Monday, June 27. 2011
Was hoping to close out this Jazz Consumer Guide round but had a rough week and got next to nothing done. Finally felt a bit better yesterday, I dusted off a couple of blog posts, but I work up feeling crummy, failed to write a short review of Abdullah Ibrahim's lovely Sotho Blue after three spins, and spent the rest of the day hacking on the metacritic file and listening to unimportant, unrelated, and unhelpful records on Rhapsody. Well, also flushed the spiders off the porch and washed the car, so I guess the day hasn't been a complete waste.
Still, I do expect to have something more substantial to report next week.
Sunday, June 26. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week, but first: quote of the week, from Paul Krugman:
And again, on the repeatedly wrong predictions that raising tax rates would tank the economy, and that cutting tax rates would dramatically expand the economy:
Tuesday, June 21. 2011
Sorry for backdating, but I had this almost ready to run on Tuesday, but got distracted that day, then wound up spending most of Wednesday in the hospital emergency room undergoing cardiac tests. Seems to have been a false alarm, but a painful one. However, since I had already moved these book notes to the notebook, it makes more sense to post them on the blog on the planned date than to shove them around.
I run these whenever I get enough collected, where enough is 40 new books. All the past ones are collected in one huge file here -- the one file is handy for me lest I write up redundant notes.
Sami Al Jundi/Jen Marlowe: The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian's Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Marlowe is a documentary filmmaker who has previously done work, including a book spinoff, on Darfur. Al Jundi is a Palestinian who spent 10 years in Israeli prison after a bomb he was working on misfired. Book documents his education in prison, his turn away from violence toward peaceable protest. Takes more than one to make peace, though.
Daniel Altman: Outrageous Fortunes: The Twelve Surprising Trends That Will Reshape the Global Economy (2011, Henry Holt): I wouldn't bother mentioning this futuristic speculation except that Altman previously wrote Neoconomy: George Bush's Revolutionary Gamble With America's Future (2004), which proved to be pretty scarry.
HW Brands: American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865-1900 (2010, Doubleday): Historian, writes a lot of big books about politics and business -- I've read two recently, his biography of FDR (Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delany Roosevelt) and his postwar survey (American Dreams: The United States Since 1945) and find him to be a fair high-level chronicler. I expect this to be fair and comprehensive as well, but not to have quite as much edge as Jack Beatty: Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900, which covers the same years and doesn't scrimp on the downside.
Lawrence D Brown/Lawrence R Jacobs: The Private Abuse of the Public Interest: Market Myths and Policy Muddles (paperback, 2008, University of Chicago Press): Short book questioning conservative efforts to expand markets, showing that policy makers need "to recognize that properly functioning markets presuppose the government's ability to create, sustain, and repair them over time."
Bill Bryson, ed: Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society (2010, William Morrow): A collection of new essays retelling the 350 year history of the Royal Society of London, from its founding in 1660 by some chap named Isaac Newton.
Jennet Conant: A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS (2011, Simon & Schuster): Fourth in a series of WWII-era studies into security-issue people, starting with J. Robert Oppenheimer. The Childs became famous much later for reasons having little to do with the OSS, and they actually seem to be minor here -- most of the book delves into Jane Foster, but that would make for a less intriguing book title.
David T Courtwright: No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America (2010, Harvard University Press): Argues that there has been no conservative triumph with Reagan and Bush, that they (like Nixon) repeatedly compromised conservative values to get ahead. I'm not sure that labelling the mess they did leave as liberal does us much good. They certainly did something.
Gerald F Davis: Managed by the Markets: How Finance Re-Shaped America (2009, Oxford University Press): Contrasts periods of financial and managerial capitalism, where the latter builds things and the former steals you blind. One reviewer wrote: "as compact and clear a description of how we screwed up a fine economy as you will find."
Kenneth S Deffeyes: When Oil Peaked (2010, Hill & Wang): Geologist, first came to my attention searching for gold in John McPhee's Basin and Range, but has since become more notable as the serious geologist behind the peak oil controversy. Wrote Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage in 2001, followed that up with Beyond Oil: The View From Hubbert's Peak in 2005. With the economic churn of the last decade, it hasn't been clear just when oil production peaked, or whether it might peak again in the future, but Deffeyes argues for 2005. Book does seem kind of thin.
Darren Dochuk: From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (2010, WW Norton): Looks like Billy Graham on the cover; focus seems to be on Southern California, which swept up a lot of Bible Belt refugees. Seems like a substantial history, as much of the right as of the evangelicals (won Allan Nevins prize).
Geoffrey Dunn: The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind
Her Relentless Quest for Power (2011, St Martin's Press):
Gambling on her relevance and trying to get out early, at least ahead
of nosy neighbor Joe McGinniss's The Rogue: Searching for the Real
Sarah Palin. Lies? Is she really coherent enough for that? Some
less ambitious books might do just as well: Malia Litman: The
Geoff Dyer: Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (paperback, 2011, Graywolf): A protege of John Berger's, as incisive a critic as I've ever read, and author of an idiosyncratic jazz book (But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz) I got quite a bit out of, with 432 pp of previously published essays. Sounds like a good idea, but I also bought his previous essay collection, Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It and never got past the first one.
Orlando Figes: The Crimean War: A History (2011, Metropolitan Books): A big history of a small war, remarkable for its indication of how the technology of war had developed during the 19th century when European armies rarely fought each other. One might have drawn the conclusion that World War would be a bad idea, but Europe's empires were in full swagger, unable to learn anything.
John Bellamy Foster/Bret Clark/Richard York: The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Environment (paperback, 2010, Monthly Review Press): Pretty hefty book (544 pp) just to blame it all on capitalism, but Foster's been working this line of inquiry for quite some time.
Chris Hedges: The World as It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress (2011, Nation Books): Short, unhappy pieces -- someone describes them as sermons, and the former divinity student cops to the charge -- written 2006-10 and published on TruthDig.com. "It's Not Going to Be OK," "The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free," "Liberals Are Useless," "A Culture of Atrocity," "War Is Sin," "War Is a Hate Crime," "No One Cares" -- sample chapters. One I read was less lofty: about a guy charged with stealing $9, held in jail two years before trial, acquitted of all charges, left with $12,000 in debts and no job or prospects.
Steven Hill: Europe's Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): The Soviet sphere has been taken as proof positive that one form of socialism -- centralized state-commanded economies -- was dysfunctional, why do we still deny the widespread success of capitalist social democracies in north and western Europe? They've managed to solve many of our worst problems in a manner that is both humane and efficient, and when we consider future crises they look to be positioned in much more sustainable ways. Several people have written this basic book, but it's been slow to sink in.
Adam Hochschild: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (2011, Houghton Mifflin): The so-called Great War, with its mechanized slaughter, utopian rhetoric, and brutal assault on free thought. Focuses on the dispute between those who opposed the war and those who furthered it, especially in Britain, where the former were mostly jailed.
Nathan Hodge: Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders (2011, Bloomsbury): Journalist on the war beat, seems to have backed into the notion of "nation building" as it has slipped into the Pentagon's counterinsurgency dogma -- as a tactic to prolong stalemated wars; whereas we're more used to "humanitarian intervention" as a political excuse to enter new wars. So I figure this could be more critical, but the military's adoption of the conceit could prove more damaging than ever.
Susan Jacoby: Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age (2011, Pantheon): A less than rosy look at old age these days, and the issues it raises. Tough issues to get clear headed on; not even sure it's worth the effort.
Lawrence M Krauss: Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (2011, WW Norton): Another bio of the famous physicist, always an entertaining and enlightening subject, fits into the publisher's "Great Discoveries" series, by the author of such semi-unserious books as The Physics of Star Trek.
Greta R Krippner: Capitalizing on Crisis: The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance (2011, Harvard University Press): Argues that the growth of finance since the 1970s was encouraged by politicians trying to solve other problems (e.g., compensating for trade imbalances by encouraging capital inflows), and that one things led to another as opposed to the government being captured by the bankers or anyone having a bright idea.
James Livingston: The World Turned Inside Out: American Thought and Culture at the End of the 20th Century (2009, Rowman & Littlefield): Interesting, far-ranging survey; talks a lot about the conservative thrust, but finds the nation more liberal now than ever before, clinging to a form of socialism few actually admit to. If this sounds confused, well there is that.
Harold McGee: Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to the Best of Foods and Recipes (2010, Penguin): Author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, the first book to make a thorough survey of the science of cooking -- a book I'd say everyone should own. (I read the original when it came out in 1984 and own the revised edition from 2004.) No recipes. Just a lot of condensed expertise, basic rules of thumb.
John J Mearsheimer: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (2011, Oxford University Press): Short book (160 pp), only so far you can push the analysis when you're a realist; i.e., someone who believes that lying is OK when you get away with it, not so good when you don't.
Branko Milanovic: The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality (2010, Basic Books): Within nations, between nations, around the world, up and down through history, even ventures into fiction.
Walter Mosley: Twelve Steps Toward Political Revelation (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Novelist, mostly mysteries, briefly sketches out some thoughts on politics drawing on 12-step programs.
John Nichols: The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition . . . Socialism (paperback, 2011, Verso): Of course it's short, but not empty. Did you know Horace Greely used to publish a stringer from Europe named Karl Marx? Probably the same author of Dick: The Man Who Is President (2004, New Press).
Robert A Pape/James K Feldman: Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism & How to Stop It (2010, University of Chicago Press): Pape's Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (2005) is the now-standard book on suicide terrorism, so this extends the franchise, adding a defense policy/decision analyst in Feldman. Before he got into suicide, Paper wrote Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (1996, just in time for Kosovo).
Michael Perelman: The Invisible Handcuffs [of Capitalism]: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers (paperback, 2011, Montly Review Press): The title words in brackets aren't evident on the cover scan, but the listed title includes them. Perelman has a long list of interesting left-ish takes on economic matters, including The Confiscation of American Prosperity: From Right Wing Extremism and Economic Ideology to the Next Great Depression, published in 2007 when said depression was iminent. The only system I've ever seen where workers weren't stifled and stunted is the rare case of employee ownership, probably because it's the only one where the interests of owners and workers are fully aligned.
Jack Rakove: Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America (2010, Houghton Mifflin; paperback, 2011, Mariner Books): Covers 1773-92, from the Tea Party to the election of George Washington to his second term as president. Focuses on key figures, the obvious ones and a few more like George Mason and Henry and John Laurens. Won a Pulitzer Prize for his earlier Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution.
Daniel K Richter: Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Past (2011, Harvard University Press): Big, general book on pre-revolution North America, much like Alan Taylor's 2001 American Colonies: The Settling of North America (which I read recently), even down to its short chapters on "progenitors."
Daniel T Rodgers: Age of Fracture (2011, Harvard University Press): Intellectual history in America, tracking how the consensus beliefs of the 1950s fractured into so many shards, leaving an empty space where it is impossible to put coherent groups together again. Something I'm intrinsically suspicious of, which if his point is right is something of a point.
Donald Rumsfeld: Known and Unknown: A Memoir (2011, Sentinel): 832 pages of "snowflakes" -- mental dandruff slicked back with lots of Brylcreem. Slightly less disingenuous (but no briefer) is Bradley Graham: By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld (2009; paperback, 2010, Public Affairs). Finally available in paperback (to cash in on the excitement of the new memoir, no doubt): Andrew Cockburn: Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy (2007; paperback, 2011, Scribner).
Dominic Sandbrook: Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right (2011, Knopf): One more in a string of recent books trying to blame Reagan and the 1980s on all sorts of messes in the 1970s ("America's humiliating defeat in Vietnam, an uptick in serious crime, economic malaise, rising fuel costs, environmental degradation, the Iranian hostage crisis, and an overall breakdown in respect for institutions, among others"). Most of that makes little sense, but it might be worth giving more consideration to Jimmy Carter's prefiguring of Reagan -- the outsider promise, the moralism, the lack of commitment to the party base, the ineffectual embrace of conservative motifs from deregulation to anti-Soviet demagoguery. Sandbrook, a British historian, also recently wrote the even larger (768 pp) State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-1974 (2010, Allen Lane), and the previous Eugene McCarthy: And the Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism (2004; paperback, 2005, Anchor).
Tom Segev: Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends (2010, Doubleday): A biography of the famous Nazi hunter, which entails sorting out various "legends" -- remarkable stories, some true and some inventions.
David K Shipler: The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties (2011, Knopf): Big book on how waging war against crime and terrorism has eroded civil rights we used to take for granted.
Jason E Stearns: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa (2011, Public Affairs): Another book on the vast destruction in the Congo -- coverage had long been scarce, even compared to the better publicized Rwanda genocide that was something of a side show to the Congo, but we now have a handful of books like Gerard Prunier's Africa's World War.
Alan Taylor: The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels & Indian Allies (2010, Alfred A Knopf): A substantial history on what's sometimes considered America's weirdest war, declared over shipping conflicts but effectively a war to firm up America's borders, most significantly the one that doomed the Indians. Taylor has always been one historian you could count on not to count out the Indians, nor is it surprising that he would factor in recent Irish immigration.
Alex von Tunzelmann: Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean (2011, Henry Holt). Author's first book was Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire which focused a bit too narrowly on the Mountbattens in the partition of India. Here she jumps to the other side of the globe, picking up the CIA and its various targets -- not just Castro but Duvalier and Trujillo, neither Red but more trouble than they were worth.
Sarah Vowell: Unfamiliar Fishes (2011, Riverhead): A history of Hawaii, at least from the point American missionaries showed up to the American takeover in 1898, and then some -- seems to have a thing or two on favorite son Barack Obama. I reckon the missionary focus seems like a logical extension from her previous book, The Wordy Shipmates, on the New England puritans.
R Christopher Whalen: Inflated: How Money and Debt Built the American Dream (2010, Wiley): Even before the mortgage scams of the early 2000s, Americans lived on the expectation of inflation, which would among other things allow them to pay back debt cheaper; moreover, the government rarely paid today for what it could borrow and pay back later. Bankers take a dim view of this, and politicians can get all demagogic about it, but it's hard to see how else it all could work out -- the main alternatives to debt and inflation are redistribution and/or bankruptcy.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Anthony Bourdain: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (2010; paperback, 2011, Harper Collins): Scattered writings from the guy who wrote Kitchen Confidential and parlayed it into a TV career traveling around the world, eating, and not cooking. [link]
Tony Judt: Ill Fares the Land (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin): A short tract arguing for the virtues of social democracy, at least when he's not preoccupied with slandering the New Left. [link]
Robert G Kaiser: So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government (2009, Knopf; paperback, 2010, Vintage): A book on the Washington DC lobbying business. Starts with Gerald Cassidy, as good an example as any, at least a relatively innocuous figure compared to Jack Abramoff, who also appears. I read this, wrote some notes and copied down some quotes, then got a letter from the publisher threatening dire consequences if I didn't take it down. Only time that's ever happened, so someone's touchy.
Robert Perkinson: Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (2010; paperback, 2010, Picador): A history of the US prison system, the world's largest since the Soviet Gulag was shut down, focusing on the South and Texas in particular, where prison labor was seen as the next best thing to slavery. [link]
Geoffrey Wawro: Quicksand: America's Pursuit of Power in the Middle East (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books): Sprawling book on US involvement in the Middle East, especially with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Finds lots of problems, deals with them reasonably enough, although I found he missed some details along the way. [link]
Monday, June 20. 2011
I've been dragging my feet on this, but looks like time to wrap up this round. Haven't started yet, but I'm close enough it's conceivable I could finish this coming week. Draft currently has 1916 words, with 12 reviewed A- (or better) records, 54 annotated honorable mentions, no duds to speak of. Graded but unreviewed records include 16 A or A-, 47 B+(***). Jazz Prospecting currently sits at 209 records plus 84 carryovers -- was 227 last time, and ranged from 207 to 293 since I've been keeping track (average 240, but median would be 228, which is in reach if not a slam dunk). Pending records is down to 205, including a few things I have tentative grades for. My top priority queue there is down to about a dozen records. I'll probably listen to the majority of them next week, plus a few others, but will concentrate on items I've already graded but need reviews for. Will be nice to play very good records for a week.
Actually, this past week was an exceptionally good one too.
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! (2011, Hot Cup): Guitarist, originally from Chicago, now in Brooklyn. Looks like Big Five Chord was a self-released 2003 album, ancient history but for its group name reverberations. Second album with Moppa Elliott's Hot Cup crew: Jon Irabagon and Bryan Murray on saxes, Elliott on bass, Matt Kanelos on keybs, and Danny Fischer on drums. Guitar is tantallizingly jagged throughout but doesn't really explode until the closer, a ditty called "Faith-Based Initiative," after which the saxes follow suit. B+(***)
Premier Roeles: Ka Da Ver (2009 , Vindu Music): Sure muddled this when I listed it for unpacking, but the cover was far from clear and I didn't recognize Dutch bassist Harmjan Roeles. The other credits, which are even more illegible on the card insert: Gerard van der Kamp (alto sax, soprano sax), Nico Hixijbregts (piano), and Fred van Duijnhoven (drums). Free jazz, nearly as muddled as the typography and as unorthodox as the packaging, but there's something to it -- like the early 1970s discs that John Corbett uncovered as "lost masterpieces" for Atavistic's Unheard Music Series. B+(***)
Pablo Held: Glow (2010 , Pirouet): Pianist, b. 1986 in Germany; third album since 2008, after two piano trios. This one adds trumpet, two saxes, harp, celesta/harmonium, cello, and extra bass, but doesn't sound like a large band, a nonet or even a septet. The extra instruments color and shade, sometimes to interesting effect but more often they just dissolve into the ether. Can't even complain it sounds cluttered. B
Lars Dietrich: Stand Alone (2010 , self-released): Dutch alto saxophonist, based in New York, not to be confused with Bürger Lars Dietrich, a German "comedy rapper and entertainer," author of albums like Dicke Dinger. Second album. No credits given; title suggests Dietrich plays everything, which mostly sounds to me like keyboards and synth drums. Don't know about his previous album, but I'd file this one under electronica: the beats are a little less mechanical than the norm, but even when the rhythm gets slippery it's just transformed into another species of plastic. B
Bastian Weinhold: River Styx (2010 , self-released): Drummer, b. 1986 in Germany; studied at Conservatory of Amsterdam, New School, and Manhattan School of Music; based in New York. First album, quintet with tenor sax (Adam Larson), piano (Pascal Le Boeuf), guitar (Nils Weinhold), bass (Linda Oh), and drums. Very postbop, lots of time shifts and slippery harmony, all quite fancy. B+(*)
Operation ID: Legs (2011, Table & Chairs): Seattle group, or as they put it, "Seattle's (the world's?) only minimalistic, avant-garde, electro-pop, noise-cluster, synth-rock, free-jazz, experimental, dance-prog band": Ivan Arteaga (sax), Jared borkowski (guitar), Rob Hanlon (synthesizers), David Balatero (bass), Evan Woodle (drums). Hard to keep all those genre-fucks coexisting, so they tend to rotate from one to the other. Would be eclectic if they could space them out a bit and make at least some seem unexpected. B
Dave Juarez: Round Red Light (2010 , Posi-Tone): Guitarist, from Barcelona, Spain; cut this in Brooklyn, but current base is Amsterdam. First album, with Seamus Blake (tenor sax), John Escreet (piano), Lauren Falls (bass), and Bastian Weinhold (drums). Juarez wrote all of the songs, and plays a key role but Blake does his best to blow him away, in a remarkable performance I can't quite get into. B+(*)
Chantale Gagné: Wisdom of the Water (2010 , self-released): Pianist, from Quebec, studied in Montreal, and later with Kenny Barron. Second album, the first a trio with Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. This adds Joe Locke on vibes. One cover ("My Wild Irish Rose"), the rest Gagné originals (one co-credited with Locke). B+(**)
Omer Avital: Free Forever (2007 , Smalls): Bassist, from Israel, has been in New York at least since 1994, with nine albums since 2001. Quintet, with Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Joel Frahm (tenor and soprano sax), Jason Lindner (piano), and Ferenc Nemeth (drums). Group pieces have a sophisticated swing and a bit of Latin tinge. Three "interludes" spotlight the trumpet, piano, and bass. Never thought of Frahm as a soprano player before -- maybe he's just never had such rich, expressive material to play. B+(***)
Neil Welch: Boxwork (2009 , Table & Chairs): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1985, from Seattle, studied at University of Washington, has a couple of albums. This one is solo, something that often has the air of practice exercises. He takes this slow and soft, with gentle sonic modulation, more atmospheric than anything else. Still, the low pitch keeps you from getting too comfortable. B+(**)
Maïkotron Unit: Ex-Voto (2011, Jazz From Rant): Quebec-based trio: Pierre Côté (bass, cello), Michel Côté (bass clarinet, saxophones), and Michel Lambert (drums), where the latter two also play something called a maïkotron. Invented by Michel Côté in 1983, the only description I've found: "a woodwind instrument, played with a reed and a tenor saxophone mouthpiece, but made up of many instruments at once: trumpet valves, the bell of a cornet, parts of a euphonium and a clarinet." The instrument has evolved over time, and evidently there are various prototypes, some capable of ranging below the bass saxophone. This is reportedly the Unit's seventh album, but the first available on CD -- suggesting it's been a while. (I can't find any other reference to the missing records.) Compositions here are based on paintings (numbered tableaux), most (or perhaps all) named in Latin. I can't say as I understand any of it, but find it all strangely fascinating -- not the puzzle of mapping the stray sounds to the mysterious instrument but how the sonic abstractions cohere into quaint and inimitable grooves. A-
Craig Taborn: Avenging Angel (2010 , ECM): Pianist, from Detroit, made his first impression in James Carter's quartet. Has a half dozen records under his own name, starting with a trio in 1994 and picking up the pace after 2001, and has done a lot of session work lately. In particular, he's played a lot of Fender Rhodes and is one of the few pianists who seem to improve on it. This, however, is acoustic piano, solo: figure it as a move to establish his bona fides as a real jazz pianist, and it mostly does just that. B+(**)
J.D. Allen Trio: Victory! (2010 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1972 in Detroit, fifth album since 1999. Started mainstream but has his own sound and a powerful presence, especially in sax trios like this one. With Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. B+(***)
Avram Fefer/Eric Revis/Chad Taylor: Eliyahu (2010 , Not Two): Sax-bass-drums trio, with Fefer (b. 1965) playing alto and tenor here -- a change of pace from recent albums where he's focused more on clarinet, bass clarinet, and soprano sax. Tenth album since 1999. More tuneful and grooveful than you expect free jazz to be, but that's largely because the rhythm section is so together. A-
Tim Berne/Jim Black/Nels Cline: The Veil (2009 , Cryptogramophone): Front cover just has initials: "bb&c"; spine has last names: "Berne/Black/Cline"; back cover spells it all out, and adds "recorded live at the stone NYC." Alto sax-drums-guitar, if you still need to know. Starts off with a repetitive thing then slides into deep thrash, which is something Cline is prone to and that the others can play with, but it settles out into something more interesting. Still mostly a guitar album -- Berne's sax rarely breaks out. B+(***)
David Weiss & Point of Departure: Snuck Out (2008 , Sunnyside): Trumpet player, b. 1964 in New York City but studied at NTU. Fourth album, first two on Fresh Sound New Talent 2001-04, third last year called Snuck In. State of the art postbop quintet, with Nir Felder's guitar in the middle, J.D. Allen's tenor sax the contrasting horn, and the rhythm (Matt Clohesy on bass and Jamire Williams on drums) slipping and sliding every which way. B+(**)
Matt Lavelle: Goodbye New York, Hello World (2009 , Music Now!): Plays trumpet and bass clarinet, a unique combo, although here he substitutes cornet and flugelhorn for the trumpet, and adds alto clarinet to the bass clarinet, playing each of his four instruments on two songs each (7 total, so one shares flugelhorn and alto clarinet). Three cuts are done with just bass (plus one more with gongs), spread out with pieces that add drums and Ras Moshe on tenor sax. The larger group pieces are exceptionally strong, but the solo horns are clear and commanding as well. A-
Atsuko Hashimoto: . . . Until the Sun Comes Up (2010 , Capri): Organ player, from Osaka, Japan. Career dates from early 1990s; recorded half an album in 1999 (5 cuts, the other 5 by Midori Ono Trio), and five more since 2003. This one is a trio with Graham Dechter on guitar and Jeff Hamilton on drums. That's an old soul jazz formula, and this fits the bill nicely. Still, I wonder how much it matters. B+(*)
The Louie Belogenis Trio: Tiresias (2008 , Porter): Tenor saxophonist, don't have any biographical info but has recorded since 1993, can't say how many albums or how important he was to each since he's often worked behind group names -- Prima Materia, God Is My Co-Pilot, Exuberance, Flow Trio, Old Dog. Always struck me as a journeyman free player, but his workmanship here is exceptionally formidable on five group improve plus a few minutes of John Coltrane's "Alabama" -- of course the group helps, Michael Bisio on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. B+(***)
Wolfgang Muthspiel: Drumfree (2010 , Material): German guitarist, b. 1965, frequently (in Europe, that is) compared to Metheny and Scofield, although I like him much more -- Bright Side was a pick hit a while back, and Black and Blue is also on my full-A list. As the title announces, no drums this time. Andy Scherrer shadows the guitar on various saxophones, and Larry Grenadier plays bass, so this works within a narrow bandwidth, its surface shimmering with little hint of depth. B+(**)
Roseanna Vitro: The Music of Randy Newman (2009-10 , Motéma): Standards singer, b. 1951 on the Texas side of Texarkana. Eleventh album since 1982. Leans too hard on Newman's movie music, not trusting his biting wit or irony -- you'd hardly recognize what "Sail Away" is about. Also leans too hard on Sara Caswell's violin. The extra sincerity does offer some returns on "In Germany Before the War." B
Amy London: Let's Fly (2009-10 , Motéma): Standards singer, b. 1957, grew up in Cincinnati, studied opera at Syracuse, moved to New York in 1980, worked on stage, taught voice. Third album, including one with longtime guitarist Roni Ben-Hur. Fancy technique, easily slips around the notes, and gets fine support from Ben-Hur and a tag team of pianists. Includes a tribute to Annie Ross. B+(*)
Eco D'Alberi (2008-09 , Porter): First album from Italian group: Edoardo Marraffa (tenor and sopranino sax), Alberto Braida (piano), Antonio Borghini (double bass), Fabrizio Spera (drums). Four pieces, two cut at Vision Festival in New York, the others in Pisa and Zurich a year-plus later. Free jazz, improv pieces, the longest at 32:00, with scratchy sax and crashing piano and lots of ancillary noise from the back, much like it's been done ever since Ayler. B+(**)
Curtis Macdonald: Community Immunity (2009 , Greenleaf Music): Alto saxophonist, based in New York, studied at New School, where he now teaches. First album, or as he puts it on his website, "latest record." Quintet with a second sax (Jeremy Viner on tenor), piano (David Virelles or Michael Vanoucek), bass (Chris Tordini), Greg Ritchie (drums), one-shot guests on guitar, violin, and voice (none of which I recall). The sort of tightly orchestrated postbop that makes me worry about academia. 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 to date, look here.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Sunday, June 19. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Monday, June 13. 2011
I should start working on closing this out. The draft already has 65 albums reviewed for 1887 words, a total more than I can use, and the only way that goes down is to publish something. My "high priority" queue box is half empty, so there's probably not a lot that I should listen to sooner rather than later. The other trays are jammed, and not looking very appealing, but sometime something surprises me.
Started this past week with the decision that I had to finally deal with the pile of CTI reissues -- not below, but they should be in the next Recycled Goods -- and that flowed into some Legacy 2-CD comps and a 2-CD salsa set. That all took half the week, so I had to hustle to come up with a rather disappointing column's worth of material.
The Essential Django Reinhardt (1949-50 , RCA/Legacy, 2CD): A thin slice from Reinhardt's underappreciated postwar period, sets by two quintets with local rhythm sections recorded in Rome. The former returns to the Hot Club formula with old hand Stéphanne Grappelli on violin; the latter ditches the violin in favor of clarinet and alto sax played by André Eryan. Both work nicely, especially given a familiar tune that responds to a little gypsy swing. B+(**)
The Essential Eartha Kitt (1952-57 , RCA/Legacy, 2CD): Black-white-Cherokee singer-dancer-actress with a penchant for mambos en français, mixes show tunes, standards, novelties -- her big hit was "Santa Baby," not that it was that big -- and W.C. Handy's blues. This six-year slice covers her commercial prime, the basis of her future iconic status, but she reinvented herself so many times and so effectively you're barely getting a glimpse. Still, the one you're least likely to know, unless you're a hell of a lot older than I am. B+(***)
The Essential Lena Horne (1941-75 , Masterworks/Legacy, 2CD): Black-white singer-dancer-actress, a tough ten years older than Eartha Kitt, but Horne knocked down many of the doors that Kitt walked through. "Stormy Weather" was her big hit in 1941, and that got her into Hollywood. Still, she was a terrific big band singer, taking firm command on the many show tunes and standards here -- most of the cuts date from 1957-62, with a few from 1941-44 and a couple later. A-
Ralph Alessi and This Against That: Wiry Strong (2008 , Clean Feed): Trumpet player, eighth album since 2002, which moves him beyond the usual temptation to treat him as a superb sideman. Group names after his 2002 album, although the only constants are saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Drew Gress -- Andy Milne plays piano, and Mark Ferber drums. B+(***)
Adam Kolker: Reflections (2010 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, also credited with alto flute, bass clarinet, flute, and clarinet here. Fifth album since 1999. Mostly a very reflective trio with John Hébert on bass and Billy Mintz on drumss. Adds several scattered guests: Judi Silvano and Kay Matsukawa (voice, one track each), John Abercrombie (guitar, 2), and Russ Lossing (piano, 3), but he guests never manage to perturb the mood much. Very seductive at its core. B+(**)
New York Electric Piano: Keys to the City: Volumes 1 & 2 (2011, Buffalo Puppy, 2CD): Pat Daugherty-led group, sixth album since 2004. He plays keyboards and sings. Split this release into two discs, one with vocals, one instrumental. On the vocal volume he trades off with Deanna Kirk and Ava Farber. Erik Lawrence is notable in the band, playing various saxes and alto flute. Some nice stuff on both discs, but not consistently so. B
Henry Darragh: Tell Her for Me (2010, self-released): Pianist, singer-songwriter from Texas; studied at San Jacinto College and University of Houston. First album, with six originals and five standards. Has a soft spot for Chet Baker, especially on "Everything Happens to Me" -- even adds some soft trumpet, by Carol Morgan. B+(*)
Whitney James: The Nature of Love (2009 , Stir Stick Music): Standards singer, first album, no bio; has a fairly well known band with Joshua Wolff (piano), Matt Clohesy (bass), Jon Wikan (drums), and paired almost duet-like, Ingrid Jensen (trumpet/flugelhorn). Attractive singer, but not distinctive enough to retain my focus when the song isn't as ingrained for me as "Tenderly" or "How Deep Is the Ocean." B
Antoinette Montague: Behind the Smile (2009 , In the Groove): Singer. Wrote the title cut, but the rest are more or less standards -- Bill Broonzy, Dave Brubeck, and Marvin Gaye are outliers. Second album. Don't see where the band is credited -- just a picture and some thank yous, but if I could line up Mulgrew Miller, Peter Washington, Kenny Washington, and a big-toned sax player like Bill Easley I'd brag about it. Everything here impresses me as well done, except for the CD packaging -- very polyethelene. B+(*)
Roy Gaines and His Orchestra: Tuxedo Blues (2009 , Black Gold): Blues shouter, an appellation commonly used for blues-based KC big band singers like Walter Brown, Jimmy Rushing, and Big Joe Turner. B. 1937 in Texas, started on piano but switched to guitar on hearing T-Bone Walker. Played in the Duke-Peacock house band (Big Mama Thornton, Bobby Bland); worked with Rushing, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Chuck Willis, Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and T-Bone Walker. Has a dozen albums since 1982. Not a top notch singer, but he gives a strong showing here, an anachronism in front of a big band, but true to his calling. B+(**)
Peter Eldridge: Mad Heaven (2011, Palmetto): Vocalist, plays piano, best known as a founding member of New York Voices, also a member of the group Moss. Third album since 2000 under his own name. Writes a little (7 of 12, with help), leaning Brazilian on most of the rest. Makes ample use of his background singers, or excessive may be more what I meant. Mostly backed with guitar-bass-drums-percussion, but a few cuts add horns, most importantly Joel Frahm (tenor sax). I've found his tics annoying in the past, but this nearly slipped by me, until his uncommonly warbly "The Very Thought of You." B-
Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans: Electric Fruit (2009 , Thirsty Ear): Drums, guitar, trumpet, respectively -- no credits on cover or insert, but someone plays drums. Evans and Halvorson are famous names by now -- Halvorson more like infamous, since I keep missing out on what are supposed to be her best records. Took some more effort to dig up the dirt on Walter: b. 1972 in Rockford, IL; given name Christopher Todd Walter; Hal Russell protege, although he couldn't have been more than 20 when Russell died, but that left him in the company of Mars Williams and Ken Vandermark. Formed the Flying Luttenbachers by 1994: AMG lists them as Jazz, but under Styles they're Math Rock and Grindcore and Black Metal as well as Avant-Garde Jazz, so you tell me. AMG list 7 albums under Walter's name, plus he has various other groups and projects, including Lake of Dracula, Burmese, XBXRX, Hatewave, and Zs (albeit more recently than the one impressive record I've heard). Abstract and gravelly, with Halvorson's note-bending guitar tricks and the trumpet blasts shooting past each other, the drums off enough to give it all some coherence. B+(**)
Ketil Bjørnstad/Svante Henryson: Night Song (2009 , ECM): Piano-cello duet. Bjørnstad was b. 1952 in Oslo, Norway; has 30-some albums since 1989, 7 on ECM; classical training, touches on folk-jazz and avant-classical and plays with the moderated intensity you expect from Manfred Eicher's pianists. Henryson was b. 1963 in Stockholm, Sweden; also moved through classical music to jazz, although he also pops up on the occasional Yngwie Malmsteen heavy metal album. Nice, relaxing, not too pretty. B+(**)
Michael Dessen Trio: Forget the Pixel (2010 , Clean Feed): Trombonist, also credited with electronics. Second album; also appears in a pianoless two-horn quartet, Cosmologic, which I file under saxophonist Jason Robinson. Here, in a trio with Christopher Tordini (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums), just the trombone is out front, which slows things down a bit, but the focus is useful. B+(*)
Mort Weiss: Mort Weiss Meets Bill Cunliffe (2010 , SMS Jazz): Or to continue the title further: With Special Guest the Undisputed Father of the Jazz Flute Sam Most. I can't argue, although it looks like James Moody played a little jazz flute before Most's 1953 debut, and while I can't find any credits for Frank Wess before 1954, he's a few years older than Moody, nearly a decade older than Most. Most cut ten records 1953-59, then a few more for Xanadu 1976-79. The better known flautist is Herbie Mann, a few months older than Most but with no records until 1954. Most always struck me as someone trying to translate Charlie Parker to flute as literally as possible. Not a great or even very notable innovation, but he's much more listenable than nearly all of the jazz flute that followed. Still, he adds little more than color and background here. Pianist Cunliffe is superb at establishing the swing rhythm, guitarist Ron Eschete' (no idea why he prefers the apostrophe to an acute accent) swings too, and the leader's clarinet is bright and cheery. A nice diversion is Peter Marx's spoken word "Readings of Kerouac 1" which is really about Slim Gaillard. Out of character is the cut Weiss turned over to his grandson. Weiss, you should recall, started to leave his mark after retirement age. Fifth album I've heard since 2006, and very nearly his best. [By the way, my copy has a manufacturing defect which renders the last cut interminable.] B+(***)
Jeremy Udden's Plainville: If the Past Seems So Bright (2011, Sunnyside): Saxophonist, from Plainville, MA, the town name he took for his second album and kept for his group on this his third. Studied in Boston, played in Either/Orchestra, now based in Brooklyn. Credit here read alto sax, soprano sax, and clarinet. Group includes Brandon Seabrook on guitar, Pete Rende on keyboards (Fender Rhodes, pump organ, Wurlitzer), Eivind Opsvik on bass, R.J. Miller on drums. He seems to be seeking out plainness, hiding behind nearly transparent electronic chimes, a strategy that turns out to be rather winning in spite of itself. Two songs have vocals, as understated as everything else. B+(*)
Marcin Wasilewski Trio: Faithful (2010 , ECM): Piano trio, with Slawomir Kurkiewicz on bass and Michal Miskiewicz on drums, first came to our attention as Tomas Stanko's "young Polish band" a few years back. Third album together, growing ever more refined, and perhaps as a result less interesting. 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, June 12. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week, not counting the big pile of Krugman links yesterday -- the ones here were for all practical purposes selected before the ones yesterday. I could have included four more blog posts today:
Now that we're caught up again, back to the week that was:
Saturday, June 11. 2011
Looks like tomorrow's Weekend Roundup is going to be nothing but Paul Krugman and Andrew Leonard. I haven't been getting around much, but nearly everything Krugman (especially, but also Leonard) writes hits on what seems to be the central issue of the age, which is why so many prominent Democrats as well as Republicans (and their media cohort) persist in saying such stupid things about economics. We've entered into an intellectual and moral vortex where everything is political, where truth is strictly a measure of political loyalty. On the surface this looks like a Dark Ages scenario, where we are willfully forgetting things that we used to know to be true.
Some bonus Krugman links (more tomorrow), including links to a few of his charts:
Tuesday, June 7. 2011
Rhapsody has a new "beta" website up. Good news is that it hangs much less in the middle or at the end of tracks. Bad news is that it's harder than ever to find things, especially new things. Also they seem to be getting slower at getting new things up, so sometimes I report things as missing that are just delayed. I'm doing a better job of managing my ongoing metacritic file, which means I'm more aware of the front edge as new things come out. But it's harder to find most of what's interesting.
One advantage this has over most review series, including Expert Witness, is transparency: at least you know everything I've heard to get to this point, so you know not only what's in but what's out. If a record isn't listed in the index I haven't heard it -- it's not just something that slipped beneath my interest threshold. I spend less time, and I'm less certain that what I think now is what I'd think with more exposure and experience a year or two from now. At least I share what I know.
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 May 7. Past reviews and more information are available here.
The Antlers: Burst Apart (2011, Frenchkiss): AMG still lists this Brooklyn rock group as Folk, which suggests they started out ultra lo-fi. Nothing like that now. The band they most remind me of is Pink Floyd with their thick layering, willingness to ride a heavy riff into oblivion, and general world-weariness (cf. "Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out"). On the other hand, they lack the English accent, never set their controls for the heart of the sun, and don't even know much less care for someone as odd as Syd Barrett, so don't make too much of that. But they are an indie band to take seriously, and within that subset a pretty listenable one. B+(***)
Architecture in Helsinki: Moment Bends (2011, V2): Australian group, electropop, multiple singers with choral depth, multiinstrumentalists proud of their glockenspiel. I find this sort of thing clear and clean and uplifting, a wee bit prettified with unnecessary bells and whistles, but catchy, often delightful. Could have gone higher if I were sure the lyrics wouldn't prove trip me up. B+(***)
Art Brut: Brilliant! Tragic! (2011, Cooking Vinyl): Four impressive albums in, not counting a side project that turned more on wit than guitar power and was all the better for it. The hard stuff is hard to resist, the wit is harder to discern, but the accent keeps you off balance, and there's a good chance he's saying something interesting -- can't find a lyric sheet and wish I could. B+(***)
David Bazan: Curse Your Branches (2009, Barsuk): Singer-songwriter, has a new album out which I went looking for -- not available, but this long-missing item popped up. Christgau liked it back then, finding "humanistic empathy" and "spiritual complexity" and melodies too. I'm finding it a little overwrought and clunky -- "a decent human being," no doubt, but he does make it sound hard. B+(*)
Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011, Capitol): I gather Part One was in the works when Adam Yauch discovered he had cancer; first it got shelved, and eventually it got rolled into this. Played it two-and-a-half times, and still I'm hedging: seems a bit formal, but they have a distinct sound, and this hacks it just about perfectly. Hedge? Well, this is late in the game, the game's close, but I haven't heard the zingers they'll need to close the deal. B+(***)
Bibio: Mind Bokeh (2011, Warp): British electronica producer, Stephen Wilkinson; sixth album since 2005, first three on Mush, rest on Warp; first I've heard. Some underwater bubbly effects, but I'm more struck by things that resemble songs, like "Take Off Your Shirt." But after that, even such minimal figures as "Saint Christopher" suffice. A-
Blu: Her Favorite Colo(u)r (2009 , Nature Sounds): LA rapper, b. 1983 as Johnson Barnes, cut several records 2007-08 with others (one billed as Johnson & Jonson). This one apparently came out in 2009, probably without the parens, and is reissued here. With his jazz samples, has an underground vibe, the raps talky, the mix rather disconnected. B+(*)
Kate Bush: Director's Cut (2011, Fish People/EMI): Eleven songs from two 1989-93 albums, The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, reworked, newly recorded, simply for the most parts, with an additional nod to James Joyce. Several packaging options: one adds a book, another recycles remastered editions of the old albums -- haven't heard either, or for that matter any of her albums, although the best-of The Whole Story shows that on occasion she can put her literary expertise and warbly voice to remarkable effect. Some of that here, but not much. B+(*)
The Cars: Move Like This (2011, Hear Music): If Tom Petty was the sunbelt answer to pub rockers Graham Parker and Elvis Costello, Ric Ocasek's band offered a MOR American analogue to new wave's synthesis of punk and disco, with chunky guitar and keyb flashes, and hooks enough to distill five 1978-84 albums down to a consistently pleasing Greatest Hits. Ocasek went solo after their 1987 letdown, and now that all other options have been exhausted, they're back with a reunion, on the perfect label for such things. They have little trouble sounding like themselves -- at least this was a band that always knew its formula. B
Cold Cave: Cherish the Light Years (2010 , Matador): Hard synthpop band, emphatic beat, thick electronics, I've seen their lead-off song ("The Great Pan Is Dead") compared to early Eno, and recognize power-packed New Order down the stretch, things that should impress me more, but I found myself dialing the volume down to weather the storm. Not a record I want to hear again. B-
Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi: Rome (2011, Capitol): Not sure what this is the soundtrack to, but it must fit something. Luppi channels Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western arias with less allure, and Brian Burton somehow makes them sound like Pink Floyd outtakes -- the instrumentals, anyway. The vocals are explained by the front cover fine print: Starring Jack White & Norah Jones. B
Darwin Deez: Darwin Deez (2010 , Lucky Number): Singer-songwriter/band/eponymous debut album, given name Darwin Smith but most other bandmembers have adopted the Deez surname. New Yorker, Came out last year in UK, was unavailable then on Rhapsody, but seems to have gotten a second release here even on the same label. I find the sound disconcertingly jarring -- unharmonious may be the word -- but the upbeat energy and frequent catchiness almost make it work. B+(*)
EMA: Past Life Martyred Saints (2011, Souterain Transmissions): Initials for Erika M. Anderson. From South Dakota, moved to LA, played guitar in a group called Amps for Christ, then the Gowns, now first album solo. Definitely has something extra going on guitar here, plus sings like Nico only technically better (means not like Nico, but you got to start somewhere). Ends in a dirge, which kind of takes the edge off. B+(***)
Explosions in the Sky: Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011, Temporary Residence): Yet another Austin group, rock with no vocals, what they call "cathartic mini-symphonies." Fifth album since 2000. Guitar work is intricate, their pieces long and flowing, pleasing although not all that substantial. B+(*)
The Felice Brothers: Celebration, Florida (2011, Fat Possum): Woodstock band (Catskills, anyway), sometimes remember Dylan's tenure there, at least the blood from his motorcycle wreck. Takes a roots groove and messes with it, interesting when it works, confusing when it doesn't. B+(*)
Fight Like Apes: The Body of Christ and the Legs of Tina Turner (2011, Model Citizen): Irish guitar-rock group, fronted by Mary-Kay Geraghty (aka MayKay) although Jamie Fox occasionally gets a word in edgewise. Second album. Fond of B movies and long titles -- EPs are How Am I Supposed to Kill You If You Have All the Guns? and David Carradine Is a Bounty Hunter Whos Robotic Arm Hates Your Crotch. First song I heard, "Jenny Kelly," sounded like a hit; rude of Rhapsody to skip the opener, "Come On Let's Talk About Our Feelings." B+(**)
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (2010 , Sub Pop): Seattle group, second album, lot of fans in the indie rock press, broke #4 on US charts, #2 in UK. I've seen this tagged as Baroque Folk-Pop. About all the sense I can make of that is that sometimes this sounds like the Papas without the Mamas: it has a down home air of the familiar although when I consider it I doubt I really want to hang out there. B-
Foster the People: Torches (2011, Columbia): Los Angeles electropop group, led by Mark Foster (vocals, keybs, guitar), basically a trio but they add some help to tour. Signature single: "Pumped Up Kicks" -- why pretend you're serious when you just want to sell records? Relentlessly upbeat, semi-falsetto vocals, some inadvertent comic value; sorry to spoil the fun but not much here. B
Friendly Fires: Pala (2011, XL): English "dance punk" group, which I take to mean that they try to play dance music but are kind of spastic about it. Sounds like second- or third-tier 1980s new wave, something to file between Depeche Mode and Duran Duran. Probably closer to Duran Duran. B
Gang Gang Dance: Eye Contact (2011, 4AD): New York group, lots of synths, lots of bounce, singer Lizzi Bougatsos. Some things to like here, but it mostly strikes me as garish, tarted up, bombastic, with nothing that quite qualifies as "redeeming social content" (a legal term I take to include porn). B
Jimmie Dale Gilmore/The Wronglers: Heirloom Music (2011, Neanderthal Noise): Actually, the group name appears first on the album cover, in a banner centered above the singer's longer name, but everywhere I've looked this is filed under Gilmore. He does, after all, have one of the truly great voices in country music, and if he wants to sing oldies, nobody's going to stop him. The Wronglers seems to be a front for banjo picker Warren Hellman, in his 70s now, most of his career wasted away running a billion dollar private equity fund. Awful rich, but why resist bon bons like Charlie Poole's "Leavin' Home," the greatest of all Frankie and Johnnie songs? A-
Warren Haynes: Man in Motion (2011, Stax): Journeyman guitarist, toiled for David Allan Coe, the Allman Brothers, Dave Matthews, and others, sometimes while running his own band Gov't Mule. Cut an album under his own name called Tales of Ordinary Madness, now finding himself working for Concord, farmed off to their Stax imprint, reminding you of no one else on their famous roster. Must be sincere, otherwise why use so much organ? B
Keri Hilson: No Boys Allowed (2010, Mosley): R&B diva, second album, came out Dec. 17 so totally missed year-end list consideration, not that she would have gotten any -- can't say as I've seen a single favorable review. Songs all have 3-5 writers, none of the plethora of producers got a hand on more than two songs, so it's easy to pick on inconsistencies, but I'd worry more about them being samey, which is why guest rappers from J. Cole to Kanye West always seem to kick it up a notch. B+(*)
Isolée: We Are Monster (2005 , Pampa): Rajko Müller, from Frankfurt, Germany. Considered minimalist house, or maybe ambient techno. Second of three albums since 2000, but this has been reissued on the new label (originally on Playhouse). Scratch off the ambient here. The beats are simple but they got some hop (and some humor) to them. And they throw off synthy echoes. A-
Isolée: Well Spent Youth (2011, Pampa): Third album from Rajko Müller. Favorite technique is repeating little 3-or-4 note figures. Manages to get a slightly deeper, more basic tone here than on We Are Monster -- previous album was more synthy -- but not as upbeat, frisky, humorous. All minor variations. A bit of voice sample neither here nor there. B+(***)
Kode9 and the Spaceape: Black Sun (2011, Hyperdub): Dubstep, Kode9 is Scottish DJ Steve Goodman, Spaceape rapper Stephen Samuel Gordon -- good for at least two albums together, plus a lot of singles. Dense and grimey, occasionally leaking out into open space. B+(**)
Lady Gaga: Born This Way (2011, Streamline/Interscope): Huge star these days, outsold everyone (except maybe Eminem) over the last couple years, and will get a huge return on this record, at least first week out. She's invested her money in big production here, thumping loud dance beats, a couple of songs so adroitly hooked they'll be with us for ages -- especially the title anthem. She has sturdy pipes and emotes like a country singer -- strip away the beats and she could go that way (probably with a name and wardrobe change, which would hardly matter to her, although my wager is on Vegas). Initially comes in two packages: one 14-song budget edition, a deluxe with 17 songs on the main disc, 5 remixes on the second. Rhapsody offers the latter, and the remixes start out with the better songs, and improve on them. B+(***)
The Lonely Island: Turtleneck & Chain (2011, Universal Republic): "Three white douche bags in Japan": musically they're the Beastie Boys on laughing gas, but rather than making that seem like an accomplishment, they make it cheap and tawdry. B
Jennifer Lopez: Love? (2011, Island): Type "Jennifer" into Wikipedia and she's the top prompt, beating out Aniston, Hudson, Love Hewitt, Connelly, Jason Leigh, etc. Seventh album since 1999 -- didn't start until well into her 30s, but she had 10 movies by then. This, like most of her records, has gotten dreadful reviews, which doesn't seem quite fair. Production is generally bouncy, with one catchy song in "Until It Beats No More" and she holds up her end in the Lil Wayne feature "I'm Into You." If she wasn't so famous (and, err, so old) she might seem promising. B
Magnetic Man: Magnetic Man (2010 , Columbia): UK electronica project/group, members: Benga, Skream, Artwork. Don't know much more about them, but evidently they have dubstep backgrounds, making this a so-called dubstep supergroup. More commercial, I'd say, big beats, spacey riffs, guest vocals (Ms. Dynamite, John Legend, two by Katy B). More like a disco throwback, just less danceable. B+(**)
Cass McCombs: Wit's End (2011, Domino): Singer-songwriter, from Baltimore, fourth album since 2005. Has an easy gait to it, the final cut ("A Knock Upon the Door") almost a waltz. B+(*)
Moby: Destroyed (2011, Mute): Hard to tell whether he's recycling, but he's certainly done much of this before, down to the gospel vocal samples which at least are underplayed. Schema calls for "being the only person awake (or alive) in an empty city" in which case I guess it doesn't much matter. B+(**)
Gurf Morlix: Toad of Titicaca (2000, Catamount): Thought I'd check out his first album to give me a little more perspective. Voice is pretty healthy here, songs consistently well structured, has the good sense to frame his country-rock with little waste or affectation. Falls apart some at the end, e.g. with "The Greatest Show on Earth" which turns into a dumb repitition of Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, Dan Blocker, and Pernell Roberts. B+(**)
Gurf Morlix: Last Exit to Happyland (2009, Rootball): New record (Blaze Foley's 113th Wet Dream) isn't available, so I thought I'd check out his previous one -- his 5th since 2000 (or maybe 6th). From Buffalo, moved to Texas 1975, probably best known for producing two of Lucinda Williams' best albums. Doesn't have much of a voice -- sort of whispery. Keeps a lot of space around his voice, and writes pretty good songs, especially "Music You Mighta Made." B+(**)
Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers: Rambler's Call (2010, Rebel): First album from an Ohio bluegrass group with a very old-timey sound -- I'd say classic but Monroe and Scruggs and Jimmy Martin were a lot weirder than these guys. If Mom were here she'd be exclaiming how beautiful this is, but she was never one to nitpick the occasional hymn. Second album is full of 'em, but this is down home enough. B+(***)
Stevie Nicks: In Your Dreams (2011, Reprise): Watching Glee's episode based on Rumours, I was surprised to find those putative teenagers knowing more about Fleetwood Mac than I do. But while I liked the group records as much as anyone, and don't doubt that they got better when Buckingham-Nicks merged in, I never gave them much thought, and never bothered with any of their post-group solo projects. This is Nicks' seventh studio album, a downhill slope since her 8-million selling solo debut in 1981, and the only one since 2001. Dave Stewart produced. Has a big, thick classic rock sound, suits what's left of her voice. Nice surprise until "Soldier's Angel" annoyed me. Then I started noticing the synth strings and shook off my dream. B
Okkervil River: I Am Very Far (2011, Jagjaguwar): Austin band, evidently named for a river in Russia via a short story by Tatyana Tolstaya; seventh album since 2000, not counting one in 2010 where they capably backed Texas legend Roky Erickson. They can wax countryish, but this one is thick mush, the keyboards the glue that holds the glop together. AMG identifies: "Elements of Wilco, the Flaming Lips, Springsteen, Talking Heads, Arcade Fire, and even the Fixx" -- my powers of observation (or hallucination) can't top that, nor would I want to. B-
Brad Paisley: This Is Country Music (2011, Arista Nashville): The liberal's great white hope for mainstream Nashville, he's always had beaucoup voice and chops, so all he needed to cross over was decency and/or brains. Aside from a song about hell on earth he didn't write there's nothing here to pin your hopes on, and even that is couched in Dixified cliché, like the camouflage he celebrates as patriotic colors. Catchier than American Saturday Night, but that's largely because he's found a way to produce neotrad that's slicker than countrypolitan. No wonder he can't look you in the eye. B+(*)
Lee "Scratch" Perry: Rise Again (2011, MOD Technologies): The great dub producer, at 75 working under another producer, handy man Bill Laswell. Keeps him up, but smoothes out the path. Doesn't sound old. Nor rejuvenated. Just rolling steady. B+(*)
Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers: Teenage and Torture (2011, Knitting Factory Works): Postpunk group, more mersh than the Cramps but that's mostly because they're more metal. Ray is a female with a deep voice mostly lodged in banshee scream. The band is neither happy nor hook-prone. Doubt that any of them are teenage either; tortured? Maybe. The concepts are so muddled here it's hard to tell. B-
Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin' (2011, Columbia): Only three songs played on Rhapsody, but they're real good ones. He always had this "vintage" aspect, which in the past spelled Motown but here looks back further, to rock and roll. Bought a copy. Doesn't sustain the first three cuts throughout, slowing down and wandering some, but always comfortably in the past, which may be the best place to look for the future. A- [cd]
Screeching Weasel: First World Manifesto (2011, Fat Wreck Chords): Punk band from Chicago, dates back to 1986, had eleven albums through 2001 when they hung it up -- titles like Teen Punks in Heat and How to Make Enemies and Irritate People and Ramones -- their note-by-note cover of the first Ramones album. Evidently vocalist Ben Weasel couldn't think of anything better to do with his life in the last decade so now he's back with a new lineup but pretty much the same ideas. The new guys seem to have spent even more time studying the Ramones, or maybe they're just better at it. B
Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What (2011, Hear Music): Can't say that I've always hated his former duo, but it's been some 40 years since I could handle more than the occasional song. Simon's always had that melodic knack, but he's a lightweight thinker with annoying habits, the least of which is that he occasionally hijacks some rhythm and comes up with a record I have to begrudgingly admit is pretty good. Did it in 1972 (although I didn't notice until much later), and did it again in 1986. Might have done it again this year, but this doesn't work as consistently. Besides, I'm ticked off at the packaging, which has a tendency to let the CD slip out of the cover. Fact is, having bought this cheap when it was on sale, the disc has slipped out and vanished -- so I wound up consulting Rhapsody. Do still have a nice little booklet with lyrics and all that (although it too tends to fly out when I pick the package up). B+(***)
Tinie Tempah: Disc-Overy (2011, Capitol): British rapper, Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu, born in South London, most likely from West African stock. Album came out a year ago in UK, and looks like it's been goosed up for its US release, having some of the big beat of US commercial rap wrapped around the more minimal Anglo style. B+(***)
Times New Viking: Dancer Equired! (2011, Merge): Columbus, OH lo-fi group, fifth album since 2005; guitar-drums-keybs, Adam Elliott and Beth Murphy sharing vocals. How lo-fi? This seems to be regarded as their inevitable hi-fi move, but it still sounds thin, tinny, deep in sonic crud. An aesthetic, an attitude, a way to keep their knack for catchy tunes from becoming too obvious. B+(**)
William Tyler: Behold the Spirit (2010 , Tompkins Square): Guitarist, from Nashville, first album, plays solo, showing some fingerpicking that tempted AMG to file this as folk (as in John Fahey) but it's also loaded up with a lot of ringing feedback. Aside from Charlie Louvin, his side credits are more likely rock -- Lambchop, Silver Jews. This rolls on the one hand, shimmers on the other. B+(**)
Tyler, the Creator: Goblin (2011, Odd Future): Tyler Okonma, so young (b. 1991, makes him 20 now, younger when this was recorded) you can imagine his wild-eyed revelation on first hearing Eminem, mostly internalized the lesson that you can sling any old shit with the disclaimer that it's fiction. Talks to his shrink, a sweet way to stoke his ego. Hooked into something called OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All), an LA collective with a couple names I've heard of but haven't heard: they keey the beats spare and sinister, attractive if he had something to say. And it gets thinner and cruder as the record winds on. B+(*)
The Weeknd: House of Balloons (2011, mixtape): Abel Tesfaye, from Toronto, has a soul-singer voice and a penchant for profanity, works up a slow grind over thickly layered synths meant to move mountains. I've seen it likened to dubstep but it's much heavier, not just literally but in bringing back the dirge riffs of 1970's "she's so heavy" tropes. Also seen comparisons to Tricky and the whole trip hop thang, and to The XX, but they're all grasping at straws. A- [download]
White Denim: D (2011, Downtown): Austin group, AMG calls them a "spastic indie rock trio" but the group added another guitarist and that (or possibly maturity) seems to have settled them out. I recall hating their Christgau-approved previous album, which had the spastic title Fits, but don't recall anything else about it. This is tuneful, inoffensive; one cut seems to add a horn and a more chunky rhythm, although they could just as well evolve into something countryish, or Spoonish. B+(**)
Wild Beasts: Smother (2011, Domino): English group, from up in the Lake District, third album since 2008. I checked out their second album but completely forgot about it. Rhapsody described them as post-punk, but AMG's influences list is more accurate (and much more amusing): Queen, Tiny Tim, Sparks, the Smiths, Adam & the Ants. Actually, singer Hayden Thorpe sounds like he's studied Bryan Ferry, but he's not a natural, so he hems it in, surrounded by a soft cushion of synthy sounds, anything but wild or beastly. B+(*)
Robag Wruhme: Thora Vukk (2011, Pampa): German techno producer, has a few records under his belt, including one earlier this year that I was looking for, Wuppdeckmischampflow (Kompakt). Got this one instead, and it hits a delightfully minimalist vibe -- at least until he plays around with some voice, which does quite the opposite of humanizing things. B+(***)
Monday, June 6. 2011
Getting close to time to close this round, so I'm trying to pull more stuff out of the top drawer since that's where I'm most likely to find something, or some of the more interesting stuff from the middle. Best record this week was one that took a lot of time, but it got that time by getting better each round. I didn't expect it to finish first, but that's how it works out sometimes. I did rather expect the James Carter to finish last: this is his third B- record, and possibly the worst of them -- a great saxophonist, but he does have a bad habit of picking the wrong horse.
Bebop Trio (2011, Creative Nation Music): Former NEC students: Lefteris Kordis (piano, from Greece), Thor Thorvaldsson (drums, from Iceland), and Alec Spiegelman (clarinet, from Brooklyn). Drummer has mostly played in rock bands. Clarinetist also belongs to Klezwoods. Group/album name is a misnomer: their covers stake out various pianists, some bebop, some harder to pin down: Bud Powell, Duke Ellington, George Shearing, Elmo Hope, Herbie Nichols, Lennie Tristano. Still, Spiegelman's model isn't Buddy DeFranco or Jimmy Giuffre; it's Steve Lacy, who was famous for bypassing bebop when he jumped from trad jazz to avant-garde. Lacy taught some at NEC during his last years, and Irène Aëbi passed some Lacy charts to Spiegelman, and one thing led to another. B+(***)
Claire Ritter: The Stream of Pearls Project (2009-10 , Zoning): Pianist; b. 1952 in Charlotte, NC; studied with Ziggy Hurwitz and (later) Mary Lou Williams and Ran Blake. Tenth album since 1988. Eighteen original pieces ranging from 1:41 to 4:30, each referring to some instance of water in nature: the Charles River, Franconia Notch, 1000 Islands, Horshoe-Niagara Falls, Carolina Ponds, Ocracoke Island, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Currituck Beach, Pamlico Sound. Some of the pieces are solo piano, translating her sharp eye into sure-footed sound; others add percussion (Takashi Masuko), banjo, cello, accordion, vibes. I like it best when the pace picks up and the accordions -- yes, there are two -- kick in, but every piece finds its place. A-
New Tricks: Alternate Side (2010 , New Tricks): I've started referring to records by artists who can't go to the trouble to think up a label name "self-released," but the back cover here says "New Tricks Records" so credit where credit is due. Quartet: Mike Lee (tenor sax), Ted Chubb (trumpet), Kellen Harrison (bass), Shawn Baltazor (drums). Lee wrote 6 of 9 songs; Chubb the other 3. Was blogging about Miles Davis when I put this on, so I was immediately struck by the '50s vibe, bop only hotter and harder, with no piano to underwrite the chords and gum things up. Second group album -- Lee also has two under his own name; don't think any of the others do, although the bassist has some side credits. This sort of clash is bracing, but on occasion they slow down, yoke the horns together, and act like modern postboppers. B+(**)
Lisa Hilton: Underground (2010 , Ruby Slippers): Pianist, from San Luis Obispo, CA, has 15 album since 1997, most of the early ones with titles suggesting chintzy cocktail piano and romance: Cocktails at Eight, In the Mood for Jazz, Jazz After Hours, Midnight in Manhattan, After Dark, all with alluring cover photography -- My Favorite Things may be the most alluring in that respect. I've only heard one previous album, didn't think much of it, but this one is something else. For starters, she's got a first rate group: Larry Grenadier on bass, Nasheet Waits on drums, and J.D. Allen on tenor sax. Wrote all but one Bill Evans piece. Pretty respectable outing, the piano authoritatively centered. Allen doesn't break out, as he can, but he's an asset. B+(**)
Helen Sung: (re)Conception (2009 , SteepleChase): Pianist, from Houston, TX; fifth album since 2004. Piano trio, with the stellar mainstream rhythm section of Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. She doesn't write much -- one song here, not unusual although her debut was about half originals; picks two Ellingtons, Shearing's title cut, Monk, Bacherach, Loesser, others more obscure. B+(**)
BassDrumBone: The Other Parade (2009 , Clean Feed): Longtime collaborators, Ray Anderson (trombone), Mark Helias (bass), and Gerry Hemingway (drums) first hooked up in 1977, cutting Oahpse in 1978. First used the group name on Wooferlo in 1987, but their reference album for me is 1997's (Hence the Reason) (Enja). Not sure how many BassDrumBone records there are -- Hemingway's website refers to Cooked to Perfection as the group's "sixth and latest," but doesn't have all of its predecessors, and there are at least two since. This is the latest: can't say Anderson is at his peak, but he's an able and inventive frontman, and Helias and Hemingway are marvelous, as usual. B+(***)
Sei Miguel/Pedro Gomes: Turbina Anthem (2008 , NoBusiness): Pocket trumpet/guitar duets. I've run across Miguel before: b. 1961 in Paris, lived in Brazil before settling down in Portugal in the 1980s. Released a record in 1988, more since 2002 including two on Clean Feed: one under his own name and another as part of Afterfall (which I filed under guitarist Luis Lopes). Not much on Gomes; probably his first record. Cranks up lots of guitar distortion, playing it for rhythm and harmonic backdrop for the trumpet. Too harsh to recommend highly, but too visceral to ignore. Stef, who has fewer compunctions about what other people think, gave this all five stars. B+(***)
Bruno Chevillon/Tim Berne: Old and Unwise (2010 , Clean Feed): Bassist, b. 1959 in France, one previous album under his own name, side-credits with Louis Sclavis, André Jaume, Daniel Humair, Marc Ducret, Stefano Battaglia, Tony Malaby. Berne has a lot of records going back to 1979. He sticks to alto sax here, his main instrument. Chevillon wrote all of the pieces. Pays to focus on the bass here -- a more diversified source of noise than the sax, which just moves from note to note, however inventively. B+(***)
Orchestre National de Jazz: Shut Up and Dance (2010 , Bee Jazz, 2CD): ONJ was founded in 1986, a legacy of Miterrand's socialism, or more specifically Culture Minister Jack Lang. AMG lists seven records since 1996, including a Led Zeppelin tribute called Close to Heaven. Various artistic directors came and went, currently Daniel Yvinec, managing the current ten-piece band: most notable trait here is the large number of people with at least some use of electronics. Program here was written by percussionist John Hollenbeck. Not my idea of dance music, but rich in percussion and electronics, scaled between his big band and his Claudia Quintet. B+(**)
Orchestre National de Jazz: Around Robert Wyatt (2009 , Bee Jazz, 2CD): This looks to have been one of Daniel Yvinec's first projects on becoming artistic director of ONJ. The songs are all by Robert Wyatt, arranged by Vincent Artaud. The eleven songs on the first disc all have vocals, rotating between seven guests, including Wyatt himself on four cuts; only other guest I recognize is Rokia Traore. The band does a nice job of straddling jazz and prog idioms. Second disc adds four Bonus Tracks, totalling 21:37, only one repeat from the first disc: two more Wyatt vocals, one by Traore, and a particularly luscious one by Yael Naim. B+(**)
I Compani: Mangiare! (2010 , Icdisc): Dutch group, led by saxophonist Bo van der Graaf, but they've been around a long time, with more than a dozen albums since 1985. Early albums were focused on the films of Federico Fellini and the film music of Nino Rota (who resurfaces here in the first piece). Last album was based on circus music (Circusism), and you get more than a mere taste of that here as well, but the food theme eventually takes over. Band mixes the leader's soprano and tenor sax, trumpet and trombone, violin and cello, bandoneon, piano, bass, and drums -- with some diversion on synth and "cheap organ." Less avant and even more amusing than the similar bands of Breuker and Mengelberg. B+(***)
Harriet Tubman: Ascension (2010 , Sunnyside): The Harriet Tubman you've probably (but not necessarily, especially if you've been "educated" in Texas) heard of was born in 1822, in Maryland, into slavery. She escaped, then returned to help others escape through the underground railroad, and helped guide fugitive slaves to freedom in Canada. She helped John Brown organize his ill-fated insurrection at Harper's Ferry. During the Civil War she was an armed scout and spy for the Union. After the war she worked for women's suffrage. She died in 1913, but was well remembered in the civil rights and women's liberation movements more than a half century later. A couple years ago Marcus Shelby cut a gospel-tinged jazz album called Harriet Tubman, in her honor. But this ain't that; this Harriet Tubman is a fusion band formed by Brandon Ross (guitar), Melvin Gibbs (bass), and J.T. Lewis (drums). They cut a record in 1998, another in 2000, and now a third. The new group is billed as Harriet Tubman Double Trio, the additions Ron Miles (trumpet), DJ Logic (turntables), and DJ Singe (turntables). The spiritual clash they are looking for comes with the title cut, which starts the album off with 8:09 from John Coltrane's rafter raiser, then returns periodically for more inspiration. Coltrane's piece is either one that moves you or not -- it doesn't bother trying to reason with you. Tubman more than anything else was a force for action, and that's what the band aims for -- they do aim high. B+(***)
Kenny Werner: Balloons (2010 , Half Note): Pianist, b. 1951 in Brooklyn, has 25-30 albums since 1977, considered a postbop player -- I've heard very few of his records, and flagged his Guggenheim-winning orchestral No Beginning No End as a dud. Still, he bounces back impressively here, using the oldest trick in the book: a really first-rate band, recorded live: David Sanchez (tenor sax), Randy Brecker (trumpet), John Pattitucci (bass), and Antonio Sanchez (drums). Four pieces stretch out, the horns taking especially strong solos, the piano holding the fort together. Ends with a drum flourish. B+(***)
Nguyên Lê: Songs of Freedom (2010 , ACT): Guitarist, b. 1959 in Paris, France, draws on the Vietnamese music of his ancestors, also on Jimi Hendrix. Has 17 albums since 1990. Describes this record as "a tribute to those musicians who established pop culture in the '70s with their mythic songs," and proclaims them to "have truly become World Music i.e. 'music the world listens to.'" Aside from a couple short connecting pieces, the songs come from the Beatles ("Eleanor Rigby," "Come Together"), Stevie Wonder ("I Wish," "Pastime Paradise"), Bob Marley ("Redemption Song"), Led Zeppelin ("Black Dog," "Whole Lotta Love"), Janis Joplin ("Mercedes Benz"), Cream ("Sunshine of Your Love"), and Iron Butterfly ("In a Gadda Da Vida"). All feature guest singers I've never heard of (and don't expect to ever again): Youn Sun Nah, David Linx, Dhafer Youssaf, Ousman Danedjo, Julia Saar, Himiki Paganotti. (Their names strike me as selected to illustrate Lê's world music concept.) I'd have preferred more of the instrumental breaks, where Lê's electric guitar powers over tinkly vibes and percussion. B
Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra: Córdoba (2010 , Zoho): Argentine bassist, plays electric and acoustic, moved to New York in 1996; fourth album since 2002. Orchestra has 11 pieces, many New Yorkers I recognize from elsewhere but no big names: four reeds, three brass, an extra cajón in the rhythm section. Flows elegantly, the sort of thing that shows how jazz has supplanted classical forms as a composing medium. B+(*)
FivePlay Jazz Quintet: Five of Hearts (2008-10 , Auraline): Guitarist Tony Corman and pianist Laura Klein produced and split the eleven songs 6-5 in favor of Corman. The others are Dave Tidball (saxes, clarinet), Alan Hall (drums), and Paul Smith (bass), listed in that order for no reason I can fathom. Second album, the first out in 2010. Corman has previous albums as Triceratops and as Crotty, Corman and Phipps. Klein has a previous duo with vibraphonist Ted Wolff. Looks like they intercepted in Boston -- lots of Berklee resumes -- although I also see a note that Tony and Laura got married in 1984 and moved to the Bay Area. They bill what they do as "melodic modern jazz," and that's about right. The leaders' instruments tend to hold things together and keep them flowing, and Tidball's reeds ride the waves instead of cutting against the grain. Not to be confused with Sherrie Maricle's quintet, Five Play. B+(**)
Peter Evans Quintet: Ghosts (2010 , More Is More): Trumpet player, best known for his work in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, but has 7 albums under his own name since 2006. Most of those have been solo or small group, nothing as big as this, literally let alone figuratively. With Carlos Homs (piano), Tom Blancarte (bass), Jim Black (drums), and Sam Pluta (live processing) -- the latter hard to figure, or easy to blame. Aside from the processing, this rumbles and roars more like MOPDTK than anything Evans had done on his own. I'm torn here, duly impressed but not sure I really like this sort of splatter action. B+(*)
James Carter: Caribbean Rhapsody (2009-10 , Emarcy): Starts with "Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra," composed by Roberto Sierra (from Puerto Rico), played by Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra (from Warsaw, Poland), conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero, with Carter handling the saxophones. Then we get a "Tenor Interlude" showcasing Carter; another Sierra composition, "Caribbean Rhapsody," with the Akua Dixon String Quartet, Regina Carter for a violin solo, bass, and soprano and tenor sax; finally a "Soprano Interlude." So this is basically a sax with strings thing, except that for the bulk of the record the strings are in charge. Ever since Charlie Parker saxophonists have been eager to play in front of strings, and they haven't all been atrocious -- Stan Getz's Focus and Art Pepper's Winter Moon are two resounding exceptions, but I can't think of any others offhand. The "interludes," by the way, are solo; they do help to clear out the ears. 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.
Brazilian Groove Band: Anatomy of Groove (2009, Far Out): Leo Gandelman project. He plays sax, flute, keyboards (here at least), has 15-20 records under his own name, the majority with obvious Brazilian themes (Brazilian Soul, Bossa Rara, Perolas Negras, Ao Vivo, like that). The horns are massed up like salsa, but the guitars work Brazilian themes, and the beats feel electronic: all seems a bit off, but not enough to be odd. Packaging at least is truthful, including the absence of definite articles. B [Rhapsody]
Matana Roberts: Live in London (2009 , Central Control): Alto saxophonist from Chicago, always identifies herself as a member of AACM even though the Association was founded forty years before she came up -- kind of like growing up in a union family. With Robert Mitchell (piano), Tom Mason (bass), and Chris Vatalaro (drums). First song runs 27 minutes, everything skewed at odd angles, just like in the good old days. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Chris Barber: Memories of My Trip (1958-2010 , Proper, 2CD): English trombonist, one of the major figures in Britain's trad jazz movement in the 1950s, looking back from age 80 on a career that did more than preserve past music: Barber was especially important in building British interest in American bluesmen, which led to all sorts of things, not least the Rolling Stones. I don't have good dates on everything here, but some of the earliest tracks come from a 1958 tour with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee; later tracks feature bluesmen from Muddy Waters to Jeff Healey, but also Lonnie Donegan, Van Morrison, and Andy Fairweather Low. The guest star framework slights Barber's own play and his wry vocals, making room for old jazz hands like Edmond Hall, Albert Nicholas, and Trummy Young. But at least he leaves some space for Ottilie Patterson, his long-time singer and wife. Could use more of her, and more jazz instrumentals: Hall's "St. Louis Blues" is definitely a high point. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Sunday, June 5. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Probably not the right analogy, but indicting John Edwards reminds me of Stalin's show trials, especially the ones used to wipe out the left. I never thought Edwards was an especially credible populist, and I wish he would have limited his ambition to becoming a multi-term senator from North Carolina. I'm not saying he's not at fault, but I do think that the problem is far larger than his own pathetic case. We've concocted a massive multi-billion-dollar system of systemic corruption, and what he's charged with is diverting a bit of that to cover up a personal embarrassment. But Edwards raised far less money than Obama or Clinton or Bush, and he delivered far less favor for it. To my mind, by far the biggest disappointment of Obama's first two years was his failure to push hard and pass really strong campaign finance reform. Having been outhustled the last two elections, the Republicans might have blinked, but even more so he had the votes to do something -- even if the actual Democrats in Congress didn't want to because they had been selected for their skills by the current system, they could have been shamed into voting for reform. And opponents could have been shamed as well. Instead, not only did Obama do nothing, the Supreme Court weighed in with their unlimited corporate spending ruling.
Then there's the other side of this: if Obama wanted to prosecute anyone, he should have started with the Bush administration, which broke all records for the corrupt interaction of business and politics. The main reason Obama's change rhetoric has soured so bad isn't that he hasn't lived up to his proffered ideals. It's that he's forgotten what people so desperately wanted a change from. Even if he couldn't prosecute the past administration's wrongdoers, the least he could do was to expose them, and where they might defend themselves as being within the technical lines of the law, to campaign for tightening up those laws. By whitewashing the previous administration, Obama's has become continuous with it.
Saturday, June 4. 2011
by Michael Tatum
This month is a bit of a grab bag -- we have one mild recant (the first of a few), two electronica records (one from a relative newcomer, the other from a critic's darling unjustly turned into a critic's whipping boy), an R&B mixtape you'll soon be hearing more about, some Afrobeat, some indie rock, some country. Believe it or not, I started out with the intention of devoting a month mostly to hip hop -- which I'm ironically and regretfully short on this month -- but my iPod had different plans. Besides, taking things in one genre at a time . . . what fun would that be? Now if you'll excuse me, I have a Fleet Foxes record to delete.
Adele: 21 (XL/Columbia) My initial impression of Adele Adkins -- unfair to Adkins, but worth mentioning -- was that her success culminated what might be called the Simon Cowell aesthetic, Adult Contemporary Division, the irony of her age-referential album titles being that she sounds like she's aiming for a demographic ten, twenty years older than she is. Though her idea of a standard (the Cure's "Love Song") and her idea of "country" influences (purportedly Rascall Flatts) belie her true age and inexperience somewhat, two things stopped me from entirely dismissing her. The first was her voice: deep, British blue-eyed soul in the vein of Dusty Springfield, who she's probably more naturally gifted than even if she does less with what she's been given (at the very least, Dusty didn't write her own lyrics). The second was the unavoidable cultural tidal wave "Rollin' in the Deep," a quasi-gospel stomper as mysterious and as penetrating as its title, rhythmic and compelling right down to the chanting backing vocals: an undeniable classic. And that would have been that: so what if she dedicated an entire album to an ex later to be revealed as a litigious-happy douchebag? Carly Simon probably could probably anthologize a whole box set of material devoted to James Taylor. But that leads me to the crux of the Adele mini-phenomenon, which is -- let us not mince words -- her weight. Guys complain on message boards that the real life chanteuse is a lot chunkier than the thrush photographed from neck up by the creeps at Rolling Stone, while women who identify with her heartbreak woes (of varying weight brackets, I assume) fervently come to her defense. When an "ordinary" person (neither too rich or too thin) can generate that much interest from the public, that's one of the marks of true star power, which deepens songs that might be pedestrian coming from somebody else (like, say, Carly Simon). So while I may not hear "the voice of God" that Beyonce Knowles does, after several months of involuntary immersion, it's this odd factor that turns the tables on my original analysis, because in fact, Simon Cowell would vote her off of Britain's Got Talent for precisely that "star-killing" quality. Admittedly, I prefer Adkins' center-stage sass to her barstool balladry -- I wish there was more here like "Rumor Has It" and current fave "I'll Be Waiting," though some of the ballads have converted me, if not necessarily the weepy climax "Someone Like You," which apparently is to the Brits what Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" was to us Yanks. I can't see myself going that far with her. But then again, since I've warmed up to her more in the last six months than I ever did to Carly after thirty plus years, who's to say? B+
Bibio: Mind Bokeh (Warp) More songful than Gold Panda, more self-assured than Flying Lotus, Stephen Wilkinson adroitly balances (as the artiste himself describes it) "the familiar and the non-familiar" -- it's not for nothing he christens his mesmeric closer after the patron saint of travelling. The opener "Excuses" divides neatly into three very different, interlocking two-minute segments: an evocative murk of percussion, bass, and keyboards that suggests the mind's eye blur of Wilkinson's album title, which then segues into a mysterious, Eno-esque song fragment, finally coming to life with a fairly amazing coda, in which cascading beats and a spiralling synth line surround a dismbodied voice that may as well be describing the track itself: "a fragment of time, which is not yet recorded." Wilkinson's secret vice as well as his saving grace is the playful bubblegum retro-pop of "Anything New" and "K is for Kelson," which not only conjures happy memories of H.R. Pufnstuf, but also makes the riskier compositions go down easier. And just like the jokers in Cornershop, who casually slip in a crunchy rocker just to show what they could do a whole album of if they had any interest in doing so, Wilkinson tosses in the head-banging "Take Off Your Shirt," perhaps to show the electronica haters that he's not just "pushing buttons." Of course, if you listen close to that suspiciously tidy-sounding rocker, you'll realize the irony is that he is pushing buttons. But as with most of everything else here, he's pushing the right ones. A
Moby: Destroyed (Mute) Reportedly, Moby snapped the picture that became this album's artwork one night at La Guardia Airport, killing time while waiting for a delayed flight. By chance, walking alone in a terminal, he came across an electronic sign flashing the message all unattended luggage will be destroyed. Because the sign could only accompany one word at a time, he waited until the word destroyed re-appeared in the sequence and clicked his camera. Such patience reflects the kind of care that went into this music, recorded mostly on tour in hotel rooms, which sounds de trop at first, but upon multiple listenings unfolds into something unexpectedly beautiful. Pitchfork's Andrew Gaerig dismissed its evocation of urban isolation and bleary, early morning quiet, but unlike Thom Yorke, who usually mines this turf for ye olde "meaningful" alienation, this record radiates a kind of cold comfort -- less the nightmare of aloneness than contentment in quiet solitude, like the aura that surrounds the narrators of Haruki Murakami's best novels, or the diner patrons in Edward Hopper's Nighthawks. Pledging his devotion to the blue moon while telling the sun it will be no more, wandering through the low hum of shimmering cities, this is a soundscape to get lost in, with the occasional song marking the path like breadcrumbs. And I'll be damned if "The Day" -- which if I'm not mistaken, details the real-life Richard Hall's anguished bedside vigil for his dying mother -- doesn't combine musical elements from three different songs on Brian Eno's Another Green World. A
Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador) The lyrics are functional/decorative rather than expressive/confessional, which is why the title is Demolished Thoughts rather than Demolished Emotions, Hurt Feelings, Sea Change, or Blood on the Tracks. Since Moore's mission in Sonic Youth has always been devotion to aesthetic pleasure, this should be no surprise even when he lays down his electric guitar for this delicate all-acoustic outing, which with Moore's string-bending and open drones recalls John Fahey, or perhaps producer Beck Hansen's "Blackhole," more than Experimental Jet Set's singer-songwriterish "Winner's Blues," or Nick Drake. Following suit, harpist Mary Lattimore plucks around Moore's vocal rather than assaying dramatic flourishes, while solo violinist Samara Lubelski -- that's right, no string quartets on the premises -- provides poignant counterpoint. Though an aesthete like Moore is certainly no stranger to beauty, that he could create something this exquisite is impressive. And without coming out and saying I'd rather this be a new Sonic Youth album, I'd have liked a little more of "Circulation," which is fast, and "Orchard Street," which brings the noise. A
Frank Ocean: Nostalgia, Ultra (mixtape) It's hard to imagine Tyler, the Creator and the man who legally changed his name from Christopher "Lonnie" Breaux to Christopher Francis Ocean sharing space in the same hip hop collective. Expressed in classic rock terms, it would be akin to pairing Black Sabbath with Harry Nilsson -- no wonder Def Jam sat indecisively on this solo mixtape for months. Be thankful an irate Ocean took matters into his own hands and posted a link for the world to download the entire record from his tumblr account -- startled by the spate of resulting good press, Def Jam will be releasing a physical copy this July, and pray neither copyright lawyers nor A&R interlopers force Ocean to alter a minute. Sainted with a gift for tune, whether devising his own or elaborating on the inventions of others, as well as a knack for skillfully constructing/exploiting extended metaphors, he's dubious of time travel because nostalgia can't change the past and unconvinced our nation's flag is on the moon because he believes in private property as little as he does intellectual property. The novocaine with which his porn star girlfriend (who he assures us is studying to be dentist) laces his weed aptly circumscribes the way he kills pain and heartbreak with sex, music, and immersion in memory, and if his blissful "Songs for Women" doesn't tempt her from pumping Drake and Trey Songz in her car, he's too busy up in the lab concocting new brews to care. It takes some kind of spark to elicit soul and imagination from such questionable sources as UK pop sensation Mr. Hudson, MGMT's "Electric Feels," and Stanley Kubrick's sexploitation debacle Eyes Wide Shut, and in fact two of his recastings rank among 2011's very best songs. In the first, he transforms that Coldplay single you overlooked into a spellbinding reverie in which he clings to a childhood reminiscence while the world crashes to an end around him. The second, "American Wedding," the album's centerpiece, would signify as an unqualified work of art on the basis of its remarkable lyric alone. Married to the backing track of a certain iconic Eagles song -- all six minutes and eight seconds of it -- it's a jaw-dropping coup, a genius stroke of highway robbery. Now, I can see all of you raising a virtual eyebrow across the gauzy tundra of cyberspace. Believe me, when I heard that distinctive chord progression cueing up, I had my doubts, too. And yet by the end of the song, I'm passionately air-guitaring alongside Joe Walsh and Don Felder. Air-guitaring. With the Eagles. On "Hotel" fucking "California." If that doesn't rank as some sort of artistic achievement, I don't know what does. A
Brad Paisley: This is Country Music (Arista Nashville) Released last December to safely pave the way for the album proper, the title cut reinforces my suspicion that the marketplace scared him into changing his tune from "The Times They Are A-Changing" to "Gotta Serve Somebody," sucking up to his constituency so shrewdly its opening quatrain could have been drafted by Karl Rove: "You're not supposed to say the word 'cancer' in a song/And tellin' folks Jesus is the answer can rub 'em wrong/It ain't hip to sing about tractors, trucks, little towns, and mama, yeah that might be true/But this is country music and we do." Mainstream as underground, populists as renegades, vast majority as "oppressed" minority -- smells like the kind of stuff that Dick Armey feeds his Dick Army, wouldn't you say? Unfortunately, both that indelible tune and the spirited way Paisley delivers it win this cynic over anyway, even if Paisley unforgiveably ranks "Mama Tried" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today" with that god-forsaken Lee Greenwood beer commercial. Anyway, there's a difference between pandering to your audience with lines commemorating those who "die for the red, white and blue," and, oh I don't know, actually sending those young men needlessly to die in Afghanistan and Libya. Yes, there is the Tim McGraw-derived "Love Her Like She's Leaving," and I fail to be manipulated by the cancer-stricken kids of "One of Those Lives," which doesn't put that lump in my throat like Another Saturday Night's "No," "Just Like Me," or "Welcome to the Future." But Paisley's best political instincts slip through in "A Man Don't Have to Die," in which he kindly explains to "Mr. Preacher Man" why broken down men fill strip clubs by the airport a lot more readily than they do churches on Sunday, as well as the how-sarcastic-is-he-being "Camouflage": "Well, the stars and bars offend some folks, and I guess see why/Nowadays there's still a way to show your southern pride/The only thing that's patriotic is the old red, white, and blue/It's green and gray and black and brown and tan all over too." Elsewhere, he justifies an Alabama revival, puts Carrie Underwood's Hollywood cornpone to good use on the endlessly repeatable duet "Remind Me," and plays a mean guitar throughout. Now if only I could be assured that Proctor and Gamble (Crest Toothpaste) and Georgia-Pacific (Dixie Cups) didn't coerce product placement into the lyric of the otherwise charming and succinctly accurate "Toothbrush." You know Georgia-Pacific, don't you? A subsidiary of Koch Industries, owned by the Koch Brothers of Wichita, Kansas, the Machiavellian schemers who brought you . . . the Tea Party? Maybe if I keep singing along I won't have to think about it. A
Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin' (Columbia) While the masterful The Way I See It suavely took off from The Temptations circa 1964, back when Smokey wrote the songs and Ruffin and Kendricks split the vocals, the one chord whomp of "Heart Attack" announces the transition to the Temptations circa 1968, when Norman Whitftield saw the writing on the wall of Sly and the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music," in hindsight as epochal as "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit." In short, as opposed to a Motown-influenced pop-R&B throwback, a funk record, and the former Ray Wiggins masters this idiom as confidently as he has any other he's set his sights on. But even in terms of pastiche, it feels slightly unrealized. While The Way I See It and even Tony! Toni! Toné's House of Music coasted by on charm, cleverness, and home truths, that won't wash with this harder music -- certainly, from Sly on, black pop began to explore darker themes that Wiggins has spent his career mostly skirting. I'm not saying anachronistic put-downs of "the man" are the way to go, but considering how much tragedy Wiggins has seen (one brother murdered, one sister killed in a car crash involving the police, two other brothers lost to heroin), his vow not to "Go to Hell" suggests he's been using music to insulate himself from the darkness around him ever since he could pick up a guitar. "I was the boy in the little picture/Always asking questions but never getting really good answers," he reminisces soulfully in the closer, observing later that he found his way because he was raised not merely by a family, but by a community, and he listened to everyone. If he thinks that's "The Answer," I wouldn't argue with his conclusions. But I wish he spent more time reflectively addressing the questions that -- at least in song -- he steadfastly avoids confronting. A
Ebo Taylor: Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-80 (Strut) Stay away from Strut's recently-released Love and Death, featuring Germany's well-meaning but rhythmically stunted Afrobeat Academy. Be thankful however, that that project led to this wonderful excavation of assorted tracks from his '70s heyday -- although he's more journeyman than innovator, there are certainly worse exemplars than Fela Kuti and Sunny Adé, and much of these sixteen tracks on two discs is top drawer Ghanian Afrobeat. You haven't heard of the London-educated guitarist for two reasons. First, unlike Adé, his career missed Afropop's tiny commercial window in '80s, and second, unlike Kuti, his talent is entirely untainted by rampaging ego: the tracks here divide into eight different artist credits, only four of which feature Taylor's name proper. This makes him more a bandleader than a frontman, but even though there's an almost overwhelming sonic variety here, his spirit is strong enough that the package coheres, and even the tracks in English impress, especially Super Sounds Namba's militant "Yes Indeed" and the powerful original "Love and Death," voiced not by Taylor alone, but by a impassioned chorus of widows and widowers: "On our wedding day she gave me a kiss/It was the kiss of death/Love and death walk hand in hand." You may be familiar with "Heaven," sampled by Usher and Ludacris on "She Don't Know." But don't miss the unearthed rarity "Aba Yaa," an outlandish fifteen minute jam that may as well be Taylor and his session men fucking around. I say lucky for us some intrepid vinyl treasure hunter dug it up. A
TV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light (Interscope) Telling us not to "mind the noise" because it's "just the sound of being dragged ahead," the theme here is not love per se, as many others have suggested, but rather knocking down emotional barriers, signaled in metaphor by transformations, mega-quakes, cannonballs, and the post-precipital flight of a killer crane. And, oh yes, music that cunningly deploys time-tested tension-release structures as powerful if more subtle than Nirvana's: the first three songs for example, pit tentative verses sung in a guarded baritone that blossom into more expansive choruses delivered in an expressive falsetto. Tunde Adebimpe is the rare art-rocker who realizes that, like a lot of smart guys, his central problem, both interpersonal and musical, lies in a cerebral and overly cautious nature: on some level he must know that beginning a song "It might be impractical to seek a new romance/We won't know the actual if we never take the chance" aren't the choice words that will change that woman's mind. But as in films where the hero doesn't get the girl but the emotional growth has made him a better person for it, he's opened himself up to the possibility of deeper feeling, as tangible emotions rather than abstract concepts, electing to shift his "known position into the light," regardless of whether the war on the 6 o'clock news or the one in his head has abated or not. I ask you: can Thom Yorke make that claim? A
EMA: Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions) Undeniable star power, but she could use a real band, or perhaps couples counseling ("The Grey Ship," "California," "Anteroom") ***
Foo Fighters: Wasting Light (Roswell/RCA) He's burning his bridges, but apparently not the ones that lead back to Butch Vig, Kris Novoselic, and, hmm, Kurt Cobain ("Rope," "Dear Rosemary") **
Mr. Dream: Trash Hit (God Mode) Fall followers are adept with the trash, which figures, not so much with the hits, which also figures ("Crime," "Holy Name") **
The Lonely Island: Turtleneck & Chain (Universal Republic) No late night comedian is an island, but they could have done better annexing protectorates that were funny rather than merely famous . . . ("Mother Lover," "I Threw it on the Ground," "I Just Had Sex") **
Art Brut: Brilliant! Tragic! (Cooking Vinyl) . . . although even a bad comedian knows lesser material can be improved by expert delivery ("Bad Comedian") *
David Bazan: Strange Negotiations (Barsuk) If he needs something to believe in, how about his sharp political instincts? ("Wolves at the Door) *
Alison Krauss and Union Station: Paper Airplane (Rounder) As kindly and reliable as a good neighbor, or perhaps a State Farm insurance agent ("Miles to Go") *
Katy B: On A Mission (Columbia Europe) Dropping all but the first letter of her surname because that's the current fashion in British dance music circles, hitching her album to the dubstep locomotive because that's also the current fashion in British dance music circles, Katherine Brien churns out faceless electropop at its most expedient -- I can conceive how the music scribes at The Guardian might be fooled into thinking she's dubstep's great crossover hope, but can geniune UK clubrats be suckered in by the ocasional bleep or blip peppering this otherwise anonymous dance-shlock artifact? The second best track, "Power On Me," shamelessly swipes its melody from Madison Avenue's not exactly avant-garde 1999 UK smash "Don't Call Me Baby" -- Brien even appropriates frontwoman Cheyne Coates' distinctive phrasing. And while you might say the killer "Katy on a Mission" shifts her known position (love that "woo-oo-oo-oo" hook), I don't particularly see how the putative "dubstep" element -- that little twanging synth figure -- brings the shock of the new. In fact, it reminds me of the squiggle that bounces across the Who's "Join Together." Ah, yes, Pete Townshend: dubstep progenitor. You heard it here first. C+
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop) Some hear ambition in what could be the most talked about record of 2011, some hear garish pretension, and I say: why can't it be both? Musically this cringe-inducing faux-agrarian mélange derives from Mumford and Sons and the Decemberists with less of a knack for song than either -- "suites" are more their thing. Sources run from Yeats (I highly doubt they've visited Innisfree for themselves) and the medieval Robyn Hode: A Mummers Play (the only non-anachronistic antecedent of the magic phrase "Sim Sala Bim") to -- let us be frank -- Jethro Tull's Aqualung, though I'm sure they would earnestly embrace that comparison as a compliment. The indefensible title track is as horrifying a 2011 cultural marker as Rebecca Black's "Friday," and with less justifiable pretext: "I'd say I'd rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me," Robin Pecknold warbles without a specknold of irony, but somehow I don't get the feeling that as a convinced bohemian he's happily prepared to kneel to the serving end of some Ayn Randian-licking stick. But if he's willing to participate in a useful social experiment, perhaps we can ship him overseas and dump him smack dab in the middle of an assembly line of a Malaysian sweatshop. We'll see how how much "use" he finds in singing the "helplessness blues" then. C
The Cars: Move Like This (Hear Music)
Chancha Via Circuito: Rio Arriba (ZZK)
The Dears: Degeneration Street (Dangerbird)
DeVotchKa: 100 Lovers (Anti-)
Elbow: Build a Rocket Boys! (Fiction/Polydor)
Gang Gang Dance: Eye Contact (4AD)
Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers: Teenage and Torture (Knitting Factory)
Thursday: No Devolución (Epitpah)
Friday, June 3. 2011
I'm working harder these days to keep track of new reissues -- the main exhibit is my metacritic file [*] -- but not having much luck in covering them. Don't get much in the mail, and lots of things I look for I can't find on Rhapsody. Then there are things that I can find on Rhapsody but have trouble sitting through; e.g., I found last year's well-reviewed 7-CD Orange Juice box but could only imagine trying to swallow it in one sitting. Even Shout! Factory's new 4-CD Loudon Wainwright box (40 Odd Years) would weigh heavy that way, even as I'm already familiar with almost all of it (cf. my Rolling Stone Album Guide piece). The Phil Spector sets were much easier to handle: I have pretty much everything in other form, plus the new sets are more useful -- I have Spector's Back to Mono box graded B, because while there are great songs everywhere, none of the discs (not even the Christmas album) are straight-through enjoyable. The new single-CD Very Best Of is all that normal people need -- something I can assuredly say even though Rhapsody refused to play "River Deep, Mountain High": one case where my memory can reliably fill in for their shortcomings. The Cash sets were harder to figure: long, obscure -- I understand Greil Marcus wrote the liner notes, which are bound to be a plus even though I normally bristle over his writing. Wound up cutting them some slack, but that only seemed right.
Still, most of what follows was hit by accident. Some world music things I still get, some side glances -- thought I'd check the Cars' canonical set after hearing their reunion album, found the old Isolée alongside the new one, checked out the old Presley after I saw it on sale cheap (still not worth it, but by all means seek out Tiger Man), always wanted to hear more by Tubby Hayes. This stuff is still adding up: 2970 records reviewed since 2003. I've only topped 20 records twice in the last 6-8 months (33 once, 27 another time, both jazz-heavy), so the odds are against passing 3000 next month, but it's not a big stretch. Will happen before it cools off here.
[*] Seems likely that I've miscalculated the Johnny Cash Bootleg sets in this file, since I only had Vol. II listed, and Vol. I is much the better set. They seem to have come out on the same date. Will have to recheck -- a tedious job I'm not looking forward to.
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: The Sesjun Radio Shows (1978-83 , T2 Entertainment, 2CD): The second in a series of radio shots from Tros Sesjun in the Netherlands -- Chet Baker came out first, last year. Blakey was one of the three drummers who put bebop on the map (Kenny Clarke and Max Roach were the others), the first guy who figured out how to play with Thelonious Monk, and the inventor of hard bop -- all but synonymous with Blakey's 1953-66 Jazz Messengers, where he picked up a series of virtually unknown young musicians and turned them into: piano players like Horace Silver, Bobby Timmons, and Wynton Kelly; saxophonists like Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, and Wayne Shorter; and trumpeters like Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, and Freddie Hubbard. He fell on hard times in the late 1960s, but the idea that he could run a finishing school made for a comeback that peaked in 1980 when he tutored two young Marsalis brothers. These three sets bracket the Marsalis Messengers; they're not in any of the lineups, but Bobby Watson and Donald Harrison play alto; David Schnitter, Billy Pierce, and Jean Toussaint tenor; Valery Ponomarev and Terence Blanchard trumpet. The hardest boppers are in the mid-1980 group (Pierce, Watson, and Ponomarev, with James Williams on piano and Charles Fambrough on bass), their set spread across the two discs, and Blakey responds as usual, playing even harder. B+(**)
Johnny Cash: Bootleg Vol I: Personal File (1973-83 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Forty-nine songs recorded solo in the privacy of Cash's studio, more originals than covers but not by much, some with intros, some effectively poems without the guitar kicking in. One especially tasty sequence goes north for "Saginaw, Michigan," follows with "When It's Springtime in Alaska," Cash's own "Girl in Saskatoon," and the tall tale of "The Cremation of Sam McGee." Less inspired is the long series of Jesus songs on the second disc, but where the originals are sketchy and idiosyncratic, the disc closes with three classics. A- [R]
Miles Davis: Bitches Brew Live (1969-70 , Columbia/Legacy): Something of a misnomer, combining three previously unreleased cuts from a pre-Bitches Brew July 1969 performance at Newport with six from an Isle of Wight set the following August. Neither group matches the album band -- Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, and Joe Zawinul are among the missing -- nor do the songs line up. The former group was stripped down with Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette; the latter was buffed up, adding Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett (on organ), and Airto Moreira. So this is basically yet another live set from the period when Davis made his transition from hard bop to fusion, and from dingy jazz clubs to stadia. Pretty hot one, too; all the more confusing since I mostly recall Bitches Brew as our favorite chill-out album of the early 1970s. B+(***)
Lajos Dudas: 50 Years of Jazz Clarinet: The Best of Lajos Dudas (1976-2007 , Jazz Sick, 2CD): Clarinet player, also some alto sax, b. 1941 in Budapest, Hungary; not sure when he moved to Germany, evidently by 1973 when he started teaching in Neuss, North Rhine-Westphalia. Reportedly has "over 50 Singles/LPs/CDs"; liner notes cite 17 here, plus seven cuts identified as radio shots. Fifty years goes back to his first performances, back when he was studying at the Bela Bartok Conservatory and the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. His recording career is shorter, starting around 1976 with his first Reflections on Bach -- a subject he returns to several times later. Still, this is very much jazz, even though he hardly fits into the trad, bop, or avant niches. Discs aren't strictly chronolgical, but the first one leans early (1978-94) with its Bach, Liszt, and HR Big Band (also a cut with guitarist Atilla Zoller). Second leads off with a vigorous "Summertime," then more Bach before he moves into a 1995-2007 stretch and it gets more interesting. B+(**)
Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah [Soundtrack From the Documentary Film] (1975-89 , Lost Art): Michael David Fuller, better known as Blaze Foley, better still as Lucinda Williams' "Drunken Angel," lived from 1949-89, finally giving it up not to alcohol but to a bullet in the chest, the killer acquitted by reason of self-defense. Don't have any doc on this, but it claims to "span Blaze's musical life," leading off with a single released in 1979 ("Let Me Ride in Your Big Cadillac") but also appeared near the top of The Dawg Years dating 1975-78 and on another posthumous compilation dated "mid-1970s" (Sittin' by the Road, on Lost Art). Fact is, with Foley it's pretty much all posthumous: five records now on Lost Art, one on Waddell Hollow, Dawg Years on Fat Possum, all scraped up from practically nothing. A few good songs loosely done, most neither deep nor weird enough to care for unless knew and cared for him, which some folks did, otherwise he'd be as forgotten as he is dead. B+(**) [R]
Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector 1961-1966 (1961-66 , Phil Spector/Legacy): One producer of the Brill Building era whose records are remembered under the producer's name rather than the artists' names. Part of the reason was that he had a name for his production technique -- Wall of Sound -- and part of it was because along with Lester Sill he owned his own label, Philles Records, and assiduously kept his records segregated from all other doo-wop and girl group anthologies, where they might have just fit in, and where many would not stand out. Instead, the records have slipped in and out of print, with rare compilations mixing his key girl groups (the Crystals and the Ronettes) in with juvenilia and the operatic excess of his decline. I've owned two of these -- the 1977 2-LP Phil Spector's Greatest Hits and 1991's Back to Mono box, the former's 20 songs a bit much, the latter's 4 CDs (including his 1963 Christmas album) an open dare for you to start programming around the dreck. In his 70s now, serving 19-years-to-life for second degree murder, he's back finally in print now, his oeuvre reduced to 19 songs (53:39) on one disc, about right -- in fact, most classic, even once he discovered strings and a percussionist named Sonny Bono: in fact, climaxing with "River Deep, Mountain High," you can see why so many people thought he had a plan all along. I'll just note that every great song he put his name to was co-credited to others, usually Barry-Greenwich or Mann-Weil. A [R]
The Cars: Greatest Hits (1978-85 , Elektra): Reduces five of six 1978-87 albums to fourteen tracks, giving you a sense of the hook-laden guitar grooves they tried to replicate in their 2011 reunion; the more expensive 20-cut Complete Greatest Hits adds one cut from the last album and three more from their eponymous first -- but this covers them adequately. B+(**) [R]
Johnny Cash: Bootleg Vol II: From Memphis to Hollywood (1955-69 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The early stuff from his first radio shot at KWEN, reading aluminum siding ads and promising to learn new songs if listeners will write in and request them, is little short of embarrassing; his Sun demos are starkly unadorned, lacking the Tennessee Two rhythm that made his Sun singles so great, but we find the simplicity suits him as he moves on to Columbia, songs that would be slaughtered for filler regaining their dignity. B+(**) [R]
Da Doo Ron Ron: The Very Best of the Crystals (1961-63 , Phil Spector/Legacy): Spector's flagship girl group, which made them his primary targets of abuse, running through three lead singers -- Barbara Alston, Darlene Love, and Dolores Brooks -- in a bit over two years, each good for a pair of top-20 singles, with only "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)" falling flat -- even more explicit was the non-single "Please Hurt Me"; the filler gets stronger toward the end, thanks to Barry-Greenwich. B+(**) [R]
The Tubby Hayes Quintet: Late Spot at Scott's (1962 , Verve): Live set at Ronnie Scott's, home base for England's foremost tenor saxophonist of his brief heyday (d. 1973 at 38); an energetic hard bop quintet, with underrated Jimmy Deuchar on trumpet and better known Gordon Beck on piano, does some interesting things on the ballad "Angel Eyes" then breaks loose, especially on the burner "Yeah!" B+(**) [R]
Isolée: We Are Monster (2005 , Pampa): Rajko Müller's second album, reissued as he moves to a new label, picks up minimal house beats and flings off witty synth asides, more echo slides than blips or twiddles, although there are some of those too; hard to tell how electronica will wear, but this keeps coming back -- every time I start to zone something tickles my fancy. A- [R]
Femi Kuti: Africa for Africa (2010 , Knitting Factory): Fela's eldest son, grew up in his father's band, also plays alto sax, continues the family trade: the beats, the sax wails, the chant vocals -- political rants in pidgin English, "Bad Government" one title you can believe. B+(**)
Ladytron: Best of 00-10 (2000-10 , Emperor Norton): Standard edition, 17 tracks, although they also have a 2-CD 33-track deluxe option that I haven't sampled; English pop group, mostly synths fronted by vocalists Mira Aroyo and Helen Marnie, as tronic as the synths; can't say a single song stood out, least of all badly. B+(*) [R]
Vesa-Matti Loiri: 4+20 (1971 , Porter): Finnish jazz and poetry bash, the leader playing flute and singing, sometimes cartoonishly, while piccolo, sax, guitar, and lots of percussion romp all around; label has done much to shed light on Finnish jazz notables such as Eero Koivistoinen and Pekka Sarmanto, and this is where that devotion winds up. B+(*)
The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love (1962-75 , Phil Spector/Legacy): Leads off with her two great Crystals singles -- "He's a Rebel" and "He's Sure the Boy I Love" -- and tacks on two of her more retro Bob B Soxx & the Blue Jeans leads, splitting the difference on her own marquee songs like "Today I Met the Boy I'm Gonna Marry" and "A Fine, Fine Boy"; ends with a post-Philles single Spector somehow controls. B+(**) [R]
Elvis Presley: An Afternoon in the Garden (1972 , RCA): A typical period set dumped off 25 years after the fact, almost the same as the previously released As Recorded at Madison Square Garden, from the opening strains of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" through the ridiculously bloated "American Trilogy," stopping off for a handful of 1950s hits; sounds a bit scrawny at first, but picks up steam on the way. B [R]
Don Pullen: Plays Monk (1984 , Why Not?): The last pianist to work for Charles Mingus is an odd choice to play Monk, and I suspect he gave little thought to the project; he keeps wanting to work in his trademark flourishes, dazzling of course, but excess baggage especially when playing songs that hide their odd note choices in a cloak of primitivism. B [R]
Be My Baby: The Very Best of the Ronettes (1963-66 , Phil Spector/Legacy): Girl group, led by Veronica Bennett, later known as Ronnie Spector, had been together for several years before Phil Spector took them over, introducing them with their sole hit single, arguably Spector's finest three minutes: "Be My Baby"; after that "Baby, I Love You," "(The Best Part of) Breakin' Up," and "Walking in the Rain" fell short of top-20, but Spector's mono-faced kitchen sink sound gives nearly everything a unifying force -- although a couple clunkers near the end make you wonder. B+(***) [R]
The Sway Machinery: The House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. 1 (2010 , JDub): Brooklyn collective centered around Balkan Beat Box guitarist-vocalist Jeremiah Lockwood, "inspired by ancient Jewish Cantorial music, blues, afro-beat and rock," goes to Mali's Festival in the Desert and comes back with featured singer Khaira Arby and guests like Djilmady Tounkara and Vieux Farka Touré, mixing it up with horns from Antibalas; Sounds interesting, and is, but the parts clash more than mesh, and much of the interest comes from the wreckage. B+(*) [advance]
Max Wild: Tamba (2008 , ObliqSound): Alto saxophonist from Zimbabwe, plays a slick variant of township jive with a little Afrobeat thrown in, the dance groove topped with vocals by Sam Mtukudzi, Chiwoniso, and Alicia Olatuja, with Danish jazz pianist Soren Moller thrown in for good measure. B+(**)
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody ([X] is some other stream source). The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments.
For this column and the previous 85, see the archive.
Thursday, June 2. 2011
Michael Lind kicked off an argument on energy and climate policy. Andrew Leonard was taken aback, and Lind tried to regroup. The three pieces:
Lind's basic point is that fracking will save our energy-intensive way of life:
Lind skips over the two basic problems with nonconvential hydrocarbon extraction: the cost, especially as measured in energy, and the side effects, which include pollution and climate-altering carbon dioxide created when those hydrocarbons are burned. Lind doesn't deal with cost factors at all. Lind handwaves evidence that fracking pollutes, attacks Greens for promoting uncompetitive renewables, and dismisses climate change as "low probability" -- if it were probable that would be all the more reason for going nuclear, but since nobody wants nuclear the climate change risks must be negligible.
He goes further to blast conservation:
Leonard doesn't get into costs either, which I suspect is the real limit on how much nonconventional hydrocarbons we actually extract, but he does note the pollution externalities -- a word which attempts to translate oft-ignored intangibles like pollution into costs. And while he concedes that it would be nice to have more cheap energy to fall back on, he sees this as buying time, not carte blanche to act like the world's problems aren't our own.
Lind at least tried to put some distance between himself and the industry propagandists:
At least Lind didn't reiterate the relatively underdeveloped smears against conservation and renewables from the original article. I'm one of the first to admit that windmills have a downside -- the cemetery where many of my ancestors are buried is towered over by the things, creaking eerily in the sky, destroying an atmosphere that should be serene. But even if the upper limits of wind and solar power fall short of current, let alone future, fossil fuel demands, every kilowatt they shift extends the available reserves. Same for local food, for public transit, for tighter cities. It makes no sense to dismiss an alternative because it doesn't solve everything.
As for nuclear, Lind is either attempting to scare us, or he naively believes in utopia. There is a lot of uranium scattered about the crust of the earth, and quite a bit of thorium too. But it's not clear how much can really be mined and refined efficiently enough to produce more power than is consumed along the way -- a way that necessarily includes whatever you wind up having to do to safely dispose of the waste. Plus we don't have an especially good record of understanding the risks and accounting for their costs. Lind may be happy to suffer "an occasional Fukushima or Chernobyl" but most of us are more cautious, especially near our own backyards. I'm not hardcore anti-nuclear, but I don't see how this works.
I'm also not a global warming crank, but I can see a lot of real bad things happening short of turning Earth into Venus. Again, even if the little things that are doable prove inadequate, I don't see the logic of ridiculing them: can't hurt, and maybe they buy you a little time and flexibility to grapple with the big problems. Lind, however, rejects any moderating effort until we snap, at which point all he can offer us are horrors: martial law, conscripted business, an accident-prone nuclear power industry, God knows what else. He immediately rejects the first principle of progressivism, which is, hey, let's stop a minute and think about this, so we can plot out a course that does what we want to do.
But let's go back to the beginning here: fracking. I saw the movie Gasland recently. It's hard to tell from one personal take whether gas fracking is always destructive to the environment, but the movie does make the case that sometimes it is, and that there needs to be more trustworthy oversight so we can understand when things go wrong and what can be done about it. One thing that is clear is that the fracking fluid is deadly poisonous. Another is that industry standard practices of drilling gas wells and hooking up pipelines and infrastructure are not as safe and reliable as they should be. Another is that the profit-seeking gas companies have powerful incentives to hide rather than to face up to problems. It also isn't clear how economical it is to tap into shale gas: the deposits are thin and often poorly sealed; the horizontal drilling and fracturing are expensive and difficult. This raises questions: how densely do you have to drill? how quickly do the fields loose pressure? how much gas is actually recoverable? Unless all of this can be done by spending much less energy than is returned it will prove uneconomical.
The same basic questions apply to any tight oil or gas source. Until fracking was developed gas shale was uneconomical. Now, how far have we move that equation. We've known for a long time that there is a lot of oil shale in Canada, but it's always been real expensive to extract it. For now, all we can do is to strip off the shale closest to the surface, heat the rocks up to extract the oil, and dump almost everything as waste. Every step along the way uses up a significant fraction of the extracted oil, so you don't wind up with much profit. Tar sands are even tougher. When oil was $20/barrel people speculated that tar sands would be profitable at $40/barrel, but we've still never hit a price that works: it just takes too much energy. And everything else in the industry works that way. The biggest conventional oil finds in recent times have been deepwater offshore fields, and the real costs of drilling them just took a sudden leap in 2010.
And now Lind just waves his hand and we'll be able to process massive amounts of gas hydrates. All we have to do there is sink robots to the bottom of the ocean, have them dig off the sediment, then pick up little clumps of ice and methane and shuttle them back to the surface. Good news is that once you got them, the chemistry is pretty simple, but getting them is something else.
I don't doubt that eventually we'll pump every recoverable barrel of oil out of the ground, that we'll suck up all the gas we can afford, and that we'll mine all the coal we can get to. Nor do I doubt that we'll convert almost all of that carbon into carbon dioxide because we'll want to use all of the energy packed into those molecules. And we'll dump most of that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it will trap solar energy and make the planet hotter and hotter. We've spent the last century doing just that as unthinkingly as possible, and if Lind has his way we'll just keep on doing just that, assuming that any problems that do crop up will miraculously solve themselves.
What bothers me about all this is its unthinking nonchalance. I don't doubt that if we really did think about it we would wind up burning all that fossil fuel. But we would recognize the benefits of slowing down the pace, both of the burning and of everything else that depends on that energy. Slow down the pace and you'll postpone the reckoning. Slow down the pace and you'll reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide and lessen its warming effect. Slow down the pace and you'll have more time to think about what you really want to do. In particular, you might think about how much consumption is enough for human happiness, and narrowing the band between not enough and too much to develop a more equitable society that leans more to cooperation than to competition, and therefore reduces conflict, allowing us to slow down further, and stretch out the time before we face the end of our fossil fuel endowment.
On the other hand, Lind doesn't want to slow down. He wants to keep racing on until we hit a wall, then start a big fight over whatever's left. Reminds you he never was a real progressive. He just got a lot of credit for turning on his fellow neocons and opposing the War on Terror. But here he is, dumb again.
Bonus link: Bill McKibben: Obama Strikes Out on Global Warming: Tom Engelhardt's intro reviews the latest climate news, before McKibben gets to what's bugging him:
Needless to say, this is just a small subset of Obama's handling of energy and environmental issues since taking office. You might recall that he had just unveiled a huge giveaway program to open up deep water oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and up and down the Atlantic coast when BP's well blew up. And he had just announced another round of incentives and subsidies for the nuclear power industry when Fukushima melted down. Time and again he's tried so hard to follow in GW Bush's footsteps, championing the crony capitalism his predecessor(s) worked so hard to advance. And time and again he's tripped himself up. That's not change you can believe in. That's the same old story you voted against.