Wednesday, December 31. 2014
This wraps up the year 2015. Last year I resolved to spend less time on music and more on writing my book projects, and I've pretty much been a complete failure on that. I did manage to cut some ties with music publicists, and my incoming mail is certainly down. But this year's grades list still lists 1045 records. Compared against previous years' "frozen" files -- i.e., copies saved off at roughly the end of the year -- that is the shortest since 2008 and second-shortest since 2005. Sure, the file is down about 100 lines compared to 2013, about 50 lines compared to 2012. Still, that represents a lot of records, and a lot of time.
I've tried to do several things here: to clean out my own unplayed queue, to listen to the handful of good prospects that only came out in December, and to check out some of the more interesting things on other people's EOY lists. I've depended more and more on streaming services like Rhapsody to have any chance whatsoever to cover a broad range of more/less popular music. Aside from pretty much completely ignoring metal, I feel like I've done a fairly good job of that. Checking against this year's metacritic file (limited to EOY lists, I've heard 41 of the top 50 (and less impressively 71 of the top 100). Unheard thus far:
There are a few items on the unheard list that I looked for but didn't find (Swift, Segall, Plant, Shellac, Stott, Williams), but most are records I have little personal hope for -- judging from reviews and/or experience. I don't have time to sort through the data again, but in the past there has been virtually no correlation between list placement and my grades. One little spot check here: of 970 new records I have graded, 94 are B, for 9.6%; of the 71 top-100 records I've graded, 10 are B, for 14.0%; I have 44 B- grades (4.5% of all graded), including 6 in the top 100, for 8.4%. That suggests that bad records are if anything more likely to appear in the top 100.
At the other end, I've rated 142 records A- or A this year -- probably an all-time record -- for 14.2% of my rated total. I have 10 of the top-100 at A- or A, an almost identical 14.0%. These numbers don't disprove the hypothesis that there's no correlation between quality (in my view) and list placement. The discrepancy on lower grades is probably because I'm more likely to listen to bad records on the list than off -- something that should be clear from the declining numbers of lesser grades on my list (94 B, 44 B-, 8 C+, 3 C -- a random sampling of available records should produce relatively constant numbers in each of those grades; although it could also be that I'm just not a very tough grader in that range).
No resolutions for 2015, although it is likely that I will cut back on music reviews, and possibly much else.
By the way, for another analysis of year-end list data, see Rob Mitchum: The Rock-Critic Hive Mind. He's able to draw out some basic points from a spreadsheet of 35 lists -- presumably you can download his spreadsheet and play with it (although personally I've never found spreadsheets to be all that useful; by the way, you can download my data files -- new albums, reissues/comps, legend -- and write some fairly trivial awk or perl or whatever to hack them into your favorite database or spreadsheet format). My own data is a good deal broader and deeper (his 35 lists refer to about 600 albums; my 200+ refer to about 3000 albums), although if you're only interested in the top of the lists that may not matter. I do get some slightly different results; e.g., a larger lead for FKA Twigs and much less suggestion of a UK-bias.
I've written several comments along these lines already, but will recap a bit here. My prediction is that the Pazz & Jop winner will be Run the Jewels 2, followed by St. Vincent, FKA Twigs' LP1, and War on Drugs' Lost in the Dream -- although the order of those four is actually pretty uncertain. Aphex Twin's Syro and Flying Lotus' You're Dead are certain to finish top 10 and either could break into the top-four. D'Angelo's Black Messiah is a very late-breaking entrant (release date 10 days before P&J ballot deadline). It's a good record (see below), and has received a lot of very favorable review attention very quickly, so it's clearly Mitchum's "December surprise" -- combine that with relatively soft support for the big four and the example of Beyoncé's surprise 4th place finish last year and you get a lot of wishful thinking that Black Messiah might be the upset winner. I have to say there is little chance of that, although I'd put odds of a top-five finish at about 15% and a top-ten at about 40%. The other records with an outside chance of some sort of upset are Taylor Swift's 1989 and Miranda Lambert's Platinum -- the former (unheard by me) has broader support but maybe no stronger than Lana Del Rey, the latter more intense support among a smaller sample -- and P&J became more "female friendly" during Maura Johnston's reign (though I was never able to prove she stacked the voter list).
Closer to home, Odyshape is running a poll for Robert Christgau's Expert Witness readers (ballot deadline midnight tonight). Overwhelming favorite there is Wussy's Attica!, which has a better than 50% chance of cracking P&J top-40 only because about a dozen critics overlap both polls. I ran a similar poll in 2002 and 2003, the former won by Sleater-Kinney (5th that year in P&J), the latter by Buck 65 (not in the P&J's top-40) -- so I have an idea how far Christgau's followers have diverged from the rest of criticdom. Still, usually in the past there have been a couple albums that bridged the gap -- Kanye West, Vampire Weekend, like that. This year I think the highest ranked (by my EOY list file, up to 150) albums that Christgau has graded A- or higher are:
That's not a lot of common ground -- offhand, looks like the least amount of convergence between Christgau's A-list and P&J top-40 ever (although it's probably too early to tell: Christgau got a late start with Expert Witness this year and has more A-list records not yet published). Some spreadsheet wizard should work out a formula for comparing the two sets of lists and plot them out over time. I suspect the long-term trend slope would be divergent, probably since the early 1980s, but I'll leave that task to someone else. What it looks like to me is that critics who are satisfied with many of the EOY consensus picks are just lazy: for every War on Drugs, FKA Twigs, Caribou, Beck, Sharon Van Etten, etc., it shouldn't be hard to find a matching group that is more obscure but every bit as worthy -- especially if you follow the fringes and turn over a thousand or so albums along the way.
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 11. Past reviews and more information are available here (5778 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Yemi Alade: King of Queens (2014, Effyzzie Music Group): Singer from Nigeria, won one of those talent shows in 2009 and landed a record contract, and now this long debut album. Mixed bag, some African grooves and choruses, but other parts try to fit snugly into the western neo-soul mold, including the occasional nod toward hip-hop. Worthy single: "Tangerine." B+(**)
Melissa Aldana: Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio (2014, Concord Jazz): Young tenor saxophonist from Chile, leads a trio with Chilean bassist Pablo Menares and Cuban drummer Francisco Mela. B+(*)
Alvvays: Alvvays (2014, Polyvinyl): Not the only band that's discovered the cute typographic trick of replacing "w" with "vv," but probably the best known one: an alt-rock group from Toronto which gets pop kudos for their female singer (Molly Rankin) and a good deal of jangle mixed in with the guitars. B+(*)
Arca: Xen (2014, Mute): Alejandro Ghersi, from Venezuela, first LP after various EPs and mixes. Fairly glossy electronics, but that's just one facet of a fairly broad dramatic spectrum. B
Banks: Goddess (2014, Harvest): Singer-songwriter Jillian Banks, from California. Album gets slotted as soul but she doesn't have that post-Aretha diva complex, just a preference for slow songs, which she keeps simple enough they have an interesting charm. B+(**)
Battle Trance: Palace of Wind (2014, New Amsterdam): Sax quartet, just the four of them, with Travis Laplante the leader, plus Matthew Nelson, Jeremy Viner, and Patrick Breiner -- pretty sure they all play tenor, so this isn't an exercise in Hemphillian harmony. It's more like an attempt to amplify the distinctive sound of circular breathing into something deeply trance-like. B+(**)
Rubén Blades: Tangos (2010 , Sunnyside): Back in the 1980s he seemed like a good bet to take the world by storm -- he was even touted as a future president of his native Panama -- but his acting career settled into character parts, his Elektra contract gave way to Sony Discos, and when the elder George Bush deposed Panama's long-time dictator (former CIA stooge Manuel Noriega) Bush looked elsewhere for a new Quisling. So much later the phenom hangs on crooning classic tangos, backed by the City of Prague Symphony Orchestra. B
Michael Blake: Tiddy Boom (2014, Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, joined the Lounge Lizards after their prime in 1991, started recording his own projects in 1997. Quartet with Frank Kimbrough (piano), Ben Allison (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). Very much a sax player's album -- all original material includes titles like "Hawk's Last Rumba" and "Good Day for Pres." A-
Mary J. Blige: The London Sessions (2014, Capitol): Twenty-some years after What's the 411?, I've never been much of a fan but have to admit she's developed into a seasoned pro, as consistent as anyone needs to be. And offhand I'd say this is a tad above her norm, not so much because the guest Brits help as she's pro enough to overcome them. B+(***)
Dean Blunt: Black Metal (2014, Rough Trade): Roy Nnawuchi, from London, previously recorded as Hype Williams, moves from dance beats to darker and more dramatic gestures. B+(*)
Fiorenzo Bodrato: Travelling Without Moving (2012 , CMC): Italian bassist, from Turin, website shows five records but not this one. Spoken word vocals, including poems from Borges and Dryden, and something original by Ciro Buttari, impress like hip-hop, while the instrumental wind-down is rather sublime. B+(***) [cd]
Benjamin Booker: Benjamin Booker (2014, ATO): Rookie singer-songwriter from Florida, gets classified as blues (no doubt) because he's black but he's such a straight-up rocker he cites Jack White as his main influence. Actually, fuzzier and crankier. B+(***)
Patrick Breiner Double Double: Mileage (2013 , Sulde): Tenor saxophonist, also appears as Vartan Mamigonian and plays in Battle Trance. Quartet with drums and two basses. Rough and scratchy, but sometimes the energy level lifts it up. B+(*) [bc]
Peter Brötzmann/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Soul Food Available (2013 , Clean Feed): Avant-sax trio, part of the label's "live in Ljubljana" concession, may seem like old hat given that Brötzmann has been bringing the same noise for nearly fifty years, but he's not as harsh as way back when, and the rhythm section is tuned in. B+(***) [cd]
Malonie Carre: Forever (2014, self-released): Singer-songwriter, eight originals plus two jazz standards. B [cd]
Charli XCX: Sucker (2014, Atlantic): Second album, big beat dance pop with postpunk sneer and swagger. The song that cinched it for me was "London Queen," where she comes to America because it's the only country big enough for her, even though she can't quite believe it. And no, it's not because I'm flattered by the portrait. It's the perfect flipside to "I'm So Bored With the USA." A-
Jimmy Cobb: The Original Mob (2014, Smoke Sessions): Drummer, b. 1929, side credits start around 1956 with Dinah Washington, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis, and the list only grows from there. Hornless quartet, with guitarist Peter Bernstein taking most of the leads, pianist Brad Mehldau comping and knocking off his own impressive solos. B+(***)
Leonard Cohen: Live in Dublin (2013 , Columbia, 3CD): Recorded five years after his career-redefining Live in London, the bait here is more -- three discs instead of two, plus a DVD for those who feel they have to watch music. (I'm not one, but would probably check it out if I had a copy.) His intervening album was a good one but had little impact on the songbook. The pace may be a bit more subdued but it's basically the same concert -- he's in fairly good voice, his use of backup singers remains masterful, he runs a masterful band, and he's a most gracious impressario. I'd grade it higher if it weren't so redundant. A-
J Cole: 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014, RCA): Third album, title refers to address of Cole's childhood home in NC, lots of free association on where he came from and where he's going -- the beats quasi-underground, the stories real life, way too much N-word for my taste. I do approve of the lecture on copyright law (including the aside on Ferguson). B+(***)
Ian William Craig: A Turn of Breath (2014, Recital): Trained as an opera singer, Craig builds fairly abstractpieces out of voice samples and tape loops. B+(*)
D'Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah (2014, RCA): Not what you'd call prolific -- a well-received debut album in 1995, a near-classic follow-up in 2000, and now this. Aside from an exhortation about "the Jesus of the Bible" the words melt into the fractured funk grooves, which could just as well do without them (though maybe the voices should stay). Oblique and mysterious. A-
Jeff Davis: Dragon Father (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer-led conventional postbop quintet, with Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Oscar Noriega (alto sax, clarinets), Russ Lossing (piano), and Eivind Opsvik (bass). All Davis originals, lead from the rear, but what really kicks the rhythm up is Lossing's frenetic comping -- he pretty much steals the show. B+(***)
Duduvudu: The Gospel According to Dudu Pukwana (2009 , Edgetone): Dudu Pukwana (1938-90) was an alto saxophonist from South Africa, played with Chris McGregor's integrated Blue Notes before and after exile. Straddling avant-jazz and South African folk/pop, he sometimes fell down on either side, but his 1973 album In the Townships (reissued on Earthworks in 1990) is the jazz take of township jive -- a great album and a longtime personal favorite. I'm having trouble sorting out the credits, and only the initial November 2009 date is given. As far as I can tell, there were at least three sessions (one in London and two in California) with little overlap and no clear idea who's driving the project -- the only names I recognize are Harry Beckett (the late trumpet player, from Trinidad but loosely associated with Pukwana), Pierre Dřrge (guitarist-bandleader, a protege of Blue Notes bassist Johnny Dyani), and Wayne Wallace (Bay Area trombonist). Still, the music fits and flows, the waves of township jive larger than ever. A [cd]
Donald Edwards: Evolution of an Influenced Mind (2013 , Criss Cross): Drummer, second album after one in 1998, leads quintet with a voluble Walter Smith III on tenor sax, both guitar (David Gilmore) and piano (Orrin Evans), and Eric Revis on bass. B+(**)
Chet Faker: Built on Glass (2014, Downtown): From Australia, singer-songwriter/electronica producer Nick Murphy (aka Atlas Murphy), pays tribute to Chet Baker's vocal style without in any significant way capturing it. Still, an improvement over Beck's latest, partly because it doesn't seem so pat. B+(**)
Kevin Gates: By Any Means (2014, Bread Winners Association): Rapper from Baton Rouge, has been prolific lately with mixtapes that play like albums, albums like mixtapes, and a side of crime fiction named for Luca Brasi. This is his most official LP, as oblique as any. B+(**)
Ghostface Killah: 36 Seasons (2014, Tommy Boy): A story teller, always a problem for me -- I don't follow these things well, and I'm not even a fan of the art, not sure I can tell a good one from a bad one. This one seems to pivot on "It's a Thin Line Between Love and Hate," where he finds the cost of mistreating his woman is her dumping him in a hospital bandaged from head to toe. That starts a stretch where the more pedestrian things I judge hip-hop on -- strong beats and sharp turns of phrase -- snap together. Then the Revelations return. B+(***)
Brantley Gilbert: Just as I Am (2014, Valory): Like a gecko, determined to pump up his sound to make him look like a bigger Nashville star than he is. Live, you might be swept away with the energy without realizing how rote the riffing is. B-
Sax Gordon: In the Wee Small Hours (2013 , Delmark): Tenor saxophonist Gordon Beadle -- side credits go back to 1990 and are mostly with bluesmen (Champion Jack Dupree, Jimmy McCracklin, Smokin' Joe Kubek) -- backed with organ and drums. Goes more for ballads than honk this time, and doesn't have a world-class ballad tone -- back cover suggests Gene Ammons, Arnett Cobb, and Willis Jackson, and he falls way short, especially of the first two. Still, this hits my sweet spot. B+(**) [cd]
Grouper: Ruins (2014, Kranky): Liz Harris used to use electronics to create her ambient murk, but this time strips down to one-note piano figures and whispered vocals -- at least until the 11:24 closer, a shimmering mirage. B+(**)
Hard Working Americans: The First Waltz (2014, Melvin): As near as I can tell, the only real talent here is Todd Snider, so I suppose you can credit modesty (or even comradeship) for how he blends into the background -- all the more so on this live sequel to the group's eponymous debut album. B+(*)
Hildegard Lernt Fliegen: The Fundamental Rhythm of Unpolished Brains (2013 , Yellowbird): Swiss vocalist Andreas Schaerer's project, introduced with an eponymous 2007 album. The group, with three horns (primarily alto sax, baritone sax, and trombone, although all play other horns and recorders) and guests on banjo and bandoneon, forces lots of contortions, while Schaerer navigates them artfully. B+(*) [bc]
Hiss Golden Messenger: Lateness of Dancers (2014, Merge): Singer-songwriter Michael Taylor, from North Carolina, starts singing much like Dylan but tones it down over the album. Pleasant enough, but didn't notice many words -- I assume they're unimportant, as I most often noticed Dylan's. B+(*)
Sam Hunt: Montevalo (2014, MCA Nashville): Nashville rookie, writes at least a share of his songs, sounds like he's trying to sneak in behind Luke Bryan at the party, probably because he's not naughty (or dumb) enough to break down the door. Jotted two sample lines down: "I fell in love in the back of a cop car" (he likes bad girls); "I just want your ecstasy" (that's why he likes them). B
I Love Makonnen: I Love Makonnen (2014, OVO Sound, EP): Makonnen Sheran, first impression is that he's Atlanta's answer to Das Racist with his offhand, loosely disjointed sound. Seven cuts, 28:28, with Drake guesting on a breakout single ("Tuesdays"). B+(*)
ICP Orchestra: East of the Sun (2014, ICP): Initials stand for Instant Composer's Pool, a Dutch avant large band -- usually around ten pieces -- that dates back to 1967, led since its founding by pianist Misha Mengelberg, although I see that the piano credit here goes to Guus Janssen (Mengelberg, who is getting close to 80, has five composition credits here, to one each for Janssen, Ab Baars, and Michael Moore). Some very fine stretches here, especially the rousing "Moten Swing," but also more rough patches than I like -- even understanding their knack for turning chaos into beauty. B+(**) [dl]
Anthony Jefferson: But Beautiful (2014, self-released): Standards singer, from New Orleans, has a rich and subtle voice that eases through troublesome songs like "Lush Life" and "Black Coffee," romps over "My Favorite Things," hits an eloquent note on "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans." B+(**) [cd]
Paul Jones: Short History (2014, Blujazz): Tenor saxophonist, graduated from MSM and this seems to be his first album. Sextet, with an alto sax, both guitar and piano, bass and drums. Postbop, like they teach you, and livelier than you'd expect. B+(**) [cd]
Jungle: Jungle (2014, XL): Sort of a British Earth Wind & Fire, if I may be excused to use stereotypes to plot out limits -- the falsettos less fluid, the beats a bit grimey, none of the expansive sweep of huge pop hits. Still, not a bad formula. B+(**)
Oliver Lake Organ Quartet: What I Heard (2013 , Passin' Thru): Alto saxophonist, with Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, Jared Gold on organ, and Chris Beck on drums. Lake is often terrific, and Gold shows promise in setting him up, but this slips up a bit. B+(**)
Link of Chain: A Songwriters' Tribute to Chris Smither (2011 , Signature Sounds): Smither is a singer-songwriter, folkie division, turning 70 this year, with a steady stream of albums since 1970, a large cache of songs that fuel this tribute. Unfortunate, the songs aren't all that memorable, nor are most of the songwriters. B+(**)
Loscil: Sea Island (2014, Kranky): Scott Morgan, from Canada, has ten albums since 2001, this one (at least) mild ambient electronics, with perhaps a gentle sea breeze. B+(*)
Colette Michaan: Incarnate/Encarna (2014, self-released): Flute player, has a couple previous albums. runs most of this over Latin beats (proven camouflage), sometimes blending in with Gregoire Maret's chromatic harmonica or Mireya Ramos' violin, offset from Reut Regev's trombone. B [cd]
Nicki Minaj: The Pinkprint (2014, Young Money): In earlier emails about the near shutout of US hip-hop albums on EOY lists, the prospect of this album's late-season drop was held out as some sort of "great black hope" -- no doubt recalling the precedent Beyoncé set last year, finishing 4th in P&J after being released too late to make nearly any other poll. I don't expect that to happen here: sure, it's a better album than Beyoncé, but it's a bit of a letdown after the expansion of the last two studio albums, nor is it as safe a crossover. I'm tempted to dismiss it as padded, but most of her padding doubles as sex appeal -- a point the disjointed "Anaconda" drives home uproariously. A-
Ludovic Morlot/Seattle Symphony Orchestra: John Luther Adams: Become Ocean (2013 , Cantaloupe): One 42-minute piece, commissioned by the Orchestra and composed by Adams -- unrelated to the John Adams who composed Nixon in China. Minimalism even if not done with electronics, has a nice shiny texture, shimmering even. Won a Pulitzer Prize. B+(***)
Paal Nilssen-Love/Terrie Ex: Hurgu! (2013, PNL): Guitar-drums duo, one half of Ken Vandermark's Lean Left group. Terrie took his name from his longtime Mekons-like rock group, the Ex, but he's dabbled in free jazz (or free noise) for years, and slices up four improvs here. The drummer has a ton of duos to his credit, largely because he's so adept at them. B+(**) [bc]
Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit: Erta Ale (2014, PNL, 3CD): An eleven-piece group but not conventionally shaped: with only two reeds and three brass (cornet-trombone-tuba) the horns move independently, as does electric guitar and Lasse Marhaug's electronics, their options expanded by doubling up on bass and drums. Way too much to swallow in one sitting. B+(***) [bc]
Objekt: Flatland (2014, Pan, 2CD): TJ Hertz, born in Tokyo and raised in the UK, gets a lot of drive out of his beats, with this never missing a step, at least until he tries ambient for a closer -- and that, too, is splashier than the norm. A-
Arturo O'Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: The Offense of the Drum (2013 , Motéma Music): Cuban pianist, got his big band through the patronage of Lincoln Center -- may have helped that his father was a reknowned big band arranger -- and draws an impressive array of guests -- I prefer Chito Cajigas' inspired rant on Puerto Rican history to Antonio Lizana's sombre vocal, but even that grew on me. B+(**)
Sonya Perkins: Dream a Little Dream (2014, self-released): Standards singer, third album, opens with "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and closes with "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me"; nothing wrong with that, nor with the piano trio band, and Warren Vaché guest spots certainly help. B
Noah Preminger: Background Music (2010 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor saxophonist, leading a trio backed by bass (Masa Kamaguchi) and drums (Rob Garcia) playing standards and not-yet standards -- Jarrett, two Colemans, title song comes from Warne Marsh, closer from Chris Cheek, but you also get Monk, "My Old Flame," "Moonlight in Vermont," "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)," and an original by the drummer. A-
Quraishi: Mountain Melodies (2014, Evergreene Music): "Rubab Music of Afghanistan" -- first album in some time from the master -- relocated to US in 1982 -- whose previous album was titled Pure & True Rubab. Kind of like a sitar but poorer, although the simplicity grows on you. B+(**)
Diane Roblin: Reconnect (2014, self-released): Pianist, from Buffalo but based in Toronto, clasically trained but described this group as "a funk-jazz band." Accurate for the most part but some breaks suggest something else. Saxophonist Jeff King is a plus. B+(*) [cd]
Scurvy: Fracture (2010, Johnny Butler Jazz): New York avant-fusion group led by Johnny Butler (saxes, electronics) with trombone, guitar, bass, and drums. B+(*) [cdr]
Shamir: Northtown (2014, Godmode, EP): Debut EP (5 cuts, 19:58) for a 20-year-old soul man. The lead single shows promise (with dividends for his post-EP single, "On the Regular"), while the closing ballad ("Lived and Died Alone") is touching in an unpolished way. B+(*)
Sleaford Mods: Divide and Exit (2014, Harbinger Sound): British duo, Andrew Fearn is responsible for the punkish music, often just bass over drums, while Jason Williamson spews profanity occasionally laced with social criticism, often incisive, sometimes not ("it's all so fucking boring"). A- [bc]
Sleaford Mods: Austerity Dogs (2013, Harbinger Sound): Last year's album, in the UK anyway: the first with Andrew Fearn providing the music, a more minimal punk mix until the guitar on "Bored to Be Wild"; lets Williamson free associate more, which is a plus. A- [bc]
Chris Smither: Still in the Levee (2014, Signature Sounds, 2CD): Celebrating his own career -- 50 years as a performer -- the folksinger plunders his own songbook, remaking as many years of songs with whatever wisdom (and wear and tear) he's accumulated, which includes some friendly guest spots. B+(*)
Michael Snow & Thollem McDonas: Two Piano Concert at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2014, Edgetone): As the title says, but complex verging on difficult. Snow goes way back (b. 1929 in Toronto), working with the avant-garde group CCMC from 1978 on, was involved with Albert Ayler even earlier (among other things, he designed album covers), and was enjoying "a retrospective exhibition of the artist's photographic works" at this time. McDonas is an avant-jazz pianist I've run across more often. B+(**) [cd]
Jesse Stacken: Helleborus (2014, Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, always regarded him as a smart postbop guy but he tops that here by hiring tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby to front his quartet -- Malaby often does his best work on other people's albums, and on the upbeat pieces here he's really on a tear. Slower, he fades out and you start to hear the nuance in the piano. B+(***)
Subtle Lip Can: Reflective Drime (2014, Drip Audio): Trio from Montreal: Joshua Zubot (violin), Bernard Falaise (guitar), Isaiah Ceccarelli (drums). Second album, an abstract turmoil of soft sounds, nothing jarring but definitely abrasive. B+(**) [cd]
Joanne Tatham: Out of My Dreams (2014, Cafe Pacific): Standards singer, third album, favors Harry Nilsson, Bob Dorough, and Dave Frishberg over Berlin and Porter but does include a token Jobim. Gets professional help with Mark Winkler producing, pianist Tamir Henderson arranging, John Clayton on bass, Bob Sheppard on sax. B [cd]
Ana Tijoux: Vengo (2014, Nacional): French-Chilean rapper, third album, presumably in Spanish (imagining I'd recognize more of it in French) so she gets by mostly on her rocksteady groove. Could very well be more to it. B+(**)
Leon Vynehall: Music for the Uninvited (2014, 3024): English house producer, second album, calls this a "mini-LP" but it's long enough (7 cuts, 39:18), the beats becoming more engaging along the way. B+(*)
Scott Wendholt & Adam Kolker Quartet: Andthem (2011 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Trumpet and tenor sax, backed by Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Victor Lewis on drums. The trumpeter recorded for mainstream labels in the 1990s but hasn't been evident since then. All four contribute pieces, and they cover Monk and Parker -- the two horn split on "Green Chimneys" is impressive. B+(**)
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Bring It On Home: Black America Sings Sam Cooke (1959-76 , Ace): The liner notes -- by the way, the best I've seen in years -- note several previous "Black America Sings" discs: Dylan, Lennon & McCartney, Bachrach & David, Otis Redding. Those strike me as novelty concepts, but Cooke's murder -- Trayvon Martin wasn't the first young black man killed by a confused and stupid white person with a gun, ya know -- left a hole that the covers helped fill. So while Cooke's originals remain indelible, his legacy deserves something more -- like this. A- [cd]
Chris Butler: Easy Life (1970 , Future Fossil): Later went on to write witty pop songs for Akron new wave bands Tin Huey and The Waitresses, in 1970 Butler was one of the students at Kent State the National Guard didn't kill -- although the guy he sold his drums to was one of the dead. Butler had a rock band, and his juvenilia is pretty tuneful -- could be more ragged, and takes a turn in that direction after 13 seconds of gunfire. For an extra buck, you can get a second copy without the narration. But for me the history rings true: sure, I wasn't there, but I was then. A- [bc]
Lewis: L'Amour (1983 , Light in the Attic): Canadian singer-songwriter Randall Wulff cut two albums 1983-85. Obscure, quiet and haunting, but not much of a find. B
Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych From Peru's Radical Decade (1968-74 , Tiger's Milk): Obscure bands, more interested in putting their inevitable Peruvian twist on Anglo rock than in developing an indigenous pop music -- Jeriko's "Hey Joe" is the obvious example that you can hang most of the rest off of. B+(*)
George Van Eps: Once in Awhile (1946-49 , Delmark): A legendary jazz guitarist (1913-98), influenced by Eddie Lang, worked with Benny Goodman and Ray Noble in the 1930s, didn't record much until Concord picked him up in the 1980s his protégé Howard Alden started recording with him. These radio shots fill a gap, and also spotlight two forgotten musicians, boogie pianist Stanley Wrightsman and tenor saxophonist Eddie Miller -- especially fine here. B+(***) [cd]
Phil Driscoll: Drops of Praise (2006, Jordan/Koch): Initially a trumpet player, also sings and plays keyboards; b. 1947, has a couple dozen albums, AMG classifies him under Religious and New Age, but initially sounds like a soul man here, knocks off a competent funk track, reverts to form, then evolves. Hard to feel blue when you believe in "guaranteed salvation." B [cdr]
The Gang Font: The Gang Font feat. Interloper (2007, Thirsty Ear): Part of Matthew Shipp's "Blue Series" from back when it was a genre-busting concern, a group with Husker Du bassist Greg Norton, Eric Fratzke (Happy Apple) on guitar, Dave King (Bad Plus) on drums, and Craig Taborn on electric keyboards. Who (or what) "Interloper" is isn't clear. B+(*) [cdr]
Arthur Russell: The World of Arthur Russell (1980-88 , Soul Jazz): Played cello but most importantly a disco producer, died obscure in 1992, and much of his material was released posthumously. This career summary comes with a 24-page booklet, but no one (to my knowledge) has bothered to post dates for half of these 11 pieces (two each attributed to Dinosaur L and Loose Joints, one each to Lola and Indian Ocean). The beats are effective, the vocals a bit on the wan side, which has its own peculiar attraction. B+(***) [cdr]
Arthur Russell: World of Echo (1986 , Audika): The only full-length album released by Russell before his death in 1992; also his most personal one, forsaking the dancefloor beats he made his living with for solo vocals and cello -- crude and slapdash at first, achieving a surprising musicality over the long run. B+(**)
Carl Hancock Rux: Apothecary RX (2004, Giant Step): First distinguished as a poet, playwright, and novelist, Rux released a debut album in 1999, and followed it up with this. Hard to pigeonhole this: both lyrics and music are complex and surprising, but also not clear whether it's worth sorting it all out. B+(*) [cdr]
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:
The Green Seed: Drapetomania (2014, Communicating Vessels): [was A-] A
Billy Joe Shaver: Long in the Tooth (2014, Lightning Rod): [was B+(**)] A-
Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (2012 , TUM, 2CD): [was B+(***)] A-
Wussy: Attica! (Shake It): [was A-] A
Monday, December 29. 2014
Music: Current count 24247  rated (+26), 509  unrated (+19).
Rated count off this week, partly because I replayed a fair number of 2014 releases around P&J ballot time, partly because I got stuck on re-evaluating Wadada Leo Smith's The Great Lakes Suites. To make a long story short, I concluded that the first disc is solid A-, but I still have some doubts about the second. I still prefer Smith's Red Hill (and still have Smith's The Stone (Akashic Meditation) well off the pace). The Great Lakes Suites came in a close second in NPR's Jazz Critics Poll.
Aside from those dead spots, everything else I rated last week came from Rhapsody (or at least the computer). I did get a comeuppance for my excessive pride over exhausting my 2014 queue: two large packages from Europe (France and Poland) with obscure 2014 releases, plus a few more from domestic sources. With all the year-end polls done, I didn't feel any rushing need to catch up. Rather, I kept on collecting year-end list data, trying to pick at anything I could find that seemed promising.
I totally screwed up on Twitter this past week. I may try to catch up a bit in the next few days, but more likely I'll just try to stuff what I can into a December 31 Rhapsody Streamnotes, then freeze the year-end file (and deep-freeze the 2013 list). Then we will enter 2015, and again try to scale back (somewhat).
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Saturday, December 27. 2014
I voted in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll yesterday. My ballot:
The songs all came from album tracks, with eight of ten on my A-list, but only one redundant to the albums ballot. The songs are overwhelmingly from major labels -- a testament to today's big pop production machine -- whereas the albums are more scattered (three majors, seven independents). Four albums are jazz, but none of the singles. The albums were carefully considered from the 1004 albums (952 new, 52 comp/archival) released in 2014 that I listened to seriously enough to grade. The songs were picked out much more arbitrarily. Jasons Gross and Gubbels generously shared their year-end song lists, but even after sampling a few things off the top of each I doubt that I've heard 20% of either list (nearly all in the context of albums, but surprisingly few appeared on albums I've heard). I also checked out Spin's year-end list, but closed it after the top two came nowhere close. I suspect that more digging would find a lot of things I'd feel bad about leaving out, but the top half of the list is likely to remain pretty solid.
The albums, of course, were much more rigorously considered. The only one on my ballot that's likely to get more than five votes is Wussy.[*] In my EOY list file, Attica! currently sits on line 347 with 6 points and only one mention so far on a top-ten list (5th on Greg Kot's Chicago Tribune list), but I know at least that many voters certain to vote for it. I was on the fence myself, slightly preferring Digital Primitives' Lipsomuch/Soul Searchin', also considering Parquet Courts' Sunbathing Animal and Old 97's Most Messed Up, and completely forgetting about the year's best compilation, Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story. I normally pay little attention to what other people are voting for, but it seems possible (if not exactly likely) that Wussy will sneak into the top-40, so I felt like doing that.
On the other hand, Wussy is likely to flat out win Odyshape's 2014 EW Pazz & Jop poll, so there's less excuse voting for it there, let alone need or value. So I'm making one change to the ballot above for Odyshape, replacing Wussy with the Jimmy Spruill compilation. It was, after all, an oversight, buried by my bookkeeping system down in the reissues and vault music. Had I thought of it before casting my P&J ballot I probably would have included it there.
I've long hated the top-ten cutoffs, which forcibly magnify marginal distinctions. No competent critic should be limited to ten highly recommended records in a year. When I ran a poll similar to Odyshape's in 2002-03, I tried to rectify this by allowing voters to extend their ballots: records from 11-20 got three points, 21-30 got two points, and anything past 30 was given one point. The long lists had little effect on the standings, but they added many more distinctive records to the totals. I wish Odyshape had adopted this embellishment, but they seem to regard P&J as some sort of holy grail.
I've found about 130 A- or higher albums this year (plus another 200+ high B+ records, and that list -- not my top-10 -- is the real EOY list. I've split the full EOY list into jazz and non-jazz parts -- about 60% of the new albums I've listened to this year were jazz, and they were mostly heard on CD whereas the non-jazz were mostly streamed. I don't consider compartmentalizing jazz to be either natural or desirable, but the differences in sample size and methodology, my status as an expert in jazz and a rank amateur in nearly everything else (except classical, where I'm a committed ignoramus) justifies the split.
[*] Kate Tempest's Mercury Prize-nominated album has some critical support, but thus far it's almost exclusively in Europe. She's tied for 56th place in my EOY count, finishing in the top 20 in 11 polls so far, but no higher than 8th. Steve Lehman won NPR's Jazz Critics Poll, but hardly anyone votes for jazz in P&J. Then there is Lily Allen's major label pop record, but it only has three mentions in EOY lists thus far, none higher than 46th. I expect it to do somewhat better in P&J, but a breakthrough doesn't look to be in the cards. The only other record with even one EOY list mention is Jenny Scheinman's, with just one on an unranked country genre list.
Monday, December 22. 2014
Music: Current count 24221  rated (+35), 490  unrated (-19).
With Rhapsody broken for most of the last two weeks (v. Saturday's Condemned to Hack post), I wiped out everything that was left in my 2014 queue, wrote up my first 2015 album, and started scrounging through the nether regions of the unplayed queue. The three records listed under "old music" below were actually advance copies from 2004-07, most likely unplayed because I was waiting for finals that never came. There is a good deal more like that -- probably between 50 and 100 records, some final copies (but those are more obviously by choice). I long prided myself on playing everything that came my way, but evidently there were limits -- while my 2014 "pending" list is currently (momentarily?) empty, and my 2013 was reduced to one slab of vinyl, some earlier lists show a dozen or more records as "pending."
Also cleaned out the Christmas records (v. yesterday's Holiday Music Special). Chuck Powell wrote in afterwards to point out that I "missed the only good one": John Zorn's Dreamers Christmas. As I said, I wasn't actually searching for "good" Christmas music; I was just cleaning house. I did have a fleeting thought of using Rhapsody to check out some relatively current product, but didn't have the stomach for it. (Sample titles from Billboard: Pentatonix, That's Christmas to Me; Idina Menzel, Holiday Wishes; Michael Buble, Christmas; Darius Rucker, Home for the Holidays; Josh Groban, Noel; Kelly Clarkson, Wrapped in Red; Mannheim Steamroller, 30/40; Amazon also recommends: Ellen's The Only Holiday Album You'll Ever Need, Vol. 1 (note contradiction); Christmas at Downton Abbey; Dave Koz & Friends, The 25th of December; Christmas With Nashville (the TV series, a "limited collector's edition"); Motown Christmas; A Boston Pops Christmas.)
I also thought about rumaging through my database for previous grades, but I don't have genres tagged so any sort of completism would have been impossibly tedious. Still, some samples:
That's about half of the albums I've rated with "Christmas" in the title -- not many but not nothing either; the only other one rising to low-B+ is John Brown's Merry Christmas, Baby (2007). Someday I might try to survey the "classics" I've missed -- James Brown, Dave Brubeck, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Vince Guaraldi, Spike Jones, Elvis Presley, John Prine, Mike Seeger, Frank Sinatra -- but I've seen that Ramsey Lewis album show up in an "all-time top five" list, and it's hard to convey just how awful it is.
With all the computer problems I've been facing the last few weeks, I missed posting anything on the 9th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, which Francis Davis started at the Village Voice and most recently found a home for at NPR. A record 140 jazz critics voted this year. The key links:
When Rob Harvilla was involved, both at the Voice and during the poll's brief residency at Rhapsody, I was also asked to write up my own annotated ballot, but that hasn't happened with NPR. While my own ballot is here, a better place to look is my still-evolving file here. Part of the value is that the A-list goes much deeper than top-ten: currently I have 64 new jazz records on the list (plus 65 on the corresponding non-jazz list). But I also give you the complete context with lists of all the other records I didn't think were that good. When I do my EOY list counts, I don't stop at 10 because most of what interests me is further down on the lists -- and frankly, I trust critics with big lists to have done more homework (even if some of it looks suspiciously rote).
But if I could ask one follow-up question of the voters, it would be: which of the top-50 (or top-100) albums have you not listened to? My answer:
Looking over this list, there are a couple items that seem like very strong A-list candidates (Moondoc finished high on the three ballots that named him, and they're all critics I tend to agree with; same for The Midwest School, plus I heard a cut on bandcamp that blew me away), plus a lot of no doubt quality records -- solid B+ fare with a chance of being better than that. Also occurs to me that I screwed up in several cases -- I must have received download links from Sunnyside and ECM that I failed to act on, and I let HighNote take me off their mailing list when I expected to write much less about jazz than I wound up doing. On the other hand, this rather underscores the point that the labels with good PR distribution are the ones that place in polls like this. They don't have to be big: Pi only released five albums this year, but they placed 1-6-14-33-54. On the other hand, major labels Universal (Verve/Blue Note/ECM) and Sony (Okeh/Masterworks) hogged 11 of the top 20 slots. (Warner's Nonesuch had two top-50 spots at 36 and 43.) And when obscure labels do place, that's often thanks to independent PR firms (e.g., Braithwaite & Katz helped the superb Finnish label TUM take 2nd, but they only placed Wadada Leo Smith, who finished 3rd and 17th the last two years; on the other hand, Smith's other record this year, on Rare Noise (Red Hill), wound up way down at 140th).
I should probably note that this is probably the first year since the first poll in 2005 where my top pick was the poll's top pick. (The winner back then was Ornette Coleman's Sound Grammar -- not a squeaker or anyone's idea of an upset.) Still, I wouldn't read this as implying a convergence of critical opinion -- it's just an exceptional album that hit several different pleasure spots. My only other A-list album was the latest installment of Sonny Rollins' Roadshows -- now that's a consensus pick! Only one more A-list in the next ten (Vijay Iyer), two in the following ten (Thumbscrew and Eric Revis), and three more (Marty Ehrlich, James Brandon Lewis, Farmers by Nature) in the top fifty (making a total of eight). There are a few things we disagree over (I should probably recheck Akinmusire -- I was very surprised to see his record on Davis' ballot; my recall of what's wrong with Jason Moran's Fats Waller rehash is clearer, and I can see that Darius Jones' The Oversoul Manual is a love-or-hate matter), but most of the top-50 records are very respectable efforts -- not sure how much of that to pin on my bias towards sax over piano (lot of piano records on the list), but I'm inclined to think that I rate those records down a bit only because I've looked much further.
My three A- records this week are all pop, all December releases with virtually no EOY list presence thus far. Charli XCX evidently had some advance publicity, popping up on six lists, including 5th place at Rolling Stone and 43rd at Spin. Nothing yet for highly touted D'Angelo (Metacritic score is 95 for 23 reviews -- their second highest rating this year for a new record, edged out by Machine Head's Bloodstone & Diamonds with only 5 reviews; metal albums often have ridiculously high scores because only metalheads can stand to review them) or for Nicki Minaj (Metacritic 71 for 22 reviews; NYT: "full of compromises and half-successes"). I found them all on Rhapsody, and connected almost instantly to Charli XCX. On the other hand, D'Angelo got a lot of spins and is still pretty marginal for me, although no doubt it is a very distinctive album.
I continue to add lists into my aggregation as I find time (and lists). FKA Twigs maintains a small lead over War on Drugs, and there's little reason to think the former has much of a UK bias. I have to rate it a slight favorite to win P&J, but any of the top four would win -- FKA Twigs, War on Drugs, St. Vincent (3), and Run the Jewels (tied at 4 with Caribou although I'd count the latter out) -- with momentum and skew if anything favoring Run the Jewels.
File has grown to 2195 records, but that's still way short of last year's 7867. The 157 polls is also well under half of last year's total (not that the number for 2013 is easy to count). The leader's current score is 148, vs. Kanye West's 356 last year. All of those totals will wind up less than last year because I've changed the methodology.
Pazz & Jop ballot is due December 26, so more on that then. My guess is that about twenty voters there are heavily Christgau-influenced, which this year can be measured by votes for Wussy, Withered Hand, and Black Portland -- very little support for any of those albums elsewhere (current scores: Black Portland 8, Wussy 6, Withered Hand 5). I'll post another Rhapsody Streamnotes by the end of the month, but probably not next week.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 21. 2014
Many years ago I read that Christmas music outsells jazz -- a factoid that helped harden a prejudice against the stuff into a grudge. There are objectively worse things about the music, like the compulsions retailers feel to play it nonstop during the four (or more) weeks of the "season," as if doing so triggers Pavlovian reflexes to spend. I get some quantity of it every year. Sometimes I review it and pack it away, but mostly it piles up, and I have way too much of that. So this year I'm making an effort to clear the decks. Hopefully this won't encourage anyone to send me more next year.
Two ringers in the list below. Ezra Weiss' children's music doesn't have anything to do with Christmas, but was buried in the same pile, for similar reassons. However, Weiss' Before You Know It: Live in Portland made my A-list this year, so I figured I should give the older record a spin. The other is Eugene Marlow's Celebrations -- the only record below I can actually recommend. I was expecting a Jewish slant on the holidays, but the record didn't try to be ecumenical at all -- and was no doubt better for that. You can play it alongside Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah, but you can also play it any other time of year.
Hanukkah here is mostly an excuse to throw a latke dinner -- which we did last week. The way I make them is:
I make my salmon and applesauce. For the salmon, take a nice filet with skin on, sprinkle both sides with kosher salt, put in a bag and refrigerate at least 12 hours. Rinse, pat dry, slice thin. I think it's three tablespoons of salt for two pounds of fish.
For applesauce, I took three green delicious apples, peeled, quartered, and cored them, and put them in a saucepan. I added juice from half a lemon, plus a few drops of water. Covered the apples, and cooked until soft enough to mash easily with a fork. Then I added one tablespoon of brown sugar and one teaspoon of cinnamon.
For Christmas Eve, I'll be cooking again, for what's left of my family here. Planning on what I call "Mom's Chinese" -- basically, the meal I made for her birthday shortly before she died: Szechuan fried chicken, dry-fried string beans, strange-flavor eggplant, fried rice, maybe some spare ribs braised in black bean sauce, something for dessert (probably date pudding). When I was growing up, Christmas was many things, but there was always lots of food, including various kinds of homemade candy. Big meals. Lots of people. Since she died, it's never been the same, and never will be.
One thing for sure: we won't be playing Christmas music.
Eddie Allen: Jazzy Brass for the Holidays (2009, DBCD): Actually no name credit on the cover, but Allen is the leader and arranger, plays trumpet along with Cecil Bridgewater, and is backed by French horn, trombone, bass, and drums. Song selection so standard it could be a high school assignment. Not sure if stating the head then improvising off it works as jazz but it does break the holiday tedium. B-
Chris Bauer: In a Yuletide Groove: Harmonica Jazz for the Holidays (2011, self-released): "Seydel harmonica artist," has two albums, the other Straight Ahead. Quintet with keybs, guitar, bass, and drums, plus a guest vocal from producer Rob Poparozzi. Standards, favors pop like "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" but works in "My Favorite Things" and "Ave Maria." The very definition of chintzy, but the harmonica is a versatile lead instrument. B- [cd]
Alexis Cole: The Greatest Gift: Songs of the Season (2009, Motéma): A jazz singer with at least eight albums I've never heard, credits this "with family & friends" and throws in a plug for World Bicycle Relief. The friends include some names I've heard of (Don Braden, Alan Ferber, Jon Cowherd, Ike Sturm, Zach Brock). Climactic pop move: "Jesus is the best part of Christmas/365 days a year/Jesus is here." C+ [cd]
Nathan Eklund: Craft Christmas (2011 , OA2): Trumpet player, leads a basic keyboard-bass-drums quartet, song credits range from Trad. to Guaraldi with one original. The trumpet leads are eloquent, but the two vocals detract. B- [cd]
Tobias Gebb Presents Trio West: Plays Holiday Songs, Vol. 2 (2009, Yummy House): Drummer-led piano trio, with Eldad Zvulun on piano and Meal Miner on bass. Short song list, but several tunes get two passes, with "We Three Kings" recast as a waltz, "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World" done in samba, and "O Tannenbaum" in funk and salsa variants. B [cd]
Milt Hinton/Ralph Sutton/Gus Johnson/Jim Galloway: The Sackville All Star Christmas Record (1986 , Sackville/Delmark): Bass, piano, drums, soprano sax, listed roughly in what I take to be the rank order of their fame, although Galloway -- the only one still alive -- is a first-rate trad jazz player. (Or maybe it's just left-to-right to caption the cover picture.) Standard fare, not as rowdy as you'd hope -- seductively subtle, even. B+(*) [cd]
The Hot Club of San Francisco: Hot Club Cool Yule (2009, Azica): Group -- motto is "What Would Django Do?" -- has a dozen albums since 1993. Violin leads over the guitars, sometimes slipping into something pleasantly innocuous, but the guest vocals snap you back, even on the generic "Baby It's Cold Outside." B- [cd]
Knoxville Jazz Orchestra: Christmas Time Is Here (2012, self-released): A full-fledged big band, arranged and conducted by Vance Thompson, also listed as fifth trumpet. More listenable than most, at least until they add the choir(s). B- [cd]
Elisabeth Lohninger Band: Christmas in July (2011, JazzSick): Singer, has an appealing voice ready to swing and fluent in uncounted languages, backed by Axel and Walter Fischbacher (guitar and piano). Twelve songs from nearly as many countries, with a Mel Tormé tune from the US and "Stille Nacht" from Austria. B+(*) [cd]
Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble: Celebrations (2010, MEII Enterprises): Subtitle "interprets festive melodies from the Hebraic songbook," so not our usual Xmas album, but it does start with "Chanukah, O Chanukah." Pianist Marlow is a New York Jew who specializes in Afro-Cuban/salsa/bossa nova and his group spreads out the ethnic polyculture, including the marvelous Michael Hashim on sax. Ends with a 6:37 lecture on philosophy that bears repeating. A- [cd]
Ellis Marsalis: A New Orleans Christmas Carol (2011, ELM): A pianist from New Orleans, anyway, although not one particularly noted for the style. The patriarch of the Marsalis clan, his jazz career only emerging after his sons became famous, he decorates the usual tunes with marching drums, son Jason's vibes, and two singers I've already forgotten. B- [cd]
Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship: Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey (2012, self-released): Scruggs, from Atlanta, plays tenor and soprano sax, called his first album Jazz Fellowship and kept that as his group name. He explains: "Using ancient canticles, hymns, and folk melodies, I chose eleven pieces to formulate a layered chronology that illustrates the profound, spiritual mystery of the radical biblical story of the birth of Christ." Sounds ambitious, and I enjoyed the absence of trad Xmas fare . . . until it got woven in. B [cd]
Donna Singer with the Doug Richards Trio: Kiss Me Beneath the Mistletoe (2012, Emerald Baby): About half originals, mostly co-credited to husband Roy Singer (assume he's the uncredited duet partner on two songs), and I must admit I was touched by bassist Richards' song about leaving donuts for Santa Claus. The other half is split between spirituals and classic fluff like "Let It Snow" with something of a fetish for mistletoe. B [cd]
The United States Air Force Band: Cool Yule (2009, self-released): Big band, plus strings, some extras like oboe, a female vocal trio called the "Andrews Sisters" (quotes included), and a male barbershop quartet called the "Crew Chiefs" (again, quotes obligatory). Makes you wonder if they hadn't faked the death of Glenn Miller and kept him working at some "dark site" all these years. I'm tempted to slag them on principle, but frankly they could keep this band running for decades for less than a single F-35, and it would be a better use of the money. Highlight: the cha-cha "Auld Lang Syne" (and yes, that's as good as they get). B [cd]
Ezra Weiss: Alice in Wonderland: A Jazz Musical (2009, Northwest Childrens Theater and School): Been sitting on this, something I'd never expect to have any interest in, and still don't. But the story has a few touchstones I recognize -- mad hatters and decapitating queens and such -- and the music is not without interest. B [cd]
As I've mentioned several times recently, Rhapsody recently introduced a new website design. This depends on Adobe's execrable Flash product for streaming music -- I'm not sure that is new but this is the first time I noticed a dependency. I've been running Rhapsody reliably on Ubuntu Linux, on a system which is up-to-date (14.04 LTS). The new website initially worked on this machine, but when I did a routine Ubuntu update it broke, giving me an error message that I must have Flash installed and enabled, and a URL to Adobe to "Get Flash." I spent many hours trying to figure this out, and probably made things worse along the way. Long story short, I finally got it working tonight. Still, the results are troublesome. Let me explain.
Flash (or Shockwave Flash) is proprietary (non-free) software developed and maintained by Adobe. It consists of an authoring product, which Adobe makes money on, and a player, which Adobe distributes without charge (but also without source code). Since only Adobe can compile the source code, they can choose which platforms they want to support. For a long time, they supported Linux, but in 2012 they decided to freeze Linux development at release 11.2. (They've since moved on to release 16.0 for Microsoft and Apple.) If you use Firefox go to Adobe's download website from a Linux machine, they offer you version 184.108.40.2065 in various package formats. For Ubuntu you want "APT for Ubuntu 10.4+" -- Ubuntu, by the way, has since moved on to 14.04. When you click on the "Download" button, Firefox invokes the Ubuntu Software Manager to handle the package, which is identified as "adobe-flashplugin."
As I understand it, the "adobe-flashplugin" package doesn't actually include the Flash Player binary. What happens is that when you install the installer, it goes out to get the program(s) to be installed -- a bit of indirection which keeps Adobe's "crown jewels" separate from the software depositories which are used to install Linux systems. One problem here is that "adobe-flashplugin" winds up installing a slightly earlier Flash Player version (220.127.116.119) than the one advertised. That is most likely Adobe's bug. What makes this worse is that Firefox has been configured to automatically disable old versions of plugins that are believed to have security risks, and the version installed is one of those. I don't know whether the real latest version (.425) would be acceptable to Firefox. I do know that when Firefox offers a link to "Update" the offending plugin, it steers you back to Adobe's website, which gives you the wrong version again. I also know that it takes some twiddling to reinstall Adobe's "adobe-flashplugin" since Ubuntu's Software Center thinks it's already installed and up-to-date (you have to remove it then re-install it). Finally, you have to tell Firefox to allow the website to use Flash despite the security risks. (Hopefully, this is website specific, so you're not opening up a security hole for other websites.)
Now, all that's bad enough, but I had several other problems I had to figure out before I could get the above procedure to work. Linux people never have liked Flash -- even back when it was the only way to stream video and audio over the web, it was buggy, mysterious, and couldn't be fixed. So there have been many efforts to first emulate and eventually to supersede Flash. One hint I found was that Firefox was showing two Shockwave Flash plugins -- the 18.104.22.1689 installed by Adobe (when I was expecting -.425), and another at 22.214.171.124 from some mysterious source. Firefox allows you to disable plugins but not to uninstall them, but I didn't get any different results from Rhapsody when I alternately disabled one or the other plugin. Finally, I took a look through the package list and uninstalled everything that looked like it had to do with Flash: namely, I removed flashplugin-installer, pepperflashplugin-nonfree and freshplayer-plugin, they verified that Firefox had no Flash plugins. Then I repeated the installation from Adobe, restarted Firefox, called up Rhapsody, and told Firefox to let me use the insecure Flash plugin. Finally, it worked.
No sooner than I got Rhapsody working again, I ran into another nasty bug. I haven't had time to comment on Francis Davis' 9th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, lately sponsored by NPR, because I've been preoccupied working on my piece of the project, which you can find here. I managed to get all the ballots counted and cross-checked by 4AM Thursday morning -- the schedule was to go live sometime Thursday but NPR didn't actually get their end together until Friday morning. However, I spent all of my time looking at my private copy of the website, and didn't notice that when I uploaded the code things broke. What happened was that any string with accented characters -- artist names like Miguel Zenón (11th) or album titles like David Virelles' Mbókó (14th) -- simply vanished. So I had to figure this out, and fix it.
Turns out that my working machine was running PHP 5.3 while the server is running PHP 5.4. One huge difference between the two is that in 5.4 the lords of PHP decided to make UTF-8 the default character set, replacing the default ISO-8859-1, which all of my data is encoded in. I've been a stickler about accents ever since college, when one of the jobs I had working on Paul Piccone's Telos was to go through the typeset galleys and use presstype to add the missing diacritical marks. When I later worked for typesetting equipment manufacturers, I specified the unified multilingual font package at Varityper, and I worked on a Japanese typesetter at Compugraphic. I later internationalized the prepress software package developed at Contex, and oversaw localization of the software for France. I saw aware of Unicode almost from the start, and I knew the guy at SCO who invented UTF-8. So in some sense I always understood that Unicode and its UTF-8 encoding would become the standard for character encoding, I found ISO-8859-1 sufficient for my own work, adopted it early, and have steadfastly stuck with it.
That's caused me increasing aggravation the last few years. I use emacs to edit my files, and it's long worked very nicely with ISO-8859-1, but it switched allegiance to UTF-8 a few years back, and that's caused me all sorts of problems. In fact, when I discovered this problem, the first thing I suspected was that emacs had saved the files using UTF-8. I've also seen MySQL move from ISO-8859-1 to UTF-8, but a simple configuration switch has allowed me to keep using ISO-8859-1 data for Robert Christgau's website. I spent hours looking for a similar configuration hack to keep PHP 5.4 from breaking not just the new code but lots of old code. While I found several candidates, I couldn't get any of them to work. Ultimately I fixed the problem by writing a wrapper for PHP's htmlentities() function, which when run under 5.4 would pass extra arguments to specify ISO-8859-1 encoding. That's not the limit of the changes, but it's the one function that I was using that was blowing up.
What was that line from The Godfather they liked to quote on The Sopranos? Something about trying to break out of the family business and go legit, then getting dragged back in. Looks like I'm still periodically condemned to hack.
Monday, December 15. 2014
Music: Current count 24186  rated (+40), 509  unrated (-12).
Pretty well sandbagged at the moment. I got a very late start on my bit posting the ballots for Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll (at NPR again this year -- at least the top of the charts and Davis' year-end summary essay). I've been bedeviled by computer problems, and they've wiped out my ability to play Rhapsody in my office. I've spent a lot of time trying to debug that, and won't bore you with details now, but I believe Rhapsody is culpable both for a glaring strategic error -- why adopt proprietary Adobe software when HTML 5 eliminates most of its previous utility, and Firefox's developers would rather implement the HTML spec than try to figure out how to contain Flash's bugs? -- as well as a detection bug (i.e., they think Flash isn't available when it is). Anyhow, screws me over big time -- although I did manage to get through Leonard Cohen's Live in Dublin on my Chromebook.
Much of what's listed below appeared in last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes, so shouldn't be new. I had missed a lot of tweets at that time, and haven't fully caught up. Last couple days, without Rhapsody, I decided to slog through my Xmas music queue -- much of which dates from 2009. I'm not going to bother to tweet on them -- they aren't timely, and they aren't much good. I'll probably run them as a separate post later this week, then archive them with the next RS column. Looking at the database there are a few items I haven't found yet, but really who cares how bad Anita Baker's Christmas Fantasy is, let alone Putumayo Presents Christmas Around the World? My main motivation has been to get them out of the queue and packed away safely out of sight. Oddly enough, I did find one good record in the batch, but its only holidays concession is to start out with "Chanukah, O Chanukah." On the other hand, I can say that the albums aren't as dreadful as I had feared.
One other note: I mentioned some average times for adding new records to my year-end lists after having to cast some ballot. Following the deadline for the Jazz Critics Poll, it took me less than a day to find another A-list record, and little more than a week to find one that would have cracked my top ten. Both figures are less than half of previous medians. Of course, if you want the real Dudu Pukwana, the record to seek out is In the Townships (1973). The new Duduvudu is a little messier, a little more in-your-face, but I don't mind that at all.
Need to get back to work.
New records rated this week:
Christmas clearance sale:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Thursday, December 11. 2014
I had a scare yesterday: one of those end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it moments. Rhapsody stopped working, and when I closed and reopened the page, it came back with a totally redesigned website . . . which didn't work. The new Rhapsody depends on Adobe's Flash product -- evil incarnate, if you ask me, but my real horror was more practical. I'm running Ubuntu Linux. When I went to Adobe's home page, where Rhapsody told me to go to "get Flash," they threatened that this would be their last Linux release ever. I then followed their download instructions, which didn't come close to working. I then went searching through Ubuntu forums for help. Found one thing that didn't work. Then found another that finally did the trick -- for now. I suppose I could switch to Spotify or some other competitor, but failure would have spelled instant doom for Rhapsody Streamnotes.
On the other hand, this installment would not have been a bad way to bow out. The 116 records below (not counting 6 regrades) is the most all year, and 14 new A- records (not counting 3 promotions) is very likely the most too. Also took a belated dive into some of the year's compilations, finding three more A- records. (Old music lost out, although I couldn't pass up two older Lotte Anker albums -- I remembered Stef Gijssels raving about Live at the Loft back in 2009 -- I found along with the new one.)
I get tips from all over the place, but my project to count many 2014 EOY lists is the most systematic: I currently have counted 112 lists, identifying 1663 new albums and 174 compilations. I might note that while The War on Drugs' Lost in the Dream has led from the very first list, its current lead over FKA Twigs' LP1 is a razor-tight 96-95 (with St. Vincent 3rd at 85, Caribou's Our Love 4th at 71, and Run the Jewels 2 5th at 66). The compilations sample is still too small to draw any conclusions from. I'll probably keep adding data up to the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop list, to be published on January 14.
I keep adding to my own lists -- conveniently broken down into jazz and non-jazz sets -- and will do so at least until I cast my Pazz & Jop ballot (deadline December 26). I've opened up a second December 2014 file, so unless Rhapsody dies on me (again), expect another one by the end of the month.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on November 22. Past reviews and more information are available here (5689 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Damon Albarn: Everyday Robots (2014, Parlophone): An architect of the late 1980s/1990s Brit-pop sound, best known there for Blur and here for Gorillaz, turns in a very modest little solo album. At best, reminds me of Robert Wyatt, the way he would feel his way around a song that didn't quite come together (cf. "You & Me"; "Heavy Seas of Love" is the one that does come together). B+(*)
Fatima Al Qadiri: Asiatisch (2014, Hyperdub): Born in Senegal in 1981, raised in Kuwait (occupied by Iraq in 1990), based in New York. Has an EP based on a video game based on the Gulf War. For her first album, she imagines a travelogue through China. I've seen an interview with her where she talks about Orientalism. Evidently she wants to try out both sides. B+(**)
Lotte Anker/Jakob Riis: Squid Police (2014, Konvoj): Both from Denmark, Anker plays tenor/alto/soprano sax, Riis composes fairly minimalist electronic tableaux. The latter doesn't give the saxophonist much to kick off from, although it's most interesting when she does. B+(*)
Aurelio: Lándini (2014, Real World): Surname Martinez, from Honduras, plays a style called Paranda, better known in the US as Garifuna (thanks to his debut album, Garifuna Soul). Looser and lighter than salsa. B+(***)
Iggy Azalea: Reclassified (2014, Def Jam): Yet another aggravating marketing stratagem: reissue this year's pretty good debut album, The New Classic, minus seven songs (or eight from the "Bonus Edition" -- they don't miss a trick), plus five new songs with "Beg for It" the new single. Catchiest songs are on both, another reason to only buy one (if that). Best way to handle this is to trim back to the new material, which gives us a 5-cut EP: B+(**)
Billy Bang/William Parker: Medicine Buddha (2009 , NoBusiness): I wouldn't hold much hope for violin-bass duos, but we're talking two all-time jazz greats here, and both have a tendency toward hearts-on-sleeve. Bang died in 2011, a huge loss, and I count this as his fourth posthumous release: a duo with Bill Cole didn't offer much, but the two group albums on TUM were superb. So is this. A- [cd]
Beck: Morning Phase (2014, Capitol): Released two of the best albums of the 1990s, and I still enjoyed his blue-eyed soul phase (e.g., Midnite Vulture), but I've felt no reason or desire to keep tracking him. That's because his trajectory has been toward soft and flat, and here he's pretty much arrived there: the record is occasionally pretty but nearly featureless. B-
Beyoncé: Beyoncé (2013, Columbia): Released December 13 last year, as I recall exclusively on iTunes, this bum rushed the P&J poll, finishing 4th -- probably better than any December release in history. I missed it then, and cut the newly available Platinum Edition down to size, but I don't get what the excitement was about. Fairly prosaic love songs intercut with autobiographical snapshots, nothing really awful -- which come to think of it makes this better than her median album. B+(**)
Big K.R.I.T.: Cadillactica (2014, Def Jam): Rapper from Mississippi, broke through with a big mixtape a few years back and is now toiling for a major label. Wide range of material, doesn't jump out of the grooves but flows and repays multiple spins. Could grow into one of the records of the year. A-
Bishop Nehru/MF Doom: NehruvianDOOM (2014, Lex): Collaboration between 18-year-old rapper Bishop Nehru (Markel Scott) and producer Daniel Dumile (who's used many names, the best known MF Doom). Promises "great things" once "you have to decide that you don't care what other think of you." On his way. B+(**)
Dave Burrell/Steve Swell: Turning Point (2013 , NoBusiness): Piano-trombone duets, the former a revered master who doesn't get out much, the latter probably the top avant-oriented trombonist around, exceptional here in how he fills out the melody. A- [cd]
Busdriver: Perfect Hair (2014, Big Dada): Regan Farquhar's idiosyncratic hip-hop takes several bizarre turns here, taking guests like Aesop Rock, Danny Brown, and Open Mike Eagle off several cliffs. Parts don't flow at all, and they even manage to make "eat the rich" sound unappetizing -- one of many jokes, not all of which miss. C
Call Super: Suzi Ecto (2014, Houndstooth): J.R. Seaton, from Britain but based in Berlin, stitched this techno together, very appealing little loop patterns with a tiny bit of industrial klang and a gentle woosh -- that underwater sound that Drexciya so enjoys. I could probably listen to the first few pieces indefinitely. A-
Caribou: Our Love (2014, Merge): Dan Snaith's electronica isn't disciplined enough to conform to an aesthetic or concept -- it's whatever works in support of pop songs, both pleasant and forgettable. B+(**)
Juan Pablo Carletti/Tony Malaby/Christopher Hoffman: Nińo/Brujo (2013 , NoBusiness): Drums, tenor sax, cello, respectively, with Carletti writing the songs, and Malaby articulating them wonderfully. B+(***) [cdr]
Eric Church: The Outsiders (2014, Capitol Nashville): Still one of Nashville's better singer-songwriters, but he's going through some growing pains. His idea that as he gets more popular the way to fill up those arenas is with more rock and roll has merit, but the songs pointed that direction, especially the title anthem, are awful -- note that most are co-written by Casey Beathard, although the one that goes "I'm a broke record" isn't. B+(*)
The Cookers: Time and Time Again (2014, Motéma Music): Fourth album for the all-star septet with their first personnel change: Donald Harrison replaces Craig Handy at alto sax. Two trumpets (Eddie Henderson, David Weiss), Billy Harper at tenor sax, and a rhythm section of George Cables, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart, with all but Harrison contributing songs. They promise to turn up the heat, and mostly deliver. B+(**)
The Core Trio: The Core Trio With Matthew Shipp (2014, self-released): Houston-based free jazz trio with Seth Paynter on sax, Thomas Helton on double bass, and Joe Hertenstein on drums, joined by pianist Matthew Shipp for a 42-minute improv. Simple enough idea, but Shipp is really in his own class when it comes to this sort of thing. A-
Frankie Cosmos: Zentropy (2014, Midheaven, EP): Alias for Greta Kline, daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. She's released 40-some home-recorded "albums" since 2009, but this is the first assembled in a studio, and counted as an EP because the ten songs only add up to 17:22. B+(*) [bc]
Dee Daniels: Intimate Conversations (2012 , Origin): Standards singer, AMG roots her in Sarah Vaughan and that's the idea but a stretch, at least on vocal range and timing. Ninth album since 1991, The band is star-studded -- Cyrus Chestnut, Ken Peplowski, Wycliffe Gordon, Russell Malone, Houston Person -- but they mostly stay out of the way. B- [cd]
De Beren Gieren & Susana Santos Silva: The Detour Fish: Live in Ljubljana (2014, Clean Feed): Belgian piano trio -- Fulco Ottervanger (piano), Lieven Van Pée (bass), Simon Segers (drums) -- with two or three albums (the first is called EP1), hooks up with Portuguese trumpet player Susana Santos Silva, a nice pairing on the easy side of free jazz. B+(**) [cd]
Deerhoof: La Isla Bonita (2014, Polyvinyl): San Francisco band, founded in 1994 with singer Satomi Matsuzaki joining a year later, often classified as "noise pop," which I take to be an especially erratic varient of prog. I couldn't stand the two previous albums I checked out, and wouldn't have bothered with this were it not for a brain lapse confusing them with Deerhunter. Turns out this time I find nearly all of their larks and quirks amusing, including a bit that sounds like noise-pop. I don't recognize the parts that reportedly play off Madonna, the Ohio Players, and Michael Jackson, but the thought must count for something. B+(**)
Toumani Diabaté/Sidiki Diabaté: Toumani & Sidiki (2014, World Circuit): Two kora masters from Mali, father and son, the former the guy everyone from Ali Farka Touré to Damon Albarn to Taj Mahal has played with. The latter allegedly has a hip-hop career, but plays nice here -- almost too nice. B+(**)
Ron Di Salvio: Songs for Jazz Legends (2006 , Blujazz): Pianist, has a book called Deltadiotonics: Twenty-First Century Harmony, and a handful of mostly-recent records. This is a sextet plus a vocal quartet. The songs are each inspired by jazz musicians ("Oscar-nine-inicity," "Dave's Brew," "Sonny Side Up," "Mingustino," "Bud's Blossom," "Mulligan's Stew" -- like that, in a quasi-fifties style). Too cute and not quite clever enough. B [cd]
Justin Townes Earle: Single Mothers (2014, Vagrant): Singer-songwriter, works in a country-ish vein. Played it twice and it grew comfortable on me -- maybe not the point. Looks like he has a sequel coming up, called Absent Fathers. B+(**)
Emperor X: The Orlando Sentinel (2014, self-released): Chad Matheny released a very smart singer-songwriter album in 2011, Western Teleport. That followed thirteen years of electronic experimentation, and preceded this, partly a return to form and an effort to move beyond -- the songs are less polished, the music just weirder, but both are interesting. B+(***)
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Black Is Back: 40th Anniversary Project (2014, Katalyst): Percussionist Kahil El'Zabar's two-horn trio, first recorded in 1981 with as Three Gentlemen From Chikago with Henry Huff and Edward Wilkerson on saxes, and are up to 14-15 records now. Trombonist Joseph Bowie replaced Huff in the 1980s, and Ernest Dawkins took over the sax slot in 1998. Trumpeter Corey Wilkes took over for Bowie in 2006, and an experiment with guitarist Fareed Haque ended shortly after that, the group reverting to the present trio -- the best pair of horns he's worked with. And as usual, his vocals don't help, but that's a minor issue here. B+(***)
Orrin Evans: Liberation Blues (2014, Smoke Sessions): Versatile pianist leads what's basically a hard bop group -- Sean Jones (trumpet), JD Allen (tenor sax), Luques Curtis (bass), Bill Stewart (drums) -- opens with Dwayne Burno's fiery title suite, slides into ballads later and ends with a vocalist (Joanna Pascale). B+(**)
Far East Movement: KTown Riot (2014, Interscope, EP): New jack funk group from LA, resemble Black Eyed Peas as much as anyone else but tend to duck underground, underming their pop potential. Six tracks, 21:07, guest rappers include Schoolboy Q and YG. B+(*)
Fire! Orchestra: Enter (2014, Rune Grammofon): The first Fire! was a trio whose principals -- saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, drummer Andreas Werlin, and bassist Johan Berthling, -- came from jazz, pop, and "experimental folk-electronica" backgrounds. They then scaled up to a massive orchestra -- I count 29 credits (most I recognize, a veritable who's who of Norway's avant-garde) -- with Marian Wallentin (and others) singing her arch texts: effectively, they add drama to a band built for it. B+(**)
Aretha Franklin: Sings the Great Diva Classics (2014, RCA): Acknowledging that the diva fetish in postmodern soul music was probably her own damn fault, she decides to show us how it should be done, and pretty much pulls it off. Helps that classics are classics, and that they save her the trouble of acting -- all she has to do is perform, and she's got that covered. B+(***)
Friends & Neighbors: Hymn for a Hungry Nation (2012-13 , Clean Feed): Swedish group, no one I've heard of -- André Roligheten (tenor sax, clarinets), Thomas Johansson (trumpet), Oscar Grönberg (piano), Jon Rune Strřm (bass), Tollef Řstvang (drums) -- took their name from an Ornette Coleman title. Leans toward postbop, with lush piano, shiny horns, pushed toward the edge. B+(**) [cd]
Fucked Up: Glass Boys (2014, Matador): Post-hardcore band from Canada, retains the genre's ferocious vocal snarl but cut surprising breaks into the music, turbulent as it is. B+(**)
Gazelle Twin: Unflesh (2014, Last Gang): Elizabeth Bernholz (of Brighton, England) fills her electronica with industrial klang and mordant vocals, an intriguing, chilly, and (a bit) creepy effect. B+(**)
Danny Green Trio: After the Calm (2014, OA2): Pianist, has several albums, this a trio with Justin Grinnell on bass and Julian Cantelm on drums. Working on his Latin tinge, often finding it. B+(**) [cd]
Jimmy Greene: Beautiful Life (2014, Mack Avenue): Tenor saxophonist, mainstream guy with most of his albums on Criss Cross, dedicated this one to his daughter, one of the children shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elemenary School in Newtown, CT, six years old at the time. Greene lined up a first rate rhythm section, and plays with stately grace and beauty, but he also throws in guest vocalists, including a children's choir, and this gets a little too poignant. B+(*)
Johnny Griffith: Dance With the Lady (2014, GB): Canadian alto saxophonist, name reminds you of Johnny Griffin, and so does his sax. Hard bop quintet, with Jeremy Pelt on trumpet. B+(*) [cd]
Grünen [Achim Kaufmann/Robert Landfermann/Christian Lillinger]: Pith & Twig (2012-13 , Clean Feed): Piano trio, same bass-drums as Luis Lopes' Berlin connection but you get a better sense of how they flex here. The pianist, also German, bobs and weaves in and out as well. B+(***) [cd]
David Guetta: Listen (2014, Atlantic): Hit producer, works with a wide range of guest singers and styles which gives his records a certain randomness. Not unusual for him to reel off three songs that suck then break loose with one that's pretty good. Maybe the average is better than that, but not enough better to get you through the whole thing. B
Barry Guy: Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett (2009 [2014, NoBusiness, EP): Fizzles is a collection of short pieces by Samuel Beckett, written in French mostly in 1960 and published in English in 1977 with a set of images by Jasper Johns. Guy recorded a set of bass solos under the same names in 1991, presumably the source of the pieces recorded here (but here the titles are just "Fizzle I" through "Fizzle V"). I don't have times here, but they are short enough to be released on 10-inch vinyl -- probably less than 20 minutes, resulting in the rare bass solo that if anything ends too soon. B+(**) [cdr]
Hail Mary Mallon: Bestiary (2014, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic return for a second album, their group named for the cook who at the dawn of the 20th century was so effective at infecting New York City's upper crust with typhoid fever. Underground beats, very snappy. B+(***)
Half Japanese: Overjoyed (2014, Joyful Noise): Duo goes back to the late 1970s. They made a lot of noisy, erratic albums where memorable songs were buried like rough gems, ultimately enough to fill up a remarkable 2-CD Greatest Hits in 1995. Since then not much, but their first in 13 years sounds like they never left. B+(***)
Maggie Herron: Good Thing (2014, self-released): Standards singer, from Hawaii, also plays piano. Brian Bromberg produced, and Geoff Keezer helped with the arrangements. Two songs in French, one from Joni Mitchell; classics like "Body and Soul" fare better. B+(**) [cd]
Hookworms: The Hum (2014, Weird World): Brit band, drone with pop hooks, this one grabs me less than the first (2013's Pearl Mystic); probably the organ, which comes out on top of the guitar(s) as often as not. B+(***)
How to Dress Well: What Is This Heart? (2014, Domino): Tom Krell, from Chicago, mostly sings in a falsetto, often over synth strings, an effect some consider soulful. I find it has an agreeable ambience to it, then forget what I heard once it passes. B
Hurray for the Riff Raff: Small Town Heroes (2014, ATO): Alynda Lee discards her Puerto Rican roots for Appalachain folk transplanted to New Orleans. This has gotten a surprising amount of year-end list attention. B+(**)
Russ Johnson: Still Out to Lunch (2014, Yellowbird): Trumpet player, leads a quintet including Roy Nathanson (alto/soprano sax) and Myra Melford (piano). Title honors Eric Dolphy's masterpiece, Out to Lunch!, still inspiring after fifty years. B+(**)
Kool A.D.: Word O.K. (2014, self-released): Not the oft-repeated "best rapper in the world," but perhaps the most relaxed, a "what me care?" attitude that let him release the project "outtakes" (as Not O.K.) ahead of the main course. Nor am I sure it even matters. "Some times I get paid to perform raps/other times I do it for free." Whatever, all good. A- [bc]
Jonas Kullhammar: Gentlemen (2014, Moserobie): Swedish saxophonist (credit order here: tenor, baritone, bass, stritch, saxello). I've only heard his more avant work on Clean Feed until now, so I was surprised to find this starting out so mainstream, then delighted to hear him stretch out. Four tracks add a second tenor sax, the justly renowned Bernt Rosengren. Last four tracks (Rosengren is on one of them) add Goran Kajfes on cornet and Mattias Stĺhl on vibes. Reportedly a soundtrack, but no hint of that genre's usual flaws. A- [cd]
Michel Lambert: Journal des Épisodes II (1992-2014 , Jazz From Rant): Ninety-seven short fragments of music (total 44:17) tied to a journal written in 1988. It does feel so fragmentary, even with bits of WSO string quartet (from 1992) interleaved into the more recent Guillaume Bouchard-Alexandre Grogg piano trio. B+(***) [cd]
Nikki Lane: All or Nothin' (2014, New West): Country singer on the alt-side, doesn't quite have the big Nashville voice, recoils by hanging with rockers (Dan Auerbach produced) and taking risks, sleeping with strangers, looking for the right time to do the wrong thing. B+(*)
Let's Wrestle: Let's Wrestle (2014, Fortuna Pop): English group, has an ear for writing pop songs but tends to be soft and a bit twee, which wouldn't be a problem if the songs were catchier and/or deeper. B+(*)
Luis Lopes Lisbon Berlin Trio: The Line (2014, Clean Feed): Portuguese electric guitarist, one of the most distinctive anywhere -- seems like he plays on his feedback as much as on the guitar itself -- with German bassist (Robert Landfermann) and drummer (Christian Lillinger). A- [cd]
Brian Lynch and Emmet Cohen: Questioned Answer (2012 , Hollistic Musicworks): Trumpet and piano, respectively, leading a quartet billed as intergenerational, with Lynch fifty-something, the pianist less than half that, bassist Boris Kozlov somewhere in between, and drummer Billy Hart on the far side. Both leaders are very active, B+(**)
Tony Malaby's Tubacello: Scorpion Eater (2013 , Clean Feed): As advertised, a sax quartet with a tuba (Dan Peck) and a cello (Christopher Hoffman) splitting the bass role. John Hollenbeck is the drummer. Marvelous in spots, again as you'd expect. B+(***) [cd]
Thurston Moore: The Best Day (2014, Matador): I've often thought that Kim Gordon's voice added an essential human dimension to Sonic Youth's trademark guitar tunings, but now that the group has broken up I'm beginning to appreciate the appealing lightness of his tunes, and the austere luxury of his guitar -- as trademark as ever. A-
Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Blue (2014, Hot Cup): Once out to terrorize jazz history, now they aim to mimic it, with a "note for note" recital of Miles Davis' universally adored 1959 album, Kind of Blue (the five cuts wind up 17, 10, 8, 5, and 0 seconds longer than the originals). To do this they added Ron Stabinsky to play Bill Evans -- probably the only talent not wasted here. B [dl]
Nick Mulvey: First Mind (2014, Fiction/Harvest): English singer-songwriter, recognized the name because he played percussion and hang in the jazz group Portico Quartet. Basically straightforward, although with his ethnomusicology degree I expect closer attention to pick up subtler details. B+(*)
Wolfgang Muthspiel: Driftwood (2013 , ECM): Austrian guitarist, often regarded as a follower of Metheny and Scofield, and often better than either. Trio with Larry Greandier on bass and Brian Blade on drums -- has a previous duo with Blade I recommend, 2007's Friendly Travelers. But this winds up being very laid back, as if he thought the label ordered up a Ralph Towner album. B+(*) [dl]
Naomi Punk: Television Man (2014, Captured Tracks): Math rock trio from Olympia/Seattle, second album, loud, a little stilted, but isn't spasticky just one of those awkward stages of youth? B
The New Basement Tapes: Lost on the River (2014, Island): Producer T-Bone Burnett's project, an ad hoc supergroup -- Elvis Costello, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Marcus Mumford (& Sons), Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops) -- intent on fleshing out unfinished Bob Dylan lyrics dating back to 1967 Woodstock. Pleasantly meandering Americana, but nothing indelible here, unlike similar efforts to add music to Woody Guthrie lyrics -- not sure what that says about the writer, probably more about the (less-than) supergroup. B+(*)
Jim Norton Collective: Time Remembered: Compositions of Bill Evans (2013 , Origin): Baritone saxophonist, originally from San Francisco, lately based in Seattle, assembled a 12-piece band for his arrangements of Evans' compositions. A lot of lovely detail here. B+(**) [cd]
Old Crow Medicine Show: Remedy (2014, ATO): Virginia band, allegedly grew up on grunge and hip-hop but opted to make their living with fiddles and banjos, figuring they could still kick up their shoes. Mostly upbeat, occasionally inches past the usual Nashville boundaries. Sample lyric: "it's an already mean enough world/without you." B+(**)
Old Style Sextet: Old Style Sextet (2014, Blujazz): "Old style" is closest to hard bop, with two saxes (co-leaders Michael Fenoglio and Clark Gibson switching off between alto and tenor), trombone, piano-bass-drums, but no trumpet. Band comes out of central Illinois, where most have teaching jobs. B+(*) [cd]
Parker Abbott Trio: The Wayfinders (2012-13 , self-released): Two pianists from Toronto, Teri Parker and Simeon Abbott, plus drummer Mark Segger. Both Parker and Abbott play a lot of electric keyboards, which provides some variation to their sound, which is more pop than new age and more challenging than smooth jazz, not that either are particularly high bars. B [cd]
Peaking Lights: Cosmic Logic (2014, Weird World): Husband/wife, Indra Dunis singing and Aaron Coyes doing whatever, make lo-fi synth-pop. B+(***)
Rich Pellegrin Quintet: Episodes IV-VI (2014, OA2): Pianist, leads a conventional postbop quintet with R. Scott Morning on trumpet and Neil Welch on tenor sax. Complex, leaning toward lush with the horns shining, but few surprises. B+(*) [cd]
Perfume Genius: Too Bright (2014, Turnstile): Mike Hadreas' third album, trends toward mopey, melodramatic ballads with an air of lushness for comfort. B
Rod Picott: Hang Your Hopes on a Crooked Nail (2014, Welding Rod): A singer-songwriter from New Hampshire who could pass as country if he had a bit of twang. Starts with a touching break up song, sentimentally overrates a "65 Falcon" and wonders why anyone calls the leaky tin can he lives in a "Mobile Home." B+(***)
Pink Floyd: The Endless River (2014, Rhino): Not a real band any more -- Roger Waters is long gone, Rick Wright dead, leaving David Gilmour and Nick Mason to recycle and gussy up instrumental bits that harken (and for all I know may derive) from the band's heyday. A trifle, but I find it appealing. B+(*)
Roil [Chris Abrahams/Mike Majkowski/James Waples]: Raft of the Meadows (2013-14 , NoBusiness): Piano-bass-drums trio. Abrahams, originally from New Zealand and based in Sydney, has tended to work in groups including the Necks (another piano trio), but Discogs lists 17 records (since 1985) under his name. B+(***) [cdr]
Boris Savoldelli/Garrison Fewell: Electric Bat Conspiracy (2014, Creative Nation Music): Savodelli is an eccentric Italian singer; considers Mark Murphy a mentor, but sounds more like Captain Beefheart to me, at least when he gets up to speed, which isn't often. Fewell plays guitar and composed most of the songs, with lyrics added from as far afield as Sun Ra. Covers: "My One and Only Love," "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise," "Perfect Day." B+(*) [cd]
Louis Sclavis Quartet: Silk and Salt Memories (2014, ECM): French clarinet player, many records since 1980, his avant tendencies increasingly subsumed in world music contexts, this one inspired by the great transcontinental trade routes of the middle ages. Backed with guitar (Gilles Coronado), piano/keyb (Benjamin Moussay), and percussion (Keyvan Chemirani). B+(***) [dl]
Brandon Seabrook: Sylphid Vitalizers (2014, New Atlantis): Plays tenor banjo and electric guitar ("shreds" is his preferred term), previously released a couple records as Seabrook Power Plant. This is described as a solo, but Dr. Vitalizer is also credited with drum programming. B+(*)
Serengeti: Kenny Dennis III (2014, Joyful Noise): A third album about David Cohn's Chicago rapper character, an older mentor and sometime adversary of the artist's own alter-ego Chicago rapper character, as they rendez-vous in LA, hit the road to Rockford, and eventually crack up. I suspect I've heard it before, but it's finally beginning to stick. A-
Slackk: Palm Tree Fire (2014, Local Action): Paul Lynch, first album after several EPs, several sources list this as "grime" but that's not what I think of -- almost all instrumental, electronic, something between dubstep and trip hop, which is to say not much. B
Sleaford Mods: Chubbed Up (2013-14 , Ipecac): British neo-punk group, sometimes labeled hip-hop for the monotone vocals but they sound sung to me. Also bitter, angry, sarcastic, not exactly cynical, all traits of thinking, caring beings these days. Couldn't find their 2014 album Divide and Exit, but compilation of recent odds and sods probably gives the flavor. B+(***)
Sam Smith: In the Lonely Hour (2014, Capitol): Young British singer, featured on singles by Disclosure and Naughty Boys before this debut. Everyone talks about his remarkable voice -- he sings falsetto and lower and switches between them with emotional precision -- but that hardly qualifies him as the future of soul music (even in England). Indeed, he's more likely to wind up being very annoying when he tortures second-rate songs. B-
Tommy Smith/Brian Kellock: Whispering of the Stars (2014, Spartacus): Tenor sax-piano duets, their third album together (the best is Symbiosis). Smith was incredibly fast and brash when he was young, but seems to be turning into an old softie here, inching his way through standards like "Stardust," "Round Midnight," "Moonlight in Vermont," "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," "Moonlight Serenade," even "When You Wish Upon a Star" (some in medley). B+(***)
The Soundcarriers: Entropicalia (2014, Ghost Box): Brit group, if there's a jungle influence it's from the dance genre, not from the tropics, and they lean more prog/psych than anything else. But they're not subtle: they grab your attention and run with it. B+(**)
Brian Swartz & the Gnu Sextet: Portraiture (2014, Summit): Trumpet player, fourth album since 2000. Sextet alternates two saxophonists; otherwise trombone, piano, bass, drums. Mainstream postbop, but brighter than usual, swings some. B+(**) [cd]
Sunny Sweeney: Provoked (2014, Aunt Daddy): She has the Nashville voice Nikki Lane lacks, but it doesn't always help -- a couple songs gets thick and syrupy. But she does her best to play bad, from "You Don't Know Your Husband [like I do]" to "[Here's to the working class] Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass." B+(*)
Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (2014, Big Dada): Brit rapper ("London-born performance poet"), née Kate Esther Calvert, cites Samuel Beckett and Wu-Tang Clan as influences. Dan Carey's beats give her a firm ride and the breaks seem just right, while her rhymes dazzle, and I'm a sucker for the accent. A
Tinashe: Aquarius (2014, RCA): Surname Kachingwe, b. 1993 in Lexington, KY, based in LA where she also has an acting career. Neo-soul, gets a boost when a rapper (like Schoolboy Q) drops in, or when they just pick up the beat. B+(**)
Ton Trio II: On and On (2013 , Singlespeed Music): Alto sax trio led by Aram Shelton, who left the Chicago avant scene for California, always gets a terrific sound. With Scott Brown on bass and Alex Vittum on drums. B+(**)
Mark Turner Quartet: Lathe of Heaven (2013 , ECM): Two horn (aka pianoless) quartet, the leader's tenor sax impressive on its own but most often tied up with Avishai Cohen's trumpet, which rarely cuts loose but adds lots of color. With Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. B+(**) [dl]
TV on the Radio: Seeds (2014, Harvest): Fifth studio album, with two I counted at A- but can't now remember nor recognize anything comparable here. Rather, I just get a sense of grandeur, and the best I can say is I'm not detecting its near relative, pomposity. So I figure them to be decent, likable fellows, doing honest work on some stratospheric level that fails to interest me. B
Us Free [Bill McHenry/Henry Grimes/Andrew Cyrille]: Fish Stories (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): No new talent here: tenor saxophonist McHenry has at least ten albums since 1998, and the others are a generation or two senior, nor is the tape all that fresh. Much proceeds as you'd expect, but there are some snags, also some treats, like Grimes playing violin. B+(***)
The Vamps: Meet the Vamps (2014, Island): British boy band's debut, upbeat, built on riffs that proved commercially viable as far back as the '60s (including an improved Simon & Garfunkel song as well as a Bruno Mars credit and a Demi Lovato guest spot). Actually, a lot of fun. B+(**)
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: OverTime: The Music of Bob Brookmeyer (2014, Planet Arts): Longtime house band at the Village Vanguard, originally directed by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, both long departed, but pianist Jim McNeely retains the sensibility, and the roster of horns is inspired (names include Terrell Stafford, Luis Bonilla, Rich Perry, Dick Oatts, Ralph Lalama, and Gary Smulyan). That such a big band would be attracted to Brookmeyer is no surprise. B+(*)
Velkro: Don't Wait for the Revolution (2012 , Clean Feed): European jazz trio, with Bostjan Simon (sax -- Slovenia), Stephan Meidell (guitar, bass -- Norway), and Luis Candeias (drums -- Portugal). So much propulsion here that any lapses in the groove or bursts of noise wash away, leaving you with a layered weave of tone. I wouldn't call this avant-garde, much less postbop, and certainly not fusion, but might not object to post-Velvets, if you know what I mean. A [cd]
David Virelles: Mboko (2013 , ECM): Pianist, from Cuba, calls this "sacred music for piano, two basses, drums, and biankoméko abakuá" -- the latter a set of four hand drums played by Román Diaz. They don't add a lot, but the abstract meander of the piano is something to follow. B+(**) [dl]
Jessie Ware: Tough Love (2014, Interscope): British pop singer, effectively a soft soul artist. Second album, still looking for a hit. B+(*)
Marcin Wasilewski Trio w/Joakim Milder: Spark of Life (2014, ECM): The piano trio, with Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz, was first introduced to the US as Tomasz Stanko's "young Polish group," but had some history together before and continued after the trumpeter moved on. They are as fine as ever here, and get a little extra color from tenor saxophonist Milder -- all they need. A- [dl]
Bill Watrous/Pete Christlieb/Carl Saunders/The Gary Urwin Jazz Orchestra: A Beautiful Friendship (2014, Summit): Trombone, tenor sax, and trumpet for the first three, but the main credit belongs to Urwin for arranging and leading this showy big band. B
Colin Webster/Andrew Lisle/Alex Ward: Red Kite (2014, Raw Tonk): Tenor/baritone sax, drums, guitar; based in England. Four numbered pieces, improvs I'd say, the others largely keying off the guitarist -- more like piling on when the action picks up, which is when they make the strongest impression. B+(**) [bc]
Wildest Dreams: Wildest Dreams (2014, Smalltown Supersound): Maybe the artist credit should be Harvey Bassett or DJ Harvey but the cover doesn't indicate that. The music is a throwback to late-'60s psychedelic rock -- the cover is an homage to a Randy California album. Reminds me of a 1980s group with the same basic idea, the Golden Palominos -- not least because the instrumental stretches are more compelling than the vocals. B+(**)
Wu-Tang Clan: A Better Tomorrow (2014, Warner Brothers): Twenty-some years after their debut, seven since the last, they're having trouble pulling it together, and sounding more old school than ever when they do -- even before the song credited to M.L. King Jr., or the "family reunion" retooled from Gamble-Huff. Big gestures, their specialty. B+(***)
Neil Young: Storytone (2014, Reprise): Ten songs -- one very pointed one about saving the earth, another about driving his car -- backed with big band brass and/or symphony orchestra strings, producing more than its fair share of hackneyed effects, even as they rarely detract from his singing. But if that's what you want, you're better off with the second disc of the Deluxe Edition, where he recycles the same songs solo. If you could buy it separately, I'd bump the grade up a couple notches. B+(*)
Young Thug & DJ Swamp Izzo: I Came From Nothing (2011, self-released): Atlanta rapper, first mixtape, has done two (or three) more with this title, evidently a point of pride. Rough, gravelly. [Rhapsody combines this with 2; thought it would make more sense to try to separate them out.] B+(*)
Young Thug: I Came From Nothing 2 (2011, self-released): Front cover says "Hosted by Swamp Izzo," something less than co-credit. Nearly twice as many songs. Nearly twice as difficult to tell them apart. B+(*)
Young Thug: I Came From Nothing 3 (2012, self-released): Again, hosted by DJ Swamp Izzo. A giant step forward, mostly speeding up the beats, smearing them with synths, and matching them with rapid-fire rhymes, most compatible with the Dirty South idea. B+(***)
Young Thug/Rich Homie Quan/Birdman: Birdman Presents Rich Gang: The Tour Pt. 1 (2014, Cash Money): Despite all the loose cash, not really a surfeit of riches here -- the most coherent parts do little more than reiterate the brand name. B+(*)
Zanussi 5: Live in Coimbra (2013 , Clean Feed): Bassist from Norway (father Italian), leads a quintet with three saxes -- Kjetil Mřster (tenor/soprano), Jřrgen Mathisen (tenor), Erik Hegdal (baritone), all doubling on clarinet -- and drums. Propulsive grooves set up sax wails, with the bari for deep muscle. A- [cd]
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Julian Bahula: Spirit of Malombo: Malombo Jazz, Jabula and Jazz Africa 1966-1984 (1966-84 , Strut, 2CD): South African singer, led several bands from exile in England -- quite possible that the eponymous Jabula (1975) was the first African album I bought, and I picked up a later Malombo album on pure spec. I wasn't impressed by either, but this makes more of his career, starting a bit slow but occasionally hitting full stride. B+(**)
Francis Bebey: Psychedelic Sanza 1982-1984 (1982-84 , Born Bad): From Cameroon, had some early success with the Palm Wine and Highlife styles then drifted into electronics, nicely sampled on this label's recent African Electronic Music 1975-1985 comp. This is later, the beats more minimal, the filigree stranger. B+(**)
Ted Daniel's Energy Module: Interconnection (1975 , NoBusiness, 2CD): Trumpet player, associated with New York's avant "loft scene" but recorded little -- later coming to my attention on Billy Bang's Vietnam records. But this is a find, a prime example of the era's avant-garde, with two energetic saxophonists (Daniel Carter and Oliver Lake), and relative unknowns holding their own at bass and drums. A-
Disco: A Fine Selection of Independent Disco, Modern Soul and Boogie 1978-82 (1978-82 , Soul Jazz, 2CD): Some serious crate digging here, coming up with nothing I've ever heard before by no one I've ever heard of -- all danceable, "fine" seems the apt term, wouldn't go much further than that. Label also has a large-format book, Disco: An Encyclopedic Guide to the Cover Art of Disco, with pretty much the same cover. B+(*)
Gipsy Rhumba: The Original Rhythm of Gipsy Rhumba in Spain 1965-1974 (1965-74 , Soul Jazz): I think of rhumba as a dance beat that sloshed back and forth between Cuba and Congo several times, but evidently something of the concept splashed onto Spain and was picked up by flamenco musicians there. Upbeat, sounds vaguely Mexican to me. B+(**)
Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian: Hamburg '72 (1972 , ECM): Recorded at NDR Funkhaus on June 14, 1972, the trio is three-quarters of Jarrett's "American Quartet" of the time, missing saxophonist Dewey Redman. Most interesting thing here are the stretches where Jarrett plays soprano sax, especially on "Piece for Ornette" but also on "Song for Che." Jarrett also plays some flute, which catches you off guard and ain't half bad. Of course, he plays some piano two, and this was a period when he was brash enough to carry an audience for hours -- it you want to nitpick, he doesn't do enough of that here. But that leaves room for Haden and Motian -- unique talents no longer with us. A- [dl]
Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie: December Day [Willie's Stash, Vol. 1] (2014, Legacy): The uneasy beginnings of an archival series like the "bootlegs" Sony's been pushing of Bob Dylan and Miles Davis. I haven't seen the recording dates -- before credited bassist Bee Spears died in 2011, and maybe much older (the solo "Who'll Buy My Memories?" sounds like the lead on 1991's The IRS Tapes). Nor does pianist Bobbie Nelson appear all that much. B
Salsa de la Bahia: A Collection of SF Area Salsa and Latin Jazz: Vol. 2, Hoy Y Ayer (1983-2013 , Patois, 2CD): I've complained much about the quality of world music coming out of San Francisco, but the salsa and Latin jazz on these volumes is pretty close to the mark. Vol. 1 started in 2003. This one goes back a couple decades earlier, but is still mostly recent. B+(**) [cd]
Verckys et l'Orchestre Vévé: Congolese Funk, Abrobeat & Psychedelic Rumba 1969-1978 (1969-78 , Analog Africa): Title-wise, I guess soukous doesn't ring up the cash register as much as funk, afrobeat, or psychedelia, but Verckys Kiamuangana Mateta spent a decade in the employ of Franco before spinning off Orchestre Vévé and recording this fairly classic soukous. No titles in common with RetroAfric's 2001 superb compilation, Vintage Verckys. A-
Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver: Live at the Loft (2005 , ILK Music): Danish saxophonist with piano and drums -- two American players who were just graduating to major status. Two 20+ minute pieces plus a shorter one. Quite remarkable when they're all fired up, but the saxophonist isn't always engaged. B+(***)
Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver: Floating Islands (2008 , ILK Music): This ignites on the 16:22 second cut ("Ritual") with Anker playing soprano sax over the pianist's toughest vamp. When that seems to have worn the saxophonist out, Taborn picks up the slack until she gets a second wind, and comes back even stronger. A-
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:
The Coathangers: Suck My Shirt (2014, Suicide Squeeze): Three women from Atlanta, a pretty basic punk trio, which was all I came up with on first play. Returning to them, the first thing that struck me was the rightness of the tone, which carries all but one or two of the songs. Their faces are obscured by hair on the cover, but are much clearer on record. [was: B+(**)] A-
Bette Midler: It's the Girls (2014, East/West): Lobbied into replaying this, I admit this is broader that I first thought, and she kicks it up a level when she dubs in some crowd sounds as well as the harmonies. I still find the Spector hollow, and the TLC ballad dull, and the mean song gets a shrug, but "Tell Him" is pretty great. [was: B] B+(**)
Rod Picott: Welding Burns (2011, Welding Rod): [was: B+(***)] A-
Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Live Snakes (2014, Accurate): [was: A-] A
Jenny Scheinman: The Littlest Prisoner (2014, Masterworks): [was: A-] A
Withered Hand: New Gods (2014, Slumberland): When Michael Tatum first told me this album was "awesome," I expected something other than an underwhelming Scottish Beach Boy, even if this Willson is as stuck in his room as that Wilson. I still can't say as I get, let alone appreciate, it, but the album is mightily tuneful and more than a little substantial. [was: B+(**)] A-
Young Thug & Bloody Jay: Black Portland (2014, self-released): Still not sure Christgau's pick for "rap album of the year" is worth the trouble -- I heard nothing redeeming or even very interesting the first four times through, and wouldn't have bothered but for peer pressure. This only started to sound like something after slogging through YT's back catalog, realizing it wasn't so bad, then getting a charge from the acceleration on I Came From Nothing 3. The musical breakthrough here came on "4 Eva Bloody" -- there are others, but sometimes the music threatens to vanish. Not sure there is, or ever will be, a lyrical breakthrough, or that either of these Atliens have any future. But this turns out to be a pretty unique item. [was: B-] A-
Monday, December 8. 2014
Music: Current count 24146  rated (+41), 521  unrated (+3).
Thinking about year-end lists, which has meant a mad rush to sample as much reputable but unheard music as possible. That in turn has led to the huge number of new A- records pictured to the right. Unfortunately, virtually none of them come off of the upper reaches of published lists -- the sole exception is Kate Tempest's Everybody Down, briefly in the top-20 of my metacritic aggregate file but totally unknown outside of the UK and currently tied for 44th. My other list-based find is Call Super's Suzi Ecto, a techno album that topped the list at Juno Plus but has yet to appear on a second list. Even the two records that I had previously panned but this week regraded just above the A-/B+ line, Withered Hand's New Gods and Young Thug/Bloody Jay's Black Portland, have fewer points in my aggregate (2 and 1 respectively) -- this after looming large in Odyshape's Mid-Year Report (Withered Hand won; Black Portland, which Christgau has dubbed "the rap album of the year," came in 8th on points, tied with Miranda Lambert's Platinum).
I'll also point out that my own favorite album this year, Lily Allen's Sheezus (which finished 4th in Odyshape) is also stuck with a single aggregate point (The Telegraph ranked it 47). As I proceed, I fold all the new records into my jazz and non-jazz year-end lists -- the former currently lists 62 A/A- albums, the latter 61. There are 95 lists in the current aggregate file, but very few even touch on much less specialize in jazz -- although it's worth noting that my jazz favorite, Steve Lehman's Mise en Abime, is currently leading the jazz subset by a nice margin (7-to-4 for BadBadNotGood). In previous years, I used to be able to find many jazz critics' lists at JJA, but they don't seem to be doing that today. (Also slowing me down is that Large Hearted Boy has stopped posting his invaluable list index.) Nor have I seen the results from Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll (which I've collated in past years and presumably will again this year). Looks like I'll have to start scouring the blogs. (I did just add Tim Niland's ballot, and have just found one from Lyn Horton.)
One thing that should be clear is that the top totals are no guarantee of quality. I've heard the top 19 records, so I'll list them here with my grade in brackets (and points in braces):
That works out to 2 A-, 4 ***, 3 **, 3 *, 4 B, 3 B-; which is to say that quality on the list is little better than random. Of course you probably disagree with some (or many) of my judgments here. (Michael Tatum, who correlates with me better than most, had Jack White at A- and Todd Terje at C+.) But odds are that if you have heard 300+ albums this year -- my non-jazz count is currently 322; my jazz count is 563 -- and weren't so sectarian you'd dismiss most of these records a priori you'd come up with a similar range. And the pattern would most likely repeat on down the list, albeit with diminishing returns as the records become ever more obscure (and things like jazz, country, world, and metal creep in).
The list of records I've heard breaks at 20-21 with Ty Segall and Taylor Swift -- neither on Rhapsody, and then there's another gap at 24-25 for Royal Blood and Goat (records I haven't bothered to look up). From there on down to about 150 I've heard about half, and my share thins out past there. Conversely, about one third (20) of my 61 A/A- non-jazz albums have no points so far. Eleven more have 1 point, so that covers the median. (I haven't figured my own list in yet, nor that of many similar-minded critics.) My list sorted by aggregate score:
Missing completely are records by: Big KRIT, Company Freak, Deena, Dub Thompson, Golem, The Green Seed, Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, Homeboy Sandman, Kool AD, Jon Langford, Amy LaVere, Mursday, Parkay Quarts (Content Nausea) Jenny Scheinman, Doug Seegers, Serengeti, The Strypes, Supreme Cuts, Jonah Tolchin, and Leo Welch. Notably, 6 of those 20 are rap records. I've noted previously the relative paucity of (especially US) rap records in a year that is really not lacking for good ones, so won't dwell on that here -- you can, after all, look it up.
The number of EOY lists are likely to nearly double next week, but I don't see a lot of trends in the data. The top five have been very stable (once St. Vincent overcame a shaky start). I don't put a lot of weight on differences in rank -- most lists are graded 3 for 1st place, 2 for 2-20, and 1 for everything else -- so nothing much changes with lists that include all of the top five (which is to say most of them). I'm personally much more interested in what shows up on the margins (again, see that Call Super album): that's why I count everything and don't weigh it much.
You can compare this with the top-ten-only aggregates at places like Metacritic if you want to focus on rank. The big gainers there are Run the Jewels (11-to-4), Taylor Swift (21-to-8), and La Roux (42-to-18), and those will definitely do better at P&J than in my aggregate. (The largest loser is probably Sun Kil Moon, dropping 7-to-12.)
I should be running December's first Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Draft file is pretty huge. Two things I wanted to do won't happen this time: one is to clear my queue of Xmas music (didn't happen because I can't stand the stuff); the other is to look at the "deluxe editions" that dominate major label reissues, using Rhapsody to program out the core albums so I just listen to the ephemera. I was originally thinking I'd like to sort through the Led Zeppelin reissues, but there are many more like that. Maybe next time, closer to Xmas. Or maybe next year.
One final announcement is that I'd like to invite you to take a look at Carola Dibbell's new website. It's more focused on her forthcoming novel, The Only Ones, than on her superb music writing, but there are links back to her "corner" of Robert Christgau's website. Right now it's sort of a three-headed hybrid, but in the not-too-distant future I hope to integrate it better stylistically. Let me also note that my wife has read the novel and thinks it's really terrific. Plenty of places you can order a copy. (I haven't read it, but I haven't read any novel since Tom Carson's Gilligan's Wake -- had to since he practically wrote it for me.)
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 7. 2014
I've been meaning on writing something about justice, the lack of it, or the insane perversion of it within the US, but I wanted to start off with a quote and can't find the book. In fact, I can't find most of the things I look for these days: the place is a total mess, and getting oppressively so. Don't even know where to start sorting it out. So I figured I'd skip the links post today, then found a couple already tucked away in the draft file. So it seems like I can't even follow a plan on not doing something any more.
Another thing I've been thinking about is coming up with a more systematic piece on "the four wars of 2014" -- Israel/Gaza, Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine -- and how they are mutually reinforcing, mostly due to delusions prevalent in Washington these days (some examples of which follow).
Anyhow, shorter and more scattered than I'd like, but more than I expected.
Also, a few links for further study:
Friday, December 5. 2014
I voted in a couple jazz polls today. (Does Jazz Times know who I am? Do they care?) I submitted the following to Francis Davis for NPR's Jazz Critics Poll this year:
I think I voted for Ivo Perelman under Latin jazz last year. He's from Brazil, ergo Latin, but plays free jazz, so not what you'd recognize as Latin jazz. I also have a few A-list players from Spain and Portugal (Ridrigo Amado, Luis Lopes) I'd be happy to plug. Not sure why I don't find more Latin jazz, other than that very little finds its way to me. I have several A-list Latin pop records (Shakira, Ricardo Lemvo, Fumaça Preta).
I should also note that I've been counting Jenny Scheinman's The Littlest Prisoner as a non-jazz album (where it's currently number two on my list). Obviously would have made the top-ten here had I gone that way.
Not sure when the results will be posted, but I'll be hosting the ballots again this year, so I'll probably know more before it happens.
Some preliminary stats: 60 new A-list albums, 124 new B+(***) [HM], 368 other albums for total of 552; 10 old A-list, 5 old B+(***) [HM], 11 other for total of 26. Didn't find many late-graded 2013 albums: 23 (3 new + 1 old A-list).
In 2012 (at roughly this time), I had 556 new jazz records (similar, but with 80 ungraded in queue, vs. 15 now), and 36 old records (plus 2 undgraded), so the falloff this year is less than I expected. (Not sure about 2013, as I don't seem to have the data readily available.)
I also have a request from Sergio Piccarilli to vote in El Intruso's "8th Creative Music Critics Poll 2014." I've voted in it before, but procrastinated last year and missed the deadline date (January 5th this year).
Names were mostly plucked off this year's top album list, with a few reminders from last year and a few more names from memory -- certainly doesn't constitute any serious, deep thinking: pretty sure everyone mentioned deserves mentioning, but many of those unmentioned don't deserve the slight. Several slots could have gone much deeper: drums, bass, alto sax, tenor sax, piano, trumpet. I dropped my number two and four albums somewhat arbitrarily.
Monday, December 1. 2014
Music: Current count 24105  rated (+38), 518  unrated (-0).
My 2014 jazz stocks are dwindling: the pending list is down to 12 records, including two of last week's Clean Feeds. (The package was, by the way, a little light, with only four of eight new titles. Hope they split the shipment rather than start to cut me off.) Beyond that, there's no one I recognize: many singers, at least one flute record. (I've been putting off dealing with 2015 titles -- I have 10 of them, and a few of them are more promising.) I'll square away my jazz ballot sometime in the next few days.
I continue to revise the current jazz and non-jazz lists -- currently I have 58 A-list records on the jazz side, 56 on the other. (By the way, I still need to rewrite the intros and factor the late 2013 releases into those lists. Also need to work on the 2% lists.) I've been looking at available EOY lists, and I've started to count them up. The legend is here, and the new records count is here. Almost 40 lists counted to date, most of the early ones coming from UK/Europe (main resources for me: Acclaimed Music Groups, Ilxor; still waiting for Large Hearted Boy; also see the tabulations at AOTY).
Previous metacritic files have included review grades as well as EOY lists, so I get some idea of how the year is shaping up well ahead of list season. This year I just started the file this past week, and the only data in it are EOY lists, so it started out really skewed when five of the first six lists were from UK mags and record stores (the latter often go 100 deep, since they have that more to sell; the mags usually draw the line around 50, which is about where most serious fans draw the line between A- and B+). The first time I noticed from those lists was the near complete shutout of US rap/r&b albums. For comparison, in 2013 US rap/r&b finished (and I'll throw in the usually higher Pazz & Jop finish in brackets):
Also finishing P&J top 100:
That strikes me as a pretty typical year, and while it's helped by a few big names (Kanye West, Janelle Monae, Drake, Beyonce, Eminem) it includes a fair number of names you probably hadn't heard of before the year started (Chance the Rapper, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, etc.). The shutout of the first few lists has opened up a crack, but still this is looking like the year critics forgot about black music. Currently all I see:
That's less than half as many records, and some of those are pretty marginal. (Cherry grew up in England and Scandinavia, is on a Norwegian record label, and isn't really hip-hop.) Nor do I see much in the wings. Christgau predicts that Black Portland will "finish P&J" (i.e., top 40), but that record has only one mention so far (31 on Rolling Stone's list). Nor have any of Christgau's other A-list hip-hop records this year garnered even a single mention (Atmosphere, Jason Derulo, Homeboy Sandman, Roots -- I could also add Babyface/Toni Braxton, Iggy Azalea [not US but not FKA Twigs either], Kool A.D., and with one mention Azealia Banks). From my list, aside from Pharrell only Statik Selektah has one mention, while Mursday, Green Seed, Grieves, and Serengeti are shut out. I dug up yet another list, XXL's 25 best from mid-year, and it, too, fared very poorly: only 3 (of 25) records there had been mentioned (at least when I checked; may be one or two more now).
So just because Kanye West sat this year out doesn't mean the records aren't there. What's lacking is the recognition. I suppose one reason that bugs me more than usual is news like Ferguson and the elections. Still, when I shared my early findings with Christgau, he wrote back: "And in case you didn't know, the sites you aggregate are generally speaking black-music clueless, stupidly anti-pop, heedlessly prog, and fatally faddish. . . . PJ will be better." Sure, because it is even more US-biased than my early list returns have been UK/Europe-biased, and because it still polls a lot of newspaper critics (who generally have to write about popular music once in a while, or at least be flexible enough to do so -- something not required of bloggers). But looking at the data, I have no reason to overestimate the smarts and taste of the lists: after all, the current top-10 includes four B/B- records by my counting (FKA Twigs, Beck, Sharon Van Etten, Mac DeMarco), and three more not enough better to actually recommend (Caribou, Damon Albarn, Future Islands).
By the way, I didn't get around to tweeting on the Young Thug records -- for one thing, don't have much to say -- but I have warmed somewhat on Black Portland.
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Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: