Saturday, December 31. 2016
Again, backed up against the end of the month, and for that matter the year. No time to write a proper introduction, but this month's list is long enough you should have plenty to chew on. Many EOY lists fed into my effort to mop up this month, and that will continue for another month of two. Once again my New Year's Resolution is to cut back. Indeed, I did cut back a bit this year, with only 964 records in this year's rating file, vs. 1112 (1269) for 2015, 1167 (1248) for 2014, 1151 (1222) for 2013, 978 (1190) for 2012, and 1247 (1419, my all-time record, back when the Village Voice was publishing Jazz Consumer Guide) for 2011. (The numbers in parens include post-freeze grades, so it's premature to compare this year against them.)
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on November 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (8978 records).
Ab-Soul: Do What Thou Wilt (2016, Top Dawg): LA rapper, came out of the Black Hippy collective (along with Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q) but has stayed underground through four albums. This is a long one (76:57), clever words and social concerns twisted around minor beats, has some guests I've actually heard of but doesn't look to go mainstream. A-
Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids: We Be All Africans (2016, Strut): Saxophonist, b. Bruce Baker in Chicago, c. 1950, studied and toured with Cecil Taylor, also an actor, tap dancer, founder/director of San Francisco performance company Cultural Odyssey, has a handful of album since 1997 ranging from avant jazz to Afrobeat, which is more/less what this is. Vocals are rather perfunctory, but the sax leads command attention. B+(***)
Adia Victoria: Beyond the Bloodhounds (2016, Canvasback/Atlantic): Last name Paul, singer-songwriter originally from South Carolina, now based in Nashville, but I don't hear any country influence, nor blues nor gospel -- more like a non-Anglo Kate Bush, posh poesy with lush melodies but none too comfortable. B+(*)
Aesop Rock & Homebody Sandman: Lice Two: Still Buggin' (2016, Stones Throw, EP): Sequel to 2015's EP, this one also five cuts (16:06), rushes by so fast it seems even shorter. B+(***) [bc]
Harry Allen's All Star New York Saxophone Band: The Candy Men (2016, Arbors): Three mainstream tenors -- Allen, Eric Alexander, and Grant Stewart -- plus Gary Smulyan on baritone, backed by Rossano Sportiello's piano trio. Lest you doubt the obvious, they kick off with "Four Brothers." You're left marveling not just at how much the tenors sound like their mentors, but also each other. B+(*)
Babyfather: BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow (2016, Hyperdub): Alias for Dean Blunt, who's also recorded under his own name and (with Inga Copeland) as Hype Williams. Electronica with something that sounds like harp, his mantra ("that's why I'm proud to be British") falls on unreceptive ears, and the white noise of "Flames" was so insufferable I turned the volume way down low. Has some redeeming value, but not enough. B-
BadBadNotGood: IV (2016, Innovative Leisure): Jazz quartet (sax-keys-bass-drums), tempted to say they're Canada's answer to the Yellowjackets but they're a couple generations removed, their fusion more informed by hip-hop, especially in the five (of eleven) songs with featured guests -- e.g., Kaytranada and Mick Jenkins, but Colin Stetson also appears. B-
John Beasley: Presents MONK'estra Vol. 1 (2016, Mack Avenue): Pianist, here just arranges and conducts, running Monk tunes through the mill of a big band plus the occasional guest soloist -- credits are hard to come by, but one source mentions "MONK'estras" like Gary Burton and Gregoir Maret. Has some flash and sizzle, but too often rubs me the wrong way. B-
William Bell: This Is Where I Live (2016, Stax): Memphis soul singer, had some minor r&b hits for Stax in the late 1960s, is 77 now with his first album in a decade. No problem evoking the classic sound, and that almost suffices, but the songs aren't up to snuff, and not just because they're dead ass dreary. B
Sarah Bernstein Quartet: Still/Free (2015 , Leo): Violinist, has several avant recordings as Iron Dog, backed by piano trio here -- Kris Davis (piano), Stuart Popejoy (electric bass), Ches Smith (drums) -- this is sometimes polite enough for chamber jazz, but often risks something more, especially when Davis kicks it up a notch. B+(***)
Beyoncé: Lemonade (2016, Parkwood/Columbia): Not on Rhapsody, so I waited before finally breaking down to buy a copy, and hesitated again when I found I'd have to pay for a DVD in the bargain. Haven't watched the latter yet, nor have I seen the videos from the "Platinum Edition" repackaging of her eponymous 2013 album, nor have I found any time to track down her internet videos (even the one that pre-sold this album). I might not even have bothered but given the way Beyoncé broke in Pazz & Jop after its late release, this looked like this year's odds-on favorite -- and as it turns out was the only EOY Aggregate top-forty album I hadn't heard. Lots of good records on that list this year, but none I especially love. This is more impressive than most, although I doubt I'll ever care that much for someone who aspires to be "the black Bill Gates." A- [cd]
Black Art Jazz Collective: Presented by the Side Door Jazz Club (2016, Sunnyside): Sextet, hard bop lineup although they don't mean to be a throwback. Front-line horns have serious chops -- Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Wayne Escoffery on tenor sax -- and pianist Xavier Davis impresses. Two songs "inspired by Barack Obama," one each for W.E.B. Dubois, Sojourner Truth, and Joe Henderson. B+(**)
Aziza Brahim: Abbar El Hamada (2016, Glitterbeat): Singer-songwriter, born 1976 in a Sahrawi refugee camp in Algeria, at age 11 received a scholarship to study in Cuba, based in Spain since 2000. Fifth album. Don't know what the songs refer to, but I get their heartfelt depth, and the attractive, not especially exotic, beat. B+(**)
David Bromberg Band: The Blues, the Whole Blues, and Nothing but the Blues (2016, Red House): Cut four records 1971-74 for Columbia, mostly played blues but seemed so short of grit he got filed as a folksinger. Since then he's bounced down to lower rung labels -- Fantasy in 1978, Rounder in 1989, Appleseed in 2007, with sizable gaps in between, finally landing in alt-blues land. Christgau says this "smokes" the Rolling Stones' recent blues cover album, but surely that's not the right word. More like sneaks by on the sly. B+(***)
Peter Brötzmann/Steve Swell/Paal Nilssen-Love: Live in Copenhagen (2016, Not Two): The saxophonist backs a bit off his usual full fury, giving the trombone a fighting chance -- something Swell makes the most of. And the drummer is always masterful in this sort of company. A- [cd]
Jane Bunnett & Maqueque: Oddara (2016, Linus Entertainment): Soprano saxophonist, also plays flute, her interest in Cuban music going back at least to 1991's Spirits of Havana. Second album under the Maqueque banner, a group featuring several vocalists -- often the rub for me, especially on the overripe "Song for You." The flute just blows in the wind, but the sax solos impress. B
Burial: Young Death/Nightmarket (2016, Hyperdub, EP): Dubstep producer William Bevan, actually just a single, the two named tracks, 13:14 total. First cut doesn't do anything for me, but the latter hits the same sweet spot he's been mining for years, perhaps with a bit more clutter than usual. B+(*)
Taylor Ho Bynum: Enter the Plustet (2016, Firehouse 12): Cornet player, Braxton protégé, has built an impressive body of work since 1999, recently working with mid-size groups, this one much grander with fifteen names on the cover, only two I didn't immediately recognize. Unconventional big band, the six brass including French horn and tuba, only three reeds, violin (Jason Kao Hwang), cello (Tomeka Reid), bass (Ken Filiano), guitar (Mary Halvorson), drums and vibes. Three pieces, richly varied, neglecting neither group power nor individual finnesse. A-
Joăo Camőes/Jean-Marc Foussat: Ŕ La Face Du Ciel! (2014 , Shhpuma): Viola player, has a couple recent albums, this a duo where Foussat works his electronics in around the edges, just enough to keep the string sound from wearing thin. B+(***)
François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: The Joy of Being (2015 , NoBusiness): Alto sax trio, drummer Lambert is pretty much inseparable from the saxophonist, and is joined here by Mazur on acoustic bass guitar. Carrier is impressive as usual, but one hardly notices the others. B+(***) [cd]
Albert Cirera/Hernâni Faustino/Gabriel Ferrandini/Agustí Fernández: Before the Silence (2015 , NoBusiness): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, based in Lisbon, backed by the bassist (Faustino) and drummer (Ferrandini) from the RED Trio and avant-pianist Fernández. Three long pieces (average 18 minutes), plus a brief coda. Best here is the pianist -- I've mostly heard him in duos before, but he throws himself into this with abandon, certainly helped by the rhythm section, and the sax benefits as well. A- [cd]
J. Cole: 4 Your Eyez Only (2016, Dreamville/Roc Nation/Interscope): Rapper, sells well but tends to release albums in December, too late to build any EOY list momentum. Like many popular rap records of late, this slacks off and slithers underground, not so much because that's a viable strategy for business as for survival. Time and again he draws me in and pushes me away -- not that I have any business taking his shtick personal. B+(**)
Jeff Collins: The Keys to Christmas (2016, Crossroads): Pianist, arranger, producer, evidently works mostly in gospel with sides in Americana and Bluegrass, here marches a big band through eclectic medleys of some of the smarmiest melodies in the history of Christmas commercialism. Maybe I should be amused by how far over the top he goes, but I'm not. C- [cd]
Alexis Cuadrado: Poética (2016, Sunnyside): Bassist, studied in Barcelona and Paris before moving to Brooklyn. Crafts his engaging music -- with Miles Okazaki (guitar), Andy Milne (piano), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums) -- around spoken word by Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Melcion Mateu, the former close to rap, the latter in some other language, probably Catallan. B+(**)
CupcakKe: Cum Cake (2016, self-released): Rapper Elizabeth Eden Harris, from Chicago, turned some heads with her explicit raunch ("Vagina," "Deepthroat," "Tit for Tat," "Juicy Coochie" -- "don't need no drink to get naughty/ because I'm not Bill Cosby") but the strongest cut here is an acappella dis ("Reality, Pt. 2") -- not that I have any complaints against her beats. A-
Daniele D'Agaro/Giovanni Maier/Zlatko Kaucic: Disorder at the Border Plays Ornette (2015 , Not Two): Sax trio, D'Agaro playing alto, tenor, clarinet, and bass clarinet -- the ostensible group name actually a Coleman Hawkins song, but the label actually credits the musicians, and that's as plausible as anything given the cover. Sounds a bit thin for Ornette, but the alto captures the right tone. B+(**)
Deap Vally: Femejism (2016, Nevado): LA rock duo, Lindsey Troy (guitar) and Julie Edwards (drums), both sing, second album, a consistently hard thrash but two songs in the middle come clear and stand out -- one on feminism, one on critics and cynics. B+(***)
Dear Eloise: Uncontrollable, Ice Age Stories (2012 , Maybe Mars): Chinese husband-wife shoegaze duo, Yang Haisong and Sun Xia, several albums since their 2010 debut (The Words That Were Burnt. They produce indistinct vocals wrapped in a dense swarm of guitar noise punctuated by hard, regular beats. Not really my thing, but I'm impressed nonetheless. B+(*) [bc]
John Dikeman/Luis Vicente/Hugo Antunes/Gabriel Ferrandini: Salăo Brazil (2016, NoBusiness): Tenor sax, trumpet, bass, and drums, free improv recorded live in Coimbra -- "Salăo Brazil" is evidently a club there, and released on vinyl, which hopefully has more sound depth than my CDR (or maybe you're just supposed to play it louder). B+(*) [cdr]
The Dining Rooms: Do Hipsters Love Sun (Ra)? (2015, Schema): Electronic music duo from Milan, Italy, formed in 1998 by Stefano Ghittoni and Cesare Malfatti. Subtitle: "A soundtrack of cosmic funk, abstract jazz and cinematic avant-garde"; that mostly means ambient, with some overtalk exploring the title question, and more. B+(**)
The DKV Thing Trio: Collider (2014 , Not Two): Actually, a double sax trio, with Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson on various saxes and clarinet, Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten and Kent Kessler on bass, Paal Nilssen-Love and Hamid Drake on drums. Three joint improv pieces, 53:36, recorded in Krakow. Mucho squawk, but the last piece pounds the chaos into enough order to bring the noise home. B+(**)
Dog Leg Dilemma: Not This Time (2016 , self-released): Canadian (Toronto) jazz group, first album (after a live EP), Peter Bull (basses, whistling, woodblock, acoustic guitar, organ, electric whip) seems to be the leader, along with alto sax, guitar, drums, and violin on a couple tracks. Has a fusion flow but that's not really the feel. B+(*) [cd]
Pierre Dřrge & New Jungle Orchestra: Ubi Zaa (2016, SteepleChase): Guitarist, founded his Danish not-quite-big band in 1982, thinking Ellington while collaborating with South African bassist Johnny Dyani (d. 1986). Lots of dramatic build up for the guest star -- Kirk Knuffke on cornet -- but somehow their trademark swing got waylaid. B
Dave Douglas: Dark Territory (2014 , Greenleaf Music): Trumpet maestro, did some relatively early experiments with electronics but nothing very successful, takes another shot at it here with Shigeto (electronics), Jonathan Maron (electric/synth bass), and Mark Guilliana (acoustic/electric drums). B+(*)
Dave Douglas/Frank Woeste: Dada People (2015 , Greenleaf Music): Woeste is a pianist from Germany, split the writing chores five each with the trumpet star. Quartet adds Matt Brewer (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums). Only thing exceptional here is the trumpet, but you could have guessed that. B+(***)
Mark Dresser Seven: Sedimental You (2016, Clean Feed): Bassist-led septet, the lead horns -- Nicole Mitchell's flutes and Marty Ehrlich's clarinets -- are so soft they merely add coloring, while Michael Dessen's trombone adds some ring to the bass. Joshua White plays piano and Jim Black drums, but they too lurk in the background, as David Morales Boroff's violin dominates the group sound -- for better or worse. B+(**) [cd]
D.D. Dumbo: Utopia Defeated (2016, 4AD): First LP after a couple EPs for Oliver Hugh Perry, from Australia but recorded in England. Singer-songwriter, framed in a little extra pop jangle glitz. B
El Guincho: Hiperasia (2016, Nacional): Spanish laptronica producer, Pablo Diaz-Reixa, draws on tropicalia and at his best recalls Tom Zé, but his cut-up techniques are awful choppy here, so much so that the miracles that Zé routinely pulls off elude him here. B
ELEW: And to the Republic (2016, Sunnyside): Pianist Eric Lewis, has a couple of previous volumes of what he calls Rockjazz, here with a piano trio with -- smaller print on the cover -- bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. This doesn't strike me as "jazzrock" although it rolls plenty hard. Title cut built around Mark Antony's famous speech in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, I reckon to remind us how a previous republic descended into empire. B+(***)
EOLA: Dang (2016, Leaving, EP): Orlando FL-based group, principally Edwin Mathis White but probably other singers (and not much, if any, more) strikes me as bent gospel except when they're trying to make doo wop odder and more inaccessible -- I wasn't surprised to find an earlier album called The Lord's Jam. Nine cuts, 29:08. B-
Family Atlantica: Cosmic Unity (2016, Soundway): London-based group, second album, led by Jack Yglesias (Heliocentrics), featuring a Venezuelan diva (Luzmira Zerpa), a phalanx of west African percussionists, and various guests including saxophonists Marshall Allen and Orlando Julius. B+(*)
Fire!: She Sleeps/She Sleeps (2015 , Rune Grammofon): Norwegian group led by saxophonist Mats Gustafsson (big horns: tenor, baritone, bass), with Johan Berthling (bass) and Andreas Werliin (drums, lap steel guitar), plus guests on cello (2 of 4 tracks) and guitar (1 other cut). B+(**)
Paolo Fresu & Omar Sosa: Eros (2016, Otá): Trumpet and piano, backed with strings, and, as front cover notes, featuring Natacha Atlas (vocals) & Jaques Morelenbaum (cello). Fresu and Sosa also credited with percussion, a nice little beat in places but not enough to drive the vocalist on the early tracks. More atmospheric to close, which suits them better. B+(*)
Jonny Fritz: Sweet Creep (2016, ATO): Started out as a "filthy and whimsical" Brooklyn cowboy, but gave up his original alias (Jonny Corndawg) for his more mature Dad Country and loses even more this time, turning into a rather sweet but straight songster. B+(*)
Future: EVOL (2016, Epic): Atlanta rapper, puts out quite a few mixtapes in addition to legit albums like this one. Beats are pretty compelling here, but none of the raps are sticking. B+(**)
GFOTY: Call Him a Doctor (2016, PC Music, EP): Brit pop singer, Polly-Louisa Salamon, uses an acronym for "girlfriend of the year," has a half-dozen singles/EPs since 2013 plus a handful of "mixes." Elements of electropop, but bent and often broken, or maybe just spoofed -- hard to tell when you don't quite care. Nine tracks, 20:22. B-
Margaret Glaspy: Emotions and Math (2016, ATO): Singer-songwriter, plays guitar and fiddle with authority, has an idiosyncratic voice I'm not much comfortable with, and writes song with some depth that more literary-minded listeners admire. I'm not there yet. B+(**)
Macy Gray: Stripped (2016, Chesky): Soul singer, pushing 50, signs to a jazz label and recycles her songbook as standards, backed tastefully by trumpet (Wallace Roney), guitar (Russell Malone), bass and drums. Low key, stripped down, her voice not much more than a whisper, which doesn't do much to remind me of her own songs but works nicely on Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." B+(**)
Charlie Haden/Liberation Music Orchestra: Time/Life (Song for the Wahles and Other Beings) (2011-15 , Impulse): The bassist died in 2014, after the live tracks that open and close, but before the middle three studio cuts where Steve Swallow fills in. Still, fairly seamless with Carla Bley arranging throughout and no other personnel changes. Richly textured, deeply resonant. Haden gets a bit sappy at the end, but that's the way he lived his life, and we should be grateful. A-
Wayne Hancock: Slingin' Rhythm (2016, Bloodshot): Has a great country voice, all drawl and bite, mellowed a bit here as is the music, which has settled ever more into a western swing groove. Covers "Divorce Me COD," at once a smart choice and an obvious one. I'd say he's coasting, but he may just be aging gracefully. B+(**)
Freddie Hendrix: Jersey Cat (2010 , Sunnyside): Young mainstream trumpeter, first album on his own although he has close to two dozen side credits, basically fields a hard bop quintet (plus a couple guest spots). His pairing with Abraham Burton (tenor sax) works well on the fast ones, and he's got a nice slow burn on the ballads. B+(**)
Heron Oblivion: Heron Oblivion (2016, Sub Pop): Psychedelic rock "supergroup" joining ex-members of Espers, Comets on Fire, Howlin' Rain, and Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound -- I only vaguely recognize half of those band names, and only singer Meg Baird among the principals. Often I wonder what "psychedelic" means, but here I clearly hear echoes of those Jefferson Airplane guitars, so I figure that counts. B+(**)
Dre Hocevar: Transcendental Within the Sphere of Indivisible Remainder (2016, Clean Feed): Drummer, from Slovenia, leads a nine-piece group here, no one I recognize, where the first credit (Sam Pluta) is for live electronics and signal processing, and there is a synth player as well as a pianist (plus trumpet, two saxes, cello, and bass). The horns can get rough and rowdy, but the more discrete forms of chaos are hard to pin down. B+(*) [cd]
I Am Three: Mingus Mingus Mingus (2015 , Leo): Filed this under German saxophonist Silke Eberhard, who's also the leader of Potsa Lotsa, a larger group with two albums surveying Eric Dolphy compositions. This trio -- name comes from the first line of Charles Mingus' autobiography -- with Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet and Christian Marien on drums plays classic Mingus tunes, but whereas the master took small groups and blew them up to sound like big bands, they pick at and chew over the bones, often to interesting effect. B+(***)
Ich Bin Nintendo: Lykke (2016, Shhpuma): Hardcore trio, I'd guess from Norway -- guitar/vocals Christian Skĺr Winther, bass Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard, drums Joakim Heibř Johansen -- play six songs averaging more than 5 minutes each (31:17). Hard, harsh, metallic, the rhythm with one foot dangling in free jazz. A thrill at first. B+(**)
Carly Rae Jepsen: E-MO-TION: Side B (2014-15 , School Boy/Interscope, EP): Leftovers from the sessions for her 2015 album E-MO-TION, eight previously unreleased songs, 27:36. Three or four of them are good enough they reminded me of Lily Allen (although not nearly so smart and/or cheeky), while the others would make for decent filler. B+(***)
Ka: Honor Killed the Samurai (2016, Iron Works): Kaseem Ryan, Brooklyn firefighter, his rap sideline dating back to 1993 but I'm unclear on details before his 2008 solo debut. This one weaves samurai lessons into a more domestic thread, offering a sense of hard-earned accomplishment and brutal fates. A-
Bobby Kapp/Matthew Shipp: Cactus (2016, Northern Spy): First album I see to list drummer Kapp's name first, but he dates back to the avant 1960s, and more recently played in the Fine Wine Trio. Duo with the younger but much more famous pianist -- who is terrific here, thinking percussion and building on that. A-
Brian Kastan: Roll the Dice on Life (2016 , Kastan, 2CD): Guitarist, fusion with a hard rock thrash, electric bass, drums, and vocals, with Miles Griffith singing, rapping, and mostly scatting, adding yet more thrash. I suppose I should credit the closing "Black Lives Matter" -- the only piece I recall any vocal detail from -- but by then I was plain impatient for the damn thing to end. C+ [cd]
Tyler Keith & the Apostles: Do It for Johnny (2016, self-released): From Mississippi, came up in a late-1990s punk band called the Neckbones which had at least one good record, went solo with a band called The Preacher's Kids. Rockabilly junkie Phil Overeem has this number three on his 2016 list, and I sorta hear it, just not as much. B+(**) [bc]
Irene Kepl: SololoS (2016, Fou): Solo violin, saws back and forth, up and down. Final 'S' in title is mirrored in print, probably meant to convey how everything is refracted within itself. B+(*) [cd]
Alicia Keys: Here (2016, RCA): Sixth album, sales steadily declining since her 2001 debut sold 12 million copies. Still, sounds to me like her best, with catchy beats, pop hooks, and often deep lyrics. Inspirational lyric: "you glow." A-
Kirk Knuffke: Little Cross (2014 , SteepleChase): Trumpet player, prolific since 2009, with five records on Nils Winther's relatively mainstream Danish label and double that on more avant labels. This is the first of the former group I've heard, a trio with Jamie Saft on organ/synth and Hamid Drake on drums. They start with a trad gospel, then get original. Trumpet impressive, but sometimes gets snagged on Saft's keyboards. B+(*)
Konx-Om-Pax: Caramel (2016, Planet Mu): Scottish "animator, graphic designer, DJ and producer" Tom Scholefield. Thick, shimmering layers piled on beats that barely support them. B+(*)
Kornél Kovács: The Bells (2016, Studio Barnhus): DJ/deep house producer from Sweden, first album after a half-dozen singles. Minor variations and other fluff on top of fast rocking beats, a nice trick. B+(**)
Krokofant: Krokofant II (2015, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian fusion ("semi-improvising power") trio -- Tom Hasslan (guitars), Axel Skalstad (drums), Jřrgen Mathisen (sax) -- like to play it fast and hard, which can be their undoing. B+(*)
Martin Küchen/Mark Tokar/Arkadijus Gotesmanas: Live at Vilnius Jazz Festival (2016, NoBusiness): Sax trio, the Swedish saxophonist playing tenor, alto, and flute, the others bass and drums. Joint improv, takes a while to heat up, cooks when it does. B+(**) [cdr]
Lady Gaga: Joanne (2016, Streamline/Interscope): Album title is Stefani Germanotta's middle name, although it was reportedly named, like her, for her aunt Joanne Stefani Germanotta. A step toward maturity, perhaps, but pushing no buttons/boundaries gives us little more than impeccable professionalism to care for. Not sure whether I should credit that the first song I liked was in the "Deluxe version bonus tracks" ("Grigio Girls"). B
Jinx Lennon: Past Pupil Stay Sane (2016, Septic Tiger): Irish singer-songwriter, or talker, ranter, rapper, has two new records, six (or more) old ones, would probably have been a folksinger forty years ago but he's endured too much complication to settle for simple clarity. Crams 24 titles in here, though it's not clear there are that many different songs. B+(***)
Jinx Lennon: Magic Bullets of Madness to Uplift Grief Magnets (2016, Septic Tiger): Recorded with two members of the Liverpool band Clinic, this promises to be more structured, with just twelve songs averaging close to three minutes (33:16). I don't doubt that he's an interesting guy, but at some point I gave up trying to follow this. B+(**)
Live the Spirit Residency: Presents the Young Masters 1: Coming of Age (2016, self-released): The key here, of course, is tenor saxophonist Ernest Dawkins, executive director of Live the Spirit Residency, which runs after-hours jazz ed programs for Chicago youth. They put together a group called the Young Masters Ensemble -- Isaiah Collier (tenor sax), Jeremiah Collier (drums), Alex Lombre (piano), and James Wenzel (bass) -- and they're terrific even when the saxes lay out for a blues vamp. And while I suspect Dawkins plays most of the superb sax runs, they've all earned their group name. A- [cd]
The Pedrito Martinez Group: Habana Dreams (2016, Motéma): Conga player, also plays bata drums, born in Havana, based in New York since 1997, sings, which makes this strike me as more pop than jazz, even if the Afro-Cuban traditions run deep. B+(*)
Rob Mazurek & Emmett Kelly: Alien Flower Sutra (2016, International Anthem): Kelly wrote and sings the lyrics here, also strums some guitar, with most of the music coming from Mazurek's electronics (also a bit of cornet, and some guests). Very disjointed, the songs slapped onto the music (or vice versa), the discord palpable and more than a little hideous. C
Brad Mehldau Trio: Blues and Ballads (2012-14 , Nonesuch): Long-running trio, with Larry Grenadier (bass) and Jeff Ballard (drums), cover seven songs, precisely, expertly, not even fumbling tunes by the Beatles and solo McCartney. B+(**)
Mekons: Existentialism (2015 , Bloodshot): I'm at a huge disadvantage here, in that this live album ("why should a record take more time to record than it does to listen to?") from last year's Mekonception at the Jalopy Theater in Brooklyn ("with the help of 75 mekonsters") is properly part of a 96-page book ($24.95), the 12 songs accompanied with "twelve chapters of writing and art from mekons and mekon friends" -- so I can't tell you who's who, let alone the back stories and concepts. What I can say is that the music is terrific, harsh as the working life it transcends, the words biting and/or poignant. A
Myra Melford + Ben Goldberg: Dialogue (2014 , BAG): Piano and clarinet duets, working through five Goldberg pieces, eight from the pianist. There are moments when Melford does something characteristically brilliant, but more often the clarinet lays over everything like a wet blanket. B
Parker Millsap: The Very Last Day (2016, Okrahoma): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, so defaults to country. Feels at home wailing gospel and blues, and gets some liberal credit for a song about the gay son of a preacher. B+(*)
Modus Factor: The Picasso Zone (2015 , Browntasaurus): Self-described as "a modern electric groove trio," from Canada, drummer Chris Lesson evidently first among equals, alongside Brownman Ali (electric trumpet) and Ian De Souza (bass, effects). Still, the trumpet does much more than groove. B+(**)
Moker: Ladder (2016, El Negocito): Dutch jazz quintet (although Google also digs up a "brutal death metal" band), fifth album -- trumpet, tenor sax/clarinet/bansuri, guitar/alto horn, bass and drums, most also into electronics with krautrock legacy, not that they strike me as all that fusionish. B+(*)
Moor Mother: Fetish Bones (2016, Don Giovanni): Chamae Ayewa, from Philadelphia, has released more than a dozen EPs since 2012, this one more experimental postrock noise than hip-hop (no hop to it). Has a time travel motif, and refuses to overlook more than a century of violence against black folk. No fun, but I suppose that's part of the point. B
Donny Most: Swinging Down the Chimney Tonight (2016, Summit): Best known as an actor -- only regular gig seems to have been playing Ralph Malph on Happy Days -- has a previous standards album as D Most. This is just four secular (mostly Santa-themed) songs plus a non-Xmas "bonus": "C'est Si Bon"), 14:18, with an uncredited big band and backup singer. Fine voice, not bad as these things go. B [cd]
Motif: My Head is Listening (2013-15 , Clean Feed): Norwegian jazz group, half dozen albums going back to 2005, leader-composer is bassist Ole Morten Vĺgan. Sextet with trumpet, tenor sax/bass clarinet, clarinet, piano (Hĺvard Wiik), and drums. Free jazz, in some sort of a fancy chamber setting. B+(**)
Nao: For all We Know (2016, Little Tokyo): British soul singer (Neo Jessica Joshua), first album, attempts to channel some Prince funk, impressive when she actually pulls it off (i.e., not always). B+(*)
Willie Nelson: For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price (2016, Legacy): Circa 1980 Nelson a series of duet albums with peers and slightly older country legends, including San Antonio Rose with Price, whose biggest hits spanned 1956-73. Price rejoined Nelson for two even better 2003-07 casual classics, so a tribute after Price's 2013 death seems like a sure shot. Still, the strings are a bit much, Nelson is occasionally mannered, and Price's songs tend to revert to their originators without his voice. B+(*)
Nice as Fuck: Nice as Fuck (2016, Loves Way, EP): All-female indie rock trio, best known Jenny Lewis but also Erika Forster (Au Revoir Simone) and Tennessee Thomas (The Like). One of those short vinyl albums that comes up just short (9 songs, 25:51), and just shy of substantial. B+(*)
Noname: Telefone (2016, self-released): Chicago rapper Fatimah Warner, first album (err, mixtape), shuffles patiently through everyday life. B+(**) [bc]
Nots: Cosmetic (2016, Goner): Memphis punk band, second album, Alexandra Eastburn's keyboards add something to the guitar-bass-drums formula, and vocalist-guitarist Natalie Hoffmann is hard-pressed to sing over the noise, so it isn't immediately obvious that this is a grrrl band. What is obvious is that they're a damn catchy one. A-
The Nu Band: The Final Concert (2012 , NoBusiness): Avant supergroup, although the cover rightly features trumpet player Roy Campbell, whose 2014 death turned this date in Austria final. The quartet -- Mark Whitcage (alto sax), Joe Fonda (bass), Lou Grassi (drums) -- first recorded in 2001, cut a half-dozen albums over the next decade-plus, and has since recorded The Cosmological Constant with Thomas Heberer on cornet. Hesitates in spots, not the brightest recording, but a remarkable group. B+(**)
NxWorries: Yes Lawd! (2016, Stones Throw): Hip-hop duo, the rapper known as Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge. Nineteen cuts, none over 4:03, the sort of slippery beats and soft edges so much in vogue recently, talked-sung, relies a bit much on the lingo for my taste but comparable to a bunch of records I'm impressed by but can't quite get into (Chance the Rapper, for one). B+(***)
Uwe Oberg/Silke Eberhard: Turns (2015 , Leo): Two Germans, duets between piano and alto sax or clarinet, the pianist the senior player by more than a decade. Both provide originals, but they also work through covers from Jimmy Giuffre, Carla Bley, and Annette Peacock. B+(***)
Roberto Occhipinti: Stabilimento (2016, Modica Music): Canadian bassist, several albums, employs twenty-some musicians including a fairly hefty string section, although I can't see well enough to map the asterisks to the songs so I'm unsure who's playing what when. As for how, the postbop and third stream moves (including a Beethoven theme) never command much attention. B
Frank Ocean: Blonde (2016, Boys Don't Cry): Cover says blond but nearly everyone agrees that's a typo (or a "stylization"). Currently running 3rd in my EOY Aggregate, despite having a nebulous existence as product, and I'm afraid it's not much more substantial as music (with a couple exceptions). B+(**)
Phronesis: Parallax (2015 , Edition): Piano trio, based in London, half-dozen albums since 2007, leader seems to be bassist Jasper Hřiby, with Ivo Neame on piano and Anton Eger on drums, all three writing pieces (three each this time). Tight group, power moves to open and close, wide range in between. B+(**)
Populous: Night Safari (2014, Bad Panda): Italian electronica producer Andrea Mangia, looks south, across the Sahara, and dreams. B+(***) [bc]
Mark Pritchard: Under the Sun (2016, Warp): British electronica producer, has several albums, the gentle ambience of his wordless passages is pleasing, his guest vocalists/lyricists -- Stephen Wilkinson, Thom Yorke, Linda Perhacs, Beans -- are not unpleasant but don't add much either. B+(*)
Pussy Riot: XXX (2016, Nice Life, EP): Russian "feminist punk rock protest group" formed in 2011, variable cast of members, some having been arrested for "hooliganism," various previous recordings have been rumored but this three-cut, 11:37 single is the first I've managed to track down. Two of those are in English over funky beats, the third in gloomy Russian. B+(***)
Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra: Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (2016, Clean Feed): French pianist, has a half dozen previous albums, working frequently with prepared piano. This is something else: a ten-piece orchestra (two saxes, flute, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, electric guitar and bass, drums), the pieces inspired by various rugged landscapes, a rhythm section itching to break free, the horns striving to heighten the tension, not to break free. A- [cd]
The Rolling Stones: Blue & Lonesome (2016, Polydor): Still taking their cues from Chicago bluesmen, Jagger and company understand that the fount of youth for septagenarian rockers is the still the classic blues riff, and if they can't get it up to write their own, they can knock off an album of covers and make them sound great. B+(***)
Daniel Romano: Mosey (2016, New West): Canadian country singer, doesn't really have the voice for the job but impressed with his sincerity in the past. Still, this one sounds way off the mark, even when the mark seems to be Marty Robbins. B-
Ned Rothenberg/Mark Feldman/Sylvie Courvoisier: In Cahoots (2014 , Clean Feed): Leader plays various reeds (clarinet, alto sax, bass clarinet, shakuhachi), free jazz backed in chamber jazz fashion with violin and piano, respectively. B+(**) [cd]
Schoolboy Q: Blank Face LP (2016, Top Dawg/Interscope): LA rapper, actually born in Germany, like Ab-Soul came out of Black Hippy but has harder, more mainstream beats and rhymes that flirt with gangsta. B+(***)
Serengeti & Sicker Man: Doctor My Own Patience (2016, Graveface): Underground Chicago rapper David Cohn pairs off oddly Tobias Vethake from Germany for a pleasantly non-descript song cycle, with a vaguely Eno-ish vibe. Built for vinyl: 9 cuts, 31:25. B
Sleigh Bells: Jessica Rabbit (2016, Torn Clean): Noisy pop band, principally Alexis Krauss (vocals) and Derek Miller (everything else). Fourth album, still know how to bait a hook but I'm not catching much (other than desperation -- not that I didn't notice the one about tornadoes in Kansas). B
Todd Snider: Eastside Bulldog (2016, Aimless): So short (25:22) Napster considers this an EP, but it sports ten songs, only one over 2:48 but only one sub-2:00. That's because he plays fast and hard -- you could shelve this one under rockabilly. But he also writes fast and loose: only the title cut and "Come On Up" are really keepers. B+(***)
Elza Soares: The Woman at the End of the World (A Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo) (2015 , Mais Um Discos): Brazilian samba singer, b. 1937, has fifty-some albums since 1960 but I can't say as I've ever taken notice of her before. But at least at this point in her career she's way coarser and weirder than anyone in MPB -- rhythmically she's gravitated toward Tom Zé. Wikipedia notes she's been dubbed "the Brazilian Tina Turner," but I'm thinking more Alberta Hunter. A-
Regina Spektor: Remember Us to Life (2016, Sire): Singer-songwriter, born in Moscow, based in New York, has a handful of albums crossing over from Soviet Kitsch to American pop and what I suppose might be called more cultured forms -- mostly piano-based. Being an uncultured sort, I'm more impressed than enamoraed here. B+(**)
Steve Swell Quintet: Soul Travelers (2015 , RogueArt): Avant-trombonist, quintet adds Jemeel Moondoc (alto sax), Dave Burrell (piano), William Parker (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums), each adding something distinctive and remarkable to the mix. Still, I always enjoy a good trombone lead, of which there are many. Looks like this only came out on vinyl, so runs to a respectable length (4 cuts, 43:40). A- [cdr]
Steve Swell/Gebhard Ullmann/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Michael Zerang: The Chicago Plan (2015 , Clean Feed): Recorded in Chicago, home of Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics) and Zerang (drums), if not the front line (and composers) -- trombone and tenor sax/bass clarinet. The trombone leads are bracing, but the others on their own tend to melt together. B+(***) [cd]
Swet Shop Boys: Cashmere (2016, Customs): My kind of supergroup, two rappers with Indian/Pakistani heritage, although the Indian was born in Queens, New York (Heems, aka Himanshu Kumar Suri, formerly of Das Racist) and the Pakistani in London (MC Riz, aka Riz Ahmed, who had a standout acting role in HBO's The Night Of playing another Queens boy. As postmodern westerners, they see the potential of playing off their heritage, especially as they intuit it gets under the skin of less worldly westerners. A-
Tanya Tagaq: Retribution (2016, Six Shooter): Inuit throat singer, early on was just a weird blip on the world music continuum but has grown into a cosmopolitan rocker from the edges of a larger (and colder) world than you're used to. Includes a physics lesson/impending doom story remind you that "Gaia likes it cold." A-
Gregory Tardy: Chasing After the Wind (2015 , SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, got some attention 1998-2001 but fell off my radar after that -- turns out this is his ninth album since 2005 for SteepleChase. Sextet, Bruce Barth on piano, Alex Norris on trumpet, but instead of trombone the third horn is Sam Sadigursky's flute -- the weak link, I think, but also a bid to move beyond hard bop into something vaguely postbop. B
Tell Tale: Film in Music (2014 , Drip Audio): Vancouver BC group, septet, hype sheet cites cellist Peggy Lee as the leader but album lists drummer Dylan Van Der Schiff as co-producer, and the includes other well-known musicians -- indeed, they often play on one another's albums. Not sure if this is actual film music, but could be. B+(*) [cd]
A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service (2016, Epic): Hip-hop group, recorded five albums 1990-98, finding success with a jazzy underground sound before Q-Tip went solo. The reunion is also billed as a fluke, promised to be their last album even though it's much better than anything Q-Tip produced on his own (certainly since 1999's Amplified). Christgau gave this an ultrarare A+, but I can't fathom why he (or anyone else) finds it compelling -- maybe just desperate for some good news? A-
A Tribe Called Red: We Are the Halluci Nation (2016, Radicalized): Trio of "First Nations" musicians based in Ottawa, Canada; Wikipedia described them as a "Canadian electronic music group" but a better approximation would be hip-hop crew -- indeed, their name makes that explicit. Results are mixed: I'm most struck by the more radical political rants and critiques, which usually get sharper beats, than with the more generic war whoops. B+(***)
William Tyler: Modern Country (2016, Merge): Guitarist, played in Lambchop and Silver Jews before going solo in 2010. Fourth album, no vocals, not solo but often feels like it -- albeit oddly lush. B+(*)
Alexander von Schlippenbach: Jazz Now! (Live at Theater Gütersloh) (2015 , Intuition): German avant-pianist, a major player since the late 1960s, in a quartet with Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet, plus bass (Antonio Borghini) and drums (Heinrich Köbberling). They play one Monk tune, plus a mix of Herbie Nichols (3), Eric Dolphy (4), and Schlippenbach himself (5) -- longtime touchstones. B+(***)
Kelsey Waldon: I've Got a Way (2016, Monkey's Eyebrow): Singer-songwriter from an unincorporated town in Kentucky, moved to Nashville and released a debut album that deserves to be heard (The Goldmine). The first half here is at least that completely realized, and if the closing ballads slip a bit, the voice and pedal steel are sure purty. And at least one generalization has become more specific: "you can't place a crown on the head of a clown/and then hope it turns out to be a king." A-
Mat Walerian-Matthew Shipp Duo: The Uppercut: Live at Okuden (2012 , ESP-Disk): Polish alto saxophonist (also bass clarinet, soprano clarinet, flute), matched up with the pianist. They range widely here, going hard and soft, rough and not-so-rough. B+(***) [bc]
Mat Walerian/Matthew Shipp/Hamid Drake: Jungle: Live at Okuden (2012 , ESP-Disk, 2CD): Same deal as The Uppercut, plus a drummer -- a real good one -- and a few months practice. Often superb free jazz, but does run long (99:41). B+(***) [bc]
Becky Warren: War Surplus (2016, self-released): Former singer for a group called the Great Unknowns, structures her album as a "he said/she said" song cycle, loosely based on an ex-husband who flew off to Iraq and came back with PTSD crutched with alcoholism -- pretty much a cliché these days, and frankly her domestic travails rank pretty low on the scale of horrors war has produced. But as a piece of navel-gazing Americana this is pretty acute, and as country it's rock solid. A-
The Weeknd: Starboy (2016, XO/Republic): The opening Daft Punk single is fabulous, but the fall off without that level of help is pretty steep, but then several cuts return -- well, if not there, at least somewhere. One spin isn't nearly enough to sort out the peaks and troughs, but I'm not the one who decided to release 18 scattered tracks when some editing would yield a consistently pleasurable 10-cut album. B+(*)
Wilco: Schmilco (2016, dBpm): Big-time alt-indie band, as melodic as ever, just a bit softer and slower. B+(*)
Andre Williams: I Wanna Go Back to Detroit City (2016, Bloodshot): Obscure "R&B legend," wrote "Shake a Tail Feather" way back when, eventually got picked up by this very-alt country label and released a pretty remarkable album in 2012 with help from the Sadies (Night and Day). Could use some more help here. B+(*)
Jamila Woods: HEAVN (2016, Closed Sessions): Chicago R&B singer, close to hip-hop, associated with Chance the Rapper, smart and savvy but a little forced. Doesn't help that my stream source is so hard to follow. B+(*) [sc]
Neil Young + Promise of the Real: Earth (2015 , Reprise, 2CD): Live double from his Rebel Content Tour with the band he organized for The Monsanto Years -- I'll backtrack to that under "old music" -- so he works in a few (superior) old songs along with his more recent rants. It may be an existential condition for old white men to turn into cranks, but that doesn't mean they have to fall for Trump. B+(*)
Neil Young: Peace Trail (2016, Reprise): Continues his political crankiness in a more acoustic vein, although he does return to his '80s electronic treatments when he wants to give voice for a robot -- doesn't he know modern voice synthesis is all based on samples? So softer and kinder this time out. My guess is that sonic outrage will return, pretty damn soon. B+(**)
Yussef Kamaal: Black Focus (2016, Brownswood): London jazzy electronica group -- can't peg them as "pop jazz" -- principals are Henry Wu (keyboards) and Yussef Dayes (drums), with some others credited for tenor sax (Shabaka Hutchings), trumpet, electric bass and guitar, and "words" (Gordon Wedderburn). B+(*)
Tom Zé: Cançőes Eróticas De Ninar (2016, Circus): Brazilian singer-songwriter, took tropicalia to idiosyncratic extremes back in the 1970s and has cultivated his eccentricity ever since, often winning me over. Released as he turned 80, other print on the cover reads Para Dançar O Sobe Ni Mim and Urgéncia Didatica. Not sure if this one is exceptional, but few records sustain this level of jaunty playfulness. A-
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Dave Burrell and Bob Stewart: The Crave (1994 , NoBusiness): Piano and tuba duets, the fine print reads "play the music of Jelly Roll Morton and Dave Burrell." Three of each, but Burrell was likely thinking of Morton when he wrote his. Indeed, this set follows Burrell's 1991 album The Jelly Roll Joys, and improves upon it, the not-so-secret ingredient Stewart's tuba. A- [cdr]
Bob Dylan: The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert! (1966 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Evidently the much-bootlegged "Royal Albert Hall" concert officially released in 1998 as Volume 4 of The Bootleg Series was actually recorded at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, so what makes this "real" is geographical, but not much more. Both concerts were divided into solo-acoustic and band sets (the future Band billed as The Hawks), and the set lists are exactly the same. Times vary slightly, as do the catcalls, but all in all: pretty redundant. B
Dizzy Gillespie & Friends: Concert of the Century: A Tribute to Charlie Parker (1980 , Justin Time): Concert in Montreal, different venue but same city as 1953's legendary Parker-Gillespie-Powell-Mingus-Roach Jazz at Massey Hall. Group here is nearly as stellar -- Gillespie, James Moody, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Philly Joe Jones -- but much further into their respective careers. B+(*)
Betty Harris: The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul (1964-69 , Soul Jazz): Born 1941, she cut 15 singles during the 1960s, mostly for Allen Toussaint and backed by the Meters, only three scratching the charts, none remembered as classic, but professional enough for this solid, unremarkable compilation. B+(**)
Steve Lehman's Camouflage Trio: Interface (2004 , Clean Feed): I've been meaning to dig up the alto saxophonist's slightly earlier FSNT album (Artificial Light), the only one I've heard that I didn't much care for. This was cut a year later, an avant trio with Mark Dresser (bass) and Pheeroan Aklaff (drums), and has now been remastered. His hard freebop style is fully formed, the spots given over to Dresser more iffy. B+(***)
Joe McPhee & Raymond Boni: Live From the Magic City (Birmingham, Alabama) (1985 , Trost): McPhee is credited with soprano sax, electronics and voice; Boni with electric guitar and electronics. Duet, titles like "Set 1" and "Set 2 Part A." Interesting how the electronics defocuses the lead instruments, but more exciting when they clash. B+(**) [bc]
Evan Parker/Daunik Lazro/Joe McPhee: Seven Pieces: Live at Willisau 1995 (1995 , Clean Feed): Three saxophonists -- tenor/soprano, alto/baritone, and alto/soprano + alto clarinet and pocket trumpet -- although I wouldn't call them a sax choir: it's not like three free improvisers are concerned much with harmony. Still, it's rare when an all-sax record doesn't leave you wishing for something more, and this previously unreleased tape is that. B+(***) [cd]
Howard Riley: Constant Change 1976-2016 (1976-2016 , NoBusiness, 5CD): British avant-pianist, a Penguin Guide favorite. I've heard very little aside from a couple of outstanding 1968-70 albums (Angle, The Day Will Come), but he's still active in his 70s -- indeed, three-fifths of this solo piano trove date from 2014 or later. That later material is interesting, but the early discs -- especially the first from 1976-80 -- is more like exciting. Includes a short booklet by Brian Morton. B+(***) [cd]
Pat Thomas: Coming Home: Original Ghanaian Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1967-1981 (1967-81 , Strut, 2CD): Still active at 65, this label picked up his new record last year, and finally decided to dig into his long-forgotten prime period, before he left Ghana for Germany. Not exceptionally great, nor at least consistently so, but there are few beats I enjoy more than classic highlife, and he was definitely part of that scene. A-
Urgent Jumping! East African Musiki Wa Dansi Classics (1972-82 , Sterns Africa, 2CD): Benga, rhumba, Afrobeat, pop dance singles from Tanzania and Kenya, not as slick as the legendary Guitar Paradise of East Africa compilation or several other compilations I've heard (one called Muziki Wa Dansi actually covers the following decade), but I still find the uplift irresistible. A-
David S. Ware & Matthew Shipp Duo: Live in Sant'Anna Arresi, 2004 (2004 , AUM Fidelity): Half of Ware's fabulous Quartet, perhaps before the pianist became a star in his own right but he does much more than comp here on this posthumous tape (Ware died in 2012, and this is the second of what promises to be an archive series). B+(***)
Neil Young: Bluenote Café (1987-88 , Reprise, 2CD): In the late 1980s Young seemed to be desperately trying out new styles, producing an eclectic mix of poorly received albums. On one, This Note's for You, he fronted a lounge band with soul horns. This is from that band's live tour, part of an ongoing archives series. It works mostly as a blues set, the horns present but not so much as the guitar. B+(*)
Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings: Other Stories (2003-05 , 482 Music): Cornet player, first album to introduce his strings group (two violins, viola, two cellos, guitar) plus tuba, vibraphone, and drums. Three extended sequences, ambitious compositions, tricky and fragile. B+(*)
Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet: Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths (2008, Hatology): At full strength (only for the three-part centerpiece, "WhYeXpliCitieS," although that's most of the album), the leader's cornet, Matt Bauder (bass clarinet/tenor sax), two guitars (Evan O'Reilly and Mary Halvorson), viola (Jessica Pavone), and drums (Tomas Fujiwara). Scattered results, although I do love the intro to "Part 3" -- reminds me of South Africa's pennywhistle jive. B+(**)
Neil Young + Promise of the Real: The Monsanto Years (2015, Reprise): Band was borrowed from Lukas Nelson -- Willie'son, joined here by brother Micah -- after a Farm Aid concert, with Young providing a gaggle of anti-corporate protest songs, joining Monsanto to Walmart, Starbucks, Chevron, and others. Some I recognize from the live Earth, but I like them better here -- the guitars ring louder, and the backup singers stay in the background. B+(**)
Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:
Miranda Lambert: The Weight of These Wings (2016, RCA Nashville, 2CD): Greg Morton convinced he to give this another spin, and he may still right that this is even better than I can presently acknowledge. [was: B+(***)] A-
Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section.
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, December 26. 2016
Music: Current count 27512  rated (+47), 362  unrated (-21).
This week's rated count when I first ran make was +24, but when I counted the rated records this week, I came up with 28, so clearly I had missed at least four. I made a deeper search of unrated records and found them plus a bunch more (+19), hence this week's inflated count. Actually, I lost a couple days this week to cooking, but I also made up ground by leaning rather hard on Napster and Bandcamp, as I checked out interesting records from various EOY lists. Most helpful this week was Tom Lane's list (emailed personally), as it yielded about a dozen albums I hadn't previously tracked, including two of this week's A- finds (Kelsey Waldon and Becky Warren).
NPR published the 11th Annual Jazz Critics Poll this year. Francis Davis organized the poll of 137 jazz critics, and wrote two essays:
Once again, I compiled all of the critics' ballots into presentable form here, and tabulated them all to provide complete results down to the most obscure single votes. My own ballot is here, which includes, I believe, four singular votes (Keita, Person, Lucas, Rempis -- plus Lucas and Sonic Liberation 8 in the special categories; Amado got one other vote, and Rudd two; Damana got two other votes for Debut). I voted for records which finished 1st (Threadgill), 13th (Allen), 14th (Murray), and tied for 30th (Coleman), but I also graded eight other top-31 finishers A- (DeJohnette, Haden, Lehman, Bloom, Ward, Holland, Rollins, and Hersch), and ten more B+(***) (Smith, Halvorson, Formanek, Wilson, Sorey, Cyrille, Davis, Ortiz, Guy, Brown), plus five B+(**) (Iyer, Argue, Lloyd, Finlayson, Dresser). I didn't manage to hear two (Harrell, Moran). So all in all I find this a very respectable consensus -- in fact, probably fewer records here I disfavor than ever before.
Since the Jazz Critics Poll went up, I've mostly been trying to bring my EOY Aggregate up to date. Thus far I've mostly tried to pick up the (mostly foreign) polls listed at Acclaimed Music Forums. I'm currently up to 166 lists (as compared to about 750 lists last year, a total I'm not even remotely hoping for this year). (By the way, the list-of-the-week is from Dan Weiss. And while I haven't read/counted it yet, here's one from Jason Gross).
The current top-10: David Bowie, Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, Radiohead, Solange, Nick Cave, Kanye West, A Tribe Called Quest, Bon Iver, and Chance the Rapper. Second 10: Angel Olsen, Anohni, Anderson .Paak, Car Seat Headrest, Leonard Cohen, Danny Brown, Kaytranada, Blood Orange, Rihanna, and Mitski. The recent infusion of non-Anglo lists has helped fuel bubbles for Nick Cave (up to 6 from 9 last week), Bon Iver (9 from 11), and Anohni (11 from 13). I suspect those three will settle down a bit as the list focus moves back to America. That should also help Beyoncé, but at this point it's pretty clear that Bowie will wind up in first place (current margin +83), and it's not inconceivable that Beyoncé will lose second place to Frank Ocean (her lead is currently 306-300, so very close). I still expect Beyoncé to win the Village Voice Critics Poll, but my own scheme doesn't allow enough weighting for high finishes to make such a lead reversible.
I was invited to vote in El Intruso's annual poll, so this is what I sent in. They asked for "no more than three choices in each category." Most of those are for musicians-by-instrument. I don't think it makes much sense to try to rank musicians, so please consider this just an exercise in name-dropping.
I also voted in the Village Voice Music Critics Poll 2016 (formerly Pazz & Jop, originally -- i.e., 1971 -- named for a similar poll published by Jazz & Pop magazine). The poll asks critics to vote for their 10 favorite albums, dividing up 100 votes among them (5 minimum, 30 maximum), and also for 10 songs (with no point system).
I haven't been tracking singles, so have no idea what to vote for there, and no time at the moment to figure out how to fake it. I only picked five records from my 2016 Jazz List and one (Lucas) was picked ahead of order because it's more pop/vocal, with five more from the 2016 Non-Jazz List. For a variety of reasons, my present integrated EOY list is rather heavily skewed toward jazz (for one thing, I have 71 A-list jazz records, vs. 51 A-list non-jazz). But the former hardly ever get any Pazz & Jop support, and I don't wish to be totally marginal there. For one thing, we've lost way too many elections already this year.
On the other hand, I'm not terribly excited by the records leading the EOY Aggregate count. Looking at my grades for the top 20 (and I still haven't heard Beyoncé), I come up with zero A records, 8 A- (Chance the Rapper , A Tribe Called Quest , Anderson .Paak , Leonard Cohen , Kaytranada , Rihanna , Danny Brown , Blood Orange ), 4 B+(***) (David Bowie, Kanye West, Angel Olsen, Car Seat Headrest), 2 B+(**) (Frank Ocean, Solange), 3 B+(*) (Bon Iver, Anohni, Mitski), 1 B (Radiohead), 1 B- (Nick Cave), nothing really worse than that. While I can't say as I understand the attraction of the bottom two, the average year has 3-4 times as many "deplorables," so it's hard to complain about this year's polls. In fact, it's never been clearer that the Trump demographic has never been more culturally impotent (or should I just say eclipsed?).
New records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, December 19. 2016
Music: Current count 27465  rated (+32), 383  unrated (-2).
Spent most of last week building the website for the 11th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, which NPR will publish tomorrow, or maybe a bit later. I won't disclose anything here, other than that we received 139 ballots, down a bit from last year's record 147 (where's John Chacona? Steven Dollar? David Hajdu? Lyn Horton? Garrett Shelton?). When they do go up, my pages will look a lot like last year's. Francis Davis again deserves a big round of applause for making this happen.
Mostly picking things off lists opportunistically, as well as mopping up a few 2016 stragglers in my queue: down to 6 pending records. With all the JCP work, I've done very little on my own EOY Aggregate file: today belatedly adding only a few of the recent lists (Blare, Gigwise, Line of Best Fit, Pitchfork, Q, Tiny Mix Tapes). I'll add more when I get some time next week, although several things are going to slow me down. For one, I have dinners to cook on Tuesday and Saturday. For another, I have ballots due for the Village Voice (evidently not Pazz & Jop anymore) and El Intruso polls, though those at least I can safely wing.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 18. 2016
I have better things to do than to continue documented this entirely predictable trainwreck. Still, a few links and brief notes if you're still transfixed:
I suppose I quoted this because the last clause led me to react: well, the progressive leftists I know gave her a lot more support than she would have given us over the next four years had she won. And I say that even though I know a few Stein supporters (probably, even, a couple folks who voted for Johnson), and I know a lot of people who voted for Clinton but weren't happy with her. I voted for her, fully understanding that we'd wind up spending the next four years protesting and organizing against much of her platform, because I was also every bit as aware that putting the Republicans into power would be far worse for virtually all of us. That's what we call a rational decision, and that's something we on the left weigh carefully and practice more or less consistently. Clinton's problem in the 2016 election wasn't with rational people, ergo it wasn't with "progressive leftists." Her problem was with crazy people, or effectively the same thing, people who were willing to put aside reason and vote on some emotional whim, a belief backed with no more than a scintilla of evidence.
There are, of course, two approaches to this problem: one is to make voters more conscious of real problems and to better articulate real solutions. The other is to do a better job of identifying the emotions that can be made to work for you, and to hit them in ways that move voters to your side. (The Republicans are quite good at the latter, and have the much easier job doing the opposite of the former: all they need to do is to convince voters that problems are beyond political remedy, and ignorance helps as much as mendacity there.) As much as we'd like to see reason win out, that's a long term project. For right now, suffice it to say that wasn't especially effective at picking her issues, and was vulnerable to precisely the sort of attacks Republicans specialize in.
And briefly noted:
Monday, December 12. 2016
Music: Current count 27433  rated (+30), 385  unrated (+16).
Two leftover thoughts from yesterday's Weekend Roundup:
One problem with doing these rush posts is that real points, themes even, get lost in the nest of links. Just wanted to reiterate those two points. And I'll add a possible third one: in order for the Democratic Party to provide effective resistance against Trump's oligarchs, they have to actively, consistently, as a matter of principle, oppose war and support and promote equality. Quite frankly, if they don't step up to that challenge -- the real threat that Trump and the Republicans pose -- they're helpless and worthless.
Thirty newly rated albums below. Last time that happened was Oct. 10, eight weeks ago. I still don't have the newly rebuilt computer all hooked up -- still have a printing problem -- and I still haven't restored my unplayed (not to mention played) downloads, but I've been able to listen to Napster and Bandcamp. I've also been plowing through EOY lists, so my searching has been more inspired and better targeted than usual. One result is no less than eleven A- records. In particular, I finally got a chance to catch up with Robert Christgau's last two months of Expert Witness picks. Given how far behind I was, I'm a bit surprised that I didn't concur with more. As it is, I more/less agreed with five (Alicia Keys, Tanya Tagaq, A Tribe Called Quest, Pat Thomas, and Urgent Jumping), while six others didn't quite do it for me (Margaret Glaspy, Macy Gray, Pussy Riot, Regina Spektor, and Jinx Lennon twice).
I also added five A- records to my EOY Jazz List shortly after voting for the Jazz Critics Poll closed -- seems like it always works out that way. Four were late arrivals to my mailbox (Albert Cirera, Eve Risser, Steve Swell, and a vault treat from 1994 with Dave Burrell and Bob Stewart), and I picked up the fifth (Taylor Ho Bynum) on Napster. The eleventh was one by Tom Zé that I only found out about from Phil Overeem's list (also my source for Tyler Keith).
I've continued adding EOY lists to my . EOY Aggregate file. I currently have 97 lists compiled, which I assemble in two weight groups: one for longer lists which scores 5 points (1), 4 (2-5), 3 (6-10), 2 (11-20), and 1 (everything else); the other for shorter lists, scoring 3 (1), 2 (2-5), and 1 (everything else). Unranked lists are noted + (sometimes ++ or +++ if they are somehow tiered). I've also scored grades by Robert Christgau and myself (A/A+ 5, A- 4, B+/*** 3, ** 2, * 1), and will probably do that for Michael Tatum as well. These grades have a minor effect of biasing the results towards things I/we like, but then my point isn't to offer some kind of objective, impersonally scientific ranking. It's, as always, to help identify records worth searching out.
Speaking of which, I've tended to skip over lists dedicated to genres I have no real interest in, which mostly means metal. I'll also note that in addition to Overeem (who picked enough records this year to qualify as a major listmeister), I've picked up a couple lists from Facebook friends where I've noticed them (Thomas Walker and Joe Yanosik). I'll do more of that when I find them. I haven't picked up Chris Monsen's still-evolving favorites list, but at some arbitrary point will do so.
Current standings according to my way of counting (counts in opening brackets, my grades in closing):
Album of the Year's Aggregate has same top seven, but a closer race for the top spot (Bowie over Beyoncé 286-282), and Solange ahead of Radiohead (225-208), They actually have the same top-twenty records, with the big difference that they move Angel Olsen up from 12th (my list) to 8th. From 21-30 they add Jenny Hval (31-26), The Avalanches (33-28), and Savages (38-29), in place of Drive-By Truckers (24-31), Parquet Courts (26-36), and Young Thug (30-37) -- three records graded A- or better by both Christgau and myself, so there's my cheat for you. (I have Hval C+, Avalanches B, Savages ***.)
My next project will be tallying the Jazz Critics Poll ballots, which I finally have but haven't really cracked into yet.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, December 11. 2016
I woke up yesterday morning thinking about how America, if little else, has become something of a consumer paradise over the last 30-40 years. I often wonder why it is that so many people are so uncritical of the established order, and that seems to be a big part of why. Sure, one can nitpick, and if you know much about how business, marketing in particular, works, you'll realize that the real gains still fall way short of what's possible or desirable. You may also may feel some qualms about what has actually been achieved by all this consumption. And, of course, like everything else the gains have not been equally distributed. But for those who can afford today's markets, life has never been better.
I count Trump's voters among them. Sure, many gripe about economic fears, some even about hardships, but somehow they overlook their own bosses and the businesses who take most of their money while perceiving others as threats. I'm aware of lots of reasons why they think that, but I can't say that any of them make real sense to me. What I am sure of is that the incoming Trump administration isn't going to solve any of their imaginary (let alone real) problems. Trump's cabinet is going to have more ultrarich (say, half-billionaires and up) than any other in history. In fact, this represents a new plateau in the history of American plutocracy: even as recently as the Shrub administration, titans of industry and finance were happy to stock the government with their lobbyists and retainers, but Trump is tapping "the doers, not the talkers" -- people who don't just take orders but who intimately know how to convert public influence into private gain. In the past, the most notoriously corrupt administrations (Grant, Harding, Reagan) combined indifferent leadership with underlings imbued in a culture of greed. Yet today, Trump not only hasn't divested himself of his business entanglements; he's actively continued to work his deals, nakedly using his newly acquired leverage. Unlike the others, he won't just turn a blind eye to corruption; he's ideally positioned to be the plunderer-in-chief.
One thing Trump's election has spared us was being plagued with four years of non-stop Clinton scandals -- sure, mostly likely as bogus and conflated as the ones she's endured for 24 years, but still catnip to the press. Instead, Trump promises to give us real scandals, huge scandals, the kind of scandals that expose the rotten core of American Greatness. One hardly knows where to begin, or when to stop, but this will necessarily be brief.
Some scattered links this week:
One last note: I just finishing reading Peter Frase's Four Futures: Life After Capitalism (Verso). He sets up a 2x2 matrix, one axis determined by plenty/scarcity, the other inequality/equality. Needless to say, only one quadrant reads like something we're already in the midst of: scarcity/inequality, the one he calls "exterminism" -- not a very euphonious term, but one which underscores how the rich, as they increasingly automate labor come to view the workers they discharge as expendable, and ultimately as threats. (Frase never uses the term "useless eaters" but you may recall how that terminology paved the way for the Nazi genocide.) Needless to say, aside from branding, "exterminism" sounds more than a little like the Trump agenda. More blatantly, there's increasing inequality while progressively stripping the poor and marginal of any semblance of rights.
Monday, December 5. 2016
I ran behind in writing this, so I'll have to postpone Music Week until tomorrow (Tuesday). Unfortunately, nobody I'm aware of thought to take any pictures of the event below, and the evidence is now far gone. Without such documentation, I reckon we're already entering the realm of myth. I figure the least I can do is to write this event up, to establish some sort of paper trail.
Friday night the Peace and Social Justice Center here in Wichita had its annual dinner and business meeting. My little part in that was to plan and direct the menu, preparing food for 62 guests. I spent much of last week hashing out the menu with Janice Bradley and Leah Dannar-Garcia. Leah and I went shopping on Wednesday. I spent about thirteen hours on Thursday at home prepping and in some cases finishing dishes, while Janice and Leah did their own home prep. On Friday about 1 PM we met at Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church, along with several other people (Pat Cameron, Gretchen Eick, Kathy Hull, Russ Pataki) where the dinner would be held, and started cooking. By 6 PM we had dinner ready to serve. We put small bowls of appetizers and bread on the tables so people could start noshing. And we set up a double-long table for people to serve themselves with the main dishes. The menu was mostly Mediterranean, with dishes from Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel and the Arab countries, plus one salad from Iran:
The recipes (follow the links) were typically scaled 2 times for the appetizers and desserts (more for the hummus and fruit), the salads 2-3 times, the main dishes 3-4 times (8 lbs fish, 16 lbs chicken). The main thing that limited the scaling was the size of cooking and serving dishes, although several dishes were limited by shopping -- I didn't buy nearly enough kalamata olives, so had a single one pound recipe of tapenade and had to buy extra for the salad. The salads ran out first -- possibly because they were first in the serving line, but we could have fixed another batch of the horiatiki and mast va khiar and served it in the same large bowls. The root vegetables fit neatly into two deep baking dishes, the fish into two shallow ones, and the chicken was optimally packed into my largest pot (16-inch diameter, 6-inches deep).
I made two trays of mutabbaq, and cut them into 60 2.25 x 2.5-inch pieces, so only a couple people missed out. We served them at the counter, on plates, and let people add fruit and/or cream. (I was surprised to see people dolloping the cream on top of the mutabbaq.) The cream, which I had borrowed from a "berries and cream" recipe, was exceptional -- we should have made a second batch. We had a couple cups of caponata and a couple pints of cacciatore left at the end, plus hummus and fruit -- Janice overscaled while I erred on the low side -- but I didn't hear complaints about not cooking enough.
I think it's safe to say that it all came out delicious -- one could even say fabulous. Also that the mix of dishes worked and the tastes complemented one another. (The desserts offered a mix of sweet, tart, and creamy, none of which were overly heavy.) We could have done a better job of pointing out which things were vegetarian (or vegan), which dishes had dairy or gluten or nuts or some other real or imagined hazard -- we published the menu, but that was hardly self-explanatory.
The last few years we had the dinner catered, using various Mexican and Middle Eastern sources, nothing especially memorable. Further back, we tried pot lucks, and I made large main dishes for a couple of those -- jambalaya and cacciatore are the ones I remember -- which often produced better food, but were also inconsistent and chancey. This year, when the board decided to try another pot luck, I suggested that a planned and assigned menu would work better, maybe something Mediterranean like the Ottolenghi menu we fixed for an Alice Powell memorial dinner, but a bit broader (and simpler). Leah, who runs a small organic farm east of town, suggested a seasonal fall menu, which I was fine with, but when I spelled out my proposal she embraced it, and provided invaluable support.
Also invaluable was the kitchen and equipment provided by the church. They had a 10-burner range (which we barely used), with two ovens (exactly what we needed), large baking dishes and bowls, lots of counter space, ample dishes and flatware, and a terrific dishwasher for cleaning up. We also had about the right mix of people helping out. If we were to do it again, the one change I would make would be to get together in that kitchen the night before and do the meze and prep together rather than dividing them up and working at home (especially as I had taken on most of that work myself -- by the end I was so exhausted that I wound up knicking myself a couple times cleaning up a knife). Friday had moments that seemed like chaos, but I managed to keep everything lined up and moving along properly, so it all came together at the appointed time (6 PM).
Also, other people (especially Leah and Russ) took over the clean up when I wore out. I got in line after the salads were gone, and wandered in and out of the actual meeting. The guest speaker was Maxine Phillips, a former executive editor of Dissent Magazine and a vice chair of Democratic Socialists of America, who blogs at religioussocialism.org. She spoke about "Forced Migrations and US Immigration Policy." I didn't catch enough of this to comment, but I will risk saying two things:
Unfortuantely, the 2016 election, especially of Donald Trump to the presidency, promises nothing constructive on this front. Indeed, if Trump does manages to reduce immigration it will probably be more due to making our own country less livable than to enforcing draconian laws, and even less to making the rest of the world any less treacherous.
I'm afraid I have rather mixed views on immigration. As someone whose most recent foreign-born ancestors came to America nearly 150 years ago, and whose family preserved not one shred of previous ethnic identity, I've never had any sentimental attachment to the notion that America as a melting pot of immigrants. Nor do I have a problem with the idea that a nation has a right to control its borders and limit immigration. I'll also note that the one period of history when Americans seemed to exhibit the greatest care for one another -- at least in the sense of moving furthest to the left -- was in the 1930-40s, when immigration was largely halted. One wonders whether loosening immigration restrictions in the 1970s didn't contribute somehow to the nation's rightward drift since 1980. (That nearly a third of last year's Republican presidential candidates had at least one foreign-born parent is troubling, to say the least.)
On the other hand, I've known dozens of immigrants, most real fine people, credits to our communities, and they've helped to broaden and deepen our lives. One way, of course, was to share with us the range of food we made for this Peace Dinner (plus a great many other dishes we couldn't include -- things we can explore further in future dinners). Admittedly, most of the immigrants I know are professionals, many citizens, pretty much all with their legal status in order. The only problem I see is with those lacking proper documentation, mostly because their lack of proper credentials leaves them open to exploitation, and that less because I'm sympathetic to their plight than because their vulnerability allows those in power to be more abusive -- and not just to undocumented immigrants.
But Trump's anti-immigrant tirades are not some isolated tick. They are wrapped up in all sorts of mutually reinforcing hatreds meant to appeal to the vanity of increasingly marginalized white voters -- at least those sucker enough to overlook the obvious architects of their demise: the barons of industry and finance, whose pillage of the economy has made everyone more vulnerable. But we need to recognize that what makes this tactic work is how effectively mass fears have been stoked through decades of war. The only way to break that cycle is to insist on peace, which is why organizations like out Peace Center are so important. Please consider a contribution.