Friday, January 31. 2014
With 75 records done by January 19, I figured it was safe to run two Rhapsody Streamnotes columns this month. The 31st rather snuck up on me, but I wound up with 83 records below, and still held a few back for next month. I've split these into 45 new and 38 old. The former are mostly 2013 releases I noticed while I was constructing the metacritic file, plus a few (quick count shows 20) 2014 jazz releases (plus a new Bruce Springsteen and a not-so-new Tom Zé).
For the old records I started with a couple 2013 reissues (Bill Evans, Duke Ellington) then found myself wandering. Rather than review a new Jimmy Rushing twofer, I cut the setlist down to one original LP (the other LP was one I had before, ironically in another twofer). At some point I started searching my "jazz-40s" file for Penguin 4-star records that I hadn't heard before. Shouldn't have been a big surprise that so many of them panned out. Nor that there's a lot more where they came from. On the other hand, the reviews below, good as the records are, rarely match the artist's peak efforts. The following list from my database, for instance, are very likely superior to whatever I mopped up this time. (Didn't bother with Ellington, as that list could have grown huge. Others are incomplete, especially those limited to three examples, and I've tried to stay within the relevant time frames.)
No such luck finding A-list records in the current section. I might flatter myself into thinking that I've already sorted through 2013 with a fine-enough comb, but that's unlikely. More likely I just don't know where to look next. And thus far this year's new jazz crop includes a lot of high honorable mentions, but not much that really stands out -- the Sonny Simmons below and an earlier record by Jon Lundbom is the extent of my A-list so far. (PS: Also added Ben Flocks, which I just got to.)
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 January 19. Past reviews and more information are available here (4330 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Action Bronson/Party Supplies: Blue Chips 2 (2013, Fool's Gold): Beats by Justin Nealis and Sean Mahon, but they're all over the place, as is the big guy with voracious appetites and no sense of decorum. B+(**) [dl]
Joey Badass: Summer Knights (2013, Cinematic Music Group): Né Jo-Vaughn Scott, age 18 with several mixtapes under his belt and visions of $$ cluttering his typography; this seems to be the mix that turned him pro, although on Rhapsody the 17 original tracks have been whittled down to seven, so it's more like the EP it was originally conceived as. B+(*)
Bastille: Bad Blood (2013, Virgin): British group's first album, considered electropop although the keybs are matched by guitar, the pop hooks coming more from the harmony vocals which have a certain hokey charm. B
Janice Borla Group: Promises to Burn (2013 , Tall Grass): Jazz singer, fifth album since 1996, does two standards here and six pieces by jazz musicians (Tristano, Dameron, Evans, but also DeJohnette, Mintzer, and Calderazzo), all her arrangements. Group includes Scott Robinson (tenor sax, flute) and Art Davis (trumpet), guitar but no piano. She likes to scat. B+(*)
Charles Bradley: Victim of Love (2013, Daptone): Retro soul singer with a lot of grit in his voice. B+(**)
Joshua Breakstone: With the Wind and the Rain (2013 , Capri): Guitarist, AMG lists 17 albums since 1983, mercurial tone -- metallic but easy-flowing -- very conspicuous in these trios, or even when cellist Mike Richmond makes it a foursome. B+(*) [cd]
Classixx: Hanging Gardens (2013, Innovative Leisure): LA DJ duo, Michael David and Tyler Blake, don't look much beyond disco, but their assumed name says as much. B+(*)
Maya Jane Coles: Comfort (2013, I Am Me): British DJ, I assume she does her own vocals as well as the music; runs cool and moderately slow, but relaxed, avoiding the gloom of trip hop. B+(***)
Matt Criscuolo: Blippity Blat (2013 , self-released): Saxophonist, that usually means alto, as pictures confirm. Quintet, with Larry Willis steady on piano, and a French horn for contrast -- but the effect is to slow things down: more blat than blippity. B [cd]
Mikal Cronin: MCII (2013, Merge): Singer-songwriter with a guitar, enough of a band to escape being tagged as a folkie, and a knack for grabbing a high note and passing it off as a hook. B+(*)
Currensy: New Jet City (2013, self-released): New Orleans rapper, Shante Scott Franklin, busy guy -- twenty-some mixtapes since 2004. This is another. B+(*) [dl]
Currensy & Young Roddy: Bales (2013, self-released): Second mixtape with his co-star, who adds a juvenile voice to go with the story line, mostly about smoking and, since those dollar signs are so important, slinging weed -- but that sounds to me like harder work than knocking this off. B+(**) [dl]
Barbara Levy Daniels: Love Lost and Found (2013 , Bidproductions): Standards singer, from (and I gather still based in) Buffalo, seems to be in her sixties -- "over 50 years ago" Ray Charles heard her as a 12-year-old and urged ABC to sign her, resulting in "a number of singles" -- returning to music after working 30 years as a psychotherapist. Second album, arranged by pianist John DiMartino, with Warren Vaché on cornet -- their interplay on "Comes Love" is a highlight. B+(***)
Darkside: Psychic (2013, Matador): Electronica producer Nicholas Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington, first album after an EP. B-
Death Grips: Government Plates (2013, Third Worlds): "Fuck." "Steal shit." "You my bitch." "Suck my dick." Not just words. The music says the same thing, louder. B-
Nir Felder: Golden Age (2011 , Okeh): Guitarist, from upstate New York, first album although it seems like I've bumped into him on most of his dozen side-credits since 2009. Quartet with Aaron Parks on piano. Sme pieces overlay quotes from famous speeches, adding to the sense of historical sweep. B+(***) [cd]
Ben Flocks: Battle Mountain (2013 , self-released): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Santa Cruz, now based in Brooklyn, first album, quintet unknown to me (guitar, piano/Fender, bass, drums), songbook draws on folk classics -- "Shenandoah," "Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You" -- many rooted in his native California. Reminds me as much of Dave Alvin's King of California as anything in the jazz world. Needless to say, his "Tennessee Waltz" doesn't match Sonny Rollins' -- but how could it? A- [cd]
Carol Fredette: No Sad Songs for Me (2012 , Soundbrush): Jazz singer, mostly standards starting with Porter and including a token Jobim. Third album -- the first was songs from Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough, who offer some clues to her phrasing. B+(**)
Gardland: Syndrome Syndrome (2013, RVNG Intl): Electronica from Australia, Alex Murray and Mark Smith, eleven pieces that pick up a beat and run it 4-6 minutes, far short of running it into the ground. B+(**) [bc]
The History of Apple Pie: Out of View (2013, Marshall Teller): Stephanie Min and Jerome Watson work up a storm of guitar and shoegaze fuzz around their everyday pop hooks. B+(**)
Mimi Jones: Balance (2012 , Hot Tone Music): Bassist, sings some, second album, lots of electric keybs give it a pleasing groove with a slightly cheesy funk sound; guest spots for Ingrid Jensen (trumpet) a plus, Camille Thurman (flute) less so. B+(*) [cd]
Elly Kouri: I Love You Too Much (2013 , RBR): Jazz singer, looks like all standards to me but hype sheet says she's a songwriter, first album (as far as I can tell); Michael McGinnis plays some exhilarating clarinet, well matched to her voice. B+(*) [cd]
David Krakauer: The Big Picture (2013 , Table Pounding): Clarinetist, had a part in the 1980s klezmer revival, both playing for the Klezmatics and leading his Klezmer Madness, and has continued more or less in that vein. Movie music this time, falls into a string section chamber trap midway but recovers with a swell I soon recognize as "People" -- have scarcely heard that since the Streisand hit in the 1960s, and it never sounded better. B+(***) [cd]
Machinedrum: Vapor City (2013, Ninja Tune): Travis Stewart, from North Carolina, one of many aliases. Serviceable enough. B+(*)
Sarah Manning: Harmonious Creature (2013 , Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, second album, with strings -- Eyvind Kang on violin, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Rene Hart on bass -- leading the way, drums backing, but doesn't let this settle into chamber jazz niceties. B+(***)
Moderat: II (2013, Monkeytown): German electronica, a collaboration between Sascha Ring (aka Apparat), Gernot Bronsert, and Sebastian Szary (aka Modeselektor). Electronic beats go down fine, vocals less so. B+(*)
Moutin Factory Quintet: Lucky People (2013 , Blujazz/Plus Loin Music): French group, led by brothers François and Louis Moutin (bass and drums, respectively), adding guitar, piano, and Christophe Monniot on alto and sopranino sax. Lively postbop, a bit on the lush side. B+(**) [cd]
Russ Nolan: Relentless (2013 , Rhinoceruss Music): Tenor saxophonist (also soprano), based in New York, fourth album, quartet with Manuel Valera on piano/fender rhodes, adds congas on three tracks to underscore that Latin tinge. B+(*) [cd]
Danilo Perez: Panama 500 (2013 , Mack Avenue): Pianist, from Panama, on the 500th anniversary of the exploration of the isthmus by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, including a three-part "The Canal Suite"; some trio with John Patitucci and Brian Blades, some with Panamanians including "Guna musicians" with chants and violin -- the fine points rather escape me. B+(**) [cd]
Judy Philbin and Adam Levine: Keeping It Simple (2013 , self-released): Just voice and guitar, a couple originals plus covers that draw heavily on Hoagy Carmichael. Not to knock the simplicity concept, but the songs that work best are the ones she can expand her voice on: "Besame Mucho" and "Blue Bayou." B+(*)
Pusha T: Wrath of Caine (2013, GOOD Music): Mixtape, came out nearly a year before his studio album, My Name Is My Name, so note that he uses that line in an early lyric. After that, he rotates the featured guests, never breaking a sweat. B+(**) [dl]
Scenes: . . . But Not Heard (2013 , Origin): Fifth album for guitarist John Stowell's long-running group with Jeff Johnson and John Bishop, with Hans Teuber joining in on various saxes and flute -- a nice tone match for the guitar. B+(**) [cd]
Lenny Sendersky/Tony Romano: Desert Flower (2013 , LeTo): Alto/soprano sax and guitar, respectively, each wrote four tracks, plus there are covers -- with vocals by Cleve Douglass -- of an Ellington tune and "Nature Boy." Sendersky was born in Russia, emigrating to Denmark, then to Israel, winding up in New York to cut this. Band adds bass and drums, plus Joe Locke (vibes) on three cuts, Randy Brecker (trumpet) on two. B+(*) [cd]
Sonny Simmons/Delphine Latil/Thomas Bellier: Beyond the Planets (2013 , Improvising Beings, 2CD): Avant-garde in the 1960s, now passing 80, Simmons plays cor anglais and alto sax none too vigorously, adding depth and resonance to duets -- the first disc with harpist Latil, who starts out solo before their 47:03 "Sacred Moments," and guitarist Bellier, who's thinking of the distance between planets and the awesomeness of the universe. A- [cd]
Bruce Springsteen: High Hopes (2014, Columbia): Only three non-Springsteen songs, not that the originals are served fresh; eight songs "feat." Tom Morello, promising to ram the classic 4/4 into overdrive, but half of those come with extra strings, even if I noticed the brass more often. Not sure what to call it: it's more than a stopgap, and less than a mess. But mostly reminds me that Mike Leigh made a brilliant film from this title in 1988, and you'd be better off with it. B+(*)
Stellar OM Source: Joy One Mile (2013, RVNG Intl): Electronica, flows much better than most. B+(***) [bc]
Marnie Stern: The Chronicles of Marnia (2013, Kill Rock Stars): Channels a girl group sound through punk and postpunk and I'm not sure what else. B+(*)
Shirazette Tinnin: Humility: Purity of My Soul (2013 , Hot Tone Music): Drummer, first album, photogs show her wistfully carressing her tools instead of preparing to beat the shit out of them, but let's blame the art director for that. Album is jumbled, lots of musicians shuffling in and out, some fine sax solos by Camille Thurman, some dull vocals, some keybs and electric bass. B [cd]
Troy Ave: New York City: The Album (2013, BSB): PopMatter's top mixtape, thin voice and nothing fancy to the beats but develops a compelling flow. B+(***) [dl]
Fernando Ulibarri: Transform (2013 , self-released): Guitarist, from Costa Rica, studied at Berklee, first album, with bass, drums, and Jim Gaslor on piano/keyboards. Soft, silky touch. B+(*) [cd]
We Love . . . Detroit (2013, We Love, 2CD): Label is British, looks like this is their second compilation (first is We Love . . . Ibiza); compiled by Derrick May and Jimmy Edgar, no idea how old these tracks are or whether they're dated at all. Fairly low key, steady flow, and I must say I appreciate the sentiment. B+(***)
Holly Williams: The Highway (2013, Georgiana): Hank's daughter or granddaughter depending on where you focus, which isn't all that clear, but the songs start to pay off more toward the end, with "Waiting on June" the closer. B+(*)
Christine Wodrascka/Jean Luc Cappozzo/Gerry Hemingway: 2° Étage: Grey Matter (2012 , NoBusiness): Piano, trumpet/bugle, and percussion -- the first two born in the 1950s in France, with checkered discographies as they've bounced off various avant-jazz figures; this is another jumble of discordant sounds in search of something deeper. B+(***) [cd]
YAPP: Symbolic Heads (2011 , NoBusiness): Free jazz quartet -- Bryan Rogers (tenor sax), Alban Bailly (guitar), Matt Engle (bass), David Flaherty (drums) -- best when they let it all hang out, possibly because even then they keep it tight. B+(***) [cdr of lp]
Tom Zé: Tropicália Lixo Lógico (2012, self-released): From Brazil, one of the founders of the tropicália movement in the late 1960s. I never spent enough time with his two Luaka Bop comps to get past the quirks, but his records since 2001 have an immediate appeal, even if it's mostly quirky. A- [dl]
Older Music: Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Chet Baker: Broken Wing (1978 , Inner City): Cut in Paris with a French quartet, the trumpet is eloquent but a but shy of the spotlight, nor does Baker's vocal grip you. B
Ruby Braff/Ellis Larkins: 2 x 2: Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins Play Rodgers and Hart (1955, Vanguard): Trumpet-piano duets on standard fare by a duo that resurfaced several times over the next 40 years. Not yet clear that Braff would turn into a swing throwback, but his care for the songs is clear. B+(***)
Al Cohn/Zoot Sims: Al and Zoot (1957 , Chess): The tightest of the Four Brothers, they started with Lester Young's airy style and ran loops from there, almost of one mind, which may be the limit here -- hard to call it a problem. The pianist, by the way, is Mose Allison, just before he broke in as a singer. B+(**)
Eddie Costa Quartet: Guys and Dolls Like Vibes (1958 , Verve): Or, shall we say, the Bill Evans Trio (Wendell Marshall on bass, Paul Motian on drums) plus vibes, since Evans' is the talent this turns on. B+(**)
Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: The Ellington Suites: The Queen's Suite/The Goutelas Suite/The Uwis Suite (1959-72 , Fantasy/OJC): Three multi-part pieces, one from 1959 and two more later, each running around 15 minutes, a length he almost always adhered to any time the S-word cropped up, with a mix of massed accents and noodling that so often signalled he was thinking of classical composition, even when he stuck to his usual instrumentation. B+(*)
Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings! (1962 , Fantasy/OJC): He settled into doing piano trios almost exclusively after Kind of Blue in 1958. This is his second album with Chuck Israels on bass (following Scott LaFaro's death), more upbeat than Moon Beams, almost joyous -- not that Evans ever made such emotion obvious. A-
Art Farmer/Gigi Gryce: When Farmer Met Gryce (1954-55 , Prestige/OJC): Two sessions a year apart: one with Horace Silver, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke; the other with Freddie Redd, Addison Farmer, and Arthur Taylor, and the latter may have the edge. The alto saxophonist seems to be moving beyond his Bird-clone phase, and the trumpet is remarkably clear and poised for a debut. A-
Art Farmer: Art Farmer Quintet Featuring Gigi Gryce (1955 , Prestige/OJC): Moving along, the growing sophistication seems closer in spirit to the west coast cool jazz movement, but this band is firmly planted in the east, just slightly out of step with the hard bop movement. B+(***)
Art Farmer/Benny Golson: Meet the Jazztet (1960 , Chess): Actually a sextet, but you have to forgive the artiness of the name -- Farmer's discography is as full of art-puns as Art Pepper's. Golson plays tenor sax (as opposed to Gryce's alto), so Curtis Fuller (trombone) joins as a counterweight, and they picked up young pianist McCoy Tyner. A-
Herb Geller: Herb Geller Plays (1954-55 , Emarcy): West coast alto saxophonist, inspired by Benny Carter and Charlie Parker, has a lighter, sweeter tone than either, and he's lifted further by the piano of wife Lorraine Geller -- her sudden death in 1958 knocked him for a loop, gradually recovering in Europe and ultimately doing some of his finest work in the 1990s. I could quibble, say about "Sleigh Ride," but I don't expect to ever hear a more adventurous take. A-
Hampton Hawes: Four! (1958 , Contemporary/OJC): One of the major bebop pianists of the 1950s, his early records were trios, hence all the exclamation marks on the cover here, the expansion Barney Kessel on guitar, while Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne got big type too. Piano is the focal point, but when Kessel takes the lead he proves remarkably adept at extending the leader's lines. A-
Hampton Hawes: For Real! (1958 , Contemporary/OJC): Another quartet, this one with Harold Land on tenor sax and Scott La Faro on bass; Land has been a lot flashier elsewhere, but Hawes ties him down in ways that make him all the more creative. A-
Earl Hines: Tour de Force Encore (1972 , Black Lion): Solo piano, extra tracks from the Tour de Force session, where Hines showed the speed, flash, and mastery that made him one of the few jazz pianists who could compete with Art Tatum. B+(***)
Jutta Hipp: Jutta Hipp With Zoot Sims (1956 , Blue Note): German pianist, cut a couple albums in New York in the 1950s, notably this session with tenor saxophonist Sims and trumpeter Jerry Lloyd; 1956 was a peak year for Sims, but he mostly adds warmth and coziness here. B+(**)
John Jenkins/Clifford Jordan/Bobby Timmons: Jenkins, Jordan and Timmons (1957 , New Jazz/OJC): Jenkins was an alto saxophonist who cut a handful of albums in the 1950s, dropped out of music around 1962, started playing again in 1983 but didn't have any impact before his 1993 death. Jordan plays tenor, Timmons piano, and the guys who didn't get their names on the cover are Wilbur Ware and Dannie Richmond -- they keep it all moving. A-
Clifford Jordan Quartet: Spellbound (1960 , Riverside/OJC): A hard bop tenor saxophonist from Chicago, paired with young pianist Cedar Walton, who even at this stage had a knack for setting up a horn. A-
Harold Land: Harold in the Land of Jazz (1958 , Contemporary/OJC): Tenor saxophonist, a fierce bebopper, first record, with Rolf Ericson on trumpet, Carl Perkins on piano, Leroy Vinnegar on bass, and Frank Butler on drums -- a band that takes some of the edge off. B+(*)
Harold Land: Damisi (1971-74 , Mainstream): Good chance to hear the tenor saxophonist stretch out, although the band isn't always up to snuff. B+(**)
Shelly Manne & His Men: Live! At the Manne Hole Vol. 1 (1961 , Contemporary/OJC): Two years after Manne's legendary 5-CD At the Blackhawk, the band has been tweaked with Conte Candoli on trumpet joining Richie Kamuca on tenor sax, Russ Freeman taking over on piano, also Chuck Berghofer on bass. Four standards, stretched toward 10 minutes each, the epitome of cool. A-
Shelly Manne & His Men: Live! At the Manne Hole Vol. 2 (1961 , Contemporary/OJC): More, five cuts but some shorter, tails off a bit but Conte Candoli offers some especially fine trumpet solos, and I'd round the grade up if both volumes were pressed onto the same disc -- they'd fit without any cuts. B+(***)
Jackie McLean: 4, 5 and 6 (1956 , Prestige/OJC): One of the great alto saxophonists, started off chasing Charlie Parker, following him into bebop and heroin, but kicked both, going on to fold Coleman and Coltrane into an expansive avant vision while managing to sound absolutely unique. But his early Prestige albums (1956-57) were slapdash affairs. As the title suggests, the quartet adds Donald Byrd on three tracks and Hank Mobley on one of those. Still, I'm impressed with how steady and mature McLean sounds, especially on the delicious "Sentimental Journey," and by pianist Mal Waldron, already a superb accompanist. A-
Jackie McLean Quintet: Jackie's Pal: Introducing Bill Hardman (1956 , Prestige/OJC): Interesting that at age 24 McLean was considered enough of a star to introduce the trumpet player -- only a year his junior and not destined to have a great career, but Hardman and McLean appeared later that year on Art Blakey's genre-defining Hard Bop. B+(***)
Jackie McLean: Makin' the Changes (1957 , New Jazz/OJC): Two sessions, three cuts each, the first a quartet with Mal Waldron, the second a sextet with Gil Coggins on piano, Webster Young on trumpet, and Curtis Fuller on trombone. Covers, one from Hawkins and one from Parker, the leader in good form throughout. B+(***)
Jackie McLean: A Fickle Sonance (1961 , Blue Note): McLean's Blue Notes (1959-67) lurch back and forth between relatively conventional and avant efforts, and this is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, with Tommy Turrentine on trumpet and Sonny Clark on piano, both contributing pieces. B+(**)
Gil Melle Quartet: Gil's Guests (1956-57 , Prestige/OJC): Baritone saxophonist, quartet adds guitar, bass, and drums, and the guests are: Don Butterfield, Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham, Art Farmer, Hal McCusick, Julius Watkins, Phil Woods -- three trumpets, three saxes, French horn and tuba, a little fancy for the era, or do I mean elegant? B+(***)
The Gerry Mulligan Quartet: What Is There to Say? (1959 , Columbia/Legacy): A return to the baritone saxophonist's "pianoless quartet" days, with Art Farmer filling in on trumpet. B+(***)
Oscar Pettiford: The New Oscar Pettiford Sextet (1949-53 , Debut/OJC): The title and five cuts date from a 1953 10-incher, which expanded to 7 cuts on LP and 11 on CD -- the latter picking up four Serge Chaloff tracks from 1949. Charles Mingus fills in most of the bass as Pettiford picks up his cello; Phil Urso plays some spirited tenor sax, and Julius Watkins' French horn could pass for trombone; and the Chaloff tracks fit right in. A-
Sonny Rollins: Moving Out (1954 , Prestige/OJC): First album, although the tenor sax great's name has moved forward on some earlier albums with other groups. Four boppish tracks with trumpeter Kenny Dorham competing for the spotlight, plus a 10:47 "More Than You Know" that couldn't be anyone else -- not even the piano player (Thelonious Monk) sounds so unique. B+(***)
Sonny Rollins: Tour de Force (1956 , Prestige/OJC): Leaving aside for the minute two Earl Coleman vocals, a rare case where such an immodest title turns into understatement, with a tremendous turn by Max Roach nearly matching the tenor saxophonist. Coleman is a singer only the early 1950s could love, but he's never been more tolerable than on his two ballads, thanks largely to the soft touch of Kenny Drew and, surprisingly, the leader. CD adds "Sonny Boy," previously the title cut of its own LP. A-
Sonny Rollins: The Sound of Sonny (1957 , Riverside/OJC): A relatively modest entry in the catalog, the title doesn't scream for attention like Saxophone Colossus or Tenor Madness -- it may even hint that the pianist is also named Sonny (Clark). Rollins never breaks loose here, but he does play impeccably, including a solo "It Could Happen to You." A-
Frank Rosolino: Frank Rosolino Quintet (1957 , VSOP): Trombonist, originally from Michigan but wound up in Hollywood for his debut, with Richie Kamuca on tenor sax, Vince Guaraldi on piano, backed by Monty Budwig and Stan Levey. B+(***)
Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars: Sunday Jazz A La Lighthouse, Vol. 1 (1953 , Contemporary/OJC): Bassist-led band, fits into the West Coast cool mode more by association than anything else -- Jimmy Giuffre and Bob Cooper play sax, Shorty Rogers and Maynard Ferguson trumpet, Hampton Hawes is one of two pianists, and Shelly Manne one of two drummers. B+(**)
Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars: Sunday Jazz A La Lighthouse, Vol. 2 (1953 , Contemporary/OJC): Six cuts continue with most of Vol. 1's band -- Bob Cooper, Jimmy Giuffre, Shorty Rogers (but no Maynard Fergusson), Russ Freeman, Shelly Manne -- only much hotter; last three (previously unreleased) cuts give you a different feel: a smaller band with Bud Shank the standout; also Chet Baker, Rolf Ericson, and Max Roach. A-
Jimmy Rushing: Jimmy Rushing and the Smith Girls: Bessie - Clara - Mamie & Trixie: The Songs They Made Famous (1960 , Columbia): Bessie Smith you know, and possibly the others -- classic female blues singers from the 1920s. They don't collaborate here, but their songs feed the unquenchable appetite of the great blues shouter, and the impeccable band includes Buck Clayton and Coleman Hawkins. [Reissued by Lone Hill Jazz, 2013, in a twofer with Jazz Odyssey of James Rushing, Esq., a superior 1956 album, which I own as half of a 2002 Collectables twofer with Cat Meets Chick, another good 'un, with Ada Moore.] A-
Horace Silver: Horace Silver Trio (1952-53 , Blue Note): Cover reads "and spotlight on drums: Art Blakey - Sabu" -- Sabu Martinez plays congas on two tracks, three bassists work shifts, and Blakey is the drummer. The pianist's vitality is much in evidence on these early sides -- the 16 cuts are uniformly 78-length -- but the standout tracks are the percussion extravaganzas at the end. B+(***)
The Horace Silver Quintet: The Stylings of Silver (1957 , Blue Note): When they split, Art Blakey kept the group name (Jazz Messengers) but Silver kept the hard bop quintet format, using Art Farmer and Hank Mobley for horns here. B+(***)
The Horace Silver Quintet & Trio: Blowin' the Blues Away (1959 , Blue Note): Great title for the Quintet, at this point featuring Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook, but only "Sister Sadie" earns a slot on Silver's best-of, and the two Trio tracks won't blow anything or anyone away. B+(**)
The Horace Silver Quintet: Horace-Scope (1960 , Blue Note): Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook again team up for an average Horace Silver album, scampering around the pianist's funk riffs with Roy Brooks' hard bop drumbeat. B+(***)
Monday, January 27. 2014
Music: Current count 22768  rated (+29), 578  unrated (+4).
Sending out the publicists letter maked the last step in decoupling myself from Jazz Prospecting. Got quite a bit of mail today -- eight CDs, logged under "unpacking" below but not factored into the rated line -- so this hasn't sunk in. Didn't get much response to the publicists letter: a couple musicians, a label head, and a publicist who may be invested in his labels -- never been clear on that. But the notes were exceptionally kind, and appreciated.
I have 40-50 new jazz records in the queue, and I haven't been in a big hurry to clear them out. Only seven in the rated list below, including my first A- of the new year: the Sonny Simmons duets, rather marginal but I played each disc 3-4 times and they hold up. Still, my rated count remains close to 30, and I may never have found as many A-list albums as I have this week. After I posted Rhapsody Streamnotes last week, I went after a couple jazz reissues and wound up searching through my 1940-50s jazz lists for unheard Penguin Guide 4-star, and occasionally following a sidetrack. I came up with eight above the A- line, and six more just below. Good chance I could keep doing that sort of thing for a long while now.
Or I could do something else. Bought some nails today.
Records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, January 26. 2014
At some point during the past decade I came to the conclusion that the single most important economic, political, and social problem we face is growing inequality. The problem it supplanted, preeminent in the 2000s, was war: in particular, the use of armed force to impose a "world order" that was short-sighted and injust. Needless to say, that problem is still with us, but it's faded a bit as all those wars have turned into futile quagmires. Before that, in the relative normalcy of the 1990s, we had the luxury of worrying about more chronic problems, like the long-term effects of anthropogenic climate change and future limits on natural resources -- problems we still face, of course. One could even make a case that all three of these big problems are related: on all three politicians, at least in the US, tend to split the same ways, even though one can construct sound arguments why conservatives should be wary of war and environmental disaster.
On the other hand, the very definition of conservatism -- the political ideology devoted to the preservation of the social order as dominated by whoever is richest at any given time (at various times: the landed aristocracy, slaveholders, merchants, industrialists, financiers) -- both assumes and promotes inequality.
Most conservative arguments reduce to a simple pattern: if we let X happen, we'll start down the slippery slope to communism, socialism, or some such terminal condition -- most of which actually define their goal as a fairer and more equitable society. Which is to say: once you get past the scare words you wind up debating the real question. David Brooks, of course, has no desire to argue that vast inequality is the just order of society and the masses should just buckle under and get used to their lot. As someone practiced in the art of arguing against people's better interests and nobler desires he seeks to obfuscate and confuse the issue, then blame it on someone else, then propose fixes that wouldn't work in the very unlikely event that they were ever tried.
I'm going to do something I haven't done before and quote Brooks' column, The Inequality Problem, in its entirety, stopping every paragraph or so to make some observations.
What Brooks means is that "suddenly" people like the US President and the elites at Davos are talking about inequality -- people Brooks takes seriously, people of his world. Needless to say, those people, like Brooks, have been a little slow on the uptake. Income inequality has been around forever, but it was considered less of a problem up to about 1980 because incomes from the 1930s into the 1970s, at least in the US, had been trending toward less inequality, and the purchasing power of most incomes had been increasing. Poverty among the elderly, for instance, was largely eliminated by Social Security, introduced in the late 1930s, and the socalled "war on poverty" programs started in the late 1960s at least initially -- until conservatives like Donald Rumsfeld started running those programs -- reduced residual poverty.
From 1980 on, coincident with the rise of conservatives with the Reagan administration, income inequality grew, and by the end of the 1980s the trends were clearly documented. The most obvious case, much commented on at the time, was a shocking increase in CEO compensation relative to average wages. This was accompanied by a wave of leveraged buyouts, the result of lax regulation of financial institutions and the more general "greed is good" culture that the Reagan administration encouraged at every opportunity. Reagan's marginal tax cuts were one such signal. Another was his crushing of the air-traffic controllers union.
Brooks specifies income inequality rather than wealth inequality, which is much more extreme. Ferdinand Lundberg wrote a classic study of the accumulation of wealth in 1937, America's Sixty Families, then updated it, finding little changed, in 1968 as The Rich and the Super-Rich: A Study in the Power of Money Today. The list of billionaires Forbes celebrates each year has become a bit more volatile with new money made from high tech and financial scams, but the concentration of wealth has if anything become more extreme. And the division has become so extreme that in 2008 Occupy Wall Street popularized the notion that a line separates the top 1% from everyone else: that the underclass today is 99% of the population.
As for "confusing matters more than clarifying them," that, as you will see, is Brooks' mission, starting with the next line:
Brooks' first obfuscation is his expansion of the haves to the upper 5% of incomes from Occupy Wall Street's 1%. The threshold for the top 5% of incomes was $161,000 in 2012, versus $394,000 for the top 1%. Between 1% and 5% you get into well-paid professionals and small business owners -- well-to-do, for sure, but hardly filthy rich (unless they inherited it). But the real inequalities only grow in the top 1%, so much so that Paul Krugman has suggested we focus only on the top tenth, the 0.1%, where incomes start around $1.9 million and go way up from there. Emmanuel Saez has calculated that 95% of all the income growth since the "recovery" began in 2009 has been snapped up by the top 1%, and two-thirds of that by the top 0.1%.
The bottom 80-90% of Brooks' top 5% may indeed make their money the ways Brooks enumerates, but the very top have different means: with overvalued equity in corporations and/or through the financial transactions that overvalue that equity. (CEOs make most of their "compensation" through stock options, so they gain by this process both coming and going.) This results in a series of bubbles and busts, but as long as the political fundamentals remain strong -- as long as labor markets are too weak to claim a share of productivity gains, as long as antitrust enforcement is too weak to curtail monopoly, as long as regulation is weak and tax enforcement limited -- companies will prosper on paper, even if they wallow in debt, with the rich getting all that much richer.
Since 1980 incomes for the bottom 80% have remained stagnant, and since 2000 they have lost ground. Brooks, like all conservatives, wants to blame this on the "losers," as if, for instance, CEOs had nothing to do with "the disappearance of low-skill jobs." There is no doubt that getting more education and a stable marriage helps individuals to improve their lot, but it's pretty incredible to assert that an increase in dropouts and broken families since 1980 has reversed a trend toward greater income equality under liberal governments from 1933 to 1969 (or later if you're soft on Nixon -- something I can't quite stomach).
Nor is there any real shortage of unskilled jobs these days. They are less likely to be in manufacturing or agriculture, and more likely to be in services, but what distinguishes them isn't the skill level: it's the pay. And wage levels are down almost exclusively due to political pressures. Raising the minimum wage -- a purely political act -- would help, and bringing back unions strong enough to negotiate with management would help even more.
The economy is not necessarily a zero-sum game. Some businesses, for instance, actually make things that are worth more than the sum of their costs, and those businesses -- their workers, their skills and the technology they employ -- produce added wealth ultimately for the economy as a whole (although who benefits from that wealth depends on the relative power of workers and management, and that approximates a zero-sum game). Other businesses just redistribute goods, and this can also make them more valuable. But there are other businesses which just redistribute costs: they are zero-sum or worse, although they may pretend to add value by inflating assets, creating a bubble which appears profitable until it collapses. A typical example here is what private equity firms do: buy a company at an inflated price, paid for by burying the company in debt; sell off pieces, cut costs elsewhere, and pocket tax breaks; resell the company, preferably to a firm expecting to repeat the cycle. The real effect here isn't to build a productive company but to tear one down by stripping it of its value.
Many financial schemes wind up being cases of the rich screwing the rich -- the 2007 collapse exposed cases of banks knowingly selling worthless securities to supposedly cherished customers -- but there are ways ordinary folks get hit too: their "professionally managed" retirement funds are easy game; they put pressure on many companies to cut jobs and labor costs; they help form near-monopolies which help to drive up prices. And they support politicians who help them save on taxes and regulation, creating even more returns for their predatory practices.
There are two reasons for the minimum wage. One is that it sets a minimal social standard about the value of work within the context of human life. Basically, if a job isn't worth paying minimum wage for, it isn't something humans should have to do. Secondly, it puts a limit on the relative power of employers and employees. A nation which values its citizens will insist that they be paid decently. Conservatives hate the minimum wage because it limits the ability of employers to bully their employees, and because they generally regard employees as loser scum they feel entitled to abuse.
One can argue further that the minimum wage should be at least the minimum amount it takes for a single parent to support a family above the poverty level. There is no sense in which the current US minimum wage satisfies that requirement. One may fix that by raising the minimum wage, by raising a wage alternative like the earned income tax credit, by reducing the costs of living in other ways -- e.g., through subsidized housing, food, education, health care, etc. -- or by some combination of these. One should take note that subsidies for low-wage workers are effectively subsidies for low-wage employers, which may seem distasteful, but only through subsidies can one even out variable factors like number of dependents.
Like so many right-wing pundits, Brooks cheerfully cites studies with minimal attribution and qualification, with a high likelihood of having been churned out by conservative "think tanks" that are little more than ideological publicity firms. However, even if his data that most minimum wage workers are merely supplementing the incomes of non-poor families, that proves nothing more than that he doesn't understand my first paragraph here: that the minimum wage has to do with the dignity of work -- teenagers shouldn't have to work under abusive conditions even if their parents are adequately paid -- and that the minimum wage is a lower boundary condition: it should be set high enough so that no working person should be denied a decent standard of living (at least within a nation's means).
Also note that changing the minimum wage, even doubling or tripling it, would have virtually no effect on the broader question of equality. It is merely a lower boundary: it says a lot about a nation's sense of decency, but has virtually no power to change the median or balance the spread of the incomes above it.
It's hard to believe that even Brooks wrote that first line with a straight face. Recall that the current minimum wage is set well below what most families need to be self-sufficient and out of poverty. No doubt some suffer from not being able to get 40 hours of work a week, but some work considerable overtime (probably not paid as overtime, as it is scattered across multiple jobs) and are still not able to escape poverty. Brooks is trying to argue that the fix for their problem is to give them more hours of underpaid work. Clearly, by any standard of decency, they are not being paid enough for their work.
Sorry to interrupt Brooks before his big punch line, but there is a lot to slog through here. These correlations are all true to some not-very-important extent, but the net effect (and most likely the sole intent) of choosing them is to blame the poor for their poverty. To pick out a similar truism on the other side, there is a very strong correlation between inheriting a fortune and making lots of money. (I'd invite Brooks to re-run his examples on a sample of heirs, so we can get an idea of how pregnancy, divorce, dropping out, drug abuse, etc., have on people who start out with a thick cushion of money.)
And from a policy standpoint, I have to point out that a viable alternative to single motherhood is abortion, and that blocking that option both punishes women and adds a drag on the economy. That many people who drop out of high school aren't too dumb -- they just didn't fit in (I'm an example). De-industrialization may be a problem, but but it's hard to see it as a character flaw -- except perhaps of the MBA/CEO class. And I have to wonder whether "engaging in behaviors that damage their long-term earning prospects" isn't a cheap shot at the Army, which may have been a decent jobs program during times of peace but has been an unmitigated disaster the last 12 years.
Aside from his confusion about cause and effect, not to mention his inability to distinguish dependent from independent variables when running a correlation, Brooks' third and fourth sentences are truthy enough. But the uncomfortable part he's permitting himself to ignore is class. It's true that class and money aren't exactly the same thing, but they correlate quite well, especially if you start from the beginning. In every example Brooks has cited thus far, more money would make a world of difference -- that single mother could afford childcare, that dropout could find a more suitable education -- and even more so the nurturance of an upper class environment. So perhaps the policy argument should be more than just money.
So much here we have to first turn it inside out to make any sense of it. Brooks asserts that we can only implement policy on a bipartisan basis, which gives the Republicans dictatorial control over policy, since they won't agree to any policy but their own. But the Republicans are a minority in Washington now, and are likely to become even more so if voters ever manage to figure out how much they are personally hurt by the party's slovenly allegiance to the 1%. So the first thing Brooks is trying to do here is to steer Democrats away from talking about the issue -- even as "the income inequality frame" but most of all, heaven forbid, as class.
Secondly, he's claiming that Republicans would be happy to do something about "the human capital piece" -- an obnoxious term for working people, reduced to the most miniscule cogs in machinery controlled by money. However, I haven't seen the slightest evidence of any such interest among Republicans -- not since George W. Bush conned Teddy Kennedy into his Trojan horse "No Child Left Behind" law, which did more damage to the public education system it claimed to be saving than would have happened had nothing passed. And that's now regarded as one of Bush's "big government" heresies, something no one in the party defends any more. Rather, all the Republicans seem to care about is cutting taxes, completely undermining safety net spending -- cf. their recent moves on unemployment compensation and food stamps -- and letting businesses run amok with fraud.
Brooks reaches a bit in his reading of the Democrats, but at least he acknowledges the notion that low wages are indeed "a problem caused by unequal economic power." Still, he misses an important linkage. The "human capital" he's so fond of -- education, although there's really more to it than that -- is only a means for individuals to move up the class hierarchy. Equalizing economic power, on the other hand, is the way to move an entire class to a higher standard of living -- promoting unions is one way to do it, using the government is another. (And, for what it's worth, I'm very fond of the idea of worker-owned companies, which is a private sector solution that moves beyond the conflicts inherent in union-management negotiations.)
Brooks, like most pro-business Americans, likes the idea of equal opportunity and eased mobility, because they leave the class structure and its attendant inequality intact -- they just shuffle the players. Clinton and Obama are in fact good examples of poor boys who worked their way up through the system -- by being very smart, of course, and working very hard, but also because they had unique talents for sucking up to the rich and powerful. They are, or should be, prime examples of the fabled American dream, but rank-and-file Republicans simply loathe them, and their rise coincides with the most ambitious attempt ever to close the American system: to make higher education inaccessible and unaffordable except to the upper crust; to dumb down lower education; to exempt inherited wealth and proprietors and push the tax burden down on the working class, who take home ever less for their toils; to shut down the nation's borders; and to manage the losers through a complex system of jails, courts, and parole, making sure they can't vote.
Again, Brooks has no clue as to what causes what. Increasing inequality is the thread that runs through dozens of problems. It has multiple causes, some endemic to capitalism, but many of them are purely political. And even those that are endemic may be limited and rendered reasonably safe by political means, once we have the desire and clear thinking to do so. It's been difficult to mount a serious political movement around such a basic problem. I put a lot of the blame on the Cold War, with so much ideological and propaganda investment in demonizing communism and in whitewashing capitalism. Pace Brooks, before WWII large numbers of Americans intuitively responded to populist political campaigns, and if they failed to achieve power, it was usually because liberal reforms blunted the people's direst complaints -- the New Deal being a prime example.
I won't try to prove this here, but there must be much better ways to express the truths that surround the boring statistics documenting increasing inequality. When that happens you'll start to see some real movement on this issue. It is, after all, a profound issue, at the very heart of the left-right divide. Our lives, our survival, hang in the balance.
Even though the column only ran in Wichita today, turns out I'm late to the bonfire. Here are some more links on Brooks:
Saturday, January 25. 2014
The column ended end of September, so three months (or 25%) short of the end of the year, but the additional totals 29 of 85 records, 34% of the total -- actually, not that unusual, as everyone tends to pick up stragglers toward the end of the year. I should probably knock Omar Souleyman and Latyrx off that list too -- Christgau wrote about the former in Spin and the latter at NPR, pretty much before anyone else was onto them.
Otherwise, not many actual surprises here. Michael Tatum graded a bunch of them A- or better: Lady Gaga, Eminem, The Dismemberment Plan, Tom Zé, Jon Hopkins, Tamikrest, Kool & Kass, Sleigh Bells, Pusha T, Tal National, Arcade Fire. Meanwhile, I did the same with Brandy Clark, The Road to Jajouka, M.I.A., Ezra Furman, Le Grand Kallé, White Mandingos, and Kool A.D. (although that was on a tip from Tatum, who in turn heard about the album from Christgau; and it only came out on December 21. Tatum also wrote about (and graded down) Parkay Quarts, Brandy Clark, and Yoko Ono, while I had lower grades for Sky Ferreira, Danny Brown, and Those Darlins. (I also agreed with eight of Tatum's A-s, and had lower grades for a few more.)
Net result is that the records we hadn't gotten to were: Beyoncé, Angola Soundtrack 2, Four Tet (although Tatum reviewed the new one as well as a different 2012 release), and Sidi Touré -- none, by the way, available on Rhapsody (the only one I hadn't looked for was Angola Soundtrack 2 -- a Dec. 10 release, by the way). I don't have an easy way to compare to other years, but if memory serves most Dean's Lists have 3-5 records I really didn't expect. This may roughly match those numbers but nothing here was that much of a long shot.
In his essay, Christgau reiterates last year's paradigm, taking EOY lists from Pitchfork and Rolling Stones as generational poles, and finding critical consensus in their increasing agreement and checking that against Pazz & Jop for validation. I took another look at the two top-20s and wonder whether the consensus is just convergence around an increasingly limited concept of what the market will bear. Aside from Pitchfork's number 20 pick of Jai Paul's momentarily released demos -- how hip to grab something you can't find anymore? -- and Rolling Stone's token ancients (Paul McCartney and John Fogerty), the worst P&J finish from either top-20 was Jake Bugg at 117 (RS), followed by Darkside at 59 (P4K). They not only agreed a lot, but when they diverged they did so in predictable ways. Pitchfork had slightly more hip-hop (5-to-3), electronica (3-to-2), and metal (1-to-0). Rolling Stone allowed some Americana into the mix, but their larger bias, and most of why they deviated more from P&J, came from their Brit favorites (Arctic Monkeys, Atoms for Peace, David Bowie, Laura Marling, and probably Jake Bugg -- Pitchfork had none of those. As for pop, I would have guessed wrong if asked which one had Savages-Haim-Sky Ferreira and which Lorde.
It should go without saying that there is no correct answer to a music poll. People hear different things in different ways and attach different values to them, and polling itself distorts the results. Poll ballots ultimately say as much about the voter as about the music, and one can't help but be self-conscious of that fact: one selects and orders items much as one would choose and accessorize a wardrobe. And critics are all that and more: maybe if you randomly polled people you'd wind up with a pile of data converging on a normal distribution, but with critics -- because they hear more things, and relate to them more intellectually, and categorize and value them differently, increasing the sample size just spreads the results out ever further. Christgau thinks that "the long tail may have a cutoff," but the only reason P&J totalled up fewer records this year was that the number of voters dropped. Expand the poll, as I did with this year's metacritic file, and you keep uncovering more and more albums -- up to 8,882 at the moment.
Christgau seems unusually proud of Pazz & Jop this year, citing some good features of its design -- broad participation, and a relatively late closing date which allowed early December release Beyoncé to get some in on the action. (Still, the deadline clipped off the last ten days of the year. I've already identified two A- releases from that period -- Kool A.D.'s Not O.K. and Angel Haze's Dirty Gold. Back when Christgau ran the poll, it usually didn't close until after January 1, and he made a more concerted effort to get new critics invited.) Still, I'd say that two aspects of the design limit the usefulness of the poll. One is that it forces critics to only pick ten records. When I ran a poll, I let voters expand their list as large as they felt like -- no one went much over 100 records -- and assigned the overage trivial points (3 for numbers 11-20, 2 for 21-30, 1 for everything else). The latter didn't affect the totals much, but it did expand the total number of records mentioned, and provided a lot of extra info about the voters. One could, for instance, tell who did (and who never did) play any hip-hop or country or jazz, and you could (at least with some programming) generate all sorts of interesting affinities.
The other big limitation is that 457 voters don't cover all that much. This is partly because despite its name Christgau started with and maintained a rockist bias -- as best I recall, even Voice writers like Gary Giddins and Francis Davis, Tom Johnson and Kyle Gann, never voted. I recognize close to a dozen jazz critics on the list, but most steer their ballots toward non-jazz. Ironically, this limitation is probably why Christgau, this year at least, likes the P&J results better than he does Pitchfork or Rolling Stone -- and for that matter why I like them better than my own metacritic file standings: the Voice has isolated a group with taste more like our own. But I doubt if that reflects anything more than a futile desire that the world be better aligned with our understanding of it.
As an aside, the Jazz Critics' Poll, which Francis Davis started at the Voice, regularly produces both better sorted and much deeper results than smaller and narrower polls like the one run by JazzTimes. (I suppose I could say I'm biased here, in that I vote in the former but have never been invited to JazzTimes.) Still, it could be broader, especially if JCP invited more European critics.
All these examples highlight a more basic concern. Most polls (and pollmasters) focus on the winners -- indeed, the horse race is probably the number one cliché in journalism these days -- whereas over the years I've found myself much more interested in the outliers. There is, after all, a story behind every vote, but you're more likely to discover something from a unique fringe vote -- say Christgau on Live From Festival Au Desert Timbuktu, or Michaelangelo Matos on LTJ Xperience, or Jason Gross on Stooshe, or Carol Cooper on Manu Chao and Tyler Farr, or my own votes for Billy Martin, White Mandingos, and Wayne Hancock -- than you will from all the Kanye West and Vampire Weekend and Beyoncé and Daft Punk votes combined: records with obvious appeal from famous stars, acts all critics but the most niche-bound bloggers are pretty much obligated to deal with.
Some early Pazz & Jop columns were published with selected ballots, but as the electorate expanded there was no space for that level of detail. That all changed in 2008 with some web programming that made it possible to list all the voters for each album, and to fetch the ballots for each voter -- technology which upended the horse race. Glenn McDonald was then able to take this extra data and run it through a fancy statistical analysis program, computing values like "centricity" and "kvoltosis" -- and "metalism," a genre bias factor that interested him but one he never extended to genres other people care about -- and he was able to sort out affinity networks between critics with overlapping votes. More could be done along those lines, but the key is still broadening and deepening the voter base, and collecting more metadata about voters.
Tuesday, January 21. 2014
I sent the following letter out to 50+ publicists I've been working with over the course of my jazz reviewing, and I'm posting it here for whoever I missed. This effectively ends my career as a jazz critic: you can't critique what you cannot hear, and if this letter has the same effect as the one I wrote when I stopped publishing Recycled Goods at Static Multimedia, I soon won't be hearing much of anything -- except through services like Rhapsody. Still, it's only fair to do so.
I could have dug up a great many more publicists and musicians, but wanted to focus on ones I've dealt with recently. I am, of course, very conflicted about this whole thing. Depending on publicists has never been a very good system, even when most of them are respectful of other opinions and professional in their dealings with you. One musician I wrote to way back replied that he always thought the business "ran on payola" but was taken aback by how brash my letter was. It took me many rereadings before I realized that he thought I was shaking him down -- not something I could ever imagine myself doing. He actually turned out to be a good sport about it all -- he sent me lots of records, and I reviewed them lavishly (and I still think honestly). But that's just one of many examples of how distorted the relationship is. Another is that a musician who did read the blog and who did realize that I was shutting down sent me a couple records just saying that he appreciated my work and hoped I would enjoy them. I did, and wrote about them too.
The full effect of these changes will take some time to sort out. This week I'm still doing about as much music listening and writing as I have average over last year. Unpacking today added eight more CDs to the queue, and I've only rated two albums -- lost a big chunk of time today going out to see American Hustle. I thought I'd get around to updating the Christgau website this week but now it looks like it'll be next week. And many other tasks are waiting, but I hope getting a bit closer.
Monday, January 20. 2014
Music: Current count 22739  rated (+31), 574  unrated (+1).
Thirty records has long been my standard for a productive week, but these days it means I'm still stuck in the old rut. I don't know what the new norm should be, or if there should be one, but surely it ought to be less. As it is, I'm still adding things to the 2013 metacritic file even though its ability to predict Pazz & Jop has been ended by history. The main lesson I take from comparing the data is that the P&J electorate has become an unrepresentative subset of the whole world's possible voters. For one thing, it's way more American -- most UK and European faves fell off considerably. Genrewise the big difference was a major fall off in electronica (e.g., James Blake dropped from 8th to 90th; Jon Hopkins dropped from 23rd to 84th; Boards of Canada dropped from 19th to 60th; less dramatically: Fuck Buttons dropped from 41st to 57th; Oneontrix Point Never from 32nd to 43rd; Disclosure dropped from 9th to 13th; Daft Punk dropped from a close 3rd to a distant 3rd; and Tim Hecker bucked the trend, rising from 43rd to 32nd). Hip-hop did a bit better with P&J (although crossover picks still have a waft of tokenism, including the sense that most voters only picked up one free mixtape -- this year, Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap). Metal was also up, even though it seems to me like I've put many more metal lists into metacritic file than I ought to. The other plus area was Americana, led by three young country singer-songwriters with something to say: Kacey Musgraves (up to 10th from 38th), Ashley Monroe (23rd from 71st), and Brandy Clark (45th from 85th).
Two comments on this week's newly rated records. Kool and Kass was the only one to appear in last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. I had forgotten that Michael Tatum had reviewed it favorably back in August until I finished with Kool A.D.'s more recent Not OK, so I got to it late. When I decided I had too many RS records, my initial decision was to hold back everything added this past week, but it made more sense for the two records to stay together.
The Jimmy Rushing record below is actually part of a twofer (2 LPs on 1 CD), but I decided to split it out as an old LP rather than as a new compilation. That's partly because the other half of the reissue is half of an earlier twofer, but also because it seems rather cleaner to treat the original LPs as integral wholes for reference purposes: you can then make your own decision about twofer packaging. To give a rather extreme example, I have a Jan & Dean twofer combining Drag City (1963, A-) and Jan and Dean's Pop Symphony No. One (1966, B-, perhaps way too generously) -- which is to say, an album that starts great but one I never want to hear all the way through. No such problem with Rushing: either twofer is fine, and getting an extra copy of The Jazz Odyssey of James Rushing Esq. is hardly a problem.
Records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, January 19. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, January 18. 2014
First Rhapsody Streamnotes column since I decided to suspend Jazz Prospecting and Recycled Goods and fold anything I did in either of those categories into it. In theory, that should reduce my effort and coverage, but this month that seems to have just increased the count here. I had always considered the possibility of posting Streamnotes more than once a month, and that seemed like an especially good idea as this month's draft file started looking like it would exceed 100 records. As it turns out, I held back pretty much everything I've written since Monday's "Music Week" post (but there are a few things here I hadn't reported in the "Music Week" lists, since they were written earlier).
What follows is a mix of new 2014 jazz albums -- some written up a month or two ago and held back for their release dates, but now that I'm no longer Jazz Prospecting weekly I figure I'll do them whenever I get to them -- and stragglers from 2013 lists (or in a couple cases things I stumbled upon without any list help). I'll write a bit more about the metacritic file and Pazz & Jop in this coming Monday's Music Week. I don't have time to unpack that now, but I've started to sort out the data here, so if you're so inclined, you might find something to chew on there.
One thing I will say is that the declining voting population -- Pazz & Jop is down to 457 voters, which is fewer than in 1998 (498) -- has made the results more erratic, and I think more narrow than what I get from the metacritic file. To pick a couple examples, metal does better in P&J, and electronica does much worse. Also, P&J voters are more likely to provide token crossover support for a handful of hip-hop, country, and world albums without offering much depth in any of those. (Jazz is an exception here, probably because I track a lot of jazz sources in the metacritic file, and very few P&J voters pick jazz records.) Much more could be said there, and I probably won't get around to it. After all, I'm trying to move on.
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 December 29. Past reviews and more information are available here (4247 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
T.K. Blue: A Warm Embrace (2013 , Blujazz): Aka Talib Kibwe, plays sax (alto/soprano) and flute (featured in three of four photos); sixth album since 1999, previous one heavily Latin but this is pretty mainstream, with James Weidman (piano), Essiet Essiet (bass), Winard Harper (drums), and Ron Jackson or Russell Malone (guitar). I hate having to pick on flute: it has its place in the orchestral palette and doesn't have no place in jazz, but this goes from pleasant to something else when he put down the sax and picks up a flute. B- [cd]
Dean Blunt: The Redeemer (2013, Hippos in Tanks): British DJ, has a checkered career working under various pseudonyms like Hype Williams. Very rough and unsettled, odd spikes. B
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound: Howl (2013, Bloodshot): Chicago soul man on a punk-Americana label, his band neither here nor there. B
Ari Brown: Groove Awakening (2013, Delmark): Tenor saxophonist from Chicago, started in R&B bands and always seemed a pat for free jazz groups, but he finds his groove here with Kirk Brown on piano and Dr. Guz adding extra percussion. B+(***) [cd]
Buika: La Noche Más Larga (2013, Warner Music Latina): Flamenco singer, Concha Buika, born in Spain with Guinean roots, writes half her songs but also does Billie Holiday and Abbey Lincoln and a Jacques Brel song I associate more with Nina Simone ("Ne Me Quitte Pas"). B+(*)
George Cables: Icons & Influences (2013 , HighNote): Pianist, has been recording since the mid-1970s, including some of the finest albums of Art Pepper's last fling. Without a horn, his trios -- this is one with Dezron Douglas and Victor Lewis -- never quite blow me away but he's a quintessential jazz pianist, capable of stretching out past an hour without ever a slack spot. B+(***) [cd]
Rosanne Cash: The River & the Thread (2014, Blue Note): Singer-songwriter, this new batch of songs co-signed by spouse John Leventhal so they tend to look out rather than in. Lolls along easily, like those rivers that drain her neck of the woods. B+(**)
Glenn Cashman's Southland Nonet: Music Without Borders (2012 , Primrose Lane): Tenor saxophonist, has a previous LA-based big band album, this group only slightly smaller with three brass, three reeds, piano, bass, and drums. Dedicated to Doctors Without Borders, this is dashing from the start. B+(**) [cd]
Checkpoint Rock: Canciones Desde Palestina (2009, Talka): Audio for a Spanish video of Palestinian resistance songs -- the video probably helps, especially for the closer where DAM teaches his "I Don't Have Freedom" to the "Children of Lod." I like the raps better than the rockers and the more trad pieces, and I'm glad that Manu Chao joined for the title song -- otherwise I doubt I would have found this. B+(**)
The Child of Lov: The Child of Lov (2013, Domino): Martijn William Zimri Teerlinck, aka Cole Williams, born in Belgium but based in Amsterdam, and dead at age 26, a few months after this one album came out. He interacts with various semi-famous hip-hop luminaries -- DOOM and Damon Albarn get "feat." credits -- producing an unsettled work that may never come clear. B+(*)
The Computers: Love Triangles Hate Squares (2013, One Little Indian): You've heard of post-punk? Alex Kershaw's group plays post-pub-rock, recycling the rock of ages but limited through a vocal prism that can't see beyond Elvis Costello or Graham Parker -- music this upbeat should be more fun, not to mention memorable. B
Steve Davis: For Real (2013 , Posi-Tone): Mainstream trombonist, nearly 20 albums since 1996, picks up one song from pianist Larry Willis, wrote the rest. Gets a big lift from tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton, and some Latin tinge from drummer Billy Williams. B+(**) [cd]
Rob Derke & the NY Jazz Quartet: Blue Divide (2013 , Zoho): NYJAZZ seems to be related to a larger organization, but let's stick with this quartet. First album for Derke, who plays soprano saxophone with surprising vigor. Bassist Carlo De Rosa wrote a couple pieces; Aruán Ortiz plays piano, and Eric McPherson drums. B+(***) [cd]
John Di Fiore: Yellow Petals (2013 , Third Freedom Music): Drummer-led piano trio, with Billy Test on piano and Adrian Morning on bass. Di Fiore, who hails from NJ, wrote all the pieces, and if he mixes the drums up a bit, he makes that work as well. B+(***) [cd]
Donato Dozzy: Plays Bee Mask (2013, Spectrum Spools): Bee Mask is electronica producer Chris Madak, and he released a two-cut LP in 2012 including a 13:23 track called "Vaporware"; Italian DJ Dozzy's album has seven numbered "Vaporware" tracks, running 3:39-8:54, with a nice ambient feel, plus a little tinkle. B+(**)
Dub Club: Foundation Come Again (2013, Stones Throw): LA DJ Tom Chasteen rounds up and recycles some old-fashioned reggae -- names include Big Youth, Dillinger, and Josey Wales -- with all the excess echo you expect. B+(**)
Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio: Follow the Sun (2013, Delmark): Percussionist from Chicago, his long-running trio features Ari Brown on tenor sax and Junius Paul on bass, and they add two guests here: a second tenor saxophonist, Brown's mentor Doug Payne (also plays bagpipes), and singer Dwight Trible. Tempting to say the problem is Trible's overwrought vocals, but his segue into "Body and Soul" is masterful. B+(**) [cd]
The Fat Babies: 18th & Racine (2013, Delmark): Trad jazz band from Chicago, second album, bassist Beau Sample is the nominal leader but Andy Schumm (cornet, alto sax) wrote the one original and arranged most of the rest, favoring the late '20s over the later swing era. B+(***) [cd]
The Front Bottoms: Talon of the Hawk (2013, Bar/None): Indie rock duo from New Jersey, singer has quite a sneer, smart as in aleck, but the barbed hooks are catchy. B+(**)
Laurel Halo: Chance of Rain (2013, Hyperdub): From Ann Arbor, second album, electronica, reminds me a little of Drexciya but the underwater shtick isn't as nicely developed. B+(*)
Fareed Haque: Trance Hypothesis (2013, Delmark): Guitarist, born in Chicago of Pakistani and Chilean descent, starts with organ for a taste of soul jazz but touches on fusion and works in exotic spices -- actually, oud, tabla, two vocalists with Indian/Pakistani names who could just be scatting. Reminds me of Wes Montgomery -- not the real one so many other still try to sound like, but an imaginary one who saw the world and moved on. B+(**) [cd]
Taylor Haskins: Fuzzy Logic (2011-13 , Sunnyside): Trumpet player, fourth album, backed by strings -- guitar, violin, viola, cello, bass -- and drums. The trumpet parts are fine, but he also plays "native american drone flute" and melodica, and the strings are undistinguished and murky. I see in his bio that he recently received a US patent for "helping to develop proprietary music software that implemented artificial intelligence-based technology." I won't dock him for that, but probably should. B- [cd]
Angel Haze: Dirty Gold (2013, Republic): Raykeea Wilson, rapper, broke through with a good mixtape last year, got a label deal but wound up with a December 30 release, missing the big sales season and any chance for year-end notice. A-
David Helbock's Random/Control: Think of Two (2013 , Traumton): German pianist, has a couple previous records, plays various toys and electronics in addition to piano, in a trio with Johannes Bar (horns from trumpet to sousaphone and didgeridoo) and Andreas Broger (similar range of reeds), everyone pitching in on percussion. Playful. B+(**) [cd]
Honey Island Swamp Band: Cane Sugar (2013, Louisiana Red Hot): Louisiana band, guitar-wise they admire the Allmans, vocals easy-going although they can approximate a blues feel or a boogie beat; a little too sweet and gritless to care much about. B
Hookworms: Pearl Mystic (2013, Weird World): British group, from Leeds, has made surprise advances in year-end lists, no doubt because anyone who masters the tension-tone riffs the Velvet Underground bequeathed to alt-indiedom is going to sound timelessly classic -- even bands that don't last any longer than the Perfect Disaster or Lower Dens. This is another one of those. A-
Carolyn Lee Jones: The Performer (2013, Cat'nround Sound): Standards singer, second or third album (not sure what to call Live in Dallas), has a long list of musicians shuffling in and out, including a saxophonist I like and a flautist I don't mind. As usual, this rises and falls with the songs -- give me "Old Devil Moon" any time -- but she gets more mileage than most out of "Let's Get Lost" and goes for pure seductiveness after that. B+(***) [cd]
Juicy J: Stay Trippy (2013, Taylor Gang/Kemosabe/Columbia): Jordan Michael Houston, started in Three 6 Mafia, third solo joint, feats on more songs than not with Wiz Khalifa the norm. B+(*)
Manika Kaur: Satnam Waheguru: The True Name (2013 , self-released): Kirtan singer -- rooted in Sikh tradition, although I gather the form is more widespread -- born in Australia, based in Abu Dhabi: strikes me as low-key, lulling, just short of hypnotic. B+(**) [cd]
Kool A.D.: Not O.K. (2013, self-released): The less reliable half of Das Racist gets goofier, often pausing before his rhyme word as if solving some sort of real-time multiple choice test, so, sure, not the great rapper he claims, but he keeps finding new ways to throw you off. A- [bc]
Kool and Kass: Peaceful Solutions (2013, self-released): Rapper Kool A.D. ("my flow is odder than an otter with three daughters") and drummer Kassa Overall, who keeps the beats real and helps steady his peripatetic partner. A- [bc]
Greg Lewis: Organ Monk: American Standard (2013 , self-released): Organ player, tackled the Thelonious Monk songbook in his first album and has kept that title as sort of a brand name, although judging from the type it belongs as part of the title. Mostly standards here -- "Nice Work if You Can Get It," "Tea for Two," "Everything Happens to Me," "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." Trio expanded to quintet with Riley Mullins on trumpet and Reggie Woods on tenor sax. B+(*) [cd]
Logos: Cold Mission (2013, Keysound): James Parker, background seems to be dubstep, gets something quasi-industrial here, the accents staggered line spent shell casings, the ups and downs more impressive than pleasing -- cold, indeed. B+(*)
London Grammar: If You Wait (2013, Warner/Chappell): British group, from Nottingham actually, built around singer Hannah Reid -- slow, brooding, sort of a trip-hop vibe. B+(*)
Lucius: Wildewoman (2013, Mom + Pop Music): Brooklyn band, two women (Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig) singing, in front of three blokes playing drums and guitars. B+(*)
Zara McFarlane: If You Knew Her (2013 , Brownswood): British jazz singer, parents from Jamaica, second album, takes everything slow with her plaintive voice, most touching on "Police & Thieves" but less so when there's nothing more than love at stake. B [cd]
Cava Menzies/Nick Phillips: Moment to Moment (2013 , self-released): Leaders play piano and trumpet, respectively, backed by bass and drums. First album I can find by either. To call it a ballad album slights its smoky makeout appeal. B+(***) [cd]
Pete Mills: Sweet Shadow (2013 , Cellar Live): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Toronto but based in Columbus [OH], fourth album. Fluid at high speed, has a nice tone on ballads, backed by both piano and guitar, but Pete McCann has most of the memorable spots. B+(***) [cd]
Juana Molina: Wed 21 (2013, Crammed Discs): Argentine singer-songwriter, lived in exile in Paris early on, takes her musical cues from electronica producers. B+(**)
No Joy: Wait to Pleasure (2013, Mexican Summer): Montreal group, name begs contrast with Too Much Joy, which needless to say were a lot more fun. Drone-heavy shoegaze around female vocals -- Jasamine White-Gluz and/or Laura Lloyd. Not bad, but you will have to wait. B+(*)
Jeremy Pelt: Face Forward, Jeremy (2013 , High Note): Trumpet player, had impressive chops from the start but has rarely turned them into good albums, and seems almost defeated here, with Roxy Cross even more subdued on reeds, David Bryant playing way too much Fender Rhodes, three vocal cuts that signify nothing, some electric bass and drum programming that at least keeps it all moving. B- [cd]
Katy Perry: Prism (2013, Capitol): Megastar, can afford the whole megapop production experience and it suits her fine -- anything else would risk getting personal. But it can get to be a bit much. B+(*)
The Danny Petroni Blue Project: The Blue Project (2013 , DPS): Post-Sandy blues from the former New Jersey shore. Petroni plays guitar, subcontracting the vocals to Frank Lacy -- you're more likely to know him for his trombone and maybe even flumpet, but he's a forthright blues shouter and that's all this set calls for. B+(***) [cd]
Pharmakon: Abandon (2013, Sacred Bones, EP): Margaret Chardiet promised an EP, so I discarded Rhapsody's 27:07 "bonus cut," settling for four tracks totalling 26:49, which for a noise album built from blood-curdling cries and lots of dense fuzz is plenty. Not without a redeeming musical quality, although I wouldn't push that line too hard. B+(*)
Robert Prester: Dogtown (2013 , Commonwealth Ave. Productions): Pianist, probably his first album, with trumpet on four tracks, vocals on three, extra percussion to keep it loose and jumpy. B [cd]
Quadron: Avalanche (2013, Vested in Culture): Danish duo, singer Coco O (Coco Maja Hastrup Karshøj) and producer Robin Hannibal (né Braun), second album. She has a light soul accent, about half way to Diana Ross, in which case his slinky soul arrangements are half way to Babyface, not that they come off as coming up short -- they make you wonder if the problem with so much "nu soul" isn't that they overdo it. B+(**)
Radical Dads: Rapid Reality (2013, Uninhabitable Mansions): A drummer from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and two guitarists, with one -- non-dad Lindsay Baker -- doing most of the singing, giving them a little shrillness to go with the postpunk thrash, and irony enough to be radical indeed. A-
Lee Ranaldo and the Dust: Last Night on Earth (2013, Matador): Sonic Youth guitarist, has a string of avant-oriented solo albums going back to the late 1980s, but since the breakup has tried to evolved into a mainstream singer-songwriter with occasional guitar twinges, and doesn't even achieve that here. B
The Rempis/Daisy Duo: Second Spring (2013 , Aerophonic): Free jazz duets, Chicago jazzmen (and Vandermark 5 alumni) Dave Rempis on alto, tenor, and baritone sax, and Tim Daisy on drums. The saxophonist is formidable as ever, but the drummer often opts for an understated or oblique tack, and that throws the sax off a bit -- too mild if he follows, too brusque if doesn't. B+(***) [cd]
Dave Rempis/Joshua Abrams/Avreeayl Ra: Aphelion (2013 , Aerophonic): Free sax trio, bassist Abrams also playing guimbri and small harp, which gets him more solo space, and takes away from the leader's often fierce sax runs. B+(***) [cd]
Matt Renzi: Rise and Shine (2012 , Three P's): Tenor saxophonist, eighth album since 1998, starts with a trio and adds bits here and there -- Ralph Alessi trumpet, A.R. Balaskandan mridangam -- and switches off to clarinet, oboe, and flute. Not all of that works, a shame given how poised he is on sax. B+(**) [cd]
LeAnn Rimes: Spitfire (2013, Curb): Child star at 14, which was 17 years and 12 albums ago; co-writes most of her songs, not the same as the best of her songs. B+(*)
Pete Robbins: Pyramid (2013 , Hate Laugh Music): Alto saxophonist, AMG lists five albums since 2002 but that's too few, a postbop player with some edge and a terrific quartet here -- Vijay Iyer on piano, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. B+(***) [cd]
Rich Rosenthal: Falling Up (2012 , Muse-Eek): Guitarist, b. 1964, first album as leader, discography shows one side credit, in Joe Giardullo Open Ensemble. Giardullo returns the favor here, playing soprano and sopranino sax, nudging the quartet into free territory. The leader both follows along and takes some surprising turns on his own. B+(***) [cd]
Brandon Ross/Stomu Takeishi: For Living Lovers: Revealing Essence (2013 , Sunnyside): Guitarist and bassist, the latter's acoustic bass guitar is so deeply buried I'm reluctant to call these duets, but the guitar is also acoustic, and nearly as subdued. B [cd]
Anton Schwartz: Flash Mob (2013 , Anton Jazz): Tenor saxophonist, fifth album since 1998, postbopper leading a hard bop group -- Dominick Farinacci on trumpet, Taylor Eigsti on piano -- talented players who somehow never do anything interesting. B [cd]
Archie Shepp: Attica Blues Orchestra Live: I Hear the Sound (2013 , Archieball): Tenor saxophonist, cut Attica Blues back in 1971 when Rockefeller's massacre of prisoners and guards was news, and still carries the flame, in part because he pioneered a meeting of black folk and avant-jazz specific to the era and still resonant today. But his sax has mellowed over the years, as has his anger, and the singers that lead most of this revival meeting, not least Cecile McLorin Salvant, are just pros. B+(***) [cd]
Edward Simon: Venezuelan Suite (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from Venezuela, a dozen (or more) albums since 1993 -- most often trios but here he expands to a nine-piece group, with cuatro and flutes, extra percussion and Edmar Castaneda's harp. First four (of five) pieces comprise the title suite. B+(**) [cd]
Sly5thAve: Sly 5th Ave Presents Akuma (2012 , self-released): Tenor saxophonist, original name Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II, from Austin, TX; studied at UNT; has toured with Prince, and in his list of musicians he's performed and/or recorded with -- normally something I skip over -- I did notice some hip-hop names like Freddie Gibbs, Homeboy Sandman, and Blu among the usual pop (Gladys Knight) and jazz (three Marsalis brothers, Maceo Parker, but also Brad Leali) names. First album, some African themes and plenty of Latin tinge. B+(**) [cd]
E. Doctor Smith: Quantum (2013, Edgetone): Drummer by trade, credited with synths here, his transition marked by his invention of a synth-drum called the Drummstick. Wikipedia's list of his studio albums starts with True Blue, The Breakfast Club, and Like a Prayer -- two of those are more commonly attributed to Madonna, so I'd say his proper discography starts in 2001 with The Drummstick and moves on to this slab of bass-heavy fusion. Starts off that way, anyway, but then sorta piddles out. B [cd]
1032K: That Which Is Planted: Live in Buffalo and Rochester (2013, Passin' Thru): Trio: Kevin Ray on bass, Andrew Drury on drums, and Ku-umba Frank Lacy on trombone, flumpet, voice, and percussion. The vocal preaches a text familiar to anyone who grew up on the Bible (or the Byrds), one that sticks in my craw because I doubt that there's ever a justifiable "time for war" -- but the music is Mingus, with Ayler, McCall, and Threadgill also given respect. Lacy has been around a long time but only has three albums under his name. Terrific to see him the focal point here. A- [cd]
Randy Travis: The Influence Vol. 1: The Man I Am (2013, Warner Brothers): He sure isn't aging gracefully: age 54 when this was released, his previous eighteen months saw three arrests, hospitalization for heart problems and a stroke, and his voice took a beating too. Covers, some awkward, some brave, some touching, none you'll take over the originals, and not just because he risks Lefty Frizzell and Louis Armstrong. B
Steve Treseler Group: Center Song (2013 , Creative Music Adventures): Saxophonist, mostly tenor, some clarinet, based in Seattle, second album, group varies but usually includes piano (9 of 13 tracks), often guitar (6) and/or cello (5), and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen gets a featuring credit on the front cover. B+(*) [cd]
Tropic of Cancer: Restless Idylls (2013, Blackest Ever Black): Dense waves of synth drone, lacklustre wails of palpably if not audibly anguished vocals, any given 20 second passage is listenable by itself, but over an hour they add up into something oppressive. B-
Mikolaj Trzaska/Devin Hoff/Michael Zerang: Sleepless in Chicago (2011-12 , NoBusiness): Free jazz sax trio, the Polish alto saxophonist has impressed every time I've heard him, and his pick-up band in Chicago know the drill. Short enough for LP, limited to 300 copies, presumably because the market knows best. B+(***) [cdr]
Ken Vandermark/The Resonance Ensemble: Head Above Water/Feet Out of the Fire (2012-13 , Not Two, 2CD): This is Ken Vandermark's third (or fourth) generation big band project, slimmed down a bit from his Territory Band -- three brass, four reeds, doubled up at bass and drums -- but the group name befits the rich sound he gets, rare cohesiveness, harmony even, in such a large free-for-all. A-
Frank Wess: Magic 201 (2011 , IPO): A sequal to last year's Magic 101, cut a couple months later with a similar group -- Kenny Barron and Winard Harper are on both, Rufus Reid takes over at bass here, and Russell Malone joins on guitar -- a real plus. The other change is that Wess plays some flute here, not just tenor sax as before. But since his death last fall at 91, this is all the more poignant -- would be even if it didn't close with "If It's the Last Thing I Do." B+(***) [cd]
The White Buffalo: Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways (2013, Unison Music): Jake Smith, rocks hard for a folksinger, seems like he's more inspired by Springsteen than Seeger, but he's got stories, doesn't like the military, and feels like he learned that lesson the hard way, even though he's probably just smart. B+(**)
Matt Wilson Quartet + John Medeski: Gathering Call (2013 , Palmetto): Pianoless quartet plus piano player, the split horn roles filled admirably by Jeff Lederer (reeds) and Kirk Knuffke (cornet), playing two Ellington riff pieces and a bunch of the drummer's originals. The guest is neither here nor there. B+(***) [cd]
Nils Wogram Root 70 With Strings: Riomar (2012 , NWOG): German trombonist, has two dozen albums since 1994 including one called Root 70 with this quartet -- Hayden Chisholm (alto sax), Matt Penman (bass), Jochen Rueckert (drums). This adds strings (one each: violin, viola, cello), purring quietly in the background or sawing away when they get the chance. B+(*) [cd]
Barry Guy/London Jazz Composers' Orchestra/Irène Schweizer: Theoria (1991 , Intakt): I don't think LJCO has ever been anything but bassist Guy's big sandbox: the five reeds and six brass can play sweet for a minute or two but like to rumble in ways that may (or may not) make sense. What does help here is the pivotal role of Swiss pianist Schweizer, who imposes her will over much of the single-piece hour. B+(*)
Barry Guy/London Jazz Composers Orcheatra/Irène Schweizer/Marilyn Crispell/Pierre Favre: Double Trouble Two (1995 , Intakt): The doubling is at piano, worth noting that Schweizer and Crispell also have a duet album together, so have had a chance to work this out without the distraction of the monster free jazz orch, as unruly as ever, perhaps even more magnificent at times (like the ending of "Part IV"), irritating at others: in short, the whole package. B+(**)
Cecil Taylor: Air (1960, Candid): Early album, although Taylor's rhythmic idiosyncrasy is already well developed, enough to deny tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp anything resembling a secure footing, and Taylor is so explosive his own solos often venture further out. A-
Cecil Taylor-Buell Neidlinger: New York City R&B (1961, Candid): Originally issued under the bassist's name, Taylor's name added later, but the pianist is the draw, especially on the two shorter trio cuts with Billy Higgins; the other two cuts add horns: Archie Shepp (tenor sax) on both; Clark Terry (trumpet), Steve Lacy (soprano sax), Roswell Rudd (trombone), and Charles Davis (baritone sax) on the closer. B+(***)
Cecil Taylor: Cell Walk for Celeste (1961, Candid): Outtakes from the New York City R&B and Jumpin' Punkins sessions that didn't appear in album form until 1988, most quartet with Shepp, Neidlinger, and Dennis Charles, but two tracks with the extra horn quartet, with Steve Lacy's soprano sax by far the most noteworthy. B+(**)
Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:
Jon Hopkins: Immunity (2013, Domino): Thick waves with long decays, too harmonically complex for minimalism even if that seems to be the idea -- or maybe ambient is the more current term, certainly the operative word for the ending note, but even more suggestive of something that sneaks up on you. [was: B+(***)] A-
Monday, January 13. 2014
Music: Current count 22708  rated (+33), 573  unrated (-6).
On the surface at least a relatively normal music week for me. I'm still adding lists to the metacritic file. I'm still picking out interesting-looking 2013 releases and trying to check them out on Rhapsody -- although for most of the week that was impossible, so I fell back to listening to new 2014 jazz. The interruption was due to a boot problem on my Windows Vista computer -- the only one I had working with speakers, on the assumption that it would be better for multimedia than my Linux machines. But when I pulled the Windows box out from under the desk and moved the speakers to an old Linux machine I had cobbled together from spare parts, I was able to get sound, and video, and get back on Rhapsody. I still have a lot of inaccessible download data on the Vista machine, and it's taken the Epson printer offline, but I'm operational again.
The metacritic file activity will end once I add Pazz & Jop into it: probably this week, since they missed last week's original schedule date. I've been cleaning out my hypesheet files and collecting publicist names -- I haven't had a mailing list since the early days of JCG -- and that, like everything else, is going slowly.
Seems like I'm having an unusual amount of trouble finding any new 2014 jazz releases to A-list, even though there is no shortage of high HMs -- cf. 3-star albums below from George Cables, Rob Derke, Jon Di Fiore, Pete Mills, Danny Petroni (with Frank Lacy), Dave Rempis (twice), Pete Robbins, Archie Shepp, Frank Wess, and Matt Wilson. At various points I thought half of those (Derke, Robbins, Shepp, Wilson) could make the higher grade, but for one reason or another I held them back. (Also held down some good 2-stars: e.g., Glenn Cashman, Steve Davis, David Helbock, Matt Renzi.) Nonetheless, I wound up with three A- records below, all from 2013 mop-up operations. (And by the way, two weren't even in the metacritic file when I found them -- although I had gotten a reliable tip on Kool A.D. -- and the other had appeared in only one EOY list.) That in itself makes for a pretty good week.
Just an observation, but the latest issue of DownBeat has 2.5-star pans of two records I like a lot: trad clarinetist Dave Bennett's Don't Be That Way (Mack Avenue) and fringe saxophonist Rent Romus' Truth Teller. Those records represent completely different ways for an artist to distinguish himself from the pack, and also say something about what made me different as a critic. On the other hand, everyone at DownBeat loves the new Matt Wilson album. I think it's pretty good too, but not that special.
I'm thinking I'll probably post a mid-month Rhapsody Streamnotes given how much material I've already accumulated, rather than wait for a ridiculously long post toward the end of the month. The number of records hasn't dropped appreciably yet, but I am sweating the writing less.
Records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, January 12. 2014
Charles Krauthammer wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post last week which was picked up by the Wichita Eagle. His title was New generation must confront anti-Semitism, but it had nothing to do with anti-Semitism. It was just a knee-jerk neocon reaction to a minor victory for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement against Israel's continuing occupation over and debasement of more than five millions Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. This bugs apologists for Israel like Krauthammer because it shows that their propaganda is beginning to lose its grip in America and Europe. Krauthammer doubles down with this amazing paragraph:
Israel has no constitution, nor any fundamental guarantee of free speech or freedom of religion, and its courts, far from being "fiercely independent," rarely act to restrain the most extreme abuses of state power. Israel classifies its citizens, granting many exclusive privileges to those who are Jewish, and dividing up its Palestinian subjects into various classes based on where they live. Most of the latter have little freedom of movement, have limited economic opportunity, and are subject to arbitrary arrest without charges or due process. Worse still, they are constantly subjected to the threat of violence, and often, almost randomly, to its actuality, and not just from the various armed forces of the state but from ad hoc groups of Jewish citizens, who are rarely restrained and almost never punished for their transgressions.
Krauthammer tries to defend Israel by pointing to crimes of other countries, such as Syria's recent use of "'barrel bombs' filled with nails, shrapnel and other instruments of terror." Hard to see how that in any way exculpates Israel's air force for using white phosphorus munitions during its 2008 attack against Gaza. But Israel's affront to human rights goes far deeper than the inevitable atrocities of its numerous avoidable wars. In 1948 Israeli forces obtained a substantial Jewish majority population in its territory by driving over 700,000 Palestinians into refugee camps, and secured that majority by refusing to allow any Palestinian refugees to return to their prewar homes.
In 1951 Israel extended citizenship to those Palestinians who remained as a minority in Israel, making Israel in principle a nation of its residents, but in reality non-Jewish "citizens" of Israel were second-class, subject to military rule (until 1967) and discriminated against in numerous ways ever since. However, in 1967 Israel attacked Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and seized substantial territories from each. Contrary to international law, Israel moved to settle and in some cases to annex the occupied territories, but in no case has Israel offered even nominal citizenship to its new subjects. As such, Israel ceased to be a nation belonging to its residents and became a state allowing one ethnographic class (Jews), with a semblance of internal democracy, to dominate, control, restrict, denigrate, and oppress its larger population.
Europe and America have long been sympathetic to Israel. They have provided vast support, especially military, which has helped Israel to persevere and to emerge as the preëminent power in the region. It's easy enough to understand why Americans, in particular, have been so enamored with Israel, but it's gradually dawning on many Americans that the regime in Israel has become deeply inimical to the principles and ideals our country was founded on and has long, publicly at least, aspired to. (In practice, America's treatment of its own native people and the long-term persistence of a racial caste system, is one thing we have in common but would prefer to think we've overcome.) Israel's propagandists get so agitated when their system of control over Palestinians is likened to South African Apartheid because they realize that history isn't on their side. Same thing with BDS, which most people associate with the struggle for equality in South Africa.
There's no doubt that sanctions can go too far. Japan, for instance, only attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 (and invaded Indonesia) after the US shut off oil supplies. Israel's own attempt to impose "a diet" on Gaza led Hamas to launch its toy rockets into Israel. Some people, like Noam Chomsky, have opposed BDS not because they don't understand how inimical Israel has become to human rights but because they fear driving Israel to some sort of violent paranoid fit. Readers of Max Blumenthal's new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, which focuses on the extreme right in Israel and the inroads they've made on mainstream Zionist thought, will be all the more nervous in this account.
But I see two reasons why I think BDS will have a positive effect. The first is that it sends a message, or actually two: one is that the propaganda isn't working and we can see through the unfair behavior. The other is that continuing that behavior has tangible, even if not especially damaging, consequences. One big reason the right wing in Israel has gained power over the last decade is that they've managed to convince voters that no one in the west would ever push back when Israel imposed its will on the Palestinians, and left-center parties have pretty much acquiesced to that argument. BDS shows both sides that there are tangible costs now and potentially greater costs in the future, and that will help the center-left to counter against the self-destructiveness so well described in Blumenthal's book.
The other reason for pushing BDS now is that it's something small groups can do well short of gaining political power. We're a long ways from being able to turn the US government around, but the ASA -- the American Studies Association, the group Krauthammer is railing against ("an exercise in radical chic, giving marginalized academics a frisson of pretend anti-colonialism, seasoned with a dose of edgy anti-Semitism") -- is a much more practical forum, yet still one that sends the message.
Is supporting BDS anti-Semitism? The only people who see it so are those who equate the state of Israel with the Jewish people, and even then they're hard pressed to find any evidence of anti-Semitism other than a critique of the abuses of power by the armed state of Israel and its chosen people. If such people really had any concern about anti-Semitism, they wouldn't insist on equating Jews with Israel, let alone with Israel's involvement with occupation, domination, and wanton violence. But true believers in Zionism have always depended on anti-Semitism: it is the force that drives Jews to flee to Israel, the force that justifies the need to live apart from the world, the force that fuels their revenge fantasies. And if often seems like the only way they can carry on is to invent more of it.
One irony here is that Jews in the diaspora have been in the forefront of local and international movements for liberalism and socialism, for personal freedom and for social justice -- a stance which drives them increasingly to question the behavior of the Israeli state and people. The few Americans who are aware of how distorted and dehumanizing life has become in Israel, especially in its settlements and occupied territories, and who still insist on championing Israeli militarism to the hilt are on the far right here -- fascists like Krauthammer, and highly disingenuous ones at that.
Ariel Sharon, né Scheinermann, died yesterday, at age 85, although he had been incapacitated by a stroke and coma since 2006, making his earthly departure something of a non-event. Possibly the single dumbest thing that George W. Bush ever said was when he described Sharon as a "man of peace." Sharon's own autobiography, which came out about that time, was titled Warrior. He was intimately involved in every Israeli war and nearly every border skirmish and retaliatory atrocity since 1948. In 1951 he led an Israeli commando force that demolished the village of Qibya, setting a standard for flagrant abuse of power that continued unchecked until he embarrassed the IDF during the Sabra and Shatila massacres in his 1982 Lebanon War and was removed from his post as Defense Minister. After that, he worked to rehabilitate himself by promoting illegal settlements, finally became Likud party leader in 2000, wrecked the Oslo "peace process" and provoked the "Al-Aqsa Intifada," the excuse he used to viciously crush the Palestinian Authority. He was a showboating general, a flamboyant politician, a ruthless opportunist, and most likely deeply corrupt. Even when he made a step that might have led toward peace, such as his 2004 withdrawal of settlements from Gaza, he did it in such a way as to ensure that the conflict would continue. That Israel should forever be at war with everyone, not least with its own people, is his enduring legacy. It's not clear whether he would have been proud of that, but that was the only way of life he ever knew, and the only one he could stand living. He was far from the only one to have created that world -- in his youth he was devoted to David Ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan and benefited much from their favoritism -- but by the end he had come to personify and embody the wretched fruits of war.
Thursday, January 9. 2014
Back on December 4, as I was finishing my Jazz Critics Poll ballot, I posted The Best Jazz Albums of 2013, my list of 74 new jazz albums and 4 reissues. Most years I have about as many non-jazz albums in my year-end lists and Pazz & Jop ballots as I have jazz, so it's reasonable to expect I could post a comparable non-jazz list. That follows here, but first some preliminary comments.
Since December 4 I've been frantically scouring year-end lists -- my main tool there is my metacritic file (and its compilations complement) -- trying to pick up much of what I had missed. I met a second deadline on December 23 when I filed my Pazz & Jop ballot (see here), which I deliberately skewed 7-3 toward non-jazz (and for that matter inserted a jazz set, William Parker's Wood Flute Songs, that I hadn't heard before the earlier ballot). Still, I kept searching out more things -- until the computer with the speakers and the software for dealing with Rhapsody and downloads crapped out on me.
This is, in any case, as good a time as any to present a year-end list. I've updated The Best Jazz Albums of 2013, which has swelled to 87 new albums + 6 reissues. Picking up a dozen new albums in a month was due to an unusual combination of factors. Some were records I wasn't aware of until they showed up in lists (Marty Ehrlich, Odean Pope, Hunger Pangs); some were late due to transatlantic shipping (Anna Kaluza, the Two Al's); some got to Rhapsody late (Mario Pavone, Ken Vandermark; Jon Lundbom is officially a 2014 release, but showed up early); and a couple were sent by musicians (Jörg Fischer, Michael McNeil -- he sent me the Paul Smoker releases).
Hard to compare this with previous years, in part because I searched back through my review files and added most of the 2012 releases that I didn't get to until 2013: 8, including one reissue, in the jazz A-list, 96 (including 4 reissues) below that. I needed to include some 2012 releases to make up for the early December ballot dates -- my number three pick, a Billy Bang record attributed to The Group, was officially released in late December (in Lithuania no less), so nobody had a chance to include it on their 2012 lists. I devised a test to decide which 2012 releases to count -- I didn't want to pick up things that I had merely been late to (Taylor Swift's Red is a good example) -- then applied it throughout (more details in the non-jazz reference file).
The Best Non-Jazz Albums of 2013 follows (see that "reference file" link for more data). The Jazz A-list is longer than the Non-Jazz one (87 to 69), but that's mostly because I wound up listening to more than twice as many jazz albums (727 to 330). It probably also helped that most of the jazz albums were on actual CDs, whereas nearly all of the non-jazz albums were reviewed on the more limited basis of a spin (or two) on Rhapsody. On the other hand, I had a lot more help finding non-jazz records: nearly everything obscure on the list can be attributed to the discoveries of one or another (sometimes several) trusted critics. (Thomas Anderson is an exception: he sent me the CD and it doesn't appear to have reached anyone else. Wayne Hancock is another.) But I picked four records up from Jason Gross' EOY list; Daniel Wohl (and probably others) from Jason Gubbels; King DJ from Lucas Fagen; several items from Michael Tatum and even more from Robert Christgau (Yo Ma Ma and Robert Sarazin Blake were especially long stretches).
Of course, there were also many good records by relatively well known artists, and thanks to Rhapsody I was able to check most of them out. I've heard 45 of the top-50 metacritic file records (all except: My Bloody Valentine, Bill Callahan, Run the Jewels, Fuck Buttons, John Grant), and 39 of the next 50 (not heard: Mikal Cronin, Laura Mvula, Blood Orange, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Beyoncé, Jagwar Ma, Daniel Avery, Juliana Barwick, Thee Oh Sees, Moderat, Charles Bradley). It gets spottier after that, as well it should. There are dozens, maybe even a hundred or two, more albums below that to seek out, few of which we'll ever get to. After all, another year is coming.
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? I did this for the jazz albums part of my list back when I filed my ballot for the Jazz Critics Poll (the file has subsequently been updated to January 6, 2014). So this is the other side of the coin: the non-jazz list.
For A-list only: [*] 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.
For all lists, I've included 2012 (and in rare cases earlier) records rated after the freeze date (Jan. 1, 2013) that were so obscure they received less than five points in the 2012 metacritic file. These are marked, e.g., '12, after the label. Another 73 2012 releases (nearly all non-jazz) were graded after the freeze date but fail the metacritic test: I was aware of nearly all of those but simply got to them late.
New Music: Non-Jazz
Again, full info here:Jazz, and Non-Jazz.
Monday, January 6. 2014
Music: Current count 22675  rated (+20), 579  unrated (+7).
Jazz Prospecting is indefinitely suspended. Only way I can see bringing it back is if someone steps forward and offers me a paying gig writing a variant on the Jazz Consumer Guide format, and it has enough visibility and support to let me run it as I've long wished I could. I don't see much chance of that happening. At this point Robert Christgau is unable to get a sponsor for his Consumer Guide, and as his former editor pointed out to me: jazz is such a tiny bit of the market -- so tiny the outfit that last supported Christgau wouldn't even consider it.
Even so, I would have to decide that it is more worthwhile to spend my remaining time sorting out records than working on my long-procrastinated book project, Share the Wealth -- resurrecting the old Huey Long campaign theme, but with wrinkles and reverberations he never imagined. Still, one thing I like about the line is that it wasn't just a slogan: it came with an organization (better still, "clubs"), and it also came with a theme song. My major weakness as a jazz (or rock) critic was that I always suspected I should be doing something else, so I never put the effort into really mastering music writing. For instance, I was struck recently by a post by W. Royal Stokes where he reviews 135 Jazz, Blues, and Beyond Books Published in the Past Year or So. I've read (roughly) similar numbers of books in the last year (or two), but none of them have been on music. (Of course, expertise only goes so far: I'd take my 2013 list over Stokes' recommendations any day.)
This doesn't mean I'm going to stop listening to music, or even stop writing about it. I expect to continue with Rhapsody Streamnotes at least once a month, and I'll fold anything I might have written for Jazz Prospecting or Recycled goods into it. A week after I posted December's column (with 77 records in it) I have 25 notes more/less ready for next month. I expect the pace to slow down: I've been stuck in a mental rut trying to wrap up 2013, but that will wind down after Pazz & Jop posts on January 8th -- traditionally the last thing I do to my metacritic file is to fold in the Pazz & Jop results. (Meanwhile, I've been adding lists steadily: the file is now up to 7037 new records, and the reissues/vault jobs file is up to 1028 entries.)
Now may be the last chance I get to post metacritic file results before Pazz & Jop, so this is how the current standings go:
This file has generally been pretty indicative of Pazz & Jop performance, although it doesn't attempt to match the Voice's profile for voters, so certain skews are well known: P&J has very few UK (or for that matter non-US) voters, so artists who are weaker in the US tend to underperform (likely examples here: James Blake, Arctic Monkeys, Bill Callahan, John Grant, probably David Bowie, maybe Nick Cave); token hip-hop/R&B, and to a lesser extent pop, artists tend to do better in P&J (Chance the Rapper, Janelle Monáe, Danny Brown, Lorde, Drake, MIA; Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus will do better but both are way off the pace, at 245 and 182 respectively); older mainstream artists have usually done better in P&J (e.g., Dylan, Springsteen), but it's hard to see who's close enough to be helped this time (David Bowie?). I think it's very likely that at least two of this year's breakout country women will crack the top forty (Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Brandy Clark).
(By the way, I've looked at a lot of disagreeable lists, but Jim Farber's in the New York Daily News is easily the worst I've seen all year -- among other problems, it's the first I've seen that even mentions Natalie Maines, whose record he touts as the year's best.)
Aside from the metacritic file, I'm also updating the "Best Jazz" list originally posted a month ago to reflect what I've found since (quite a bit), and when I'm done I'll have a "Best Non-Jazz" piece to go with it. Historically, the two splits have been fairly evenly matched, but this year the jazz side is ahead 85-69 (A- or above) and 726-305 (B+ or below; both are new records including belated 2012 grades; non-jazz leads in the old music categories 39-25). I'll post these pieces later this week, at which point I'll do my annual list freeze. And I'll wrap up the metacritic file when I fold the Pazz & Jop results into it -- the results are due January 8.
Also on my schedule is to send out a letter to many of the publicists who have been sending me records, after which I expect they'll stop. (Actually, some have stopped already. Also, I don't have a definitive list, so some will no doubt learn from here, if they bother at all.) I've already covered most of this in the revised version of the file formerly titled "Send Me Music to Review." One thing I will point out there is that there remains a small residual value in still sending me stuff: I will continue to publish "Music Week" every Monday, and it will have a current rated count up top and a list of the week's newly rated albums, as well as the old "unpacking" feature, toward the bottom. Likewise, those of you who tune in each week for consumer guidance will at least get the latest grades. (Reviews, such as I bother to write, will wait for the month's Rhapsody Streamnotes.)
Arguably that's not much, but it won't take much effort beyond what I would do anyway. How valuable it turns out to be will depend previously ungraded music I listen to -- something I have no way of predicting at the moment. But I do hope this provides those who value my judgment -- I'm especially grateful for those who wrote in recently -- some reason to stay in touch.
One thing I've already discovered in compiling the recently rated list is that it would be useful to provide at least a genre tag and a source: cd=CD, r=Rhapsody, bc=Bandcamp, etc. In theory, the list below should add up to match the delta above. This week has been particulary dicey in that I had pulled much of this together after the fact this week. Mostly listening to records from 2013 EOY lists here, although I did get distracted by two Barry Guy/LCJO records I had missed.
Records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: