Monday, January 31. 2011
Sonic Libreration Front: Meets Sunny Murray (2002-08 , High Two): Philadelphia group, led by percussionist Kevin Diehl, who specializes in Lukumi bata drums (Afro-Cuban, more specifically Yoruba) but has one paw rooted in the avant-garde, in no small part due to his relationship with avant-drummer Sunny Murray. Fourth album since 2000 -- the other three I recommend highly, especially 2004's Ashé a Go-Go. This one sweeps up two sessions with Murray on board, one from 2002, the other 2008. Murray's drums are worth focus, but the band sometimes loses its focus in long ambling patches, only to burst to life when Terry Lawson cuts loose on tenor sax. B+(***)
Jacques Coursil: Trail of Tears (2010 , Sunnyside): Trumpet player, b. 1938 in Paris, parents from Martinique, cut a couple of well-regarded avant albums in 1969 and pretty much vanished until 2005. Title comes from the 1830s expulsion of the Cherokee from the Carolinas and Tennessee to the future Oklahoma. Packaging includes a couple of maps tracing the route. I first learned about this in 8th grade -- the only person I recall learning much from was my 8th grade American history teacher -- but I never quite visualized the routes before: one by river seems convoluted but obvious, descending the Tennessee to the Ohio to the Mississippi, then upriver on the Arkansas to Fort Smith and into Oklahoma; the other a land route further north, across Kentucky and Missouri where I would have expected a more direct southerly route. The music is muted, somber, brief, with relatively minor contributions from Mark Whitecage, Perry Robinson, Bobby Few, Sunny Murray, and others who normally don't blend into the vintage woodwork. B+(**)
Jazz Folk: Jazz in the Stone Age (2008 , 1 Hr Music): Piano trio, with Peter Scherr on bass, Simon Barker on drums, and Matt McMahon on piano, listed in that order. Hype sheet treats this as Scherr's record, with minimal bio on him -- lives in Hong Kong -- and nothing on the others. The eight songs are all covers, with "stone age" mostly meaning rock: three from Beck, two Velvet Undergrounds ("Pale Blue Eyes" and "All Tomorrow's Parties"), one each from Taj Mahal, Joni Mitchell, and the Grateful Dead. Of course, I was most moved by "Pale Blue Eyes," and baffled by the Beck pieces. B+(*)
John L. Holmes y Los Amigos: The Holmes Stretch (2010, self-released): Guitarist, b. 1950 in Walla Walla, WA. Can't find much on him, can't read the microscopic type in the booklet, don't recognize anyone he's playing with. Could be that he's still based in Walla Walla. Did see a review that tried to sandwich him between George Benson and John McLaughlin; he's more interesting than that. B+(**)
Salo: Sundial Lotus (2009 , Innova): Bassist Ben Gallina wrote all of this (except for an extract from Hindemith), and it's very much a composer's album -- the three reeds, guitar, piano, bass and drums deployed precisely, working out an impressive series of postbop progressions. B+(**)
Marcus Shelby Orchestra: Soul of the Movement (2010 , Porto Franco): Bassist, b. 1966, seventh album since 1997, delving into black history last time for Harriet Tubman, and again here. Heavy with gospel, from "There Is a Balm in Gilead" to "Go Tell It on the Mountain" to "Take My Hand Precious Lord" with the iconic "We Shall Overcome" in the middle; four new Shelby pieces on key moments in the civil rights struggle, and a few more things that seemed like they'd fit -- can't go wrong with "Fables of Faubus," can you? Big band: five trumpets, four trombones, five reeds plus Howard Wiley toward the end, lots of vocals. Very nice packaging, things everyone should know and appreciate. I find it overwhelming, and itch to move on, before I start to get annoyed. B+(*)
Matt Jorgensen: Tattooed by Passion: Music Inspird by the Paintings of Dale Chisman (2009 , Origin): Drummer, b. 1972, based in Seattle, sixth album since 2001. Not familiar with Chisman, although his abstracts in the package and booklet are interesting and attractive. Music is conventional postbop quintet, with Corey Christiansen's guitar in lieu of piano, and Thomas Marriott and Mark Taylor the horns, trumpet and sax. Three cuts add some strings, and one Richard Cole's clarinet. B+(*)
Matt Blostein/Vinnie Sperrazza: Paraphrase (2010 , Yeah-Yeah): Alto saxophonist and drummer, respectively, split writing credits 4-4, have a couple previous albums together. Quartet with Geoff Kraly on electric bass and Jacob Garchik on trombone -- Garchik seems to be the key player, slowing things down and adding depth. B+(**)
Colin Dean: Shiwasu (2010, Roots and Grooves): Bassist, b. and raised in Long Island, studied at New School, first album, composed all the pieces. Quartet with Sean Nowell on tenor and soprano sax, Rachel Z on piano, and Colin Stranahan on drums. Nowell and Nicolazzo make typically strong impressions, the pieces are thoughtfully constructed and flow effortlessly. B+(**)
Joe Lovano/Us Five: Bird Songs (2010 , Blue Note): Second album by Lovano's two-drummer quintet, with Otis Brown III and Francesco Mela the drummers, Esperanza Spalding on bass, and James Weidman on piano. Charlie Parker compositions, except for "Lover Man" and the Lovano original "Birdyard" -- wonder if anyone thought of that before. (AMG sez no.) None of the sonic crudeness that always turned me away from Parker's records, nor any of the daring crunchiness that made Bird such a legend. Don't know why Lovano decided to play this so sweet, other than that the band isn't really up to it. B+(**)
Moon Hotel Lounge Project: Into the Ojalá (2010 , Frosty Cordial): Tom Moon project, first record I'm aware of, wrote all but one of the songs, plays credible tenor sax against a swishy background of guitar, bass, electric piano, vibes and percussion. I'm mostly familiar with Moon as a rock critic, author of 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: A Listener's Life List, which aside from a few dozen nods to the Euroclassics that I'm sure will remain unheard when I die, is a pretty useful guide. And this is a remarkably enjoyable record, its lounge concept neither camp nor corny, easy listening where everything else that conventionally goes by that label turns dull and tedious. A-
Todd Clouser: A Love Electric (2010 , Ropeadope): Guitarist, b. 1981 in Minneapolis, studied at Berklee, based in Baja, Mexico -- wanted a slower paced life in which to develop his own voice. Second album, fusion that grows out of the 1970s but isn't contained by it. No credits breakdown I can see: Bryan Nichols on Rhodes, Julio de la Cruz on piano, and Jason Craft on B3 would seem to be either-or; same for the two bassists (Gordy Johnson and Adam Linz) and the two trumpeters (Steven Bernstein and Kelly Rossum). One cover, Harry Nilsson's "One" -- smartly reinforcing the period thing. One uncredited vocal, on "Mo City Kid" -- unpro but sly. B+(**)
Suzanne Pittson: Out of the Hub: The Music of Freddie Hubbard (2008 , Vineland): Singer, don't know how old, teaches at City College in New York, has two previous albums, one from 1992, the other from 1999; both appear to be substantial projects to pull new vocal music out of relatively untapped sources: Blues and the Abstract Truth (the Oliver Nelson classic), and Resolution: A Remembrance of John Coltrane. She, and/or husband-pianist Jeff Pittson and/or son Evan Pittson wrote new lyrics for six Hubbard pieces; they picked up other lyrics for two more, and included three covers ("You're My Everything," "Moment to Moment," and "Betcha by Golly, Wow!"). Half the tracks add Jeremy Pelt, who does a pretty good Hubbard impersonation, and Steve Wilson, who at least at first threatenes to run away with the record. The hornless cuts are less exhilarating, although Pittson is a technically impressive singer and scatter, and the project is ambitiously conceived and executed. B+(**)
Dave Brubeck: Legacy of a Legend (1954-70 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The key to parsing the awkward title is the relatively narrow timespan covered, limited to Brubeck's Columbia recordings, now managed by Sony's Legacy division. That cuts off the important early recordings and interesting later ones swept up in the excellent The Essential Dave Brubeck, released in 2003 and a better place to start if you want an overview before delving into his many worthwhile individual albums. Some solos, but mostly delectable quartet with Paul Desmond, three vocal spots that should have been better (Jimmy Rushing, Carmen McRae, Louis Armstrong), and winding up with two cuts featuring Gerry Mulligan. B+(***)
Adam Pieronczyk: Komeda -- The Innocent Sorcerer (2009 , Jazzwerkstatt): Saxophonist, b. 1970 in Poland, plays soprano and tenor, has a dozen-plus albums since 1996. Komeda, of course, is Krzysztof Komeda (1931-69), the pianist-composer who seems to be the root of all subsequent Polish jazz. Komeda may be best known for his soundtrack to Rosemary's Baby. I'm not nearly familiar enough with his dozen or so records, but regard Astigmatic as one of the high points of European jazz in the 1960s. Komeda has also been the subject of such notable tributes as Tomasz Stanko's Litania, and this is another one. With Gary Thomas on tenor sax, Nelson Veras on guitar, Anthony Cox on bass, and Lukasz Zyta on drums. A-
Kellylee Evans: Nina (2010, Plus Loin Music): Singer, second album, songs more or less associated with Nina Simone. Doesn't have Simone's voice, which leaves the most familiar of these songs a bit hollow. B-
Henry Brun and the Latin Playerz: 20th Anniversary (1992-2010 , Richport): Drummer, congalero, "Mr. Ritmo" to his friends, formed his Latin Playerz group in 1989, but I'm not finding much discography for them -- AMG only lists one record, Spiritual Awakenings (2005, Mambo Maniacs), but doesn't, for instance, list this one. Two songs date from 1992, one 1993, one 2000, one 2004, three 2006, most newer. The booklet doesn't list the Playerz, but does spotlight Judi Deleon, presumably the singer. She takes some overworked standards like "Lullaby of Birdland," "Lover Man," and "Bye Bye Blackbird," and turns them all into high points. B+(**)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:
Mason Brothers: Two Sides One Story (2010, Archival): Trumpet- and trombone-playing brothers from England, took advantage of their networking and lined up some splashy guest stars but didn't make it clear who played what where on the package, so I muddled my review. Turns out Chris Potter plays tenor sax on two cuts, Joe Locke vibes on one, Tim Miller guitar on one, each a different cut. They each help out, Locke most clearly. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Sunday, January 30. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week. A couple items relate to the anti-authoritarian mass movements in Tunisia and Egypt, which are starting to feel much like the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989, or somewhat less dramatically the shift in Latin America around the same time from mostly military dictatorships to mostly populist democracies.
Saturday, January 29. 2011
Nice weather today, up around 70F. I screwed some standards into studs on the north wall of the garage, hung some shelf brackets onto them, and stacked some spare lumber on them. To get to the wall, I had to move a bunch of leftover OSB, which slipped into the sheet lumber rack I built last time we had some decent weather (about six weeks ago, if memory serves). Don't have enough brackets, but that can be fixed with a shopping trip. Cut up some of the OSB to make a table top, which I attached to a base cabinet unit we had scrapped from the kitchen a couple years ago. Not real happy with it: the OSB had swollen a bit on one edge -- must have picked up a bit of moisture -- making the tabletop a bit uneven, but will do for now.
Bigger news is that we were finally able to move the last of the living room lumber pile out to the garage. I had bought 24 sheets of plywood to build cabinets and bookcases with, and eventually used all but a few odd scraps. What was left was one full sheet of 1/4" not-quite-plywood, a possibly thinner sheet of composite, and three 1/2" sheets of OSB, some of which came with the plywood. Moved those out to the sheet rack in the garage, picked up the plastic sheet underneath it all, and swept up two-plus years of dirt. Result is we have the living room floor back. Feels like a milestone, the end of the kitchen rehab project. Can't say there won't be further work/changes: want to swap out the phone, and a light switch. I'm tempted to add some more pantry racks. And I'm still not happy with the weird angle on the refrigerator box (but don't have any idea how to go about fixing it). And still need to move stuff up and down, settling on how best to use the available storage. But all that will be in a new era; the age of reconstruction is over.
Friday, January 28. 2011
Finally, in looking up those links, I rediscovered a Richard Crowson cartoon from last March that couldn't be more timely (unless he tacked on Obama racing behind the ranks, hand outstretched, shouting "wait for me"):
Shortly thereafter, I noticed a link to a piece that could serve as yet another caption: Philip Giraldi: The Road to National Suicide:
Is it really that bad? Israel (and its Washington backers) may have second thoughts about crushing Hezbollah and Iran given what a sudden wave of anti-American backlash might mean for their good ally in Cairo. Obama is again talking about withdrawals from Afghanistan next year, seems to regard Iraq as settled, and has finally proposed some cuts at the hitherto sacrosanct Defense Department. The House Republicans haven't actually done anything damaging yet, although that's clearly just a matter of time. But Obama's playing nice with them, meanwhile restocking his administration with big business types, who in turn won't have to worry about any reform nuissances. Economic indicators are slightly up, which is better for business than it is for you or me. Obama's own polls are significantly up, which is good for him but less so for us. Puts him in a position where he can promise the capitalists both to keep the crazies at bay and to keep the Democrats down.
On the other hand, it looks like we've gotten through this crisis without learning a single important lesson. Instead of changing the way we think about war (and empire), Obama's managing to minimize them to the point we don't think about them at all. The bankers who broke us have scarcely been touched. Reforming health care left us with the same problems and same villains we started with. The biggest Democratic majority in Congress in several decades left as its final testament the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the superrich. The Fed is still run by a Republican anti-inflation hawk. And the march of stupidity goes on and on.
Thursday, January 27. 2011
That's as far as my links go back -- about the point when I first noticed her. Her pieces tackle real world problems, but always with the methodological logic that makes economics the dismal science it aspires to be. This logic has its own inner beauty, and its ability to trivialize human concerns turns out to be part of its utility. Still, Udall never lost track of those concerns; she somehow managed to bring the logic back to real issues and problems, and she often brought back some new insight into them that I previously didn't have. That actually doesn't happen all that often -- we are all much more comfortable reading things that confirm what we already think we know -- and that's what landed her on my short list. As far as economists are concerned, I feel now almost exactly the way I felt when George P. Brockway died. I've read more than a hundred books on economics, but most of what I actually learned came from Brockway. I don't have enough perspective to measure Udall, but hardly anyone I've read in the last year has been more rewarding.
I should spend some time digging back through the many pieces I missed. I'd like to quote one at some length here, partly because it's more personal than I suggested above was her norm: 'Tis the Season . . .:
She did come back, and wrote several brilliant pieces, the last, What Price Microfinance?, posted on Jan. 17, the day she died.
Looking around her blog, before I close I can't help but share the two quotes Udall picked out from the original girl economist, Joan Robinson (incidentally, one of the first economists I read at any length):
I spend some time looking for further information about Udall. Came up with many tearful links to the announcement, but not much else, other than this:
Wednesday, January 26. 2011
Several War in Context links on "the Palestine papers" -- a mass of documents leaked to Al Jazeera. Even more so than Wikileaks these leaks are proving embarrassing to all parties, most pointedly to Palestinian Authority officials like Saeb Erekat who have been desperately and futilely trying to figure out how much surrender it takes to appease an Israeli government that would much rather fight than switch. None of this is news to people who have been paying attention, but most haven't, and may be in for some shocks. Of course, those content with the status quo have already started blaming the leaks for making their lives more difficult, but as Paul Woodward explains, "you can't slow down a stationary peace process."
Many more links are embedded in these pieces, with much of the best analysis at Al Jazeera itself, partly because they've sought out world class experts; e.g.:
I haven't spent anywhere near enough time to sort all this out, and doubt that I will. But I'm glad to see these details emerging into public light.
Tuesday, January 25. 2011
In my semi-official role as currator of all things Christgau, I took a look at his NAJP blog last week and found two new-to-me posts, dated Dec. 17 and Dec. 31, attacking Julian Assange and Wikileaks:
The first referred to an article by Robert P. Baird, What Is Julian Assange Up To?, and the second reiterated the recommendation. I myself wrote about Baird's post back on Dec. 9 (Wikileaks), although what I got out of it was completely different than what Christgau got. I glossed over the section in the middle of Baird's piece about the "language poets of the 1970s" (whoever they be) thinking it irrelevant and possibly nonsensical, but it seems to mean something for Christgau. Still, I doubt that one needs a theory of poetic language here. The real issues are more basic than that.
Continue reading "A Muddle of Ideas"
Monday, January 24. 2011
In any case, I finally declared 2010 over and out. I froze a copy of my year-end list -- any later changes to the working file will be flagged in green. Most importantly, I still have 145 unrated records from 2010 to mop up, and there are always things I will belatedly catch up with during the next year -- my usual practice is to continue updating a year-end file until the end of the following year. (E.g., I won't be adding any new records to the 2009 file, although I notice now that I still have 17 unrated records in it -- a significant share of them Xmas records.)
The 2010 metafile and its oldies adjunct are also finished. I did manage to work in the Pazz & Jop data (and caught 6 or 7 cases where variant ballots caused short counts) and a few more lists I found late, so my final totals are slightly out of line compared to what I used in recent posts. The main thing that the metafile did was to help me identify new records of general interest; Rhapsody in turn let me listen to a great many of them. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the highly rated records turned out to be crap, but I found more than a few interesting things lurking deep on the list.
Will try to cut down the jazz backlog this coming week.
Jaruzelski's Dream: Jazz Gawronski (2008 , Clean Feed): Italian sax trio, with Piero Bittolo Bon on alto (and smartphone), Stefano Senni on bass, and Francesco Cusa on drums. Don't know where they came from, what they've done in the past, or why they're obsessed with all things Polish. I can begin to unravel such jokes as "Soulidarnosc" and "Mori Mari Curi" (the discoverer of radioactive elements like "Polonium" that killed her) but not "Swiatoslaw" or "Zibibboniek" or "Maria Goretti Contro Tutti." Presumably the group name honors (if that's the word) the last Communist dictator of Poland, Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski. Gawronski, however, appears to be an Italian politician, prominent in Berlusconi's Forza Italia, first name Jas, easy enough to play off. Gruff, garulous free sax, with enough beat to keep it steady. For a while I thought "Sei Forte Papa" was "New York, New York." I wouldn't put anything past them. B+(***)
Billy Fox's Blackbirds & Bullets: Dulces (2009 , Clean Feed): Percussionist, credited only with maracas here, has two previous albums, The Kaidan Suite and Uncle Wiggly Suite, and a couple of side credits -- e.g., worked with Bobby Sanabria. So how does a maracas player sustain interest? He recruits players I've barely (or never) heard of, spread out among two saxes, trumpet, keybs, a one-track violin guest, and gives them each a few minutes to stand up and out. Also does a superb job of working out horn charts for transition. B+(***)
Zed Trio: Lost Transitions (2009 , Ayler): French trio, don't know much about them, but here goes: Heddy Boubaker (b. 1963, Marseille, father Tunisian), plays alto and bass sax, mostly free jazz but has also played in gnawa bands, name listed on a couple other albums; David Lataillade, electric guitar; and Frédéric Vaudaux, drums; no further discography. Choppy free improv, tends to get noisy, which I like to a point but they do push it. B+(***)
The Dymaxion Quartet: Sympathetic Vibrations (2010, self-released): Drummer Gabriel Gloege, student of Bob Brookmeyer and fan of Buckminster Fuller, wrote all nine pieces here, arranged as three sets of three labelled Hong Kong, Paris, and Manhattan. Dymaxion is Fuller's term, fused together from dynamic, maximum, and tension and used for all sorts of wild and wooly ideas. This one is a pianoless quartet: Michael Shobe's trumpet and Mark Small's tenor sax are the free horns, with Dan Fabricatore on bass. Seems more composed-through than maximally dynamic, a neat effect but maybe too neat. B+(**) [advance]
Toots Thielemans: European Quartet Live (2006-08 , Challenge): B. 1922 in Brussels, Belgium, played some guitar early on but distinguished himself on harmonica to the point that he has dominated Billboard's miscellaneous instrument category for ages now. His records start in 1955 and continue with few gaps -- only four in the last decade but mostly toward the end. Quartet with piano (Karel Boehlee), bass (Hein Van de Geyn), and drums (Hans van Oosterhout, so he carries almost every moment selected here from various unspecified concerts. Mostly venerable standards, ending with two originals he did much to turn into standards. His tone is as striking as ever, but that's about it. B+(*)
Chaise Lounge: Symphony Lounge (2010, Big Round): Charlie Barnett group: he plays guitar, sings a little, writes most of the songs. Lead singer is Marilyn Older, and the group includes Gary Gregg (sax, clarinet, flute), John Jensen (trombone), bass and drums, but gets stretched out this time with Capital City Symphony adding strings and who knows what else. Two covers -- "Do Nothing 'Till You Hear From Me" and "Luck Be a Lady" -- define the milieu as retro while Barnett's own songs fit in as period obscurities -- titles include "Dude, She's Waiting," "In Walked Mo," "Blue, the Distracted Reader," "Lonely Is as Lonely Does." B+(***)
Maxfield Gast Trio: Side by Side (2010, Militia Hill): Saxophonist, credits list soprano, alto and tenor here. First album he tried doing a hip-hop beat thing with EWI and it didn't work out so well. This time he's running a straight sax trio with Brian Howell on bass and Mike Pietrusko on drums, and turns in a very solid performance. B+(**)
The Pickpocket Ensemble: Memory (2010, self-released): San Francisco group, fourth album since 2003, plays "café music" -- "the inversion of folk," as leader Rick Corrigan (accordion, piano) puts it. Band includes violin (Marguerite Ostro), guitar/banjo (Yates Brown), bass (Kurt Ribak), and percussion (Michaelle Goerlitz), with Myra Joy on cello but evidently not in group. Hype sheet talks about them picking up elements from all over the globe, but nothing very clear emerges from the cosmopolitan mishmash. B
Jeremy Siskind: Simple Songs: For When the World Seems Strange (2010, Bju'ecords): Pianist, b. 1986 in California, based in New York; second album. Mostly piano trio, with Chris Lightcap on bass and Ted Poor on drums. Some songs add Jo Lawry singing. Piano often impressive, don't mind the vocals, but overall I'm not getting much traction, finding myself with little to say. B+(*)
Blue Cranes: Observatories (2009 , Blue Cranes): Portland, OR group; second album since 2007. Two saxophones (Reid Wallsmith on alto, Sly Pig on tenor), keyboards (Rebecca Sanborn), bass and drums. The horns are mostly yoked together, slowed down and muscled up with a harmonic fuzz I don't much care for -- reminds me of rock opera more than anything else. Three cuts add strings, four guitar, the closer adds a "family percussion section" that concludes with a shout-out. B-
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Sunday, January 23. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Friday, January 21. 2011
The Pazz & Jop Critics Poll results are out in the Village Voice this week. Start here and work your way around. If you're more than passingly curious about the numbers (and/or the critics) also look at Glenn McDonald's Needlebase website here. The poll aggregates top-ten albums and singles charts from 708 critics. The thing started in 1974 with two dozen critics, gradually expanded to 207 critics in 1983, was still at 212 in 1989, shot up to 300 in 1991, trailed back to 236 in 1996, exploded to 496 in 1998, 586 in 2000, 622 in 2001, 695 in 2002, to a peak of 795 in 2005. In 2006, Robert Christgau was sacked at the Voice, a short-lived rival poll was organized, and the participation dropped to 494. (Most of the history has been captured here, although there are still some gaps and the post-Christgau poll data isn't up to date.)
I'm mostly concerned with the album totals, because I mostly focus on albums -- and, well, find the singles arena to be much more erratic and inconsistent. Singles get fewer voters, there are more singles to vote for, so the result should be more scattered -- not that I've done the work to check this -- and if it's not, does that actually prove anything of interest? But I also have another reason for focusing on albums: I want to see how they stack up against my metafile -- a count I've been running of how many times albums show up in various top-N lists. I got a little carried away this year and toted up about 1200 such lists -- a lot of work, the main effect being that I have gained a pretty broad idea about what lots of people think about this year's albums.
One use for the metafile was to make predictions about how the P&J voters would wind up voting. I didn't specifically design it to do so: had I done so I would have needed to typify and qualify the listmakers to get something more representative of P&J voters (e.g., I could have safely ignored lists from Europe and South Korea, which I didn't do); also I would have needed to work in some form of weighting -- I counted number 100 on a list the same as number 1. I didn't do this for several reasons: simple counts cut down on my workload, and more lists helped rope in more records (I wound up with 4900), especially obscure genres of personal interest. Ultimately it matters very little to me who beat out whom, but I did want to get a sense of what I had missed but looked interesting, and I had at least some curiosity about what other people were thinking. My method worked reasonably well for those intents.
As for predicting P&J, I had been pretty convinced that I had identified the top 10-12 records, possibly more, but orders that had seemed pretty stable as I accumulated my data jumped around quite a bit: for instance, the National's High Violet, rock solid in my data at number 3, dropped to 8th place; Janelle Monáe's The ArchAndroid, my number 8 by a tiny margin, jumped to 4th; and while I knew the slim margin that Arcade Fire's The Suburbs was able to maintain over Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy wouldn't carry over, I was surprised by West's margins: +121 mentions (266 to 145) and over twice the points. Nonetheless, in one discussion group that followed, Cam Patterson noted:
My number 11, Sleigh Bells' Treats, had jumped up to 9th; my number 6, dropped down to 11th. But while the order was severely perturbed, my top 11 were the poll's same top 11. What happened below that was more unruly. My number 12 (Sufjan Stevens' The Age of Adz) dropped to 37th, with number 13 (Gorillaz' Plastic Beach) down in 30th. The poll, instead, sloted 12th and 13th Titus Andronicus' The Monitor (my number 20) and Robyn's Body Talk (my number 23) before bouncing back into alignment -- Joanna Newsom's Have One on Me and Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti's Before Today took two of the next three slots on both polls.
The rest of this post goes on and on, so let's push it into the "extended body" and out of the way.
Continue reading "Pazz & Jop Notes"
Thursday, January 20. 2011
I know we've been hearing about this happening for the last couple of weeks, and nothing is more inevitable than the entire House Republican caucus voting in lockstep with their one homogenized mind, but still I felt shock when they passed their health care reform repeal. How can anyone be so ignorant as to think that returning to to the status quo ante solves our health care problems? Or even crazier, that there were no problems pre-Obama? There are lots of problems with the Obama reforms, but none will be solved by repealing the law. Indeed, the need to spend political capital to defend the law makes it all the more difficult to fix the real problems that remain.
The saving grace, of course, is that with a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Democratic president, actual repeal has no chance: it is basically a symbolic gesture, a way of reminding us of the Republican commitment to letting the health care system run as a racket. Indeed, the main point of the Republicans' anti-regulation, pro-business agenda looks to be the elimination of all constraints on corporation efforts to rip consumers and workers off. This rarely happens more explicitly than in their fight against consumer protections against the finance industry, although you see it in everything they do, from loosening up pollution restrictions to protecting corporations from being sued for their malfeasances to letting every profit-seeking company in the health care industry shake you down in any way they can imagine.
Living under Republican power -- and I remind you I live in Kansas -- is a lot like trying to navigate through a squalid neighborhood ruled by gangs. Once they bought the idea that greed makes the world go round, indeed that it makes anything and everything all right, they concluded that the sole purpose of government was as a patronage racket -- reward one's friends, and render everyone else powerless so the no one can stand up to the plunder.
That may seem like an extreme charge, but it's hard to find any more benign explanations. Sometimes they cloak their agenda in platitudes, but often they just let it all hang out. If they ever manage to do what they say they want to do, that will be the end of anything approaching affluence in America, indeed the end of civil society.
This at least is something the Democrats can rally around, like a few other Republican targets (like Social Security). Still, a better offense would help the defense. The main thing that's happened since health care reform passed here in Wichita is that one of the largest physician groups, Wichita Clinic, has sold out to Wichita's largest hospital business, Via Christi, while Gallichia Hospital -- the most reputable of the physician-owned hospitals -- has sold out to HCA, which runs Wichita's other major hospital, Wesley. This concentration gives the big hospitals more political muscle and less competition. The sellers, of course, make more money than they could make running their own businesses because the buyers know they can make even more running their monopolies. And the money comes cheap to the buyers because the government is holding interest rates down, allegedly to stimulate the economy and create new jobs. And that they're failing should be no surprise: concentration invariably eliminates jobs as well as driving up costs for everyone, undermining competitiveness and costing more jobs.
One thing Obama could do to fight back is to fight the mergers and acquisitions that are concentrating corporate power -- there are, you know, already laws on the books against that sort of thing, even if they've rarely been enforced since Reagan. Another thing would be to start the campaign for extending health care reform beyond 2012 -- to get a public option to ensure competitiveness, to finally take on the drug companies, and some more easy targets. He needs, after all, to rally voter turnout for 2012, so it's time to start promising something more than stale compromises.
A couple related links:
Wednesday, January 19. 2011
Exactly? Caesar was dead after Brutus et al. turned on him, stabbed to death on the Senate floor. This illustrates at least three common traits of right-wing pundits: no grasp of reality, let alone history; a penchant for gross melodramatic inflation of metaphors; and so much self-absorption that they readily conflate their own personal problems with matters of world import. This is another case of Clarence Thomas's "high-tech lynching." Just another case of the privileged whining.
The end of Steele's RNC term was inevitable. He got his job because someone in the Republican brain trust decided that putting a black face up front would give the Republicans cover as they fought back against Obama. Now that they have a House Speaker, more elected officials, and presidential canidates campaigning, it makes perfect sense they'd like to dial down the visibility of the RNC chair, and what better camouflage than to pick a white guy nobody's heard of? The Republican Party is a powerful machine, aware that it's best to keep the machinations out of sight. Steele's been a useful idiot, but the stakes are getting serious, and they hardly need such a conspicuous fool.
Monday, January 17. 2011
Tribecastan: 5 Star Cave (2009 , Evergreene Music): New York group -- that much shouldn't be hard to figure out -- with pretensions to exotica rooted in the real world today, very much including Afghanistan but not limited by it, as opposed to Esquivel-ish fantasies of Polynesian fleshpots. Principals are John Kurth and Jeff Greene, each with a dozen or more obscure instruments, most with strings, some flute-like or percussive. Group is rounded out with Todd Isler on more percussion and Mike Duclos because music always sounds better with a bassist on hand, and sprinkled with a dozen "special guests" -- the sort of people easy to find in New York (some names I recognize: Steve Turre, Charlie Burnham, Al Kooper, Badal Roy). Samantha Parton sings one song, a cool breeze with words by A.P. Carter. Everything is very mild and painless; I guess not like the real Afghanistan. B+(**)
Afrocubism (2010, World Circuit/Nonesuch): Cuba was the only new world post where slaveholders didn't try hard to strip the roots of their chattels, so the island developed as a microcosm of the mother continent, with well-defined religious and musical tribes mapping straight to Senegal, Nigeria, and Congo, permitting hybridized African music to flow back into Africa itself. But Africa is a big and diverse continent, and Mali was isolated, much of its land parched, its music simpler and more ethereal, which oddly enough has lately turned Mali's musicians -- especially kora master Toumani Diabaté into the continent's most prolific musical diplomats. This is their record, aided by a few Cubans like Eliades Ochoa, primed with Benny Moré and Nico Saquito songs, with a sweet but slight "Guantanamera" to ice the cake. B+(***)
Suresh Singaratnam: Lost in New York (2009 , Suresong): Trumpet player, born in Zambia, moved to UK then Toronto then New York, studying at Manhattan School of Music. Has some classical music on his resume. First jazz album, fairly dense and fancy postbop with Jake Saslow on tenor sax, Jesse Lewis on guitar, piano, bass, drums, plus a guest vocal I could do without. Lewis has the key support role; trumpet is bright and bold. B+(**)
Mason Brothers: Two Sides One Story (2010, Archival): AMG lists two albums, but they're by different pairs of Mason Brothers: the other one has James Mason and Christian Mason playing guitar, presumably something country-rock. This one has Brad Mason on trumpet and flugelhorn, Elliot Mason on trombone and bass trumpet, playing mainstream postbop. From England, b. 1973 (Brad) and 1977 (Elliot), both studied at Berklee; Brad has more session work going back to 2004; Elliot holds down a chair in JLCO. Wynton Marsalis wrote the liner notes. The band shows how well connected they are: Chris Potter (sax), Joe Locke (vibes), David Kikoski (piano), Tim Miller (guitar), Scott Colley (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums). Don't have (or can't read) track breakdowns, but you'd think that if Potter, to say the least, had played through I'd have noticed him. Did hear a lot of trombone, tight, snug between the lines. B+(*)
Clayton Brothers: The New Song and Dance (2010, ArtistShare): Bassist John Clayton and reedist Jeff Clayton (alto sax and alto flute this time) are the brothers. They got their start in the Basie Orchestra, then formed the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with drummer Jeff Hamilton -- the group Diana Krall tapped when she wanted a big band like Sinatra used to use. The quintet includes a third Clayton, John's son Gerald on piano, plus Obed Calvaire on drums and Terrell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn. Despite the small group size, they know how to make a splash. It's usually Stafford up front, of course, but the band swings at unit force, and the sax is much more than a foil for the trumpet. B+(**)
Harold O'Neal: Wirling Mantis (2008 , Smalls): Pianist, b. 1981 in Tanzania, raised in Kansas City -- father and uncle were leaders in Black Panther Party in KC; uncle remains "in exile" in Tanzania. Studied at Berklee and Manhattan School of Music. First album, quartet, with Jaleel Shaw on alto sax, Joe Sanders on bass, Rodney Green on drums. Postbop, Shaw roughs it up a bit, piano whirls around making a nice impression. B+(***)
Dan Block: Plays the Music of Duke Ellington: From His World to Mine (2009 , Miles High): Block plays tenor and alto sax, various clarinets, and basset horn. First album under his own name; I'm having trouble tracking down his side credits, which may include some classical performances as well as a fair number of more or less trad jazz groups -- I get more hits grepping my notebook for him than AMG lists (Linda Ronstadt's big band, David Berger's Sultans of Swing, George Gee, John Sheridan's Dream Band, Michael Camacho, Chris Flory, Jerry Costanzo/Andy Farber [on baritone], Marty Grosz's Hot Winds, Catherine Russell). Ellington and Strayhorn tunes, none of the really obvious ones you've heard hundreds of times (although I've certainly played "Mt. Harrissa" that much, enough to recognize it even without the original's pyrotechnic brass), given the small group swing treatment, sometimes with Pat O'Leary's cello and no drums; about half in a septet with Mike Kanan on piano, James Chirillo on guitar, and Mark Sherman on vibes. Lovely stuff -- Block favors his clarinet but I'm partial to his tenor sax. B+(***)
Richard Cole: Inner Mission (2007 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1957, based in Seattle, name inevitably recalls alto saxophonist Richie Cole (nine years older, presumably unrelated, recorded extensively 1976-88 and not much since). Fourth album since 1994, all on Origin. Front cover says "featuring Randy Brecker" -- the trumpet player on 5 of 9 cuts, with Thomas Marriott on trumpet on two others. Bill Anschell plays piano on 6 cuts; John Hansen on two others, and bassist and drummers come and go. Cole takes Henry Mancini's "Slow Hot Wind" on soprano. I don't get much out of the postbop arrangements here, but the sax is often impressive. B
Dave Liebman Big Band: As Always (2005-07 , MAMA): Liebman plays soprano sax and wooden flute, in front of a big band led by saxophonist Gunnar Mossblad: five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, piano (Jim Ridl), guitar (Liebman's long-time collaborator Vic Juris), bass (Tony Marino), and drums (Marko Marcinko). Liebman's tunes, arranged by various others. Dense, complex, not much stands out. B
Antonio Sanchez: Live in New York at Jazz Standard (2008 , CAM Jazz, 2CD): Drummer, from Mexico, b. 1971, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory; second album under his own name, but has scads of side credits. All-star two sax quartet, Miguel Zenon on alto and David Sanchez on tenor, with Scott Colley on bass. Often turns into a thrilling sax chase, not that far removed from Gordon and Gray, or Stitt and Ammons. B+(**)
Patrick Cornelius: Fierce (2009 , Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist, b. 1978, AMG credits him with two records but his website claims four going back to 2001. Trio plus two extra horns -- Nick Vayenas on valve trombone and Mark Small on tenor sax -- what he calls his Chordless Jazz Ensemble. Solid postbop effort, bold even, fierce too. B+(**)
Pete Levin: Jump! (2008-10 , Pete Levin Music): B. 1942, started out playing French horn in Gil Evans' orchestras, then around 1980 switched to keyboards, eventually settling on the organ. Straight, upbeat soul jazz session, with Dave Stryker adding quite a bit on guitar, plus Lenny White on drums and Manolo Badrena on percussion. Closer was a 2008 "Honeysuckle Rose" with the late Joe Beck on guitar, rescued from the archives and spruced up a bit. B+(*)
Tom Rizzo: Imaginary Numbers (2009 , Origin): Guitarist, based in Los Angeles, plays in the Tonight Show Band, before that with Maynard Ferguson. First album, looks like it was originally released in 2009 then picked up by Origin. Runs a bigger group than necessary -- five horn credits including Bob Sheppard on soprano and tenor sax and four brass including French horn and tuba -- but the guitar is the most memorable. B+(*)
Leslie Pintchik: We're Here to Listen (2010, Pintch Hard): Pianist, based in New York, third album since 2003 although she dates her trio and collaboration with bassist-guitarist Scott Hardy back to 1992. This adds Mark Dodge on drums and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. Thoughtful, deliberate. I also have a DVD of here around here somewhere, but you know how it is with DVDs. B+(*)
Raúl Jaurena & His Tango Orchestra: Fuerza Milongnera (2008 , Soundbrush): Bandoneon player, from Uruguay, based in New York but recorded this in Montevideo. Group features four bandoneons, two violins, viola, cello, piano, guitar, bass, and Marga Mitchell sings a couple of tunes. Pablo Aslan produced but doesn't play. Deep, rich, sounds very old-fashioned, downright classical. B+(**)
Amy Briggs: Tangos for Piano (2005 , Ravello): Pianist, exclusively classical as far as I can tell, although this is only her first album under her own name. Solo piano. The 22 tangos include one by Piazzolla, but are mostly by composers not normally associated with tango -- some I more/less recognize are Stravinsky, Nancarrow, Rzewski, Harrison, but most are too obscure for me. Drama and panache, of course, and in some ways it's refreshing not to carry along the standard instrumental baggage. B+(*)
Dave Frank: Portrait of New York (2009 , Jazzheads): Pianist, based in New York, fourth record since 1997, most or possibly all of them solo. Does the one thing that most helps carry a solo piano recording: keeps his own rhythm churning. B+(*)
Dan Adler/Joey DeFrancesco/Byron Landham: Back to the Bridge (2010, Edman Music): Organ trio, obviously. The guy you don't know gets top billing, slightly larger type (but fewer letters), is pictured on a bridge with a guitar -- what more do you need to know? Web bio includes everything I want to know except year born -- probably mid-late 1960s, in Israel. Trained as a semiconductor engineer/computer scientist, has an impressive resume there including notable open source software work. Moved to New York in 1986. Picked up guitar in 4th grade. Studied with Gil Dor, and cites a lot of other musical influences -- Roni Ben-Hur stands out, but also DeFrancesco's usual sidekick Paul Bollenback. First album. Nothing ambitious or pretentious, just does a nice job of laying in the groove. B+(**)
Colin Stranahan: Life Condition (2009 , Tapestry): Drummer, from Colorado, third album since 2004, basically a sax trio with Ben Van Gelder on alto and Chris Smith on bass, with Jake Saslow joining on tenor sax on 2 of 8 cuts. Snakey freebop, the beat lagging behind not so much to steer the sax as to steer our ears. B+(**)
Boris Kozlov: Double Standard (2007 , self-released): Bassist, b. 1967 in Moscow, moved to New York in the 1990s, joined the Mingus Big Band in 1998, has had a lot of side-credits since 2000 or so. First album, solo bass, two and a half originals -- the fraction mixed in with a Mingus piece. A little narrow and subdued to focus on, which tends to be the nature of the beast. B
The Kora Band: Cascades (2010, Origin): Seattle group, seems to mostly be the project of pianist Andrew Oliver, but Kane Mathis is the indispensible kora player. More than half of the 13 tunes are African, mostly trad. from Gamaia, Mali, and Guinea but also from Les Tetes Brulees and Ntesa Dalienst; four originals, three from Oliver, one from Mathis. Group includes Chad McCullough on trumpet/flugelhorn, Brady Millard-Kish on bass, and Mark DiFlorio on drums. More synthesis than ersatz, the brass a nice touch. B+(*)
Mario Romano Quartet: Valentina (2010, Alma): Pianist, from or at least based in Toronto, Canada. First album, but he's been around since the early 1970s. Quartet with Pat LaBarbera on tenor sax, Roberto Occhipinti on bass, and Mark Kelso on drums, with someone identified only as Kristy singing one song (Romano's "Those Damn I Love Yous" -- only song he wrote here, although Occhipinti wrote one for him, "Via Romano"). LaBarbera is drummer Joe LaBarbera's older brother; b. 1944, joined Buddy Rich in 1968, has a scattered career after that, with a half-dozen records on his own. He's an impressive mainstream player, a fine counterpart to the pianist. Mostly covers from 1950s and 1960s, many I associate with Miles Davis ("Nardis," "On Green Dolphin Street," "Someday My Prince Will Come"); one Beatles song ("Norwegian Wood"), which hardly spois the day. [PS: Kristy is Kristy Cardinali; turns out I have her debut album, My Romance, in my queue.] B+(**)
Mina Cho: Originality (2010, Blink Music): Pianist, b. 1981 in Seoul, South Korea, started playing gospel in church, moved on to Berklee, and now has her first album. Piano itself is rich and flowing, with Andrew Halchak's soprano sax or Shu Odamura's guitar adding to the lushness. Bonus track is the only non-original, with a David Thorne Scott vocal in the usual hipster style. B+(*)
Benjamin Herman: Hypochristmastreefuzz [Special Edition] (2008-09 , Dox, 2CD): Title broken up onto three lines on front cover, but one word on spine, and one word as a song title. I probably put this off thinking Xmas music, a big mistake that should have been flagged by the subtitle: More Mengelberg. The Dutch pianist doesn't play, but did write all but two compositions, and emerges for a short interview fragment at the end of the first disc -- in Dutch, natch. Herman is a Dutch alto saxophonist, b. 1968, has a healthy list of albums since 1999, including Plays Misha Mengelberg in 2000 and Plays Jaki Byard in 2003. Looks like Hypochristmastreefuzz originally came out as a single in 2009, then was reissued in 2010 with a second disc, "Live at the North Sea Jazz Festival." I recognize Mengelberg (b. 1935) as one of the giants of the European avant-garde, but I've actually listened to very little by him (or his longstanding ICP [Instant Composers Pool] Orchestra), so the big surprise for me here is how this all jumps. Mostly sax-bass-drums, a little guitar, one track with mellotron, one with a Ruben Hein vocal, another with a bit of choir. Manages to be edgy and catchy at the same time. Several songs reappear on the live disc, looser and rougher, as you'd expect. A-
Toca Loca: Shed (2010 , Henceforth): Two pianos -- Simon Docking, from Australia, and Gregory Oh, from Toronto, although he's also studied in Michigan and worked in San Diego (Toronto seems to be where the action is, but the record label has a San Diego address) -- plus percussionist Aiyun Huang, born in Taiwan but also based in Toronto (teaches at McGill) and also passed through San Diego (UCSD). Oh seems to be top dog, as he's also credited as conductor. Album doesn't have a jazz feel, and I've shuttled it over to my vaguely defined "avant-garde" file (mostly following AMG, which pretty much ensures vague defs). Four 11-22 minute cuts, composed by others -- Frederic Rzewski is the only one I recognize but further research would probably put them all into the post-classical avant-garde. One cut has some guests on clarinet, cello, french horn and flute; another has extra percussion, but mostly I'm hearing piano abstractions varied with the extra percussion. Mostly interesting stuff, but nothing to sweep you away. [PS: Digging a bit deeper, Toca Loca has one previous album, P*P. Oh also scored a "doll opera" called "XXX Live Nude Girls!" which the poster warns: "contains crude language. adult sexual content. doll nudity. not suitable for children." See the website for samples of the doll porn.] B+(*)
Jeremy Pelt: The Talented Mr. Pelt (2010 , High Note): Trumpet player. I first bumped noticed him as a Downbeat poll rising star, and when I finally heard him I thought he was worthy, brilliant even. Now this is his eighth album since 2002, and I've yet to see much from his undoubted talent. This is livelier than most, as it should be with tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen sharing the front line, Danny Grissett on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums, but he's yet to break loose over a full album. 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.
Chucho Valdes & the Afro-Cuban Messengers: Chucho's Steps (2009 , Four Quarters): Cuban pianist, b. 1941, son of famed pianist Bebo Valdés, now in his 90s and at least recently active; led Irakere from 1972, and has released a steady stream of records under his own name since 1986 including several on Blue Note. He is still a spectacular pianist, the kind that reminds one of Art Tatum although Tatum never tackled such tricky rhythms. With trumpet and tenor sax that don't often add much, lots of percussion, a chorus for one song. Swept the Voice poll's Latin Jazz category -- an obvious choice although it strikes me as a bit out of sorts. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O (2010, Palmetto): Read the end of the title as a pun on Trio, which is what Wilson assembled here: Paul Sikivie on bass; Jeff Lederer on various saxes, clarinets, piccolo, and toy piano; the leader on drums. Songs are mostly trad, but Wilson (like myself) is just the right age to include Dr. Seuss and "The Chipmunk Song" among the classics, and for good measure he works in a solemn "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Not so solemn are the classics, with "Angels We Have Heard on High" warming to a free sax freakout, and "Hallelujah Chorus" full of squawk and tympani. Can't recall hearing this at the mall this year; for one thing, it would have lifted my spirits. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Ted Nash: Portrait in Seven Shades (2010, Jazz at Lincoln Center): Saxophonist, b. 1959, played mostly alto early on but (I think) mostly tenor now. Uncle was a well known saxophonist, also named Ted Nash; father played trombone. Broke in with Quincy Jones at age 17, played in big bandsa (Louie Bellson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Don Ellis, Gerry Mulligan, Mel Lewis, most recently the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, while knocking out ten or so albums under his own name, some quite good. It's real hard to judge this one by streaming it: the sound isn't coming through loud or clear enough to catch the details, so I'm tend to give Nash credit for things I can't quite follow, but perhaps not as much as he deserves. Pretty impressive sax player when he bothers to get out front. Also, I'm a little confused about those shades, since the seven pieces are named for actual painters: Monet, Dali, Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall, Pollock. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Danilo Pérez: Providencia (2010, Mack Avenue): Pianist, b. 1966 in Panama; father was a bandleader; studied and now teaches at Berklee. Not someone I've followed closely, but has a solid reputation, with ten or so albums since 1992, including one dedicated to Monk. Mixed bag: impressive enough solo or trio, especially memorable when Rudresh Mahanthappa joins in on alto sax, but some cuts add classical orch instruments (flute, oboe, French horn, bassoon) and/or Sara Serpa vocalizing. The one with flute and Serpa would be unlistenable except for Pérez fighting back with his most bracing piano. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Irene Kral: Second Chance (1975 , Jazzed Media): Singer, b. 1932 in Chicago, younger sister of Roy Kral (pianist-vocalist, mostly of Jackie & Roy fame); bounced through several big bands, getting her name first on a 1958 album with Herb Pomeroy (The Band and I). Most of her recordings cluster around 1974-77, just before she died in 1978 of breast cancer. This is the second 1975 live session the label has come up with (after 2004's Just for Now). Accompanied by pianist Alan Broadbent, superb in this context. Some standards, some pop songs of more recent vintage, mostly ballads which she nails, but ends on a very upbeat "Nobody Else but Me" and nails it too. Never heard her before -- just a name I recognized but couldn't place. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Dave Douglas & Keystone: Spark of Being: Expand (2010, Greenleaf Music): The new record, or three, or you can buy them all in a box, or download, etc., in some sort of subscription -- the business plan behind this product is more complicated than the music. Expand is the second disc if, e.g., you buy the box, and it's the only one on Rhapsody. The first is Spark of Being: Soundtrack, the edited soundtrack to a Bill Morrison "multimedia collaboration." Expand is made up of seven long-ish pieces before they got hacked up for the soundtrack. The third is Spark of Being: Burst, which are ten more pieces written for the film but not used. Group includes Douglas on trumpet and laptop, Marcus Strickland on tenor sax, Adam Benjamin on Fedner Rhodes, Brad Jones on Ampeg baby bass, Gene Lake on drums, and DJ Olive on turntables and laptop. The keyb and electronics are as tightly integrated and integral as ever, maybe more so. The horns are far less bracing, but that goes with soundtrack mode. I'm reluctant to rate this higher without being able to see the rest of the puzzle. But Douglas is in a prolonged creative stretch, albeit sometimes a puzzling one. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
John Zorn: Interzone (2010, Tzadik): Lost track of whether Zorn succeeded in his quest to release one record for each month of 2010, but this is Miss November. It's also the one that sounds most like a standard-issue John Zorn record: screechy sax, open spaces, lots of scattershot percussion. John Medeski's "keyboards" sound like they include a piano; Marc Ribot plays guitar-like instruments; Trevor Dunn basses; Cyro Baptista, Ikue Mori, and Kenny Wollesen are responsible for the bumps and blips. Theme has something to do with William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, which in Zorn's hands means comic book punk jazz with surreal or absurdist interludes -- the sort of thing he used to do c. Spillane and Spy vs. Spy before he got all Jewish on us and/or discovered he discovered he could throw a bunch of index cards at other musicians and get them to record 3-4 times as many records under his name as he could do himself. So this feels a bit like a con, but Ribot is terrific, there are some utterly sublime oases amidst the chaos and cartoon violence, and, well, unless Medeski somehow snuck a Cecil Taylor sample into his synth I for one have never heard him play piano like this. Very tentative grade: A- [Rhapsody]
John Zorn: What Thou Wilt (2009 , Tzadik): Composition only, no Zorn playing. Main group consists of piano, three celli, and viola, but there's also the Tanglewood Orchestra on the 13:37 opener, "Contes de Fées," with more violins than I can count, another phalanx of celli, and the occasional oboe, bassoon, or flute. Demands a high tolerance for abstract string sounds, especially on the first piece. The remaining two pieces bounce the piano off the strings, which is more entertaining to say the least. B [Rhapsody]
Erik Friedlander: Fifty: Miniatures for Improvising Quintet (2008 , Skipstone): Reading the cover I get 50 Miniatures for Improvising Quintet, but Friedlander's own sources spell out Fifty, so I compromised above. Each miniature is a 14-note figure having something to do with a Hebrew letter, but they've been glommed together for seven pieces ranging from 3:53 to 6:26. Quintet is Friedlander on cello, Jennifer Choi on violin, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Trevor Dunn on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums. String sounds dominate, but they have a cutting edge, and while the miniatures can break abstractly they can also flow together powerfully. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Lorraine Feather: Ages (2008-09 , Jazzed Media): Daughter of jazz encylopedist Leonard Feather, b. 1948, full name Billie Jane Lee Lorraine Feather, the first for a godmother named Holiday -- not the first comparison a fledgling jazz singer wants to bring to mind. Cut an album in 1979, not regarded as much, then restarted her career in 1997, this her eighth album. She wrote the lyrics, picking up music from her band and guests -- guitarist Eddie Arkin; pianists Shelly Berg, Russell Ferrante and Dick Hyman; banjoist Béla Fleck. Several striking songs, like "The Girl With the Lazy Eye," "Two Desperate Women in Their Late 30s," and "I Forgot to Have Children." B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Geri Allen & Timeline: Live (2009 , Motéma Music): Pianist, b. 1957, several dozen albums and scads more credits since 1984 -- a major jazz pianist by any reckoning. Two Jazz CG appearances: an A- for her superb trio The Life of a Song, and a dud for the sprawling Timeless Portraits and Dreams. Haven't gotten anything from her since, including two well-regarded albums this year. Flying Toward the Sun got nearly all of the poll attention, finishing ninth at Village Voice, but it takes something really exceptional in a solo piano record to hold my interest. This has more rhythmic push -- a trio with Kenny Davis on bass and Kassa Overall on drums, plus something extra in tap dancer Maurice Chestnut. The piano remains impressive when it breaks out, the rhythm helps sustain things, and the taps are hard to figure. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Stacey Kent: Raconte-Moi . . . (2010, Blue Note): Singer, b. 1966 in South Orange, NJ; lives in England, and (this time at least) sings in French. Thirteenth album since 1997. Light touch, an elegant stylist. Starts with a particularly charming translation of Jobim. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Jay Phelps: Jay Walkin' (2010, Specific Jazz): Canadian trumpet player, been in UK since he was 17; first album at 28, which I guess would make him b. 1982. Kind of a hard bop throwback, with piano-bass-drums and Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet. A couple of hipster vocals by Michael Mwenso, and occasional guests, all reinforcing the band feel. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Russell Malone: Triple Play (2010, MaxJazz): Guitarist, tenth album since 1992. Strikes me as about midway between Wes Montgomery's fluidity and Bill Frisell's poise on standard American fare, which is a pretty neat trick when no one gets in the way, or when he lets things get too complicated. No problems on either count with this guitar-bass-drums trio. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Vitoria Suite (2009 , Decca, 2CD): Cover also adds: Featuring Paco de Lucia. That would be the famous flamenco guitarist, a sop to the home crowd as Marsalis takes LCJO on the road to Spain, and tries his hand at writing his own "Sketches of Spain." It sprawls over two discs, slipping into occasional dull stretches but mostly feeding clever arrangement details to what's become a very imposing big band -- the all-star trumpet section is if anything topped by the reed section (Sherman Irby, Ted Nash, Walter Blanding Jr., Victor Goines, Joe Temperley). B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Tommy Smith/Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Torah (2010, Spartacus): Five pieces, each named for a book of the Torah or Bible, performed by a conventional big band (four trumpet, four trombones, five reeds, piano, bass, drums) led and dominated by Smith's exceptional tenor sax. One stretch where he plays solo is mesmerizing, rising to magnificent when the band joins in. But mostly the band camouflages the leader, making this one of his less distinctive albums. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra: Exploration (2007, Spartacus): A Scottish big band, organized by Smith after he returned to his homeland in 2002. Don't know how young the players are -- no one I recognize other than the guests, notably vibraphonist Joe Locke, who gets a "featuring" credit on the cover. Smith conducts and arranges but doesn't play. The best known cuts are the best by far: a rollicking "A Night in Tunisia" and a spiffy "Cottontail," with Locke in particularly good form on the former. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
I basically went down the Village Voice Jazz Poll Results and looked up most of the things I hadn't been serviced. Some are above; more I haven't gotten to (yet); more still I couldn't find, including the following (* indicates a record I've noted as missing before):
If I had time, I could have made this list much longer. A lot of important labels don't seem to ever be available. Some, like Leo, show up very rarely. Intakt has some old records but no new ones; Not Two is a bit better but slipping behind. Tzadik is usually there but not always easy to find. I haven't sorted it all out.
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last three weeks:
Sunday, January 16. 2011
UPDATE: Missed this little item when I posted: Limbaugh's "Straight Shooter" Billboard Yanked in Tucson. Given that I already have a Limbaugh item below, and that it is so timely, and that I can still use the pic in the Facebook link, I thought I should pack it in here. The text:
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week or two:
Saturday, January 15. 2011
I spend more time than usual around the end of the year checking out things on Rhapsody, expanding my reach from what I'm most likely interested in to lots of things that other people like, on the off chance there may be some merit in it. I kicked out 46 of my notes on January 4 and held back 33, figuring that left plenty for another set mid-month. Added a few since then, so now it looks like 64. Also note the ones I tried to find but couldn't. You'd think I'd be getting to the bottom of the year-end list, but it's really a pretty long one. Not even sure I'm getting diminishing returns -- two 3-stars since I closed this column -- although what's left on the indie boys lists is looking pretty unappetizing.
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 January 4. Past reviews and more information are available here.
7L & Esoteric: 1212 (2010, Fly Casual): Boston underground rap duo, AMG sez they got together in 1992 but the seven records start out in 2001 -- A New Dope is a good one, but that's as far as I've gotten. One song namechecks retired basketball players. One describes the harrows of flying. Damn near everyone has something clever, quotable even, and the beats are serviceable-plus. A-
Gary Allan: Get Off on the Pain (2010, MCA Nashville): Country singer, from California, dropped his last name (Herzberg) when he headed to Nashville, eighth album since 1996. Cowrote half of the songs, 6-10 if you want to program them in. Title song could be classic, and the second hits a poignant note ("I Think I've Had Enough") amidst some serious studio bombast, but the third song can't hold up to the treatment. Minus the bombast, as with "We Fly by Night," he's not bad: he's got the pipes and can convey basic emotions, isn't too bright, and trusts the machine to make him rich. (Inspirational lyric: "who am I to question God anyway?") B-
Anika: Anika (2010, Stones Throw): Singer, also works as a journalist, based in Bristol and/or Germany, last name seems to be Invada although I can't swear she was born that way. Wrote two of eight songs, backed with bleak synth music by Geoff Barrow (of Portishead), redeemed with hard beats. The 7:31 "Masters of War" struck me as pretty dub, until they repeated it at the end with a real dub version -- unfortunately just 3:24; moreover, they cut the rap on occupation. B+(**)
Atmosphere: To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy: The Atmosphere EPs (2010, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Some confusing sleight of hand here. Cover just reads To All My Friends large on top, and The Atmosphere EPs smaller at bottom, but there is an alternate cover with Blood Makes the Blade Holy a second line just below the first, and most sources tack that onto the title. First time I read this I figured these were repackaged old EPs, but the music seems to be new, the conceit being two new EPs consolidated into one 40:43 disc. This was humming along uneventfully when "The Best Day" took over -- one of those remarkable everyman stories that made Slug's early records so remarkable, and it sets up a series with "Americare" and "Hope" that winds up pervading the album. Works in some more rockish moves, harder beats, nothing definitive. B+(**)
Band of Horses: Infinite Arms (2010, Fat Possum): Average American rock band, founded in Seattle, now based in South Carolina, perhaps because it cut against the New York-Los Angeles axis. Third album since 2006. Leisurely paced, clear, melodic; I wouldn't say it's catchy or memorable, but hard to dislike, pretty in a rather harmless way. B+(*)
Beach Fossils: Beach Fossils (2010, Captured Tracks): Not sure if there's any band to this beyond Dustin Payseur. Lo-fi, guitar strum with reverb or echo, same for the vocals, the point being to make them more remote and dehuman, i.e. alienated. Jesus and Mary Chain might be a point of reference, but Payseur is much more primitive, unpolished, unambitious. I find it captivating, but can't assign any importance to it. B+(**)
Natasha Bedingfield: Strip Me (2010, Epic/Phonogenic): English pop singer, third album (although the second was released under two titles). I don't get much out of her: a couple of catchy tunes, which isn't enough for dance pop, lots of lungpower but little that would qualify as personality. B-
Dierks Bentley: Up on the Ridge (2010, Capitol): Ranks about fourth in EOY lists among country albums, trailing Jamey Johnson, Taylor Swift, and Johnny Cash, each with its own crossover appeal, with Elizabeth Cook sneaking up from far left field, which makes Bentley the conventional Nashville star critics know about and can cotton to. He sings fine, keeps his music neotrad, taps guests like Miranda Lambert, and doesn't mess up too bad -- well, except for the U2 cover (can't imagine what he was thinking there). Pretty blah at first, but closes strong, with a good Kristofferson song, "Bottle to the Bottom," and a somber miner lament, "Down in the Mine." B
Black Mountain: Wilderness Heart (2010, Jagjaguwar): Vancouver band, founded by Stephen McBean after he gave up on a prior band called Jerk With a Bomb. Third album since 2005. Not countryish; more of a classic rock sound, evidence of a lot more muscle than they commonly flex, with some keyb or organ and extra vocal contrast from Amber Webber. AMG compared them to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but they're not that classic. B+(*)
Bonobo: Black Sands (2010, Ninja Tune): British DJ Simon Green, b. 1976, been cranking out electronica since 1999, considered downbeat, maybe ambient and/or trip-hop -- strikes me as less spacey and less gloomy than the latter, more presence than ambient, but he does have a calm dignity to his efforts. A couple of vocals aren't his strong points, but hold up well enough. Very listenable, pleasant, reassuring. B+(**)
Laura Bell Bundy: Achin' and Shakin' (2010, Mercury Nashville): B. 1981, grew up in Lexington, KY; started acting around ten, and has a list of films and Broadway roles although I can't say I've made much sense of it. Turned into a country singer around 2007, with this her second album: a trooper, goes through the moves from sweet to sassy; not clear that any of them are more than a role. B-
Calle 13: Entren Los Que Quieran (2010, Sony Music Latin): Puerto Rican duo, fourth album since 2006, second I've heard. First was marred by a dreadful intro, a feat they almost duplicate in the first 3:18 here. After that the beats kick in, they rap en español -- I'm OK at reading subway signs but can't follow this -- and the music occasionally throws out a weird flare that reminds me of Manu Chao, and every now and then I find myself chuckling or often just smiling, at God knows what. A-
Care Bears on Fire: Get Over It! (2009 , S-Curve): Three Brooklyn teenage girls, been together since 2005, or fifth grade, which makes them 15-16 now. Christgau discovered their new 5-cut EP, Girls Like It Loud, which I didn't much expect to find, and didn't. Instead, I got this 14-cut LP, a respectable 33:48, evidently released in 2009 and re-released (with no evident changes) in 2010. He dismissed this as "mildly enjoyable . . . bratty-dreaming-slutty." For now, I'm quite delighted with bratty, and like how they get a basic punk sound without quite replicating anyone else. They do run into trouble ten songs in with their whine about "Violet" -- they slow down, throws them off stride, and they wind up 0:35 longer than anything else on the album. "Met You on MySpace" isn't much of a recovery, either. So I'll hold back a bit. Maybe, like Ellington, they shouldn't be too successful too soon. [PS: EP did finally show up; q.v.] B+(***)
Care Bears on Fire: Girls Like It Loud (2010, S-Curve, EP): Three teenage girls from Brooklyn, cut an album in 2009 that I thought was pretty good but Christgau dismissed it in favor of this more mature 5-cut EP. True enough that they're learning new tricks, especially ways to slip in a bit of backing vocal that starts to move them past their punk forbears. Still, it's too short to get me going -- doesn't help that Rhapsody only delivers 4 of 5 songs -- and they're still not that great. B+(***)
Celph Titled & Buckwild: Nineteen Ninety Now (2010, No Sleep): Buckwild is presumably producer Anthony Best, who has a long credit sheet going back to 1993. Celph Titled is a rapper from Tampa with a couple of previous albums, the first co-credited to Apathy. Underground grind, runs long (72:07), "Miss Those Days" looks back nostalgically to the golden age of the 1990s, otherwise a lot of violence lurks on the sidelines, nothing blowing up too bad. B+(**)
Chromeo: Business Casual (2010, Big Beat): Electrofunk duo from Montreal, P-Thugg (Patrick Gemayel) and Dave 1 (David Macklovitch). Big beats, snappy tunes, I sort of expect the vocals a little more affected (especially coming from presumed non-native English speakers, but it's actually the one song in French that's off), and of course the lyrics a little more clever -- guess the Pet Shop Boys are on my mind. A-
Deadbeat: Radio Rothko (2010, The Agriculture): Scott Monteith, based in Montreal, electronica producer, AMG calls his style ambient dub; seventh album since 2002. This works within a fairly tight band, the beat and/or volume building up on occasion, shifting down on others. Attractive, potentially very useful. B+(***)
El DeBarge: Second Chance (2010, Geffen): The principal solo to emerge from the DeBarge family franchise, with four albums 1986-94, and 16 years later a fifth. His falsetto has slipped back into a more normal range, still soft and silky, with luxurious strings and slinky beats, the main concession to the times the occasional interposition of a rap. Very nice, for the most part, but "The Other Side" is a sententious dud cut. Also segues into a series of three Christmas songs, which I won't dock for given that they're segregated on a second disc. B+(**)
Deftones: Diamond Eyes (2009 , Reprise): Sacramento, CA metal band; sixth album since 1995, fairly evenly spaced out every 3-4 years. One of the few metal albums to break out of the ghetto in year-end lists, but then it's on a major label and charted at 6 so isn't really a cult item. Nothing real hard or fast, mostly sludgy, the pure ballads the clearest. B-
Disappears: Lux (2010, Kranky, EP): Tightly disciplined punk sound, guitar out in front of the voice like a personal wail doesn't matter much. Ten songs, 29:03, call it an EP but it couldn't run much longer and still stay so coherent. B+(***)
DJ Roc: The Crack Capone (2010, Planet Mu): From Chicago. Favorite trick is to run a short figure, often just a drone or blare, 4-5 times in a row. Not sure if that counts as dubstep -- back in the factory it was called "step and repeat" but there you actually wanted to produce the same shit over and over. Here it gets to be kind of annoying. Not sure but I think "DJ Roc Symphony" in the dead middle of the album is 2:24 silence. Followed by a soul sample, "Lost Without U," which is the one thing I quite liked. B-
Dr. Dog: Shame, Shame (2010, Anti-): Philadelphia group, sixth album since 2001, band can slip a pop hook in when they get lucky, and singer has a nicely lubricated voice. A couple songs make an impression. Could use more. B+(*)
Electric Wire Hustle: Electric Wire Hustle (2009 , BBE): New Zealand r&b group, sort of a new wave Hot Chocolate, with Anglo-accented soul vocals and a tense, thin wire beat. Could use a great song or two, just to make you care, since that's in short supply. B+(*)
Far East Movement: Free Wired (2010, Interscope): LA group, four Asian-Americans, electro-hop they call it, been around a few years but this is first major label release. Same basic mix of rap-song-chant as Black Eyed Peas, but none of the songs quite pull that off. B+(***)
Future Islands: In Evening Air (2010, Thrill Jockey): Formed in North Carolina, moved to Baltimore, second album. Basically a synth band, sounds much like something from the new wave disco 1980s, or at least the first cut does -- the other eight cuts aren't available on Rhapsody. So this is nothing more than a SWAG. [B+(*)]
Gayngs: Relayted (2010, Jagjaguwar): Minneapolis group, founded by Ryan Olson, picked up a wide range of musicians from the area, including rappers P.O.S. and Dessa and two guys from Bon Iver. Song concept is to run everything at 69 BPM -- the inspiration there seems to be 10cc's "I'm Not in Love" -- so it all runs soft and slow, which turns out to be agreeable enough. B+(*)
Girl Talk: All Day (2010, Illegal Art): Part of the fun with Greg Gillis's mash-ups is what you recognize, especially when it's taken to someplace it's never been before, and part of the fun is stuff you not only don't recognize but can't quite imagine ever having existed before. Don't have the breakdown here but I imagine I'll find one on Wikipedia before long (as happened with Feed the Animals) and for now don't much care. Nothing but joy here, a relief as all around me -- from the wretched cold weather to my broken computer to the news of the world -- is anything but. But I will note that this sticks pretty close to his norm, which is hip-hop. One thing that drove that home is the sample from Big Boi's "Shutterbug" which ran on relatively long and needed no dressing to fit in seamlessly. My only complaint there being that that at least was way too easy. A- [download]
Glasser: Ring (2010, True Panther Sounds): More dream pop, architected by Cameron Mesirow on her first album, works relatively well because she stays in her comfort zone. B+(*)
Grass Widow: Past Time (2010, Kill Rock Stars, EP): San Francisco group, three women on guitar-bass-drums, two or more sing. Runs through 10 songs in 26:34, which counts in most quarters as an EP, but that seems to be all they do -- and they're likely to view the 9-song 22-minute eponymous disc on Make a Mess as the EP. B+(*)
Harlem: "Hippies" (2010, Matador): Duo from Tucson, based in Austin, no idea why they picked the group name and/or the album name. And I usually drop quotes from the title, but they seem to have earned them. Started out playing punk, figuring they could get away with sloppy. To me they sound more like the Brit Invasion, specifically the Dave Clark Five stripped down to just guitar and drums. B+(**)
Ray Wylie Hubbard: A. Elightenment B. Endarkment (Hint: There Is No C) (2010, Bordello): Off-the-patch country singer-songwriter, came up in the 1970s with a band called the Cowboy Twinkies, re-emerging in the 1990s on a series of folk labels. Some sharply observed songs here, especially one about the weather ("Tornado Ripe") and one about everyday annoyances ("Wasp's Nest"). I'd be even more impressed with "Drunken Poet's Dream" if co-author Hayes Carll hadn't taken it first -- the younger man in both years and voice makes it seem less lecherous, or maybe Hubbard just makes it seem more. B+(***)
Ikonika: Contact, Love, Want, Have (2010, Hyperdub): Sara Abdel-Hamid, from England, programmer-DJ, first full album after a bunch of singles/EPs (AMG counts 8 since 2008). Considered dubstep, not as subtle as Deadbeat nor as sprizzy as Rusko, a nice groove to work out in. B+(**)
Kings Go Forth: The Outsiders Are Back (2010, Luaka Bop): Retro soul group from Milwaukee, more '60s than '70s to site the decades critics want to pigeonhole them in. Given that there's a small but endless market for period obscurities, it was only a matter of time before someone started producing new fakes. Actually, Sharon Jones got there first, but that's a slightly different shtick: they sound really obscure. B
Kno: Death Is Silent (2010, Venti Uno): Black and white drawing of a white girl on the cover, doesn't look like a rap record at all. Kno is Ryan Wisler, from Atlanta, first solo album although it bears the imprimatur of his group, the CunninLynguists. Songs are death-obsessed. In one he finds himself shot in a hospital, dials his girlfriend to tell her, and hears the phone ring behind himself as she comes to finish the job. Underground, flows so nice you can miss the morbidity. B+(***)
Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs: God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise (2010, RCA): Singer-songwriter, fourth album, voice a little up, light and airy; music straight enough we can claim it for mid-Americana. Does lay the cliches on rather thick, especially up near the title. B+(**)
The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz and Percussion Ensemble: Miles Away (2010, Stones Throw): Miles Davis fusion Madlib style. Had trouble finding this with the forest of aliases, and the music is even more obscure: nothing I associate with Miles Davis, but then the lack of a trumpet should give that away. Can't swear there's any guitar, either. Still, this is a rather charming slab of good-natured lounge music, the sort of thing that eventually got tabbed as ambient. B+(**)
Lissie: Catching a Tiger (2010, Fat Possum): Elisabeth Maurus, b. 1982 in Rock Island, Illinois; first album after a well-regarded EP. I don't make much of her as a country singer, although she does get close to "Oh Mississippi." B
The Love Language: Libraries (2010, Merge): Lo-fi group, muddling along in its echo chamber. B
Lower Dens: Twin-Hand Movement (2010, Gnomonsong): Baltimore group, led by a singer-songwriter from Texas named Jana Hunter, who has a couple of albums under her own name, and another group called Matt & Mossy. I've seen her classified as "acid folk" and this described as "skews toward Krautrock," but the slightly silvery guitar and languid vocals come straight out of Loaded-period Velvet Underground. Not quite the same: a little prettier, with more mystique. A-
Madlib: Madlib Medicine Show #5: The History of the Loop Digga (2010, Madlib Invazion): Midway through his 10-CD dump this year, just stringing together old rhythm tapes from the 1990s. Kinda jumbled, especially early on before it settles into more rap. Decent enough, but of really underwhelming world-historical import. B
Madlib: Madlib Medicine Show #7: High Jazz (2010, Madlib Invazion): A pastiche, of course; don't have a list of samples, but mostly they remind me of the shit that nearly killed jazz in the 1970s, when big labels like Blue Note wanted to invent smooth jazz but couldn't quite get the hang of it, mostly wallowing in thick gobs of fusion and funk. Aside from the title track, typicl titles are "Space & Time," "Reality or Dream," "Tarzan's Theme," and "Funky Butt, Pt. 1." Sort of amusing in retrospect. B+(*)
Gucci Mane: The Appeal: Georgia's Most Wanted (2010, Warner Brothers): Radric Davis, b. 1980 in Birmingham, AL; grew up in Atlanta; used his given name last time for The State vs. Radric Davis -- or maybe not exactly last time if you try to factor in his numerous mixtapes: AMG gamely credits him with 31 "main albums" since 2005 then consigns this to "compilations" arguing that this is just recycled goods from the mixtapes. Not what I'd call a gangsta album, although he does have a bad habit of tripping over the law -- something I'd prefer he stop flaunting. But then he's not really a "Weirdo" either -- just a guy who can flow a very listenable slab of contemporary commercial rap. B+(*)
Master Musicians of Bukkake: Totem Two (2009 , Important): Seattle group, has four or so records since 2004, including Totem One from 2009 and a newer one, Elogia de la Sombra. Mostly thick sheets of dronelike sounds (initially on guitar but later on organ and stranger instruments) punctuated by exotic percussion (initially with a Far East flavor, but that too wanders). Details and theory might help, as the clever/obscene group name signifies some wit that isn't otherwise adequately clear. B
Onra: Long Distance (2010, All City): Hip-hop producer, from Paris, most cuts have guest vocals but the beats and baubles come first -- the tunes holding up most of the way, at least until a dose of dub takes over. B+(*)
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: History of Modern (2010, Blue Noise): New wave synth pop group from the early 1980s -- "Enola Gay" was one of the signature tunes of the decade. Faded after Junk Culture in 1984 but limped on through 1996. This is their first studio album since then. Sounds great when they hit their stride -- my guess is that you could painlessly pad their career comp with a couple tracks here -- but sometimes you wonder why keep panning the same stream hoping for more of the same old nuggets. (But the they hit "Enola Gay" again with "Sister Mary Says.") B+(**)
Oval: O (2010, Thrill Jockey, 2CD): German group, cut six albums 1993-2001, and now a seventh although the group seems to now be down to founder Markus Popp. Also down to mostly guitar, or something like guitar -- can't find any credits -- fleshed out with echoes of electronics and occasional percussion. First disc has 50 short bits, second 20. They're intriguing at first, hard to differentiate over the long haul (and the haul is long). B+(**)
Parralox: Metropolis (2010, Conzoom): Australian synth-pop duo, vocalist Roxy and synth guy John Von Ahlen. Only popped up on one year-end list, and AMG has none of a discography that evidently amounts to four albums (since 2008; AMG has 1 of 5 singles listed in Discogs). Striking artwork on most of them. This mostly stays within the orb of 1980s new wave/disco which is one of my comfort zones -- a smattering of inspired pieces, nothing transcendent like New Order or Pet Shop Boys, drags a bit when the guy sings. They'll have a superb best-of sooner or later. B+(***)
Eli "Paperboy" Reed: Come and Get It (2010, Capitol): Pale-faced soul singer, moved from Mississippi to Chicago, but actually got his start in Brookline, MA, where papa was a music critic. Aims for Wilson Pickett. Misses, of course, but not by a lot. B+(**)
Mark Ronson & the Business Intl: Record Collection (2010, RCA): British DJ, third album, guest vocalists including Boy George and Q-Tip (but mostly Andrew Wyatt and Amanda Warner). Not that I don't enjoy the beats and pop hooks, but this does seem a little, uh, superfluous. B
Rusko: O.M.G.! (2010, Mad Decent): Christopher Mercer, b. 1985, British dubstep producer, first album. Pretty upbeat, with some wild whizzes to start, a bit of rap, occasional slides into dub. B+(**)
Guilty Simpson: OJ Simpson (2010, Stones Throw): Detroit rapper, formerly Byron Simpson; hooked up with J. Dilla, now moved on to Madlib, who keeps the beats eccentric and lays the skits on thick. Didn't spend much time trying to figure out the OJ story, which is at best tangential here. B+(**)
Standard Fare: The Noyelle Beat (2010, Bar/None): UK (Sheffield) group, first album, male and female singers who have something to say, not least to each other. Sound strikes me as a tad arch, but more often than not they make it not matter. B+(***)
Marty Stuart: Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions (2010, Sugar Hill): A minor country star, with 16 albums and 34 singles since 1978, none coming close to #1. Like to rock early on, but has gotten more and more trad as he's gotten older. A lot of pedal steel here, fiddle too, but I wouldn't take it for bluegrass. Co-wrote one song with Johnny Cash just before he died, and another with Connie Smith. Choice cut is "Hard Working Man"; also striking is his narration on "Porter Wagoner's Grave." B+(***)
Teebs: Ardour (2010, Brainfeeder): Mtendere Mandowa, from New York, descent from Malawi and Barbados, moved to Los Angeles, or something like that -- details are sketchy. Synth sounds, tends toward lush although that's more instrument than style; keeps a nice stock of beats and rarely lets up. B+(**)
Teengirl Fantasy: 7AM (2010, Merok): Two Oberlin students, Nick Weiss and Logan Takahashi. Electronics, mostly soft ethereal fuzz but with beats. I was quite taken with it until they mixed in some vocals, which were too specific, also a bit too harsh. B+(**)
Terror Danjah: Undeniable (2010, Hyperdub): UK-based grime programmer, has several records since 2008, active since 2001, not much bio I can find. Some rap, mostly instrumental, the beats blunted but hit their mark. B+(**)
Toro y Moi: Causers of This (2010, Carpark): Chaz Bundick, first album, electronics with near-falsetto vocals, could have cut this on his laptop, a jumble of pop dance moves and broken fragments, often washed out under fades. B+(*)
Twin Shadow: Forget (2010, Terrible): Front name for singer-songwriter George Lewis Jr. First album, produced by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear. One of a plethora of soft-edged dream-pop albums that in many ways characterize the state of alt-indie rock this year, and far from the worst: tuneful, flows nicely, catchy in spots but not so garish as to be hooky. B+(*)
Two Door Cinema Club: Tourist History (2010, Glassnote): Group from Northern Ireland, first album; I keep reading things that look like a guitar-guitar-bass trio, but I hear a drummer, and someone is playing synth at least part of the time. Chirpy, bouncy songs; rather fun. B+(**)
Usher: Raymond V Raymond (2010, LaFace): Sixth studio album since 1994, when he was still in his low teens, his eponymous debut the only one not to chart in top five. Has no critical cachet, and evidently lives large without it. Pretty solid album: not much stood out, nothing sucked either. B+(*)
Usher: Versus (2010, LaFace, EP): Nine songs, 37:51, vs. 14 songs and 58:59 the this year's full-sized model. Strikes me that the concision is a plus: first song is pretty good, next two are better (hit singles, natch), with "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love" choice over "Hot Tottie." Could benefit from further cuts: the closer, and for that matter the Justin Bieber remix. B+(*)
Lars Vaular: Helt Om Natten, Helt Om Dagen (2010, Bonnier/Cosmos): Norwegian rapper, from Bergen, b. 1984, third album, Google translates title as "Quite the night, until the day." Popped up at 9 on Dagsavisen's EOY list (between Motorpsycho and National), then I noticed that it's also on Chris Monsen's list, so plugged it into Rhapsody and was surprised to find it. Hard to be sure, but the music kicks around in interesting loops, mostly underground but he can bust a bold move (website promises "gangstarap, freedomrock, gatepop"). One guest rap in English doesn't disappoint nor does it disclose much. A-
Wildbirds & Peacedrums: Rivers (2010, The Control Group): Swedish duo, Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin, considered experimental rock; showed up on a couple of jazz-oriented lists, but they play such influences close to the vest. Doesn't seem like much at first, but gradually takes shape, lures you in, never revealing much. B+(*)
Wolf Parade: Expo 86 (2010, Sub Pop): Montreal group, more upbeat than the dream-pop groups that have become the alt-indie norm of late, with a little keyb chiming in between the guitar(s), but not enough to be mistaken for punk. Third album since 2005. Some of this is fun, but some isn't, and not just the occasional change-up although that's part of the problem. Can't imagine it'd be worthwhile to sort out the diffs. B
Records I looked for but didn't find on Rhapsody: