Friday, August 30. 2013
by Michael Tatum
I spent the latter half of July and the majority of August suffering from what I thought was a terrible bronchial infection -- incessant dry cough, lung pain, and, most importantly, incredibly low energy, so much so that any intellectual heavy lifting I wanted to do was pretty much tough going. So I skipped last month's column to recuperate, not really taking into account how long it was actually going to take me to recuperate. My doctor informed me earlier this afternoon that I may have unchecked asthma -- considering that I tend to suffer health-wise around this time of year (for similar reasons, I also skipped my August 2012 column, and August 2011 was short by my usual length), it may just be that late-summer allergies aggravate it. So consider this installment written under duress, with calibrated puffs of Budesonide (now there's a word for you fellow collectors out there) the supposed cure for the rockcrit blues -- Lord knows an otherwise boring August wasn't cutting it. Hopefully I'll clear out what's remaining in my queue next month, and bring a little something newer than repackaged Britney Spears to the table.
Kool and Kass: Peaceful Solutions (free download) If I had to venture a guess, Das Racist's Heems and Kool AD parted ways because the former began viewing himself as a "professional," in it for a committed career rather than purely for art's sake, hence why Heems' 2012 projects, the solid Wild Water Kingdom and the superior Nehru Jackets, trump the spaced-out, aleatoric grab bags his inconsistent ex-partner tossed up to the internet concurrently. Like it or not, form has function, which is why Kool needs someone like producer-rapper Kassa Overall, a musician's musician type whose own 2012 mixtape cleverly bit (swallowed whole, actually) hits from such respected hip hop titans as Katy Perry and Jennifer Lopez. Here, without sacrificing any of the zonked-out spaciness that distinguished Kool's 51, 63, and 19 (see what I mean by aleatoric?), Kass reins in his partner just enough, so that a "boast" like "Under the influence, but I'm congruent" might not convince the highway patrol, but for our purposes will more than suffice. Though outlawing credit cards satisfies my square sensibilities more than legalizing weed regardless of how I voted on Prop 19 (please tell me that number is a coincidence), it bums me out to report politics figures less into what they do than advocating a blissed-out solipsism exemplified by the idyllic "Pleasance," which contains the most complaisant "We don't give a fuck about a thing at all" ever uttered on a hip hop recording. Best of several unwitting cameos, in a field that includes glossolalia-struck newscaster Serena Branson and brazen publicity slut "Ray J" Norwood: Bizzy Bone, whose manic, ten-minute-plus outpouring at a Houston radio station needs to be heard to be believed. As for those miffed Kool once again recycles that classic "art, man/Robert Altman" verse, he's got a special riposte: "Sometimes I repeat myself -- get used to it." Well, not really a riposte -- more like a blasé statement of purpose. Which is hilarious, and totally in character. A
The Jeffrey Lewis and Peter Stampfel Band: Hey Hey It's . . . the Jeffrey Lewis and Peter Stampfel Band (self-released) Seventy-four, still warbling like a coyote with his tail caught in the feed of a paper shredder, and continuing to make that yelp sound like he's found the secret of Eternal Youth, Peter Stampfel has no problem staying young -- indeed, one of the problems with recent projects with the Ether Mob and Baby Gramps has been finding compatriots who can keep up with his boundless vivacity. But although the far droller Jeffrey Lewis isn't my idea of a sparkplug -- one might say he plays Harold to Stampfel's Maude -- their imperfect vocals don't join together like brothers so much as gleefully play against each other, with Lewis' mopey baritone resting on that bass clef like a chin on a cupped palm, and Stampfel's wild tenor harmonies sprightly bouncing all across the staff to wherever it gosh darn feels like. Their 2011 summit Come on Board was excellent, but bassist Isabel Martin and drummer Heather Wagner, doing double duty as backing singers cum rah-rahing cheering section (I can't get enough of them exhorting J&P to spell "dook" on the re-make of "Duke [sic] of the Beatniks"), turn them into a proper band, radiating so much jocund camaraderie the sort of man who knows the difference between a bee-det and a bee-ret might call it "esprit de corps." And the songs! Boiling them down to their thematic essence doesn't do them justice -- walking your dog, skipping-and-jumping-not-walking down NYC sidewalks, lollygagging as a bid for immortality, the life and times of "fucking Snooki," "Indie Bands on Tour," having more fun than anyone. Hawking merriment as spiritual achievement, no one's pulled off a trick like this since the Ramones -- except Johnny R. had no need for fiddles and banjos. A
Daniel Romano: Come Cry With Me (Normaltown/New West) Despite its high Metacritic score and Polaris Prize long-listing, I stayed clear of this little item for weeks: the parodically lachrymose title, Romano's nudie suits and Tom Selleck mustache, it was all just a little too much. Indeed, the first listen confirmed my suspicions: Romano, whose furry baritone suggests Bobby Bare, Jr.'s hapless picked-upon younger brother, clings so tightly to classic country conventions (steel guitar, girlie choruses, drummers who know nothing other than brush sticks) that he veers closer to pastiche than tribute -- in a spiritual sense, resembling Weird Al Yankovic more so than "authentic" torch bearers as far flung as Randy Travis and Lucinda Williams. And yet perversely, that's what makes this trip down Bizzaro World Music Row so uncommonly fresh, especially given how straight-faced Romano delivers his often outrageous original material, from the Buck Owens spoof "I'm Not Crying Over You" (he's not brokenhearted, just a method actor), the "A Boy Named Sue" send-up (he's not a poultry farmer, just a chicken hawk) and the "Mama Tried" lampoon "Middle Child" (he's not a bad kid, just a victim of Dr. Kevin Leman's quacked-up birth order theory). A little more soul and a band that's not the artiste over-over-overdubbing himself and he might even fool Nashville. A
Sing Me the Songs: Celebrating the Works of Kate McGarrigle (Nonesuch) Even if it has to cheat do it (ex-hubby Loudon's "Swimming Song," sister Anna's inevitably included "Heart Like a Wheel"), these thirty-two songs (two repeated) culled from three tribute shows in London, Toronto, and New York more than prove McGarrigle's standing as one of the late twentieth century's finest songwriters. True, this could have used some judicious pruning -- one disc rather than two would have sufficed, and although inheritors Rufus and Martha Wainwright dominate as they should, stubbornly sticking to the original keys leads to periodic gaffes (Rufus belting "Kiss and Say Goodbye" as if his mama was really Ethel Merman, flubbing a high note in the melody of "First Born," then wisely retreating into the ensemble by ducking down into a harmony). That being said, many of the reinterpretations are downright remarkable: Rufus' coy "Southern Boys," Martha's fearless "Matapedia," even Norah Jones' delicate "Talk to Me of Mendocino." Histrionic youngsters balance out plaintive old timers, sometimes on the same song, sometimes on competing interpretations, and if the kids don't realize playing to the canary fanciers is the self-consciously arty aesthetic obverse of the doe-eyed chorines who cozy up to Simon Cowell and the like, well, there are worse crimes to exculpate. But I could do with a few more recastings like Broken Social Scene's "Mother Mother," which strips away the original's stilted art rock moves and turns it into something that could almost be mistaken for pop music. Or, as my wife commented from upstairs after the umpteenth piano stool ballad, "Michael, could you change this please? This is really depressing." B+
Britney Spears: The Essential Britney Spears (Jive/Legacy) Dividing neatly into is-she-or-isn't-she and soiled dove periods, this may at first seem like way too much -- she couldn't cut a one-disc deal in 2004 without stooping to a Bobby Brown cover, so how could she pull off a two-disc pig-out a mere three studio albums later? Except that for a Disney reprobate turned well-coifed train wreck not known for memorable self-expression, mental stability, or singing with the voice God gave her, ace producer Max Martin and her various handlers do have a remarkable talent for, if not actually articulating the nitty-gritty of Spears' inscrutable inner life, then elucidating the thoughts and feelings that her many devoted fans have projected on her. After flashing us the tight thong beneath her Catholic girl school uniform in the undeniable bombshell that detonated her career, she opines, in a mid-tempo ballad you long forgot assuming you've actually heard it -- "But if you really want me move slow/There's things about me you just have to know." Things which, believe it or not, she actually reveals, slowly but surely, over the course of what is now a fairly impressive career: her smothering via the overprotection of others, her ambivalence toward her fabricated early image, and -- over and over again -- her propensity to hook up and hold onto the wrong guy. Miley Cyrus, beware: this might happen to you, the career arc if not the efficiently executed songs. Now if only so many of those early ballads weren't so, as Britney herself might say, barftastic. A
Superchunk: I Hate Music (Merge) Paul Westerberg hated music because it had too many notes, Mac McCaughan hates it because even though he's generated plenty of money from giving a home to Arcade Fire, Spoon, and the like (and bless him for that) he hasn't made much scratch from the band that inspired him to start his own label in the first place. Still, while I'd be the first to admit that 2010's Majesty Shredding and now this more tuneful follow-up constitute the best records in the two decades he's been trying, you'd think he'd have more subjects to explore than his own relationship to "the scene": tweaking a busted amp at the front of the house, rocking a festival in Barcelona, meeting at a bar called the "Low F," catching a ferry to the ballpark, "looking at girls/shopping for jeans" -- surely there's more to McCaughan's world than this? Yeah yeah, the high-grade tunes do indeed make me pump my proverbial first. But back in the early '90s when McCaughan wasn't putting out records half this memorable, the indie mill churned out a record this good every month -- a record that would occupy us momentarily, until our attention-deficient noggins moved along to the next one. I mean, Pavement dedicated a whole album to their scene, too. But if McCaughan has devised a perfect melody on the order of "Range Life" or a lyric as foxy as "Stone Temple Pilots/They're elegant bachelors," I'm Gerard Cosloy. A
El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels (Fool's Gold) Better to tag-team hammering that one note than to bludgeon it on your own ("Sea Legs," "DDFH") ***
Young Fathers: Tape One (Anticon) Not quite out of the basement yet ("Rumbling," "Romance") ***
Robin Thicke: Blurred Lines (Interscope) If I was getting Timberlake's leftovers I'd be insecure about my dick size, too ("Blurred Lines," "Ain't No Hat 4 That") **
Major Lazer: Free the Universe (Secretly Canadian) . . . but cram those collaborators into these tiny electro-dancehall boxes ("You're No Good," "Get Free") **
Dessa: Parts of Speech (Doomtree) You'd figure someone who teaches lyric writing in her spare time would realize "If you don't aim for the center, it's a waste of the art" is a double-edged metaphor ("Skeleton Key," "Call Off Your Ghost") **
Pet Shop Boys: Electric (X2) Work tapes from the euphoric dance floor record I've been waiting years for them to make -- I mean, these are work tapes, right? ("The Last to Die," "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct") **
Speedy Ortiz: Major Arcana (Carpark) Putting down "virgins" isn't my idea of feminism, but I'd be more forgiving if their energy level didn't evoke Speedy's somnambulist cousin Slowpoke ("Cash Cab," "Plough") *
Daft Punk: Random Access Memories (Daft Life/Columbia) Nile Rodgers yes, Paul Williams no, and with that kind of arbitrary taste in collaborators here's betting next time they gun for George Benson ("Give Life Back to Music," "Get Lucky") *
Camera Obscura: Desire Lines (4AD) These twee Glaswegians, buddies with Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch, titled an early release Underachievers Please Try Harder -- the perfect out, right? Album five puts a little more muscle into the production, torches up the vocals, cedes cameos to Neko Case and Jim James -- and still they underwhelm. Now what's their excuse? C+
George Strait: Love Is Everything (MCA Nashville) The 2006 Country Hall of Fame inductee is some kind of institution: twenty-eight studio records and sixty number one hits on the Billboard Country Charts since his 1981 debut. He's never left MCA in that time, and he's stalwartly worked with producer Tony Brown since the soundtrack to Pure Country, which my first girlfriend dragged me to see in 1992 (would you believe John Doe in a major supporting role?). So you could argue he's survived in a way that his poor neotrad fellow traveler Randy Travis has not. But if he has, it's purely by applying a clock-puncher's attitude to his chosen vocation: release a mediocre record every couple of years (but not too mediocre), leading it with a sure shot hit to make sure it clears the bottom line. I admit, it takes a little bit of spirit and imagination (I said a little bit) to do something with the thin conceit of "I Got a Car." But how about "I Thought I Heard My Heart Sing?" "That's What Breaking Hearts Do?" "When Love Comes Around Again?" The more-accurate-than-he-knows middle-aged plaint "Sittin' on a Fence?" And "I Got a Car" wasn't even the hit -- that would be perfunctory ode to whoopie-makin' "Give It All We Got Tonight." It got no higher than #7. Remember to punch your card on the way out, Georgie-Boy. C+
Wings: Wings Over America (Hear Music) Is this hulking dinosaur excavated from the days when live doubles were actually live triples quality entertainment? Indeed it is, as was the evening I saw McCartney myself in 1990, when he anti-climatically opened with Flowers in the Dirt's "Figure of Eight" and royally embarrassed himself by inserting a snippet of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in the coda of "The Fool on the Hill." But then as now, once you objectively remove yourself from the excitement of seeing a real live ex-Beatle in the flesh, there's too much to forgive. Even mentally separating this behemoth into its original six-vinyl-sides, Denny Laine remains impossible to avoid, from the pathetic Moody Blues revival ("See! I had hits in the sixties, too!") to the inexplicable "Richard Cory" cover (unless "But I work in his factory/And I curse the life I'm living," is underhanded protest). The acoustic set in the middle in particular is a disgrace, bowdlerizing not one but three Beatles classics (with the shit-kicking bass line at the end of "I've Just Seen a Face" only the worst of many indignities), with McCartney himself at his most clearly disengaged ("How does 'Blackbird' end again?"). Why does the crowd hoop and holler after Jimmy McCulloch's abysmal roman ŕ bass clef "Medicine Jar?" Are they stoned? And why does McCartney sing "Do me a flavor" in the chorus of "Let 'Em In?" Is he stoned? And what did drummer Joe English mean when he told Macca biographer Peter Ames Carlin that overdubs were necessary for this record because "people were singing out of tune?" Is that why "Cook of the House" wasn't on the nightly set list? Docked a notch because I can't see the explosions on "Live and Let Die" in my living room. C+
Wayne Shorter: Without a Net (Blue Note) In space, no one can hear you play soprano sax. B
Thundercat: Apocalypse (Brainfeeder) Not Jamaaladen Tacuma, not Bootsy Collins -- more like Nigel Godrich produces the Gap Band. B
Natalie Maines: Mother (Columbia) I'll give this to the Indigo Girls -- when Amy Ray went solo, her idea of "edgy" went beyond Pat Benatar covering Pink Floyd and the Jayhawks. B
Alice Smith: She (Rainwater/Thirty Tigers) Alicia Keys may be married to Swizz Beatz (a.k.a. "the McRib of hip hop"), but this perennial R&B up and comer is married to Citizen Cope -- top that. C+
French Montana: Pardon My French (Interscope) Of course Rick Ross sounds smug on his (three) cameos -- he's content in the knowledge he's no longer the dullest rapper in the known universe. C
Wednesday, August 28. 2013
Down to 44 albums this month. Was 55 in July, 58 in May, 56 in March, 60 in January, but down in the 30s every other month this year, so I figure this for an average month -- despite the fact that damn little of interest was released in August. The vast majority of this month's load is jazz -- 34 out of 44. Some go back to 2010. I got on a kick of searching out old releases on the Not Two label, and arbitrarily slotted everything from 2010 and later here -- the rest go into Recycled Goods. The most anomalous thing about this month is the shortfall of A-list records: only two. I don't have numbers handy, but it seems like I average 6-8 per month. (Turns out that July 2012 only had 1, so this isn't even a record low month.)
Just discovered that the sequence links in the archive were broken. (Trying to figure out the above.) Got the arrows working at least, but when I tried adding text to explain the links I got the wrong answers, so will have to do some further debugging there.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on July 27. Past reviews and more information are available here (3616 records).
Harry Allen/Rossano Sportiello/Joel Forbes: I Walk With Music: The Hoagy Carmichael Songbook (2013, GAC): Tenor sax, piano, bass, respectively, resisting the temptation to read the cover left to right (which puts the pianist first), doing thirteen standards, most well known. What you want is to just luxuriate in the warm sax, which you can, just not enough to really satisfy. B+(**)
AlunaGeorge: Body Music (2013, Island): Singer Aluna Francis and producer George Reid debut, pleasant enough dance pop. B+(*)
Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble: Songs of the Metropolis (2012 , World Village): Saxophonist, also plays clarinet and accordion here, based in London, born in Israel, so disillusioned by the Jewish State that he named his group after the PLO headquarters in Al Quds. I have no idea whether his political tracts are defensible, nor any desire to enter that fray, but his music has never been tactless or guileless, so we'll stick to that. Nine songs, seven named for cosmopolitan cities of the world, the eighth "Somewhere in Italy" -- the tunes secure in their melodies and swathed in rich textures, mostly reeds and keybs, with vocal cheer for Berlin. B+(***)
David Binney: Lifted Land (2012 , Criss Cross): Phenomenally talented postbop alto saxophonist, has a quartet that should push him hard -- Craig Taborn, Eivind Opsvik, Tyshawn Sorey -- but records for a label that likes to settle into the sludge at the bottom of the mainstream. It's about a draw: fun when the band gets uppity, but dull when they lay back. B+(*)
Gerald Clayton: Life Forum (2012 , Concord): Pianist, plays in various family businesses (Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Band, Clayton Brothers), third album on his own. He tries a lot of things here, always sharp at piano whether he's running with a beat or crossing it, and he has good taste in horns -- Ambrose Akinmusire, Logan Richardson, Dayna Stephens. On the other hand, I don't like any of the vocal bits -- Carl Hancock Rux's spoken word, Gretchen Parlato, Sachal Vasandani, or Clayton himself, and they wreck at least four songs here. B
Alex Cline: For People in Sorrow (2011 , Cryptogramophone): Drummer, has a dozen albums since 1981 but nothing that prepared me for this one. First 3:55 is spoken word, lyrics by Larry Ward, titled "A Wild Thing," mostly about nature but suggests music can be a wild thing too. The remaining 63:47 is a new version of Roscoe Mitchell's "People in Sorrow," which was originally recorded by Art Ensemble of Chicago in 1969. The ten-piece band has some heavy hitters -- Oliver Lake, Vinny Golia, Myra Melford, G.E. Stinson, Jeff Gauthier, Zeena Parkins, Mark Dresser -- plus occasional Dwight Trible vocals, and they are marvelous in spots and disturbing in others. B+(*)
Chick Corea: The Vigil (2013, Concord): Past 70 now, he's had a huge career and maintains a devoted following, but I've gotten to where I expect nothing but trash from him, not that he's always obliged. This sure doesn't look promising, with a new fusion band and a conquistador cover that brings to mind Romantic Warrior -- one of his all-time worst. Still, the young rhythm section -- Charles Altura (guitar), Hadrien Feraud (bass), Marcus Gilmore (drums) -- pounds out a sure-footed groove, and it's hard to find a fusion reeds man more tasteful than Tim Garland (whose CV includes a long stretch with Bill Buford). At least for five cuts I'm impressed: then the wife sings one, and the closer's a bit awkward. Still, neither is a major misstep. B+(**)
The Creole Choir of Cuba: Santiman (2013, Real World): Ten singers, six-to-four in favor of the women, with Haitian roots and an interesting in reviving old Hatian songs, a historical turn I have no real insight into. They can get churchy or arty, but then you hear something that clicks as a timeless folk classic, like "Panama Mwen Tombe." B+(*)
Andrew Cyrille: Duology (2012 , Jazzwerkstatt): The duo here is Michael Marcus (clarinet) and Ted Daniel (trumpet) -- in fact, they recorded an album together in 2006, also called Duology, which I didn't much care for at the time. This adds not just any drummer but one of the greats: helps keep the two horns alert and engaged, safe from drifting into tedium or drowning in their own harmonics. B+(**)
Dawn of Midi: Dysnomia (2013, Thirsty Ear): Piano trio, met at CalArts, a melting pot for distant Morocco (pianist Amino Belyamani), India (bassist Aakaash Israni), and Pakistan (percussionist Qasim Naqvi). Second album, moved to the label that pioneered avant jazztronica, they respond with a set of repeating rhythmic tacks, all acoustic as far as I can tell, which may prove a bit thin in the long run, or may open up, but is pretty unique either way. B+(***)
Aaron Diehl: The Bespoke Man's Narrative (2013, Mack Avenue): Pianist, has a couple previous albums, this one is trio plus Warren Wolf added on vibes on 7 (of 10) pieces, adding something without shading the piano tone. Half originals, the better half standards. B+(*)
Disappears: Kone (2013, Kranky, EP): Chicago punk group, closed out the 10-song Lux in 29:03 but went 15:57 on the 6th (and last) song on Guider, run the title cut here 15:47, adding a 4:57 second song and a 10:17 edit on the other side, so actually this is longer than those albums. So an exercise in stretch, how unpunklike! B+(*)
Disappears: Era (2013, Kranky): OK, post-punk, the seven songs averaging 6:09 (43:02), partly because they've slowed down but mostly because they're willing to kick their lines down the road. Reminds me of how the Fall evolved, and while the singer here is already more deadpan, they got the idea. B+(**)
George Duke: Dream Weaver (2013, Heads Up): Long-time keyboard player, best known for his funk quotient but has a bit of jazz cred, mostly from way back. On the other hand, when his well-itentioned "Change the World" came on, I forgot I was listening to a record and wondered where the TV jingle came from. Died shortly after this moderately funky background music came out. Just fast forward the vocals. B-
Scott Fields Ensemble: Frail Lumber (2010 , Not Two): Sort of a double string quartet, with electric guitars -- Fields and Elliott Sharp -- instead of bass or extra violin; never quite escapes my inate distaste for banked strings, but doesn't otherwise fit into the classical milieu, even post. B+(*)
The Fonda/Stevens Group: Trio + 2: Live in Katowice (2009 , Not Two): Long-lived piano trio, founded in 1995 and co-led by bassist Joe Fonda and pianist Michael Jeffrey Stevens, with Harvey Sorgen on drums, playing in Poland where they picked up two saxophonists: Maciej Obara (alto), Ireneusz Wojtczak (tenor, bass clarinet); the saxes are out to make a lot of noise, which takes an interesting turn on the second cut ("Fast"), when someone sings and turns it into jump blues, but eventually this returns to thrash. B+(*)
Paulo Fresu Devil Quartet: Desertico (2012 , Ota): Italian trumpet player, has a couple dozen albums but mostly on local labels that get no press elsewhere. This particular group is built around guitarist Bebo Ferra, who is not just a foil for the leader but the driving force and an eloquent soloist. B+(***)
Robbie Fulks: Gone Away Backward (2013, Bloodshot): Country singer, Americana division, used to have a deep drawl and weathered outlook, and the nasty-looking twister on the cover makes me expect even worse, but his picking is almost delicate, and the voice reminds me of Michael Hurley, probably because the cadences are similar. B+(**)
Vince Gill & Paul Franklin: Bakersfield (2013, MCA Nashville): Some sources list Franklin, a steel guitarist with plenty of side-credits but no previous albums, ahead of the established star but the cover at least reads as above. Ten songs, five from Merle Haggard, four Buck Owens, one Tommy Collins. Hag's are better, of course, but "Together Again," especially with all that weepy steel, is nothing to sneeze at. B+(***)
Frode Gjerstad/Paal Nilssen-Love: Gromka (2008 , Not Two): Norwegian saxophonist -- a rather squeaky alto plus bass and Bb clarinet -- and drummer duo: the latter has cut a lot of sax duos, especially with Ken Vandermark, Peter Brötzmann, and Joe McPhee. This is roughly in that class, although the squeakiness may turn one off. B+(**)
Goodie Mob: Age Against the Machine (2013, The Right/Warner Brothers): Cee-Lo Green returns to his original group, coming up with something that sounds (for a while, anyway) like a mashup of Rage Against the Machine and Black-Eyed Peas, the rapid stutter CL's preferred metier. B+(*)
Wycliffe Gordon: The Intimate Ellington/Ballads and Blues (2013, Criss Cross): Trombone player, although I caught myself wondering who played that blistering trumpet solo, and that was him too -- I see that on past records he's also played tuba and didjeridu. Nine Ellington tunes, three with "blues" in the title, plus "Caravan" from Ellington's own trombonist -- can't go wrong with that. Adrian Cunningham provides the only other horn (clarinet, soprano/tenor sax), but Gordon finds yet another lead instrument in Zach Brock's violin. Dee Daniels sings "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" and duets with Gordon on "Creole Love Call." B+(***)
Derrick Hodge: Live Today (2013, Blue Note): Bassist, first album under his own name but has lots of side credits since 1998, with jazz artists like Mulgrew Miller and Robert Glasper but also with soul and hip-hop artists like Musiq, Anthony Hamilton, and Common. I don't see anything on when this was recorded, but seems like he shuffles a lot of musicians and ideas for a live set -- none of the three horns plays more than two cuts, adds a string quartet for two cuts -- so while the funk grooves are pleasant enough and I like the coffee cups, that's canceled out by the dreamy folkie shit with vocals. B
Julia Holter: Loud City Song (2013, Domino): From Los Angeles, third album, music is heavy with keybs and melodrama, plodding along. The one cover, Barbara Lewis' "Hello Stranger," is done the same way, and striking, perhaps because it has a hook to hang on. B
José James: No Beginning No End (2013, Blue Note): Jazz singer-songwriter, fourth album, has a light touch and much of this seems to get by with little more than brushes on the drums. Not finding any credits online, other than that Don Was produced and singer Emily King is featured on a couple of cuts -- I'd say she steals the show but there's not much to it. B
Lean Left: Live at Café Oto (2011 , Unsounds): Two guitarist from the Ex, the long-running Dutch punk group, hook up with saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Vandermark and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, as they've done a couple times before. Rough, rowdy improv, the guitarist looking for noise, which the sax repays in spades. One problem: Rhapsody only has the 30:40 opener, while Discogs indicates a 37:07 second cut, so far unheard by me, so I'll hedge a bit. B+(**)
Joëlle Léandre & Lauren Newton: Conversations: Live in Ljubljana (2010 , Not Two): Bassist and vocalist, the former with dozens of albums since 1983 (AMG lists 49), the latter with at least 17 since 1983, all this stuff on avant labels. My issues, as usual, are with the vocalist: some remarkable scat, some bracing spoken word, some unlistenable diva shit, all to music that gets in your face and stays there. B
Sabir Mateen/Frode Gjerstad: Sound Gathering (2007 , Not Two): Two reed players, saxes and clarinets, although tenor and alto respectively are first choice, plus you get trombone player Steve Swell listed on the front cover as "featuring"; the two leaders cohere in interesting ways, but Swell seems to bring out the fight in them, and with all three cranking this can get a bit noisy. B+(**)
Rafal Mazur/Neir Neuringer: Unison Lines (2009 , Not Two): Duo, acoustic bass guitar and alto sax, hooked up in Poland and have at least one more collaboration -- Mazur seems to be from Poland, Neuringer grew up in New York; the sax can get shrill, but the bass not only anchors the music, Mazur is so fast he can riff on it. B+(**)
Szilárd Mezei Szabad Quintet: Singing Elephant (2010 , Not Two): Viola player, Hungarian born in Serbia, prolific juggling many projects in recent years, a relatively conventional group with tenor sax (Peter Bede), trumpet (Adam Meggyes), bass and drums. B+(**)
Ulysses Owens Jr.: Unanimous (2011 , Criss Cross): Drummer, first album, more recently appeared in a piano trio with Christian Sands and Christian McBride and they're the core here, supplemented by Michael Dease (trombone) on two cuts, Jaleel Shaw (alto sax) on four, and Nicholas Payton (trumpet) on five -- last three are hornless, and a bit sharper for that. B+(*)
Nicholas Payton: #BAM: Live at Bohemian Caverns (2012 , BMF): Trumpet player from New Orleans, made a splash early on as a guy with one foot in the tradition and another going places, but seems like he's been floundering recently. Hashtag stands for "Black American Music" -- not sure whether he thinks he's got that cornered or is just content to work in the historical vein. Not sure what's going on here: press release just mentions that he's working with bass and drums, playing Fender Rhodes along with his trumpet. The keyb may suggest soul jazz, but this goes harder and tougher, the key work impressive in its own right, and the trumpet so sharp you don't miss the comping. B+(***)
Sam Phillips: Push Any Button (2013, Littlebox): First album in five years, a fairly minimal effort, ten songs, less than 30 minutes, sound is familiar as is the craftsmanship, but the songs don't automatically get punchier when you end them at 2:32. B+(*)
Portico Quartet (2012, Real World): English group, third album, commonly regarded as jazz but they keep a regular beat and all four members dabble in electronics -- although one, Jack Wylie, plays sax and another, newcomer Keir Vine, plays an ideophone called the hang, the thick keyb textures dominate, and singer Comelia Dahlgren helps out. B
Portico Quartet: Live/Remix (2012 , Real World, 2CD): One live disc, where their proximity to jazz is less convincing than their dedication to the thick textures of electronica, and a remix disc which lets people who do that sort of thing add snappy beats and whirls. Live record is too much of a not-so-great thing, with a Cornelia vocal for a change of pace. Remix disc is more attractive, although I tend to discount such things. B
Revolutionary Ensemble: Counterparts (2005 , Mutable Music): An important avant-jazz group during its original 1972-77 run, a trio of Leroy Jenkins (violin), Sirone (bass), and Jerome Cooper (drums). They eventually regrouped and recorded the marvelous And Now . . . (2004, Pi), but their second phase was cut short by the deaths of Jenkins (2007) and Sirone (2009). A 2008 release of a 2005 session offered little more, but it's more than nostalgia that lifts this release of the group's last live performance. A-
Kermit Ruffins: We Partyin' Traditional Style (2013, Basin Street): New Orleans trad guy, plays trumpet and sings, has a pile of records since 1992 but got a boost nationwide when he started showing up regularly on HBO's Treme -- sort of inevitable because his shtick fits theirs. And success has done him well: I'm not about to backtrack, but I doubt he's ever had a band this good or production this sharp, and it's given him renewed confidence -- pays off even if you know Louis Armstrong as well as he does. B+(***)
Michel Sajrawy: Arabop (2012, Dasam Studio): Palestinian-Israeli guitarist, based in his home town Nazareth, has a couple previous albums on a jazz label that leaned that way, but this one adds a couple vocals, trying to straddle pop and jazz, and not really convincing us of either. B
Susana Santos Silva Quintet: Devil's Dance (2011, TOAP): Portuguese trumpet player, her more recent records out on Clean Feed, so I thought I'd check out this debut. Quintet with tenor sax (Zé Pedro Coelho), guitar (André Fernandes), bass, and drums -- I initially thought the guitar was a postbop move but is probably more of an Iberian thing, especially on a piece like "En Febrero" where the horns graduate from scrawny to endearing. B+(**) [bc]
Alex Sipiagin: Overlooking Moments (2012 , Criss Cross): Russian-born trumpet player, moved to US in 1991 and has 14 or so records since 1998, including a Woody Shaw tribute which helps locate him. Flugelhorn on the cover, a superb quartet with Chris Potter, Scott Colley, and Eric Harland. Smolders a lot, occasionally catching fire. B+(**)
Earl Sweatshirt: Doris (2013, Odd Future): Teenage Los Angeles rapper, b. Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, first commercial release after a well-received mixtape and bits on other Odd Future ventures. Sounds much older, grizzled even, complaining about bad dreams after giving up pot -- what kind of 19-year-old does that? The kind who complains about the Southern California weather, I guess. B+(**)
Albert Van Veenendaal: Minimal Damage (2007-09 , Evil Rabbit): Subtitled "miniatures for prepared piano": sixteen pieces, two over 5 minutes, most of the rest close to 2; solo, mostly repeating figures, but the hardware is full of surprises, generating plucked tones like a bass and plonks like a percussionist. A-
Barrence Whitfield and the Savages: Dig Thy Savage Soul (2013, Bloodshot): Boston rocker, came out in the 1980s with a crude, raw throwback to 1950s rock and roll, and the only thing that's changed since then is that they've gotten louder. Not sure that's a plus. B
Warren Wolf: Wolfgang (2013, Mack Avenue): Vibraphone player, third album, split between two piano quartets -- his usual one with Aaron Goldberg, Kris Funn, and Billy Williams Jr., and a run with the stars: Benny Green, Christian McBride, and Lewis Nash -- plus some duo tracks with Aaron Diehl. One of the annoying things about trying to review records by streaming is the frequent lack of basic documentation, but it isn't hard to guess which tracks belong to whom. Some are real snappy, but the record goes off the rails on the last two tracks: an Ivan Lins tune with some vocal flutter, and a lullaby "Le Carnaval de Venise." B
Monday, August 26. 2013
Music: Current count 21937  rated (+38), 585  unrated (-4).
Busy day today, so late post. Had a potluck dinner-discussion of my Thinking Around the Israeli-American Impasse paper. I'll write more about that in the next day or two, but for now will note that instead of preparing for defending my paper, I focused on the potluck part of the equation and spent the day preparing a legendary Tunisian dish, Mohamed's Bisteeya. Used Ruth Reichl's recipe from Tender at the Bone, substituting chicken for the traditional squab. Played music all day, but didn't have time to write about any of it.
Three A- records this week is rare, but only brings the month to five. The total review count for this month is 53, down quite a bit from the last two months (85 and 78) but about average for the year. Still holding back records until their release week. Looks like things will pick up September 10 -- I have four records already reviewed for that week, vs. just one for next week. Should do a Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week, hopefully by the end of the month. Draft file isn't real thick, but for some reason it's almost all jazz. Hope to have a Downloader's Diary too.
Agachiko: Yes! (2013, Accurate): Singer Gabrielle Agachiko, b. 1958 in Kenya, father Kenyan, mother Afro-American, moved to England at 12, New York at 17, based in Boston now. First album, wrote or co-wrote 8 of 11 songs -- covers are "Angel Eyes," "Since I Fell for You," and one from Nina Simone. Backed by guitar, bass, drums, and some horns -- Ken Field, Scott Getchell, and Russ Gershon. B+(*)
Albare: The Road Ahead (2013, Enja): Alias for Albert Dadon, b. 1957 in Morocco, moved to Israel at age 5, France five years later, then to Australia in 1984, where he married the daughter of a billionaire, is executive chairman of "a diversified funds management and property development company," founded and chaired the Australian Israel Cultural Exchange, chaired the Melbourne Jazz Festival, and eventually recorded at least three albums. With piano, bass, drums, and Allan Harris crooning on one song, a pleasant mild groove album. B+(*)
Bryan Anthony/Gary Norian Trio: A Night Like This (2011, Mercator Media): Standards singer, has worked in the Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey ghost bands, and has a couple previous albums. This one is backed by pianist Norian's trio, and Norian provides four songs. Anthony has a classic crooner pose, a soft and pliable voice, and he sneaks up on you. Francis Davis wrote the liner notes. B+(**)
Will Bernard: Just Like Downtown (2013, Posi-Tone): Guitarist, half-dozen albums since 1998, goes for a soul jazz album this time, but everyone except drummer Rudy Royston is a bit eccentric: Brian Charette on organ, John Ellis on tenor sax and bass clarinet, and the leader himself. B+(**) [August 27]
The Candy Shop Boys: Sugar Foot Stomp (2013, self-released): Throwback side project for saxophonist Matt Parker, who has a recent postbop album I like a lot (Worlds Put Together). With Scott Tixier (violin), Jesse Elder (piano), bass and drums, and Sophia Urista singing 7 of 12 songs -- Cab Calloway ("Kicking the Gong Around"), Harlem Hamfats ("The Candy Man"), "St. James Infirmary," but "Light My Fire" seems a misstep, and "I Want to Be Evil" is less convincing than "When I Get Low I Get High." Instrumentals like "Sugarfot Stomp" and "Black & Tan Fantasy" and "Bernie's Tune" are more than filler. B+(***)
Jonathan Elias: Path to Zero: Prayer Cycle (2011, Downtown): Pianist, b. 1956, studied at Eastman School of Music and Bennington College, classical stuff, worked on movie soundtracks, produced rock groups like Duran Duran and Yes; in 1989 composed a piece called Requiem for the Americas; in 1999 released a choral symphony called The Prayer Cycle. This is presumably more of that, "a powerful poetic response to man's inhumanity to man in the nuclear age, told in seven movements" and tied into some sort of political program -- probably well-intentioned, but none of the music here (spoken word, chorales, classical schmaltz played with synths) makes me want to find out. Sometimes when I sit on an album a couple years I'm pleasantly surprised. Sometimes it's even worse than I imagined. D+
Satoko Fujii: Gen Himmel (2012 , Libra): Solo piano, not sure how many of those she's recorded in a very prolific career -- AMG lists 44 records since 1995 -- but it's not zero and not many. This has none of the thrash I'm so fond of, so it's all the more surprising that this succeeds on its own complex melodic terms. A-
Albert Heath/Ethan Iverson/Ben Street: Tootie's Tempo (2013, Sunnyside): Heath, b. 1935, nicknamed "Tootie," was one of the three Heath Brothers, along with saxophonist Jimmy Heath and bassist Percy Heath. Only two or three albums under his name, but he's played on at least a hundred starting in 1957 with Red Garland and John Coltrane, and this is the second album he's appeared on named Tootie's Tempo -- the other by Tete Montoliu Trio in 1979. Iverson, who's recently eschewed credit in the Billy Hart Quartet, plays piano, and Street bass. Starts out jaunty with "The Charleston," part of a songbook that sometiems predates the drummer, and ends with the title song, mostly drum solo. Nice tribute. (By the way, the only album Percy Heath put his name on came out in 2004, a year before his death. It was called A Love Song, and was even more charming than this one.) B+(***) [August 27]
Lynn Jolicoeur and the Pulse: World Behind Your Eyes (2012 , self-released): Boston singer/band, the writer there is pianist Steven Travis, who has a hand in 5 (of 12) songs, one co-credited with Jolicoeur. Website promises "timeless jazz and pop hits with contemporary flair and romantic soul" -- hard to imagine how that might work without falling through the contradictory cracks. Nothing bad here, but having a sax doesn't make it jazz, covering Sting and writing new songs doesn't make it timeless. Contemporary flair, sure. B
Kaze: Tornado (2012 , Libra): Quartet with two trumpets (Natsuki Tamura and Christian Pruvost), piano (Satoko Fujii), and drums (Peter Orins). The trumpets burst out of the gate, and the pianist almost makes the drummer an afterthought. And when the fury breaks, they keep it interesting in subtler ways. A-
Mark Masters Ensemble: Everything You Did (2012 , Capri): Subtitled "The Music of Walter Becker & Donald Fagen," aka Steely Dan, a 1970s rock group with an uncommon affinity for jazz. The Ensemble has some star power -- Billy Harper and Tim Hagans, most obviously, plus guests like Oliver Lake, Sonny Simmons, and Gary Foster wander in for a cut each -- but mostly the big band takes all the whimsy out of the tunes, which become difficult to discern and distinguish unless Anna Mjoll sings one. B
Stephanie Nakasian: Show Me the Way to Get Out of This World (2011 , Capri): Standards singer, b. 1954, ten albums since 1988, mostly on VSOP, her latest Dedicated to Lee Wiley. Backed here by a basic piano trio led by Harris Simon, leaving the focus on the singer, a subtle interpreter with fine tone who can also sling some scat, but is best when she find a song with some bite to it, like "The End of a Love Affair." B+(**)
Linda Oh: Sun Pictures (2012 , Greenleaf Music): Bassist, third album, quartet with Ben Wendel (credited with trumpet but sounds like tenor sax, his usual instrument), James Muller (guitar), and Ted Poor (drums). Pieces have an inside-out feel to them, nothing showy, fast or loud -- the guitar and sax just build up on the bass waves and carry you along. A- [August 27]
Planet Z: Planet Z Featuring Susan Aquila/Music by Rob Tomaro (2011, Blue Chair): Fusion group, only album, Aquila was trained as a classical violinist but plays a Viper 6-string electric here. Tomaro wrote the pieces, has a Ph.D. in composition from NYU, and plays guitar, with the band adding keyboards, bass, and drums. B
Abigail Riccards: Every Little Star (2013, self-released): Standards singer, has a couple previous albums, this one produced by Jane Monheit (who's featured on Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game," an outlier here). Band includes Michael Kanan (piano) and Peter Bernstein (guitar), framing surefire songs nicely -- "Singin' in the Rain," "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," "Smile," "Bye Bye Blackbird." B+(*)
Imer Santiago: Hidden Journey (2013, Jazz Music City): Trumpet player, originally from Lorain, Ohio; studied at Ohio State under Pharez Whitted, then University of New Orleans; currently based in Nashville, teaching at Tennessee State, also band director at Moses McKissack Middle School and "worship pastor" of The Church at Antioch. First album, quintet plus guests, saxophonist Rahsaan Barber co-wrote three songs. Has a serene tone, does a nice job of pacing this. Two songs are dedicated to Miles Davis and Tito Puente. Stephanie Adlington sings "The Very Thought of You." B+(***) [August 27]
Natsuki Tamura: Dragon Nat (2012 , Libra): Solo trumpet, makes a nice matched set with Satoko Fujii's solo Gen Himmel. But solo trumpet is much harder to pull off, as evidenced by the fact that there are maybe a dozen such albums compared to many hundreds or possibly more than a thousand solo piano sets. B+(*)
Waclaw Zimpel Quartet: Stone Fog (2012 , Fortune): Clarinet player, from Poland, leading a quartet with Krzysztof Dys on piano, Christian Ramond on bass, and Klaus Kugel on drums. Zimpel has a handful of previous albums, including two as Undivided (with pianist Bobby Few), plus he has been involved in a couple of Ken Vandermark projects (ones I haven't heard). He is very striking here, the album held back only by a few long atmospheric stretches, fog perhaps. B+(***) [August 27]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 25. 2013
The Wichita Eagle published a piece by Dion Leffer on Sen. Jerry Moran's pep talk to the Wichita Independent Business Association. In it he admitted that he had thought about retiring, but then he realized that he hadn't done enough damage in Washington yet, so he feels obliged to keep banging at it.
I dashed off a letter to the editor, which was published Wednesday. (The link also gets you a letter by Amos Leitner on Israel's congenital inability to understand the concept and value of borders, a subject that is worth a post of its own.) Anyhow, here's my draft (I haven't checked it closely for edits):
Wichita Eagle letters are pretty rigidly limited to 200 words, so I tried to pack as many points as possible into that can. As such, I make a lot of assertions that seem pretty self-evident to me but which may not be so obvious to the reader. So I'd like to unpack this a bit here, and possibly bring up some more related points.
The first point everyone should understand is that the Federal deficit in no way resembles personal debts you or your household may have. There are several reasons for this, but the simplest is that the government doesn't grow old and unproductive, like individuals do. The government only needs to cover the interest on its debt, whereas creditors insist that we, because we age and become less productive, also pay down the principal. The amount it takes to service interest on the debt is very small compared to the total debt, especially when the economy is depressed -- something which leads to especially low interest rates.
The same thing could be said about corporations, and indeed much of the time they only pay interest, paying off debts as they mature by issuing new debt -- but they occasionally go bankrupt when their prospects sink and their creditors balk. Same thing can happen with state and local governments, although it is much rarer, if only because they can always, in principle at least, raise whatever income they need through taxes. The US government can raise taxes too -- and can do so much more efficiently than state and local governments can -- but they also have a couple more important tricks up their sleeve. For one thing, the federal debt is owed in dollars, which the federal government can simply print as needed. For another, the Federal Reserve effectively controls the interest rate the government has to pay on its debt, so it can intentionally reduce the cost of servicing that debt. (Actually, these two points are joined together.)
This isn't to say that the federal debt never matters. There are circumstances when increasing the federal debt, at least as in ratio to GDP, can cause inflation and/or cause a drag on the economy by pushing up the cost of finance for the private sector. But those times aren't now, and I have reason to doubt that the second factor will ever be true again.
As for inflation, one can even argue that would be a good thing. Inflation is tough on people on fixed incomes, such as pensions, but that can be mitigated as Social Security does with cost-of-living escalators -- something, by the way, Greenspan successfully attacked in the 1990s, and which Obama has foolishly offered to sacrifice as part of his "grand bargain" scheme. But if you assume that everyone has equal wage-price flexibility, inflation reduces to a simple trade between creditors and debtors. Inflation lets debtors pay off their creditors with cheaper dollars, so you can see why bankers hate hate hate inflation. But we're in a recession now because businesses and consumers aren't spending, and the main reason they're not spending is debt overhang. The economy is only slowly picking up as those debts are paid off (or written off), and the faster that happens the better. Inflation, assuming it can be done fairly, is one way to make that happen.
Of course, that's a big assumption, because nearly everything in the current economy is structured to be unfair, and nowhere more so than in matters of finance. The current recession is the direct result of a vast and unscrupulous expansion of consumer and business credit and its inevitable collapse -- a path that was paved by lobbyists and politicians as they systematically ended regulations that limited usury, combinations and conflicts of interest, even outright fraud, while allowing bankers to pocket obscene profits and even protecting "too big to fail" bank owners against their own misjudgments.
If not for the latter, the big banks that caused this crisis would have gone bankrupt and been reorganized -- this is in fact what happened during the S&L crisis in the late 1980s, early proof how deregulation of banking leads to catastrophe -- and a lot of their loans would have been written down or off. Such a writedown would have been a quicker and more efficient way to get out from under the debt overhang that had dragged the economy down. Several such plans were floated, but nothing was accomplished, mostly because writedowns would have looked bad on the banks' books, but also because the Tea Party blew a gasket over the idea that the government might help reprobates who had gone over their heads in debt.
The Tea Party instinct here almost instantly became the Republican Party consensus: they decided that they would rather have a deep and long recession than to allow the government to intervene and do some good for the vast majority of people who weren't bankers, who didn't cause the financial collapse, who didn't benefit from the extraordinary largesse handed out by the Fed and the Treasury to save a banking system that had completely failed. To be fair, the Tea Partiers by and large didn't support the bank bailouts either -- their eagerness to punish the whole world for its sins seems boundless -- but the banking system found grifters enough in both parties to secure their salvation.
While reducing the debt overhang either by inflation or writedowns would help get the economy going again, there was a simpler approach, one that had been proven in the past, and which could work much faster given the political will. This was to increase government spending to make up for the private sector shortfall. To some extent this happened, and that is the main reason the recession didn't go any deeper than it did. The government's first line of defense against recessions is a set of "automatic stabilizers" that kick in, well, automatically, to soften any economic downturn: unemployment insurance, various welfare programs like food stamps. These would have worked better had we had more of them, but decades of conservative efforts to weaken the safety net and drive down the costs of labor have ravaged those programs. The second thing that happened was that Obama, over unified Republican opposition, pushed an emergency stimulus bill through Congress. This turned out to cover only about half of the expected shortfall, and much of the total was in the form of relatively inefficient tax cuts, and spending cuts at the state and local level undid much of the gain, but had the Republicans prevailed the recession would have gone deeper. As it is, they had to settle for longer.
The economic collapse led immediately to a huge drop in tax revenues, at the same time automatic stabilizers, the bank bailouts, and stimulus spending added to government expense, so the deficit -- already high due to the combination of the Bush tax cuts and the Bush wars -- skyrocketed. That gave the Republicans their great mystical story line: they paint the deficit as the great peril facing the nation today and as far into the future as it takes until they win back the presidency and the next Dick Cheney admits that "deficits don't matter" anymore. Moreover, they argue that the only way deficits can be brought under control is by cutting spending, especially on things that actually help people, even though doing so slows the economy down, reduces tax revenue, and leads to a death spiral of further spending cuts.
In the past, the problem with countercycical spending has usually been one of political will. Because it is needed during recessions, it creates large deficits which bring out the scolds in droves. Even in the 1930s when the need was clearest, Franklin Roosevelt was dogged both as much by his own deeply held belief in balanced budgets as by opponents (whom he could hold in fabulous contempt, a knack that Obama and Clinton evidently lack). Only with the bipartisan commitment to WWII was he able to throw caution to the winds and use government spending to push the economy all the way to full employment: this resulted in the longest, broadest economic growth in the nation's history, even as postwar government spending returned to "normal" levels. Of course, we don't need anything remotely close to WWII spending now, but the example gives you a sense of the advantages a full-employment economy offers, like major investments in public infrastructure and education.
Full employment means that everyone who wants a job can find one, and it means more: it means that many people can find better jobs than they have now, and that most people can see their pay reflect better the value they produce (as opposed to now, when the weakness of the labor market -- the legitimate fear you have of losing your job -- takes a chunk out of your pay). Under full employment, people are worth more, their time is worth more, and they (and the public) invest more in education, so you wind up with a more productive and efficient workforce, and ultimately a much richer country.
Full employment is supposed to be the Fed's policy directive, but it's taken a back seat to fighting inflation ever since Paul Volcker became chairman in 1979. Although inflation is supposed to be based on consumer prices -- which are strongly influenced by patents and monopoly rents, and in the 1970s were largely driven by oil shocks caused by cartels -- economists came up with a theory called NAIRU to blame inflation on labor and, especially, on full employment. Under Reagan, and aided by the 12% unemployment Volcker created by raising interest rates to unprecedented levels, businesses cranked up their war on unions and further squeezed unprotected workers, and through their political cronies worked to weaken the safety net, making workers all the more fearful of losing their jobs.
A weak labor market has the opposite effect of full employment: most workers have fewer prospects of improving their lot; many find themselves unable to find jobs at their skill level, so have to settle for relatively unproductive and unrewarding jobs. Education is less likely to pay off -- even as public education resources are being reduced, so costs are shifted to individuals, often resulting in unprecedented levels of debt -- so workers get less of it, or train more narrowly for skill niches, or fall back on desperate measures like joining the military. (Thanks to the Bush wars, the latter is as likely to train you to be psychotic as to hold down a quality job.)
Moran is right to worry that his "kids" will face -- indeed, already do face -- a world with less opportunity than the one he grew up in. And that's even more true for the vast majority of Americans who didn't grow up with the advantages that Moran started with, let alone his eagerness to serve as a "useful idiot" for those who have sponsored his political career -- a list that (no big surprise here) started with the Koch brothers. But the reason for worrying isn't the federal deficit phantom -- a problem that could easily be handled by sensible politicians, and that in any case is far removed from the present. The real reason is how the political ascent of the right since the 1970s has crippled economic opportunities for the vast majority of Americans while at the same time allowing a tiny privileged elite to live ever more rarefied lives.
Depending on how you slice it, that "tiny privileged elite" may be 1% of the population, or even smaller. Since the current recession officially ended in mid-2009 -- the point where overall GDP stopped shrinking and started growing -- virtually all of the growth in the economy has gone to the top 1%, but that merely continues a trend that started in the early 1980s. The numbers that document growing inequality trends are well known but surprisingly sterile. (There are several good books on this, like Timothy Noah: The Great Divergence: America's Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It and Joseph E. Stiglitz: The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future run through the relevant numbers.) One thing that still needs to be done is to go through the broad range of everyday life experiences and show how inequality distorts life at all ends of the scale.
Perhaps the most obvious case is higher education. Following WWII college became accessible and affordable for most men, thanks to the GI Bill, and over the next few decades heavy public spending plus scholarships plus a relatively minor loan program made it seem possible that anyone who could hack the grades could get a college education and wind up with a rewarding and relatively lucrative career. None of my ancestors had made it through college, and I didn't either, but I (foolishly, no doubt) fell just a couple credits short of a BA from a prestigious private university. I wound up owing $2,000 in loans, and despite the lack of a degree I had little trouble getting good jobs and making a much better than average living. Since then, the anti-government parties -- taking as gospel a Ronald Reagan joke -- have cut way back on public support for higher education, while the schools themselves colluded to raise prices way above the inflation rate (the Ivy League school were sued by the Clinton administration for fixing prices, but antitrust enforcement was halted under Bush and has yet to be reinstated under Obama), and the banking industry got ever more into the act. So, for instance, I have a niece who got her law degree with close to $100,000 in debt, but has struggled to find an appropriate job.
School debt has become such a huge obstacle that young people -- probably even Moran's "kids" -- are caught in a bind: on the one hand if they don't pay up they'll never get a chance at jobs that will allow them to, if not become rich at least live comfortably, although frankly the odds of that level of success are increasingly slim; on the other hand, if they don't pay and avoid that debt they will probably be stuck in bottom end jobs with no security and no benefits. It's hard for people to judge these intergenerational shifts: most people start out with low pay jobs, then over time build up their expertise and seniority until they reach a peak, hopefully close to retirement, so when older people look at the problems young people run into, they tend to recall themselves and figure nothing much has changed. But much has changed: more and more middle-aged people are finding their careers chopped down well before they expected to retire, and few of them ever regain their footing. And more and more young people never really get on track, especially if they lack parents who can help out well past college. (Even for my generation that made a difference.)
There are many more aspects to this. Back in 2009, when Obama wanted to roll back the Bush tax cuts on incomes over $250,000, I recall someone in Chicago publishing a household budget which purported to show that his family was only barely getting by on its $250,000/year income as it was, without having to cover more taxes. The budget was unintentionally revelatory: aside from having spent a bit more than average on cars and a house, all of the listed household expenses were for privatized versions of things that were provided to everyone in modern European social democracies: they were paying off school loans, paying for health insurance, sending their children to private schools, saving for their children's college, and socking away quite a bit of money for future retirement. Otherwise, they were living the lifestyle of someone who makes less than half their income in Europe (and has a smaller house, but probably a better car).
My point here isn't just that a bit of socialism is the best thing possible for the middle class. (Again, let me recommend a book, Thomas Geoghegan: Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life.) The finer point is that all those extra expenses are a desperate attempt to bridge the chasm that's opened up between rich and poor and all but swallowed the middle class. And more importantly, that chasm didn't just open up on its own: it's been hollowed out by the right's war on any possibility of the government aiding the welfare of the majority of the population. Aspiring parents need private schools because the public ones are rotting out, from underfunding and all sorts of disinterest and stupidity. They have to pay much more for school and health insurance because we've turned those services into arenas for profiteering. And you have to save so much more money while you can work because you know that in the future your country will no longer have the will let alone the ability to take care of you. So not only does Jerry Moran's future offer less opportunity for the "kids," it offers less security for Moran and his cohort -- probably why he's decided to keep sucking up to the Kochs so he can milk out another term in the Senate.
Some other quick points:
Obviously, much more could be written about all of this. Stiglitz, for instance, is very good on rents.
Monday, August 19. 2013
Music: Current count 21899  rated (+30), 589  unrated (+15).
Rated count took a hit last week -- had a couple days I didn't write anything, sometimes listening to things I reshelved for later, sometimes old stuff. Still reached 30, which is my benchmark for a good week, by hitting up a lot of Rhapsody jazz. I've been on a Not Two kick since I got email from JazzLoft announcing a sale. Not actually a big discount, nor does the sale cover many records. Nothing I wound up buying: the first record I checked out -- Miniatures, by Theo Jörgensmann and the Oles Brothers -- made the A- grade, but nothing else did. (Half a dozen albums weren't on Rhapsody. I had previously graded Satoko Fujii: Zephyros A-, and David Murray: Circles was a [***] HM. Two more Rhapsody albums rated that high: Cosmosamatics: Reeds & Birds, and Daniel Carter: Chinatown. Details in a future Recycled Goods, with some newer records -- 2010 or later -- in Rhapsody Streamnotes.)
Another thing slowing Jazz Prospecting down is that quite a few albums I've been listening to aren't coming out until September. I did do a lot of unpacking this week, so my half-empty pair of baskets are closer to two-thirds full. Again, most of the incoming isn't slated for release until September.
No A- records this week, so I'm rerunning the cover scans from the last two weeks.
Jay Clayton: Harry Who?: A Tribute to Harry Warren (2013, Sunnyside): Singer, b. 1941 in Youngston, Ohio, with 14 albums since 1980, this one a tour through ten of the 800-plus songs Harry Warren (1893-1981, b. Salvatore Antonio Guaragna) wrote. Clayton is very matter-of-fact here, no vocal tics or scat, her accompaniment just pianist John Di Martino with occasional help by tenor saxophonist Houston Person, pretty matter-of-fact himself. B+(**)
Avishai Cohen With Nitai Hershkovits: Duende (2012 , Sunnyside): Bassist, from Israel, thirteen records since 1998, wrote six (of ten) pieces here, with covers from Coltrane, Monk, Cole Porter, and Nachum Hayman (the front half of a medley). Hershkovits is a pianist, also from Israel, first record here, just duets with the bassist. Nice touch, subtle flow. B+(***)
The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band: Feelin' Good (2012 , Origin): Drummer-led piano trio -- Johannes Bjerregaard on piano, Chris Luard on bass -- with DeMerle singing some and his wife Bonnie Eisele, listed as "featuring" on the cover, singing more. Live set starts with a couple instrumentals, then DeMerle sings "East of the Sun," "A Lotta Livin' to Do," and "Star Eyes" before introducing the more formidable Eisele, whose high points include "Cheek to Cheek" and "Fever," with the drummer getting some on "Sing, Sing, Sing." Some records back I had them pegged as in the Louis Prima-Keely Smith vein, but DeMerle's backed away from his comedy. Still a very genial leader of an enjoyable group. B+(**)
Fred Fried and Core: Core Bacharach (2013, Ballet Tree): Guitarist, plays an 8-string model, b. 1948, has at least ten albums since 1988, has used "Core" as his group name the last few. It's a trio with Michael Lavoie on bass and Miki Matsuki on drums. The songs this time come from Burt Bacharach, melodies so catchy they can handle the light and airy, tiptoe-on-the-strings approach. B+(*)
Nick Hempton: Odd Man Out (2012 , Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, from Australia, based in New York, third album, quintet with Michael Dease on trombone, Art Hirahara on piano, plus bass and drums. Hempton also plays some tenor. Two covers: Ellington and Randy Newman. B+(**)
Ray Mantilla: The Connection (2013, Savant): Percussionist, photos show him with congas and an early album was called Hands of Fire; b. 1934 in the Bronx, cut a few records for avant labels Inner City (1978) and RED (1984-2000); this is his third on Savant, vibrant if conventional Latin jazz, fine soprano and tenor sax by Willie Williams, lots of flute by Enrique Fernandez, a splash of trumpet from Guido Gonzalez. B+(**) [August 20]
Ricardo Silveira & Roberto Taufic: Atlânticos (2012 , Adventure Music): Two Brazilian guitarists. I've run into Silveira many times and am always impressed by his understated eloquence. Don't know Taufic, but he has a couple previous albums. Inside cover has photos of each with acoustic guitars, and indeed they seem to be going for something subtle and intricate -- perhaps too much so. B+(*) [August 20]
Steve Turre: The Bones of Art (2013, High Note): Trombone player, poll winner most years, treats his colleagues with a set of songs each featuring three trombones -- usually Frank Lacy and Steve Davis, but Robin Eubanks takes the slot on two cuts, one from each. Also with Xavier Davis (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Willie Jones III (drums), plus bongos and congas on the memorable closer. B+(***) [August 20]
Vinx: Love Never Comes Too Late (2012 , Dreamsicle Arts): Singer-songwriter Vincent De Jean Parrette, or as he puts it on his website, Vinx De'jon Parrette, has a handful of albums going back to a debut on Sting's Pangaea label in 1991. Describes this as "a nod to the magic of the original crooners," and cites Arthur Prysock first on his list -- soft as butter, silky smooth. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 18. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Monday, August 12. 2013
Music: Current count 21869  rated (+47), 574  unrated (-5).
Big ratings count this week: goes up when I listen to Rhapsody a lot. I have 22 records in the draft file for August's Rhapsody Streamnotes, and 20 of them are jazz records I didn't otherwise get. Only one A- in that batch, and only a couple others in the high HM category, but it makes up a bit for the recent decline in incoming mail. (On the other hand, today's haul was the largest in several months, so at least part of that decline is seasonal.) Also have 19 records in September's Recycled Goods file, and 7 in October's file -- only putting 1960s releases in September, so everything else I run across goes into October. So a very productive few weeks here.
Some of the Rhapsody jazz is tied at the hip to reviews here. For instance, Alex Sapiagin has three new records out, but I only got the one below. A second, on Criss Cross, is in the RS file, but I haven't come across the third, on Smalls Live, yet. I often think of Gary Burton and Chick Corea together -- last year they did sort of a 40th anniversary reunion album together, Hot House, pretty awful I thought -- and they both released new albums last weeks: Burton is below, and Corea (on Concord) is in the RS file. And it turns out both are pleasant surprises, all the more so given that they work the same fusion grooves that have wrecked so many of their joint and separate albums. Also, while I'm not excited by the Joe McPhee album below, I finally got around to listening to his 1970 album Nation Time and was blown away -- probably the best record I've heard all year. So you never know until you know.
By the way, the Jimmy Amadie record is one of the ones I've been holding back until release day (tomorrow, actually). I often despair of being so perpetually lukewarm on piano jazz -- solos even more so than trios -- but records like this one remind me that I know a good one when I hear it.
Jimmy Amadie Trio: Live! At the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2011 , TP): Pianist, based in Philadelphia, has eight albums since 1997. No idea how old he is, although he claims to have played with Charley Ventura, Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, and Mel Tormé (and he does have a Tormé tribute album). AMG describes him as "a hot jazz pianist in the 1950s" but doesn't list any credits before 1997. This is a trio, with Tony Marino on bass and Bill Goodwin on drums. All standards, most you've heard a million times -- "Summertime," "My Funny Valentine," "Just in Time," "All the Things You Are" -- and he takes a mainstream tack, and he really makes them sparkle. A- [August 13]
Offiong Bassey (2013, Moonlit Media Group): Singer-songwriter, "first generation Nigerian-American," first album, tends toward gospel or torch effects, doesn't stint on the percussion but doesn't let it run things, has concerns about the world but I didn't find her dis on "experts" in "Weatherman" all that smart. B+(*)
The New Gary Burton Quartet: Guided Tour (2013, Mack Avenue): Vibraphonist, has tons of records going back to 1961 ranging from some of the worst fusion records in history through an intermittent but lengthy affair with Chick Corea and on to admirable but often disappointing obsessions with Carla Bley and Astor Piazzolla. The "new" quartet draws fresh blood from Scott Colley, Antonio Sanchez, and, especially, guitarist Julian Lage, who draws on a sensible fusion core and stretches it out like Wes Montgomery did bop and blues, setting a pace that everyone else chases. B+(**)
Dave Damiani: Watch What Happens (2013, Hard Knocks): Singer, based in Los Angeles, has a previous album. Wrote one song here, the rest songbook standards althogh he's picked up a couple rock-era pop tunes and fit them in -- "Happy Together," "Raspberry Beret." Mostly backed by No Vacancy Orchestra, a conventional big band, with 5 (of 13) cuts backed by the smaller Jazzadelics -- roughly the same rhythm section plus Ricky Woodard on tenor sax. So he comes off as a slightly updated '50s crooner, nothing drippy or weepy or overly melodramatic, and I'm always a sucker for songs like "On the Street Where You Live" and "Old Devil Moon." B+(***)
Ghosts of the Holy Ghost Spermic Brotherhood (2013, Resonant Music): Trio: Michael Evans and David Grollman play "snare drum & objects," the former adding electronics, the latter balloons. Evans' website has a long list of records he's contributed to, with Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill (1984) most likely the best, and Fulminate Trio the only recent one I've heard. Didn't find a website for Grollman, but did find two albums, both duos, one self-described as "creepy and atmospheric free improvisation." Haas I know from Canadian new wave band Marhta & the Muffins, after which he moved on to God Is My Co-Pilot. He has a handful of albums more or less under his own name, and provides the sweetening here, but not much of it. This is basically a noise record, improvised noise, chaotic noise, harsh and uncomfortable noise -- something I don't disapprove of in theory, but don't enjoy much in practice. B-
Rebecca Harrold: The River of Life (2013, Imaginary Road Studios): Pianist, 13 years with the Boston Ballet, also has a background as a singer but not here -- Penni Lane is credited with vocals, mostly background shadings. First album, produced by new age guitarist Will Ackerman, who plays on one cut. All originals. Piano has a new age feel but the record is a little lush, with violin and viola much more prominent than bass and percussion, and the horn credits limited to English horn, soprano sax, and lyricon. B-
Shan Kenner: The Behavior of Vibration (2013, Guitar Lotus): Guitarist, based in Brooklyn after spells in Los Angeles and San Francisco; second album, backed by bass-drums and sometimes piano, has a sort of flamenco thing going. Ten originals, covers of Cole Porter and Bill Evans. B
Joe McPhee: Sonic Elements: For Pocket Trumpet and Alto Saxophone (2012 , Clean Feed): One of only a handful of jazz musicians to have put together a significant career playing both trumpet and a reed instrument -- Benny Carter is probably the most famous, although he gave up trumpet long before his death (probably well before McPhee's age of 73). McPhee's usual reed instrument is tenor sax, but these solo pieces are arranged as dedications to Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman, so he goes with their preferred instruments, pocket trumpet and alto sax. (One might note that Coleman played some trumpet along the way -- a good deal less than McPhee.) The solo pieces are thoughtful but scratchy, which is to say more McPhee than Cherry-Coleman. B+(*)
Terje Rypdal: Melodic Warrior (2003-09 , ECM): Guitarist from Norway, one of the George Russell generation, with dozens of albums since 1967, on ECM since 1971. Being a guitarist, he's worked through several fusion stages, but being an ECM artist I suppose it was inevitable that he'd wind up working with classical orchestras and the Hilliard Ensemble, much like Jan Garbarek. Two long, multipart pieces, one recorded in 2003 with Bruckner Orchester Linz and the Hilliards, their choral voices catnip for people, like my wife, in love with the baroque era. The later piece, with the Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra, is darker, denser, more dramatic -- with less guitar, or jazz interest. B [advance]
Sasha's Bloc: Melancholy (2013, self-released): Group led by bass guitarist Alex Gershman, originally from Moscow, moved to Los Angeles in 1988, has a day job as Chief of Laparoscopic Urologic Surgery at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, also serving as president of the American-Russian Medical Association. First album, sort of a cabaret vocal affair. Lots of musicians, but the only ones listed on the website are pianist Sergei Chipenko and singer Carina Cooper (also Russian, by the way). B+(*)
Alex Sipiagin: From Reality and Back (2013, 5 Pasion): Russian-born trumpet player, moved to US in 1991 and has 14 or so records since 1998. Bright and splashy postbop group, all stars: Seamus Blake (tenor sax), Gonzalo Rubalcaba (piano), Dave Holland (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums). I should be more impressed, but only Rubalcaba holds any surprises. B+(*)
Tunk Trio: Summer Baby (2013, Tunk Music): Chris Tunkel, percussionist, has a previous album under his own name, wrote five songs, arranged (with keyboardist Curt Sydnor) two others from Charles Mingus and Jimmy Heath; also sings, a bit like Robert Wyatt without the falsetto. Third member of the trio is guitarist Anders Nilsson, whod does some nice work here but not as dramatic as elsewhere -- this is all a rather laid-back affair. B+(*)
Christian Wallumrřd Ensemble: Outstairs (2012 , ECM): Pianist, from Norway, eleventh album since 1995 (counting those as Close Erase), seven on ECM. Group is a sextet but unconventional with two horns (trumpet and tenor sax) and two strings (hardanger fiddle/violin/viola and cello, but no bass), Per Oddvar Johansen on drums and vibes. All originals. Inspiration comes and goes. B+(*) [advance]
Nate Wooley/Peter Evans/Jim Black/Paul Lytton: Trumpets and Drums: Live in Ljubljana (2012 , Clean Feed): Wooley and Evans play trumpet, Black and Lytton drums, with Wooley and Black also dabbling in electronics. The two pieces suggest that the whole thing is improv, the trumpets cutting inside rather than blasting away, so it winds up being more the drummers' record. B+(**)
Nate Wooley Sextet: (Sit In) The Throne of Friendship (2012 , Clean Feed): Trumpet player, records quite a lot (AMG lists 13 albums since 2009), comes up with an impressive and rather rather interesting lineup here: Josh Sinton (bass clarinet, baritone sax), Matt Moran (vibes), Dan Peck (tuba), Eivind Opsvik (double bass), Harris Eisenstadt (drums). Sinton's bottom reeds enhance the trumpet contrast, as does the tuba while fattening the bass. When they get it all in sync it's quite a thing, but that doesn't happen often enough. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 11. 2013
A couple some scattered links this week (got a slow start and didn't find much, other than that Kathleen Geier should be Washington Monthly's weekend blogger every week):
Also, a few links for further study:
Friday, August 9. 2013
After some nagging, voted in the Downbeat Readers Poll. (You should too: link here. Deadline August 16.) Spent very little time thinking about this, and to the extent possible tried to wear my fan cap rather than thinking too much like a critic (or an industry moocher). Anyhow, this is my ballot (plus a few extra names). Note that unlike Downbeat's Critics Poll there is no "rising star" category: this is for top dogs only.
Always surprises me how long it takes to wade through a poll like this, even when they give you plenty of prompts. (It's possible to write names in, but I didn't bother, figuring it's impossible for write-ins to get anywhere near the listing level. I do some write-ins for their Critics Poll, partly on the theory that they may affect how they construct future ballots -- some reason to think that they do.) Of course, a big chunk of that time is logging my own answers, but some sort of worksheet is helpful.
One thing I didn't do is compare my votes here against my Critics Poll votes. (Although now that I am glancing back, I see that I came up with the same answers in the four albums categories, despite the three-month shift in eligibility. (They're not perfect in that regard. When I went through the exercise of checking my grades against their ballot listings, I found a couple 2011 releases on their ballot, and I'd bet there are more early 2012 releases than that.)
I won't bore you with the album lists, but they are (or will be) in the notebook. Right now they're giving me inspiration to check out some stuff on Rhapsody -- José James as I write this.
Monday, August 5. 2013
Music: Current count 21822  rated (+43), 579  unrated (-1).
Much of the rated count went into Recycled Goods, both last week's post and a Beach Boys binge for September's planned 1960s special. Jazz Prospecting is lagging a bit: I decided last week to hold back reviews until release week, with August slow and September coming up I may have picked a time when I have an exceptional number of advance copies. Still, it's rather nice to know that I have a jump on future posts.
Most disturbing realization for the week: I just stumbled across a website called jazzystence. The blog's current page lists 20 jazz records (1 from 2012, the rest from 2013), and I've only received one of those (Daniel Rosenboom's Book of Omens). Under previous entries: 4 of the next 20 (Convergence Quartet, Hashem Assadullahi, Zs, Gary Peacock/Marilyn Crispell). Average seems to be closer to that, but not higher -- I did find one batch of 20 I had 8 of, but it was followed by a 2. Noticed a couple albums I could find on Rhapsody, so I'll make up part of the deficit there, but obvious a lot of new jazz slips past me, and most likely everyone else.
Patrick Cornelius: Infinite Blue (2013, Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist, fourth album since 2006. Mostly quartet, with Frank Kimbrough on piano, Michael Janisch on bass, Jeff Ballard on drums, plus trumpet (Michael Rodriguez) on three tracks, trombone (Nick Vayenas) on those and two more. Bright postbop, moves along briskly, would be more impressive but seems like there's a lot of that going around these days. B+(**)
Mark Dresser Quintet: Nourishments (2013, Clean Feed): Bassist, b. 1952, a major one although I've often had trouble getting the hand of what he's up to, especially on his own albums. Quintet includes Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto sax), Michael Dessen (trombone), Denman Maroney (hyperpiano), and either Tom Rainey or Michael Sarin on drums -- more options than he normally employs as he develops a complex mystery, with occasional touches of tango. B+(***)
Paquito D'Rivera and Trio Corrente: Song for Maura (2012 , Sunnyside): Clarinet player, b. 1948 in Cuba, played in groups like Irakere there, then defected to US in 1981. Close to 50 albums, including a major interest in Brazilian as well as Cuban jazz. Also plays some alto sax here, backed by a piano trio -- Fabio Torres, Paulo Paulelli, and Edu Ribeiro. B+(**)
Aaron Lebos: Reality (2013, self-released): Guitarist, based in Miami, third album, calls his group "The Aaron Lebos Reality" -- Eric England (bass, probably electric), Jim Gaslor (keyboards), Rodolfo Zuniga (drums). Fusion, or as the website puts it: "encompasses styles of Jazz, Funk, Rock, R&B, Latin and World Music." I'm inclined to read "air quotes" into those caps -- that's just the way those eclectic, unmediated influences come off, or you could just say "fusion" -- the rut everything else wrecks into. B-
Christian McBride Trio: Out Here (2013, Mack Avenue): Bassist, fifteen albums since 1994, leads a piano trio here with Christian Sands -- two previous albums -- on piano and Ulysses Owens, Jr. on drums -- one previous album, Unanimous on Criss Cross, a quintet with Sands, McBride, and a couple horns. So, young guys with similar tastes and ambitions to the leader two decades ago. Two originals (one shared with Sands), seven covers: standards, piano jazz fare (Billy Taylor, Oscar Peterson), a dab of funk to close ("Who's Making Love"), the centerpiece a long meditation on "My Favorite Things." Leader earns his bass solos. B+(***)
Roscoe Mitchell Quartet: Live at "A Space" 1975 (1975 , Sackville/Delmark): The Art Ensemble of Chicago's saxophonist's arsenal includes alto, tenor, and B-flat soprano sax, the latter featured in the centerpiece here, contrasted with George Lewis' trombone. Also present are pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, who seems peripheral, and guitarist Spencer Barefield, but the main thing is the showcase for Lewis. Reissue adds 19:36 to the 1975 LP. B+(**)
Scott Neumann Neu3 Trio: Blessed (2011 , Origin): Drummer, from Bartlesville, OK, based in New York. second album, a couple dozen side credits since 1996, all over the map -- including saxophonist Michael Blake's post-Loung Lizards debut in 1997. Blake is back here, along with bassist Mark Helias, playing eight Neumann originals, one from Helias, and one from Roswell Rudd ("Keep Your Heart Right"). All three are terrific, with Blake in an expansive R&B honking mode, the rhythm section pushing him on and running interference. A-
Susana Santos Silva/Torbjörn Zetterberg: Almost Tomorrow (2012-13 , Clean Feed): Trumpet-bass duo; the trumpet player, from Porto in Portugal, studied there and in Rotterdam, has previously recorded in the group Lama. The bassist is from Sweden, has ten records according to AMG. Free jazz, has moments of clarity, also a lot that sounds like flatulence -- not sure if that's the bass or trumpet, possibly both. B
Deborah Shulman & the Ted Howe Trio: Get Your Kicks: The Music & Lyrics of Bobby Troup (2013, Summit): Singer, fourth album since 2004, backed by pianist Howe and his trio, on eleven songs by Troup -- "Girl Talk" is one of the better ones. B
Thisbe Vos: Under Your Spell (2012 , Prime Productions): Singer, Dutch-born, UK-based, wrote 7 of 12 songs on this her debut album, the others well known standards ("I Thought About You," "Round Midnight," "He's a Tramp," "Always," "Ain't Misbehavin'"). Pianist Gary Matsumoto is music director. The pieces with his trio plus occasional horns are snappy, but he throws some to the Pasadena String Ensemble, which smothers them like a wet blanket. In English, but "Rue de la Huchette" stands out among the originals. B+(**)
Denny Zeitlin: Both/And: Solo Electro-Acoustic Adventures (2003-12 , Sunnyside): Pianist, has an M.D. in psychiatry but also studied with George Russell and has thirty-some albums since 1964 -- mostly solo or trio, especially since 1978. From 1968-78 he experimented with synthesizers and sound-altering devices for acoustic instruments, culminating in the soundtrack for a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This album marks a return to his electro-acoustic shtick, and while he's credited as solo (instruments not listed) this sounds nothing like a solo recording. The sound pallette is rich, orchestral even, which leads to the only problem I see: occasional dramatic use of neoclassical motifs -- nothing that triggers my gag reflex, but a relatively ordinary use for otherwise daring sound. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, August 4. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, August 3. 2013
Current planning calls for another run at the 1960s in September. I figured I'd take a break this month to catch up with whatever came my way, which turned out to mostly be jazz reissues, although I started ith the early 1970s Stevie Wonder discs that didn't fit into the last 1960s bash, and a Bobby Bland compilation I'd heard about (although there are more I didn't get to).
Then I figured I should write up the Hatology records I bought super-cheap a while back (JazzLoft has had several sales, including one as I write this). And I found George Russell's Trip to Prillarguri on Rhapsody, misfiled under Jan Garbarek's name. I had it unrated in my database, probably an old dimly-remembered LP, so figured I'd take the time to check it off -- and it turned out to be the month's pick hit. That got me looking for other Soul Note releases, and there looks to be quite a few if you dig deep enough, as often Rhapsody misfiles them under other musicians (e.g., two of the Don Dixon records below were filed under the name of tuba player John Buckingham). I eventually found all of Russell's Soul Note releases (some originally on Sonet or Flying Dutchman), so this month offers a major wrap up of one of the 20th century's greatest and most influential jazz musicians.
It turns out that it is now possible to get most of Russell's work cheap in two boxes: Seven Classic Albums (Real Gone, 4CD) gets you New York, NY, Jazz in the Space Age, Stratusphunk, In K.C., Ezz-Thetics, The Stratus Seekers, and The Outer View, for $17.99 list. Real Gone is taking advantage of Europe's 50-year copyright limit, so I wouldn't be surprised if sound and/or packaging suffer, but I've seen this as cheap as $9.09. (Too bad it misses the two best early albums: Jazz Workshop, and At the Five Spot.) Then there is The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint and Soul Note, a 9-CD set that includes most of the reviewed records below, and lists for $39.97. This is more legit: CAM Jazz acquired the rights to the Black Saint and Soul Note catalogs, took their individual titles out of print, and started to collect them in all-or-nothing boxes. If I were writing the Recycled Goods column of my dreams -- one that tracked everything that is being reissued today -- I could have structured a big part of this column around those two boxes. Alas, I have neither, but it turns out that all of the original albums are on Rhapsody, so instead all I've done below is to fill in the holes in my database listings.
There are a bunch of Black Saint/Soul Note boxes available now: in addition to Russell, I see: Muhal Richard Abrams, George Adams, Lester Bowie, Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon, Dave Douglas, Jimmy Giuffre, Charlie Haden, Julius Hemphill, Lee Konitz, Steve Lacy, George Lewis, Paul Motian, David Murray (Octets), Enrico Pieranunzi, Enrico Rava, Don Pullen, Cecil Taylor, Henry Threadgill, Mal Waldron, and World Saxophone Quartet. It isn't much of an exaggeration to say that Black Saint/Soul Note owner Giovanni Bonandrini single-handedly saved avant-jazz in the 1980s. I probably have close to half of the original album titles, and probably the better half, so I'm not sure the boxes work for me, but they are some kind of deal if you're starting out.
It would be a big project just to list those out, let alone fill in the holes and assess which boxes are the finest bargains. I made a small start on Bill Dixon below, listening to the five Dixon albums (out of nine) I hadn't heard before. I picked him not because I'm much of a fan -- previously graded albums not here are: B+ (In Italy: Volume 1), B- (In Italy: Volume 2), B (Vade Mecum), B (Vade Mecum II) -- probably because I'm not but he's highly regarded and certainly capable of occasional brilliance.
Bill Dixon: November 1981 (1981 , Soul Note): Avant-garde trumpet player, gained some fame (or notoreity) playing with Cecil Taylor in the 1960s, cut a series of intimate and difficult albums for Soul Note 1980-98, and staged a surprising comeback with big band albums from 2007 to his death in 2010. This is backed by two bassists (Alan Silva and Mario Pavone) and drums (Laurence Cook), the basses a complex, bubbling substrate for the trumpet to cut against, or just bounce along; and when they do cut back, the trumpet looms even more eloquently. A- [R]
Melodic Art-Tet (1974 , No Business): Quartet, originally formed in 1970 by saxophonist Charles Brackeen and three members of Sun Ra's entourage: Ahmed Abdullah (trumpet), Ronnie Boykins (bass), and Roger Blank (drums). They played in lofts, never released an album, but cut this at WKCR in 1974, with a very young William Parker taking over the bass slot, and Tony Waters on percussion. Four pieces (17, 20, 30, 12 minutes), free with funk overtones, the reeds -- flute and soprano as well as tenor sax -- not as clear as you'd like, but Abdullah turns into a force of nature, and the second half is so ship-shape you could sail to Saturn. A-
George Russell Sextet: Trip to Prillarguri (1970 , Soul Note): One of the major figures in jazz history, pianist Russell spent the late 1960s in self-imposed exile in Norway, and this is the finest fruit of his labors: a group with four young musicians fast on their way to becoming major figures: Jan Garbarek (tenor sax), Terje Rypdal (guitar), Arild Andersen (bass), and Jon Christensen (drums) -- Stanton Davis, Jr. (trumpet) is the only one who went nowhere. Rypdal is terrific, but Garbarek is titanic here, playing with a raw force and edginess that ECM never allowed, especially on the 11-minute Ornette Coleman finale. A [R]
George Russell: Othello Ballet Suite/Electronic Organ Sonata No. 1 (1967-68 , Soul Note): These two pieces were preliminary exercises in future "third stream" -- where academics like Gunther Schuller looked to merge jazz and classical, Russell plotted to make jazz the foundation for future classical music. In Scandinavia, he employs the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, trumpeter Rolf Eriksson, the two great Swedish saxophonists of the time (Arne Domnerus and Bernt Rosengren), and young Norwegian protégés Jan Garbarek and Jon Christensen. The "Suite" is dense, a feast for the horns. The second side is a pioneering exercise in electronics playing off Russell's organ -- possibly an attempt to counter Riley and Reich with something more rooted in jazz. A- [R]
Ray Anderson Pocket Jazz Band: Where Home Is (1998 , Enja): The trombonist's brass band, with Matt Perine's sousaphone handling the bass, Lew Soloff's trumpet hitting the high notes, and drummer Bobby Previte hitting everything else; bridging avant and antique, especially when they reach back for Joplin ("The Pineapple Rag") and Ellington ("The Mooche"). A- [R]
Lurrie Bell: Young Man's Blues: The Best of the JSP Sessions (1989-90 , JSP): Son of harpist Carey Bell, his earliest sides already bound tightly to the classic Chicago blues tradition; Bell proves to be an adept guitarist and singer, but the sides with his dad's harmonica really stand out. B+(***) [R]
Bobby Bland: Two Steps From the Blues (1956-60 , Duke/MCA): Seven new songs salted with five older singles, long regarded as his LP-era best-of, although in the CD era you can heftier sets that maintain the quality level far longer, all the way up to I Pity the Fool: The Duke Recordings, Vol. 1 (1952-60 , MCA, 2CD), which collects 10 of 12 songs here (and 34 more); on the other hand, the 2012 Soul Jam reissue tacks on 12 "bonus tracks," which make this yet another way to dive into his deep and disorganized discography. A- [R]
John Carter-Bobby Bradford Quartet: Seeking (1969 , Hatology): Legendary pianoless (two horn) group, with Carter playing more sax (alto and tenor) than I'd expect, especially given how his clarinet (if not the flute) takes off; Bradford's trumpet keeps pace. B+(***)
Bill Dixon: Thoughts (1985 , Soul Note): A rather murky production for a relatively large production -- Marco Eineidi on alto sax, John Buckingham on tuba, Lawrence Cook on drums, and three great bassists -- Mario Pavone, William Parker, and Peter Kowald; Dixon's trumpet is as scrawny as ever, and while no one doubts that a lot of thought went into it, there is very little here to pique your interest. B- [R]
Bill Dixon: Son of Sisyphus (1988 , Soul Note): Starts with Dixon playing piano, an uneventful twist before the trumpet takes over; with Mario Pavone on bass, Laurence Cook on percussion, and John Buckingham on tuba -- the tuba adding resonance as the trumpet picks its way through what is ultimately a long, slow slog. B [R]
Bill Dixon with Tony Oxley: Papyrus: Volume I (1998 , Soul Note): Trumpet-percussion duets, although Dixon again leads off with a bit of piano; it threatens to fall into the slow rut that makes so many of Dixon's Soul Notes so difficult; Oxley don't mind slow but can't stand lazy, so he keeps prodding and gets something interesting in return. B+(**) [R]
Bill Dixon with Tony Oxley: Papyrus: Volume II (1998 , Soul Note): A second volume of trumpet-percussion duets (with a bit of Dixon piano), from the same sessions, with similar results -- most critics downgrade these a bit but I don't find much difference, may even give this a slight edge. B+(**) [R]
Ellery Eskelin: Ten (2004, Hatology): Six musicians, twelve songs, so don't get the title, the tenor saxophonist's basic trio expanded with electric guitar (Marc Ribot) and bass (Melvin Gibbs), plus vocalist Jessica Constable, a little too arch and arty for me, yet she adds something -- soul maybe -- while the sax is terrific and Andrea Parkins' strategies are as oblique as ever. A-
Georg Graewe/Ernst Reijseger/Gerry Hemingway: Sonic Fiction (1989 , Hatology): Piano-cello-drums free jazz trio, the tone and temper between the tinkly piano and the prickly cello, with percussion toned down to the same sonic range, neither driving nor lagging. B+(***)
Art Hodes: I Remember Bessie (1976 , Delmark): Pianist, b. 1904 in Russia, not sure when he moved to Chicago but he didn't start recording until he moved to New York in 1938. Smith died in 1937, so they could have crossed paths in Chicago, but most likely he remembered her from records. Solo piano, old blues with some swing to them, the style Hodes grew up on and was exceptional at. B+(***)
Theo Jörgensmann: Fellowship (1998 , Hatology): German clarinet player, has at least 15 albums since 1978; sextet with two saxophonists -- Charlie Mariano on alto and Petras Vysniauskas on soprano -- and Karl Berger doubling up on vibes and piano, working on three long pieces with many sharp passages but also some indecision. B+(**)
Franz Koglmann: L'Heure Bleue (1991 , Hatology): German trumpet player, a big fave of The Penguin Guide's authors, one I've never really gotten into; he's slow and methodical, working with a drummer-less quartet with Tony Coe (clarinet, tenor sax) and Burkhard Stangl (guitar) or a duo with Misha Mengelberg (piano), some abstract originals, thoughtful covers. B+(***)
Jeffrey Lewis: The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane and Other Favorites (2002, Rough Trade): Cartoon artist tries his hand at sketching out anti-folk songs, with slapdash guitar, slapdash stories too. B+(*) [R]
Jeffrey Lewis: It's the Ones Who've Cracked That the Light Shines Through (2003, Rough Trade): Second album, anti-folk, but a big advance musically, whether he's running his monotone over a minimally repeating pattern or building something more elaborate, or even rocking out. B+(***) [R]
Joe McPhee: Survival Unit II With Clifford Thornton N.Y. N.Y. 1971 (1971 , Hatology): An early live shot that came out much after the fact, McPhee plays trumpet and tenor sax, with Thornton on baritone horn, Byron Morris on soprano and alto sax, Mike Kull on piano, and Harold Smith on percussion -- no bass to hold such taut music together; impressive work by the headliners, but the soprano can get whiney, and the length (78:45) adds up to a bit much. B+(***)
Joe McPhee/Lisle Ellis/Paul Plimley: Sweet Freedom -- Now What? (1994 , Hatology): As resolute a believer in freedom as anyone can be, yet McPhee's sax as well as clarinet is underwhelming here, balanced to give his partners (bass and piano, respectively) equal time and access, an opportunity which Plimley, at least, makes the best of. B+(**)
Manuel Mengis Gruppe 6: Into the Barn (2004 , Hatology): Swiss trumpet player, first record, the sextet adding two saxes for vigorous front-line clash, electric guitar and bass and drums for power drive. A-
Roscoe Mitchell Quartet: Live at "A Space" 1975 (1975 , Sackville/Delmark): The Art Ensemble of Chicago's saxophonist's arsenal includes alto, tenor, and B-flat soprano sax, the latter featured in the centerpiece here, contrasted with George Lewis' trombone; also present are pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, who seems peripheral, and guitarist Spencer Barefield, but the main thing is the showcase for Lewis; reissue adds 19:36 to the 1975 LP. B+(**)
David Murray Trio: 3D Family (1978 , Hatology): Early in Murray's career, just before the Black Saint recordings that established his career and effectively ended the decade-long exile of the avant-garde to the lofts of New York; live in Willisau with South Africans Johnny Dyani on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums, a bit on the crude side but bursting with the raw force of creation. A-
George Russell Sextet: In K.C. (1961, Decca): Russell's first great album was called Jazz Workshop (1956), and he continued to cultivate unknowns in his personal vision of postbop; this is a live workshop, with Don Ellis (trumpet), Dave Baker (trombone), Dave Young (tenor sax), Chuck Israels (bass), Joe Hunt (drums), with just one piece by Russell, two by Baker, one by another Russell student (Carla Bley), and two by famous trumpet players. B+(**) [R]
George Russell Septet: The Stratus Seekers (1962 , Riverside/OJC): Don Ellis plays trumpet here, and his mad rush for the high notes recalls Russell's early association with Gillespie and the ferocity of vintage bebop, while saxophonist Paul Plummer gets the unenviable task of following Coltrane's explorations of model improvisation (another Russell innovation). A- [R]
George Russell: The Outer View (1962 , Riverside/OJC): Sextet, the three horns don't break out of the tricky compositions as on the previous album, but the postbop ambitions are similar; two more Russell discoveries: composer Carla Bley, who had debuted on his 1960 Stratusphunk, and Sheila Jordan, who sings a very striking "You Are My Sunshine." B+(***) [R]
George Russell: The Essence of George Russell (1966-67 , Soul Note): First hour-long take of "Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature" -- a later, shorter version was released under that name by Flying Dutchman -- caught live with a crackling Scandinavian big band, not much electronics but a marvelous piece of scoring, finished off with a 15-minute "Now and Then" -- a smaller band determined to sound larger. A- [R]
George Russell: Listen to the Silence (1971 , Soul Note): Commissioned by the Norwegian Cultural Fund, performed in Kongsberg Church, the big band is short on horns -- just Stanton Davis on trumpet and Jan Garbarek on tenor sax -- but has organ and electric piano/guitar/bass, and lots of vocals, some choirlike but most spoken against the grain; I don't care for the vocals, but the passages without them are striking. B [R]
George Russell: Vertical Form VI (1977 , Soul Note): Commissioned by Swedish Radio, another big band piece where the big band is augmented by electric keybs and bass for a consistent, almost funky pulse, and the horns generally hold back -- at least avoid the rowdiness Russell picked up from Gillespie, not that they can't swell and flutter. B+(**) [R]
George Russell: New York Big Band (1977-78 , Soul Note): Actually, one track -- Russell's Gillespie classic, "Cubana Be, Cubana Bop" -- was cut in Sweden with a mostly Swedish ensemble, but the 1978 tracks let the New Yorkers -- prominent names include Lew Soloff, Marty Ehrlich, Ricky Ford, Cameron Brown, and Warren Smith -- strut their stuff; Lee Genesis belts out "Big City Blues" and "God Bless the Child." B+(***) [R]
John Scofield: Still Warm (1985 , Gramavision): Early album, not as firmly anchored as his later groovers, not a lot of variety either; more interesting was Don Grolnick on electric keybs. B [R]
Zoot Sims: Compatability (1955 , Delmark): Four tracks first released as Hall Daniels Septet, then more takes in 1977 under Sims and Dick Nash, plus more takes of the same four songs; Sims can claim them because he went on to a major career, but the key things here are section-work and swing. B+(*)
Sun Ra: The Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab in Egypt (1971-84 , Leo Golden Years of New Jazz): Three 1983-84 tracks by the Arkestra with the Egyptian percussionist, long on drum solo, plus four earlier tracks by Ragab, the Cairo Jazz Band, and/or the Cairo Free Jazz Ensemble; the latter half turns out to be much the more interesting one, in a similar vein. B+(**) [R]
The Sun Ra Arkestra: Live at Praxis '84 (1984 , Leo Golden Years of New Jazz, 2CD): Originally released on three LPs, it's hard to imagine any of the six sides being truly compelling, but over 111:35 the kitsch mounts up -- the chants early on, the Fletcher Henderson tunes, "Cocktails for Two," "Satin Doll," "Days of Wine and Roses," a scabrous "Mack the Knife," and no shortage of space riffs, not to mention spacey vamps. B+(***) [R]
Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Arkestra: Second Star to the Right (Salute to Walt Disney) (1989 , Leo): A surprise contributor to Hal Willner's Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music From Vintage Disney Films, Ra couldn't help but fill out a whole album, his group vocals cutting all the saccharine out of songs like "Zip a Dee Doo Dah" and "Whistle While You Work" while kicking the horns up a notch and swinging like hell. B+(***) [R]
Sun Ra & His Cosmo Discipline Arkestra: A Night in East Berlin/My Brothers the Wind & Sun No. 9 (1986-90 , Leo): Live, originally two LPs, the seven tracks from Berlin long on space grunge, the 20:49 finale of uncertain providence (1988 or 1990), but with Ahmed Abdullah and Billy Bang joining in. B+(*) [R]
Sun Ra and the Year 2000 Myth Science Arkestra: Live at the Hackney Empire (1990 , Leo, 2CD): Rather late in the day -- the leader was past 75, only a couple more years to live -- but the long vamp pieces drive home the band's relentless search, and the vocal bits, the toy piano, the interpolated covers, the occasional squeals, all reiterate the oddness and whimsy at the heart of the leader's vision -- if you want to talk about a band taking "a long, strange trip" none other rivals the Arkestra. B+(***) [R]
Sylvester: Mighty Real: Greatest Dance Hits (1977-81 , Fantasy): San Francisco disco star, openly gay, had a string of dancefloor hits off the five albums he cut for Fantasy, crammed here into 79:08 and programmed for, no surprise, dancing. A- [R]
Stevie Wonder: Signed, Sealed and Delivered (1970, Tamla): More hit and miss, even if he finally shows some evidence of moving out from long-time handlers Henry Cosby and Ron Miller, they're still hanging on. B+(**) [R]
Stevie Wonder: Where I'm Coming From (1971, Tamla): Thirteenth album, but coming up on his 21st birthday, the first one he had full control over, his main collaborator wife Syreeta Wright, who shared credit on the songs; most of the songs are reaching for things they can't quite grasp, but "If You Really Love Me" was his first mature masterpiece. B+(***) [R]
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 110, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3787 (3343 + 444).