Monday, November 23. 2015
Music: Current count 25829  rated (+42), 399  unrated (-21).
Total was goosed early in the week by finding some more bookkeeping omissions. A more accurate rated count is probably a bit over 30 (indeed, there are 33 new ratings below, although I haven't double checked to make sure that's right either). I threw away Tuesday cooking, and lost Friday afternoon to a doctor thing. Otherwise I worked pretty hard.
I'm late posting this on Monday because I've dusted off last year's EOY List Aggregate scripts and started to accumulate data for 2015. Thus far I have nine lists counted (see the Legend for a full list and links to the source lists; beware that I have only made the most cursory of corrections to the text there and will have to clean it up later). Seven of the first nine lists are from the UK, and five of those are from record stores (each, by the way, running 100 records deep: Drift, Fopp, Piccadilly, Resident Music, Rough Trade). We also have the two big glossy UK rock mags (Mojo, Uncut), and two more specialized US mags (metal-oriented Decibel and Americana-focused American Songwriter). The very early returns looks like this:
I've fiddled with the formula a bit this year to provide extra points for higher placement (5 for 1, 4 for 2-5, 3 for 6-10, 2 for 11-20, 1 for > 20), and I figure I'll use that consistently for all top-tier lists (all so far count as such). Holter currently tops 3 lists (Mojo, Piccadilly, Uncut), Stevens 1 (Drift), Bjork 1 (Rough Trade), Public Service Broadcasting 1 (Fopp), Algiers 1 (Resident). The top records from American Songwriter (Chris Stapleton) and Decibel (Horrendous) don't appear on any other lists. Barnett ranks no higher than 3 on any list but appears on 8 of 9, 7 in the top 10, the other 12th. The probable favorite, Kendrick Lamar, also appears on 8 lists, but only twice in the top 10 (2 on Mojo, 2 on Uncut). The list with neither Barnett nor Lamar is Decibel's, which only has two albums that also appear on other lists: Deafheaven (2), Killing Joke (1).
Last year I wound up collecting data from 676 lists. I don't expect to come close to that this year, but still it's safe to say that returns are less than 1% in. Also that some identifiable skews are present -- e.g., Sleaford Mods won't finish ahead of Sleater-Kinney once the US lists take over. I've included my grades in brackets for reference. I'm rather surprised to see this top-40 (actually 44) has 8 records (18.2%) I've rated A- (and only 2 B-, and none lower) -- usually I disagree more, often finding no correlation at all between my grades and other people's lists. I currently have 30 of these 44 albums rated, so 68.2% (which includes some things today that will show up in next week's report).
Rhapsody Streamnotes came out on Wednesday, so some of today's list managed to sneak into that file (like the Ivo Peelmans). I should be closing in on my 2015 prospect list, filling out the last slots in my 2015 jazz and non-jazz lists, but surprisingly two of my A- records this week date from 2012-13: one is the Wreckless Eric/Amy Rigby album that eluded me in the past, but which I found now while looking for Eric's new album; the other is by a Bakersfield CA jazz group with a new record, but I noticed an older one, checked it out, and liked it better. Group name is: Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 22. 2015
Much blather this week about the existential threat posed to the United States by the prospect of allowing 10,000 Syrian refugees to resettle here. Some demagogues like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush insisted that we only allow Syrian Christians to enter (7.8% in 1960, the last Syrian census to bother to count sectarian identity, although a 2006 estimate bumps this up to 10%). Others insisted on a vetting process to weed out terrorist infiltrators, evidently unaware that a rather onerous one already exists. Dozens of Republican governors, including our own Sam Brownback (who recently displaced Bobby Jindal as the least popular sitting governor in the US), issued executive orders to help stanch the deluge of Syrian/Arab/Muslim immigrants. Donald Trump not only opposed all immigration, but went further to entertain the idea of a federal registry of Muslims in America. He finally received some backlash for that (rather casual) statement, but it appeals to a base distinguished only by the depths of their ignorance. I'm seeing reports that "only 49% of GOP voters in Iowa think that the religion of Islam should even be legal."
Reading Wikipedia's piece on Islam in the United States would help alleviate this ignorance. You will find, for instance, that about 1% of the American population is Muslim (2.77 million). Also, Muslims are immigrating to the US at a rate of about 110,000 per year. So 10,000 extra Syrians represents less than 10% of the current immigration rate, about 0.36% of the total Muslim population (1 in 277). If everyone shut up and just let this happen, no one would ever notice anything. The problem, though, is that by making a big stink about it, you're not just barring 10,000 Syrians, you're sending a message of hate and fear to 2.77 million Americans. How does that help?
About one-fourth of the Muslims in America are African-Americans, notably political leaders (including two members of Congress) and many prominent athletes and musicians. Most others are first or second generation immigrants, but some date back to immigrants from the 1880-1910 era, and some can trace their families back to the colonial era. The piece has numerous examples, plus a section on "Religious freedom" that shows that Americans were aware of Islam when they declared freedom of religion in the US Constitution.
One minor point I wasn't aware of is that the first country to recognize the United States as an independent country was the Sultanate of Morocco. It's worth adding that the US had generally good relationships in the Arab world up through WWII. In the first world war, Woodrow Wilson had refused to join Britain and France in declaring war on the Ottoman Empire, and he later declined an Anglo-French proposal that the US occupy Turkey when they were divvying up the spoils of war. Before then, the US was primarily known for its missionary schools like the American Universities in Beirut and Cairo. (The Presbyterians who founded those schools restricted their missionary work to Christians so as not to offend Muslim authorities, but welcomed Muslims to study and respected them, allowing the Universities to develop as intellectual centers of liberal, nationalist, and anti-colonial thinking.) Arab/Muslim respect for America only eroded after the US sided with Israel's colonialist project and replaced Britain as the protector of the aristocracies that claim personal ownership of the region's oil wealth.
US good will in the Arab world was built on a reputation for fairness and mutual respect, but has since been squandered in an anachronistic, foolhardy attempt to grab the spoils of empire. In some sense, we've gone full circle. The first significant number of Muslims to appear in colonial America were brought here from Africa, and they proved to be especially difficult to manage as slaves. Islam was then and now a religion that stood for justice and fought back against injustice. It should not be surprising that today's right-wing sees imposing Christianity on Muslims as key to ending their disobedience, as that was precisely what their forebears the slaveholders had done. After all, the prime directive of conservatism is to defend hierarchy by forcing everyone into their "proper" place. Of course, that was easier to do before conservative institutions like slavery and the inquisition were discredited, but the more we live in a world where people with money think they can buy anything, the more we see even the hoariest fantasies of conservatism come back to haunt us.
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't have time for this shit right now):
Wednesday, November 18. 2015
A substantial list of albums this month as we're approaching the end-of-year, with an above-average 15 new A-list entries (from an above-average 117 "new" albums). Good chance there's some seasonal effect here, as we tend to accumulate more information toward the end of the year. This was prepared without the benefit of any actual EOY lists -- usually the first one out comes from Rough Trade in the UK, and, just rechecking, it has arrived here). As I have in the last couple years, I've split my 2015 list up into jazz and non-jazz files, not because I think they should be judged separately as because my own professional stature gives me access to a lot more jazz than non-jazz -- indeed, my share of the latter would be pathetic except for my ability to stream records on Rhapsody (and, rarely, other sources). This discrepancy is, I think, even more glaring this year than in past years. Looking at my music tracking list, I see that thus far I've rated 540 jazz records vs. a mere 249 non-jazz. More than anything else, that explains why I only have 42 A-listed non-jazz records, vs. 60 jazz.
I need to replay some records and shuffle my lists -- a lot of the ordering is pretty haphazard. The first serious deadline will be December 6, when ballots are due for Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll, sponsored again this year by NPR. I have about 40 unrated 2015 jazz records in the queue right now, so I need to focus on those. I also need to take a closer look at the music tracking list above, which currently lists over 1000 of this year's jazz releases. In past years I tried to prioritize them a bit, to come up with a search list I described as "estimated to have a 2% (or better) chance of making the A-list if/when I finally hear them." Pure guesswork, of course, but one clear example is Jack DeJohnette's Made in Chicago (ECM).
Old music is down this month (28 records vs. 122 recent releases; it was 47 vs. 77 last month; 109 vs. 70 in September). Some back catalog was suggested by current releases -- in the case of Last Exit I was vainly looking for ESP's new Iron Path reissue -- while others were arbitrary inspirations (Marty Grosz, John Law, John Tchicai).
Most of 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 October 24. Past reviews and more information are available here (7250 records).
The 14 Jazz Orchestra: Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy (2015 , self-released): Big band, arranged and conducted by Dan Bonsanti, only thirteen musicians listed (4 reeds, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, 4 rhythm). Featuring credit for tenor saxophonist Ed Calle (strong performance), with Will Lee, Mark Egan, and Marko Marcinko listed as special guests. All cover material, Dorsey to Pastorius with Curtis Mayfield and the Beatles from the pop world. B [cd]
Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog (2015, Nonesuch): Christgau pegs this as her best ever, a comparison which bumps up against United States Live and Home of the Brave and Strange Angels, just to pick two albums I have at full A and a third at A+. Compared to them (especially the latter) this strikes me as short on music -- most is spoken word over some very minimally ambient electronics. Still, fascinating wordplay, on death and love and spying and a fox terrier, ending with a bit of the late Lou Reed, unplugged. A-
Dennis Angel: On Track (2014 , Timeless Grooves): Flugelhorn player, third album. Scads of musicians on the back cover, including an utterly wasted "special guest" (Kenny Barron, on piano), but just below Angel you get Gottfried Stoger (tenor sax) and timeless groovmeister Jason Miles (keyboards, synths, strings, also producer). B- [cd]
ASAP Rocky: At.Long.Last.ASAP (2015, Polo Grounds/RCA): New York rapper Rakim Mayers, second album (not counting the much hyped mixtape), still preoccupied with the almighty $, although that too is an oversimplification. B+(**)
Bathysphere: Bathysphere (2015, Driff): Unconventional big band, 15 pieces (4 reeds, 6 brass including cornet and tuba, piano, 2 basses, drums, Andrew Neumann on analog electronics), jointly led by Jorrit Dijkstra (alto sax, lyricon, analog synth) and Pandelis Karayorgis (piano). Many avant luminaries, with the piano unusually prominent (more a solo than a rhythm instrument), and various bits for everyone else. B+(**) [cd]
Beach House: Depression Cherry (2015, Sub Pop): Baltimore duo, with Victoria Legrand's plain vocals over basic keyboards, a lo-fi group that's become comfortable in its surroundings -- probably not at the beach. B+(*)
Beach House: Thank Your Lucky Stars (2015, Sub Pop): Big improvement here, or so it seems to me -- these songs were cut about the same time as the better-reviewed Depression Cherry so they're practically outtakes, but the limited things this duo do have never meshed so effortlessly. B+(***)
Beach Slang: The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us (2015, Polyvinyl): Philadelphia post-punk band, churns up a lot of guitar slag and makes something resembling songs out of it, probably more impressive than it seems. B
Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap: The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern (2015, Columbia): Downbeat's readers just picked Bennett for the magazine's Hall of Fame, a choice I'm not unhappy with, though not one I'd ever make myself. A glance at my database reminds me that I've never A-listed any Bennett album (though I've only rated 15, and wouldn't be surprised if I missed one). The one I had highest hopes for was The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album (1975), especially after a reviewer (in Crawdaddy, if memory serves) touted it as "the ultimate make-out album." Not really, but it did much to restore Bennett's jazz cred (his first album was called Jazz, and he worked with Basie before Sinatra did). This singer-piano pairing -- actually Charlap mostly uses his trio, and Renee Rosnes subs on a couple cuts -- will be likened to the Evans album, but Charlap is both more supportive and less distinctive, while Bennett, content to let his voice be its own reward, takes it easy even when the music dictates swing. B+(*)
Josh Berman Trio: A Dance and a Hop (2015, Delmark): Cornet player from Chicago, third album, also appears in Michael Zerang's group (below). This is a straight free-leaning trio with Jason Roebke on bass and Frank Rosaly on drums mixing it up. A- [cd]
Randy Bernsen: Grace Notes (2015, Jericho Jams): Guitarist, pop-funk-fusion guy I guess, dates back to Blood, Sweat & Tears; first own album came out in 1986, Mo' Wasabi. This features and was produced by bass guitarist Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets). Five originals, covers from Lennon-McCartney, Haslip-Ferrante, and Freddie Hubbard. Not bad as groove records go, mostly due to the bass support. B [cd]
Nat Birchall: Invocations (2015, Jazzman): Tenor saxophonist from Britain, has a half-dozen albums since 1999. Seems like John Coltrane is the most emulated (not to mention imitated) tenor saxophonist in the world since 1970, but no one's got the whole deal -- not just tone but flow, feel, rhythm, invention, and for that matter band -- down as pat at Birchall. If he's missing anything, it's conflict, which gives him a serenity beyond. A-
Bizingas: Eggs Up High (2015, NCM East): Second album from a group that calls itself an "art-rock, free-prog jazz quartet." I file them under trombonist Brian Drye (also credited here with synthesizer, organ, piano, and compositions), with Kirk Knuffke (cornet) a second horn, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, and Ches Smith on drums and electronics. I wouldn't push the rock angle too hard -- they lose something when the beat straightens out. B+(**) [cd]
Björk: Vulnicura (2015, One Little Indian): Seems to be one of her best-regarded albums, although I've given up on trying to understand, let alone like, her. Sounds like another strings-drenched passion play, most engaging when the synth-beat breaks up, least when it all coagulates. B
Blackalicious: Amani, Vol. 1 (2015, OGM): Hip-hop group from the Bay Area (actually Sacramento), first album in 10 years and now projected to come out in three volumes. Like fellow traveler Lyrics Born's first in five years, their comeback leaps over and often stomps on the the state of the art, which has gone pretty slack. A-
Bobby Bradford-Frode Gjerstad Quartet: The Delaware River (2014 , NoBusiness): Cornet and alto sax/clarinet, respectively, the quartet filled out by Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Frank Rosaly on drums. Same formula as Bradford's great quartet with John Carter but, unfortunately, no John Carter. B+(**) [cdr]
Leon Bridges: Coming Home (2015, Columbia): Retro soul singer, b. 1989 but aims for early Sam Cooke. Doesn't hit it, but a couple songs could be passed off as obscure period gems -- not enough to make him memorable, but most weren't. B+(*)
Sarah Buechi: Shadow Garden (2015, Intakt): Swiss singer-songwriter, writes mostly in English, has several albums including one previous one on Intakt with this same piano trio -- Stafan Aeby, André Pousaz, Lionel Friedli. The songs don't fall into any tradition I recognize, but are strangely seductive. B+(***) [cd]
Sarah Buechi: Flying Letters (2013 , Intakt): Earlier record by same group, the piano trio named on the cover. Steps a little more awkwardly into the songs, sometimes close to spoken word, giving them an artier air. B+(*)
João Camões/Jean-Marc Foussat/Claude Parle: Bien Mental (2015, Fou): Viola (violon alto), electronics (dispositif électro-acoustique), and accordion, respectively. Foussat has been working along these lines for a while now, but this is the most interesting sonic mix he has come up with yet. B+(***) [cd]
João Camões/Rodrigo Pinheiro/Miguel Mira: Earnear (2015, Tour de Bras): Viola, piano, cello -- Pinheiro is leader of RED Trio, whose 2010 eponymous debut made my A-list. The strings give this a "chamber jazz" feel, although it is also more abstract. B+(**) [cd]
The Chills: Silver Bullets (2015, Fire): New Zealand group, had two great albums 1990-92, and not much since, with this their first studio album since 1996 (2013's Somewhere Beautiful was a live album). This gets the sound back, maybe even pumps it up a bit (maybe too much). A-
Romain Collin: Press Enter (2013 , ACT): French pianist, attended Berklee, has a couple albums. Credits organized as a trio with Luques Curtis and Kendrick Scott, plus some extras, with Laura Metcalf's cello perhaps a constant. B+(**) [cd]
Dani Comas: Epokhé (2014 , UnderPool): Guitarist, splits this into three parts of three songs each, the first solo, then duo and trio with Jordi Matas (bass) and/or David Xirgu (drums). Ambient but intriguing. B+(**) [cd]
Caroline Davis Quartet: Doors: Chicago Storylines (2013 , Ears & Eyes): Alto saxophonist, has a previous album, based in New York but spent eight years in Chicago and developed an interest in history there. She interviewed thirteen Chicago jazz musicians and packed their reminiscences around her original pieces -- Mike Allemann (guitar), Matt Ferguson (bass), Jeremy Cunningham (drums). Lovely pieces, interesting raps. B+(***) [cd]
Guy Davis: Kokomo Kidd (2015, M.C.): Mild-mannered gentlemanly bluesman, son of Ossie Davis, has a dozen albums since 1995. This has some interesting yarns and curious filler, not prime material but true to form. B+(*)
Deerhunter: Fading Frontier (2015, 4AD): Kind of a prog band but they've moved mainstream and have a big following -- which they mostly deserved last time out (Monomania, although their previous album, Halcyon Digest, polled better). This is less challenging than either of those, prettier actually, some kind of plateau. B+(***)
Destroyer: Poison Season (2015, Merge): Band vehicle for Canadian singer/songwriter Dan Bejar going back ten albums to 1998, although he's also part of New Pornographers and the duo Hello, Blue Roses. B+(*)
Giovanni Di Domenico/Peter Jacquemyn/Chris Corsano: A Little Off the Top (2013 , NoBusiness): Piano-bass-drums trio, free jazz, a fine example of the art. The pianist has put out a lot of material over the last few years, but this is only the second disc to come my way. B+(***) [cdr]
John Dikeman/William Parker/Hamid Drake: Live at La Resistenza (2014 , El Negocito): Dikeman plays alto and tenor saxophone. He was born in Nebraska in 1983, grew up in Wyoming, tried New York, then Cairo and Budapest before settling into Amsterdam. A rather squawky free player, he has a group called Cactus Truck that I've yet to be impressed by. This is a standard free sax trio cut live in Ghent, Belgium -- the sort of thing Parker and Drake could do in their sleep, but never do. B+(***) [cd]
Marcelo Dos Reis/Luis Vicente/Théo Ceccaldi/Valentin Ceccaldi: Chamber 4 (2013 , FMR): Guitar, trumpet, violin/viola, cello, two credited with voice although you can't exactly say they sing -- it's more of a background effect, part of a montage which despite the joint improv doesn't really move around that much. B+(**) [cd]
Marcelo Dos Reis/Angélica V. Salvi: Concentric Rinds (2013 , Cipsela): Guitar and harp, both trying their hand at prepared instruments, at least for part of this. Makes for some surprising sounds, and they keep the pace so moderate they can't possibly throw you off. B+(*) [cd]
Kirsten Edkins: Art & Soul (2013 , self-released): Saxophonist (tenor, soprano, alto), first album, produced by Bob Sheppard, with Larry Goldings on organ and piano, guitarist Larry Koonse sprucing up a couple of tracks, and dabs of trumpet and trombone here and there. Mainstream, swings hard, touches on soul jazz without getting stuck. B+(*) [cd]
Empress Of: Me (2015, Terrible/XL): Lorely Rodriguez, from Los Angeles, second album, electropop, pleasurable moments. B+(*)
Robin Eubanks Mass Line Big Band: More Than Meets the Ear (2015, ArtistShare): Trombonist, ten albums under his own name, side credits include Dave Holland's groups. Got a research grant at Oberlin and used that to assemble a conventional big band (plus organ and percussion and an extra trombone): his own credits include electric trombone (presumably what we're hearing on "Blues for Jimi Hendrix") and percussion pads. B+(*) [cdr]
Carlos Falanga: Gran Coral (2014 , UnderPool): Drummer, from Spain, second album, leading a guitar-piano trio, with Marco Mezquida again making a strong impression on piano (see his solo album below) and Jordi Matas adding tasty licks on guitar. B+(**)
Sergi Felipe: Whisper Songs (2011, UnderPool): Spanish tenor saxophonist, leads a quintet with Hugo Astudillo on alto sax, Alfred Artigas on guitar, plus bass and drums. The instrumentation is designed to flow together seamlessly, and that's pretty much what it does. B+(*) [cd]
Sergi Felipe/Whisper Songs: Bombú Es Libre En El Espacio (2013, UnderPool): Intent here is probably that the title of his first album be the group name, but might as well file it under the tenor saxophonist's name. Same lineup, again the guitar moderates the horns, not that they have any ambitions to be heard. B+(*) [cd]
Garrison Fewell: Invisible Resonance Trio (2013 , Creative Nation Music): I received a copy of this album, but when I got it the disc was badly cracked, unplayable. Trio with Roy Campbell, who died in 2014, on trumpet, and Luther Gray on drums. Sadly, I just noticed that the guitarist, perhaps best known for his work with the late John Tchicai, died earlier this year. A rather relaxed session, with Campbell exploring the cosmos and the others tagging along. B+(***)
Amina Figarova: Blue Whisper (2015, In + Out): Pianist, born in Azerbaijan, based in New York, has ten or so albums since 1996. Several pieces here were commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center, nicely orchestrated postbop. I could do without the flutes and vocals, but she alternates between two ace tenor saxophonists: Marc Mommaas and Wayne Escoffery. B
Clare Fischer: Out of the Blue (2015, Clavo): I don't see a recording date, but pianist Fischer died in 2012 after a long career going back to the mid-1950s with close to fifty albums. This was produced and annotated by Brent Fischer, who ends his liner notes with: "I'm eagerly looking forward to showing you more new Fischer material when it appears out of the blue!" This has the range of a retrospective, including guest spots for vocalists and drummer Peter Erskine. Fischer has long struck me as peripheral to jazz, but he does have a charming way with Latin rhythms. B+(*) [cd]
Florence + the Machine: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (2015, Island/Republic): Brit singer/songwriter Florence Welch plus an arena-scaled band, or possibly some mechanical approximation -- I don't much care one way or the other, nor do I follow her literary appreciation. Nor do I know the Tom Hull who is co-credited with two of her songs. B
Brandon Flowers: The Desired Effect (2015, Virgin EMI): Singer for the Killers, an alt/indie band of no particular distinction, evidently still extant although three members have produced side projects. This is an impressive piece of production craft, mostly mid-tempo with hints of grandeur, the singer wrapped in background harmonies. B+(**)
Robert Forster: Songs to Play (2015, Tapete): Second post-Go-Betweens album, a solid batch of songs although they take some time to sink in, partly because they move further from the group sound than the songs on Intermission. B+(**)
Rich Halley 4: Eleven (2014 , Pine Eagle): Tenor saxophonist from Oregon, has had a terrific run of albums lately, most with this same quartet: Michael Vlatkovich (trombone), Clyde Reed (bass), and son Carson Halley (drums). When he takes charge this is another one, but I have a few minor quibbles -- unison themes, slow patches. B+(***) [cd]
Tigran Hamasyan: Luys I Luso (2014 , ECM): Pianist from Armenia, returns for an album of sedate piano and choral music, featuring the Yerevan State Chamber Choir, conducted by Harutyan Topikyan. B- [dl]
Alfred 23 Harth/Jörg Fischer/Marcel Daemgen: Confucius Tarif Reduit (2014 , Spore Point): I'd call this a free sax trio, but instead of bass Daemgen is credited with "electronics, synthesizer," and Harth's credit reads "reeds, pocket trumpet, voice, dojirak." B+(**) [cd]
Angel Haze: Back to the Woods (2015, self-released): Rapper Raykeea Wilson, released her "major label debut" at the end of December 2013, too late to get noticed, and has to follow that up with a mixtape, not as immediately appealing, but the world's a treacherous place, and she's tough enough to get through it. B+(***)
Carlos Henriquez: The Bronx Pyramid (2015, Blue Engine): Bassist for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, from the Bronx, first album. He doesn't have the full band here -- just Michael Rodriguez (trumpet), Felipe Lamoglia (tenor sax), Robert Rodriguez (piano), Ali Jackson (drums), lots of percussionists, and a guest vocal from Rubén Blades. B+(**)
Holly Herndon: Platform (2015, 4AD): More electronica producer than singer, first half of the album manages to juggle an avalanche of samples. She then breaks the mood with a whispered word piece before returning to the thrash, a bit more abstractly. B+(**)
Hiatus Kaiyote: Choose Your Weapon (2015, Flying Buddha): Australian "alt r&b" group, second album. Singer Nai Palm does have some diva moves, and the rhythm is so slippery they slide right past me -- neither of those are compliments, although they leave some room for disagreement. B-
Keigo Hirakawa: And Then There Were Three (2014 , self-released): Piano trio, with Eddie Brookshire (bass) and Fenton Sparks (drums), plus a vocal (Wenbi Lai) on one track. The pianist teaches at the University of Dayton, and has a couple previous albums. Originals except for two closing tracks: one from Bud Powell, the other "Precious Lord." Bright, upbeat, overwhelms you. B+(*) [cd]
Mike Holober: Balancing Act (2015, Palmetto): Pianist, mostly associated with big bands like the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, has a septet-plus-singer here ranging from highly orchestrated (including flute) to monster sax solos (Jason Rigby and Dick Oatts. The vocalist is Kate McGarry. B+(**) [cd]
Hot Jazz Jumpers: The Very Next Thing (2015, On the Bol): Sounds like an exceptionally noisy trad jazz group at first, but the trad fare ranges from "You Are My Sunshine" to "Jock-A-Mo" and sometimes slips into surrealism. Two singers (Miles Griffith and Betina Hershey), Nick Russo on guitar/banjo/resonator, David Pleasant on drums, and other part-timers. Eventually the weirdness turns annoying, especially on the "Russo Griffith Free Improv." Haven't watched the Bonus DVD. B
Sam Hunt: Between the Pines: Acoustic Mixtape (2015, MCA Nashville): Nashville singer, his 2014 debut Montevallo one of the year's most overrated discs. Nice gesture that he decided to throw out this freebie, reprising some earlier songs Hunt wrote, on the anniversary of his hit. Nice, but not much better. B
Aaron Irwin Quartet: A Room Forever (2015, self-released): Fourth album, plays clarinet here although I have him listed under alto sax. With no drums this could pass as chamber jazz, but trombone (Matthew McDonald) and bass (Thomson Kneeland) give it some heft, and Pete McCann slips his guitar into the mix, tying it together. B+(*) [cd]
Janet Jackson: Unbreakable (2015, Rhythm Nation): Seven years since her last album, Discipline, one of the few I didn't bother to check out (coming as it did after the C+ 20 Y.O.). Tempting to say this rights a slumping career, but it merely doesn't wrong it further. Above all it shows that competency can be enjoyed by anyone with the budget. B+(*)
Guus Janssen: Meeting Points (1989-2014 , Bimhuis): Dutch avant pianist, has had a notable career with 1997's Zwik a particular high point. This is previously unreleased material from scattered groups, although six (of nine) tracks date from 2011 or later. Two piano-drums duos, a duo with Lee Konitz, but the most interesting are four small groups with Michael Moore (clarinet or alto sax). B+(***) [cd]
Jeff Jenkins Organization: The Arrival (2014 , OA2): Organ trio, with Dave Gorbus on Godin guitar and Alwyn Robinson on drums. A soul jazz throwback, pretty impeccable as those things go. B+(*) [cd]
Khat Thaleth [Third Line]: Initiative for the Elevation of Public Awareness (2013, Stronghold Sound): Arabic rappers (from all over: Lebanon to Tunisia"), lyrics (I gather) politically focused, "a third electric and energized approach to looking at politics in the Arab world." Beats are fairly minimal although the traditional tones and modes sometimes leak through, and the mixes shift around a lot -- probably a plus, since I doubt that anyone here is much of a star. A-
Martin Küchen/Johan Berthling/Steve Noble: Night in Europe (2014 , NoBusiness): Sax-bass-drums trio, the leader playing tenor, alto, and sopranino, recorded live at Glenn Miller Café in Stockholm. Küchen has mostly worked in larger groups like Angles (also Exploding Customer, All Included, and Trespass Trio), so this is a chance to hear him in a relatively informal improv bash. B+(***) [cd]
Martin Küchen/Jon Rune Strøm/Tollef Østvang: Melted Snow (2014 , NoBusiness): Another Küchen sax trio, this one with locals (not that Berthling and Noble are much more famous) and short enough for a vinyl-only release. Not much reason to choose between them, unless you're some sort of vinyl junkie. B+(***) [cdr]
Nancy Lane: Let Me Love You (2015, self-released): Standards singer, first album. Mostly picks lesser-known songs, including one in French, but there's also "Cry Me a River," "All of You," and "What Is This Thing Called Love." Looks, and sounds, a bit like Diana Krall. Don't know anyone in the band, but they rotate seamlessly between piano and guitar backing, and several trumpet and sax spots are well chosen. B+(***) [cd]
Adam Larson: Selective Amnesia (2015, Inner Circle Music): Tenor saxophonist, from Illinois, based in New York, plays postbop, has a couple albums, this a quintet with guitar (Matthew Stevens), piano (Fabian Almazan), bass, and drums. B+(*) [cd]
Emma Larsson: Sing to the Sky (2014 , Origin): Singer/songwriter (6 of 9 songs are originals), second album, backed by piano trio (Shedrick Mitchell, Eric Revis, Billy Drummond) and saxophonist Kenneth Whallum III. B [cd]
Ingrid Laubrock: Ubatuba (2014 , Firehouse 12): Avant saxophonist from Germany, has about 15 records since 1998 and plays on a lot of other's albums, especially with Kris Davis, Mary Halvorson, and/or Tom Rainey. This group has four horns, with Tim Berne on alto sax, Laubrock moving between alto and tenor, Ben Gerstein on trombone and Dan Peck on tuba, plus Rainey on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Martin Leiton: Poetry of Sound (2014 , UnderPool): Bassist, from Barcelona, has at least one previous album. This is a trio with Marcel-li Bayer (alto sax, tenor sax, bass clarinet) and Oscar Doménech (drums). Understated, crawls along at an even pace, nearly hypnotic. B+(**) [cd]
Daniel Levin/Rob Brown: Divergent Paths (2012 [2015, Cipsela): Duets, cello and alto sax, both a little abstract and dry. B+(*) [cd]
Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts: Manhattan (2015, Rough Trade): Comic book artist, folksinger too, although a dozen albums in he rocks harder, still crams a lot of words in, with more than a few in Yiddish. A-
John Lindberg/Anil Eraslan: Juggling Kukla (2011 , NoBusiness): Well known American bassist, a founder of String Trio of New York with several dozen albums under his own name, duets with Turkish cellist Eraslan. Inevitably has some hard-to-hear spots, but also much of interest. B+(**) [cdr]
Luis Lopes/Jean-Luc Guionnet: Live at Culturgest (2011 , Clean Feed): Guionnet is a prolific, fairly well known French alto saxophonist -- Discogs credits him with 35 albums since 1998, although that includes quite a few albums where, like this one, his name appears second or later on the credit line. I'm much more familiar with the Portuguese guitarist: he's come up with a distinctly non-fusion electric guitar style. Two long improvs here, much of it pretty ugly, although if you can stand it you might also find a tingle of excitement. B-
Lyrics Born: Real People (2015, Mobile Home): Tokyo-born rapper Tsutomu ("Tom") Shimura, came up through the Berkeley underground in the duo Latyrx and a handful of his own albums. This one rocks out on the title cut, then busts several of the hottest raps I've heard this year. Catchiest too. A [cd]
Roy McGrath Quartet: Martha (2014 , JL Music): Tenor saxophonist, born in Puerto Rico, based in Chicago, seems to be his second album. Also plays in salsa/Latin jazz and funk groups, but this is a mainstream sax quartet -- can't read the red-on-green credits, but they're competent, and I'm a sucker for the sax leads. B+(**) [cd]
Marco Mezquida Mateos: Live in Terrassa (2015, UnderPool): Pianist, from Barcelona, has a couple previous albums as Marco Mezquida. This is solo. The cover shows him from high above at a grand piano, with no cover, surrounded on all sides by rapt listeners in uncomfortable chairs, and the recording feels that intimate. But what makes it work for me is the rhythmic undertow. B+(***) [cd]
Kristine Mills: Bossa Too (2015, InkWell Publishing): Singer-songwriter from Houston, fourth album, backed by Itaiguara Brandao (electric bass, acoustic guitar), piano, drums, some extra percussion. Slips a couple Jobims in with her originals. Appropriately light and frothy. B [cd]
Matt Mitchell: Vista Accumulation (2015, Pi, 2CD): Pianist, has built a reputation playing in key groups (Tim Berne, Darius Jones, Dave Douglas, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Claudia Quintet), now presents his third album as a sprawling double (96:10), a quartet with Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet), Chris Tordini (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums). Rather dark and brooding, sorry to say, although those who stick with it will continue to be impressed. B+(**) [cd]
The Monash Art Ensemble/George Lewis: Hexis (2013 , Jazzhead): Pianist Paul Grabowsky founded the Australian Art Ensemble in 1994, and added students from the Monash University of Music to form this group. Lewis is the AACM trombonist, has a mixed discography that can stray far from his instrument. The combination is a stark, radical take on third stream. B+(**)
Àlvar Montfort/Lucas Martinez/Jordi Matas/Abel Boquera/Pep Mula: Underpool 4 (2014 , UnderPool): Trumpet, tenor sax, guitar, keys & synth, drums -- another postbop configuration (see Underpool 3). At one point Martinez tries to drag this into the avant-garde, but the group doesn't follow. B+(*) [cd]
Jack Mouse & Scott Robinson with Janice Borla: Three Story Sandbox (2015 , Tall Grass): Mouse is a drummer, playing a long list of percussion instruments here. Robinson plays an equally long list of reeds, giving us a minimal but fairly varied two-man band. Borla sings. B+(*) [cd]
Larry Ochs/Don Robinson Duo: The Throne (2011 , Not Two): Sax-drums duo, Ochs playing tenor and sopranino. The latter if piercingly ugly but strangely captivating. The tenor also pushes the limits of avant-ugly, but most often is invigorating, and the stretches where they slow down are most captivating. The drummer doesn't play off the riffs so much as roll with them. A-
Paris: Pistol Politics (2015, Guerrilla Funk, 2CD): Oscar Jackson Jr., rapper from San Francisco, dropped his first album in 1990 and has always worn politics on his sleeve. I should make a point of checking out his early albums when he had major label deals, but the first I heard was 2003's Sonic Jihad on his own label, then even better his "featuring" role on Public Enemy's Rebirth of a Nation (2006). This is his first album in six years, and he's got a lot to talk about, with a natural flow meant to make his words clear, and perfunctory beats to keep it moving. A- [cd]
Peaceful Solutions: Barter 7 (2015, self-released): Kool A.D. (originally of Das Racist) and Kassa Overall (originally a jazz drummer), aka Kool & Kass, now dba the title of their first album together. The title is presumably a play on Young Thug's Barter 6, itself a play on the still-unreleased Tha Carter V. Obviously, "the world's greatest rapper" (these days "the real one") doesn't spend a lot of time on titles. Nor on rhymes, although he lands a few anyway, and the beats render even the groaners amusing. A- [bc]
Pol Pedrós/Noè Escolà/Albert Cirera/Rai Paz/Paco Weht/Ildefons Alonso: Underpool 3 (2014, UnderPool): Barcelona-based jazz label. I originally figured this for a sampler, but while the writing credits are scattered, it seems to be the same group on all tracks. Respective instruments are: trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, guitar, bass, and drums. Seems like a formula for postbop, and is. B+(*) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Complementary Colors (2015, Leo): Tenor sax and piano duo, two avant players with intertwined histories going back at least to 1996. The focus on color keeps this on the quiet side, which is not really what either player is known for. B+(***) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Tanya Kalmanovitch: Villa Lobos Suite (2015, Leo): Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) was a famed Brazilian composer, the inspiration for but not the author of this music. The credits here are shared by the trio, with the tenor sax receding behind the two violas. Interesting music, but the tone does rub me the wrong way. B+(**) [cd]
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey: Butterfly Whispers (2015, Leo): Avant tenor sax-piano-drums trio, one that previously cut 2012's The Clairvoyant -- one of the Brazilian saxophonist's finest albums. This struggles a bit to reach that level, but eventually cranks it up a notch from the Perelman-Shipp duo, which is what adding a good drummer should do. A- [cd]
Oscar Perez: Prepare a Place for Me (2015, Myna): Pianist, from Queens, played in church and listened to Cuban folk music, studied under Danilo Perez and Sir Roland Hanna, has a couple previous albums. Piano trio with a Latin lilt, plus alto saxophonist Bruce Williams on five (of nine) cuts: a nice addition but you don't notice his absence. B+(**) [cd]
Roots Manuva: Bleeds (2015, Big Dada): Brit rapper Rodney Smith, seems to have lost the grime/dub beats he started out with a decade-and-a-half ago. B
Michael Sarian & the Chabones: The Escape Suite (2014-15 , self-released): Trumpet player, from Canada, second album, septet with two saxes, trombone, electric piano and bass -- allows a lot of texturing with little open space. B+(**) [cd]
Maria Schneider Orchestra: The Thompson Fields (2014 , ArtistShare): A protégé of Gil Evans, she very quickly grew into damn near every critic's favorite composer/arranger (except, I guess, mine). Probably my bad, not that I'm in any hurry to go back. But this is so richly layered, so sumptuous, I feel like there should be some dazzling visuals to subsume this into the background -- probably a nature doc, since that seems to be her thing. B+(**) [cd]
Matthew Shipp Trio: The Conduct of Jazz (2015, Thirsty Ear): Piano trio, with Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums. Shipp seems to have lost interest in his jazztronica phase, but he draws on that experience when he breaks out the heavy, tumbling rhythmic runs that set the pace here. A- [cd]
Herb Silverstein: Younger Next Year (2015, self-released): Otolaryngologist, actually more of an otologist, based in Sarasota, Florida, also plays piano, writes his own songs, and has close to a dozen albums. Quintet with sax and guitar, seems like the sort of music you could hear in his waiting room. B [cd]
Slobber Pup: Pole Axe (2015, Rare Noise): Avant-noise group, second album, Jamie Saft (organ, keyboards) and Balasz Pandi (drums) also in the similar Metallic Taste of Blood, joined here by Joe Morris (guitar) and most importantly saxophonist Mats Gustafsson (a newcomer to the group). B+(**) [cdr]
Spanglish Fly: New York Boogaloo (2015, Caco World Music): New York group dedicated to reviving boogaloo, a funk-novelty variant (simplification?) of salsa that broke some hits in the 1970s. Still, not purists, as indicated by a preponderance of English lyrics. B+(*)
Speedy Ortiz: Foil Deer (2015, Carpark): Guitar band from Northampton, MA, the female singer (Sadie Dupuis) offerng a bit of pop glow even while the jerky rhythm undermines it. B+(*)
Martin Speicher/Peter Geisselbrecht/Jörg Fischer: Spicy Unit (2014 , Spore Print): Reeds (alto/sopranino sax, clarinet), piano, drums. Fischer has been sending his records in regularly, mostly engaging avant encounters, but this is the first one that really clicked -- mostly thanks to the pianist's own higher order percussion. Never noticed Geisselbrecht before, but he makes a huge impression here, which Speicher's coloring complements. A- [cd]
Spinifex: Veiled (2015, Trytone): Dutch quintet, has been around ten years but I'm not finding a discography -- one previous album was Hipsters Gone Ballistic (2013). Despite the presence of two horns -- Gijs Levelt on trumpet and Tobias Klein on alto sax -- the sound is dominated by guitars: Jasper Stadhouders plus Gonçalo Almeida on bass. Fusion closer to punk: if McLaughlin's goal was beyond, these guys are in your face. B+(**) [cd]
The Spook School: Try to Be Hopeful (2015, Fortuna Pop): Scottish garage pop group, upbeat, like group harmony and that old rock and roll romp. B+(**)
Chris Stapleton: Traveller (2015, Mercury Nashville): Has a fledgling rep as a tunesmith but picks two drinking songs off the rack and had help on most of the rest. Mid-tempo with the weight of the world on his shoulders, much of which he put there. B+(**)
Statik Selektah: Lucky 7 (2015, Showoff/Duck Down Music): Patrick Baril, DJ/producer from Boston, parades a couple dozen rappers past you, not that they sound different enough to county. B+(**)
Ike Sturm + Evergreen: Shelter of Trees (2014 , Kilde): Bassist, from Wisconsin, third album, serves as Music Director for the Jazz Ministry at Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan. Evergreen seems to refer to the whole band, including three female singers for a bit of choral effect. Loren Stillman's alto sax is a bright spot. B- [cd]
Sun Ra Arkestra Under the Direction of Marshall Allen: Babylon Live (2014 , In+Out): A ghost band, but dedicated not so much to a songbook as to an attitude and some spectacle, which may be why the vocals loom larger than on Sun Ra's own albums. Overseeing the effort is the 90-year-old saxophonist, the last living link to the '50s Arkestra, maybe even the '80s one. B+(**)
Survival Unit III: Game Theory (2010 , Not Two): Joe McPhee on alto sax and pocket trumpet, backed by two Chicagoans: Fred Londberg-Holm (cello, electronics) and Michael Zerang (percussion). Third of four recordings since 2006, they've survived longer than McPhee's early Survival Unit II (1971; I haven't found any evidence of a Survival Unit I, with McPhee's earliest recordings in 1968). McPhee speaks out in the final piece, breaking the mood to add a political dimension to the struggle. B+(**)
Survival Unit III: Straylight (2014 , Pink Palace): Fourth group album, a live set at Krannert Art Museum in Chicago, with two 20+ minute pieces and a 6-minute closer. Two surprises: one is that Joe McPhee plays soprano instead of tenor sax, and that his pocket trumpet is listed first; the other is Fred Lonberg-Holm playing some very aggressive guitar in addition to his usual cello and electronics. B+(***) [bc]
Total Babes: Heydays (2015, Wichita): Four blokes from Ohio -- what did you expect? A punkish group that doesn't neglect the hooks or the grind ("Circling" is an example of both). But then they let up on the gas. B+(**)
U.S. Girls: Half Free (2015, 4AD): Only "Girls" band I've run across with actual females in it -- at least leader Meg Remy. Dense and rather erratic art-pop, playing it after Björk makes me see that source but that's only part of an approximation. Impresses me a bit, but I can't say as I like it. B
Manuel Valera & Groove Square: Urban Landscape (2015, Destiny): Cuban-born pianist, more than ten albums since 2004, has a New York band that expertly mixes postbop with Cuban touches: John Ellis (reeds), Nir Felder (guitar), John Benitez (bass), either E.J. Strickland or Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums), plus some guests. B+(**) [cd]
Jacob Varmus Septet: Aegean: For Three Generations of Jazz Lovers (2013 , Crows' Kin): Trumpet player, fourth album, songs commissioned by Apostolos Georgopoulas, who recapitulated the history of the post-WWII jazz mainstream in his liner notes -- the model for the songs themselves. Group includes Hashem Assadullahi on alto/soprano sax, Pete McCann on guitar, two pianists (although it isn't clear they ever play together, bass, and drums. Has a nice flow and spots that stand up to its models. B+(**) [cd]
Luke Vibert: Bizarster (2015, Planet Mu): British electronica producer, has also worked as Plug and Wagon Christ and a few less common names. This has a nice snap to it and amuses me, which is about all the sense I can hope to make out of this kind of music. B+(***)
Lou Volpe: Remembering Ol' Blue Eyes (Songs of Sinatra) (2015, Jazz Guitar): Guitarist, first record looks to be 1985's Easy Jammin, and that's pretty much what you get here -- except that by combing through Sinatra's songbook he came up with a fine list of songs. Done with keyboards, bass, drums, and percussion -- no horns or vocals -- this work as elevator music but is much better. B+(**) [cd]
Doug Webb: Triple Play (2014 , Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, studio guy from Los Angeles who moved up front around 2009 and now has six albums for this mainstream-oriented label. A fast bebop joust with Joel Frahm also playing tenor, with Brian Charette avoiding any hint of soul jazz on organ, and Rudy Royston on drums. I've considerably softened my distaste for bebop from twenty years ago, but this threatens to bring it all back. B-
Carrie Wicks: Maybe (2015, OA2): Singer, third album, mostly co-writes originals but covers three standards here. Backed by piano trio: Bill Anshell, Jeff Johnson, Byron Vannoy. Interesting nuance to her voice -- "Ghost of a Perfect Flame" hits the spot. B+(**) [cd]
Webb Wilder: Mississippi Moderne (2015, Landslide): Roots rocker, grew up in Mississippi listening to the Brit Invasion, has bounced around between Austin and Nashville, recording close to a dozen albums since 1986. Perhaps he's getting some Grammy notice now because he's gotten to be as old as his music. B+(*)
Patrick Williams: Home Suite Home (2015, BFM): A composer-arranger, studied at Duke and Columbia, moved to Los Angeles in 1968, "wrote the scores for over 60 feature films and countless television assignments," cut a big band album in 1973 and has ten (or so) more since. This is another big band, many familiar names from the LA session world, with the title three-part suite, two vocal features (one for Patti Austin, a duet for Frank Sinatra Jr. and Tierney Sutton), and a couple titles I'm fond of: "A Hefti Dose of Basie (to the Memory of Neal Hefti)" and "That's Rich (for Buddy)." B+(*) [cd]
Dave Wilson Quartet: There Was Never (2015, Zoho): Tenor saxophonist, based in Lancaster PA, has a handful of albums, this a quartet with Bobby Avey (piano), Tony Marino (bass), and Alex Ritz (drums). Six originals plus "Cassidy" (Grateful Dead), "God Only Knows" (Beach Boys), and "Summertime" (everyone). Plays fast with a commanding tone, the sort of thing that usually blows me away but somehow this doesn't. Runs a business buying and selling brass instruments -- clearly something he loves. B+(*) [cd]
Michael Zerang & the Blue Lights: Songs From the Big Book of Love (2014 , Pink Palace): Chicago drummer, played in Ken Vandermark's pre-5 Quartet and shows up on a lot of important albums. This group recalls the early V5 with two saxophonists: founder Mars Williams and his replacement Dave Rempis, plus V5 bassist Kent Kessler and cornetist Josh Berman for extra sparks. Terrific sax runs. A- [bc]
Michael Zerang & the Blue Lights: Hash Eaters and Peacekeepers (2014 , Pink Palace, EP): Billed as a "companion release to Songs From the Big Book of Love, a bit long for as EPs go (six cuts, 33:51, but released on cassette and discounted). Heavier on themes, which beefs them up and slows them down a tad, but they do impress. B+(***) [bc]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
John Carter: Echoes From Rudolph's (1976-77 , NoBusiness, 2CD): Clarinet and soprano sax, mostly trio with Stanley Carter on bass and William Jeffery on drums. The first disc offers a pretty good sample of Carter as improviser. Seems like much of the second disc is given over to bass solo, which is interesting in its own right. Maybe Carter did need Bradford? B+(**) [cd]
Hamid Drake/Michael Zerang: For Ed Blackwell (1995 , Pink Palace): One 42:46 composition for two drum sets, in honor of the late drummer (1929-92), best known for playing in Ornette Coleman's legendary quartet from 1960, a lineup later resurrected as Old and New Dreams (with Dewey Redman instead of Coleman). This goes well beyond drum solos, almost to a system. B+(***) [bc]
Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden: Frictions/Frictions Now (1969-71 , NoBusiness): Early free jazz quartet from the center of West Germany, no one who later became famous although each of the players has 5-10 other credits -- Michael Sell (trumpet), Dieter Scherf (alto sax, oboe, piano, exotic flutes and such), Gerhard König (guitar, flute), Wolfgang Schlick (drums). They cut two albums which sound like they could have come much later, perhaps because Americans don't appreciate how early a linkage was established between European free jazz and "third world musics" -- perhaps because Europeans were more conscious of their states' colonial legacies. B+(***) [cd]
Erroll Garner: The Complete Concert by the Sea (1955 , Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): A fine pianist from Pittsburgh, fast and idiosyncratically unique, he became a popular celebrity when his 1956 Concert by the Sea album went gold. Cut live in Carmel, CA, heavily edited to 41:19 LP length, Garner led a trio with Eddie Calhoun on bass and Denzil Best on drums, the album seemed to have a magic lift. Sixty years later, the label has stretched it out, offering the unedited concert, with 11 extra tunes on two discs, plus a third disc remaster with a 14:10 post-concert interview. It's all rather redundant, but I like the raw concert at least as much as the tailored product -- indeed, I can't imagine how they could have left "Caravan" off the latter. A- [cd]
Sun Ra: The Magic City (1965 , Enterplanetary Koncepts): Billed as "Full Stereo Edition," I doubt this exists in anything but digital form. Indeed, a lot of old and obscure Sun Ra has been coming out in digital-only releases -- the original LPs were very limited runs, and the CDs that Evidence releasec c. 1993 are becoming hard to find. Some of their furthest out space shit, only intermittently connecting with terrestial like myself. B+(**)
The Chills: Kaleidoscope World (1982-84 , Homestead): Early singles compilation, well before Martin Phillips' group's 1988 debut (but compiled a year later). Pop gems in the rough, but very rough -- interesting that the catchiest track is the instrumental. B+(*)
Guy Davis: Juba Dance (2013, M.C.): Cover adds "featuring Fabrizio Poggi" -- an Italian harmonica player who inspires Brownie McGhee rhythms in Davis even when he's playing higher and sweeter than Sonny Terry. B+(**)
Robert Forster: Intermission: The Best of the Solo Recordings 1990-1997 (1990-97 , Beggars Banquet): The Go-Betweens broke up in 1989 and regrouped with 2000's The Friends of Rachel Worth. In between principal songwriters Grant McLennan and Robert Forster released four albums each. The idea of compiling best-ofs came after McLennan's death in 2006, before Forster could resume his solo career. It's possible to find a package with one CD by each, but in the digital world they're separate. While McLennan's albums were more immediately appealing, this adds up to a good solid half a Go-Betweens album (maybe more). Maybe I should reconsider the source albums? A-
Erroll Garner: Body & Soul (1951-52 , Columbia): Twenty songs collected from three piano trio sessions with John Simmons on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums. The times are uniformly within the range for 78s (2:21 to 3:45). Mostly standards, bright and fast, sometimes een showing his tenuous link to Art Tatum. B+(***)
Erroll Garner: The Erroll Garner Collection, Vol. 2: Dancing on the Ceiling (1961-65 , Emarcy): The second slice of a five-volume compilation of previously unreleased performances by Garner's piano trio, with Eddie Calhoun and Kelly Martin. B+(**)
Marty Grosz and His Honoris Causa Jazz Band: Hooray for Bix! (1957 , Good Time Jazz): An old-fashioned rhythm guitarist and sometime singer, born in Berlin in 1930 but escaped the Nazis as a toddler -- his father was famed caricaturist Georg Grosz -- and grew up as a devotee of trad jazz. First album, in fact his only one until 1983, and it's a delight. Cornetist Carl Halen gets a "featuring" notice on the front cover, although clarinetist Frank Chace is equally worthy. Songbook honors Beiderbecke, the songs as sweet as ever. A-
Marty Grosz with Destiny's Tots: Sings of Love and Other Matters (1986, Jazzology): One of several group names he's used -- the Orphan Newsboys is probably the best known -- but some of the key players (especially pianist Keith Ingham) are frequent associates. Grosz sang a bit on his debut, but this is where he learns how to make his rather ordinary voice work (good example: "Until the Real Thing Comes Along"). He also does a little stand up with his tale of how Edward Elgar discovered "The English Blues." A-
Marty Grosz: Songs I Learned at My Mother's Knee & Other Low Joints (1992 , Jazzology): This comes from three sessions with as many groups, though they're all pretty much equivalent. B+(**)
Marty Grosz and the Collectors Items Cats: Thanks (1993, Jazzology): New band name but mostly the same cats -- Keith Ingham on piano, Peter Ecklund on cornet, Dan Barrett on trombone, Bobby Gordon on clarinet and Scott Robinson on reeds. B+(**)
Marty Grosz: Keep a Song in Your Soul (1994, Jazzology): Again split between two sessions/bands, but brighter from the start, often delightful. B+(***)
Marty Grosz and His Sugar Daddies: On Revival Day: Live at the Atlanta Jazz Party! (1995, Jazzology): Another fine trad jazz group, with Peter Ecklund (trumpet), Bobby Gordon (clarinet), Ingham, and others. On the other hand, this seems rather subdued, especially on the usually rousing Andy Razaf title song. B+(**)
Marty Grosz Quartet: Just for Fun! (1996, Nagel Heyer): Recorded live in Hamburg with what looks like a Brit trad jazz pickup group: Alan Elsdon (trumpet), John Barnes (clarinet), and Murray Wall (bass). Nothing special, but the record does pick up as the leader's tongue loosens up. [PS: Wall, b. 1945 in Australia, has played on at least two other Grosz albums. Elsdon and Barnes are English.] B+(*)
Marty Grosz: Left to His Own Devices (2000 , Jazzology): With Randy Reinhart on cornet, Scott Robinson and Dan Block on clarinet and sax, Greg Cohen on bass, and Mike Peters on guitar. Relatively tame, perhaps because the obscurities aren't up to it. B+(*)
Marty Grosz & His Hot Puppies: Rhythm Is Our Business (2000-01 , Sackville): A quintet with Randy Reinhart on trumpet and Frank Roberscheuten on clarinet (and various saxes), with the leader's trademark strum and sly vocals, more small group swing than trad, climaxing in a 10:17 medley: "Rhythm for Sale/He Ain't Got Rhythm/I Got Rhythm." B+(***)
Last Exit: Last Exit (1986, Enemy): Normally when I see an eponymous group album with the individual musician names on the cover, I list it under them, but this was such a unique group I prefer to keep their albums together. The musicians: Sonny Sharrock (guitar), Peter Brötzmann (saxes), Bill Laswell (electric bass), and Ronald Shannon Jackson (drums). Laswell's rockish beat keeps it all on an even keel. Sharrock can not only joust with the sax, he often comes out on top. A-
Last Exit: Köln (1986 , Atavistic): A live set on saxophonist Brötzmann's home turf, which may help explain why he comes out swinging. Still, he doesn't dominate this like he does his own albums, probably because the guitar both competes and undercuts the sax. B+(***)
Last Exit: The Noise of Trouble: Live in Tokyo (1986, Enemy): Another live one, another continent, the added treats including a Jimmy Reed blues sung by Shannon Jackson, and a couple of gate crashers: Japanese alto saxophonist Akira Sakata, who knows his way around the avant-garders, and pianist Herbie Hancock, who doesn't. B+(**)
John Law Quartet: Exploded on Impact (1992 , Slam): British avant pianist, with Alan Wilkinson (alto/baritone sax), Roberto Bellatalla (bass), and Mark Sanders (drums). Rhapsody only has two (of five) cuts (and the shorter ones at that: 19:17/55:47), so I probably shouldn't bother, or at least I should hedge a bit. A volatile combination, one that (here at least) ends much too soon. B+(***)
John Law: Extremely Quartet (1996 , Hat Art): British pianist, trained to play baroque but broke free in the mid-1980s and has thirty or so albums -- well regarded in Penguin Guide but hitherto someone I've missed out on. Very strong group here -- Paul Dunmall (tenor and soprano sax), Barry Guy (bass), and Louis Moholo (drums) -- and the saxophonist manages to play with some restraint, not obliterating the fascinating piano runs. A-
John Law Quartet: Abacus (2000 , Hatology): Pianist, with Jon Lloyd (alto/soprano sax), Tim Wells (bass), and Gerry Hemingway (drums). The first cut delivers the off-kilter thrash you expect, but then they try to show their flexibility and resourcefulness, including some slow melodic stuff that's nice and all that but detracts from the rush they're capable of. B+(***)
Grant McLennan: In Your Bright Ray (1997, Beggars Banquet): Final album, distilled essence of his Go-Betweens sound but none of the songs really jump out, like they're supposed to. B+(*)
Grant McLennan: Intermission: The Best of the Solo Recordings 1990-1997 (1990-97 , Beggars Banquet): Like Robert Forster, McLennan released four solo albums during their break from the group they'll always be remembered for, the Go-Betweens. But McLennan was the more natural songwriter, and he was the one I followed, A-listing two of these four albums. Not sure this is better, but "Lighting Fires" tops Fireboy, and two cuts I missed from In Your Bright Ray above made the grade this time. A-
John Tchicai: Cadentia Nova Danica (1968, Freedom): Danish alto saxophonist, father from Congo, first album but he had previously appeared with New York Art Quartet and on Albert Ayler's New York Eye and Ear, and also in 1968 he appeared on the first Instant Composers Pool album. I count nine musicians, with Karsten Vogel joining Tchicai at alto sax (and composing two of the pieces; Tchicai wrote two, and arranged a South American folk song), three percussionists (Giorgio Musoni on African drums), and Max Bryel switching between piano and baritone sax. Rough and tumble, but when it all connects pretty amazing. A-
John Tchicai and Cadentia Nova Danica: Afrodisiaca (1969, MPS): A year later Tchicai's group peaked out at 26 musicians for the 21:45 title cut, written by trumpeter Hugh Steinmetz, part of the sudden explosion of avant-orchestras in Europe (starting with Globe Unity and ICP in 1967, plus LJCO in 1970. One of those glorious messes some people remember as stone classics. Still, the musicians thin out on the back side, and with them the excitement. B+(**)
John Tchicai-Irene Schweizer-Group: Willi the Pig: Live at the Willisau Jazz Festival (1975 , Atavistic): Quartet with Buschi Niebergall on bass and Makaya Nishoko on drums backing alto (or soprano) sax and piano for one long improv, originally split over two LP sides. Fine outing for Tchicai, but it's the pianist who makes it special. A-
John Tchicai & Strange Brothers: Darktown Highlights (1977, Storyville): Quartet live from Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen, with Simon Spang-Hanssen (tenor sax), Peter Danstrup (bass), and Ole Rømer (drums). Stretches out a bit more than in the earlier albums. B+(***)
John Tchicai: Put Up the Fight (1987, Storyville): Another quartet, but a very different with more of a groove focus, Brent Clausen playing vibes/guitar/synth, Peter Danstrup on bass guitar/synth, and Ole Rømer drums. The regular beat does let the sax soar, and the vibes provide some sparkle. B+(*)
John Tchicai: Darktown Highlights/Put Up the Fight (1977-87 , Storyville, 2CD): Only print on the cover is "John Tchicai" but the best available discography settled on this title, one disc each for two Storyville albums, per above. B+(**)
Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section.
Monday, November 16. 2015
Music: Current count 25787  rated (+61), 420  unrated (-19).
Several reasons for the huge rated bump this week: one is that I procrastinated in cataloguing the incoming so the week ended Monday afternoon instead of my usual Sunday evening (which also means I've included Monday's mail in the unpacking); I knocked off almost all of the records listed below in a single play (which actually includes the week's two A- picks); about 20 of the records were streamed -- less than half, but they tend to go quick; finally, I noticed a record ungraded in the database that I was pretty sure I had heard, so I made a quick check of all the ungraded post-2000 jazz and that bumped the rated count up from 47 to 61.
I'd guess that probably close to ten records got a second play: Bathysphere, John Dikeman, Giovanni Di Domenico, Ingrid Laubrock, at least one of the Martin Küchens, Jack Mouse, Statik Selektah, both old and posthumous Sun Ra, John Carter (even though it's 2CD), Thank Your Lucky Stars. Still, the only one that came close to an A- was the Beach House, but I didn't feel like spending the extra time, especially after Depression Cherry (and Bloom and Teen Dream) had left so little mark.
The Arab rap anthology (Khat Thaleth) was recommended by Bob Christgau just in time for the massive outpouring of anti-Arab vitriol that followed the terror attacks in Paris (and Beirut, but who's counting?). Even without downloading the trots, it's pretty obvious that these Arabs are not those Arabs. It comes as a unique item, although it probably isn't.
The Errol Garner reissue raises the question of redundancy, as you get two takes of the concert: one complete spread out on 2CD, the other as originally edited (plus one of those interviews that are interesting the first time around but unnecessary after that). Still, I had the old 1987 CD reissue at A-, and most of the cuts that the complete edition adds are every bit as good. Also, I'm relieved to point out that the whole 3CD package only costs $12.89 (at Amazon, although if you want vinyl the price jumps to $39.36). By the way, the original CD is still in print, down at $4.99. One downside is that the CD package is irregularly sized, so most likely it won't fit on your shelf.
I should also note that I was a little surprised to look back in my database and not find any other A- albums by Garner. In fact there are only three other entries: two B (Long Ago and Far Away and The Original Misty), one B+ (Easy to Love [The Erroll Garner Collection Vol. 1]). But Penguin Guide also only credits Garner with one 4-star album, no surprise given their predilection for solo piano: Solo Time! [The Erroll Garner Collection Vols. 4/5] (although they tabbed Concert by the Sea, with 3.5 stars, as a "core collection" album). Seems like there should be more because was such a distinctive stylist.
I had a few more things I wanted to write about this week. Let me just briefly mention one: Tim Niland's book, Music and More: Selected Blog Posts 2003-2015. My copy arrived and it looks terrific (although the perfect binding has developed a small bubble). Tons of reviews, an ongoing chronicle of twelve of the most productive years in jazz history. I do have a couple of quibbles: there is no table of contents or index, so it's going to be hard to find any particular review; for that matter, it doesn't even have page numbers, which should have been pretty easy to set up. I imagine the search function will help out here with the Kindle edition, if you're into that platform. Still, I'm very pleased to own a print copy. I'm adding the book cover to my book roll.
I also wanted to note that I've been working on my soon-to-be-obsolete Music Tracking File. I finally implemented the genre switches, and I've been scraping more sources for data: at this point I've added virtually every 2015 jazz record reviewed by Free Jazz Collective, and I've worked my way back to August in All About Jazz, resulting in a list of 1044 jazz releases this year (I've reviewed or at least own 540 of them). My coverage of other genres is much spottier, but currently adds up to 2748 records. The list will eventually give way to an EOY aggregate list, but meanwhile helps me sort out what I need (or would like to) listen to.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 15. 2015
It's been a good week for warmongering anti-Islamist bigots, what with the Kurdish "liberation" of ISIS-held Sinjar, the ISIS-blamed bombing of a Russian airliner, the drone-murder of reality TV star "Jihadi John," and ISIS-linked murderous assault in Paris on the innocent fans of a band called Eagles of Death Metal. Ann Coulter was so thrilled she tweeted that America just elected Donald Trump as its next president. Shell-shocked post-Benghazi! Democrats were quick to denounce it all as terrorism, using the precise words of the Republican thought police. Someone even proposed changing the Freedom Fries to "French Fries" in solidarity. French president François Hollande declared that the Paris attacks meant war, momentarily forgetting that he had already started the same war when France joined the anti-ISIS bombing party in Syria. He and other decried this "attack on western civilization." Gandhi could not be reached, but he's probably sticking to his line that western civilization would be a good idea.
I'll return to this subject below, but the main point to make up here is that this is above all a time to keep your cool. In fact, take a couple steps back and try to recover some of the cool we've lost ever since demonizing ISIS became so ubiquitous nobody gives it a second thought. I have no wish to defend them, but I will point out that what they're accused of is stuff that virtually all armies have done throughout history. Also that they exist because governments in Damascus and Baghdad became so violently oppressive that millions of people (who in normal times want peace and prosperity as much as everyone else does) became so desperate as to see them as the lesser evil. No doubt ISIS can be brutal to those under their thumb, but ISIS could not exist without some substantial measure of public support, and that means two things: one is that to kill off ISIS you'd have to kill an awful lot of people, revealing yourself to be an even more brutal monster; the other is that you can't end this by simply restoring the old Damascus and Baghdad powers, because they will inevitably revert to type. Yet who on the US political spectrum has a plan to do anything different?
Before this flare up I had something more important I wanted to write about: inequality. Admittedly, war is more urgent: it has a way of immediately crowding out all other problems. But the solution is also much simpler: just don't do it. All you need to know about war has been said many times, notably by people like A.J. Muste and David Dellinger. It might be argued that inequality is the root of war, or conversely that equitable societies would never have any reason to wage war. The ancient justification for war was always loot. And while we've managed to think of higher, more abstract and idealized concepts for justifying war, there's still an awful lot of looting going on. In America, we call that business.
The piece I've been thinking about is a Bloomberg editorial that appeared in the Wichita Eagle: Ramesh Ponnuru: Is income inequality a big deal? He starts:
If you take "worked up" in the sense of bothered, sure, but if you mean concerned, his disclaimer is less true. The bare fact is that virtually every principle and proposal conservatives hold dear is designed to increase inequality. Cutting taxes allows the rich to keep more income and concentrate wealth, lifting them up further. Cutting food stamps and other "entitlements" pushes the poor down, also increasing inequality. Maybe desperation will nudge some people off welfare into low wage jobs, further depressing the labor market and allowing savvy businessmen to reap more profits. Of course, making it harder for workers to join unions works both ways -- lower wages, higher profits -- and conservatives are in the forefront there. They're also in favor of deregulating business -- never deny the private sector an opportunity to reap greater profits from little things like pollution or fraud. They back "free trade" agreements, designed mostly to protect patent (property) owners and let businesses expand into more profitable markets overseas, at the minor cost of outsourcing American jobs -- actually a double plus as that outsourcing depresses the labor market, meaning lower wages and higher profits. Sandbagging public education advantages those who can afford private schools. Saddling working class upstarts with college debt helps keep the children of the rich ahead. And the list goes on and on. Maybe you can come up with some conservative hot list items that don't drop straight to the bottom line (abortion? guns? drug prohibition? gambling? war? -- one could argue that all of those hurt the working class more than the rich, but I doubt that's really the point). Still, you won't find any conservative proposals to counter inequality.
From time immemorial the very purpose of conservatism has been to defend the rulers against the masses. From time to time that's required some adjustments to conservative thinking: in America at least, cons no longer defend the prerogatives of kings and titled aristocracy (not that they have any problems with the Saudis or Hashemites, or nearly any tin-pot dictator who lets their companies profit); and they've given up on slavery (and the most overt expressions of racism), but still can't stand the idea of unions, and they never have trusted democracy. For a while they liked the idea that America offered a chance for equal opportunity (without guaranteeing equal results), an idea Ponnuru is still fond of, not that he'd actually cross any of his betters by suggesting we do something about it. For one thing they'd probably point out that equal opportunity is how we wound up with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, whereas the worst you'd have to put up with in a closed oligarchy is someone like Jeb Bush (or, pick your poison, Donald Trump).
Ponnuru refers to an article by George Packer: The Republican Class War, probably because the article starts off a "reformocon" conference organized by Ponnuru's wife April (high among the Republican Party's "family values" is nepotism). The reformocons have a book full of policy proposals that allegedly help the middle if not the lower class, but none of the things Packer mentions looks promising. Ponnuru cites a study on opportunity mentioned by Packer then dismisses it with another study on something else. He continues:
Uh, 1907? 1929? 2008? That's a pretty strong series. Maybe some lesser recessions don't correlate so well: 1979-81 was induced by the Fed's anti-inflation hysteria, so the recovery was unusual as well. Income stagnation also started with the early 1980s recession, as did the first major tax cuts for the rich, although even larger sources of inequality that decade were trade deficits (resulting in a major sell-off of assets to foreign investors) and real estate fraud (bankrupting the S&L industry, resulting in a recession). In the 1990s the main sources of inequality were the massive bid-up of the stock market and a loosening of bank regulations, and they too led to a recession in 2001. The labor market did tigheten up enough in the late 1990s for real wages to rise a bit, but that was wiped out in the following recession, and the "Bush recovery" was the worst to date at generating new jobs, as it was fueled almost exclusively by debt and fraud.
Packer finally splits from the reformocons, and Ponnuru's reaction is basically a hand wave.
Ponnuru may not relish it, but being heartless is part of what it takes to be a conservative these days. So is being a devious little prevaricator. Let me close this section with a couple paragraphs from Packer (starting with the one on macro that Ponnuru thinks he disproved, because it's so very succinctly stated):
Some scattered links this week:
Some more related ISIS links:
If I stayed up a few more hours I could collect many more ISIS links, but this will have to be enough for now. I doubt that my main points will change any. And I don't mind the occasional pieces that show you how maniacal ISIS can be. None prove that the US military is the answer.
Monday, November 9. 2015
Music: Current count 25726  rated (+35), 439  unrated (-0).
Fall is coming to Wichita several weeks later than usual this year, but we raked up a first bag of leaves yesterday (many more are still on the trees, but no longer green). That got me started thinking about EOY lists. My own lists-in-progress currently show 59 jazz and 42 non-jazz new records on the A-list (reissues/historic music: 6 + 5).
I added eight records to those lists this week. Michael Tatum reviewed the Chills in his latest column, and also tipped me off on two of this week's three rap albums (Blackalicious and Peaceable Solutions, although I was vaguely aware of the former). The third rap record was Paris, reviewed by Robert Christgau a while back. I had put it off because it's a double, and only gave it one spin, but it's so solid it's in my shopping basket (along with Laurie Anderson, Blackalicious, Lyrics Born, and Sleaford Mods) as a possible P&J contender.
Four jazz records too. Jörg Fischer has been sending me CDs for a couple years and Spicy Unit finally hit the spot. The other two -- Ochs-Robinson Duo and Michael Zerang & the Blue Lights -- I had to stream. I spent a big chunk of time last week scanning through The Free Jazz Collective's blog and adding all the new 2015 releases they reviewed to my 2015 release list file. I don't find their ratings to be very reliable, but they do cover a lot of avant-jazz. I probably added a hundred albums, noted a couple dozen to look up, and listened to a handful. The Zerang album is the Mars Williams-Dave Rempis joust of my dreams (and its companion is either more or less depending on your perspective). And the Larry Ochs duo is as clear a showcase for his powerful tenor sax as I can recall. The trawl also located a few links below.
The fourth jazz record was one I got in the mail and played a lot (4-5 times), wavering on the fence. Josh Berman is actually in Zerang's band, but he is better heard on his own new trio record. Probably would have been an easier call had I not played it right after Ochs and the two Zerangs and started worrying that everything was sounding A-worthy. (As I'm writing this, I'm playing random shit from the queue and not having that problem at all.)
The release list file is currently approaching 2500 entries (2389; about one-third are jazz: 813). I'll keep growing the file for a while, but eventually it will give way to an EOY List Aggregate file, like the one I did last year. EOY lists start showing up in mid-November, especially in the UK (which probably has more music magazines than the US does). The counter in the music tracking file shows 751 records either rated or in hand this year. Unlikely I'll hit 1000 this year, as I have done a couple of times in the past.
Recommended music links:
The first few links come from the Free Jazz Collective crawl.
PS: Sometime back I incorrectly got the group and album title swapped: should be The Spanish Donkey: Raoul (2015, Rare Noise). Group members are: Joe Morris, Jamie Saft, and Mike Pride. Grade: B.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Nothing from Crowson this week: he wasted his editorial space with a celebration of the World Series victors. I enjoyed the Kansas City Royals' wins, too -- even watched a couple innings of Game 2, where I didn't recognize a single name but had no problem understanding the many nuances of the game. At least that much doesn't change much, or fade away.
The main topic this week is the mental and moral rot that calls itself conservatism, also known as the Republican Party. Scattered links:
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't have time for this shit right now):
Monday, November 2. 2015
Music: Current count 25691  rated (+38), 439  unrated (-8).
A busy week, in all regards except unpacking. Rated count is back up after last week's dip. I got a jump there by looking at everything I hadn't previously heard on Alfred Soto's "third quarter report" (ASAP Rocky, Speedy Ortiz, Florence + the Machine, Brandon Flowers, Angel Haze, Destroyer, Robert Forster, Janet Jackson). Some good records there, but nothing I especially loved. Still, the exercise did send me back to Forster's best-of (didn't get to Grant McLennan's companion comp, something I should remedy; at least with McLennan I'm more familiar with the source albums, a couple of which I've A-listed -- Watershed and Horsebreaker Star).
Most importantly, Michael Tatum published a new A Downloader's Diary last week. (My archive copy is here.) Not a lot there I hadn't heard already -- Deerhunter, Forster, and Destroyer are in my list this week but I got them earlier, without the benefit of Tatum's advice. (I came up with slightly lower grades for Deerhunter, Forster, and Jill Scott -- any of which could be chalked up to lack of patience with records a bit outside of my wheelhouse.) Aside from ratings quibbles, I should point out that the Heems and even more so the Kendrick Lamar reviews rank among the year's best music writing.
I did get two A-list records from Robert Christgau's Expert Witness this week: Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog and Jeffrey Lewis' Manhattan. I gave them two spins each -- not enough to rise beyond A-, although Lewis was getting better, and I can certainly see the appeal of Anderson's stories (I'm just not as swept away by the music as I was by Strange Angels, or even Home of the Brave). I'll probably break down and order copies of both, but actually the new record that impressed me the most this week was Lyrics Born's Real People (also two spins). Evidently it came out in May but the first I heard of it was when it showed up on one of Mosi Reeves' Rhapsody lists. Tom Shimura is as much a cult-favorite among Christgauvians as Anderson or Lewis, so I'm surprised no one flagged it. (Or did I just slip up and not notice?)
Very rare that I actually buy records any more: after Yesterdays closed there are no decent record stores in Wichita, and the impulse buys I would occasionally pick up at Best Buy petered out as their inventory continued to shrink. I do continue to buy books, though not often music books. (I did feel a desire to own, but haven't yet read, Michaelangelo Matos' The Underground Is Massive.) I was tempted last week by the two Allen Lowe books I don't own: Really the Blues? A Horizontal Chronicle of the Vertical Blues, 1893-1959 (the companion to his massive 36-CD trawl through blues history) and, especially, God Didn't Like It: Electric Hillbillies, Singing Preachers, and the Beginning of Rock and Roll, 1950-1970, but I got weak knees in Paypal hell (maybe later).
However, the book I did order, and want to offer a preëmptive plug for, is Tim Niland's Music and More: Selected Blog Posts 2003-2015. I've been reading Niland's Music and More blog for many years now, not so much to find new music (since we seem to be on the exact same mailing lists) as to check my sanity. Blogs are pretty much designed to be disposable but his is the opposite: if compiled into an indexed, searchable Christgau-like website it would be viewed as an essential reference resource. His 822-page book is the next best thing. Bargain-priced, too.
Two more A-listed new jazz albums this week (plus one old one). You may recall that I also liked Nat Birchall's Live in Larissa last year. Maybe the Coltrane-isms are too obvious, but it's not like we'd turn out noses up at a new vault discovery. The fact is I'd take either Birchall album over The Offering (the 1966 tape that swept the polls last year). I've never gotten anything by Birchall in the mail, so reviewing him is strictly a Rhapsody bonus (with the usual caveats: in this case I have no idea who else played on the album, although they're pretty damn good).
Matthew Shipp's trio took a lot more time to suss out -- I must have given it five (maybe six) spins. Without doing any A/B, I think it's his best trio since he moved back away from the jazztronica of last decade, maybe because I hear more of the knockabout rhythmizing of the Ware Quartet and his later albums with Ivo Perelman.
I should probably mention that there will be a memorial "to celebrate the remarkable life of Elizabeth Marcia Fink," who died on September 22. I've seen a very nice invitation, but can't find any public posting of it, so here are the details: the memorial will be on Saturday, November 7, 2015, from 3:00-6:00 pm, at Union Theological Seminary, 3041 Broadway at 121st Street, New York, NY 10027. The invitation asks for RSVP. We're not up for another trip to New York at the moment, but we do miss Liz -- in fact, remark on it every single day.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, November 1. 2015
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted):
Saturday, October 31. 2015
My patience for political debates gave out long ago. I think the clincher was a 1984 encounter which somehow favored Ronald Reagan despite the clear fact that Walter Mondale out-hustled him on every single question. (I was rather annoyed with Mondale because so many of those tussles revealed him to be the more aggressive and tenacious cold warrior.) It was almost a replay of my first debate experience, Kennedy-Nixon, except where Kennedy appealed to a hopeful future, that future had passed by 1984 and America was ready to be led into senility -- at least they sure picked the guy to do it.
However, some bloggers I follow still take these things seriously, so I figured I'd cite a few of their comments. After all, watching ten right-wing jerks fumble their way through a set of questions and spinning them into their fantasies does offer some opportunity to examine the psychosis that afflicts so-called conservatives today. Whereas Reagan had a knack for amalgamating an imagined past with a fantasy future, at least he was pretty sure it would be a positive future. But today's Republican standard-bearers are united in their conviction that the nation stands on the brink of a catastrophe that only their kind of determined leadership can stave off, even though the scenarios most likely to push the country off the deep end are the very ones that adopt their policy proposals.
Monday, October 26. 2015
Music: Current count 25653  rated (+27), 447  unrated (-2).
Rated count slipped a bit, mostly because I lost a day-plus cooking up another chapter in my birthday dinner series. Tried my hand at Cuban cuisine this time, something I've sampled in restaurants not much more than a half-dozen times (mostly one in Royal Oak, MI, although we lucked into a very good place southwest of Miami). I've done a lot of Spanish (and Basque and Catallan and Portuguese, so should I say Iberian?) dishes, but very little from south of the border (aside from a massive feijoada one birthday). As with Spanish, Cubans use a lot of garlic but not much in the way of chilis. I've never liked the peppers that dominate Mexican cuisine, although I should figure out my way around them (as I've done with Indian, Thai, and Indonesian) given that the hardest part of any exotic cuisine is the shopping, and there are countless Mexican stores in these parts. (Actually, for this dinner I picked up most of the less conventional ingredients not from the bilingual Kroger but from a large Vietnamese grocer I frequent -- among other things, the only place in town I can get salt cod.)
More details on the dinner in the notebook. Suffice it to say that despite some very poor planning and last-minute panicking pretty much everything came out splendid. Good company too, although by the time I was finished I was a bit too frazzled to get into it. Much on my mind was the thought that I'm getting too old for this sort of thing. No one thought to take pictures. Where's Max Stewart when you really need him? Also nostalgic for so many previous guests, especially Liz Jones, who inspired the first few dinners (and has long since lost touch), and the late Liz Fink -- people who really appreciated good food. (Liz, of course, was represented by her dog Sadie, who earned the title sous-chef by always being under my feet.)
While cooking, I suspended my usual listening work and played oldies, starting with the Beatles and winding up with Atlantic R&B. The former hadn't happened in many years, but when I went out to shop for the meal, before I could pop a CD in -- I had picked out Rumba en el Patio by Conjunto Kubavana (1944-47) -- a song came on which struck me as the most completely marvelous thing I've ever heard: "All My Loving." I probably hadn't heard it since shortly after I bought the With the Beatles CD, but I found myself intimately familiar with every note and harmony. It was followed by Elvis Presley singing "All Shook Up," by comparison merely great, then something else I only vaguely recognized and didn't care for.
Most of this week's list already appeared in October's Rhapsody Streamnotes. I noted there how many of my jazz picks were by (or featured) saxophonists, so maybe I'm compensating a bit for that here. My two top HMs this week -- Rich Halley's Eleven and Scott Hamilton's Live in Bern -- are by long-time personal favorites who have already scored A- records this year (Creating Structure and Plays Jule Styne). I have minor quibbles about both, but I haven't been conscientious enough to do the A:B comparisons to see which is really the better record. I will say that there is some terrific music on both. Instead, I went with another long-time favorite saxophonist, Rodrigo Amado. I suppose one could quibble there too, but Joe McPhee (who has another A- record this year) adds extra bite to some of the year's most impressive sax runs.
The best post-RS record on the list is Marty Grosz's debut. I noticed that Rhapsody added some old Grosz Jazzology titles, and worked my way back. I mostly listen to avant-jazz these days, but I still hold to the idea that the old jazz is the real jazz, so guys like Grosz are always on my radar. Grosz was born a year before Bix Beiderbecke died, and well into his 80s he's still active -- his Fat Babies album Diga Diga Doo is also on this year's A-list.
No comments so far on my question whether it'd be worthile to do another Turkey Shoot/Black Friday Special this year. I dropped the ball last year and no one picked it up -- I had hopes for Odyshape, but they crashed shortly before. I don't want to do the heavy lifting this year -- soliciting and editing entries -- but would be willing to format and post it and might even contribute something. So let me know if you want to volunteer. Time is running out. I'm not going to bring this up again.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, October 25. 2015
No real time to write this week's roundup -- it's my birthday and I'm busy cooking (see the notebook for the menu). But I do have a bunch of links open in various tabs and I thought I might share them before they become stale. In no particular order:
Saturday, October 24. 2015
A little more than a month since the last one, the extra time making up for our ten-day dog rescue excursion to yield a typical month's worth of triage. The new records are mostly jazz (65%) because I've been trying to make a dent in my backlog. Of the non-jazz picks, three were recommended by Robert Christgau (John Kruth, Amy LaVere, Donnie Trumpet), two more by Michael Tatum (Ezra Furman, Giorgio Moroder). The other two (Metric, New Order) are records I looked up based on prior reputation. My working EOY list for non-jazz is still way underdeveloped compared to the jazz list (35 records to 53). The year-end lists should help even this out, but even the premature British lists are still a month away. Maybe we should revive the Turkey Shoot/Black Friday Special this year?
The old music is more eclectic than it's been in quite a while. I took a break from the Hatology orgy last month, although I'm far from done with that label. Some records came out of a Pitchfork Top Albums of the 1970s list. I think I had 85 of 100 before I started searching out the stragglers (a little heavy on krautrock). Other old music followed new music -- Bottle Rockets, Ulrich Gumpert, I found a Bill Kirchner record with Sheila Jordan on it.
The Notes section has previous grades of albums by artists in the Old Music section. I started this a few months back when it made more sense -- at the time I was filling in holes in various artist lists, mostly by chasing down top-whatever lists. I made a change last month when my Hatology research glanced into some artists it would have been exhausting to list out (like Anthony Braxton and Steve Lacy). This month it's less clear what to do, so I'm winging it. I've included albums by Armstrong and Bechet that have some of the same material as the ones reviewed, then counted up the rest. I listed out Ulrich Gumpert since most of what I've heard was reviewed this month, but merely counted Pandelis Karayorgis. I imagine both pianists are about equally obscure even to American jazz fans, which is a shame. The best place to start on Karayorgis is an album credited to Mi3, Free Advice (2004 , Clean Feed) -- a Jazz CG Pick Hit when it came out.
Total rated count for this column sailed past 7000 this month.
Most of 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 September 16. Past reviews and more information are available here (7100 records).
Bob Albanese: Time Remembered (2012 , Mayimba): Pianist, second album (as far as I can tell), leads a trio with Eddie Gomez on bass and Willard Dyson on drums, and extra percussion on one track. And someone sings some at the end, presumably the artist, with a vocalese air, fitting for all the brisk boppishness. B+(*) [cd]
The Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet: 10 (2015, Zoho): Trumpeter, from Peru, based in New York, celebrates ten years since founding his sextet. One trad piece, jazz standards like "Caravan" and "Lonely Woman" and "My Favorite Things" -- also a take of "Star Spangled Banner" I don't mind too much. B+(***) [cd]
Gonçalo Almeida/Martin van Duynhoven/Tobias Klein: Vibrate in Sympathy (2015, Clean Feed): Credits should be reordered to put Klein up front, making this a sax-bass-drums trio, all original pieces by Klein, who is very clear-headed on alto sax, bass clarinet, and contrabass clarinet. B+(***) [cd]
Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin: Lost Time (2015, Yep Roc): The ex-Blasters' previous reunion album, 2014's Common Ground, had the thematic coherence of a tribute album, not to mention one of the most underappreciated of all blues songbooks, Big Bill Broonzy. On the other hand, this quickie rarely rises above the level of a family singalong. Some songs, of course, are nice to hear, and there's a certain novelty value in hearing Phil try on "Please Please Please." B+(*)
Rodrigo Amado: This Is Our Language (2012 , Not Two): Tenor saxophonist, from Portugal, should be considered a major figure on the instrument. He is spectacular here, not that he doesn't get help from Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet, alto sax) working around his edges. With Kent Kessler on bass and Chris Corsano on drums. A- [cd]
Laurie Antonioli & Richie Beirach: Varuna (2006-15 , Origin): Vocalist and pianist, mostly recorded in two sessions from 2006 and 2012, plus some more recent touch up. Bassist Pepe Berns joins for the jointly-credited three-part "Resolution Suite." Four more originals, plus standards concepts like opening "My Funny Valentine" with Scriabin's "Prelude in E-flat Minor." B- [cd]
The Bottle Rockets: South Broadway Athletic Club (2015, Bloodshot): Country-ish rock band, dates back to 1993 with over a dozen albums, led by Brian Henneman, whose songs are clear and empathetic as ever. B+(***)
Randy Brecker: Randy Pop: Live (2015, Piloo): As pointed out in the liner notes, the trumpeter turns 70 in November, so time, perhaps, for a little nostalgia. Brecker and his saxophonist brother "Mike" ran a successful fusion group in the 1970s but also did tons of studio work, so Kenny Werner got the idea of taking songs the Breckers played bit parts on and turning them into a retrospective: Donald Fagen's jazz-ready "New Frontier," BS&T, Todd Rundgren, a pair of James Browns segueing into Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon. Werner forgets the part about pop being fun but avoids the worst skunk funk, and Brecker's deadpan intros add to the museum effect. B [cd]
A Bu Trio: 88 Tones of Black and White (2014 , Blujazz, CD+DVD): Pianist, from Beijing, accepted at age 9 to the Conservatory of Music, "studied under renowned jazz pianist professor Kong Hongwei," attended sumer camps in Kansas City and San Francisco, joined the Beijing Jungle Big Band in 2012. Debut is a trio with Ma Kai on bass and Shao Ha Ha on drums. The thirteen cuts are all covers, the J.S. Bach sounding odder to me than the Monk. B+(*) [cd]
Art "Turk" Burton and Congo Square: Spirits: Then & Now (1983-2015 , ATB): Conga player from Chicago, joined AACM in 1973, was elected chairman in 2011. This is the only album I've been able to find, built from 2 cuts from a 1983 live shot, 6 more from a recent studio date -- bassist Harrison Bankhead spans both sets. The early cuts have that loose swing one associates with Sun Ra, especially the one joined by Douglass Ewart and Donald Rafael Garrett. The new ones take a while to click -- roughly until the percussion leads the way. B+(**) [cd]
Marnix Busstra: Firm Fragile Fun (2015, Buzz Music): Guitarist, postbop fusion, has several previous albums. This is a quartet with piano-bass-drums, the leader playing bouzouki and electric sitar as well as guitar. All original material. Flows easy. B+(*) [cd]
De Beren Gieren: One Mirrors Many (2015, Clean Feed): Piano trio: Fulco Ottervanger (piano), Lieven Van Pée (bass), Simon Segers (drums). Fifth album since 2010, a nice mix of postbop and avant, dense but nothing untoward. B+(**) [cd]
Benoit Delbecq/Miles Perkin/Emile Biayenda: Ink (2014 , Clean Feed): French pianist, twenty-some albums since 1992, this a trio with bass and drums. I'm struck especially by his rhythmic control. B+(***) [cd]
East West Quintet: Anthem (2011 , self-released): Based in Brooklyn, which I guess makes them more east than west these days. Also I count a sextet's worth of credits: Dylan Heaney (alto/tenor sax), Phil Rodriguez (trumpet), Simon Kafka (guitar), Mike Cassidy (piano, keyboards), Benjamin Campbell (electric and upright bass), Jordan Perlson (drums). Third album, self-described as "genre-bending" and "more likely to rock than to swing" -- actually, odds of either are pretty slim, nor does it help that "anthem" seems to mean slow. B- [cd]
Eskmo: Sol (2015, Apollo): Brendan Angelides' second album, a mix of bent pop and electronics that grows on you, somewhat. B+(**)
EZTV: Calling Out (2015, Captured Tracks): Guitar-driven power pop, just not much power, even less pop. B
John Fedchock New York Big Band: Like It Is (2014 , MAMA): Trombonist, his first New York Big Band album dates back to 1992, a crack outfit -- reed section: Charles Pillow, Mark Vinci, Rich Perry, Walt Weiskopf, Gary Smulyan/Scott Robinson -- not that this breaks new ground. B+(**) [cd]
Ezra Furman: Perpetual Motion People (2015, Bella Union): A singer-songwriter who's able to accent his writerly preoccupations -- whatever they may be, one line being "lose yourself completely, but stay alive" -- by reviving ancient rock archetypes, some doo-wop here, some glam rock there, some honking sax. A-
Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio: Live in Studio (2015, Whaling City Sound): Third group album, impossible to fault the drummer's dream team -- pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Ron Carter. All standards, most given a delightful lift with the pianist's light touch. Also, four guest spots for Roy Hargrove, and three for Cassandra Wilson. B+(**) [cd]
Ulrich Gumpert Quartett: A New One (2014 , Intakt): Pianist-led sax quartet, with Jürg Wickihalder the saxophonist, Jan Roder on bass and Michael Griener on drums. B. 1945 in Jena, Gumpert grew up in East Berlin, interested in Satie and free jazz. From 1974 on, he recorded several FMP albums with Günter Sommer, joined Conny Bauer's Zentralquartett (still an important group), recorded a duo with Steve Lacy in 1987 (and was later one of the pianists on Lacy's Five Facings). A- [cd]
Scott Hamilton & Jeff Hamilton Trio: Live in Bern (2014 , Capri): No relation, although drummer Jeff comes from a famous jazz family, which put him in front of what otherwise might be Tamir Hendelman's piano trio. I thought the pianist was a bit obtrusive at first, but the second spin was all smooth sailing for the tenor. B+(***) [cd]
Miho Hazama: Time River (2015, Sunnyside): Pianist, composer, arranger, spends more time conducting on her second album than at the piano. Band is officially 13-piece although I see more credits here, including a full cast of strings, and a guest slot for Joshua Redman. B+(**) [cdr]
Dale Head: Swing Straight Up (2015, Blujazz): Saloon singer, plays some trumpet, is backed by Rory Snyder's Night Jazz Band on a dozen standards (although "Blue Rondo a La Turk" is a vocalese lark). B [cd]
Julia Holter: Have You in My Wilderness (2015, Domino): From Los Angeles, a singer-songwriter who looks to literature for inspiration -- Colette and Isherwood this time -- and wraps stories up in thick sheets of electronics. B
Innerroute: Fourmation (2011 , self-released): Quartet -- Michael D'Agostino (drums), Rick Savage (trumpet/flugelhorn), Joe Vincent Tranchina (keyboard), Bill McCrossen (acoustic & electric fretless basses) -- second album, the electric ride neither postbop nor fusion, not that there isn't a whole tradition around trumpet slicing through electronics. B+(**) [cd]
Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free (2015, Southeastern): Singer-songwriter, left the Drive-By Truckers in 2007 for a solo career which has never amounted to much. Some attractive songs here. Most seem too understated, but when he pumps one up that doesn't help either. B+(*)
Ivan & Alyosha: It's All Just Pretend (2015, Dualtone): Seattle band, named after The Borthers Karamazov, third album, a pleasant alt-rock group. B
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: Live in Cuba (2010 , Blue Engine, 2CD): A first-rate, even if relatively conventional, big band. Bronx-born bassist Carlos Henriquez serves as musical director, stocking the band with Latin standards without suggesting they know better how to play the local music. On the other hand, they do know how to run a rousing brass section. B+(**)
Ochion Jewell Quartet: Volk (2015, self-released): Tenor saxophonist, based in New York, second album (as far as I can tell), quartet includes bassist Sam Minaie and two-thirds of Dawn of Midi: pianist Amino Belyamani and drummer Qasim Naqvi. The sax doesn't blow me away, but the rhythm section is far from ordinary. Two tracks add Lionel Loueke. A- [cd]
Bill Kirchner: An Evening of Indigos (2014 , Jazzheads, 2CD): Soprano saxophonist and sometime jazz historian (he edited The Oxford Companion to Jazz, organized a nonet for his 1983 debut and that seems to be his favorite vehicle. This is more intimate, a long, relaxed set with Carlton Holmes on piano, Jim Ferguson on bass, and smoky vocals by Holli Ross. B+(**) [cd]
Frank Kohl Quartet: Invisible Man (2013 , Pony Boy): Another mild-mannered guitar album, backed by Tom Kohl on piano, Steve LaSpina on bass, and Jon Doty on drums. B+(*) [cd]
John Kruth: The Drunken Wind of Life: The Poem/Songs of Tin Ujevic (2015, Smiling Fez): Ujevic (1891-1955) was a Croatian poet and essayist; he studied in Split, lived mostly in Belgrade (after some time in France) but died in Zagreb. Wikipedia tells us that "in 2008, a total of 122 streets in Croatia were named after Ujevic, making him the ninth most common person for whom streets were named in Croatia." Nine (of thirteen) songs here are built around Ujevic lyrics, three others Kurth originals "inspired by Ujevic and Croatia," plus a trad folk dance for local flavor. Actually, the music doesn't sound that Balkan, and the lyrics are all standard English translations, accorded the sort of veneration that comes naturally to folkies. A-
Amy LaVere and Will Sexton: Hallelujah I'm a Dreamer (2015, Archer): A country singer who prefers Memphis, and one of those singer-songwriter who having established her own career decided to give her husband some billing -- Amy Rigby, Kelly Chambers, and Kelly Willis are others (although the latter's mate is probably as well known). This was cut cheap, minimal arrangements, recycling some old songs which stand on their own. Still very much her album, although he sings one and does a nice job. A-
Left Exit Mr K: Featuring Michael Duch & Klaus Holm (2013 , Clean Feed): My original parsing had Left Exit as the group name, Mr K as the album title, and the rest as fluff. Some further diggins suggests the above, with some sources marking the transition from white to black print with a comma (and an equally invisible dot): Left Exit, Mr. K. At any rate, the group proper is a duo of Karl Hjalmar Nyberg (saxes) and Andreas Skår Winther (drums, strings), so Duch (double bass) and Holm (sax, clarinet) are guests. Improv that aims at the dark side of ambient, nothing quite so clear as drone. B+(**) [cd]
The Liberation Music Collective: Siglo XXI (2015, self-released): Big band from Bloomington, IN, co-founded and (more or less) led by Hannah Fidler (bass) and Matt Riggen (trumpet), the instrumental stretches cut with interviews, spoken word samples, a "Herstory" rap by Fiddler. May strike you as a bit preachy, but someone in the trombone section has a sense of humor (and so does Fidler -- best presumably assumed name since Joe Strummer). B+(**) [cd]
Expansions: The Dave Liebman Group: The Puzzle (2015, Whaling City Sound): The saxophonist has many groups, well over 100 albums, but this one almost deserves the pretentious name. Liebman plays soprano and wooden recorder -- not something I've been all that fond of in the past, but he mixes well with Matt Vashlishan (clarinet, flute, alto sax, straw, EWI). Bobby Avey is a terrific pianist, and Tony Marino and Alex Ritz are fine on bass and drums. B+(***) [cd]
Russ Lossing: Eclipse (2012 , Aqua Piazza): One of the most impressive jazz pianists to have emerge since 2000. This one is solo, often quite impressive. B+(**) [cd]
Hans Luchs: Time Never Pauses (2015, OA2): Guitarist, based in Chicago, first album, bright tone, some swing, wrote eight originals and covers Ellington and Porter. B+(*) [cd]
Maddie & Tae: Start Here (2015, Dot): The phrase they hint at but can't bring themselves to say (pardon that "French") is "karma is a bitch." Note that Taylor Dye and Maddie Marlow are credited on all songs, but never without help. Feels like too much help, and with their voices locked it's hard to find an individual in the duo. B+(*)
Whitney Marchelle: Dig Dis (2015, Blujazz): Singer, last name Jackson, second album. Plays some piano, moves a lot of musicians in and out -- the late Clark Terry's cut suggests this was recorded earlier but I have no dates. She digs bebop, and this works best when it flies, as on the opening "In Walked Bud." B+(*) [cd]
Josh Maxey: Celebration of Soul (2015, Miles High): Guitarist, tenth album he's recorded in last three years, all original pieces mostly done in a soul jazz mode with Brian Charette on organ and Jeremy Noller on drums, some adding Rodney Jones for a second guitar, more often Chase Baird on sax, or others who didn't make the front cover. B [cd]
Joe McPhee/Jamie Saft/Joe Morris/Charles Downs: Ticonderoga (2014 , Clean Feed): Avant sax quartet, McPhee plays tenor (mostly) and soprano and doesn't push it too hard. Saft plays piano, getting a bit more brittle sound than on his usual electric keybs, and adding measurably to the rhythmic complexity, which is not to say groove. Morris plays bass here, and is superb. [PS: There is an alternate cover, shown on the label's website, which suggests Saft is the leader. My copy lists the four names in the credit order above. The spine only lists Ticonderoga, which the label's website lists as the artist name.] A- [cd]
Bob Merrill: Cheerin' Up the Universe (2013 , Accurate): Trumpet player, crooner, don't know if he's related to the famous songwriter of the same name (1921-98), but is clearly much younger and still living. (AMG errnoeously lists his records under the elder Merrill's discography.) Band includes John Medeski, Russ Gershon, Nicki Parrott, and George Schuller, and Harry Allen and Roswell Rudd drop in for a cut apiece. His standards are mostly pop songs from the '60s and '70s -- "What the World Needs Now," "Compared to What," "Imagine," "Feelin' Groovy," "The Creator Has a Master Plan," "Let's Drop the Big One" -- some of those work and some don't, but the final three are pleasant surprises: "Happy," "IGY (What a Beautiful World)," and "I'm So Tired." B+(**) [cd]
Metric: Pagans in Vegas (2015, Metric): Synth-pop group from Toronto, lead singer Emily Haynes, been around since the turn of the century but took a big step forward with 2009's Fantasies. This is about as good, mature songs built on solid melodies, nothing too chirpy or flashy. A-
Mark Christian Miller: Crazy Moon (2015, Sliding Jazz Door Productions): Standards singer, has a previous album as Mark Miller (Dreamer With a Penny), draws on local talent for his band -- notably Josh Nelson (piano), Larry Koonse (guitar), Bob Sheppard (bass clarinet). Not a classic crooner but agreeable enough, especially if you feed him an undeniable classic. B+(*) [cd]
Ben Monder: Amorphae (2010-13 , ECM): Guitarist, very prolific sideman with 130 albums since 1992, the go-to guy for New York postboppers. Two duos with Paul Motian, two more with Andrew Cyrille, plus trio tracks where synth-player Pete Rende joins Cyrille. Ambient, nearly featureless, aside from some fumbles that could just be artifacts of a defective streaming process. B [dl]
Giorgio Moroder: Deja-Vu (2015, RCA): Best known as Donna Summer's producer (1975-80), Moroder lent his disco touch to dozens of artists in the early 1980s. His own albums start with a 1969 collection of bubble gum covers, proceed through disco versions of the Moody Blues and the soundtrack for Midnight Express, but end in 1985. He's done hack work since then (TV, video games), but this is his first album in 30 years. His disco shtick hasn't evolved much but still gleams -- at one point his disembodied voice tells us "74 is the new 24," but he usually leaves the words to still young pop stars like Sia, Charli XCX, Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, and Kelis. And he shows us that "Tom's Diner" gets even better with more remix. A-
Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Mauch Chunk (2015, Hot Cup): Some turnover in the lineup of bassist Moppa Elliott's group as it moves into its second decade: Ron Stabinsky, who joined the group when they attempted to clone Kind of Blue, remains on piano, while Peter Evans (trumpet) is gone. The loss of front-line fire power should hurt, but saxophonist Jon Irabagon goes to Herculean lengths to make up the deficit. Not quite up to their best albums of the past decade, but the bear on the cover reminds me they don't have to outrun time, just the competition. A- [cd]
New Order: Music Complete (2015, Mute): First real album in a decade -- seems to be a lot of that going on recently -- the lapse taking one casualty: bassist Peter Hook is gone (but how hard is it to replace a bassist?), original keyboardist Gillian Gilbert has returned, and they've added some guests and strings, none of which makes much difference: long-term fans will instantly recognize the band, and newbies will be, well, amazed. A-
Oddisee: The Good Fight (2015, Mello Music Group): Underground rapper, born in DC as Amir Mohammed el Khalifa, father originally from Sudan, tenth album since 2009 plus a bunch of EPs and mixtapes. Spoken word bit at the end explains that Oddisee and Blu are two rappers who refuse to "dumb down" to make themselves more accessible. Can't argue against this, given that most of this record just sailed right past me. B+(*)
Caili O'Doherty: Padme (2015, Odo): Pianist, first album, all originals, backed by bass and drums plus many guests -- saxophonists Ben Flocks (tenor) and Caroline Davis (alto) make the best impression, mostly by going with the flow. B+(**) [cd]
Ought: Sun Coming Down (2015, Constellation): Post-punk quartet from Montreal with a heavy metallic klang that reminds me of some of those UK groups that came along after Gang of Four (e.g., Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, less so The Three Johns), an imposing sound when it coheres (as it mostly did on the 2014 debut More Than Any Other Day), although here they fall down repeatedly, and the effect is far more annoying than my hopefully hedged grade. B+(*)
Charlie Parr: Stumpjumper (2015, Red House): From Minnesota, guitarist-singer billed as "country blues" but I'm more inclined to view him as a folk artist -- even if virtually all of the songs are originals the style is as old as the hills. Helps here that he gets some backing vocals -- wife and kids, I gather. B+(**)
Ben Patterson: For Once in My Life (2015, Origin): Organ trio, with Peter Bernstein on guitar and George Fludas on drums. Conventional, almost classic, soul jazz, neatly done. Leader has several previous albums as a pianist. B+(*) [cd]
Pere Ubu: Carnival of Souls (2014, Fire): One of the most brilliant avant-punk groups to come out of the late 1970s -- newbies might consider their new vinyl-only box, Elitism for the People 1975-1978 (Fire, 4LP), but I probably have it all, and having been slow to give up vinyl, I'm even less inclined to retrace my steps. David Thomas, at least, has kept the band name going, his voice unique, and the sonic palette still distinc after all these years. B+(***)
The Pop Group: Citizen Zombie (2015, Freaks R Us): An obscure avant-punk group from 1978-80, their album Y having become a cult item, regroups after thirty-some years (vocalist Mark Stewart, guitarist Gareth Sager, and drummer Bruce Smith, anyway, with a new bassist). More structured than the original group, which is not necessarily a plus. B+(*)
Noah Preminger: Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar (2015, self-released): Tenor saxophonist, won the debut category in the 2008 Jazz Critics Poll, and has only gotten better. Live quartet with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Kim Cass on bass, and Ian Froman on drums -- names I didn't recognize and shouldn't forget. Two 30+ minute jams, an old-fashioned cutting contest. A- [cd]
Tom Rainey Trio: Motel Grief (2015, Intakt): Drummer, I first noticed him with Tim Berne in the 1990s, but it took a while before he started moving his name up front. Third album with this particular group, with Ingrid Laubrock on sax and Mary Halvorson, slippery as ever, on guitar. B+(**) [cd]
Keith Richards: Crosseyed Heart (2015, Mindless/Virgin): First solo album since 1992. Maybe he figured the title tune was good enough, and maybe it is, but Steve Jordan isn't the writing partner he needs, so the filler falls off pretty bad -- especially when you consider he has a knack for making knock offs work (cf. "Goodnight Irene"). B
Daniel Romano: If I've Only One Time Askin' (2015, New West): Canadian country singer, second album. B+(*)
Cecile McLorin Salvant: For One to Love (2015, Mack Avenue): Jazz singer, born in Miami, mother French, father Haitian, studied in France. Her second swept the critics polls and picked up a Grammy nomination. I doubt this would have broken through like that, but fans may convince themselves it's a step forward. I'm not so sure, not just because I found her "Wives and Lovers" unsettling. B+(*)
Jill Scott: Woman (2015, Atlantic): Sixteen songs, runs 57:41, sprawl that I've found hard to get a grip on although I don't doubt that a little pruning would put it over, and suspect even that once that happened the ambient filler might work too. Or maybe just a hard copy and lots of time. Easy enough to get why she favors the sprawl: big subject, and lots to say about it. B+(***)
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra/Makoto Ozone: Jeunehomme: Mozart Piano Concerto No 9 K-271 (2014 , Spartacus): Tommy Smith's pet project, one I indulge mostly because Smith remains one of the world's most dynamic tenor saxophonists. Indeed, there's an early solo here that could be no one else. Still, Mozart, even nicely jazzed up, will never be my cup of tea, and while Ozone may have a reputation in some circles, he's just another piano player here. B+(*) [cdr]
Aram Shelton/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Frank Rosaly: Resounder (2014 , Singlespeed Music): Alto sax-cello-drums trio, leader also credited with "processing," while Lonberg-Holm adds guitar and electronics -- his electronics have moved way beyond the hobby stage, filling up the middle with a dense, prickly sonic framework, which the others can only sharpen up or knick away at. B+(***) [cd]
Jen Shyu & Jade Tongue: Sounds and Cries of the World (2015, Pi): Exotic singer from Peoria, IL; also plays piano and various lutes and zithers and gongs of scattered east Asian origin, and fronts a talented group with Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Mat Maneri (viola), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums). Nice work if you can stand it, which for the most part I cannot. B- [cd]
Susana Santos Silva/Torbjörn Zetterberg/Hampus Lindwall: If Nothing Else (2014 , Clean Feed): Trumpet/flugelhorn, double bass, and organ, respectively. Organ and bass are usually exclusive in jazz groups but here they resonate, the organ broadening the bass harmonics and the bass sharpening the organ, while the trumpet easily punctures whatever backdrop they throw up. B+(**) [cd]
Rotem Sivan Trio: A New Dance (2015, Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, born in Israel, based in New York, third album, trio with bass (Haggai Cohen-Wild) and drums (Colin Stranahan). Rather buttoned-down postbop. the pace deliberate, the tone muted, the guest vocal neither here more there. B+(*) [cd]
Snik: Metasediment Rock (2014 , Clean Feed): Norwegian avant quartet: Kristoffer Kompen (trombone), Kristoffer Berre Alberts (saxes), Ole Morten Vågan (bass), Erik Nylander (drums), with Kompen and Vågan composing (6-to-2). B+(**) [cd]
Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment: Surf (2015, self-released): The leader is actually named Nico Segal, but does at least play trumpet. Still, this counts as a rap album for the vocalists, the main one being Chance the Rapper (although I suppose featured artists like Big Sean and Erykah Badu are better known). Underground, flows soulfully, grows on you. A-
Voicehandler: Song Cycle (2013-14 , Humbler): Duo: Jacob Felix Heule (percussion & electronics), and Danishta Rivera (voice & Hydrophonium). The electronics evoke primordial violence, the assembly of the world from chaos, and the vocals try to make it all seem cosmic. B+(*) [cd]
The Weeknd: Beauty Behind the Madness (2015, Republic): Abel Tesfaye, from Toronto, entered the pop world as a damaged outsider and seems determined to stay there, his love songs crippled but shameless. B+(*)
Bastian Weinhold: Cityscape (2014 , Frame Music): Drummer, from Germany, studied in Netherlands, moved to New York in 2009. Second album, quartet with Adam Larson on tenor sax and Nils Weinhold on guitar. More typical of a guitarist's album, a bit of groove with little muss. B [cd]
Galen Weston: Plugged In (2015, Blujazz): Guitarist, from Toronto, easy-going groove album with electric keyb and bits of tasty sax. B- [cd]
Ben Winkelman Trio: The Knife (2014 , OA2): Pianist, third or fourth album, trio with Sam Anning on bass and Eric Doob on drums. B+(**) [cd]
John Wojciechowski: Focus (2015, Origin): Saxophonist (soprano, alto, tenor), one previous album, this a quartet with Ryan Cohan on piano/Rhodes, Dennis Carroll on bass, Dana Hill on drums. Nice tenor tone, good postbop sense, very listenable disc. B+(**)
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Willem Breuker Kollektief: Angoulême 18 Mai 1980 (1980 , Fou, 2CD): Dutch group, led by the saxophonist from the early 1970s until his death in 2010. Like ICP Orchestra (which Breuker briefly played in), and for that matter the Sun Ra Arkestra, Breuker was able to span the whole history of jazz up through the avant-garde, frequently turning to hard swing, but in Breuker's case also mixing in circus, folk, classical, and Brechtian art-song. I've only heard ten (of fifty-some) Breuker records, and most I rate between mixed blessings and downright nuissances, so as I was falling for this one I noticed that my previous favorite was another early (1975) live album. This could have been edited down into something that flows better, but largesse was a big part of their shtick. A- [cd]
Amara Touré: 1973-1980 (1973-80 , Analog Africa): Singer-percussionist from Guinea, played in Le Star Band de Dakar, picking up Afro-Cuban pop from the African end. Stitched together from singles and an album, the tracks progressively refine their groove until the "Africa" chant at the end takes off. B+(***)
Louis Armstrong: From the Big Band to the All Stars (1946-1956) (1932-56 , RCA, 2CD): From RCA France's Jazz Tribune series, this gives you a nice overview of Armstrong's post-WWII downsizing, where he basically traded the big band he had led since 1930 for a small group called the All Stars (justly at first, although their star power waned over the years as Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, and Big Sid Catlett dropped out. This only includes three All Stars cuts, from 1947 with Dick Cary (instead of Hines) on piano. The rest of the cuts are with various big bands -- including one cut with Chick Webb from 1932 and three from 1956. A- [cd]
Sidney Bechet: The Complete Sidney Bechet Volumes 3/4 (1941) (1941 , RCA, 2CD): Elizabeth Fink's father, Bernie Fink, died well before I met her, but his name came up often, especially when we talked about music. Bernie's favorite was Sidney Bechet, so I grabbed this long out-of-print compilation from Liz's shelves. I probably didn't need to since much of this also appears on the even-harder-to-find The Victor Sessions: Master Takes (, RCA, 3CD), which I own and treasure -- this adds extra takes, turning singles into doubles. Still, with music this transcendent, redundancy just drives home the point. A- [cd]
The Bottle Rockets: 24 Hours a Day (1997, Atlantic): Third album, a much-better-than-average countryish-rock band, pretty good song about "Indianapolis." B+(***)
Bottle Rockets: Leftovers (1998, Doolittle): From the 24 Hours a Day sessions, not quite a full platter with eight songs (plus one hidden track), 31:36, but not oversold either. Probably not as good as the keeper album, but more fun -- excepting "My Own Cadillac." B+(**)
The Bottle Rockets: Brand New Year (1999, Dolittle): So this is where they decide to rock out -- always an aspect of what they do, but is it here to cover up a drop in the songs? I'm not sure. B+(*)
The Bottle Rockets: Zoysia (2006, Bloodshot): Continuing much as ever before: "these days my heart's better than broken/not as good as new." B+(**)
Can: Tago Mago (1971, United Artists): German band, formed by bassist Holger Czukay and keyboardist Irmin Schmidt, both Stockhausen students, with jazz drummer Jaki Liebezeit and Michael Karoli on guitar. This is their second or third album (depending on whether you count their 1970 Soundtracks compilation), a double LP with two side-long tracks: the first exceptionally sharp, the second oddly exceptional. B+(***)
Nick Drake: Pink Moon (1972, Island): English singer-songwriter, folkie division, cut three albums before he died at 26, officially a suicide (overdose of anti-depressants). This last album is stripped down to voice and guitar, and while there's nothing particularly depressing about the songs, there is nothing exciting either. B+(*)
Faust: Faust IV (1973, Virgin): German group, one of synth bands that would eventually be categorized as "Krautrock" (the title of the long first cut here). Fourth and last of their 1971-73 albums, before breaking up in 1975 and regrouping in the mid-1990s. Still, they're not purists, setting aside their machines for human vocals (ok, German vocals), not that far removed from Soft Machine (although I can't speak for their wit). B+(**)
Faust: Something Dirty (2011, Bureau B): After regrouping in 1994 the group has recorded a lot. I picked this one out to sample because it is the only one Christgau noted. Guitar rather than synth, sometimes leaning industrial and sometimes delicately not, with occasional annotation. B+(**)
Ulrich Gumpert: Workshop Band (1978-79 , Jazzwerkstatt, 2CD): Compilation of two FMP albums, Under Anderem: 'N Tango Für Gitti (from a Rundfunk der GDR radio shot), and Echos von Karolinenhof (from two live dates at the Akademie der Künste in East Berlin. The bands include the future Zentralquartett -- Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky (reeds), Conrad Bauer (trombone), Günter Sommer (drums) -- plus Klaus Koch on bass, Heinz Becker on trumpet, Manfred Hering on alto/tenor sax, and either Helmut Forsthoff or Iri Artonow on tenor sax. Brisk, frisky free jazz, undaunted by the Iron Curtain. B+(**)
Ulrich Gumpert: Erik Satie: Danses Gothiques/Quatre Preludes/Petite Ouverture a Danser (1989 , Phil.Harmonie): Originally released on ITM as Ulrich Gumpert Spielt Erik Satie or Erik Satie Compositeur de Musique depending on how or where you look. Solo piano, not as much snap as I like on Satie, but he's put some thought into it. B+(*)
Ulrich Gumpert Workshop Band: Smell a Rat (1995 , Jazzwerkstatt): Same band as fifteen years earlier, the compositions divided 5-4 between Gumpert and Günter Sommer with Petrowsky the top soloist. B+(***)
Ulrich Gumpert: Quartette (2006 , Intakt): Sax quartet, the leader on piano and the composer of all seven tunes, with Jan Roder on bass, Michael Griener on drums, and Ben Abarbanel-Wolff on tenor -- the latter doesn't strike me as having exceptional range, with the composer feeding him fast freebop runs. B+(**)
Ulrich Gumpert Workshop Band: Suites (2008, Jazzwerkstatt): Quite a bit of personnel churn here -- the pianist is the only player left from 1995, the new septet built around the 2006 Quartette with three extra horns: Martin Klingeberg (trumpet), Christof Thewes (trombone), and Henrik Waldsdorff (alto sax). Three original pieces with 3-4 movements each -- the traditional term, I think, but here they really do move, or more precisely, jump and swing. A-
Ulrich Gumpert/Günter Baby Sommer: La Paloma (2011 , Intakt): Piano-drums duo, long-running relationship including a couple of duo albums on FMP 1978-79. This is relatively relaxed, even a bit folkie. B+(**)
John Lee Hooker: John Lee Hooker on Vee-Jay 1955-1958 (1955-58 , Vee-Jay): Robert Santelli's second pick from Hooker's vast discography, number 18 among all blues albums ever (trailing The Legendary Modern Recordings 1948-1954 at number 6). This is only a fragment of Hooker's Vee-Jays: the first 22 tracks from the 6-CD box The Vee Jay Years 1955-1964, but they are band tracks, where Hooker earned his "endless boogie" handle. A-
John Lee Hooker: Don't Turn Me From Your Door: John Lee Hooker Sings His Blues (1953-61 , Atco): Mostly from 1953 although the four later tracks would be hard to pick out in a blindfold test. Just guitar and voice, the minimal core he built a long career around. Only 36 for the early tracks, yet he already sounds ancient. A-
John Lee Hooker: Never Get Out of These Blues Alive (1971 , ABC): Long before he came up with the Best of Friends the bluesman jams with Elvin Bishop and Van Morrison, running the latter's "T.B. Sheets" through the ringer. B+(***)
The Pandelis Karayorgis Trio: Heart and Sack (1998, Leo Lab): Greek pianist, long based in Boston, piano trio, with Nate McBride on bass and Randy Peterson on drums. Starts pushing a strong rhythmic line, but even when he eases up he keeps this fascinating. A-
Pandelis Karayorgis: Seventeen Pieces: Solo Piano (2004, Leo): Half originals (8), three Monks, pianist pieces from Ellington to Tristano to Sun Ra, pieces from Marsh and Dolphy, one standard ("I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You"). B+(***)
The Bill Kirchner Nonet: One Starry Night (1987 , Jazzheads): After two studio albums went out of print, this radio tape eventually surfaced, the main selling point guest singer Sheila Jordan, who's a little excessive on her Charlie Parker tale ("Quasimodo"). The band itself is an impressive bunch, with Ralph Lalama and Glenn Wilson joining Kirchner on reeds, Bill Warfield and Brian Lynch on trumpet, Marc Copland on piano, Mike Richmond on bass. B+(**)
John Kruth: Banshee Mandolin (1992, Flying Fish): Scholar-turned-musician or vice versa, AMG credits him with liner notes on a dozen albums, and he's written biographies of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Townes Van Zandt, and Roy Orbison (in that order, 2000-12). His side credits on mandolin go back to 1986 (Christine Lavin) -- probably the reason AMG classifies him as folk although they could have gone for jazz or world or sui generis. This takes a funny glance on folk and bounces it off psychedelic rock among other things -- his band credits include Violent Femmes. He would later delve deep into Balkan Music and form a world-fusion group called TriBeCaStan, but while most of what he picked up later sounds borrowed, this is pretty distinct. B+(***)
John Kruth: Eva Destruction (2006, Crustacean): In 2006 Kruth traveled to India to study with Carnatic mandolin virtuoso U. Rajesh. Not sure if that happened before or after this album, but he's at least thinking about Indian music, adding little flourishes, even if sometimes they sound third hand, like something he copped from a George Harrison record. Or Donovan, if you still want to cast him as a folkie. B+(**)
John Kruth: Splitsville (2008, Smiling Fez): Split is an ancient city on the Adriatic Sea in modern Croatia, founded by Greeks in the 4th century BCE, batted about by Romans, Avars, Slavs, Byzantines, Venetians, Ottomans, Habsburgs, Napoleon, Hitler, and Tito -- leaving a set of fortifications and antiquities used as sets for Game of Thrones. Kruth's musical interests span the world, but he learned to focus here -- his wife's Croatian heritage was part of the reason, inspiring this batch of original songs that never stray that far from home, even when singing about "the lone Croatian general not wanted by the Hague." A-
Madness: One Step Beyond . . . (1979, Stiff): British ska revival band, first album, a big UK hit but they never sold much in the US. B+(**)
Madness: Absolutely (1980, Stiff): Another UK hit, with three top-ten singles, not that any of them are obvious on the first pass -- just the upbeat intensity. B
Madness: Complete Madness: 16 Hit Tracks (1979-82 , Stiff): After three albums, the first of many compilations, includes 11 singles that charted 16 or higher in the UK (9 in top-10, 6 in top-5), but came too soon to include 7 more top-10 (only 2 post-1983). So there should be a later, higher-charting best-of, but probably not this tight and consistent. B+(***)
Giorgio Moroder: Knights in White Satin (1976, Oasis): Cover just lists the artist as Giorgio. The disco take on the Moody Blues is a joke, of course -- not a great one, but an improvement nonetheless. The white mist pervades the B-side as well, making me wonder if "I Wanna Funk With You Tonite" isn't meant as some sort of hymn. B+(*)
Giorgio Moroder: From Here to Eternity (1977, Casablanca): Pretty much the centerpiece in the disco producer's own brief fling as a headline artist, although it's hard to hear why: the beats are steady as ever, but the vocals aspire to robot-dom, and don't quite make it. B
Neu!: Neu! (1972, Brain): Guitarist Michael Rother, who went on to have an interesting solo career (also playing bass and, later, keyboards), and drummer Klaus Dinger left Kraftwerk to start this short-lived (and occasionally reformed) group. The 10:07 opener "Hallogallo" is an entrancing piece of minimalist groove. They try some other things, but the album really perks up every time the beat resurfaces. A-
Harry Nilsson: Nilsson Sings Newman (1970, Buddha): All music and lyrics, and for that matter piano, by Randy Newman, whose brilliant second album, 12 Songs would be released later that spring. Nilsson only scooped one song from that album, settling for five from the debut, two songs that Newman released on later albums, and two more I haven't located. Hard to realize now that this was once seen as a favor. B-
Harry Nilsson: Nilsson Schmilsson (1971, RCA): Two of his three top-ten singles here, which although familiar enough don't seem all that inevitable. Two R&B covers that do sound like hits emerge as idiosyncrasies. The other stuff is far from compelling, though lots of smart people thought so at the time. B+(**)
Harry Nilsson: Pussy Cats (1974, RCA): I had long been under the impression that John Lennon collaborated more here, but the fine print above his name on the cover just says "produced by." Lennon wrote one song, arranged a few more, and I suspect his voice is in there somewhere. But the project mostly depends on a random spread of on quick and dirty covers ("Many Rivers to Cross," "Save the Last Dance for Me," "Loop de Loop," "Subterranean Homesick Blues," etc.), and that doesn't prove much. B
The Pop Group: Y (1979 , Radar): British group, nothing pop about them, closer to no wave or postpunk but where those aimed for crude basics, this group seeks magic in chaos. Sometimes they find it, mostly in rhythmic thrash, sometimes with jazz piano or sax that's not part of the core group. Wikipedia has a fairly large table of notable lists this obscurity has appeared on. Too erratic for me to agree, but I can sort of see it. Best thing is the extra single on the reissue ("3:38"). B+(***)
The Pop Group: For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (1980, Rough Trade): Rough, scratchy, but much more coherent songwise, and clearly political ("Nixon and Kissinger should be tried for war crimes"). B+(**) [dl]
Saturday Night Fever [The Original Movie Sound Track] (1977, Polydor): A double-LP in its time, although it should fit onto a single CD, mixing the good stuff and the not-so-good. The former includes a Bee Gees side (with Yvonne Elliman singing one of their songs), an instrumental "Calypso Breakdown," and a magnificent "Disco Inferno" (The Trammps). The latter includes vain attempts to discofy Beethoven and Mussorgsky. B+(*)
Jill Scott: Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1 (2000, Hidden Beach/Epic): First album, carried the Words and Sounds conceit through three volumes by which time she didn't need anything so self-effacing. She pulls her punches here, too, but just to lure you in. B+(**)
The Specials: The Specials (1979, Chrysalis): Ska band, picking up on the Jamaican pop of the 1960s before rocksteady and reggae and dub and all that evolved, probably because it was easier for English punks than affecting rastafari poses, and this band is unmistakably English. B+(***)
The Specials: More Specials (1980, Chrysalis): More consistent, but less special. B+(*)
The Specials: The Singles Collection (1979-84 , Chrysalis): The early non-album "Gangsters" and the closing, still resonating "Free Nelson Mandela" are highlights, otherwise not a lot of reason to favor this over their first album. Still, does a nice job of framing the band. A- [cd]
Suicide: Suicide (1977, Red Star): American duo, singer Alan Vega and Martin Rev on electronics (keyboards, synth bass, drum machine). Touted as "influential" although one thing this didn't bequeath to later new wave groups was a beat. The A side meanders, while the B side (especially the 10:26 "Frankie Teardrop") aims for something more ominous. B
Suicide: Suicide (1980, Antilles/ZE): Original cover lists artists Alan Vega/Martin Rev as well as the group name and/or title -- I've seen that as the title, also Second Album with/without The First Rehearsal Tapes. In any case, a much steadier, more attractive album than the debut. B+(**)
T. Rex: Electric Warrior (1971, Reprise): Marc Bolan's band, considered "glam rock" although their earlier name (1967-70, 4 albums) Tyrannosaurus Rex suggested something heavier. A fifth album, the eponymous T Rex (1970) sold better, kicking off a stretch when they were very popular, although much more so in England. Still, this was their only number one, filled with their chunky little grooves, although only "Get It On" (aka "Bang a Gong") stands out. B+(**)
T. Rex: The Slider (1972, Reprise): Bigger sound, more flash to the guitar, still the hits ("Metal Guru," "Telegram Sam") pull their punches -- probably why they didn't cross the Atlantic. B+(*)
This Are Two Tone (1979-82 , Chrysalis): Label sampler, effectively covers Britain's postpunk ska revival, built around a six-cut best-of from the Specials, with notable cuts from notable bands The Selecter and Madness, both sides of the first single by what later became The English Beat, and some of those minor artists who only show up on compilations. Rhapsody doesn't have this, but I was able to piece together the songlist, maybe even the same versions. A-
Van Halen: Van Halen (1978, Warner Brothers): Brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, guitar and drums, launched this "bar band" in 1972, then picked up singer David Lee Roth in 1974 for a front man with the projection to fill arenas. Aside from the note-perfect Kinks cover ("You Really Got Me"), nothing here is memorably distinct -- even Eddie's "guitar hero" licks could have been stamped out in a production line, and with no song running over 3:50, they're actually rather scarce. C+
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:
Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section.
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Wednesday, October 21. 2015
I don't really understand what's been going on there over the last few weeks, other than that it this episode of escalating violence isn't all that different from every other one -- in that it's mostly explained by the exhaustion of hope for change by any means other than yet another mass uprising. In 1989, as 22 years of military rule over the Occupied Territories turned increasingly rote and rigid, numb and dumb, with the Palestinian political leadership broken and scattered, the popular revolt that broke out was called the intifada -- an Arabic word denoting a tremor, shivering, shuddering, derived from nafada meaning to shake, to shake off, to get rid of. It was an almost involuntary response to the daily grind of oppression, and it took the PLO as much by surprise as it shocked Israel's security czars. Their kneejerk reaction then was summed up in Yitzhak Rabin's vow to "break the bones" of those who would dare protest against Israeli power. Nearly all of the violence was the work of Israelis, who killed hundreds of Palestinians, injured and/or detained thousands, and looked foolish. The worst the Palestinians did was to throw rocks at the armed gendarmes, not exactly textbook nonviolence but for two peoples who grew up on the stories of David and Goliath, more an act of symbolic than physical resistance.
Rabin eventually saw the the way out of the embarrassment of the Intifada was to insert a buffer layer of Palestinian "leaders" between the Israeli masters and most of the Palestinian masses: a role that Yassir Arafat all too readily agreed to, as long as it was sugar-coated with vague promises of future Palestinian independence. This was the Oslo "peace process" -- by design it spurred a redoubling of Israeli efforts to "create facts on the ground" (Israel's jargon for building illegal settlements and outposts on occupied Palestinian land) while forces on both sides -- and not just the "extremists" like Kach-ist settlers and Hamas -- worked to poison the agreement. We can only speculate on what might have happened had Rabin not been assassinated; had his successor, Shimon Peres, not recklessly provoked a wave of Hamas terrorism which got him voted out; had Benjamin Netanyahu not come to power and used that power to subvert the "process"; had Ehud Barak, elected with a mandate to deliver the "final status" negotiations, not gotten cold feet, reneged on his promises, tore up the Oslo agreement, initiated the so-called "Second Intifada" while ushering Ariel Sharon into power to nail the coffin shut. But what we know now is that the growing power of Israel's settler movement, its militarist security state, and its right-wing political parties, has buried, as far into the future as we can see, any prospect for equal rights, for justice and peace, under Israel's yoke.
It's unfair to blame the Second Intifada for killing Oslo, but the resort to violence by Hamas and factions of the PLO, especially the practice of "suicide bombing," helped to harden right-wing Israeli attitudes and determination. I always thought the two Intifadas were completely different phenomena: the former a spontaneous mass revolt in the face of Israel's overwhelming potential violence; the latter a calculated attempt by small cadres of militants to show Israel's powers that their subversion of the "peace process" must have adverse consequences for the Israeli people. The former exposed the rotten truth about Israel's "enlightened occupation"; the latter revealed that in a naked test of violence with Israel the Palestinians never stood a chance.
The great failure of Arafat's political leadership was that he was never able to move beyond his famous UN speech where he offered Israel the choice of peace or war, symbolized by an olive branch and an AK-47. When he failed to negotiate a "final status" deal with Barak in 2000 -- which as we now know was almost totally Barak's fault -- his natural instinct was to pick up the gun. It's not clear to me that's what he did: he always held out the hope for further negotiations, but he couldn't distance himself from the militants without admitting that he had no control over them, and as such no leverage against Israel (or for that matter use to Israel). The notion that Arafat launched the "Al-Aqsa Intifada" -- the term widely abused to associate the Second Intifada with the Moslem holy site, hence with Jihad -- is as ridiculous as the notion that Arafat rejected "unprecedentedly generous offers" at Camp David. Besides, we now know the Intifada was something the Palestinians were goaded into: by Barak's self-serving spin after Camp David, by Sharon's massive armed "visit" to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and most of all by Chief of Staff Shaul Moffaz's decision to open fire on Palestinian demonstrators against Sharon's provocations. It's never seemed quite right to view the violence of 2000-05 as an intifada when it was originally set up as an ambush.
It's hard to change long-established terminology, but it would make more sense to refer to the 2000-05 ("Second Intifada") period as the Counter-Intifada. The original Intifada led to the Oslo Agreements and the "peace process" which the Counter-Intifada destroyed: that much should by now be perfectly clear. One can debate whether the Counter-Intifada ever ended: Arafat died in November 2004, depriving the Intifada of its most prominent boogeyman (his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, was so firmly opposed to the Intifada that he was useless as an enemy face, a role that was quickly shifted to Hamas); Sharon withdrew Israeli settlements from Gaza in September 2005; in 2006 Hamas called a truce, and entered the Palestinian Authority's electoral system, winning a landslide before being cut off by a US-sponsored coup attempt. And while Israel's military actions against Palestinians never really subsided, including massive shellings against Gaza in 2006 (and 2008-09 and 2012 and 2014), the violence was at least temporarily eclipsed by Israel's brutal 2006 bombardment of Lebanon (Condoleezza Rice's notorious "birth pangs of a new Middle East").
Levels of eruptive violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have waxed and waned, but Israel has always threatened and exercised much more violence in its efforts to control Palestinians. In most years since 1967, the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces is ten times as many as the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian "terrorists." Ironically, the ratio drops to about four-to-one in 2001-03, the one (and only) period where there was significant armed Palestinian resistance. (By the way, the distinction between "eruptive" and "potential" violence is a key concept in the book The One State Condition: Occupation and Democracy in Israel/Palestine, by Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir. Eruptive violence is something that Israelis and Palestinians can compete at, but potential violence totally favors Israel: it is, for instance, what allows Israel to require permits, to impose checkpoints, to pick up and hold prisoners. Comparing the ratios of killed or injured, even when we're talking ten-to-one, doesn't even hint at balancing the power scales.)
Most eruptive violence is, at least as rationalized by those who perpetrate it, retaliatory, which means as a first approximation is perpetual, a self-sustaining cycle. However, the actual incidence is far from regular. Palestinians, who suffer disproportionately, are more likely to declare unilateral truces and less likely to break them. And while Palestinians will sometimes inflict violence just to remind Israel that Israel's own violence will not go unanswered, Israelis put much more stock in the deterrence value of violence. Moreover, Israelis are much more likely to see violence as a path to personal advancement. For starters, a majority of Israel's Prime Ministers built their careers on their military records -- more if you count paramilitary terrorists like Begin and Shamir. And as Israel continues its drift toward the extreme right, even mainstream politicians take on genocidal airs.
But while Israel's eruptive violence never seems to go away -- the one exception was the year-and-a-half from when Barak won with his peace mandate in 1998 until he squandered it at Camp David and let Sharon run amok at Al-Aqsa in 2000 -- the eagerness of Palestinian militants to match Israel's violence with their own seems to roughly correlate with a generational (12-15 year) cycle -- making this year's uptick in stabbings seem like a harbinger of a third Intifada. I think three things are going on here: (1) people confuse intifada -- a significant increase in activism meant to "throw off" the occupier -- with violence, a tactic that cannot conceivably stand up against the military and police power of Israel; (2) much of the talk of Intifada comes from militant groups seeking to exploit widespread discontent for their own sectarian purposes (or, conversely, from Israelis who see the militants as their ticket to more devastating repression; (3) while at the same time a rigorously non-violent intifada, aimed at soliciting international support especially for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, has been the predominant political expression of Palestinians for the last decade -- Israelis hope that by provoking more violence they can draw attention away from non-violent and increasingly international organization.
The uptick in violence that's been getting the most attention (at least in the US press) concerns stabbing attacks, notably in Jerusalem. The location is significant because Netanyahu's administration has been especially active in building Jewish-only settlements and in isolating Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. One thing that can drive people to desperate acts of violence is hopelessness, and life for Palestinians in East Jerusalem has never been grimmer. I've yet to see a comprehensive report on such events (maybe one will show up in the links below), but my initial impression is that the stabbings are ineffective even on their own terms: hardly any of the people stabbed die, few are injured seriously, while nearly all of the stabbers are quickly apprehended and/or killed on the spot. Rather, this seems like some form of suicide ritual. Some years back one of Israel's security gurus said that the goal of the occupation was to convince Palestinians that they are "an utterly defeated people." When I read that I didn't know what it might look like, but here it is.
Of course, what I just said only applies to Palestinians attempting to stab Jews. There have been a similar number of Israeli Jews stabbing Palestinians (plus at least one case of an Israeli Jew stabbing a Mizrahi Jew mistaken as Arab). In those cases the assailant is much less likely to be apprehended, let alone gunned down immediately. And if arrested, the Israeli Jew is less likely to be convicted, and far less likely to serve any significant time behind bars. Israel has different courts for Jews and Palestinians, different laws, different rights of appeal, and different punishments -- there is, for instance, no death penalty for Israeli citizens, but Palestinians are routinely targeted extrajudicially. Again, I haven't seen a clear statistical analysis, but a casual review of news items (Kate's compendia at Mondoweiss is a good source) suggests that Israeli settlers have become much more violent in the last couple of years, and that officials are doing little to curb their enthusiasm.
Israel's elections last year brought the most extreme right government to power in the nation's history, with Netanyahu finally making explicit his opposition to any form of peace settlement. His cabinet includes members who have called for the forcible expulsion of all Palestinians, in some cases Israeli citizens as well as the unfortunate inhabitants of the Occupied Territories. Last year Israel stepped up harassment of the West Bank, then turned to a 51-day bombardment of Gaza where its kill rate rivals that of Syria's Assad regime. (For some reason you never hear about Israel "killing its own people" like Saddam and the Kurds or Assad and the Sunnis although the ethnic differences are comparable.) Lately various Israeli religious leaders have issued ruling that aim to legitimize indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, while the Netanyahu government has adopted the policy of shooting stone throwers.
If you know one thing about Israel it should be the utter unwillingness of its right-wing political class to do anything to mitigate a conflict that goes back 50 or 70 or 100 years. (Amy Dockser Marcus' Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israel Conflict sees the origin in 1913 resolutions that committed Zionists to seeking exclusive power over Eretz Israel.) They grew up on that conflict, thrived even, advancing to the most prestigious positions in an increasingly militarized society. And quite frankly, they wouldn't know what to do without the conflict -- so they fight on, inventing new existential threats to replace vanquished ones. (Egypt might have been a real one had they focused on Israel but Nasser had other preoccupations. Syria was never a threat without Egypt as an ally. Iraq had actually fought Israel in 1948, but Saddam Hussein was much more interested in the Lebensraum to his east. And Iran, even under the Ayatollahs, had never been less than friendly toward Israel, but Netanyahu sold them to the Americans as a monstrous threat -- which worked because deep down Americans realized that Iran had good reason to hate the United States.) They even find threats hiding in the closets, like the so-called demographic problem. And they've so conditioned the Israeli public, long steeped in the legacy of Jewish victimhood from the razing of the ancient temples to the Holocaust, that every act against them, regardless of how trivial -- like the rockets from Gaza that never hit anything, or a vote from an American church group to divest from companies that profit from the occupation, or an agreement between Iran and the world ensuring that Iran won't develop nuclear weapons -- is received by ordinary Israelis as nothing less than bone-chilling terror.
The main thing you'll learn if you read Tom Segev's 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East is how split Israelis were over the coming war: on the one hand, the military leaders were utterly confident of victory; on the other hand, the Israeli public was completely terrified. Of course, overconfidence is endemic in the military (cf. Germany and Japan in WWII, everyone in WWI, Bush in Iraq), but has rarely been rewarded so quickly as when Israel attacked Egypt in 1967. Victory inflated the egos of all Israelis, especially the quaking masses who concluded they were protected not just by the IDF but by God. Israel's leaders were still cognizant enough of world (and especially American) opinion to treat lightly, but almost immediately a dynamic developed where civilians (notably the energized Gush Emunim) and politicians competed to see who could most aggressively expand the Yishuv onto Palestinian land, over the Palestinian people.
For many years, politicians like Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon exploited the settler movement for their own (mostly militarist) purposes, but under Netanyahu it's hard to tell who's pushing whom, in large part because the settler movement and the political powers have largely become one. Netanyahu's own contribution to this comes not just from his pedigree as right-wing royalty -- his father was Vladimir Jabotinsky's secretary in exile in New York -- as from his conceit that he is a master not just of Israeli but of American politics. Moshe Dayan famously said that "America gives us money, arms, and advise; we take the money and arms, and ignore the advice." Even as powerful a politician as Sharon had to humor George Bush when he came calling. Netanyahu, on the other hand, has repeatedly flaunted his contempt for Obama, confident that no matter what the President feels the US is stuck in its carte blanche support of all things Israeli.
Whether Netanyahu is right about America remains to be seen, but for how his position has freed Israel from any pretense of civility -- the last barrier against all sorts of ghastly policies. One could write a whole book about what right-wing Israelis are up to, both as officials and as vigilantes -- indeed, Max Blumenthal wrote one such, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, but his 2013 book already seems quaintly dated. The upshot is that a growing number of Israelis have decided that they can't abide the presence of non-Jews anywhere in Eretz Israel, even completely submissive ones. That's probably not a majority view yet, but one should recall that in 1937, when the British offered to "transfer" all the Arabs out of the proposed Jewish partition of Palestine, the notoriously pragmatic David Ben-Gurion was little short of ecstatic. (A decade later, Ben-Gurion engineered the nakba -- the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from territory seized by Israel. Ben-Gurion argued against seizing more land in the 1967 war on grounds that this time the Arabs wouldn't flee, but like everyone else got caught up in the glory of Israel's "victory.") The fact is that as far back as 1913 "transfer" has been a fundamental (albeit sometimes tactically unspoken) plank of the Zionist platform. The question isn't whether a majority of Zionist-identified Israelis approve of "transfer" -- it's only whether it can be done cleanly, and even that matters less as Israel proves they can get away with ugly.
As it happens, Netanyahu is running two pilot projects to show the feasibility of "transfer" ("ethnic cleansing" is the more accurate term, even if it, too, is merely a euphemism -- the Serbs coined it at Srebrenica). One involves the Bedouin who have for ages lived in the Negev Desert in the southern quarter of Israel. The plan there is to force them off the land and move them into newly constructed Arab-only villages (synonyms are ghettos and concentration camps). This would allow Israel to build new Jewish-only settlements pushing ever further into the Desert. The other is in East Jerusalem, which Israel took from Jordan in the 1967 war and "annexed" days later. Israelis have been building Jewish-only neighborhoods ever since, but as "security tensions" increase they've become more aggressive at isolating and separating Palestinian neighborhoods. The latest round of closures, house demolitions, and exiles are clearly meant to push Palestinians out of Jerusalem, eventually aiming at a city where only Jews can live. And when that happens, demands to raze the Al-Aqsa Mosque and build a Third Temple -- something we already hear -- will be deafening.
For many years now critics have pointed out the similarities between Israel and other colonial settler states -- notably South Africa, with its Apartheid policies. The links if anything go deeper: Israelis call their foundation, in emulation of the United States, their War for Independence, but in fact Israel preserved nearly all of Britain's intrinsically racist colonial laws -- they merely reshuffled who was privileged and who was not. Ever since 1948, Palestinians under Israeli control have lived under unequal laws and an often brutal administration, impoverished by both formal and informal descrimination. But while growing inequality is a grave political and economic, indeed moral, problem in the US (and very likely within the Jewish segment of Israel), non-Jews under Israeli control are locked by birth into a life of perpetual crisis, one that is currently worsening, one which ultimately, at least on the individual level, is a matter of life or death.
Whether Israel arrives at the final solution that is the logical outcome of Zionist ideology and unchecked power ultimately depends on whether they can stop themselves. There are, for instance, some number of dissenters within Israel: some are explicitly anti-Zionist, some style themselves as post-Zionist; more are repulsed by the growing violence of the settler movement, or by the chokehold of established orthodox Judaism. The BDS movement is also likely to become more of a burden to Israel, especially if the atrocities the current regime seems to produce like clockwork mount and the credibility of Israeli hasbara wanes. Given how modest the BDS movement's goals are -- equal rights for all, the one thing we should all be able to compromise on -- one can't call BDS a threat to Israel, except inasmuch as Israelis insist that their privileges and prerogatives should be maintained to the exclusion of everyone else.
Some recent links:
Monday, October 19. 2015
Music: Current count 25626  rated (+38), 449  unrated (+0).
Last week was disrupted by a "sleep study": turns out I don't get enough oxygen when I sleep, which leads to all sorts of unfortunate side effects, ranging from heart trouble to early senility. I've been feeling exceptionally tired this week, and pretty stupid as well. Presumably an expensive treatment regimen will follow. That is, after all, the American way.
I did make a stab at a Weekend Roundup, but didn't get it done in time to post on Sunday. Look for it later this week -- hopefully tomorrow. Also, beware that it won't cover all the stupid things going on in the world right now. Thus far it's limited to Israel, and why the so-called Third Intifada is a ruse meant to derail an increasingly successful BDS movement by clouding the issue with senseless violence.
This week I hope to do some serious cooking. Birthday dinner is coming up. Hopefully we can find some guests. I'm thinking Cuban, which means I'll finally have to learn how to make coffee.
Usual mixed bag of records this week. Christgau recommended the Bottle Rockets and two John Kruth records. I didn't find the latest Kruth [PS: it's on Bandcamp], but took a look at holes in both back catalogs (I only knew Kruth from his duo with John Greene, Tribecastan). I also looked into Ulrich Gumpert's back catalog: a pianist from East Germany, he was at the center of one of the most adventurous jazz circles behind the Iron Curtain (along with Conrad Bauer, Günter Sommer, Klaus Koch, and the remarkable saxophonist, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky). Gumpert has one of this week's two new A- jazz records: the other I attribute to Joe McPhee but I've also seen an album cover with Jamie Saft's name in big print, and the pianist is clearly the one who holds it together.
Much more new jazz in the queue, including some real prospects. I got a large package of material from a Spanish label I wasn't familiar with: UnderPool. Also a package from my Dutch friends at ToonDist -- but it was a little light, omitting the new (and presumably last) one from ICP Orchestra. Reports are that the brilliant Misha Mengelberg has been sidelined with dementia -- very sad news, incredible given the mental dexterity of his work going back to the 1960s.
Among the stupider things I did this week was to write a letter to the Village Voice to inquire whether the new ownership might have any interest in reviving Jazz Consumer Guide. I'm not sure that's a good idea, but in my benighted state it seems at least like something I can still do.
Latest Rhapsody Streamnotes draft count is 104 records. I guess that means I'm due to release one in the next week or so. I should also note that I took a pass at a year-end list: actually, two, one for jazz and another for non-jazz. I expect to do much resorting before the actual end-of-year, as well as adding more records, so take this list with more than the usual grain of salt. One thing that is clear is that the jazz list is shaping up as close to last year's (currently 52 new records, vs. 69 last year), but I'm way short of last year's pace for non-jazz (33 vs. 76 last year). The latter almost certainly reflects lack of effort on my part. Even though I've kept a tracking file this year, it isn't very comprehensive nor have I made much effort tracking things down. I expect to do better by the actual end-of-year, but it's beginning to look like a tall order.
New records rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: