Sunday, June 30. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, June 29. 2013
Deadline snuck up on me this month, leaving me shorter than most months, perhaps the flipside of an above-average Jazz Prospecting month. One thing I can't blame the short count on is extra listens. Despite the caveats, I usually give the A-list records an extra spin or two -- and often that proves critical. But few of these caught that break: Mariem Hassan's second spin reinforced my first impulse, and so did second spins of Oblivians and Tricky. But I deliberately limited some records to one-take impressions. I didn't hear anything on the Kanye West that makes me want to dig deeper into it, although his reputation and widespread critical support -- not least Tatum's A+ rave -- suggest I should. (The record shows that I've consistently rated West lower than, say, Christgau does, although I'm don't think of myself as especially critical of him -- e.g., I don't have any interest in talking about his ego or his dick, and I don't mind his notorious disses of George Bush and Taylor Swift.)
Other one-spin records represent different gambles. I didn't feel like taking the time with J. Cole or Rachid Taha -- former demands a lot of time, and I found the latter at the last minute. Either could gain a notch on closer inspection -- Taha seems more likely -- but I'm not there yet. More one-plays: Deafheaven, Flaming Lips, Handboy Sandman, Jon Hopkins, Laura Marling, Trio 3 + Geri Allen, Zomby. Any of those could shake up or down a bit, but probably not much. (Trio 3 + Jason Moran got two plays, and I figure it's the better record, but the one with Allen is pretty special too.)
One record that did get more spins was Vampire Weekend: after one it was mid-B+, but I picked up a copy anyway, drove around with it, etc., and it clicked as everyone predicted. Still can't say I've hit bottom with it, nor that it's topped out.
Midway through 2013 my best-of list looks like this (rest: here):
Given the way I work, only the top three are full-A albums. I just haven't spent enough time with the rest to sink in. Meanwhile, the full A-list at present runs 65 albums (new is split 37 jazz/24 others, 4 reissues). Total records rated to date: 432 new + 17 reissues.
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 May 29. Past reviews and more information are available here (3428 records).
Aceyalone: Leanin' on Slick (2013, Decon): West Coast rapper Eddie Hayes, been underground since 1995, peaking early when his shtick was fresh and simple. A decade later he returns as an old pro, leaning on jazz like never before: the bass lines, the horn charts, the framing arrangements of Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles (credit says Percy Mayfield, but you won't hear it that way). "Working Man Blues" could use more grit, but got Cee-Lo instead. A-
Baths: Obsidian (2013, Anticon): Will Wiesenfeld, from California, produces, electronica with a choral vocal twist. B+(**)
Terence Blanchard: Magnetic (2013, Blue Note): New Orleans trumpet player, only one year younger than that other one and at this point he's had a surprisingly comparable career -- something like 35 albums since 1983, a total inflated by a lot of (not necessarily any good) soundtrack work. Hard bop quintet plus guest spots from Ravi Coltrane, Lionel Loueke, and Ron Carter; split between four Blanchard originals and six from his band -- pianist Fabian Almazan is the overachiever there. Strong solo spots, but the flow hits some snags. B+(*)
Marshall Chapman: Blaze of Glory (2013, Tall Girl): Past sixty now, not feeling mortality so much as that she's past all that now: "I did everything I could to die young/and leave behind a beautiful memory/but there are still a lot of songs to be sung/I guess fate had other plans for me." B+(***)
J. Cole: Born Sinner (2013, Roc Nation/Columbia): Lots going on here, his big play both artistically and commercially, but it runs long and there's no way I'll sort it out without picking up a copy, giving it time, and forgiving a lot of minor annoyances. So he's stuck with a placeholder review, without even a promise to try harder. B+(***)
Mark de Clive-Lowe & the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra: Take the Space Trane (2012 , Tru Thoughts): Keyboard player from New Zealand, his records since 1997 straddle jazz and electronica, his programmed beats here adding both drive and fluff, while the big band is deep in brass and sax. They namecheck Coltrane for the title, but Ellington is in their hearts, and "Caravan" is the centerpiece. B+(**)
Deafheaven: Sunbather (2013, Deathwish): Metacritic's 97 rating is defined as "universal acclaim," but the critic set that reviews "black metal" is self-selected and far from universal. Still, that's the highest score I've seen on Metacritic other than for fancy reissues of stone classics like Exile on Main Street, so I figured I should give it a spin. The singer's vocabulary seems to be limited to "die" (or is it "why?"), and at full volume the guitars resemble a meat grinder, but there is a aesthetic purity to it that is admirable if you can stand it. They also work at a second level, much moderated, and their instrumental breaks there are downright fetching. The rare vocals on this level remain undecipherable, except for something about the gospels I could have done without. B+(***)
Fat Tony: Smart Ass Black Boy (2013, Young One): Anthony Obiawunaoutu, a Nigerian-American rapper from Houston, based in Brooklyn, working beats by someone called Tom Cruz, spinning everyday tales with little bombast or braggadocio, not all that memorable but that may turn out to be their charm. B+(***)
The Flaming Lips: The Terror (2013, Warner Brothers): Prog band from Oklahoma City, formed in 1983, although I figure they came out of suburbs undistinguishable from anywhere else in the nation. Building a reputation as America's answer to Pink Floyd, which is not undeserved but has yet to find its charm (or lunacy). More songs like "Always There, in Our Hearts" would help. B+(**)
Future Bible Heroes: Partygoing (2013, Merge): Stephin Merritt front group with Chris Ewen and Claudia Gonson, dormant for more than a decade, comes up with a mixed bag of possible Magnetic Fields songs, including one ("All I Care About Is You") as veritable as anything on 69 Love Songs, and a couple more odd enough to be outtakes. B+(**)
Mariem Hassan: El Aaiún Egdat (2012, Nubenegra): Singer from what used to be called Western Sahara, a Spanish colony that Morocco gobbled up rather than letting it become independent. Sings in Arabic (and some Spanish) with a deeply piercing chant-like voice over those rock-simple Saharan chords, appreciably sweetened by occasional sax breaks -- or, on the last cut, roughed up. B+(***)
Homeboy Sandman: Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent (2013, Stones Throw, EP): Actually, 12-inch vinyl, would have been an LP back in the day but feels tossed off: skimpy little organ-based grooves, some words reluctant, others cascading in torrents. B+(*)
Jon Hopkins: Immunity (2013, Domino): Electronica producer, half-dozen albums since 2001, only one I've heard was a setting for King Creosote's vocals, and less appealing for that. First half generates thick waves with long decays, too harmonically complex for minimalism even if that seems to be the idea. Ends on a lovely ambient note. B+(***)
Jason Isbell: Southeastern (2013, Relativity): Gave up his rock and roll band to establish himself as a singer-songwriter, and to convince you he's serious he tones his shtick down to front porch strength. It's blah until midway through when he drops "another drunk daddy with a white man's point of view," and turns that into a pretty good song. There's one more, as best I recall, or two if you count the one that actually rocks. B
Kairos 4tet: Everything We Hold (2013, Naim Jazz): Saxophonist Adam Waldman's group, with piano (Ivo Neame), bass (Jasper Hoiby), and drums (Jon Scott), plus beaucoup others on their third album. Robert Friend wrote lyrics for four songs for guest vocalists, and producer Jules Buckley added all sorts of potential mush -- strings, harp, harmonium, bass clarinet, French horn, glockenspiel. Charming on their own, fond of grooves but never stuck in one, and the extras don't gum up the works like you'd expect. A species of crossover that is never attempted in the more compartmentalized US. B+(**)
Laura Marling: Once I Was an Eagle (2013, Ribbon Music): English singer-songwriter, considered a folkie most likely because she plays guitar. Attempts to map her onto Joni Mitchell fare poorly, perhaps because Kate Bush is in the way. Some songs stay soft, but when she finds one with some muscle to it she can flesh it out, too. B+(**)
Melt Yourself Down: Melt Yourself Down (2013, The Leaf Label): Two saxophonists but I don't hear this as jazz, or for that matter as jazztronica, and "pop jazz" is an insult for a band that rocks this hard. Satin Singh's percussion exoticizes the hard drums, letting Kushal Gaya's vocals -- chants and rants and Balkan melodrama -- run amok. B+(**)
Oblivians: Desperation (2013, In the Red): Memphis answer band to the New York Dolls -- Greg Oblivian (aka Greg Cartwright) even managed to play on Shangri-Las pack leader Mary Weiss' comeback album. Fourteen songs, 31:27, harkens back to an era when rockers were proud barbarians, but too late to invent it. A-
Martha Redbone Roots Project: The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake (2012, Blackfeet Productions): Christgau advises, "listen to the words," but I've never read Blake, have no sense of him other than secondhand via Allen Ginsberg, and haven't read the latter in forty-some years. The words, however, are occasionally surprising and always eloquent, and the sturdy folk balladry holds it all up. A- [bc]
Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally: House & Garden (2013, Nell Robinson Music): Hilary Perkins adopted her grandmother's name, not that she needs deeper roots, but Nunally actually has the deeper country voice, and a bluegrass guitar to go with it. Covers like "Loose Talk" are engagingly quirky, but the originals are bland, and I don't want to hear the one about being happy to join the army again. B
Daniel Romano: Come Cry With Me (2013, Normaltown): Old-fashioned country singer, born and raised in Welland, Ontario (near Niagara Falls), sings new-fangled honky tonk weepers. B+(*)
Kelly Rowland: Talk a Good Game (2013, Universal Republic): Ex-Destiny's Child, not Beyoncé, fourth solo album; enjoys "Kisses Down Below" and "Dirty Laundry" but has trouble keeping up the raunch over fourteen songs without la-la-la-ing off into dreamland. B+(**)
Bobby Rush: Down in Louisiana (2013, Deep Rush): Blues journeyman from Louisiana via Chicago, had a couple minor singles in 1970s and a Gamble-Huff album in 1979, aside from which his two dozens albums are on labels I've never heard of before. But at 77 he keeps easing on down the road, releasing his own, posing in his rocking chair, letting age work for him. B+(**)
SZA: S (2013, self-released, EP): Solana Rowe, from St. Louis, based in NJ, seven cuts of iffy nu soul broken up with distracting samples from Rosemary's Baby and an Eartha Kitt documentary. B [dl]
Rachid Taha: Zoom (2013, Wrasse): Superstar from Algeria, a wreck of a country he's left way behind, except for the Arabic language and frantic atonality, but even those limits he breaks with startling ease. A-
Samba Touré: Albala (2013, Glitterbeat): Songhai bluesman from Mali, his 2009 album a Homage to Ali Farka Touré, doesn't seem intent on inventing anything new. The basics are timeless, and he gets enough harmony (or is it distortion?) to build up some weight behind his groove. B+(**)
Chandler Travis Three-O: This Is What Bears Look Like Under Water (2012 , Iddy Biddy): Founder of 1980s rock band the Incredible Casuals, more recently seen with his jazz-oriented 9-piece Philharmonic, leans more toward folk-rock here but will run an instrumental, drop in some sax riffs, and go nostalgic over the Beatles cover. B+(**)
Tricky: False Idols (2013, !K7): Not sure that the vocals are samples, but the Patti Smith effect on "Somebody's Sins" and the Chet Baker on "Valentine" are brilliant grabs. They help front-load an album that takes more attention as it winds down, but most of the tracks smolder, a couple in the middle even sizzle. A-
Trio 3 + Jason Moran: Refraction - Breakin' Glass (2012 , Intakt): I file the Trio's records -- eight since 1993 -- under Oliver Lake but Reggie Workman (who's actually listed first here, but not always) and Andrew Cyrille are superstars too, and you can key on any one of them and hear everything a musician can do. Moran has to work to earn a spot in their company, and he does. Two raps: Lake's title cut reminiscing about his mother, and Cyrille's intro to "High Priest." A-
Trio 3 + Geri Allen: Celebrating Mary Lou Williams: Live at Birdland New York (2010 , Intakt): The Oliver Lake-Reggie Workman-Andrew Cyrille supertrio live from a series of concerts honoring Mary Lou Williams, plus pianist Geri Allen, who has practically cornered the market for Williams tributes. Williams was the arranger behind Andy Kirk's late 1930s big band; she went on to compose modernist larger scale works and in the 1970s recorded some adventurous piano trios, and she was the first woman to do much of that. Allen has all the facets of her subject down pat, while Lake is just being himself. This is just old-fashioned (or do I mean modernistic?) enough you can imagine Williams and Charlie Parker jamming back in old KC, but where would they find such a rhythm section? A-
Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City (2013, XL): Christgau likens this to Paul Simon and Sgt. Pepper, analogies I don't begin to comprehend. I do know that every time I play it, it gets tighter, with more odd details fitting together like jewel work. Also that the singer sounds like a slightly less British Paul Heaton, even showing some of his humanity. Which, again, makes me wonder what all this vampire shit is about. Is civilization so lost the non-human has become a refuge? Or do young people just want to dress up? A- [cd]
Kanye West: Yeezus (2013, Def Jam): One play, not that I might not succumb to more, but it's going to take persuasion, and I'm not looking forward to it. First thought was Tusk, where Fleetwood Mac responded to mega-stardom with perverse rhythm, something they made work for a song but not an album. West tries to stretch, making this more difficult than need be, but he's so damn talented he almost gets away with it. Still, he leaves me irritated -- deliberately, no doubt, and not without conscience as he reminds us that racism in America hasn't stopped bearing strange fruit. B+(*)
Young Fathers: Tape One (2011 , Anticon, EP): Edinburgh, Scotland crew debut, eight tracks, 20:18, self-released a while back and picked up for reissue along with their full-length Tape Two sequel (not on Rhapsody yet). Odd mix of beats and moves, accents and fills. B+(*)
Zomby: With Love (2013, 4AD, 2CD): British, no-name dubstep producer; third album, 80 minutes, runs 2CD or 3LP. For all the separate pieces, most have this simple chunk-chunk rhythm, attack and decay, so common because it's actually quite appealing. B+(**)
Friday, June 28. 2013
I normally don't bother reading Ross Douthat's nonsense, but the Wichita Eagle ran a column called Obama's priorities disconnected from nation's. His setup:
First thing: lots of code words on that list, like "entitlement reform" (aka "wrecking Social Security") and "reforming the tax code" -- for Republicans, a scheme to reduce taxes on the rich by making them more regressive. (We've had some of that here in KS, exempting the Kochs from income tax -- they're "job creators," see -- while raising sales and property taxes, cutting services, increasing college tuition, and setting state government up for bankruptcy.) I don't know how Pew weasel-worded those issues to get "sizable majorities" behind them, but they could have been worded differently to different results.
"Health care costs" is another matter: the Democrats actually passed something on that a couple years back -- ever heard of the Affordable Care Act? how about "Obamacare"? -- but Republicans opposed it in the first place and have tried to sabotage it ever since. It would be nice if both parties could recognize what a serious problem this is and work together to better manage costs while improving results, but the Republicans are dedicated to defending every rent-seeking opportunity businesses can find to rip off people, even if doing so undermines health care. (Nor have many Democrats been immune to industry lobbying. By the way, what did that Pew poll find about the desirability of limiting the influence of money on politics? That's a very popular issue that both parties are disconnected from.)
Still, after the setup Douthat focuses on "the issues that Americans actually prioritize -- jobs, wages, the economy." He means to demean Obama for speaking on climate change and the Senate for working on immigration reform, as if those aren't real problems, or we cannot expect politicians to work on more than one thing at a time. Still, he's inadvertently hit on something big here, and while his beloved Republicans are far more out to lunch on economic matters than the Democrats are, there's little evidence that Democrats like Obama have a clue how to solve these problems.
Actually, there are two problems here: the macroeconomy, and inequality. The problem with the macroeconomy is insufficient demand compounded by excess capacity. As anyone who understands anything Keynes wrote already knows, there is a straightforward solution to insufficient demand: have the government, which unlike the private sector can do things just because we want to see them done, buy more goods and services until demand and supply reach an equilibrium, then back off as the private sector picks up the slack. What kind of stuff doesn't matter much for the equation, but investments in infrastructure and human capital (education, science, the arts, etc.) tend to do more to raise our collective wealth than mere make-work projects, and much more than destructive projects like war.
Obama did something like this when he pushed his stimulus bill through Congress, but he underestimated how much stimulus would be needed to make up for the private sector losses in the crash. The Republicans, of course, fought him tooth and nail, and as such contributed to the political calculation to ask for too little money for too little time. They kept him from going back to the till for more stimulus money, and they actively sought to limit and ultimately undermine automatic stabilizers like unemployment benefits and food stamps. (Just this week, North Carolina became the first state to kill off its unemployment programs altogether, and you can thank the Republicans there for that.) Republicans have long campaigned for cuts in government spending -- not that, when they held the presidency they actually did much about it -- and over the last few years they've managed to kill off nearly as many public sector jobs as the private sector has added, keeping the job market pretty consistently tanked.
The problem here is that the Republicans see no problem. The "economy" is made up of business owners and workers (and various others), or more pointedly profits and wages. It can be grown broadly -- the "rising tide raises all boats" metaphor -- or inequally. What's happened is that the "recovery" has, pretty much by design, favored profits over wages, and in fact profits (and asset values, at least the stock market) have fully recovered their pre-recession levels, largely at the expense of real wages. For some people the recession is over, and if it continues to hurt workers, so much the better. Both parties are "pro business" these days; what distinguishes the Republicans is how virulently anti-labor they've become.
This didn't just happen. This reflects two trends. One is increasing inequality, which we'll get to. The other is the increasingly predatory nature of business. Capitalism has long run the gamut between two poles: you could make something new of value and sell it, or you could just steal. In the former, one creates positive value; the latter is just a zero-sum game. Capitalism's great claim is how it has raised our standard of living, but that has only been through the former: by creating new goods and selling them to more and more people. Adam Smith showed how the narrow pursuit of self-interest can lead to this good fortune. But what happens when those greedheads discover that they can make more profit stealing than building? Well, that's what has happened in the United States, especially, in recent decades. The leaders have been the banks and bank-like outfits like hedge funds, which have more than doubled their take from the US economy. Of course, most of what they've done is "legal" -- a testament to the intrinsic corruptibility of the American political system, which has responded to growth of lobbies with all sorts of favors, from tax breaks to patents to deregulation to liability protection to ending antitrust enforcement. And while defrauding your investors and screwing your customers are common enough ways to increase profits at someone else's expense, most companies have looked hard at their labor costs: automating jobs, outsourcing them, even good old fashioned union busting -- which the political system has made ever easier.
The increase in economic inequality, which has been continuous since 1980, is a way of keeping score in the class struggle, one which has been consistently won by the rich against those who merely work for a living. And while the Republicans have been shameless in advancing the interests of the rich, and remarkably indifferent to whoever they victimized, the Democrats don't seem to have a clue how to counter the trend, or even to understand why they should. Part of this is that the Democrats aren't immune to the charms and rationalizations of the lobbyists: indeed, the system is so prone that it selects for the most corruptible of Democrats: hence the party dominance of Obama, Clinton, Kerry, Gore, and their ilk -- people whose sense of status is governed by their ability to run shoulders with the Buffetts and Dimons of the world. At best all they can offer are paeans to the lost "middle class" -- a code word that lets some workers feel more worthy than others even though the real differences have more to do with good luck.
There are a lot of problems with increasing inequality -- Jared Bernstein has a good recent post on this, and even he barely scratches the surface -- but one of them is that it erodes the aggregate demand that drives the economy. One way to visualize this is to imagine a zero-sum economy where the share held by the superrich is increasing by stealing from everyone else. One thing that differentiates rich and poor is that the poor spend virtually all of their income but the rich doesn't -- they can't consume all they make so they save. In an growing economy their savings may be put into increasing capacity, but in a zero-sum world their gains reduce demand and wind up being invested in non-productive schemes -- indeed, the only way they can get their expected rate of return is to join the thieves (even if they often wind up the victims of speculative bubbles and fraud).
For a long time, the "middle class" could mask their losses by borrowing, especially against the inflated asset values of their houses. (They also compensated by working more hours, mostly by making the two-earner household the norm.) All that ended with the crash, and it isn't likely to come back again. Before the crash the Republican message was to celebrate those who could maintain the illusion of being better off -- "family values," for instance, emphasized the value of marriage, which usually meant two earners pooling together an income that was slightly better than one person could do in the 1950s. Since the crash, the message has changed: now it's that you're screwed (times are tough, we all have to tighten our belts), but it's because the liberals are lavishing help on the unworthy poor.
Hard to believe a party can get by with such callousness, but the Democrats are blind and helpless, tied up in knots by their cold war allegiance to capitalism and their ongoing dependency on corporate lobbyists. At best they can nip around the edges: raise the minimum wage, extend unemployment compensation, give workers a bit more take-home pay by limiting payroll taxes, extend health care insurance. And they understand the need to bump the income tax on the rich up, although they tend to think of using that to balance the budget rather than expand spending -- that endless characterization of the Democrats as the "tax-and-spend" party has taken its toll, inhibiting them even when that's exactly what is called for. (If the Democrats had repealed the Bush tax cuts first thing in 2009 and spent the savings and some safe multiplier on extra stimulus, the economy would be in better shape now.)
Much more needs to be done about inequality, starting with a psychic blow to the notion that endless accumulation is any kind of virtue, much less the highest one. Using progressive taxes as a kind of socio-economic leveler is part of the answer, but there is much more that can and should be done. If Obama were to take on this issue, he would find a connection, but he wouldn't find a fan in Douthat. Rather than present anything remotely plausible of his own about how to get those "good jobs" back, he descends into blather:
I can't imagine what a "liberal Reagan" might mean. The one thing Reagan did was to transport a sizable slice of the country into a fantasy world from which we have yet to emerge -- one where Obama seems to be as befuddled as anyone, which is what makes even his noblest rhetoric painful to hear. As for the "Reagan recovery," it came out of a very different kind of recession. Demand then was blocked behind artificially high interest rates, and surged when those rates were lowered. Reagan's tax cuts had less to do with the recovery than with how its fruits were distributed. Those years were relatively tolerable because we lived in a much more equitable society then. That we've sunk so far since then can be directly traced back to the bad decisions and deceitfulness and greed of the Reagan administration.
However much Obama admires Reagan as a practical politician, it's folly to think that anyone would aspire to be "the liberal Reagan." Or even dread. Much more likely is that Obama will come to be seen as the "liberal Hoover": the guy who couldn't do even what he wanted to because he had his head wedged so far up the assholes of Wall Street bankers, and thereby let a bad recession drift into a decades-long depression.
Thursday, June 27. 2013
by Michael Tatum
A very strange month -- I spent a great deal of time looking for 2013 records as surprising in their quality as Rachid Taha's Zoom and Rokia Traoré's Beautiful Africa (still both unavailable domestically in America, and still in my top 10). Instead, I found two super obvious critics' favorites that will probably top the Pazz & Jop poll, whatever that once honorable distinction is worth anymore. What's worth more is that they're also my two favorite records since I started writing this column. Records actually worth their hype? Who would have thought?
Ethnic Minority Music of Southern China (Sublime Frequencies) The best approach to absorbing this peculiar but alluring music culled from ethnomusicologist Laurent Jeanneau's travels in an ever-shrinking Tibet is intellectually -- play this up against Ornette Coleman and imagine the musical elements as jazz instruments and you'll hear what I mean. Ululating voices cry out in imperfect harmonies that hesitatingly fluctuate back and forth, navigating between notes like 3 A.M. drunks feeling their way through their darkened apartments, occasionally merging into brief moments of union before wavering back outward. Plucked string instruments barely in tune mercilessly riff on one note, with the drone on an extraordinary twelve-minute centerpiece resembling the sound you might conceivably hear in your head while chewing a rusty copper wire. But once appreciated on its musical merits, you're faced with realization of what all of this strange music means to its practitioners emotionally -- the staccato sobs and anguished gasps that punctuate the Pashun Village's "crying song" may be one man's exotica, but it's also a whole peoples' catharsis. Sure, that ditty in which squeaky sopranos Mei and Peng Hua show how the Tibetan ladies call their lover boy is, well, kinda weird. But then again, that's the only lighthearted moment in an hour plus, including a wedding song that sounds like dread and death until the aged Yang Xiao Si -- much to my relief, actually -- breaks down into laughter at the end. Gives me hope that happy couple might actually have a long, happy life to look forward to. A
Future Bible Heroes: Partygoing (Merge) Your soiree hosts are dolorous singer-songwriter and well-known merrymaker Stephin Merritt, his lampshade-wearing sidekick Claudia Gonson, and classy composer and keyboard maestro Christopher Ewen, who loosens up his stately themes for the gratifyingly debauched occasion, which happens to be a novelty record deeper and funnier than Merritt's 2012 Magnetic Fields record Love at the Bottom of the Sea. That's because buried not so deeply underneath the expected warped jokes and chirpy tunes there's a poignant subtext: alcoholism. From that "great brown glow" that lifts you up from being low to champagne-guzzling Aleister Crowley crowing about the water shortage in the ninth circle of hell, boozing it up is a recurring theme, as is its inevitably piteous fallout, getting old before your time. "Who would believe I was naïve," Merritt bemoans to the "Prince of Peace" (you know, Satan), "Who would believe I was once young?" Don't let that stop you from sipping your whiskey sour, though -- in one side splitter, we're treated to a joint suicide, with the lucky couple in "silk pajamas and sleeping mask, in black" and "a muumuu a la Roberta Flack." In another knee-slapper, Merritt reveals the ultimate solution to keeping your children shielded from the horrors of priests, bullies, and the producers of Girls Gone Wild: putting them in a medically-induced coma. For all of you hopeless romantics who never leave your dank, lower East Side apartments, we have the elegant "Sadder than the Moon," almost as lovely (no, really) as "I Don't Believe in the Sun." And for ardent devotees of the Great American Songbook, there's the one that begins with a subtle quote from Irving B.'s "White Christmas." It's called "Digging Your Own Grave." Now, who's got the bean dip? A
The Lonely Island: The Wack Album (Republic) Viral culture moves at such a furious pace that I'm a little behind with these guys, so I haven't seen most of the videos that accompanied these outrageous bangers on Saturday Night Live (give me a break, these days it's way past my bedtime). But this time around Andy Samberg and Co. come not only armed with the usual panopoly of titty and, er, semi-colon jokes, but also a worthy concept: the stupidity of herd mentality, as well as the paranoia of ultra-square parents who fret about the ability of their kids to recognize irony in such timeless titles as "I Fucked My Aunt." They go "kindergarten" with Robyn ("Have a motherfuckin' baby on the floor/Raise it in the club/Homeschool it by the door") and share the laundry list of things they've got planned for their Cancun orgy ("ripping beer bongs/sex with a man"), only to reverse their strategy with the sneaky "We Are Young" parody "YOLO," which "climaxes" with Kendrick Lamar offering sage financial advice ("Renting is for suckers right now"). As for mainstay Justin Timberlake, I say if he has time in his schedule to wait eons between studio albums, he has time to be a full fledged member of the crew -- he and Samberg were meant for each other. Maybe Gaga can send out the wedding invitations? A
Tricky: False Idols (!K7) Capricious though his uniquely bummed-out genius continues to be, his facility for discovering and adeptly deploying young, obscure female vocalists remains extraordinary. Though native to a country that can't get enough Adele, Jessie Ware, and (a related development) Britain's Got Talent, the Asthmatic One hasn't drafted any celebrated songbirds since Hollywood Records deludedly dreamed Alanis Morissette and Cyndi Lauper might break their cult signing to benighted American audiences back in 2001. Instead, he rewards those who've chosen to stick around with a roster of singers who constitute his best helpmates since his 1995 touchstone Maxinquaye: expressive Nigerian diva Nneka Lucia Egbuna, exquisitely subdued Fifi Rong, even killjoy Antlers frontman Pete Silberman, whose falsetto-soprano I mistook for a woman's until I read the liner notes. Believe me, that's a compliment: certainly, the remake of the Antlers' "Parenthesis," which emphasizes space, blows away cobwebs, and cranks up the guitar, reiterates how persuasively effective Tricky's aesthetic can be even with questionable material -- remember Ed Kowalcyk and the Wonder Woman theme? But his real find this time is aloofly chilled-out chanteuse Francesca Belmont, who emits just the right amount of detachment to counter the calculated overstatement of "Easy boy, I cut your throat/Smoke that weed, snort that coke," itself later righted by Tricky's trenchant admonishment to that gangsta thug to stand by that bird after he knocks her up. Worldview: "Nothing Matters," "Nothing's Changed." No surprise there. What does surprise is the artiste's talent for making such downtrodden material continue to compel -- enlisting the Chet Baker's youthful eidolon to spook up a single-mom council flats melodrama is some kind of coup indeed. A
The Uncluded: Hokey Fright (Rhymesayers) Kimya Dawson is such an original that her wide-eyed, childlike aesthetic finds new wrinkles in genres we thought had run their creative course -- DIY punk with the Moldy Peaches, singer-songwriter folk on her own. Though hardly a genre exhausted for ideas, one reason she cottons so well to indie hip hop is because those emcees are so anti-mainstream, they have a misguided tendency to equate musical pleasure with artistic compromise, which is why for the last ten years Aesop Rock has been the kind of guy one champions in theory even if one rarely plays his records. But partnered together and buoyed by Dawson's innate sense of play -- has any rapper been this self-deprecatingly whimsical without sacrificing his precious manhood? -- they find common ground in a love of language that would win the hearts of the readers of The Source if only they could stomach the xylophones, the campfire tunes, and James McNew's ham-handed drumming on "Delicate Cycle." But all of those mischievous elements, much like Dawson's eternally wobbly soprano, only reinforce the childhood pain themes that are Dawson's raison d'être: that comforting apple Jolly Rancher after you eat shit at the skate ramp, the teleprompters on the back of your eyes that tell you you're worth something when you're picked last on the kickball team draft list. But as usual, there's a twist: the things you don't understand as a kid only get more complicated as you get older, as they ruminate in a startling three song run toward the beginning about death, peaking with a song about organ donation recommended to that god-fearing Ray Davies. Also, speaking as someone who could give two shits about the next installment in the Marvel franchise, I'm delighted to report that the mouth-watering enumeration "Superheroes" isn't about musclemen in tights. If the taste makers at Rapgenius.com want to test their chicken salad recipe against mine, I'm game. A
Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City (XL) Every blissful note in its right place, every jarring, discordant note ditto, this is what occasionally -- too rarely, actually -- happens when remarkably talented young people with unlimited means and all the time in the world hole up in their private studios, discarding songs, amending lyrics, tinkering and re-recording until the perfect music in their heads is no longer compromised. This accomplishment might escape you at first because the difficulty in Rostam Batmaglij's musical details -- the careening guitar line in the off-kilter rockabilly tribute "Diane Young," the congas lifting Ezra Koenig's lilting tenor heavenward on "Everlasting Arms" -- are so subtle, so understated, it may take you a while to hear how delicately they can make their tiny angels hopscotch across pinheads. But once absorbed, these songs will take on a life as a pulsing, vivacious whole in a way that even their 2008 debut and 2010's Contra -- merely excellent records loaded with great songs, ho hum -- do not. From there, you're free to note that their new obsession with time -- "The wisdom teeth are out," "Counting seconds/Watching hours/Though we live on the U.S. dollar," -- dovetails with the glum realization that even if they lived forever, they still wouldn't be able to defeat city hall. Zion don't love you, Babylon and America don't love you either, and even poor Henry Hudson is swallowed up by his own pelagic namesake. So what's the point of living if "you've got the luck of a Kennedy?" Love? Certainly. Aesthetic rapture? Definitely, and closer to the point -- every time we win a war for beauty, that's one more victory for unbelievers like you and me bound tight to the tracks of train. I say if their idea of Elysium-on-Earth means preferring YZ and Bread to "Dies Irae" and the Hallelujah, they've earned that right. A+
Kanye West: Yeezus (Def Jam) In a year that's been a boon for noise, from cacophonous opener to wink-wink finish this forty-minute cultural hurricane blows away all contenders to the throne. But I'll assume you already appreciate this record's virtues in that regard -- what you really want to know is whether you can listen to this guilt-free without worrying about looking like a recalcitrant pig to your wife, girlfriend, or senior thesis adviser. I say you don't need an English-Swaghili dictionary to hear this record's inner turmoil, a scary tour of West's roiling subconscious: his fear of commitment, petrifying separation anxiety, crippling Oedipal guilt, and ambivalence toward a media machine that perceives him as King Kong dragging Kim K. to the top of the Empire State. Those who chastise the sweet and sour sauce preoccupation filthily detailed in "I'm In It" (and note the qualifying ". . . and I can't get out") don't seem to notice the various ways West points out black men are treated as fetish objects, not people. Those offended at the desecration of various civil rights symbols are oblivious to the self-conscious irony that the road beginning with bodies swinging from poplar trees leads fruitlessly to a club teeming with lights, drugs, and easy pussy. Is the cheeky just-a-dream conceit "Bound 2" a chickenshit copout? Not really -- its narrator, really a muted version of West's signature douchebag, can't remember when he first met that birthday girl even though he described the event itself only one verse prior. Is Yeezus the "real" Kanye West? I dunno -- is Jerome the "real" Martin Lawrence? Is Patrick Bateman the "real" Bret Easton Ellis? Betcha Kim K. doesn't think so. And even without the tumultuous clamor of the endlessly rewarding music calling you back again and again, you should be smart enough to know the difference. A+
Mavis Staples: One True Vine (Anti-) Actually Jeff, "real" gospel records don't put the acoustic guitar so high in the mix ("Can You Get to That," "Every Step") **
Gurf Morlix: Gurf Morlix Finds the Present Tense (Rootball) Such a smart lyricist one would hope Lucinda Williams owed him some tunes for loyal service ("My Life's Been Taken," "Bang Bang") **
The National: Trouble Will Find Me (4AD) At this point in time, the perks of being a wallflower are that you just might sell more records ("Demons," "Fireproof") **
Surfer Blood: Pythons (Sire) Yes, but there's no way they encourage you to emulate Weezer in anger management courses ("Weird Shapes," "I Was Wrong") **
Gold Panda: Half of Where You Live (Ghostly International) From pop novelties to EDM travelogues that disprove the idiom "getting there is half the fun" ("Junk City II," "An English House") *
Jason Isbell: Southeastern (Southeastern) This former Drive-By Trucker's hard-fought sobriety is something to celebrate, as is his marriage to Emmylou-Harris-in-Training Amanda Shires. This blustery, overly-serious major statement, I'm not so sure. Its general aura reminds me of the hackneyed scene in certain westerns in which the hero, after ninety or so minutes of stumbling boozily across the screen, slowly but confidently walks down a creaky wooden staircase, now handsome and clean-shaven, to greet the family of the woman he's trying to win. Turning to his wife, the woman's father remarks: "My my, he sure done clean up good." Despite a clear attention to improving his craft, from the austere black and white cover visage to the Spartan arrangements, this reeks of the same humorless bathos -- I'm not even sure a "real" country singer would risk a sentiment as palpably corny as "I've grown tired of traveling alone/Won't you ride with me." And while every savvy cinema aesthete knows that love stories saddled with cancer themes are best left to the Lifetime Channel, I'm not sure if the maudlin soap opera in which the narrator observes, "If I'd have fucked her before she got sick/I'd never hear the end of it" is callous, unintentionally hilarious, or both. He shouldn't abandon his sponsor. But he should definitely hire an editor. And a band that rocks as hard as the Truckers would definitely help. B
Public Service Broadcasting: Inform-Educate-Entertain (Test Card) On paper, this reads like a pomo dream: nerdy, pseudonymous British duo (billed as "J. Willgoose, Esq" and "Wrigglesworth") combine samples and live instrumentation as a backdrop for snippets from British public information films. Their putative mission: "to teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future." Unfortunately, the music isn't as radical as they think -- the booming but humdrum beats are pretty four-square, closer to mainstream rock than any electronica subgenre in recent memory, and Willgoose's intermittent banjo picking is as close as the arrangements get to evincing personality. As far as informing/educating goes, nothing here tells a story, in words, in music, or with both working in tandem -- unlike the Books' "A Cold Freezin' Night" (a little girl threatens her "asshole" brother via answering machine) or DJ Shadow's "Stem/Long Stem" (brash monologist Murry Roman harps about his "traffic offenses"), most of the purloined archive footage and propaganda film fragments zip by as anonymously as the arrangements that frame them. I'm also tempted to point out that if the source material means to be, as the Independent's Simon Price intriguingly suggests, "powerfully evocative of a disappearing Britain," what's nostalgia for the small subset of UK nonagenerians who won't buy (or hear) this record won't resonate with listeners on this side of the pond at all -- at least, not in a way that signifies. Then again, transmuting the static musings of Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Thomas Woodrooffe (author of 1958's long out of print Vantage at Sea: England's Emergence as an Ocean Power) into compelling rock and roll would be some kind of trick, indeed -- imagine a musician in 2055 doing something similar with staid NPR news reports and you'll see what I mean. B
The Strokes: Comedown Machine (RCA) Although they haven't depreciated perceptibly since 2011's bottom-feeding Angles, consider the grade an exasperated protest, a we-must-remember on the order of Milli Vanilli, who I think at this juncture we can all agree are the superior artists if only for the virtue they didn't write, sing, or play their own wretched material. From the petulant title song (our inability to treasure them is apparently our fault) to the cynical cover (depicting a generic master tape sleeve), everything about this lazy record screams contractual obligation, right down to the band's blatant disinterest in touring behind it. And who can blame them? The success of the breezy Is This It turned what most likely began as a pleasant rich kid diversion into a boring j-o-b -- how can we reproach them for dissolutely turning the page in that Sharper Image catalog? And as for Rob Sheffield's innocent question in Rolling Stone as to why this isn't a Julian Casablancas solo record, he knows damn well: no one would give a shit about product under Casablancas' own name. But what annoys me most about their yawn of a career arc is that they don't seem to give a shit about music -- they treat it like a hobby, like collecting stamps or building toy trains, to set aside for something else when their interest level diminishes. Scores of hungry musicians would kill for the golden eggs that have been given to them, and yet I bet -- much like (remember him?) soporific ex-politico Mitt Romney -- we'll never hear from Casablancas' four comrades ever again. Romney was in it solely for the money-not-passion, too. Look where it got him. E
John Murry: The Graceless Age (Evangeline Recording) Bound to form a supergroup with Ryan Bingham after they bump into each other at the methadone clinic. C+
Meat Puppets: Rat Farm (Megaforce) The white reggae title track alone deserves a glitzy video where the guys in ZZ Top hand the Kirkwood brothers the keys to their tricked-out car before snatching them away. C+
Disclosure: Settle (Interscope) People jeered the last will.i.am record, but I'll take Britney/Miley on top of the Black Eyed Pea's whomping beats over Jamie Woon/Jessie Ware on top of the Lawrence brothers' nondescript ones. C+
Will.i.am: #Willpower (Interscope) No wait, I take that back! Back! BACK! C
Haxan Cloak: Excavation (Tri Angle) Only the Halloween Hit Factory's covers of "Ghostbusters" and "Thriller" distinguish this from Wal-Mart's essential budget CD Halloween's Greatest Hits. C
Monday, June 24. 2013
Music: Current count 21584  rated (+37), 625  unrated (-3). Strong ratings week, most in Jazz Prospecting although as A Downloader's dribbles in I've added a few items to the Rhapsody Streamnotes file.
Started the week pulling out some older items by unknowns, and for the first half-dozen or so was pleasantly surprised, peaking with the Olivia Foschi record, I think, but that was a trend that couldn't last. After that it was in and out, up and down, winding up with three A- and no less than seven B+(***) -- a last minute extra spin for Evan Parker nudged that record over the line, although it's still possible that the trio has better records I haven't heard yet.
This is the last Monday in June, so I updated the monthly archive and its associated indexes. Wound up with 78 records for June, by far the most for any month so far this year, despite only four weeks.
Chris Amemiya & Jazz Coalescence: In the Rain Shadow (2011 , OA2): Trombonist, born in Hawaii, based in Seattle, first album, a sextet with Jay Thomas on trumpet, Travis Ranney on sax, John Hansen on piano, Jon Hamar on bass, and Steve Korn on drums. Most names I google kick up false positives, but the first "Chris Amemiya" listed sure looks like the same person: a professor of genetics at the University of Washington, mostly working on fish, notably the genetic sequencing of the coelacanth -- the "living fossil" discovered in 1938 (a second species was identified in 1999) bearing deep similarity to 400 million year old fossil fish. His university bio doesn't mention anything about music, but his OA2 bio says he choose "a career path in science." He doesn't compose anything here: picks up a couple pieces from the band (Thomas, Hansen), opens with a piece by Eubie Blake and closes with Cedar Walton. The band swings, and the trombone leads are solid. B+(**)
The Stephen Anderson Trio: Believe (2012 , Summit): Pianist, teaches at University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill); third album, plus has a classical album, and played in Lynn Seaton Trio. Starts with a couple trio cuts to show his bona fides, then brings in "special guest" Joel Frahm on tenor sax, who blows hot and hard, the work ethic the pianist had set up. B+(**)
The Aperturistic Trio: Truth and Actuality (2013, Inner Circle Music): Piano trio: James Weidman, Harvie S (bass), Steve Williams (drums). Weidman has three albums under his own name, plus a lot of notable side credits: M-Base/Steve Coleman, Abbey Lincoln, Cassandra Wilson, Kevin Mahogany, Joe Lovano -- more singers, especially. Williams is hard to look up -- Discogs lists 20 with that name, and I only found him on AMG through a back door: no name albums, a few dozen side credits since 1984, notably Miles Davis and Shirley Horn. Didn't bother looking up S, since he regularly berates me (and probably everyone else) for misspelling his name. Bassist, has a long career mostly under his eminently misspellable original name. I associate him with Sheila Jordan, but lately he's tried to remodel himself as a Latin jazz guy. In other words, three underrated veterans used to lurking in the background behind fabulous singers, adopting yet another alias to protect their obscurity. Inside stuff, easy to miss. But if you miss Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones, maybe you shouldn't. B+(***)
Kenny Barron: Kenny Barron & the Brazilian Knights (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, huge pile of records since 1968, also one of the most important jazz educators of our era; not known for Latin jazz but an early (1974) triumph was called Peruvian Blue and he must have picked up some Brazilian tunes during his long tenure as pianist for Stan Getz. His Knights are Sergio Barroso (bass) and Rafael Barata (drums), with Lula Galvao (guitar), Mauricio Einhorn (harmonica), and Idriss Boudrioua (alto sax) added on most tracks, and Claudio Roditi (flugelhorn and muted trumpet) on one. Features songs by the late Johnny Alf, three by Einhorn, one Barron original, and a Jobim that is anything but obligatory. B+(***)
The Convergence Quartet: Slow and Steady (2011 , No Business): Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Alexander Hawkins (piano), Dominic Lash (bass), Harris Eisenstadt (drums). Third album together. All four compose, with Lash -- the least famous to me, but Discogs credits him with 10 albums since 2006 -- getting the upper hand this time. Not all that slow or steady, interesting leads from Bynum and Hawkins, lots of flurry from the others. B+(***)
Correction With Mats Gustafsson: Shift (2012 , No Business): Correction is Sebastian Bergström's piano trio -- their 2010 album Two Nights in April (Ayler) was a high B+ here -- with Joacim Nyberg on bass and Emil Åstrand-Melin on drums. Gustafsson plays baritone sax here, and for once brought his inside game, playing around the shifts rather than bulling through them. It's an appealing strategy, one that gives the pianist more to do, and he rises to the occasion. [Vinyl only.] A- [CDR]
David's Angels: What It Seems (2012 , Kopasetic): Singer-songwriter Sofie Norling, b. 1984 in Sweden, based in Stockholm, backed with keybs (Maggi Olin), electric bass (producer David Carlsson), and drums (Michala Østergaard-Nielsen). Second group album. Doesn't fit any category: art song tempos but not the archness, singer has jazz inflections, instrumental bits lean toward experimental rock (more the bass than the jazz drums), Olin's Rhodes is sharper than her piano precisely because of the pencil-thin tone. Group name seems malapropos even if Carlsson is pulling the strings. B+(***)
Olivia Foschi: Perennial Dreamer (2012 , self-released): Singer, b. near San Francisco, grew up and studied there and in Italy, eventually landing in New York. First album, produced by drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., with Miki Hiyama (piano), David Rosenthal (guitar), Michael Olatuja (bass), and guest spots (notably Gegoire Maret and Stacy Dillard). About half originals, half covers -- the latter stand out, especially "Everything Happens to Me." B+(***)
Gansch & Breinschmid: Live (2012 , Preiser): Duets, live at the Wiener Konzerthaus, with trumpeter Thomas Gansch, b. 1975, and bassist Georg Breinschmid, b. 1973, both from Austria. Gansch has a previous album and has played in Vienna Art Orchestra. Breinschmid has several. Both also sing here, or joke. I'd have to dig into the trots to figure out how funny their act really is, but the music, and the audience, offers plenty of hints. B+(**)
Amos Garrett Jazz Trio: Jazzblues (2010-11 , Stony Plain): Detroit bluesman, has about fifteen albums since 1980, this the first styled as jazz. The trio adds a second guitarist, Keith Sith, and Greg Carroll on bass. Eight songs, two each from Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, recorded live, strung out softly with a delicate tone, nothing fancy. B+(*)
Patricia Julien Project: Still Light at Night (2012, self-released): Flutist, teaches at University of Vermont, second album, her quartet including Alec Julien on guitar. Pleasant enough, but so free of bop or swing or avant moves it might get stuck in new age. B
Billy Lester: Storytime (2010-11 , JKA): Pianist, studied under Sal Mosca and evidently considers himself a Tristanoite. Fourth album since 1995, all originals, done solo. Website quotes Howard Mandel dubbing this "connoisseur jazz." I can't disagree. My appreciation for solo piano usually wears thin, but this is engaging all the way through, even tempered with bop moves -- song titles namecheck Bud Powell as well as Mosca. B+(**)
Nicolas Masson/Roberto Pianca/Emanuele Maniscalco: Third Reel (2012 , ECM): Swiss saxophonist-clarinetist, fifth album since 2001, with Pianca on guitar and Maniscalco on drums. All three compose, with the drummer taking eight (of 14) pieces, two more joint improvs. Slows it down a bit too much. B [advance]
Bernie Mora & Tangent: Dandelion (2013, Rhombus): Guitarist, unable to find out much about him -- one post states that he has previous albums in 1990 and 1995, but I don't find them in AMG (or anywhere). Release party is is El Paso, but band members, including saxophonist Doug Webb, are based in Los Angeles. All Mora originals, thick funk-fusion, the opening "Twilight Tango" cartoonishly grand. B-
Bob Mover: My Heart Tells Me (2010-11 , Motema, 2CD): Saxophonist, b. 1952, plays more alto than tenor, only has about nine albums, mostly 1977-88, then 1997, 2008, and this magnum opus. Mainstream player (when he doesn't kick it into bop overdrive), also sings, a frail crooner, possibly influenced by Chet Baker but I suspect such cases just find their vulnerability and pick it like a scab, sometimes turning it into something affecting. First disc here is all standards, mostly vocals, a quartet with Kenny Barron, Bob Cranshaw, and Steve Williams. Second disc has only one vocal, mostly originals with some swing, adds Josh Evans on trumpet, sometimes Steve Hall on tenor sax, and occasionally swaps in Victor Lewis on drums. Nice to have either option. B+(***)
Jovino Santos Neto: Adventure Music Piano Masters Series Vol. 4 (2007 , Adventure Music): Brazilian pianist, about ten albums since 1997; plays solo here, tackling twenty pieces, ten originals, ten covers, with Hermeto Pascoal a favored source, three American standards, and "Blackbird" (the opener). B
Noertker's Moxie: Little Bluedevil (Blue Rider Suite, Vol. 2) (2011-12 , Edgetone): Bassist Bill Noertker's group, his principal collaborator Annelise Zamula (tenor sax, flute), with all other musicians listed after a "with." Has a previous Blue Rider Suite volume (2010), three volumes of Sketches of Catalonia, a couple more since 2003, and an earlier (1993-95) group called After the End of the World Coretet. The Blue Rider sets are inspired by paintings by Kandinsky, Klee, and Franz Marc, [some] originally published in the Blue Rider Almanac (1912). As is always a risk with suites, more color than dynamism, and more flute than sax. B
John O'Gallagher: The Anton Webern Project (2012 , Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist, ninth album since 2002 plus a long list of side credits where he's often the real star. This is based on eight opuses by Austrian 12-tone composer Anton Webern, refashioned for a superb jazz group with Matt Moran (vibes), Pete McCann (guitar), Russ Lossing (keybs), Johannes Weidenmuller (bass), Tyshawn Sorey (drums), and Margaret Grebowicz (voice). I listened to Webern some during my Adorno phase: found him the most tolerable of the 12-toners, possibly because his odd pieces were so short and oblique, but this builds outward, and aside from the occasional vocals I'd never suspect this to come out of central Europe. Fine ensemble work and solos, especially McCann and O'Gallagher. A-
Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton: Live at Maya Recordings Festival (2011 , No Business): I can hardly guess how many records this trio has together: 10? 20? More? The earliest trio I see is 1986, but all three played in bassist Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra on Ode in 1972. Drummer Lytton appeared on a duo with Parker in 1972. And they were in a quartet with George Lewis in 1983. AMG credits Lytton with appearing on 26 Parker albums, and Guy on 25. So, probably close to a dozen, certainly if you count the quartets. I'm not sure how this ranks, but the basics are very solid. Parker's soprano sax is unique, especially with the circular breathing, while his tenor is rougher and more personable. A-
The Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra: Artistry: A Tribute to Stan Kenton (2012 , MAMA): Alto saxophonist, came up through big bands (Stan Kenton, Louie Bellson, Bob Florence, and others) and has about ten albums, most or all big band, since 1998. This group has a full brass section (plus French horns and tuba), extra reeds (including a guest shot for Hubert Laws) and percussion, both guitar and piano, and John Proulx's "wordless vocals" -- no point offering less than the kitchen sink when it comes to honoring Stan Kenton. Gets the basic idea, but misses the sense that Kenton enjoyed that he was doing something adventurous, even when it was merely outlandish. B
Frank Rosaly: Cicada Music (2008-11 , Delmark): Drummer, plays in various Chicago groups, including Fast Citizens and Rempis Percussion Quartet. Third album, all originals, cut in two distant sessions but evidently with same lineup. The horns are mostly clarinets (James Falzone, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Keefe Jackson on bass and contrabass plus some tenor sax) so they tend to run soft, and the vibes (Jason Adasiewicz, of course) heightens that. B+(**)
Chris Schlarb: Psychic Temple II (2011-12 , Asthmatic Kitty): Guitarist, fourth album since 2007, has some jazz affinities but on a rock label wrote lyrics to most of his eight songs (also covers from Brian Wilson, Joe Jackson, and Frank Zappa), doling them out to seven vocalists (most famous labelmate Sufjan Stevens), and shuffles many more musicians in and out, looking for "juxtapositions." Such eclecticism isn't without interest, but it doesn't cohere very often. B [advance: July 16]
June Tabor/Iain Ballamy/Huw Warren: Quercus (2006 , ECM): English folk singer, has a couple dozen albums since 1976, including Silly Sisters with Maddy Prior and several with Oysterband. This is very stripped down with pianist Warren backing and saxophonist Ballamy interpolating, a combo which sets her voice off nicely -- although I'm still a bigger fan of the tenor sax. B+(***) [advance]
Bruce Torff: Look Again (2012 , Summit): Pianist, credited with keyboards and percussion here; teaches at Hofstra, in the School of Education and Allied Human Services. First album, songs with lyrics sung by Pete McGuinness, who sort of splits the difference between Chet Baker and Robert Wyatt while still being able to carry a tune. First-rate musicians can navigate the postbop cool and add something, notably Joel Frahm (tenor sax), Pete McCann (guitar), Matt Wilson (drums). B+(*)
Eric Vaughn: Minor Relocation (2011 , self-released): Pianist, b. 1954 in Connecticut, took lessons from Sal Mosca but went to college (San Francisco) on a basketball scholarship, returning to music after he injured his knees. Cut his first record in 1997; this looks to be his fourth, some trio, some with Bob Kenmotso on tenor sax (5 cuts) or Bernie Williams on flute (1); mostly originals, but two (of three) covers are repeated for a "Take 2": "On Green Dolphin Street" and "Stella by Starlight." B+(**)
The Verge: Introducing . . . the Verge (2012, Danger Productions): Pop jazz group led by Jon Hanser, who plays keybs, sings, and wrote most of the pieces; flanked by Kenny Shanker (sax, keybs) and Brian Fishler (drums), both adding their voices. Presumably their first album -- AMG lists another, but I suspect it's by a totally different group. Haven't deciphered all the fine print, but one song features Richard Bona, and I suspect there are more guests (but they don't matter much). Not as slick or as bland as promised -- I hear some (dare I say it?) jazz breaks in with the funk, a bit of hip-hop too, and nothing I would call ersatz. B+(*)
Jeff Williams: The Listener (2012 , Whirlwind): Drummer, b. 1950, sixth album since 1994, a two-horn quartet with Duane Eubanks (trumpet) and John O'Gallagher (alto sax) up front, and John Hébert on bass. Eubanks and Hébert contributed songs, Williams wrote four originals, and they covered "Dedicated to You." O'Gallagher is especially engaging. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, June 23. 2013
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a link for further study:
Saturday, June 22. 2013
The single most important thing you should understand about the economic debacle that started in 2007-08 is summed up in this chart, courtesy of Paul Krugman: A Potentially Tragic Taper:
What you see is that the percentage of the entire US civilian population that was employed was inching up from 2003-07, then took a deep plunge in 2008-09, and since then hasn't moved a bit. The gray band denotes the calendar quarters when US GDP actually shrank, which is the technical definition of a recession. However, the economy was still cutting jobs in the quarter after GDP turned positive. And while the GDP figures have been positive ever since, denoting a "recovery" (even if a rather weak one) that hasn't even begun to restore employment levels, much less make up for the lost output.
You may think that unemployment rates have declined a bit. Indeed, the headline figures have dropped from 10% to about 8%, but as this chart shows, that drop has been nothing but a bookkeeping convenience: all that has dropped is the number of people actively seeking work (as counted by the Labor Deptartment).
Under different circumstances, these numbers might mean something else. For instance, the slight increase in percentage employed from 2003 to 2007 is mostly due to the declining fortunes of labor even in an expanding economy: what you have are more spouses working, more students working, more people coming out of retirement to pick up a little extra income to compensate for higher tuition and declining living standards. If the Obama administration had made strong moves to shore up wages and welfare standards, as the New Deal did in the 1930s, you might still see a similar decline in overall employment rate, but it would have been coupled with an increasing standard of living.
But Obama was no Roosevelt. Both dealt with banking crises, but where Roosevelt saved the banks by strict regulation and insuring deposits, Obama bailed them out and force-fed them cash until they were liquid again. And aside from an inadequate stimulus bill, he did nothing more: credit froze, employment crashed, first the banks then everyone were allowed to merge and crowd out competition, the labor market was crushed, then austerity came into vogue and how you can't even get the House to fund the food stamp program -- which, by the way, is welfare for agribusiness and low-wage employers like WalMart as much as it is for the recipients.
Krugman's piece mostly talks about the Fed and what little it can do. For a broader picture of what happened, see Brad DeLong's review of Alan Blinder's After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead: The Second Great Depression: Why the Economic Crisis Is Worse Than You Think:
If you look at output charts of the first six months of this depression versus the one in 1929, the rate of collapse is almost exactly the same. What was different this time was that the free fall -- those days when financial writers were aghast at staring into the abyss -- was halted by a combination of automatic stabilizers and emergency acts by government. The single biggest one was that the public sector is much larger now than it was in 1929, so the collapse of the private sector took less of the overall economy down with it. Also measures like unemployment insurance kicked in. And the central banks cut interest rates and pumped more cash into the economy -- something that was near impossible in 1929 when most of the world's nations were stuck on the gold standard. Then the banks were flooded with trillions of dollars, while companies aggressively cut jobs and deleveraged to restore profitability. A year after the plunge, no one was talking about abyss any more, even as employment continued to wane. So we had reason to believe that this time was different, and that led to a false sense of security, and a sudden rightward turn in politics. And that, in turn, manically, insanely, turned against the very forces that had just saved the world from economic collapse. The result is that: purely for political reasons we have turned the recovery around and are headed once again for collapse.
At the moment, this is more evident in Europe than in the US. In the Eurozone that's because the single currency does not allow for rebalancing of debts and exports, a situation which is exacerbated by conservative control of the central bank. (Much as peace is too important to be left to the generals, the economy is too important to be handed over to the whims of bankers.) Meanwhile, the UK, which is at least free of the Euro, is mired in a cult of austerity that already overturned the recovery. The US isn't in quite so bad shape because government isn't so centralized, but the Republicans at all levels are working hard to make life as hard as possible on working (and especially no-longer-working) folks, and the Democrats are at best passively dragging their feet and at worst, in thrall to the same bankrupt ideology (and the same moneyed corruptors), dream of "grand bargains" instead of fighting back against the assaults of the superrich.
Democratic presidents from Roosevelt to Johnson regularly came up with catchy slogans to sum up political programs that ultimately aimed at greater equality and economic security for all people -- the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society. Obama has no such program -- at most he hopes to slow down the anti-equality, anti-security juggernaut -- so of course it has no slogan to sell. If he were honest, he'd call his program the No Deal, because he's offering nothing, and he's not even delivering that.
Monday, June 17. 2013
Music: Current count 21547  rated (+25), 628  unrated (-0).
Midweek I checked and verified that I hadn't rated much. Better than average records this week, and that takes more than average time. The only one of the high B+'s that didn't take at least three plays was Davidson, and that was a double. The two that wound up A- took five plays each: the former before I satisfied myself that I hadn't become too automatic on Ellery Eskelin; the latter wondering whether I'm too sentimental about that '70s loft scene. Maybe I am a tough grader -- as one artist letter charged -- after all. The two piano-bass-drums records (Agnel, Van Hove) have some of the week's best moments, but I held them back for the less striking spots.
Sophie Agnel/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Meteo (2012 , Clean Feed): Pianist, b. 1964 in Paris; tenth album since 2000, a trio with Edwards on bass and Noble on drums. Free, the piano often lurking as bass and drums set up a forest of uncertainty, but very impressive when it all comes crashing together. B+(***)
Lynn Baker Quartet: LectroCoustic (2012 , OA2): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, teaches at Lamont School of Music (University of Denver), second album, with Eric Gunnison (keybs), Eduardo "Bijoux" Barbosa (bass), and Paul Mullikin (drums) -- as the title suggests, the keyb/bass players switch between electric and acoustic modes. Neither do much more than to set up a r&b/soul jazz vibe which validates Baker's honking instincts, although he also enjoys Coltrane-ish riffing. B+(*)
Roger Davidson: Journey to Rio (2011 , Soundbrush, 2CD): Pianist, American but b. 1952 in Paris, France; has 18 albums since 2000, mostly Brazilian themed although a couple take on other Latin idioms. This was recorded in Rio de Janeiro on his first visit to the country, with Pablo Aslan producing and a raft of Brazilian studio musicians. Marceo Martins offers a few fine sax solos and a lot of flute, which flutters delicately over the piano rhythm -- which no matter the accompaniment is central. B+(***)
Jon Davis: One Up Front (2012 , Posi-Tone): Pianist, based in San Francisco in the 1980s and in New York since; website lists 48 albums he's played on since 1985 but none under his own name; AMG lists a previous solo album. Trio with Joris Teepe on bass and Shinnosuke Takahashi on drums. Four originals, one by Teepe, covers from Berlin and Porter, Silver and Mingus, all done with aplomb. B+(**)
Harris Eisenstadt September Trio: The Destructive Element (2012 , Clean Feed): Drummer, b. 1975 in Toronto, father was also a drummer; has been prolific since 2002 -- AMG lists 14 records, one (looks like) a dupe, but hasn't logged this one yet. One of the best of those was his 2011 September Trio with Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax and Angelica Sanchez on piano. Same group here: Eskelin is superb at stepping around the rhythms, while the pianist burns right through them, adding more along the way. A-
Ellery Eskelin/Susan Alcorn/Michael Formanek: Mirage (2011 , Clean Feed): Tenor sax, pedal steel guitar, bass. Main mystery here is Alcorn, who has an album with Dr. Eugene Chadbourne titled An Afternoon in Austin, or Country Music for Harmolodic Souls (Boxholder; I haven't heard it). She's hard to follow here, merging into the bass and rarely coming out. Eskelin responds with ballad volume, but with no one offering him a groove he has to tiptoe around the uncertainty. B+(**)
Lama + Chris Speed: Lamaçal (2012 , Clean Feed): Live at Portalegre Jazz Fest, they say "10o edition" but mean 2012. Speed, who should need no intro, plays tenor sax and clarinet. Lama is a trumpet trio led by Susana Santos Silva, with Gonçalo Almeida on bass and Greg Smith on drums, both also dabbling in electronics, and this is their second album. A little slow on the start, but when the horns get working they bounce off one another splendidly. B+(***)
Made to Break: Provoke (2011 , Clean Feed): Ken Vandermark group, with V5 drummer Tim Daisy, Devin Hoff on electric bass, and Christof Lurzmann on "lloopp" -- a free software package for live-improvising on a computer. Three longish (19, 20, 24 minutes) Vandermark pieces, dedications to John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, and Marshall McLuhan. The electronics have some difficulty gaining traction, and never amount to more than background, so this reduces to Vandermark's performance: a little screechy on clarinet, but a powerhouse on tenor sax. Group also has a new LP (vinyl only) called Lacerba, which I didn't get. B+(***)
Melodic Art-Tet (1974 , No Business): Quartet, originally formed in 1970 by saxophonist Charles Brackeen and three members of Sun Ra's entourage: Ahmed Abdullah (trumpet), Ronnie Boykins (bass), and Roger Blank (drums). They played in lofts, never released an album, but cut this at WKCR in 1974, with a very young William Parker taking over the bass slot, and Tony Waters on percussion. Four pieces (17, 20, 30, 12 minutes), free with funk overtones, the reeds -- flute and soprano as well as tenor sax -- not as clear as you'd like, but Abdullah turns into a force of nature, and the second half is so ship-shape you could sail to Saturn. A-
Zoot Sims: Compatability (1955 , Delmark): Octet session with Hall Daniels (trumpet), Dick Nash (trombone), Zoot Sims (tenor sax), Bob Gordon (baritone sax), Tony Rizzi (guitar), Paul Atkerson (piano), Rolly Bundock (bass), and Jack Sperling (drums). Sims is by far the best known here, but was just getting noticed in 1955, and the original 4-track 10-inch LP (tracks 1-4 here) was released as Hal Daniels Septet. In 1977, the same four songs (different takes, but the times are real close) were issued as Zoot Sims/Dick Nash-Ville Octet (tracks 5-10, "Nash-Ville" twice). Ends with three "previously unissued" tracks: studio chatter, the title track (a third time) and "Nash-Ville" (a fourth). B+(*)
Trespass Trio + Joe McPhee: Human Encore (2012 , Clean Feed): Trespass Trio is Martin Küchen (alto/baritone sax), Per Zanussi (bass), and Raymond Strid (drums). They're one of several groups I file under Küchen, their two previous albums less successful than the larger Angles. McPhee, a double threat on tenor sax and pocket trumpet -- split here is 5 cuts to 4 -- plays with everyone, often blowing them away. He doesn't do that here, perhaps because Küchen doesn't challenge him; they just negotiate odd angles, as they are wont to do. B+(**)
Els Vandeweyer/Fred Van Hove/Paul Lovens/Martin Blume: Quat: Live at Hasselt (2011 , No Business): Cover lists last names only, and label lists this record as by Quat Quartet, although only "QUAT" ever appears on the package. I added the first names to avoid duplicating the last names here. Credits, respectively, are: vibes, piano, percussion, and percussion. I'd say that makes this the pianist's album, even though the four pieces are joint improvs. Van Hove is an important avant-pianist, his first record dating from 1969 (Requiem for Che Guevara/Psalmus Spei), thirty-some since. Lovens, 12 years younger, has had a comparable career, just shorter (since 1975). Blume is a few years younger, and on a lot fewer albums, and this appears to be the first for Vandemeyer. So much percussion creates a prickly chaotic storm, a whorl of noise that the piano trumps -- most impressive when it's all clashing, less so when Van Hove lays out, or picks up his accordion. B+(***)
Jon Wirtz: Tourist (2013, self-released): Pianist (organ, keyboards), based in Denver, second album. Mixed bag here, some trio, some extra guitar (pedal steel in one case), a spoken word thing, the closer piano with an impassioned trumpet lead (Gabriel Mervine); more semi-pop than post-bop but not necessarily. B
Zs: Grain (2013, Northern Spy): Avant-noise group, originally a trio with saxophonist Sam Hillmer, after a handful of releases (including a 4-CD box as a sextet), now a trio again, with Patrick Higgins (guitar) and Greg Fox (percussion) -- pulled those credits off the website, since the album doesn't say really much of anything. Actually, nearly all of this sounds electronic, and the two parts sound like dozens of pieces -- lots of interesting effects that don't get stuck long enough to become annoying, but that don't quite flow either. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week (and today):
Sunday, June 16. 2013
Big event this week was the election of Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran, succeeding scarecrow Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The arrival of an Axis of Evil leader who apparently isn't evil -- who in fact had attempted to reason with the West before -- threw the hawks in Jerusalem and Washington into a tizzy. First they assured us that the president of Iran has no actual power, so the change of president will leave Iran as evil as ever. And just before the election, Obama suddenly changed course and decided to actively arm Syria's anti-Assad "rebels," a move which (not for the first time) brought us into an alliance with Al-Qaeda. Reason? Because Iran backed Assad, and Iran is out eternal enemy, and we all know that the enemy of our enemy is, well not exactly our friend, but the cheapest, most cost-effective pawn we can rent in the Great Game. (Sure, there was some fluff about Assad using chemical weapons, but what press release escalating a war in the Middle East would be complete without something on WMD?)
Meanwhile, some scattered links:
Also, a few links for further study:
Thursday, June 13. 2013
My original plan was to follow up last month's 1960s-alt-themed guide with more '60s music: as I was working on May's column, I ran across some records that didn't really fit as "alt" but that I felt like checking out -- Cream records I knew well but never bothered to grade, Hollies albums I never heard, things I missed or only knew through later best-ofs like A Salty Dog and The Who Sings My Generation and a few late Coltranes. I collected about twenty such reviews, but barely scratched the surface, and as the calendar turned over I realized I didn't have enough time to cram it all together. Meanwhile, I had been kicking reviews that didn't fit into the July file, and had a package of Afro-Asian promos that I wanted to serve sooner rather than later. So I wound up flipping the two files. The 1960s will wait until July (or later). Meanwhile, I'll run this grab bag, which includes explorations of some Christgau favorites (Beautiful South, Rilo Kiley, Wussy), an early Oliver Lake I found while looking for his latest, and more Africana.
Tony Bennett/Dave Brubeck: The White House Sessions, Live 1962 (1962 , Columbia/Legacy): Nothing new in their two short and separate sets, but both were riding their popular peaks, Brubeck opening with "Take Five" and Bennett closing with "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Then they merge, Brubeck's Quartet replacing Ralph Sharon's trio, and it gets wilder, with a much fiercer Brubeck ready to rumble, keeping Bennett quick on his toes as he skitters through "Lullaby of Broadway," "That Old Black Magic," two more. B+(**) [advance]
Dieuf-Dieul de Thiès: Aw Sa Yone Vol. 1 (1981 , Teranga Beat): From Thiès in Senegal, less cosmopolitan than Dakar where big things were happening, these sessions with guitarist Pape Seck and three griot-style vocalists were only released on cassette, and long forgotten, although the group kept trudging along -- I have a later disc of them backing up Tidiane. Even-tempered, a gentle groove that goes on and on, each little embellishment welcome, especially the sax. A-
Harafin So: Bollywood Inspired Film Music From Hausa Nigeria (, Sahel Sounds): From Kano, with a metro area of close to three million people the capital of the Islamic north and the second largest city in Nigeria, home of a Hausa film industry that draws heavily on the musicals of Bollywood -- call it Kannywood. Nine songs credited to as many artists but possibly fewer producers -- one Abubakar Sani claims to have made 5000 songs ("3000 of them hits"); no dates given but the introduction of VHS in 1990 and the Yamaha PSR keyboard in 1994 were enabling technologies, the local talents mimicking the masters, the rhythmic roll turning over and over. B+(**)
Kenya Special: Selected East African Recordings From the 1970s & '80s (1970s-80s , Soundway, 2CD): Obscure 45s from back in the day, 32 of them, closer in spirit and range to crate digs like John Storm Roberts' Before Benga 2: The Nairobi Sound than to the soukous-inflected Guitar Paradise of East Africa. Reportedly the full packaging includes a 40-page booklet, which my promo lacks. So I'm short on details, but the discs themselves jump. A- [advance]
Sedayeh Del: Funk, Psychedelia and Pop From the Iranian Pre-Revolution Generation (1959-77 , Pharaway Sounds): Main hint on dates is the note that Karim Charmanara's Abang e Rooz label was founded in 1959 (releasing 200 singles and 3 LPs that year) and folded in 1977, but I'd guess this leans toward the 1970s. The fourth compilation in a series, a mix of Persian grandiosity -- I wouldn't call anything under the Shah a "golden age," but it sure had gilded pretensions -- and pop moves, imported from Bollywood as well as the West, but something else. B+(***)
The Rough Guide to Acoustic Africa (2000-12 , World Music Network, 2CD): Lazy picks, all but one picked off the shelf from the label's Riverboat subsidiary, which at least makes them easy to date (approximately) -- some also on the label's Unwired and Oxfam comps -- spanning a big continent from South Africa and Mozambique to Senegal and Sudan. The acoustic shtick undercuts the vast stylistic differences across the continent, helping the flow, whiel the vast stylistic range ensures that any dull spots will be followed by something more interesting. Second disc is a "bonus" by Senegalese kora player Noumoucounda Cissoko, evidently -- unlike most of the label's recent 2CD packages -- unavailable on its own. Its string flurry grabs your attention right off, and the songs start to add up, tossing the occasional curve like piano solos and Tumi Molekane's rap. B+(**) [R]
The Rough Guide to African Disco (1976-2010 , World Music Network, 2CD): Sure, it's all dance music, but sort of misses the point and the moment, ranging from Osibisa pleasantries to Manu Dibango to the Mahotella Queens, back to Nigeria-Cameroon then London again for the Sofrito remixes -- too much jumble, not that Teaspoon & the Waves' "Oh Yeh Soweto" isn't a find. More antiquated, the bonus disc is Maloko's Soul on Fire, from the 1980s with Cameroonian vocalist Victor Nguini running through American soul covers like "Stand by Me" and "In the Midnight Hour," given a slight soukous inflection by guitarist Syran Mbenza. B+(*) [R]
Wussy: Funeral Dress II (2011, Shake It): Cincinnati alt-rock band, two singer-songwriters Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker make a fine proximate couple -- hard to overstate how much Christgau's coterie love them but the only album I managed to own -- their second, Left for Dead -- never did much for me, though I've streamed a couple albums I was more impressed by, including the original 2005 Funeral Dress. Still, I don't know it well enough to make any of the songs on this unplugged Record Store Day limited edition old friends, or even recognizable. Which I guess makes them seem like new to me. The balance and craft are certainly there. Beyond that, I'm not quite sure I'm not just swept away with other folks' enthusiasm. A- [R]
The Beautiful South: Golddiggas: Headnodders & Pholk Songs (2004, Sony Music [UK]): A marvelous band from the start, or even earlier if you count the two Housemartins albums equally stamped by Paul Heaton's vocals, huge in England without any notable success in the US; covers album, mostly rock tunes from the 1970s, nothing obvious either as roots or affectation, in arrangements that sneak up on you. A-
The Beautiful South: Superbi (2006, Sony/BMG [UK]): Ninth (and last) album, never got a US release and didn't bowl them over in the UK either, but not for lack of songs -- the first half, up through "Meanwhile," are memorable from the start, the possible knock on the rest is that they may be too jaunty for a singer as deep as Paul Heaton -- not that I ever mind Alison Wheeler. A-
The Beautiful South: BBC Sessions (1989-98 , UMVD, 2CD): Live sets, four cuts from 1989 when they were getting started, four more from 1998 showcasing their sixth album, and two much longer 1994 sessions, probably timed for their fourth album and the best-of Carry On Up the Charts; the first simplifies, the latter shows they can stretch out and work the crowd, in between they remind you how many great songs they had, although they also repeat a couple too many times and skip a lot more; if this is all the archaeologists ever find, they'll grade it higher. B+(**) [R]
Bola: Volume 7 (2009 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): From Ghana, a real shouter, his vocal intensity strikes me as call-without-response, unless you consider the slinky kologo that finishes every line more than denouement; the songs merge together in this effect, driven relentlessly forward on dancing drums. B+(***) [R]
Colomach: Colomach (1974 , Soundway): North Nigerian group, led by Gneni Mamadou from Togo, closer in spirit to Mali and the Sahara than to the juju and Afrobeat of the southern cities; limited edition vinyl, should protect its obscurity quotient. B+(*)
Tommy Flanagan/Jaki Byard: The Magic of 2: Live at Keystone Korner (1982 , Resonance): Two major pianists, live, start out with duets on standards (first three: Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington), later on alternating solos. Bright and tinkly, Flanagan seems more at home with the material. B+(*)
The Funkees: Dancing Time: The Best of Eastern Nigeria's Afro Rock Exponents 1973-77 (1973-77 , Soundway): Afrobeat, doesn't have to be any funkier than its models, at least when we're talking James Brown and Fela Kuti, but could use a bit of charisma, something the models have in spades; compilation runs long and rarely lets up or lets you down. B+(**) [R]
Oliver Lake: NTU: Point From Which Creation Begins (1976 , Universal Sound): Early, coming out of St. Louis and thinking Africa, ten musicians with electric bass and piano, congas and toys, but plenty of brass when they need it, John Hicks on piano, and surprising guitar by someone named Richard Martin. A- [R]
Rilo Kiley: Take Offs and Landings (2001, Barsuk): First album by a group led by two former child actors: Blake Sennett, who tended to take things idiosyncratically, and Jenny Lewis, who had a way of making those oddities seem normal; all the components of a great group here, sometimes oversimplified, but sometimes that's the charm. B+(***)
Rilo Kiley: The Execution of All Things (2002, Saddle Creek): Second group album, did much better on a second play that followed the first album; doubt if it's neglected masterpiece, but it offers a lot more than juvenilia too, the whispers and tinkles picking up guitar riffs and innuendo and an outright "it's so fucking beautiful"; ready for prime time: "Spectacular Views." A- [R]
Wussy: Buckeye (2005-11 , Damnably): A 17-cut Europe-only best-of, or intro, condensing four albums -- unless they snuck in an alternate version, something I can't tell -- but that works fine for me, the non-chronological shuffle mixing it up; fans prefer the albums, but if this were readily available it might be all I need -- more hooks, rocks harder too. A [R]
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody ([X] is some other identified stream source; otherwise assume a CD). The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments -- although that's always a risk.
For this column and the previous 108, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3685 (3241 + 444).
Monday, June 10. 2013
Music: Current count 21522  rated (+21), 628  unrated (-6).
Depressing, unproductive week, most likely just one of many more to come. I've rarely felt as bedeviled by the bloodsucking capitalists out there, the ethic of "I've got mine and now I want yours too" that leads to a whole world of indifference and rot. Of course, I've had that theoretical analysis for a long time. Just a lot of concrete, personal evidence lately.
Also struggling with chaos and clutter. Recent notable graded jazz releases are accumulating in three stacks that look like they're about to go Pisa on me. Not so notable stuff is overflowing its big box. Papers and crap are everywhere. Books too, and in slightly expanding circles, tools and computers. It's an insane mess to live and try to work in. Makes me think much of it should go, but then I have to think about what I wanted to do with it, and what I reasonable want to do in general.
The website isn't much neater. The book section has gotten me into trouble again, and there is reason to think I should just disconnect it. That would break a lot of blog links, but would be simpler than trying to figure out which parts are likely to offend which writers and lawyers. The links section is a simpler problem, since it's mostly broken anyway. I'm not sure that it even make sense to try to collate a link farm these days. (Well, I can still see some value in it if you had better tools than I in fact do.) Maybe should rethink the whole concept of what I want to make public and keep private, or is there any ground in between? My operating principle has long been that it doesn't matter to me, and that if by making something public makes it useful to someone else, that's a plus. But that assumption is being called into question at all levels (including whatever it is that the NSA is actually doing).
For those and other reasons I'm predicting relatively light blogging for the next month or so as I try to clean up, in my head as much as in my house. Of course, as it heats up outside -- looks like 93F at the moment, possibly the first time it's gotten that hot here all year, but the forecast as far as it goes calls for that and then some -- I may wind up deciding that all I want to do is sit in front of the computer and listen to music.
But I will post June's Recycled Goods sometime this week. It won't be the 1960s special I had promised -- that's more likely in July -- and it will be relatively short with few surprises.
No A-list records below -- the two Clean Feeds came close, and there are more in the queue -- so I'll rerun a pic from an A- jazz record in the most recent Rhapsody Streamnotes.
One bit of non-jazz news: see 4-Year-Old Boy Accidentally Shoots, Kills Army Vet Father in Arizona. A tragedy, but shouldn't the father -- not just an Army Vet but Special Forces -- have had his own gun on hand to defend himself?
David Ake: Bridges (2012 , Posi-Tone): Pianist, teaches at University of Nevada, Reno (or Case Western Reserve, depending on how dated his website is). Has a couple books, at least two previous records including a solo. This is a sextet with three front-line horns -- Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Ravi Coltrane (tenor sax), and Peter Epstein (alto sax) -- plus Scott Colley (bass) and Mark Ferber (drums). All originals, more free than the label's norm, hard to keep so much firepower down. B+(**)
Lotte Anker/Rodrigo Pinheiro/Hernani Faustino: Birthmark (2012 , Clean Feed): Danish saxophonist, b. 1958, plays soprano, alto, and tenor here. Has close to a dozen albums since 1997; someone I should look into -- Stef Gijssels had her Live at the Loft as his top album of 2009 -- but this is my first encounter. Pinheiro and Faustino play piano and bass in RED Trio, whose original eponymous 2010 album I can recommend highly. This is softly toned and abstract, the lack of a drummer making it seem like nothing much is happening, but it sneaks up on you, demanding and rewarding your attention. B+(***)
Tony Bennett/Dave Brubeck: The White House Sessions, Live 1962 (1962 , Columbia/Legacy): Actually, two separate sets at Sylvan Theatre, near the base of Washington Monument, rather than some cozy confab in the Rose Garden -- you can guess the crowd size from the applause. Brubeck does four cuts starting with "Take Five" and integrating Middle Eastern and Latin rhythms. Bennett then brings his own band in for six songs, ending with an understated "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Nice enough, but very compact: the temptation here is the four extra cuts at the end where Bennett sings with the Brubeck Quartet. Main thing you get there is a lot more bite in the piano -- Brubeck was ready to rumble, and Bennett skates around him, but they didn't figure out anything for Desmond to do. B+(**) [advance]
Joey Calderazzo Trio: Live (2013, Sunnyside): Pianist, has a dozen or so albums since 1991, also notably part of the Branford Marsalis Quartet since 1998. Trio with Orlando Le Fleming and Donald Edwards, a 71:05 set recorded at Daly Jazz in Missoula, MT (no date given). Two originals, covers of Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Paul Motian, and "The Meaning of the Blues." B+(*)
Michael Dease: Coming Home (2012 , D Clef): Trombonist, fourth album since 2007; quintet with Steve Wilson (alto sax), Renee Rosnes (piano), Christian McBride (bass), and Ulysses Owens, Jr. (drums), plus some guests. Postbop, trombone taking most of the leads, and everything else as full and complex as you'd expect from this band. Dease composed five of eleven tunes, got one each from McBride and Rosnes, and covered Ellington, Peterson, Hubbard, and Jule Styne. B+(*)
Django Festival Allstars: Live at Birdland 2012 (2012 , Three's a Crowd): Dorado Schmitt plays guitar and violin, along with Ludovic Beier (accordion), Pierre Blanchard (violin), lots more guys named Schmitt (all on guitar), a few others you don't know, and Anat Cohen (alto sax), on a mix of Django Reinhardt standards and their own originals in the same vein. B+(**)
The Harris Group: Errands (2013, self-released): Ric Harris, guitarist, second group album, with vibes, bass, and drums for the group proper, violin and flute for extras: effectively, easy groove music with extra tinkles. B-
Yoron Israel & High Standards: Visions: The Music of Stevie Wonder (2013, Ronja Music): Drummer, from Chicago, based in Boston, has a handful of albums since 1995. Group includes Lance Bryant on tenor and soprano sax, Laszlo Gardony on piano and keybs, Henry Lugo on bass, with a couple guest spots including a spoken word rap by Larry Roland. Stevie Wonder songs, something few jazz musicians have made much of, but this is fun all the way through, and Roland adds enough to the title cut that they reprise it. B+(**)
Art Johnson/Marc Devine: Blue Sud (2012 , Warrant Music/ITI): Guitar-piano duets. Johnson was b. 1945, worked in California a long time; not sure how much he's recorded, but he has done piano duets with Dwayne Smith before, and dabbled in Brazilian music. Don't know much about Devine, but he fills in a lot of holes. B-
Roger Kellaway & Eddie Daniels: Duke at the Roadhouse: Live in Santa Fe (2012 , IPO): Pianist, b. 1939, and clarinetist, b. 1941, frequently seen in each other's company of late. James Holland joins in on cello, but only becomes a factor late midway through. Program is mostly Ellington, eight of ten if you count "Perdido," with one original each -- Daniels' is called "Duke at the Roadhouse," Kellaway's "Duke in Ojai." B+(**)
Mark Kleinhaut/Neil Lamb: Jones Street (2011 , Invisible Music): Two guitarists, Kleinhaut with a half-dozen albums since 1999, Lamb with more like four. Back cover says, "greetings from Savannah, Georgia; evidently the home of the title street. Has a delicate, laid-back feel, with a bit more swing than new age allows. B+(**)
Liberation Prophecy: Invisible House (2013, self-released): Group from Louisville, KY; led by saxophonist Jacob Duncan with Carly Johnson ("Our Lady of Song") singing most of the pieces -- their one previous album, 2006's Last Exit Angel, had Norah Jones and Andre Easton singing. Music has bits of avant-jazz and prog-rock -- publicist cites Charles Mingus, Frank Zappa, Carla Bley and Sun Ra -- a mix I can't vouch for. Two spins and the best I can say is that they may turn out to be interesting but it's not obvious why. B
Diane Marino: Loads of Love (2013, M&M): Standards singer-pianist, fifth album since 2003; cover notes "featuring Houston Person," which is about as smart a move as any singer can make, adding a little something to every song he plays on (10 of 12). B+(**)
Eric Revis: City of Asylum (2012 , Clean Feed): Bassist, best known as part of Branford Marsalis Quartet since 1997; side credits have mostly been mainstream, but his own albums -- this makes four since 2004 -- have been more avant. This is a piano trio with Kris Davis and Andrew Cyrille. Mostly joint credits, with covers from Monk and Jarrett, and one Revis original. The piano is feisty, slippery, edgy, and the bass is prominent. B+(***)
Julian Shore: Filaments (2012, Tone Rogue): Pianist, second album; all originals, music by Shore and lyrics by singer Alexa Barchini (liner notes includes three lyrics; Barchini sings on six cuts, and Shelly Tzarafi also sings on five). The vocals have a soft, arty feel, and nothing else does much to soften the chill -- horn spots, three guitarists, although Kurt Rosenwinkel makes his presence felt. B
Mary Stallings: But Beautiful (2012 , High Note): Standards singer, b. 1939, cut an album with Cal Tjader in 1961, then nothing until 1990, regular work since. With Eric Reed on piano, sometimes supplemented by Danny Janklow on alto sax and/or Brian Clancy on tenor sax, which helps. A fine singer, but songs like "I Thought About You" make the difference. B+(**)
Marlene VerPlanck: Ballads . . . Mostly (2012 , Audiophile): Standards singer, b. Marlene Pampinella in Newark in 1933; cut an album as Marlene in 1955; nothing else until 1979, but she's recorded regularly since 1989. She built this album around seven arrangements of Cy Coleman songs by her late husband, J. Billy VerPlanck, adding four more songs by Harry Warren, and four more. Cut with two piano trios, adding Claudio Roditi's trumpet on four cuts, and Houston Person's tenor sax on four more. Singer is precise and fluid, no excess mannerisms, and the horns are a plus. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, June 9. 2013
Some scattered links, but nothing on the NSA scandal yet:
Also, links for further study:
Thursday, June 6. 2013
Back in 2005, I wrote a modest proposal for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. I mailed it out to a bunch of people -- an example of "running it up the flagpole to see who salutes it" -- and it was uniformly ignored. The distinct feature of my piece was a mechanism that would allow Israel to keep all of the East Jerusalem environs they annexed in 1967. My argument was that if a majority of the Palestinians in the new territory voted to approve joining Israel, and annexation could be separated from the UN's 1967 assertion of the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war."
Jerusalem was one of the major sticking points in the "final status" negotiations under Barak in 2000. Even though there was at the time substantial support within Israel for a "two-state solution" that would give up settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, every opinion poll of Israelis that I was aware of showed more than 90% refusing to return East Jerusalem. The equation on annexation for Israel has always been the trade-off between land, which Israel coveted, and people, which Israel feared and loathed. The alternative to the "two-state solution" would be for Israel to extend citizenship and equal rights to all of the people in the Occupied Territories -- a scheme that has become increasingly attractive as expanding Israeli settlements (those "facts on the ground") have made it ever harder, both politically and practically, to disentangle two states. However, Israel has always rejected such a "one-state solution" out of hand, for fear that its demography would tip against a Jewish majority.
However, I figured that the relatively small number of non-Jews in Greater Jerusalem, balanced against Israel's intense desire to keep the land, would be a trade-off that Israel might accept. I also figured that requiring approval of that non-Jewish population would do two things: it would justify annexation under self-determination, grounds that no one could reasonably object to; and it would urge Israel to campaign for the allegiance of a block of Palestinians. Given Israel's past treatment, one would initially expect the latter to reject such an offer, but Israel could offer much in the way of inducements to win the vote, including reforms that would help make Palestinians more welcome as Israeli citizens -- reforms that in general would help to lessen the conflict.
Like I said, my proposal went nowhere. By that time, the Arab League was floating a proposal that called for a full return to the 1967 borders (per UN SCR 242 and 338), albeit with no serious repatriation of pre-1948 refugees. The US was pushing a non-plan called "The Road Map for Peace," which was rejected by Israel, as was every other initiative. There have been proposals by ad hoc groups of Israelis (e.g., the Geneva Accords, the Israeli Peace Initiative of 2011), the coalitions running Israel, both under Kadima and Likud prime ministers, appear to have no interest whatsoever in ever solving anything. The problem isn't even that they have a proposal that Palestinians can never accept. It's that they prefer the status quo, where they face just enough danger to keep their security state sharp, where the settlement project continues to fire their pioneer spirit, and where their low standing in world opinion reinforces the Zionist conceit that the whole world is out to get them -- a unifying narrative with little downside risk, least of all to their standard of living.
I bring this up because I see now that John Kerry is trying to restart some sort of "peace process." Stephen M. Walt writes:
Walt is unsure why Kerry is even bothering, but the US has long had interests in the Middle East beyond Israel, and they demand a certain facade of balance. On the other hand, the Saudis (in particular) don't seem to be very demanding of results, much like they buy sophisticated American aircraft then never really learn to use it. Rashid Khalidi's Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East details how the US initiated three major attempts at "peace process" in Israel-Palestine, then bowed to Israeli pressure (or in some cases just anticipated it) to get nothing accomplished. Kerry is most likely to just add another chapter of failure.
Khalidi has a good description of how this works (pp. 119-120):
Israel has not only worked tirelessly to create "facts on the ground" that dim the prospects of peace. Israelis have also created a mental clutter of catch phrases and jargon that make peace impossible to talk about.
I'll break this post here, and put a first draft of my thinking about how to resolve the conflict after the break . . .
Continue reading "Thinking Around the Israeli-American Impasse"
Wednesday, June 5. 2013
A piece in the Wichita Eagle today -- Dan Voorhis: Businesses will benefit from several recent laws enacted in Kansas -- points out that the Kansas state legislature hasn't only been up to complete lunacy this session. Sure, they've passed new anti-abortion and pro-gun laws that are blatantly unconstitutional, and they've cut income taxes -- exempting "small businessmen" like the Koch brothers altogether -- while raising sales taxes. But they've also been minding business:
Voorhis didn't mention the biggest giveaway, which was a bill that ended regulation of the phone monopoly, AT&T, but then he wasn't really reporting -- he was just echoing what the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce lobbyist was bragging about.
Reminds me why I left Kansas in the first place. It was 1974 and I was working in a type shop downtown. I had gotten a series of small raises early on as the owner noticed how much work I was producing, but he developed eye problems, leaving his idiot son in charge of the company, who did nothing. After a long stretch, I went to him and asked for a raise. He told me that my salary was already the maximum the market could bear in Wichita. He did feign sympathy, however, suggesting that if I really did need to make more money, I should move to a higher wage market, like . . . Tulsa, Oklahoma! I quit shortly after that -- at which point they did offer me a much more substantial raise than I had asked for -- and moved to New York City.
Twenty-five years later I moved back to Wichita, bringing a telecommuting job with me. When that ran out, I looked around a bit, encountering the same lame-brained mentality from business owners I had originally fled. One job prospect offered $12/hour to design and build database-driven websites for a client based in China -- yes, outsourcing their IT work to Kansas.
The one thing that Kansas doesn't need is more leverage for business owners to drive wages down. It depresses the economy, and is depressing for everyone involved, leaving everyone in a state of mental disability.
The biggest political difference between the New Deal and now is the amount of effort Roosevelt put into fighting deflation: both in keeping prices from collapsing and in increasing wages, even going so far as to promote unions. Obama has done none of that, letting wages sink while monopoly rents skyrocket. And if Obama and the Democrats won't fight for you, numbskulls like the Chamber of Commerce get a free ride.
Monday, June 3. 2013
Music: Current count 21501  rated (+35), 634  unrated (+4).
Got a lot of mail, including the Clean Feed package from Portugal, so looking forward to that. Meanwhile, picked through what I had almost at random, winding up with a lot of B+(*) albums -- 13 of 20. Each has something distinctive on top of consistent quality, but not something I found all that interesting. That grade is probably the norm for jazz these days. There's certainly a lot of it.
Saw the movie 42 this afternoon. I knew the Jackie Robinson story from many sources, notably Jules Tygiel's Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy, and Red Barber's memoir, 1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball, but alas nothing much firsthand: Robinson's rookie year was three years before I was born, and he retired the year before the first season I can recall with any immediate authority. The movie made one major error: the Dodgers held their 1947 spring training in Havana, Cuba, and not in Panama. The event barely mattered in the movie -- at least we didn't have to suffer while Rickey was playing his great game, waiting for the team to pressure him to advance Robinson -- making the change all the more puzzling. They did get the trade record right -- I thought that Walker, Higbe, and Casey were moved out earlier than they were. (Walker actually had a pretty good year in 1947, and a strong start with Pittsburgh in 1948 before he collapsed. On the other hand, even before Robinson Rickey rarely waited until an older player was done before he traded them off -- wouldn't have been worth as much.)
But the movie didn't mention Rickey's 1948 trade of Eddie Stanky, who appears as one of Robinson's earliest and staunchest supporters, to Boston to open up second base for Robinson (and first base for Gil Hodges, who had to get out of Roy Campanella's spot). Stanky helped win the 1948 pennant for the Boston Braves. The filmmakers decided to end on clinching the NL pennant, savoring the up note rather than waiting for the Yankees to beat the Dodgers in the World Series. Robinson and Rickey got the publicity, and you can't begrudge them that, but Bill Veeck broke the AL color line later that same year with Larry Doby, who struggled as a pinch hitter to a .156 batting average. But in 1948, Doby outhit Robinson (.301 to .296) and it was Cleveland in the World Series, beating the Braves, with Satchel Paige a late addition, pitching 6-1 down the stretch. Rickey proved that a meticiulously selected, carefully groomed black man at the peak of his physical prowess could play at a high level in the major league. Veeck proved that an untried rookie and a 42-year-old who had been derided as "not good enough" for two decades could win pennants. The dam broke after that, and nowadays one wonders whether the all-white days before 1947 -- Cobb and Ruth and Matthewson and Grove notwithstanding -- should even be considered major league. Integration was the best thing that ever happened to baseball: made me a fan, at least until the 1994-95 lockout turned me off.
PS: Sad to find out that Tygiel died in 2008, only 59 years old.
David Arnay: 8 (2013, Studio N): Pianist, has a couple previous albums. The concept here is to start with a solo piece (a very jaunty "Caravan"), then for each additional piece add one instrument: the duo picks up bass, trio drums, quartet Doug Webb's tenor sax, and so on until you get to the octet at the end. Six originals -- the other cover is "Giant Steps." B+(*)
Diego Barber/Hugo Cipres: 411 (2013, Origin): Barber is a guitarist from Spain, has a couple previous albums, none like this, which is elegant jazztronica driven off Cipres' "desktop" synths. Seamus Blake plays tenor sax (and EWI) for extra lift, Johannes Weidenmueller fattens the bottom, and Ari Hoenig adds some conventional drums. B+(***)
Kenny Blake featuring Maria Shaheen: Go Where the Road Leads (2012 , Summit): Search algorithm woes: an AMG search for "kenny blake" amusingly offered Kenny Chesney and Blake Shelton as 2nd and 3rd choices; more perplexing is Tim McGraw in the 1st slot, although I suppose you could consider him the least common denominator between Chesney and Shelton. The pop saxophonist came in 9th, after the Beach Boys and a phalanx of bad Kennys -- Rogers, Loggins, G, Wayne Shepherd. Sixth album since 1991, first with (or for) singer Shaheen. Most of the songs are originals by producer Peter Morley. Covers include Porter and Jobim: the latter goes far beyond "obligatory" to be one of the album's highlights. Contrary to standard practice, Baker tends to lead the singer's lines, justifying the credit order, but Shaheen is a fine singer. B+(*)
Joe Burgstaller: License to Thrill (2012 , Summit): Trumpet player, b. 1970, played in Canadian Brass, Meridian Arts Ensemble, and NY Brass Arts Trio; teaches at Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, CA. Has two previous albums of classical music: Mozart and Bach. Starts solo here with an original piece, adds one or two instruments (usually piano) for the rest: Vivaldi, Bach, Gershwin, Corea, Fritz Kreisler, Jennifer Higdon, Piazzolla, trad, a "world premier recording" of a piece by Su Lian Tan. Wouldn't call any of it thrilling -- stately, picturesque, pretty in very conventional ways. B+(*)
Marc Cary: For the Love of Abbey (2012 , Motéma): Pianist, b. 1967, has ten albums since 1995. This one is solo, focusing on songs by Abbey Lincoln -- Cary played with her on two 1997-98 albums -- plus one Ellington cover and two originals. B+(*)
Etienne Charles: Creole Soul (2013, Culture Shock Music): Trumpet player, from Trinidad, moved to Florida then New York to study (Florida State and Juilliard), teaches at Michigan State. Second album. Band includes alto and tenor sax, piano, bass, drums, with guest vocals and percussion. Tries to mix it all up, but neither explodes nor coheres. B [advance]
Liz Childs Quartet: Take Flight (2009 , self-released): Standards singer, second album -- one original here, co-credited with guitarist Ed MacEachen, plus sixteen covers for a total of 77:14, including the usual suspects, Bessie Smith, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and two Jobims. Voice suggests a Diana Krall wannabe. Band is a guitar-bass-drums trio, with MacEachen a quality foil, keeping it light but adding something tasty. B+(*)
Corey Christiansen: Lone Prairie (2012 , Origin): Guitarist, fourth album since 2004; group includes keybs/piano (Steve Allee and/or Zach Lapidus, the latter also credited with SuperCollider), bass, drums, percussion. Songs have a western flare, with three originals, one each from Marty Robbins and Ennio Morricone, and six credited as "Traditional" -- e.g., "Red River Valley," "Sittin' on Top of the World." Notes say recording date was August 30-31, 2013 -- clearly a typo, but one that will become less obvious over time. B+(*)
Trilok Gurtu: Spellbound (2012 , Moosicus/Sunnyside): Percussionist, b. 1951 in old Bombay, India; has a couple dozen albums since 1984. Early on he toured with Don Cherry, and this is something of a tribute, framed with tape bits of Cherry from the 1970s, and featuring a long list of trumpet players who wanted to get in on it: Ambrose Akinmusire, Paolo Fresu, Hasan Gozetlik, Matthias Hofs, Ibrahim Maalof, Nils Petter Molvaer, and Matthias Schriefl. Mostly Gurtu originals, but covers include one by Cherry, Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca," and several Miles Davis pieces, hinting at a spacey world fusion. B+(**)
Molly Holm: Permission (2012 , Rinny Zin): Singer, San Francisco area, studied North Indian Raga and was a member of Bobby McFerrin's Voicestra. First album, half originals, covers include "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Afro Blue," "Straight No Chaser," things from Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul. Band includes Larry Schneider on soprano sax and Famoudou Don Moye on drums, and guests pop in and out. Likes to scat, has a bit of Sheila Jordan in her delivery, but interesting as all that is this didn't quite come together. B+(*)
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Somewhere (2009 , ECM): He's 68 now, and his label keeps shipping out new product every year, but since he turned 65 or so the recording dates have started to creep back -- the new product more likely to come out of old tapes than new. Critics tend to fall into two camps: some savor every scrap served up, and some have started to wonder whether we have enough of the more/less same thing by now. His "standards trio" with Peacock and DeJohnette dates back to 1983, a couple dozen albums by now, and for someone who isn't a piano fanatic, they do tend to all blur together: impressive, admirable even, but how much do you need? Still, every once in a while they make you pause and appreciate just how extraordinary this group is. Last time for me was My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux, a 2001 tape released as a double in 2007, but this is another one on that special level, recorded live at KKL Luzern Concert Hall in 2009. A-
Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope: Mirage (2012 , Blueland): Started as a baritone saxophonist, on his fourth album (since 2003) has expanded to include the whole deep end of the reed family: bass clarinet, bass flute, bass sax, contra alto clarinet. Features a string quartet conducted by Ryan Truesdell, plus guitar, keybs, bass, and drums -- all name players (Nir Felder, Frank Carlberg, Lonnie Plaxico, Rudy Royston). A complex concoction, all soft edges with fuzzy splotches. B+(**)
Monday Michiru: Soulception (2012, Adventure Music): Singer, from Japan, AMG lists 23 albums since 1994, pegging her genre as "Electronic" and styles as "Acid Jazz, Club/Dance, Trip-Hop." She is backed by jazz musicians here, including Alex Sipiagin (trumpet) and Adam Rogers (guitar). Indeed, she should know her way around jazz, given that an early album was called Jazz Brat -- an especially good title if your parents are Toshiko Akiyoshi and Charlie Mariano. Having trouble sorting this out, although she has promising moments -- but then the title is a muddle, too. B
PJ Rasmussen: Adventures in Flight (2013, Third Freedom Music): Guitarist, b. 1990, wrote all of his own material, leads a postbop sextet (tenor sax, trumpet, piano, bass, drums), the guitar adding a nice sweetness to music that goes through all of the motions. B+(*)
Rose & the Nightingale: Spirit of the Garden (2012 , Sunnyside): Leader here is cellist Jody Redhage, the composer of all but one tune and four group improvs. Song-oriented, the two singers are Leala Cyr (also trumpet) and Laila Biali (also piano) -- Redhage also has a voice credit, but listed after cello, whereas Cyr and Biali are credited with voice first -- with Sara Caswell (violin, mandolin) completing the group, except when guests Alan Ferber (trombone, 2 cuts) or Ben Wittman (percussion, 5 cuts) drop in. B+(*)
The Rosenthals: Fly Away (2013, American Melody): Phil Rosenthal plays banjo and sings, as he had with the bluegrass band Seldom Scene (1976-86). Daniel Rosenthal is Phil's son. He plays trumpet, notably in jazz big band Either/Orchestra. Phil is a pretty deadpan singer and he doesn't take any chances with his standard fare -- at most a little yodel, but the trumpet is a nice touch. B+(*)
Nick Sanders Trio: Nameless Neighbors (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, raised in New Orleans, based in New York; first album, a trio with Henry Fraser on bass and Connor Baker on drums, produced by Fred Hersch. The one thing that jumps out is the rumble on "Motor World" -- makes me wonder if his more delicate work has more going on than initially meets the ear. B+(*)
Benjamin Taubkin + Adriano Adewale: The Vortex Sessions (2010 , Adventure Music): Adewale is a percussionist, b. in Sao Paulo, Brazil; moved to UK in 2000; has an album under his own named group, another group called Sambura. Taubkin is a pianist, also from Brazil, with close to a dozen albums since 1998. These duets were recorded in London at Vortex Jazz Club. B+(*)
Joan Watson-Jones/Frank Wilkins: Quiet Conversations: A Duet (2012, Eye of Samantha): Standards singer, third album since 1998, accompanied by piano, nice and intimate. She did write two originals, buried near the end. Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately" is an inspired pick; Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" isn't. B+(*)
Frank Wess: Magic 101 (2011 , IPO): Tenor saxophonist -- also perhaps the most celebrated of all jazz flautists, but none of that here (other than a picture on the inside cover -- b. 1922 so he cut this just shy of 90, came up with Billy Eckstine and Lucky Millinder in the 1940s, was a key member of Count Basie's 1953-64 orchestra, probably cut his best albums in 1989-93 (Dear Mr. Basie, Entre Nous, Tryin' to Make My Blues Turn Green). Quartet: Kenny Barron (piano), Kenny Davis (bass), Winard Harper (drums). Seven standards: Monk, Ellington, "Come Rain or Come Shine," "The Very Thought of You." Slight but lovely. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: