Tuesday, December 31. 2013
by Michael Tatum
A somewhat abbreviated month, at least by my usual standards -- blame those hectic holidays. But don't worry, I'm forsaking my usual habits and planning to continue sorting out 2013 in January and February of the new year. I haven't heard the Childish Gambino yet (or Beyoncé, or for that matter Katy Perry). Until then, below you'll find two of the best records of the year -- disparaged by many others, but completely beloved by me. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm exiting stage left to celebrate six years of marriage with Lady Gaga's biggest fan.
The Dismemberment Plan: Uncanney Valley (Partisan) Travis Morrison's concept album about maturity (which he dubs "the afterparty for the afterparty for the afterparty") has been roundly dismissed by brash critics who might also dismiss parenthood as "overrated," but luckily, Morrison has already anticipated their petty snickers. He refers to his forty-something self as a "fat nun on drugs/drowning in hugs" before that pop culture geek lollygagging in his parents' basement can beat him to it, then goes out on a Vegas-style high note after rationalizing to a hapless blind date why he stood her up. Meanwhile, as an upstanding representative of Corporate America, he keeps his thing in his pants on a breathless tour of America's Reston Parkways, and though I think we can all agree that Quantico, Dulles, and Ashburn are hardly loci for quality tail, we can admire his restraint regardless. Those primo yuks are all on the terrific first half. But the astonishing second half begins with two of what I can only describe as "standards," whatever that antiquated term might mean at this late date. The extraordinary "Lookin'" celebrates a lifemate long after her aura of mystery has dissipated: "Just as a painter returns to his muse/With his hands more slow and sure/Once he wanted to paint her naked/Now he only wants to paint her." And the poignant "Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer" eulogizes the things parents sacrifice for their children, then celebrates what they get in the bargain. Compare those two major statements to the emotional high point on 1999's much-loved Emergency and I, a lumbering power ballad about romantic confusion -- by comparison, kid stuff. And that same record's sentimental "You Are Invited," about a hypothetical invitation to an imaginary party, doesn't have anything on this record's carousing blowout closer: "When I say 'cluster,' you say 'fuck'/Cluster-(fuck!)/Cluster-(fuck!)" See kids, maturity can be fun -- even when it isn't. A
Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (Aftermath) I'm not especially worried Em is joining Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige in the sequel-to-a-landmark ploy, nor am I fazed by the commercial caution of the first single, which pays lame homage to Em's supposed roots in Def Jam-era Beastie Boys -- roots that no real fan of his actually believes exists anywhere other than in the abstract. I'm more concerned about a labyrinthine opener in which Stan's little brother Mitchell plays the avenging angel for "all the bullies you hate/that you became/with every faggot you slaughtered/coming back on you/every women you insult." We don't need to be told Mathers has a double standard when it comes to his daughters, and one more layer of irony won't convert those who didn't get the point in 2000 -- they won't bother trying now. We who love the artiste but might decline to send him a dinner invitation prefer the asshole, the one who boasts "there's no rhyme or reason" for all the shitty things he does, mainly because watching him catalog his psychic damage attests to the contrary. Most of the first half, from making the most of adolescent misery to insulting everyone with a vagina in range, reclaims old turf with renewed wit and verve. But the second half is something new. "Stronger than I Was," which finally gives long-suffering ex-wife twice-over Kim her say, is actually a self-loathing exercise in disguise, and considering a November 31st anniversary couldn't possibly exist, might be one more cruel lie regardless. The brave "Headlights" humbly apologizes to his mother after years of vindictive backbiting. And "Evil Twin" fuses past personas so the man behind the the multiple masks can finally step forward to accept responsibility for his shit. Who knew he would take his twelve steps off the edge of a precipice? A
The Handsome Family: Wilderness (Carrot Top) I don't relate to doleful types like Brett Sparks too much -- like many people with bipolar disorder, my lows can be just as frighteningly energetic as my highs, so when I go that awful place I'd just as soon hear something like Nirvana's cathartic In Utero, or perhaps this duo's 2002 Live at Schuba's Tavern, which leavens their greatest dirges with plenty of jokey patter. But that merely reminds me that this band's cult really revolves around Brett's better half, his lyric-writing wife Rennie, a nature-walker whose e-book Wilderness not only occasioned this companion piece, but for those of us not privy to Rennie's vast knowledge of morbid 20th century Americana, also provides plenty of pertinent (or at least entertaining) context. In the chapter on woodpeckers for example, Sparks digresses with a brief account of Mary Sweeney, "the Wisconsin Window-Smasher," who under the frequent influence of cocaine roamed the state hurling her satchel through plate glass windows, often getting arrested before she finished the job -- a story which worms its way into the record proper's "Woodpecker" (thought not Sparks' tangential discussion of the "rare" but apparently documented incidence of spontaneous human combustion in "elderly, sedentary women" -- these are three-minute songs, after all). Which should give you a taste of what to expect: more songs about log cabins, mud puddles, and death, with almost every track devoted to man going up against nature and losing, beginning the one about flies feasting on Custer, Wal-Marts swallowing up the forests, and embattled army ants winning wars in silence. A
Jon Hopkins: Immunity (Domino) A child prodigy in his native Australia, a Ravel/Stravinsky/Depeche Mode/Pet Shop Boys fan whose last two solo albums -- including the one under discussion -- were shortlisted for the Mercury Prize despite it usually being awarded to UK denizens, electronica maestro Hopkins certainly qualifies as a subject for further research. The currently-reissued 2001 debut Opalescent, well-regarded by his fans, radiates a Pink Floyd at the day spa kind of aura -- fine if you're into such things -- but this year's model is ambient in my kind of way: background music not for airports or hotels but for a middle-aged man on a forty-five minute Sprinter ride west from San Marcos, CA to Oceanside: silver dollars tinkling in a coin slot, the wheeze of an elevator pushing itself upward, the gasp of brakes as the light rail train comes to a stop, doors grudgingly shutting open and closed, the invented sound in your head of city sights whisking by silently, daydreams breaking the surface of the watery subconscious, then submerging again when someone apologizes for accidentally kicking your leg. If that's too pretentious and/or conceptual for you, I'll add that what gets this vehicle from point A to point B, especially on the urban-not-pastoral first half, is beats, my favorite being the oscillating bass line on the well-named "Open Eye Signal." And for the night ride home we have the second half, leading with the stoic piano chords and impressionistic swells of the evocative "Abandon Window" and ending with the gorgeous title track, which combines the sensibilities of both halves: the unadorned arrangements of the second and the simulated "found" sounds of the first -- so seductive I nearly missed my stop. A
Lady Gaga: Artpop (Streamline/Interscope) Word scrawled onto a bathroom stall in red sharpie, early December: ARTPOP. One week later, marked out in black, accompanied by a request and smiley-face turned ninety degrees: FUCK YOU. So it turns out everyone really is a critic, and a good thing the Gaga fan in my household encouraged me to tune them all out. Abandoning rock dreams for sexxx dreams, which for her means IDM and trap beats and black guests more alive (sorry) than Clarence Clemons, this is where Gaga delivers the pure pleasure machine her previous records only promised. Justifying the pooped-out "your anus/Uranus" pun with a boast about her own derriere, rolling around with the other swine in the mud and muck, and giving her girlfriend a "manicure" that doesn't involve an emery board (unless, of course, that's what she's into), there's enough sex here to make the uptight squeamish, which you can bet is one reason why those who turned up their noses at Erotica are doing the same here. Yet despite the PG-13 mien, I'd argue that monogamy is what's made her comfortable enough about her "body parts" to sing about a hundred ways to stimulate them, the reason why the gender-fuck classic "G.U.Y." claims power about being the girl-under-you rather than the girl-on-top. It's also why R. Kelly acts like a pure gentleman on the addictive "Do What U Want" even after Gaga gives him the red light to indulge his nastiest fantasies. She doesn't just deserve that applause, she deserves a standing ovation. Or kneeling ovation. Or squatting, straddling, hovering. Whatever you're into. One hour of this and I'm up for anything. A
Pusha T: My Name Is My Name (Def Jam) Terrence Thornton's admittance into the House of Kanye comes at almost precisely the right moment in his current benefactor's history: when West applied the cinematic prog-rock of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to Pusha's poesy for 2011's slightly overblown Fear of God II: Let us Pray, the aesthetic effect suggested the Michaels Bay and Mann, but the more pared-down production here, of a piece with Yeezus, returns Pusha to the nitty-gritty where he belongs. But though I don't necessarily demand that my cocaine rap come with a conscience, this doesn't nearly boast the depth or literary accomplishment of 2006's Hell Hath No Fury, his best record with brother Gene for the Clipse, either in terms of complex rhyme or meaty content. Applauding his born-again brother for taking "the better path" is only to be expected, confessing he never outgrew being the spoiled younger child is no surprise, and bragging he would have used that forty acres to grow poppy seeds his only shocking moment (which leads me to wonder -- has Kelly Rowland fallen so out of commercial favor she's ready to be his mule?). Granted, the simultaneously crude yet sophisticated music doesn't flag for a second, and this is the leanest and meanest Thornton has been in years. But Kendrick Lamar's tongue-twisting cameo shows up the man's more prosaic raps for the two-dimensional commercials for the "good life" they've become. And only Rick Ross' penetrating verse on "Hold On" offers any reflection: "Chasing my paper, couldn't fathom my wealth/Built a school in Ethiopia, should enroll myself." Reflection -- from Rick Ross. What has this world come to? A
R. Kelly: Black Panties (RCA) Begins with two great cunnilingus boasts, leads to two very good marriage lies, ends with several reprehensible evasions ("Cookie," "Legs Shakin'") ***
Red Hot + Fela (Knitting Factory) Second volume of Kuti covers too conceptual or not conceptual enough (Tuneyards, ?uestlove, Angelique Kidjo, Akua Nara: "Lady"; Spoek Mathambo, Zaki Ibrahim: "Yellow Fever") **
Swearin': Surfing Strange (Salinas) Meet the lesser Crutchfield twin and her lesser half ("Parts of Speech," "Dust in the Gold Sack") **
Boards of Canada: Tomorrow's Harvest (Warp) I have this childish fantasy that never will come true, but you can't blame me for dreaming. It's based on something I saw on television, in which one snobby New York socialite sneakily tricks her nemesis into blind test-tasting the latter's own brand of Pinot Grigio and asks for her "honest" opinion, which of course, she completely disparages -- to her later embarrassment. In my version, I've invited people much cooler than myself to my private listening party, in which I promise to give them a sneak preview of the new Boards of Canada record, but instead, I put on an old Tangerine Dream from 1977. "Their most cinematic and vast-sounding album yet!" cries out The Guardian's Dorian Lynskey. "Suggestive of barren plains and burning skies, wonder and dread, watching and being watched!" "There is joy in these grooves!" swoons The Independent's Laurence Phelan. "The attentive care of studio perfectionists, and the warm embrace of an old friend!" Then I give up my sneaky subterfuge and reveal my clever switcheroo, embarrassing everyone, and put on Skrillex, after which everyone angrily leaves. And you know why that scenario wouldn't play out like that? Because you know damn well all those Britcrits, much like American hipsters, drink up Tangerine Dream like they might a 2005 Domaine Stirn Cuvée Prestige Sigolsheim. Meet the new harvest, same as the old harvest. C
Britney Spears: Britney Jean (RCA) Haven fallen for her mechanical sex doll bit on 2011's Femme Fatale, I've now woken up the next morning to discover said doll has real feelings, often conveyed in (ulp!) lyrics of her own devising (albeit not sung in her "real" voice). A handful of major will.i.am beats almost redeem the enterprise (if not sister Jamie Lynn's vacuous guest shot "Chillin' With You"), but I'm not bothered by the possibility BJ thinks EDM stands for "entelligent dance music" as much as I am by two flat-out annoyances. Musically, "Work Bitch" is damn near epochal, but the empty philosophy of the lyric is Horatio Alger filtered through Andy Cohen: you don't really have to work that hard to create a lifestyle in which you spend all day sipping Martinis, driving a Lamborghini, and rocking a hot bikini (bet all the Real Trophy-Housewives think they "work hard"), and few wannabe ingénues will ever become Britney Spears no matter how hard they put their bobbed noses to the grindstone. I mean, why not brag about something truly difficult but within the realm of tangible possibility -- say, getting into Harvard Law (wait -- let me guess)? Meanwhile, the metaphorically repulsive, territorially-pissed "Perfume" begs for a video in which BJ squats over her boyfriend's new Armani jacket and squirts her initials onto the sleeve. Graded leniently for putting the banality about her newborn baby on the deluxe edition. B
The Chills: Somewhere Beautiful (Fire) There are no bad seats at a Chills concert -- unless, of course, you're the hapless sound man, twiddling knobs several blocks away. B
Neil Young: Live at the Cellar Door (Reprise) "I caught you playin' at the Cellar Door/I love these songs, but your set is a bore." B
Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience Vol. 2 (RCA) Wait a minute -- doesn't the dull bachelor party come before the boring wedding? C+
Blood Orange: Cupid Deluxe (Domino) Solange Knowles' producer-collaborator shows he can do it with his own starpower, or lack thereof. C+
Laura Marling: When I Was An Eagle (Ribbon) The Pentangle with one point: modal drones are really neat. C
This is the 35th installment, (almost) monthly since August 2010, totalling 846 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter. Comments are open (subject to moderation).
Monday, December 30. 2013
Music: Current count 22655  rated (+49), 572  unrated (-12).
Again, paying more attention to catching up on Rhapsody with what I didn't get than minding my own incoming queue -- for 2013, anyhow, now down to 5 records (compared to 9 I still haven't reviewed from 2012, or 21 I never got around to from 2006). I feel like I've worked pretty hard this year. The year-end list, which I'll make a frozen copy of sometime in the next week or two, currently shows ratings for 1109 releases this year. That's up from 976 records by freeze time in 2012 -- the current 2012 file, which I'll stop adding to tomorrow, has 1181 grades, but 205 of them were added since last year's freeze, so are really part of this year's workload -- and is probably more than in any year since I've been keeping track. I've also done some substantial Recycled Goods columns (see the 2013 index), so the actual rated count since Dec. 31, 2012 has increased by 1783 records (22655 - 20874). That's probably too much, and there are certainly cases where I didn't spend enough time or wasn't paying sufficient attention -- even a few (but really, very rarely) when I didn't finish a record.
But this has also been the first year (since 2002) when my writing income has dropped to $0, as has my website income (not that I couldn't shake some money out of some people, but I haven't been serving them very well either). And this has also been a year when my progress on my various book-like projects has come to a complete standstill, and one where my software development efforts have all the more atrophied. I also find myself totally inundated in clutter (despite the fact that I'm getting a third less CDs than I was three years ago -- they've simply run out of places to go). And all this makes me cranky, and is probably damaging my health -- certainly isn't doing my sanity any good, which always used to be the saving grace of listening to music. Even my reading has suffered -- seems like the last two books have taken about three months to slog through, whereas over the last decade (even as a slow reader) I've averaged a book every other week.
So it's time to make some changes. Starting in 2014 (which is to say Wednesday) I'm suspending Jazz Prospecting. I need to write a letter to the various publicists and musicians who have been sending me material, and who will no doubt soon join the many others who no longer do. I may wind up posting a column or two in January -- I already have a cache of reviews of 2014 releases, and there are a few more in the queue I feel obliged to acknowledge. I say "suspend" because I still would consider resurrecting Jazz Consumer Guide if I had a paying venue of some repute, or if I had an equity stake in a music website that was primarily run by someone else. (One of the things I haven't found time to do was to write a prospectus for just such a website, so that stands a slightly better chance of happening by suspending Jazz Prospecting.)
I'm also suspending Recycled Goods. (I see that I currently have three reviews in the January 2014 draft file. Not sure what to do with them -- maybe nothing, or maybe that's the final column.) Again, I would reconsider if I had a reputable paying venue interested in such a column. Back when it was a going concern (2003-07, and you might also look at the Seattle Weekly spinoff) this was my favorite column, although I'm not sure that it would be easy to reconstitute (or even much fund) given recent trends in the music recycling business (cut-rate samplers and anniversary extravaganzas in the majors, ever quainter obscurities in the minors, and lots of copyright evasion in Europe).
The column I'm most likely to continue, albeit on a reduced scale, is Rhapsody Streamnotes. It is, after all, mostly note-taking, and I may decide just to jot a grade down without an explanation -- some of yesterday's posts are already pretty much nothing. I will also continue to construct my annual file -- 2014 is already started -- and I will file "Music Week" notices in my notebook (if not necessarily on the blog). I will continue to vote in critics polls as long as I'm invited and feel I have something to contribute. I may from time to time post a little something on what I like, but I won't feel any obligation to do so.
Also, no metacritic file next year. I know I said that last year too, but reversed when I found that I wasn't collecting enough information to know what's going on. I wound up creating a file that is significantly better than previous years: it has much more detailed data about reviews and lists (not all of which is visible in the presented file). It currently has 6939 new releases and 1014 compilations, reissues, and vault raids. It tracks 90 publications and independent reviewers, and I've added over 200 year-end lists. I'll keep playing with this for another week or so, but I'm basically done with 2013 -- the end of these things usually occurs when the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll appears and I tote up the 1500 or so records that finish with any votes.
The metacritic file is something that should be a community project: its usefulness is hard to understate, but the amount of work involved is impossible for a single person to do, and it could be made even more useful if more people would pick it up. (There are, of course, various commercial entities doing bits of this, but none are doing a very good job.) Something like this will probably be worked into the website proposal.
I'll continue publishing Michael Tatum's A Downloader's Diary, at least until we find a better home. I'll post his December column tomorrow (maybe even late tonight). Beyond that he's looking at January and February to catch up with 2013 releases, and beyond that 2014.
I'll send some email out within a week, and finally revise my dated "send me music" file (no link because it's totally misleading at the moment). I'd be happy to get feedback on this, either through comments (which have been about 90% spam to date) or email (see the "Contact" link). I will miss some of the music I won't be getting -- especially Clean Feed, NoBusiness, and Toondist, who've gone so far out of their way to support me, and the many fine independent publicists who stuck with me after the Voice didn't. May even have to buy some, not that I expect my income to change (and frankly, I'm looking to enjoy some of what I already have -- something that has been nearly impossible the last few years).
Meanwhile, I've got a mess to clean up, some computers to get working, some code to figure out, some wood to work, and some books to write.
Autumn in Augusta: Songs My Mama Would Like (2013, self-released, EP): Lucy Smith sings five old songs over piano-bass-drums, one a melody from someone named Beethoven, two others from lesser known artists who sign their work as "Traditional." Just runs 18:42 but feels heartfelt, substantial. B+(***)
David Bach: Otherworld (2013, Integrity Music): Keyboard player -- Rhodes, synths, organ, even a Steinway Grand -- fifth album since 1995, backed by a large but often shuffled group, creating a sort of grand pastorale, all evanescent effects aorund the leader's melody, or more rarely a synth beat. B
Alan Blackman: The Coastal Suite (2011 , self-released): Pianist, based in Baltimore, has a couple previous albums since 2000. This extended piece was commissioned by Chamber Music America's 2011 New Jazz Works, but it's scaled down to a small jazz combo with Rogerio Boccato providing extra percussion and Donny McCaslin on tenor and soprano sax. Eloquent material, especially with McCaslin up front. B+(**)
Barry Danielian: Metaphorically Speaking (2013, Tariqah): "Our enemies are resourceful. They never stop thinking of new ways to harm the American people . . . and neither do we." Quoted here as spoken by George W. Bush, who did more damage, both here and abroad, than Osama bin Laden ever imagined, and as the quote suggests did it as much by accident as by intent. Glad to see someone hasn't forgotten that. Trumpet-led synth funk, not far removed from disco, which I don't consider a dis but does remind me that we've been there, done that. B+(*)
Jörg Fischer: Spring Spleen and Twelve Other Pieces (2012, Gligg): Drummer, from Germany, plays in Lurk Lab and has a couple other albums, including a duo with Peter Brötzmann. This one is solo percussion, the first couple pieces thoroughly enjoyable, varies less after that. B+(**)
Jörg Fischer/Matthias Schubert/Uli Böttcher: Lurk Lab (2012, Gligg): Avant sax trio, listed in front cover order: drums, tenor sax, live electronics. All joint credits, so figure improv. Böttcher seems more like a second drummer than a surrogate bassist, but that's probably an oversimplification -- he also throws in some whistles and whizzes, and at full fury the flurry can be pretty amazing. A-
Annette Genovese: Dream With Me (2013, self-released): Singer, wrote (or co-wrote) 3 of 8 songs; Discogs lists a 12-inch under her name from 1982; hype sheet says she "has performed and recorded in the New York Tri-State area for over 25 years and done 3 tours in the Middle East." She does a fine job here, with a strong opening version of "Señor Blues," and she gets some nice guitar from Rob Reich. B+(*)
Lurk Lab: Live at Shelter Sounds (2012 , JazzHausMusik): Matthias Schubert (tenor sax), Uli Böttcher (live electronics), Jörg Fischer (drums). Three live improv pieces, two topping 20 minutes. Similar to what they came up with in the lab, but the sound is a bit more distant, and the electronics can come unplugged. B+(***)
Earl McIntyre: Brass Carnival & Tribute (2010 , self-released): Trombonist, often bass trombone, sometimes tuba: first album under his name but he's been around for ages, playing in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, Mingus Big Band, George Gruntz Concert Band, Howard Johnson's Gravity, Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy. Lots of brass here, bottom-heavy with both Johnson and Bob Stewart on tuba, sometimes McIntyre too, but no reeds, and the rhythm section is just Vinnie Johnson on drums and Warren Smith on vibes and tambourine. Two Renée Manning vocals aren't high points, but I doubt they were aiming for high. B+(*)
William Parker Orchestra: Essence of Ellington: Live in Milano (2012, AUM Fidelity, 2CD): Big band, only two deep at trumpet and trombone but six saxes including Kidd Jordan, fêted as "special guest" although half the orchestra are more famous (or should be), especially the rhythm section: Dave Burrell, Parker, and Hamid Drake. This mixes Ellington standards with originals where Parker seeks what he calls "essences" -- a license to quote and maul and occasionally find some sort of synthesis. When the band eventually converges on a melody, Ernie Odoom sings familiar lyrics or, in "The Essence of Ellington," totally new ones. Messy, but also chock full of wonderful passages. Surely Duke would agree: beyond category. A-
Mary Ann Redmond/Paul Langosch/Jay Cooley: Compared to What (2013, self-released): Singer, from Virginia, based in DC area; fifth album since 1997, first with cover credits for producer-bassist Langosch and arranger-keyboardist Cooley, but the band is deeper, with Don Mattacks (drums), Dan Hovey (guitar), and Bruce Swaim (tenor sax). Two originals, ten standards counting rock-era singer-songwriters Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Lennon-McCartney. As usual, the songs make the singer, and songs like "I Got It Bad" and "Come Rain or Come Shine" are standards for good reason. B+(*)
The Ali Ryerson Jazz Flute Big Band: Game Changer (2013, Capri): Nineteen flute players counting the "guest soloists" (Holly Hofmann, Hubert Laws, and Nestor Torres), the only other names I recognize belong to Ryerson and Jamie Baum, backed by piano-bass-drums (Mark Levine, Rufus Reid, Akira Tana), running through ten famous jazz standards -- none of which I recognized while listening to this, and not because the interpretations were radical. If anything, so featureless I'm not sure I would have noticed they were playing flutes had I not been already aware. B-
Sarah Silverman: Sarah (2013, self-released): Cover just says Sarah (and in small print "featuring Bruce Barth"), downplaying her last name to avoid confusion/competition with the comedian. She plays piano on one song, otherwise deferring to Barth. She wrote two (on one adding lyrics to a Grieg melody), but mostly does standards, medleying "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "I Get Along Without You Very Well." B
Suzanna Smith: Halfway Between Heaven and Love (2012 , Ink Pen): Singer, based in Oakland, first record, most songs originals co-written with pianist Michael Coleman and backed by a fairly deep band. B+(*)
Spinifex: Hipsters Gone Ballistic (2013, Trytone): Dutch group, named for some kind of beach grass; seems like fusion at first, built around Jasper Stadhouders' guitar, but the horn players -- Gijs Levelt on trumpet, Tobias Klein on alto sax -- have their own minds, and the rhythm section doesn't guarantee regular time, or any other. Doesn't work often enough, but good for some cheap thrills. B+(*)
Corrie Van Binsbergen: Self Portrait in Pale Blue (2013, Brokken): Dutch guitarist, b. 1957. I've only heard a couple of his records, and suspect this meditative solo effort is an outlier. The pieces are numbered, probably improv but cautiously picked out, the sort of thing new age might be without the sedatives. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 29. 2013
Rushed this out as the month was coming to a close, with Jazz Prospecting (or some kind of excuse) due on Monday, and A Downloader's Diary promised by the end of the month, which means Tuesday. This file could have run at any time, and can never be satisfactorily complete. It represents my last minute interests in trying to catch as much 2013 music as possible before 2013 is over. It started with a heavy focus on jazz while I was assembling the ballots for NPR's (i.e., Francis Davis's) Jazz Critics Poll, and eventually moved into some other pursuits as it became increasingly difficult to track down such desired records as Michele Rosewoman's New-Yoruba set; ECMs I missed from Ralph Alessi, Aaron Parks, and John Abercrombie; some intriguing Sunnysides from John Hollenbeck and Alexis Cuadrado; and, of course, tons of small label avant releases. Still, I did find a few jazz albums of special interest, and may even have jumped the gun on the Jon Lundbom set, officially scheduled for release in January but recognized in the polls and available online already.
After that, I tried consulting my rapidly changing metacritic file. I've added well over 100 best-of-2013 lists to the data, and that steered me in various directions, although rather erratically. My two non-jazz A- records below came from Jason Gross's list, always a source of interesting things no one else seems to have heard of. (Of course, you'll find some of his high-rated records with lower grades here too.)
In the rush to get this out, I haven't finished my usual accounting: at post-time I have yet to put these records into my indexes and counters -- something I will catch up with in a day or two.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on November 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (4120 records).
Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet: Ciudad de Los Reyes (2012 , Saponegro): Trumpet player, born in Lima, teaches at NYU, formed this sextet with three percussionists, bass, and guitar in 2005; a nice balance of instruments with just enough splash from the horn. B+(***)
Ralph Alessi & Fred Hersch: Only Many (2011-12 , CAM Jazz): Trumpet and piano duets, no surprise that they should come off a bit slow no one keeping time, but they don't mesh all that well either, just so many thoughtful little figure bouncing around. B
Bobby Avey: Be Not So Long to Speak (2011 , Minsi Ridge): Pianist, won a Monk award, plays in Dave Liebman's group, as a couple albums, goes for a solo this time. One thing he does a lot is flutter his off hand picking up a lot of movement on the cheap -- I'm not sure whether I like the effect, but this grows more impressive toward the end. B+(**)
Bad Religion: True North (2013, Epitaph): Started off as an LA hardcore band but that was over 30 years ago, so what? They've mellowed? Matured? I've ignored them ever since I took a dislike to Into the Unknown, but don't find anything that objectionable here: I generally approve of their lyrics, and their drummer, and the rest is a little tedious but not so bad. B+(*)
Samuel Blaser Consort in Motion: A Mirror to Machaut (2013, Songlines): Guillaume de Machaut was a medieval French poet and composer (1300-1377), the source of three songs here, inspiration for the rest. Trombonist, leading a formidable group -- Joachim Badenhorst (tenor sax, bass clarinet, clarinet), Russ Lossing (piano, keybs), Drew Gress (bass), Gerry Hemingway (drums) -- but they mostly stay close to the themes, understated with a gentle flow that could become seductive. B+(**)
Bleeding Rainbow: Yeah Right (2013, Kanine): Band from Pennsylvania, originally Reading Rainbow, female singer (Sarah Everton) but their only pop affectation is the guitar reverb the Beatles invented when they wanted to sound psychedelic, and they rap song after song in it without sounding psychedelic at all. B+(*)
Anthony Braxton: Echo Echo Mirror House (2011 , Victo): Not infrequently when I'm listening to some hideous cacophony my wife asks me if I'm playing Anthony Braxton, and for once she'd be right. Septet with many of his star students -- Taylor Ho Bynum, Mary Halvorson, Jay Rozen, Jessica Pavone, Carl Testa, Aaron Siegel; all, by the way, also credited with electronics -- doing one piece (if you're counting, "Composition No. 347") for more than an hour. Not without its glorious moments, but this does wear and tear. B+(*)
Peter Brötzmann/Steve Noble: I Am Here Where Are You (2013, Trost): Wild and wooly sax-drums duo. Unfortunately, Rhapsody only has two of five cuts (23:55 of 53:22), but with these guys that's enough to get the idea, and possibly already more than you can handle. But I'd be game to hear more, especially that tarogato. B+(*)
Burial: Rival Dealer (2013, Hyperdub, EP): Three cuts, 28:39, fits comfortably on vinyl. William Bevan's EPs rarely feel short or less-than-satisfying and this is no exception -- his skill orchestrating those beats and romps is peerless and this would be compelling if he'd left out those erratic vocal samples -- at best he begs comparison with Steinski then falls short. B+(**)
Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet & 7-tette: Navigation (The Complete Firehouse 12 Recordings) (2012 , Firehouse 12, 4CD): At least this would have been 4CD in a normal world: the $49.99 physical package gives you 2LP + 2CD, or you can buy the LP or CD halves separate, but you can't get the LP pieces on CD or vice versa. What you can do is buy a 4-track digital download, the tracks ranging between 43:25 and 54:10. The leader plays cornet, his sextet including Jim Hobbs (alto sax), Bill Lowe (bass trombone, tuba), Mary Halvorson (electric guitar), Ken Filiano (acoustic bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums, vibes); and for the two septet tracks they double down on drums-vibes, adding Chad Taylor. Attractive group, Halvorson providing the backbone and Lowe giving it some heft, but neither Bynum nor Hobbs use their advantages to step up, leaving an equitable group dynamic -- all the more even as the extended pieces keep recirculating. B+(***)
Terri Lyne Carrington: Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue (2013, Concord): Drummer, I moved her into my "jazz-pop" file a while back after a dreadful album called More to Say. She still wants to do pop things, as the rap narration that pops up here and there on this meditation on the 1962 Ellington-Mingus-Roach trio shows, but as the words make clear, she now sees all that money pop stars lust after as a mixed blessing if not a downright curse. Adds some horns here and there, but pianist Gerald Clayton is the mainstay, with Christian McBride doing his best Mingus impersonation. B+(*)/p>
Club D'Elf: Fire in the Brain (Live at Berklee) (2012 , BIRN Cooperative): Boston "Moroccan-drenched dub-jazz ensemble"; led by bassist Mike Rivard, they've been active since the late 1990s, with Now I Understand -- a 2006 compilation from many live gigs with a revolving cast of dozens -- a recommended introduction. Beyond that they have a large pile of live records, this one long on guitar groove but it's hardly that simple. B+(**)
Tomasz Dabrowski/Tyshawn Sorey Duo: Steps (2013, ForTune): Trumpet-drums duets, spare as you'd expect although the Polish trumpeter has a bright sound -- started to say "a lot of polish on his brass" -- and the American drummer is fine as always. B+(**)
Dana Coppafeel & Speak Easy: Dana Coppafeel & Speak Easy (2013, Uni-Fi): Rappers from Milwaukee, don't know much else about them, but despite the names this winds up serious and thoughtful. B+(***)
Decoy With Joe McPhee: Spontaneous Combustion (2011 , Otoroku): English piano trio with a couple twists: John Edwards (bass) and Steve Noble (drums) play more free jazz than not, and Alexander Hawkins plays organ here (piano elsewhere) -- he's generally struck me as an EST-type pianist although he's clearly got more tricks than that; on his second album with the trio, the guest plays pocket trumpet and alto sax and tilts this limited edition vinyl decisively toward freedom, not to mention chaos. B+(**)
Roberta Donnay & the Prohibition Mob Band: A Little Sugar (2011 , Motéma): Singer, has a couple previous albums before this flapper revival act, where she's as likely to sing Ida Cox as Irving Berlin. Band includes tuba but also bass. B+(*)
Dott: Swoon (2013, Graveface): Irish band, three women up front and a male drummer in the back, gives them a sound that inevitably gets labelled "pop" even though there's no reason to doubt that their plan was to be a rock band like, you know, the Beatles, or the Popinjays. B+(*)
Dr. Kay & His Interstellar Tone Scientists: The Search for True Happiness (2013, Bangles): Norwegian band, comparisons to Sun Ra's Arkestra are greatly exaggerated but not altogether wrong; the real problem is narrator Arthur Kay Piene and his wide-eyed search for answers to his trivial metaphysical questions, most having to do with true happiness. B-
Gilad Edelman: My Groove, Your Move (2011 , Sharp Nine): Alto saxophonist, first album, only bio detail that I know is that he's the son of label owner/producer Marc Edelman, which isn't a bad deal: no one gets a sharper sound out of this sort of retro-bop. One original, one by pianist David Hazeltine, the rest standards more-or-less -- title cut comes from Hank Mobley. Joe Magnarelli adds a bit of trumpet. B+(**)
Marty Ehrlich Large Ensemble: A Trumpet in the Morning (2012 , New World): Four older compositions, one as far back as 1992, run between 11:07 and 23:21 -- the latter the title piece, with a poem by Arthur Brown (1948-82) narrated by J.D. Parran -- and are bracketed by short "Prelude" and "Postlude" pieces. The Large Ensemble is amply stocked with stars -- there are so many they are staggered into shifts, the piano chair, for instance, alternating between James Weidman and Uri Caine. Rich details, strong solos. A-
Hanni El Khatib: Head in the Dirt (2013, Innovative Leisure): Singer-songwriter, mixed Filopino-Palestinian descent, grew up in San Francisco, based in LA, second album. Straightforward rock, no accent unless you consider rockabilly, clear enough for the words to come through. B+(**)
Lorraine Feather: Attachments (2012-13 , Jazzed Media): Jazz singer, daughter of legendary jazz critic and impressario Leonard Feather, which among other advantages means as a little girl she knew Billie Holiday. She co-wrote most of these pieces (most likely the lyrics), and they have an offhanded '50s vibe -- sometimes reminds me of Donald Fagen at his most jazz-nostalgic -- backed most notably by Charie Bisharat's violin over various combos of piano and guitar, bass and drums. B+(*)
FIDLAR: FIDLAR (2013, Mom + Pop Music): Skate punk band from LA, all caps for the acronym name, stands for "Fuck It Dog, Life's A Risk"; first album, leads off with "Cheap Beer," which goes: "I drink cheap beer! So what! Fuck you!" Second song: "I just wanna get really high/smoke weed until I die," insisting "there's nothing wrong with living like this," but admitting "all my friends are pieces of shit." Too many guitars, or maybe they're just too good, to play real punk, but as long as their minds are slagged in the gutter they can resist tarting the music up too much. B+(***)
Fire! Orchestra: Exit (2012 , Rune Grammofon): A Mats Gustafsson trio, similar to the Thing but different bass (Johan Berthling, also plays guitar and organ) and drums, beefed up here with an additional 24 musicians. One expects the eleven horns to thrash, but it's less pleasing when the vocalists to it (or for that matter, much of anything). B
Foxygen: We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (2013, Jagjaguwar): Second album, not counting a piece of juvenilia, not that one can say they're all grown up now: first thing I noticed were really obvious vocal cops from the young Lou Reed, although nearly every song is similarly evocative of something or other. I found this cute at first, then increasingly annoying. B-
The Garifuna Collective: Ayó (2013, Cumbancha): The backing band of the late Belizean punta musician Andy Palacios -- their 2007 album Wátina got some notice. Obvious problem is they still sound like a backing band, one with a lot of sly rhythmic touches but no punch. B+(*)
Robert Glasper Experiment: Black Radio 2 (2013, Blue Note): With featured guests on every cut, this is effectively a nu soul mixtape, the main difference being that the core group's keyb-bass-drum mix gives it all a consistent light touch, like they're aiming for the background; best when they hit it, because when you stop and notice something it's unlikely to turn out to be worth the trouble. B
Mats Gustafsson/Thurston Moore: Vi Är Alla Guds Slavar (2012 , Otoroku): The ex-Sonic Youth guitarist has a large stack of obscure side projects, including jousts with Gustafsson's pop-horror group, the Thing. This one is relatively even tempered, the saxophonist hemmed in by his choice of soprano, as well as his focus on electronics. The guitar modulates what could be described as minimalism if only it were better behaved. B+(*)
Gypsyphonic Disko: Mardi Gras Mix Tape 2013 (2013, self-released): A 33-minute mix of New Orleans funk classics and extra beats, a formula they've applied before in two volumes of Gypsyphonic Disko Nola-Phonic: pretty surefire formula. A- [dl]
Scott Hamilton: Swedish Ballads . . . & More (2013, Charleston Square): Six songs, two with Stockholm in the title, tenor sax on top of Jan Lundgren's piano trio; lovely but doesn't do much. B+(**)
Bruno Heinen Sextet: Karlheinz Stockhausen: Tierkreis (2013, Babel): Don't know much about the 1974-75 composition that this is based on, but this feels like a nicely varied set of jazz pieces, some playfully cast off Heinen's piano, others leaning more on the three horns (trumpet, tenor sax, bass clarinet) that lead the sextet. B+(***)
Gilad Hekselman: This Just In (2011-12 , Jazz Village): Israeli-born guitarist, based in New York, fourth album, quartet including tenor saxophonist Mark Turner -- not much of a factor here, partly because the guitarist is getting bolder. B+(**)
François Houle & Håvard Wiik: Aves (2011 , Songlines): Clarinet and piano duets. I'm often impressed by Wiik's fluidity, perhaps because he often plays in groups where you'd expect a more percussive pianist. His speed puts him in command here, then they slow it down and meander a long stretch. B+(*)
Hunger Pangs: Meet Meat (2013, For Tune): Avant jazz trio, Tomasz Dabrowski on trumpet, Marek Kadziela on guitar, and Kasper Tom Christiansen on drums -- the guitarist essential in that he can swing between support and lead, and when he takes charge he can be scorching. But he doesn't dominate as completely as at first, so an uncertain balance settles in. A-
Abdullah Ibrahim: Mukashi (2013, Intuition): Title is Japanese, but the venerable South African pianist is in his own world, saddened perhaps after his wife's death or just seeking some kind of peace, which leads him to a two-cello quartet and way too much flute, although Cleve Guyton's sax is eloquent and the piano has memorable passages. B+(**)
Hans Koch-Martin Schütz-Fredy Studer and Shelley Hirsch: Walking and Stumbling Through Your Sleep (2011 , Intakt): I find Hirsch's rambling avant raps almost irresistible, and this starts with the Swiss avant trio -- bass clarinet, cello, drums, respectively -- in fine form, but for some reason degenerates into abstract noise, shady metal, and histrionics. B+(*)
La Femme: Psycho Tropical Berlin (2013, Disque Pointu): French group, I figure them for electropop but they're further out than that, and not just when they sing in French. Catchy, bouncy, sly, a fair dab of Latin tinge, but not as much so as, say, Kid Creole, who perfected this fake tropicalia. B+(***)
Oliver Lake Big Band: Wheels (2013, Passin' Thru): One of the all-time alto sax greats, a rank he probably deserved long ago but the last couple years -- and note that he'll be 70 next year -- he's really surrounded terrific in at least a half-dozen records (cf., especially, his ones with Trio 3). He sounds great here, too, but has a little more trouble dragging the rest of the big band around. B+(**)
Yusef Lateef/Roscoe Mitchell/Adam Rudolph/Douglas Ewart: Voice Prints (2008 , Meta): Percussionist Rudolph is the main force here, but you can't blame him for deferring to his octogenarian saxophonists who decorate his beats with odd ease; Ewart too, his main instrument bass clarinet but he joins Lateef on wood flute and Rudolph on percussion, and probably has something to do with the title. B+(***)
Okkyung Lee: Ghil (2012 , Ideologic Organ): Solo cello and, if my memory of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music serves, amplifier feedback. Consider yourself warned. B+(*)
Kim Lenz and the Jaguars: Follow Me (2013, Riley): Singer-songwriter, I presume, based in LA, plays impeccable rockabilly but that's more formal discipline than retro, and certainly no nostalgia; she cut two 1998-99 albums, two since. This one rocks and roars, tumbles and falls and gets right up again. A-
Lydia Loveless: Boy Crazy (2013, Bloodshot, EP): Country singer, flunked out of Nashville and took her bad attitude on the road, impressing with her rough and ready Indestructible Machine. Two years later, a placeholder -- five cuts, 19:42 -- rocking harder and connecting less. B+(*)
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Liverevil (2013, Hot Cup, 2CD): Guitarist, group originally a quintet when he named it but they've picked up keyb player Matt Kanelos for this live double, where nearly everything runs past ten minutes, stomping and sliding with two saxophones (Jon Irabagon on the little ones, Bryan Murray on the big 'uns). The guitar leads are fresh and bold, and Irabagon is nothing short of sublime on "North Star." A-
MaG: Freedom (2013, self-released): Joel Daniels, second album, plenty likable but not all that memorable. B+(**) [bc]
René Marie: I Wanna Be Evil: With Love to Eartha Kitt (2013, Motéma): More to the point, "I'd Rather Be Burned as a Witch" ("than never burn at all"), but there's not enough deviltry in Kitt's songbook to carry an album, and Marie (and for that matter the band) looses the smolder on the slow ones. Just as well: I'd rather save "evil" for those who truly are, and are not just nasty, tasteless, or uncouth. B+(*)
Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra: Gipsy Manifesto (2013, Piranha): Our favorite Balkan brass band, led by father-son trumpeters, proves they can do it again, and again, and again (and when it's as good as "Gipsy House" they should). B+(***)
Pedrito Martinez: The Pedrito Martinez Group (2013, Motéma): Percussionist, born in Cuba and based in New York, the group including a second percussionist (Jhair Sala, from Peru), electric bass (Alvaro Benavides, from Venezuela), and keybs (Araicne Trujillo, also from Cuba). I don't mind the radical rhythmic jumble so much as the vocals, which demand a level of ecstasy they're unable to deliver. B
Roscoe Mitchell/Tony Marsh/John Edwards: Improvisations (2012 , Otoroku): Recorded in Berlin, Edwards on bass, Marsh on drums, the sort of guys an avant-garde legend would look to pick up for some dates in Europe -- in this case, Berlin; the four cuts are timed for album sides (16:11-17:29). The leader's saxes are a little squeaky, but that's his signature, and while I still prefer Mitchell's similar album on Wide Hive this doesn't fall far behind: he's pretty spry for 73. B+(***)
Marius Neset: Birds (2012 , Edition): Norwegian saxophonist (soprano, tenor), enjoys some crossover appeal in the UK, which judging from the leap on the cover has more to do with showmanship than making concessions to pop taste -- indeed, the rhythms here can get tricky, but that alone doesn't suffice to make this interesting. B
Paris Washboard: Swinging Castle: Paris Washboard in Concert (2012 , K&K Verlagsanstalt): French trad jazz group simplified into a quartet, with clarinet and trombone for horns, washboard for percussion, and pianist Louis Mazetier in the middle, perhaps explaining why so much of the repertoire focuses on Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion" Smith, and Fats Waller. Of the few albums I've sampled, I thought 1996's Love for Sale was exemplary. But this one is a bit slow to get in gear. B+(**)
Mario Pavone Orange Double Tenor: Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po (2010, Playscape): Released on the bassist's 70th birthday, basically a sextet with Dave Ballou on trumpet/cornet and two tenor saxmen -- Tony Malaby and Jimmy Greene -- with Peter Madsen on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Very fancy postbop, lots of whirling pieces, enough to unsettle at first, not that it might not turn beguiling. B+(***)
Mario Pavone: Arc Trio (2013, Playscape): Piano trio with Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver, the title a play on the bassist's similar 2008 piano trio, Trio Arc, with Paul Bley and Matt Wilson. Taborn's ECM trio with Cleaver and Thomas Morgan finished second in the Jazz Critics' Poll this year, so I have to wonder how many of those critics also heard this one -- to my ears both tougher and sharper, the obvious difference the bassist and his challenging pieces. A-
Perfect Pussy: I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling (2013, self-released, EP): Thrash-punk band from Syracuse, cut this four-track (12:30) demo live, the sound jarringly bad (more synthy than guitar), the vocals indistinct. Rob Sheffield put this on his list, adding: "it's also the kind of noise that can make you feel alive inside if you like that kind of thing." They're working on a real album for Captured Tracks. B [bc]
Pixel: Reminder (2011 , Cuneiform): Norwegian two horn (trumpet and sax), pianoless jazz quartet, except that the leader is bassist Ellen Andrea Wang, and she also sings -- at which point the group's jazz ambitions fall away and they turn into a fairly ordinary post-rock outfit (which is to say unnecessarily dreary). B- [dl]
Pixel: We Are All Small Pixels (2013, Cuneiform): Second album, shows considerable improvement as a jazz band, both in the horn solos and in the versatility of the bass and drums. On the other hand, the best one can say about leader Ellen Andrea Wang's vocals is that there are fewer of them. B [dl]
Polvo: Siberia (2013, Merge): Math rock band, had a run from 1992-97 then regrouped for a 2009 album. The grind gets lighter toward the end and risks becoming catchy, but not much. B+(**)
Odean Pope: Odean's Three (2011 , In + Out): Tenor saxophonist, grew up in Philadelphia, played with Jimmy McGriff in the 1960s, Max Roach in the 1970s, led a group aptly named Catalyst, is probably best known for his Saxophone Choir records, but nothing that fancy here, just a powerhouse trio with Lee Smith and Billy Hart, an hour of intense and inventive blowing. You got a problem with that? A-
Power of the Horns: Alaman (2013, ForTune): Polish big band led by trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz, forgoes full sections -- just one trumpet, one trombone, three saxes -- because they play free, but they double up on bass and use three percussionists. Three pieces, the one dedicated to William Parker topping thirty minutes, the free for all often anchored to a beat, not that that holds anyone back. B+(***)
Quest: Circular Dreaming (2011 , Enja): Quartet co-led by Richie Beirach (piano) and Dave Liebman (tenor and soprano sax), dates back to 1982 with six albums up to 1990, one live (2007) and this since. Front cover promises, "Quest plays the music of Miles' 60s," which turns out to mostly mean Wayne Shorter, the saxophonist Liebman briefly replaced in the 1970s. Very tasteful, and possibly the first time ever I find myself enjoying Liebman's soprano as much as his tenor. [Rhapsody only offers 6 of 9 cuts, omitting "Footprints," "Hand Jive," and "Paraphernalia."] B+(**)
Red Hot + Fela (2013, Knitting Factory): Second AIDS benefit album featuring the music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, following 2002's rap-and-jazz-heavy Red Hot + Riot. This is more typically eclectic -- Tune-Yards, My Morning Jacket, Kronos Quartet -- although Tony Allen returns and they never really lose the beat, just the edge. B+(**)
Reut Regev's R*Time: Exploring the Vibe (2013, Enja): Trombone player, called her previous album This Is R Time and took that as her band name, even though the only repeat member is husband/drummer Igal Foni. Jean-Paul Bourelly's three vocals are big downs, but his guitar is the essential framework the funk bounces off of, not that the trombonist is content just to have a good time. B+(**)
Adam Rudolph/Go: Organic Orchestra: Sonic Mandala (2012 , Meta): Percussionist, one of the first to make an avocation of collecting rhythms and rhythmic instruments from all around the world, and his albums often flirt with all that organic whatever mumbo jumbo, but they're also given to extended transfixing passages that somehow make it all seem worthwhile. Everything possibly including the kitchen sink goes into this, including at least six reed players doubling on bamboo flute, nearly a dozen strings, nearly as many percussionists, an oboe, a bassoon, and two guys named Haynes on cornet. B+(***)
Clotilde Rullaud: In Extremis (2011, Nota Bene): French jazz singer, second album, stitched together from bits by Piazzolla and Monk and Baden Powell and Sting not to mention Serge Gainsbrough; a bit on the dramatic side but the tension along the way is palpable. B+(*)
Huerco S.: Colonial Patterns (2013, Software): Brian Leeds, from Kansas City, favors short pieces with basic patterns, shards of electronic sound rocking (not sloshing) back and forth. B+(***)
Wadada Leo Smith & TUMO: Occupy the World (2012 , TUM, 2CD): Finnish group, acronym expands and translates to Really New Music Orchestra, with a wide spread of instruments -- brass section, not counting Smith, is one each of trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba; only two saxes (Mikko Innanen and Fredrik Ljungkvist are names worth mentioning) plus flute (Juhani Aaltonen); a string quartet (two violins) plus two basses (John Lindberg is a guest star, Ulf Krokfors the regular), piano and guitar but also harp and accordion, the only real pile up the three drummers. Had trouble focusing on these long pieces -- the title cut, adding "for Life, Liberty and Justice," rumbles on for 33:29 -- but mostly noticed a lot of bass solos. On the other hand, I'm not sure my download is quite right. B+(*) [dl]
Special Request: Soul Music (2013, Houndstooth): Paul Woolford, not the only alias he uses; fast break beats, some trite vocal refrains, most just run variations on his patterns. Basic release seems to be 3LP, so what at first I found pleasurable eventually turned a bit tedious and a lot mechanical. [Rhapsody includes another pile of remixes, possibly corresponding to a 2CD release, but I didn't feel like going that far.] B+(**)
Aki Takase: My Ellington (2012 , Intakt): Pianist, more than two dozens albums since 1982, at least three focused on Duke Ellington; solo, intimate, but doesn't push him very hard. B+(*)
Aki Takase: Plays Fats Waller in Berlin (2004 , Jazzwerkstatt): Her second album on Waller -- the first was a year earlier in Hamburg with most of the same players and songs -- done live with a quintet happy to throw a wrench into the works: Thomas Heberer (trumpet), Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet), Eugene Chadbourne (banjo/guitar), and Paul Lovens (drums). Chadbourne also sings a couple, and the pianist's full-tilt stride is always fun. B+(***)
Tarbaby: Ballad of Sam Langford (2013, Hipnotic): Trio with Orrin Evans (piano), Eric Revis (bass), and Nasheet Waits (drums), has a previous record I like a lot (The End of Fear ) and rumors of more in the works. This one, dedicated to a little known boxer from way back, adds horns: Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet) and Oliver Lake (alto sax). Some exceptional passages here, and not just with Lake, who continues his strong run of albums. B+(***)
Telekinesis: Dormarion (2013, Merge): Michael Benjamin Lerner's catchy little alt-rock pseudogroup. B+(**)
Emilio Teubal: Música Para un Dragon Dormido (2013, Bju'ecords): Pianist, born in Spain of Argentinian parents; grew up in Mexico and Argentina, winding up in Brooklyn. Rhythm section built to rumble, something Sam Sadigursky's reeds can smooth over or ruffle up -- mostly the former. [Rhapsody only provides 4 (of 9) tracks.] B+(*)
The Underachievers: Indigoism (2013, Brainfeeder): Hip hop duo from Brooklyn, Issa Gold and AK, first mixtape with another (Lords of Flatbush) out later in the year and a studio joint scheduled for 2014. Picks up momentum and coherence midway, but still suffers from a tendency to make their rhymes by ending every line with a certain N-word. B+(*)
Dean Wareham: Emancipated Hearts (2013, Sonic Cathedral, EP): First album under the name of the longtime leader of Luna -- with 7 songs, 29:52, actually more of an EP -- characteristically tuneful but hardly sweeps you away. B+(*)
David Weiss: Endangered Species: The Music of Wayne Shorter (2012 , Motéma): Trumpet player, has a knack for arranging large groups -- the New Jazz Composers Octet has been the main beneficiary so far, but this 11-piece group is further proof. Shorter established himself as a formidable composer back with Blakey and Davis, so the arranger has lots to work with. B+(**)
Luke Winslow-King: The Coming Tide (2013, Bloodshot): Singer-songwriter from Michigan, studied in New Orleans and Prague, AMG classifies him as blues, jazz, pop/rock, and country, while Rhapsody settles for folk. He starts with a gospel riff backed by trad jazz horns, and Esther Rose's harmony compensates for his slight voice. B+(*)
Nate Wooley/C. Spencer Yeh/Audrey Chen/Todd Carter: NCAT (2008 , Monotype): Trumpet, violin, cello, piano, respectively, or so say the credits, but this starts off with sounds, including screams, not easily attributable to any of those instruments, and continues to wallow in some kind of electronic feedback. Vinyl, five untitled tracks running 34:05. B-
Zevious: Passing Through the Wall (2013, Cuneiform): Guitar-bass-drums trio, experimental rock or just fusion, although the constant racing tempo and up-and-down riffing reminds me more of those soundtracks to video games, or maybe someone trying to play Spring Heel Jack on guitar-bass-drums. B [dl]
Monday, December 23. 2013
Music: Current count 22606  rated (+38), 584  unrated (+1).
Again, I played a lot more jazz on Rhapsody this week than I played from my very slim 2013 input queue. Thus far I've found four more A- records there (out of nearly 40), while the list of records that I've looked for but were nowhere to be found has grown to several score. Both those numbers were fairly predictable. The bigger surprise is three of the four A- records this week. (William Parker's grade was all but assured when I sampled most of the box on Rhapsody last month; indeed, the only issue there is that it might pick up a notch once I get used to dipping into it.) Two of the three were sent to me by pianist Michael McNeill -- not really sure of the connection, but it seems to have something to do with Buffalo. The other one came in a package from Dutch distributor Toondist. None of those three were previously in my metacritic file, nor did they show up on any of the Jazz Critics' Poll ballots. Finding them makes me feel rather unique -- not that Paul Smoker and Albert Van Veenendaal haven't established reputations that should make you take notice. They are, at any rate, names that I've learned to pay attention to.
Pazz 'n' Jop 2013 ballots are due tomorrow. At this point it would take me weeks to refine my ballot, and right now I don't even know where to start. My basic problem is that I don't have time to live with even the best albums I find, so while, say, I have no doubt that the Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire and Knife and Lady Gaga albums are quite good, I've hardly played them since first review -- indeed, I don't even have a copy of the latter.
The obvious thing to do would be to scrape the top ten albums off my 2013 list, but I wound up futzing around with them, knocking out some jazz (Barbara Morrison, Roswell Rudd, that super-late 2012 release of early Billy Bang tapes), adding the William Parker box that arrived too late for the Jazz Critics' Poll. The open slots let me delve downlist, where I could have picked very good (and contending) albums by Vampire Weekend and Deerhunter, but I love the sound of Parquet Courts (and Wayne Hancock), and I wanted to slip in a couple underground hip-hop joints. (Yeezus, by the way, was never in the running, although Chance the Rapper and Pusha T were).
MIA, by the way, wound up number one mostly because I played it a lot, and the main reason I played it so much was because I had a lot of trouble writing anything up on it. So I kept playing it, eventually wrote one cryptic sentence, and filed it. By then it wound up graded higher in my database than Arular or Kala or Maya. I can't say whether it's a better album, but given my peculiar way of working, it's the one I've enjoyed the most.
The only single I voted for was "Apocalyptic Dance" from the Janelle Monáe album, The Electric Lady. I don't keep track of singles, scarcely even think of them, so I often don't bother with that part of the ballot. But I recall that one of Glenn McDonald's statistical probes of the P&J data has something to do with "hipness" -- the "unhip" are defined as those who don't vote for singles, so I thought I'd throw some noise into that data. Great song, by the way: sold me on the album, which is one thing a single is supposed to do.
I've started to cobble together a non-jazz year-end list file similar to my jazz one. At one point I thought I'd publish it along with the Pazz 'n' Jop ballot tomorrow but there's no way that's going to happen. Maybe sometime later in the week.
The Ambush Party: Circus (2011 , De Platenbakkerij): Dutch avant-garde quartet: Natalia Sued (tenor sax, clarinet), Oscar Jan Hoagland (piano), Harald Austbø (cello), Marcus Baggiani (drums). Second album, as far as I can tell, recorded live at Moers Festival in Germany. The broken improv reaches a fine pitch in "The Tiger Is Loose" but only after a lot of ambling, with a bit of opera vocal to come. I don't know how many jazz albums refer to the circus, but a high percentage of them seem to be Dutch. B+(**)
Chris Biesterfeldt: Urban Mandolin (2013, self-released): Mandolin player, first album, a trio with bass and drums. Concept here is to retrace a broad swathe of jazz history, starting literally with "Bebop" and proceeding through Monk, Jimmy Smith, and fusion to "Some Skunk Funk," with side trips for Bach, the Beach Boys, and Frank Zappa, inserting mandolin everywhere, as if it belonged. B
Jane Ira Bloom: Sixteen Sunsets (2013 , Outline): Soprano saxophonist, one of the few specialists, with more than a dozen albums since 1980. Quartet with piano (Dominic Fallacaro), bass (Cameron Brown), and drums (Matt Wilson). Intent seems to be picturesque, and in that succeeds admirably -- a little static but very pretty. [Hype sheet has this as a 2014 release, but other sources say December 15, or earlier for Blue-ray Audio.] B+(**)
Ayman Fanous/Jason Kao Hwang: Zilzal (2011 , Innova): Fanous plays guitar (6 tracks) and bouzouki (3). He was born in Cairo, Egypt; grew up in the US, cut an album with cellist Tomas Ulrich. Hwang is one of the best known violinists in jazz, playing viola here on 4 (of 9) tracks -- either way the dominant instrument here. B+(***)
Peter Kerlin Octet: Salamander (2013, Innova): Bassist, first album, lists eleven musicians here, so presumably not all play not all of the time. Nor does Octet match up with any previous configuration: no horns here, but the compositions are scored for two vibraphones, two basses, organ, drums, percussion, and viola. (The excess on the musician list comes from three bass and three viola credits.) Dense pieces with a little sparkle, moving surely from the bottom. B+(***)
William Parker: Wood Flute Songs: Anthology/Live 2006-2012 (2006-12 , AUM Fidelity, 8CD): I previously wrote up Rhapsody Streamnotes on four digital releases -- at least they showed up on Rhapsody -- comprising six CDs here, so in my current end-of-year rush I focused on the other two discs: a septet live at the Vision Festival in 2009 with Billy Bang, Bobby Bradford, and James Spaulding joining Parker's stellar Quartet (Lewis Barnes, Rob Brown, and Hamid Drake -- they've been together since the extraordinary O'Neal's Porch in 2000); and a big band (William Parker Creation Ensemble) live shot at AMR Jazz Festival in Geneva in 2011. Both discs zing, as does, really, the rest of the box. The two early live sets weren't as consistent as I'd like (cf. 2005's Sound Unity), but their top spots are rarely equalled, and the last two discs -- an expansion of the group that cut Raining on the Moon and a revival of In Order to Survive with an outstanding performance by Cooper-Moore on piano -- just raise the bar. Music at this level deserves to go on and on and on. A-
The Paul Smoker Notet: Landings (2012 , Alvas): Quartet, actually: the leader on trumpet, Steve Salerno on guitar, Drew Gress on bass, and Phil Haynes on drums. Smoker, b. 1941 in Indiana, has a dozen albums (Wikipedia) or fifteen (AMG) or more (two recent ones are in neither list), although I had only heard one until recently. But the guitar sets the trumpet remarkably well, and Smoker is always up to something interesting. A-
Haynes & Smoker: It Might Be Spring (2013, Alvas): Phil Haynes (drums) and Paul Smoker (trumpet), just the two of them so this lacks the propulsion of their recent quartet (or Notet) record, but adds a shot of intimacy -- especially since, as the title suggests, they're mostly doing warm and fuzzy standards, including "My Funny Valentine," "My Melancholy Baby," and "Summertime." A-
Two Al's: And the Cowgirls Kept On Dancing (2013, Brokken): One Albert and one Alan, but I guess that works. Albert van Veenendaal has recorded a number of remarkable albums on prepared piano -- Predictable Point of Impact and Minimal Damage are two I particularly like. Alan Purves is credited with "percussion, squeaky toys, brim bram, little instruments" -- in other words, exogenous effects as unpredictable as the tricks wired into the piano. Works much more often than not. A-
Volcán: Volcán (2013, 5Pasion): Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba is the main talent hiding behind this eponymous group album -- wrote three (of eight songs), the others standards including "Salt Peanuts" from his mentor. The others are Jose Armando Gola (electric bass), Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez (drums), and Giovanni "Mañenguito" Hidalgo (congas, percussion), with Maridalia Hernandez singing one of two João Bosco tunes. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 22. 2013
I tried this past week to sign up for a new health care insurance policy starting January 1. I would like to think successfully, but the last information I got on the website told me that I have one more thing to do -- to pay for the first month's insurance -- then offered me no way to do that. They did leave me with a "customer service number" so we'll try calling that tomorrow and hoping that will seal the deal. The policy I wound up with costs more than I've been paying through COBRA, but the tax credit I've earned by not making any money blogging all these years helps out.
I didn't notice any terrible performance problems, other than that the site went down for maintenance three times when I was on it (late at night). But I did hit a couple of serious bugs. For one, they sent me a "message" notice in email, and when I followed the link and logged in I saw a notice that there was a message for me, but I never found a way to access that message. I then found myself arbitrarily blocked from going forward to look at plans: some pages noted an error (big red box), but nothing helped to explain the error. I used their "chat" and the only help that the other person could offer was that I should call their "help line." When I did call the "help line" I spent 30 minutes on hold waiting to speak to someone. By that time I found a form saying that I wasn't eligible for Medicaid then asking me whether I wanted to apply anyway. When I checked that "no" -- hey, I live in Kansas, remember -- the blockage cleared up and I could finally look at plans.
That turned out to be the real time consumer, and is, I think, the fundamental problem with "Obamacare": I had to sort through 26 plans (ignoring everything rated Bronze), but they only came from two companies (one of which is generally regarded as a sick joke in these parts). But those plans had all sorts of minor tradeoffs which no one can sort through intelligently, partly for lack of information but mostly because one cannot define future needs. I wound up spending several days here, including breaks to call the insurance company to verify various bits of information. And in the end I have no idea whether I did the right thing or not.
There was also a glitch concerning dental insurance, which I haven't had for most of my life and is something I can get by without having, so I tried skipping it.
So all in all, not a pleasant experience, but still seems likely to be a big improvement over the pre-"Obamacare" situation, which is one where a 63-year-old unemployed guy with a lot of medical issues would have found it virtually impossible to get health insurance of any value at any cost.
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Wednesday, December 18. 2013
I want to write some more about this later, but for now I want to just get the links up. Francis Davis started running a Jazz Critics Poll back at the Village Voice in 2006, and he's managed to keep it running even after the Voice lost interest. This year's poll is sponsored by NPR and is up on their website today. The links:
The first two of those links are to pieces by Francis Davis: the first with top-50 standings and a rundown of the top ten; the second with Davis's own ballot and year-end summary. The third is a link to my web server, where I've formatted the 137 individual ballots and tabulated them up so you can see the results down to the very last pick. I've been doing this since 2009, when Rob Harvilla at the Voice decided it would be less hassle (for him, anyway) to pay me to do it than to run it through the Voice's web bureaucracy. For most of the years I've also been asked to submit a sidebar piece -- basically a dressed up version of my own ballot. That didn't happen this year, but I've already shot my wad on that subject here.
More later . . .
Monday, December 16. 2013
Music: Current count 22568  rated (+48), 583  unrated (+3).
Rated count reflects late adds to a Recycled Goods file that surprised me in topping fifty titles. I've also been listening to quite a bit of new jazz on Rhapsody, trying to catch some of the things I missed (or more precisely, that missed me), but they won't show up until I post December's Rhapsody Streamnotes. Also, most of what looks interesting in my incoming queue comes with a 2014 release date, so I've either been putting them off or holding back the reviews. That leaves, well, not much. The 2013 "pending" queue is down to 25 records, including this week's package of five December releases from tiny labels in the Netherlands.
The Jazz Critics Poll, which Francis Davis started at the Village Voice back when the paper still had something to say about jazz, and which he's kept alive despite the Voice's somnambulance, will appear on Wednesday -- a couple days delayed from the initial schedule. This one includes top-tens from 137 critics (well, 136), as well as marginal votes for reissues, vocals, debuts, and Latin jazz. I'm more interested in the bottom of the lists -- more often things that very few people heard than records that everyone got and nobody much liked -- so I'll note that the extended results list 491 records of new music and 96 reissues, with a few more creeping into the niches. I'll write more about this poll later. One thing I'm curious about is how much of the lists I've missed out on (first wild ass guess: about 30% of the new records, and 90% of the reissues).
Daniel Carter/Daniel Levin/Satoshi Takeishi/Devin Brahja Waldman: Say Hello to Anyone I Know (2013, Fast Speaking Music): Waldman plays alto sax, as does Carter but the elder player avoids harsh conflicts by also playing tenor, soprano, flute, clarinet, and trumpet. Levin plays cello, lifting him in the mix as compared to a bassist, and Takeishi percussion, not that he gives the band a beat to work with. B+(**)
Mark Lettieri: Future Fun (2013, Markus Justinius Music): Guitarist, plays in a "fusion-influenced jam band" called Snarky Puppy, second album under his own name. Can't read the credits, but I only hear bass and drums under the guitar, which nods toward Hendrix with occasional John Scofield licks. Can't read the times either, but strikes me as short, like under 30 minutes. B+(*)
Mike Longo and the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble: Live From New York (2013, CAP): Pianist, b. 1939, played with Dizzy Gillespie 1966-73, has twenty-some albums since 1972, this one leading a full big band with Ira Hawkins singing several songs in the middle of the set. He's a throwback to old crooners and isn't helped by songs like "I'm Old Fashioned" and "Muddy Water." The band, however, is sharp and detailed, especially the trombones. B+(**)
Sonya Robinson: Whistle (2013, FLV): Violinist, has a couple previous albums. Can't find or read the credits, but the violin makes for a reassuring lead instrument, the horns adding some lustre. Conspicuous cover: "The World Is a Ghetto." B+(*)
Soar Trio: Emergency Management Heist (2013, Edgetone): Sax-piano-bass trio, the best known member pianist Thollem McDonas, with 23 albums in the past 6 years (one of which I've heard and, I might add, liked). The others are Skeeter C.R. Shelton on alto sax and Joel Peterson on bass. Testy, free-ranging music, doesn't seem to be excessively slowed down by the lack of a drummer. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Friday, December 13. 2013
This column came together as I was researching year-end lists. For most of this year I've ignored new reissues and used Rhapsody to dig back and fill in holes in my ratings database, especially the 1960s. To some extent that was necessity: I simply don't get any reissues these days, much less the big box sets that fill up gift guide columns this time of year. Also, Rhapsody's coverage of recent reissues is spotty at best, and the lack of available documentation makes it impossible to judge the historical value of many reissues. Plus it's nearly impossible, for me at least, to sort through multi-volume sets online. If I had physical copies of, say, the Woody Guthrie 7-CD American Radical Patriot, or even Dave Van Ronk's 3-CD Down in Washington Square, I'd make the time. Same thing goes for the massive "deluxe" repacking of albums like Fleetwood Mac's Rumours or Van Morrison's Moondance: maybe the extra clutter is worth something on your coffee table, but as mere data I hardly know where to begin. (I was able to deal with White Light/White Heat only by splitting up the task, which was simpler there than it would have been for Rumours or Moondance.)
I've also ignored the mega-packages Sony is so fond of producing (and so reluctant to send out to my kind): even if I got my hands on The Complete Columbia Album Collection of Herbie Hancock or Taj Mahal or Harry Nilsson (ok, RCA) or Miles Davis or Johnny Cash, the only way it would make sense to deal with them would be to separate the collection into individual albums and slog through them one at a time. In which case, especially if I'm streaming, I'd be inclined to skip past the ones I've already heard/rated and pick up the others. (Good chance I will do that some day with the 1975-90 Dylan period I managed to completely ignore, much as last month I picked up Self Portrait and New Morning.)
Another thing that should be said about this month is that I poked around a bit. I skipped the 3CD Cleaners From Venus box in favor of their first album, and called it quits even though it wasn't bad. I only did the first (better-regarded) Len Bright Combo. I did last year's Fela Kuti comp, but not its predecessor (which is probably equally good). I did the most famous of the Roky Erickson reissues, and again stopped there. I picked out OJC Remasters I hadn't heard before. In some cases Rhapsody helped: I looked for the latest Lee Hazlewood comp, but only found the previous year's one. I also didn't bother with most of the Rough Guides, since I never know what's in them or why. Most of the stuff I looked for came off this year's metacritic file, but I readily went back to 2012 when I found something that looked promising. And I had a couple Xmas albums in my unplayed queue that were even older, so I worked them in -- then looked up a couple more for good measure. Also threw in two (of three) older Prestige Legacy comps: the first because Christgau praised it earlier this year, and after I had heard it I added the second because it looked like a better record (and it is).
Missed a lot of relevant stuff I would have liked to have reviewed in 2013. But I did come up with quite a bit worthwhile below. Enjoy.
Tony Bennett: The Classic Christmas Album (1968-2008 , Columbia/Legacy): I've despised Christmas music as long as I can remember, even when I dutifully went through with all the usual conventions -- something that really hasn't happened since I got sick and missed the last Christmas before my parents died. Nor did it help when I read that Christmas music outsells jazz every year, despite many fewer releases. So I've sit on this thing two years, but Bennett is the perfect Christmas shill: a substantial voice with a light and ingratiating touch, serious enough for the religious crowd but also able to swing a secular tune and liven up a party. This collection spans four decades and both modes: the hymns are a drag and one (a duet with Placido Domingo, "The First Noël") is downright awful, but the pop fare is elegant and lively, some ("My Favorite Things," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm") only loosely related to the theme. Since this came out, the label has built a series around the title: in 2012 they added Doris Day, John Denver, Kenny G, Barry Manilow, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, and Luther Vandross; in 2013 Alabama, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, George Jones/Tammy Wynette, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Martina McBride, Barbra Streisand, and Andy Williams. Fat chance I'll wind up reviewing any of those. B+(*)
Cleaners From Venus: Blow Away Your Troubles (1981 , Captured Tracks): Prolific 1980s UK group led by Martin Newell, recently reissued in a 3-CD Vol. 1 and a 4-CD Vol. 2 which strikes me as too much to bite off at once, so I figure I'll start with their first slab and see how long I want to stick with them. Still quite a bit here: a nine-cut "Straight Side" with its new wave take on singer-songwriter, and a ten-cut "Bent Side" which meanders off into something like lounge jazz, or maybe he's destined to do soundtracks? B+(**)
Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) (1969-71 , Columbia/Legacy): Outtakes from the years that produced the horrid Self Portrait and the better (but who cares?) New Morning -- a period when he made his first attempts at developing a coherent mature sound after the whiplash of his folk-to-rock-to-country first decade, although it's not clear that he wanted to -- it would be another 20-25 years before he got that act together, by which time he had already cursed us with "Forever Young." This comes in several confusing package sizes: the basic one is 2-CD (35-tracks), then there is the 4-CD box which tacks on Live at the Isle of Wight Festival, 8/31/69 and a remastered Self Portrait (as if you haven't been punished enough). Rhapsody goes the other way, just offering 15 cuts, ending with the 1971 demo of "When I Paint My Masterpiece." Unless you want to argue that they deliberately left the better tracks out, that's enough of a sample to grade, and I, for one, am glad I didn't have to suffer through the rest. B [R]
Lee Hazlewood: The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes and Backsides (1968-71) (1968-71 , Light in the Attic): From Oklahoma, grew up on oil money, produced Duane Eddy, wrote a hit song for Dean Martin, got his only hits thanks to Nancy Sinatra, moved to Sweden, started his own label (LHI), cut an album called Cowboy in Sweden. He gets filed under country for no good reason. Rhapsody lists him as "baroque pop" -- which is true of only the worst dreck here. More often he does songs with bare bones talkie vocals -- the simpler the better -- or duets with various girls (no Nancy here), where he sounds like a more macho (and therefore more stilted) Sonny Bono. He cut with twenty-some albums and has enjoyed a much-hyped reissue program, as if he's some sort of misunderstood underground legend, like Townes Van Zandt or Van Dyke Parks or (I can hardly wait) Kim Fowley. B- [R]
Blind Lemon Jefferson: The Rough Guide to Blues Legends: Blind Lemon Jefferson (1926-29 , World Music Network, 2CD): The most important bluesman of the 1920s, had a voice and guitar that cut past the day's technological limits, and he recorded enough in a short career that ended with his death in 1929 to fill up four JSP discs (Classic Sides, 2003). This 25-cut selection is mostly redundant (and arbitrarily divergent) from two Yazoo compilations, 1985's King of the Country Blues and 2000's The Best of Blind Lemon Jefferson (both 23 cuts, some different). I can't judge the reportedly improved sound here, but will note that this package includes a bonus various artists sampler, an extra 24 cuts of early acoustic blues -- mostly from a couple years later but that's hard not to do with a pioneer like Jefferson. A- [R]
Joseph Kabasele/Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music (1953-83 , Sterns Africa, 2CD): Alternate title, also on the front cover: Joseph Kabasele and the Creation of Modern Congolese Music. Kabasele was the guitarist and leader of Le Grand Kallé et L'African Jazz, a vital force in the evolution of Congolese rumba to soukous for three decades, a track record rivalled only by Franco. Wish I could consult the 104-page booklet -- I'm only guessing at dates here, and it's likely that this focuses on the 1960s, especially before Dr. Nico and Tabu Ley Rochereau left his group. (The first track sounds very early, and I'm not sure how much he recorded from 1970 to his death in 1983.) Once this hits its stride, consistently wonderful music. A- [R]
Fela Kuti: The Best of the Black President 2 (1971-92 , Knitting Factory, 2CD): The first volume, which looks to be every bit as fine as this one, came out in 1999 when MCA was revamping his catalog. I was fortunate enough to get the whole stack: 24 CDs, most of which combined two LPs, plus a superb 2CD sampler, The Best Best of Fela Kuti. I wound up grading half of those two dozen A- (or A for Original Sufferhead/I.T.T.) so one could spend time just picking through those, although Best Best was even better. However, the MCAs soon went out of print and chaos ensued -- UK label Wrasse picked up most of the MCAs, but Knitting Factory also got back into the act, with this supplement to its still-in-print 1999 set. It works as well as you'd expect: as I said above, there are a dozen CDs worth of material worth picking from, and the nature of the music lets you shuffle it almost randomly into compilations you can enjoy for hours on end. A- [R]
Thelonious Monk: Paris 1969 (1969 , Blue Note): Normally packaged with a DVD, which is probably the main appeal, at least for anyone so inclined. Otherwise, what you get is live sound from the Salle de Pleyel, with the marvelous Charlie Rouse on tenor sax but substitutes for his bass and drums mainstays with youngsters Nate Hygelund and Paris Wright, and a relatively snappy presentation of the usual songbook. B+(**) [R]
Wes Montgomery: So Much Guitar! [OJC Remasters] (1961 , Fantasy/OJC): The dominant figure in American jazz guitar before fusion and, less decisively, still today, his Riverside albums assumed biblical stature, with Incredible Jazz Guitar the consensus pick, and this set with Hank Jones (piano), Ron Carter (bass), drums, and extra percussion (Ray Barretto) a couple clicks back. Still less than overpowering, especially when they slot it down a bit, and further diminished by tacking on a later live recording that same year, The Montgomery Brothers in Canada, favoring vibes-playing brother Buddy. [original album: B+(**); The Montgomery Brothers in Canada: B] B+(*) [R]
New York Art Quartet: Call It Art (1964-65 , Triple Point, 5LP): Extravagant packaging, with the 5 LPs each in its own jacket, packed alongside a 156-page clothbound book, both enclosed in a very handsome plywood box. The group, with Roswell Rudd on trombone and John Tchicai on alto sax, was more at home in Copenhagen than in New York. They cut the one album they're known for on ESP-Disk, another for Fontana in England, but other recordings have leaked out over the years -- notably Old Stuff, released by Cuneiform in 2010, and now this stack of "previously uncirculated" vinyl. Hard for me to evaluate -- among other things I'm just not accustomed to evaluating things in 15-20 minute chunks anymore -- but everything I play has its fascinating points. Retails at $340 (plus shipping), which I regard as insane. But it is quite a piece of product, and presumably the market knows best. A-
Saâda Bonaire: Saâda Bonaire (1982-85 , Captured Tracks): German disco group, Bremen DJ Ralph von Richtoven and singer Stephanie Lange with Claudia Hossfeld in on the group's only single and Dennis Bovell producing. This beats the bushes for more than an hour of material, the stiff beats retro with exotic spices, flecks of oud and saz and hand drums from Turkish immigrants. Lange's English is a bit stilted -- reminds me of an earlier German disco group, Silver Convention, only with the 1970s swish driven way underground. A- [R]
Hank Snow: The Essential Hank Snow (1937-84 , RCA/Legacy, 2CD): Country singer from Nova Scotia, earned his spurs imitating Jimmie Rodgers' yodel and had his biggest hits with train songs, or let's generalize and call them motion songs, especially "I'm Moving On" and "I've Been Everywhere," although some of his most irresistible ones played off Latin rhythms, like "The Rhumba Boogie" and "Music Makin' Mamma From Mephis." He has two grade-A compilations -- I'm Movin' On and Other Great Country Hits (, RCA) stopped short around 1956, and The Essential Hank Snow (, RCA) kept half and added more up to 1973 -- so I had hopes that this 2-CD set would be right-sized, something that shouldn't have been hard given the opportunity to help themselves to Snow's marvelous 1984 duet album with Willie Nelson (Brand on My Heart). On the other hand, this isn't filled out very smartly, and I have to dock it a notch for dropping "The Gal Who Invented Kissin'" (on both the above-mentioned comps). Also not clear how real this is, as thus far it's only showed up on stream services. B+(***) [R]
S.O.S. [John Surman/Mike Osborne/Alan Skidmore]: Looking for the Next One (1974-75 , Cuneiform, 2CD): Three saxophonists who got started in the British avant-garde of the late 1960s, playing as a sax trio with no other instruments -- just tiny bits of keyb or percussion on the rare occasions when one puts down a horn; they cut one album together, for Ogun in 1975, and this trawl through the archives adds more than twice as much material. The sound palette is rather narrow, as is inevitable with sax choirs, but they do lively it up. B+(***) [dl]
Cecil Taylor & Tony Oxley: Ailanthus/Altissima: Bilateral Dimenions of 2 Root Songs (2008 , Triple Point, 2LP): Inconveniently distributed in "microgroove" -- expensive terminology for vinyl -- this has been sitting on my shelf for several years. Oxley was one of Taylor's drummer duet partners in his 1988 Berlin series -- their album was Leaf Palm Hand -- and they continued to work together with William Parker in the Feel Trio, with this reunion occurring twenty years after their initial meeting. This has flashes, especially on side A, where both are as brilliant as you'd expect, but having to flip side and shuffle breaks up the momentum. Isn't that why they invented CDs? B+(***)
The Velvet Underground: White Light/White Heat [45th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] (1968 , Verve, 2CD): Nearly 40 years ago I went to a party at a lefty sociology prof's house and the only listenable record he had was Abraxas, which we must have played six or seven times that night -- by which time it wasn't tolerable either. First thing I did after I got home was to play "Sister Ray" -- since then I've always thought of it as music to clear my head and steady my nerves. Even now, it's so familiar that I skipped past the first six cuts here, just wanting to evaluate the extras: 14 demos, outtakes, and live cuts, 7 previously unreleased (hard as that may be to believe, given how much extra material they've previously scrounged up). Gems include a silly "Temptation Inside Your Heart," a long guitar vamp on "Booker T." that's pure music to my ears, and an instrumental "The Gift." Plus you get an extra "Sister Ray," lo-fi and even longer than the standard -- you never know when you'll need it. [See below for the 3-CD "Super Deluxe" edition.] A- [R]
Barney Wilen: Moshi Too: Unreleased Tapes Recorded in Africa, 1969-70 (1969-70 , Sonorama): A marvelous tenor saxophonist, born 1937 in France, best known in the US for his late-1950s work on soundtracks led by Miles Davis and Art Blakey, but later he explored African music and played in a punk band and finally settled into being one of the finest ballad interpreters of his generation. These newly uncovered tapes come from his tour of Africa which led to his 1972 album Moshi. I don't have the latter to compare with, but these scattered tracks give you an indication of his range -- including a lovely 13:08 "Serenade for Africa" on soprano, followed by a piece of guitar feedback (probably what the notes refer to as an "acid-rock jam"). Sometimes the Africans participate, take over even, or they may just cheer or jeer from the sidelines. Also, the 21:08 "Black Locomotive" sounds like Miles Davis would a couple years later on. A- [R]
Louis Armstrong & Friends: What a Wonderful Christmas (1950-66 , Hip-O): Having included a couple tolerable Xmas albums, I recalled I hadn't heard this one, graded A by Christgau; the six cuts Armstrong sings on really are that special, although it should be noted that only "Winter Wonderland" is a standard and Gordon Jenkins comes close to spoiling it; the other eight are by friends very loosely speaking -- Dinah Washington, Mel Torme, Peggy Lee, Lionel Hampton, Eartha Kitt, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, and Louis Jordan -- and none of them transcend their material even if some handle it excpetionally well. B+(***) [R]
Chet Baker: Plays the Best of Lerner & Loewe [OJC Remasters] (1959 , Fantasy/OJC): Show tunes, played by a group that is usually seven pieces deep and talented -- Zoot Sims, Pepper Adams, Bill Evans on half -- but only the trumpet makes much of an impression; Orrin Keepnews produced, no vocals, no extras. B+(*) [R]
Belle and Sebastian: The Third Eye Centre (2002-10 , Matador): B-sides and rarities, a second such collection after the 1996-2001 Push Barman to Open Old Wounds; mixed bag -- "I Didn't See It Coming" is a great song, but I'm not convinced the remix helps. B [R]
Tony Bennett: Live at the Sahara: Las Vegas, 1964 (1964 , Columbia/Legacy): Recorded for an album that got shelved, probably because it's just a rehash of his early albums, but distance helps put them in focus and turns it into a tight hour on CD versus four LP sides; only two cuts longer than the 3:14 "Overture": Jobim from his popular heyday, and a "Comedy Routine" where Milton Berle and Danny Thomas can't shut up. B+(*) [R]
The Best of Perception & Today Records (1969-74 , BBE, 2CD): Programmed by DJ Spinna, drawing from a short-lived New York label (Perception) and its subsidiary (Today), the catalog tilting toward jazz (Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Shirley Horn) but in a transitional phase with funk rhythms, but also R&B (The Fatback Band, and groups I've never heard of like The Eight Minutes), all programmed for maximum groove. B+(***) [R]
Len Bright Combo: Wreckless Eric Presents the Len Bright Combo (1986 , Fire, EP): Eric Goulden recorded as Wreckless Eric 1978-80 and since 2008 hitched by Amy Rigby, but spent much of the 1980s searching for a band name -- Captains of Industry, the Len Bright Combo, Le Beat Group Electrique, Hitsville House Band; this recursively titled EP runs eight cuts, 29:28 -- he was never tight enough for punk, but he could be sloppy. B+(**) [R]
Alex Chilton: Electricity by Candlelight: NYC 2/3/97 (1997 , Bar/None): The ex-Big Star power popper goes unplugged one night at the Knitting Factory when the electricity went out; he threw out his set list and negotiated songs with what was left of the crowd, venturing "Let's Get Lost" and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and "Lovesick Blues" and "Girl from Ipanema" and "I Walk the Line" and "If I Had a Hammer" and a Beach Boys trilogy; the tape picks up the fans better than the singer, a man of the people no doubt. B+(**) [R]
The Dentists: Some People Are on the Pitch They Think It's All Over It Is Now (1985 , Trouble in Mind): British band, came out in the 1980s but sounds like a throwback to the 1960s. B+(*) [R]
Bill Doggett and His Combo: Fingertips (1963 , Columbia/Legacy): Church pianist, worked for Lucky Millinder and Louis Jordan before breaking out on his own, scoring a freak hit in 1956 ("Honky Tonk") and making dozens of albums, minor groovefests on organ like this one. B+(*) [R]
Roky Erickson and the Aliens: The Evil One (1981 , Light in the Attic): The main guy in the 13th Floor Elevators more than a decade removed; too many songs about vampires and Satan and such, not sure if we should blame too much drugs or not enough. B [R]
Lee Fields: Let's Talk It Over (1979 , Truth & Soul): Soul man, hung briefly with Kool & the Gang but couldn't catch a break in his solo career, probably why he was brushed off as just another James Brown wannabe; indeed, the funk on his debut album was about six years removed from cutting edge, but for retro it's pitch perfect, he draws on P-Funk as well as JB, and he can kill a ballad, so I can't see any cause for complaining . . . unless it's his fashion sense. A- [R]
Stan Getz Quartet: Live at Montreux 1972 (1972 , Eagle Rock): Evidently the tenor saxophonist's new label (Columbia) wanted to push him a bit toward fusion, lining him up with a rhythm section of Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Tony Williams, one that he was a bit out of sorts with even though he had no trouble keeping up; I suspect this release is driven by a DVD. B [R]
Kiki Gyan: 24 Hours in a Disco: 1978-82 (1978-82 , Soundway): Keyboard player from Ghana, although he could be from anywhere given the universality of his disco clichés; however, they are marvelous clichés, and the fact that he hails from so far off the beaten path gives them a winning charm. B+(*) [R]
Joe Higgs: Unity Is Power (1979 , Pressure Sounds): Veteran reggae producer and part-time Wailer, stepped up front in 1975 and this was his second album, steeped in the lore and identifying with the poor, but less consistent than his appropriately named third album in 1985, Triumph. B+(**) [R]
Lena Hughes: Queen of the Flat Top Guitar (1960s , Tompkins Square, EP): A guitarist, 1904-98, who played 19th century parlor music, spent most of her life in Ludlow, MO -- "was considered to be an influential figure in the 20th-century Ozark folk music circuit" -- cut these 11 short tracks (total 23:17): short, simple, elegant; "extensive liner notes" by John Renbourn. B+(**) [R]
In the Christmas Groove (1977-2009 , Strut): Cover looks like it was Photoshopped from In a Jungle Groove with James Brown in a Santa suit, but JB is a no-show -- they start instead with Jimmy Reed, and follow up with a bunch of acts I've never heard of doing "Soul Santa," "Black Christmas," "Boogaloo Santa Claus," waving off "Auld Lang Syne" and welcoming "The New Year" -- while the funk isn't fake, it isn't altogether on the one either. B+(*) [advance]
Jukebox Mambo: Rumba and Afro-Latin Accented Rhythm & Blues 1949-1960 (1949-60 , Jazzman): Compiled by DJ Liam Large, jukebox R&B with a mambo twist, only a few headlined by Latinos -- Lalo Guererro, Alfredito, Joe Loco -- more by jazz bands from Cozy Cole to Gerald Wilson and a few New Orleans syntheses like Dave Bartholomew's "Shrimp & Gumbo." B+(***) [R]
Tim Maia: World Psychedelic Classics, Vol. 4: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia: Nobody Can Live Forever (1971-78 , Luaka Bop): Brazilian singer, 1934-98, has a rep as "the father of Brazilian soul music," and you can hear that in his voice as well as the groove -- had me thinking Barry White for a while, but lost some of his sex appeal with half the songs in English, and half of them touting the Bible; has a huge discography and someone should piece together a grade-A comp -- this comes close. B+(***) [R]
Tommy McCook: Reggae in Jazz (1976 , Pressure Sounds): The tenor saxophonist from the Skatalites, an important figure in the early evolution of reggae but no more a jazz man than King Curtis, a comparable fish in a much larger pond; so not much jazz, not even much sax, but producer Buster Riley pushes all the right buttons for this instrumental jam, especially the keybs -- Ansel Collins and Jackie Mittoo are credited, and I also see Sly & Robbie. A- [R]
Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument: Shemonmuanaye (1985 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): An Ethiopian, cut this in DC where as I understand it he makes a living driving a cab; I wouldn't think the synths and drum machines would qualify, so the "classical instrument" here must be the accordion, which gives this a thicker, richer sound than the easy listening cocktail music it aspires to, but the synths do help it go down easier. A- [R]
The Mountain Goats: All Hail West Texas (2002 , Merge): John Darnielle's sixth album under his faux band moniker, just before Christgau (and many of us) discovered him on Tallahassee, "fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys" -- the remastered edition adding seven more cuts -- most loudly declaimed over nothing but guitar; the original songwriting is striking but wears a bit thin (though not as much as the bonus cuts). B+(***) [R]
Mutazione: Italian Electronic & New Wave Underground 1980-1988 (1980-88 , Strut, 2CD): A local scene with no breakouts as far as I can tell -- certainly no names here I recognize -- sharpening post-disco beats with industrial shards and too many sirens, but that seems to come with the territory. B+(*) [R]
Nigeria Special: Volume 2: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds and Nigerian Blues 1970-6 (1970-76 , Soundway): Another trawl through the varied pop music of Africa's most populous nation, meaning more context for people who can't get enough; only one name I recognize (Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe), but "Onwu Dinjo" by the People Star is a find. B+(**) [R]
Anita O'Day: Have a Merry Christmas With Anita O'Day (1942-70 , Kayo Stereophonic, EP): Seven songs from 1970, well past her prime but she turned out to be so tenacious she called her last album Indestructible! (2006), plus a 1942 radio shot of "The Christmas Song"; B+(*) [R]
William Onyeabor: World Psychdelic Classics, Vol. 5: Who Is William Onyeabor? (1977-85 , Luaka Bop): Nigerian funk musician, closer to Fela's Afrobeat than to King Sunny Ade's juju but the keyboard focus makes it even more rudimentary; later on he moved more explicitly into Christian pop, but there are already hints of that here -- crazy enough I suppose you could call it psychedelic. B+(**) [R]
Orchestra Super Mazembe: Mazembe @ 45RPM Vol. 1 (1975-84 , Sterns Africa): One of the groups that introduced guitar-gilded soukous to Kenya, creating a synthesis perfectly summed up on Earthworks' Guitar Paradise of East Africa; no dupes from Earthworks' OSM collection, Giants of East Africa, but it would be hard to tell, as they basically build everything around their guitar signature -- understandable given that it's one of the most majestic creations in all of African pop. A- [R]
The Prestige Legacy, Vol. 1: The High Priests (1951-58 , Prestige): Prestige cut albums fast and cheap, which suited some musicians and not others -- of the four "high priests" sampled here, one (John Coltrane) got much better as soon as he left, two (Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis) started releasing more ambitious albums (Brilliant Corners and Kind of Blue), leaving only Sonny Rollins, who may have peaked with Saxophone Colossus but hardly stopped there; some prime stuff here, but the artists are worth exploring separately (if not necessarily on Prestige). B+(*) [R]
The Prestige Legacy, Vol. 2: Battle of the Saxes (1949-64 , Prestige): While not everything here reduces to cutting contests, this is the sort of thing Prestige thrived on: throw two saxophonists into the ring and let them bang it out, like Wardell Gray and Sonny Criss, or Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, or Lockjaw Davis and Johnny Griffin, or Oliver Nelson and Eric Dolphy, or Sonny Stitt and damn near everyone, or bump it up to four for the swing-heavy Very Saxy (Coleman Hawkins) or five for the slinky Brothers (Stan Getz-Zoot Sims). A- [R]
Rodan: Fifteen Quiet Years (1992-94 , Quarterstick): Louisville post-hardcore band -- also described as "math rock" which would mean more to me as "the part of Sonic Youth that wants to play with the Thing" -- released one album and now, a couple decades later and following the deaths of two members, get a second collecting singles and parts of a BBC session; guitar-bass-drums thickly layered, good for repetitive riff pieces with talkie vocals almost an afterthought, even at one point breaking down into free jazz chaos ("Exoskeleton"). A- [R]
Rodion G.A.: The Lost Tapes (1978-84 , Strut): Romanian electronica band led by Rodion Ladislau Rosca -- not sure if they actually had synthesizers but they manipulated tape recordings of guitar and organ, added effects pedals, drum machine, etc. -- the recordings here are analogous to Kraut rock, a little fatter and uglier, which is about what you'd expect. B+(**) [R]
Songs: Ohia: Magnolia Electric Co. (2003 , Secretly Canadian, 2CD): The last of a dozen albums Jason Molina, b. 1973 in Ohio and dead early this year of "alcohol abuse-related organ failure, released as Songs: Ohia, before adopting this title as his subsequent band name; the extra disc sounds folkier because demos are always done on the cheap, but in some ways they help clarify the maudlin songs that made this a cult item for a lost generation -- in fact, I prefer them. B+(***) [R]
Irma Thomas: In Between Tears (1973 , Alive Naturalsound): New Orleans soul singer, her hits were back in the 1960s, this album cut with Jerry Williams (aka Swamp Dogg) the first of many scattered, well, comebacks isn't the right word, more like stick-to-its, the life work of a tough woman -- the 12:29 medley is where she really takes charge. B+(***) [R]
Lobi Traoré: Bamako Nights: Live at Bar Bozo, 1995 (1995 , Glitterbeat): I've never quite understood the Malian guitar blues affinity, partly because, at least in this case, he aims for deep resonance rather than that lonesome cry -- he exerts commanding presence, not just witness; and while I'm more impressed by his last album, I hear the same power in this his first. A- [R]
The Velvet Underground: White Light/White Heat [45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition] (1968 , Verve, 3CD): This gets you a third disc of ephemera, numbered two for no clear reason, and it's all redundant -- including three takes of "The Gift" plus mono single mixes of "Here she Comes Now" and "White Light/White Heat," and yet another "Sister Ray" for your stockpile -- except for "Lady Godiva's Operation," which takes a turn for the worse; priced through the roof at $99.98 list, the main bait a 56-page hardbound book, plus the snob appeal of a limited edition. B+(**) [R]
Frank Wess/Johnny Coles: Two at the Top (1983 , Uptown): Wess plays alto sax and flute -- he was a Basie arranger in the 1950s and has had a long and memorable career, with a second peak period in the early 1990s and solid records as recent as this year's Magic 101 (recorded in 2011); Coles plays trumpet, had a sharp album in 1963 that raised expectations then virtually nothing other than a well-regarded album the year before this date; both horns have nice spots but pianist Kenny Barron has the hottest solos. [Rhapsody doesn't include the 1988 radio shot that the 2012 reissue added as a second disc.] B+(**) [R]
Joe Williams: Jump for Joy (1963 , RCA/Legacy): The jazz crooner, as perfect an heir to Billy Eckstine as could be imagined, but his best work depends on superior bands like Count Basie's, so no surprise he struggles to overcome this anonymous big band. B [R]
Robert Wyatt: '68 (1968 , Cuneiform): Four tracks, two LP-side-length, from way back, cut when his regular band, Soft Machine, temporarily broke up, and reportedly long lost; one of the long pieces was a first draft of "Moon in June" (cf. Soft Machine's Third), the main difference how much avant jazz-fusion overhangs his odd vocal. B+(***) [dl]
Neil Young: Live at the Cellar Door (1970 , Reprise): A few months past his third album, After the Gold Rush, Young appears solo, playing some piano and more guitar, working through fifteen of his early songs in an intimate atmosphere; if that sounds appealing, it will be. 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 114, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 4088 (3637 + 451).
Wednesday, December 11. 2013
A few recent items I thought notable:
Had I dug deeper, I could probably find links pointing out that the revolution that Nelson Mandela led in South Africa has not produced the full equality we hoped for. Part of the grand bargain that freed him from jail and advanced him to the presidency was to keep the economic system that had favored the white minority, as it continues to do to this day. Similarly, the extension of the franchise to blacks in the US has done little to redress the great imbalances in wealth we suffer here in the US -- that inequality, indeed, has only increased in the decades after the triumph of the civil rights movement. Still, both breakthroughs were (and are) real and irreversible. Those gains came to pass primarily because the injustices of the old systems became too visible not to ignore. That needs to happen with class as well.
[*] The main difference between Israel's and South Africa's versions of Apartheid: whites were never more than a small minority in South Africa (close to 10% when Apartheid fell), whereas the Jewish/Zionist population share in pre-occupation Israel was more than 80%, and is still more than 50% including the Occupied Territories (although it could drop to less than 50% if the Palestinian refugees were able to return). Control is largely a numbers game, which is a big part of the reason Israelis have been so preoccupied with promoting Jewish immigration and with ridding themselves of as many Palestinians as possible. Israel is also much more intensively militarized, so the controllers have more power and resources. And the Zionist labor movement developed the doctrine of "Hebrew labor" so systematically sought to free themselves from depending on low-cost Palestinian labor, whereas the South African economy was built on native labor, so the Afrikaners never had the option, much less the ability, to consolidate their political power by "ethnic cleansing."
Monday, December 9. 2013
Music: Current count 22520  rated (+38), 580  unrated (+6).
Published my Best Jazz Albums of 2013 last Wednesday, so I'm on the hook for that. Was pleased that it was picked up in Largehearted Boy's 2013 Year-End Online Music Lists. I've spent a lot of time the last few days looking at end-of-year lists and factoring them into my metacritic file. I've made some adjustments to my methodology, so I doubt that I'll wind up counting as many lists as in previous years, but at least it will be easier to figure out who picked what. Biggest surprise for me has been the rise of an Arctic Monkeys album I regard as damn near unlistenable: it's topped the lists as NME and Quietus, come in second at TimeOut London, fourth at Mojo, ninth at Uncut and (showing the interest isn't exclusively UK) Rolling Stone. Another surprise is that Vampire Underground isn't running away from the pack: it's currently tied with My Bloody Valentine for second (MBV was the leader before I started adding EOY lists), having been passed by Kanye West (7th before the EOYs). Also notable: that Yo La Tengo album so many people adored back in January, still third before the EOYs, has faded into obscurity, much as the title promised -- slipped into 16th at the moment.
I'll keep adding EOY lists as they come out, most likely until the end of the month. Main thing I know about the Jazz Poll is that we had a record number of critics voting this year: 136. Results are scheduled to go up at NPR next Monday, December 16. Haven't seen them yet myself, but I'll have a lot of work to do when I do, as I'll be hosting the individual critic ballots as I've done the last few years. The metacritic file jazz list is hard to read: I'm mostly tracking rock magazines, so albums that crossover toward post-rock often do much better than even mainstream jazz, as witness the standings of Colin Stetson, Ceramic Dog, and Melt Yourself Down.
Two A-list records this week: one (New York Art Quartet) found before I posted my Best Jazz Albums of 2013 list, the other (Anna Kaluza) after. Took about three days, which seems to be par when one closes a year-end list in December. Actually, the whole Clean Feed batch came close, with Pascal Niggenkemper enjoying peak moments. You'll also find a few Christmas records below. I have probably close to two dozen in the queue, some carried over from Christmases past. At one point I was thinking that the week after Thanksgiving I'd knock them all off as some sort of special, but didn't manage that, and don't know when (or if) I ever will. You read right-wingers writing about some "war on Christmas," but when you go out this time of year it seems more like Christmas is waging war on you.
Jason Paul Curtis: Love Holiday (2012, self-released): Singer, first album, calls his piano trio (Ray Mabalot is the pianist) Swinglab (10 cuts), and his big band Swing Machine (2 cuts). Wrote 5 (of 12) songs here, the holiday themes discreet enough I didn't realize what I was getting into until Santa Claus popped up. Also co-opts two Cole Porter songs, winter (if not holiday) fare: "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and "In the Still of the Night." B+(*)
Kris Davis: Massive Threads (2012 , Thirsty Ear): One of the most impressive pianists to emerge in the last decade, even if the more obvious reason why her Quartet albums were so successful was saxophonist Tony Malaby. Second solo album, a mix of loud and quiet exercises, each impressive in its own way. B+(***) [advance]
Kaja Draksler: The Lives of Many Others (2013, Clean Feed): Pianist, b. 1987 in Slovenia, shortly before the breakup of Yugoslavia, currently based in Amsterdam. Plays in European Movement Jazz Orchestra, leads Kaja Draksler Acropolis Quintet. This is solo, has some dramatic passages but mostly sneaks up on you. B+(**)
Nnenna Freelon/John Brown Big Band: Christmas (2012 , Brown Boulevard): Singer, has more than a dozen albums since 1992 including tributes to Stevie Wonder and Billie Holiday. Brown plays bass, leads a swing-oriented big band, and joins in on one vocal. Many of the obvious Xmas tunes get wrapped up in two quick medleys, leaving room for "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Nothing wrong with this if you want something a little more, uh, contemporary than Ella Fitzgerald, but it still leaves me cold inside. B
John Hébert Trio: Floodstage (2012 , Clean Feed): Bassist-led piano trio, Hébert composing all but two pieces: one by pianist Benoît Delbecq and the trad gospel "Just a Closer Walk With Thee." Gerald Cleaver is the drummer. Delbecq opens on "analog synth and tronics" throwing the sound off a bit; otherwise a fine piano trio album. B+(***)
Marquis Hill: The Poet (2013, Skiptone Music): Trumpet player, age 26 (can we assume 1987?), based in Chicago, second album, backed by alto sax, vibes, piano, bass, drums, percussion, featuring spoken word (i.e., raps) by Mary E. Lawson and Keith Winford, poetry by Kevin Sparks. The vibes gives this a certain bubbliness, and the closing rap works for me. B+(**)
Brad Hoyt: Far Away From Everyday (2013, Harp Guitar Music): This seems to be a showcase for harp guitar, which is a guitar with an extra set of strings to one side spread out like a harp, although there seem to be a wide range of design. Hoyt's previously recorded as part of the Harp Guitar Collective, and he has various of his cohort here, as well as a lot of strings, flutes, etc. Does make for fairly lush instrumentals, of a new agey sort. B
Anna Kaluza/Artur Majewski/Rafal Mazur/Kuba Suchar: Tone Hunting (2012 , Clean Feed): Alto sax, trumpet/cornet, acoustic bass guitar, drums/kalimba. Kaluza is German, from Köln, has a couple previous albums. The others are probably Polish -- I've run across Mazur and Majewski before. Group improvs, no titles (unless you count "Track 1," etc.), no clash, just even-tempered exploration. The kalimba is a nice touch. A-
Wouter Kellerman: Mzansi (2013, self-released): South African flute player, b. 1961; Wikipedia article says more about his philanthropy than his music, although it doesn't omit opening for Johnny Clegg's 2009 tour, so maybe there isn't that much to write about. Does look like he has a couple previous albums. This one is MOR South African pop, pretty pleasant unless you're hung up about flutes. B
New York Art Quartet: Call It Art (1964-65 , Triple Point, 5LP): Extravagant packaging, with the 5 LPs each in its own jacket, packed alongside a 156-page clothbound book, both enclosed in a very handsome plywood box. The group, with Roswell Rudd on trombone and John Tchicai on alto sax, was more at home in Copenhagen than in New York. They cut the one album they're known for on ESP-Disk, another for Fontana in England, but other recordings have leaked out over the years -- notably Old Stuff, released by Cuneiform in 2010, and now this stack of "previously uncirculated" vinyl. Hard for me to evaluate -- among other things I'm just not accustomed to evaluating things in 15-20 minute chunks anymore -- but everything I play has its fascinating points. Retails at $340 (plus shipping), which I regard as insane. But it is quite a piece of product, and presumably the market knows best. A-
Pascal Niggenkemper Vision7: Lucky Prime (2012 , Clean Feed): German bassist, based in New York, I first noticed him in HNH (with Joe Hertenstein and Thomas Heberer), but he has a couple of trio records with Robin Verheyen (sax) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums), and now this expansive septet. Emilie Lesbros wrote lyrics to most pieces, sings, and directs traffic, which can get chaotic -- Frank Gratkowski (bass clarinet, alto sax), Eve Risser (piano), Frantz Loriot (viola), Els Vandeweyer (vibes, marimba), and Christian Lillinger (drums): combinations that are inherently risky but succeed more often than not. B+(***)
Ted Rosenthal Trio: Wonderland (2013, Playscape): Pianist, fourteenth album since 1989, one of the 40-50 mainstream masters with a Maybeck Recital Hall Series album. I was aware of the name but hadn't listened to him until Out of This World turned out to be my favorite piano trio album of 2011. This is his Xmas music album, and he quotes the overly familiar refrains often enough to remind you of the fact, it's also a prime example of how to jazz up such material. B+(*)
Angelica Sanchez/Wadada Leo Smith: Twine Forest (2013, Clean Feed): Piano-trumpet duets, the songs composed by the pianist, who makes a strong impression when leading then falls to the side when the trumpet takes over. He's impressive too, and when the pair connect they can blow you away. Then they back off leaving you to wonder what's going on, before they attack again. B+(***)
Elliot Sharp Aggregat: Quintet (2013, Clean Feed): I think of him as a guitarist but I'm barely familiar with the many dozens of albums he's released since 1979. But he played tenor and soprano sax as well as guitar on his 2012 trio album Aggregat, and here he ditches the guitar in favor of clarinet, while adding two more horns -- Nate Wooley on trumpet and Terry L. Green on trombone -- to get to a quintet. B+(**)
Lizzie Thomas: Easy to Love (2013, self-released): Standards singer, based in New York, second album, with Xavier Davis arranging and playing piano, and Ron Affif on guitar (7 of 10 cuts); uses trumpet (Antoine Drye), sometimes clarinet and/or trombone (Frank Lacy) but no sax. Nails nearly every song, even the obligatory Jobim ("One Note Samba"). B+(**)
Cory Wright Outfit: Apples + Oranges (2012 , Singlespeed Music): Tenor saxophonist, studied at Oberlin and USC, based in Bay Area; second album, plus side credits with Vinny Golia, Anthony Braxton, Yusef Lateef/Adam Rudolph, Industrial Jazz Group. Quintet, with Evan Francis on alto sax, Rob Ewing on trombone, Lisa Mezzacappa on bass, and Jordan Glenn on drums -- the trombone a nice touch. B+(**)
Xiu Xiu: Nina (2013, Graveface): Jamie Stewart, who has done business as Xiu Xiu to the tune of more than a dozen post-rock albums since 2002, offers his "tribute" to Nina Simone. Good news here is the band, who offer all the jazz cred you'd ever want: Tony Malaby (tenor sax), Tim Berne (alto/baritone sax), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Andrea Parkins (accordion, electronics, piano, hang), and Ches Smith (drums). On the other hand, there's the guy with the creepy "vox" -- only reminds you of Simone at her most overwrought, although this coming is more farce than tragedy. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Wednesday, December 4. 2013
Year after year I present my year-end lists as just that: long, mind-numbing lists like I use every day to keep track of the current year (e.g., 2013, 2012, etc.). Other people's lists generally have cover scans and brief write-ups, and it occurred to me that I have all that. Why not just table it up? So that's what I've done here, at least for the jazz half of my listening.
Normally, I would like to wait until later to get a handle on the whole year -- like March or so -- but Francis Davis set an early deadline for his Critics Poll, so that dictated the timing here. The following is a rank-order list of all the jazz (in some cases loosely defined) albums albums I graded A- (or better) this past year, split between new music (including previously unreleased archival items -- recording date provided) and reissued music (in one form or another). I've also included a half-dozen records that were released in 2012 but I didn't get to until this year -- mostly, but not all, late 2012 releases.
[*] indicates that I reviewed this on the basis of an advance, often a CDR copy (a good thing, I might add, for vinyl-only releases). [**] identifies a record that I've only heard via download or through a streaming service like Rhapsody.
Ballot calls for top three. I get virtually no reissues from publicists -- in particular, I don't get the pricey boxes from Mosaic that always win in this category, nor the voluminous "complete LPs" from Legacy, not even the well-worn classics Concord bothers to reissue. Nor anything from Europe, where most of the interesting reissues come out.
My Jazz Critics Poll ballot picks off the top 10 new releases, the top 3 reissues, and cites one record each for the following categories:
Perelman isn't normally thought of as a Latin Jazz man, but he hails from Brazil, and I didn't have much else competing for the honor: some good records in the high B+ set, but even there I keep coming up with the likes of Roger Davidson (a really fine pianist who's obsessive about Brazilian music) or Kenny Barron (another piano giant who rounded up a bunch of Brazilian musicians for this year's outing). (Actually, there are another half-dozen records on that list by legit Latinos ranging from Diego Barber to Miguel Zenón.)
It's worth noting that the list above was selected from a total of 610 records released in 2013 that I have reviewed and rated, so it represents less than 12% of that total. The number of records I have reviewed has been dropping since the Village Voice stopped running my Jazz Consumer Guide columns: we're down about 100 records since two years ago. I'm slightly up this year only because I've been compensating for the loss by more aggressively seeking out things on Rhapsody, and by reducing my unrated queue by more than half compared to this time last year. But that only goes so far, and the lack of institutional support makes it increasingly hard to review records the way I do.
It will be interesting to compare this list with the year-end lists that feed into the Jazz Critics Poll, with the more mainstream Jazz Times poll (which I don't vote in), and with some of the more avant-oriented polls in Europe (one of which I do vote in). But that's for later. This is what I think now. And if history is anything to go by, in a couple days I'll come up with a record I missed that should have been added to this list.
For further lists covering lower-graded albums, go here.
Monday, December 2. 2013
Music: Current count 22482  rated (+37), 574  unrated (+9).
No Jazz Prospecting this week. Only have two reviews in the scratch file -- at least of records that are out in 2013. Dropped 100 reviews in Saturday's Rhapsody Streamnotes, and since then I've been thinking more about Recycled Goods, which is customarily due about now and at the moment doesn't amount to much. Also, the Jazz Critics Poll, with my ballot due tomorrow. I came up with the idea of substituting that ballot for today's Jazz Prospecting, but didn't get that done either. Hopefully, I'll get my year-end (in jazz, anyway) review posted late tomorrow.
Meantime, note the latest batch of Clean Feeds in the unpacking. Given that they are 2013 releases, I'll move them up toward the head of the queue -- not that I expect any will bum rush my top ten. On the other hand, the average ellapsed time from when I send my ballot in until I find another A- record is about 2 days, and until I find something that cracks the top ten happens more years than not within 30 days. I've worried a lot about that in the past, but figure it's inevitable now, no matter how well prepared I am.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 1. 2013
No Weekend Update this week. I want to focus instead on a single article, which appeared on the front page of the Wichita Eagle this morning: Connie Cass: In God we trust, maybe, but not each other. The article cites polls that show that Americans are less inclined to trust one another than they were in the past:
One cannot overstate the importance of trust. It quickly becomes impossible to do anything to do anything in a crowded society without assuming that others will act and react in sensible ways according to commonly understood rules. Those essential rules are moral, and many are codified in law, and enforced more or less coercively by agents assigned that task. One trusts, for instance, that one can go outside, for a walk or for a drive, without the constant risk that there are people out to harm you. One trusts that one can exchange work for money that will in turn can be exchanged for goods, that in turn will be much as one expects -- e.g., food that will nourish and not sicken.
We may be aware of exceptional cases where trust is not warranted, and to some extent we compensate for this by being alert to warning signs. For instance, we are advised to "drive defensively" -- to look out for cars behaving erratically, to consider the possibility that the car in front of you might suddenly stop, or that someone approaching an intersection might fail to yield, but even so you probably trust that other drivers are not suicidal. It's really hard to live in a world under constant threat of malevolence.
So when we read that Americans are losing their ability to trust in one another, what does this mean? It doesn't mean that we've hit rock bottom yet, although trust is so important that even small reductions in it can cause a lot of discomfort, and that can in turn cost us a lot of time and effort. The more dangerous you regard your neighbors, the more guarded your interactions with them, the more defensive they become. The more you rely on the force of law to limit behavior as opposed to expecting that people will act according to common morality, the more difficult it is to ensure moral behavior. Once some number of people move from doing what's right to simply avoiding getting caught, your ability to trust in the law starts to slip. And the situation deteriorates rapidly if law enforcers themselves become corrupt.
Cass' article attributes the lost of trust to various things, like "bowling alone" where individuals give up many of their social networks for solitary pursuits, like watching television. But Cass misses the most obvious problem, which is that we have an economic system that is increasingly based on predatory business practices. We have a lot of experience with the basic capitalist idea, which is one of everyone pursuing their own self-interest, seeking solely to maximize their own gains. And as such we've seen many of the ways such pursuits can cause great harm: the various waves of "progressive" political movements strived to limit the potential for businesses to abuse their powers, in large part attempting to ensure that they produce and sell goods and services according to standards that we can trust. Older still than progressivism were basic moral constraints against abuses such as usury.
But since WWII, and especially since the late 1970s, businesses have made considerable inroads undermining the moral character and social fabric of the nation. This started in the cold war exaltation of capital, with its immediate goal of fragmenting and disempowering labor. By the 1980s the right was destroying the nation's binding sense of equality and was trumpeting a new ethos of greed. Nowhere was this clearer than in the business schools, which trained the nation's future CEOs to grab every possible source of profits: if "greed is good," rent-seeking must be glorious.
The final coup here is the destruction of the idea of commonwealth, indeed of any common interest. Business propagandists used to like the idea, expressed as irony by Adam Smith, that the pursuit of self-interest could result in greater wealth for all. They scarcely bother any more, because they've convinced us that there is no society, no social values, just aggregates of individuals. And indeed, they seem to believe that assertions of common interests -- even things like clean water or air, or a stable climate -- are nothing but encumbrances on individuals. And that individuals should be as "economically free" as possible, even when all that means is free to deceive and defraud everyone else.
This lost measure of trust is a consequence of denying the value of social relationships. After all, to a large extent the economic liberation of individuals has taken place at the expense of society as a whole. You can argue whether this has happened because technology -- suburbs as much as television -- has split individuals apart, or vice versa. But the costs do mount up, and you see them in myriad ways: the explosive growth of prison population, increasing litigiousness, the influx of money into politics seeking special favors, and so forth.
And as the article points out, once you lose trust it's all that much harder to win back.
Curiously, the other big front page article today was titled "Shelter operator's tough question: Can charity hurt?" That's a serious question that I don't have time to go into, but it's also been a harping point on the political right going back to Daniel Moynahan and Martin Feldstein -- to pick on two big names who built their careers arguing against safety nets on the grounds that they are a crutch that corrupts. The fact is that they usually exist only to provide such immediately necessary relief that withdrawing them would be far worse. But sure, charity can hurt -- mostly through the patronizing and demeaning attitudes of the people administering the programs.