Tuesday, November 28. 2017
Don't have time to count, but probably a large edge below for jazz over non-jazz releases, partly because I still get some jazz in the mail, partly because it's easier to find about about jazz things of likely interest, partly because I'm more confident of my views there. Good late run of free jazz albums, bringing my very much in progress Best Jazz Albums of 2017 A-list to a 73-49 edge over Best Non-Jazz Albums of 2017. I should caution you that order of both should shuffle a lot in the next couple weeks.
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, usually based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on October 31. Past reviews and more information are available here (10370 records).
2 Chainz: Pretty Girls Like Trap Music (2017, Def Jam): A rapper from Georgia, Tauheed Epps, fifth big label album plus a dozen mixtapes, many of the latter playing off the Trap Music concept -- not sure how that fits in here, as this all bangs pretty hard. Runs long, too, but develops some appeal. B+(*)
Thomas Anderson: My Songs Are the House I Live In (2017, Out There): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, self-released a long-titled but marvelous debut in 1988 and has kept working at it -- ninth album in my databse, but there are probably more. He's clear enough I can follow the words, and smart enough I want to, and while this may not be his deepest set, the keyboard-heavy music sets it up so elegantly I want to keep working on it. A-
Nicole Atkins: Goodbye Rhonda Lee (2017, Single Lock): Singer-songwriter, fourth album since 2007, based in Nashville but no country influence I can detect. Cites the Brill Building as a prime influence, but don't hear that either. B
Rahsaan Barber: The Music in the Night (2017, Jazz Music City): Tenor saxophonist, based in Nashville, teaches at Tennessee State, has at least one previous album. Standards, some as smoothly honed as "Isn't She Lovely" and "The Girl From Ipanema," easy listening without being overly smooth. Backed by piano-bass-drums, guest guitar on two cuts, a Dara Tucker vocal that doesn't hurt, very pleasant stuff. B+(**) [cd]
Sam Bardfeld: The Great Enthusiasms (2017, BJU): Violinist, from New York, has a couple of previous albums, plays in Jazz Passengers, Roy Nathanson's Sotto Voce, and Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band. Trio here with Kris Davis on piano and Michael Sarin on drums, pushing the beat every which way. B+(***) [bc]
Cheryl Bentyne: Rearrangements of Shadows: The Music of Stephen Sondheim (2017, ArtistShare): Jazz singer, best known for her long (since 1979) role in Manhattan Transfer, has more than a dozen solo albums (one in 1992, more regularly since 2003), many songbook exercises. Sondheim is probably the biggest name on Broadway not to have entered the Great American Songbook repertoire, partly because he came late to the party. Indeed, if the exception proves the rule, consider "Send in the Clowns": one of his earliest songs (1973), one that Count Basie couldn't swing and Sarah Vaughan couldn't sing, little improved yet it's the best thing here. B- [cd]
Big Thief: Masterpiece (2016, Saddle Creek): Brooklyn indie band, principally singer-guitarist Adrianne Lenker, who can slow the band down to a coo or layer on the noise in this debut album. B+(*)
Big Thief: Capacity (2017, Saddle Creek): Second album, Adrianne Lenker looking very un-rock-star-like on the cover, singing more heartfelt ballads inside. B+(**)
Björk: Utopia (2017, One Little Indian): Icelandic singer-songwriter, many albums since she left the Sugarcubes in 1992, huge star though she works in a unique niche -- folktronica, sources say, but really much weirder than that implies. Sprawling (71:38) album, daunting for non-fans but more listenable than most. B+(*)
Raoul Björkenheim Ecstasy: Doors of Perception (2017, Cuneiform): Finnish guitarist, group name comes from his 2014 album (stylized eCsTaSy), with Paul Lyytinen (saxophones, flute), Jori Huhtala (bass), and Markku Ounaskari (drums). Guitar mostly leads, taking command so thoroughly that the sax eventually reduces to shading, not that it started out that way. B+(***) [dl]
Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band: Body and Shadow (2017, Blue Note): Drummer, released Brian Blade Fellowship in 1998 and this is a 20th anniversary reunion, with Jon Cowherd (keybs), Myron Walden (alto sax), Melvin Butler (tenor sax), and Chris Thomas (bass) continuous members, with Dave Devine taking over the guitar slot. Densely, artfully layered postbop, doesn't move or engage much. B-
Robt Sarazin Blake: Recitative (2017, Same Room, 2CD): Singer-songwriter from Bellingham, Washington; started as Robert Blake, later went as Sarazin Blake, and seems to have settled on this moniker although Robert Sarazin Blake works for his Bandcamp pages. This seems far removed from his folk roots: while I'm often impressed by his wordplay (good examples are "Couples" and "Work"), I'm more so by the music, especially when the decidedly non-folkie saxophone wails. A-
Boneshaker: Thinking Out Loud (2017, Trost): Free sax trio: Mars Williams (reeds, toys), Kent Kessler (bass), Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). Third group album, seems to have mellowed a bit but then Williams reels off the most inspired broken field sax run I've heard all year. A- [bc]
Mihály Borbély Quartet: Be by Me Tonight/Gyere Hozzám Estére (2016, BMC): Hungerian clarinetist, a pleasant (and memorable) surprise for me shortly after I started writing Jazz CG in 2004 but I never ran across him since, until this. The leader also plays tarogato, alto sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet, tilinko, and supelka, Balász Horváth on bass, and István Baló on drums, and most importantly Áron Tálas on piano. Nice but less memorable. B+(**)
Geof Bradfield: Birdhoused (2017, Cellar Live): Tenor saxophonist, mainstream but he's always had an extra edge, leads a sextet here including Marquis Hill on trumpet, Joel Adams on trombone, and Nick Mazzarella on alto sax. B+(**) [bc]
Brand New: Science Fiction (2017, Procrastinate! Music Traitors): Rock band, from Long Island, cut four albums 2001-09, breaking up until 2014 when they returned to the studio and started work on this "fifth and final album." Not sure if disbandment is the result of frontman Jesse Lacey's "sexual misconduct" scandal or just that they're growing tired: this lumbers along with some artfulness, but left me empty. B
Peter Brötzmann/Steve Swell/Paal Nilssen-Love: Live in Tel Aviv (2016 , Not Two): Sax (or clarinet)/trombone/drums, two long improv pieces, full of strife and churn as you might expect, doesn't strike me as favorably as the same trio's recent Live in Copenhagen, recorded six months earlier. B+(**)
Jonas Cambien/Adrian Myhr: Simiskina (2017, Clean Feed): Piano-bass duets, Cambien born in Belgium but based in Myhr's native Norway. Intimate chamber jazz feel, but not so simple. B+(*)
Carn Davidson 9: Murphy (2017, self-released): Large band from Toronto -- two trumpets, two trombones, three saxes, bass and drums -- led by William Carn (trombone) and Tara Davidson (alto sax), playing original material, some arrangements credited to other band members. Has some zip, with no one getting out of line. B [cd]
François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Out of Silence (2015 , FMR): Canadians, alto sax-drums duets, long-time collaborators, working live in London, they must have a dozen of more/less equivalent albums by now, especially if you count the ones with a guest pianist. Still, they all sound great to me, the only way this is not exceptional. A- [cd]
Ernesto Cervini's Turboprop: Rev (2013-16 , Anzic): Drummer, from Canada, has a couple previous albums including one from 2014 titled Turboprop. Sextet, with two saxophones (Tara Davidson and Joel Frahm), trombone (William Carn, who also contributes a song), piano, bass, and drums. Two originals push the peddle, the other pieces mostly from sources I don't recognize, with the Radiohead cover lost on me, but "Pennies From Heaven" is sweet indeed. B+(**) [cd]
Bill Charlap Trio: Uptown Downtown (2017, Impulse!): Mainstream pianist, has worked with trio partners Peter Washington (bass) and Kenny Washington (drums) since 1998 -- hard to ask for better ones, and their early albums were sparkling though it's been a while since I've been impressed. B+(**)
Corey Christiansen: Dusk (2015 , Origin): guitarist, from and still based in utah, has a handful of records since 2008, nice metallic ring to his tone, claims to be exploring Americana here (all originals except for one trad.). mostly backed by bass-drums, adding keyboards and percussion for 3 (of 8) tracks. b+(*) [cd]
Anat Cohen Tentet: Happy Song (2016 , Anzic): Israeli reed player, based in New York, found a niche on clarinet and is the reigning poll winner there. Ten musicians -- trumpet, trombone, baritone sax/bass clarinet, guitar, piano, vibes, bass, and drums -- plus Oded Lev-Ari as Musical Director, who also gets cover credit. Most impressive when they tap into old-time swing, even though they're none too smooth, or throw in a klezmer curveball. B+(***)
Richie Cole: Latin Lover (2017, RCP): Alto saxophonist, cut a record called Alto Madness in 1977 and played up the madman theme for many years, then seemed to disappear, but came back with a strong "Ballads and Love Songs" album in 2016. He doesn't go overboard on his Latin twist album -- guest castanets on one song but otherwise no extra percussion or specialists. Four originals (two with "Breeze" in the title), more standards than trad Latin pieces, but he has fun working on his tinge, and his alto is as lovely as ever. B+(***) [cd]
Michelle Coltrane: Awakening (2017, Blujazz): Singer, refers to John and Alice Coltrane as her parents but was born before they married, so birth father was probably Kenny "Pancho" Hagood, a jazz singer who started in Benny Carter's big band. Discogs credits her singing on a Gap Band album in the 1980s, and it looks like she had one previous album in 1996 as Miki Coltrane. Very capable singer, can't say that "Tin Man" strikes me as a worthy standard but she swings it and adds some Latin percussion. Good band, including brother Ravi and Lonnie Plaxico. Mother Alice gets a credit for a bit of spoken word. B+(**) [cd]
Miley Cyrus: Younger Now (2017, RCA): Sixth studio album, but started as a teen so she's still pretty young: 24. Still, she's sounding older, and more tinged with her country roots -- with or without godmother Dolly Parton singing along. B+(*)
Ori Dagan: Nathaniel: A Tribute to Nat King Cole (2017, Scat Cat): Jazz singer from Canada, Toronto I think, third album, wrote five songs loosely tied in with his subject. Voice is far off the mark, but at least his small group swing stays clear of the big band bombast of Gregory Porter's tribute. Also, Sheila Jordan guests on "Straighten Up and Fly Right." B [cd]
David's Angels: Traces (2016-17 , Kopasetic): Swedish group, David is bassist Carlsson, the "Angels" three women: Sofie Norling (vocals), Maggi Olin (keyboards), and Michala Řstergaard-Nielsen (drums), with Olin and Norling writing the majority of the music and lyrics. Third album, Ingrid Jensen adds some trumpet. B+(*) [cd]
Deer Tick: Vol. 1 (2017, Partisan): Dismissed by Christgau as "depressive and folk-leaning" in his rush to get to the simultaneously released Vol. 2, John McCauley's blend of Americana drawl and indie-rock is just a little flat, lacking more in energy than in interest, which is well crafted as always. B+(*)
Deer Tick: Vol. 2 (2017, Partisan): Tries harder to get your attention, starting with a crash of guitar and drums. Band stays loud, which sounds better but little (if any) more interesting. B+(*)
Marc Devine Trio: Inspiration (2017, ITI): Pianist, based in New York, first album, a trio with Hide Tanaka on bass and Fukushi Tainaka on drums -- his website's upcoming shows list includes quartets and quintets led by Tainaka. One original, standards include "Love Me Tender" and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" as well as bop standards by Hank Mobley, Hank Jones, and Bud Powell. Expertly, tastefully done. B+(***) [cd]
Die Enttäuschung: Lavaman (2017, Intakt): Translates as Disappointment, a German group, based in Berlin, first recorded in 1995, with Axel Dörner on trumpet, Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet, and a shifting cast at bass and drums -- currently Jan Roder and Michael Griener, plus new this time out Christof Thewes on trombone. All original material, although their roots as a Monk tribute band -- tapped by Alexander von Schlippenbach for Monk's Casino -- show through in their irrepressible bounce and quirk. A- [cd]
Jeff Dingler: In Transit (2017, self-released): Bassist, has at least one previous album, with Brad Shepik (guitar), Lou Rainone (piano), Gustin Rudolph (drums), plus extra percussion on 4/8 tracks. Shepik especially stands out. B+(**) [cd]
DKV Trio: Latitude 41.88 (2014 , Not Two): Trio dates back to 1999: Hamid Drake (drums), Kent Kessler (bass), and Ken Vandermark (unspecified reeds). Eighth album together -- counting as one the 7-CD Past Present (2008-11) -- usually a bit rough and hyper but working in some especially eloquent stretches this time. A- [bc]
Matthieu Donarier/Santiago Quintans: Sun Dome (2017, Clean Feed): Duets, tenor sax/clarinet and electric guitar. Abstract textures, not enough reverb to count as drone, nor interesting enough. B-
Sinne Eeg: Dreams (2017, ArtistShare): Danish jazz singer, eight albums since 2003, wrote six (of ten) songs (all in English), favoring Cole Porter with two covers -- including an "Anything Goes" updated for the Trump era. First-rate band, working in Brooklyn: Joey Baron, Scott Colley, Jacob Christofferson, Larry Koonse. B+(**) [cd]
Christoph Erb/Jim Baker/Frank Rosaly: . . . Don't Buy Him a Parrot . . . (2014 , Hatology): Swiss tenor saxophonist, also plays bass clarinet, a member of Manuel Menguis Gruppe 6 but most of his discography since 2011 has been with Chicago avant-gardists, including the pianist and drummer here. B+(***)
ExpEAR & Drew Gress: Vesper (2015 , Kopasetic): Gress is a well-known, well-regarded, relatively mainstream bassist, and no doubt helps out here (he even contributes 4/9 songs), but bass tends to sink into the background, and he's no exception. Rather, what we have is a Swedish tenor sax-piano-drums trio (Henrik Frisk, Maggi Olin, Peter Nilsson), with Frisk and Olin splitting the other songs 3-2, and the sax sounding especially luscious. B+(***) [cd]
Lorenzo Feliciati: Elevator Man (2017, RareNoise): Mostly plays electric bass, sometimes fretless, but also takes one cut on acoustic and plays some guitar. Lineups vary song to song, with the faster, heavier fusion pieces holding up best, especially when Cuong Vu joins on trumpet. B+(**) [cdr]
Satoko Fujii Quartet: Live at Jazz Room Cortez (2016 , Cortez Sound): With partner Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Keisuka Ohta on violin, and Takashi Itani on drums. Some sections are so quiet I lose track and start wondering if my equipment (or other gear) is on the fritz. Both Ohta and Tamura also credited with voice -- another distraction. At least it ends strong. B [cd]
Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Fukushima (2016 , Libra): Her most star-filled big band, all thirteen names I recognize on the back cover -- 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 4 saxes, Nels Cline on guitar but no piano, the leader content to conduct -- but none especially stand out from the grooves. Perhaps the somber theme, which starts out too quiet and never quite raises the horror the piece commemorates. B+(**) [cd]
Lee Gamble: Mnestic Pressure (2017, Hyperdub): British DJ and electronica producer, half-dozen albums since 2009. Has a touch of industrial glitz, not much more. B+(*)
Howe Gelb: Future Standards (2016 , Fire): Indie rocker, led Giant Sand from 1985 through 27 albums, started supplementing them with solo albums in 1991, 22 so far, and he's run a couple other bands. Plays cocktail piano and sings in a sly whisper, backed by three bass-drums pairs. B+(*)
Tee Grizzley: My Moment (2017, 300/Atlantic): Detroit rapper Terry Sanchez Wallace, father murdered, mother jailed for drugs, did time himself, first album. Opening freestyle needs work, but he tightens up with some beats. B+(*)
Jari Haapalainen Trio: Fusion Nation (2017, Moserobie): Drummer, born in Sweden, parents Finnish, based in Berlin; trio, with sax (Per "Texas" Johansson) and electric bass (Daniel Bingert), has three short albums (this one is 27:01) all with Fusion in the title. That doesn't quite pigeonhole them -- certainly no throwback to '70s fusion although they do evince a rockish fondness for noise and monster bass riffs. B+(**) [cd]
Taylor Haskins & Green Empire: The Point (2017, Recombination): Usually plays trumpet, but credit here is "Steiner/Crumar EVI" -- stands for Electronic Valve Instrument, a breath-controlled analog synthesizer originally developed in the late 1970s. Band adds pedal steel, acoustic guitar, bass, and drums for a pleasant groove with hints of Hawaiian. B+(*) [cd]
Alexander Hawkins-Elaine Mitchener Quartet: Uproot (2017, Intakt): English group, pianist Hawkins' trio with bass (neil Charles) and drums (Stephen Davis), plus vocalist Mitchener, who has an avant-garde stance that stretches the music out in odd directions, not necessarily making it more pleasing. B+(**) [cd]
Hear in Now [Mazz Swift/Tomeka Reid/Silvia Bolognesi]: Not Living in Fear (2012-14 , International Anthem): Avant string trio: violin, cello, and double bass, respectively, with Dee Alexander singing the title track (Swift also credited with "voice"). B+(**)
Vincent Herring: Hard Times (2017, Smoke Sessions): Alto/soprano saxophonist, twenty-plus albums since 1989, multiple side credits with Nat Adderley, Cedar Walton, and John Hicks. Has a quartet here with Cyrus Chestnut, Yasushi Nakamura, and Carl Allen, but adds a lot of guest slots: 3 cuts each for Nicolas Bearde (vocals) and Russell Malone (guitar), more for Steve Turre (trombone), Brad Mason (trumpet), and Sam Dillon (tenor sax). B+(*)
Dre Hocevar: Surface of Inscription (2016 , Clean Feed): Drummer, from Slovenia, several albums, this one strikes me as especially scattered, with piano/voice/electronics/bass/reeds in the credits, yet more often than not they barely break the noise threshold. B-
Adam Hopkins: Party Pack Ice (2015 , pfMENTUM EP): Bassist, from Baltimore, based in Brooklyn, nothing previous under his own name -- indeed, neither cover nor website suggest this is anything other than an eponymous group album, but I first ran across him in Quartet Offensive, and he's played on at least one Ideal Bread album, also with Kate Gentile and Patrick Breiner (one of two saxophonists here; the other is Eric Trudel). Also with guitar (Dustin Carlson) and drums (Nathan Ellman-Bell). But he does compose here, and the publicist thinks this is his album. Seven short but dense/heavy pieces, 24:24. B+(*) [cdr]
Kasai Allstars & Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste: Around Félicité (2017, Crammed Discs): Kinshasa group, has an album in the label's Congotronics series although here they focus more on group singing than on junkyard percussion. But this doubles as a soundtrack, with three Arvo-Part-penned tracks switch over to the Orchestre, totally breaking the intensity and flow. B+(**) [bc]
Kasai Allstars: Félicité Remixes (2017, Crammed Discs): Bonus CD to above but appears as a separate thing for download. The remixes dub in their own distractions, with only a couple cuts showing off the source Congatronics, but at least their are no neoclassical interludes. B+(*)
Kelela: Take Me Apart (2017, Warp): Last name Mizanekristos, born in DC, parents immigrated from Ethiopia, first album but a previous mixtape and EP were well-regarded enough to come to my attention. Soul, the sort of easy-beat warbly keybs in fashion lately, more befitting a singer who skipped gospel to start out in jazz and moonlight with a prog metal band. B+(**)
Jon Langford: Jon Langford's Four Lost Souls (2017, Bloodshot): The once-and-future Mekon, long based in Chicago, went to Alabama and cut this glimpse of the apocalypse the day after the Trump election, a bit unsettled and unsure, except of where their musical roots lie. B+(***)
Large Unit: Fluku (2016 , PNL): Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love's 13-piece band: three reeds, three brass (including tuba), guitar, electronics, doubling up at bass (both electric and double) and drums, plus a credit for "live sound." The long title cut builds on a long rhythmic vamp with all sorts of exciting chaos. Still, they hold your interest when they slow it down for disassembly, probably because you anticipate that it will come together in wonder again . . . as it does. A- [bc]
The Billy Lester Trio: Italy 2016 (2016 , Ultra Sound): Piano trio recorded in Italy with Marcello Testa on bass and Nicola Stranieri on drums. All original pieces, nice show of contemporary postbop. B+(*) [cd]
Harold Mabern: To Love and Be Loved (2017, Smoke Sessions): Pianist from Memphis, first album 1968. One solo track, the rest with Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Nat Reeves (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums), plus trumpet (Freddie Hendrix) on three tracks, percussion (Cyro Baptista) on one. I expected something less frenzied for a postbopper in his 80s, and the early sax takes it easy, but the trumpet pushes everyone over the top, and they seem to prefer it like that. B+(*)
Made to Break: Trebuchet (2017, Trost): Ken Vandermark quartet, eighth album since 2013 although half of the personnel has changed, employing Jasper Stadhouders (electric bass) and Christof Kurzmann (electronics) at least since 2015. Three pieces, Vandermark typically awesome, the sound mix around him full of nice surprises. A- [bc]
Markley & Balmer: Standards & Covers (2017, Soona Songs): Lisa Markley and Bruce Balmer, she sings, both play guitar, and despite the title write some extra lyrics -- reworking, for instance, "Lennie's Pennies" into "Hundred in a Dollar." "Lush Life" and "Caravan" are most familiar, nicely done. B+(*) [cd]
Delfeayo Marsalis: Kalamazoo (2015 , Troubadour Jass): Cover reads "An Evening With Delfeayo Marsalis" before the title, so that can be parsed variously. The family's trombonist, leading his quartet (including papa Ellis on piano), recorded live at Western Michigan University. Warm New Orleans vibe, trombone sounds special. B+(**) [cd]
Roy McGrath: Remembranzas (2017, JL Music): Saxophonist, backed by piano, bass, drums, and lots of congas, starting off with a spoken word about immigration, then plunging deep into the Latin tinge. Lots of print on the package, but nearly impossible to read (mostly white on light gray). [CD crapped out near the end, but I figured I had heard enough.] B [cd]
Joe McPhee/Damon Smith/Alvin Fielder: Six Situations (2016 , Not Two): Tenor sax, bass, and drums, recorded live at Roulette in New York City. Unreconstructed free jazz, some remarkable passages where McPhee seems to be accompanying himself with rumble patterns breaking into flights. B+(***)
Lisa Mezzacappa: Glorious Ravage (2017, New World): Bassist, based in San Francisco, has a couple previous albums, leads a large cast here (15 names on back cover, but not clear whether they're all regulars -- the most obvious one is vocalist Fay Victor, who has some trouble navigating the tricky music. B+(*) [cd]
Lorrie Morgan/Pam Tillis: Come See Me & Come Lonely (2017, Goldenlane): Sixteenth album for Loretta Lynn Morgan, starting in 1989 and including one previous duet album with the late Mel Tillis' little girl, two years later with ten albums of her own, one in 1983 and the rest since 1991. All covers, starting with one from K.T. Oslin, some as well known as "Tennessee Waltz" and "The End of the World," unexpected males joining in on a creepy "Summer Wine." B+(**)
Kyle Motl Trio: Panjandrums (2016 , Metatrope): Bassist from San Diego, leading a trio with Tobin Chodos on piano and Kjell Nordeson on bass. Strong, risky piano work, following a solo bass album that rated nearly as high. B+(***) [cd]
The National: Sleep Well Beast (2017, 4AD): Debut album in 2001, seventh overall, singer-lyricst Matt Berenger has a great voice for indie rock, especially when composer-brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner keep the beats fluid and piquant. B+(***)
Paal Nilssen-Love/Frode Gjerstad: Nearby Faraway (2016 , PNL): Drums-sax duets, the latter playing alto and tenor, also Bb and contrabass clarinet. The drummer has a lot of albums with avant saxophonists. He's very responsive here, and Gjerstad gives him quite a workout. B+(***) [bc]
Pan-Scan Ensemble: Air and Light and Time and Space (2016 , Hispid/PNL): Nine-piece group from Norway, "brass heavy" (three saxophonists I recognize -- Lotte Anker, Anna Högberg, Julie Kjaer -- and three trumpeters I don't), Sten Sandell on piano, two drummers (Paal Nilssen-Love and Stĺle Liavik Solberg). Two improv pieces add up to 45:55, a striking free-for-all that retains interest when they separate and stalk one another. B+(**) [bc]
Diana Panton: Solstice/Equinox (2017, self-released): Canadian jazz singer, eighth album, has a couple JUNO Awards, a small and rather cute voice, runs through thirteen songs. Nice band, with Guido Basso on trumpets, Phil Dwyer on saxophones, and Reg Schwager on guitar, but no drummer. B+(*) [cd]
The Paranoid Style: Underworld USA (2017, Bar/None, EP): Principally Elizabeth Nelson, following up her one full-length album with a second (or third) EP, this one six songs, 17:17, with a catchy, single-worthy closer ("Revision of Love") and other snappy songs that have yet to sink in, maybe because I keep thinking "Hawk vs. Prez" should be about jazz. B+(***)
Evan Parker & RGG: Live @ Alchemia (2016 , Fundacja Sluchaj): British free jazz titan, just playing tenor sax this time out, in an improv Krakow set with a Polish trio: Lukasz Ojdana (piano), Maciej Garbowski (bass), Krzysztof Gradziuk (drums). Still, doesn't feel like a pickup band deal. The piano leads and comping are always interesting, and the drummer pays close attention, accenting everywhere. Parker, too, is always on point. A- [bc]
William Parker Quartets: Meditation/Resurrection (2016 , AUM Fidelity, 2CD): The bassist has run two quartet configurations over many years: his freewheeling two-horn Quartet with Rob Brown (alto sax) and Lewis Barnes (trumpet), the latter replaced here by Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson, and the group In Order to Survive with Brown and pianist Cooper-Moore -- both groups with Hamid Drake on drums. One full disc of each here, and while the new trumpet player doesn't match the old one, Cooper-Moore is as breathtaking as ever. A- [dl]
Pere Ubu: 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo (2017, Cherry Red): Originally from Akron, one of my favorite bands of the late 1970s, in business ever since with singer David Thomas essential for continuity, but while none of the original musicians appear here, I often find the guitar reminding me of The Modern Dance, not to mention the drums. A-
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Live in Brussels (2016 , Leo, 2CD): Tenor sax-piano duets, in case you're not sated after seven volumes of The Art of Perelman-Shipp earlier this year. Seems a little sketchy at first, but there are stretches where they click (as usual). B+(**)
Frank Perowsky Jazz Orchestra: Gowanus (2017, Jazzkey): Saxophonist and clarinetist, leads a big band, doesn't list himself among the saxophonists but front and back covers show him with a clarinet. Produced by drummer Ben Perowsky. Recorded in Brooklyn, lots of household names in the band. Four originals, rooted in swing and bop, covering Ellington and Powell with an Ira Hawkins vocal extolling "the Basie sound." B+(*) [cd]
Pink: Beautiful Trauma (2017, RCA): Alecia Moore, from near Philadelphia, Broke through as a punkish pop star just out of her teens, like a generation ago. In 2010 she titled her best-of Greatest Hits . . . So Far! -- usually the kiss of death for a career, but her 2012 album was solid (some thought better, with world sales pegged at 7 million) and this one only tails off in an overly dramatic finale. B+(**)
Gregory Porter: Nat "King" Cole & Me (2017, Blue Note): Jazz singer, vastly overrated I think, but comes closer to Cole than I expected, a little stuffy but not really the problem. The "core band" (Christian Sands, Reuben Rogers, Ulysses Owens) is probably OK, too, but hard to tell with the London Studio Orchestra slugging out Vince Mendoza's over-the-top arrangements. Still, Porter can't be excused for the one new song he wrote. C+
Lee Ranaldo: Electric Trim (2017, Mute): Sonic Youth founder-guitarist, side projects go back to 1987 but took on a more serious air once the group disbanded, inhabiting an echo of the legend without really being able to flesh it out. Some lyrics by novelist-fan Jonathan Lethem. Guest spot for Sharon Van Etten. B+(*)
Re-TROS: Before the Applause (2017, Modern Sky Entertainment): Chinese rock group, "underground" but how would we know? Some vocals (even some in English), but rhythm tracks predominate, some quasi-industrial, some new wave danceable, some sound like Pulnoc fortified by a Kinshasa junkyard, which is to say really amazing. A-
Jamie Reynolds: Grey Mirror (2015 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, from Toronto, based in New York, seems to be his first album. Features guitarist Matthew Stevens, with Orlando LeFleming on bass, Eric Doob on drums, and the Westerlies (a trumpet-trombone quartet) on five tracks. Not sure that the latter is a plus -- they certainly change the group's chemistry. B+(**)
Whitney Rose: Rule 62 (2017, Six Shooter): Country singer from Prince Edward Island, cut two albums on a Toronto label, then turned some heads with the EP South Texas Suite early this year. Follows that up here with a third album. Terrific sound and voice, but I can't say the songs stick with you. B+(**)
Daniel Rosenthal: Music in the Room (2016 , American Melody): Trumpet player, based in Boston, teaching at Berklee, has recorded as part of the Rosenthals with his bluegrass-oriented father, in the Sommers Rosenthal Family Band, and in Either/Orchestra, with a previous album under his own name in 2001. Group here adds two saxophones, bass, and drums, for some fairly standard postbop. B+(*) [cd]
Rostam: Half-Light (2017, Nonesuch): Last name Batmanglij, born in DC, parents immigrated from Iran, first solo album after ten years with Vampire Weekend (all three major albums) and a couple side projects. Plays pretty much everything here -- fourteen side credits, but only the cellist on more than one track (4). Finds his own groove, sound a bit off for me, but could be beguiling. B+(**)
Roswell Rudd/Fay Victor/Lafayette Harris/Ken Filiano: Embrace (2017, RareNoise): Trombone-piano-bass trio plus singer, one of the most distinctive ones working today if not always one of the easiest to listen to. In some ways this recalls Rudd's mid-1970s work with Sheila Jordan -- less swing, the pianist a bit more ornate. Victor is especially striking on songs that don't tempt her to scat or vocalise, like "Can't We Be Friends" and "House of the Rising Sun," but she's pretty impressive traipsing over Mingus and Monk. The trombone isn't exactly lovely, but so full of soul it can't be the work of anyone else. A- [cdr]
Adam Rudolph: Morphic Resonances (2017, M.O.D. Technologies): Percussionist, has recorded extensively since 1992, featured mostly as a composer here, with seven pieces divvied up between five groups -- the Momenta String Quartet gets the first two, totalling 26:30, which I find unpleasantly arch, while a flute-guitar duo (Kaoru Watanabe and Marco Cappelli) get two shorter pieces. My favorite by far is the Odense Percussion Group. B+(*) [cd]
Romeo Santos: Golden (2017, Sony Latin): Born in the Bronx, father Dominican, mother Puerto Rican, led the bachata band Aventura (which sold out Yankee Stadium for a concert) before going solo. Third album, mostly in Spanish, got some beat to it. B+(*)
A. Savage: Thawing Dawn (2017, Dull Tools): First name Andrew, singer-guitarist for Parquet Courts taking a solo flyer, stripped down, only hinting at his band sound on the final track, then pulling back. B+(*)
Schnellertollermeier: Rights (2016 , Cuneiform): Quasi-industrial postrock trio, the group name a mashup of member names Andi Schnellmann (bass), Manuel Toller (guitar), and David Meier (drums). Grind impressive at first but doesn't go all that far. B+(*) [dl]
Brandon Seabrook: Die Trommel Fatale (2016 , New Atlantis): Guitarist, based in Brooklyn, tends toward noise but stretches that out some here, the sextet including Chuck Bettis' "throat/electronics," cello, bass, and two drummers. [7/10 cuts] B+(**) [bc]
Sheer Mag: Need to Feel Your Love (2017, Static Shock): Philadelphia rockers, got noticed for three 7-inch EPs (since collected as Compilation) before releasing this debut album. Singer Tina Halliday has a harsh bark, not quite a shriek, and the guitar-bass riffs are solid and tuneworthy. B+(**)
Shelter: Shelter (2016 , Audiographic): Yet another Ken Vandermark group, a quartet, although he only has a 3-2-2-2 composition edge over Nate Wooley (trumpet), Jasper Stadhouders (electric bass and guitar), and Steve Heather (drums and crackle box). B+(***) [bc]
Blake Shelton: Texoma Shore (2017, Warner Brothers Nashville): Big Nashville star with a TV gig I've never seen but most likely why People named him "sexiest man alive." Has a fine country voice, picks down-to-earth songs (only one co-credit here). B+(*)
Idit Shner: 9 Short Stories (2017, OA2): Alto saxophonist, also play soprano, not sure where (or when) she was born, but she studied in Oklahoma City, and is based in Oregon. Backed by piano-bass-drums, all originals except for "Passion Flower," bright postbop. B+(**) [cd]
Paula Shocron/Germán Lamonega/Pablo Diaz: Tensegridad (2016 , Hatology): Piano-bass-drums trio, three joint credits, two for Shocron, one each for the others, plus covers of Mal Waldron and Charles Tolliver. Strong, favoring dense chords over noodling. B+(**)
Jen Shyu: Song of Silver Geese (2016 , Pi): Singer, dancer, multi-instrumentalist (credits here: Taiwanese moon lute, Korean gayageum, piano), born in Illinois, parents immigrated from Taiwan and East Timor, graduated from Stanford ("in opera with classical violin and ballet training"), fourth album, band (Jade Tongue: vibes, flutes, viola, bass, drums, percussion -- all well-known NY names) named for her first, joined here by Mivos Quartet (strings). Music evidently written for a ballet, choreographed by Satoshi Haga. I imagine the total performance to be mesmerizing, but as a record I find it alternately arch and quaint, classical motifs with bent Asian notes -- not my thing, I guess. B+(*) [cd]
Slow Is Possible: Moonwatchers (2016 , Clean Feed): Portuguese group, second album after eponymous effort in 2015: André Pontifice (cello), Bruno Figuera (alto sax), Duane Fonseca (drums), Joăo Clemente (electric guitar/electronics), Nuno Santos Dias (piano), Ricardo Sousa (double bass). B+(*)
Martial Solal & Dave Liebman: Masters in Bordeaux (2016 , Sunnyside): Duets, the French pianist nearly 90 at the time, Liebman playing soprano and tenor saxophones. Six standards, with Miles Davis a common bond, the pianist fascinating, Liebman listening and contributing with great care. B+(***)
Vinnie Sperrazza Apocryphal: Hide Ye Idols (2015 , Loyal Label): Drummer, called his 2014 album Apocryphal and thought that would make a good group name. Quartet with Loren Stillman (alto sax), Brandon Seabrook (guitar), and Eivind Opsvik (bass). I'm not used to Seabrook playing inside the band without his customary cloud of noise, but he fits nicely with Stillman's sweet tone. B+(**)
St. Vincent: Masseduction (2017, Loma Vista): Canadian Annie Clark's fifth (or sixth) album, her bestseller and evidently a critical favorite -- I'd guess top-five in year-end polls but little chance of topping Kendrick Lamar, for starters. A bit arch and arty for my tastes, but always interesting, never more so than here, where half the songs quickly click, and more welcome should I ever give it more than the three spins I've logged. Title song pronounces it "mass seduction" and pairs it with "mass destruction": she has a point, a deeper one than critiquing Trump, although that's part of it. A-
Gabriele Tranchina: Of Sailing Ships and the Stars in Your Eyes (2017, Rainchant Eclectic): Born in Germany, based (I think) in Paris, with an eye on Brazil and other points south -- though two of her covers are from Mancini. B+(**) [cd]
Trio S: Somewhere Glimmer (2017, Zitherine): Doug Wieselman (compositions, clarinets, loops, banjo), Jane Scarpantoni (cello), and Kenny Wollesen (drums, "wollesonics"). Rather quiet, atmospheric even, pleasant and marginally interesting. B+(*)
David S. Ware Trio: Live in New York 2010 (2010 , AUM Fidelity, 2CD): Another posthumous tape for the late tenor sax giant, this one a year after his kidney transplant and about two years before he died. So it's worth noting that he's in remarkable form here, with a couple of solo stretches (some on stritch), but especially when William Parker (bass) and Warren Smith (drums) help out. A- [dl]
Galen Weston: The Space Between (2017, Blujazz): Guitarist, from Toronto, lists as idols Mike Stern, Pat Metheny and Steve Vai. Band shares billing and keeps pushing him, and it helps when alto saxophonist Richard Underhill jumps out front. B [cd]
Mark Wingfield/Markus Reuter/Asaf Sirkis: Lighthouse (2016 , Moonjune): Two guitarists -- Reuter's credit is "Touch Guitars AU8" (8-string, hollow body, individually tunable pickups) -- and drums. Fits neatly into a fusion bag. B [cd]
Deanna Witkowski: Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns (2017, Tilapia): Pianist, discography dates back to 1999 -- I have her filed under vocals, but she doesn't sing here. All her arrangements of hymns -- all but one public domain -- for piano trio. Pleasant, and fairly innocuous. B [cd]
Lee Ann Womack: The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone (2017, ATO): Country singer, ninth album since 1997, co-wrote half of the fourteen songs -- the Frizzell and Jones covers overdone, the others less memorable but the title mood is sustained. B+(**)
Charlie Worsham: Beginning of Things (2017, Warner Bros. Nashville): Country singer from Mississippi, studied at Berklee, second album, co-credits on 9/13 (really 12) songs, gets a nice neotrad sound but mostly wastes it -- "Southern by the Grace of God" seems more than a little dated, but is still less offensive than "Birthday Suit." B
Eric Wyatt: Look to the Sky (2017, Whaling City Sound): Mainstream saxophonist (tenor, alto, soprano), from Brooklyn, shares a vocal with Andrea Miller, wrote three (of nine) songs, two more by his pianist Benito Gonzalez, with Keyon Harrold on trumpet, plus bass and drums. Takes nearly everything at a breakneck pace, a lot of bounce in his step. B+(**) [cd]
Mark Zaleski Band: Days, Months, Years (2016 , self-released): Alto/soprano saxophonist, third album, also credited with bass, brother of pianist Glenn Zaleski (present), joined by Jon Dean on tenor sax, Mark Cocheo in guitar, and Oscar Suchanek on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Dave Zinno Unisphere: River of January (2017, Whaling City Sound): Bassist, based in Rhode Island, discography shows he's played on a dozen albums but this appears to be his first leading. Quintet, with Eric "Benny" Bloom on trumpet, Mark Tucker on tenor sax, Leo Genovese on piano, and Rafael Barata on drums, with Tucker and Genovese also contributing songs. Mostly upbeat, saxophonist gives a good accounting. B+(*) [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Dion: Kickin' Child: The Lost Album 1965 (1965 , Norton): I've long been a fan of Dion DiMucci's Bronx Blues: The Columbia Recordings (1962-1965), which traces his shift from doo-wop ("Ruby Ruby," "Donna the Prima Donna") to Dylan emulation, including his 1965 single "Kickin' Child" (third from the end). Columbia released two albums built around the doo-wop singles, then nothing until they mopped up in 1969 (Wonder Where I'm Bound, the title a song from this shelved album). Should at least have some historical value, but I'm with the label here: a single, a couple decent covers (not the Dylan), some really awful shit (the Dylan not the worst). C-
Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams (2017, Slate Creek): Eleven songs, familiar and typical if most not actually written by the late country star, performed by artists of varying quality but distinctive enough they add something to the easy-going vibe that was Williams' trademark. Choice cut: Brandy Clark, "I Believe in You." [Missing on Napster: Garth Brooks, "Good Ole Boys Like Me."] B+(***)
Motörhead: Under Cöver (1992-2014 , Silver Lining Music): English metal band, formed in 2015, hung it up in 2015 when bassist-auteur Lemmy Kilmister died. One of the few metal bands I've tolerated and occasionally enjoyed -- as Christgau noted in 1980, "no preening solos or blow-dried bullshit." Sure, I haven't checked all five of the A- records Christgau identified from 1984-91, but I enjoyed 2011's The World Is Yours. This compiles eleven covers, roughly half from metal bands that I've heard of but mean nothing to me, the other half from the Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, Ramones, and David Bowie -- all sturdy enough to bear up under the extra weight. B+(***)
Mihály Borbély Quartet: Hungarian Jazz Rhapsody (2014, BMC): This slightly earlier quartet has a different pianist, Dániel Szábo, and the leader's credits limited to saxophone and tarogato. Title song actually from Hungarian-American guitarist Attila Zoller, with the remaining pieces by unknown-to-me Hungarian-sounding names. Pretty lively, and good as the new pianist is, this one may be even better. B+(***)
Die Enttäuschung: 4 (2006 , Intakt): German quartet, had an early fascination with Monk. Axel Dörner on trumpet and Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet, plus second bassist (Jan Roder) and original drummer (Uli Jenneißen). Discography unclear, as 1 (2002) is different from their original (1996) eponymous album, and instead of 2 and 3 there's a second eponymous album before 4 and 5. B+(***)
Michael Gregory Jackson: Clarity (1976 , ESP-Disk): Guitarist, first album at 23, also credited with vocals, mandolin, flute, timpani, marimba, percussion, but what caught my attention was the three young horn players: Leo Smith, Oliver Lake, and David Murray. Still, those horns are generally wasted, although Lake has some moments, and gets into the label's ad hoc aesthetic with flute and percussion. B
Woody Shaw: Song of Songs (1972 , Contemporary/OJC): Second album -- Cassandranite has earlier recordings but wasn't released until 1989 -- scales back the debut's sax attack, limiting Benny Maupin to one song, with Ramon Morris on two of the three others. That should bring the trumpet out front more, but he tends to slipstream the freebop. B+(**)
Woody Shaw: The Time Is Right (1983 , RED): Quintet, recorded live in Bologna, Italy, with Steve Turre (trombone/conch shells), Mulgrew Miller (piano), Stafford James (bass), and Tony Reedus (drums). Four cuts, first two by Shaw. B+(**)
Woody Shaw: Imagination (1987 , 32 Jazz): Originally on Muse, which tended to steer the trumpet player back to the mainstream, here with a sharp quintet -- Steve Turre (trombone), Kirk Lightsey (piano), Ray Drummond (bass), Carl Allen (drums) -- playing standards, ending with a blues from Turre. B+(**)
Mars Williams/Paal Nilssen-Love/Kent Kessler: Boneshaker (2012, Trost): Sax-drums-bass trio, Williams started out as a Hal Russell protégé, with Kessler was in the original Vandermark 5, with the Norwegian drummer joining many other Vandermark groups. Basically, just what the title promises. B+(***) [bc]
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:
Woody Shaw: Blackstone Legacy (1970 , Contemporary): [r]: was B+(**), now B+(***)
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, November 27. 2017
Music: Current count 28931  rated (+22), 391  unrated (-3).
Rated count down, mostly attributable to Thanksgiving, when I fixed a small dinner: roast goose with potatoes, baked zucchini niçoise, oven-braised pumpkin, sweet and sour cabbage. All recipes were new to me, and came out as well as hoped. For dessert I made three pies: maple pecan, chocolate pecan, and key lime. For the first two, I tried two different pie shell recipes, and found the "easy" one not only not as good but also not as easy. The key lime had a graham cracker crust that came out rather crumbly, but otherwise I was very pleased.
Further disruptions over the weekend: stereo went on the blink on Saturday, which drove me to listening to so-so albums on Napster. It (for reasons currently unfathomable) started working on Sunday, but I couldn't focus, as I was cooking several Indian dishes to get an idea how several menu ideas for next week's Peace Center Annual Dinner might play out. I'll be directing dinner for sixty on Friday, December 1, and until then I expect to have very little time for music. Menu will be Indian (except for dessert), mostly because I can cook more recipes ahead of time, making the logistics relatively manageable. Still, an enormous amount of work for an amateur like myself.
The dinner work already wiped out any chance at a Weekend Roundup -- possibly the first one I've missed since Trump was elected (though I may have blocked something out -- I do recall at least one threat to throw in the towel).
Current plan is to publish November's Streamnotes on Tuesday. Not likely to have much not already in the file, and there's at least a small chance I might not get the indexing done. But it needs to get up before the end of the month, and I won't have any time after Tuesday. Still will have more records than October (current count 114).
While I'm at it, I'd like to recommend Mark E. McCormick: Some Were Paupers, Some Were Kings: Dispatches From Kansas. McCormick wrote an op-ed column at the Wichita Eagle, and this collects many of his best pieces, not least on the perennial topic of race relations. Laura Tillem helped edit and design the book, and I helped her a bit with the conversion from one hideous Microsoft format to another. By the way, McCormick will be giving the main presentation at Friday's Peace Center 25th Annual Dinner.
By the way, François Carrier sent me a note asking that I mention his crowdfunding project. I routinely ignore requests to post notices, and certainly don't want to encourage more of them, but a few years ago when I got especially flustered I wrote a mass email to everyone who was sending me CDs announcing my intent to stop reviewing. François wrote me back immediately and insisted he was going to keep sending them anyway. As you can see here, few musicians have given me more pleasure more consistently. So by all means, encourage him to play and record more.
By the way, I thought the iconic story of last week was when Trump pardoned the turkey on Thanksgiving, and said "I feel so good about myself doing this." (See Jessica Contrera.) When I first read the quote, I thought it the perfect example of his narcissism. Only when I saw the video later did the full perversity sink in. As Contrera notes, the lead up to the quote was: "Are we allowed to touch? Wow." The video looks like Trump groping the turkey as he says, "I feel so good about myself" -- his look suggesting fond remembrances of other birds he's groped.
Very sad to see John Conyers caught up in the sex abuse scandals. He was first elected to the Congress in 1964 and was one of the first dozen House members to vote against the Vietnam War. Aside from his brief post-9/11 lapse, he has been one of the most consistent critics of American belligerence abroad, as well as a steady champion of civil rights and liberties. Not perfect, I guess -- I certainly don't like his "Pro-IP Act" -- but for a very long time one of the very best Congress had to offer.
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:
Monday, November 20. 2017
Music: Current count 28909  rated (+35), 394  unrated (+3).
The Best Albums of the Year usually starts around Thanksgiving. I was going to say that I hadn't seen any yet, but it turns out the first few are indeed out: Rough Trade (100); Decibel (40); Mojo (50); Piccadilly Records (100); and Uncut (75). AOTY is aggregating these lists here, where the order is currently (for laughs, I'll include my grades, where I've heard the record):
Note (as if you couldn't reverse engineer this factoid) that four of the lists are British (two record stores, two publications), and the other specializes in heavy metal. Expect much of this list to change as more representative critics chime in. I'd have to rate Kendrick Lamar's DAMN as the odds-on favorite -- AOTY's Highest Rated Albums of 2017 lists it first, barely ahead of Lorde's Melodrama [A-], with LCD Soundsystem at 6 and St. Vincent at 8. The other contender I see on AOTY's list is Vince Staples' Big Fish Theory [***] at 4. I expect that Mount Eerie's A Crow Looked at Me [*] (3), Valerie June's The Order of Time [**] (5), and Jlin's Black Origami [**] (7) to get a few nods but have a tougher time adding them up. Beyond that I don't see many contenders on AOTY's list -- maybe Arca (10) [B], Sampha's Process [*] (16), Algiers' The Underside of Power [B] (25). The Richard Dawson album is 15 at AOTY, but I'd be surprised if it has much US support. Further down the AOTY list you'll find The National (31) and Father John Misty (38).
The only jazz album in AOTY's top 50 is Vijay Iyer Sextet's Far From Over [***] (29). I suppose that makes it the famous to win this year's NPR Jazz Critics Poll (run by Francis Davis with some help from myself), although that's mostly because I have no idea which albums will be contenders. Diana Krall's Turn Up the Quiet [***] won Downbeat's Readers Poll. When I look at my own A-list, I see very little that jumps out as likely to get broad support -- maybe Steve Coleman's Morphogenesis, Jimmy Greene's Flowers, Hudson, Rudresh Mahanthappa's Agrima, Eric Revis' Sing Me Some Cry, Tyshawn Sorey's Verisimilitude, Wadada Leo Smith's Najwa, Craig Taborn's Daylight Ghosts, Miguel Zenón's Típico. But most years most of the top-20 come from my [***] and [**] lists, and I have no particular knack or (right now) inclination to try to sift them out.
With ballots for the Jazz Poll due December 3, I finally got around to sorting out my own 2017 Jazz and Non-Jazz lists. First thing I'm struck by is how unreliable the ordering of these lists is. One sign is that the order favors albums that came out early in the year, not because they've had longer to sink in but because they got to the top of the list first. A fact of my life is that I almost never go back and replay graded records any more (and when I do, I'm more likely to pick something old and classic, often from my travel cases). I expect I'm going to stir the order up quite a bit before I'm done, but whether that's from replay or just memory remains to be seen.
Health rated count this week, once again very jazz-heavy even when I'm streaming off internet -- last week's ratio was 30-2. That will probably hold up until I file my jazz ballot, then pivot as I see more EOY lists. At some point I expect I'll start running my own aggregate of 2017 EOY lists, like I did for last year. Main obstacle is that I expect the next 3-4 weeks to be heavily interrupted. First, I'll be cooking a small dinner for Thanksgiving. Then I'm in charge of fixing the Wichita Peace Center annual banquet -- last year we had eighty people, so unless I hear otherwise that's on plan this year. Then I'll need to do some work publishing the individual critic ballots for the NPR Jazz Critics Poll. Sometime in early December I'd like to work in a much-postponed trip to see relatives in Arkansas. In this rush, I'll probably go ahead and post a Streamnotes early this month, to get it out of the way.
Presumably I'll need to file a Pazz & Jop ballot in mid-December. By the end of December, I vow to finish two other long-delayed projects: compiling my existing reviews into two Jazz Guide files, and catching up Robert Christgau's website. Lot of work for a guy who's increasingly feeling his advancing age. As Stephen Colbert noted tonight: most presidents age visibly in office, but Trump is aging us.
One last note on unpacking: got a large batch of CDs (many multiple sets) from University of North Texas, which has the oldest and probably largest jazz education program outside of the Boston-NY corridor -- it doesn't produce as many famous names as Berklee and Juilliard, but as a working critic I've noticed a lot of fine musicians with UNT degrees. Still, good chance I got some of the artist attributions wrong there -- something I'll have to revisit with I finally get the magnifying glass out and try to decipher the fine print.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Grade (or other) changes:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 19. 2017
I've often heard that "politics is the art of the possible" -- the quote is most often attributed to Otto von Bismarck, who continued: "the attainable -- the art of the next best." Bismarck is best known now as the architect of the modern welfare state, something he achieved with autocratic Prussian efficiency, his generally satisfactory answer to the threat of proletarian revolution. But the earlier generations he was better known as the founder of German militarism, a bequest which less pragmatic followers parlayed into two disastrous world wars. Then, as now, the "possible" was always limited by preconceptions -- in Bismarck's case, allegiance to the Prussian nobility, which kept his innovations free of concessions to equality and democracy.
After immersing myself into the arcana of mainstream politics in the 1960s -- I used to trek to the library to read Congressional Quarterly's Weekly Reports, I subscribed to the Congressional Record, and I drew up electoral maps much like Kevin Phillips -- I pivoted and dove into the literature of the politically impossible, reading about utopian notions from Thomas More to Ignatius Donnelly to Paul Goodman (whose Utopian Essays & Practical Proposals is a title I still fancy recapitulating). But I never really lost my bearings in reality. In college I worked on the philosophy journal Telos, which taught one to always look toward ends (or goals) no matter the immediate terrain, and I studied neo-Kantians with a knack for making logic work to bridge the chasm. Later I turned into an engineer, and eventually had the epiphany that we could rationally think our way through complex political and economic problems to not necessarily ideal but much more viable solutions.
From the start I was aware of the standard and many other objections to "social engineering." No time to go into them now, but my background in engineering taught me that I have to work within the bounds of the possible, subject to the hard limits of physics and the slightly messier lessons I had learned from my major in sociology. Without really losing my early ideals -- my telos is equality, because that's the only social arrangement that is mutually agreeable, the only one that precludes scheming, strife, and needless harm -- I came to focus on little steps that nudge us in the right direction, and to reject ideas that couldn't possibly work. Thinking about this has made me a much more moderate person, without leading me to centrism or the notion that compromise is everything.
A good example of a political agenda that cannot be implemented -- indeed, one that offers nothing constructive -- was provided a while back by Alan Keys, a Republican presidential candidate whose entire world view revolved around teenagers having sex and how society needs to stop them. Maybe his analysis has some valid points, and maybe there are some paternalistic nudges that can trim back some of the statistical effects (like the rate of teen pregnancy), but nothing -- certainly no tolerable level of coercion -- can keep teenagers from being interested in sex. Of course, Keys was an outlier, even among Republican evangelicals. Only slightly more moderate is Roy Moore, who's evidently willing to carve out an exception for teens willing to have sex with himself. You might chalk that up to hypocrisy, which is common among all Americans, but is especially rife among conservatives (who regard it as a privilege of the virtuous rich) and evangelicals (who expect personal salvation for the fervor with which they damn all of you). But Moore's own agenda for making his peculiar take on Christianity the law of the land is every bit as dangerous and hopeless as Keys' obsession with teen sex.
The most chilling thing I've read in the last week was a column by Cal Thomas, Faith in Politics, where he urges conservative evangelicals to put aside their frivolous defenses of Roy Moore and go back to such fundamentals as Martin Luther's 95 Theses, where "Luther believed governments were ordained by God to restrain sinners and little else." The striking thing about this phrasing is how cleverly it forges an alliance with the libertarian right, who you'd expect to be extremely wary of God-ordained governmental restraint. But sin has always been viewed through the eyes of tyrants and their pet clergy, a "holy alliance" that has been the source of so much suffering and injustice throughout world history.
News recently has been dominated by a seemingly endless series of reports of sexual misconduct, harassment and/or assault, on all sides of the political spectrum (at least from Roy Moore to Al Franken), plus a number of entertainers and industry executives. Conservatives and liberals react to these stories differently -- aside from partisan considerations (which certainly play a part when a Senate seat is at stake), conservatives are hypocritically worked up about illicit sex, while liberals are more concerned with respecting the rights of women. Yet both sides (unless the complaint hits particularly close to home) seem to be demanding harsh punishment (see, e.g., Mark Joseph Stern: Al Franken Should Resign Immediately Michelle Goldberg and Nate Silver agree, mostly because they want to prove that Democrats are harsher and less hypocritical on sexual misconduct; indeed, instant banishment seems to have been the norm among entertainers, which Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, and Jeffrey Tambor having projects canceled, as well as more delayed firings of Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, and Harvie Weinstein). This drive to punish, which has long been a feature of America's notion of justice, can wind up making things worse (and not just because it could trigger a backlash, as Isaac Chotiner and Rebecca Traister discuss).
I'm sure many women have many things to object to here -- the Weinstein testimonies seem especially damning, and I suspect the hushed up Ailes and O'Reilly legacies are comparable -- but I'm finding some aspects of the whole brouhaha troubling. Sex is a messy subject, often fraught and embarrassing to negotiate, subject to wildly exaggerated hopes and fears, but inevitably a part of human nature -- I keep flashing back on Brecht's chorus: "what keeps mankind alive? bestial acts." On the other hand, we might be better off looking at power disparities (inequality), which are clearly evident in all of these cases, perhaps even more so in entertainment than in politics. I can't help but think that in a more equitable society, one that valued mutual respect and eased up a bit on arbitrary punishment, would be bothered less by these problems.
Some scattered links this week:
Monday, November 13. 2017
Music: Current count 28874  rated (+32), 391  unrated (-5).
Tis the season when most critics (and especially their publishers) start thinking about year-end lists. I expect that before the month is out I'll take my first pass at constructing this year's version of last year's Jazz and Non-Jazz lists. To that end, I started taking a belated look at AOTY's Highest Rated Albums of 2017 list, and picked out a few things to check out (most successfully, St. Vincent's 8th-rated Masseduction). I sought out several albums from Robert Christgau's recent Expert Witness albums (Pere Ubu's 20 Years in a Montant Missile Silo the only thing I've really liked there recently). I also made a point of looking up everything I had missed on Alfred Soto's Best albums of 2017 -- third quarter edition. Rather surprised I didn't find more there.
The present Year 2017 file lists 834 albums (28 of those pending grades). That's down from 1075 for 2016 by freeze time (January 28, 2017). Figuring I have 11 weeks left, and I've averaged 18.1 new releases per week over the first 46 weeks, that extrapolates to 1033 records: down a bit from last year, but not much. Down more from previous years, of course, but I won't bother dredging those numbers up.
I finally got a bit of work done on compiling the Jazz Guide(s): 21st Century up to 1267 pages (64% through the Jazz '00s database file, up to Ferenc Nemeth); 20th Century edged up to 750 pages as I found a couple stragglers. 21st Century should wind up 1450-1500 pages, hopefully by the end of the year. (So much for my earlier August-September estimates!) Thinking a bit about what should happen next. The drafts are collected using LibreOffice. Obviously, I can export them as PDF, and distribute them as I did the JCG-only version. I don't know the first thing about exporting to ebook formats, but I see there is a Writer2ePub extension, and also a "cross-platform free and open-source e-book reader and word processor" called Calibre. Both of those look promising.
It occurs to me that the collected writing would be more useful reorganized as a website. LibreOffice can export as HTML, but I'd need some way to explode the file into many webpages. It's possible that there is an extension somewhere to support that, but thus far is looks like a job for custom programming. That's something I'll need to look into and think about -- not that I haven't thought about pouring my database and reviews into a website for a long time now. It's just that I've always had trouble coming up with an album-based database schema to hang everything on. In recent years I've been gravitating more toward an artist-based schema, even though it doesn't normalize as nicely. That's probably the level I'd try to explode an HTML export of the Jazz Guides. One idea is to dispense with the database and just use Mediawiki, organizing the reviews by artist. In that case one could simply cut and paste from the book to the website. That would still be a lot of work.
More troubling for me is the amount of editing that the reviews require. The relatively easy part is stripping out the redundancy that occurs when discrete reviews are stacked up under an artist name. I expect to move dates, instruments, band associations, and other such attributes to a brief artist intro, cutting them out of the album reviews. In many cases that leaves virtually nothing but the credits and grade. It would be nice to flesh them out a bit, but that now appears to be a job for another lifetime, or for someone else. At this point, I'd be happy to let my framework stand as a starting point for someone else to build on, or maybe a whole community. Unclear whether anyone is interested.
One thing I neglected to mention last week was Downbeat's 82nd Annual Readers Poll (October 2017 issue). Biggest surprise for me was the late Allan Holdsworth (1946-2017) finishing second on the HOF ballot. I had him filed under rock (1970s) and hadn't rated (or heard) any of his albums. Wikipedia says he "was cited as an influence by a host of rock, metal and jazz guitarists" but the following list of twelve only includes one name I recognize as jazz (Kurt Rosenwinkel). I suppose I should do some research, possibly starting with Gordon Beck's Sunbird (1979; Beck's 1967 Experiments With Pops, with 3rd place finisher John McLaughlin, is a favorite) and two Tony Williams albums not yet in my database.
McLaughlin would have been a perfectly respectable choice. I've heard at least two dozen of his albums, with Extrapolation (1969) and Mahavishnu Orchestra's The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) early masterpieces. Fourth- and fifth-place finishers Les Paul and George Benson would have been disgraceful picks, although I can point to at least one superb record each is on.
The HOF winner, Wynton Marsalis, is a ho-hum choice: a solid hard bop trumpeter, probably better than Kenny Dorham or maybe even Woody Shaw but less exciting than Lee Morgan and not as versatile as Freddie Hubbard. He also became a huge celebrity, built an empire at Lincoln Center, and wrote some of the most ponderous compositions of the era. I've always liked him best when he was least serious. I credit him with three A- records: his soundtrack Tune In Tomorrow (1990); his Jelly Roll Morton tribute, Mr. Jelly Lord (1999); and his Play the Blues meetup with Eric Clapton (2011). Dorham and Shaw, by the way, have two A- records each, in shorter careers.
Elsewhere, the winners were on the stodgy side of mainstream -- the relatively hip picks were Chris Potter (tenor sax), Anat Cohen (clarinet), and I can never fault Jack DeJohnette (drums). Two flat out bad picks: Snarky Puppy (group), and Trombone Shorty (trombone). (Well, Gregory Porter too, but consider his competition.) I don't have time to go deeper down the lists, but for example, Marsalis won trumpet, and I'd have to drop to 13th to find someone I would have voted for ahead of him (in fact did: Wadada Leo Smith; Dave Douglas came in 15th; 4th-place Terence Blanchard gave me pause).
Only other down-ballot pick I'll mention is Geri Allen, who came in 3rd at piano. Would have been a pleasant surprise, but she died to get there, and still got beat by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, who haven't produced exceptional albums since the early 1970s (OK, I did rather like Corea's 2014 Trilogy).
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks (sorry I forgot to post last week):
Sunday, November 12. 2017
Matt Taibbi is a dedicated, insightful journalist and a terrific writer, but ever since the 2016 campaign started he's repeatedly gotten tripped up by having to meet advance deadlines for Rolling Stone that have left many of his pieces dated on arrival. His latest is especially unfortunate: A Year After Trump's Election, Nothing Has Changed. The factoid he chose to build his article around was a recent poll arguing that 12 months later, Trump would probably still win the 2016 election. The assumption is that Trump is still running against Hillary Clinton. Trump, of course, has been in the news every day since the election, and is already raising money for 2020 and making rally appearances in active campaigning mode. Aside from her self-serving, self-rationalizing book tour Clinton has largely dropped out of site, conceding she's not running again, and not scoring any points attacking Trump -- not that Trump's stopped attacking her, most recently accusing her of being the real "Russia colluder." Still, the poll in question shows Trump and Clinton in a dead 40-40 tie -- i.e., both candidates are doing worse than they did one year ago, but in the interest of sensationalism, the author gives Trump the tiebreaker ("Given that Trump overperformed in key, blue-leaning swing states, that means he'd probably have won again.")
As it happens, Taibbi's article was written before and appeared after the 2017 elections where Democrats swept two gubernatorial races (in VA and NJ), and picked up fairly dramatic gains in down-ballot elections all over the country. For details, start with FiveThirtyEight's What Went Down on Election Night 2017. Nate Silver explains further:
Silver also notes:
The thing I find most striking about these election results is the unity Democrats showed. Mainstream Democrats still bitch about lefties who defected to Ralph Nader in 2000, but as someone who remembers how mainstream Democrats sandbagged McGovern in 1972 (and who's read about how Bryan was repeatedly voted down after 1896), I've long been more concerned about how "centrists" might break if anyone on the left wins the Democratic Party nomination. Yet last week saw a remarkably diverse group of Democrats triumphant. The lesson I take away from the results is that most voters have come to realize is that the problem isn't just Trump and some of his ilk but the whole Republican Party, and that the only hope people have is to unite behind the Democrats, regardless of whether they zig left or zag right. Especially after last week's flap over Donna Brazile's book Hacks, that's good news.
It's also news that belies Taibbi's main thesis: not so much that nothing has changed in the year since Trump's shocking election win as the charge that we're still responding as stupidly to Trump as we did during the campaign. On the former, the administration's worker bees have torn up thousands of pages of regulations meant to protect us from predatory business, major law enforcement organizations have been reoriented to persecute immigrants while ignoring civil rights and antitrust, and the judiciary is being stock with fresh right-wingers. The full brunt of those changes may not have sunk in -- they certainly haven't hit all their intended victims yet -- but even if you fail to appreciate the threats these changes have a way of becoming tangible very suddenly. And given how Republican health care proposals polled down around 20%, you may need to rethink your assumptions about how dumb and gullible the American people are.
Republican proposals on "tax reform" are polling little better than their effort to wreck health care. This polling is helping to stall the agenda, but Republicans in Congress are so ideological, and so beholden to their sponsors, that most are willing to buck and polls and follow their orders. What we've needed all year has been for elections to show Republicans that their choices have consequences, and hopefully that's started to happen now.
But whereas the first half of Taibbi's article can be blamed on bad timing, the second half winds up being even more annoying:
Well, I'm as eager as the next guy for a high-minded conversation about common problems and reasonable solutions, but that's not what politics is about these days (and probably never was). But let's face it, the immediate problem is that one side's totally unprincipled and totally unreasonable, and the only way past that is to beat that side down so severely no one ever dares utter "trickle down" again. They need to get beat down as bad as the Nazis in WWII -- so bad the stink of collaboration much less membership takes generations to wash off. Then maybe we can pick up the pieces.
As for the "hacks and opportunists," sure they are, but they're approachable in ways the Republicans simply aren't. I've seen good people, hard-working activists, come into Wichita for years and urge us to go talk to our Congressman, as if the person in that office (remember, we're talking about Todd Tiahrt, Mike Pompeo, and Ron Estes) was merely misinformed but fundamentally reasonable. I've met plenty of hacks and opportunists who are at least approachable, but not these guys. They've sold their souls, and they're never coming back.
By the way, Thomas Frank's article on the Trump Day anniversary runs into pretty much the same problem: We're still aghast at Donald Trump -- but what good has that done? Well, the American political system doesn't give you a lot of latitude to repair a botched election -- everyone in office has fixed terms, the option of signing recall petitions is very limited (and doesn't apply to Trump), impeachment is virtually impossible without massive Republican defections -- so sometimes being constantly aghast is all one can do. And while the last three US presidents had their share of intractably obsessive opponents, they pale to the numbers of people constantly on Trump's case. Frank wants to minimize our effect, not least because he wants us to consider bigger, wider, deeper, older faults that Trump makes worse but isn't uniquely responsible for.
As an engineer, I've long related to the idea that you have to understand something to change it -- at least to change it in a deliberate and viable way -- but politics doesn't seem to work that way. For nearly all of my life, the most powerful political motivator has been disgust. And while that may seem like a recent bad trend, I pretty clearly remember characters like Dick Nixon, Barry Goldwater, and George Wallace. So it really doesn't bother me when people are simply aghast at Trump without understanding the fine points. Sure, at some point we need to get a better idea of what to do, but all the present situation demands is resistance, and as people line up to defend and demean Trump, those connections Frank wants us to learn are getting made.
My tweet for the day:
Some scattered links this week:
Monday, November 6. 2017
Music: Current count 28842  rated (+29), 396  unrated (-9).
After many short weeks, back to semi-normal last week, a swing that would have been even more pronounced had I not gotten distracted over the weekend: cooked a fairly large dinner on Saturday, had guests and a birthday party to attend on Sunday. Monday, too, has largely been chewed up by technical problems, so I'm getting a late start on this post, and not including Monday's unpacking.
The short and scattered nature of yesterday's Weekend Roundup was one consequence of my weekend distractions. One thing I did there was to cite Donna Brazile's controversial Inside Hillary Clinton's Secret Takeover of the DNC, as well as a rejoinder by Josh Marshall, before moving on to my own concerns. Shortly after I posted, I noticed Charles Pierce's own anti-Brazile rant: The Democratic Party Is Finding a Way to F*ck This Up, which starts off with this hideous preface:
I mean, sure, it was more depressing than 2008, when Hillary Clinton was denied the Democratic Party nomination and therefore was unable to blow the general election. But even though I was delighted with Obama's primary successes in 2008, Bernie Sanders' campaign was unprecedented, and his near-success even more thrilling. The Republican primaries had more faces, and some stylistic variation, but there ultimately wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the candidates. But there were real, significant differences between Sanders and Clinton, and they were things that mattered -- so how could one not get swept up in the opportunity?
I don't know, but I have a hypothesis, based on a few people I know who I think of as having more/less lefty (but pro-Hillary) politics and extrapolating to more establishment-oriented liberals. It involves two factors: one is a cynical belief that substantial progressive change is not possible; the other is blind faith in liberal meritocracy, which has anointed the long line of Democratic Party leaders from aristocrats like the Roosevelts and Kennedys to accommodating strivers like the Clintons and Obama. That cynicism lets such people dismiss Bernie with whatever epithet they fancy (for Pierce, "smug, self-righteous") even though there is no evidence for their assertions, while always giving Hillary the benefit of any doubts, even though her own track record is full of compromises and betrayals. Such people are very hurt, probably more by Hillary's loss than by Trump's victory, because the former calls into question their belief in American exceptionalism, whereas the latter mostly hurts other people.
Russia is their perfect villain, a way of blaming their failure not on other Americans but on some external evil. Still, I recently read David Daley's Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy, and I don't recall a single Russian operative in the entire book. The "ratfuckers" -- the people conspiring to engineer districts and electorates to their partisan advantage -- are Republicans, and they've been very effective at it. I don't doubt that Russia helped them out here and there, but the game plan was hatched in Republican circles, and they were the ones who mostly carried it out. Blaming Russia may make some Democrats feel better about themselves, but it mostly means they're continuing to turn a blind eye to their real enemies. And in their failure to recognize real enemies, they've not only been ineffective at defending against them -- they've lost credibility among the very people who suffer Republican rule the worst.
Pierce goes on to attack "SPW" ("Senator Professor Warren"), and to set up scapegoating the left if the Democrat Ralph Northam loses the Virginia gubernatorial race. He's right that the Democrats have various problems achieving unity, even in the face of the most obviously horrid Republicans in history, but it beats me how he thinks he's contributing to solidarity by trashing Bernie.
Since I posted, I've run across two more pieces on the Brazile Affair: Glenn Greenwald: Four Viral Claims Spread by Journalists on Twitter in the Last Week Alone That Are False -- three attacking Brazile, two of those repeated by Pierce -- and Matt Taibbi: Why Donna Brazile's Story Matters -- But Not for the Reason You Might Think. The lesson Taibbi draws from the story is how the Clinton camp distrusted democracy -- they sought to rig the primaries not because they couldn't win otherwise, but because they didn't think they should have to submit to the voters.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Sunday, November 5. 2017
Again, a very late start, so this is very catch-as-catch-can.
Some scattered links this week: