Monday, August 31. 2009
Having a lot of trouble taking a much needed break here. Looks like I have enough prospecting to post, especially with all the stragglers I've picked up from Rhapsody. The section is (and will be) introduced by a standard bit of boilerplate, but the key thing to reiterate is that the "final" grades are wild-ass guesses based on one or two consecutive plays. In the real world some records hit you fast but many take some time to adjust to. I normally pay some heed to that by holding back some records I don't quite get and think I should play again later. The Hollenbeck is the only example below -- I'm probably forcing more grades these days to manage the triage. Just to pick a couple of examples, the final McLaughlin/Corea album might wind up doing better, especially if I can take it one disc at a time without the glitches Rhapsody often sticks in. (On the other hand, I may have been too generous to the Corea/Burton.) The arbitrary cutoff here helps manage my time, as does the decision not to CG albums I only hear this way. If I had more space than records I might do this differently, but I have so little space and so many records the Rhapsody streams are an easy place to cut. Still, I have enjoyed hearing them -- gives me some broader context, and a little bit of a break.
Isotope: Golden Section (1974-75 , Cuneiform): British fusion band led by guitarist Gary Boyle, recorded three albums from 1974-76 with various lineups. These tracks -- 6 from Radio Bremen, plus earlier tracks from London (5) and New York (2) -- feature the group's second lineup: Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine) on bass, Laurence Scott on keyboards, and Nigel Morris on drums, plus Aureo de Souza on percussion for the Bremen shots. Morris and Hopper always find an interesting groove, allowing Boyle to send out Montgomery-sized note strings with McLaughlin-inspired steeliness. No vocals to spoil the mood. Some redundancies but they just add up to more. A-
Van Morrison: Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl (2008 , Listen to the Lion): Live concert revisit of Morrison's foundational album -- some singles preceded it, including his still greatest single song ("Brown Eyed Girl"), variously reissued as T.B. Sheets and Bang Masters, and Them came even earlier, but this is where he traded in his pop-rock attack for a career of Celtic mystique, blue-eyed soul, and jazz riffs. Fans are divided between those, like Lester Bangs, who couldn't get enough of the introspection and others, like Robert Christgau, who preferred the elegant popcraft of Morrison's next album, Moondance. I lean toward the latter group, but never doubted the revelation here. The concert reorders some songs, loosening them up, and he's matured into his voice -- a wonder of the world forty years ago and even more so now. It's not reinvention on the level of Leonard Cohen's Live in London, so it could be docked for redundancy. Still, if he wants to keep doing this sort of thing, I'm not going to complain till he gets to Hard Nose the Highway. A-
Örjan Sandred: Cracks and Corrosion (2001-09 , Navrona): Swedish composer, teaches at University of Manitoba where he founded Studio FLAT for computer music. Not listed as playing here, which doesn't preclude programming. One piece from 2001, the rest from 2008-09; mostly strings, sometimes guitar or harp, with the occasional flute or clarinet. Rather bare and abstract, not very jazzlike, but interesting in small doses. B+(*)
James Moody: 4A (2008 , IPO): Tenor saxophonist, made his name in early 1950s both in Dizzy Gilllespie's bands and on his own. Has a checkered discography that I've sampled only lightly, but into his 80s a venerable figure. About as good a deal as one can hope for: a straightforward quartet with Kenny Barron (piano), Todd Coolman (bass), and Lewis Nash (drums); nothing on flute; a set of standards -- I'm always a sucker for "Bye Bye Blackbird." B+(**)
McCoy Tyner: Solo: Live From San Francisco (2007 , Half Note/McCoy Tyner Music): I don't have any way of easily checking how many solo piano albums Tyner has recorded. Several, certainly -- not as many as Paul Bley or Cecil Taylor or Keith Jarrett, but a few. Not sure how this stacks up, but offhand the piano doesn't sound very clear, and his speed, which is usually in the breathless range, is a bit off. B
James Carter/John Medeski/Christian McBride/Adam Rogers/Joey Baron: Heaven on Earth (2009, Half Note): The liner notes start by comparing Carter to LeBron James, presumably because it's obvious he's a spectacular talent even on a losing team. The team actually isn't that bad, but only Rogers adds much of note, with Medeski unable to get any traction until they slow down and throw him a blues. McBride and Baron could be anyone, even though we know they're not. No new ground for Carter here: starts with one from Django Reinhardt, recaps Don Byas and Lucky Thompson, pulls a blues attributed to Leo Parker and Ike Quebec, winds up with Larry Young's title cut. Carter plays soprano, tenor, and quite a bit of baritone. I've complained about his poll winning on the latter, but he makes a good case here. A-
Ab Baars/Ig Henneman/Misha Mengelberg: Sliptong (2008 , Wig): Dutch trio. Baars plays tenor sax, clarinet, and shakuhachi; Henneman viola; Mengelberg piano, although at first I was tempted to say percussion. All three play abstractly, leaving a lot of space between the instruments. As such, it takes considerable effort to latch on to what they're doing. I played this twice, and pretty much failed, although I have no doubt that Mengelberg is one of the great pianists of our era. B
Rodrigo Amado/Kent Kessler/Paal Nilssen-Love: The Abstract Truth (2008 , European Echoes): Portugese saxophonist, in a trio with two frequent Kent Vandermark associates -- same group recorded Teatro in 2004. Also leads the Lisbon Improvisation Players and shows up on some side projects where he is invariably a plus -- roughly analogous to someone like Tony Malaby. Abstract free jazz, ably supported, not too rough, but doesn't quite ignite -- it's easy enough to imagine Vandermark in the same company pushing the envelope harder. Best stretch is one on baritone. Dedicates the album to Giorgio De Chirico. Also does photo work, worth checking out on his website. B+(**)
Jon Alberts/Jeff Johnson/Tad Britton: Apothecary (2007-08 , Origin): Piano trio, first album by Alberts, who evidently owns the Fu Kun Wu Lounge in Seattle where most of this was recorded. "Green Dolphin Street," "Nardis," "Footprints," a couple of Monk tunes. Didn't sound like much at first, but sort of snook up on me -- the Monks most idiosyncratically straightened out. B+(**)
Freddy Cole: The Dreamer in Me (2008 , High Note): Played this in the car and Laura was trying to figure out who it was: "it isn't Nat King Cole." I had to laugh. She wasn't aware of Nat's baby brother, who has the genes, the speakeasy pipes, even a bit of the piano. Last album I thought he was finally growing out of big brother's legacy, now that he's gotten to be a good deal older than Nat ever was. But he's straddling here, on the one hand sounding more like Nat than ever, on the other feeling exceptionally confident on his own. A live set at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola. Plays piano on four cuts, giving way to John di Martino on the other seven. Namechecks Von Freeman on "The South Side of Chicago," but the sax man is Jerry Weldon -- sounding momentarily a lot like Freeman. With Randy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass, Curtis Boyd on drums. A-
Count Basie Orchestra: Swinging, Singing, Playing (2009, Mack Avenue): The massed horn attack still sends a tingle up your spine. The solos are less impressive, with the recognizable names down to trumpeters Scotty Barnhart and James Zollar, so the guests help there, but only Curtis Fuller shows up with a horn -- well, Frank Wess brought his flute -- and only Hank Jones adds much of note. Then there are the singers: Nnenna Freelon and Janis Siegel better than expected; Jamie Cullum even worse, and Jon Hendricks on some other planet. B
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble: Eternal Interlude (2009, Sunnyside): Downbeat's rising star composer/arranger, next in line to challenge Maria Schneider in those slots. Rather dazzling for the most part, although I get lost in a couple of spots -- when the pace slows, so does my consciousness. (Cf. "The Cloud," ending with unintelligible words from Theo Bleckmann.) I'm not a doubter; I'm just not sure yet what I believe in. [B+(**)]
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.
Carl Maguire's Floriculture: Sided Silver Solid (2009, Firehouse 12): Pianist, called his first album Floriculture (2005, Between the Lines) and kept he name for his group, even though only Dan Weiss (drums) returns here: John Hebert takes over the bass slot, Oscar Noriega alto sax (although clarinet and bass clarinet are more prominent), and most importantly Stephanie Griffin expands the quartet to quintet with her viola -- the dominant sound, giving the whole an abstract, fractured chamber music feel, punctuated by the occasional Sturm und Drang. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Infernal Machines (2008 , New Amsterdam): Cover looks familiar, but I don't have any note of this in my records. Argue is from Vancouver, arrived in New York in 2003, studied with Bob Brookmeyer. Big band arranger, with a big band that probably intersects quite a bit with Mike Holober's group(s). Name comes from a John Philip Sousa line, the residue of an era when machines could appear monstrous. Argue's band, however, is nothing like that. This one is clean and functional verging on slick and powerful. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Jeff "Tain" Watts: Watts (2008 , Dark Key): Drummer, broke in at age 21 on the first Wynton Marsalis album (back when Wynton was 20 and Branford 21). Has six albums under his own name -- one cut in 1991, a second (first released) in 1999, picked up the pace after that. Quartet with Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, and Christian McBride, high octane mainstreamers who can run with a fast one. "The Devil's Ring Tone: The Movie" adds some noise, something about "W" and the Devil. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Christian McBride & Inside Straight: Kind of Brown (2009, Mack Avenue): Bassist, wound up on the cover of Downbeat's critics poll issue, winning acoustic bassist over perennial Dave Holland, coming in second on electric bass. He has nine or so albums since an impressive major label deubt in 1994 and a huge number of side credits (AMG's list runs to four pages, but there looks to be a lot of chaff in there). This is basically a Holland-style group, with high saxophone (Steve Wilson on alto and soprano) and vibes (Warren Wolf Jr.) to steer clear of the bass, although McBride goes one step further, omitting the trombone in favor of pianist Eric Reed. McBride swings harder and has a fondness for funk, but he doesn't exert enough gravity to keep the lighter elements from floating away. B [Rhapsody]
Rob Burger: City of Strangers (2009, Tzadik): Tin Hat founder, plays piano but also lots of other instruments, like accordion, guitars, lap steel, banjo, ukulele, harmonica, marimba, vibes, jew's harp. Short pieces, 31 in all, many just soundtrack fragments, most augmented with viola and violin, one with Marc Ribot guitar. Nice enough, but doesn't flow all that well, and is far from substantial. B [Rhapsody]
Grant Stewart: Plays the Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn (2009, Sharp Nine): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1971, basically a generation but little else removed from one-time young fogeys like Scott Hamilton and Ken Peplowski. Last time I reviewed a record by Stewart the label owner/producer wrote in to register his dismay and hope that I would listen to the record again. I don't mind letters like that. I might even learn something some day. But I didn't change my mind, and he never sent me another record. This is Stewart's second since then: a quartet with Tardo Hammer (piano), Paul Gill (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). Eight Ellington and/or Strayhorn songs, "It Don't Mean a Thing" the only one I can instantly ID. Reminds me that my main problem with Stewart is that his tone strikes me as rather dull, at least compared to a dozen similar sax players. On the other hand, there's something here that resists the young fogey caricature. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Grant Stewart: Young at Heart (2007 , Sharp Nine): One album back. Another quartet, with Tardo Hammer (piano) and Joe Farnsworth (drums) constants, but with Peter Washington in the bass slot (big improvement, not a surprise). Starts with the luscious title song, followed by a slow burn on "You're My Thrill." Turns a bit boppy on the one original, "Shades of Jackie Mac," for Jackie McLean, and stays more or less in that mode through Ellington and Jobim. Album cover has a brunette draped over his shoulders, his best Bennie Wallace move to date. Doesn't have the ballad tone, but he seems more comfortable here. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Joe Locke/David Hazeltine Quartet: Mutual Admiration Society 2 (2009, Sharp Nine): Vibes-piano duet, reinforced by Essiet Essiet on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. As the title suggests, Locke and Hazeltine have done this before, with their 1999 album Mutual Admiration Society. Vibes-piano is one a combination that tends to work, as Milt Jackson/John Lewis showed many times. Locke first came to my attention in a duo with Kenny Barron, But Beautiful. Hazeltine is one of the best mainstream pianists working, notable both as a trio leader and accompanist. Nice enough, but still this scoots by without leaving much of an impression, like all the mutual admiration doesn't produce any tension to spark our interest. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Cyro Baptista & Banquet of the Spirits: Infinito (2009, Tzadik): Brazilian percussionist, has half dozen albums since 1997, including last year's group-giving Banquet of the Spirits. Not really sure who all plays on this, as the three or four sources I've found disagree. Core band is evidently Baptista on all sorts of percussion and exotica; Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on bass, oud, gimbri; Brian Marsella on keyboards and maybe melodica; Tim Keiper on drums. Add to that a list of guests that may or may not include Anat Cohen, John Zorn, Erik Friedlander, Zé Mauricio, Romero Lubambo, Ikue Mori, Peter Scherer, and a lot of people I don't recoginze (Tom-E-Tabla?). Some vocals. Traces of Brazilian and Middle Eastern musics, but no clear fusion or synthesis. Some of it's intriguing, but most I don't get. B [Rhapsody]
Tortoise: Beacons of Ancestorship (2009, Thrill Jockey): Instrumental rock group, been around since the early 1990s, with Jeff Parker, who has some jazz cred, on guitar, but more often than not he's buried under the keyboards -- presumably John McEntire and John Herndon, although both are also credited with drums. The pieces have some structure and sometimes get edgy if not quite noisy. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Marcus Strickland: Of Song (2008 , Criss Cross): After several self-released albums, Downbeat's rising star (#2 at tenor sax, #1 at soprano sax) sloughs an album off on the premier Dutch mainstream label. Quartet, with David Bryant on piano added to his trio of Ben Williams on bass and brother E.J. Strickland on drums. Seems a little slow to me, starting with "Ne Me Quitte Pas" and a harp-enhanced Oumou Sangare song. "It's a Man's Man's World" is barely recognizable only from the bass, and I don't think the piano adds a thing. A good saxophonist with better albums. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Adam Rogers: Sight (2008 , Criss Cross): A guitarist with a light touch on long and elegant lines, backed by John Patitucci on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. Four originals, covers of bebop and standards; stays within a fairly narrow sonic band, requiring more attention than I like but often rewarding it. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Profound Sound Trio: Opus de Life (2008 , Porter): Andrew Cyrille on drums, Paul Dunmall on tenor sax and bagpipes, Henry Grimes on bass. Live set, all group improvs, raw both in sound and substance. Grimes sounds especially primitive here, Ayleresque even. Dunmall has always been hit-and-miss, but he's pretty much always on here. He even squeezes out a couple of minutes of rather sublime music on his bagpipes, elsewhere more often than not an implement of torture. Cyrille may get first billing alphabetically, but he does a remarkable job of holding it all together, and gets to end the set on a rapturous crash. They didn't try to tone down the applause, and for once it's deserved. A- [Rhapsody]
The Nu Band: Lower East Side Blues (2008 , Porter): Quartet, label describes them as free bop. Veterans: the horns are Roy Campbell (trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn) and Mark Whitecage (alto sax, clarinet); the rhythm section is Joe Fonda (bass) and Lou Grassi (drums). Third album together since 2001. All four contribute songs, with Fonda's called "In a Whitecage/The Path," and Whitecage's "Like Sonny." Despite the "Charlie Parker Place" roadsign on the cover, doesn't strike me as boppish -- has a bit of a world music vibe. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Old Dog: By Any Other Means (2007 , Porter): Quartet, led by saxophonist Louie Belogenis (or Louis -- google gives Louie the edge by a little more than 3-to-1), credited with tenor here. Other members: Karl Berger (vibes, piano), Michael Bisio (bass), Warren Smith (drums). Belogenis' early credits (c. 1992) are with God Is My Co-Pilot (seems to be a post-no-wave rock group with porn themes) and Prima Materia (Rashied Ali group channeling Coltrane and Ayler); later he fronted a group with Roy Campbell called Exuberance. Seems like a formidable player, especially well versed in late Coltrane. Berger lays out the first cut, then enters on piano, then moves to vibes, making good use of both instruments. The sort of record I would put back for further listening if I actually had it. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton: Phases of the Night (2007 , Intakt): If you take Penguin Guide as gospel, there is probably no major jazz artist that I am further behind on than Barry Guy. (I've rated one Guy record plus two from London Jazz Composers Orchestra, for most intents Guy records. For comparison, I have 5 from Derek Bailey, not much better, especially percent-wise.) Guy seems to have written these four pieces, reportedly inspired by paintings by Max Ernst, Dorothea Tanning, Wilfredo Lam and Yves Tanguy. They do vary in density, detail, and color, the denser the better with this group. The pieces tend to start with bass rumble, and while Crispell is awesome, she never quite beats Guy into the ground. Remarkable, I think. Wish I knew for sure. A- [Rhapsody]
Fred Anderson: Staying in the Game (2008 , Engine): Pushing age 80, seems to be mellowing still, but this is pretty much his standard trio disc, the slight dropoff partly attributable to Tim Daisy instead of Hamid Drake on drums, partly sound -- although regular bassist Harrison Bankhead comes through loud and clear. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Warren Smith Composers Workshop Ensemble: Old News Borrowed Blues (2009, Engine): Hard working, little recorded drummer, ringleader here for something sort of like a big band but rather casually arranged: 2 trumpets, euphonium/bass trombone, 5 reeds, bass violin and guitar but no bass, a second drums/vibes player, plus extra African percussion. A three-part quite, four pieces called "Free Forms," one called "One More Lick for Harold Vick" (an obscure saxophonist c. 1960). I didn't make much sense of it all, but it just sort of slid by with slippery grooves and good humor. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Flow Trio: Rejuvenation (2008 , ESP): Basic avant-sax trio, with Louie Belogenis on tenor sax, Joe Morris on bass, and Charles Downs on drums. Sax is rather lacklustre, partly sonic but mostly because the one thing this group doesn't do is flow. B [Rhapsody]
Chick Corea & Gary Burton: The New Crystal Silence (2007 , Stretch, 2CD): Back in 1972 ECM released the old Crystal Silence, giving Burton top billing. The pair bounced into each other several times since then, leading to this 35th anniversary reunion. Two discs: the first fortified by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the second a bare duo. Needless to say, the latter works better, mostly by avoiding the excess gunk. Still, on their own this is pretty thin. B- [Rhapsody]
John McLaughlin/Chick Corea: Five Peace Band Live (2008 , Concord, 2CD): Another anniversary reunion, this time looking back 40 years to joint service under Miles Davis. Corea plays electric piano here, chasing or pushing McLaughlin through a series of 20-minute groove pieces, with Christian McBride and Vinnie Colaiuta helping out. It's pretty good for what it is, even when Corea is just diddling on his own, as happens a lot in "Dr. Jackle," but the pay off comes when Kenny Garrett chimes in. I've gotten to where I don't expect much from these guys, so this is a very pleasant surprise. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, August 30. 2009
Yet another take on Downbeat's Critics Poll. I started doing this in 2003 intending it basically as a sanity test, mostly to see who I should have noticed but wasn't aware of. Each year I get more sure of myself, and less sure of the other critics, but still people show up I'm unaware of, or barely aware of but with no real sense of. I'm rather late this year, and will try to make fast work of it.
RS refers to the "Rising Star" list, generally for hot younger musicians, although the borders do get shifty.
Hall of Fame: Hank Jones. Third Jones brother in DBHOF. I think you can argue he should have been the first, and not just because he's the oldest. Only 116 members on DBHOF, so the voters are always chasing their tails, the last four elections going to recently deceased, with the readers adding two more (plus Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett among the living). Freddie Hubbard made a bid for five straight, coming in (#2) but not close. Lee Konitz is (#3), obviously overdue. George Russell died too late and fell from (#8) last year off the finish list. Strangely, this sort of volatility has been common among the voters. There are a couple dozen obvious choices in the wings, including many who missed the top 15 list. The Veterans Committee added last year helps clear out some of the old-timers, but they're stuck in a numbers game that their current methodology can't break.
Veterans Committee: Oscar Pettiford, Tadd Dameron. A couple of odd choices, not that I have anything bad to say about either. Last year I threw six hats into the ring: Red Allen, Buck Clayton, Bud Freeman, Don Redman, Rex Stewart, Chick Webb. Those were bigger stars, and they date back a generation before the picks. I also mentioned two singers -- Jimmy Rushing and Bing Crosby -- and I could double or triple those lists.
Jazz Artist: Sonny Rollins. Also won Jazz Album, Road Shows, Vol. 1. Hard to go wrong with Rollins. Joe Lovano came in (#2) with the (#2) album. Charles Lloyd had the (#3) album and came in (#8). Anthony Braxton had the (#1) Historical Release and came in (#12), just ahead of last year's winner, Herbie Hancock. That seems to be how it works. I would have voted for Braxton. RS: Rudresh Mahanthappa. Had a breakthrough album, Kinsmen, which finished (#5). He finally bumped Jason Moran, who's won perennially but hasn't done much lately. Mahanthappa had two real good albums, and helped out on a Vijay Iyer album I thought was even better. I would have picked Iyer (#3), but Mahanthappa is a good pick.
Jazz Album: Sonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 1. Some great stuff, but I didn't take it as seriously as many others did -- won some polls, including the Village Voice's. I only have 3 of the top 14 records on my A-List (down from 7 last year): Rollins, Rudresh Mananthappa's Kinsmen, and Donny McCaslin's Recommended Tools. Didn't get 5 (Jeff "Tain" Watts, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Atomic, EST, Roy Hargrove). Don't expect much there, but Atomic is such an outlier I should chase it down. My lists don't sort the jazz out, which I figure serves you right: 2008 and 2009 (so far).
Historical Album: Anthony Braxton, The Complete Arista Recordings: Big Mosaic box, should have been a slam dunk but actually edged Miles Davis, Kind of Blue 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition (which I never got, although I got the 2CD Legacy Edition) by a slim margin. I reviewed Braxton in the Voice. Seems like the completely obvious pick.
Jazz Group: Keith Jarrett Standard Trio. I always gripe that leader-name groups aren't real groups, but then I usually wind up picking the Vandermark 5, which seems inconsistent. Only 2 real-group names in top 13: SFJAZZ Collective and Bad Plus. Don't get the former, and the latter got a dud this year, so neither strike me as contenders. Don't know who does, which is why I wind up picking Vandermark 5, who are still on a roll. Among leader-name groups, the William Parker Quartet is better than any of the 11 listed here, and has been since O'Neal's Porch came out. RS: Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Probably a better name than the Moppa Elliott 4. Two straight great albums, seems like the right pick. Two other finishers with hot streaks are Nik Bärtsch's Ronin (#10) and Fieldwork (#11).
Big Band: Maria Schneider Orchestra. No new album, so coasting on Grammys. I wish I didn't dislike this group so much. Without looking too hard, I'd pick (#8) Millennial Territory Orchestra, and also cite Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York (#11 RS) and the ensemble William Parker put together for my fave album last year, Double Sunrise Over Neptune. RS: Jason Lindner Big Band: Not bad, but not much of a contender. Haven't played the latest from John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble (#2). MTO finished (#4) here, which makes them the obvious pick.
Trumpet: Dave Douglas. Obvious choice. The only others I would consider are Steven Bernstein (#12) and Randy Sandke (not on list), both with superior albums this past year. RS: Christian Scott: Did I miss something? (Uh, yes, Live at Newport, a CD/DVD; that can't have made much difference.) Interesting that Peter Evans is now up to (#4) -- I've missed too much of his work, too. Also Darren Johnston has broke in at (#12), with what is thus far the debut album of the year (The Edge of the Forest). Still, the pick I'm most certain of is missing: Ralph Alessi.
Trombone: Steve Turre. I'd still pick Roswell Rudd, gaining ground at (#2). RS: Josh Roseman. Nothing new this year, but don't really have another pick. Two trombonists with recent A-list records are Rafi Malkiel and Vittor Santos, both Latin Jazz surprises.
Soprano Saxophone: Wayne Shorter. Not obvious since Steve Lacy died: DB's critics tend to go with part-timers like Shorter, Branford Marsalis (#2), Chris Potter (#9), and Joshua Redman (#11), but the mainstream prime-timers aren't really any better -- David Liebman (#3) is worse. I'll pick Evan Parker (#5), although most of the good records I've heard from him recently have him playing tenor. RS: Marcus Strickland. Another guy who's better on tenor. My pick is Brent Jensen (not on list).
Alto Saxophone: Lee Konitz. Works harder than (#2) Ornette Coleman or (#3) Phil Woods, but not (#9) Anthony Braxton or (#13) John Zorn. I'd pick Braxton because I've heard more by him. Note that the next generation is moving up the list: Miguel Zenón (#5), Greg Osby (#6), Rudresh Mahanthappa (#7). Conspicuously missing is Tim Berne; also Mark Whitecage, Michael Moore, Marty Ehrlich, and François Carrier. RS: Rudresh Mahanthappa. It's been his year, so I see no point in quibbling. Also moving up fast are Steve Lehman (#5) and Jon Irabagon (#6), and there are more good players not on the list than in quite some while.
Tenor Saxophone: Joe Lovano. Edged Sonny Rollins -- (#3) Chris Potter wasn't close. Surprise finishers here were the (#10) ties: James Moody and Evan Parker. My pick is still (#8) David Murray, followed by David S. Ware, Ken Vandermark, Houston Person, Scott Hamilton, Harry Allen, and Tommy Smith (all off list). RS: Donny McCaslin. Released his best album yet. Won 102-52 over Marcus Strickland but still hasn't cracked main list (ending with James Carter at #12). Strickland is a future star, but lately Tony Malaby (#4) has been more consistently impressive.
Baritone Saxophone: Gary Smulyan. I can't say that I've ever heard anything by him. My standard pick is (#4) Hamiet Bluiett, but I haven't heard anything from him lately either, so I might pick (#9) Mats Gustafsson, but I wouldn't say I'm a big fan. Among multi-instrumentalists, Ken Vandermark (#10) has become a powerful force on baritone, and I probably shouldn't disparage (#2) James Carter so much. RS: Claire Daly. Haven't heard much by her either. Might pick Scott Robinson (#2), but I like his bass sax even better.
Clarinet: Don Byron. Perennial winner, but hasn't recorded much lately, and played alto sax last time out. I'd pick Louis Sclavis (#9). Marty Ehrlich (#6) and Michael Moore (#8) are superb, but I'm not sure how they split with alto sax. Anat Cohen (#5) strikes me as a better tenor saxophonist, but more marketable on clarinet. A lot of saxophonists are playing some clarinet these days -- a good example is Peter Brötzmann: the softer tone cuts his usual harshness and lets subtle flavor shifts emerge. RS: Anat Cohen. Quibbles aside, she's certainly carved out a niche here. I don't think anyone else has clearly emerged: right now there's a lot of heat but little light in this category. There is, for instance, a lot going on in Europe, where clarinet has a folkie allure -- I've heard a record each by Mihaly Borbely and Lajos Dudas and suspect there are more.
Flute: James Moody. Not much here. There's very little jazz flute I like -- Sam Most and Robert Dick are about the only names that come to mind. I've heard relatively little by Moody, and his latest album has no flute on it. I'd probably vote for Dave Valentin here because he mostly sticks to Latin Jazz where flute works better. RS: Nicole Mitchell. Talented enough, and a hell of a lot more charismatic than the competition. She's already up to (#4) on the main list, just 4 votes shy of Frank Wess. I'm pretty skeptical, but the only one I like on this list is Dick, who's my age and was last heard from working with the Thai Elephant Orchestra.
Piano: Keith Jarrett. Perennial winner, but Hank Jones almost pulled an upset this year, closing within 3 votes. I don't have any brief against either, but there are scores of contenders at piano. For example, the best solo record I've heard in several years is by Abdullah Ibrahim, who first made his mark 45 years ago and has been a major figure ever since. He's off-list, as is Paul Bley and Ran Blake, who go back even further. Cecil Taylor is the only avant-gardist on the list (#9); conspicuous omissions include Alex von Schlippenbach, Irène Schweizer, Marilyn Crispell, and Satoko Fujii. There are so many pianists that there has developed a big gap between the RS list and the main list, wide enough to swallow players like Uri Caine, Myra Melford, and Matthew Shipp. My own pick would be Shipp, basically because he's the one I know the best. RS: Vijay Iyer. Definitely. The rest of the list is weirdly scattered. With so many good pianist to choose from, how you wind up with Gerald Clayton, Aaron Parks, Robert Glasper, Stefano Bollani, Hiromi, and Lafayette Gilchrist is, well, some kind of a triumph for PR.
Keyboard/Synthesizer: Chick Corea. Lots of pianists play some electronic keyboards, with Fender Rhodes the recent favorite, but few play them exclusively, or even very often. There aren't many specialists, and they aren't very good. One indication of the thinness of the list is that Craig Taborn is up to (#5), followed by a big gap (60-23 votes) over (#6) Jim Baker. Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, and Corea have dominated this category since the dinosaur days of fusion. I haven't heard a record by Corea I've liked since 1995's Time Warp, but I must admit I missed last year's duos with Gary Burton and Hiromi. Anyone I'd vote for here would be an arbitrary choice. RS: Craig Taborn. This feels like a consolation list, with Uri Caine (#2) and Matthew Shipp (#3) devoting maybe 10% of their effort to electric keyboards, still pretty much blowing everyone else away. Taborn is pretty good. But I might just as well vote for someone like Michiel Braam on a lark.
Organ: Dr. Lonnie Smith. This slot has fallen on hard times. Might pick Gary Versace (#7) from the list, although I'd just as soon hear him play accordion. RS: Gary Versace. Broke last year's tie with Sam Yahel. I've liked the last two records I've heard from Vince Seneri, who evidently sells organs in New Jersey. He's able to work up some fresh enthusiasm, even if he's faking it.
Guitar: Bill Frisell. Finally caught up with Frisell last year, and I've been pretty pleased. He's roughly at the level of Dave Douglas these days, playing superbly and thinking up all sorts of interesting things to do. Beyond him there are too many good guitarist to try to sort out. RS: Lionel Loueke. Not someone I would pick, but he's better on other albums than on his own, which tend to mushed up in second-rate African pop. Again, lots of candidates. I might pick Rez Abbasi (off list). Note that Mary Halvorson came in (#3). I haven't warmed to her yet, but consider her a project.
Acoustic Bass: Christian McBride. Widened his lead over Dave Holland, and wound up on the cover. Good player, but I doubt that I'd put him in my top twenty. Obvious pick is William Parker (#5). The best player who doesn't write or lead is Peter Washington (#10). The best composer is probably Ben Allison or maybe John Lindberg (both off list). RS: Esperanza Spalding. I'm not convinced yet, and there's a lot of serious competition, the most impressive being Adam Lane and Moppa Elliott (both off list). On list there's Avishai Cohen (#2), Ben Allison (#4), Scott Colley (#5), Omer Avital (#6), Drew Gress (#7), John Hébert (#9). McBride, by the way, is younger than most of those guys, including Lane.
Electric Bass: Steve Swallow. Perennial winner. I don't have good notes on this, and don't have an alternative pick. RS: Stomu Takeishi. Sounds good to me.
Drums: Roy Haynes. The last guy left from the generation that put bebop on the map. I've never been a huge fan, but you can make a case for him. The obvious pick is Jack DeJohnette (#2), who still seems like the perfect drummer. Two more idiosyncratic choices are Paul Motian (#5) and Andrew Cyrille (off list), and this is the last chance to pick the late Rashied Ali. RS: Eric Harland. Hard to judge him with nothing under his own name. Not sure where to draw the line here. Paal Nilssen-Love (#9) is a good pick.
Percussion: Poncho Sanchez. Another consolation category, a slot where drummers who move beyond their kit -- Hamid Drake (#3), Kahil El'Zabar (#5), Han Bennink (#11), Susie Ibarra (RS #1), Leon Parker (RS #7) -- get a second shot but have to compete with Latin congalero and timbaleros and the occasional tabalist -- (#6) Zakir Hussain, (#8) Trilok Gurtu. Not having enough of a handle on Latin Jazz, I'm inclined to pick El'Zabar. RS: Susie Ibarra. Always liked her, but haven't heard anything in quite a while -- not even her duos with Roberto Juan Rodriguez (off list), who strikes me as the obvious pick.
Vibes: Gary Burton. Same vote total as Bobby Hutcherson, so I don't know why this wasn't declared a tie. Haven't liked much of anything from either in a long time, but missed Burton's Chick Corea album, and haven't played his new one with Pat Metheny. My usual pick is Joe Locke (#4), but he's been showing up in a lot of weak contexts lately, so I'm going out on a limb to pick Karl Berger (off list). RS: Joe Locke. Displaced Stefon Harris, who vaulted to the front here on his first Blue Note album but seems to have stalled. Might pick Matt Moran.
Violin: Regina Carter. Clear choice here is Billy Bang (#2). I also like Jason Kao Hwang (#8). Note that Mat Maneri (#6) mostly plays viola. RS: Jenny Scheinman. No problem here, other than that she's (#4) on the main list, and there are a lot of young players coming on. I'm tempted to pick Jesse Zubot (off list), a slight edge over John Ettinger (also off list).
Miscellaneous Instrument: Toots Thielemans (harmonica). Don't have a handle here, except to note that cello, tuba, bass clarinet, and accordion are about as popular (and better musically) as flute, so maybe then deserve their own categories. One clear pick is Erik Friedlander (#3) on cello. On the other hand, for truly miscellaneous instruments, there is Bill Cole (didgeridoo and many exotic reeds; off list) and Cooper-Moore (diddley bow). On banjo I'd pick John Gill over Béla Fleck, although the latter dropped to (#2) after what is by far his best album. Another good pick would be Rabih Abou-Khalil (oud; off list). RS: Edmar Castaneda (harp). Just heard him, and he makes an impression, but I wouldn't have picked him. Not sure who I would pick. Maybe Andrea Parkins (accordion; off list).
Female Vocals: Cassandra Wilson. Perennial winner, coming off her best album. My standard pick is Sheila Jordan (#4), although Diana Krall (#5) is closing in. RS: Dee Alexander. Haven't heard her. I'm tempted to pick Lisa Sokolov (off list) to shake things up a bit. Fay Victor (off list) is also worth noting.
Male Vocals: Kurt Elling. Can't stand him, or hadly anyone else on this list, except for Freddy Cole (#7), whose latest album makes him a clear pick. RS: Giacomo Gates. Good pick.
Composer: Maria Schneider. Not much opinion, except that John Zorn (#12) has a couple of good records lately that he didn't play on, which is part of what makes one stand out as a composer. By comparison, Dave Douglas the composer (#4) always has Dave Douglas the trumpet virtuoso to fall back on. RS: John Hollenbeck/Guillermo Klein. Not much opinion here either, except to note two bassists who feed good ideas to their bands: Ben Allison (#4) and Moppa Elliott (#13).
Arranger: Maria Schneider. I'd pick Steven Bernstein (#4), primarily for his work with MTO. This tends to be a big band category because it's most obvious there that arranging is called for. Not sure that's really right, nor that someone like Butch Morris (off list) wouldn't be a good pick here. RS: John Hollenbeck. Playing his latest album as I write this, and the DB critics may be right here. Don't have any other candidates in mind, except maybe Darcy James Argue (off list).
Producer: Manfred Eicher. Beat Michael Cuscuna (#2) by 3 votes, with Bob Belden (#3) too far back to see, so this is in many ways a shadow of the Record Label category (where ECM beat Blue Note by 7 votes). My main reservation about Eicher is that he tends to tone things down so much that I wonder whether some of his artists might be better off without him -- John Surman, for one, has gone to pasture at ECM, and John Abercrombie is usually better guesting elsewhere. On the other hand, ECM gets a lot of good records, and Eicher has his hand in almost all of them. RS: Branford Marsalis. He once argued that his more famous brother was "good for jazz," but he's turning out to be better. But I doubt if he's producing more good records that wouldn't get done otherwise than (#8) Luke Kaven, worthy of my pick here.
Record Label: ECM. No problem here unless you want to pick on big and successful. ECM places more records in Jazz CG than any other label, and the margin is probably growing. Plus their publicist (which for most critics is what this category is really about) is one of my heroes. Among smaller labels the overachievers are Clean Feed (#11), AUM Fidelity, Atavistic, Okka Disk, and Pi. Also Arbors (#8), old-fashioned in all the best ways. Tzadik would make the list if they did any promo.
Blues Artist/Group: BB King. Don't get much blues, but I doubt that much is happening there anyway. I head Taj Mahal (#3) had a good record, but haven't managed to track it down. His school had a good run of records from the mid-1990s, as did a cluster of white women centered around Antone's, but both trends seems to have faded. Lately I've been inclined to pick Maria Muldaur (off list). RS: Shemekia Copeland. Have yet to be impressed by her, but the last record I heard came out in 2000, and blues is one genre where older is better. Don't have any new candidates, partly for that reason.
Blues Album: B.B. King, One Kind of Favor. Haven't heard it. Have only heard 3 of 12 records here. Two are low B+; a bit better is the Wynton Marsalis/Willie Nelson joint, Two Men Without Any Fucking Reason to Be Blue. Guess I should break down and buy Taj Mahal's Maestro.
Downbeat seems to have killed off the "Beyond" category, which is just as well given how clueless they were about it.
Friday, August 28. 2009
Fred Kaplan: George Russell, RIP: I only lately stumbled onto this notice. In fact, several recent jazz deaths only came to my attention when I was doing some research toward commenting on Downbeat's Critics Poll -- Bud Shank, Charlie Mariano, at least I knew about Rashied Ali, and later Joe Maneri. Those are all great musicians, but Russell was on a higher plane. Everything Kaplan says is true, but there's much more, and I'm sure I haven't come close to sorting it out. Russell's 1956-62 albums are widely acknowledged, but his later records are barely known -- some of the first electronic music in jazz, long suites and broad concepts. But it was less what he did than the cross-polination he practiced: he made his stage debut with Fats Waller, and Sheila Jordan made her recording debut with him; he wrote pieces like "Cubano Be/Cubano Bop" and "A Bird in Ygor's Garden"; he kicked theory around with Miles Davis and Gil Evans, eventually writing the book on postbop jazz; he left the country for Scandinavia from 1964-69, launching a whole generation of major players; in 1969 he was hired by Gunther Schuller to teach at New England Conservatory, where he did as much as anyone to break jazz into academia. He got some recognition during his life, including a MacArthur genius grant, but he's nowhere among the contenders in Downbeat's Hall of Fame poll. I discovered him back in my first flush of interest in jazz in the mid-1970s, and I've taken him as a touchstone ever since. I recall coming up with aharebrained theory that they were actually four separate avant-jazz schools, founded in the mid-late 1950s by Russell, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, and Cecil Taylor. You could throw more names out there -- I figured Coltrane was Russell ricocheted off Coleman; Sun Ra was a close analog to Mingus; Ayler was later and, well, maybe a fifth. Russell's last album was The 80th Birthday Concert, which was the kind of tribute album his genius made just by letting his ideas and protégés come back to him. I recommend it almost as highly as his first album, 1956's Jazz Workshop, the foundry of really modern jazz.
For more, see the Boston Globe obit.
Thursday, August 27. 2009
Matt Yglesias: Right-Wing Cranks and Israel: Glad someone said this (although it could have been said in fewer words, with fewer mitigating asides):
One interesting thing about right-wing support for Israel -- and this is not just an evangelical phenomenon; it's equally true of neocons -- is that they seem to intuitively grasp that Israel is a racist, vicious, violent, expansionist, domineering force, and that's precisely what they like about Israel. Jewish supporters of Israel (neocons excepted) take great pains to deny all those attributes; they invariably cast Israel's actions as defensive. Part of this is that evangelicals are especially close to the religious settler movement, which is -- even by Israeli standards -- exceptionally belligerent.
This violent streak has a long history in American politics, but it especially came to the fore under George W. Bush, whose abiding faith in the "clarifying" power of force is downright fascist. Jim Geraghty memorably summed this up in a book title: Voting to Kill. But it goes back a long time. One example: after Begin installed the first far-right government in Israel, there was much worry about the reaction when Israeli right-wingers would appear before Congress. Turned out that Alabama Senator Richard Shelby's response to (I think it was) Yigal Allon was, "Now you're finally talking American."
I'm reading Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, and one thing that's especially striking, even beyond the racist violence so many settlers enjoy, is the messianic overtones of their beliefs -- which differ from the Christians mainly in their belief that is should be possible to secure heaven on earth. I've never been able to believe that Christians actually believe in premillennial dispensationalism (much less understand it), but like moths to the flame they seem to intuitively get off on the apocalypse over there.
Rick Perlstein: In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition: More American history, mostly dêjà vu.
Tuesday, August 25. 2009
George Lakoff: The PolicySpeak Disaster for Health Care. Useful and somewhat insightful critique of how Obama and most of those who more or less support him speak about the health care issues -- not that I'm not annoyed with the insinuation that it's all a matter of framing. The masses may only respond to political issues in emotional terms, but there's still something to be said for rationally figuring out the policy details. Of course, the left is at a disadvantage here, as in virtually all policy debates, both because we have some good faith in democracy and because we actually intend to accomplish something worthwhile. The right, with no interest in either, is free to kick our asses, but they've hardly been geniuses in this shouting match: they repeatedly come off as ignorant, hysterical, and mean, and in some ways we're best off just to let them destroy themselves. Lakoff has a knack for finding an important point then losing it on his first stab at reframing:
Morality isn't the right word here, but he's close. The basic fact is that if you can put a price on surviving an illness or injury vs. dying, that price would gladly be met by anyone able to meet it. It's easy enough to see that we value our own lives and most likely the lives of the people we love most more than money. Focus on cost runs against this instinct. (A curious turnaround, actually, since it is usually the moneygrubbing right that lectures us on how little we can afford to pay even for the most basic necessities of those most desperately in need.) That's why we should focus first on quality care and keep that from slipping regardless of cost, only secondarily looking at cost as an aid to being able to do more thing better. On the other hand, following Lakoff's suggestion and decrying insurance companies as deathmongers isn't even true -- at most you can say they are indifferent to deaths because their fiduciary responsibility is focused on profits.
So, sure, we can do a better job of talking in this campaign, but what would help more than better branding and wordsmithing would be a better solution to the problem. In fact, a good start would be to actually understand the problem, which quite simply derives from the commercialization of health care. That part is simple enough, but the industry is so huge and varied that no one realistically wants to try to wring out all of the commercialization. The single-payer advocates are only going after the insurance companies, which is a big and pernicious target and one that could most easily be dispensed with, but that leaves the actual providers, who have plenty of their own problems. Arnold S. Relman, in A Second Opinion, wants to go further and reorganize the providers into non-profit PGPs, which also makes sense, but is a much bigger task, is very likely to be disruptive, and still leaves the drug and tech companies free to scheme. I'd go after them too, and I got a few more things on my list too, like information architecture, training more professionals, and educating people to make smarter health decisions. But more than all that, you need to get people to recognize that professional virtues are more important than acquiring money. The essential reform of the system is to get to the point where your doctor values your health more than his own pocketbook. That's not impossible, but it's pretty hard to do in America these days.
Matt Yglesias: The Psychology of Health Reform. Back to reality, this quotes an article by James Suroweicki on the psychology of loss aversion, then adds a couple of points that are probably more important. I'll add that a key part of why the "public option" is so critical to those of us who think reform is not just a good idea but a dire necessity is that -- exactly contrary to so many folks on the other side of the divide -- we can't stand the idea of ever again being subject to a corporate bureaucracy where our health and welfare is treated as a zero-sum game. We at least know that even mediocre government bureaucracies in theory work for us. We can at least appeal to them, and it helps knowing that the coverage we need isn't coming out of their pockets -- it's actually coming out of our own, but cushioned by the fact that in a public insurance scenario everyone helps everyone out.
Ironically, the other side is equally convinced that it is the government that is arbitrary and capricious, attributes which they may or may not also recognize in the companies. (Some may hold to the fantasy that a free market forces companies to respond to the demands of customers, but there is no free market for health insurance -- nothing even remotely resembling one.) This is one reason why the real debate isn't over health care: it's over democracy. One side insists that the government can never be trusted with anything so important as health care. The other takes a similarly jaundiced view of companies, except insofar as they are regulated by laws enforced by government. Moreover, it sees government as the only agency that can represent the interests of the broad public in a society that is otherwise dominated by business. The Republicans have tied themselves to the mast of Ronald Reagan's dumb joke about the scariest words in the English language being "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." The fact of the matter is that whenever anything goes seriously wrong -- a hurricane, an earthquake, a terrorist attack, a bunch of bankers swindling themselves into a drunken tizzy -- even Republicans descend on Washington looking for a bailout. There actually isn't anything wrong with that: many problems, especially really big ones, are by far best handled by government. Health care is one of those problems, but if the Republicans admit it they'll lose their whole shtick. So they stick to their guns and suffer, their only comfort being that others suffer worse.
Paul Krugman: Obama's Trust Problem: The news today (i.e., 5 days after this column appeared) is that Obama will renominate Ben Bernanke for a second term as Fed Reserve Chairman. Bernanke hasn't been as bad as a lot of Bush appointees, but part of that was circumstance -- he was nominated as a hawk against inflation, but he spent most of his term in a deflationary recession where his instincts were unneeded and could do little harm. On the other hand, past Fed chairmen have repeatedly been able to hold the economy in a death grip. If you're a president who is committed to trying to stimulate enough growth to actually improve the welfare of the people who voted for you, you'd think you'd want a Fed chairman who'd see eye-to-eye with you on that. Obama could in theory appoint anyone he wants, so why not come up with someone more in line with his programs and ambitions? I don't know what the thinking is here, but it sounds like Obama did this to reassure the banks and investors. That's what his team has done consistently ever since they took office, which is why we've had bailouts without any meaningful reform. Same thing has happened all across the board. Obama was elected as antiwar but he's presdided over business as usual in Iraq, an escalation in Afghanistan, and budget increases for the defense industry. The only other issue as important to his voters is a massive overhaul of the health care racket, and there he's made a series of inside deals with the AMA and PHARMA to cut back on any meaningful reform while the Republicans have had a field day with their unanswered hysterical nonsense. Obama's offer to drop the public option in favor of non-profit co-ops is one more example of his willingness to knuckle under. Krugman notes:
What's left of Obama's plan is a set of private insurance company regulations that would be better than the present situation but will almost instantly translate into significantly higher insurance prices, which will make universal care all that harder to achieve, and leave us in pretty much the same mess we've been entrapped in for several decades now. That may eventually turn into a make-work program for future Democrats, given that the Republicans have no ideas and no desire to actually address any real problems. But with 60 Senators and a big majority in the House you'd think now would be the time to do something. It's not happening, and a big part of the reason is that it doesn't look like Obama's fighting to make things happen or stand up for things he certainly knew before the election were right. Krugman again:
Time: Top 10 Health-Care-Reform Players: Just a list, but gives you a sense of the obstacle course.
Monday, August 24. 2009
Part of my routine on publishing a Jazz Consumer Guide file is to go through the list of the many records I didn't manage to write about and weed out 30-50 that I realize I'll never find space to get to. I'll forego that unpleasant task this round. The "done" file -- rated high enough to consider but still unreviewed -- currently holds 84 records, not an especially large number by historical standards. My guess is that between a quarter and a third will wind up with some sort of review, and it may take several rounds before they see light of day. Looking through the list it's easy to spot slim prospects, but part of my process is to award some of them a small consolation prize: a bonus round review in my surplus post. That's what I don't have time for right now, so they'll wait.
For what it's worth, the surplus file is here. The long lists are records that got dropped into the surplus more or less immediately after prospecting. There's also the unpublished Jazz CG review of the Raoul Björkenheim record that I demoted to Honorable Mention -- no fault of the record, but I never much cared for the review, and being short for space I decided a one-liner would do better now than putting a longer review off for later (which had already happened a couple of times). There are also two "consolation" reviews, which I won't make you search for:
Next time the surplus cull will be more substantial. (Next time it will have to be.)
Two more files to point out:
The artist index would be better if I factored Jazz Prospecting into it. Also much, much, much longer, making it more than I want to tackle right now.
Well, so much for that bright idea. I thought I'd force myself away from the computer, work on the house, work through some issues, and stay away from writing about jazz for a couple of weeks. I may try that again this week and/or next week, but thus far that's been a bust. Don't have my countertop fixed, and haven't found my missing doors. Upstairs closet is still wrecked, and the back bedroom is in even worse shape. Did manage to clear one of three desk surfaces in my work area, and cooked a nice dinner Friday night (a Tunisian fish with preserved lemons and olives dish, basic pilaf, ratatouille, the legendary Eretz Israel cake), but that's about it.
Jazz Consumer Guide was published by the Village Voice Wednesday. Didn't get much feedback, but mosty positive what little there was. I have 2154 words left over (56 records), and more I've prospected and need to write up, so the next column is pretty well booked -- mostly waiting on a sign from the Voice when they'll be ready to publish something. My rating count was a robust 30 last week, mostly because in spare moments I've been turning to Rhapsody. I've found a half dozen or so things that I would CG if I had real copies; haven't found anything yet I'd dud even without a copy, but can't say as I've been looking.
Pamela Luss with Houston Person: Sweet and Saxy (2009, Savant): Best use of "saxy" in an album title ever was a four-tenor blowout from 1959 called, without a gram of hyperbole, Very Saxy. The lineup: Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Buddy Tate, Coleman Hawkins, and Arnett Cobb. None of those guys would ever get taken for sweet -- Hawkins has some ballad albums to die for, but he was more like cool and debonair. Person, like Ben Webster, could do sweet, but I wouldn't want to rub him the wrong way either. His problem here is Luss: the album could use a lot more sax, and maybe even a little more sweetness. Luss's problem is song selection: seems like an odd set of ill-fitting songs. One bright spot is guitarist James Chirillo. B+(*)
Jim Snidero: Crossfire (2009, Savant): Alto saxophonist, b. 1958, studied at UNT, moved to New York, has 15 or so albums since 1987, one a tribute to Joe Henderson. I've heard very little by him -- last time was an organ quartet. This is another quartet, only with Paul Bollenback's guitar the chordal instrument, a much lighter and snazzier contrast. Snidero sounds remarkably poised at all speeds. It strikes me that alto must be easier to play than other saxophones, because there is a sweet spot in the middle range where some players can make almost anything sound effortless. Mainstream album, doesn't reach or stretch much, but Snidero finds that sweet spot consistently. A-
Cecil Brooks III: Hot Dog (2008 , Savant): Drummer, proprietor of Cecil's Jazz Club in West Orange, NJ. Leads a trio here with Kyle Koehler on organ and Matt Chertkoff on guitar. Would be a throwback to the old soul jazz days except for the odd song selection. Nothing quite spoils a bright day like "Sunny." And "Hey Joe" won't make you forget Hendrix; it won't even make you remember Hendrix. B-
Joe Beck/Laura Theodore: Golden Earrings (2006-07 , Whaling City Sound): Theodore is a singer, from Cleveland, age unknown, has four albums since 1995 (not counting this one). She conceived this as a Peggy Lee tribute, with 9 Lee originals and other related songs like "Fever." Lee was married to guitarist Dave Barbour, which suggested doing the songs with just guitar as accompaniment. Beck, with his homebrewed alto guitar, was a good choice. He supports the songs and fills out all the detail one needs. Beck died in 2008, a few days shy of age 63. He had a long and rather mixed career -- worked with David Sanborn, Dom Um Romão, Esther Phillips, most recently John Abercrombie; paid tribute to Django Reinhardt, and kept returning to Brazil -- but he was often best just on his own. B+(**)
Mimi Jones: A New Day (2007-08 , Hot Tone Music): Looks at first like a soft soul set -- MySpace lists "Mimi Jones aka. Miriam Sullivan" as Nu-Jazz. First record. Not much of a singer -- a soft disco purr as opposed to the usual gospel roar -- but sometimes sneaks up on you. Also plays bass, which keeps her head in the groove and pops out front on occasion, a nice touch. Wrote most of the songs -- "Silva" is a good one. Band is slick and unassuming: guitar, keybs, drums, Ambrose Akinmusire's trumpet on two tracks. Closes with a nice "We Shall Overcome." B+(*)
Tessa Souter: Obsession (2009, Motéma Music): Singer, b. 1956, "of Trinidadian and English parents," based in New York, third album. Has a commanding voice, considerable poise, doesn't fit into any well worn niche: not a standards singer, not an improviser, not a songwriter, not that she doesn't do a little of each (two originals here). I'd like her better if I liked the songs better, but "Eleanor Rigby," Nick Drake, "Afro Blue," and a double dose of Nascimento are a lot to carry. Didn't notice the band. B
Edmar Castaneda: Entre Cuerdas (2009, ArtistShare): Harp player, b. 1978 in Bogota, Colombia; moved to US in 1994, has a couple of previous albums. The list of previous jazz harpists is, well, Dorothy Ashby, who cut an album I still haven't heard in 1958. Didn't expect this to work, but the harp has a sharp plucked sound, sort of a heavier, more flexible glockenspiel. He also gets a lot of help from his trio mates: Marshall Gilkes on trombone and Dave Silliman on drums/percussion. The guests (John Scofield, Andrea Tierra, Joe Locke, Samuel Torres) are less notable. [B+(**)]
Gerald Clayton: Two-Shade (2009, ArtistShare): Pianist, b. 1984 in Netherlands, son of bassist John Clayton -- you know: Clayton Brothers, Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra -- grew up in Los Angeles, based in New York. Side credits with family bands, Michael Bublé, Diana Krall, Roberta Gambarini, Kendrick Scott, a few more, starting in 2004. Debut album, a piano trio, with Joe Sanders on bass, Justin Brown on drums. Billed as a prodigy, which at age 25 I won't hold against him. Don't have any opinion on album yet, except that it's clearly worth taking seriously. [B+(**)]
Sorgen-Rust-Stevens Trio: A Scent in Motion (1994 , Konnex): Harvey Sorgen on drums, Steve Rust on bass, Michael Jefrey Stevens on piano. No idea why Sorgen is listed first -- he has only one previous record under his name (Novella, 2001, Leo; actually same group listed Sorgen-Rust-Stevens) -- other than that the evident leader, Stevens, has a long history of slipping his name in the second spot (usually behind bassist Joe Fonda). Stevens and Rust split the writing credits, with Sorgen getting in on one group improv. Sorgen's discography, starting roughly 1987, includes multiple records with Fonda/Stevens and also with Hot Tuna. Rust has a couple of recent records I haven't heard and a dozen-plus side credits since 1996 with people I haven't heard of. Stevens may be shy about credits, but he's a dramatic pianist, plays loud, skittering on the edge, but can duck inside on occasion. B+(**)
Chris Pasin: Detour Ahead (1987 , H2O): Trumpet player, b. 1958 in Chicago, attended New England Conservatory. First and only album, released 22 years after it was cut, with 7 of 9 Pasin originals, fronting a group of well known (must less so then) musicians: Steve Slagle (alto sax, soprano sax on 2 cuts, flute on 1), Benny Green (piano), Rufus Reid (bass), Dannie Richmond (drums). At best has a sharp hard bop edge, and is also fine when the horns drop out. Slagle is a strong soloist on alto sax, but his harmonizing takes the edge off, and he should lose the flute. Don't know why Pasin hasn't made more of a career. B+(*)
Wayne Shorter: The Soothsayer (1965 , Blue Note): One of his later Blue Note Sessions, unreleased until 1980, probably because the pieces didn't add up until we started to yearn for classic performances from Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, and the leader, but not necessarily alto saxophonist James Spaulding, who seems like the odd cat out. B+(*)
Bobby Hutcherson: Head On (1971 , Blue Note): An album from Blue Note's dog days, the great vibraphonist working with classical pianist Todd Cochran on suite things with a large band; the reissue adds 40 minutes of extras that blow away the original album, especially the exciting 15:40 fusion romp "Togo Land" and some serious bebop soloing from Harold Land. B+(**)
Alvin Queen: Mighty Long Way (2008 , Justin Time): Basically a hard bop drummer, Queen updates the standard quintet by trading piano for Peter Bernstein's guitar and bass for Mike LeDonne's organ (or vice versa), picking up a conga drummer for good measure. The result is nods toward soul jazz with some extra funk and fancy twists. Terell Stafford and Jesse Davis have some good moments as the horns, but mostly toot along. Songs like "I Got a Woman" and "Cape Verdean Blues" hold up fine, but lesser fare comes up short in interest. B+(*)
Wynton Marsalis: He and She (2007 , Blue Note): Marsalis was long overrated as a composer, but the more he sinks his teeth into the tradition, the better he gets at making it pay. He is exceptionally comfortable in these pieces, at times achieving a grace and elegance that is downright Ellingtonian. A quintet with Walter Blanding on tenor and soprano sax, Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass, and Ali Jackson on drums -- Blanding doesn't make much of an impression, but Nimmer more than earns his keep. The problem is that the music is broken up with numerous "poems" -- more like a libretto, as surface-deep on the battle of the sexes as he's previously been on slavery. B+(**)
Joe Maneri/Peter Dolger: Peace Concert (1964 , Atavistic Unheard Music Series): An alto sax-drums free improv taped as part of "an all-night peace concert" at St. Peter's Church. Interesting enough, cerebral with little flash, but short at 24:23. The record is padded out with Stu Vandermark's 2006 interview of a reticent Maneri, longer at 26:04, an extra you won't want to bother with twice and may not make it through once. B
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Friday, August 21. 2009
Two things from the Wichita Eagle worth pointing out. The first is Richard Crowson's editorial cartoon:
Crowson was retired last year when the Eagle decided they didn't need original editorial cartoons, then finally brought back on a very infrequent basis. For more, see Crowson's blog.
Bill Roy: Health care rationed based on ability to pay: One of the best opinion pieces I've seen on the health care town halls. Lynn Jenkins defeated Democrat Nancy Boyda in the 2008 election, running as a "moderate" Republican (versus a rather uninspiring one-term Blue Dog Democrat), but since she got in her record has been indistinguishable from the other Kansas Republicans: conservative Jerry Moran and rabid fascist Todd Tiahrt (both running for Sam Brownback's senate seat). Roy is a retired MD who served two terms in the House, then lost two very narrow statewide Senate races against Bob Dole. I'm tempted to quote the entire piece, but here's just the start:
Read the whole thing.
By the way, I've started Arnold S. Relman's A Second Opinion: Rescuing America's Health Care. Thus far, it is one of the best books I've seen on the subject. More on that later.
Thursday, August 20. 2009
Matthew Yglesias: Republicans Calling for Super-Majority for Health Care. I take it the political winds are changing. Maybe some of the insane opposition is blowing back. Maybe some of Obama's deals with the powers that be are bearing fruit. A while back Jim DeMint was saying that failing to deliver on health care would be Obama's Waterloo. Now he's saying that if he passes a bill without broad Republian support, the Democrats will never win an election again. Here we see Enzi and Grassley, who seem like rather arbitrary picks as the party's designated negotiators, pleading for a bill which only the 20-25 most hopeless Republicans will oppose. I think it's clear now that the Republican Party from top to bottom will say and do anything to derail any kind of reform -- a point made clear in Yglesias's last paragraph:
Wednesday, August 19. 2009
Tom Hull: A Summer Suite of Harmonic Disorder. This makes my 20th Jazz Consumer Guide column. Thanks to some breaks at the Village Voice, we got it out in slightly less than three months since the previous column, and they managed to find some extra space so all but one of the honorable mentions I submitted made it to print. The loser was:
I sent in reviews and one-liners on 48 records, total 1736 words. I have more than that backed up for next time (and the time after), so I figured I'd have them post anything that didn't fit as web only. Nice that it didn't come to that (well, except for Stapp).
I haven't been able to move the column from every three months to anything more frequent. Doing so would let me cover more records, write more about them, and get them in print sooner. I'm guessing that the median record in this column was released about 10 months ago. (Actually, only 2 of the top 13 records came out in 2009, and those quite early in the year: Matthew Shipp and Brad Shepik.) The delays also result in some clumping, like the François Carrier pair (although I held a third record back) and most obviously the Satoko Fujii cluster (7 albums, including Gato Libre and Junk Box). (For the record, I did tag her for a dud back on the 15th column, a Quartet record called Bacchus.) Other clusters got held back, including batches by Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, and Paal Nilssen-Love. (I decided to slip one Parker out this time because it was close to two years old and superseded by a later ECM release.)
Another artifact of publishing the column less often than it should be published is that I've wound up slipping some A- records into the Honorable Mentions list: four this time -- Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Raoul Björkenheim, and Diana Krall. Various reasons for this, including that I thought the one-liners worked, but each could have used more space as well the stamp of approval that the A- grade adds. Further down, a lot of records I would like to put on the Honorable Mentions list never make it, often for no better reason than I find myself tongue-tied.
This column was based on prospecting 226 records from April 13 through July 19, plus considering 97 carryovers from before. The prospecting file is here. I currently have 114 records carrying over to the next round. I should go through, thin them out, and publish my surplus file, but I may let that slide this time, given all the other things that need my attention.
Tuesday, August 18. 2009
Trying to clean up my virtual desktop, closing browser tabs on pages I opened up but hadn't done with. Some quick notes:
Monday, August 17. 2009
Jazz Consumer Guide #20 should be out in the Village Voice mid-week. At this stage I don't know what fit and what didn't, but like last time I plan on adding the surplus to the website so I don't have to find space for it later. I have another whole column and then some already written up, so there's no point in saving things. I provide a prioritized list of things that can be cut back from the hardcopy version, but don't have direct control over the layout.
Presumably the column I'm working on now will come out sometime around November. Would be nice if it could happen earlier, but it's always been tough to get space. Meanwhile, I feel like taking a break. It takes an extraordinary amount of time to keep up with the new jazz coming my way, and I'm falling behind on a lot of fronts, so I'm thinking I'll suspend Jazz Prospecting until September.
One change this time is that I've started to stream some records from Rhapsody. I did a bit of this a year ago, and have rather mixed feelings about it. I've written some boiler plate below as to the protocol I've worked out. I've been pretty reluctant to get involved with download schemes, but I'm also pretty fed up with the clutter and logistics, so I'm experimenting a bit. One thing you'll note is that many of the Rhapsody albums this time are on Tzadik, a very interesting label that takes pride in doing no promo. (There are also two Tzadik releases in the regular section, kindly provided by the artists.) On the other hand, Rhapsody is pretty limited in its jazz selection. I've put together a wish list based on a few scattered lists and reviews -- mostly Stef Gijsells' Free Jazz blog -- and I've found very few of those on Rhapsody.
Frank London/Lorin Sklamberg: Tsuker-Zis (2009, Tzadik): London plays trumpet, mostly in klezmer-rooted contexts, like his Hasidic New Wave band and vocalist Sklamberg's main gig, the Klezmatics. London's Carnival Conspiracy (2005, Piranha) is probably his high point, but there's a lot in his discography that I haven't explored, including a 1998 album co-credited to Sklamberg called Nigumin. Title here is Yiddish for "sugar sweet." Texts are evidently Hasidic, mostly holiday songs, many in Yiddish, at any rate nothing in English. For all I know, this may be as inocuous as the musically similar Klezmatics album of Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah, but it feels more distant, exalted maybe. Sklamberg's voice is full of wonder; you have to search a bit for London's horn, which rarely crowds the stage, but is welcome when it does. B+(***) [advance]
Luis Lopes/Adam Lane/Igal Foni: What Is When (2007-08 , Clean Feed): Guitarist, from Portugal, has a previous album called Humanization 4Tet that was a solid HM, largely on the strength of Rodrigo Amado's tenor sax. This one is just guitar, bass and drums, so he takes more of a lead here -- for good measure, he starts with a piece dedicated to Sonny Sharrock. It ends, though, with an impressive segment from Lane. B+(**)
Eric Vloeimans: Fugimundi: Live at Yoshi's (2008 , Challenge): Dutch trumpet player, b. 1963, has a dozen-plus albums since 1992. Postbop, fairly mainstream, has a nice bright sound and deft command. This is a rather slow group for him, a rhythm-less trio with Harmen Fraanje on piano and Anton Goudsmit on guitar. B+(*)
Marcus Strickland: Idiosyncrasies (2009, Strick Muzik): Hard to read this cover, but this looks like a sax trio, with the leader favoring soprano over tenor and playing clarinet on one track, with Ben Williams on bass and brother E.J. Strickland on drums. Strickland is still in his 20s (b. 1979), a guy we've been watching closely for a few years now, especially as he's moved up through some of the same circles that put Chris Potter and Donny McCaslin on the map. I haven't been alone in that regard. The new Downbeat Critics Poll picks Strickland as its Rising Star at soprano sax (not actually a lot of competition there) and has him second to Donny McCaslin at tenor sax (some real competition there, and you can argue that the 42-year-old McCaslin has risen enough already). I don't think this is his breakthrough -- more likely just another good solid album. I want to check out the covers more closely: Bjork, Stevie Wonder, Jaco Pastorius, Andre 3000, Jose Gonzales. Standardswise he's in a new zone. I'd also like to figure out where he thinks the idiosyncrasies are -- I don't hear them yet. [B+(**)]
David Berkman Quartet: Live at Smoke (2006 , Challenge): Pianist, b. 1958, from Cleveland, based in Brooklyn, sixth album since 1995. Made a strong impression on his first two Palmetto albums, but hasn't been heard from since 2004. Quartet includes Jimmy Greene (tenor sax, soprano sax), Ed Howard (bass), and Ted Poor (drums). This strikes me as a very centered, settled, group, sure of itself, relaxed, consistent. This is especially true of Greene, who's never much impressed me before, but is note perfect here. [B+(***)]
Forgas Band Phenomena: L'Axe du Fou/Axis of Madness (2008 , Cuneiform): Fusion group, led by drummer Patrick Forgas. Second album. Moves swiftly through four long-ish pieces, with Karolina Mlodecka's violin the signature instrument, two horn players punching in highlights, guitar-keyboards-bass chugging along. They make it look easy. B+(**)
Joe Morris: Wildlife (2008 , AUM Fidelity): After many years as an obscure and difficult guitarist, Morris picked up the double bass and has developed into a lucid and energetic pacemaster. He's not interesting enough to salvage such bass-centric productions as his Elm City Duets with Barre Phillips, but he sure can set up a free-wheeling saxophonist -- witness Ken Vandermark on Rebus and Jim Hobbs on Beautiful Existence. His latest find is Petr Cancura, a Czech-born, Canadian-raised, Brooklyn-based tenor saxophonist who doesn't stray far from the line that runs from Albert Ayler through David S. Ware and many lesser figures. Luther Gray is the drummer, and he's very tight with Morris. A-
Tim Sparks: Little Princess: Tim Sparks Plays Naftule Brandwein (2009, Tzadik): Guitarist, which puts him in a different bandwidth from the legendary klezmer clarinetist. I made a point of checking out Rounder's Brandwein anthology, The King of the Klezmer Clarinet, and can vouch for its clarity, vigor, and good humor. Sparks' guitar is spaced out a little less succinctly, or perhaps I mean indeterminately? Moreover, his rhythm section -- Greg Cohen on bass, Cyro Baptista on percussion -- is far better recorded, sharper, and more varied. All in all, jazzier. A-
Guilherme Monteiro: Air (2005-06 , Bju'ecords): Brazilian guitarist, b. 1971, in New York since 2000. Debut record, although he's also recorded in Forró in the Dark. Most cuts include Ben Street (bass), Jochen Ruckert (drums), and Jerome Sabbagh (tenor sax); two have pifano or alto flute and percussion; three have voice, with Chiara Civello on one, Lila downs on another. All very low key, subtle, slinky. B+(*)
Mark Buselli: An Old Soul (2008 , Owl Studios): Trumpeter, co-leader with Brent Wallarab of Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, a group based in Indiana that released my favorite big band album of the last couple of years -- Where or When, in the JCG print queue. Evidently the plan is for the two leaders to each take a shot at arranging an album, but for all practical purposes the whole gang is there, plus a bunch of extra strings. Kelly Strutz sings five songs -- reminds me of Cory Daye on "If I Should Lose You." B+(**)
Chad McCullough: Dark Wood, Dark Water (2008 , Origin): Trumpeter, based in Seattle. Debut album, leads a sextet through 7 originals, 1 by pianist Bill Anschell, and "Blackbird" by you know who. Shares front line with two saxes (Mark Taylor, Geof Bradfield), backed by piano (Anschell), bass (Jeff Johnson), and drums (John Bishop). Postbop, the sort of thing I find overly fancy and not all that inspired. Does have a bright, strong tone to his trumpet. B
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.
Roberto Rodriguez: Timba Talmud (2009, Tzadik): A/k/a Roberto Juan Rodriguez -- not sure how the name appears on the actual package. Percussionist, from Cuba, played some bar mitzvahs once he got to Miami and figured out how to put a Cuban spin on klezmer. He laid out the basic ideas in El Danzon de Moises and Baila! Gitano Baila!, and has been working angles and variations since then. This sextet plays his basic shtick, the percussion played down a bit so it doesn't interfere with the richness and suppleness of the melodies. A-
Roberto Rodriguez: The First Basket (2009, Tzadik): Soundtrack for a film (same name) by David Vyorst, something about the origins of the Basketball Association of America, which was founded in 1946 and merged with the National Basketball League in 1949 to form the NBA. Consists of 30 pieces, starting with a shofar solo call-to-arms, then various more/less klezmerish pieces, some less enough to be period 1930s swing. Fifteen musicians, probably split up but I have no notes. A remarkable pastiche of fragments. Technical problems kept me from following it as well as I would have liked. B+(***)
Perry Robinson/Burton Greene: Two Voices in the Desert (2008 , Tzadik): Duo, two mellowed veterans from the 1960s avant fringe. Robinson plays clarinet, ocarina, wooden flute, sopranino clarinet. Greene plays piano. Almost too polite, but the closer you dig into it the more ornate it becomes. I guess small things count for a lot in the desert. B+(*)
John Zorn: Alhambra Love Songs (2008 , Tzadik): Hard not to repeat some of the hype here, one of Zorn's most shameless: "touching and lyrical . . . perhaps the single most charming cd in Zorn's entire catalog . . . will appeal to fans of Vince Guaraldi, Ahmad Jamal, Henry Mancini and even George Winston!" Wow: more charming than Naked City? New Traditions in East Asian Bar Bands? Kristallnacht? Nani Nani? (The latter is the worst thing I've heard him do, absolutely hideous, but I've barely sampled 10% of his catalog, so who knows what horrors I've missed.) In case you haven't guessed, Zorn is only the composer here, not a player. The group is a piano trio: Rob Burger, Greg Cohen, Ben Perowsky. Burger isn't in Jamal's class -- he actually has more credits on accordion and organ than piano -- but Zorn's melodies have so much structural integrity he doesn't need to elaborate, especially with Cohen all but singing on bass. A-
John Zorn: O'o (2009, Tzadik): Another slice of new age music from composer/non-player Zorn, following The Dreamers (an enjoyable 2008 record, presumably same group). Song titles reflect various birds from "Archaeopteryx" on, the album title (not on the song list) honoring an extinct Hawaiian bird. Sextet: Marc Ribot (guitar), Jamie Saft (piano, organ), Kenny Wolleson (vibes), Trevor Dunn (bass), Joey Baron (drums), Cyro Baptista (percussion). Upbeat, tuneful, shows flashes of guitar power when Ribot turns it up, or splashes of vibes on lighter fare. B+(**)
Dave Douglas: Spirit Moves (2008 , Greenleaf Music): You'd think I would have gotten this. Some sources credit this to Brass Ecstasy, but cover just lists the musician names, Douglas above the title, the others below. Brass Ecstasy groups four brass -- trumpet, french horn (Vincent Chancey), trombone (Luis Bonilla), and tuba (Marcus Rojas) above drums (Nasheet Waits) -- a tip of the hat to Lester Bowie. Two covers ("Mr. Pitiful" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry") are fully formed, and "Great Awakening" shines with exuberance. The other originals are less scrutable, but I've always been a slow study with Douglas. Sometimes he pays off handsomely. B+(***)
Wadada Leo Smith/Jack DeJohnette: America (2009, Tzadik): Apparently a new recording, although I keep reading about a "proposed" ECM date in 1979 of the pair, and they actually go back further, to Smith's Golden Quartet. Of course, the usual caveats about duos apply: thin sound, limited colors, slow dynamics. Still, I find it touching, and masterful. B+(***)
Borah Bergman Trio: Luminescence (2008 , Tzadik): Piano trio, with Greg Cohen on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Bergman was born in 1933, took a while before he started recording (1976) and didn't record regularly until the 1990s. I have one of his records from 1983, A New Frontier, on my A-list, but haven't heard much by him. Early on he evoked Cecil Taylor, but that isn't evident here. This is one of the most even-tempered piano trio albums I've heard in a long time, the rhythm hushed, the chords masterfully sequenced. John Zorn joins on alto sax on one cut, filling in background colors. A-
John Hébert: Byzantine Monkey (2009, Firehouse 12): Bassist, originally from New Orleans, now based in New Jersey or New York. First album under own name, but he's no stranger: I recognize about 15 albums on his credits list (out of 50-some), and I've often noted his work on them. Very interesting group he's rounded up here: Michael Attias (alto sax, baritone sax), Tony Malaby (tenor sax, soprano sax), Nasheet Waits (drums), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion), Adam Kolker (4 tracks: flute, alto flute, bass clarinet). Kolker's bass clarinet holds the second track together, and his flute runs away with the third. "Blind Pig" is a slow, melancholy bass rumble, very attractive. "Cajun Christmas" seems a little wobbly, a bit of postbop harmonics sliding in. Lost track after that, but seems like a very worthy debut. B+(***)
Tony Malaby: Paloma Recio (2008 , New World): Album name seems likely to return as a band name in future releases. Quartet, Malaby on tenor sax, Ben Monder on guitar, Eivind Opsvik on bass, Nasheet Waits (a busy guy all of a sudden) on drums. Malaby and Monder both have a habit of stealing other people's shows while selling themselves short on their own records. They starts out a bit reticent, but picks up some muscle as it goes along -- I'm tempted to credit Opsvik, who plays with Malaby in the Kris Davis Quartet and is a tower of strength here. Seems like the sort of record that could slowly grow on you. B+(**)
Masada Quintet: Stolas: The Book of Angels Volume 12 (2009, Tzadik): A John Zorn joint. He's listed as playing on this, but I gather he only plays on one cut. The quintet is stellar: Dave Douglas (trumpet), Joe Lovano (tenor sax), Uri Caine (piano), Greg Cohen (bass), Joey Baron (drums). I take his word that there are 11 previous Book of Angels volumes, although I have no idea how they are organized or filed. Masada was a Zorn quartet (with Douglas, Cohen, and Baron) dating back to 1994, launched with a series of records Alef, Beit, Gimel, etc., shifting to numbers later on, then finally mutating into all sorts of things around 2004. For all the stylistic pastiche Zorn works in, what this most reminds me of is Sun Ra: a case where no amount of interstellar weirdness can quite shake an inate sense of swing. B+(**)
Rashanim: The Gathering (2009, Tzadik): Group, evidently led by Jon Madof (guitar, banjo), with Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (acoustic bass guitar, bass banjo, glockenspiel, melodica, tiple, chonguri) and Mathias Kunzli (drums, percussion, jaw harp, whistling). AMG lists three Rashanim albums, plus an earlier one by Madof called Rashanim. Chantlike vocals on "Jeremiah"; otherwise intricate little groove pieces based on old Jewish themes, captivating, charming, a bit new agey. B+(**)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, August 16. 2009
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 August 2. Past reviews and more information are available here.
J. Dilla: Jay Stay Paid (2009, Nature Sounds): Died 2006, born James Yancey in 1974, also did business as Jay Dee. This was thrown together from scraps (28 cuts), sort of a tribute. Scattered vocalists, no real themes, but the beats are of a piece, which is much the point, and the very nondescriptness of the thing is all that keeps it down in the cult niche. B+(***)
The Juan MacLean: The Future Will Come (2009, DFA): Not sure how to sort the name: could be an alias for John MacLean, or could be a group name, which would include vocalist Nancy Whang, possibly others. She sings much better than he does (or whoever he sings). Has sort of an early '80s post-disco new wave feel to it. B+(**)
Micachu & the Shapes: Jewellery (2008 , Rough Trade): British singer-songwriter Mica Levi and some sort of group. Doesn't sound like they have it much together at first, but a couple of songs pick up enough of a head of steam to roll on improbably on otherwise flat tires. B+(*)
A.C. Newman: Get Guilty (2009, Matador): Canadian singer-songwriter, founded the New Pornographers, second solo album. Reminds me a bit like Rhett Miller, but the songs don't seem quite so strong or the hooks so sharp, even though he has a definite sense of popcraft and some rock muscle. B
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (2008 , Slumberland): New York rock group only sounds British, wrapping their short album of smart little songs up in an envelope of Jesus and Mary Chain sonic fuzz. B+(***)
DJ/Rupture: Uproot (2008, The Agriculture): Jace Clayton, turntablist, tape mixer, picks up a lot of downer beats with Middle Eastern spices -- trip-hop in effect if not in concept. B+(**)
An Horse: Rearrange Beds (2009, Mom & Pop): Group of two or three from Brisband, Australia, fronted by singer Kate Cooper, previously of a band called Iron On. Website concedes that "An" is an erroneous article, immortalized on a gift sweater. Reminded Christgau of Go-Betweens, but they're missing several pieces there -- the melodies are more limited, the harmonics simpler, the viewpoint more singular, but Cooper makes the viewpoint work. A-
Patterson Hood: Murdering Oscar (and Other Love Songs) (2009, Ruth St.): Second solo album by Drive-By Truckers founder (still in the band as of last album). More country than rock, just enough guitar to carry the songs and hilight the details, which are sharp and detailed. A-
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (2009, Lightning Rod): Former Drive-By Trucker, not a founder but he had been with the group from 2001-07, writing a significant share, before leaving to cut a solo album. This is his second (or third: AMG lists an extra live one), an eponymous band record, although he writes everything and doesn't seem to need much help. Countryish, rocks some, several strong songs -- "However Long" has some politics and the refrain "however long the night the dawn will break again" -- but also some oddities. I don't mind the soul horns although the melody seems pretty familiar. B+(**)
Buddy & Julie Miller: Written in Chalk (2009, New West): Buddy has one of the richest drawls in country music. Julie has a harsher, more clipped sound, at least when she's hurting, as she's prone to do. Don't have all of this down, but the pacing and details carry me along and keep me interested. A-
Brad Paisley: American Saturday Night (2009, Arista): Big-time country singer, keeps the sound trad, the themes conventional, the sentiments soft. He seems to do it better than most, not that that means it's worth doing. Still, jokes like "Catch All the Fish" and "The Pants" help. B+(*)
Steve Earle: Townes (2009, New West): A batch of 15 Townes Van Zandt songs, some familiar, most not -- despite his reputation, I've only heard one Van Zandt album, got that from the library, and didn't think much of it. First pass sounded glum, almost claustrophobic, utterly lacking the ebullience that Earle brings naturally. Second pass opened up a bit. Maybe in the end Earle will win out, but I'm still not convinced Van Zandt is worth salvaging. B
Jarvis Cocker: Further Complications (2009, Rough Trade): English singer-songwriter, led the group Pulp 1983-2001, which had one great single ("Common People") and wrapped a good-enough album around it. Second solo album, has faint echoes of Pulp's greatest riffs, like the attenuated waves of the big bang. Still, more consistent and more listenable than any of Pulp's other albums, like he's finding his mode. B+(**)
Yacht: See Mystery Lights (2009, DFA): Many sources capitalize the entire name, but there's no indication that it's an acronym or such. The main guy behind this is Jona Bechtolt. Credits list vocals -- Claire Evans is the main singer -- but no musicians, so some sort of remix is likely. Has a rough awkwardness to it that turns out rather charming, maybe even catchy. B+(***)
Kronos Quartet: Floodplain (2009, Nonesuch): Don't have any details, and this is a record that could use some detailed explanation. Globetrotting modernist string quartet, they pick much of this up from somewhere in the Middle East. Sounds exotic, but still mostly limited by the string quartet format -- pretty sure that's not all that's here, but it does frame it in. B+(***)
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band: Outer South (2008 , Merge): First working solo behind the mask of Bright Eyes, then Oberst comes out with his own eponymous album, and now he's fronting a whole band. I've never been able to follow him, and this is going by much too fast for me to grasp it. Sings well. Knows how to craft a song. Rocks a little. Pretty pleasant. Someday a project. B+(*)
Ida Maria: Fortress Round My Heart (2009, Upper 11/Fontana): Norwegian rock singer, full name Ida Maria Børli Sivertsen, b. 1984. Slightly punkish, with a couple of pop hooks, and one song going "I like you so much better when you're naked." B+(***)
Japandroids: Post-Nothing (2008 , Polyvinyl): Debut record from punkish Vancouver band. Seems empty at first, but that's the way young punks are, at least until they achieve enough mass and density to sustain a reaction, which they do, sort of. B+(*)
Serengeti & Polyphonic: Terradactyl (2009, Anticon): Don't know who Polyphonic is -- evidently the beat maker as opposed to Serengeti the rapper. Both are subtle, deep underground, but the deadbeat raps fit the bubbly ambience, and there may be more to them. A-
St. Vincent: Actor (2009, 4AD): Singer-songwriter, don't know why she doesn't record as Annie Clark. Has a synthy pop with serious overtones which hits a sweet spot for critics and thoughtful fans. I have trouble focusing, but this gets stronger as it goes on. B+(**)
Records I looked for but didn't find on Rhapsody:
Also spent a fair amount of time streaming recent jazz records, which will appear in Jazz Prospecting.
Saturday, August 15. 2009
I guess if I'm going to do movie notes I should get them over with quickly.
Movie: Star Trek: We waited long enough on this one to catch it at a second-run theater, affectionately referred to as the Cheap Seats. I have some pedigree as a fan, given that I watched the original TV series both when it came out and in endless reruns. Also saw the first four or five movies, but never sat still for Next Generation or any of the other spinoffs. This attempts to wipe the slate relatively clean by posing an alternate reality corrupted by time travel. Just as well, given how poorly the original crew aged -- especially the second tier actors, who never were very good in the first place. On the other hand, youth can be a handicap too. Especially for Kirk, whose brilliance is repeatedly asserted but rarely suggested much less proved: in fact, he spends much of the movie getting his face smashed in and getting out of jams only through the most improbable luck. Two scenes were especially rotten: when as a child he skids a vintage Corvette into the Grand Canyon of Iowa, and when he hacks the "no win" Kobayashi Maru simulation but he acts like it's a big joke. The new Spock is even less convincing. That these two are the best and brightest of Star Fleet suggests how far the current dumbing down of the military can go over the next three or four centuries. With the background development asides and the time chewed up by protracted action sequences -- the dragon on an ice planet was a low point -- there wasn't much time for plot development, so they ran through that part pretty quick. It's all pretty crackpot, but not that hard to take. It's still worth point out that the movies seem stuck with war plots, where the original TV series was more interested in exploring new worlds, especially ones that were sci-fi variations of our own. While the movie is now set up for a protracted series of movie sequels, it would be much more interesting to scale these new versions of the old characters back down to weekly TV size. One saving grace was Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime. He not only provided what little sense there was to the movie, he gave it some much needed dignity. The second-tier actors were also much better than their prototypes, especially Simon Pegg as Scotty. B
Friday, August 14. 2009
From TPM: Throw Mama from the Train:
Broun is getting ahead of himself here. Not only it he assuming that the government's going to health care at such a detailed level that they'll routinely overrule doctors, he's assuming that the Republicans are going to be running the government.
Republican vehemence over health care seems to be coming from a deeper point in their reptilian brains than their usual desire to help rich businesses fleece poor customers. They seem to recognize that if government is ever trusted to run anything as critically important to voters as health care, they'll never win another election.
One thing that is certain is that Broun's concern has nothing to do with mama. Preserving the status quo leaves these life or death situations in the hands of the private, profit-maximizing insurance companies. In fact, if health insurance reform fails, the private companies will be all that much emboldened in their search for profits.