Monday, April 20. 2015
Music: Current count 24855  rated (+29), 408  unrated (+10).
Third straight week at 29, so I guess that's the new 30. Wouldn't have hit that but for a lark decision to check out the early Charles Lloyd records on Rhapsody after the new one underwhelmed me. They, at least, were relatively short, but ultimately merged into a solid, indistinguishable mass -- aside from Keith Jarrett's outstanding rhythm work. Very little of Lloyd's post-1970 work is on Rhapsody, so it's hard to say anything definitive about his now obscure 1970s and 1980s records. In 1989 he joined ECM and patiently rebuilt his career, hitting a peak when he started working with another amazing pianist, Jason Moran. Make what you will that the new one marks his move from ECM to Blue Note, and that Moran is out, replaced by a pianist whose name I've already forgotten. On the other hand, Blue Note's pairing of Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas works as expected.
I spent a good deal of time this past week sorting through old shelves of jazz CDs. Currently the work area is still quite some mess, but I expect to make some progress this week. I had planned on keeping all of the Jazz CG-era B+(***) and A-list albums in a set of six modular shelf units, but it now looks like the number needed is eight. I have the extra two nearby, but their contents need to be moved elsewhere, and I'm cleaning out that elsewhere. The next space likely to be exhausted is the basement hell where the most unwanted items go to linger. Those I need to start to cull -- although the general high quality of jazz these days has led me to consign more than a few good records by obscure artists or interesting failures by better known musicians there. Could be a neverending struggle. For some reason the incoming mail picked up this week.
Not so many A-list records this week, although eight high-B+ records came close. Milo Miles put Ayelet Rose Gottlieb at the top of his 1st Quarter 2015: Jazz list and, if memory recalls, had previously touted Tal National. Michael Tatum is a big fan of the Skrillex/Diplo record. My own favorites among the three-stars are Sergi Sirvent's Unexpected piano trio and Oleg Frish's kitschy standards duets, although Hu Vibrational got the most spins (five, I think).
Incoming mail included unsolicited copies of all three albums by Damien Wilkins' New Zealand group, The Close Readers. Christgau reviewed their latest and I concurred in last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. I was tempted to check out the earlier titles -- they're here (via bandcamp) -- but let my mind wander elsewhere. Now I feel obligated to go back. As a down payment, we'll include the album cover and note the known grade in unpacking.
I need to get cracking on my Downbeat Critics Poll ballot. Expect a report later this week.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 19. 2015
Late start but I had the Civil War links, and added a couple more. Plus, for local color, let's start with Crowson's cartoon today:
By the way, babyfaced State Senator O'Donnell (R) happens to represent my district. You can read more about his bill in, well, The Guardian, or The Chicago Tribune. Jordan Weissmann looks at what welfare recipients actually spend money on here. One thing I haven't seen much discussion of is how this law is to be enforced. Will the state be assigning accountants to go over welfare recipients' books? Or will we expect movie ticket takers to rat out customers they suspect of being on welfare?
Tuesday, April 14. 2015
Four days shy of a month this time. About the same length as last time, but took a few more days to compile. A few of the records under "New Releases" are more than five years old: things I received as promos and sat on until some recent housecleaning. Needless to say, nothing there I really missed out on. The "old music" remains opportunistic: e.g., the guy in the Paranoid Style used to be in the Mendoza Line, so I thought I'd sample one of their better regarded albums; Chris Farlowe was the only one of Van Morrison's duetists who impressed me, so I thought I'd check out something more; I recalled Tim Berne's pre-Snake Oil groups more fondly (especially Marc Ducret and Tom Rainey), so scrounged up a previously unheard Big Satan -- unfortunately, no better than the new one; Milford Graves, Woody Herman, and Eddie Higgins (and maybe some more) just popped up on browse lists.
Percy Sledge died today. He only had one real hit, but he fills out a single-disc best-of remarkably well. Robert Christgau recommended Rhino's 1998 The Very Best of Percy Sledge. I'm satisfied with Atlantic's 1998 compilation, The Ultimate Collection (graded A long ago).
Another notable who just died is Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano (NYT obit). You may recall that Hugo Chávez, when he met Barack Obama in 2009, gave the president a copy of Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America. For a small taste of Galeano, see these ten quotes. For instance, this one captures the basic ethic behind this column: "One writes out of a need to communicate and to commune with others, to denounce that which gives pain and to share that which gives happiness."
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on March 18. Past reviews and more information are available here (6272 records).
Action Bronson: Mr. Wonderful (2014 , Atlantic/Vice): Former chef Arian Arslani gets his major labor debut after several strong mixtapes, runs through his pieces at a fever pitch. Can't say as I caught much, or approve of what I did catch, but he makes enough of a joke of it the ride doesn't quite make you queasy. B+(***)
Albare: Only Human (2014 , Alfi): Guitarist, born in Morocco, grew up in Israel and France, wound up in Melbourne down under. Album cover offers 24 snapshots of people all over the world, and the groove, even the rap that ends the title cut, aims to be universally embraced. B+(**) [cd]
Gabriel Amargant Quintet: And Now for Something Completely Different (2014 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor saxophonist, second album, recorded in Girona, in the far northeast corner of Spain, backed with piano, guitar, bass, and drums, with all pieces by the leader. I can't say the title is completely true, but I'm hard pressed to remember the last time a tenor saxophonist took the stage with such fluid mastery -- Tommy Smith, maybe. A-
Oren Ambarchi: Quixotism (2014, Editions Mego): Prolific avant-garde experimentalist -- AMG lists 5 albums for 2014, only 3 in 2013 but 9 in 2012 and I wouldn't be surprised if they've missed some collaborations -- initially playing drums but has moved on to guitar and synths. One of the more attractive ambient albums I've heard recently, just interesting drumming with clouds of synth. Docked a bit for long quiet patches (although it's often hard to get the volume right on the computer). B+(**)
Christian Artmann: Fields of Pannonia (2014 , self-released): Flute player, leads a quarter with piano-bass-drums. Not my favorite horn, but the alto flute adds some depth, and the stealthy impressionism is pleasantly attractive. B+(*) [cd]
Joey Bada$$: B4.DA.$$ (2015, Cinematic Music Group): Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott, I suppose that's a name a rapper would have to change, but the dollar signs just push "Bad-Ass" to an even higher level of crassness. Actually, his first studio album is far from crass, with its sharper-than-underground sound, a couple nods to his Caribbean ancestors, even a dance anthem ("Teach Me," one of two bonus tracks). B+(***)
Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015, Mom + Pop Music): Australian singer-songwriter, got some attention last year when she combined two EPs into a debut calling card, but initially struck me as a folkie troubadour, a wordy one at that. This has a wordy title too, but the first thing you notice is the guitar. A-
Antoine Berjeaut: Wasteland (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): The French trumpet player's music is appropriately dreary with occasional sparks, including tenor sax on four cuts. What gives it all narrative force is Mike Ladd's spoken words, but a bit on the melodramatic side. B+(*)
Tim Berne's Snakeoil: You've Been Watching Me (2014 , ECM): Alto saxophonist, third group album all for ECM, with Oscar Noriega on clarinet/bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano, Ches Smith on drums, and newcomer Ryan Ferreira on guitar. The two horns remind me of Berne's apprenticeship with Julius Hemphill, but like some of Hemphill's work, this can get stiff and awkward, not that the group isn't capable of powering through any obstacles they run into. B+(***) [dl]
Andrew Bishop: De Profundis (2015, Envoi): Saxophonist, teaches at University of Michigan, third album, a trio with Tim Flood on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. His credits as listed here: flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano and tenor sax -- although I hear more of the latter. All original pieces, six "reimagined" from "De Profundis" by Josquin Des Prez (c. 1440-1521) -- transposed into free jazz. B+(***) [cd]
Bossa Brasil and Maurício de Souza Group: Here. There . . . (2010, Pulsa Music): Organized half under each group, the credits are more ambiguous with drummer de Souza and bassist Morrie Louden on all tracks, the others on scattered tracks on both sides -- only difference I see is that Bossa Brasil jazz up Brazilian tunes whereas the latter takes jazz pieces (Joe Henderson, Cedar Walton, Chick Corea, "I Can't Get Started") and gives them a Brazilian twist. B+(*) [cd]
Jakob Bro Trio: Gefion (2013 , ECM): Guitarist from Denmark, has a number of previous albums on a small label so this is something of a coming out. Trio, with Thomas Morgan on bass and Jon Christensen on drums. B+(**) [dl]
Dewa Budjana: Hasta Karma (2014 , Moonjune): Guitarist from Surabaya in Indonesia, mostly worked in a pop/rock band called Gigi while developing a more jazz-oriented solo career. This comes off as fusion with some eastern spiritual airs, although the band is certifiably postbop -- Joe Locke on vibes, Ben Williams on bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums. B+(*) [cd]
Will Butler: Policy (2015, Merge): Arcade Fire bassist, apparently a secondary figure behind brother Win Butler, tosses out his own album, distinguished by upbeat rockers that put most alt/indie outfits to shame. B+(**)
Chastity Belt: Time to Go Home (2015, Hardly Art): Punk girl band from Walla Walla, Washington; second album, conscious but rather contained, as if pressurizing for an explosion that never comes. B+(*)
The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra: The Symphonic Celtic Album (2011, Silva Screen): The songs are not just Celtic, or even vaguely Celtic: nearly all come from soundtracks -- Miller's Crossing, Lord of the Rings, Barry Lyndon, Braveheart, Titanic, Rob Roy, Highlander, Gladiator, Riverdance (oddly, best thing here), and a half-dozen more of that ilk. The Czechs try to take this shit seriously. C- [cd]
Clem Snide: Girls Come First (2015, Zaphwee): Eef Barzelay's alt/indie band, originally from Boston but now transplanted to Nashville where they feature both lap and pedal steel guitars. But for all the band members listed, this feels small and intimate, the work of a lonely, claustrophobic voice -- at least until "Like Lightning Flashes," loose with glimmering steel. B+(**)
The Close Readers: The Lines Are Open (2014, Austin): A New Zealand novelist, Damien Wilkins, doesn't worry about coming up with a distinctive sound when leaning on the Go-Betweens and the Chills works so well. A-
Tom Collier: Alone in the Studio (2014 , Origin): born 1950 in Washington, moved to Los Angeles in 1974, back to teach at University of Washington in 1980. Cut a record in 1991 and several more since 2004. Credits here: vibraphone, marimba, piano, drums, bass synthesizer. Four originals, three at the end. Listenable, but hard to see the point. B
Bruce Cox Core-Tet: Status Cymbals (2012, self-released): Minimal jacket, explains why this literally fell into a crack. Drummer, second album after debut in 1997, about 40 side credits going back to 1992 (Fred Wesley). Mostly Cox originals, four covers (Monk, Shorter, Benny Goldson?), sax quartet: Abraham Burton carries the day. B+(*) [cd]
Stephan Crump/Mary Halvorson: Secret Keeper (2013 , Intakt): Bass-guitar duo, second album together. Crump has a real knack for using guitar to extend his range, but Halvorson may not be the right guitarist to do this with -- not so much that she runs away with the bait as that she doesn't. B+(**) [cdr]
Isaac Darche: Team & Variations (2014 , Challenge): Guitarist, based in Brooklyn, originally from California. Second album, quintet with Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on tenor sax, Glenn Zaleski on piano, Desmond White on drums, and EJ Strickland on drums. Smart postbop, moves along nicely B+(**) [cd]
Ernest Dawkins: Live the Spirit Residency Big Band: Memory in the Center: An Afro Opera: Homage to Nelson Mandela (2014 , Dawk): Chicago saxophonist contents himself to be composer, conductor, arranger and producer here, having lined up four other saxophonists to carry the load, plus three trumpets, two trombones, piano-bass-drums, poet Khari B, and singer Dee Alexander. I might normally complain about the vocals (which can get operatic), but the political rant is inspired, and the muscular exuberance of the band sweeps you away. And when they work in a little township jive, so much the better. A- [cd]
Andrew DiRuzza Quintet: Shapes and Analogies (2015, self-released): Guitarist, first album, quintet with Robert Espe on tenor sax, Michael Jarvey on keyboards, plus bass and drums. B+(**) [cd]
Fabiano do Nascimento: Dança Dos Tempos (2015, Now-Again): Debut from Brazilian guitarist, based in Los Angeles, backed by Airto Moreira on percussion and Ricardo Pasillas on drums, with occasional vocals from Nascimento and Kana Shimanuki. This never settles into pleasantries, even at its most intimate. A-
Lila Downs: Balas y Chocolate (2015, RCA): Born in Oaxaca, Mexico; father American, mother Mixteca; grew up in California, chased the Grateful Dead, hooked up with a jazz pianist, wound up back in Mexico. Heavy norteño vibe, sometimes seems like she's pulling off something new, but the ballads come off as corny. B+(*)
Drake: If You're Reading This It's Too Late (2015, Cash Money/Motown): Rapper from Canada, not too long ago the next big thing but after a couple dud albums this one dropped with nary a splash -- one excuse I see is that this was planned as a mixtape but with all the griping about money they (label? artist?) decided at the last minute to cash in. Typical lyric: "I'm turning into a nigger that thinks about money and women 24/7." Actually, that's about all he has to say about women. Or thinking. B
DRKWAV: The Purge (2015, Royal Potato Family): A jazz organ trio transposed into a realm of high-power electronica, fast and furious: Skerik on sax, John Medeski on keyboards, and Adam Deitch on drums. B+(***)
Eliane Elias: Made in Brazil (2015, Concord): Jazz pianist from Brazil, has more than two dozen albums since 1986, most with little to do with Brazilian music. Her early Plays Jobim was disappointing, but she started singing on 1998's Sings Jobim and I doubt that anyone has done it better. This she actually recorded in Brazil with a local band (plus her husband, bassist Marc Johnson) and more singers than she needs. B+(*)
Charles Evans: On Beauty (2014 , More Is More): Baritone saxophonist, made something of a splash when his debut was a solo album titled The King of All Instruments. This treatise on beauty is distinguished by its ugliness, even if that isn't the impression he wants to leave. Dave Liebman, playing soprano sax, is the main malefactor. With Ron Stabinsky on piano and Tony Marino on bass. B [cd]
John Fedchock Quartet: Live: Fluidity (2013 , Summit): Trombonist, best known for his New York Big Band recordings, backed by piano-bass-drums here, makes a good case for trombone as a lead instrument. B+(***) [cd]
Joe Fiedler Trio: I'm In (2015, Multiphonics Music): Third good trombone record this week (after Steve Turre and John Fedchock), and easily the best. Rob Jost's bass rises above rhythm and harmony for contrasting solos, Michael Sarin hits the right spots on drums, and Fiedler runs rings around the competition. A- [cd]
Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up: After All Is Said (2014 , 482 Music): Drummer, has two previous albums with this group -- Brian Settles (tenor sax), Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Mary Halvorson (guitar), various bassists (Michael Formanek here) -- duos with Taylor Ho Bynum, a group called Thumbscrew (with Halvorson and Formanek), side credits with Anthony Braxton. The horns skew various ways, but focus on the prickly interplay between guitar and drums, a sketchy rhythm always in turmoil. A-
The Go! Team: The Scene Between (2015, Memphis Industries): British pop-rock group: they sounded very young on their refreshingly bright 2004 debut; less so on this their fourth album, but they keep it bright with lots of electricity and a group fervor which unfortunately makes it harder to follow. B
Colleen Green: I Want to Grow Up (2015, Hardly Art): Singer-songwriter coos over drum machines, or at least that was her original sound -- something to emulate for the live drummers she can now afford, but that compromises her lo-fi sympathy. If only the songs rose to the challenge. But she's trying. B
Marty Grosz Meets the Fat Babies: Diga Diga Doo (2013-14 , Delmark): The Fat Babies are a Chicago trad jazz outfit with a couple fine albums if you can't get enough of that old timey sound. Grosz, the son of the famous Weimar caricaturist, fled the Nazis in the early 1930s and grew up on the first trad jazz revival, learning guitar and banjo. He keeps the group loose, and I won't complain that he talks too much toward the end, or that he sings a couple. One of the two sessions adds Jim Dapogny, another legend, on piano. A- [cd]
Susie Hansen: Representante de la Salsa (2010, Jazz Caliente): Violinist-singer, third album, with George Balmaseda and Kaspar Abbo also taking lead vocals. Salsas, some mambo and cha cha, runs hot, aimed at the feet. B
Heems: Eat Pray Thug (2015, Megaforce): Himanshu Suri, born and raised in Flushing, Queens, New York -- all-American, as shocked as any of us by 9/11, yet when the kneejerk reaction set in he's out buying American flags not because his knee is jerking but as camouflage, for his name and less-assimilated Punjabi family. That story appears often enough here to amount to a theme, at one point breaking out in a chant of "USA" that I could do without. "Suicide by cop" is another line repeated too often. At points the rawness becomes unpleasant. On the other hand, it's all remarkably different and humane. A- [cd]
Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Ruffian's Misfortune (2015, Bordello): Long past his Cowboy Twinkies days, also retirement age, his songwriting has sharpened -- in one song he concludes he'd be "better off with the blues" than with a certain woman -- and the music has gotten tougher and harder. Cuts out the flab too, doing ten songs in 33:40. A-
Vijay Iyer Trio: Break Stuff (2014 , ECM): Piano trio, with Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums -- third album with this trio, after Historicity (2009) and Accelerando (2012), both A- in my book although my reaction to piano trios is so gut-level I can't begin to tell you why. What I can say is that while typically masterful this doesn't break much -- not even the covers of Monk, Strayhorn, and Coltrane. B+(***) [dl]
Tobias Jesso, Jr.: Goon (2015, True Panther Sounds): Young Canadian singer-songwriter, plays piano, reminded me of Billy Joel at first then I realized John Lennon c. Imagine was a closer match, not that Jesso is in that league. Still refreshing to hear. B+(**)
Steve Johns: Family (2014 , Strikezone): Drummer, considers his "recording debut as a leader" but shares a 2002 album with his name ahead of saxophonist Peter Brainin, and has several dozen side-credits at least back to 1987 -- Thomas Chapin and Mario Pavone are names that jump out at me. His family here includes saxophonist-wife Debbie Keefe Johns and bassist-son Daryl Johns, and they're joined by guest guitarists Bob DeVos and Dave Stryker. B+(**) [cd]
The Kandinsky Effect: Somnambulist (2014 , Cuneiform): Sax-bass-drums trio from France, third album, closer to post-rock with its thick slab sound than to avant -- both saxophonist Warren Walker and bassist Gaël Petrina are also credited with "effects." A- [dl]
Kaze: Uminari (2014 , Circum-Libra): Two trumpets (Christian Pruvost and Natsuki Tamura), piano (Satoko Fujii), and drums (Peter Orins) -- third album under this group name, one of many groups Tamura and Fujii have conjured up. Shock out of the gate, turning into exceptionally invigorating avant-jazz, but later one runs into stretches where not much seems to be happening, though if you dig deeper (or just stay patient) it will. B+(***) [cd]
Robert Kennedy Trio: Big Shoes (2014 , self-released): Organ trio, debut release, Kennedy on the Hammond, Mason Razavi on guitar, Cody Rhodes on drums. B+(*) [cd]
Oded Lev-Ari: Threading (2014 , Anzic): Pianist, from Israel, graduated from New England Conservatory, studying under Bob Brookmeyer. Shows several looks here, including two vocal songs (Alan Hampton, Jo Lawry), often indulging in lush strings, or making space for Anat Cohen's luscious clarinet. B+(**) [cd]
Earl MacDonald: Re: Visions (2008 , Death Defying): Pianist, composed most of this and arranged the rest (subtitle: "Works for Jazz Orchestra"), using a standard big band (5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, guitar-piano-bass-drums), about half familiar names. B+(**) [cd]
Ethan Mann With Chip Crawford & Greg Bandy: It's All About a Groove (2009 , Petunia): Credits read guitar, keyboards, drums, but mostly sounds like organ, just perhaps a bit lighter. B- [cd]
Laura Marling: Short Movie (2015, Ribbon Music): Brit singer-songwriter, fifth album, has a folkie rep for framing her songs with guitar, but so did Dylan, or Ani DiFranco. I'm reluctant to put her at that level, but every album has something substantial and this has more than a few things. A-
Chris Massey's "Nue Jazz Project": Vibrainium (2010, Chris Massey Music): Drummer, first album, leads a quintet with trumpet (Donald Malloy), alto/soprano sax (Benjamin Drazen), piano (Evgeny Lebedev), and bass (David Ostrem). Don't confuse with Nu Jazz: a Nue is a Japanese folklore creature with the head of a monkey, the body of a raccoon dog, the legs of a tiger, and a snake as a tail. Three pieces by the leader, three more by band members, covers from Joe Henderson and Chick Corea. Basically, high energy hard bop. B+(*) [cd]
The Mavericks: Mono (2015, Valory): Raul Malo's group flirted with country when they moved to Nashville two decades ago, but never really fit the mold, or broke it in any interesting ways. All but one Malo originals (five co-credits), throwbacks (or sly allusions) to early-'60s rock 'n' pop, some with Latin beats and/or sax, just nothing you'd think of as classic. The cover? Doug Sahm's "Nitty Gritty," but "(Waiting For) The World to End" would have fooled me. B+(**)
Makaya McCraven: In the Moment (2014 , International Anthem): Chicago drummer, recorded 28 improv shows, 48 hours, and mixed that down to 19 short pieces here, what he calls "organic beat music." The cast must shuffle in and out, with guitar (Jeff Parker) and vibes most common, and a bit of Marquis Hill trumpet the high point. B+(***) [bc]
Nellie McKay: My Weekly Reader (2015, 429 Records): After her fine tribute to Doris Day, McKay moves into the 1960s, mostly Brit Invasion pop including the Kinks and Beatles, Herman's Hermits and Small Faces, "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" and "Red Rubber Ball," along with a few American tunes in that vein. B+(*)
Levon Mikaelian: United Shades of Artistry (2014 , self-released): Keyboardist-singer Mikaelian's name is nowhere obvious on the cover, but the hype sheet attributes the album to him, and the back cover lists him as composer, band leader, and producer, in a group which also includes guitar, bass, and drums/percussion. They build a tight little groove album, helped by guest slots for Gary Thomas on tenor sax (4 cuts) and Randy Brecker on trumpet (one). Just one vocal (more than enough). B [cd]
Jason Miles/Ingrid Jensen: Kind of New (2014 , Whaling City Sound): Miles is a keyboard player with fifteen records since 1994, many tributes like Celebrating the Music of Weather Report and 2 Grover With Love, plus a side interest in Brazil (including an Ivan Lins tribute). Then there's his connection to Miles Davis: well before his mediocre 2005 tribute Miles to Miles, he actually played for Davis (on Tutu, very close to the end of the line. Here he returns to Davis' fusion vibe with a first-rate trumpet player on familiar-sounding original material (plus one Wayne Shorter tune). Does sound a bit like Davis but writ small, even with a dozen guest spots scattered about. B [cd]
Moonbound: Confession and Release (2005-07 , Unsung): International prog-rock band, produced by Fabio Trentini who also plays and sings, with cohorts from Germany, Austria, and America. Not quite as awful as my reaction implies, but not worth sorting out why. C [cd]
Van Morrison: Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue (2015, RCA): Sixteen songs, a few I recognize but nothing that showed up on, say, his canonical 1990 The Best of Van Morrison (although two songs repeat from 2007's 37-song Still on Top: The Greatest Hits). I'd also say that except for Taj Mahal he hasn't really sought out the top tier of possible duetists -- the only one I think adds much is Chris Farlowe ("Born to Sing"). B+(*)
The Mountain Goats: Beats the Champ (2015, Merge): Looking back, comparing Robert Christgau's and my own grades for eight or so albums by John Darnielle's singer/songwriter vehicle, I see no real pattern: sometimes I'm up (The Sunset Tree, Heretic Pride), sometimes I'm down (All Eternals Deck, Transcendental Youth), and the splits seem arbitrary. So I can't tell you why I rate this one with the former two, above the latter two. Fact is I never follow lyrics closely enough to make fine distinctions. Also that Darnielle always sounds more coherent than whatever other singer/songwriters I'm listening to at the time. A-
Curtis Nowosad: Dialectics (2014 , Cellar Live): Drummer, second album, basic hard bop quintet lineup, with Derrick Gardner the standout on trumpet, Jimmy Greene on tenor/soprano sax, Steve Kirby on acoustic bass, and Will Bonness on piano. Liner notes describe this as "straight-ahead jazz" then offer "neo-hard bop" as an alternative. Certainly has fresh drive and sparkle within a proven framework. B+(***) [cd]
Old Time Musketry: Drifter (2013 , NCM East): Quartet: JP Schlegelmilch plays accordion and piano and writes most of the pieces, Adam Schneit plays tenor sax and clarinet and wrote two tunes, Phil Rowan is on bass and Max Goldman on drums/melodica. The accordion gives the melodies a thick, robust texture, a popular anchor no matter how everyone else twists and turns. A- [cd]
Panda Bear: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (2015, Domino): Noah Lennox, like his well known group Animal Collective, makes a kind of prog psychedelia that is cleverly off-kilter often enough, but it always runs the risk of turning annoying, and not infrequently does. Imagine Sgt. Pepper, without the songs, done by Frank Zappa, without the jokes, then tone everything but the reverb down a couple notches. I know: surprising you have anything left. B
The Paranoid Style: The Purposes of Music in General (2013, Bar/None, EP): Christgau recommends a cassette reissue (limited edition of 100) that adds four songs to this six song (23:42) EP -- title The Power of Our Proven System, the cover touting "A Decade of Excellence," "Includes Psychic Benefits!," "Now 33% More Paranoid!!" -- but this is the one I found. Timothy Bracy learned the indie craft in the Mendoza Line, and wife Elizabeth sings (probably more). A-
The Paranoid Style: Rock and Roll Just Can't Recall (2015, Worldwide Battle, EP): Better recorded but slimmer at 5 songs, 16:21, and I suspect slighter too. B+(***)
Sarah Partridge: I Never Thought I'd Be Here (2014 , Origin): Singer-songwriter, jazz elements -- including Scott Robinson on tenor sax and flute -- but no standards here. Fifth album since 1998. B+(*) [cd]
Kim Pensyl: Foreign Love Affair (2014 , Summit): Commonly identified as a pop-jazz/new age keyboardist/trumpeter, has at least 17 albums since 1988. This one is respectable enough it could pass for mainstream jazz, but whereas jazz is normally collaborative (and often conflicted), Pensyl plays everything here -- bass, guitars, trumpet, flugelhorn, melodica, drums, and lots of piano. B [cd]
Luis Perdomo & Controlling Ear Unit: Twenty-Two (2014-15 , Hot Tone Music): Pianist, from Venezuela, based in New York, has a half-dozen albums. Trio, with Mimi Jones on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Natalie Prass: Natalie Prass (2015, Spacebomb): First album, long on strings, sometimes just talked (or whispered) through, oddly effective (although "It Is You" sounds like it belongs in a Disney cartoon). B+(*)
Project Trio: Project Trio (2010, Project Trio): Flute-cello-bass trio (Greg Pattillo, Eric Stephenson, Peter Seymour). Two covers, one from Dave Brubeck ("Blue Rondo a la Turk"), the other Guns n' Roses ("Sweet Child o' Mine"). Helps that the flute is blown in sharp bursts, almost making up for the lack of a drummer. Also that the cello as well as the bass keeps this moving. B+(*)
Rae Sremmurd: Sremm Life (2015, Eardrum/Interscope): Atlanta-based rap duo, doubt they are teens but they play at it, the beats chugging along, the hormones flowing, still not quite as much fun as they promise. B+(***)
Raoul: The Spanish Donkey (2014 , Rare Noise): Avant-jazz power trio, with Joe Morris on guitar, Jamie Saft on organ and keyboards, and Mike Pride on drums. Saft cuts a thick swath, and Morris is all muscle -- almost unsettlingly so. B [cdr]
Mark Rapp: Token Tales (2008 , Paved Earth): Trumpet player, first album, although he's had several since, including The Strayhorn Project with Don Braden. Feints toward funk at first, but shows wider range. B+(*) [cdr]
Sachal: Slow Motion Miracles (2014 , Okeh): Last name Vasandani, from Chicago, considered a jazz singer but isn't a standards guy, has three previous albums. Does have some vocal chops plus an easy-going lilt. Doesn't have any songs I care to hear again. B [cdr]
Phil Sargent: A New Day (2010, Sargent Jazz): Guitarist, second album, has a couple side credits. Backed with bass and drums, plus piano on a couple cuts, and accompanied by Aubrey Johnson's voice -- attractive in song but annoying as scat. The guitar trends toward fusion, sometimes impressive. B- [cd]
Lalo Schifrin: Invocations: Jazz Meets the Symphony #7 (2010 , Aleph): Argentine pianist, worked with Dizzy Gillespie, hacked out a lot of soundtracks, wound up with this series of jazz tunes done by classical orchestra -- the ever-affordable Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Not without some stirring moments (notably "Groovin' High"), but still a sop to the old "high culture" snobbery. B [cd]
Alex Sipiagin: Balance 38-58 (2014 , Criss Cross): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, moved from Russia to US in 1991, has 16 albums since 1998. Mainstream player with serious chops, band here is fashionably postbop with David Binney (alto/soprano sax), Adam Rogers (guitar), John Escreet (piano), Matt Brewer (bass, sometimes electric), and Eric Harland (drums). Guitar is exceptionally well integrated. Last song turns rockish. B+(***)
Bjørn Solli: Aglow: The Lyngør Project Vol. 1 (2013 , Lyngør): Norwegian guitarist, third album, came up with an impressive line-up for this: Seamus Blake (tenor sax), Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Aaron Parks (piano), Matt Clohesy (bass), Bill Stewart (drums). Lyngør is a small island village about 50 miles southwest of Oslo, the site of an 1812 navel battle, now considered one of Europe's best preserved villages (at least in 1991 -- no cars has something to do with this). Blake takes charge early. B+(**) [cd]
Soulive: Rubber Soulive (2010, Royal Family): Organ trio, with Neal Evans on Hammond (and piano), Eric Krasno on guitar, and Alan Evans on drums. All Beatles songs (three Harrisons). I've said many times that the Beatles are unjazzable, but most of these tunes hold up relatively well to a layer of soul jazz funk. C+ [cdr]
Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (2015, Asthmatic Kitty): On some level an elegy for his late mother -- Lowell would be his step-father. The eleven songs are done simply, usually just his angelic folkie voice with minimal backing, not that you don't get glints of sparkle. B+(***)
Dave Stryker: Messin' With Mister T (2014 , Strikezone): Mainstream guitarist, has about thirty albums since 1991 which may (or may not) include his long-running group with saxophonist Steve Slagle. This one's a tribute to Stanley Turrentine, with organ (Jared Gold), drums (McLenty Hunter), extra percussion on half the tracks, and a parade of ten saxophonists, led off by Houston Person and ending with Tivon Pennicott -- two generations of Mr. T devotees. Class of the field: Chris Potter. B+(***) [cd]
Earl Sweatshirt: I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside (2015, Columbia/Tan Cressida): Odd Future rapper, Thebe Kgositsile, born in Los Angeles, father a South African poet absent since six, mother a UCLA law professor. Short album, runs 29:56, beats dense and dull, as if the murk is its own reward. B+(*)
Jacky Terrasson: Take That (2014 , Impulse): Pianist from Germany, has a couple dozen albums since 1994. Backed with bass, drums, extra percussion (Adama Diarra, from Mali), four originals, seven covers, some with vocal scat/beatbox (Sly Johnson). B+(**)
Times 4: Eclipse (2010, Groove Tonic Media): San Francisco quartet -- Greg Sankovich (keys), Kevin Lofton (bass), Lincoln Adler (sax), Maurice Miles (drums) -- third album, keep a sound groove going, sax has some bite to it. Better, I'd say, than the average Yellowjackets album, if that's your thing. B+(*) [cd]
TRP (The Reese Project): Eastern Standard Time (2008 , In the Groove): Flute player Tom Reese, Laurie Reese on cello, Bobby Brewer on guitar, Aaron Walker on drums, and a guest percussionist -- the strings show more affection for bluegrass, and the drummer makes sure no one thinks chamber jazz. B
TRP (The Reese Project): Evening in Vermont (2011, Rhombus): Flute-player Tom Reese and cellist Laurie Reese replace guitar with piano -- yet another Reese, Kirk -- use a different drummer (Dave Young), and give a guest spot to Tish Brown (violin and viola). Several trad pieces, mostly upbeat, and an "All Wood" medley long on Norwegian. B- [cd]
Steve Turre: Spiritman (2014 , Smoke Sessions): Major trombone player, close to twenty albums sinjce 1987 , this a quintet with Bruce Williams (alto/soprano sax), Xavier Davis (piano), Gerald Cannon (bass), and Willie Jones III (drums). Strong trombone leads, nice shadowing with the sax, basic blues have the most oomph, but bop and ballads work too. B+(**)
Unexpected: Munchies (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish piano trio, led by Sergi Sirvent Escué (who wrote six of seven pieces), with Esteban Hernández on bass and Daniel Dominguez on drums. Sirvent has a very percussive style, ripping through these pieces. B+(***)
Unhinged Sextet: Clarity (2014 , OA2): Debut group album, seems like I've run across several of these guys before: Will Campbell (alto sax), Mike Olson (tenor sax), Vern Sielert (trumpet), Michael Kocour (piano), Jon Hamar (bass), Dom Moio (drums), all but the drummer contributing compositions. Postbop, group dynamic emphasizes harmony, turns slick -- group name strikes me as a misnomer. B [cd]
Javier Vercher: Wish You Were Here (2014 , Musikoz): Tenor saxophonist, from Spain, imposing over a first-rate rhythm section -- Lionel Loueke (guitar), Sam Yahel (piano), Larry Grenadier (bass), and Francisco Mela (drums). B+(***) [cd]
The Michael Waldrop Big Band: Time Within Itself (2014 , Origin): Drummer, studied at UNT and Memphis; played in Bob Belden's quartet, did big band arrangements for Pat Metheny, taught in Colorado and Washington, not sure where he is now but this conventional big band (plus guitar and vocals on two tracks) was recorded in Dallas with no one I've heard of. B [cd]
Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp (2015, Wichita): Katie Crutchfield, from Alabama, third album under this name but there are earlier ones with her sister Alison as PS Eliot. The least generic style suggested by AMG is "Twee Pop" but this isn't really either. It doesn't come easy, with an off-color dirge up front and an even slower, but more touching, "Half Moon" toward the end. B+(**)
Leo Welch: I Don't Prefer No Blues (2015, Big Legal Mess): Delta bluesman, made his debut last year at 81 (Sabougla Voices) and he's evidently in a hurry now. Much grit in his voice, dirt in the guitar, and a hard-rocking band. Nothing Hound Dog Taylor hasn't already done, but it's been a while. B+(***)
Lenny White: Anomaly (2010, Abstract Logix): Drummer, played with Chick Corea in Return to Forever in the 1970s, moving on to cut his own fusion projects, close to 20 albums since 1975. Some names I recognize in the band -- Tom Guarna (guitar), George Colligan (keyboards), Victor Bailey (bass) -- but much of the fine print is illegible. The thick fusion stew isn't really unlistenable, but nothing I hear makes me want to. (Well, sax isn't bad, but not much of it, and vocals are worse.) C+ [cd]
Bradley Williams: Investigation (2014 , 21st Century Entertainment, 2CD): Pianist, sings some, originally from Kansas, played in one of Woody Herman's herds. This seems to be his first album, one disc of swing-oriented instrumentals powered by a nine-piece band, a second with vocals -- Williams but mostly the ladies, Jennifer Graham and London McIlvane: "Solid Potato Salad," "Someone Else Is Steppin' In," "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," "Use Me," some Jobim and Veloso, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do." All but one of the instrumentals are Williams originals; the ringer, Duke Ellington. B+(***) [cd]
Cassandra Wilson: Coming Forth by Day (2015, Legacy): One of many albums themed to honor Billie Holiday's centennary, in this case from a singer who approaches Lady Day's stature without in any way imitating her sound. Mostly strings, perhaps inspired by the maudlin death-bed Lady in Satin, the songs creep along, each trapped in its own gloomy dungeon of sound. More effective than I would have expected. B+(**)
Mark Wingfield: Proof of Light (2014 , Moonjune): British guitarist, has a dozen or so albums since 2001, some closer to classical, but most jazz, in this case reminding me of fusion, but more basic backed only with acoustic bass (Yaron Stavi) and drums (Asaf Sirkis). B [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
David Borden: Music for Amplified Keyboard Instruments (1981 , Spectrum Spools): Minimalist composer and electronic music pioneer, best known for leading one of the 1970s' most accessible avant-electronics groups, Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company. This set came from beta testing Robert Moog's modular synths, and while the repeating rhythmic figures come from minimalism it doesn't feel skimpy or sketchy at all -- if anything, over the top. B+(***)
James Clay: The Kid From Dallas: Tenorman (1956-57 , Fresh Sound): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Dallas but grew up in Los Angeles, was just 20 when his debut was recorded -- originally attributed to "The Lawrence Marable Quartet featuring James Clay," with Sonny Clark on piano, Jimmy Bond on bass, and Marable on drums. This adds six tracks, an earlier one with Bobby Timmons on piano, five later with Lorraine Geller, Red Mitchell, and (mostly) Billy Higgins. Straddles bebop, opening up on the blues. Younger than the more famous "Texas tenors" but he fits in. B+(***)
Dance Mania: Ghetto Madness (1989-98 , Strut): Collects various dance singles from Chicago house label Dance Mania -- nothing famous, the repeating artists are Jammin Gerald, DJ Deeon, and DJ Funk. Nearly every track is built on a minimalist repeating beat and line no longer than titles like "Pump That Shit Up" or "Give Me Ecstasy." B+(**)
Highlife on the Move: Selected Nigerian & Ghanaian Recordings From London & Lagos 1954-66 (1954-66 , Soundway, 2CD): Pre-juju, pre-Afrobeat (although there are two early Fela cuts), I'm tempted to say pre-highlife although that can't be true -- just early, coarsely developed, although the flow is seductive enough over the long haul. B+(***)
Humphrey Lyttelton: Humphrey Lyttelton in Canada (1983 , Sackville/Delmark): Trumpet player, a major figure in Britain's trad jazz movement from the late 1940s. A much younger Jim Galloway (baritone and soprano sax) joins him up front (including on the cover), with Ed Bickert (guitar), Neil Swainson (bass), and Terry Clarke (drums). Not really Lyttelton's prime, but a very strong outing for Galloway, who (by the way) just died in 2014. B+(***)
LeAnn Rimes: All-Time Greatest Hits (1996-2007 , Curb): Had a Patsy Cline-y hit, "Blue," as a 13-year-old, and has belted out ten albums since then, selling 37 million copies, but I doubt that she's ever recorded a better song. I thought her 2013 album Spitfire wasn't bad, but this stops with the chart hits in 2007. She's got a voice, but the arrangements are mostly dreck, and most of the songs don't even deserve better. C+
Big Satan: I Think They Liked It Honey (1996 , Winter & Winter): Free sax-guitar-drums trio -- Tim Berne (alto and baritone sax), Marc Ducret, and Tom Rainey -- the first of three albums under this group name (both had appeared in other Berne groups, together in Bloodcount). Quite remarkable when they break loose, but less commanding when they tangle up close. B+(***)
John Carter & Bobby Bradford Quartet: Flight for Four (1969, Flying Dutchman): The first recording of a legendary avant-jazz quartet -- I doubt they were the first to set the "piano-less" two-horn quartet lineup free, but it later became one of the staple configurations for the art. Carter went on to play more clarinet, but he gets a harder edge on alto and tenor sax, clashing more vibrantly with Bradford's trumpet. With Tom Williamson on bass and Buzz Freeman on drums. Reissued in 2014 by International Phonograph and in 2015 by BGP (Ace). A-
John Carter/Bobby Bradford: Self Determination Music (1970, Flying Dutchman): Presumably the same quartet as above, but only the leaders got their names on the packaging. Two cuts per side, 21-23 minutes, doesn't jump as high as the earlier album but makes up for that in intricacy. B+(***)
Chris Farlowe: The R&B Years [Charly R&B Masters Vol. 5] (1962-67 , Charly): John Henry Deighton, sometimes recorded as Chris Farlowe & the Thunderbirds, one of the 1960s British R&B singers/groups who didn't make the Invasion. Hard to tell how early this is -- it includes some songs that appeared as singles in 1965-67 on Immediate, but omits his 1964 hit ("Out of Time") and is padded out with early covers. B
Milford Graves: Percussion Ensemble With Sunny Morgan (1965 , ESP-Disk): Two drummers so the effect isn't far removed from a 33:56 drum solo -- more complex, with more tinkles for sure. Graves was 23 at the time, playing notably with New York Art Quartet, eventually destined to become something of a legend, albeit rarely recorded and little known. Morgan (more often Sonny), even more obscure, recorded into the mid-1970s. B+(*)
Woody Herman and His Thundering Herd: Keep on Keepin' On: 1968-1970 (1968-70 , Chess/GRP): Stumbled onto this and figured why not? Herman's heyday was in the late 1940s with his "Four Brothers" band, but Woody's Winners in 1965 was a second peak. This isn't. In fact, the big band stomp through contemporary pop fare like "Aquarius," "I Say a Little Prayer," "My Cherie Amour," "Smiling Phases," and "Light My Fire" is at best camp. But the Herd is as hot as ever, and they never flag through 13:43 of "Blues in the Night." B+(*)
Eddie Higgins Quartet: My Funny Valentine (2004 , Venus): A bebop pianist who cut his first album in 1958 and had added fifty more by his death in 2009. This is Higgins' third Quartet album "featuring Scott Hamilton" -- all standards, and the tenor saxophonist has rarely sounded more magnificent. With Jay Leonhart on bass and Joe Ascione on drums. A-
Louis Jordan: Five Guys Named Moe (1943-46 , Charly): I picked this up for $1.99 more than a decade ago, and never bothered with it partly because it comes with no documentation, nor is much available on the web -- the dates above come from AMG, but their review reads like a different disk. But one song clearly labels itself as a WWII-era V-Disc ("You Can't Get That No More"). Actually, this has 12 of Jordan's 14 V-Disc titles, plus eight more tracks. Not bad, but pails against MCA's more canonical The Best of Louis Jordan [1975 as 2LP, but also on CD] and Five Guys Named Moe: Vol. 2 , or Proper's 4-CD budget box, Jivin' With Jordan. B+(**) [cd]
Larry Levan Live at the Paradise Garage (1975-79 , Strut/West End, 2CD): The hefty booklet of notes explains this was recorded live at Levan's Soho dance haven in 1979. It's a superb set of vintage disco 12-inchers, not the genre's greatest hits but not obscurities either. A- [cd]
The Mendoza Line: Lost in Revelry (2002, Absolutely Kosher): Named for the shortstop whose lame batting average came to define the lower bound of acceptability even for a brilliant fielder (nine years in the majors, 1337 AB, 4 HR, 101 RBI, .215 BA). Fourth album (earliest on Rhapsody), band is low key alt, like their mentor adept at digging out grounders but unable to rack up any hits. B+(*)
Tomasz Stanko: Bluish (1991 , Power Bros.): Trumpet player, one of the few Polish jazz musicians to make a name in the West while still based in Communist Poland. Trio with two Norwegian stars: Arild Andersen on bass and Jon Christensen on drums. Not flashy, but draws out Stanko's lyricism. B+(***)
Randy Weston: Blues to Africa (1974, Arista/Freedom): American jazz pianist, one of the first to take a serious interest in Africa for his compositions, not that the influence is all that clear from the music. This is solo, the last cut ("Sahel") with a spoken word bit. B+(**)
Randy Weston/The Gnawa Master Musicians of Morocco: Spirit: The Power of Music (1999 , Sunnyside): Recorded live in Brooklyn, Weston starts with solo jazz piano, adds bass and a couple Moroccan genbri, then the singers take over for three trad cuts, then everyone (including Talib Kibwe on flute and alto and Benny Powell on trombone). Not a synthesis but a party for sure. 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:
Duke Ellington: The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971 , Fantasy/OJC): One of Ellington's last recordings, only released a year after his death in 1974, for some reason I graded this low and forgot about it -- until someone reminded me that Morton-Cook selected it for a crown in the first edition of Penguin Guide for Jazz, although they dropped the crown in the second edition and never restored it, despite being more/less continuously in print. The Far East Suite (1966) is one of my favorite records, and I now hear faint echoes of that -- though I had to turn it up to get there. True that the band is starting to fray around the edges -- or at the center since Johnny Hodges died. [was: B] A- [cd]
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, April 13. 2015
Music: Current count 24826  rated (+29), 398  unrated (-6).
Another sub-30 week, again just shy by one. Possible reason this week is that all those A- records took extra spins to verify, not to mention enjoy. (Except perhaps Heems, where I can't say my enjoyment was up to the grade, caught as the album is between sucking up to a jingoism that both of us know better than.) In fact, none of the A- records really blew me away: they're all huddled in the lower half of my 2015 list-in-progress (well, Marty Grosz and Old Time Musketry are just above the mid-point). So maybe I blew out my curve. Or maybe the stars just aligned.
Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes this week -- probably tomorrow. The draft file has 112 records at present. Certainly doesn't need any more -- longer than most since I switched to flexible scheduling. Still, closer to four weeks than three -- another dimension in which I'm slipping, if only a bit. With this week's bumper crop, the A-list is up to 27 records about 15 weeks into the year: still well below where I expect it to wind up (2014 is up to 156, not that I expect to listen to as much this year), and still tilted heavily toward jazz (17-10, counting Nascimento in the non-jazz, although that's pretty borderline).
Thought I might try to drive out to EMP in Seattle this year, but I couldn't get organized in time. Instead, I'm suffering through one of the worst spring allergy funks I've had since moving to KS. My progress in cleaning up the office, sorting and shelving CDs, etc., has largely stalled -- albeit in a much better place than it was. The recent jazz sort has mostly been by grade, and I was a bit surprised to find that the shelves I allocated for recent B+(***) and higher jazz are well short of what I need.
I've decided to start donating some CDs to WSU's library, and will try to dump the first box off later this week. The recycle dumpster, which I largely filled with paper more than a week ago, should be emptied in the morning, so I can resume packing it. Still have vast quantities of music magazines I'll never do anything constructive with. Hate to just throw them away, but it doesn't look like I'll have any takers.
I've fallen way behind in many other projects -- notably a much needed update to Robert Christgau's website. Also failing to make any progress on my own larger writing projects. Hard even to read much when your eyes are bleary and you can hardly breathe. Probably hasn't helped my productivity that I've fallen into watching more TV than in ages -- even such obvious trainwrecks as American Crime (just completely dispicable), The Good Wife (a former good show gone bad -- half-dedicated to killing off Kalinda Sharma [at least Will Gardner went quick], half drowning Alicia in a political campaign we always thought she was too smart to get taken by, and ending it as badly as possible), and Empire (probably the worst season finale I've ever seen). At least still hoping that Justified will end in decent shape. (Finally finished the second season of Orange Is the New Black, and that finale was remarkably satisfying.)
Another week without tweet reviews. Just been hard hanging in there.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 12. 2015
The big, and for that matter good, news today is Chapa, the missing beaver, returns home to Riverside Park. That Hillary Clinton chose today to launch her 2016 presidential campaign just shows she doesn't have the sort of control over the news cycle she'd like. If you want to fret about Clinton, you can start with Bill Curry: Hillary Clinton just doesn't get it: She's already running a losing campaign. Still, for me, the most interesting line was:
A couple months ago, the Koch's made news by threatening to raise just shy of $1 billion for their war on democracy in 2016. Suddenly, that doesn't look like such a daunting amount of money. And the fact is, Clinton is probably a good investment for her big-money donors -- at least compared to the sort of morons running for the Republican nomination. And while the middle class aren't likely to get much from Clinton, they're not where that $2.5 billion is coming from. Main thing they can hope for is less collateral damage in the partisan struggle between pro-growth money and the people who'd rather wreck the economy than see any of their spoils levelled down.
I've paid very little attention to the Republicans who aspire to be president. The "tea party" reaction did little more than double down on the dumbest, crudest platforms of the party, and now there is nothing left there. For example, one thing that has been popping up a lot is the idea of convening a constitutional convention to pass an amendment forbidding the federal government from running a deficit. They might as well poke their eyes out -- that's the level of self-mutilation such an amendment would produce. Clinton has nothing to offer, but at least she's not that stupid. Or take Iran: Clinton has frequently made her mark as a hawk, but she's not so delusional as to think we'd be better off rejecting negotiations with Iran that gave us every assurance we wanted.
I opposed Clinton in 2008 and I would do so again given any real chance of winning something tangible. But I don't see who else is going to raise the sort of money she can raise, and more and more it looks like that money will be needed to make it plain enough how necessary it is to beat the Republicans in 2016. I just hope to see some of that money trickle down the party ticket.
Some more scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Monday, April 6. 2015
Music: Current count 24797  rated (+29), 404  unrated (+5).
Close enough to thirty, which is, after all, only an arbitrarily roundish number, I doubt I have any need to apologize. Or even note that the 29th record (Bradley Williams') was a double which got more plays than needed because it made for good ambiance while focusing on last night's Iran opus. Two new A- records, although if so inclined you might enjoy Leo Welch or Rae Sremmurd as much. Welch's 2014 debut, Sabgoula Voices, made a deeper impression, possibly because it came first. Christgau likes Sremm Life, but I didn't find the "party rap" as fun as advertised -- then again I didn't give it the second and third plays rap records often need. The other high B+ items are more certainly where they belong.
Two old-music A- records, too. I played the second Carter-Bradford first and had it at A-, then dialed it back when Flight for Four came in much clearer. The records show up now because I gather they've been reissued on one of Ace's labels (BGP?), but the digital copies correspond to the original Flying Dutchman LPs, so I credit them as such. If Ace -- one of the world's premier reissue companies -- wants to start sending me shit, I'll show them more respect. Rhapsody listed the Eddie Higgins album under Scott Hamilton. I always jump on unheard Hamilton, and he really shines on these standards.
Van Morrison's useless Duets got me to check up on Chris Farlowe, but I only found the one early compilation and doubt that it's as good as could be -- holes include his only UK hit single. He does have the only voice on the album that adds something to Morrison's, but evidently he didn't always have it.
I've finally made some significant progress at sorting out the many piles and baskets of CDs that made walking in my office area treacherous. I had the idea that I could put all of the Jazz CG A-/B+(***) CDs into seven of those cheap $20 CD cases -- six on a desk blocking the window behind me, one to my left for the most recent ones -- but I keep finding more such records. Plan B is to empty out two more cases that currently house especially interesting B+(**) records and fill them up with surplus B+(***). Anything graded lower goes into storage downstairs, unless it's by someone I keep in the upstairs shelves. Unless I slow down, I should make it through the rest in another week. After that, I'll be able to move around enough to install a new router and a long-planned network upgrade. The next huge mess will be sorting out the tools.
It's possible that I have enough storage now for all of the books and CDs, but I'm feeling increasing pressure to finally start weeding out the least useful items. I've never sold CDs -- I did sell off most of my vinyl when I moved from New Jersey in 1999 (a bad experience) -- so I'm inclined to start donating them (Wichita State University is interested). (I know I've threatened/promised to do this before, but this time seems likely to actually happen.) I figure I'll work on this gradually, in batches of 100 or so, and see how it feels. In deference to the efficiencies of the market, I'd consider running a private sale list if anyone wants to pick up something I'd otherwise give away. Let me know, and if there's enough interest I'll put something together.
One of the first things that should go is the hoard of music mags I've been saving up over the last fifteen years (I doubt if there's anything older than the 1999 move). One reason I kept these was that I was thinking of going back through them and extracting quotes for my long-planned music review website. It's pretty clear now that I'm never going to do that. (There may still be a site with a lot of my writing but not with that research investment.) There should be complete decade-or-longer sets of Jazz Times, Downbeat, and Cadence (except for the last year or two). Also large stacks of Wire and Blender, Signal to Noise and Mojo, and scattered other titles. I've organized everything from upstairs but that still leaves a row about eight feet long in the basement plus a large bin full of Cadence. Any (or all) of that is free to the first person who wants to haul it off. WSU isn't interested, although I may get them to post a notice for their students. (I may change my mind and keep Wire, although I stopped buying new ones several years ago.) Rolling Stone is already gone. Recycle bin is currently full of paper, but won't be picked up for another week.
I thought about driving to EMP this year, but couldn't get myself organized in time. Everyone tells me it's interesting, plus I have an ulterior motive, in that I want to track down some long estranged relatives in Washington. So I still want to make the trip sooner or later this year. Just not this week.
Did manage to knock out tweets on the new records this week. I also passed on a link to Old Time Musketry's Gather, which is on Bandcamp here. I imagine I'll do a Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Draft file is currently close to 90 records.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 5. 2015
I've been groping for some handle on understanding last week's deal between the US and Iran. The deal is very good news. What it means is that certain crazy people will not pre-emptively launch a disastrous war to impose their will secured in their conviction that they represent a higher power. (Not that those people -- "neocons" in the US along with their allies in the ruling camp in Israel -- are taking this agreement lying down. They're doing everything they can to undo it, as it both admits exception to their cherished prerogative to start wars, it also normalizes one of their most successful fear-inducing bogeymen.) It also suggests that key leaders in the US may have learned something from the Bush debacle in Iraq -- even though the return of US troops to Iraq to fight ISIS shows that they haven't learned enough.
The Iran Nuclear Scare is almost precisely a repeat of the Great WMD Scare that led up to the Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003. The theat was invented largely from whole cloth, and sold on the basis of a paranoia largely rooted in Israel (where every conceivable enemy is quickly seen as Hitler reincarnate). The only possible solution was held to be regime change, and while one held hope that the Iraqi/Iranian people would rise up and throw off their oppressive regimes, the only timely way to affect that is to invade and conquer. (Fortunately, secure in the conviction that we will be greeted as liberators.)
Of course, Bush could have negotiated with Iraq in 2002-03. Iraq had allowed UN weapons inspectors full access and they were well on the way toward establishing that Iraq had none of the proscribed WMD, a finding which should have defused the crisis. But Bush wanted war, not just to save us from the threat of imaginary WMD but to show the world what US power could do, and that resistance to US power would be futile. And Bush hadn't just aimed at overthrowing Iraq: he conured up an "Axis of Evil" to serve notice to Iran (Iraq's mortal enemy) and North Korea (even more isolated from Iraq and Iran than from the US) that they would be the neocons' next target.
While the US invasion of Iraq was overwhelming, the occupation soon fell into disarray and disaster, something the US survived by playing Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds off against each other. In the end, what Iraq proved was not the invincibility of American power but how inept, corrupt, and clueless it really was. (Of course, that lesson was already available from the occupation of Afghanistan a little more than a year earlier, but disaster there unfolded more slowly, probably because Bush didn't put as much effort there.)
At the time it was widely recognized that Iran and North Korea would be more formidable military opponents than Iraq -- one widely quoted neocon line was, "anyone can go to Baghdad; real men want to go to Tehran." Iran is much larger, with over three times as many people. Although its military struggled to a draw with Iraq over eight years in the 1980s, it hadn't been degraded after 1990 like Iraq's: it still has an air force, a navy, a substantial number of missiles which could conceivably hit US bases in the region (although not the US directly). Iran could conceivably block shipping through the Straits of Hormuz, which would greatly reduce the world supply of oil. Iran had also cultivated allies abroad -- notably Hezbollah in Lebanon -- that could conceivably retaliate against a US strike on Iran. Given all that had gone wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all that could go wrong with Iran, we are fortunate that cooler heads prevailed.
As for North Korea, the US military had even less interest in indulging neocon fantasies -- despite the fact that North Korea (alone among the Axis of Evil) actually had programs to develop nuclear bombs and intercontinental missiles (successfully testing a bomb in 2006 and twice since). Even assuming that China wouldn't come to North Korea's aid, as they did in the stalemated 1950-53 war that cost the lives of over 35,000 US soldiers, North Korea is the most thoroughly militarized and best bunkered nation on earth. Moreover, their primary threat should war start is a mass of thousands of pieces of large artillery aimed at South Korea's capital, Seoul (pop. 10 million): they could kill thousands almost instantly without bringing out the nukes.
It's worth noting that during the 1989-92 thaw when the Soviet Union broke up and Communist governments collapsed from Mongolia to Albania, the only ones that survived were the ones that had fought most directly with the US, and (aside from China) had consequently been singled out for punitive sanctions: North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. Similarly, US sanctions against Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya only served to harden those regimes. Presumably, all this experience finally weighed in for Obama as he chose to negotiate rather than continue the malign neglect that US presidents had long considered the more prudent course. Cuba is another example, but Iran has been more difficult for Obama not so much because there was ever anything to worry about in Iran's "nuclear program" as because Iran has been caught up in the neocons' ideology, the increasing Islamophobia of the "terror wars," and Israel's own calculated Holocaust anxiety.
The basic fact is that America's relationship with Iran got off on the wrong foot in 1953 and we've never had the self-consciousness to recognize that or the will to repair the damage. Iran was never officially a European colony but in the 1800s England and Russia took advantage of the weakness of the Qajar dynasty and obtained various rights and privileges at the expense of Iranian sovereignty -- for instance, an English company (BP, formerly Anglo-Iranian) was bought very cheaply exclusive rights to all the oil in Iran. After the Russian Revolution, Lenin renounced Russian interests in Iran, but the British hung on, and in the 1940s deposed the first Shah Reza Pahlavi (the first post-Qajar Shah), replacing him with his more compliant son, Reza Mohammed Pahlavi, but shifting authority (if now power) toward the Majlis -- Iran's parliament. By 1953, Mohammad Mossadeq was Prime Minister, and he had nearly unanimous support within the Majlis to confiscate British oil holdings in Iran. Mossadeq was very popular both in Iran and in America, which he had recently visited. But when Eisenhower became president, his security team (the Dulles brothers, one secretary of state, the other head of the CIA) were persuaded by the British that Iran had become a hotbed of Communist insurrection, so they set in motion a coup to overthrow Mossadeq. The result was that Mossadeq was imprisoned, the Majlis was suspended, the Shah became an absolute despot, and Anglo-Iranian's oil interests were sold to a consortium of mostly US oil companies. (For more details, see Stephen Kinzer's book, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror .)
The coup was run by a CIA operative named Kermit Roosevelt, a son of president Theodore Roosevelt. Two aspects of the story struck me as particularly telling. The atmosphere for the coup was started by staging various demonstrations in Tehran, and for the counter-demonstrations Roosevelt mostly bribed local imams -- one of the first instances of CIA alliances with Muslim clergy. The second was that when Mossadeq realized he was in trouble, he went to the US embassy hoping his American friends would help him, when in fact they were running the coup. (Under Truman the US had not infrequently leaned against British efforts to restore their prewar empire.)
Of course, the US was delighted by the post-coup Shah, and didn't even mind when he finally did what Mossadeq had set out to and nationalized Iranian oil. (He did, after all, sell the oil through American companies, and had no qualms about selling oil to Israel.) The Shah bought weapons from the US and built a vicious police state which suppressed all opposition -- the communists, socialists, liberals, and just as well conservative clergy like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who went into exile in 1964 after denouncing a "status of forces agreement" which would give US soldiers stationed in Iran immunity from Iranian law.
The Shah became an increasingly hated figure in Iran and was deposed by massive street demonstrations in 1979. At the time the Shah fled, the revolution was a broad coalition of left and right, but after Khomeini returned he was able to consolidate power in the clergy, largely based on his longstanding critique of the Shah as an American puppet. At this point many Americans were delighted to see the Shah deposed, but the relationship between Americans and the revolution turned sour after Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to take refuge in the US. Remembering Mossadeq's folly at the US embassy in 1953, a group of Iranian "students" seized the embassy and held 52 Americans hostage there for over a year. (They were released immediately after Ronald Reagan became president. It is widely believed that the Reagan campaign, fearing an "October surprise," secretly negotiated with Iran to keep the hostages until after the 1980 election.)
The US was alternately upset at losing its client and influence and at its own impotence at securing the return of its diplomats. Khomeini, for his part, found it useful to blame the US both for the Shah and for Iran's post-revolution isolation. Khomeini caused further problems in attempting to exploit his notoriety for standing up to the US (the "great satan" rhetoric comes from this period) to export Iran's revolution elsewhere in the Middle East -- notably to Saudi Arabia, and more effectively to Lebanon, torn up by its own civil war. The US, meanwhile, rallied its Sunni clients around the Persian Gulf against Iran, and they largely bankrolled Iraq's war against Iran. That war lasted from 1980-88, with horrendous losses on both sides, but especially to Iran.
Carter had previously declared the Persian Gulf as a strategic interest of the US and started building bases around the Gulf. US troops occasionally clashed with Iran: shooting down a civilian airliner, attacking an offshore Iranian oil rig. Under Reagan, the US sold arms to Iran via Israel (embarrassingly, and illegally, what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal), then tilted toward Iraq and sold arms to Saddam Hussein. After the Iran-Iraq War, oil prices tanked and Iraq was pressed to repay war debt to Kuwait. Hussein answered by invading Kuwait, but was ejected in 1990 by a multinational force led by the US, with Syria an ally and Iran a supportive non-combatant. Since then the US and Iran have often had their interests in the region align, but the US was unable to let go of past affronts -- let alone to own up to its own past transgressions.
From Independence Day (1948), Israel pursued a strategy to ally with non-Arabs against Arabs throughout the Middle East. This led to close relationships with Turkey and Iran as well as subversive support for Marionites in Lebanon and Kurds in Iraq. After the revolution, Israel continued to enjoy a close relationship with Iran, which even extended to bombing Iraq's nuclear center during the Iraq-Iran War, and acting as a conduit for American arms under Iran-Contra. After the 1990 Gulf War, Iraq ceased to be a serious threat to Israel, so Israel cast about and decided that Iran would work as an existential threat to justify maintaining the high level of Israeli militarism. The main reason Iran worked was that American officials were already primed to view Iran as a renegade and enemy. As it happens, Iran had started a fledgling nuclear program with US support under the Shah, so Israel could point to the reactor project as a development path toward nuclear weapons. From there it was a short step to the equation: Islamic fanaticism + nuclear weapons = Judeocide.
Israeli leaders started projecting that Iran was five years or less away from testing a nuclear bomb as early as 1996. That it has never happened -- that Iran has disavowed any intention of developing nuclear bombs, that Iran continues to belong to the NPT, that IAEA inspectors have never shown any evidence of bomb development, that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa declaring that nuclear bombs are contrary to Islam -- has never led Israel to tone down its hysteria, nor has it phased the credulity of American politicians, often shameless in their devotion to all things Israeli.
Moreover, if anything the level of Israeli hysteria jumped a notch when Netanyahu became Prime Minister in 2009. At that time Obama gave former Senator George Mitchell the task of negotiating a peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- something Netanyahu could not possibly be bothered with discussing as long as Israel was at the mercy of Iranian bombsights (although Netanyahu had plenty of time to plan more illegal settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank). And now that there is a deal which ensures that Israel will never be threatened by the prospect of an Iranian bomb, Netanyahu is pulling out stops in his haste to scuttle the deal. It seems that the only thing Netanyahu fears more than Iran developing nuclear weapons is Iran signing a detailed, verifiable deal that precludes any possibility of developing nuclear weapons and which ends the isolation and hostility that has pushed Iran into such a defensive posture that there seemed to be a need for nuclear deterrence.
It's as if Israel's worst fear is living in a world where it has no existential enemies, except perhaps living in a world where Jews and non-Jewish Arabs enjoy equal rights and justice. The great irony of the deal is that Obama seems to have taken Israel's concerns so literally that he held out and wore Iran down until the point where he could deliver the most ironclad assurance to Israel possible. Indeed, the deal is so strong it's hard not to see any opponent of the deal as a completely bonkers warmonger -- an interesting trap for Netanyahu and for the Republicans who instinctively assume that anything Obama would agree to must be weak-kneed appeasement.
The more interesting question is why would Iran agree to such restrictions on rights they regard as their under the NPT, rights that many other nations are clearly allowed. (Germany and Japan, for instance, have such extensive nuclear facilities and know how that their "breakout" time is unlikely to be more than a few months.) One is that Iran's leader must realize that while having the skills and know how to build a bomb may offer some prestige, the weapons themselves are effectively unusable, so giving them up is hardly a sacrifice. One might argue that nuclear weapons mean deterrence against foreign attack, but Iran's most threatening enemies are Israel and the US, and Iran has no hope of winning an arms race with either. (Pakistan and India came close to a fourth war in 2002. The fact that both had demonstrated nuclear weapons by then may have contributed to the cool down, but so did other factors like the chilling effect war would have had on foreign investment. South Africa developed nuclear weapons but they turned out to be useless against their own beleaguered majority, let alone against world opinion. Israel's nuclear weapons may have ended any hopes by neighboring Arab countries of ending Israel's existence, but by the time they became public knowledge Egypt was suing for peace and Syria had no hopes without Egyptian support.)
It's also possible that Iran's interest in nuclear power has waned, particularly has oil prices have dropped and the popularity of nuclear power in Japan and Germany has plummeted -- right now only India seems to be particularly bullish on nuclear power. That leaves things like medical isotopes as something Iran can continue to work on -- a mere fig leaf for all the investment, but ending sanctions and normalizing relations and trade is worth much more, especially in the short term. Indeed, given the intransigence the US has displayed in perpetuating its view of its enemies, one has to wonder what else Iran could have created to trade for normalcy. The costs to Iran of sanctions have been great, but the costs to the US from isolating Iran -- mostly slightly higher oil costs and extra defense spending, both of which have influential political beneficiaries in the US -- have been trivial.
Some Iran links:
If I had the time, I could probably dig up many more links -- e.g., Philip Weiss: The epic season of spinning the Iran deal begins!, Gareth Porter: Iran Won Upfront Sanctions Relief, but With Potential Snags, Rachel Shabi: Poof! There goes Netanyahu's Iran bogeyman (ever hear of the "Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis"?), Paul Waldman: The Insane Logic Underlying Republican Opposition to the Iran Deal, Josh Marshall: The Emerging GOP War Platform.
Monday, March 30. 2015
Music: Current count 24768  rated (+33), 399  unrated (-10).
Average week, but the mix below is a little peculiar. I've been trying to declutter. I have these 13x15.75-inch Stearlite plastic baskets that hold two rows of CDs, about 75-80 total. Back when Jazz CG was jumping, I used two baskets to hold the incoming queue, and sorted them somewhat, so one basket had a row of unpromising shit and a row of vocals, while the other basket had instrumental jazz, sometimes sorted further but more often not. Under this scheme the unpromising shit almost never got touched, so most of it still dates from before the initial sort -- 2011 or 2012, maybe even 2010. Sometime last year I started filing the vocals with the new jazz. Couple weeks ago I merged the baskets, so now I have one basket, with the row of the old unpromising shit on the left and everything else on the right. Under this scheme I've finally started to deplete the left(over) row, and you'll see a fair amount of 2008-10 "new" releases below. Some are not as bad as I expected -- Chris Massey, Project Trio, Times 4, Bossa Brasil -- but none (so far) are things I'm ever likely to want to play again.
Some of the incentive for running through this queue is to get them out of my sight. After I play them, if they are graded B+(**) or less and are by someone I don't have a serious interest in (by definition, for the "unpromising shit" row), then go into another basket. When that basket fills up, I haul it downstairs and empty it into an unsorted shelf unit full of similar records that I can't imagine ever wanting to play again. (These are not necessarily "bad" records -- by definition, anything B+ is actually pretty good, but it's all relative. Unless I'm travelling or something, I almost never play as many as ten previously graded records in a week -- for pleasure or nostalgia or whatever. In a house with, conservatively, ten thousand CDs, well, you do the math.)
When that downstairs shelf unit fills up -- actually, it's the last of three with open space -- I'll be in a quandry. When I moved to Kansas in 1999 I sold off 90% of my LPs for a pittance (35-cents apiece), more to avoid the shipping costs than for what little money I made. I've never sold surplus CDs -- in part because the only decent used stores here shut down long ago -- but I imagine it would wind up being the same miserable experience. I could build more shelves, but I'm running out of space, not to mention patience. Best idea I've come up with is to donate the surplus to a local library. I took a step and contacted Wichita State University last week. Getting cold feet now, but I do need to do something. My main goal over the next month or so is to get rid of all the baskets on the floor except for my one incoming queue. (Looking around, I count nine, plus a couple hundred CDs in front of other CDs in a bookcase. Also need to get several piles of books off the floor.) I'm not exactly a hoarder, but I do have too much shit.
One cluster of exceptional records here comes from Robert Christgau's Expert Witness last week: The Paranoid Style and The Close Readers, two groups I had never heard of -- indeed, their 2013-14 records never appeared in my metacritic files. I sorted the Paranoid Style's EP a bit differently, but remarkable finds.
No less obscure is my jazz pick, Gabriel Amargant. My new jazz queue got very short before some late-week mail game in, so I was scrounging around for some new jazz on Rhapsody. It's been several years since I received whole batches of Fresh Sound New Talent releases, but I've been finding them fairly reliably on Rhapsody, and I've checked out a few names I'm familiar with, but Amargant was a total unknown to me. Still, with nothing else obvious to choose, I looked him up and was blown away. Reminds me that when I did get whole batches, about half of the releases were Spanish artists and I found a fair number of worthwhile records there -- still, few as good as this one.
The other A- this week is by Courtney Barnett. An Australian, she got a fair amount of attention for her "Double EP" compilation last year, A Sea of Split Peas (finished 59th in Pazz & Jop). Still, this first real album is a huge leap forward. For whatever it's worth, I also came real close to giving Action Bronson an A-. I finally backed off because I have a hard time following rap lyrics, especially on computer, and I suspect he's something of an asshole. I could be wrong, and sometimes the music overcomes my doubts. But after three plays, the lower grade felt right.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, March 29. 2015
No Weekend Roundup this week. Got distracted with what follows, and time got away from me. But if I had the time, the thing to focus on this week is Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen. This isn't the first time -- Saudi Arabia and Egypt were fighting in Yemen in the mid-1960s -- but they've never been this overt about it (possibly because Egypt seems to be on their side this time). The US should be appalled, expecially since it's being done with US-manufactured armaments. The UN should condemn this blatant aggression, sanction all countries contributing to war in Yemen, and try to arrange a democratic resolution between the eleven distinct armed groups vying for power there. And needless to say, if democracy is the goal, Saudi Arabia and Egypt cannot be the solution.
When I started writing this blog, I would include more or less short notes whenever I saw a movie, along with grades, but at some point I stopped doing so. I still have some rough notes in my scratch file for movies that date back to 2011-12 (Hugo: B+; The Skin I Live In: B+; The Lincoln Lawyer: A-; Source Code: B+). It seems like we see fewer movies each year. Four independent theaters have closed since we moved to Wichita in 1999, leaving us with Bill Warren's monopoly, and Warren got rid of an older theater that he used for relatively arty films -- said he was looking for a "higher use" for the property and wound up selling it to a church. At the time he promised he'd keep showing those films in his other theaters "because his wife liked them," but within a year he divorced her, too. We also haven't rented movies since moving here -- a fairly regular occurrence when we had a store around the corner in Boston. We've been watching more TV series, but not many films on TV.
I wrote a long post about American Sniper the other day, but didn't wrap it up in a capsule review, so I thought I'd do that here, and round it out with the rest of the little we saw from 2014. I also went back and checked for releases in 2012 and 2013. I would have guess that the number of movies I've seen last year was down, but I came up with 20 in 2014, only 18 in 2013, and 20 in 2012. I can remember back in Boston it seems like we must have seen one or more per week, but those days are long gone. These are collected from various annual release lists, so may well be incomplete -- it's also possible that my memory is fading
The Lego Movie (Feb. 1): Animated, got rather amazing hype when it came out. Lots of famous actor-voices, with Will Ferrell as the villain, Lord Business. I suppose there is a lesson there about capitalism, which I might have appreciated more had not everything else been so annoying. C+
300: Rise of an Empire (Mar. 4): Sequel to 2007 film 300 (which I haven't seen), based on ancient Greek war legends as Sparta and/or Athens battles Persia, tied to an unpublished Frank Miller graphic novel which raises everyone and every thing to the level of war porn. Of course, as porn I enjoyed Eva Green (Artemisia) much more than Sullivan Stapleton (Themistocles), even though with the fate of civilization at stake she was consigned to the wrong side. [TV] B-
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Mar. 6): Wes Anderson movie, based on various writings by Stefan Zweig, mostly set before and during WWII, told through flashbacks from much later. The hotel appears to be not in Budapest but somewhere in the Austrian Alps -- at least in some mountains somewhere in Central Europe. Remarkably deep cast; Oscar wins for production design, costume design, makeup and hair. Quite a story too. [Saw it a second time on TV] A-
Noah (Mar. 10): Bible epic from Darren Aronofsky, although it could have come from one of those graphic novels, especially as the "Watchers" take over. God destroys the world, but the decision as to whether mankind should expire seems to be Noah's, and he's in a foul mood. Happy ending, of course. [TV] B-
Ida (May 2): Polish movie, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, about a sheltered orphan girl raised in a convent from WWII seeking insight into her past. Turns out her parents were Jewish, killed by a farmer who hid her in a convent. More interesting is her aunt, a lawyer who joins the search, and pays a terrible price. In black and white, slow and heavy. [TV] B+
Belle (May 2): The story of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, the daughter of a British Captain Sir John Lindsay and an enslaved African woman in the West Indies, adopted in 1765 and raised as a "free gentlewoman" by Linday's uncle, William Murray, Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice (a perfect role for Tom Wilkinson), who eventually writes a key legal ruling that advances the cause of abolition. A-
Boyhood (June 11): Richard Linklater film, shot over 12 years as its principal subject (played by Ellar Coltrane) grows up from six to eighteen, from first grade to leaving home for college, and less closely follows his sister (a couple years older), mother (Patricia Arquette's Oscar role), estranged father (Ethan Hawke, who was evidently absent for most of the previous six years but takes a consistent interest here). Several ill-chosen stepfathers come and go, which provides most of the stress and strain. It all seems rather eventful and remarkable compared, say, to my own life, but also quite ordinary, which is the charm. I left hoping they had shot enough extra footage to craft a Girlhood starring older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Otherwise this will remain unique. A
Snowpiercer (June 27): Directed by Joon-ho Bong from a French graphic novel, depicts a future dystopia where the class system is rigidly stratified from the back to the front of a train endlessly racing through frozen wastes. The oppressed masses in the back revolt and try to seize the master in the front. The class analysis became more interesting in retrospect once the action subsided. [TV] B
The Hundred-Foot Journey (August 8): Lasse Hallström food film, with Helen Mirren running a Michelin-star restaurant in the south of France, Indian emigre patriarch Om Puri setting up shop across the street, his son (Manish Dayal) developing into a chef good enough for Mirren to poach, and Charlotte Le Bon as intermediary. The food itself is a little over-the-top, and the story is a bit pat, but both are easy to enjoy. B+
A Most Wanted Man (July 25): Film of a John Le Carré novel starring the late Philip Seymour Hofman as a dissheveled German spy chief, who finds and attempts to use a Chechen refugee to trap a Muslim philanthropist into disclosing a financial conduit to a terrorist organization. The CIA gets involved, turning all of Hofman's reassurances into lies. With Le Carré the fiasco may be the point, but one still expects more of the world within movies. B
Magic in the Moonlight (July 25): Woody Allen movie, with Colin Firth as a illusionist/sceptic who's not skeptical enough, and Emma Stone as a charlatan and love interest. Suffers from some of the worst philosophizing of Allen's career -- reminiscent of his earliest movies but less funny. I wouldn't have minded so much, but Laura went beyond hating this and spent the second half heckling. B
Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Aug. 27): Oscar-winning movie by Alejandro Iñárritu, about an actor (Michael Keaton), a big star in Hollywood playing a cartoon superhero ("Birdman") seeking to salvage his acting credentials by staging a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver story. Problems ensue, including a scene-stealing co-star (Edward Norton) and the vow of a critic (played by Lindsay Duncan) to pan the opening. Many continuous pan shots turn the theater into a labyrinth, adding to the claustrophobia. Even more annoying were the frequent lapses into fantasy or magic -- Keaton levitating, smashing objects, quarrelling with his Birdman alter-ego. At the climax of his opening, Keaton takes a real gun instead of the stage prop and kills himself -- the ending the movie seemed to be aiming at -- but not even that came off right: we find out that he merely shot his nose off, and that the critic came around for the guy willing to spill his own blood for art. Then he jumps out the hospital window and flies away -- I suppose as Birdman repossesses him. Not without its virtues -- Emma Stone's supporting role is one -- but pretty full of shit. B
Nightcrawler (Sept. 5): Jake Gyllenhaal plays a crook and self-help devotee who finds his calling in shooting gory video at car wrecks and crime scenes -- he's advised, "if it bleeds, it leads" -- and selling it to news broadcasters. He then finds that he can get even more sensational footage by orchestrating the events -- in particular, he stages a shootout between cops and home invaders he tracked down. Creepy. B+
The Imitation Game (Sept. 27): Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing (mathematician, cryptanalyst, a major figure in the development of computer science), focusing on his work during WWII in breaking Germany's Enigma encryption codes, but extending from grade school to his arrest for homosexuality in 1952 and death in 1954. The latter events were ghastly by any standards, and they make Turing a martyr, but the film plays this up in all sorts of perverse ways, making Turing appear more dysfunctional and stranger than he actually was, distorting his work, and consigning his colleagues at Bletchley to the sidelines, cheering or (more often) booing as he solves all the problems single-handedly. (See Wikipedia's section on "Accuracy" -- the longest I've ever seen.) Keira Knightley has a nice supporting role, again riddled with inaccuracies but something the movie could have used more of. B-
Gone Girl (Oct. 3): David Fincher film of a bestselling novel which Laura and virtually all of her friends had read. Rosamund Pike plays the wicked wife who frames her husband, played by Ben Afleck, for her murder, and he's guilty enough the charges have some traction. Of course, a body would help, but she loses nerve and doesn't go through with her planned suicide. Instead, she returns to a former boyfriend, finds him a bore, murders him, and passes it off as self-defense. Many times you see a movie and leave wondering what happens next, but with these people it's impossible to care (and probably ridiculous to boot). B+
Inherent Vice (Oct. 4): Paul Thomas Anderson film of a Thomas Pynchon novel, set in southern California in the 1970s, with close to a dozen odd characters improbably interconnected in multiple ways -- all that looping back has a whiff of conspiracy, but my brief familiarity with Pynchon (V. is my all-time favorite novel; I failed to get through Gravity's Rainbow but still intend to finish it some day) suggests that's just the way the world is wired. Doesn't feel like a great movie, but a persistently interesting one. A-
St. Vincent (Oct. 24): Bill Murray plays a surly Vietnam Vet -- smokes, drinks, gambles, has a wife with Alzheimer's in a nursing home he can't afford and a Russian prostitute (Naomi Watts) in his bed when he can; otherwise he's just a dirtbag and asshole, until he reluctantly befriends a neighbor kid (starting with a scam for babysitting money). The kid goes to Catholic school, and evidently the only thing they teach there is saints, so when he get an assignment to write up "a real-life saint" he does some research and settles on Murray. Probably the best scene is when some mobsters try to shake him down for money he has a stroke and creeps them out. What creeped me out was the sanctimoniousness over his Vietnam "service." B-
American Sniper (Nov. 11): Clint Eastwood's Iraq War film traces the path of Chris Kyle from good-hearted Texas simpleton to serial killer but gets caught up in the action sequences, leaving us with only the sketchiest sense of how he played his "legend" into postwar fame and fortune, or even how he got martyred as an advocate for the therapeutic value of shooting guns for the mentally ill. Sienna Miller reminds us that wives can be forgiving as well as hysterical. Bradley Cooper plays Kyle partly as modest stoic and partly as action junkie, clearly preferring the hunt to his home life, not that he has the critical facilities to question any convention. That any Iraqis emerge with more dimensions than paper targets is due to the scriptwriter's fabrications, but even they turn out to be clichés, and even more absent is any hint of the thinking that made American soldiers arbiters of life and death in that miserable country. I could imagine someone making a mirror movie from the sniper Mustapha's viewpoint, with all that discipline and craft ending as his head explodes from Kyle's distant shot, but who in America would pay to see such a thing? We'd rather be fed the self-adulatory pablum this picture delivers. Still, it's sad that the only pride America can take from this war is the efficacy of its assassins. B-
Selma (Nov. 11): Daniel Oyelowo does a fine job as Martin Luther King as the SCLC moved into Selma, Alabama to campaign for voting rights in 1965, and great care was taken in the casting of the many others who made up the movement, including the tensions between SCLC and SNCC. The white violence against the marchers was also palpable (although several incidents were merely mentioned). On the other hand, I was constantly irritated by how far portrayals of major political figures strayed from my own vivid memories from the day: especially Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon Johnson and Tim Roth as George Wallace. (I was more forgiving of Dylan Baker, who often plays psychotic killers, as J. Edgar Hoover, although the resemblance was equally remote.) One could have made a stronger point that the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which came from demonstrations in Selma, coincides with recent Republican moves to gut the Act and once again to deny poorer Americans the right to vote. B+
I suppose it wouldn't hurt to include 2015 (to date):
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Feb. 26): Two or three storyline threads stretch our favorite Indian hotelier, Sonny Kapoor (played by Dev Patel) way past the breaking point, but this is saved by the same thing that saved its predecessor: it's a marvelous showcase for venerable British actors and actresses -- Bill Nighy and Ronald Pickup have the most to do sorting out their love lives, and Penelope Wilton makes a brief show for a trailer laugh. On the downside, it seems like they spent a lot of time at the end trying to kill Maggie Smith off, then couldn't do it. Ends inevitably with a big Bollywood dance. B
Movies I didn't see but would have liked to:
For a baseline, I went through the 2013 film list. Just wrote down grades (and can't guarantee my memory is perfect there).
Time prevents me from going back further. One last statistical check is for how many A/A- records in each year: 2014: 4; 2013: 6; 2012: 5. Down last year, but not much more than random chance.
Friday, March 27. 2015
I finally got around to seeing Clint Eastwood's American Sniper film yesterday. It took me so long mostly because my wife, who usually picks the films we see, wanted no part of it: I had to go alone, something I hadn't done since I caught the "last chance" showing of Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In in 2011. I didn't argue very hard. Everything I had read suggested that the movie has many problems and few virtues. More importantly, I read Nicholas Schmidle's profile of the sniper in question, Chris Kyle (In the Crosshairs), so I had a pretty good idea what the story was going to be. The only question was whether director Clint Eastwood might add some nuance and conflict that Kyle doesn't seem to have ever grasped. But after Eastwood's senior moment at the GOP convention, and given his occasional infatuation with American jingoism, that wasn't guaranteed.
It turns out that the movie is remarkably compressed (despite a 2:20 running time). It starts with what became the trailer, a scene with Kyle on a rooftop in Fallujah contemplating shooting a child and/or his mother as armored vehicles inch down a rubble-strewn street with US soldiers methodically going house-to-house, kicking doors in. He ultimately kills both, but before the shots are fired, the scene is interrupted for a little background.
We see a pre-teen Kyle hunting with his father, and fighting with schoolkids. At the family dinner table, his father explains that there are three types of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheep dogs, who protect the sheep from the wolves -- Kyle's worldview in a nut shell. Grown up, Kyle rides bulls and broncs in a rodeo. Then, after a news report of a terror attack he signs up for the Navy Seals. We then get many scenes of sadistic basic training, a bar break where he picks up a wife, intense sniper training, 9/11, and his first tour in Iraq, where his first kills were that child and mother.
The bulk of the film recounts his four tours in Iraq, each staged with an intense action sequence, separated by brief returns home as his family grows. Two of the action sequences involve talking to his wife on the phone, so she gets in on the war experience. As a sniper, Kyle lurks patiently on rooftops and in buildings, surveying the war calmly, methodically picking off "bad guys." But over time he seeks more action, so he joins in on clearing buildings, and is close by as two of his closest buddies get shot (one killed instantly, the other survived but was blinded and died in a later surgery).
The action intensifies, with the final battle ultimately won by Mother Nature as a sandstorm engulfed Sadr City. That was the one where he made an "impossibly long shot" to kill his nemesis, a notorious Syrian sniper, only to have his building surrounded by swarming enemies with AK-47s -- the intense action interrupted by a call to the wife to tell her he's "ready to come home now." Of course, the crowds ate it up. The postwar scenes were anticlimactic: at first he showed signs of PTSD, but they fade away as he dedicates his life to helping other veterans. He takes one multiple-amputee to the shooting range, and when the disabled vet hits the target, he announces that he feels like he got his balls back. Salvation through shooting becomes Kyle's cause. In the last scene, he gets into a truck with another PTSD-damaged vet. Then the movie cuts to black, revealing that the vet murdered Kyle that day. The movie ends with footage of Kyle's funeral, and indeed it is touching. Just not clear for what.
The film is based on Kyle's autobiography, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, written with two co-authors. The book came out in 2012 and was a bestseller before his death in 2013, and has sold many more copies (more than 1.2 million) since. The movie doesn't show anything about Kyle's post-Navy business or how the book and his self-promotion affected his life. The movie doesn't bring up Kyle's claim to have shot looters after Hurricane Katrina from atop the Superdome, or his story about "punching out Scruff Face" -- Jesse Ventura, who successfully sued Kyle's estate for libel (see Nicholas Schmidle: The Ventura Verdict).
This would be a good time to quote Wikipedia's paragraph on "Historical accuracy":
"The Butcher" is an "Al-Qaeda enforcer" who is shown attacking a child -- the son of a "sheik" who gave info to Americans after Kyle's team broke into his house -- with a drill. He is killed in the firefight after the scene with the weapons stash. Mustafa is an enemy sniper -- an Olympic-winning marksman from Syria who appears at least three times in the movie, becoming a personal obsession for Kyle. Kyle kills him with his 2100-yard long shot, as part of the climactic battle scene.
In other words, each and every significant encounter Kyle has with any Iraqi was invented for dramatic effect. (Presumably at least some of the anonymous, long-distance sniper kills come from the book. Kyle was credited with 160 kills. The movie shows maybe a dozen.) No doubt the fiction adds to the movie's drama. Perhaps it also whitewashes the US war effort, but Kyle was never more than a small cog in the military machine -- his rank after four tours was Chief Petty Officer, basically a sergeant -- and his approach to the war was so simplistic you hardly expect anything more: kill "bad guys"! Who are the "bad guys"? The ones who are trying to kill you.
One of Donald Rumsfeld's most indelible one-liners was that "you go to war with the army you have, not necessarily the one you want." The actual army that Kyle belonged to is defined simply: they are trained to be extraordinarily lethal, when deployed they are very focused on their own self-defense, and their primary defense strategy is to be as aggressive as possible. No one in Kyle's army questions why they are in Iraq. No one doubts their right to be where they are or go where they want. And everyone is deeply affronted any time they meet any form of resistance. No one recognizes that other points of view are possible. For Kyle, in particular, everyone he kills is evil; if not, he wouldn't have killed them. The whole movie, from the sheepdog story on, is testament to Kyle's moral certainty, and the tearful funeral excess just serves to elevate his moral certainty to the nation as a whole. And that's why the movie elicits such a solemn reaction from a certain kind of American: the one who believes that America is the greatest nation in the world, so great that the rest of the world can (or should) prostrate itself at our feet.
Nothing in the movie gives you a chance to question either the politics or the wisdom of Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq, let alone the wider trajectory of US involvement in the region. Even though most of the movie takes place in a foreign land, it never leaves an American mindset. For that reason it works as propaganda: even without explicit lies it reaffirms the war by not questioning it. What makes that worse is that the trajectory of understanding the Iraq war started to change with the Surge in 2007. The early period, 2003-04, was eventually viewed as an unmitigated disaster, but that boiled down to three things:
It's hard to remember that when Bush et al. conjured up this war, even though they led with the fear card, they tried to present the war like we'd be doing the Iraqis one big favor. That sentiment was one of the first casualties of the war. There's an old joke that goes: it's hard to remember that your mission was to drain the swamp when you're ass-deep in alligators. In the early days, Iraq was seen as an epic adventure in nation building. In the end, it's no more than alligator killing, which is probably why the SEALs are the last soldiers standing tall.
Moreover, the worldview has changed. Early in the War on Terror, the "bad guys" were few: the religious fanatics of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Baathist elites of Iraq and Syria, a few others -- as much oppressors of their own people as enemies of the US. However, it turns out that the US was never "greeted as liberators" -- that everywhere the US bombed turned into enemy territory. That should have led us to question our entire approach, indeed who we are, but not being capable of introspection, we've changed out view of them instead. Looking at the US response to ISIS, even we can imagine no upside: just a long slog of killing a neverending supply of "bad guys," because once we enter a region, practically everyone turns into "bad guys."
Of course, if you're not entranced by this latest, most vicious twist on "the American religion," it's possible to view American Sniper differently. It is a celebration of a cold blooded killer, but it also details his descent into PTSD, as he turns into someone his wife at one point says she no longer recognizes. Kyle at least saves himself by doubling down on the militaristic pietism that made him rich and famous, but he is surrounded by other vets who can't make that work -- including the one who killed him. It takes an extraordinary amount of empathy to watch this movie and conclude that the war has been disastrous for Iraqi families, even though there are scenes that show just that. But it should be easier to see how expensive the toll on American lives has been, whether you do or do not accord any special value to the lives of soldiers. Kyle should be viewed as a tragic figure in American history. He sure is no hero.
 Some links from previous posts:
We can add a few more:
One more thought about the movie. One thing that is loosely implied is that Kyle got a perverse satisfaction out of sniping, at least for a while. Bradley Cooper plays Kyle as exceptionally modest -- lots of other characters dub him "The Legend" and offer other accolades, but Kyle mostly sloughs them off. Even though he's always teamed with a spotter, sniping is patient and methodical work, not something full of adrenaline rushes. But as he goes from tour to tour, he keeps getting drawn back for more and more -- although he never articulates it, there is something to sniping that he never experienced before and that once he experienced it would be missing from his life. It reminded me of a remarkable interview in the second season of The Fall, where serial killer Paul Prescott explains the intense sensation of living that he feels when he kills someone. Of course, Prescott killed far fewer people than Kyle, and did so furtively against the law whereas Kyle was on his government's payroll -- the difference was that Kyle never had to hide what he was doing -- but both were similar in the meticulous, artful way they set up and dispatched their victims. (You can find a summary of the episode here, although it skips the part I'm referring to.)
Monday, March 23. 2015
Music: Current count 24735  rated (+34), 409  unrated (-11).
Eighteen records below come from Rhapsody. I played Kendrick Lamar and Modest Mouse three times: one clicked, the other did not. I see that Christgau has given Modest Mouse six A- grades plus a relatively long ungraded review (not in his Dean's List so presumably B+ or less). I have them with four A- records (including the one Christgau missed), so I'm less of a fan but not unable to tune into their shade of alt. This one just strikes me as real patchy.
Also played Vijay Iyer three times, also on the computer because ECM -- once the best-bankrolled label in jazz -- has lately gotten cheap. I'm often hard pressed to explain why I like some piano trios and less so others (unless there's a lot of crashing involved, often the case with Irène Schweizer or Satoko Fujii), but I usually know (as I did with Iyer's two previous albums with this trio) but this time I didn't. I'm a bit bothered that in recent lists both Jason Gubbels and Chris Monsen -- two critics who usually line up very closely with me -- picked Break Stuff as among the best jazz albums so far this year, and I'm always aware that listening on the computer is far from ideal. But I feel like I gave Iyer a fair shot, and besides I have a bigger disagreement with Gubbels and Monsen: Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls, number 3 and 1 respectively, a record I dislike far more than the B+(*) I gave it suggests. Iyer and Mahanthappa have huge reputations I mostly agree with (in my database, Iyer has 10 A- grades and Mahanthappa has 5, plus each has one full A). Otherwise I scoured the lists for records I hadn't heard (6/16 from Gubbels, 2/6 Monsen). Checked out DRKWAV and Makaya McCraven from Gubbels list, and have them at B+(***).
More surprising for me is that only one of the eleven jazz albums on my 2015 A-list is on either list: Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (my #1, #2 on Gubbels). The others:
I expect most of them will get there eventually. One curious thing about this list is that all of my A-list jazz has come actual CDs (some in curious advance packaging), and none from Rhapsody or downloads. (All four of my non-jazz A-list records are from Rhapsody.) I've rated 19 jazz records this year based on a computer source: 6 ***, 7 **, 4 *, 1 B, 2 B-. The grade breakdown for physical jazz CDs: 11 A-, 22 ***, 29 **, 21 *, 12 B, 3 B- -- similar curve aside from the shutout at the top. One might conclude I'm susceptible to bribes. Maybe I just tend to appreciate the effort. Or maybe there's a selection effect, where people send me things I'm more likely to like (and skip things I'm more likely to dis). Or maybe it's just the speakers and the audio quality.
Robert Christgau's 2014 Dean's List has finally appeared at BN Review. He came up with 63 records, for some reason omitting Steve Reich's Radio Rewrite (rated A- on Jan. 30, same date as two other list items) and Angola Soundtrack 2 (A- on Mar. 13, same date as Aby Ngana Diop). Only one record on the list hasn't been reviewed in Expert Witness: Sunny Sweeney's Provoked. He offers some excuses for the shorter-than-usual list -- he's come up with close to 90 in recent full-employment years, and slacked off toward 60 during a previous CG hiatus -- then concludes: "Maybe the field is thinning out, or maybe the downtick is a blip." My own experience was that I came up with an all-time record 170+ A-list albums released in 2014, so I can only conlcude that the music is there if you have the time and tenacity to dig it out. The industry's bottom line may suck, but there's no evidence that lack of incentive is keeping musicians from making good music. And with streaming, more music is probably accessible to more people than ever before.
On the other hand, I can't say anything hopeful about incentives for writing about music.
Another deadline snuck up on me, so no Twitter reviews this week.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, March 22. 2015
The top story of last week's news cycle was Israel's elections for a new parliament (Knesset). Many people hoped that the voters would finally dispose of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but in the last minutes "Bibi" swung hard to the racist right and wound up with a six-seat plurality, mostly at the expense of small parties nominally to the right of Likud. That still leaves Netanyahu only half way to forming a new Knesset majority coalition, but few observers see that as a problem, although it probably means further concessions to the "religious" parties -- Shas, United Torah, etc. Best place to start reading about this is Richard Silverstein: Israeli Election Post-Mortem: Rearranging the Deck Chairs:
Some other links on Israel:
Weiss also quotes the Zionist Camp activist Yaniv as saying "We need a Mandela." The problem is more like Israel can't even come up with a De Clerk. (Arguably Yitzhak Rabin auditioned for the part, but he couldn't deliver, partly because he didn't face the demographics and worldwide ostracism white South Africa faced, and partly because he got killed before he could rise to the situation -- if indeed he could.) Still, nobody remembers De Clerk as a great man, partly because his hands were plenty dirty before he relinquished power, partly because Mandela took the glory when he showed such grace and dignity in assuming power.
Still, Israel's situation isn't exactly analogous to De Clerk's. It's not that the Apartheid metaphor isn't applicable. If anything, Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is more rigorous, terrifying, and dehumanizing than anything South Africa did. And it's only a matter of time until most of the world sees Israel's Occupation as a gross affront to human rights, peace, and justice, and takes action to isolate and ostracize Israel. But the demographics will never be equivalent: whites in South Africa amounted to no more than 15% of the population, whereas Jews are a majority within Greater Israel, and that majority could be grown by lopping off territory with large concentrations of Palestinians (most easily, Gaza). Sure, free return of Palestinian refugees from 1947-49 might tip the scales, but realistically that's not going to happen.
This demographic position gives Israel's leaders options, but time and again they've chosen to maintain the status quo, at the cost of continued strife and insecurity. They've done this partly because they've psyched themselves into both into believing they'll always live in peril -- that the world will never accept them as peaceable neighbors -- and into thinking they will always win. (This mentality was amply illustrated in Tom Segev's 1967, which showed how terrified Israeli civilians were of impending war and how utterly confident Israel's generals were of their victory.)
History also gives Israel's leaders options. The Zionist movement is now 135 years old, more than a century has passed since Britain's Balfour Declaration opened up Jewish immigration, and the state of Israel has existed for 67 years, under its current borders for 48 years (aside from returning Sinai to Egypt in a deal that established that Israel could coexist with a neighboring Arab state). Fifty years ago one could imagine Israel meeting the fate of Algeria, but no one believes that now. By 2001, all Arab states were willing to recognize Israel in exchange for a deal which would create a Palestinian state from the territory Israel seized in 1967. The PLO had already agreed to that, and Hamas has since come to that position. Only Israeli greed and intransigence has prevented a peace deal from happening. Well, that and the gullibility of American political leaders, who for one reason of another have been spineless when they needed to stand up to Israel.
Netanyahu's great value to Israel has always been his ability to manipulate US opinion -- something he's been known to brag about, unseemly as that may be -- but lately he bound his fate to the Republican Party. In doing so he has started to alienate Democratic supporters of Israel, but more than that he has opened up a mental association between Israeli and Republican policies -- militarism, racism, harsh justice, targeted assassinations, an omnipotent security state, increasing economic inequality, and much more.
I'll try to write more later about what should be done, but for now I just want to leave you with a warning. Unless something is done to correct the trends we're seeing in Israel, the situation there will continue to grow more desperate and unjust, and unless the US can break its tail-wags-dog subservience to Israel we will wind up in the same dystopia.
Wednesday, March 18. 2015
Roughly speaking, the same record count this time as the last two, but it took me a little over four weeks this time vs. three before, so maybe I'm slowing down. But part of that is that this is the first column that's mostly 2015 releases (88/113, or 78%), and 2015 itself seems to be starting a bit slow. I suspect this is because we don't yet have the benefit of year-end lists, plus the number of critics that I regularly consult is way down this year. I currently have 14 new A-list records this year, and they break down: 10 jazz, 2 hip-hop, 1 dance pop, 1 quasi-country. Most years split about 50% jazz, 50% non-jazz. The imbalance this year probably because I have my own resources for jazz (all 10 so far are records sent to me; I've also checked out 13 jazz albums on Rhapsody or via downloads, but nothing very impressive yet; I listened to all 4 of the non-jazz A- albums on Rhapsody).
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on February 13. Past reviews and more information are available here (6157 records).
Nancy Ajram: Nancy 8 (2014, In2musica): Lebanese pop star, cut her first album in 1998 at 15 and this seems to be her 9th, her previous album (Nancy 7 or 7 or N. 7 -- same variations show up here) having sold some eight million units (more than half in Egypt, where it went 9x Platinum). I feel like I should hedge on such an obvious SFFR, but even the synth-strings resound, the ballads seem real, and the fast ones hardly need translation -- probably on a par with Shakira. A-
Béatrice Alunni/Marc Peillon: Dance With Me (2014 , ITI): Alunni plays piano and wrote seven (of ten) pieces. Peillon plays bass and wrote the other three. I can't really imagine anyone dancing to this, although the liner illustrations show ballet moves, so I guess that says something about my [lack of] imagination. Pretty, though. B+(*) [cd]
Aphex Twin: Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments, Pt. 2 (2015, Warp, EP): Thirteen tracks, 27:52 long, sort of an afterthought to last year's Syro, which makes it much more interesting than the ambience Richard James had peddled for a couple decades. B+(**)
Gene Argel: Luminescent (2014 , Origin): Pianist, based in Maui since 1982; Discogs credits him with a 1980 LP but this seems to be the first since. Quartet, Jay Thomas plays alto and tenor sax and trumpet, adding bright colors to the luxurious flow, with Chuck Deardorf bass and Mark Ivester drums. B+(**) [cd]
Atomic: Lucidity (2014 , Jazzland): Norwegian jazz group with more than a dozen albums since 2000, with a hard bop quintet lineup that leans more toward avant -- horns (Magnus Broo on trumpet and Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor sax and clarinet) bristling, piano (Håvard Wiik) complex and slightly ornate, the rhythm section (Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass) usually a powerhouse although they lose something here with a change at drums (Hans Hulboekmo replaces Paal Nilssen-Love). B+(***) [cd]
Ab Baars Trio: Slate Blue (2014 , Wig): Dutch tenor saxophonist (also plays clarinet and shakuhachi here), in a trio with Wilbert De Joode (bass) and Martin Van Duynhoven (drums) -- Baars' primary group dating back to 1990. A little mellow as these things go, a mood that suits this group. B+(***) [cd]
Ab Baars Trio & NY Guests: Invisible Blow (2012 , Wig): Fine print notes that this was recorded in Amsterdam, which helps explain why the New Yorkers seem less than optimal: Fay Victor (voice) and Vincent Chancey (french horn). Much of the album is poorly articulated -- more like "Inaudible Blow" -- although Victor can make an impression when she's so inclined. B [cd]
BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah: Sour Soul (2015, Lex): Cover isn't clear, but most sources credit the Canadian jazz trio (keyboards, bass guitar, drums) first, ahead of the much more famous rapper. I'll note that three (of twelve) cuts are short instrumentals. I've never been much impressed by BBNG but their tight, noir-ish flow makes this short (32:55) album work -- not that they would hold up half as well without the rhymes. A-
Belle and Sebastian: Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (2015, Matador): Scottish group, name comes from a children's book, seems most pop when Stuart Murdoch's vocals give way to Sarah Martin's, which doesn't happen often enough here. B+(*)
Daniel Bennett Group: The Mystery at Clown Castle (2014 , Manhattan Daylight): Saxophonist, has done interesting work in the past but this veers toward too much: too much circus, too much shouting, too much flute. Does have a sense of humor, and enjoys a good beat. B+(*) [cd]
Phil Bowler: Phil Bowler & Pocket Jungle (2013 , Zoho Music): Bassist, cut an album in 1984 and now has two, although he has 40+ side credits going back to 1977 including Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Jackie McLean, various Marsalises, and the World Bass Violin Quartet. He tried to put this project together 20 years ago, with sax-guitar-drums that went to Grupo Los Santos, and finally got them back for a mild-mannered Afro-Cuban tryst. B+(*)
Andy Brown: Soloist (2014 , Delmark): Guitarist, from Chicago; I first noticed his rather minimalist backing for singer Petra Van Nuis (Far Away Places) and his two-guitar quartet I filed under Howard Alden (Heavy Artillary -- noticing now that I misspelled that title in my database, unless you want to argue that they misspelled it on the cover). This, of course, is solo, that same understated approach left with nothing else to prop it up. Fans of George Van Eps will be more impressed than fans of Joe Pass. B+(*) [cd]
Maureen Budway: Sweet Candor (2014 , MCG Jazz): Jazz singer, died at 51 in January a couple weeks before this first album came out; taught at Duquesne, married to pianist David Budway, who plays here. First thing I really noticed was the "Americana Suite" midway, noticing that "The White Cliffs of Dover" took the prize for patriotic schmaltz, and approving of the segue into "Hard Times Come Again No More" (if not "Say It With Fireworks/Song of Freedom"). The other high point is a "Gershwin Medley" all Americans can be proud of. B+(**) [cd]
Mike Campbell: Close Enough for Love (2014 , ITI): Standards singer, mostly (two originals here), has at least eight albums going back to 1985, his standards here including Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan, also Kenny Loggins and Paul Williams. B+(*) [cd]
Harley Card: Hedgerow (2012 , self-released): Toronto-based guitarist, second album although he's also appeared in Hobson's Choice, a group I've heard of. This group includes David French on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Matt Newton on piano/Fender Rhodes, plus either of two bass-drum pairs. Postbop, greased by the guitar. B [cd]
Ernesto Cervini: Turboprop (2014 , Anzic): Drummer, from Toronto, leads a vibrant sextet with two saxes (Tara Davidson and Joel Frahm), trombone, piano, bass, and drums. Cervini wrote four pieces, picked up one from Frahm, with covers like Charlie Parker's "Red Cross" and Keith Jarrett's "The Windup" -- the latter a particularly spirited closer. B+(**) [cd]
Chamber 3: Grassroots (2013 , OA2): Trio, with Christian Eckert on guitar, Steffen Weber on sax, and Matt Jorgensen on drums, although they've sensibly added a fourth wheel, bassist Phil Sparks. All three write, Eckert foremost, and the one cover makes a fair case for adding "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to the jazz repertoire. Not much what you think of as "chamber jazz" (other than tight). B+(*) [cd]
Anat Cohen: Luminosa (2014 , Anzic): One of the top clarinet players in jazz, also plays bass clarinet and tenor sax here -- underrated in that more competitive category. Backed here by piano trio (Jason Lindner, Joe Martin, Daniel Freedman -- with guests periodically kicking the record into a Brazilian orientation: percussionist Gilmar Gomes, guitarist Roberto Lubambo, most importantly two cuts with Choro Aventuroso (accordion, 7-string guitar, pandeiro) that kick this into a higher orbit. B+(***) [cd]
Lainie Cooke: The Music Is the Magic (2014 , Onyx Music): Standards singer, has a couple previous albums; this one, produced by Ralph Peterson, leans more toward jazz than cabaret. Myron Walden adds some sax appeal. B [cd]
Dena DeRose: Travelin' Light: Live in Antwerp, Belgium (2010 , MaxJazz): Rhapsody only has 4 (of 13) tracks, so I (and you) should hedge but they're probably representative. She plays piano and sings standards here (and scats a bit) -- solo, live, some patter and applause, but mostly she holds your focus. B+(*)
Laura Dickinson: One for My Baby: To Frank Sinatra With Love (2013 , Blujazz): Singer, first album under her own name but she has sung in a bunch of Disney animated films. Her selection from the "Sinatra songbook" is much more conventional than, say, Dylan's, as is the big band + strings -- conventional as in tried and proven -- while her voice is distinctive enough. B+(**) [cd]
Dahi Divine: The Element (2013 , Right Direction): Tenor saxophonist from Philadelphia, first album, blows over West African rhythms while pianist Brett Williams smoothing the rough edges. B+(**) [cd]
Justin Townes Earle: Absent Fathers (2015, Vagrant): Quickie sequel to last fall's Single Mothers, more melancholia over broken relationships and busted families. B+(*)
Steve Earle & the Dukes: Terraplane (2015, New West): Reportedly this represents some kind of turn to the blues, but the songs are all originals, and these days down-and-out is just ordinary life. So why not ordinary songs to go with it? Not his best idea, nor does hiding behind the band help much. B+(**)
Silke Eberhard/Dave Burrell: Darlingtonia (2010 , Jazzwerkstatt): Alto saxophonist, from Germany, has a handful of albums since 2002 including a couple by his Dolphy-tribute group Potsa Lotsa. Duet with pianist Dave Burrell, always a treat. B+(***)
Silke Eberhard/Ulrich Gumpert: Peanuts & Vanities (2011 , Jazzwerkstart): Another alto sax-piano duo, but Gumpert doesn't make near the impression of Dave Burrell. Six pieces called "Peanuts" followed by six more called "Vanities," but the former are juxtaposed with two fragments of "Salt Peanuts" and the latter is followed by "The Peanut Vendor." The patterns are interesting enough, just not very exciting. B+(**)
Paul Elwood: Nice Folks (2011 , Innova): Banjo player, graduate of Wichita State University and SUNY Buffalo, teaches in Colorado. Has a previous album called Stanley Kubrick's Mountain Home, which AMG files under classical. This starts out like a folk singalong, then takes off in various directions, including free jazz and deep worldly groove. Calls his band the Invisible Ensemble. Only one I've heard of is percussionist Famoudou Don Moye. B+(***) [cd]
George Ezra: Wanted on Voyage (2014, Columbia): Brit singer-songwriter; cites Dylan, Guthrie, and Leadbelly as inspirations; first album, topped UK charts and peaked at 19 in US. Strikes me as a little heavy-handed for folk-rock. Reviews use the word "spooky"; I'm tempted to add "creepy." B-
Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear (2015, Sub Pop): Singer-songwriter Josh Tillman, second album, kind of a big deal in alt/indie circles, had sort of a folkie rep early on but now that he can afford more drums and synths he's over that. But his newfound big production frames a voice I don't find appealing, and when I notice a lyric -- one I jotted down is "let's put a baby in the oven/wouldn't I make the ideal husband?" -- that's usually not a good thing. B
Lupe Fiasco: Tetsuo & Youth (2015, Atlantic): Hip-hop record, his first three were superb (and yes, I include the much-panned Lasers in that list), stretches here are equally brilliant although sometimes the rhymes seem not just forced but downright gymnastic, and elsewhere I have no fucking idea what's going on. B+(*)
Free Nelson Mandoomjazz: Awakening of a Capital (2014 , RareNoise): Sax trio from Scotland, second album -- the first bore the aggrandizing title The Shape of Doomjazz to Come/Saxophone Giganticus and was as audacious as the joke. Sequel seems more modest, with Colin Stewart's fuzzy electric bass riffs more prominent because Rebecca Sneddon's snarling alto sax is less so -- or maybe just less snarling? B+(***) [cdr]
Janice Friedman Trio: Live at Kitano (2011 , CAP): Pianist-singer, has a handful of albums going back to 1993, wrote three (of ten) pieces here and shares a fourth with Frederic Chopin, backed by Ed Howard on bass and Victor Lewis on drums. Has a nice touch and doesn't wear out the voice. B+(*)
Gang of Four: What Happens Next (2015, Metropolis): Leeds post-punk group, released a brilliant debut in 1979, two more very good albums in 1981-82, then bowed out in 1984 after the misnamed Hard, only to revive periodically (in 1991-95, 2005, 2011, now). But where the 2005 reunion brought the original quartet back, now only guitarist Andy Gill remains. First song ("Where the Nightingale Sings") comes up with new ways to tuck noise into the crevices between the beats, suggesting they may still be capable of an A-list album, but they have trouble sustaining that level, and sometimes even lose their sound. B+(*)
Maxfield Gast: Ogo Pogo (2014 , Militia Hill): Saxophonist from Philadelphia. I file him under "jazz-pop" which is ever more off-base, but he likes synth-beats and EWI -- were it not for the saxes I'd move him to "techno." This is mostly electronica with commentary, including digressions on the differences between "serious" and "funny" music. Of course, the world isn't that simple, nor, fortunately, is Gast's music. B+(**) [cd]
Otzir Godot: In- (2014 , Epatto): Finnish drummer, Jouni Koponen, has at least two previous records. This one is solo, the metallic drums most captivating, the more ambient washes of sound less so. B+(**) [cd]
Gramatik: The Age of Reason (2014, Lowtemp): Denis Jasarevic, from Slovenia, has 7 or 8 albums, 3 or 4 EPs since 2008, probably more by the time you read this, produces them cheap -- most likely splices them together on a laptop -- and gives them away, an SFFR if I ever bother, but pleased so far: electronics, of course, but embedded with chunks of hip-hop and rock, nothing obvious (or even particularly identifiable like you find with Girl Talk). B+(**)
Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: Space/Time · Redemption (2013 , TUM): Graves is an avant-jazz drummer, first appearing on a number of ESP-Disk records 1963-66 (including his own Percussion Ensemble), then rarely from 1969 (Sonny Sharrock's Black Woman) to about 2000, when he started appearing (mostly on Tzadik; 1992's Real Deal, a duo with David Murray, was a rare exception). Laswell is a bassist and producer, more into fusion than free but something of a gadfly around the fringes of respectability. So not a huge surprise that the two would record together, but it is that a bass-drums duo would come up with anything so vibrantly textured. A- [cd]
The H2 Big Band: It Could Happen (2013 , Origin): Big band led by Al Hood (trumpet) and Dave Hanson (piano), with Hanson arranging. Recorded near Los Angeles, credits vary a lot with horns thinning out and/or strings added on some cuts. Four cuts feature singer René Marie, who is very effective. B+(**) [cd]
Ross Hammond: Flight (2014 , Prescott): Jazz guitarist, ninth album since 2003, plays this one solo, using 6-string, 12-string, and acoustic slide for a whiff of blues. Originals, several trad. pieces, "You Are My Sunshine" (which might as well be trad.): "recorded on locations throughout California" -- if not roots, at least digging in. B+(**) [cdr]
Mark Helias Open Loose: The Signal Maker (2014 , Intakt): I screwed up here, originally filing this under Tony Malaby, the saxophonist whose name shows up first left-to-right mid-cover, followed by bassist Helias and drummer Tom Rainey. But when I noticed that Helias wrote all the pieces (with group help on three), I looked a little closer and found the big (but not very distinct) type. Sax trio, smolders ambitiously but never quite ignites. B+(***) [cd]
Eddie Henderson: Collective Portrait (2014 , Smoke Sessions): Trumpet player, grew up on Miles Davis and never strayed far from his model, even now at 74. Classic hard bop quintet, loud and clear paired with alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, with George Cables rolling the blues riffs on piano. B+(**)
Scott Hesse Trio: The Stillness of Motion (2014 , Origin): Guitarist, based in Chicago after ten years in New York, trio includes Clark Sommers on bass and Makaya McCraven on drums. B+(*)
The Ted Howe Jazz Orchestra: Pinnacle (2013 , Hot Stove): Pianist-composer, although Geoff Haydon takes over the piano slot for most of the album. Slightly less than a conventional big band -- three reeds, three trumpets, two trombones, but includes guitar -- not that the loss is palpable. Cover says "featuring John Patitucci" because the bassist is the only player you're likely to have heard of. B [cd]
I Never Meta Guitar Three (2011-13 , Clean Feed): Back cover adds: "Solo Guitars for the 21st Century." Third such volume Elliot Sharp has produced, eighteen solo pieces by various avant-jazz guitarists -- all electric, no devotees of Reinhardt or Montgomery or for that matter McLaughlin, a few I've heard of and many more I haven't. Scattered, but John King's opener grabs your attention. B+(**) [cd]
Ibeyi: Ibeyi (2015, XL): Twin sisters, Cuban-born, French-raised, Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz, draw on Afro-Cuban roots -- album opens with a "chant to Eleggua" -- but is moderated through trip-hop and the like so much it rarely registers. B
Mikko Innanen: Song for a New Decade (2010-12 , TUM, 2CD): Finnish saxophonist, alto and baritone, plus a few odd instruments here and there (Indian clarinet, Uilleann chanter, nose flute, whistles, percussion). Should be better known, and after this will be. Two discs: the first with William Parker on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums, pretty much everything an avant-saxophonist could dream of; the second a little leaner, just a duo with Cyrille. A- [cd]
Kitten: Kitten (2014, Elektra): Pop-rock band from LA, lead singer Chloe Chaidez, first album after a couple EPs. Some songs strike me as overly pumped up, although others have a raw edginess that could develop into something. B+(**)
The Susan Krebs Chamber Band: Simple Gifts (2014 , GreenGig Music): Jazz singer, fifth album; none of the songs are originals but they're not really standards either -- title song is Shaker traditional. Band credits: piano (co-producer Rich Eames), woodwinds (Rob Lockhart), percussion, violin/viola -- the latter adds a crucial weepy effect. B+(***) [cd]
Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Always With Us (2010-12 , self-released): South African iscathimiya (Zulu a cappella) group founded in 1974 by Joseph Shabalala with thirty-some albums -- so many and so similar (at least for us non-Zulu speakers) one hardly notices new ones. Still, this one is different: Shabala's late wife Nellie had organized her own female choir and this memorial merges the two group's voices. A-
Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (2015, Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope): Los Angeles (or should I say Compton?) rapper spins another long (75:17) album, the uneasy path of another good kid in the mad city. Pumped up early on with rejuvenated P-Funk, fades out at the end with what seems like an interview. More here than I'll ever manage to sort out. A-
Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (2013 , Clean Feed): Bassist, called his second album Bigmouth in 2003 and kept the name. Two tenor saxes (Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek), Craig Taborn on keyboards (mostly Wurlitzer, in case you need a refresher in why he wins those polls), and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Lightcap's originals tend to be strongly pulsed. The one cover is "All Tomorrow's Parties" -- simply magnificent. A- [cd]
Madonna: Rebel Heart (2015, Interscope): Much more anticipated in my world than the new Sleater-Kinney -- I suppose more successful too, but that's all relative: after five plays I've gotten to where I like nearly every song here, but none enough to program it onto a choice singles tape (let alone slip it into The Immaculate Collection). It's all clear, sharp, danceable, even pushes a few envelopes, but risks becoming routine too. Not sure what it means that I like the bonus tracks (at least "Veni Vidi Vici" and "S.E.X.") more than the common ones. B+(***)
Jenna Mammina & Rolf Sturm: Spark (2014 , Water Street Music): Singer and guitarist, respectively, the former's voice light and whispy, the latter adding a gentle strum that fits the mood perfectly. One Sturm original, the covers include Carole King, James Taylor, and Elvis Costello ("Watching the Detectives"), as well as more standard fare -- including a Jobim a bit too slow. B+(**) [cd]
Nilson Matta: East Side Rio Drive (2014 , World Blue): Brazilian bassist, based in New York, pretty much the go-to guy there for that sort of thing. The underlying groove is little changed since the 1960s, but he gets a wide range of looks by shuffling guests -- front cover list features Cyro Baptista (percussion), Romero Lubambo (guitar), Edsel Gomez (piano), Craig Handy (tenor sax/bass clarinet/flute), Anne Drummond (more flute), Vince Cherico (drums). Also a singer or two, with one song stripped down all the way to acoustic bass. B+(*) [cd]
Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters: Abstract Quantities (2014 , Origin): Trumpet and piano/keyboards, respectively, backed by Piet Verbist on bass and John Bishop on drums, continuing the Seattle/Netherlands balance of the leaders. Postbop, so skilled I played it twice and had nary a complaint, not that I noticed much of anything. B+(*) [cd]
James McMurtry: Complicated Game (2013-14 , Complicated Game): Son of a famous novelist, slowly establishing himself as a serious storyteller in his own right. Nothing here has the instant political cred or (more importantly) musical punch of "We Can't Make It Here" (from Childish Things) or "Cheney's Toy" (from Just Us Kids) but he's smart enough not to blame his hard luck songs on Obama. Several sneak up on you, especially the one about fishing out of season. A-
Chris McNulty: Eternal (2013 , Palmetto): Jazz singer, originally from Australia but based in New York, seventh album since 1990; one original, standards that tend to be treacherously modernist ("A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," "What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life," "Nature Boy," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"). Steve Newcomb's Chamber Ensemble negotiates the twists and turns. B+(*) [cd]
J.D. McPherson: Let the Good Times Roll (2015, New Rounder): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, dresses his country impulses up as rockabilly. B+(**)
Myra Melford: Snowy Egret (2013 , Enja/Yellowbird): On my short list for best jazz pianists since her debut in 1990, but this quintet shortchanges her piano for her compositions, centered more on Liberty Ellman's guitar and Stomu Takeishi's bass guitar. Ellman has many fine moments, Ron Miles helps out on cornet, and Tyshawn Shorey is a superb drummer. B+(***) [cd]
Billy Mintz: The 2 Bass Band . . . Live (2014 , Thirteenth Note): Drummer, has appeared on nearly 50 albums since 1977 -- most frequently with Vinny Golia -- but this looks to be his first as leader (notable also that he wrote all the compositions). Group is a tentet with (as advertised) two basses (Cameron Brown and Masa Kamaguchi), four brass (Dave Scott and Ron Horton on trumpet, Brian Drye and Samuel Blaser on trombone), and three reeds (John O'Gallagher, Kenny Berger, Adam Kolker), mostly established names, not quite avant but leaning that way. B+(**)
Modest Mouse: Strangers to Ourselves (2015, Columbia): One of those alt/indie groups from the 1990s which often enough seemed so formally sharp I graded their albums up before I forgot them. After their longest hiatus -- only an EP since 2007 -- they're back, sounding more like Pavement than ever, so upfront about it I have more than my usual reservations. B+(**)
Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Hannover (2014 , Jazzwerkstatt): After five superb studio albums (plus a live shot and whatever you call Blue), they have enough material they can build their live concerts from medleys -- the opener here runs over 30 minutes -- a technique pop stars use to acknowledge hits they don't want to dwell on, although here the intent is less clear. B+(***)
Tisziji Muñoz & Marilyn Crispell: The Paradox of Independence (2014 , MRI): Brooklyn-born guitarist, started in a doo-wop group, worked with Pharoah Sanders in the 1970s, and started recording prolifically around 2000. Recorded live at the Falcon in Marlboro, NY; backed by a bassist and two drummers (one Rakalam Bob Moses), so not limited like a duo. I find Muñoz rather erratic, but the pianist is typically brilliant. B+(**)
Tatsuya Nakatani/Kris Tiner/Jeremy Drake: Ritual Inscription (2012, Epigraph, LP): Percussion, trumpet/flugelhorn, electric guitar, avant jazz from Bakersfield. Not sure whether they sent me the vinyl or a CDR, but the record was in my system as ungraded and when I looked it up I found it on Bandcamp, so that's convenient. Two tracks, one 18:35, the other 13:07, the ground fractured and forever shifting. B+(**) [bc]
Kyle Nasser: Restive Soul (2013 , AISA): Tenor saxophonist (also soprano), first album, all original pieces, backed by guitar-piano-bass-drums, an increasingly standard postbop lineup -- guitar (Jeff Miles) can solo but mostly adds to the harmonic complexity. Plenty of that here. B+(*) [cd]
Hailey Niswanger: PDX Soul (2013-14 , Calmit Productions): Young, blonde tenor saxophonist from Portland, second album, goes full r&b in a couple live sets with a lot of help, including three singers on four songs -- the bluesier the better. While I can't quite describe what she does as honking, she does let it rip. B+(***) [cd]
Not Twice: Flight Plans (2012 , Epigraph, EP): Avant-trumpet player Kris Tiner plus two musicians credited with keyboards and electronics: Jordan Aguirre and Andrew Koeth. The later produce a quasi-ambient background that doesn't offer much traction for the trumpet. Very limited cassette, but short enough (26:46) to be treated as an EP. B [bc]
John O'Gallagher Trio: The Honeycomb (2014 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Alto saxophonist, a guy who often stands out in a crowd, up close here leading a trio with Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. A- [cdr]
Open Field + Burton Greene: Flower Stalk (2012 , Cipsela): Greene's an avant-pianist, recorded a couple ESP albums in the mid-1960s, has regained a limited measure of fame since 2000. He adds notable bite to the Portuguese string trio -- João Carnões on viola, Marcelo dos Reis on guitar, and José Miguel Pereira on double bass. Viola has some bite, too, and guitar and piano are sometimes prepared. B+(***) [cd]
Ahmet Özhan: Gülmira (2014, Esen Muzik): Turkish singer, b. 1950 (or earlier), seems to be slotted under Turkish classical music rather than pop or folk, although we'd file it under World; also has a film career, but I'm not finding a lot of info. The music comes with a lot of beat as well as that classic oriental sway. And no doubt he's an authoritative singer. B+(***)
Lisa Parrott: Round Tripper (2014 , Serious Niceness): Alto and baritone saxophonist from Australia, sister is bassist Nicki Parrott, discography lists three albums as "co-leader" but I think this is the first under her own name. Quintet, with Nadja Noordhuis on trumpet/flugelhorn, Carl Dewhurst on guitar, Chris Lightcap on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums. Mainstream, but the baritone gives it a little extra heft. B+(**) [cd]
Renaud Penant Trio: Want to Be Happy (2014 , ITI Music): Drummer-led piano trio, with Steve Ash on piano and Chris Haney on bass. All standards, divided between jazz themes ("Quasimodo," "Bean and the Boys," Bud Powell, Cedar Walton) and songbook ("Love for Sale," "Autumn in New York," a Jobim, the title tune). B+(**) [cd]
Gretchen Peters: Blackbirds (2015, Scarlet Letter): Country singer-songwriter, close to a dozen albums since 1996 after establishing herself as a Nashville songwriter. Some of this clicks and some doesn't, and it's probably not cost-effective to sort it out further. Reprises the title song at the end, and that much pays off. B+(*)
John Petrucelli Quintet: The Way (2014 , self-released, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, from New Jersey but based in Pittsburgh, first album but stretched it out. Quintet includes both piano and guitar as well as bass and drums -- no one I've heard of aside from Victor Lewis (guest on three cuts). Originals plus "I Hear a Rhapsody," "Early Autumn," a Monk. Sax bears many influences, starting with Coltrane. B+(*) [cd]
Kate Pierson: Guitars and Microphones (2015, Lazy Meadow Music): B-52s singer goes solo, brings some of the old sound with her but feels a bit narrower -- I guess Fred Schneider added the zingers even though he wasn't the one you wanted to hear. B+(**)
Roberta Piket: Emanation (Solo: Volume 2) (2014 , Thirteenth Note): Pianist with close to a dozen albums since 1997, this one solo, something I almost never get excited about. Two or three originals, standards including "Con Alma" and "Ba Lue Bolivar Ba Lues" and pieces by McPartland and Hancock, winding up with "Fantasy on a Theme by Chopin." B+(*) [cd]
Lucas Pino: No Net Nonet (2013 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Phoenix, studied in New York, first album, a nine-piece group that plays smaller but with all the harmonic spots neatly tucked in -- three saxes, trumpet (Max Jodrell takes advantage of the solo space), trombone, guitar, piano, bass, drums. B+(**) [cd]
A Place to Bury Strangers: Transfixiation (2015, Dead Oceans): Sort of a heavy metal shoegaze group -- the latter aspect keeps them focused within a narrow rhythmic range, but rather than adding soft, fuzzy noise they go for the hard stuff. Their formula blows me away for a few minutes, then eventually turns wearing. Your mileage may vary. B+(***)
Potsa Lotsa Plus: Plays Love Suite by Eric Dolphy (2014 , Jazzwerkstatt): Group name comes from a Dolphy composition -- was also the title of Willem Breuker's Dolphy tribute. The core quartet here (Silke Eberhard on alto sax, Patrick Braun on tenor sax, Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet, Gerhard Gschloßl on trombone) previously recorded The Complete Works of Eric Dolphy. I gather "Love Suite" was left out of the earlier album because Dolphy died before he could record it. The "Plus" adds clarinet, tuba, and live electronics. B+(**)
Chris Potter Underground Orchestra: Imaginary Cities (2013 , ECM): The tenor saxophonist's underground thinking first emerged in his quartet's 2006 album. Here he expands the concept to eleven pieces, mostly by piling on stringed instruments -- guitar, bass guitar, a full string quartet -- plus Steve Nelson's vibes and marimba. His orchestral arrangements still don't amount to much, but he remains a tremendous tenor sax soloist. B+(**) [dl]
Prism Quartet: Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1 (2014 , Innova, 2CD): A saxophone quartet -- Timothy McAllister, Taimur Sullivan, Matthew Levy, Zachary Shemon -- been around since 1990 (at least), but their catalog picked up in 2002 and accelerated around 2007, and this is something of a breakout project, as they've invited six better known saxophonists to compose pieces and join in: Steve Lehman, Dave Liebman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Greg Osby, Tim Ries, and Miguel Zenón. B+(**)
Reggie Quinerly: Invictus (2014 , Redefinition Music): Drummer, originally from Houston, second album, composed everything here but "My Blue Heaven." Warren Wolf's vibes seem to lead here, with Yotam Silberstein's guitar and Christian Sands' piano adding to the frothy lightness. B+(*) [cd]
Nate Radley: Morphoses (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, a mild-mannered mainstream jazz guy, backed by bass (Matt Pavolka) and drums (Ted Poor) with saxophonist Loren Stillman adding some bright splotches of color. B+(*)
John Raymond: Foreign Territory (2014 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Not his first album but an advance, showcasing his trumpet in front of a very solid rhythm section -- Dan Tepfer (piano), Joe Martin (bass), Billy Hart (drums). Well within contemporary postbop bounds, but pretty sharp for that. B+(**) [cdr]
Dawn Richard: Blackheart (2015, Our Dawn): Aka Dawn Angeliqué, ex-singer in Danity Kane and Diddy-Dirty Money, previous album was Goldenheart. Some interesting beat production here, but I find it cluttered and cranky. B
Denia Ridley & the Marc Devine Trio: Afterglow (2014 , ITI Music): Standards singer, backed by Devine's piano trio, a common formula, but she has a winning voice with just a touch of Holiday, and the songs are dependable friends, front-loaded with Gershwin and Porter, ending with "At Last" and "I Cried for You." B+(***)
Schlippenbach Trio: Features (2013 , Intakt): Pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, saxophonist Evan Parker (just tenor this time), and drummer Paul Lovens. I have no idea how many records they've recorded together, but the trio goes back at least to 1972 when they recorded Pakistani Pomade (FMP, reissued by Atavistic in 2003), a "crown" record in the first edition of the Morton-Cook Penguin Guide to Jazz (and since its reissue). I should recheck that record (and whatever else I can find -- Discogs lists twelve Trio albums, and this is my fourth), but this must be one of the most fully realized. A- [cd]
Benny Sharoni: Slant Signature (2014 , Papaya): Tenor saxophonist, born in Israel, parents from Chile and Yemen (to which he attributes his head start in Latin and African rhythms), moved to US in 1986. Second album, mainstream postbop with a Latin lilt, Jim Rotondi on trumpet, both piano and guitar. B+(**) [cd]
Songsmith Collective: Songsmith Collective (2014 , Blujazz): A group of Western Michigan University's jazz students, writing arrangements for various poems (Yeats, Frost, Hughes, WMU professor Traci Brimhall) for nonet plus two singers, under the direction of Dr. Andrew Rathbun -- not a player here but an estimable saxophonist in his own right. Two vocalists, sounds like art-song to me but I take that as testimony to the extent jazz is displacing classical music in academia -- so one cheer, even though it's not really my thing. B [cd]
Spin Marvel: Infolding (2014 , RareNoise): British group somewhere in the experimental rock/jazztronica orbit -- Martin France (drums), Tim Harries (bass), Terje Evensen (electronics), Emre Ramazanoglu (production and further drums) -- released an eponymous album in 2006 (different drummer), back here with Nils Petter Molvaer guesting on trumpet. Darker and harder than Molvaer's own records -- something else in the post-Miles underworld. B+(***) [cdr]
Pops Staples: Don't Lose This (1999 , dBpm): The patriarch of gospel group the Staples Singers, Pops died in 2000 leaving this set of incomplete demos, lately fleshed out by daughter Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy. More blues than gospel, a lovely memento. B+(**)
Story City: Time and Materials (2012, self-released): Jazz-rock (why not call it fusion?) group from Minnesota -- sax, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, more percussion -- more strain in the sax and tension in the rhythm than seems safe for pop jazz, but not interesting enough to slot anywhere else. B [cd]
John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet: Live Beauty (2012 , Origin): Stowell plays guitar. He cut a couple well regarded albums in New York 1977-78, then moved to Portland and mostly vanished until Origin picked him up in 1998. Zilber is a saxophonist, just credited with "saxes" but pictured with a tenor and something that looks like a curved soprano. The unnamed others are John Shifflett (bass) and Jason Lewis (drums), and they each contribute a song (Zilber wrote three, and they cover "My Funny Valentine" and John Scofield's "Wabash III." Still, the sax makes a strong impression, and whenever I notice the guitar Stowell is doing something interesting. B+(***) [cd]
Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show (2015, RCA): Tempted to say this runs the gamut from "Dumb" to "Stupid Girl," but there's more to it than that. Admittedly, nothing all that useful: living the showbiz life, what Tom T. Hall once referred to as "putting on a front," and occasional romantic angst. B+(***)
Tanya Tagaq: Animism (2014 , Six Shooter): Full name Tanya Tagaq Gillis, from Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island in what used to be Canada's Northwest Territories, the eastern part now known as Nunavut. Tagaq developed her own version of Inuit throat-singing, which she deploys along with more conventional vocals framed by far from conventional music produced by jazz violinist Jesse Zubot, with percussionist Jean Martin in the band. Last song is called "Fracking," an attempt to express what the Earth feels when oilmen set explosives underground to fracture rock and break loose hydrocarbons. B+(***)
Katie Thiroux: Introducing Katie Thiroux (2014 , BassKat): Bassist-singer's first album, composed three originals but relies on standards, especially for lyrics. Jeff Hamilton produced, using Graham Dechter's guitar instead of piano, adding Roger Neumann's tenor sax for color and mood, both offering standout solos as well as complementing the bass -- mixed up, it provides both signature and flow. A- [cd]
Tradisyon Ka: Gwo Ka: Music of Guadeloupe, West Indies (2014, Soul Jazz): A French colony in the Lesser Antilles since 1674, briefly independent in the 1790s when the slaveholders defied orders from the French Republic to free the slaves, regained by France in 1814 and currently an Overseas Department. (Slavery was finally abolished in 1848.) Gwo Ka is their traditional drum-and-chant music, and this group sticks to basics, with little variation even though six different singers are featured. B+(**)
Ryan Truesdell: Lines of Color (2014 , Blue Note/ArtistShare): Second album by Gil Evans' ghost band, following 2012's Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans -- some more new discoveries here, but it seems more accurate to think of this as Gil Evans' Greatest Hits . . . Live! Arrangements are properly credited to Evans, dated as far back as 1947. The band has lots of star power, intricately shadowing one another while one or another breaks out in precisely framed solos. Wendy Gilles sings three tunes, including "Everything Happens to Me." A- [cd]
Tuxedo: Tuxedo (2015, Stones Throw): Retro-disco group formed by Mayer Hawthorne (aka DJ Haircut) and Jake One. Seems like a logical progression from Hawthorne's 1960s Motown shtick, gaining traction with each play. A-
Typefighter: The End of Everything (2014, Huge Witch): DC-based garage-pop band, which is to say punk basics plus accessible hooks. B+(**)
Gebhard Ullmann/Johannes Fink/Jan Leipnitz/Gebhard Gschlößl: Gulf of Berlin (2012 , Jazzwerkstatt): Free quartet, respectively: bass clarinet/soprano/tenor sax, cello/double bass, drums, trombone/sousaphone -- the low reeds and brass making this an alternate, less flashy but no less substantial Basement Research. B+(***)
Wormburner: Pleasant Living in Planned Communities (2014, Dive): At first blush, the most attractive postpunk band I've heard in a long time, much credit to Hank Henry's vocals, clear and distinctive at once. Then it occurred to me that the archetype was really the Hold Steady -- still an impressive trick, though I'm not as sympathetic to battered soldiers as to wayward girls. A-
Jack Wright/Ben Wright/Kris Tiner: For Instance (2014, Epigraph): Jack Wright is a free jazz saxophonist (alto and soprano here), been around a long time, only haphazardly recorded (AMG likes a 1999 set on CIMP with Fred Lonborg-Holm on cello). Ben Wright is his son, playing bass. This was recorded when the duo wandered into trumpeter Tiner's lair in Bakersfield, with four rather tentative LP-length (32:50) improvs. B+(*) [bc]
Carlos "Zíngaro": Live at Mosteiro de Santa Clara a Velha (2012 , Cipsela): Spanish violinist (surname, I think, is Alves), started in avant-classical but is increasingly recognized as a superb jazz musician. This is solo, with the usual limits that implies, but still remarkable. B+(**) [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Ata Kak: Obaa Sima (1994 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): Ghanian musician Yaw Atta-Owusu recorded this in Toronto, then released it in a cassette-only run of 50 copies. Brian Shimkovitz picked up one of those copies in 2002 and liked it enough to feature it in his first Awesome Tapes From Africa blog post in 2006, which in turn led to his label, and finally this reissue. Seven tracks, 35:06, vocals tend toward rap, beats run on -- struck me as overly simplistic at first but grew on me. A-
Anthony Braxton: Trio and Duet (1974 , Delmark/Sackville): Early work recorded in Toronto, originally released on Sackville in Canada. The Trio cut is one of Braxton's diagrammatic titles, running 19:08, with (not yet Wadada) Leo Smith on various trumpets and percussion and Richard Teitelbaum on Moog and percussion -- one of those tuneless abstractions that eventually become engaging. The other side of the LP was a standards duo with bassist Dave Holland -- "The Song Is You," "Embraceable You," "You Go to My Head" (all remarkable readings), with two more added for the reissue ("I Remember You" adds to the theme; "On Green Dolphin Street" doesn't). A- [cd]
Connie Converse: How Sad, How Lovely (1954 , Squirrel Thing): In Greenwich Village of the mid-1950s, she worked odd jobs and wrote songs, recording these in Gene Deitch's kitchen, just her voice and guitar, effectively folk music but not that easy to pigeonhole. She gave up on music by 1961, and depressed in 1974 wrote several farewell letters and vanished without a trace. This finally appeared in 2009. Robert Forster is a fan. B+(**)
Coleman Hawkins/Clark Terry: Back in Bean's Bag (1962 , Essential Jazz Classics): More mainstream swing than bop, the tenor saxophonist sounds typically grand, with the trumpet player chipping in, coming more into his own on the bonus tracks that double the reissue's length -- where the album finally won me over. Tommy Flanagan plays piano, another treat. A-
Next Stop . . . Soweto, Vol. 2: Soul, Funk and Organ Grooves From the Townships 1969-1976 (1969-76 , Strut): First volume focused on mbaqanga, the signature pop music that made South Africa's townships famous, although it tried to stay on the steamier side, as if obscurity is a virtue. This favors chintzy funk grooves, obscure because they're derivative and unexceptional, not that they don't broaden your world. B+(*)
Next Stop . . . Soweto: Vol. 3: Giants, Ministers and Makers: Jazz in South Africa 1963-1978 (1963-78 , Strut, 2CD): Many African bands retained "Jazz" names without coming close to western jazz, but a number of South Africans adopted modern forms (without ever losing their love of South African textures and rhythms), usually going into exile -- Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana are two such here, mixed in with the more native bands. Wide ranging, quite enjoyable, but mostly as an odd sampler. B+(**)
No Seattle: Forgotten Sounds of the North-West Grunge Era 1986-97 (1986-97 , Soul Jazz, 2CD): I've often said that the early-1990s dominance of grunge and gangsta was what finally drove me to become a serious jazz fan (and to fill in all that early country-blues-r&b I missed growing up in the 1960s), so I didn't hold much hope for exploring the roots of something I never cared for in the first place, but here it is: 28 tracks by 23 bands which had at least one member who played on a bill with Nirvana. I did have some hope for Vampire Lezbos' "Stop Killing the Seals" until he rest of the lyric turned out to be "because they're my friends." Picks up a bit toward the end (Treehouse, Attica), well after I jotted down this Inspirational lyric: "I'm so bored/I'm so bored/I'm so-o bo-o-ored." The main lesson of grunge is that the laziest way to create something new is to forget all that happened before. B
The Rough Guide to African Rare Groove: Volume 1 (, World Music Network): Pan-African: sax jive from South Africa, others from Mozambique, Ethiopia, Senegal, Nigeria; not many clues as to from when, but 1980s and 1990s are mostly suspect. Not top drawer stuff -- more like "spare groove." B+(**)
The Rough Guide to the Best African Music You've Never Heard (, World Music Network): Like programming the continent for random play, you get bits from Senegal, Morocco, Sudan, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Mali, and probably other spots -- Lesotho if you count the "bonus disc," a reissue of a 2012 album by Sotho Sounds. Shouldn't be hard to pick out music "you've never heard" but a third of these groups have separate albums on the label's Riverboat subsidiary, and I have heard at least three of those (four counting Sotho Sounds) -- not that I remember them. B+(**)
Lennie Tristano: Chicago April 1951 (1951 , Uptown, 2CD): Previously unreleased live tracks, picked from a week at the Blue Note Jazz Club in Chicago. Sextet, with Lee Konitz on alto sax, Warne Marsh on tenor sax, and Willie Dennis on trombone. The pianist developed his own unique conception of bebop, one that sounds radically explorative even sixty-some years later. A-
Moppa Elliott: Moppa Elliott's Mostly Other People Do the Killing (2004 , Hot Cup): First album -- I didn't get on board until Shamokin!!! came out in 2007, by which time the bassist-composer had taken his name off the masthead. The quartet's lineup has remained the same for more than a decade -- Peter Evans (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (saxes), Kevin Shea (drums). Elliott's originals only hint at where they're going, but the "Moanin'" cover at the end is magnificent. B+(***)
Chico Hamilton and Euphoria: Arroyo (1990 , Soul Note): West coast drummer from the "cool jazz" generation, named this group after their 1989 album, built around guitar (Cary DeNigris) and electric bass (Reggie Washington), with Eric Person (alto/soprano sax) weaving in and out. B+(**)
Chico Hamilton and Euphoria: My Panamanian Friend (1992 , Soul Note): A tribute to Eric Dolphy who wrote seven tunes here, all but the brief opening and closing passages. Kenny Davis takes over at bass (acoustic this time, I think), with Cary DeNegris' guitar still the focal point while saxophonist Eric Person wastes away on flute (though he does eventually get some prime sax time). B+(**)
James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards: Live in Aught-Three (2004, Compadre): Christgau likes how this sums up his early songbook (six albums from 1989 to 2002) -- having only heard one, I appreciate the economy of this option, probably also the sonic unity and the fact that he doesn't try to jerk these story songs into rave-ups. May take a little longer to get into them, but he's the sort of writer you'd rather let sink in. A-
Tangerine Dream: Phaedra (1974, Virgin): Edgar Froese's pioneering Krautrock group, fifth album, regarded by many as their peak. The title cut has a just enough rhythmic tension to maintain interest through its 17:39 length. The three pieces on the backside are more synth-ambient. B+(**)
Buddy Tate Quartet & Quintet: Tate a Tete: At La Fontaine, Copenhagen (1975 , Storyville): The Texas tenor live in Denmark, his quartet one of those local pick-up bands although pianist Tete Montoilu is justly famous enough he gets "featuring" credit on the cover -- the bassist is Bo Stief, drummer Svend-Erik Nørregaard, and for a couple tracks the group grows to five with Finn Ziegler on violin. Tate sings "Buddy's Blues," and plays as only he can. B+(**)
Dinah Washington: Dinah Jams (1954 , Verve): Taped in a studio with a live audience to conjure up the air of an after-hours jam session, with a rotating cast of star musicians -- the trumpeters are Clifford Brown, Clark Terry, and Maynard Ferguson -- and well-known songs, which Washington, ever the pro, nails. A-
Dinah Washington: Sings Fats Waller (1957 , Fresh Sound): Adds nine cuts, mostly from The Queen, to the 1957 LP. Ernie Wilkins' big band runs hot and heavy, and Eddie Chamblee's vocal duets aren't up to snuff, but Washington's superb, and "Black and Blue" is a tour de force. B+(**)
Dinah Washington: Sings Bessie Smith (1957-58 , Fresh Sound): Washington is the more polished singer, but she savors the gritty blues, and Eddie Chamblee's band drives the point home by emphasizing the trombone (Quentin Jackson or Julius Priester). B+(***)
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, March 16. 2015
Music: Current count 24701  rated (+14), 420  unrated (+0).
Oklahoma trip chewed up three days, so doesn't completely explain this week's shortfall. While I felt rather depressed before and melancholy (and tired) after, could be that the rest of the drop came from giving Madonna and Myra Melford at least five spins each before my lack of an A- response sealed their fates. Neither album reduces my estimation of the artist, but when I want to hear them I'll go elsewhere. I wound up landing on B+(***) a lot this week: six times out of fourteen records. Tanya Tagaq has by far the most uncertain grade, with some upside if I cared to work at it more than I'm willing, but also some downside. Most likely to be overrated are Atomic and Hailey Niswanger, although they gave me more pleasure than Melford or Madonna.
The one A- is Ryan Truesdell's second Gil Evans Project album. It also took about five spins. I didn't go back to recheck its predecessor, 2012's Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans. At the time I was duly impressed giving it B+(***), but many other jazz critics were wowed and it wound up fourth in the Jazz Critics Poll. Possibly deserves a revisit, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that the more proven arrangements and the live sparkle still give the new album the edge.
Not much mail either. And despite adding quite a bit of bulk to the Music Tracking file, I'm not finding much of interest to look up on Rhapsody, and often not finding what I look for. I do have some downloads from Cuneiform and ECM but haven't been in a hurry to get to them. Haven't been in much of a hurry to do anything.
Should have a Rhapsody Streamnotes out in a day or two. While I was belatedly hacking out the tweets collected below, Matos wrote:
Sure rained on my parade. Been one of those days.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, March 15. 2015
It's been a slow week for me, as I spent much of it in Oklahoma, visiting relatives and attending the funeral of my cousin Harold Stiner. Harold was just shy of his 90th birthday, and is survived by his wife, Louise, whom he married in 1948 and lived with until death did they part. Their life together was a sweet story, but I wouldn't go so far as to dub it the American Dream -- they never made the sort of money American Dreamers feel entitled to, but they never really wanted either, and left behind two children, four grand-kids, and eleven great-grands, so it certainly counts as a human success story. The one part of the funeral I was somewhat troubled by was the "military honors" -- the flag-draped coffin, two soldiers standing at attention, one playing "taps," the ritual folding and presentation of the flag. It's not that Harold hadn't earned the honor. Like most Americans his age, he got sucked up into the US military in the closing stretch of WWII and wound up in the army that occupied Japan, where he served as a guard in the courts that tried Japanese war criminals. He talked about that experience often, but never talked about actual combat -- and he was a mere 20 on VJ day. My own father (only two years older) was also in the army at that time, but he never invested any identity in being a veteran, and died in 2000, before the War on Terror turned into a bizarre Cult of the Troops. I wondered whether Harold's identity was conditioned by that newer Cult, and felt like the stink of America's recent wars (Vietnam most certainly included) hasn't come to taint Harold's more honorable service.
Just a thought, but war does imbue this week's select links: