: Mileage (2013 , Sulde): Tenor saxophonist, also appears as Vartan Mamigonian and plays in Battle Trance. Quartet with drums and two basses. Rough and scratchy, but sometimes the energy level lifts it up. B+(*) [bc]
Peter Brötzmann/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Soul Food Available (2013 , Clean Feed): Avant-sax trio, part of the label's "live in Ljubljana" concession, may seem like old hat given that Brötzmann has been bringing the same noise for nearly fifty years, but he's not as harsh as way back when, and the rhythm section is tuned in. B+(***) [cd]
Malonie Carre: Forever (2014, self-released): Singer-songwriter, eight originals plus two jazz standards. B [cd]
Charli XCX: Sucker (2014, Atlantic): Second album, big beat dance pop with postpunk sneer and swagger. The song that cinched it for me was "London Queen," where she comes to America because it's the only country big enough for her, even though she can't quite believe it. And no, it's not because I'm flattered by the portrait. It's the perfect flipside to "I'm So Bored With the USA." A-
Jimmy Cobb: The Original Mob (2014, Smoke Sessions): Drummer, b. 1929, side credits start around 1956 with Dinah Washington, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis, and the list only grows from there. Hornless quartet, with guitarist Peter Bernstein taking most of the leads, pianist Brad Mehldau comping and knocking off his own impressive solos. B+(***)
Leonard Cohen: Live in Dublin (2013 , Columbia, 3CD): Recorded five years after his career-redefining Live in London, the bait here is more -- three discs instead of two, plus a DVD for those who feel they have to watch music. (I'm not one, but would probably check it out if I had a copy.) His intervening album was a good one but had little impact on the songbook. The pace may be a bit more subdued but it's basically the same concert -- he's in fairly good voice, his use of backup singers remains masterful, he runs a masterful band, and he's a most gracious impressario. I'd grade it higher if it weren't so redundant. A-
J Cole: 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014, RCA): Third album, title refers to address of Cole's childhood home in NC, lots of free association on where he came from and where he's going -- the beats quasi-underground, the stories real life, way too much N-word for my taste. I do approve of the lecture on copyright law (including the aside on Ferguson). B+(***)
Ian William Craig: A Turn of Breath (2014, Recital): Trained as an opera singer, Craig builds fairly abstractpieces out of voice samples and tape loops. B+(*)
D'Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah (2014, RCA): Not what you'd call prolific -- a well-received debut album in 1995, a near-classic follow-up in 2000, and now this. Aside from an exhortation about "the Jesus of the Bible" the words melt into the fractured funk grooves, which could just as well do without them (though maybe the voices should stay). Oblique and mysterious. A-
Jeff Davis: Dragon Father (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer-led conventional postbop quintet, with Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Oscar Noriega (alto sax, clarinets), Russ Lossing (piano), and Eivind Opsvik (bass). All Davis originals, lead from the rear, but what really kicks the rhythm up is Lossing's frenetic comping -- he pretty much steals the show. B+(***)
Duduvudu: The Gospel According to Dudu Pukwana (2009 , Edgetone): Dudu Pukwana (1938-90) was an alto saxophonist from South Africa, played with Chris McGregor's integrated Blue Notes before and after exile. Straddling avant-jazz and South African folk/pop, he sometimes fell down on either side, but his 1973 album In the Townships (reissued on Earthworks in 1990) is the jazz take of township jive -- a great album and a longtime personal favorite. I'm having trouble sorting out the credits, and only the initial November 2009 date is given. As far as I can tell, there were at least three sessions (one in London and two in California) with little overlap and no clear idea who's driving the project -- the only names I recognize are Harry Beckett (the late trumpet player, from Trinidad but loosely associated with Pukwana), Pierre Dørge (guitarist-bandleader, a protege of Blue Notes bassist Johnny Dyani), and Wayne Wallace (Bay Area trombonist). Still, the music fits and flows, the waves of township jive larger than ever. A [cd]
Donald Edwards: Evolution of an Influenced Mind (2013 , Criss Cross): Drummer, second album after one in 1998, leads quintet with a voluble Walter Smith III on tenor sax, both guitar (David Gilmore) and piano (Orrin Evans), and Eric Revis on bass. B+(**)
Chet Faker: Built on Glass (2014, Downtown): From Australia, singer-songwriter/electronica producer Nick Murphy (aka Atlas Murphy), pays tribute to Chet Baker's vocal style without in any significant way capturing it. Still, an improvement over Beck's latest, partly because it doesn't seem so pat. B+(**)
Kevin Gates: By Any Means (2014, Bread Winners Association): Rapper from Baton Rouge, has been prolific lately with mixtapes that play like albums, albums like mixtapes, and a side of crime fiction named for Luca Brasi. This is his most official LP, as oblique as any. B+(**)
Ghostface Killah: 36 Seasons (2014, Tommy Boy): A story teller, always a problem for me -- I don't follow these things well, and I'm not even a fan of the art, not sure I can tell a good one from a bad one. This one seems to pivot on "It's a Thin Line Between Love and Hate," where he finds the cost of mistreating his woman is her dumping him in a hospital bandaged from head to toe. That starts a stretch where the more pedestrian things I judge hip-hop on -- strong beats and sharp turns of phrase -- snap together. Then the Revelations return. B+(***)
Brantley Gilbert: Just as I Am (2014, Valory): Like a gecko, determined to pump up his sound to make him look like a bigger Nashville star than he is. Live, you might be swept away with the energy without realizing how rote the riffing is. B-
Sax Gordon: In the Wee Small Hours (2013 , Delmark): Tenor saxophonist Gordon Beadle -- side credits go back to 1990 and are mostly with bluesmen (Champion Jack Dupree, Jimmy McCracklin, Smokin' Joe Kubek) -- backed with organ and drums. Goes more for ballads than honk this time, and doesn't have a world-class ballad tone -- back cover suggests Gene Ammons, Arnett Cobb, and Willis Jackson, and he falls way short, especially of the first two. Still, this hits my sweet spot. B+(**) [cd]
Grouper: Ruins (2014, Kranky): Liz Harris used to use electronics to create her ambient murk, but this time strips down to one-note piano figures and whispered vocals -- at least until the 11:24 closer, a shimmering mirage. B+(**)
Hard Working Americans: The First Waltz (2014, Melvin): As near as I can tell, the only real talent here is Todd Snider, so I suppose you can credit modesty (or even comradeship) for how he blends into the background -- all the more so on this live sequel to the group's eponymous debut album. B+(*)
Hildegard Lernt Fliegen: The Fundamental Rhythm of Unpolished Brains (2013 , Yellowbird): Swiss vocalist Andreas Schaerer's project, introduced with an eponymous 2007 album. The group, with three horns (primarily alto sax, baritone sax, and trombone, although all play other horns and recorders) and guests on banjo and bandoneon, forces lots of contortions, while Schaerer navigates them artfully. B+(*) [bc]
Hiss Golden Messenger: Lateness of Dancers (2014, Merge): Singer-songwriter Michael Taylor, from North Carolina, starts singing much like Dylan but tones it down over the album. Pleasant enough, but didn't notice many words -- I assume they're unimportant, as I most often noticed Dylan's. B+(*)
Sam Hunt: Montevalo (2014, MCA Nashville): Nashville rookie, writes at least a share of his songs, sounds like he's trying to sneak in behind Luke Bryan at the party, probably because he's not naughty (or dumb) enough to break down the door. Jotted two sample lines down: "I fell in love in the back of a cop car" (he likes bad girls); "I just want your ecstasy" (that's why he likes them). B
I Love Makonnen: I Love Makonnen (2014, OVO Sound, EP): Makonnen Sheran, first impression is that he's Atlanta's answer to Das Racist with his offhand, loosely disjointed sound. Seven cuts, 28:28, with Drake guesting on a breakout single ("Tuesdays"). B+(*)
ICP Orchestra: East of the Sun (2014, ICP): Initials stand for Instant Composer's Pool, a Dutch avant large band -- usually around ten pieces -- that dates back to 1967, led since its founding by pianist Misha Mengelberg, although I see that the piano credit here goes to Guus Janssen (Mengelberg, who is getting close to 80, has five composition credits here, to one each for Janssen, Ab Baars, and Michael Moore). Some very fine stretches here, especially the rousing "Moten Swing," but also more rough patches than I like -- even understanding their knack for turning chaos into beauty. B+(**) [dl]
Anthony Jefferson: But Beautiful (2014, self-released): Standards singer, from New Orleans, has a rich and subtle voice that eases through troublesome songs like "Lush Life" and "Black Coffee," romps over "My Favorite Things," hits an eloquent note on "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans." B+(**) [cd]
Paul Jones: Short History (2014, Blujazz): Tenor saxophonist, graduated from MSM and this seems to be his first album. Sextet, with an alto sax, both guitar and piano, bass and drums. Postbop, like they teach you, and livelier than you'd expect. B+(**) [cd]
Jungle: Jungle (2014, XL): Sort of a British Earth Wind & Fire, if I may be excused to use stereotypes to plot out limits -- the falsettos less fluid, the beats a bit grimey, none of the expansive sweep of huge pop hits. Still, not a bad formula. B+(**)
Oliver Lake Organ Quartet: What I Heard (2013 , Passin' Thru): Alto saxophonist, with Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, Jared Gold on organ, and Chris Beck on drums. Lake is often terrific, and Gold shows promise in setting him up, but this slips up a bit. B+(**)
Link of Chain: A Songwriters' Tribute to Chris Smither (2011 , Signature Sounds): Smither is a singer-songwriter, folkie division, turning 70 this year, with a steady stream of albums since 1970, a large cache of songs that fuel this tribute. Unfortunate, the songs aren't all that memorable, nor are most of the songwriters. B+(**)
Loscil: Sea Island (2014, Kranky): Scott Morgan, from Canada, has ten albums since 2001, this one (at least) mild ambient electronics, with perhaps a gentle sea breeze. B+(*)
Colette Michaan: Incarnate/Encarna (2014, self-released): Flute player, has a couple previous albums. runs most of this over Latin beats (proven camouflage), sometimes blending in with Gregoire Maret's chromatic harmonica or Mireya Ramos' violin, offset from Reut Regev's trombone. B [cd]
Nicki Minaj: The Pinkprint (2014, Young Money): In earlier emails about the near shutout of US hip-hop albums on EOY lists, the prospect of this album's late-season drop was held out as some sort of "great black hope" -- no doubt recalling the precedent Beyoncé set last year, finishing 4th in P&J after being released too late to make nearly any other poll. I don't expect that to happen here: sure, it's a better album than Beyoncé, but it's a bit of a letdown after the expansion of the last two studio albums, nor is it as safe a crossover. I'm tempted to dismiss it as padded, but most of her padding doubles as sex appeal -- a point the disjointed "Anaconda" drives home uproariously. A-
Ludovic Morlot/Seattle Symphony Orchestra: John Luther Adams: Become Ocean (2013 , Cantaloupe): One 42-minute piece, commissioned by the Orchestra and composed by Adams -- unrelated to the John Adams who composed Nixon in China. Minimalism even if not done with electronics, has a nice shiny texture, shimmering even. Won a Pulitzer Prize. B+(***)
Paal Nilssen-Love/Terrie Ex: Hurgu! (2013, PNL): Guitar-drums duo, one half of Ken Vandermark's Lean Left group. Terrie took his name from his longtime Mekons-like rock group, the Ex, but he's dabbled in free jazz (or free noise) for years, and slices up four improvs here. The drummer has a ton of duos to his credit, largely because he's so adept at them. B+(**) [bc]
Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit: Erta Ale (2014, PNL, 3CD): An eleven-piece group but not conventionally shaped: with only two reeds and three brass (cornet-trombone-tuba) the horns move independently, as does electric guitar and Lasse Marhaug's electronics, their options expanded by doubling up on bass and drums. Way too much to swallow in one sitting. B+(***) [bc]
Objekt: Flatland (2014, Pan, 2CD): TJ Hertz, born in Tokyo and raised in the UK, gets a lot of drive out of his beats, with this never missing a step, at least until he tries ambient for a closer -- and that, too, is splashier than the norm. A-
Arturo O'Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: The Offense of the Drum (2013 , Motéma Music): Cuban pianist, got his big band through the patronage of Lincoln Center -- may have helped that his father was a reknowned big band arranger -- and draws an impressive array of guests -- I prefer Chito Cajigas' inspired rant on Puerto Rican history to Antonio Lizana's sombre vocal, but even that grew on me. B+(**)
Sonya Perkins: Dream a Little Dream (2014, self-released): Standards singer, third album, opens with "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and closes with "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me"; nothing wrong with that, nor with the piano trio band, and Warren Vaché guest spots certainly help. B
Noah Preminger: Background Music (2010 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor saxophonist, leading a trio backed by bass (Masa Kamaguchi) and drums (Rob Garcia) playing standards and not-yet standards -- Jarrett, two Colemans, title song comes from Warne Marsh, closer from Chris Cheek, but you also get Monk, "My Old Flame," "Moonlight in Vermont," "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)," and an original by the drummer. A-
Quraishi: Mountain Melodies (2014, Evergreene Music): "Rubab Music of Afghanistan" -- first album in some time from the master -- relocated to US in 1982 -- whose previous album was titled Pure & True Rubab. Kind of like a sitar but poorer, although the simplicity grows on you. B+(**)
Diane Roblin: Reconnect (2014, self-released): Pianist, from Buffalo but based in Toronto, clasically trained but described this group as "a funk-jazz band." Accurate for the most part but some breaks suggest something else. Saxophonist Jeff King is a plus. B+(*) [cd]
Scurvy: Fracture (2010, Johnny Butler Jazz): New York avant-fusion group led by Johnny Butler (saxes, electronics) with trombone, guitar, bass, and drums. B+(*) [cdr]
Shamir: Northtown (2014, Godmode, EP): Debut EP (5 cuts, 19:58) for a 20-year-old soul man. The lead single shows promise (with dividends for his post-EP single, "On the Regular"), while the closing ballad ("Lived and Died Alone") is touching in an unpolished way. B+(*)
Sleaford Mods: Divide and Exit (2014, Harbinger Sound): British duo, Andrew Fearn is responsible for the punkish music, often just bass over drums, while Jason Williamson spews profanity occasionally laced with social criticism, often incisive, sometimes not ("it's all so fucking boring"). A- [bc]
Sleaford Mods: Austerity Dogs (2013, Harbinger Sound): Last year's album, in the UK anyway: the first with Andrew Fearn providing the music, a more minimal punk mix until the guitar on "Bored to Be Wild"; lets Williamson free associate more, which is a plus. A- [bc]
Chris Smither: Still in the Levee (2014, Signature Sounds, 2CD): Celebrating his own career -- 50 years as a performer -- the folksinger plunders his own songbook, remaking as many years of songs with whatever wisdom (and wear and tear) he's accumulated, which includes some friendly guest spots. B+(*)
Michael Snow & Thollem McDonas: Two Piano Concert at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2014, Edgetone): As the title says, but complex verging on difficult. Snow goes way back (b. 1929 in Toronto), working with the avant-garde group CCMC from 1978 on, was involved with Albert Ayler even earlier (among other things, he designed album covers), and was enjoying "a retrospective exhibition of the artist's photographic works" at this time. McDonas is an avant-jazz pianist I've run across more often. B+(**) [cd]
Jesse Stacken: Helleborus (2014, Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, always regarded him as a smart postbop guy but he tops that here by hiring tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby to front his quartet -- Malaby often does his best work on other people's albums, and on the upbeat pieces here he's really on a tear. Slower, he fades out and you start to hear the nuance in the piano. B+(***)
Subtle Lip Can: Reflective Drime (2014, Drip Audio): Trio from Montreal: Joshua Zubot (violin), Bernard Falaise (guitar), Isaiah Ceccarelli (drums). Second album, an abstract turmoil of soft sounds, nothing jarring but definitely abrasive. B+(**) [cd]
Joanne Tatham: Out of My Dreams (2014, Cafe Pacific): Standards singer, third album, favors Harry Nilsson, Bob Dorough, and Dave Frishberg over Berlin and Porter but does include a token Jobim. Gets professional help with Mark Winkler producing, pianist Tamir Henderson arranging, John Clayton on bass, Bob Sheppard on sax. B [cd]
Ana Tijoux: Vengo (2014, Nacional): French-Chilean rapper, third album, presumably in Spanish (imagining I'd recognize more of it in French) so she gets by mostly on her rocksteady groove. Could very well be more to it. B+(**)
Leon Vynehall: Music for the Uninvited (2014, 3024): English house producer, second album, calls this a "mini-LP" but it's long enough (7 cuts, 39:18), the beats becoming more engaging along the way. B+(*)
Scott Wendholt & Adam Kolker Quartet: Andthem (2011 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Trumpet and tenor sax, backed by Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Victor Lewis on drums. The trumpeter recorded for mainstream labels in the 1990s but hasn't been evident since then. All four contribute pieces, and they cover Monk and Parker -- the two horn split on "Green Chimneys" is impressive. B+(**)
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Bring It On Home: Black America Sings Sam Cooke (1959-76 , Ace): The liner notes -- by the way, the best I've seen in years -- note several previous "Black America Sings" discs: Dylan, Lennon & McCartney, Bachrach & David, Otis Redding. Those strike me as novelty concepts, but Cooke's murder -- Trayvon Martin wasn't the first young black man killed by a confused and stupid white person with a gun, ya know -- left a hole that the covers helped fill. So while Cooke's originals remain indelible, his legacy deserves something more -- like this. A- [cd]
Chris Butler: Easy Life (1970 , Future Fossil): Later went on to write witty pop songs for Akron new wave bands Tin Huey and The Waitresses, in 1970 Butler was one of the students at Kent State the National Guard didn't kill -- although the guy he sold his drums to was one of the dead. Butler had a rock band, and his juvenilia is pretty tuneful -- could be more ragged, and takes a turn in that direction after 13 seconds of gunfire. For an extra buck, you can get a second copy without the narration. But for me the history rings true: sure, I wasn't there, but I was then. A- [bc]
Lewis: L'Amour (1983 , Light in the Attic): Canadian singer-songwriter Randall Wulff cut two albums 1983-85. Obscure, quiet and haunting, but not much of a find. B
Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych From Peru's Radical Decade (1968-74 , Tiger's Milk): Obscure bands, more interested in putting their inevitable Peruvian twist on Anglo rock than in developing an indigenous pop music -- Jeriko's "Hey Joe" is the obvious example that you can hang most of the rest off of. B+(*)
George Van Eps: Once in Awhile (1946-49 , Delmark): A legendary jazz guitarist (1913-98), influenced by Eddie Lang, worked with Benny Goodman and Ray Noble in the 1930s, didn't record much until Concord picked him up in the 1980s his protégé Howard Alden started recording with him. These radio shots fill a gap, and also spotlight two forgotten musicians, boogie pianist Stanley Wrightsman and tenor saxophonist Eddie Miller -- especially fine here. B+(***) [cd]
Phil Driscoll: Drops of Praise (2006, Jordan/Koch): Initially a trumpet player, also sings and plays keyboards; b. 1947, has a couple dozen albums, AMG classifies him under Religious and New Age, but initially sounds like a soul man here, knocks off a competent funk track, reverts to form, then evolves. Hard to feel blue when you believe in "guaranteed salvation." B [cdr]
The Gang Font: The Gang Font feat. Interloper (2007, Thirsty Ear): Part of Matthew Shipp's "Blue Series" from back when it was a genre-busting concern, a group with Husker Du bassist Greg Norton, Eric Fratzke (Happy Apple) on guitar, Dave King (Bad Plus) on drums, and Craig Taborn on electric keyboards. Who (or what) "Interloper" is isn't clear. B+(*) [cdr]
Arthur Russell: The World of Arthur Russell (1980-88 , Soul Jazz): Played cello but most importantly a disco producer, died obscure in 1992, and much of his material was released posthumously. This career summary comes with a 24-page booklet, but no one (to my knowledge) has bothered to post dates for half of these 11 pieces (two each attributed to Dinosaur L and Loose Joints, one each to Lola and Indian Ocean). The beats are effective, the vocals a bit on the wan side, which has its own peculiar attraction. B+(***) [cdr]
Arthur Russell: World of Echo (1986 , Audika): The only full-length album released by Russell before his death in 1992; also his most personal one, forsaking the dancefloor beats he made his living with for solo vocals and cello -- crude and slapdash at first, achieving a surprising musicality over the long run. B+(**)
Carl Hancock Rux: Apothecary RX (2004, Giant Step): First distinguished as a poet, playwright, and novelist, Rux released a debut album in 1999, and followed it up with this. Hard to pigeonhole this: both lyrics and music are complex and surprising, but also not clear whether it's worth sorting it all out. B+(*) [cdr]
Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:
The Green Seed: Drapetomania (2014, Communicating Vessels): [was A-] A
Billy Joe Shaver: Long in the Tooth (2014, Lightning Rod): [was B+(**)] A-
Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (2012 , TUM, 2CD): [was B+(***)] A-
Wussy: Attica! (Shake It): [was A-] A
Monday, December 29. 2014
Music: Current count 24247  rated (+26), 509  unrated (+19).
Rated count off this week, partly because I replayed a fair number of 2014 releases around P&J ballot time, partly because I got stuck on re-evaluating Wadada Leo Smith's The Great Lakes Suites. To make a long story short, I concluded that the first disc is solid A-, but I still have some doubts about the second. I still prefer Smith's Red Hill (and still have Smith's The Stone (Akashic Meditation) well off the pace). The Great Lakes Suites came in a close second in NPR's Jazz Critics Poll.
Aside from those dead spots, everything else I rated last week came from Rhapsody (or at least the computer). I did get a comeuppance for my excessive pride over exhausting my 2014 queue: two large packages from Europe (France and Poland) with obscure 2014 releases, plus a few more from domestic sources. With all the year-end polls done, I didn't feel any rushing need to catch up. Rather, I kept on collecting year-end list data, trying to pick at anything I could find that seemed promising.
I totally screwed up on Twitter this past week. I may try to catch up a bit in the next few days, but more likely I'll just try to stuff what I can into a December 31 Rhapsody Streamnotes, then freeze the year-end file (and deep-freeze the 2013 list). Then we will enter 2015, and again try to scale back (somewhat).
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, December 27. 2014
I voted in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll yesterday. My ballot:
The songs all came from album tracks, with eight of ten on my A-list, but only one redundant to the albums ballot. The songs are overwhelmingly from major labels -- a testament to today's big pop production machine -- whereas the albums are more scattered (three majors, seven independents). Four albums are jazz, but none of the singles. The albums were carefully considered from the 1004 albums (952 new, 52 comp/archival) released in 2014 that I listened to seriously enough to grade. The songs were picked out much more arbitrarily. Jasons Gross and Gubbels generously shared their year-end song lists, but even after sampling a few things off the top of each I doubt that I've heard 20% of either list (nearly all in the context of albums, but surprisingly few appeared on albums I've heard). I also checked out Spin's year-end list, but closed it after the top two came nowhere close. I suspect that more digging would find a lot of things I'd feel bad about leaving out, but the top half of the list is likely to remain pretty solid.
The albums, of course, were much more rigorously considered. The only one on my ballot that's likely to get more than five votes is Wussy.[*] In my EOY list file, Attica! currently sits on line 347 with 6 points and only one mention so far on a top-ten list (5th on Greg Kot's Chicago Tribune list), but I know at least that many voters certain to vote for it. I was on the fence myself, slightly preferring Digital Primitives' Lipsomuch/Soul Searchin', also considering Parquet Courts' Sunbathing Animal and Old 97's Most Messed Up, and completely forgetting about the year's best compilation, Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story. I normally pay little attention to what other people are voting for, but it seems possible (if not exactly likely) that Wussy will sneak into the top-40, so I felt like doing that.
On the other hand, Wussy is likely to flat out win Odyshape's 2014 EW Pazz & Jop poll, so there's less excuse voting for it there, let alone need or value. So I'm making one change to the ballot above for Odyshape, replacing Wussy with the Jimmy Spruill compilation. It was, after all, an oversight, buried by my bookkeeping system down in the reissues and vault music. Had I thought of it before casting my P&J ballot I probably would have included it there.
I've long hated the top-ten cutoffs, which forcibly magnify marginal distinctions. No competent critic should be limited to ten highly recommended records in a year. When I ran a poll similar to Odyshape's in 2002-03, I tried to rectify this by allowing voters to extend their ballots: records from 11-20 got three points, 21-30 got two points, and anything past 30 was given one point. The long lists had little effect on the standings, but they added many more distinctive records to the totals. I wish Odyshape had adopted this embellishment, but they seem to regard P&J as some sort of holy grail.
I've found about 130 A- or higher albums this year (plus another 200+ high B+ records, and that list -- not my top-10 -- is the real EOY list. I've split the full EOY list into jazz and non-jazz parts -- about 60% of the new albums I've listened to this year were jazz, and they were mostly heard on CD whereas the non-jazz were mostly streamed. I don't consider compartmentalizing jazz to be either natural or desirable, but the differences in sample size and methodology, my status as an expert in jazz and a rank amateur in nearly everything else (except classical, where I'm a committed ignoramus) justifies the split.
[*] Kate Tempest's Mercury Prize-nominated album has some critical support, but thus far it's almost exclusively in Europe. She's tied for 56th place in my EOY count, finishing in the top 20 in 11 polls so far, but no higher than 8th. Steve Lehman won NPR's Jazz Critics Poll, but hardly anyone votes for jazz in P&J. Then there is Lily Allen's major label pop record, but it only has three mentions in EOY lists thus far, none higher than 46th. I expect it to do somewhat better in P&J, but a breakthrough doesn't look to be in the cards. The only other record with even one EOY list mention is Jenny Scheinman's, with just one on an unranked country genre list.
Monday, December 22. 2014
Music: Current count 24221  rated (+35), 490  unrated (-19).
With Rhapsody broken for most of the last two weeks (v. Saturday's Condemned to Hack post), I wiped out everything that was left in my 2014 queue, wrote up my first 2015 album, and started scrounging through the nether regions of the unplayed queue. The three records listed under "old music" below were actually advance copies from 2004-07, most likely unplayed because I was waiting for finals that never came. There is a good deal more like that -- probably between 50 and 100 records, some final copies (but those are more obviously by choice). I long prided myself on playing everything that came my way, but evidently there were limits -- while my 2014 "pending" list is currently (momentarily?) empty, and my 2013 was reduced to one slab of vinyl, some earlier lists show a dozen or more records as "pending."
Also cleaned out the Christmas records (v. yesterday's Holiday Music Special). Chuck Powell wrote in afterwards to point out that I "missed the only good one": John Zorn's Dreamers Christmas. As I said, I wasn't actually searching for "good" Christmas music; I was just cleaning house. I did have a fleeting thought of using Rhapsody to check out some relatively current product, but didn't have the stomach for it. (Sample titles from Billboard: Pentatonix, That's Christmas to Me; Idina Menzel, Holiday Wishes; Michael Buble, Christmas; Darius Rucker, Home for the Holidays; Josh Groban, Noel; Kelly Clarkson, Wrapped in Red; Mannheim Steamroller, 30/40; Amazon also recommends: Ellen's The Only Holiday Album You'll Ever Need, Vol. 1 (note contradiction); Christmas at Downton Abbey; Dave Koz & Friends, The 25th of December; Christmas With Nashville (the TV series, a "limited collector's edition"); Motown Christmas; A Boston Pops Christmas.)
I also thought about rumaging through my database for previous grades, but I don't have genres tagged so any sort of completism would have been impossibly tedious. Still, some samples:
That's about half of the albums I've rated with "Christmas" in the title -- not many but not nothing either; the only other one rising to low-B+ is John Brown's Merry Christmas, Baby (2007). Someday I might try to survey the "classics" I've missed -- James Brown, Dave Brubeck, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Vince Guaraldi, Spike Jones, Elvis Presley, John Prine, Mike Seeger, Frank Sinatra -- but I've seen that Ramsey Lewis album show up in an "all-time top five" list, and it's hard to convey just how awful it is.
With all the computer problems I've been facing the last few weeks, I missed posting anything on the 9th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, which Francis Davis started at the Village Voice and most recently found a home for at NPR. A record 140 jazz critics voted this year. The key links:
When Rob Harvilla was involved, both at the Voice and during the poll's brief residency at Rhapsody, I was also asked to write up my own annotated ballot, but that hasn't happened with NPR. While my own ballot is here, a better place to look is my still-evolving file here. Part of the value is that the A-list goes much deeper than top-ten: currently I have 64 new jazz records on the list (plus 65 on the corresponding non-jazz list). But I also give you the complete context with lists of all the other records I didn't think were that good. When I do my EOY list counts, I don't stop at 10 because most of what interests me is further down on the lists -- and frankly, I trust critics with big lists to have done more homework (even if some of it looks suspiciously rote).
But if I could ask one follow-up question of the voters, it would be: which of the top-50 (or top-100) albums have you not listened to? My answer:
Looking over this list, there are a couple items that seem like very strong A-list candidates (Moondoc finished high on the three ballots that named him, and they're all critics I tend to agree with; same for The Midwest School, plus I heard a cut on bandcamp that blew me away), plus a lot of no doubt quality records -- solid B+ fare with a chance of being better than that. Also occurs to me that I screwed up in several cases -- I must have received download links from Sunnyside and ECM that I failed to act on, and I let HighNote take me off their mailing list when I expected to write much less about jazz than I wound up doing. On the other hand, this rather underscores the point that the labels with good PR distribution are the ones that place in polls like this. They don't have to be big: Pi only released five albums this year, but they placed 1-6-14-33-54. On the other hand, major labels Universal (Verve/Blue Note/ECM) and Sony (Okeh/Masterworks) hogged 11 of the top 20 slots. (Warner's Nonesuch had two top-50 spots at 36 and 43.) And when obscure labels do place, that's often thanks to independent PR firms (e.g., Braithwaite & Katz helped the superb Finnish label TUM take 2nd, but they only placed Wadada Leo Smith, who finished 3rd and 17th the last two years; on the other hand, Smith's other record this year, on Rare Noise (Red Hill), wound up way down at 140th).
I should probably note that this is probably the first year since the first poll in 2005 where my top pick was the poll's top pick. (The winner back then was Ornette Coleman's Sound Grammar -- not a squeaker or anyone's idea of an upset.) Still, I wouldn't read this as implying a convergence of critical opinion -- it's just an exceptional album that hit several different pleasure spots. My only other A-list album was the latest installment of Sonny Rollins' Roadshows -- now that's a consensus pick! Only one more A-list in the next ten (Vijay Iyer), two in the following ten (Thumbscrew and Eric Revis), and three more (Marty Ehrlich, James Brandon Lewis, Farmers by Nature) in the top fifty (making a total of eight). There are a few things we disagree over (I should probably recheck Akinmusire -- I was very surprised to see his record on Davis' ballot; my recall of what's wrong with Jason Moran's Fats Waller rehash is clearer, and I can see that Darius Jones' The Oversoul Manual is a love-or-hate matter), but most of the top-50 records are very respectable efforts -- not sure how much of that to pin on my bias towards sax over piano (lot of piano records on the list), but I'm inclined to think that I rate those records down a bit only because I've looked much further.
My three A- records this week are all pop, all December releases with virtually no EOY list presence thus far. Charli XCX evidently had some advance publicity, popping up on six lists, including 5th place at Rolling Stone and 43rd at Spin. Nothing yet for highly touted D'Angelo (Metacritic score is 95 for 23 reviews -- their second highest rating this year for a new record, edged out by Machine Head's Bloodstone & Diamonds with only 5 reviews; metal albums often have ridiculously high scores because only metalheads can stand to review them) or for Nicki Minaj (Metacritic 71 for 22 reviews; NYT: "full of compromises and half-successes"). I found them all on Rhapsody, and connected almost instantly to Charli XCX. On the other hand, D'Angelo got a lot of spins and is still pretty marginal for me, although no doubt it is a very distinctive album.
I continue to add lists into my aggregation as I find time (and lists). FKA Twigs maintains a small lead over War on Drugs, and there's little reason to think the former has much of a UK bias. I have to rate it a slight favorite to win P&J, but any of the top four would win -- FKA Twigs, War on Drugs, St. Vincent (3), and Run the Jewels (tied at 4 with Caribou although I'd count the latter out) -- with momentum and skew if anything favoring Run the Jewels.
File has grown to 2195 records, but that's still way short of last year's 7867. The 157 polls is also well under half of last year's total (not that the number for 2013 is easy to count). The leader's current score is 148, vs. Kanye West's 356 last year. All of those totals will wind up less than last year because I've changed the methodology.
Pazz & Jop ballot is due December 26, so more on that then. My guess is that about twenty voters there are heavily Christgau-influenced, which this year can be measured by votes for Wussy, Withered Hand, and Black Portland -- very little support for any of those albums elsewhere (current scores: Black Portland 8, Wussy 6, Withered Hand 5). I'll post another Rhapsody Streamnotes by the end of the month, but probably not next week.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 21. 2014
Many years ago I read that Christmas music outsells jazz -- a factoid that helped harden a prejudice against the stuff into a grudge. There are objectively worse things about the music, like the compulsions retailers feel to play it nonstop during the four (or more) weeks of the "season," as if doing so triggers Pavlovian reflexes to spend. I get some quantity of it every year. Sometimes I review it and pack it away, but mostly it piles up, and I have way too much of that. So this year I'm making an effort to clear the decks. Hopefully this won't encourage anyone to send me more next year.
Two ringers in the list below. Ezra Weiss' children's music doesn't have anything to do with Christmas, but was buried in the same pile, for similar reassons. However, Weiss' Before You Know It: Live in Portland made my A-list this year, so I figured I should give the older record a spin. The other is Eugene Marlow's Celebrations -- the only record below I can actually recommend. I was expecting a Jewish slant on the holidays, but the record didn't try to be ecumenical at all -- and was no doubt better for that. You can play it alongside Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah, but you can also play it any other time of year.
Hanukkah here is mostly an excuse to throw a latke dinner -- which we did last week. The way I make them is:
I make my salmon and applesauce. For the salmon, take a nice filet with skin on, sprinkle both sides with kosher salt, put in a bag and refrigerate at least 12 hours. Rinse, pat dry, slice thin. I think it's three tablespoons of salt for two pounds of fish.
For applesauce, I took three green delicious apples, peeled, quartered, and cored them, and put them in a saucepan. I added juice from half a lemon, plus a few drops of water. Covered the apples, and cooked until soft enough to mash easily with a fork. Then I added one tablespoon of brown sugar and one teaspoon of cinnamon.
For Christmas Eve, I'll be cooking again, for what's left of my family here. Planning on what I call "Mom's Chinese" -- basically, the meal I made for her birthday shortly before she died: Szechuan fried chicken, dry-fried string beans, strange-flavor eggplant, fried rice, maybe some spare ribs braised in black bean sauce, something for dessert (probably date pudding). When I was growing up, Christmas was many things, but there was always lots of food, including various kinds of homemade candy. Big meals. Lots of people. Since she died, it's never been the same, and never will be.
One thing for sure: we won't be playing Christmas music.
Eddie Allen: Jazzy Brass for the Holidays (2009, DBCD): Actually no name credit on the cover, but Allen is the leader and arranger, plays trumpet along with Cecil Bridgewater, and is backed by French horn, trombone, bass, and drums. Song selection so standard it could be a high school assignment. Not sure if stating the head then improvising off it works as jazz but it does break the holiday tedium. B-
Chris Bauer: In a Yuletide Groove: Harmonica Jazz for the Holidays (2011, self-released): "Seydel harmonica artist," has two albums, the other Straight Ahead. Quintet with keybs, guitar, bass, and drums, plus a guest vocal from producer Rob Poparozzi. Standards, favors pop like "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" but works in "My Favorite Things" and "Ave Maria." The very definition of chintzy, but the harmonica is a versatile lead instrument. B- [cd]
Alexis Cole: The Greatest Gift: Songs of the Season (2009, Motéma): A jazz singer with at least eight albums I've never heard, credits this "with family & friends" and throws in a plug for World Bicycle Relief. The friends include some names I've heard of (Don Braden, Alan Ferber, Jon Cowherd, Ike Sturm, Zach Brock). Climactic pop move: "Jesus is the best part of Christmas/365 days a year/Jesus is here." C+ [cd]
Nathan Eklund: Craft Christmas (2011 , OA2): Trumpet player, leads a basic keyboard-bass-drums quartet, song credits range from Trad. to Guaraldi with one original. The trumpet leads are eloquent, but the two vocals detract. B- [cd]
Tobias Gebb Presents Trio West: Plays Holiday Songs, Vol. 2 (2009, Yummy House): Drummer-led piano trio, with Eldad Zvulun on piano and Meal Miner on bass. Short song list, but several tunes get two passes, with "We Three Kings" recast as a waltz, "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World" done in samba, and "O Tannenbaum" in funk and salsa variants. B [cd]
Milt Hinton/Ralph Sutton/Gus Johnson/Jim Galloway: The Sackville All Star Christmas Record (1986 , Sackville/Delmark): Bass, piano, drums, soprano sax, listed roughly in what I take to be the rank order of their fame, although Galloway -- the only one still alive -- is a first-rate trad jazz player. (Or maybe it's just left-to-right to caption the cover picture.) Standard fare, not as rowdy as you'd hope -- seductively subtle, even. B+(*) [cd]
The Hot Club of San Francisco: Hot Club Cool Yule (2009, Azica): Group -- motto is "What Would Django Do?" -- has a dozen albums since 1993. Violin leads over the guitars, sometimes slipping into something pleasantly innocuous, but the guest vocals snap you back, even on the generic "Baby It's Cold Outside." B- [cd]
Knoxville Jazz Orchestra: Christmas Time Is Here (2012, self-released): A full-fledged big band, arranged and conducted by Vance Thompson, also listed as fifth trumpet. More listenable than most, at least until they add the choir(s). B- [cd]
Elisabeth Lohninger Band: Christmas in July (2011, JazzSick): Singer, has an appealing voice ready to swing and fluent in uncounted languages, backed by Axel and Walter Fischbacher (guitar and piano). Twelve songs from nearly as many countries, with a Mel Tormé tune from the US and "Stille Nacht" from Austria. B+(*) [cd]
Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble: Celebrations (2010, MEII Enterprises): Subtitle "interprets festive melodies from the Hebraic songbook," so not our usual Xmas album, but it does start with "Chanukah, O Chanukah." Pianist Marlow is a New York Jew who specializes in Afro-Cuban/salsa/bossa nova and his group spreads out the ethnic polyculture, including the marvelous Michael Hashim on sax. Ends with a 6:37 lecture on philosophy that bears repeating. A- [cd]
Ellis Marsalis: A New Orleans Christmas Carol (2011, ELM): A pianist from New Orleans, anyway, although not one particularly noted for the style. The patriarch of the Marsalis clan, his jazz career only emerging after his sons became famous, he decorates the usual tunes with marching drums, son Jason's vibes, and two singers I've already forgotten. B- [cd]
Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship: Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey (2012, self-released): Scruggs, from Atlanta, plays tenor and soprano sax, called his first album Jazz Fellowship and kept that as his group name. He explains: "Using ancient canticles, hymns, and folk melodies, I chose eleven pieces to formulate a layered chronology that illustrates the profound, spiritual mystery of the radical biblical story of the birth of Christ." Sounds ambitious, and I enjoyed the absence of trad Xmas fare . . . until it got woven in. B [cd]
Donna Singer with the Doug Richards Trio: Kiss Me Beneath the Mistletoe (2012, Emerald Baby): About half originals, mostly co-credited to husband Roy Singer (assume he's the uncredited duet partner on two songs), and I must admit I was touched by bassist Richards' song about leaving donuts for Santa Claus. The other half is split between spirituals and classic fluff like "Let It Snow" with something of a fetish for mistletoe. B [cd]
The United States Air Force Band: Cool Yule (2009, self-released): Big band, plus strings, some extras like oboe, a female vocal trio called the "Andrews Sisters" (quotes included), and a male barbershop quartet called the "Crew Chiefs" (again, quotes obligatory). Makes you wonder if they hadn't faked the death of Glenn Miller and kept him working at some "dark site" all these years. I'm tempted to slag them on principle, but frankly they could keep this band running for decades for less than a single F-35, and it would be a better use of the money. Highlight: the cha-cha "Auld Lang Syne" (and yes, that's as good as they get). B [cd]
Ezra Weiss: Alice in Wonderland: A Jazz Musical (2009, Northwest Childrens Theater and School): Been sitting on this, something I'd never expect to have any interest in, and still don't. But the story has a few touchstones I recognize -- mad hatters and decapitating queens and such -- and the music is not without interest. B [cd]
As I've mentioned several times recently, Rhapsody recently introduced a new website design. This depends on Adobe's execrable Flash product for streaming music -- I'm not sure that is new but this is the first time I noticed a dependency. I've been running Rhapsody reliably on Ubuntu Linux, on a system which is up-to-date (14.04 LTS). The new website initially worked on this machine, but when I did a routine Ubuntu update it broke, giving me an error message that I must have Flash installed and enabled, and a URL to Adobe to "Get Flash." I spent many hours trying to figure this out, and probably made things worse along the way. Long story short, I finally got it working tonight. Still, the results are troublesome. Let me explain.
Flash (or Shockwave Flash) is proprietary (non-free) software developed and maintained by Adobe. It consists of an authoring product, which Adobe makes money on, and a player, which Adobe distributes without charge (but also without source code). Since only Adobe can compile the source code, they can choose which platforms they want to support. For a long time, they supported Linux, but in 2012 they decided to freeze Linux development at release 11.2. (They've since moved on to release 16.0 for Microsoft and Apple.) If you use Firefox go to Adobe's download website from a Linux machine, they offer you version 126.96.36.1995 in various package formats. For Ubuntu you want "APT for Ubuntu 10.4+" -- Ubuntu, by the way, has since moved on to 14.04. When you click on the "Download" button, Firefox invokes the Ubuntu Software Manager to handle the package, which is identified as "adobe-flashplugin."
As I understand it, the "adobe-flashplugin" package doesn't actually include the Flash Player binary. What happens is that when you install the installer, it goes out to get the program(s) to be installed -- a bit of indirection which keeps Adobe's "crown jewels" separate from the software depositories which are used to install Linux systems. One problem here is that "adobe-flashplugin" winds up installing a slightly earlier Flash Player version (188.8.131.529) than the one advertised. That is most likely Adobe's bug. What makes this worse is that Firefox has been configured to automatically disable old versions of plugins that are believed to have security risks, and the version installed is one of those. I don't know whether the real latest version (.425) would be acceptable to Firefox. I do know that when Firefox offers a link to "Update" the offending plugin, it steers you back to Adobe's website, which gives you the wrong version again. I also know that it takes some twiddling to reinstall Adobe's "adobe-flashplugin" since Ubuntu's Software Center thinks it's already installed and up-to-date (you have to remove it then re-install it). Finally, you have to tell Firefox to allow the website to use Flash despite the security risks. (Hopefully, this is website specific, so you're not opening up a security hole for other websites.)
Now, all that's bad enough, but I had several other problems I had to figure out before I could get the above procedure to work. Linux people never have liked Flash -- even back when it was the only way to stream video and audio over the web, it was buggy, mysterious, and couldn't be fixed. So there have been many efforts to first emulate and eventually to supersede Flash. One hint I found was that Firefox was showing two Shockwave Flash plugins -- the 184.108.40.2069 installed by Adobe (when I was expecting -.425), and another at 220.127.116.11 from some mysterious source. Firefox allows you to disable plugins but not to uninstall them, but I didn't get any different results from Rhapsody when I alternately disabled one or the other plugin. Finally, I took a look through the package list and uninstalled everything that looked like it had to do with Flash: namely, I removed flashplugin-installer, pepperflashplugin-nonfree and freshplayer-plugin, they verified that Firefox had no Flash plugins. Then I repeated the installation from Adobe, restarted Firefox, called up Rhapsody, and told Firefox to let me use the insecure Flash plugin. Finally, it worked.
No sooner than I got Rhapsody working again, I ran into another nasty bug. I haven't had time to comment on Francis Davis' 9th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, lately sponsored by NPR, because I've been preoccupied working on my piece of the project, which you can find here. I managed to get all the ballots counted and cross-checked by 4AM Thursday morning -- the schedule was to go live sometime Thursday but NPR didn't actually get their end together until Friday morning. However, I spent all of my time looking at my private copy of the website, and didn't notice that when I uploaded the code things broke. What happened was that any string with accented characters -- artist names like Miguel Zenón (11th) or album titles like David Virelles' Mbókó (14th) -- simply vanished. So I had to figure this out, and fix it.
Turns out that my working machine was running PHP 5.3 while the server is running PHP 5.4. One huge difference between the two is that in 5.4 the lords of PHP decided to make UTF-8 the default character set, replacing the default ISO-8859-1, which all of my data is encoded in. I've been a stickler about accents ever since college, when one of the jobs I had working on Paul Piccone's Telos was to go through the typeset galleys and use presstype to add the missing diacritical marks. When I later worked for typesetting equipment manufacturers, I specified the unified multilingual font package at Varityper, and I worked on a Japanese typesetter at Compugraphic. I later internationalized the prepress software package developed at Contex, and oversaw localization of the software for France. I saw aware of Unicode almost from the start, and I knew the guy at SCO who invented UTF-8. So in some sense I always understood that Unicode and its UTF-8 encoding would become the standard for character encoding, I found ISO-8859-1 sufficient for my own work, adopted it early, and have steadfastly stuck with it.
That's caused me increasing aggravation the last few years. I use emacs to edit my files, and it's long worked very nicely with ISO-8859-1, but it switched allegiance to UTF-8 a few years back, and that's caused me all sorts of problems. In fact, when I discovered this problem, the first thing I suspected was that emacs had saved the files using UTF-8. I've also seen MySQL move from ISO-8859-1 to UTF-8, but a simple configuration switch has allowed me to keep using ISO-8859-1 data for Robert Christgau's website. I spent hours looking for a similar configuration hack to keep PHP 5.4 from breaking not just the new code but lots of old code. While I found several candidates, I couldn't get any of them to work. Ultimately I fixed the problem by writing a wrapper for PHP's htmlentities() function, which when run under 5.4 would pass extra arguments to specify ISO-8859-1 encoding. That's not the limit of the changes, but it's the one function that I was using that was blowing up.
What was that line from The Godfather they liked to quote on The Sopranos? Something about trying to break out of the family business and go legit, then getting dragged back in. Looks like I'm still periodically condemned to hack.