Monday, December 31. 2012
Music: Current count 20874  rated (+30), 586  unrated (+1).
Added a couple new jazz reviews to the draft, but still not enough new Jazz Prospecting to bother with. Rated count mostly reflects last week's big Rhapsody Streamnotes, and I've moved on to Recycled Goods -- a week ago pretty anemic, but growing fast with an unusually high concentration of real finds -- the best so far a hitherto unknown Billy Bang set, although I've also been delving into Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, Don Cherry, Little Richard, and others.
Will probably have a short Jazz Prospecting next week, mostly because the quality of the few records I have bothered with has been very high -- even found a record that should have made my top-ten list, although in fairness to me I only received it after deadline.
Very little in the mail this week. Probably seasonal, but I'm not unsure paranoia isn't warranted.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Friday, December 28. 2012
These monthly installments seem to be drifting ever later in the month. This month the big problem has been trying to wrap up the year in jazz on a slightly tighter schedule than Pazz & Jop. Aside from a bit more than a dozen 2013 advances, I've hit the new jazz queue hard enough that I don't see anything very appetizing among the leftovers -- a lot of vocal jazz and Xmas albums (of which I've played zero for the third year running -- hint, hint). Then late in the month I shifted gears and landed here, with what winds up as my strongest month since May. I've been following the year-end lists, and trying to check out what seems promising -- generally doesn't include a lot of indie rock or metal (with the few examples below not inspiring me to look much further). Most successful was hip-hop (6 of 10 A-list albums) and world (2 Africans, one overlap there, and 2 jazz joints from south of the border). The last two records to break through came from Jason Gross's Ye Wei list, and experience suggests that there are probably a couple more buried there (but certainly not Guided by Voices). Two more lists worth noting belong to Jason Gubbels and Chris Monsen, although that may be because they look a lot more like mine.
January's installment should come sooner, in large part because the lists are doing their job and kicking out suggestions. Also getting a lot on the reissues/compilation front, with Recycled Goods next up on my plate, unless I do something on Pazz & Jop and the metacritic files in the meantime.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on November 27. Past reviews and more information are available here (3012 records).
Ramzi Aburedwan: Reflections of Palestine (2012, Riverboat): Palestinian violist, grew up in a refugee camp near Ramallah, studied at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Ramallah and in France, plays both western classical and, here, Arabic music and can crank the latter up to joyously danceable speeds. B+(***)
Big Boi: Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (2012, Def Jam): Second post-OutKast "solo" -- a quaint term for something so evidently the work of a committee, or more likely several, not to mention their well-heeled corporate sponsors. Aside from the 1:09 opener, every song feats someone or other (Phantogram three times), and every song has at least three auteurs, with "Mama Told Me" topping out at ten. Some of it even works in weirdly unpredictable ways. B+(*)
Chicago Underground Duo: Age of Energy (2010 , Northern Spy): Rob Mazurek (cornet) and Chad Taylor (drums), both with electronics up their sleeves, return to their core partnership after Trio and Quartet expansions. Four long pieces, at full throttle you could hardly ask for anything more, more cryptic when they slow it down. B+(***)
Kelan Philip Cohran & the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble: Kelan Philip Cohran & the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (2012, Honest Jon's): B. 1927 in Mississippi, grew up in St. Louis, played with Jay McShann and Sun Ra, was an AACM founder, started the Phil Cohran Youth Ensemble, which evolved into this brass-plus-drums group, anchored by son Tycho Cohran's sousaphone. The fast ones rival anything coming out of the Balkans, the slower ones dig up odder sounds, and the vocal is a shaggy weasel story, but they do run a bit too long. B+(***)
Chick Corea & Gary Burton: Hot House (2012, Concord): Two very talented musicians who have worked together as far back as the late 1960s string together piano-vibes duets that can be as delightful as the opener ("Can't We Be Friends") or as sodden as the next song ("Eleanor Rigby") or anything in between -- both are famous for their hand speed, not for their brains and/or good taste. Docked a notch for the closer, where they spoil the duet format by adding a string quartet, on the Corea original, "Mozart Goes Dancing" -- as I was saying. B-
The Coup: Sorry to Bother You (2012, Anti-): Six years after Pick a Bigger Weapon, what took them so long? (Hope they weren't doing time for "boosting" -- the one political misstep that turned me off, probably because it was harder to pass off as fantasy than killing your landlord or blowing up the WTC.) Not sure of the politics here either, other than that their hearts are in the right places even when their heads aren't: "Guillotine" threatens class revolution by evoking the least appealing episode of the French, rather than its more lasting (and still lacking) ideals. Still, this rocks hard and rhymes beyond pop hooks that get you -- the most inspired idea being the best Clash rip since London Calling. A- [cd]
Danny!: Payback (2012, Okayplayer): Daniel Swain, originally from Texas, seems to be based in South Carolina, has a pile of stuff since 2004. A wealth of riches here, off-kilter instrumental stretches, choruses, raps up and down, too worldly for underground, too low budget for bling, not much ghetto cred, just out there in all sorts of weirdly interesting ways. A-
Zani Diabaté & Les Héritiers: Tientalaw (2012, Sterns Africa): Malian griot, 1949-2011, has a spotty discography with only his 1988 Zani Diabate and the Super Djata Band (Mango) gaining notice in these parts, largely because it was one of the great guitar groove albums of the era. Here his voice has ripened, the landscape a bit more colorful, the groove unstoppable. A- [cd]
DJ Rashad: Teklife Volume 1: Welcome to the Chi (2012, Lit City Trax): Chicago DJ/producer, Rashad Harden, jerks his samples around, stutter-stepping short and potentially annoying vocal samples, beats too; has a tendency to call his albums "Volume 1" -- probably because they feel unfinished. B
Dobie: Nothing to Fear (2012, Big Dada, EP): Brit DJ/hip-hop producer, aka Tony Campbell, has a 1998 album, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, with a sequel in 2004, and a bunch of singles and EPs, this being one of the latter, 4 cuts, 16:10; leads strong on the beats. B+(***)
Dobie: But Fear Itself (2012, Big Dada, EP): My urge to tidy up dropped the ellipses and EP from the title. More substantial at six cuts, 23:53, and just as sharp as its predecessor. It's been suggested that one should put them together into a 41-minute album, an idea so sensible I feel like holding back an A-list grade until they do. B+(***)
Kurt Elling: 1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project (2012, Concord): From the 1950s on, male jazz singers evolved as hip eccentrics displacing the older generation of blues shouters (who moved into rock and roll) and classic crooners (who remained stuck in "adult contemporary"), with Elling the most celebrated such eccentric, which is to say the most annoying jazz singer of the last score years. But lately he's become less irritating and even more uninteresting, a trait underscored by this "project," where his core idea is to take bright pop songs from fifty years ago and turn them into dead-ass crawls. C+
Adam Fairhall: The Imaginary Delta (2011 , Slam): Saw this described as "avant-trad jazz" and had to check it out. British pianist leading a sextet (trumpet, trombone, clarinet, bass, drums) plus Paul J. Rogers on laptop, turntable, and diddley bow, spinning old blues samples to bounce the horns off of. B+(**)
Fanga/Maâlem Abdallah Guinéa: Fangnawa Experience (2012, Strut): Paris-based Afrobeat group hooks up with a Moroccan gnawa outfit led by Maâlem Abdallah Guinéa, the latter largely swallowed up by the former's rocksteady beats but adding a vocal twist and some sizzle. B+(**)
Bill Fay: Life Is People (2012, Dead Oceans): Piano-playing singer-songwriter from London, cut some singles in the last 1960s and two albums 1970-71. Took the hint when his label dropped him, and didn't return until 2005, followed seven years later by this new one. Quiet, earnest, simple except for a fondness for strings, which can erupt like biblical plagues but more often just reinforce his worldview. B+(**)
Firewater: International Orange! (2012, Bloodshot): Band dates back to 1996, an album with Jesus on the cover and titled Get Off the Cross, We Need the Wood for the Fire. This one picks up on Arab Spring and proposes "A Little Revolution" here, but the music could use a bit more snap, and the politics more grounding. B
John Fullbright: From the Ground Up (2012, Blue Dirt): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, a state he has yet to work out of his system -- one line goes "Northern Oklahoma might just as well be Kansas," without noting how much east, west, and the Arkansas river plain differ, however similar they are on both sides of the border -- but he reminds me more than a little of the young Joe Ely -- even plays some piano. B+(**)
Future: Pluto (2012, Epic): Atlanta rapper Nayvadius Cash, passed through Dungeon Family, first studio album after a skein of mixtapes, already reissued as Pluto 3D with three more songs and two remixes. Lots of feats -- R. Kelly, T.I., Drake, Snoop Dogg, Trae the Truth -- but has an integral sound. B+(**)
Lee Gamble: Diversions 1994-1996 (2012, Pan, EP): Ambient drone, supposedly the residue of vintage jungle tracks -- the best explanation I've read of the title dates. Ten tracks, runs 26:48. B+(*)
The Gaslamp Killer: Breakthrough (2012, Brainfeeder): San Diego DJ, William Benjamin Bensussen, first album after some EPs and mixes, considered instrumental hip-hop although his disquisition on the "F-word" is fairly classic, the blips intriguing, but the beats seem upside down. B+(*)
The Gaslight Anthem: Handwritten (2012, Mercury): New Jersey rockers, about as straightforward as can be, songs tight, beats heavy, the singer clear enough you can follow him and note that he's not full of shit, with only "Too Much Blood" overdone to the point where you realize they'd rather be in an arena. B
Goat: World Music (2012, Rocket): Swedish band, first album, keys its concept off an opening cover of a tune from Malian Boubacar Traoré, which they drive deeper into the Sahara while making it more arena-friendly. That's followed by originals -- "Goatman," "Goathead," "Goatlord," but also "Disco Fever and "Let It Bleed" -- big and loud, unifying the world through commerce and trance, almost a joke, even. B+(***)
Gypsyphonic Disko Nola-Phonic Vol. 2 (2010 , DJ Quickie Mart): Free mixtape from Ben Ellman, saxophonist for New Orleans jam band Galactic, whose recent Carnivale Electricos promises more than it delivers. This flips the equation, boosting Gypsy brass band horns with frenetic beats and NOLA shouts/taunts, cut so tight you might as well go for the single-track download. A- [dl]
Angel Haze: New York EP (2012, Republic, EP): Raykeea Wilson, b. 1991 in Detroit, has a few mixtapes and a major contract, with this 4-cut 13:59 tidbit the label's first marketing stroke. Starts with sharp-tongued cuts that position her up with Azealia Banks. Ends with a shroud of synths that go soft. I should chase down her mixtape, Reservation. B+(*)
Heems: Wild Water Kingdom (2012, Greedhead): Himanshu Suri, ex of Das Racist, got a jump on the duo's demise with his earlier Nehru Jackets (released as Himanshu), although ex-partner Victor Vazquez (dba Kool A.D.) has his own pack of (less amusing) downloadables. I've yet to master the technology of putting these things onto discs, which limits my exposure. So it's been hard catching this, and I suspect I'll forget it as fast as I did the equally impressive Nehru Jackets -- but the offhanded eccentricity is something we want more of. A- [dl]
Max Johnson: Quartet (2011 , Not Two): Front cover has the bassist's name on top, three much more famous names on the second line -- Mark Whitecage, Steve Swell, Tyshawn Sorey -- and then "Quartet" in big print at the bottom, hence my parsing. The horns are potent, especially the trombone working with the bass, but sometimes -- as on the Henry Grimes tribute -- the leader doesn't leave them much to do. B+(**)
Juju & Jordash: Techno Primitivism (2012, Dekmantel): Two Israelis, Gal Aner and Jordan Czamanski, based in Amsterdam, build intriguing patterns out of simple progressions, richer contextually than minimalism. Runs long (85 minutes on 3 "slabs of vinyl" -- the most primitive thing about it), but very agreeable throughout. B+(***)
Kesha: Warrior (2012, RCA): So what's with this 25-year-old showbiz kid adopting the title Ariel Sharon earned for his autobiography? Just because she can sing "suck my dick" and "we are the crazy people" doesn't mean she can dynamite dozens of houses with people inside, much less invade Lebanon and arrange for thousands to be butchered at Sabra and Shatila. The only thing realistic about her title cut is that she follows it with "Die Young," but she doesn't think to draw conclusions, probably because she can't think through her clichés. After all, her idea of candor is to decorate her name with a dollar sign. I'd mind less if I liked her arena pop less, and I'll learn to like it less as she gets more and more inane. B
K'Naan: Country, God or the Girl (2012, A&M/Octone): Canadian rapper, originally from Somalia, a remarkable story even before he built two superb albums on it (The Dusty Foot Philosopher and Troubadour). Big changes here: he mostly sings, and the underground beats have given way to orchestrated pop, except when it's something else: a couple songs are delicious, some may be deep, some not, maybe: in one he identifies with Israel, but ends up with the walls he built coming down. A- [cd]
Habib Koité/Eric Bibb: Brothers in Bamako (2012, Stony Plain): Malian kora player, tends to be oversweet and underpowered, hooks up with America's most genteel blues rootsman, a combination that brings out the wimpiest in both. B-
Kendrick Lamar: Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (2012, Aftermath): LA rapper, opened with a well-regarded mixtape last year, got his major label shot here. First play on Rhapsody was too even-handed with too much connective tissue, but so many critics bought into the concept -- the temptations of the homeboys, the aspirations of the strives, the slice-of-life detail -- that this wound up the second-most hailed album of the year. I wound up buying a copy, and having invested gave it much more chance than I would have, and eventually came to relish the details embedded in the monotony, and the rare hooks like the Eiffel Tower-sized dick, and the motto: "I can never right my wrongs/unless I write them down for real." Still, too many skits, and too few hits. A- [cd]
Lester Bangs: Infinite Stretch (2012, self-released, EP): Well, you know, I knew Lester Bangs, and, like, these poseurs -- beat mixers ACB and pJAYd, whoever they really are -- aren't the Lester Bangs I knew, or even close enough for a decent parody: just lame beats and some swizzle, not enough to get you to stretch even a little. H/t Jim DeRogatis, who should have known better. C [bc]
Lord Huron: Lonesome Dreams (2012, Iamsound): Leader Ben Schneider has roots in Michigan but built his band in Los Angeles, their longing for the isolation of the north safely tucked away from everyday life, where they're tuneful and articulate and ah so pleasant. B+(*)
Roc Marciano: Marcberg (2010, Fat Beats): Rakeem Myer, rapper from Long Island, doesn't come off as the killer punch of his heavyweight namesake -- just dinky underground beats, talky rhymes, and street smarts. B+(***)
Roc Marciano: Reloaded (2012, Decon): Doesn't strike me as a great wordsmith, but he manages to stack enough lines together for wobbly, gravity-defying block towers, with tinkly beats and gliding synths pretty much all he needs. B+(***)
Bruno Mars: Unorthodox Jukebox (2012, Atlantic): I figured him for an intuitive pop genius on his first album, 2010's late-breaking Doo Wops & Hooligans, but he struggles here, the first two songs taking several plays to pan out, the next stretch never getting there, even though he rocks harder. Eventually, he's so hard up he resorts to two genre exercises -- reggae and a ballad reviewers think Sam Cooke-inspired -- which should be beneath him, and "Money Make Her Smile," which is fine but a more critical mind might have come up with "Gold Digger." B+(**)
Metz: Metz (2012, Sub Pop): Toronto postpunk band, the difference that where punk aimed for snappy clarity and hardcore pushed that over the edge, they settle for murk and think they're dense. They're about half-right, but there must be dozens of groups that aimed and missed like them. B
Anaïs Mitchell: Young Man in America (2012, Wilderland): Singer-songwriter, a folkie by upbringing but wide-eyed and ambitious, as when she overreached for her opera Hadestown. This at least works song-by-song, with her agreeable voice the focus, the rot of contemporary America lurking in the background. B+(*)
Hafez Modirzadeh: Post-Chromodal Out! (2012, Pi): Alto/tenor saxophonist, b. 1962 in North Carolina, studied with George Russell, which may have got him onto his chromodal kick, and got a Ph.D. in world music from Wesleyan, studying classical Persian music along the way, and playing in Anthony Brown's Asian-American Orchestra. Two sets of pieces, the first subdivided into 17 bits, the second into 11, intricate and colorful, with Amir ElSaffar's trumpet alongside the sax, and stellar piano from Vijay Iyer. B+(***)
Murder by Death: Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon (2012, Bloodshot): Indiana group, has been bouncing around for a decade, comes on hard and heavy, shady and dark. B
Paul Plimley/Barry Guy/Lucas Niggli: Hexentrio (2012, Intakt): Avant-pianist from Vancouver, recorded a lot in the 1990s, not much since. I'm not sure about the semi-funny horror vocal on "Come and Go" but the piano breaks in all sorts of interesting directions, and the bassist is masterful. B+(***)
Royal Baths: Better Luck Next Life (2012, Kanine): San Francisco duo/group, second album, the first a home tape. They love the Velvet Underground guitar sound, and the vocals aren't far removed from Reed's, but they'd also like to be a boogie band, so the sensibility is. B+(*)
Saigon: The Greatest Story Never Told Chapter 2: Bread and Circuses (2012, Suburban Noize): Brian Carenard, evidently had a mixtape rep before he dropped his first installment last year in a title he seems likely to hold on to for some time. I missed the rep, gave the album one or two Rhapsody spins, said something nice, and let it go. This one I bought, played close to ten times, and find it clicks all the way through, even though "Rap Vs. Real" and "Blown Away" crowd out the other memories. A- [cd]
Sibiri Samaké: Dambe Foli (2011, Kanaga System Krush): From Mali, reportedly "traditional Mande/Bamana Hunters' music"; four cuts, but escapes the EP designation because two run well over 20 minutes each, something they can do because the variations are so minor, yet their monotony never grows tedious. B+(**)
Arturo Sandoval: Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You) (2012, Concord): A flashy trumpeter, born in Cuba about the time when Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo (and George Russell) were synthesizing Afro-Cubop, so this seems like it should be his calling. However, he went the big band route, and the extra polish, not to mention strings, misses the excitement of Gillespie's big band, while cutting the leader out of his limelight -- something Diz never let happen. B+(*)
São Paulo Underground: Tres Cabeças Loucuras (2011, Cuneiform): Chicago Underground founder, cornet player and electronics dabbler, Rob Mazurek, went to Brazil in 2006, hooked up with drummer Mauricio Takara (for Chad Taylor's role), and cut an album under this group moniker. This is their third, expanded to a quartet -- only three faces made the cover, with Mazurek the most likely omission -- with keyb player Guilherme Granado and drummer Richard Ribeiro, plus guests such as local guitarist Kiko Dinucci and Chicago vibrahponist Jason Adasiewicz. I don't doubt the authenticity of the beats, but they're way beyond MPB or even the most psychedelic forró, as likely to slip one and switch another as the most extreme Afro-Cuban. The cornet winds up as a steadying force, but it's just odd enough you don't think of it that way. A- [dl]
Alexander von Schlippenbach: Schlippenbach Plays Monk (2012, Intakt): German avant-garde pianist, started in the late 1960s splitting time with his Globe Unity Orchestra, has dallied with Monk before including another solo album recorded in 1996 and released in 2004, plus his monumental and quite marvelous 3-CD Monk's Casino quintet. This splices various interludes and an epilogue into ten Monk tunes, his own bits jogging for position but rarely cracking anything open. B+(*)
Ty Segall Band: Slaughterhouse (2012, In the Red): Lo-fi, dingy metallic noise, the middle of three 2012 Segall albums, one under his own name, another with White Fence, and this for the band, a group that includes bassist Mikal Cronin. No idea what to make of the songs, but I can't go too hard on the sturm und drang, even when it stretches out to 10:23 on the aptly titled "Fuzz War." B+(*)
Solange: True (2012, Terrible, EP): Last name Knowles, as in Beyoncé's younger sister, after a couple albums returns with a 7-cut, 27:54 EP. Mid-tempo, tries to generate heat rather than breaking loose. B+(**)
Swans: The Seer (2012, Young God, 2CD): Avant-noise band that first appeared in 1983, toiled in obscurity and legend, and vanished around 1997, only to return in 2010 with a critical following. Their second album back is a double, the culmination (or regurgitation) of everything they've ever done, plus special guests (Karen O is the only one on my radar), and three songs running 19:10-32:14. One play isn't a fair test, but doesn't invite another one: the din doesn't amount to much, and even seems to sink into a rustic version of The Wall at times. B-
Yosvany Terry: Today's Opinion (2011 , Criss Cross): Alto saxophonist, originally from Cuba, moved to New York in 1999 and teaches at the New School. Has been a choice side man for a while now, but here he puts it all together, with hot trumpet from Michael Rodriguez, flashy piano by Osmany Paredes, tricky Afro-Cuban rhythms, and lots of sax appeal. A-
Ablaye Ndiaye Thiossane: Thiossane (2011 , Discograph/Sterns): Considerable disagreement as to how to parse artist and/or title from the cover, which reads "THIOSSANE" in big print centered over "ABLAYE NDIAYE": Christgau reads both as TAN, Guardian opts for ANT as artist and T as title, Myspace identifies the artist as AT but the URL reads TA; Amazon prefers ATN and spells the latter "N'Diaye," as does Discogs; Sterns lists it as I did, and also disputes the release date. Whoever, he is from Senegal, in his 70s, an esteemed griot backed by a hot band including Papa Noël and members of Africano and Orchestra Baobab. B+(***)
T.I.: Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Hand (2012, Atlantic/Grand Hustle): Atlanta rapper's mega project, a soundtrack -- signified by lifting a title and sample from Marvin Gaye -- without a movie, although they did bother to work up poster-like packaging. Runs 71 minutes, packed with feats and some samples as obvious as Elton John (credited) and Leonard Cohen (not), as blingy as crusing in a Lamborghini, but not immune to prison time. B+(**)
Tin Hat: The Rain Is a Handsome Animal (2012, New Amsterdam): Subtitle "17 Songs From the Poetry of E.E. Cummings" -- curiously all caps on the cover despite the rash of lower case all around it. The trio-turned-quartet fits the "chamber jazz" class -- with clarinet and violin and no drums -- and the poetic texts, sung by violinist Carla Kihlstedt, make this even artier. The words are not without interest, but the music is remarkable, especially Ben Goldberg's clarinet. B+(***)
Titus Andronicus: Local Business (2012, XL): A step back from the history lesson of The Monitor, but "Still Life with Hot Deuce on Silver Platter" and "Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape with the Flood of Detritus" are literate titles. It's just that they're overwhelmed with the personal: the two longest cuts, by far, are "My Eating Disorder" and "Tried to Quit Smoking." B+(**)
Toy: Toy (2012, Heavenly): Brit post-shoegaze group, make up for an exceptionally weak singer with hypnotic riffs which seem miraculously balanced between the guitar and keyb -- "Dead & Gone" is a good example. B+(*)
The Trishas: High, Wide & Handsome (2012, self-released): Country group -- Jamie Wilson, Liz Foster, Kelley Mickwee, Savannah Welch -- all have writing credits, although most shared with outside guys, the most recognizable being Bruce Robison and Jim Lauderdale; probably all sing too, given that they started harmonzing over a Trisha Yearwood song. B+(*)
Monday, December 24. 2012
Music: Current count 20844  rated (+28), 585  unrated (+2).
Taking a couple weeks off from Jazz Prospecting, partly because I made a big push the last couple weeks to cram in as much new jazz as I could with the year-end poll(s) pending, partly because I'm shifting over my catch-up operation to non-jazz for those polls. I also expected to get into some other things, but that for the most part didn't happen. (About all that did was relatives came to visit and I wound up cooking a lot, with the biggest deal coming tomorrow.)
Not sure when, or if, things will get back to normal. I will have a Rhapsody Streamnotes up sometime this week -- not a huge one, more like average monthly size. Don't know about Recycled Goods, which is currently very thin. Jazz Poll results should be early January, and I should have a piece in the package for Rhapsody, as well as my annual compilation of the various ballots.
As for jazz, one thing I can say is that two of the three albums I wrote Jazz Prospecting notes for last week cracked my A-list, as did one more jazz album I sampled on Rhapsody. Enterprising readers can discern them in the lists. Everyone else will have to wait.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, December 17. 2012
Music: Current count 20816  rated (+30), 583  unrated (-9).
Had a scare in the rated count when an editing mishap caused the count to drop, despite what felt like a lot of effort. Took a couple hours to track down and restore the lossage. Plus-thirty is my standard for a heavy week, and it feels like it's getting heavier all the time. I'm going to take a break, at least from Jazz Prospecting, for a few weeks -- at least until after the first, perhaps longer. I still expect to post a Rhapsody Streamnotes sometime this month -- I have about 20 records in the file -- and there will probably be a Recycled Goods in early January (only one record there, so don't expect much).
Work file currently has 168 records in it, but the 2012 subset is down to: 85. (The remainder includes 10 records with 2013 release dates, plus stuff that I've been super-slow getting to -- 2005: 1; 2006: 4; 2007: 12; 2008: 5; 2009: 13; 2010: 22; 2011: 15 -- not that the possibility of bookkeeping error can be excluded.) But of those 85 unheard 2012 releases, only 7 show up in this year's metacritic file (and one of those just came in the mail today, and two more I just noticed in rechecking my numbers). Should have done better, but it's been a tough year, and I did about as well as I ever have. Chances are less than a handful of those 85 will eventually pan out. Much more likely I missed things I didn't get. I'll generate a list of those when the Jazz Critics' Poll results are posted.
One more note: I'm painfully aware that a few of the following say nothing of note (e.g., Anthony Branker). Sometimes I get to a grade point and find I have nothing much to say. Seems like that's happening more and more here. Something that bothers me, but for now I figure it's better than nothing.
Jeff Babko: Crux (2012, Tonequake): Keyboard player, from California, fifth album since 1995, lots of studio work, arranger for Jimmy Kimmel Live since 2003. I figure this multi-layered momentum for fusion, most striking when the trumpet (Walt Fowler or Mark Isham) cuts through the haze, least when Babko indulges the strings. B+(*)
Anthony Branker & Ascent: Together (2012, Origin): Composer-arranger, commands a postbop quintet here with two saxes, fender rhodes, bass, and drums. B+(**)
John Daversa: Artful Joy (2012, BFM Jazz): Trumpet player, also dabbles with EVI, from Los Angeles, studied at UCLA, third album since 2009, last one a big band deal, this smaller -- electric keybs give it a fusion sound, which he keep supbeat and engaging. B+(*)
Hal Galper Trio: Airegin Revisited (2012, Origin): A fine mainstream pianist, b. 1938, has over 25 albums since 1971 -- I have Portrait (1989), Just Us (1993), and Art-Work (2009) on my A-list -- in a trio with Seattle stalwarts Jeff Johnson (bass) and John Bishop (drums). One original, six covers, "Airegin" included. B+(*)
Mac Gollehon: La Fama (1980-96 , self-released): Trumpet player, seventh album since 1996, including two with Smokin' in the title and one called In the Spirit of Fats Navarro, but these live cuts predate all that. Big band, no idea how many were playing at any given time, but 35 musicians listed on the back cover, with the Latin tinge provided by congas, timbales, bata drums, bongos, and two guys just credited with "percussion" -- 11 of those 35, or 13 if we count drums and vibes. B+(**)
Ted Hefko and the Thousandaires: If I Walked on Water (2011 , Onager): Singer-songwriter, second album, guess you can call him a jazz singer because the band uses an upright bass, Hefko plays tenor sax on the side, and he has a guy who plays trumpet and valve trombone -- otherwise he's not far from Americana, minus the twang, plus a sense of humor. B+(**)
Sylvia Herold and the Rhythm Bugs: The Spider and the Fly (2012, Tuxedo): Herold seems to have started out as a British folk singer, but her path crossed with the Hot Club of San Francisco and through a group called Cats & Jammers, with her latest sounding like an Andrews Sisters tribute. Jennifer Scott and Ed Johnson harmonize, Cary Black and Jason Lewis keep the swing beat humming. B
Hood Smoke: Laid Up in Ordinary (2012, Origin): Group led by bassist Bryan Doherty, who produced, composed, and arranged; has a previous album under his own name, evidently fusion -- press clips compare him to Jaco Pastorius -- whereas this is, well, I don't know, rock I guess, at least rhythmically: guitar, keybs, singer is Sarah Marie Young. Title suffices as a readymade review. C+
Al Jarreau and the Metropole Orkest: Live (2011-12 , Concord Jazz): Vocalist, cut an album in 1965 and many more since 1975; built his jazz credentials on idiosyncrasy, a trap that seems to have consumed his entire generation, plus or minus one, of male jazz singers. Backed here by Vince Mendoza's big band, as sharp as any. B
Christian Lillinger's Grund: Second Reason (2011 , Clean Feed): Drummer, b. 1984 in what was then East Germany. Second album with this group, which expands on Achim Kauffmann's piano trio with a second bassist, two saxes, and vibes. Scratchy, squeaky avant. B+(**)
Karl 2000 (2012, self-released): Avant sax trio: Daniel Rovin (tenor sax), Austin White (bass), Dave Miller (drums). First album. They claim Russian folk music and the Alexandrov Ensemble as inspirations, but you hear more Albert Ayler, which seems more to the point. B+(***)
Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters Quartet: Urban Nightingale (2011 , Origin): Trumpet player from Seattle, also plays in the West African-influenced Kora Band, met the Dutch pianist in Canada in 2009, and this is their second album together. With Piet Verbist on bass and John Bishop on drums. Carefully layered postbop, trumpet is engaging, but won't blow anyone away. B
Musaner: Once Upon a Time (2012, Lucent Music): Boston group, eleven musicians led by pianist Ara Sarkissian, play the leader's compositions and Armenian and Balkan folk tunes with a mix of native (duduk, shvi zurna) and western instruments (an imposing sax section). Second album. Like so much Balkan music, most fun when they pick up the pace and let the clarinet (or whatever) fly free. B+(**)
Myriad 3: Tell (2012, ALMA): Piano trio, with Chris Donnelly (piano), Dan Fortin (bass), and Ernesto Cervini (drums). Donnelly and Cervini have a couple albums each under their own names. All three contribute songs (edge Donnelly, 4-3-3), with one cover, Ellington's "C Jam Blues." B+(**)
Thea Neumann: Lady & the Tramps (2012, self-released): Singer, from Alberta up in Canada -- her guitarist, Clint Pelletier, has a group/album called Hot Club Edmonton -- wrote two songs on her debut, but mostly works old standards (two Cole Porters, "Makin' Whoopee," "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," "In Walked Bud"), slipping in pieces by Gillian Welch and Thom Yorke. Band is piano-bass-drums, plus Pelletier on four tracks, plus a couple horn spots. B+(**)
Sophisticated Ladies: A True Story (2012, self-released): French quartet. Rachael Magidson seems to be the main vocalist although the others are credited with vocals (with a dangling asterisk), and Magidson also plays flugelhorn and percussion; the others: Emilie Calme (flute, bansuri), Nolwenn Leizour (acoustic bass), Valerie Chane-tef (piano). Standards -- "The Lady Is a Tramp," "Sophisticated Lady," "Autumn Leaves," "You Go to My Head" -- with the two closers in French and a Charlie Parker bit for a segué. Has a fake allure, which I find to be the charm. [Bandcamp] B+(*)
Mort Weiss: I'll Be Seeing You (2012, SMS Jazz): Clarinetist, eighth album since 2006 when as a 60-year-old he returned to the instrument he played in his youth, playing bebop and blues with the grace of swing. With bass and drums and "special guest" Ramon Banda on conga. Not sure if he's the one singing "Gots the Horn in My Mouth Blues," or even whether that should be called singing -- an odd break in the middle of what's otherwise his most accomplished album. A-
The Whammies: Play the Music of Steve Lacy (2012, Driff): Very few avant-gardists have had their compositions recorded by others, much less by tribute bands, but Lacy is well on his way, with two albums by Ideal Bread, and now this inspired sextet: Jorrit Dijkstra (alto sax, lyricon), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Pandelis Karayorgis (piano), Mary Oliver (violin, viola), Nate McBride (bass), and Han Bennink (drums). Seven Lacy tunes cut at odd angles, the growl of the trombone especially appreciated. Then closes with Monk's "Locomotive," much as Lacy would have done. [Bandcamp] A-
Pharez Whitted: For the People (2012, Origin): Trumpet player, b. 1960, studied at DePauw and Indiana; fourth album since 1994, a sextet with Eddie Bayard on tenor/soprano sax, both piano (Ron Perrillo) and guitar (Bobby Broom), bass and drums -- all originals, bright and tough; effectively: post-hardbop. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, December 10. 2012
Music: Current count 20786  rated (+32), 592  unrated (-23).
Made a big dent in the new jazz queue, even a few vocal albums. With next to nothing incoming, I even feel like I'm liquidating my backlog -- the unrated count finally dropped under 600, probably for the first time ever (at least, since I've been tracking it). Sent my Jazz Critics Poll ballot in, fairly well shuffled from the first-pass I posted last week. Main drop was Vijay Iyer -- actually played the record twice, enjoyed it, but didn't think it had any special edge over a dozen or two others. Fact is, aside from Steve Lehman in the number one slot, it's not clear to me how to rank most of the A-list jazz records this year, so I went with things I thought might be interesting to write about -- a definition that didn't leave much room for piano trios.
One thing I always wonder about is what am I missing, and one way to measure that is how long it takes to find something I did in fact miss. For the A-list, that turned out to be just a few hours -- see Kyle Brenders, below. The Eric Revis album took another day or two, but none of numerous the high B+ grades below came very close. Most of what's left -- other than the Whammies, playing now -- doesn't look that promising, but you never know. Twice in the last few years I've found top-ten records in my queue that I had missed, and every year I find a handful of A-list extras.
By the way, I've started adding EOY lists to the metacritic file. I probably have about a third of the EOY lists I'll wind up with. (I currently have 23 major publication lists, which should be a bit less than half; some examples: American Songwriter, Clash, Drowned in Sound, Filter, Jazzwise, Magnet, Mojo, NME, Paste, PopMatters, Q, Rocksound, Stereogum, This Is Fake DIY, Uncut, Wire.) Below are the top 25. Totals include review scoring, but the numbers in brackets are the raw EOY list counts (some top-10 picks get an extra point), so higher counts there show gainers (Tame Impala, Kendrick Lamar) and droppers (El-P, Cloud Nothings).
The jazz subset is in a bit better shape this week. As you can see above the sources rarely focus on jazz, but I've picked up a dozen-plus lists from JJA members, an actual subset of the voting public. Cherry and Glasper are crossover records which won't do so well (see the bracketed counts). Again, the current top 25:
The bracket numbers aren't readily available -- perhaps omething I should write some software to fix. I expect Iyer to win in a landslide -- probably a reason I didn't feel the need to pile on, but I'm happy with all my picks, and there are many more fine albums I left out. Not so happy with the reissues category, which I wound up boycotting, in part because it's been boycotting me.
The Julian Bliss Septet: A Tribute to Benny Goodman (2012, Signum): Clarinettist, of course, b. 1989 in England, has a couple of classical records under his belt and has designed his own clarinet. Septet adds piano, vibes, trumpet, guitar, bass, and drums, of which guitarist Colin Oxley is the most important, even if he's more Eddie Condon than Charlie Christian. B+(*)
Kyle Brenders Quartet: Offset (2012, 18th Note): Plays sax (soprano, tenor) and clarinet (plus bass), based in Toronto where he is artistic director of AIMToronto Orchestra. Has a handful of albums since 2008, including one of duets with Anthony Braxton. Quartet adds a contrasting horn -- Steve Ward's trombone -- plus bass (Tomas Bouda) and drums (Mark Segger). Likes to roll up repeated rhythmic figures, but he can just as well bust loose and run away with a solo. A-
Zach Brock: Almost Never Was (2012, Criss Cross): Violinist, b. 1974, has several previous albums (although AMG doesn't seem to know about them). Quartet with piano (Aaron Goldberg), bass (Matt Penman), drums (Eric Harland), an impeccable postbop group, on three originals, six covers -- including Monk, Henderson, and a not-very-energetic Hendrix. B+(*)
Jeff Coffin & the Mu'tet: Into the Air (2012, Ear Up): Saxophonist, has more than eight albums since 1997, but may be better (at least more widely) known as a side man to Béla Fleck and Dave Matthews. Formed his Mu'tet in 2001, and this is their fourth album -- first I've heard, not that his mild-mannered funk is especially memorable. With Bill Fanning on trumpet, and an electric bassist named Felix Pastorius. B
Avishai Cohen: Triveni II (2009 , Anzic): Trumpet player, from Israel, brother of Anat Cohen, has more than seven records since 2002 (AMG's count, missing at least two Third World Love albums). "Triveni" is Sanskrit for three rivers meeting, hence his trio, with Omer Avital on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. The format puts the trumpet up front, and he sounds terrific. His songs are less imposing, with three (of four) originals up front, the six covers including two from Ornette, one from Don Cherry, one from Mingus, and the odd juxtaposition of "Willow Weep for Me" and "Woody n' You." B+(**)
Coat Cooke/Rainer Wiens: High Wire (2011 , Now Orchestra): Cooke is a saxophonist, based in Vancouver, Canada; he founded NOW Orchestra in 1987, which continues as one of the world's premier avant-big bands -- their recordings seem to be limited to when guests arrive (Barry Guy in 1994, George Lewis in 2001, Marilyn Crispell in 2005). Cooke has a trio album, and two new duos. Wiens plays guitar and thumb piano, a bit ambient, but that draws out the scratchy sax. B+(***)
Coat Cooke/Joe Poole: Conversations (2011 , Now Orchestra): Another duo, pitting Vancouver saxophonist Cooke with drummer Poole, a slightly more conventional match up than the one with Cooke and Rainer Wiens (guitar, thumb piano), losing just a tad on variety and surprise, but louder. B+(***)
Roger Davidson Trio: We Remember Helen (2011 , Soundbrush): Pianist, has specialized in Latin (especially Brazilian) music since 2000, although you would never guess that from this mainstream trio record, supported by David Finck on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. "Helen" is Helen Keane, a jazz producer and manager who died in 1996, and who had been a critical supporter of Davidson at least since 1987. Keane introduced Davidson to Finck for a record they cut in 1991. Not clear what Nash's connection to Keane is, but he's peerless as a mainstream drummer -- who wouldn't want to work with him? B+(***)
Ingebrigt Haker Flaten New York Quartet: Now Is (2011 , Clean Feed): Norwegian bassist, doesn't have a lot under his own name but I've probably heard him on 50 albums, to no small extent because he's managed to collect most of them on Bandcamp. Main groups are Atomic and The Thing, plus various Vandermark projects, and lots more. With Joe McPhee (tenor sax), Nate Wooley (trumpet), and Joe Morris (guitar). All joint credits, but without a drummer the scratchy makeshift music seems to well up from the bass, gain volume through the guitar, and richochet off the horns. B+(***)
Letizia Gambi: Introducing Letizia Gambi (2012, Jando Music): Singer, from Naples, Italy; first album. Attracted the interest of drummer Lenny White, who co-wrote several songs with her, and rounded up a roster of famous names who chip in for a track or more, not that you'd notice or care -- front cover touts Gato Barbieri, Ron Carter, Chick Corea, Gil Goldstein, Wallace Roney, Patrice Rushen, and White. Covers include Italian favorites, Prince, Björk, opera, damn near anything theatrical. C+
Joe Gilman: Relativity (2010 , Capri): Pianist, b. 1962, eighth album since 1991, a classic quintet with trumpet (Nick Freney) and tenor sax (Chad Lefkowitz-Brown), although it's more postbop than hard -- thick and lush and a bit tricky. B+(*)
Hardcoretet: Do It Live (2010 , Tables and Chairs): Self-released in 2011, picked up for a reissue; second album. Seattle quartet, members listed alphabetically: Tarik Abouzied (drums), Art Brown (alto sax), Tim Carey (electric bass), Aaron Otheim (keyb); five tracks, all contribute, two from the drummer. The sax has some charm, but the electric instruments are stuck in soft-edged fusion. Docked a notch for the misleading name. B-
Ig Henneman Sextet: Live @ the Ironworks Vancouver (2012, Wig): Viola player, from the Netherlands; AMG credits her with eight albums, plus she played on at least the latest Queen Mab album. Her sextet expands upon Queen Mab (Marilyn Lerner on piano, Lori Freedman on clarinet/bass clarinet), adding Ab Baars (tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi), Axel Dörner (trumpet), and Wilbert De Joode (bass). With no drummer, this tends to wander, the clash of strings and horns somewhat random. B+(**)
Fred Hess Big Band: Speak (2012, Alison): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1944 in Pennsylvania, moved to Colorado in 1981, where he has played a major role above and beyond his own work -- sixteen albums under his own name, plus some other groups. Third Big Band album, with ringers John Fedchock and Matt Wilson cited on the cover. Hess wrote 5 (of 6) pieces, and is probably the saxophonist who first breaks out of big band orthodoxy and gets this cooking. B+(***)
Benedikt Jahnel Trio: Equilibrium (2011 , ECM): Pianist, b. 1980 near Munich, Germany. Third album, first for ECM, a piano trio with Antonio Miguel on bass and Owen Howard on drums. Has a nice rhythmic roll, toned down, of course. B+(**)
Dave King: I've Been Ringing You (2012, Sunnyside): Drummer, plays in Happy Apple and the Bad Plus; third album under his own name, a piano trio with Bill Carrothers and Billy Peterson, seven standards, one joint credit. Fine pianist, but very quiet, you hardly ever notice that there is a drummer, much less King. B+(*)
Chris Lawhorn: Fugazi Edits (2012, Case/Martingale): As best I can tell, Lawhorn is a DJ, runs a blog aimed at selecting workout songs, not sure what else. Twenty-two cuts, each composed from instrumental fragments of several songs by the 1987-2002 hardcore band Fugazi. I didn't enjoy the group's well-regarded first album, and never gave them another chance, but the dense guitar offers a nice fusion crunch here. [Bandcamp] B+(***)
Vincent Lyn: Wing Sing (2012, Budo): Kung fu fighter, at least in the movies, turned pop jazz keyboardist. His acoustic piano is respectable enough, the electric a bit chintzy. Michelle Bradshaw sings two songs, adding substance, and fluffs a bit on "Walk On By," which we'll generously consider a joke. B
Cristina Morrison: I Love (2012, Baronesa): Singer, actress, originally from Florida but also lived in Quito and Rome. First album, wrote lyrics on six (of nine) songs, the music by alto saxophonist Christian Hidrobo, favoring Latin percussion (Sammy Torres), looking as much to Gregoire Maret's harmonica for soaring breaks as to the saxes (Hidrobo and Alex Harding). The three covers are especially striking. B+(***)
Kat Parra: Las Aventuras de ¡Pasión! (2012, JazzMa): Singer, b. 1962, based in San Francisco, fourth album, all more or less Latin-themed, with a special interest in Sephardic styles. Starts upbeat, turning "Iko Iko" into a bomba, but tails off, especially when she brings out the strings. B-
Dave Phillips & Freedance: Confluence (2011 , Innova): Bassist, son of legendary bassist Barre Phillips; fourth album since 2000, all with Freedance either as group name or part of the title -- the lineups change, but "Freedance" is easier to search on than "Dave Phillips" -- I looked through about 30 of the latter at AMG. Current lineup: John O'Gallagher (alto sax), Rez Abbasi (guitar), Jon Werking (piano), Tony Moreno (drums), Glen Fitten (percussion). All Phillips originals, steady flow with complex postbop harmonies, few rough edges. B+(**)
Eric Revis 11:11: Parallax (2012, Clean Feed): Bassist, b. 1967, two previous records (2004, 2009), several dozen side credits, ranging from Branford Marsalis to Avram Fefer. Dream quartet here with Ken Vandermark (tenor sax, clarinet), Jason Moran (piano), and Nasheet Waits (drums). Half Revis originals, two group improvs, one Vandermark tune, one each from Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton, all of interest, perhaps not adding up to more than the sum of the parts but brilliant musicians like these manage to hold their own. A-
Carol Saboya: Belezas (2012, AAM): Singer, from Brazil, daughter of pianist-composer Antonio Adolfo (on piano here, the songs focusing on Ivan Lins and Milton Nascimento). Has close to a dozen albums since 1997, many looking back to the music of her father's generation (Bossa Nova, Nova Bossa, Bossa Nova Forever). Nice guitar (Claudi Spiewak), and guests spots by Dave Liebman and Hendrik Meurkens brighten it up. B+(*)
Tessa Souter: Beyond the Blue (2011 , Motéma): Singer, b. 1956 in England, based in New York; fourth album since 2004. Has a torch singer's voice, lots of emotion. For this album she raided her classical archives for melodies -- Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Chopin, Debussy, Ravel, Borodin, Fauré, Albinoni, Rodrigo -- adding her lyrics to make songs that don't come close to triggering my classical gag reflex. One big help there is a band that could hardly be improved on: Steve Kuhn, David Finck, Billy Drummond, Joe Locke, Gary Versace (accordion), and Joel Frahm -- especially the latter, whose saxophones make for every singer's nonpareil duet partner. B+(***)
Tim Sparks: The Nutcracker Suite (1993 , Tonewood): Guitarist, has ten or so albums, most solo, most rooted in Eastern European music. This looks like a reissue of his first, which I've seen dated 1992, 1993, or 1995 -- back cover mentions 1993 as the date he won the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship playing Tchaikovsky's famous suite. It fills the first half of this album, familiar even to someone who swore allegiance to Chuck Berry back in the 1950s. Second half is Sparks' "Balkan Dreams Suite," arranged from Greek, Albanian, and Romanian folk songs. B+(*)
Mikolaj Trzaska/Olie Brice/Mark Sanders: Riverloam Trio (2011 , NoBusiness): Sax-bass-drums trio. Trzaska, b. 1966 in Poland, plays alto sax and bass clarinet; has a large pile of albums since 1992, including jousts with Joe McPhee and Peter Brötzmann, with guitarist Noël Akchoté, and trios with the Oles Brothers. This was released as 2-LP vinyl, limited 300 copies. Free jazz -- breaks little new ground, but no doubt Trzaska can play in this league. B+(**) [advance]
Allison Wedding: This Dance (2012, GroundUp Music): Singer-songwriter, b. 1972, grew up in Dallas and studied at UNT; went west, to Los Angeles, then Melbourne in 2001 and back to New York in 2007; has several previous albums, released in Australia. Produced by bassist-guitarist-Snarky Puppy leader Michael League, Wedding's soprano voice is surrounded by strings (including Zach Brock), which often enough provide just enough support to let the songs work -- "Carry On" is one that soars -- not that I wouldn't mind hearing more of Chris Potter, who guests on one track. [Bandcamp] B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Wednesday, December 5. 2012
by Michael Tatum
My grandmother had no idea I wrote a music blog -- by the time I began writing "A Downloader's Diary" in August of 2010, she had been for all practical purposes permanently silenced by Alzheimer's, an autobiographical tidbit I utilized (one could argue exploited) for my review of the Caretaker's an empty bliss beyond this world last July. When she passed away a few weeks ago at the age of eighty-eight, she had been a hollow shell for so long that her death seemed cruelly redundant, but it still affected my family deeply. When I think of the kinetic energy she harnessed as a younger woman, I have little doubt who I can isolate as the source of my own creative livelihood -- even my love of music can be traced back to her and my grandfather, both of whom were responsible for making "De Colores" one of the first songs I loved as a child. This column is dedicated to her dynamism, her spirit, her memory, and the passion for song that binds our family together, an ardor that has become one of the bedrocks of my life: la luz que ilumina, la gracia divina del gran ideal.
Azealia Banks: 1991 (Interscope, EP) Not exactly a Youtube troller, I'm a bit late to discovering what some call the best single of 2011 -- sorry, if you're not an adorable kitty, I probably haven't seen you. Even after having owned this four-song (plus one polarizing skit) EP for several months I didn't quite register its dumbfounding achievement -- because the pleasures of "212" and its worthy company are out front and Banks' raps themselves so lickety-split, like many people I slotted this merely as "fun" and dismissively filed it on the shelf. After all, zip zip zip zip and their sixteen minutes are up and out, burying Banks' vulgarity in electrohop beats so sneakily you can understand why Samantha Cameron could enthusiastically extol a song about pussy-licking without getting too much flack from The Daily Mirror. But then I bore down on the lyrics, only to be shocked into discovering that many of them turn the usual hip hop braggadocio upside down -- accusing that brother of sucking dick down by the Hudson River by noting the jizz in his do-rag would be vile coming from Rick Ross, but in the service of demeaning him by claiming that as a woman you can lap up his boo's cunt better than he can, well, that's something new under the sun. Banks is such a cunning linguist that she gets away with shit like this line after line, so craftily that unless you parse her jive she'll go right over your head, which is the way this gleeful provocateur wants it, even when she slows down to a crawl for that Ghostface parody that everyone hates. Resenting the ostensible upward mobility of Pell Grant awardees who think they're hot shit because they eat at Chipotle rather than McDonald's would be one thing -- hating on their new found preference for white boy metrosexuals makes a little more sense. But when you play that retarded (in the musical sense, dummy) section back at "proper" speed, you'll discover it's not Banks herself (she laughs in the background) but a man, which puts another spin on that scenario entirely. What's the intention? I have no fucking clue. So I start the record over and play it again. And again. A+
Lana del Rey: Paradise (Interscope, EP) Beginning with her somewhat outrageous protestation to Billboard that she doesn't "even know any people who are musicians" (and note the deliberately adolescent use of the word "even"), Lizzie Grant strikes me as a highly calculating young woman -- the question is, do people get the joke, and does it matter if they don't? Like Nabokov (of all people) she razzes traditional Electra complex pop psychology, from "Dying young and I'm playing hard/That's the way my father made his life an art," to "I pledge allegiance to my dad/For teaching me everything he knows," and like hey-Lolita-hey she has a propensity for calling men who don't share her DNA "Daddy" (though truthfully, as a literary device that reminds me more of Springsteen's "sir"). For shock value she contrasts babyish constructions ("Jesus is my bestest friend," "treat me real niceys") with sweepingly melodramatic bits of doggerel such as: "In the land of gods and monster/I was an angel/Lookin' to get fucked hard." At first I cynically guffawed at that line, which reminded me of the unintentionally hilarious Oedipal confessions of Jim Morrison (who of course is fervently referenced, along with Springsteen, Elvis, and Marilyn). Then I dug deeper, and found plenty of redeeming correctives, such as her ironic admission she's "like a groupie, incognito, posing as a real singer," and even chuckled at her Axl Rose tell-all/reveal-nothing "Bel Air." And while I'm not sexually available to take the Pepsi challenge regarding that claim about her pussy (Azealia Banks, are you reading this?), I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that product placement negotiation, or that gynecological visit following her tête-à-tête with Marilyn Manson ("More like Listerine and green algae, young lady.") Feminist heroine? I say as an upper class woman whose first record was funded by Daddy she knows there's more than one way to be a kept woman, and if she has to sing in her chains, why not make codependent romances in trailer park palaces her metaphor of choice? "Of the king," indeed. B+
Iris DeMent: Sing the Delta (Flariella) I'm not surprised by DeMent's switch from coffeehouse guitar to tent revival piano -- when I saw her solo tour in 1994 in support of her masterful second record, she rarely strayed from basic chord shapes strumming her six string acoustic, shifting her capo up and down the fret board when switching songs/keys. Short in stature and with dainty hands to match, it's not an instrument she's born to play. But when she pulled up that bench to play those eighty-eights, it was impossible not to be struck by her fluid, expressive accompaniment -- I was reminded less of Carole King than Aretha's demonstrative opening chords to "Don't Play That Song." But even though this record represents an impossible return to form after fifteen years laying low, with only an album of gospel covers released under her own name, I'm disappointed by her avoidance of any Great Statements -- while the absolutely classic My Life addressed the death of her father, and the worthy sequel The Way I Should cast a bitter eye on the state of the nation, this record settles for humble evocations of where she came from: reasons why she left, affirmations for coming back, both on her terms. As a metaphor for her artistic life, this is apt. But stripped of that metaphor, songs like "Go On Ahead and Go Home" or "Makin' My Way Back Home" could belong to anybody. Not quite the case however with the astonishing "The Night I Learned Not to Pray," which in its own subtle way neither states a case for atheism nor even denies the existence of an afterlife -- DeMent ends the lyric with a one-way conversation with a 41-year old photograph -- but rather notes that God can be one ambivalent son of a bitch indeed. Her mother, who we're told comforted her daughter about death by suggesting Iris and not she might go first, would certainly agree. A
Donald Fagen: Sunken Condos (Reprise) The problem with Fagen's ambitious side -- at least how I think he conceives it -- is that "avant-garde" cocktail jazz is a complete oxymoron: when he doesn't a hit a lyric just right, the music fades into the background as it might in a dentist's office or a skyscraper elevator. Perhaps Al Jarreau (or Larry Carlton, ha ha) might have a "serious" concept album in them about post-9/11 America, but who would want to hear it? That's why 2006's uneven Morph the Cat perked up at its most shallow, lapsing back into the ever-reliable dirty old man routine that's been serving Fagen well since "Hey Nineteen" convinced him that thirty-two was the new sixty-five. This takes off from that record's "What I Do" (young Don solicits Ray Charles for sex tips) and "Security Joan" (something about the way she moves that wand gets him hot), with the added thematic draw of downward mobility, or at the very least the seduction of innocents suckered in by the promise of Donald's liquid assets: no longer hunting fine foxes at the Strand or Dean & Deluca, these days he takes what he can get at bowling alleys, Looney's pub, or the reptile cage at the Washington Zoo, with a detour to the Passaic, New Jersey Best Buy to halfheartedly threaten the tech geek moving in on his latest conquest. Which is why his irresistible cover of "Out of the Ghetto" sounds like such a nasty threat, in the vein of Philip Oakey in "Don't You Want Me." Better your dirty work be done by Isaac Hayes than David Palmer, I always say. A
Flying Lotus: Until the Dark Comes (Warp) Steven Ellison's primary innovation -- as well as his primary limitation -- is that he conceives beats, samples, melodic snippets, and other assorted sonic doodads not merely as "music," but rather as bits of information, a series of zeroes and ones randomly arrayed back to back. 2010's frenetic, jarring laptop fantasia Cosmogramma still retains its intellectual appeal over multiple listens, but not once does the music ever open up a side door to entice you in -- in Ellison's aesthetic, ideas supplant emotion, chaos displaces discernible patterns, Jackson Pollock's fractals illuminate the universe in ways that Gene Davis' resplendent ribbons do not. Described by the artist as a "children's record" (for whose children, though -- Stephen Hawking's?), this chillier, more atmospheric follow-up isn't so anxious to impress: the arrangements emphasize space, allowing the variegated elements room to breathe -- though lest the math geeks at Warp start chewing their cuticles, not so actual songs develop, and you have to give credit to someone who consigns killjoys like Laura Darlington and (sorry) Erykah Badu to the role of glorified sound effects. But it's not the guest stars that will command your attention -- it's the beats, "African-inspired" says Ellison, and though while not exactly Fela Kuti let alone James Brown, they're as hypnotic as they are austere, fluctuating from handclaps to wood blocks to old fashioned synth kick drums. I wish he had more to offer the world than cognitive dissonance. But any man who can cajole Thom Yorke into singing a bar of an old Destiny's Child chestnut has earned the right to his watery Alice Coltrane harp flourishes. A
Homeboy Sandman: Subject Matter (Stones Throw, EP download) We respect the literary acumen of the underground rapper. We recognize his soulful thoughtfulness, his embrace of the sublime, his observations of the everyday. But what too often keeps us from playing his records is his stubbornness in adhering to principle, his refusal in acknowledging that the mind and the body really do work best in tandem -- something you can't say (lest you accuse me of sexism in my deliberate choice of pronouns) about non-bepenised emcees from skyrockets like M.I.A. to fizzles like Kreayshawn, neither of whom wastes too much time worrying about catchy hooks emasculating her manhood. From his plaintive observation "It all starts with the beat" to the more elegantly imagined "Once me and my inner ear drum agree/My adrenal gland and my organs begin to argue audibly" to the startling "Where do these melodies come from" -- melodies, in hip hop? -- Angel del Villar never lets his dedication to the word supplant his innate musicality. Claiming his songs illuminate themes (as he boasts in the liner notes) "no one has ever rapped about before in the history of rap music" would be a stretch, but in fact touches like the off-kilter string section and (is it?) Natalie Cole sample that floats through the lost love remembrance "Unforgettable" shows how smart music can ground a good lyric -- the chic arrangement exquisitely evokes the persistence of memory, yet you could also argue it undercuts del Villar's introspection with self-conscious mockery. Then there's "Canned Goods," which doesn't rely on such frills, pivoting on that astonishing pun on the word "spoils" and pithy aperçus such as: "After the earthquake in Haiti/People gave a damn for like almost a month maybe." Savor that phrase: "like almost a month maybe." Says so much with those ironically mush mouthed qualifiers. And is it musical, too? You bet. A
Pink: The Truth About Love (RCA) I don't quite buy the autobiographical readings that have been dogging this record. Sure, Alecia Moore's marriage is shaky even by showbiz standards, but from that morning photo shoot with Shape to an afternoon working off that pregnancy fat with a personal trainer to an evening recording in the studio then hopping off late night to make an appearance on Jimmy Fallon, when in the world does she have time to barhop, get soused, and take home that Channing Tatum lookalike? (And when does she order Chinese with Kara DioGuardi and write a song called "Sober?") Nevertheless, whether these excellent songs are well-detailed reports from the front or half-remembered tour shenanigans tinted by a colorful imagination, either way they satisfactorily sum up the inner life of a turbulent romantic who likens her attention span to "an infant tryin' to crawl around." The two peaks here are a political anthem disguised as a relationship plaint -- "I know you think it's not your problem/I know you think that God will solve them" stings like battery acid -- and the addictive "Slut Like You," which turns the tables on a nightclub conquest who drinks the shots that our heroine calls. But while journeyman Butch Walker gets lucky on the former and the ever-reliable Martin/Shellback team do their thing on the latter, the record is otherwise dominated by producer Greg Kurstin, who reveals himself once again to be a bit of a tabula rasa: pretentious with Rufus Wainwright, uptight with the Shins, and absolutely supercharged here, so much so I wish he had his fingers in the tracks assisted by Eminem and Nate Ruess -- neither adds as much as Lily Allen, who opens more emotional space in her lovely bridge on "True Love" than Pink herself does in belting the histrionic closer "The Great Escape." But from doing the walk of shame down a hotel hallway in last night's dress to the morning stink of your true love's armpits to that witty parenthesis that separates the qualifying "One Last Kiss" from "Blow Me," she's earned that pesky exclamation mark. Maybe now she can talk "Lily Rose Cooper" into taking her old patronym back. A
Sebadoh: Secret EP (self released, EP) Forgive me for trumpeting this minor blip in the indie rock world -- a download-only five song EP marking the return of indie rock's purest song band -- as a Major Happening, but it's not merely the nostalgic college grad talking. I'm unfazed by the slight tentativeness of Lou Barlow's three contributions -- if this really presages the full length the band promises will appear early next year, his legendary prolificness guarantees he's hoarding the best until then, while his prevailing subject matter (the difficulty of maintaining long term relationships, a theme that surely encompasses Barlow's various estranged collaborators as much as it does his wife) suggests there's more inspiration to be drawn from that well. But the blistering "My Drugs" ("Can't hang with sober people/They scare the shit right out of me") and the lilting country ballad "I Don't Mind" had me dreamily murmuring Barlow's partner's name like I was Nick Nolte at the denouement of The Prince of Tides -- supposed second banana Jason Loewenstein adds not only the expected musical muscle throughout (heard Barlow's '00s records?) but also takes the helm as producer. As a result, this sonically resembles their touchstone, 1994's scrappy Bakesale, more than it does 1999's slicker, if admittedly underrated, swansong The Sebadoh. And thank Loewenstein for drafting his Fiery Furnaces buddy Bob D'Amico, whose rough and tumble stickwork recalls ousted drummer Bob Fay (fired for an ostensible incompetence that I never registered) more than it does his replacement, the more four square Russ Pollard, who never fit in with the game plan. Credo: "Rock my days the harder way/My body and my mind/Beautiful and old/Keep the boy alive." A
Taylor Swift: Red (Big Machine) Once again, I'm impressed with this teenpop heroine's talent for subtly manipulating received bits of language, which despite a overreliance on nature and color metaphors frees her from the cliché that brings down so much of her less-inspired competition. Try "We are alone, just you and me/Up in your room and our slates are clean," or "We're singing in the car getting lost upstate/Autumn leaves falling down like pieces in to place," or "You tell me your past thinking your future was me," or the entire lyric of the amazing "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," which pulls off this trick with nearly every line. But if she wants to take over the world, she's going to have to hire smarter lieutenants than the snoozy Ed Sheeran and Gary Lightbody, duet partners who fail to lighten up a second half dominated for the most part by songs the artist penned without outside help. But with teenpop svengali-saints Martin and Shellback pumping up three instant winners, the first half peaks even higher than the best of Speak Now -- from Rihanna the whomping "dubstep" breakdown of "I Knew You Were Trouble" would be all too predictable, but from the relatively conservative Swift it's a welcome curveball, and either way, she's better off sanding things down to a pop sheen than wandering star struck through sunlit forests. And I love how she channels Kesha's adenoids on the delightful tribute/parody "22," which begins by dissing the hipsters she's apparently not aware love her to pieces. As even the humorless singer-songwriting icon she's slotted to portray on film must know: you turn her on, she's a radio. A
Ry Cooder: Election Special (Nonesuch/Perro Verde) Mitt Romney is yesterday's papers, but class warfare and Jim Crow "state's rights" are ubiquitous ("Brother is Gone," "The 90 and the 9") ***
Titus Andronicus: Local Business (XL) De-evolving from Tommy to several haphazard shots at "A Quick One (While He's Away)" ("Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape With the Flood of Detritus," "Ecce Homo") ***
Neneh Cherry & the Thing: The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound) Glad the avant jazz combo rocks, wish the pop singer swung a little more ("Cashback," "Too Tough to Die") ***
The Soft Pack: Strapped (Mexican Summer) Or: Now That's What I Call Indie Rock 2012 ("Second Look," "Saratoga") **
Van Morrison: Born to Sing: No Plan B (Blue Note) "I'm not proselytizing, it's not some kind of manifesto. Songs are just ideas, concepts, and you just put the mic there and go" -- Rock Cellar, July 2012 ("End of the Rainbow," "Educating Archie") **
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Psychedelic Pill (Reprise) I know I'm supposed to love Neil in epic rocker mode, but with eight songs totaling nearly ninety minutes and "Driftin' Back" alone as long as "Down by the River," "Cowgirl in the Sand," and "Like a Hurricane" combined, I think I can be forgiven if my mind wanders as much as Neil's apparently does. Oddly, this is nowhere near as ramshackle as Americana -- no false starts, few mistakes, comparatively clean arrangements -- so much so I can imagine Neil editing down a two hour marathon session of "Driftin' Back," excising all the relatively duff bits until he's cobbled together an acceptable, steady-rocking 27:37, kind of like Teo Macero on Bitches Brew. But what makes it onto the record is pure nutball-uncle-in-the-corner-on-Thanksgiving territory: donations to the Maharishi, hip hop haircuts (which are what, exactly?), Picasso co-opted by "tech giants," and the corrupted dynamic range of MP3s. Much like his autobiography Waging Heavy Peace, this looks back: to his marriage, to his childhood, to hearing "Like a Rolling Stone" on the radio for the first time, to (oh, dear) what the sixties generation didn't accomplish. But as with the book, it also does so superficially, saying in three, seven, twenty-five minutes what he might have accomplished in a brief Twitter post, like this response to a no-duh question posed by manuelv1695: "Do you have favorite keys in creating chord progressions to sing over?" Answer: "Yes." B
Jessie Ware: Devotion (Universal) Much like last year's Katy B record, this works both the arty and commercial angles of UK dance music ("I like both kinds of music: dub and step!"), so one can understand why the usual UK suspects are going gaga for this Jewish-Briton chanteuse's much-anticipated debut. But what's in it for Americans like Pitchfork's Ryan Dombal, who gushes she "consistently strikes [ed: strikes?] blue notes somewhere between Sade and Whitney," as if he actually has a collection from either sitting on his shelf? At any rate, I challenge him to isolate one flattened seventh note on this on this highly sterile Mercury Prize nominee, accurately described by Clash's Joe Rivers as "the missing link between Adele, SBTRKT, and Sade." Putting aside that Ware actually sings for SBTRKT (technically a null link, wouldn't you say?), this made me wonder how much of a distance there really was between Adele and Sade. A lot, actually -- Adele actually knows what a blue note is, and occasionally indulges herself one. B
Dwight Yoakam: 3 Pears (Warner Bros.) Thinks he can be the fourth Flatlander, but he should pay better attention to his Hollywood handlers, who rarely play him against type. B
Lupe Fiasco: Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 (Atlantic) Thank God -- finally he made a totally uncommercial record. B
Avett Brothers: The Carpenter (American) Rick Rubin: "You guys don't have the stuff for Full Moon Fever -- let's say we shoot for Wildflowers?" B
A.C. Newman: Shut Down the Streets (Matador) New Pornographer henchman deserves credit for the brilliant title "There's Money in New Wave," but why does he set it to music straight out of a Renaissance fair? C+
The Walkmen: Heaven (Fat Possum) They're here to tell you they've been witness to the music of the spheres: the tinny tinkle of Paul Maroon's malnourished guitar. C
Cat Power: Sun (Matador) I was going to mock her perpetual sad little rich girl routine -- then I realized she's 40. C
Rachael MacFarlane: Hayley Sings (Concord) You wisely avoided her brother Seth's show tunes fiasco, but how about this voice actress' mishmash of pop standards and sixties classics, gauchely arranged in faux-Tin Pan Alley style and dubiously connected to her hippie chick character on Americian Dad? D
Tuesday, December 4. 2012
Aside from two Rodney Kendrick albums, I've taken a break from the last couple months' practice of raiding the old unplayed shelves. Didn't really plan it that way: the month snuck up on me with just a few jazz reissues in the bag, so I started scrounging around. One cluster of recordings come from old Christgau CGs: I was surprised to find Encre on Rhapsody after Christgau did a post on the two later records, and decided all three were old enough to fit here rather than in Rhapsody Streamnotes. Add to that two old African obscurities that I could never find as LPs but which the internet coughed up as downloads, and a few odds and ends. Short compared to the last few months, but that's the way it worked out this time.
Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran (1997-2010 , Sham Palace): The Houran (or Hauran) is the volcanic plateau of southwest Syria, roughly from Damascus south and west through the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the Jordan River, one of Syria's most fertile agricultural regions (and for that reason much coveted by Israel's kibbutzim). Culled from two decades of cassette tapes from Damascus and points southwest, seven songs by seven artists, most likely wedding music, remarkably consistent, which is to say it's all true to its distinctive idiosyncrasies, but also that it is so upbeat there's no reason to quibble. Hopefully Syria will soon rejoin the modern world, where someone will mistake this for crass commercialism. A- [dl]
The Doors: L.A. Woman: 40th Anniversary (1971 , Elektra, 2CD): Last group album before Jim Morrison's demise, a group I knew at the time only for their hits, which I placed no mythological import to, never bothering with the albums (at least beyond Strange Days). This has three hits -- "Love Her Madly," "L.A. Woman," and "Riders on the Storm" -- and they stand out like they're supposed to, while they make up the filler with blues walks, only John Lee Hooker's "Crawling King Snake" borrowed: they sound like they're half way to becoming ZZ Top. 40th Anniversary adds a disc of alternate versions, looser and sloppier, a bit fresher if you care, or not if you don't. B+(**) [original album: B+(***)]
Louisiana Red: When My Mama Was Living (1975 , Labor): Iverson Minter, b. 1932 in Bessemer, AL; mother died of pneumonia shortly after his birth, and his father was lynched when he was five. Made his way to Chicago and recorded for Chess before the Army snatched him. Sang, played guitar and harmonica, wrote some (7 of 16 here); cut a well-regarded album in 1963 called Lowdown Back Porch Blues, and close to fifty hence, most after 1981 when he moved to Germany, where he died in February, 2012. These mid-1970s sessions are offered as a memorial, and they make me want to hear more, but they're pretty satisfying in their own right: he has a bit of Muddy Waters' swagger but has to work with much less band, a DIY ethic born in poverty and sustained by stubbornness. A-
Eric Salzman: The Nude Paper Sermon/Wiretap (1966-72 , Labor, 2CD): Composer, b. 1933; worked as a music critic for New York Times, Stereo Review, and others; produced an important series of post-classical records for Nonesuch. This reissues two of his early records. He describes his The Nude Paper Sermon (1969, Nonesuch) as "tropes for actor, renaissance consort, chorus, and electronics" -- mostly vocals, the voices trained but not hammy enough for opera, abstract and unsettled. The four pieces on Wiretap (1974, Finnadar) delve further into electronics -- Ilham Mimaroglu was the producer -- and found sounds, even more abstract and unsettled, and all the more invigorating for that. B+(*)
Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society: Whispers From the Archive (1970-78 , Porter): Originally from California, Sultan played percussion with Jimi Hendrix, joined Archie Shepp on records like Attica Blues, eventually became a Christian minister. This is the second slice from his archives, following Father of Origin in 2011 (on Eremite, unheard by me). These pieces are scattered over the years, the only constant Ali Abuwi (oboe, flute, percussion), although one 19:20 track doesn't credit either. This kicks off with a 20:45 piece called "AMS," with Sultan on bass, Abuwi on oboe, and everyone but the guitarist on percussion -- James "Blood" Ulmer is too busy stealing the show. That's followed by 1:27 of "Shake Your Money Maker," the first of several vocals that bind the extended groove pieces to a sense of community. Last two pieces break out the flutes, and for once I don't mind. A-
Jewel Ackah: Me Dear (1990, Highlife World): An impossible-to-find CG pick from Ghana, a local star but hard to tell what magnitude -- has a 1981 album credit-shared with Kwame Nkrumah and at some point sang for Sweet Talks -- nor sure when this was recorded but it's LP-length, four songs that gently nudge highlife into juju territory, a step shy of the Lagos competition, but has its charms. B+(***) [dl]
Archers of Loaf: White Trash Heroes (1998 , Merge): Fourth of five 1993-2000 albums, something Rhapsody calls "noise pop" probably because it's catchy as noise goes but noisy nonetheless, a basic indifference to groove or rave-up that worked better than you'd expect; one of the major rock groups of the 1990s, no doubt, but the decade I cared least about rock, so I never quite made the connection. B+(**) [R]
Drexciya: Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller II (1994-98 , Clone Classic Cuts): Detroit techno, second of four planned volumes up to co-founder James Stinson's death; first earned its deep sea claims with watery themes, but this one dries out too often into short runs of blips. B+(**) [R]
Encre: Encre (2001, Clapping Music): A piece of French electronica by Yann Tambour that Christgau reviewed in 2005, so obscure I couldn't track it down at the time, but here it is; has an industrial feel but unhurried, a slow day at the factory, with whispered French for subtitles. A- [R]
Encre: Flux (2004, Clapping Music): Less talk, less industrial, though not devoid of either; the measures inch along, enveloped in water sounds or synth strings or a bit of static, or even a little piano interlude, none so pat as to put you off, even if you wonder how substantial this all is. A- [R]
Encre: Common Chord (2006, Clapping Music): Laptop musician goes live, the five-piece band playing more conventional instruments, and projecting more, scaling up music that initially seemed charming due to its small scale; comes close to pulling it all off, too. B+(***) [R]
Scott Fields: 5 Frozen Eggs (1996 , Clean Feed): Chicago-based avant guitarist, specializes in cranky solo affairs but yields here to pianist Marilyn Crispell's piano, at her iciest, creating fractured landscapes that Fields, bassist Hans Sturm, and drummer Hamid Drake trek through. B+(***)
Clare Fischer Orchestra: Extension (1963 , International Phonograph): Early on, an arranger influenced by Gil Evans, as is the case here, one of the Pacific Jazz albums that helped sustain the modernist big band genre (Gerald Wilson was the best known example; also Bob Florence); later on Fischer wandered all over the map, dabbling in bossa nova, salsa picante, pop jazz, classical music, even arranging funk albums for Prince, leaving him with a decidedly mixed reputation, but here his eclecticism at least served a formal need -- too bad his favorite horns were flutes. B [R]
Jan Garbarek/Egberto Gismonti/Charlie Haden: Carta de Amor (1981 , ECM, 2CD): Previously unreleased live set the trio that produced two rather forgettable 1979 albums, Folk Songs and Magico, released then with Haden's more famous name first, but the Brazilian guitarist/pianist is central, setting the languid pace, while the sax pretties up. B+(*)
Dexter Gordon: The Chronological Dexter Gordon 1943-1947 (1943-47 , Classics): The tenor sax great's first sides, opening with Nat Cole and Sweets Edison, his style nearly fully formed with just a hint of Prez, followed by a series of signature riff pieces ("Blow, Mr. Dexter," "Dexter's Deck," "Dexter's Cuttin' Out," "Dexter's Minor Mad," "Long Tall Dexter"), all topped by "Dexter Rides Again"; includes his famous joust with Wardell Gray ("The Chase"), his novel "Chromatic Aberration," and a taste of his ballad style. A- [R]
Dexter Gordon: Night Ballads: Montreal 1977 (1977 , Uptown): Quartet with George Cables, Rufus Reid, and Eddie Gladden, selected from a four-night stand to emphasize the slow stuff, with 16-20 minute versions of "Lover Man," "You've Changed," "Old Folks," and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" -- not that everyone seems clued into the concept, and the sound is a bit harsh. B+(*) [R]
Rodney Kendrick: The Secrets of Rodney Kendrick (1993 , Verve): Jazz pianist, started in funk groups, moved on to Abbey Lincoln, landed a major label contract, released this imposing mainstream debut, aligning his stars -- Roy Hargrove, Graham Haynes, Kenny Garrett, Houston Person -- picking up extra percussion, and breezing through the piano breaks. A-
Rodney Kendrick: Last Chance for Common Sense (1995 , Verve): Reviewing this on Election Day 2012, the title seems premature, but he was probably looking for prophetic; less star power in the horns, but with Dewey Redman and Patience Higgins more edge, bouncing off rougher rhythms; with only one album since 1998, wonder what happened to such a talented pianist. B+(***)
The Lijadu Sisters: Mother Africa (1977 , Knitting Factory): Twins from Ibadan, reportedly stars of some magnitude in Nigeria, came to US and cut four albums 1976-79, this the second; fairly basic Afrobeat, relies more on flow than on beat, the songs steady with some depth but not much flash. B+(**) [R]
Lijadu Sisters: Sunshine (1978 , Knitting Factory): Afrobeat is Africa's most mundane, rock-friendly beat, but this looses even that, nor can Joe Higgs get them to rocksteady, nor do the English lyrics help -- especially when I hear "Set Me Free" as "sex with me"; too long on their green cards, time to go home. B- [R]
Louisiana Red: The Lowdown Back Porch Blues (1963 , Collectables): First album, although he cut some singles a decade earlier, the title sums him up a bit too neatly, a homespun stalwart of back country blues, but he was still a young man, still had a dream, and he was still too impressed by Muddy Waters to back down. B+(***) [R]
The Minimal Wave Tapes: Volume One (1980-87 , Stones Throw): From Minimal Wave Records, founded in 2005 by Veronica Vasicka, but the music is older, drawing on 1980s new wave/post-disco obscurities, dispassionate with a slight industrial air, minimally danceable. B+(**)
The Minimal Wave Tapes: Volume Two (1981-2004 , Stones Throw): Aside from the outlier, all 1981-88, which is the idea, dance music as postindustrial pop, more beat less atmosphere this time, one song oversung but that turns into its charm. B+(***)
R. Stevie Moore: Lo Hi Fives . . . A Kind of Best Of (, O Genesis): Son of a Nashville studio musician, b. 1952, cut his first lo-fi DIY album in 1968 and claims to have released more than 400 (or 500) more; no idea when or where these 14 cuts come from, or even if they're old, but they don't make me want to do a lot of research -- inspirational lyric: "I'm sick of singing about girls/because I can't find any." B
Yaa-Lengi Ngemi: Oh, Miziki (1986, MiyeMi): Congolese soukous, complete with ringing highnote guitar and call and response, recorded in New York, where the leader has been in exile but not exactly lying low; his discography is scant, but he's written political books, including a Genocide in the Congo with Bill Clinton in the subtitle. A- [dl]
Michael Sahl & Eric Salzman: Civilization and Its Discontents (1978 , Labor): Sahl is a postclassical composer, a year older than Salzman, his collaborator on several music theatre pieces, this one billed a comedy though more often tagged as their opera; rocks more than most avant-classicists, but like most modern opera tries to stuff too many words into too little music. 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 identified stream source; otherwise assume a CD). 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 -- although that's always a risk.
For this column and the previous 102, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3528 (3093 + 435).
Additional Consumer News
The most conspicuous trend in recycled goods these days is the proliferation of "anniversary" editions of reissues, usually padded out with an extra disc -- which is what "deluxe edition" meant before the phrase was devalued to just mean four extra songs on a pricier one-disc -- and sometimes wrapped up in extra packaging. I don't pay much attention to such things, or for that matter to more modest reissues, if I've rated the record before. (I'm more likely to go for records I missed, like L.A. Woman above.) But I thought I would at least acknowledge the recycling of some of these records, with my grades from earlier (not necessarily the original) editions. I started with the list from my metacritic file, then whittled them down with my old grade. Following a dash, I add the label (in parens) and sometimes a further qualification to the title. I ran out of time before I could verify the label and disc count in all cases. Some of the new editions are UK, or maybe elsewhere. All should be 2012 releases -- I do a better job of checking that, but it's possible something tripped me up there.
This list is certainly not complete. I didn't look anywhere else for 2012 reissues, so a record only appears if one (or more) prominent review sources raved about it. It strikes me that most of the sources come up with inflated grades on reissues. Don't know whether to chalk that up to the aura of having stood the test of history, or more mundane factors -- extra quantity, the packaging, some sort of selection pressure on reviewers, or a desire to curry favor with publicists over high-end items, all of which have some minor effect.
Also missing are reissues of records I haven't rated, which explains why I have one My Bloody Valentine rather than two, two Sugars rather than three. Also not sure that some grades would hold up to re-listening: that My Bloody Valentine looks a bit low, and Jazz at Massey Hall could very well be helped a lot with better sound. Harder to identify anything that might be overrated.
One thing I didn't include below are constituent pieces of multi-album reissues, like Roxy Music's The Complete Studio Recordings or the many boxes Sony/Legacy has come out with. That might be a future project, but needs a different format, and with few exceptions (Roxy Music is one) I'd have a bunch of holes to plug. (I did include one record from Blur 21: The Box, but it seems to have been reissued separately.)
Monday, December 3. 2012
Music: Current count 20754  rated (+30), 615  unrated (-4).
After two straight sub-30 weeks, seems like I broke out of a slump, not that the net effect is much different. More (and better) prospecting here than in some time, plus put some work into Recycled Goods, which will appear later this week -- thinner than the last two months, but relatively free of my old dirty laundry.
Jazz Poll ballot is due December 9. [Originally wrote Dec. 6, which was the original plan.] The following is my first pass at constructing such a list, just a sort of my current A-list. No guarantee that it will hold (actually, as I look at it I'm certain I'll reshuffle a lot):
The complete A-list currently numbers 97, so 49 jazz, 48 other, with Neneh Cherry the swing vote. The metacritic file currently lists 623 new jazz albums. I haven't factored in any year-end lists yet, so I think it currently has almost no predictive value. Cherry (to a huge extent) and Glasper (much less so) pick up crossover votes that won't be present in the Jazz Poll. Beyond that the top 30-40 slots reflect larger publicity efforts, some of which have escaped me -- my wish list starts with Darius Jones and Mary Halvorson. Further down, the list is mostly the work of Tim Niland, Stef Gijssels, and me, so you can't draw much there.
At this point, the Poll's prohibitive favorite is Vijay Iyer, but I'd like to think Steve Lehman has an outside chance. Beyond that there are some mainstream records I like (but generally not enough to come close to the top of my list above): The Bad Plus, Tim Berne, Anat Cohen, Ravi Coltrane, Chick Corea's Bill Evans tribute (as opposed to his Gary Burton record), Dave Douglas, Kenny Garrett, Branford Marsalis, Matthew Shipp, John Surman, Henry Threadgill, Matt Wilson, Miguel Zenon. I suspect that much of the competition will come from that list, but there are also records I haven't heard (Brad Mehldau, Ahmad Jamal, William Parker's Ellington, Jones, Halvorson), and things I have heard but don't think much of (Robert Glasper, Esperanza Spalding, Pat Metheny, I suppose you could add Christian Scott). We'll see, soon enough. Too soon as far as I'm concerned, as I always feel unprepared when these things sneak up on me.
One more little note: I usually try to flag "advance" copies -- partly a bit of resistance against not getting final copies, partly a reasonable caveat as I can't review the actual packaging and documentation. However, more and more I'm finding these are CDR burns of vinyl- and/or download-only product, so actually the publicists are doing me a big favor. I've started trying to mark these cases. Also, in a couple of cases, I've noticed that it's possible to preview these albums on Bandcamp, and have started to provide the appropriate links. The latter will happen only when I notice them, which is certainly not guaranteed.
Eivind Aarset: Dream Logic (2011-12 , ECM): Guitarist, b. 1961 in Norway, eighth album since 1998. Producer Jan Bang -- a figure on Nils Petter Molvaer's jazztronica albums -- feed him samples, with Aarset adding guitar, bass, percussion, electronics, and what have you, all at the dreamy level promised by the title. B+(**)
Jeb Bishop/Jorrit Dijkstra: 1000 Words (2011 , Driff): Trombone/alto sax duo, both also credited with mutes, which must help homogenize the sound. Bishop is a Chicago trombonist, best known for his tenure in the Vandermark 5, but he has a handful of albums under his own name (starting in 1998 with 98 Duets) as well as several post-V5 group projects. Dijkstra is Dutch, moved to US in 2002, teaches at New England Conservatory, has ten albums. Resembles a sax choir, with the horns hopping over one another in interesting patterns. B+(**)
Caroline Davis Quartet: Live Work & Play (2012, Ears & Eyes): Alto saxophonist, b. in Singapore, based in Chicago, first album, with guitar-bass-drums, no one I've heard of but expect to hear more from guitarist Mike Allemana. Wrote six (of ten) pieces, covering Billy Strayhorn and Charlie Parker, getting songs from two band members (Allemana and drummer Jeremy Cunningham). Unexceptional postbop, flows nicely, makes a strong impression. B+(**)
Kui Dong/Larry Polansky/Christian Wolff: Trio (2012, Henceforth): Dong is a pianist, b. 1966 in Beijing, China; moved to US in 1991 and teaches at Dartmouth, as do the others. Wolff, b. 1934 in France but grew up in the US, also plays piano here. He was influenced by postclassical composers like John Cage and Cornelius Cardew. I first ran across him on one of Brian Eno's Obscure Records. Polansky plays guitar and mandolin -- a way of interjecting some contrasting sounds, not that the pianos are all that predictable. Improv that would satisfy Cage, for just that reason. B+(***)
Hobson's Choice: Of the Waves (2011 , Barnyard): Dictionary defines this as "an apparently free choice that offers no real alternative." AMG describes one Virginia band with this one album, which is in fact by a completely different band, one based on Toronto, calls itself a "contemporary chamber jazz group." The chamber effect is mostly vocal (presumably Felicity Williams), surrounded by guitar, trumpet, marimba. Art song, extended through scatting or warbling -- first song I managed to tune into had a Rumi text that I mistook for Joni Mitchell in her most ponderous phase. B
Holus-Bolus: Pine Barren (2012, Prom Night): Josh Sinton, plays baritone sax and bass clarinet here, in his Steve Lacy tribute band Ideal Bread, and elsewhere. Builds most pieces from rhythmic vamps down low (helped by Peter Bitenc on bass), with vibes for contrast, occasionally breaking loose with hellacious solo runs -- Jonathan Goldberger's guitar, or more often Jon Irabagon's sax. Seems to be download-only. [Bandcamp] A- [advance]
I Compani: Garbo (2011 , Icdisc, 2CD): Extended title adds: and other Goddesses of Cinema, with Brigitte Bardot at least as prominent as Garbo. I Compani is saxophonist Bo van der Graaf's outfit, a group that specializes in film music -- records on Fellini, Nino Rota, Aida, Last Tango in Paris, a side trip into Circusism. The band is large, but only two horns -- the leader's sax and one trumpet -- with piano/synth, bandoneon, a string section, vibes, and drums, and some vocals. The first disc is delirious and exhilarating, especially when the whole group is firing. The second is a bonus, a live "Tango and Impro" concert in memory of actress Maria Schneider (1952-2011), featuring big chunks of Gato Barbieri's heavy-handed Last Tango in Paris soundtrack. It drags a bit, especially compared with the first disc. One more caveat: possibly the worst CD packaging ever. B+(***)
Erik Jekabson: Anti-Mass (2011 , Jekab's Music): Trumpeter, from California, studied at Oberlin, wound up in San Francisco, where the DeYoung Museum commissioned his title piece. Third album since 2004. With violin (Mads Tolling) and viola (Charith Prwardhana) and bits of vibraphone, a nice example of postbop chamber music, although the horns threaten to break loose, especially Dayna Stephens' tenor sax. B+(*)
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: No New Tunes (2012, Hot Cup): Guitarist, rolled out the Big Five Chord name on his 2003 debut, and is up to five albums now. All originals, not sure whether they're new or not, but the band has been together for some time, and return here more imposing than ever: Bryan Murray (tenor sax), Jon Irabagon (alto sax), Moppa Elliott (bass), Dan Monaghan (drums). The sax thrash is as powerful as ever, and the guitar is even sharper. Download/vinyl only. A- [advance]
Paul Lytton/Nate Wooley: The Nows (2011 , Clean Feed, 2CD): Drums and trumpet, respectively; Lytton, b. 1947 in England, a long-time fixture in avant jazz; Wooley, b. 1974 in Oregon, very prolific on the avant scene since 2005. The drummer does a lot of duos, so he's very prepared for this sort of mix up. But while both sides start as duos, they soon expand to trios, with Ikue Mori (computer) on the first, and Ken Vandermark (clarinets and saxes) on the latter. Even the latter stays within the basic chop-chop format. B+(*)
Medeski Martin & Wood: Free Magic (2007 , Indirecto): Organ trio, been around for twenty-some years, remarkably popular although John Medeski (keyboards) and Billy Martin (drums) have a parallel history of dabbling in avant-garde projects. When they set up their own label and started diving into old live tapes, they initially reached for the one with John Scofield -- it's their thing, right? This one is older, coming from their "first-ever acoustic tour." That mostly means Medeski playing piano, with such astonishing flair you wonder why he doesn't do more of it. Hype sheet talks about him "channeling his inner Cecil Taylor," but I hear as much Bud Powell, and at least a little Jerry Lee. Closes with a Mingus/Sun Ra medley. A- [advance]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey: The Clairvoyant (2012, Leo): Tenor sax, piano, drums. Shipp and Dickey were in David S. Ware's original quartet, and played several duos and trios around that time (c. 1990). Shipp and the Brazilian saxophonist go back about that far too, and while Ware may be the model for their interaction, Perelman has developed his own distinctive voice, especially when he doesn't have to bring the noise. This is part of the second batch of three albums he's released this year, the third with Shipp, a following hugely prolific 2011. A-
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Michael Bisio: The Gift (2012, Leo): Case study, where The Clairvoyant was Perelman-Shipp plus drummer (Whit Dickey), this is the same duo plus bassist (Bisio). The difference is that when the duo slows down they're more likely to stall, but over time they find outs -- a little cocktail jazz, a slow burn, a spot for the bassist -- even solo the saxophonist has little trouble carrying on, wth his most impressive turn solo. B+(***)
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: Living Jelly (2011 , Leo): Tenor sax, guitar, drums, respectively, although Morris is also an accomplished bassist. His leads are more effective than Shipp's in the other two albums, probably because the tone of his guitar lines up more harmonically with the sax -- similarly, his comping is more transparent. But the leader excels here, uncommonly eloquent in the slow stretches and as thrilling as ever at high speed. A-
The Reveries: Matchmakers Volume 2: The Music of Sade (2012, Barnyard): I know so little about Nigerian-born chanteuse Sade Adu or her band that I recognize none of these songs -- indeed, only two (of eight) show up on her first Best Of -- that I have to assume that the nasal falsettos squeezed through "mouth-speaker" and such are meant as satire. Canadian group -- Eric Chenaux (guitar), Ryan Driver (bass), Doug Tielli (guitar), and Jean Martin (drums) -- did this once before with Willie Nelson. B
Scott Robinson Doctette: Bronze Nemesis (2001-09 , Doc-Tone): Plays various saxes, clarinets, flutes, euphonium, Moog theremin, percussion, "gadgets"; b. 1959, has close to a dozen albums since 1984 (his debut was called Multiple Instruments, some close to trad jazz but others not. Front cover proclaims this as "12 Fantastic Musical Adventures Inspired by the Amazing Worlds of Doc Savage!" Comes with a lot of doc, but not knowing the references I'm at a more/less complete loss. Group: Randy Sandke (trumpet), Ted Rosenthal (piano), Pat O'Leary (bass), and Dennis Mackrel (drums), with Dennis Irwin taking over bass for one cut. Suffers a bit from soundtrack syndrome, especially the dingy atmospherics, but there are lots of interesting passages. B+(*)
Sara Serpa/Ran Blake: Aurora (2012, Clean Feed): Serpa is a vocalist, from Portugal, studied at NEC which brought her into contact with the pianist. Blake has a long history of working with singers, often in duo formats -- not unrelated is that he must have more than a dozen solo piano albums -- and this is his second pairing with Serpa. Hard for me to care much about their stripped-down abstractions, except when they offer a bent cover of something familiar, like "The Band Played On." B+(*)
Andrea Wolper/Connie Crothers/Ken Filiano: Trance Formation: In Concert (2009-10 , New Artists): Crothers is a pianist, b. 1941, a student and protégé of Lennie Tristano. She has at least 14 albums since 1974, and I'm embarrassed to say I've yet to hear any of them (although about six were on the 20-page shopping list I used to carry around to used stores). On the other hand, I've heard 35 albums with Filiano, one of the great bassists of our age. Wolper is a singer, married to Filiano, with three previous albums since 2005, a background before that in theatre and writing. All improv, words (if that's what they are) included, which tends to separate the instruments out into their own spaces, with Wolper's voice functoining as a thin and starchy horn. B+(*)
Katherine Young: Releasing Bound Water From Green Material (2012, Prom Night, EP): Bassoon player, has a couple recent records. This download-only has three cuts, runs 21:39, definitely within EP length, although there is also an accompanying Michael Kenney video (which I didn't watch). Percussion trio, with deep drone sounds from the accompanying horns/synth, an interesting concept, just one that doesn't last long. [Bandcamp] B+(*) [advance]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 2. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Also, for further study: