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 220.127.116.115 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 (18.104.22.1689) 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 22.214.171.1249 installed by Adobe (when I was expecting -.425), and another at 126.96.36.199 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.
Monday, December 15. 2014
Music: Current count 24186  rated (+40), 509  unrated (-12).
Pretty well sandbagged at the moment. I got a very late start on my bit posting the ballots for Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll (at NPR again this year -- at least the top of the charts and Davis' year-end summary essay). I've been bedeviled by computer problems, and they've wiped out my ability to play Rhapsody in my office. I've spent a lot of time trying to debug that, and won't bore you with details now, but I believe Rhapsody is culpable both for a glaring strategic error -- why adopt proprietary Adobe software when HTML 5 eliminates most of its previous utility, and Firefox's developers would rather implement the HTML spec than try to figure out how to contain Flash's bugs? -- as well as a detection bug (i.e., they think Flash isn't available when it is). Anyhow, screws me over big time -- although I did manage to get through Leonard Cohen's Live in Dublin on my Chromebook.
Much of what's listed below appeared in last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes, so shouldn't be new. I had missed a lot of tweets at that time, and haven't fully caught up. Last couple days, without Rhapsody, I decided to slog through my Xmas music queue -- much of which dates from 2009. I'm not going to bother to tweet on them -- they aren't timely, and they aren't much good. I'll probably run them as a separate post later this week, then archive them with the next RS column. Looking at the database there are a few items I haven't found yet, but really who cares how bad Anita Baker's Christmas Fantasy is, let alone Putumayo Presents Christmas Around the World? My main motivation has been to get them out of the queue and packed away safely out of sight. Oddly enough, I did find one good record in the batch, but its only holidays concession is to start out with "Chanukah, O Chanukah." On the other hand, I can say that the albums aren't as dreadful as I had feared.
One other note: I mentioned some average times for adding new records to my year-end lists after having to cast some ballot. Following the deadline for the Jazz Critics Poll, it took me less than a day to find another A-list record, and little more than a week to find one that would have cracked my top ten. Both figures are less than half of previous medians. Of course, if you want the real Dudu Pukwana, the record to seek out is In the Townships (1973). The new Duduvudu is a little messier, a little more in-your-face, but I don't mind that at all.
Need to get back to work.
New records rated this week:
Christmas clearance sale:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Thursday, December 11. 2014
I had a scare yesterday: one of those end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it moments. Rhapsody stopped working, and when I closed and reopened the page, it came back with a totally redesigned website . . . which didn't work. The new Rhapsody depends on Adobe's Flash product -- evil incarnate, if you ask me, but my real horror was more practical. I'm running Ubuntu Linux. When I went to Adobe's home page, where Rhapsody told me to go to "get Flash," they threatened that this would be their last Linux release ever. I then followed their download instructions, which didn't come close to working. I then went searching through Ubuntu forums for help. Found one thing that didn't work. Then found another that finally did the trick -- for now. I suppose I could switch to Spotify or some other competitor, but failure would have spelled instant doom for Rhapsody Streamnotes.
On the other hand, this installment would not have been a bad way to bow out. The 116 records below (not counting 6 regrades) is the most all year, and 14 new A- records (not counting 3 promotions) is very likely the most too. Also took a belated dive into some of the year's compilations, finding three more A- records. (Old music lost out, although I couldn't pass up two older Lotte Anker albums -- I remembered Stef Gijssels raving about Live at the Loft back in 2009 -- I found along with the new one.)
I get tips from all over the place, but my project to count many 2014 EOY lists is the most systematic: I currently have counted 112 lists, identifying 1663 new albums and 174 compilations. I might note that while The War on Drugs' Lost in the Dream has led from the very first list, its current lead over FKA Twigs' LP1 is a razor-tight 96-95 (with St. Vincent 3rd at 85, Caribou's Our Love 4th at 71, and Run the Jewels 2 5th at 66). The compilations sample is still too small to draw any conclusions from. I'll probably keep adding data up to the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop list, to be published on January 14.
I keep adding to my own lists -- conveniently broken down into jazz and non-jazz sets -- and will do so at least until I cast my Pazz & Jop ballot (deadline December 26). I've opened up a second December 2014 file, so unless Rhapsody dies on me (again), expect another one by the end of the month.
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 November 22. Past reviews and more information are available here (5689 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Damon Albarn: Everyday Robots (2014, Parlophone): An architect of the late 1980s/1990s Brit-pop sound, best known there for Blur and here for Gorillaz, turns in a very modest little solo album. At best, reminds me of Robert Wyatt, the way he would feel his way around a song that didn't quite come together (cf. "You & Me"; "Heavy Seas of Love" is the one that does come together). B+(*)
Fatima Al Qadiri: Asiatisch (2014, Hyperdub): Born in Senegal in 1981, raised in Kuwait (occupied by Iraq in 1990), based in New York. Has an EP based on a video game based on the Gulf War. For her first album, she imagines a travelogue through China. I've seen an interview with her where she talks about Orientalism. Evidently she wants to try out both sides. B+(**)
Lotte Anker/Jakob Riis: Squid Police (2014, Konvoj): Both from Denmark, Anker plays tenor/alto/soprano sax, Riis composes fairly minimalist electronic tableaux. The latter doesn't give the saxophonist much to kick off from, although it's most interesting when she does. B+(*)
Aurelio: Lándini (2014, Real World): Surname Martinez, from Honduras, plays a style called Paranda, better known in the US as Garifuna (thanks to his debut album, Garifuna Soul). Looser and lighter than salsa. B+(***)
Iggy Azalea: Reclassified (2014, Def Jam): Yet another aggravating marketing stratagem: reissue this year's pretty good debut album, The New Classic, minus seven songs (or eight from the "Bonus Edition" -- they don't miss a trick), plus five new songs with "Beg for It" the new single. Catchiest songs are on both, another reason to only buy one (if that). Best way to handle this is to trim back to the new material, which gives us a 5-cut EP: B+(**)
Billy Bang/William Parker: Medicine Buddha (2009 , NoBusiness): I wouldn't hold much hope for violin-bass duos, but we're talking two all-time jazz greats here, and both have a tendency toward hearts-on-sleeve. Bang died in 2011, a huge loss, and I count this as his fourth posthumous release: a duo with Bill Cole didn't offer much, but the two group albums on TUM were superb. So is this. A- [cd]
Beck: Morning Phase (2014, Capitol): Released two of the best albums of the 1990s, and I still enjoyed his blue-eyed soul phase (e.g., Midnite Vulture), but I've felt no reason or desire to keep tracking him. That's because his trajectory has been toward soft and flat, and here he's pretty much arrived there: the record is occasionally pretty but nearly featureless. B-
Beyoncé: Beyoncé (2013, Columbia): Released December 13 last year, as I recall exclusively on iTunes, this bum rushed the P&J poll, finishing 4th -- probably better than any December release in history. I missed it then, and cut the newly available Platinum Edition down to size, but I don't get what the excitement was about. Fairly prosaic love songs intercut with autobiographical snapshots, nothing really awful -- which come to think of it makes this better than her median album. B+(**)
Big K.R.I.T.: Cadillactica (2014, Def Jam): Rapper from Mississippi, broke through with a big mixtape a few years back and is now toiling for a major label. Wide range of material, doesn't jump out of the grooves but flows and repays multiple spins. Could grow into one of the records of the year. A-
Bishop Nehru/MF Doom: NehruvianDOOM (2014, Lex): Collaboration between 18-year-old rapper Bishop Nehru (Markel Scott) and producer Daniel Dumile (who's used many names, the best known MF Doom). Promises "great things" once "you have to decide that you don't care what other think of you." On his way. B+(**)
Dave Burrell/Steve Swell: Turning Point (2013 , NoBusiness): Piano-trombone duets, the former a revered master who doesn't get out much, the latter probably the top avant-oriented trombonist around, exceptional here in how he fills out the melody. A- [cd]
Busdriver: Perfect Hair (2014, Big Dada): Regan Farquhar's idiosyncratic hip-hop takes several bizarre turns here, taking guests like Aesop Rock, Danny Brown, and Open Mike Eagle off several cliffs. Parts don't flow at all, and they even manage to make "eat the rich" sound unappetizing -- one of many jokes, not all of which miss. C
Call Super: Suzi Ecto (2014, Houndstooth): J.R. Seaton, from Britain but based in Berlin, stitched this techno together, very appealing little loop patterns with a tiny bit of industrial klang and a gentle woosh -- that underwater sound that Drexciya so enjoys. I could probably listen to the first few pieces indefinitely. A-
Caribou: Our Love (2014, Merge): Dan Snaith's electronica isn't disciplined enough to conform to an aesthetic or concept -- it's whatever works in support of pop songs, both pleasant and forgettable. B+(**)
Juan Pablo Carletti/Tony Malaby/Christopher Hoffman: Nińo/Brujo (2013 , NoBusiness): Drums, tenor sax, cello, respectively, with Carletti writing the songs, and Malaby articulating them wonderfully. B+(***) [cdr]
Eric Church: The Outsiders (2014, Capitol Nashville): Still one of Nashville's better singer-songwriters, but he's going through some growing pains. His idea that as he gets more popular the way to fill up those arenas is with more rock and roll has merit, but the songs pointed that direction, especially the title anthem, are awful -- note that most are co-written by Casey Beathard, although the one that goes "I'm a broke record" isn't. B+(*)
The Cookers: Time and Time Again (2014, Motéma Music): Fourth album for the all-star septet with their first personnel change: Donald Harrison replaces Craig Handy at alto sax. Two trumpets (Eddie Henderson, David Weiss), Billy Harper at tenor sax, and a rhythm section of George Cables, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart, with all but Harrison contributing songs. They promise to turn up the heat, and mostly deliver. B+(**)
The Core Trio: The Core Trio With Matthew Shipp (2014, self-released): Houston-based free jazz trio with Seth Paynter on sax, Thomas Helton on double bass, and Joe Hertenstein on drums, joined by pianist Matthew Shipp for a 42-minute improv. Simple enough idea, but Shipp is really in his own class when it comes to this sort of thing. A-
Frankie Cosmos: Zentropy (2014, Midheaven, EP): Alias for Greta Kline, daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. She's released 40-some home-recorded "albums" since 2009, but this is the first assembled in a studio, and counted as an EP because the ten songs only add up to 17:22. B+(*) [bc]
Dee Daniels: Intimate Conversations (2012 , Origin): Standards singer, AMG roots her in Sarah Vaughan and that's the idea but a stretch, at least on vocal range and timing. Ninth album since 1991, The band is star-studded -- Cyrus Chestnut, Ken Peplowski, Wycliffe Gordon, Russell Malone, Houston Person -- but they mostly stay out of the way. B- [cd]
De Beren Gieren & Susana Santos Silva: The Detour Fish: Live in Ljubljana (2014, Clean Feed): Belgian piano trio -- Fulco Ottervanger (piano), Lieven Van Pée (bass), Simon Segers (drums) -- with two or three albums (the first is called EP1), hooks up with Portuguese trumpet player Susana Santos Silva, a nice pairing on the easy side of free jazz. B+(**) [cd]
Deerhoof: La Isla Bonita (2014, Polyvinyl): San Francisco band, founded in 1994 with singer Satomi Matsuzaki joining a year later, often classified as "noise pop," which I take to be an especially erratic varient of prog. I couldn't stand the two previous albums I checked out, and wouldn't have bothered with this were it not for a brain lapse confusing them with Deerhunter. Turns out this time I find nearly all of their larks and quirks amusing, including a bit that sounds like noise-pop. I don't recognize the parts that reportedly play off Madonna, the Ohio Players, and Michael Jackson, but the thought must count for something. B+(**)
Toumani Diabaté/Sidiki Diabaté: Toumani & Sidiki (2014, World Circuit): Two kora masters from Mali, father and son, the former the guy everyone from Ali Farka Touré to Damon Albarn to Taj Mahal has played with. The latter allegedly has a hip-hop career, but plays nice here -- almost too nice. B+(**)
Ron Di Salvio: Songs for Jazz Legends (2006 , Blujazz): Pianist, has a book called Deltadiotonics: Twenty-First Century Harmony, and a handful of mostly-recent records. This is a sextet plus a vocal quartet. The songs are each inspired by jazz musicians ("Oscar-nine-inicity," "Dave's Brew," "Sonny Side Up," "Mingustino," "Bud's Blossom," "Mulligan's Stew" -- like that, in a quasi-fifties style). Too cute and not quite clever enough. B [cd]
Justin Townes Earle: Single Mothers (2014, Vagrant): Singer-songwriter, works in a country-ish vein. Played it twice and it grew comfortable on me -- maybe not the point. Looks like he has a sequel coming up, called Absent Fathers. B+(**)
Emperor X: The Orlando Sentinel (2014, self-released): Chad Matheny released a very smart singer-songwriter album in 2011, Western Teleport. That followed thirteen years of electronic experimentation, and preceded this, partly a return to form and an effort to move beyond -- the songs are less polished, the music just weirder, but both are interesting. B+(***)
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Black Is Back: 40th Anniversary Project (2014, Katalyst): Percussionist Kahil El'Zabar's two-horn trio, first recorded in 1981 with as Three Gentlemen From Chikago with Henry Huff and Edward Wilkerson on saxes, and are up to 14-15 records now. Trombonist Joseph Bowie replaced Huff in the 1980s, and Ernest Dawkins took over the sax slot in 1998. Trumpeter Corey Wilkes took over for Bowie in 2006, and an experiment with guitarist Fareed Haque ended shortly after that, the group reverting to the present trio -- the best pair of horns he's worked with. And as usual, his vocals don't help, but that's a minor issue here. B+(***)
Orrin Evans: Liberation Blues (2014, Smoke Sessions): Versatile pianist leads what's basically a hard bop group -- Sean Jones (trumpet), JD Allen (tenor sax), Luques Curtis (bass), Bill Stewart (drums) -- opens with Dwayne Burno's fiery title suite, slides into ballads later and ends with a vocalist (Joanna Pascale). B+(**)
Far East Movement: KTown Riot (2014, Interscope, EP): New jack funk group from LA, resemble Black Eyed Peas as much as anyone else but tend to duck underground, underming their pop potential. Six tracks, 21:07, guest rappers include Schoolboy Q and YG. B+(*)
Fire! Orchestra: Enter (2014, Rune Grammofon): The first Fire! was a trio whose principals -- saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, drummer Andreas Werlin, and bassist Johan Berthling, -- came from jazz, pop, and "experimental folk-electronica" backgrounds. They then scaled up to a massive orchestra -- I count 29 credits (most I recognize, a veritable who's who of Norway's avant-garde) -- with Marian Wallentin (and others) singing her arch texts: effectively, they add drama to a band built for it. B+(**)
Aretha Franklin: Sings the Great Diva Classics (2014, RCA): Acknowledging that the diva fetish in postmodern soul music was probably her own damn fault, she decides to show us how it should be done, and pretty much pulls it off. Helps that classics are classics, and that they save her the trouble of acting -- all she has to do is perform, and she's got that covered. B+(***)
Friends & Neighbors: Hymn for a Hungry Nation (2012-13 , Clean Feed): Swedish group, no one I've heard of -- André Roligheten (tenor sax, clarinets), Thomas Johansson (trumpet), Oscar Grönberg (piano), Jon Rune Strřm (bass), Tollef Řstvang (drums) -- took their name from an Ornette Coleman title. Leans toward postbop, with lush piano, shiny horns, pushed toward the edge. B+(**) [cd]
Fucked Up: Glass Boys (2014, Matador): Post-hardcore band from Canada, retains the genre's ferocious vocal snarl but cut surprising breaks into the music, turbulent as it is. B+(**)
Gazelle Twin: Unflesh (2014, Last Gang): Elizabeth Bernholz (of Brighton, England) fills her electronica with industrial klang and mordant vocals, an intriguing, chilly, and (a bit) creepy effect. B+(**)
Danny Green Trio: After the Calm (2014, OA2): Pianist, has several albums, this a trio with Justin Grinnell on bass and Julian Cantelm on drums. Working on his Latin tinge, often finding it. B+(**) [cd]
Jimmy Greene: Beautiful Life (2014, Mack Avenue): Tenor saxophonist, mainstream guy with most of his albums on Criss Cross, dedicated this one to his daughter, one of the children shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elemenary School in Newtown, CT, six years old at the time. Greene lined up a first rate rhythm section, and plays with stately grace and beauty, but he also throws in guest vocalists, including a children's choir, and this gets a little too poignant. B+(*)
Johnny Griffith: Dance With the Lady (2014, GB): Canadian alto saxophonist, name reminds you of Johnny Griffin, and so does his sax. Hard bop quintet, with Jeremy Pelt on trumpet. B+(*) [cd]
Grünen [Achim Kaufmann/Robert Landfermann/Christian Lillinger]: Pith & Twig (2012-13 , Clean Feed): Piano trio, same bass-drums as Luis Lopes' Berlin connection but you get a better sense of how they flex here. The pianist, also German, bobs and weaves in and out as well. B+(***) [cd]
David Guetta: Listen (2014, Atlantic): Hit producer, works with a wide range of guest singers and styles which gives his records a certain randomness. Not unusual for him to reel off three songs that suck then break loose with one that's pretty good. Maybe the average is better than that, but not enough better to get you through the whole thing. B
Barry Guy: Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett (2009 [2014, NoBusiness, EP): Fizzles is a collection of short pieces by Samuel Beckett, written in French mostly in 1960 and published in English in 1977 with a set of images by Jasper Johns. Guy recorded a set of bass solos under the same names in 1991, presumably the source of the pieces recorded here (but here the titles are just "Fizzle I" through "Fizzle V"). I don't have times here, but they are short enough to be released on 10-inch vinyl -- probably less than 20 minutes, resulting in the rare bass solo that if anything ends too soon. B+(**) [cdr]
Hail Mary Mallon: Bestiary (2014, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic return for a second album, their group named for the cook who at the dawn of the 20th century was so effective at infecting New York City's upper crust with typhoid fever. Underground beats, very snappy. B+(***)
Half Japanese: Overjoyed (2014, Joyful Noise): Duo goes back to the late 1970s. They made a lot of noisy, erratic albums where memorable songs were buried like rough gems, ultimately enough to fill up a remarkable 2-CD Greatest Hits in 1995. Since then not much, but their first in 13 years sounds like they never left. B+(***)
Maggie Herron: Good Thing (2014, self-released): Standards singer, from Hawaii, also plays piano. Brian Bromberg produced, and Geoff Keezer helped with the arrangements. Two songs in French, one from Joni Mitchell; classics like "Body and Soul" fare better. B+(**) [cd]
Hookworms: The Hum (2014, Weird World): Brit band, drone with pop hooks, this one grabs me less than the first (2013's Pearl Mystic); probably the organ, which comes out on top of the guitar(s) as often as not. B+(***)
How to Dress Well: What Is This Heart? (2014, Domino): Tom Krell, from Chicago, mostly sings in a falsetto, often over synth strings, an effect some consider soulful. I find it has an agreeable ambience to it, then forget what I heard once it passes. B
Hurray for the Riff Raff: Small Town Heroes (2014, ATO): Alynda Lee discards her Puerto Rican roots for Appalachain folk transplanted to New Orleans. This has gotten a surprising amount of year-end list attention. B+(**)
Russ Johnson: Still Out to Lunch (2014, Yellowbird): Trumpet player, leads a quintet including Roy Nathanson (alto/soprano sax) and Myra Melford (piano). Title honors Eric Dolphy's masterpiece, Out to Lunch!, still inspiring after fifty years. B+(**)
Kool A.D.: Word O.K. (2014, self-released): Not the oft-repeated "best rapper in the world," but perhaps the most relaxed, a "what me care?" attitude that let him release the project "outtakes" (as Not O.K.) ahead of the main course. Nor am I sure it even matters. "Some times I get paid to perform raps/other times I do it for free." Whatever, all good. A- [bc]
Jonas Kullhammar: Gentlemen (2014, Moserobie): Swedish saxophonist (credit order here: tenor, baritone, bass, stritch, saxello). I've only heard his more avant work on Clean Feed until now, so I was surprised to find this starting out so mainstream, then delighted to hear him stretch out. Four tracks add a second tenor sax, the justly renowned Bernt Rosengren. Last four tracks (Rosengren is on one of them) add Goran Kajfes on cornet and Mattias Stĺhl on vibes. Reportedly a soundtrack, but no hint of that genre's usual flaws. A- [cd]
Michel Lambert: Journal des Épisodes II (1992-2014 , Jazz From Rant): Ninety-seven short fragments of music (total 44:17) tied to a journal written in 1988. It does feel so fragmentary, even with bits of WSO string quartet (from 1992) interleaved into the more recent Guillaume Bouchard-Alexandre Grogg piano trio. B+(***) [cd]
Nikki Lane: All or Nothin' (2014, New West): Country singer on the alt-side, doesn't quite have the big Nashville voice, recoils by hanging with rockers (Dan Auerbach produced) and taking risks, sleeping with strangers, looking for the right time to do the wrong thing. B+(*)
Let's Wrestle: Let's Wrestle (2014, Fortuna Pop): English group, has an ear for writing pop songs but tends to be soft and a bit twee, which wouldn't be a problem if the songs were catchier and/or deeper. B+(*)
Luis Lopes Lisbon Berlin Trio: The Line (2014, Clean Feed): Portuguese electric guitarist, one of the most distinctive anywhere -- seems like he plays on his feedback as much as on the guitar itself -- with German bassist (Robert Landfermann) and drummer (Christian Lillinger). A- [cd]
Brian Lynch and Emmet Cohen: Questioned Answer (2012 , Hollistic Musicworks): Trumpet and piano, respectively, leading a quartet billed as intergenerational, with Lynch fifty-something, the pianist less than half that, bassist Boris Kozlov somewhere in between, and drummer Billy Hart on the far side. Both leaders are very active, B+(**)
Tony Malaby's Tubacello: Scorpion Eater (2013 , Clean Feed): As advertised, a sax quartet with a tuba (Dan Peck) and a cello (Christopher Hoffman) splitting the bass role. John Hollenbeck is the drummer. Marvelous in spots, again as you'd expect. B+(***) [cd]
Thurston Moore: The Best Day (2014, Matador): I've often thought that Kim Gordon's voice added an essential human dimension to Sonic Youth's trademark guitar tunings, but now that the group has broken up I'm beginning to appreciate the appealing lightness of his tunes, and the austere luxury of his guitar -- as trademark as ever. A-
Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Blue (2014, Hot Cup): Once out to terrorize jazz history, now they aim to mimic it, with a "note for note" recital of Miles Davis' universally adored 1959 album, Kind of Blue (the five cuts wind up 17, 10, 8, 5, and 0 seconds longer than the originals). To do this they added Ron Stabinsky to play Bill Evans -- probably the only talent not wasted here. B [dl]
Nick Mulvey: First Mind (2014, Fiction/Harvest): English singer-songwriter, recognized the name because he played percussion and hang in the jazz group Portico Quartet. Basically straightforward, although with his ethnomusicology degree I expect closer attention to pick up subtler details. B+(*)
Wolfgang Muthspiel: Driftwood (2013 , ECM): Austrian guitarist, often regarded as a follower of Metheny and Scofield, and often better than either. Trio with Larry Greandier on bass and Brian Blade on drums -- has a previous duo with Blade I recommend, 2007's Friendly Travelers. But this winds up being very laid back, as if he thought the label ordered up a Ralph Towner album. B+(*) [dl]
Naomi Punk: Television Man (2014, Captured Tracks): Math rock trio from Olympia/Seattle, second album, loud, a little stilted, but isn't spasticky just one of those awkward stages of youth? B
The New Basement Tapes: Lost on the River (2014, Island): Producer T-Bone Burnett's project, an ad hoc supergroup -- Elvis Costello, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Marcus Mumford (& Sons), Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops) -- intent on fleshing out unfinished Bob Dylan lyrics dating back to 1967 Woodstock. Pleasantly meandering Americana, but nothing indelible here, unlike similar efforts to add music to Woody Guthrie lyrics -- not sure what that says about the writer, probably more about the (less-than) supergroup. B+(*)
Jim Norton Collective: Time Remembered: Compositions of Bill Evans (2013 , Origin): Baritone saxophonist, originally from San Francisco, lately based in Seattle, assembled a 12-piece band for his arrangements of Evans' compositions. A lot of lovely detail here. B+(**) [cd]
Old Crow Medicine Show: Remedy (2014, ATO): Virginia band, allegedly grew up on grunge and hip-hop but opted to make their living with fiddles and banjos, figuring they could still kick up their shoes. Mostly upbeat, occasionally inches past the usual Nashville boundaries. Sample lyric: "it's an already mean enough world/without you." B+(**)
Old Style Sextet: Old Style Sextet (2014, Blujazz): "Old style" is closest to hard bop, with two saxes (co-leaders Michael Fenoglio and Clark Gibson switching off between alto and tenor), trombone, piano-bass-drums, but no trumpet. Band comes out of central Illinois, where most have teaching jobs. B+(*) [cd]
Parker Abbott Trio: The Wayfinders (2012-13 , self-released): Two pianists from Toronto, Teri Parker and Simeon Abbott, plus drummer Mark Segger. Both Parker and Abbott play a lot of electric keyboards, which provides some variation to their sound, which is more pop than new age and more challenging than smooth jazz, not that either are particularly high bars. B [cd]
Peaking Lights: Cosmic Logic (2014, Weird World): Husband/wife, Indra Dunis singing and Aaron Coyes doing whatever, make lo-fi synth-pop. B+(***)
Rich Pellegrin Quintet: Episodes IV-VI (2014, OA2): Pianist, leads a conventional postbop quintet with R. Scott Morning on trumpet and Neil Welch on tenor sax. Complex, leaning toward lush with the horns shining, but few surprises. B+(*) [cd]
Perfume Genius: Too Bright (2014, Turnstile): Mike Hadreas' third album, trends toward mopey, melodramatic ballads with an air of lushness for comfort. B
Rod Picott: Hang Your Hopes on a Crooked Nail (2014, Welding Rod): A singer-songwriter from New Hampshire who could pass as country if he had a bit of twang. Starts with a touching break up song, sentimentally overrates a "65 Falcon" and wonders why anyone calls the leaky tin can he lives in a "Mobile Home." B+(***)
Pink Floyd: The Endless River (2014, Rhino): Not a real band any more -- Roger Waters is long gone, Rick Wright dead, leaving David Gilmour and Nick Mason to recycle and gussy up instrumental bits that harken (and for all I know may derive) from the band's heyday. A trifle, but I find it appealing. B+(*)
Roil [Chris Abrahams/Mike Majkowski/James Waples]: Raft of the Meadows (2013-14 , NoBusiness): Piano-bass-drums trio. Abrahams, originally from New Zealand and based in Sydney, has tended to work in groups including the Necks (another piano trio), but Discogs lists 17 records (since 1985) under his name. B+(***) [cdr]
Boris Savoldelli/Garrison Fewell: Electric Bat Conspiracy (2014, Creative Nation Music): Savodelli is an eccentric Italian singer; considers Mark Murphy a mentor, but sounds more like Captain Beefheart to me, at least when he gets up to speed, which isn't often. Fewell plays guitar and composed most of the songs, with lyrics added from as far afield as Sun Ra. Covers: "My One and Only Love," "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise," "Perfect Day." B+(*) [cd]
Louis Sclavis Quartet: Silk and Salt Memories (2014, ECM): French clarinet player, many records since 1980, his avant tendencies increasingly subsumed in world music contexts, this one inspired by the great transcontinental trade routes of the middle ages. Backed with guitar (Gilles Coronado), piano/keyb (Benjamin Moussay), and percussion (Keyvan Chemirani). B+(***) [dl]
Brandon Seabrook: Sylphid Vitalizers (2014, New Atlantis): Plays tenor banjo and electric guitar ("shreds" is his preferred term), previously released a couple records as Seabrook Power Plant. This is described as a solo, but Dr. Vitalizer is also credited with drum programming. B+(*)
Serengeti: Kenny Dennis III (2014, Joyful Noise): A third album about David Cohn's Chicago rapper character, an older mentor and sometime adversary of the artist's own alter-ego Chicago rapper character, as they rendez-vous in LA, hit the road to Rockford, and eventually crack up. I suspect I've heard it before, but it's finally beginning to stick. A-
Slackk: Palm Tree Fire (2014, Local Action): Paul Lynch, first album after several EPs, several sources list this as "grime" but that's not what I think of -- almost all instrumental, electronic, something between dubstep and trip hop, which is to say not much. B
Sleaford Mods: Chubbed Up (2013-14 , Ipecac): British neo-punk group, sometimes labeled hip-hop for the monotone vocals but they sound sung to me. Also bitter, angry, sarcastic, not exactly cynical, all traits of thinking, caring beings these days. Couldn't find their 2014 album Divide and Exit, but compilation of recent odds and sods probably gives the flavor. B+(***)
Sam Smith: In the Lonely Hour (2014, Capitol): Young British singer, featured on singles by Disclosure and Naughty Boys before this debut. Everyone talks about his remarkable voice -- he sings falsetto and lower and switches between them with emotional precision -- but that hardly qualifies him as the future of soul music (even in England). Indeed, he's more likely to wind up being very annoying when he tortures second-rate songs. B-
Tommy Smith/Brian Kellock: Whispering of the Stars (2014, Spartacus): Tenor sax-piano duets, their third album together (the best is Symbiosis). Smith was incredibly fast and brash when he was young, but seems to be turning into an old softie here, inching his way through standards like "Stardust," "Round Midnight," "Moonlight in Vermont," "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," "Moonlight Serenade," even "When You Wish Upon a Star" (some in medley). B+(***)
The Soundcarriers: Entropicalia (2014, Ghost Box): Brit group, if there's a jungle influence it's from the dance genre, not from the tropics, and they lean more prog/psych than anything else. But they're not subtle: they grab your attention and run with it. B+(**)
Brian Swartz & the Gnu Sextet: Portraiture (2014, Summit): Trumpet player, fourth album since 2000. Sextet alternates two saxophonists; otherwise trombone, piano, bass, drums. Mainstream postbop, but brighter than usual, swings some. B+(**) [cd]
Sunny Sweeney: Provoked (2014, Aunt Daddy): She has the Nashville voice Nikki Lane lacks, but it doesn't always help -- a couple songs gets thick and syrupy. But she does her best to play bad, from "You Don't Know Your Husband [like I do]" to "[Here's to the working class] Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass." B+(*)
Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (2014, Big Dada): Brit rapper ("London-born performance poet"), née Kate Esther Calvert, cites Samuel Beckett and Wu-Tang Clan as influences. Dan Carey's beats give her a firm ride and the breaks seem just right, while her rhymes dazzle, and I'm a sucker for the accent. A
Tinashe: Aquarius (2014, RCA): Surname Kachingwe, b. 1993 in Lexington, KY, based in LA where she also has an acting career. Neo-soul, gets a boost when a rapper (like Schoolboy Q) drops in, or when they just pick up the beat. B+(**)
Ton Trio II: On and On (2013 , Singlespeed Music): Alto sax trio led by Aram Shelton, who left the Chicago avant scene for California, always gets a terrific sound. With Scott Brown on bass and Alex Vittum on drums. B+(**)
Mark Turner Quartet: Lathe of Heaven (2013 , ECM): Two horn (aka pianoless) quartet, the leader's tenor sax impressive on its own but most often tied up with Avishai Cohen's trumpet, which rarely cuts loose but adds lots of color. With Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. B+(**) [dl]
TV on the Radio: Seeds (2014, Harvest): Fifth studio album, with two I counted at A- but can't now remember nor recognize anything comparable here. Rather, I just get a sense of grandeur, and the best I can say is I'm not detecting its near relative, pomposity. So I figure them to be decent, likable fellows, doing honest work on some stratospheric level that fails to interest me. B
Us Free [Bill McHenry/Henry Grimes/Andrew Cyrille]: Fish Stories (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): No new talent here: tenor saxophonist McHenry has at least ten albums since 1998, and the others are a generation or two senior, nor is the tape all that fresh. Much proceeds as you'd expect, but there are some snags, also some treats, like Grimes playing violin. B+(***)
The Vamps: Meet the Vamps (2014, Island): British boy band's debut, upbeat, built on riffs that proved commercially viable as far back as the '60s (including an improved Simon & Garfunkel song as well as a Bruno Mars credit and a Demi Lovato guest spot). Actually, a lot of fun. B+(**)
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: OverTime: The Music of Bob Brookmeyer (2014, Planet Arts): Longtime house band at the Village Vanguard, originally directed by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, both long departed, but pianist Jim McNeely retains the sensibility, and the roster of horns is inspired (names include Terrell Stafford, Luis Bonilla, Rich Perry, Dick Oatts, Ralph Lalama, and Gary Smulyan). That such a big band would be attracted to Brookmeyer is no surprise. B+(*)
Velkro: Don't Wait for the Revolution (2012 , Clean Feed): European jazz trio, with Bostjan Simon (sax -- Slovenia), Stephan Meidell (guitar, bass -- Norway), and Luis Candeias (drums -- Portugal). So much propulsion here that any lapses in the groove or bursts of noise wash away, leaving you with a layered weave of tone. I wouldn't call this avant-garde, much less postbop, and certainly not fusion, but might not object to post-Velvets, if you know what I mean. A [cd]
David Virelles: Mboko (2013 , ECM): Pianist, from Cuba, calls this "sacred music for piano, two basses, drums, and biankoméko abakuá" -- the latter a set of four hand drums played by Román Diaz. They don't add a lot, but the abstract meander of the piano is something to follow. B+(**) [dl]
Jessie Ware: Tough Love (2014, Interscope): British pop singer, effectively a soft soul artist. Second album, still looking for a hit. B+(*)
Marcin Wasilewski Trio w/Joakim Milder: Spark of Life (2014, ECM): The piano trio, with Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz, was first introduced to the US as Tomasz Stanko's "young Polish group," but had some history together before and continued after the trumpeter moved on. They are as fine as ever here, and get a little extra color from tenor saxophonist Milder -- all they need. A- [dl]
Bill Watrous/Pete Christlieb/Carl Saunders/The Gary Urwin Jazz Orchestra: A Beautiful Friendship (2014, Summit): Trombone, tenor sax, and trumpet for the first three, but the main credit belongs to Urwin for arranging and leading this showy big band. B
Colin Webster/Andrew Lisle/Alex Ward: Red Kite (2014, Raw Tonk): Tenor/baritone sax, drums, guitar; based in England. Four numbered pieces, improvs I'd say, the others largely keying off the guitarist -- more like piling on when the action picks up, which is when they make the strongest impression. B+(**) [bc]
Wildest Dreams: Wildest Dreams (2014, Smalltown Supersound): Maybe the artist credit should be Harvey Bassett or DJ Harvey but the cover doesn't indicate that. The music is a throwback to late-'60s psychedelic rock -- the cover is an homage to a Randy California album. Reminds me of a 1980s group with the same basic idea, the Golden Palominos -- not least because the instrumental stretches are more compelling than the vocals. B+(**)
Wu-Tang Clan: A Better Tomorrow (2014, Warner Brothers): Twenty-some years after their debut, seven since the last, they're having trouble pulling it together, and sounding more old school than ever when they do -- even before the song credited to M.L. King Jr., or the "family reunion" retooled from Gamble-Huff. Big gestures, their specialty. B+(***)
Neil Young: Storytone (2014, Reprise): Ten songs -- one very pointed one about saving the earth, another about driving his car -- backed with big band brass and/or symphony orchestra strings, producing more than its fair share of hackneyed effects, even as they rarely detract from his singing. But if that's what you want, you're better off with the second disc of the Deluxe Edition, where he recycles the same songs solo. If you could buy it separately, I'd bump the grade up a couple notches. B+(*)
Young Thug & DJ Swamp Izzo: I Came From Nothing (2011, self-released): Atlanta rapper, first mixtape, has done two (or three) more with this title, evidently a point of pride. Rough, gravelly. [Rhapsody combines this with 2; thought it would make more sense to try to separate them out.] B+(*)
Young Thug: I Came From Nothing 2 (2011, self-released): Front cover says "Hosted by Swamp Izzo," something less than co-credit. Nearly twice as many songs. Nearly twice as difficult to tell them apart. B+(*)
Young Thug: I Came From Nothing 3 (2012, self-released): Again, hosted by DJ Swamp Izzo. A giant step forward, mostly speeding up the beats, smearing them with synths, and matching them with rapid-fire rhymes, most compatible with the Dirty South idea. B+(***)
Young Thug/Rich Homie Quan/Birdman: Birdman Presents Rich Gang: The Tour Pt. 1 (2014, Cash Money): Despite all the loose cash, not really a surfeit of riches here -- the most coherent parts do little more than reiterate the brand name. B+(*)
Zanussi 5: Live in Coimbra (2013 , Clean Feed): Bassist from Norway (father Italian), leads a quintet with three saxes -- Kjetil Mřster (tenor/soprano), Jřrgen Mathisen (tenor), Erik Hegdal (baritone), all doubling on clarinet -- and drums. Propulsive grooves set up sax wails, with the bari for deep muscle. A- [cd]
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Julian Bahula: Spirit of Malombo: Malombo Jazz, Jabula and Jazz Africa 1966-1984 (1966-84 , Strut, 2CD): South African singer, led several bands from exile in England -- quite possible that the eponymous Jabula (1975) was the first African album I bought, and I picked up a later Malombo album on pure spec. I wasn't impressed by either, but this makes more of his career, starting a bit slow but occasionally hitting full stride. B+(**)
Francis Bebey: Psychedelic Sanza 1982-1984 (1982-84 , Born Bad): From Cameroon, had some early success with the Palm Wine and Highlife styles then drifted into electronics, nicely sampled on this label's recent African Electronic Music 1975-1985 comp. This is later, the beats more minimal, the filigree stranger. B+(**)
Ted Daniel's Energy Module: Interconnection (1975 , NoBusiness, 2CD): Trumpet player, associated with New York's avant "loft scene" but recorded little -- later coming to my attention on Billy Bang's Vietnam records. But this is a find, a prime example of the era's avant-garde, with two energetic saxophonists (Daniel Carter and Oliver Lake), and relative unknowns holding their own at bass and drums. A-
Disco: A Fine Selection of Independent Disco, Modern Soul and Boogie 1978-82 (1978-82 , Soul Jazz, 2CD): Some serious crate digging here, coming up with nothing I've ever heard before by no one I've ever heard of -- all danceable, "fine" seems the apt term, wouldn't go much further than that. Label also has a large-format book, Disco: An Encyclopedic Guide to the Cover Art of Disco, with pretty much the same cover. B+(*)
Gipsy Rhumba: The Original Rhythm of Gipsy Rhumba in Spain 1965-1974 (1965-74 , Soul Jazz): I think of rhumba as a dance beat that sloshed back and forth between Cuba and Congo several times, but evidently something of the concept splashed onto Spain and was picked up by flamenco musicians there. Upbeat, sounds vaguely Mexican to me. B+(**)
Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian: Hamburg '72 (1972 , ECM): Recorded at NDR Funkhaus on June 14, 1972, the trio is three-quarters of Jarrett's "American Quartet" of the time, missing saxophonist Dewey Redman. Most interesting thing here are the stretches where Jarrett plays soprano sax, especially on "Piece for Ornette" but also on "Song for Che." Jarrett also plays some flute, which catches you off guard and ain't half bad. Of course, he plays some piano two, and this was a period when he was brash enough to carry an audience for hours -- it you want to nitpick, he doesn't do enough of that here. But that leaves room for Haden and Motian -- unique talents no longer with us. A- [dl]
Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie: December Day [Willie's Stash, Vol. 1] (2014, Legacy): The uneasy beginnings of an archival series like the "bootlegs" Sony's been pushing of Bob Dylan and Miles Davis. I haven't seen the recording dates -- before credited bassist Bee Spears died in 2011, and maybe much older (the solo "Who'll Buy My Memories?" sounds like the lead on 1991's The IRS Tapes). Nor does pianist Bobbie Nelson appear all that much. B
Salsa de la Bahia: A Collection of SF Area Salsa and Latin Jazz: Vol. 2, Hoy Y Ayer (1983-2013 , Patois, 2CD): I've complained much about the quality of world music coming out of San Francisco, but the salsa and Latin jazz on these volumes is pretty close to the mark. Vol. 1 started in 2003. This one goes back a couple decades earlier, but is still mostly recent. B+(**) [cd]
Verckys et l'Orchestre Vévé: Congolese Funk, Abrobeat & Psychedelic Rumba 1969-1978 (1969-78 , Analog Africa): Title-wise, I guess soukous doesn't ring up the cash register as much as funk, afrobeat, or psychedelia, but Verckys Kiamuangana Mateta spent a decade in the employ of Franco before spinning off Orchestre Vévé and recording this fairly classic soukous. No titles in common with RetroAfric's 2001 superb compilation, Vintage Verckys. A-
Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver: Live at the Loft (2005 , ILK Music): Danish saxophonist with piano and drums -- two American players who were just graduating to major status. Two 20+ minute pieces plus a shorter one. Quite remarkable when they're all fired up, but the saxophonist isn't always engaged. B+(***)
Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver: Floating Islands (2008 , ILK Music): This ignites on the 16:22 second cut ("Ritual") with Anker playing soprano sax over the pianist's toughest vamp. When that seems to have worn the saxophonist out, Taborn picks up the slack until she gets a second wind, and comes back even stronger. A-
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 Coathangers: Suck My Shirt (2014, Suicide Squeeze): Three women from Atlanta, a pretty basic punk trio, which was all I came up with on first play. Returning to them, the first thing that struck me was the rightness of the tone, which carries all but one or two of the songs. Their faces are obscured by hair on the cover, but are much clearer on record. [was: B+(**)] A-
Bette Midler: It's the Girls (2014, East/West): Lobbied into replaying this, I admit this is broader that I first thought, and she kicks it up a level when she dubs in some crowd sounds as well as the harmonies. I still find the Spector hollow, and the TLC ballad dull, and the mean song gets a shrug, but "Tell Him" is pretty great. [was: B] B+(**)
Rod Picott: Welding Burns (2011, Welding Rod): [was: B+(***)] A-
Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Live Snakes (2014, Accurate): [was: A-] A
Jenny Scheinman: The Littlest Prisoner (2014, Masterworks): [was: A-] A
Withered Hand: New Gods (2014, Slumberland): When Michael Tatum first told me this album was "awesome," I expected something other than an underwhelming Scottish Beach Boy, even if this Willson is as stuck in his room as that Wilson. I still can't say as I get, let alone appreciate, it, but the album is mightily tuneful and more than a little substantial. [was: B+(**)] A-
Young Thug & Bloody Jay: Black Portland (2014, self-released): Still not sure Christgau's pick for "rap album of the year" is worth the trouble -- I heard nothing redeeming or even very interesting the first four times through, and wouldn't have bothered but for peer pressure. This only started to sound like something after slogging through YT's back catalog, realizing it wasn't so bad, then getting a charge from the acceleration on I Came From Nothing 3. The musical breakthrough here came on "4 Eva Bloody" -- there are others, but sometimes the music threatens to vanish. Not sure there is, or ever will be, a lyrical breakthrough, or that either of these Atliens have any future. But this turns out to be a pretty unique item. [was: B-] A-
Monday, December 8. 2014
Music: Current count 24146  rated (+41), 521  unrated (+3).
Thinking about year-end lists, which has meant a mad rush to sample as much reputable but unheard music as possible. That in turn has led to the huge number of new A- records pictured to the right. Unfortunately, virtually none of them come off of the upper reaches of published lists -- the sole exception is Kate Tempest's Everybody Down, briefly in the top-20 of my metacritic aggregate file but totally unknown outside of the UK and currently tied for 44th. My other list-based find is Call Super's Suzi Ecto, a techno album that topped the list at Juno Plus but has yet to appear on a second list. Even the two records that I had previously panned but this week regraded just above the A-/B+ line, Withered Hand's New Gods and Young Thug/Bloody Jay's Black Portland, have fewer points in my aggregate (2 and 1 respectively) -- this after looming large in Odyshape's Mid-Year Report (Withered Hand won; Black Portland, which Christgau has dubbed "the rap album of the year," came in 8th on points, tied with Miranda Lambert's Platinum).
I'll also point out that my own favorite album this year, Lily Allen's Sheezus (which finished 4th in Odyshape) is also stuck with a single aggregate point (The Telegraph ranked it 47). As I proceed, I fold all the new records into my jazz and non-jazz year-end lists -- the former currently lists 62 A/A- albums, the latter 61. There are 95 lists in the current aggregate file, but very few even touch on much less specialize in jazz -- although it's worth noting that my jazz favorite, Steve Lehman's Mise en Abime, is currently leading the jazz subset by a nice margin (7-to-4 for BadBadNotGood). In previous years, I used to be able to find many jazz critics' lists at JJA, but they don't seem to be doing that today. (Also slowing me down is that Large Hearted Boy has stopped posting his invaluable list index.) Nor have I seen the results from Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll (which I've collated in past years and presumably will again this year). Looks like I'll have to start scouring the blogs. (I did just add Tim Niland's ballot, and have just found one from Lyn Horton.)
One thing that should be clear is that the top totals are no guarantee of quality. I've heard the top 19 records, so I'll list them here with my grade in brackets (and points in braces):
That works out to 2 A-, 4 ***, 3 **, 3 *, 4 B, 3 B-; which is to say that quality on the list is little better than random. Of course you probably disagree with some (or many) of my judgments here. (Michael Tatum, who correlates with me better than most, had Jack White at A- and Todd Terje at C+.) But odds are that if you have heard 300+ albums this year -- my non-jazz count is currently 322; my jazz count is 563 -- and weren't so sectarian you'd dismiss most of these records a priori you'd come up with a similar range. And the pattern would most likely repeat on down the list, albeit with diminishing returns as the records become ever more obscure (and things like jazz, country, world, and metal creep in).
The list of records I've heard breaks at 20-21 with Ty Segall and Taylor Swift -- neither on Rhapsody, and then there's another gap at 24-25 for Royal Blood and Goat (records I haven't bothered to look up). From there on down to about 150 I've heard about half, and my share thins out past there. Conversely, about one third (20) of my 61 A/A- non-jazz albums have no points so far. Eleven more have 1 point, so that covers the median. (I haven't figured my own list in yet, nor that of many similar-minded critics.) My list sorted by aggregate score:
Missing completely are records by: Big KRIT, Company Freak, Deena, Dub Thompson, Golem, The Green Seed, Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, Homeboy Sandman, Kool AD, Jon Langford, Amy LaVere, Mursday, Parkay Quarts (Content Nausea) Jenny Scheinman, Doug Seegers, Serengeti, The Strypes, Supreme Cuts, Jonah Tolchin, and Leo Welch. Notably, 6 of those 20 are rap records. I've noted previously the relative paucity of (especially US) rap records in a year that is really not lacking for good ones, so won't dwell on that here -- you can, after all, look it up.
The number of EOY lists are likely to nearly double next week, but I don't see a lot of trends in the data. The top five have been very stable (once St. Vincent overcame a shaky start). I don't put a lot of weight on differences in rank -- most lists are graded 3 for 1st place, 2 for 2-20, and 1 for everything else -- so nothing much changes with lists that include all of the top five (which is to say most of them). I'm personally much more interested in what shows up on the margins (again, see that Call Super album): that's why I count everything and don't weigh it much.
You can compare this with the top-ten-only aggregates at places like Metacritic if you want to focus on rank. The big gainers there are Run the Jewels (11-to-4), Taylor Swift (21-to-8), and La Roux (42-to-18), and those will definitely do better at P&J than in my aggregate. (The largest loser is probably Sun Kil Moon, dropping 7-to-12.)
I should be running December's first Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Draft file is pretty huge. Two things I wanted to do won't happen this time: one is to clear my queue of Xmas music (didn't happen because I can't stand the stuff); the other is to look at the "deluxe editions" that dominate major label reissues, using Rhapsody to program out the core albums so I just listen to the ephemera. I was originally thinking I'd like to sort through the Led Zeppelin reissues, but there are many more like that. Maybe next time, closer to Xmas. Or maybe next year.
One final announcement is that I'd like to invite you to take a look at Carola Dibbell's new website. It's more focused on her forthcoming novel, The Only Ones, than on her superb music writing, but there are links back to her "corner" of Robert Christgau's website. Right now it's sort of a three-headed hybrid, but in the not-too-distant future I hope to integrate it better stylistically. Let me also note that my wife has read the novel and thinks it's really terrific. Plenty of places you can order a copy. (I haven't read it, but I haven't read any novel since Tom Carson's Gilligan's Wake -- had to since he practically wrote it for me.)
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 7. 2014
I've been meaning on writing something about justice, the lack of it, or the insane perversion of it within the US, but I wanted to start off with a quote and can't find the book. In fact, I can't find most of the things I look for these days: the place is a total mess, and getting oppressively so. Don't even know where to start sorting it out. So I figured I'd skip the links post today, then found a couple already tucked away in the draft file. So it seems like I can't even follow a plan on not doing something any more.
Another thing I've been thinking about is coming up with a more systematic piece on "the four wars of 2014" -- Israel/Gaza, Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine -- and how they are mutually reinforcing, mostly due to delusions prevalent in Washington these days (some examples of which follow).
Anyhow, shorter and more scattered than I'd like, but more than I expected.
Also, a few links for further study:
Friday, December 5. 2014
I voted in a couple jazz polls today. (Does Jazz Times know who I am? Do they care?) I submitted the following to Francis Davis for NPR's Jazz Critics Poll this year:
I think I voted for Ivo Perelman under Latin jazz last year. He's from Brazil, ergo Latin, but plays free jazz, so not what you'd recognize as Latin jazz. I also have a few A-list players from Spain and Portugal (Ridrigo Amado, Luis Lopes) I'd be happy to plug. Not sure why I don't find more Latin jazz, other than that very little finds its way to me. I have several A-list Latin pop records (Shakira, Ricardo Lemvo, Fumaça Preta).
I should also note that I've been counting Jenny Scheinman's The Littlest Prisoner as a non-jazz album (where it's currently number two on my list). Obviously would have made the top-ten here had I gone that way.
Not sure when the results will be posted, but I'll be hosting the ballots again this year, so I'll probably know more before it happens.
Some preliminary stats: 60 new A-list albums, 124 new B+(***) [HM], 368 other albums for total of 552; 10 old A-list, 5 old B+(***) [HM], 11 other for total of 26. Didn't find many late-graded 2013 albums: 23 (3 new + 1 old A-list).
In 2012 (at roughly this time), I had 556 new jazz records (similar, but with 80 ungraded in queue, vs. 15 now), and 36 old records (plus 2 undgraded), so the falloff this year is less than I expected. (Not sure about 2013, as I don't seem to have the data readily available.)
I also have a request from Sergio Piccarilli to vote in El Intruso's "8th Creative Music Critics Poll 2014." I've voted in it before, but procrastinated last year and missed the deadline date (January 5th this year).
Names were mostly plucked off this year's top album list, with a few reminders from last year and a few more names from memory -- certainly doesn't constitute any serious, deep thinking: pretty sure everyone mentioned deserves mentioning, but many of those unmentioned don't deserve the slight. Several slots could have gone much deeper: drums, bass, alto sax, tenor sax, piano, trumpet. I dropped my number two and four albums somewhat arbitrarily.
Monday, December 1. 2014
Music: Current count 24105  rated (+38), 518  unrated (-0).
My 2014 jazz stocks are dwindling: the pending list is down to 12 records, including two of last week's Clean Feeds. (The package was, by the way, a little light, with only four of eight new titles. Hope they split the shipment rather than start to cut me off.) Beyond that, there's no one I recognize: many singers, at least one flute record. (I've been putting off dealing with 2015 titles -- I have 10 of them, and a few of them are more promising.) I'll square away my jazz ballot sometime in the next few days.
I continue to revise the current jazz and non-jazz lists -- currently I have 58 A-list records on the jazz side, 56 on the other. (By the way, I still need to rewrite the intros and factor the late 2013 releases into those lists. Also need to work on the 2% lists.) I've been looking at available EOY lists, and I've started to count them up. The legend is here, and the new records count is here. Almost 40 lists counted to date, most of the early ones coming from UK/Europe (main resources for me: Acclaimed Music Groups, Ilxor; still waiting for Large Hearted Boy; also see the tabulations at AOTY).
Previous metacritic files have included review grades as well as EOY lists, so I get some idea of how the year is shaping up well ahead of list season. This year I just started the file this past week, and the only data in it are EOY lists, so it started out really skewed when five of the first six lists were from UK mags and record stores (the latter often go 100 deep, since they have that more to sell; the mags usually draw the line around 50, which is about where most serious fans draw the line between A- and B+). The first time I noticed from those lists was the near complete shutout of US rap/r&b albums. For comparison, in 2013 US rap/r&b finished (and I'll throw in the usually higher Pazz & Jop finish in brackets):
Also finishing P&J top 100:
That strikes me as a pretty typical year, and while it's helped by a few big names (Kanye West, Janelle Monae, Drake, Beyonce, Eminem) it includes a fair number of names you probably hadn't heard of before the year started (Chance the Rapper, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, etc.). The shutout of the first few lists has opened up a crack, but still this is looking like the year critics forgot about black music. Currently all I see:
That's less than half as many records, and some of those are pretty marginal. (Cherry grew up in England and Scandinavia, is on a Norwegian record label, and isn't really hip-hop.) Nor do I see much in the wings. Christgau predicts that Black Portland will "finish P&J" (i.e., top 40), but that record has only one mention so far (31 on Rolling Stone's list). Nor have any of Christgau's other A-list hip-hop records this year garnered even a single mention (Atmosphere, Jason Derulo, Homeboy Sandman, Roots -- I could also add Babyface/Toni Braxton, Iggy Azalea [not US but not FKA Twigs either], Kool A.D., and with one mention Azealia Banks). From my list, aside from Pharrell only Statik Selektah has one mention, while Mursday, Green Seed, Grieves, and Serengeti are shut out. I dug up yet another list, XXL's 25 best from mid-year, and it, too, fared very poorly: only 3 (of 25) records there had been mentioned (at least when I checked; may be one or two more now).
So just because Kanye West sat this year out doesn't mean the records aren't there. What's lacking is the recognition. I suppose one reason that bugs me more than usual is news like Ferguson and the elections. Still, when I shared my early findings with Christgau, he wrote back: "And in case you didn't know, the sites you aggregate are generally speaking black-music clueless, stupidly anti-pop, heedlessly prog, and fatally faddish. . . . PJ will be better." Sure, because it is even more US-biased than my early list returns have been UK/Europe-biased, and because it still polls a lot of newspaper critics (who generally have to write about popular music once in a while, or at least be flexible enough to do so -- something not required of bloggers). But looking at the data, I have no reason to overestimate the smarts and taste of the lists: after all, the current top-10 includes four B/B- records by my counting (FKA Twigs, Beck, Sharon Van Etten, Mac DeMarco), and three more not enough better to actually recommend (Caribou, Damon Albarn, Future Islands).
By the way, I didn't get around to tweeting on the Young Thug records -- for one thing, don't have much to say -- but I have warmed somewhat on Black Portland.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, November 24. 2014
Music: Current count 24067  rated (+37), 519  unrated (-8).
The high rated count comes from hustling for last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. More generally, I'm trying to sort out year-end lists -- the working files are here for jazz and non-jazz. By some quirk of fate, both lists currently have 55 A-list albums. I think in past years I've had a fair amount more records in the jazz column, but I'm getting less and less jazz these days. For instance, Tim Niland, whose blog a few years back ran very parallel to mine, posted his Jazz Critics Poll ballot today, and his top-ten includes four records I haven't heard (John Zorn, Audio One, Lean Left, and Brandon Seabrook), and two more I didn't receive (Chicago Underground Duo, Raoul Björkenheim).
I haven't seen much else in the way of year-end lists, although they should start appearing any day now (indeed: Mojo: Beck, War on Drugs, Sleaford Mods, Jack White, St. Vincent, Steve Gunn; Q: War on Drugs, Alt-J, Damon Albarn, Manic Street Preachers, Beck, St. Vincent; American Songwriter: Sturgill Simpson, War on Drugs, Strand of Oaks, Taylor Swift, Ryan Adams, Hurray for the Riff Raff, St. Vincent at 21). Still don't have a plan on how to do a year-end list metacritic file, but thinking about it.
Did some resorting on the year-end lists, resulting in a couple of grade promotions. I'm not able to find time to play many of my favorite records after rating, but Revolutionary Snake Ensemble and Jenny Scheinman have been exceptions.
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, November 23. 2014
This week's notable links follow, especially on Israel, where this summer's Gaza war and the coming elections, on top of nearly twenty years of Likud rule (minus two years for Ehud Barak, 1998-2000) and far-right demagoguery have left a great many Israelis more racist and bloodthirsty than ever. When I talk to people about Israel, they usually throw their hands up in the air, but this is important -- not least because the US is becoming increasingly Israelized, as you can see from Obama's latest escalations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and as is portended by the Confederate/Tea Party revolt -- the lynchings the latter dream about are now real in Israel.
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, November 22. 2014
Three weeks into November and enough to report. I'll probably do two more Streamnotes columns in December, one aimed at the post-season polls (Jazz Critics Poll ballot due December 7, don't know about Pazz & Jop but last year it was due December 24). I've started to get my ducks ordered in two currently unofficial draft files, one for jazz, the other non-jazz. Since the polls close before the year ends, it is customary to include post-Thanksgiving releases in the following year (and maybe some date discoveries from earlier in the year), but I haven't researched that part yet. I also caution you that the sorting is likely to change quite a bit. This is mostly because I don't spend much time during the year sorting the A-list. I just look for some approximate context and insert new records as I find them. (The problem was even worse below the A- level until I just decided to artist-alphabetize each grade niche.)
One thing I need some help on is the section in the year-end files that goes: "records I haven't heard estimated to have a 2% (or better) chance of making the A-list if/when I finally hear them." I haven't made a serious pass through the Music Tracking 2014 file yet, which is my next step toward filling them out. I'll also start looking at some early year-end lists, but what I'd really like would be for readers to write in with their suggestions: ideally records not on my rated list (although I won't have much trouble weeding out the duplicates). I'm not going to keep track of who suggested what, drop names, or spoil your year-end lists (although I might be motivated to listen to something I wouldn't have gotten to anyway). But the quality of those lists would greatly benefit from your input. Thanks in advance.
I'm also thinking about starting to construct a metacritic file with year-end list data -- I'm not about to go back and collect the year's review grades, but I am interested in what an aggregate year-end list might look like. I'm also not dissuaded by the fact that the lists I recognize skew slightly toward my own tastes -- that is sort of the point. I still may not do this -- the fact that I haven't started is one piece of evidence, but the underlying technology intereste me as much as the data does, so there's a chance (and if I do it it'll be useful in projects going forward).
First thing to say about this column is that the total number of records isn't record breaking (106 vs. 109 for March 19, or to go back into 2013 (when I only posted once per month) there was November 30 (185), October 30 (139), December 29 (131), July 27 (116), and May 29 (107). But in the past I've almost always gotten large totals by piling up old records, whereas this column is very heavily skewed toward new records (92 of 106; the only larger new record count was November 30, 2013, with 100 of 185).
The old records were mostly accidents. Christgau featured Jinx Lennon in an Expert Witness column. Fred McDowell and Club Ska '67 were mentioned by EW fans on Facebook. Another fan likes a recent Ross Johnson compilation: couldn't find it, but settled for this one. I checked out Bette Midler's first live album after panning her new one: a Christgau A- but rather dated. I had Jerry Lee Lewis before Christgau wrote it up for EW, but went back and bumped up the grade a bit. (Christgau didn't bother with the new one, but it's an improvement over Mean Old Man. Christgau also skipped the new Parkay Quarts EP. I may have underrated the first one -- Tally All the Things That You Broke, what with my general disinterest in EPs -- but I doubt I've overrated the new one.)
With all the new records, I'm surprised that there isn't more to recommend (or recommend more heartily). I expect I'll have a few regrades next time as I try to shape up the year-end list.
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 October 31. Past reviews and more information are available here (5574 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Greg Abate Quartet: Motif (2014, Whaling City Sound): Saxophonist, plays alto/soprano/baritone here (plus some flute), always seemed to look back to bebop as the golden age -- early 1990s albums include Bop City and Bop Lives!. Leads a superb mainstream quartet with piano-bass-drums -- no one I've heard of, but note Tim Ray the pianist. Fast, brilliant sound, the rare mainstream album that jumps at you. A- [cd]
Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra: Pulsion (2014, Ubiquity): Sometimes ALVO, based in California, led by Masta Conga, misnomers pretty much all around. Rather, they produce keyb-based electronica, dense and evocative, with trumpet and sax for expression -- reminiscent of electric Miles, though more of a production. B+(***)
Allison Au Quartet: The Sky Was Pale Blue, Then Grey (2012 , self-released): Alto saxophonist from Toronto, debut album, leads a quartet with piano-bass-drums through some haunting postbop, with bits of spoken word. B+(**) [cd]
Omer Avital: New Song (2014, Motéma): Bassist, from Israel, has recorded quite a lot since he moved to New York. Standard quintet, with Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Joel Frahm on tenor sax, and Yonathan Avishai on piano. Mostly easy rhythms building up momentum toward groove. B+(*)
Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste (2014, Prospect Park): Twenty-something hip-hopper, had a breakout video a couple years ago ("212") which got her a record deal this album evidently lost. Fast tunes, the words rarely breaking the surface, sounds promising when they do. B+(***)
Batida: Dois (2014, Soundway): Angolan/Portuguese DJ Pedro Coquenăo's project, a mix of beats that suggest but don't quite belong to Africa, blips of modern electronica, and samples and raps of international hip-hop. B+(**)
Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek (2014, Interscope): Fine Italian names, Anthony Benedetto (88) and Stefani Germanotta (28), rip through eleven "jazz classics" (or fifteen on the 44:28 "deluxe version"), promising a "modern twist" but falling back on the shlock orchestral and big band arrangements of Bennett's youth -- the flutes on "Nature Boy" are the low point. His voice is fine, hers relatively anonymous but spirited, good enough for the fast ones. B+(*)
Eric Bibb: Blues People (2014, Stony Plain): Takes his title from Amiri Baraka's book and uses it to recount folklore, his own soft-spoken style one aspect in what turns out to be a very mixed bag (probably with too many guests). B+(*)
Big Freedia: Just Be Free (2014, Queen Diva): Freddie Ross, from New Orleans, started as a backup singer for bounce artist Katey Red. Doesn't really rap here so much as spit out words fast enough for beats. Kind of one note, but different. B+(*)
Maggie Björklund: Shaken (2014, Bloodshot): Pedal steel guitarist/singer/songwriter, originally from Denmark, given to open plains and melancholy with an odd shimmer about it. B
Otis Brown III: The Thought of You (2014, Blue Note): Drummer, plays in Joe Lovano's Us Five group. First album, produced by Derrick Hodge with input from Robert Glasper, forces at Blue Note pushing for some sort of crossover breakthrough, which here involves guest vocals from Bilal, Gretchen Parlato, and Nikki Ross. None of those hit the spot, but saxophonist John Ellis helps, and trumpeter Keyon Harrold makes a strong impression. B
Chingari [Ranjit Barot, U Shrinivas, Etienne Mbappé]: Bombay Makossa (2014, Abstract Logix): Drums, electric mandolin, bass, the latter from Cameroon via Paris, the others from Mumbai. Fusion, gets by on groove, loses a bit with vocals. B+(*)
Chumped: Teenage Retirement (2014, Anchorless): Post-punk band fronted by Anika Pyle, who gives them an intelligible air, variously humane and exuberant -- and contagious, the sentiment echoed by the drums, lifting this well above the norm. A-
Gary Clark, Jr.: Live (2014, Warner Brothers, 2CD): Young bluesman from Texas, his 2011 EP made him look like a breakout star, but his 2012 debut album fell awful flat. This is a corrective, but it's still not clear why we should care. B+(*)
Nels Cline & Julian Lage: Room (2014, Mack Avenue): Two jazz guitarists, duets although I rarely hear more than one guitar at a time, producing a quiet, melodious intimacy I don't really identify with Cline. Lage is much younger (b. 1988 v. 1956), got a big push when he landed a major label deal at 21, and has shown a fondness for duos. B+(*) [cdr]
Freddy Cole: Singing the Blues (2014, High Note): An odd collection of songs, something like "The Ballad of the Sad Young Men" is certainly down and out but lacks resiliency, which is what turns the blues back into a source of strength. Like his brother, Cole tends to ease on through -- aided by saxophonist Harry Allen here. B+(**)
Alessandro Collina/Rodolfo Cervetto/Marc Peillon/Fabrizio Bosso: Michel on Air (2014, ITI): "Michel" is pianist Michel Petrucciani, who wrote all but two of eleven pieces -- the covers are from Ellington ("In a Sentimental Mood") and Strayhorn ("Take the 'A' Train"). Piano, drums, bass, and trumpet respectively -- the trumpet grabbing you from the start, piano sneaking up. B+(***)
Kevin Conlon/The Groove Rebellion: In Transit (2014, Blujazz): Bassist, also sings on most cuts, plays some keyboards, guitar, and percussion -- sort of a retro-crooner effect. The band, with Mark Secosh on sax, various guitarists and drummers (no keybs), and occasional extra percussion, moves along nicely but doesn't have any funk to fake, which I'll take to be a plus. B+(*)
Chick Corea Trio: Trilogy (2010-12 , Concord, 3CD): No fusion, no scientology, just back to basics in a no nonsense, unconstrained piano trio with Christian McBride and Brian Blade. Runs 3:24:42, compiled from numerous shows scattered over three years and at least that many continents. Reminds you why people adored him in the first place, but not without the occasional wart -- err, "guest appearance." B+(***)
Tara Davidson: Duets (2014, Addo): Saxophonist, alto and soprano, in a series of duets with piano (Laila Biali, David Braid), guitar (David Occhipinti), bass (Andrew Downing), and other saxophonists (Mike Murley and Trevor Hogg). Scattered, but mostly free and often liberating. B+(**) [cd]
Michael Denhoff/Ulrich Phillipp/Jörg Fischer: Trio Improvisations for Campanula, Bass and Percussion (2014, Sporeprint, 2CD): Denhoff composed the pieces. His campanula is a bowed string instrument, similar in size to a cello but with extra tunable strings to provide more resonant harmonies. Effectively, the campanula melts into the bass, extending its range and complexity. B+(***) [cd]
Paul Dietrich Quintet: We Always Get There (2013 , Blujazz): Trumpet player from Chicago, first album, quintet with tenor sax, piano, bass, drums. All originals except for a Björk cover, all very conventional postbop -- a cut or two above ordinary, with an exceptionally lovely close. B+(*) [cd]
Ani DiFranco: Allergic to Water (2014, Righteous Babe): Resettled in New Orleans from Buffalo, pregnant, as she explains, "I'm pretty much happy all the time," and she doesn't even try to make a point of it (unlike in her previous Which Side Are You On?). Good for her, but that doesn't leave much edge. B+(*)
Brian Eno/Karl Hyde: High Life (2014, Warp): Second album this year, but where Hyde seemed like a spare wheel on Someday World this feels much more integral. Riffing guitar replaces the ambient blips of yore, every bit as captivating but more substantial. A-
Ex Cops: Daggers (2014, Downtown): Second album featuring singer Amalie Bruun (ex-Minks), with more pop aura than I expected -- "Modern World" is a choice cut. B+(*)
Ex Hex: Rips (2014, Merge): Punkish trio led by Mary Timony, previously involved in bands like Helium and Wild Flag plus a few solo albums (one from 2005 titled Ex Hex). She doesn't have a lead voice like Wild Flag's Carrie Brownstein (which in that specific case I count as a plus), so this depends a lot on flow and crunch -- abundant enough but lacking whatever it takes to get you to ignore the recycling. B+(***)
Expansions: The Dave Liebman Group: Samsara (2013 , Whaling City Sound): Quintet, Matt Vashlishan providing a second reed instrument (alto sax, flute, clarinet), Bobby Avey is a notable pianist. Fancy postbop, more adventurous than academic but still, you know, a bit slick. B+(*) [cd]
Marianne Faithfull: Give My Love to London (2014, Easy Sound): Seeking fresh blood, she recruits an odd assortment of songwriters -- Steve Earle, Roger Waters, Anna Calvi, Nick Cave -- but only on "Mother Wolf" does she fully channel the fury and disgust she's uniquely capable of. On the other hand, her parched reading of "I Get Along Without You Very Well" suggests she's not through with the songbook. B+(*)
Farmers by Nature: Love and Ghosts (2011 , AUM Fidelity, 2CD): Piano trio, one I've tended to file under drummer Gerald Cleaver because his name comes first, but that list may just be alphabetical, followed as it is by Wiliam Parker (bass) and Craig Taborn (piano). These days Taborn is the star, dancing all over the keyboard, but the rhythm section consistently raises his level. A-
Bryan Ferry: Avonmore (2014, BMG): Title hints at a return to 1982's Avalon, Ferry's last triumph although at the time it was credited to his band, Roxy Music. The music this time proves you can't go home again, although you can dream wistfully about it. B+(*)
Jean Luc Fillon: Oboman Plays Cole Porter: Begin the Night . . . (2013 , Soupir Editions): Fillon plays oboe and cor anglais, and he's backed by Joăo Paulo on piano and Frédéric Eymond on viola -- a nice little chamber group for a bunch of Cole Porter tunes that normally call for more lascivious treatment. B [cd]
Flying Lotus: You're Dead (2014, Warp): Dense and dervishy, the elements I can identify as jazz make me Steven Ellison could have had a future in the family business -- he's related to John and Alice Coltrane -- but he's probably too warped for that any more. There are also whiffs of hip-hop and dance beats and other shit, but this mostly belongs to a soundtrack to a movie I don't want to see. B+(**)
David Friesen Circle 3 Trio: Where the Light Fails (2013 , Origin, 2CD): Bassist, 50th album since 1975, another sixty-some side credits, could be the most prolific or even important jazz musician not in my database until this record showed up. Mostly piano trio, with Greg Goebel on piano and Charlie Doggett on drums, with guitarist Larry Koonse joining on 9 (of 19) cuts. Mainstream, very nice, especially if you cue in on the bass. B+(**) [cd]
Fumaça Preta: Fumaça Preta (2014, Soundway): Dutch band, led by Portuguese/Venezuelan drummer Alex Figueira, they play a rhythmically complex take on garage rock with airs of Brazilian psychedelia, a mix so unique reviewers grasp at analogous straws -- AMG mentions Os Mutantes, Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Lee, "Zappa-esque chamber music," and "Latin boogaloo meets Bollywood sitar music and breakbeats." My first thought was Pulnoc, but then I noticed a chintziness that veered toward Red Hot Chili Peppers and concluded they're pretty unique. Full of shit, maybe, but uniquely so. A-
Ananda Gari: T-Duality (2013 , Auand): Italian drummer, know very little about him, least of all how he wound up fronting a trio of American all-stars -- Tim Berne (alto sax), Rez Abbasi (guitar), Michael Formanek (bass). B+(**)
Brad Goode Quartet: Montezuma (2013 , Origin): Postbop trumpet player from Chicago, leads a quartet with Adrean Farrugia on piano, elegant and spacious with knots of tension, the sort of background trumpet was meant to break through. B+(**)
Vincent Herring: Uptown Shuffle (2014, Smoke Sessions): Alto saxophonist, has always run a little hot which is why the bebop keeps poking through the postbop. Backed by mainstreamers Cyrus Chestnut and Joe Farnsworth, plus bassist Brandi Disterheft. B+(**)
Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1: The Rite of Spring (2014, Creative Nation Music): I must have heard Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps at some point, but I wouldn't bet on it. As best I recall, Charlie Parker was a fan, and Teddy Adorno wasn't. I certainly haven't heard the recent Bad Plus version, but even if you credit Iverson's super powers, the horns -- trumpet and clarinet -- give this version an edge in firepower, and it's hard to imagine dispensing with the leader's guitar (reinforced by cello). B+(***) [cd]
Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 2: Quintet for the End of Time (2014, Creative Nation Music): Same group tackles Olivier Messiaen's "Quatour pour la fin du temps" -- no way I've ever heard that before. The emphasis falls much more on Junko Fujiwara's cello, but when the band breaks out all sorts of interesting things happen. B+(**) [cd]
Will Holshouser/Matt Munisteri/Marcus Rojas: Introducing Musette Explosion (2014, Aviary): Accordion, guitar/banjo, and tuba, with the accordion dominant, in a "musical style that somehow combines a French joie de vivre with the wistfulness of Brazilian saudade." B+(**) [cd]
Javon Jackson: Expression (2014, Smoke Sessions): Tenor saxophonist, impressive when he first appeared on Blue Note in the 1990s, but in a rut lately. He rights himself here, falling back on basics -- a straightforward quartet with Orrin Evans on piano. B+(*)
Darius Jones: The Oversoul Manual (2014, AUM Fidelity): One of the most imposing alto saxophonists to emerge in the last decade puts his horn down to conduct a quartet of operatic female voices, the Elizabeth-Caroline Unit. Something about planet Or'gen, a sacred manual, and rituals for imparting wisdom and experience to children. Not as awful as all that sounds like, but a little disjointed and uninteresting. B-
EG Kight: A New Day (2014, Blue South): Initials stand for Eugenia Gail, hails from Georgia but on hearing Koko Taylor she traded in her country/gospel roots for blues and headed for Chicago. I fell for her 2003 record Southern Comfort and don't know any others, but her formula ensures consistency. B+(**)
Lefteris Kordis: "Oh Raven, If You Only Had Brains . . .": Songs for Aesop's Fables (2010 , Inner Circle Music): Greek pianist-composer, has several albums including a group called Bebop Trio. The texts, I assume, are from the ancient Greek fabulist, and are sung operatically by Panayota Haloulakou. Aside from that, the music is charmingly whimsical, and Darryl Harper (clarine) is always welcome. B [cd]
Jonathan Kreisberg: Wave Upon Wave (2014, New for Now Music): Guitarist, ten or so records since 1997, seems to be in the middle of the dominant post-Montgomery mainstream, controlling the tempo and sound even when Will Vinson slips in some sax, or Vinson or Kevin Hays sits down at the piano. B+(*) [cd]
Kronomorfic [David Borgo & Paul Pellegrin]: Entangled (2013 , OA2): Borgo plays sax (tenor/soprano), Pelegrin drums, in a 7-or-8-piece group, plus extras -- flute, trombone, marimba, a second bass (Mark Dresser), for the 20-minute title suite. Postbop, sometimes a bit more. B+(*)
Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock & Roll Time (2014, Vanguard): At 79, he welcomes the help -- Keith Richards, Neil Young, Ron Wood, Robbie Robertson, Nils Lofgren, Shelby Lynne -- even if he doesn't need it. But producers Steve Bing and Jim Keltner do make a difference, and it's worth noting that while Lewis spent much of his career in Nashville, in the endgame he's come home to Memphis. B+(**)
Little Dragon: Nabuma Rubberband (2014, Republic): Bland Swedish electropop group fronted by exotically named but also bland singer Yukimi Nagano. B
Logic: Under Pressure (2014, Def Jam): Young rapper from Maryland, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, first album after four mixtapes. B+(**)
Low Society: You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (2014, Icehouse): Blues rockers, guitarist Sturgis Nikides and Houston-born singer Mandy Lemons left New York for Memphis to root around. Gritty, upbeat, almost a cariacature of a Janis Joplin wannabe, but "Up in Your Grave" ("I'd rather see you dead") hits its target. B+(*)
Corb Lund: Counterfeit Blues (2014, New West): Country singer from north of the border, calls his band the Hurtin' Albertans and has a song to that effect. Knows his way around the high plains, knows buckin' horses and highland steers and claims he roughest neck around. B+(*)
Harold Mabern: Right on Time (2014, Smoke Sessions): The label is a spinoff for the NYC club, Smoke, and their initial 2014 releases form a who's who of mainstream jazz. Mabern is a postbop pianist from Memphis who started recording for Prestige in 1968, survived the slack years recording for Japanese and Canadian labels, Piano trio with John Webber (bass) and Joe Farnsworth (drums), with a real feel for blues but the fast stuff is less impressive. B+(*)
Michael Mantler: The Jazz Composer's Orchestra Update (2013 , ECM): Trumpet player, co-founded the JCOA in 1964 with Carla Bley (he was the second of Bley's three famous husbands) as a collective support system for large-scale avant-jazz works. This dusts off and spruces up some of Mantler's old compositions, but rather than reorganizing JCOA he picks up a European orchestra (Nouvelle Cuisine Big Band) and a string quartet (radio.string.quartet.vienna), for a big sound that rarely rises above the clutter. B [dl]
Thomas Marriott: Urban Folklore (2013 , Origin): Trumpet player from Seattle, eighth album since 2005, a quartet with an exceptional rhythm section -- Orrin Evans (piano), Eric Revis (bass), Donald Edwards (drums) -- with the trumpeter making much of his leads. B+(*) [cd]
Delfeayo Marsalis: The Last Southern Gentlemen (2014, Troubadour Jass): The trombonist in the family band, younger than Branford and Wynton and less prolific, only a half-dozen albums since 1992. My eyes preclude me from slogging through the liner notes, which I expect to be interesting. The music, however, is painless: mostly standards, the trombone backed by piano-bass-drums (Ellis Marsalis, John Clayton, Smitty Smith), the leads sombre and quite respectable. B+(***) [cd]
Ross Martin/Max Johnson/Jeff Davis: Big Eyed Rabbit (2014, Not Two): Guitar-bass-drums. Don't know much about the guitarist, but he has trouble emerging here. B
Bette Midler: It's the Girls! (2014, East/West): Her girl group shtick had an element of camp back in the 1970s but today could just be nostalgia or repertory or lack of other ideas. First problem here is leading off with two Spector hits that stiffen up the production. After them, "Bei Mir Bist du Schön" is a whiff of fresh air, but it's soon stranded as she reverts to early 1960s fare, hitting here and missing there. B
Tony Monaco: Furry Slippers (2014, Summit): Hammond B-3 player, over ten albums since 2001's Burnin' Grooves, this one backed by guitarist Fareed Haque, with pianist Asako Itoh (Monaco) tabbed as a "special guest." Does move a bit away from groove formula, especially with covers of "Round Midnight" and "But Beautiful." B [cd]
Jemeel Moondoc/Connie Crothers: Two (2012, Relative Pitch): Avant jazz duets, alto sax and piano, each has its own strength, but they stay closely in sync, partly because neither pushes too hard. B+(*)
Naked Wolf: Naked Wolf (2014, El Negocito): Dutch group, although the names seem to come from all over (Gibson, Provan, Szafirowski, Jäger, Ex, Klemperer, vocalist Seb El Zin). Closer to rock than jazz, with its mixed vocals trumping the twisted rhythms and horns, although maybe skronk is an apt compromise -- the jazz part I find much the more appealing. B+(*)
The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers (2014, Matador): A band with several viable solo performers, none of which I've ever been enamored of either solo or together, but they know their way around pop hooks and throw out plenty here. B+(*)
Sam Newsome: The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation [The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 2] (2014, self-released): Soprano sax, went solo on Vol. 1 but usually adds percussion here with these African and African-inspired melodies, including the three-part "Microtonal Nubian Horn" experiment and one called "Good Gooly Miss Mali." A- [cd]
Miho Nobuzane: Simple Words: Jazz Loves Brazil (2014, self-released): Pianist, from Japan, based in New York, second album. The band, with Filó Machado (guitar, vocals) and Mauricio Zottarelli (drums) does a nice job with the Brazilian thing. B+(*) [cd]
Karen O: Crush Songs (2006-10 , Cult, EP): Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer knocks out fourteen demo-quality ballads, only two over 2:27 (four over 1:47) for a total of 25:04. Rather interesting for such a miniscule, even crude, effort. B+(*)
O'Death: Out of Hands We Go (2014, Northern Spy): Brooklyn band, although Greg Jamie's vocals suggest a bit of the Irish even though they took their name from the Dock Boggs tune. B+(***)
Parquet Courts: Parkay Quarts: Content Nausea (2014, What's Your Rapture?): Considered an EP, but runs 12 songs, 34:59 (even with three not breaking one minute, but one runs 6:26). Nor is the throwaway cover of "These Boots (Are Made for Walking)" worthless. Their post-Velvets drone isn't wasted on shlock; it thrives there. A-
Clarence Penn & Penn Station: Monk: The Lost Files (2012 , Origin): Drummer, leads a group with Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on sax, Donald Vega on piano, and Yasushi Nakamura on bass (acoustic and electric), through ten Monk tunes plus one original. B+(*) [cd]
Plymouth: Plymouth (2014, Rare Noise): Organ player Jamie Saft seems to be the prime mover here, but rather than signing up the usual soul jazzers he picked two avant-guitarists (Joe Morris and Mary Halvorson), backed by bass (Chris Lightcap) and drums (Gerald Cleaver). Three pieces, averaging 20-minutes, feel like a free twist on fusion. B+(*)
Bobby Previte: Terminals (2014, Cantaloupe): Drummer, composed five pieces (running 13:02 to 18:11) for percussion quartet, a role filled by SO Percussion. Each piece allows a guest soloist to improvise over the percussion, so we get: Zeena Parkins (harp), Greg Osby (alto sax), Nels Cline (guitar), Previte (drums), and John Medeski (organ). The sax sounds like a conventional jazz idea. Cline doesn't. B+(*)
Rex Richardson & Steve Wilson: Blue Shift (2014, Summit): Wilson limits himself to alto sax here. He's well known, both for his own albums, as an accompanist, and for his big band work. Richardson is news to me: his discography includes big band work (with Bill O'Connell) and classical music (a 2005 album is subtitled New Virtuoso Trumpet Music by American Composers). But he plays trumpet and flugelhorn with exceptional verve, and nearly runs away with this album. Backed by guitar-bass-drums -- Trey Pollard has some nice spots on guitar. B+(***) [cd]
Doug Seegers: Going Down to the River (2014, Rounder): Nashville singer-songwriter in his 60s, first album, a throwback to honky tonk with a few quirks and one out-of-character market sop -- a gorgeous cover of Gram Parsons' "She" (replete with Emmylou Harris). Oddly enough, after the front-loaded stuff turns to filler he finds new depths to his songs. A-
Pat Senatore Trio: Ascensione (2008-12 , Fresh Sound): Bassist-led piano trio, with Josh Nelson on the keys and Mark Ferber on drums. Evidently didn't qualify for the label's New Talent series due to the age of the leader, even though this is only his second album -- he attributes his interest in bass to hearing Scott LaFaro, and his closest brush to fame was as musical director for Herb Alpert. Two sessions here. That Nelson favors lushness is an understatement. B+(**) [cd]
Noura Mint Seymali: Tzenni (2014, Glitterbeat): Moorish griot from Mauretania, step-daughter of Dimi Mint Abba -- whose 1990 Moorish Music From Mauritania was for long the only available entry point into the desert nation -- aims for hypnotic trance groove that plays in Paris as well as Timbuktu. B+(**)
Ryan Shultz Quintet: Hair Dryers (2013 , Origin): Plays bass trumpet, based in Chicago, presumably not the same-named Chicago-based painter. Group includes electric guitar (Chris Siebold), keyboard, and bass, which opens up a fusion angle. B+(*) [cd]
Tyshawn Sorey: Alloy (2014, Pi): Drummer, I first noticed him with Vijay Iyer and he's been on most of Steve Lehman's records. His debut album, 2007's What/Not was a sprawling 2CD affair with a long stretch of piano -- as I recall, Francis Davis ranked it number two that year but the publicist snubbed me, deciding I wouldn't take it as seriously as it deserved. (Found it on Rhapsody and gave it an A-, not that you should take that as a serious review.) This returns to his piano compositions, a trio with Corey Smythe on piano and Christopher Tordini on bass. Mostly ambles aleatorically, although there is one stretch where they find a beat and some intensity -- I'm a sucker for that. B+(***) [cd]
The Spin Quartet: In Circles (2013 , Origin): Chad McCullough (trumpet), Geof Bradfield (tenor sax), Clark Sommers (bass), Kobie Watkins (drums): all four have solo albums, the horn players doing most of the writing here (one piece by Sommers, plus covers of Nick Drake and Gilberto Gil). B+(**)
Lyn Stanley: Potions: From the 50's (2014, A.T. Music): Standards, mostly from the early 1950s, at least pre-rock (although "Love Potion Number Nine" makes the cut). Can't begin to read all the fine print here, but the arrangements are tastefully conservative, the sax much appreciated. And her website starts off describing her as "known for her lush low notes" -- for once, exactly right. B+(**) [cd]
Vince Staples: Hell Can Wait (2014, Def Jam, EP): West coast rapper, has a couple mixtapes tied to Odd Future and/or Cutthroat Boyz, good for seven songs, 23:30 here. B+(*)
Aki Takase/Alexander von Schlippenbach: So Long, Eric!: Homage to Eric Dolphy (2014, Intakt): Culled from two nights in Berlin with a big band led by the wife-and-husband avant pianists -- actually two piano trios, five horns (Rudi Mahall, Tobias Delius, Henrik Walsdorff, Axel Dörner, and Nils Wogram), and Karl Berger on vibes -- tackle nine Dolphy tunes. B+(***)
Natsuki Tamura/Alexander Frangenheim: Nax (2013 , Creative Sources): Trumpet-bass duets, the former scratchy, the latter inscrutable. B+(*) [cd]
Temples: Sun Structures (2014, Fat Possum): First album from Brit psychedelic rock group, echoes of '60s guitar drone with flashes of King Crimson -- not sure you can call them flashbacks, but then I'm never sure what psychedelia really means (and am extra dubious with a pop band this coherent). Topped the first "best of 2014" list published (Rough Trade), but I doubt it'll have legs. B+(*)
T.I.: Paperwork (2014, Grand Hustle): Atlanta rapper, Clifford Harris, earned his gangsta rep the dumb way, but is smart enough to go to Pharrell for his pop hooks. Front-loaded the rote stuff, knowing the album's long enough he can catch up on the backstretch. B+(**)
Touch and Go Sextet: Live at the Novara Jazz Festival (2012 , Nine Winds): Four horns -- Aaron Bennett (tenor/baritone sax), Sheldon Brown (alto sax, bass clarinet), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Darren Johnston (trumpet) -- provide a wide range of intriguing leads, while Lisa Mezzacappa (bass) and Vijay Anderson (drums) stir the pot. B+(***) [cd]
Piet Verbist/Zygomatik: Cattitude (2014, Origin): Belgian bassist, previous album was called Zygomatik so that continues as the band name. Quintet, two saxes -- Vincent Brus on baritone is most strategic for amplifying the bass -- with keyboard player Bram Weijters favoring Wurlitzer over Fender Rhodes. B+(**)
Marlene VerPlanck: I Give Up, I'm in Love (2014, Audiophile): A "songbird," as the liner notes put it, b. 1933 in Newark as Marlene Pampinella -- she was married to arranger Billy VerPlanck for 52 years, until his death in 2009. No date on when this was recorded, but nothing suggests it isn't recent, other than that she looks and sounds so great. Standards, some with the Glenn Franke Big Band for that brassy Sinatra-ish feel, the rest with intimate groups highlighted by Warren Vaché or Harry Allen. I should delve into her back catalog some time, but I'd be surprised to find better albums than this one. A- [cd]
Elio Villafranca and His Jazz Syncopators: Caribbean Tinge: Live From Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (2011-12 , Motéma): Cuban pianist based in New York, compiled this from two sets with different groups -- Sean Jones and Greg Tardy in one, Terell Stafford and Vincent Herring in the other, combining Lewis Nash with a lot of Latin percussion -- even the latter barely qualifies as tinge. B+(*)
Ernie Watts Quartet: A Simple Truth (2013 , Flying Dolphin): Tenor saxophonist, nearing 70, always had great tone and command especially on ballads. With piano-bass-drums, no one I recognize but European. Sprints through "Bebop" for the exercise. B+(**)
Luke Winslow-King: Everlasting Arms (2014, Bloodshot): A mild singer-songwriter from northern Michigan, transplanted to New Orleans, but he's also studied Czech music in Prague and worked with Blue Gene Tyranny, so the idea that he's gone over to jazz strikes me as a stretch. B+(*)
Jason Yeager Trio: Affirmation (2014, Inner Circle Music): Piano trio, second album, with Danny Weller (bass) and Matt Rousseau (drums) plus "special guests" on five (of twelve) cuts -- saxopohonist Noah Preminger looms large, especially on the cut trumpeter Jean Caze joins in. On the other hand, Aubrey Johnson sings two -- have I mentioned recently how much I detest "Julia"? B [cd]
Yelle: Complčtement Fou (2014, Kemosabe): French singer Julie Budet, assumed the name of her dance-pop group. Not as crazy as she thinks. B+(**)
Peter Zak Trio: The Disciple (2013 , SteepleChase): Pianist, has a dozen albums since 1989, in a trio with Peter Washington on bass and Willie Jones III on drums. Three originals, seven covers, the latter all notable pianists (well, I'm not so sure of Alexander Scriabin), with Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk the standouts. B+(***)
Miguel Zenón: Identities Are Changeable (2014, Miel Music): Alto saxophonist, from Puerto Rico, won a MacArthur "genius" grant and scaled his superb quartet up to a slick big band, cutting their lush melodies with samples of Puerto Rican New Yorkers trying to sort out their identities (although their later stories are more interesting). For a musician in a postmodern world identity can provide a distinct flavoring even when it has to be recovered (e.g., Jason Kao Hwang, Rudresh Mahanthappa). Zenón's 2005 quartet album Jíbaro got the mix right, but since then identity has become something of a rut, even dressed up with big band and dialogue (here) or strings (elsewhere). [My CD has a weird repeating glitch after the last listed song -- presumably a defect -- so I rechecked on Rhapsody.] B+(*)
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Peter Brötzmann/Sonny Sharrock: Whatthefuckdoyouwant (1987 , Trost): Live improv sax-guitar duets -- the former playing alto, tenor, and bass saxes as well as tarogato. Fans of Sharrock's legendary solo Guitar will find much of interest here, although this is predictably rougher-going: when you come to play with Brötzmann, expect to bring the noise, otherwise it'll just be handed to you. B+(**)
Illinois Jacquet/Leo Parker: Toronto 1947 (1947 , Uptown): Tenor and baritone sax, respectively, combining r&b fire without conceding the aesthetic high ground to bebop -- trumpet players Joe Newman and Russell Jacquet could swing or bop as long as they broke through, while bebop pianist Sir Charles Thompson wouldn't dream of playing anything else. Sound quality is variable, but the intensity isn't. B+(***)
Jerry Lee Lewis: The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings (1970s, Time-Life): Cut in the late 1970's for Sam Phillips' son Knox -- you'd think something that recent could be dated more precisely -- ten cuts, 43:11 thanks to a long, sloppy "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" and a Chuck Berry medley. A-
Howard McGhee: West Coast 1945-1947 (1945-47 , Uptown): An early bebop trumpeter, featured on live shots from a club in Hollywood and Philo and Dial studio sessions, with a band including saxophonists Teddy Edwards and Sonny Criss and pianist Hampton Hawes. McGhee had headed west with Coleman Hawkins and was present when Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker swung through LA, and he added "A Night in Tunisia" and "Ornithology" to his repertoire. B+(**)
Hailu Mergia and the Walias: Tche Belew (1977 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): Keyboard player from Ethiopia -- I think he wound up driving a cab in BC -- offers very enchanting if slightly cocktail-ish grooves, the simplicity all the more charming. The label released a slightly later (1985) tape last year and it's every bit as enjoyable. A-
Club Ska '67 (1967 , Mango): Thirteen-cut LP back when Island was filling in historical gaps, having cornered the US market for 1970s reggae with Marley, Toots, Burning Spear, and many others. Most songs are classics, although this is less canonical than Music Club's This Is Ska! or the first disc of Island's indispensible 4-CD box Tougher Than Tough: The Story of Jamaican Music, or as deep as Sanctuary/Trojan's Rough and Tough: The Story of Ska 1960-1966 or Heartbeat's Ska Bonanza: The Studio One "Ska" Years. For that matter, Island/Mango issued at least two more comparable LPs: Intensified: Original Ska 1962-1966 and The King Kong Compilation: The Historic Reggae Recordings. A- [dl]
Ross Johnson: Make It Stop!: The Most of Ross Johnson (1979-2006 , Goner): A drummer, his credits going back to Alex Chilton's 1979 Like Flies on Sherbert. Over the years he played with Tav Falco, Monsieur Jeffrey Evans, and led a band called AMF (for Adolescent Musical Fantasy). A perpetual sideman, his jokes a little too obvious and a little two crude, his voice better suited to talk and that's how he walks through songs that become jokes just by association. B+(***)
Jinx Lennon: Know Your Station Gouger Nation!!! (2006, Septic Tiger): A spoken word album from Ireland, although like the best of the genre it's the music -- sometimes fractured, sometimes busy, sometimes basic (as with the hymn that goes, "you're not a scumbag" -- that carries the album along, but whereas singing necessarily simplifies what can be said, talk is rapidfire, sometimes scabrous. Started here because this is reportedly his best, and so far, so good. A- [bc]
Jinx Lennon: Live at the Spirit Store (2000, Septic Tiger): Early on he tried harder to sing but wasn't very good at it, the words overrunning the rhymes except when he falls into broken record mode, repeating a line for what seems like way too long. Nor does the music go much beyond hard-strummed guitar. B+(*) [bc]
Jinx Lennon: 30 Beacons of Light for a Land Full of Spite, Thugs, Drug Slugs, and Energy Vampires (2002, Septic Tiger): Few of the 32 cuts run long -- one at 4:46, five more top 3:00 -- but most plant a thought and grind it into the dirt. Cumulatively, they add up to a worldview. B+(**) [bc]
Jinx Lennon: Trauma Themes Idiot Times (2009, Septic Tiger): Backup singer Paula Flynn helps smooth out the rough spots, not that the roughness doesn't still scratch through -- the songs need that. A- [bc]
Jinx Lennon: National Cancer Strategy (2010, Septic Tiger): More focus on the songs, perhaps because they're so traumatic, but they lift the music a notch. B+(***) [bc]
Fred McDowell: Amazing Grace (1966 , Shout!/Testament): Subtitle: "Mississippi Delta Spirituals by the Hunter's Chapel Singers of Como, Miss." McDowell tends to sink in the vocal mix but his guitar is the only accompaniment here, both pacing and accenting the women as they work their way through mostly traditional tunes -- McDowell claims three of them, and they sound as venerable as the rest. A-
Bette Midler: Live at Last (1977, Atlantic): Her first live album, with a lot of stage shtick plus a wide range of songs. B+(*)
Monday, November 17. 2014
Music: Current count 24030  rated (+34), 527  unrated (-4).
Rated count topped 24,000 this week. It passed 23,000 the week of March 24, 2014, a bit less than eight months ago. That probably means June-July, 2015 for 25,000, although I wouldn't be surprised if I started to slow down. New records are down at least a hundred this year.
Francis Davis has arranged with NPR to keep his Jazz Critics Poll going for another year. Ballots have been sent out, and I have one. Even though I've listened to close to 500 new jazz albums this year, I have virtually no idea who the leading candidates are this year, let alone who will win. I barely even have a sense of who I might vote for, and that's after I went to the trouble to split out my 2014-in-progress file into two more presentable year-end lists: one for Jazz and another for Non-Jazz. Each picks up (at least initially) the text and cover scan from Rhapsody Streamnotes. As I was doing this, the first thing that occurred to me was my haphazard insertions into the list throughout the year are far from adding up to a sort. Before I declare anything even tentatively official -- the Jazz Critics Poll deadline is December 7 -- I expect to do a lot of resorting.
I still need to do quite a bit of work on the files. I'll probably reorganize them to reflect Davis' revised rules on reissue/historical. (I've moved a couple records over, but not all of them.) I also need to go back and dig up December (or post-Thanksgiving) 2013 releases, since they weren't available early enough for last year's premature ballots). Then there is the "prospect" list in the notes: technically, any record I'm aware of existing that I think might have a 2% (or greater) chance of panning out into an A-list release. This involves looking at the prospect file and various other resources.
Much more unpacking than usual this week, but nothing I'm especially looking forward to. (It occurs to me that David Friesen must be one of the best-regarded jazz musicians I've never listened to an album by, and now I got a double. Only four more names strike me as familiar, and they're not all that memorable.)
By the way, the Fred McDowell album popped up as a new digital dump, but I cited the older CD. I found the Ross Johnson set when I was looking for something newer (though probably still old) by him, and got curious.
The draft file for Rhapsody Streamnotes has about 80 records in it now. I expect I'll post it later this week, then probably do two in December as the 2014 year-end lists appear. (I will say that the two leading candidates there are St. Vincent and War on Drugs, and while neither made my A-list, neither is totally undeserving either.)
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:
Monday, November 10. 2014
Music: Current count 23996  rated (+30), 531  unrated (-9).
Thought the odds I might cross the 24000 rated level this week were pretty good, but despite a fairly productive week I fell a bit short. Next week for sure. Probably not tonight. Most likely tomorrow. Just a number, and in some ways a rather low one. I recall talking to John Rockwell back in the 1970s when he had twenty-some thousand LPs in his collection. If he only had the pedestrian habit of keeping lists and jotting down grades, he could have well over 100,000 by now. I only started doing this as an aide de memoire in the 1990s, when I had about 3000 LPs and less than a thousand CDs. However, as so often happens when you start to measure something, it takes on a life of its own. I doubt Cap Anson had any clue that he had 3000 hits, nor that Sam Crawford realized he retired just short (2961). Al Kaline was conscious enough of his stats that he hung on to get 3007 hits, but I remember him saying that had he realized that 400 home runs would have put him into one of those exclusive clubs, he would have hit more. (He wound up with 399.)
Didn't get any new records this past week -- the three listed below came today, and two of those have 2015 release dates. I've had to open 2015 files, not that there is anything interesting in them yet. The 2014 metafile is currently up to 2615 records (807 rated or owned). I worked a little on it last week, mostly trying to fill in some missing jazz records -- that led me to Smoke Sessions, a generally good mainstream label (if that's your bag).
The Jinx Lennon records are on Bandcamp. Liam Smith is a fan, and he turned Robert Christgau onto them, resulting in last week's Expert Witness. I (more or less) agree, although I'll add that I didn't find Lennon's outrage either comforting or cathartic. I just find so much of what's happening today to be sad and pathetic -- not least because it wouldn't take much intelligence, sensitivity, and good will to come up with very different outcomes.
I didn't tweet about the Jinx Lennon albums, mostly because my own longer write-ups aren't very coherent. Ideally, I'd take another run at the writing (if not the albums) before Rhapsody Streamnotes posts (probably next week rather than this, although I currently have 56 reviews in the draft file).
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 9. 2014
Thought I'd do a quickie on post-election links but I've been so bummed and lethargic this week it's taken until Sunday anyway. Not just the elections, either, nor the news that the Supreme Court will practice its ideological activism on insurance subsidies for people unfortunate enough to live in states that couldn't (actually, wouldn't) get their act together under the ACA.
The takeaway from the election seems to be that voter suppression and nearly infinite money works for Republicans. The 4% "skew" toward the Democrats that Nate Silver found in the polls seems to be people who intended to vote but at the last minute either didn't or couldn't. That was enough to tilt about 5-6 senate races. But also Democrats didn't do a good job of articulating issues -- it's noteworthy that progressive issues won pretty much across the board when they weren't attached to candidates who could be linked to Obama. To pick on one example: Mark Pryor's campaign consisted of a vacuous slogan ("Put Arkansas First") and ads warning that Tom Cotton wanted to kill off Medicare and Social Security. That's not inaccurate, and would have won if voters really took Cotton to be that much of a threat, but many voters concluded that the risk wasn't that great. On the other hand, Cotton's ads did nothing more than equate Pryor with Obama. I can't tell you why that mattered, or why that worked, but it did.
Also, a few links for further study: