Friday, August 31. 2012
by Michael Tatum
Even notwithstanding skipping my August installment, this has been somewhat of a weird month: no full A records (unless I'm mistaken, a first for me) and no titles that most of my readership, such as it is, aren't hep to already -- lots of backtracking here, with many more titles still languishing the queue. The big news is the inclusion of a short "choice cuts" section, which drop the names of two great 2012 singles -- one you've heard six times this morning, and another you should hear six times before you go to bed -- on otherwise middling albums that didn't merit a takedown. I gave that honor instead to a reissue of a record from the year I was born and a tribute record to Fleetwood Mac. Like I said, a weird month -- the Dirty Fucking Projectors? If I come back in October extolling the virtues of Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective, I may have to begin questioning my sanity.
Francis Bebey: African Electronic Music 1975-1982 (Born Bad) Like Brian Eno, to whom he is sometimes compared, this Cameroonian is a bit of a Renaissance man -- after retiring from UNESCO's information services division in Paris in 1974, he dabbled in novels, short stories, poems, and of course music, recording upwards of forty tracks that have earned such unlikely admirers as classical guitarist John Williams. As a child, he toyed with the traditional Pygmy flute, later learned mbira and guitar, and most importantly, at around the same time he quit UNESCO, purchased an early synthesizer that he installed in his living room and gleefully presented to family and friends as a novelty, which of course at that time it was. The key to falling in love with these low-rent tunes is to embrace their chintziness -- for example, he could have hired live percussionists to put some flesh on these charming, AA-battery beats, but that would have robbed the music of its originality: what might have sounded garishly dinky in the manner of Juan García Esquivel instead miraculously achieves a strange, almost homespun affability. By juxtaposing the native instruments of his youth with these synthetic drones and squiggles, he effectuates "futurism" without indulging in the bachelor pad sci-fi trappings that inevitably date themselves. And while the French and Duala lyrics outnumber the ones in English, I won't complain, especially with the chattily surrealistic "New Track" humorously peeling off one layer after another with every listen: "There's something wrong with the system," he remarks in an instrumental break. "Everyone says so . . . so I believe it." Now, really -- what kind of slogan for the revolution is that? A
Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran (Sham Palace) An Arab folk dance performed primarily at wedding ceremonies, dabke traditionally incorporates the lute, the mijwiz (a sort of double-reed clarinet), hand percussion, spirited chanting, and most crucially, foot-stomping, the latter element the literal translation of the word dabke from Arabic. Pumping up both live and sampled beats so that the relentless 4/4 resembles a stadium full of wigged-out football fans, this compilation from the fertile Houran region stretching across southwestern Syrian and northwestern Jordan pulsates with a potent, electrorave groove that pounds with the inexorable energy of a bull hopped up on Viagra. These six tracks culled from '90s cassette-singles would be thrillingly galvanic had they been assayed more conservatively; instead, the cacophonous, brazenly modern touches once again prove how prime Middle Eastern music is for this kind of treatment, incorporating spiky noises that at various points recall sci-fi movie laser beams, the cheers of electronically-processed munchkins, a NASCAR racer careening into a brick wall, and an ululating bungee cord jumper, all riding a singly-purposed, monotonic bass pattern that makes Dee Dee Ramone sound like Jaco Pastorius. And the appealingly melodramatic titles, many of which straddle the line between the deadly-serious and knowingly-kitschty ("Love is Not a Joke," "Your Love Made My Head Hurt," "I Will Grieve Until I See Her Again") flesh out the general concept: masking vulnerability with macho bravado, which given the genre's matrimonial mien is only apropos. More fun than slow-dancing to power ballads or cheek-to-cheeking to Tony Bennett, that's for sure. A
Death Grips: The Money Store (Epic) This trio's chaotic, apocalyptic noise-rap polarizes reviewers, and with tangible hooks completely nonexistent until track five, figure that's the way these Sacramento rabble-rousers want it -- think of the four tracks preceding the jolting, tough-talking "Hustle Bones" as an adult-proof cap for this bottle of bitter pills. Regardless of what you've read however, the music's challenge stems not from withstanding its punishing volume levels or hearing through its abrasive dissonance, but rather negotiating its near-lack of middle ground: rumbling bass and frenetic drum samples on one end, screeching discordance on the other, with bellowing rapper Stefan "MC Ride" Burnett left alone to verbally box his way from either side. His unceasing vitriol has been extolled by his admirers as "stream of consciousness," though I would compare it to Burroughsian cut-and-paste the obtuseness of which doesn't always signify -- "Bubonic plague/Spreaded faceless/Lurking in the deadest spaces/On your knees, black goat anus" is as laughable as anything Korn's Jonathan Davis has offered up -- but the exhilaration of the music, pungent in its inarticulation, catapults Burnett's glossolalia to a level it couldn't possibly achieve on its own. Sometimes however, when Burnett flays off the pretense, his lyrics can be harrowing indeed: certainly "Hacker," with its mighty "I'm in your area!" refrain, but particularly his incendiary ode to desensitization "I've Seen Footage," which contrasts the memories he can't delete from his neural hard drive ("Hand held dream/Shot in hell," which is actually pretty good) with the ugly gift of the Internet (viral snippets of a hit and run ambulance, a little boy shooting cats). I'm reminded of the shallow irony and middle-brow distance of Sting's "Driven to Tears": "Too many cameras/Not enough food." Favoring emotion over logic, confrontation over withdrawal, I'll take Burnett's ominous information-overload in a second. A
Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan (Domino) The first few bars of the opener -- an arch two-part male harmony defined by jarring interval jumps -- are so aurally grating I dreaded subjecting myself to these critical darlings twice, but a funny thing happened when I concentrated during repeated listenings. When wobbly tenor Dave Longstreth hands off that part to bandmates Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle, the passage steadfastly rights itself, after which the leader audibly clears his throat and croons some acceptable verse. And then the band pulls the rug under his artsong by veering into a blistering chorus that alternates between 3/4 and 5/4 -- all illustrating this collective has finally learned that prog devices are meaningless unless they provide some sort of musical or emotional payoff, a lesson that this surprising, sometimes even beautiful record showcases in song after compelling song. While Coffman and ex-band mate Angel Deradoorian's killer wails made 2009's Bitte Orca, here the band builds on that advance by marshaling a smarter sense of dynamics, unfurling Longstreth's knotty melodies so much so they could be described as straightforward, even clear. Granted, his quirky histrionics still annoy, and anyone who rhymes "bergamot" (in this context, referring to the herb endemic to North America, not the orange used in Earl Grey tea) with "guillemot" (one of several species of seabirds in the auk family) deserves the Colin Meloy Award for Shameless Doggrel. But I reserve the right to believe Coffman has encouraged him to reveal the man underneath the fop: when she dryly observes, "That made no sense what you just said" after he sings a typically cryptic line about "morbid poetry," it's just the sort of self-deprecation he so desperately needs -- I mean, this is a guy who refers to meaningful fucking as "congress," an amusing banana peel for lyric sites who think he's referring to the legislative body. And if the love songs don't convince you, the masterful "Gun Has No Trigger," about a rich man and the outside world his gated community can't keep out, does everything but call Mitt Romney out by name. A
Greenberger Greenberg Cebar: Tell Me That Before (Pel Pel) Now seven years away from legally being designated a senior citizen himself, David Greenberger's strange journey began after graduating from art school in 1979 and accepting a position as activities director at a nursing facility in Boston. Rather than engage his charges in painting however -- something he omitted from his repertoire on his first day of work -- he began talking to them, writing and recording their conversations, later utilizing them for a series of zines, compact discs, radio shows, and public performances, the most famous of these being The Duplex Planet Illustrated, comic book adaptations of his transcripts spearheaded by Ghost World author Daniel Clowes. In all of their media incarnations, two things strike me as pertinent to this project. First, unlike fellow caretaker John Leyland Kirby's 2010 collage record an empty bliss beyond this world, Greenberger doesn't portray the aging process as dreadful or haunting, but rather kindly, as a part of the natural order, which explains why he delivers these brief, appropriated monologues himself in his genial, insurance-salesman cadence, rather than allowing us to hear their cracked, aged voices ourselves. Secondly, his delivery is straight, completely devoid of judgment or prejudice -- when one octogenarian makes the wacky claim that bowling began in Cannes under the auspices of a French dietitian, or another insists women will only eat food aesthetically appealing to them ("and that's proven behavior!"), you never get the feeling Greenberger belittles or even pities them. The austere music, mostly composed by the Coctail's Mark Greenberg with valuable assistance from guitarist Paul Cebar, enhances this respectful aura -- the marimba chattering away at the end of "Good Girl Spend It," the asthmatic bass harmonica underscoring "On the Mayflower." I'm less reminded of my mother's mother, frozen in time on her cot in my uncle's bedroom, and more of my father's mother, who never fails to tell me she's the only Democrat in her retirement home: touched only minutely by shadows, but still funny, wise, noble. A
Himanshu: Nehru Jackets (Mishka download) I avoided reviewing Das Racist's Relax last year partly because its dense production played a large role in other critic's pans -- Ian Cohen of Pitchfork drew comparisons to De La Soul is Dead, but I'm inclined to cite the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, another one of those records so jam-packed with musical and lyrical stimuli it takes time to sort it out piece by piece. The three free solo mixtapes released from the duo earlier this year throw both its difficulty and its rewards into sharper perspective: both of Kool A.D.'s efforts suffer from their hazy disconnectedness, with the relatively more grounded 51 the more penetrable of the two. But here, with valuable assistance from DJ Mike Finito, Himanshu Suri continues sardonically blowing smoke rings around Relax's chock-a-block grooves, acerbically darting back and forth through breakneck Bollywood and Punjabi samples that never flag for a solid eighty minutes. Once again, Heems doesn't mind if his rapid-fire references bounce off your cerebrum -- even if, for example, you're unaware the album art parodies the Parle G biscuit boxes of his youth, the joke is there to amuse him and the handful of knowing Indians and Pakistanis that rank among the "nerds that buy our records." But as usual, he doles out jokes you won't only laugh at, but will enjoy hearing again, my favorite being where he neglects to rhyme this couplet in his paean to "Womyn": "They like to take showers/And when they let you take 'em with them it's really awesome." And his brutally vivid response to the Strokes' "New York City Cops" isn't funny at all, reminding us that if Julian Casablancas had come up with something more damning in 2001 than "They ain't too smart" -- like Abner Louima, assaulted and sodomized by the NYPD with a bathroom plunger in 1997, or 57-year old Alberta Spruill, who died of a heart attack after the NYPD mistakenly tossed a stun grenade into the wrong apartment -- there would have been less of a rationale to ban that song in the wake of 9/11. Suri's details of these crimes are heart-wrenching. Trayvon Martin -- who died not at the hands of the NYPD but the fucked racial profiling endemic of police and citizens alike across America -- is why they need to be remembered. A
Elle Varner: Perfectly Imperfect (RCA) Turko-American producer Warren "Oak" Felder and protégé Andrew "Pop" Wansel paid their dues producing the likes of High School Musical grad Ashley Tisdale and Hulk Hogan's talentless daughter Brooke, finding pop success more recently with hits for Big Sean, Trey Songz, and Nicki Minaj. Chortle at that roster all you want, but I'm betting that thankless apprenticeship enabled them to hone a spunky pop/R&B that they've been waiting to match with the right artist. Enter twenty-three year old lightning rod Gabrielle Varner, graduate of NYU's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music (voted "Most Likely to Win a Grammy" by her classmates), who comfortably slips into the Janet Jackson role to their Jam/Lewis. Like Minaj, Varner is charismatic, witty, and absolutely born to be a star, and also like Minaj, she's a hard-working, unapologetic self-promoter: Conversational Lush, her download-only mixtape from earlier this year, proves she could have expanded this eleven-cut debut without wearing out her welcome, with special mention for the outrageous "WTF," in which she catches her boyfriend with another man, then runs into a mugger who makes off with her purse. But even with that track sacrificed to the internet to keep that dreaded parental advisory sticker off the cover, there's still plenty of warmth, pizazz, and hooks left to go around -- bet Oak and Pop have been sitting on that fiddle-not-violin sample sashaying back and forth across "Refill" for years. Those who require quick conversion should proceed straight to the breathless "Sound Proof Room," in which a snazzy two-key layout, nimble bass line, and a Morse Code guitar line straight out of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" rouse Varner into belting the year's most undeniable sex jam. Not "fly" enough? Girl, are you kidding? A
Jack White: Blunderbuss (Third Man/XL) No (male) rock critic in the world will ever agree with me, but Jack White's postmodern blues suffers sans the crude bashing of his ex-wife drummer Meg. If that sounds like crazy talk to you, consider how much of this record finds the newly solo artiste sorting through the aftermath of not their romantic relationship -- which would be a little nutty given they signed those divorce papers over a decade ago -- but rather their uncomfortably prolonged professional relationship, which their early success made increasingly difficult to sever. "I woke up and my hands were gone/I looked down and my legs were long gone" states his problem in a terse little couplet; later, two back-to-back lyrics allude to the surname he borrowed from her for his nom de rock. And the Samson and Delilah metaphor in the Blasters cover is bitterly purposeful, though what has he been robbed of, exactly? His manhood? His music? His identity? Whatever the answer, the hussy brandishing the scissors clearly isn't ex-wife number two, model/singer/songwriter Karen Elson, who provides harmony vocals throughout, and reportedly split up with him so amicably they threw a party to "celebrate" their legal dissolution. There are plently of good songs here, and catchy riffs are a given. But on some level, White must know how flatly professional he sometimes sounds without his former foil. He can chide her all he wants for "not having nothing to do." But no matter how many other female backing musicians he sucks into his orbit, it won't compensate for her loss. B+
Henry Clay People: Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives (TBD) Emotional immaturity is one thing, musical immaturity is another ("Every Band We Never Loved," "Hide") ***
Nas: Life is Good (Def Jam) That may be true, but don't let it make you complacent ("Accident Murderers," "Daughters") **
Killer Mike: R.A.P. Music (Williams Street) Pushing the envelope by impersonating Ice Cube circa 1991, denigrating a president who's been out of office since 1989, and demanding his wife not re-marry should his overblown martyr complex become a self-fulfilling prophecy ("R.A.P. Music," "Reagan") **
Santigold: Master of My Make-Believe (Downtown/Atlantic) Yes, but M.I.A. wouldn't have outsourced beats from the same indie rockers who collaborated with Amadou & Mariam ("Disparate Youth," "The Keepers") **
Usher: Looking 4 Myself (RCA) "Revolutionary pop," my ass -- merely the kind of record Chris Brown might make if Diplo and Max Martin returned his calls ("Scream," "Climax") **
Kool A.D.: 51 (Greedhead download) Das Racist joker eschews verse-chorus-verse to create a new songform: asides-asides-asides occasionally justified by a killer hook ("La Piñata," "Oooh") *
Deep Time: Deep Time (Hardly Art) Stereolab as Rough Trade signee is a great idea, but I wish the trade was a little rougher ("Clouds," "Coleman") *
Carly Rae Jepsen, "Call Me Maybe" (Curiosity, 604)
Mystery Jets, "Greatest Hits" (Radlands, Rough Trade)
Paul & Linda McCartney: Ram (Hear Music) Saddled with the Herculean task of making their charge's much maligned solo material relevant in the ears of modern day reviewers, Paul McCartney's current publicity team deserves some kind of medal -- Lord knows the man himself must be tired of churning out myriad live albums showcasing his immortal Beatles material to remind the world he once Meant Something. And yet last year, they successfully brainwashed many naïve critics into championing 1980's McCartney 2, heard at the time even by his apologists as half-assed and scatter shot, as a brave, overlooked electronica experiment (yes, the great triumvirate: Eno, Kraftwerk, Macca). Now, Jayson Greene of Pitchfork burbles, "What 2012's ears can find on Ram is a rock icon inventing an approach to pop music that would eventually become someone else's indie pop," and given that he cites Of Montreal and Fiery Furnaces as the feasibly influenced, I deduce instead the times have caught up to this record in the worst of ways. In 1971, only an artist of McCartney's caliber could have made this kind of album -- both pretentious and aimless, unfocused and ornate, an enterprise like this once required the artist to have plenty of money and time at his disposal, not to mention a label that would humor his contented insularity. But now you can achieve the same effects on your laptop for next to nothing, and judging from Pitchfork's reviews section, records as self-indulgent as this get released by the score every week. What's frustrating is that McCartney was so much better than one side of post-Beatle bitchiness that titillated fans then and most likely embarrass him now, and another of pastoral whimsy that peaks with a goddamn Buddy Holly-style throwaway about eating at home (because let's face it, even if you're a millionare, it's impossible to get good Szechuan on the Scottish countryside). So while his handlers are dreaming up ways to connect the dots between 1972's atrocious Wild Life and Animal Collective, think about the man who fondled a pig on the inside cover of Imagine: because you know damn well they wouldn't be able to sell their bullshit if he was still alive. B
Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac (Concord/Hear Music) Unlike 1998's insipid song-by-song Rumours retread, which featured such "alternative" blandouts as Tonic, Matchbox 20, and the Corrs, this aims higher than merely matching FM perennials to contemporary superstars -- indeed, four of these covers predate the Mac's better known and universally revered late '70s lineup. In fact, because these indie-identified performers respect the band's quirkier, more experimental side (Peter Green, Tusk, "Future Games," the latter over-literalized by MGMT into a synth-drenched miasma) this boasts plenty of variety, and even a few left-field risks. But with a half point awarded to Gardens & Villa's nicely textured "Gypsy," which I'd enjoy more with the benefit of a singer blessed with actual presence, only two songs earn their reprisals: Best Coast's endearingly clumsy "Rhiannon," which renews the original by recasting it in a major key, and the New Pornographers' "Think About Me," which amps up a worthy Christine McVie obscurity. But ignoring obvious misses like Antony's, er, recitation of "Landslide," what's mostly missing is magic, which might be defined in this case as the knowledge that many of these songs were originally emoted to someone often singing and strumming on the other side of the studio, something that will occur to you in the middle of Lykke Li's cavernous, overly-overdubbed "Silver Springs." Also, if I may allow my prejudices to surface, the remaining "classic period" choices are divided unequally -- two from Buckingham, one from McVie, and ten from Nicks, whose spacey post-Rumours tracks suffered from her ex's musical disinterest. No, "Sisters of the Moon" does not improve with St. Vincent co-handling the lead vocal. B
The Tallest Man on Earth: There's No Leaving Now (Dead Oceans) "I knew a man, his nickname was 'tall' [harmonica wheeze] He couldn't think of nothing at all [harmonica] He's not the same as you and meeee. He doesn't dig poetry. He's so unhip . . . when you say DYLAN [harmonica] -- he thinks you're talking about Kristian Matsson . . . whoever he is. The man ain't got no cultcha." B
OFF!: OFF! (Vice) Not a one joke band, a one punch line band: to get to the other side! To get to the other side! To get to the other side! To get to the other side! B
Twin Shadow: Confess (4AD) This just in: a reissue of the Real Genius soundtrack earns an 8.6 and "Best New Music" designation in Pitchfork. B
Joyce Manor: Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired (Asian Man) Come to think of it, the Descendents had a touch of emo about them, too -- except they weren't so, you know, emo about it. B
Kool A.D.: The Palm Wine Drinkard (Greedhead download) A shame he released these 51 rough drafts after the fact rather than before -- he could have fibbed it was his "dub" project and the hipsterati would have creamed in unison. C+
Gold Motel: Gold Motel (Good as Gold) Rilo Kiley knew Los Angeles from the inside, but Chicago's Greta Morgan knows it only as a tourist, which explains why all her friends are "street musicians" rather than denizens of the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. C+
Future of the Left: The Plot Against Common Sense (Xtra Mile) So much comic potential in such promising titles as "Sheena is a T-Shirt Salesman," "Failed Olympic Bid," and "Polymers Are Forever" -- too bad these Welsh blowhards don't believe humor is enough to stave off inevitable global apocalypse. C
Lambchop: Mr. M (Merge) 'M' for 'maudlin' of course -- Kurt Wagner's throat catches so often you'd think Shari Lewis had her fist in it. C
Monday, August 27. 2012
Music: Current count 20337  rated (+33), 706  unrated (-18).
Seems like a healthy rating mark, but I've been taking it very easy, pulling out old records from the unrated file -- most of which dates from a few bouts of mass closeout buying back in 2002-04. I'm collecting the reviews in the August Recycled Goods column, whose release is delayed to the end of the month. Back in early August, I felt like I didn't have an adequate store of reviews -- the column will be my 100th, an occasion which demands more than the half-dozen items I had stashed away. Up to about 35 now, but they're still awfully scattershot, and I'm not finding many gems among piles I bought for about $1/disc and hadn't bothered to play for almost a decade. I should probably figure out some way to round it off. As it is it feels like I'm ending the series with a classic heat death whimper.
Meanwhile, no Jazz Prospecting. I think I managed six records for the week, including one A-list find, but that will keep. I seemed to be recovering a bit a week ago, but I took a turn for the worse middle of last week. Went back to doctor on Friday. Ran some tests, but still no answers. Meanwhile, fever has returned, and I've been coughing more than ever. I've been out of sorts for more than a month now, Last few days I've been barely conscious. No idea when that will change. Until it does, I'm pretty much putting everything on hold.
I did finally get the unpacking done this today, so I can run that.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, August 20. 2012
Music: Current count 20304  rated (+35), 724  unrated (-7).
First Jazz Prospecting in about a month. Don't know what the odds of another one next week are, but at least the bins aren't stuffed any more. Never really recovered from last month's flu, and I'm having something of a relapse: did nothing on Saturday, got some work done on Sunday, and woke up this morning as miserable as I've been during the whole ordeal. Could hardly stand up, but feeling a bit better now, so who knows?
Lots of Duduka Da Fonseca below. Sometimes it breaks like that.
John Abercrombie Quartet: Within a Song (2011 , ECM): Guitarist, b. 1944 in Portchester, NY; more than 50 albums since 1971, most on ECM, a major figure albeit a tricky one to get a firm grasp on -- usually lurks in the woodwork, but sometimes can step out and dazzle. Has a group here that makes lurking a pleasure: Joey Baron (drums), Drew Gress (bass), and Joe Lovano (tenor sax). B+(***)
Roni Ben-Hur/Santi Debriano: Our Thing (2011 , Motéma): Guitar-bass-drums trio, with Brazilian drummer Duduka Da Fonseca's name in smaller type as "featuring" (he contributed one song, as did Ben-Hur, to the bassist's four). Ben-Hur is an Israeli with more than a dozen albums since 1995, with a soft tone and boppish demeanor that works nice here, especially on covers from Monk, Jobim, and Berlin. Debriano was born in Panama but grew up in New York, and has a substantial discography of his own. B+(***)
Jerry Bergonzi: Shifting Gears (2012, Savant): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1947, has recorded steadily since 1983. Mainstream player, from 2006 on recorded a series of exceptional albums that underscored both how mainstream he was and how vital mainstream could be -- the titles self-explanatory, Tenorist, Tenor Talk, Simply Put. Here the title suggests kicking it up a notch, and while Phil Grenadier (trumpet) and Bruce Barth (piano) are as secure in the mainstream as he is, they do just that. A-
Otmar Binder Trio: Boogie Woogie Turnaround (2012, Jump River): Pianist, don't have much to go on and have a lot of problems trying to parse the liner, but probably German, claims he first got into boogie-woogie in 1978, but doesn't seem to have any other albums. Mostly trio, with Alexander Lackner (bass) and Michael Strasser (drums). Cover says "feat BJ COLE & christian DOZZLER," but where? on what? (Cole plays pedal steel; Dozzler is credited with "harp," by which I think they mean harmonica.) And there are other musicians, especially on the last track. The music is clearer: piano boogie, with at least one cut recalling Professor Longhair, delightful all the way through. B+(***)
Brazilian Trio [Helio Alves/Nilson Matta/Duduka Da Fonseca]: Constelação (2011 , Motéma): Piano-bass-drums, should attribute this to Brazilian Trio but the stars' names loom in small print above, and if you don't know them you should. Second group album. More jazz than MPB, a fleet piano trio that builds on the native rhythms, with one original from each principal, a lot of Jobim, and the closer from Cedar Walton. B+(*)
Brubeck Brothers Quartet: Life Times (2012, Blue Forest): Dave Brubeck's sons, Chris Brubeck (electric bass, bass trombone) and Dan Brubeck (drums), plus Chuck Lamb on piano and Mike DiMicco on guitar. Several albums since 2000. They don't appear to have any desire to move out of their famous father's shadow: four (of eight) songs are by the senior Brubeck, and a fifth is Paul Desmond's "Take Five," stretched out to 10:25, sounding as glorious as ever. B+(***)
Marco Cappelli's Italian Surf Academy: The American Dream (2012, Mode): Guitarist, has a handful of albums since 2002, goes with a compact group here -- electric bass and drums -- rocking a couple Morricone pieces and more similar items that I don't recognize. Gaia Matteuzzi adds voice to one piece, taunting I'd say, and there is some more uncredited voice that adds to the dramaturgy. Ends with a take of "Secret Agent Man," a nice nod to surf guitar. B+(**) [advance]
Marco Cappelli: In the Shadow of No Towers (2011, Mode, DVD): Two 53-minute video collages based on Art Spiegelman's 2004 graphic book, In the Shadow of No Towers, one narrated in English by John Turturro, the other in Italian by Enzo Salomone. Guitarist Cappelli composed the music with his group Sintax Error -- Daniele Ledda (keyboards, live electronics), Roberto Pellegrini (drums, percussion) -- and while it's mostly soundtrack background, sometimes the music runs ahead of the narrative. Grade for the music. The graphics are probably best experienced in book form, although you do get the basic idea. B+(*)
Neneh Cherry & the Thing: The Cherry Thing (2012, Smalltown Supersound): Avant-garde trumpeter Don Cherry's step-daughter cut a marvelous hip-hop album in 1989 (Raw Like Sushi), a good follow-up in 1992, and not much more. She was born in Stockholm, and Cherry was most influential in Scandinavia, which leads to the Norwegian sax trio known as the Thing: Mats Gustafsson on tenor/baritone sax, Ingegrigt Håker Flaten on bass, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. The Thing plays a punk variant of free jazz, often starting with rock songs and ripping them up. They're well behaved here, Gustafsson's bari providing a strong hint of menace without disrupting Cherry's flow -- although he does wreck the joint on "Dirt" (a Stooges song). Not the dream album one hoped for, but a working combo that can't help but stir shit up. A-
Neil Cowley Trio: The Face of Mount Molehill (2012, Naim Jazz): Piano trio, with Rex Horan on bass and Evan Jenkins on drums. Fourth album, augmented with strings on most tracks but the effect isn't obvious other than that there's more going on than you'd figure a trio could concoct. Lots of beat and bounce -- at one point Laura came in and approvingly described this as techno; I'm more tempted to say postbop boogie-woogie. Not all like that, and even at his most grooveful Cowley avoids the slickness of smooth jazz. B+(***)
Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet: Samba Jazz -- Jazz Samba (2009 , Anzic): Brazilian drummer, sixth album since 2002, has four-fifths of a prime Brazilian jazz group -- Helio Alves (piano), Guilherme Monteiro (guitar), Leonardo Cinglia (bass) -- plus an interested, dedicated outsider in Anat Cohen (tenor sax, clarinet). Possibly despite her intents, Cohen tilts the field from samba to jazz, and while I generally prefer her tenor the extra weight slows down the drummer, making it basically her show, and not even that much of a samba showcase. B+(*)
Hamilton de Holanda Quinteto: Brasilianos 3 (2011 , Adventure Music): Mandolin player (ten-string, to be precise), b. 1976 in Brazil, specializes in choro. Has a lot of album since 2002, especially once US mandolinist and Adventure Music owner Mike Marshall turned his ear to Brazil. Quinteto includes harmonica, guitar, bass, and drums. I find it hit-and-miss, but the mandolin work is impressive. B+(*)
Ecco La Musica: Morning Moon (2011 , Big Round): Group: Aaron Bittikofer (bass), Jim Crew (accordion, clarinet, marimba, piano), Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (flutes), Ed Butler (drums, fender rhodes, percussion). First album. AMG dubs this classical, which isn't obvious to me, mostly because the rhythm is solid enough to constitute a groove. Lot of flute, though, and some uncredited choir clouding the horizon. B
Eric Erhardt: A Better Fate (2010 , Tapestry): Tenor saxophonist, from Philadelphia, based in Arvada, CO, where he teaches. First album, a broad postbop effort with Russ Johnson sparring on trumpet, both piano (Nick Paul) and guitar (Sebastian Noelle), Linda Oh on bass, percussion (James Shipp) as well as drums (Mike Davis), and Dan Willis (soprano sax, oboe) guesting on two tracks. B+(*)
The Jay Lawrence Quartet: Sweet Lime (2011 , Jazz Hang): Drummer, has a previous album from 2006. He wrote 7 (of 11) pieces, covering Chick Corea, Ray Noble, Sting, and Monk, and turned them over to a mainstream sax-piano quartet: Tamir Hendelman is flashy on piano, and Bob Sheppard exceptionally rambunctious on tenor sax. B+(**)
Maïkotron Unit: Effugit (2011 , Jazz From Rant): Canadian trio, brothers Michel Côté (clarinets, piccolo) and Pierre Côté (cello, bass), plus drummer Michel Lambert, except that both Michels also play something called a maïkotron. As best I have been able to figure out, this is a tenor sax mouthpiece hooked up to all sorts of brass plumbing, in some cases capable of ranging below the bass saxophone -- two inside pictures show four very different-looking contraptions. The group's previous Ex-Voto won me over, but this is a bit less convincing, more limited to the novelty of the sounds. B+(***)
Jacám Manricks: Cloud Nine (2011 , Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, b. in Australia, descended from Portuguese in Sri Lanka, studied at William Patterson U. in NJ and Manhattan School of Music, based in New York. Wrote 7 of 9 tunes (covers Jobim and Ivar Widéen). Strong mainstream group: David Weiss (trumpet), Adam Rogers (guitar), Sam Yahel (organ), and Matt Wilson (drums). B+(**)
Daniel McBrearty: Clarinet Swing (2011 , Dan McB Music): B. in Wales, based in Antwerp since 2001, at which point he started gravitating toward trad jazz. Plays clarinet, in a trio with piano and bass. Three originals, standards like "Body and Soul," "Jitterbug Waltz," "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," "When I Grow Too Old to Dream." B+(*)
Ray Parker: Swingin' Never Hurt Nobody (2012, Pythagoras): Bassist, first album, a string trio with Jon Hart on guitar and Russell George on violin. Mostly standards, ranging out for a Jobim and a bit of Charlie Parker. Closer in feel to the Hot Club de Paris than to the String Trio of New York. B+(*)
Jeremy Siskind: Finger-Songwriter (2012, Bju'ecords): Pianist, third album, a set of original songs (plus a Billy Joel bonus) sung by Nancy Harms, backed by spare piano and occasional woodwinds by Lucas Pino. The songs have dedications, mostly writers (Borges, Kerouc, Wallace Stevens). Not clear on the lyrics, but the sax is always a nice touch. B+(*)
John Stowell/Ulf Bandgren: Throop (2011 , Origin): Acoustic guitar duo, Stowell using nylon strings, Bandgren steel. Stowell has a substantial catalog going back to 1978, always a thoughtful presence. Don't know Bandgren. Prickly. B+(*)
Kenny Wheeler Big Band: The Long Waiting (2011 , CAM Jazz): Long-time major figure, but his flugelhorn only goes so far in a big band, this one enhanced by Diana Torto's scat vocals, something I could do without. Otherwise, the texture and flow is something to marvel at. B+(*)
Jessica Williams: Songs of Earth (2009-11 , Origin): Pianist, b. 1948, has a lot of albums, too many of which are solo, but this one cherry picked from a couple years of live dates stands out, not least because she keeps the left hand hard at work. B+(***)
Denny Zeitlin: Wherever You Are: Midnight Moods for Solo Piano (2011 , Sunnyside): B. 1938, got an MD from Johns Hopkins, has close to three dozen albums since 1964, many, like this one, solo. Two originals, rest standards (including a Jobim), tightly reasoned, authoritatively played. B+(**)
And these are previously reviewed (sometimes tentatively) records I've listened to further:
John Abercrombie: The Third Quartet (2006 , ECM): The only time ECM's publicist ever questioned my judgment was on this record, asking if I'm all right, which at the time I certainly was not. I let my grade stand, figuring that any encounter between the mild-mannered guitarist and Mark Feldman, the most orthodoxly classical of jazz violinists, couldn't amount to much. So I was surprised when the last edition of The Penguin Guide placed a crown on this record. Liking the new record, I figured I should finally reassess this one, and have to admit it makes the most of the pair's virtues -- also, of course, resplendent backing by Marc Johnson and Joey Baron. [Was: B] B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 19. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Links for further study:
Friday, August 17. 2012
I've been sitting on this, waiting for Downloader's Diary to come in, but the latter is coming so slow we agreed I might as well post this. Didn't have much more than Apple and Ocean until this last week. Been sticking to stuff that at least seems like it has some potential -- OK, not the Dirty Projectors -- but it's been a slow month.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on July 18. Past reviews and more information are available here (2811 records).
Aesop Rock: Skelethon (2012, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Rapper, Ian Bavitz, broke in around 2000 with a lot of words crammed together over terse beats, too much to hang on every word but he still grabs you every now and then. First under his own name since 2007, but I liked his 2011 Hail Mary Mallon project (Are You Gonna Eat That?). B+(**)
The Alchemist: Russian Roulette (2012, Decon): Prolific hip-hop producer strings thirty short bits together -- none longer than 2:37 -- hits and messes, some with a Russian accent, but not enough to establish a pattern. B
Ray Anderson Pocket Brass Band: Sweet Chicago Suite (2010 , Intuition): Trombone player, loves that dirty lower register and can drive it into the lead. He assembled this three-horn quartet -- Lew Soloff on trumpet, Matt Perrine on sousaphone, Bobby Previte on drums -- for a well-regarded 1999 album, and returns with a 6-part suite, a rag, and a march. Has some rough spots that further play may smooth out, but also some extraordinary highs, like the delirious "High School" suite movement. B+(***)
Ray Anderson: Love Notes (2009 , Raybone): Self-released, can't find any credits -- standards? certainly "Where or When" -- or mention of the cohorts, mostly guitar and organ, but this is a ballad album, his trombone set to croon even if it's a bit rough for the job. B+(*)
Antibalas: Antibalas (2012, Daptone): Brooklyn group, formed in 1998 by baritone saxophonist Martin Perna as Conjunto Antibalas, later recording as Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra as their inspirations shifted from Eddie Palmieri to Fela Kuti. They do a credible job of nailing down the latter's Afrobeat while muscling up the horn section and slipping in a little clavé. A-
Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (2012, Clean Slate/Epic): Could have written this up on one play as a high B+ with several striking moments and one superb song, the self-empowering "Anything We Want." Instead, thanks to various respected recommendations and a sale price, I picked up a copy, and played it enough to work through my reservations. Make that more than a few striking moments. Note the importance of "not letting the bastards get us down." And the assurance about never ending a review on a minor note. A- [cd]
Khaira Arby: Timbuktu Tarab (2010, Clermont Music): Dry, Saharan music from Mali, a female blues shouter working over a tumbleweed rhythm that never stops, slows down, or shows much in the way of nuance. In other words, powerful. B+(***)
Theo Bleckmann: Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush (2011 , Winter & Winter): German jazz singer, favorite vocal tic is to wax angelic but he doesn't indulge the temptation to mimic Bush's soprano. Band stays within standard rock lines -- guitar, keybs, electric bass, not that John Hollenbeck is a rock drummer. Enchanting. Wonder what he'd make of P.J. Harvey? B+(**)
Cadence Weapon: Hope in Dirt City (2012, Upper Class): Second generation rapper from Alberta, Roland Pemberton, is interesting in understated underground mode, also when he tightens up to sing something like "Contrasting." Those and the plaintively off-key title track set up a gloomy vibe that has trouble accommodating the fluffy sax-laden "Crash Course for the Ravens." Notable guest feat.: Buck 65. B+(***)
Brandi Carlile: Bear Creek (2012, Columbia): Country-ish singer-songwriter from rural Washington, could keep it real but loses touch when the band rocks out, and tends to throw her voice over the fence, an irritating tic. B
Jimmy Cliff: Rebirth (2012, Hip-O): Reggae's struggling man gets another lease on life, thanks largely to Tim Armstrong (Rancid, Transplants) who produced last year's EP and now this full album. Basic tactic: big beats and ebullience, which can be a bit much on songs like "Blessed Love." One that works is "Guns of Brixton." B+(**)
The Cookers: Believer (2012, Motéma): All-star septet: two trumpets (Eddie Henderson and David Weiss), two saxes (Billy Harper and Craig Handy), piano (George Cables), bass (Cecil McBee), and drums (Billy Hart). Third album together, tends to be a blowing session, and I especially enjoy Harper when he airs it out. B+(**)
Debo Band: Debo Band (2012, Next Ambiance): Boston-based Ethiopian-inspired large (nine-piece) band, directed by Danny Mekonnen (b. in Sudan, after his parents fled from Ethiopia), with lead singer Bruck Tesfaye. The group has a thick, heavy sound, with scant variation and even less finnesse, but eventually it does find its groove, and there are even some rhythmic quirks if you're patient enough to figure them out. B+(*)
Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan (2012, Domino): What passes for progressivism these days, basic tunelessness with archly orchestated harmonics, odd time, male and female singers, oblique lyrics. The juxtapositions aren't inevitably awful, but why subject yourself to such grating? I don't know whether to admire their (many) critical admirers for their fortitude, or to pity their masochism. C+
Open Mike Eagle: Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes (2011, Hellfyre Club): Rapper from Chicago, b. Michael Eagle, never quite sure how his moniker is meant to play. Title track reflects on how the founding rappers are getting on, some (at least) growing old and frail, worrying about falling like their contemporaries. Another bit complains about how little his overeducation earns him, but really it's part of his shtick. And if he isn't nerdy enough for you, he brings MC Paul Barman on for a guest shot. B+(***)
Open Mike Eagle: 4NML HSPTL (2012, Fake Four): Front cover credit: music by Awkward. Means nothing to me, but the beats hold up fine, as does his explication of "The Financial Crisis That Wouldn't Go Away." Smart guy, but jumps around a lot, never quite pulling this together. B+(**)
Lee Fields: Faithful Man (2012, Truth & Soul): Veteran soul singer, cut his first single in 1969 but didn't find a steady label until the 1990s working the chitlin circuit. Can bust a fair James Brown impression on a ballad (like the title tune) but not always, and he doesn't go upbeat often enough to justify the funk rep. Very retro, which is to say it harkens back to some of the greatest music ever minted. B+(***)
Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up: The Air Is Different (2012, 482 Music): Drummer from Boston, I figure him to be a good deal younger than the gentleman on the cover; second group album, plays two horns off against one another -- Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Brian Settles on tenor sax -- while Mary Halvorson works her mischief on guitar: as unpredictable as avant-garde gets, yet surprisingly well behaved. A-
Future of the Left: The Plot Against Common Sense (2012, Xtra Mile): Welsh group, punkish, can recall the Pogues when they lapse into something Celtic, but to me they're more like a retread of a 1980s band called Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, another effort to drive a political stake into the corpse of rock and roll. Cf. "Sorry Dad, I Was Late to the Riots." Guess they don't make 'em like the Clash any more. Or the Gang of Four. Or Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. B+(*)
Girl Unit: Club Rez EP (2012, Night Slugs, EP): Philip Gamble, had a hot single in 2010 called "Wut," returns with six cuts, 29:26, of upbeat, sometimes haunting electronica. B+(*)
The Henry Clay People: Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives (2012, TBD): California band, led by two brothers, struck me as smarter than average Americana last time (Somewhere on the Golden Coast), leads off as punk this time -- smarter than average, sure, but the bar's lower, and it stays there when they try to split the difference. B+(**)
Herzog: Cartoon Violence (2012, Exit Stencil): Cleveland band, rocks hard with enough songcraft for hooks, if not everywhere, at least often enough. Good antiwar song, but as a draft dodger from way back I can't help but hear it and think you're a dumbass for signing up under any circumstances (even wanting money for college). B+(*)
Ibrahim Electric: Meets Ray Anderson Again (2007 , Stunt): Danish organ trio, an exceptionally good one with guitarist Niclas Knudsen hitting tasty licks, Stefan Pasborg the go-to drummer in Denmark, and Jeppe Tuxen driving the B-3 hot and heavy. Trombone player Ray Anderson adds pure grit for the most gutbucket soul jazz ever, and the combo shoots his "Funkorific" into orbit. Their first "meeting" blew me away. This one, cut live, is louder, and sloppier. B+(***)
KonKoma: KonKoma (2012, Soundway): London-based Afro-funk group, key members (including vocalist Emmanuel Rentzos) from Ghana, with several resumés dating back to London's venerable Afro-funk group, Osibisa. Horns, guitar, bass, keybs, percussion all feel a little rote. B
Lapalux: When You're Gone (2012, Brainfeeder, EP): Stuart Howard, seems to be associated with Flying Lotus, piles up heavy slabs of clashing, crumbling electronics, seven pieces ranging from 3:07 to 4:49, but they play longer. B+(*)
Dan Le Sac: Space Between the Words (Sunday Best): English DJ, recorded a pair of pretty good albums with David Meads (aka Scroobius Pip), before they split and Pip scored first with a pretty good album of his own (last year's Distraction Pieces). Le Sac's debut lacks the unifying voice, which lets the beats wander all over the joint, not that a few aren't worth a listen. B
Linkoban: Super Into On It (2012, Superbillion, EP): Danish rapper, Anglo accent, reportedly has Chinese-Vietnamese roots; four-song EP (not counting the 1:15 "Intro"), totals 16:35; pushes "One Trick Pony" off the cliff, but otherwise the beat and bounce are hard to resist. Just wish there was more of it (not to mention to it). B+(***)
Lotus Plaza: Spooky Action at a Distance (2012, Kranky): Deerhunter guitarist-vocalist Lockett Pundt's side project, second album, offers a consistent shoegaze groove with more shimmer and less fuzz, most captivating on a song like "Remember Our Days" that has nowhere special to go to. B+(**)
Jessica Lurie Ensemble: Megaphone Heart (2012, Zipa! Music): Saxophonist, has worked with this quintet for a couple albums -- Eric Deutsch (keybs), Brandon Seabrook (banjo), Todd Sickafoose (bass), Allison Miller (drums), plus this time guest Marika Hughes (cello) -- for a postbop that is both slick and edgy. She also sings, and I find the vocals a bit of a drag, especially when the alternative is her sax. B+(*)
Branford Marsalis/Joey Calderazzo: Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (2011, Marsalis Music): Just sax-piano duets, no bass or drums to hurry things along (or smooth them out). Mixed originals, plus covers from Wayne Shorter and some dude named Brahms. They seem to have a connection early on, but get less focused as the set winds on, with one conspicuous weak spot the soprano feature "Hope." B
John Mayer: Born and Raised (2012, Columbia): Singer-songwriter, has worked steadily since 2000; nice songcraft, a bit of twang, needs better lyrics for his style, which can get tedious without them. B
Paul McCartney: Kisses on the Bottom (2012, Hear Music): The great American (or in some cases English) songbook, something any aging rock star can fall back on -- although it helps to have a voice as distinctive as Rod Stewart's, which Mac don't have. Still, he can be touching on the right song -- "The Glory of Love," for one. Or he can get swallowed up in strings. B+(*)
MediaFired: The Pathway Through Whatever (2012, Beer on the Rug, EP): Assembled from samples -- the Kate Bush yodel is easiest to place -- looped tight with drums driving home the repetition, and modulation inducing a whiff of eccentricity. Seven tracks, 29:12, doesn't seem skimpy, just limited. B+(*) [bc]
M-Phazes: Phazed Out (2012, Coalmine): Australian DJ, Mark Landon, second (or third) joint, lots of dense turntablism for a hard-knocking trashy sound, and lots of no-name feats, best when the DJ relaxes the din and lets them flow. Choice cut: "Brooklyn Bridge" (feat. Bekay & Master Ace). B+(*)
Munchi: Moombahtonista (2012, Mad Decent, EP): Dutch DJ, b. in Rotterdam, of Dominican descent, has a pile of EPs since 2009 -- Wikipedia lists 15, mostly freebies. Five tracks, 23:01, leans dub, or maybe reggaeton, hard beats, chants, synth diversions. B+(*)
Nas: Life Is Good (2012, Def Jam): I've seen this pegged as a divorce album like Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear, but it's hard to tell right off -- too much production, for better and for worse, with too many words and too many voices bearing down on you. Not my job to figure this out. Clearly he's a major talent, if only he can make us care. B+(**)
Koo Nimo: Highlife Roots Revival (2012, Riverboat): From Ghana, started in the 1950s playing the sweet guitar strain known as palm wine music. Now pushing 80, with an opportunity to sum things up, he assembles a group that cuts against the grain, adding more rich complexity rather than getting down to basics -- less sweet, more pungent; sharper percussion, too. A-
Frank Ocean: Channel Orange (2012, Def Jam): He couldn't cash in on last year's best-regarded download freebie when his label couldn't clear the samples -- reminds us how much we need Lawrence Lessig, or more precisely how many more of him we need. This avoids obvious samples, and as such cheap thrills. A-
Linda Oh: Initial Here (2012, Greenleaf Music): Bassist, b. in Malaysia, raised in Australia, based in New York; second album, mostly quartet with Dayna Stephens (tenor sax), Fabian Almazan (keybs), and Rudy Royston (drums), with Jen Shyu singing one track. Strong leads (especially Stephens), bold ideas, lots of bass detail. B+(***)
Owiny Sigoma Band: Tafsiri Sound (2011, Brownwood, EP): From Kenya, or England, 4 cuts, 19:05, not enough to judge what the band actually sounds like, not least because these are remixes -- two by Quantic -- that strip them down to the barest nyatiti-zinged beats. I'd call it ambient, but much too entrancing for background. B+(***)
Power Animal: Exorcism (2012, Crash Symbols): West Virginia label, don't know about the group, but the title cut is possibly the best thing I've heard this year, a steady-paced throb with washes of glimmering noise. Nothing else quite hits that level, as the songs are quirkier and the noise more intrusive. And to reach LP length they remix 5 of 6 songs. B+(**) [bc]
Alfredo Rodriguez: Sounds of Space (2012, Mack Avenue): Cuban pianist, b. 1985 in Havana, probably not related to legendary Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez (1936-2005), who moved to New York in 1960 and on to Paris in 1985. Makes quite some racket especially on his solo feature, jumping acrobatically, the radical shifts de rigeur for Afro-Cuban jazz piano. I'm more impressed than pleased. B+(*)
Catherine Russell: Strictly Romancin' (2012, World Village): Jazz singer, father was the legendary bandleader Luis Russell, which means she's much older than you'd expect for somone who cut her first record in 2006 (she was 50). Standards, although this leans back into an older jazz style, not that far removed from her father's. B+(***)
Todd Snider: Time as We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker (2012, Aimless): Walker is a countryish folk singer, b. 1942 in New York but moved to Austin, cut his first record in 1967, faded from sight sometime in the last decade. Through no real effort of my own, I've managed to miss all of his 35 albums, but Snider -- as best I recall the story from one of his live albums -- bumped into Walker in Luckenbach, TX at an impressionable moment and probably has all of them. He plays 14 Walker songs -- well, two by other guys and one co-written by Jimmy Buffett -- straight here, making the case that he's an occasionally amusing songsmith, and that Snider's own songs are several orders of magnitude greater. Nice enough, but sure could have used a Snider story or two -- even a repeat of that old one. Hope he doesn't do Townes Van Zandt next. B+(*)
Supreme Cuts: Whispers in the Dark (2012, Dovecote): Chicago duo spruces up their ambience with vocal rolls and dub echo, which is the sort of extras that ambient needs. B+(**)
Ebo Taylor: Appia Kwa Bridge (2012, Strut): Highlife guitarist-bandleader from Ghana, brought his Black Star Highlife Band to London in 1962 but continued to toil in obscurity, until he became a label revival project, with a 2-CD collection of his Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980, and now his second new album. The upbeat riff songs seem pretty rote, but the simpler, more personal pieces (like the closer "Barrima") are more touching. B+(*)
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs: Trouble (2012, Casablanca): Electropop, someone named Orlando Higginbottom, has a light touch with his beats, synths etched in bass fuzz. Vocals, presumably his, don't do much for me, but the dance moves do. B+(**)
Twin Shadow: Confess (2012, 4AD): George Lewis Jr., b. in Dominican Republic, raised in Florida, second album. Reminds me of run-of-the-mill Brit-pop, even if he was aiming for some more interesting derivation, like Prince. B-
"Blue" Gene Tyranny: Detours (2012, Unseen Worlds): Pianist, originally Robert Sheff, plays four pieces here (48:59 total), mostly solo with some electronics, nothing I can pigeonhole -- doesn't even seem right to call it quiet or introspective; too subtle for that. B+(***)
Moritz von Oswald Trio: Horizontal Structures (2011, Honest Jon's): Techno producer, prolific under various names since the late 1980s, adding Max Loderbauer and Sasu Ripatti (aka Vladislav Delay) to make up his trio. Mostly minimalist structures, the beats neatly tucked in for an effortless flow, although the last piece edges into chintzy metal tones. B+(***)
Cassandra Wilson: Another Country (2012, E1): Jazz singer: her deep, dusky voice puts her straight in a line from Sarah Vaughan to Betty Carter to Abbey Lincoln to her and no one else, but she plays it light and airy this time, the songs slight originals playing off co-writer Fabrizio Sotti's guitar. B+(**)
Thursday, August 16. 2012
Brad Sroka is running a poll over at the Christgau Expert Witness forum where folks are supposed to pick out their 20 favorite albums from 20.5 years. I went through my database and found 201 albums in those years that I had graded A or A+ (13 of the latter, a grade I'm awful stingy with). I argued, to no avail, that one should be able to vote for more than 20 albums. (Even the Pitchfork poll, which somehow inspired this one, let voters list up to 100 albums, or 6-7 per year.) Having done that much work, I figured I would entertain the crowd with a list of the jazz subset from my 201 -- Christgau doesn't cover much jazz, so most of these albums would be outside of his domain (unlike the remaining non-jazz albums, which mostly do show up on his A-lists). However, thanks to the software geniuses at Microsoft, I couldn't post this list there.
So here it is: all the A/A+-rated jazz from 1992-2012, in rank order (more or less):
But since we're here, might as well do the non-jazz part of the list, too:
No compilations in the above, per Sroka's rules, although a lot of world music (and some others) is available in no more accessible form. Didn't try to pull out the A- grades: 20 years worth would get us close to 2000 records -- most of which I'm sure hold up quite well, and some of which should be promoted.
UPDATE: Sroka wrote to correct me that some compilations are eligible: "they just can't be of material released before 1992." He then muddied the waters by saying he would accept King Sunny Adé: The Best of the Classic Years, released in 2003 but containing music previously released in 1967-74 (i.e., well before 1992, albeit only on Nigerian labels).
A quick recheck reveals 61 A/A+ compilations released in 1992 or later, but all of them have material previously released before 1992. It is possible that a few of the African comps have nothing previously released in the US, but that's very difficult to determine. Individual artist albums like the aforementioned King Sunny Adé would be even harder to search out. It certainly is the case that some Various Artists comps would be eligible, if only they were better -- tributes, dance remixes, maybe some hip-hop comps. I can think of some A- records like that, but none showed up on the A/A+ list.
After several email reminders, I voted in DownBeat's Readers Poll the other day. You can too, although I think the last chance is August 17: click here. It's a slog, with categories you care about and others you don't. And their suggested nominees, which may (or may not) be good ones. They do provide a form to write in someone else. I didn't avail myself of that, figuring I shouldn't waste my vote on someone with no chance of winning. Still, while some answers are obvious, most are pretty arbitrary. My notes follow. For comparison, see my notes on voting in DownBeat's 2012 Critics Poll -- pretty much the same regime, except that critics can vote for three (as opposed to one) nominees, and have that extra "Rising Star" complication.
Hall of Fame: George Russell; Also on ballot (henceforth AB): Abdullah Ibrahim, Anthony Braxton, Buck Clayton, Charlie Haden, Don Cherry, Don Pullen, Herbie Nichols, Illinois Jacquet, Mildred Bailey, Shelly Manne, Tommy Flanagan, obviously many more; Not on ballot (henceforth NB): Lee Konitz (4th in the Critics Poll; what's with dropping him?), Art Farmer, Bud Freeman, Don Byas, Don Redman, Henry "Red" Allen, Leroy Jenkins, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Rushing, Lucky Thompson, Mal Waldron. I would have voted for Konitz had he been on the ballot.
Jazz Artist: I assume this requires something intangible beyond playing. William Parker; AB: Anthony Braxton, Bill Frisell, Dave Douglas, Henry Threadgill, James Carter, John Zorn, Lee Konitz, Matthew Shipp, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Vijay Iyer; NB: Ken Vandermark, Steve Lehman, Wadada Leo Smith.
Jazz Group: I (usually) skip over artist-name groups here, no matter how much they like to think of themselves as group efforts. Mostly Other People Do the Killing; AB: Atomic, Claudia Quintet; NB: ICP Orchestra, Microscopic Septet, ROVA, World Saxophone Quartet; RIP: Vandermark 5.
Big Band: ICP Orchestra (not really a big band, just 9 pieces, but hey!); AB: Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Gerald Wilson Big Band, Peter Brötzmann Tentet, Satoko Fujii Orchestra, Steven Bernstein Millennial Territory Orchestra, Vienna Art Orchestra; NB: Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra.
Jazz Album (released June 1, 2011 to May 31,2012): Steve Lehman Trio: Dialect Flourescent (Pi); AB:
NB: Cf. the A-lists for 2011 and 2012. I don't have the necessary info to sort out the release dates, but will note that of the 27 A- (or better) jazz records on the 2012 list, only 8 (30%) were on the ballot. (But note that my 2012 list includes post-June 1 releases; no idea how many, but I figure the ballot must be missing at least 50% of my A-list records.)
Ballot breakdown by grade: A (1), A- (18), B+(***) (21), B+(**) (27), B+(*) (24), B (4), B- (1), U (52, 35% of total).
Historical Album (released June 1, 2011-May 31, 2012): Cartagena! Curro Fuentes & the Big Band Cumbia and Descarga Sound of Columbia 1962-72 (Soundway); AB:
NB: I've only heard 6 of 31 ballot albums, but haven't heard much else either. Lack of access to these historical albums bothers me greatly.
Trumpet: Wadada Leo Smith; AB: Brian Lynch, Dave Douglas, Enrico Rava, Nils Petter Molvaer, Paolo Fresu, Ralph Alessi, Roy Campbell, Steven Bernstein, Tomasz Stanko, Wynton Marsalis; NB: Dennis Gonzalez, James Zollar, Matt Lavelle, Natsuki Tamura, Randy Sandke, Taylor Ho Bynum, Warren Vaché.
Trombone: Roswell Rudd; AB: George Lewis, Julian Priester, Ray Anderson, Steve Swell, Steve Turre, Wycliffe Gordon; NB: Jacob Garchik, Joe Fiedler, Phil Ranelin.
Soprano Saxophone: Evan Parker; AB: Jan Garbarek, John Surman, Michael Blake, Wayne Shorter; NB: Brent Jensen, Joe Giardullo, Vinny Golia. I would prefer picking a specialist, but no one is looking to step into Steve Lacy's shoes. Most of the big names are better on larger horns (Parker included), but I'm reluctant to pick someone who just plays one cut per album (of which, Chris Potter is probably tops, with Marcus Strickland rising fast; Branford Marsalis won the critics poll, and he's usually solid).
Alto Saxophone: Tim Berne; AB: Anthony Braxton, Bobby Watson, Darius Jones, Greg Osby, Henry Threadgill, Joe McPhee, John Zorn, Jon Irabagon, Kenny Garrett, Lee Konitz, Marty Ehrlich, Miguel Zenón, Oliver Lake, Ornette Coleman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Lehman, Ted Nash; NB: Arthur Blythe, Bob Wilber, Dave Rempis, François Carrier, Loren Stillman, Mark Whitecage, Martin Küchen, Matana Roberts, Michael Moore, Philip Johnston, Sabir Mateen.
Tenor Saxophone: David Murray; AB: Billy Harper, Branford Marsalis, Charles Gayle, Charles Lloyd, Chris Byars, Chris Potter, Chris Speed, David S. Ware, Donny McCaslin, Evan Parker, Harry Allen, Houston Person, James Carter, Jan Garbarek, Jerry Bergonzi, Joe Lovano, Joel Frahm, Jon Irabagon, Ken Vandermark, Peter Brötzmann, Sonny Rollins, Tony Malaby, Von Freeman. NB: Archie Shepp, Avram Fefer, Chris Cheek, Dave Rempis, Ellery Eskelin, Ivo Perelman, Joe McPhee, Juhani Aaltonen, Larry Ochs, Pharoah Sanders, Rich Halley, Rodrigo Amado, Scott Hamilton, Tommy Smith.
Baritone Saxophone: John Surman; AB: Claire Daly, Dave Rempis, Fred Ho, Gary Smulyan, Gebhard Ullman, Hamiet Bluiett, James Carter, Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson, Scott Robinson, Tim Berne, Vinny Golia. NB: none. I don't really like picking a non-specialist, but this is Surman's main horn (unlike Carter and Vandermark, Berne and Golia), and I haven't heard a thing from Bluiett in several years.
Clarinet: Louis Sclavis; AB: Anat Cohen, Ben Goldberg, Chris Speed, Darryl Harper, Don Byron, François Houle, Marty Ehrlich, Michael Moore, Ned Rothenberg, Perry Robinson, NB: Allan Vaché, Lajos Dudas, Mort Weiss.
Flute: Henry Threadgill; AB: Dave Valentin, Kali Z. Fasteau, Nicole Mitchell, Robert Dick, Sam Most; NB: Juhani Aaltonen.
Piano: Myra Melford; AB: Ahmad Jamal, Alexander Von Schlippenbach, Brad Mehldau, Cecil Taylor, Enrico Pieranunzi, Ethan Iverson, Fred Hersch, George Colligan, Jason Moran, Keith Jarrett, Kenny Barron, Martial Solal, Matthew Shipp, McCoy Tyner, Satoko Fujii, Uri Caine, Vijay Iyer. NB: Abdullah Ibrahim, Bill Carrothers, Carla Bley, Cedar Walton, Chucho Valdes, Dave Burrell, David Berkman, Giorgio Gaslini, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Guus Janssen, Hal Galper, Irène Schweizer, Joanne Brackeen, Kris Davis, Marilyn Crispell, Misha Mengelberg, Muhal Richard Abrams, Nik Bärtsch, Pandelis Karayorgis, Paul Bley, Ran Blake, Roger Kellaway, Steve Kuhn.
Electric Keyboard: Matthew Shipp; AB: Bugge Wesseltoft, Craig Taborn, Sam Yahel, Uri Caine. NB: Alexander Hawkins, Nik Bärtsch. Not an accurate pick, in that Shipp plays very little keyb, but maybe a hopeful one.
Organ: Brian Charette; AB: Dan Wall, Joey DeFrancesco, John Medeski, Mike LeDonne NB: Vince Seneri, Jeppe Tuxen.
Guitar: Nels Cline; AB: Bill Frisell, Howard Alden, Jeff Parker, Jim Hall, Joe Morris, John Abercrombie, John McLaughlin, John Scofield, Liberty Ellman, Marc Ribot, Mary Halvorson, Peter Bernstein, Rez Abbasi, Russell Malone; NB: Anders Nilsson, Billy Jenkins, Brad Shepik, Dom Minasi, Gordon Grdina, James Blood Ulmer, Kevin O'Neill, Luis Lopes, Marc Ducret, Michael Musillami, Pedro Gomes, Pete McCann, Raoul Björkenheim, Samo Salamon, Scott DuBois, Ulf Wakenius, Wolfgang Muthspiel.
Bass: William Parker; AB: Arild Andersen, Barry Guy, Ben Allison, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, Drew Gress, Eivind Opsvik, Gary Peacock, Harrison Bankhead, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, John Hébert, Marc Johnson, Mark Dresser, Michael Formanek, Omer Avital, Peter Washington, Ray Drummond, Reggie Workman, Scott Colley; NB: Adam Lane, Alexis Cuadrado, Arthur Kell, Avishai Cohen, Cecil McBee, Hans Glawischnig, Harvey S, Henry Grimes, Joe Fonda, John Lindberg, Ken Filiano, Mark Helias, Moppa Elliott, Pablo Aslan, Reid Anderson, Ron Carter, Stephan Crump.
Electric Bass: Steve Swallow; AB: Jamaaladeen Tacuma, James Genus, Nate McBride, Stomu Takeishi; NB: Melvin Gibbs, Massimo Pupillo. A lot of bassists play some electric, but it's hard to keep track of who plays what where.
Violin: Jason Kao Hwang; AB: Aaron Weinstein, Charles Burnham, Didier Lockwood, Mat Maneri, Rob Thomas, NB: Jenny Scheinman (major omission), Jesse Zubot, Philipp Wachsmann.
Drums: Andrew Cyrille; AB: Ben Riley, Bill Stewart, Billy Hart, Bobby Previte, Dan Weiss, Dave King, Eric Harland, Gerald Cleaver, Gerry Hemingway, Hamid Drake, Han Bennink, Jack DeJohnette, Jim Black, Joey Baron, John Hollenbeck, Lewis Nash, Matt Wilson, Mike Reed, Paal Nilssen-Love, Scott Amendola, Tyshawn Sorey, Victor Lewis. NB: Anthony Brown, Günter Baby Sommer, Harris Eisenstadt, Kevin Norton, Louis Moholo, Paul Lytton, Stefan Pasborg, Susie Ibarra, Thomas Strønen, Tom Rainey, Tony Oxley.
Vibes: Warren Smith; AB: Bobby Hutcherson, Jason Adasiewicz, Joe Locke, Kenny Wollesen, Khan Jamal, Steve Nelson; NB: Bill Ware.
Percussion: Han Bennink; AB: Adam Rudolph, Dan Weiss, Hamid Drake, Kahil El'Zabar, Marilyn Mazur, Michael Zerang, Satoshi Takeishi, Susie Ibarra, Warren Smith, Zakir Hussain; NB: Kevin Diehl, Jerry Leake, Ravish Momin, Roberto Juan Rodriguez.
Miscellaneous Instrument: Bob Stewart (tuba); AB: David Murray (bass clarinet), Eric Friedlander (cello), Gary Versace (accordion), Howard Johnson (tuba), Myra Melford (harmonium) Rabih Abou-Khalil (oud), Richard Galliano (accordion), Scott Robinson (bass sax); NB: Bill Cole (didgeridoo), Cooper-Moore (diddley bow), Hamilton de Holanda (mandolin), John Gill (banjo), Marcus Rojas (tuba), Mike Marshall (mandolin), Philipp Wachsmann (electronics), Will Holshouser (accordion).
Male Vocalist: Freddy Cole; AB: Bob Dorough, Giacomo Gates, Mose Allison, Theo Bleckmann; NB: Jamie Davis, Tony DeSare.
Female Vocalist: Sheila Jordan; AB: Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall, Dianne Reeves, Fay Victor, Lorraine Feather, Patricia Barber, René Marie, Tierney Sutton; NB: Lisa Sokolov, Mary Stallings, Yaala Ballin.
Composer: Ben Allison; AB: Carla Bley, Dave Douglas, John Zorn, Randy Weston, Steve Lehman; NB: Adam Lane.
Arranger: Steven Bernstein; AB: Allen Toussaint, Carla Bley, Gerald Wilson, John Hollenbeck. NB: Anthony Branker, David Weiss.
Record Label: Clean Feed; AB: Cuneiform, Delmark, ECM, HighNote, Pi, Posi-Tone, Sunnyside; would rate higher if they serviced me better: 482 Music, Arbors, Enja, Firehouse 12, Intakt, Leo, Mosaic, Tzadik.
Blues Artist or Group: James Blood Ulmer; AB: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dr. John, Eric Bibb, Otis Taylor, Taj Mahal; NB: Guy Davis, Maria Muldaur, Sue Foley.
Blues Album: Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton: Play the Blues (Warner); AB: none. Heard 7 of 24 records; only 1 A-, 1 *** (Otis Taylor), 2 ** (Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John), 3 * (Janiva Magness, Joe Louis Walker, Tedeschi Trucks Band). Doesn't appear to be anything A-list not on ballot.
Beyond Artist or Group: The Roots; AB: Arcade Fire, Hayes Carll, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Pink Martini, Tune-yards; NB: damn near everyone.
Beyond Album (released June 1, 2011-May 31, 2012): Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas (BMG); AB:
AB: see the year lists above, for lots of non-jazz, non-blues beyond the ballot (what shows up on the ballot is pretty arbitrary). Heard 24 of 34 records. Ballot breakdown by grade: A- (7), B+(***) (2), B+(**) (4), B+(*) (5), B (3), B- (3).
DownBeat's Critics Poll results came out in their August, 2012 issue. Some quick comments:
Still very mainstream. Still nearly impossible for a European to get a hearing. Some evidence of a generational shift, especially in the rise of Iyer and Mahanthappa. (I doubt that Akinmusire will stick.)
Monday, August 13. 2012
Music: Current count 20269  rated (+20), 731  unrated (+9).
Still out of sorts, coughing up a storm, but otherwise recovering. Still no Jazz Prospecting: got up this morning and played Muggsy Spanier's marvelous The "Ragtime Band" Sessions, then followed that with the new Dan Le Sac on Rhapsody. The August Rhapsody file is up to 35 records now, and will run after Downloader's Diary, probably late this week. August Recycled Goods will come out later, hopefully near the end of the month. I embed the month number in the file name, so regard that as some sort of August commitment. I'm mostly pulling previously unrated records from the shelf, and hope to wrap up a lot of old shit. Good chance this will be the last one at least through 2012, as it's the easiest project I have to cut, and scarcely worth the effort.
Expect Jazz Prospecting to return next week, although it will most likely be on the short side, as I'm still prioritizing Streamnotes (and Recycled Goods) over it, and I'm still lying low. I will say that I'm very pleased with the computer rebuild. Still working out minor kinks, and haven't tackled the router replacement yet. Very low energy, and still trying to wait out an exceptionally hot and dry summer.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, August 6. 2012
Music: Current count 20249  rated (+3), 722  unrated (+26).
Still sick. Still doing nothing but coughing and complaining. Did manage to catalogue the unpacking to date, an exhausting slog that uncovered a few records I would have looked forward to playing, but at the moment I could hardly feel more indifferent. Recycled Goods won't appear this month, unless I follow through on a fevered idea and dredge up a "best of" from the previous 99 columns. Next one will be number 100, an event that should be worthy of more concentration than I can presently muster. Fair chance there will be no Rhapsody Streamnotes for August either, although if I do anything in the next week or so I may dump that out and start a new batch. First fragments of A Downloader's Diary are in, so that, at least, should appear more or less on its more-or-less expected schedule.
I have used this time to enjoy some old music. Favorite listening: swing trombonist Vic Dickenson. Even upgraded his 1976 record, Plays Bessie Smith: Trombone Cholly, from A- to A. Earl Hines remains a favorite, and of course there's always Coleman Hawkins. No Jazz Prospecting this week. Do at least have my unpacking done.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last several weeks -- don't even recall how many: