Sunday, April 21. 2013
Some scattered links of special interest. Caught most of them today, which shows it isn't all that hard to find trouble these days:
Thursday, April 18. 2013
Some links and comments. Originally started last week, then postponed to mid-week, then a bit later:
Monday, April 15. 2013
Music: Current count 21275  rated (+18), 606  unrated (+1).
Not enough Jazz Prospecting to bother with this week -- just three notes in the scratch file. Can't point to the distraction of working on Rhapsody Streamnotes either -- just four records in my draft file there. Actually, most of the rated increase this week came from fixing bookkeeping errors, which I discovered while compiling this year's Downbeat Critics Poll ballot. My notes are here. Thought I'd get around to cleaning them up, expanding them a bit, and turning them into a post, but at this stage I might as well settle for a link. Besides, trying to rank musicians is somewhere between impossible and incoherent (if not quite malicious). I'm mostly looking for names I think could use a little more recognition.
Not sure what all happened last week. The Downbeat poll took a lot out of me. Also spent a couple days out of town, as I went to visit my last living aunt, 98 years old. Her dementia has gotten so bad that the best she can do is to acknowledge that she still recognizes someone in an old picture. She only knew me after prompting. I don't think she recognized her daughters when they showed up a couple days before. She has little physical strength -- is unable, for instance, to adjust her position in a chair. I baked a coconut cake, which she did enjoy. Not much one can do, other than appreciate small moments and gestures, and remember. When she was able to take care of herself she lived closer and I saw her much more often. We threw her a 90th birthday party, had 40-50 guests; she was completely at home with them. She may live to be 100, but that now seems like the last time to celebrate.
Spent more time with my cousins, who are a few years older than I am: they knew me when I was a baby, and remember their father, my uncle, who was killed in a car crash before I was two. I started to cry when I recalled the year one lived in Wichita: seems like her friendship and love was all that held me together that year. Also recall how her older sister guided me through the draft maze, where jail would have been preferable to the army -- again most likely saving my life. This could have been a very poignant week for me, but it seems like I spent the whole thing dumbstruck.
Should return with Jazz Prospecting next week -- probably a short one, but some choice records. Would be longer but it wouldn't be a bad idea to pick up some items for Rhapsody Streamnotes, plus I have ambitious plans for May's Recycled Goods.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, April 8. 2013
Music: Current count 21257  rated (+40), 605  unrated (+14).
The huge rated count is the result of working on May's 1960s-themed Recycled Goods, using Rhapsody rather obsessively to quickly check out items of interest (especially, but not exclusively, from Spin's list). It will be a while before all that appears. In the meantime, I almost forgot to do any jazz prospecting, but it's been a banner mail week, and I finally got inspired at the last minute.
Lots of distractions coming up this week, which will certainly cut into my listening time. Also need to knock off this year's Downbeat ballot, so I'll post my notes on that later this week. New Dave Douglas out this week, Time Travel. I've played the advance a lot, and held it back, as I'm still on the fence. One thing I will say is that it's certainly another feather in Jon Irabagon's cap.
Lot of incoming mail this week, including some things I'm really looking forward to.
Aguankó: Elemental (2012 , RKO): Alberto Nacif, conguero (plays congas), b. in Mexico, based in Michigan, has been in groups like Tumbao and Tumbao Bravo. First album for this group, with Jose Espinosa (b. in Havana, Cuba) on bongos, timbales, and guiro; Paul Finkbeiner on trumpet, Chris Smith on trombone, Wesley Reynoso on piano, and various others. Afro-Cuban jazz, sometimes relaxes a bit but feels plenty authentic to me. B+(***)
Anthony Branker & Word Play: Uppity (2012 , Origin): Composer, originally played trumpet but stopped after a medical problem; studied at Princeton, Miami, and Columbia, and directs the jazz program at Princeton. Sixth album, second with this group: Ralph Bowen (tenor sax) and Jim Ridl (piano) are the names you've likely heard of, plus trumpet (Eli Asher), trombone (Andy Hunter), bass (Kenny Davis), and drums (Donald Edwards). First two cuts are terrific, upbeat things just bubbling over. Less impressive when he gets solemn, with uncredited strings (Hunter also has a keyb credit) and Charmaine Lee's vocal fills on a Nigeria-themed number, but it builds to an impressive swell, whereas his similar "Ballad for Trayvon Martin" goes for elegiac simplicity. A-
Roger Chong: Live at the Trane (2012 , self-released, CD+DVD): Guitarist, based in Toronto, third album, live with a keyboards-bass-drums quartet. Originals plus three covers which provide up moments: "Exactly Like You," "Work Song," "Mo Better Blues." Light fare -- hype sheet cites George Benson and Norman Brown as his influences -- and sometimes the keyb seems in the way (but sometimes it kicks back a soul jazz vibe, or states the melody in a useful way). But it's played loose, always pleasurable, and interesting enough. B+(**)
Giacomo Gates: Miles Tones: Sings the Music of Miles Davis (2012 , Savant): Singer, from Connecticut, sixth album since 1995, but he got a late start and is probably in his 60s. The music, by or more often associated with Miles Davis, is an invitation to vocalese, which he handles ably enough -- he's one of the few singers around who can scat handily. B+(**)
The Kandinsky Effect: Synesthesia (2011 , Cuneiform): Sax trio, based in Paris, recorded this debut album in Iceland. Walter Walker, from California, is credited with "saxophone/effects," writes most of the pieces. Gaël Petrina (bass, effects), from Argentina, and Caleb Dollister (drums, laptop), from Reno or Nashville or Los Angeles and based in New York, complete the trio. Rhythm veers toward jazztronica without being overly electronic, just enough to provide a stable base for Walker to riff over. B+(***)
Daniel Lantz Trio: Plays Bond (2012 , Do Music): Pianist, b. 1976 in Sweden. Has two previous trio records, plus one record with "funk sextet" Beat Funktion. Trio includes Erik Ojala on bass and Daniel Olsson on drums, playing 12 themes from James Bond films. That should be pretty dull, but they make liberal use of two "featuring" artists, tenor saxophonist Roger Nordling and vocalist Sani Gamedze, and both do a fine job of rounding this out. B+(*)
El Niño Machuca: Searching Your South/Buscando tu Sur (2012 , Ozella): Guitarist, from Sevilla in Spain, signs his songs Paco Machuca (about half here). First album, accompanied by Neil Doyle (bass, flugelhorn), Javi Ceballas (Spanish guitar), jaleos and handclaps. B+(**)
Rob Mazurek Octet: The Skull Sessions (2011 , Cuneiform): Chicago-based cornet player, part of Chicago Underground, also São Paulo Underground, combines both angles here and then some. The Brazilian contingent: Mauricio Takara (cavaquinho [a ukulele], percussion), Guilherme Granado (keyboards, electronica), Thomas Rohrer (rabeca [a fiddle], C melody sax), and Carlos Issa (guitar, electronics). From Chicago: Nicole Mitchell (piccolo, flute, voice), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), John Herndon (drums), and Mazurek. Combination is busy, noisy, chaotic. Helps to focus on the cornet, which usually soars above, or the sheer energy vibe, especially when the cornet is engulfed. B+(***)
Reg Schwager/Michel Lambert: Trio Improvisations (2001-02 , Jazz From Rant): Guitarist Schwager was b. 1962 in Netherlands, moved to New Zealand when he was 3, moved again at 6 to Canada, based now in Toronto. Has a handful of albums since 1985. Drummer Lambert plays with François Carrier and Maïkotron Unit. To make a trio they add Misha Mengelberg (piano), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), or Michael Stuart (sax, probably tenor) for three improv cuts each. Mengelberg and Wheeler are very famous and acquit themselves well. Stuart isn't famous: b. 1948 in Jamaica, moved to Toronto in 1969, did a tour with Elvin Jones but has scant discography. (AMG gives him a couple dozen credits, but many are for engineering classical recordings, and some are dubious -- e.g., playing percussion on Love's Forever Changes.) His cuts are as strong as the stars', making him someone I'd like to hear more from. B+(***)
Jacky Terrasson: Gouache (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1966 in Germany, has about 15 albums since breaking in on Blue Note in 1994. Very eclectic here, trying lots of things -- some electric, a few cuts with bass clarinet (Michel Portal) or flugelhorn (Stephane Belmondo), two vocal cuts (Cécile McLorin Salvant), non-vocal covers of Justin Bieber and Amy Winehouse, a couple pieces that celebrate his own fleetness (one called "Try to Catch Me"). Pretty much all works, too. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 7. 2013
Occasionally I look at No More Mister Nice Blog, and a couple posts on practical politics caught my interest. One asks, Why Gay Marriage and Not Other Issues? Indeed, we're suddenly seeing an astonishing amount of progress on gay marriage at the same time far right Republicans, at least where they've seized power, are passing draconian anti-abortion laws, are restructuring tax bases to even more favor the rich, are underming public employee unions and bankrupting school systems -- all things that are vastly unpopular according to every known poll, but they seem to be able to run roughshod anyway. So, why gay marriage?
One can think of a few other reasons: that at least some politically connected big donors are gay or otherwise deeply engaged in this issue, so there's actually money behind this issue; that gay people are often well-regarded, and well-publicized, celebrities; that nearly everyone knows actual gay people and increasingly respects them; that marriage reinforces the conservative "family values" meme; that anti-gays almost always are recognized now (mostly for the reasons above) as ignorant louts. The latter is perhaps the biggest change: perhaps as recently as ten years ago homosexuals were the last group it was respectable to hate. And bigotry is one of those traits that thrives in crowds: it is a chit to join the crowd, and thereby the crowd validates your own base instincts. But as the mob thins out, people become more reluctant to join in. A decade ago right-wing preachers led the assault, but more and more they stand alone, losing their cloak of community leadership and turning into dead-end cranks.
Of course, one other reason is that gay marriage doesn't change anything else that really matters. It does nothing to reverse the slide toward economic inequality. It has nothing to do with the financialization of the economy. It offers virtually no support for job security or social security. It doesn't touch the culture of corruption that pervades politics and the media. It won't stop us from going to war. And the list could go on and on. One reason lack of a marriage option discriminates against gays is that it makes it harder to get health insurance. Gay marriage helps that problem, but only very marginally -- the real solution there is universal health insurance.
But I think the author is right, that the main reason is that there has been an organized political movement to advance equal rights for gays. That also is the case for marijuana legalization, which also in the last decade has gone from something no politician would dare talk about to something that has begun to poll favorably -- one recent poll gives it majority support. Yet other issues (abortion and guns most obviously) trend the opposite way, even against popular opinion, largely because they have intense pressure groups that can be effective given the general corruptness of the political system.
Here's another quote from No More Mister Nice Blog (I guess we'll have to call him NMMN), starting with the observation that there's something like 90% support for background checks for gun sales, but nobody's going to make that happen, because a small number of gun nuts are much more organized than the masses who'd like to keep guns away from the crazy and malicious:
I could go into a screed here about how corrupt the political system is, and how we need to get the money out of it, but that still wouldn't account for the intensity advantage that single-issue obsessives have over general interests, or the advantage that private interests have over public concerns. What's needed there is some kind of organization drive to counter all the other organized interests. One can look to a few examples in history. We tend to view unions as a special interest group now, but that wasn't always the case: during their peak period (in the US), they tended to take a broader view. The civil rights movement, and the new left movements of the late-1960s and early-1970s -- anti-war, women's rights, environmental concerns, consumer interests -- each served to unify broad swathes of the populace, and had significant effects at least at the time (not that they've stuck around the defend our gains).
I don't have a full proposal ready to go here, but for me the key issue of our time is reversing inequality and building public goods to increase the general wealth. Back around 1935, Huey Long set up a national network of political clubs to support his run for president, and he came up with a slogan that fits the times today as well as it did then: Share the Wealth. Long's own thinking on this wasn't very well developed -- he mostly came up with redistribution schemes, not that there's no need for that -- but the sentiment is right, plus he hitched the slogan to the organizational drive needed to promote it. This is only the germ of an idea, but it's the right combination.
Thursday, April 4. 2013
Short month. Not only did I not work on this much during the month, I put virtually no time into topping it off. Given more focus, it might have grown more. I noticed the Leon Thomas sets in my metacritic lists, and was prepared to dig up more like that. And the Baobab comps finally showed up on Rhapsody, making me wonder if more sets like that lurk somewhere. But I got sidetracked, taking a look at Spin's "alternative" 1960s list, and holding my first reviews there back for May. So short, scattered month this time. Big 1960s theme next time. Balances out, more or less.
Note the ACN this month. In particular, Supersnazz is probably the best truly "alternative" album left off Spin's list (look for "Spin - Alternative 1960's" toward the bottom). Another new reissue that I won't be writing about because it's an old (A+) record to me is Swamp Dogg's 1970 masterpiece, Total Destruction to Your Mind, on Alive Natural Sounds. Had it come out a year earlier, it should have come close to topping Spin's list.
Machito and His Afro-Cubans: Ritmo Caliente (1941-51 , Proper, 4CD): Born Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, probably in Havana, Cuba in 1908, moved to New York in 1937 and founded his big band, singing and playing maraccas, in 1940 with trumpeter Mario Bauza. The first disc here covers 1941-42 before he got drafted. The second disc picks him up in 1947 playing with Chano Pozo, and follows him through numerous live shots (Royal Roost, Birdland), running through a long list of singers and bouncing off such notable jazz musicians as Howard McGhee, Milt Jackson, Brew Moore, and Zoot Sims. Not as clear or consistent as his later 1951-57 Mambo Mucho Mambo: The Complete Columbia Masters (Columbia/Legacy), but important in its time, the flip-side to Dizzy Gillespie's Latin-leaning bebop. B+(**)
Leon Thomas: The Creator 1969-1973: The Best of the Flying Dutchman Masters (1969-73 , BGP): In a simpler time, he would have been a classic blues shouter. In the late 1960s he was networking with Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Oliver Nelson. He got his fluke hit with Sanders, "The Creator Has a Master Plan," and a record contract that ran five years and six albums, all long out of print. Early on he tried to continue the cosmic-black-power-funk vibe from Sanders and Shepp, to which he added a yodel that sounds weirder now than it did then, and when he ran out of new ideas he reverted to shouted blues and soft soul moves. I've sampled these records lightly, and always imagined that someone could pull a great compilation out of them. But this isn't it. I don't know whether that's because they avoided both the political cuts -- no "Dam Nam (Ain't Goin' to Vietnam)" -- and the long ones -- no "Pharoah's Tune (The Journey)" and a shorter "Umbo Weti" -- or they just failed to look beyond his headline albums to the side credits where he made his mark. B+(*) [R]
Bettie Serveert: Palomine (1992, Matador): Debut album for a still-extant Dutch guitar band fronted by Carol Van Dijk; they later developed their knack for pop hooks as well as guitar depth, but the straightforward presence of the singer wins out here. B+(**)
Samuel Blaser Quartet: Boundless (2010 , Hatology): Swiss trombonist, reprised this group -- Marc Ducret (guitar), Banz Oester (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums) -- on the new As the Sea, interesting enough to want to work my way back; one suite in four parts, much less up front, especially from the guitarist. B+(*) [bc]
Dur-Dur Band: Volume 5 (1987 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): From Somalia, a few years before the civil war, the Bush mission, "black hawk down," Al-Qaida, the Ethiopian invasion, piracy and drone warfare turned the country into such a shithole; recorded at Radio Mogadishu, presumably after other volumes which seem to have disappeared without a trace; not groundbreaking or earthshaking, but catchy, danceable, pleasing, peaceable, and picks up its game a bit when a female singer takes over. B+(***) [R]
Mac Gollehon: La Fama (1980-96 , self-released): Live big band shots from early in the trumpeter's career, backed with lots of Latin tinge percussion, setting up trumpet which is, to use the leader's favorite word, smokin'. B+(**)
Scott Healy-Glenn Alexander Quartet: Northern Light (1991 , Hudson City): Alexander is a light fusion guitarist with three albums 1987-96; Healy is a studio pianist associated with Conan O'Brien who decided to get ambitious and launch a label behind his big band project; this is an old tape dusted off to flesh out the label catalog. B
Moreno and L'Orch First Moja-One: Sister Pili + 2 (1977-83 , Sterns Africa): Four cuts from Batamba Wendo Morris, born in the Congo and emigrated to Kenya as did the guitar-driven soukous of his 1983 album, here padded out with some 1977 tracks from Tabu Ngongo not notably different in any way important -- more irrepressible groove from the guitar paradise of East Africa. A- [R]
New Order: Lost Sirens (2003-04 , Rhino): Outtakes from the sessions that produced Waiting for the Sirens' Call -- the last New Order album, or at least the last one with bassist Peter Cook; nothing extra memorable, but it all sounds right, and maybe half hits the groove/grind that made them legends. B+(**) [R]
Orchestra Baobab: La Belle Époque (1971-77 , Syllart, 2CD): Discographical experts worry about how much of this intersects previous comps On Verra Ça and N'Wolof, so caveat emptor; this promises a deeper history of Senegal's second greatest band, completist enough to start with a handful of crappy live tracks, but they're forgotten by the time they hit their stride. A- [R]
Orchestra Baobab: La Belle Epoque Volume 2 (1973-76 , Syllart, 2CD): Much more, and without recourse to the booklet or an authoritative discography, much more obscure, the early sides deeper voiced, the later sides thicker with guitar, both louder than the previous volume; a bit less essential, I'd say, but it still feels like a major band. [NB: Rhapsody also lists a Volume 3, with the same cover art, and a song list matching the second disc of Volume 2.] A- [R]
The World Needs Changing: Street Funk & Jazz Grooves 1967-1976 (1967-76 , BGP): Never politically explicit enough to qualify as a "black power" compilation, even on the Gil Scott-Heron cut, while the jazz grooves tend toward perfunctory -- Groove Holmes, Lonnie Liston Smith, leaving the musical highlight Little Eva Harris medleying "Get Ready" and "Uptight." B+(*)
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 106, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3616 (3179 + 437).
Additional Consumer News
I ran across a company called Culture Factory which makes what it calls "Compact-Disc Deluxe Vinyl Replicas": compact discs with single or gatefold cardboard jackets matching the original LP cover artwork (except much smaller), the discs themselves black finish as if vinyl. So far they have 96 releases, mostly 1970s reissues. I went through the catalog and picked out the items I have database grades on their original issues. List follows:
Other artists reissued by the label: 38 Special; Bob Welch, Chris Spedding; Diana Ross and/or the Supremes, Hot Tuna, James Taylor, Jean-Patrick Capdevielle [label appears to be French-owned], Kim Carnes, Kim Wilde, Martha Davis, Martin Circus, Moon Martin, Murray Head, Paul Collins, Rare Earth, Starshooter, The Motels, The Romantics, Triangle, Variations, Walter Egan, Wang Chung, Wishbone Ash, plus they have three original soundtracks.
Wednesday, April 3. 2013
Missed Weekend Roundup on Sunday -- was working on another post that didn't quite work out -- but I hit a few scattered links today that I might as well post now.
Monday, April 1. 2013
Music: Current count 21217  rated (+29), 591  unrated (-4).
Average week. Blah, blah, blah. Some new stuff in the queue may be promising, but the old stuff I've been playing (not to mention the even older stuff I'm still avoiding) hasn't offered much -- minor surprises from Reinmar Henschke and Monica Ramey, steady improvement from Edward Simon, a Chicago avant quartet that has never matched high expectations.
Should have a short Recycled Goods by the end of the week. Don't expect to add much to it, as I've started thinking about doing one on 1960s music, so my mind has already wandered off.
Antonio Adolfo: Finas Misturas (2012 , Adventure Music): Pianist from Brazil, has close to 20 albums since 1992. Half originals, half jazz covers (Coltrane, Gillespie, Evans, Jarrett, Corea), with two guitarists, bass, drums, and Marcelo Martins on tenor sax and flute. B+(*)
Akua Allrich: Live!: Uniquely Standard (2012, self-released): Singer, from Washington, DC; second album, a live one with one-and-a-half originals, the standards doubling up on Nina Simone. Allrich can be a fierce, riveting singer, as the first half of "Black Coffee" shows, but she has no restraints and can scat with the worst of them, as the second half of "Black Coffee" proves, not to mention the worst version of "Afro Blue" I've ever heard. B-
Caswell Sisters: Alive in the Singing Air (2012 , Turtle Ridge): Sara Caswell is a violinist, two albums under her name, more than a dozen side credits. Her solos here are fine, articulate, and get some real lift from pianist Fred Hersch, who does more here than any singer can ask. The other Caswell is Rachel, singer, working a standards songbook. Main complaint with her is the excessive scat, although her lyrics don't stick with you either. B-
The Engines w/John Tchicai: Other Violets (2011-12 , Not Two): Chicago quartet -- Dave Rempis (saxes), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Nate McBride (bass), and Tim Daisy (drums) -- playing live with the soon-to-be-late Afro-Danish saxophonist John Tchicai. Gets off to a rather slow start, perhaps the band too deferential to their guest, or their guest slow to suss out the band, but it picks up significantly toward the end. B+(***)
Lisa Forkish: Bridges (2012 , self-released): Oakland-based singer, originally from Oregon; second album, wrote a little more than half of the songs -- covers include "For What It's Worth," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "No More Blues" (Jobim, of course, and possibly the best thing here). Didn't sink in, but I did enjoy hearing "solidarity" in a song. B+(*)
Reinmar Henschke: On Air (2009 , Ozella): Pianist, b. 1959 in Germany; looks like his eighth album since 1988, although this is the only one AMG lists. Piano and keyb tracked with percussion and electronics, with bits of guest sax, vibes, guitar, percussion, clarinet, flute. Before I could sneer "pop jazz" it started growing on me, the rhythm figures hypnotic, the piano a bit sumptuous. One vocal, in English by Pascal von Wroblewsky (a name to remember) is a plus. B+(***)
Lisa Kirchner: Umbrellas in Mint (2012 , Verdant World): Singer-songwriter, sixth album since 2000, although her musical experience goes back further, all the way to being daughter of classical composer Leon Kirchner, whose work she has produced. Wrote all the songs this time, in contrast to her 2011 album, where she wrote lyrics to pieces by modern classical composers from Ives to Marsalis. Group here includes Xavier Davis (piano), Sherman Irby (sax), Ron Jackson (guitar), and "Bill" Schimmel (accordion). Moves along smartly, the lyrics engaging. B+(**)
The Dave Lalama Big Band: The Hofstra Project (2012 , Lalama Music): Pianist, teaches at Hofstra, pulled this big band together from Hofstra alumni, including tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama (seems to be his brother). Lalama learned his craft with Woody Herman, as should be clear from the punchy section work (not that anyone steps up to play clarinet). Not much more, though. B
Steve Owen: Stand Up Eight (2011 , OA2): Just composer-arranger here, but plays sax elsewhere. Big band, conducted by Dan Gailey, some names I recognize in the reeds -- Todd DelGiudice, Don Aliquo. Owen studied at UNT and University of Northern Colorado, and teaches at University of Oregon. First record, as far as I can tell, although he appears on similar big band efforts by Dan Gailey and Dan Cavanagh -- probably a lot of intersection in those groups. Wrote 7 of 9 pieces, covering Cole Porter and Radiohead. He gets a wide range of effects, many I don't care for, although the spoken word and shadings of "State of the Union" is an exception, and the solo spots are striking. B
Bill Peterson Trio: Ruby Diamond (2011 , Summit): Pianist, teaches at Florida State, first album, a trio with Rodney Jordan on bass and Jamison Ross on drums. Mostly originals (one by Jordan, also "Shenandoah" by trad.), mostly shout outs to fellow pianists ("Thelonious," "Horace," "Oscar," "McCoy," "Bob James," "Mr. Wynton Kelly"; "Marcus" is probably Roberts -- Jordan came from his trio). Solid grounding. B+(**)
Monica Ramey: And the Beegie Adair Trio (2012 , Adair Music Group): Standards singer, second album, rolls out 14 songs, 72 minutes, backed by Adair's piano trio plus horn spots for George Tidwell (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Dennis Soles (saxes, flute). As is often the case, this rises or slips on the songs -- "I Thought About You" caught my ear, then the pairing of "Witchcraft" and "This Could Be the Start of Something Big" -- but she frames them nicely, can turn on the gusto or sass or take a delicate ballad. The band does the job, which is all it really takes. B+(***)
Edward Simon Trio: Live in New York at Jazz Standard (2010 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from Venezuela, a dozen or so albums since 1993, at least three with this trio: John Patitucci (bass) and Brian Blade (drums). Live they stretch out on five long pieces, three Simon originals and covers of Jobim and Coltrane. Bright, lively piano jazz. B+(***)
Dayna Stephens: That Nepenthetic Place (2012 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1978, third album since 2007, I recognize him more as a sideman -- looking at his credits list I see few memorable albums, but looking at my notes he was repeatedly the standout musician on those albums. Quartet -- Taylor Eigsti (piano), Joe Sanders (bass), Justin Brown (drums) -- plus guests on scattered tracks: Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Jaleel Shaw (alto sax), Gretchen Parlato (vocals). The vocal feature's slow burn is nice in itself, the horns more dynamic, the tenor again the best thing here. Looked up "nepenthetic" and didn't find anything (else). B+(**)
Michael Webster: Momentus (2011 , OA2): Tenor saxophonist, from Ottawa, Canada; studied at Manhattan School of Music, based in New York. Second album, expansive postbop with Ingrid Jensen's trumpet/flugelhorn for contrast, Jesse Lewis on guitar, Chris Dingman on vibes, plus bass and drums. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Thursday, March 28. 2013
After a short February, up to 56 records this month. Most of the good ones were first identified elsewhere -- cf. Jason Gubbels on Bomba Estéreo; Christgau flagged Monroe, Musgraves, Nash, Overall, and Waxahatchee, although sometimes Michael Tatum and/or Gubbels got there first. They also got to Stampfel first, but I wound up enjoying the hoedown more than they did, while other picks left me with reservations. The only prime record here I can claim to have found myself is the 2008 kiss-off to our former president. I may have cut it a bit of grade slack, but I appreciate the sentiment, not to mention the analysis.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on February 26. Past reviews and more information are available here (3227 records).
Ellen Allien: LISm (2011-12 , Bpitch Control): Ellen Fraatz, born and lives in Berlin, fourteenth album since 2001, just one 44:58 track, a soundtrack for dancers. Mostly synths, some spoken word, the themes shifting around but captivating. B+(***)
ASAP Rocky: Long. Live. ASAP (2013, Polo Grounds/RCA): Rakim Mayers, loves those dollar signs, jumped from a well-received freebie mixtape to major label much like Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar last year, except he neglected to come up with a more impressive record. Still, two songs in the middle stand out: the Skrillex-remixed "Wild for the Night" and "1Train" with Lamar and more mixtape all-stars. Before that he gets by on Clams Casino beats, and afterwards he doesn't. B+(**)
Autechre: Exai (2013, Warp, 2CD): Electronica duo, Rob Brown and Sean Booth, eleventh album since 1993, basic beats and blips in a matrix that suggests primitivism but has more going on. Runs long, rarely a problem. B+(***)
Bilal: A Love Surreal (2013, E1): Neo-soul guy from Philadelphia, dropped an album in 2001 then the label shelved his follow-up and it took him a decade to regroup. Does a nice job here, although subtlety seems to always be the neo-soul trap. B+(**)
Bomba Estéreo: Elegancia Tropical (2012 , Soundway): Colombian group, has a couple albums, closer to house than to cumbia, forsaking the latter's grind for hints among Simón Mejía's loops and bass lines, topped with Liliana Saumet's cagey vocals. A-
David Bowie: The Next Day (2013, Columbia): Last of his records I have graded in my database: 1983's Let's Dance. This is his 13th since then, as steady as his 1967-83 production, where I only missed his debut and one or two more. So score this as a comeback, a batch of new songs that manage to sound identifiably like the old songs, especially c. Heroes (whose cover pic is recycled here but mostly blotted out). B+(*)
Cakes Da Killa: The Eulogy (2013, Mishka): The "MacArthur Park" intro is as hoary as "Also Sprach Zarathustra," but the Coochie speed-rap is promising, at least until dissolving into giggles. B+(**) [bc]
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Push the Sky (2013, Bad Seeds): Someone I was warned away from early and never took an interest in, although with twenty-some records since 1979 he has both a critical and popular following. So he'd be a project if I wanted one that bad. Indeed, this is listenable (albeit dark and moody), and "Jubilee Street" got me thinking of Leonard Cohen, at least until "I got a fetus on a leash" reminded me that words matter, and so does the music. B
Chelsea Light Moving: Chelsea Light Moving (2013, Matador): Thurston Moore's post-divorce incarnation of Sonic Youth, missing Kim Gordon -- always the human touch that elevated the band from good to great -- and perhaps adding an uncharacteristic bit of restraint, like he senses that this is no time to push buttons or breach borders. B+(**)
J Cole: Yours Truly (2013, self-released, EP): Five cuts, reportedly outtakes from an unfinished album, not much time but the tempo is so relaxed they stretch out nicely. The Spanish guitar sample in "Can I Holla at Ya" is perfect, the synth on "Crunch Time" comes close, the angst for "ODB" wanders into hood lore, you make your own bed, but you don't get to pick the sheets. B+(***) [dl]
Dub Colossus: Dub Me Tender, Vols. 1 & 2 (2011 , Real World): Jamaican-Ethiopian fusion, a marriage no doubt sanctioned by Jah. My sources leave the Ethiopians anonymous, while citing Nick Page, aka Dubulah, who presumably mixes up the brew. The single CD rolls up an earlier LP (Volume 1), expanding 8 tracks to 14 (hence Volume 2). More complex and less mannered than most dub; still rolls along effortlessly, like it should. B+(**)
Mary Flower: Misery Loves Company (2011, Yellow Dog): From Indiana, once led a group called the Mother Folkers, has close to ten albums leaning heavily on blues, which she sings straightforwardly, like no big deal. B+(**)
Ben Goldberg: Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues (2008 , BAG): Clarinet player, has a dozen or so albums since 1992 not counting membership in New Klezmer Trio, Tin Hat, Myra Melford's Be Bread, etc. Joshua Redman's tenor sax blends in with the clarinet, but Ron Miles' trumpet breaks free, and provides most of the excitement. Goldberg also plays contra-alto clarinet, deepening Devin Hoff's bass. And while the group doesn't need two drummers, he evidenlty couldn't decide, so went with both of his regulars: Ches Smith and Scott Amendola. B+(***)
Ben Goldberg: Unfold Ordinary Mind (2012 , BAG): Clarinetist, arranged this group to feature his E-flat contra alto clarinet ("a weird member of the family, pitched below the bass clarinet"), with two tenor saxes at least nominally as the lead horns (Ellery Eskelin, Rob Sudduth), Nels Cline on guitar, and Ches Smith on drums. Goldberg's idea was to use his clarinet like a bass, but it's so resonant with the saxes it adds a deep well to the harmony -- except when Cline gets excited and turns this into some kind of heavy metal. B+(**)
Good Riddance, George W. Bush (2008, Selector Series): "Kill yourself," advises Immortal Technique. Mr. Lif adds, "You manifest evil." Ted Leo remains "Loyal to My Sorrowful Country," James Blood Ulmer moans over "Katrina," Sharon Jones plays the tax card, Ministry declaims "Señor Peligro," and the Blakes urge us, "don't send your money to Washington/to fight a war that's never done." This slipped out unnoticed in December 2008, ignored for the sake of hope and change, but we let him off the hook too easy. Hell, even these ten artists cut the vile motherfucker more slack than is called for. Like they say about the Holocaust: never forget. A-
Wycliffe Gordon: Dreams of New Orleans (2012, Chesky): Trombone player, could be the real life analogue of the trombone star in Treme except that he's generally more versatile -- just not here, where he not only recycles the old tunes but built a band with banjo and tuba to keep them sounding old. Why they're so subdued is another story. B
Emmylou Harris/Rodney Crowell: Old Yellow Moon (2013, Nonesuch): Crowell wrote 4 of 12 songs -- no idea whether they are new, but they needn't be, especially with Harris writing nada. She remains the greatest backing singer in country music, and she meshes as well with Crowell as she did with Gram Parsons -- enough delight to put the album over, plus they're both smart enough to pick songs worth hearing. B+(**)
Iceage: You're Nothing (2013, Matador): Danish rock band, seemed to have some promise on their 2011 debut but just get louder, heavier, denser, and dumber here. B
Koby Israelite: Blues From Elsewhere (2013, Asphalt Tango): London-based Israeli, plays everything but seems to prefer accordion, has several albums on Tzadik which I'd guess are more klezmerish, but on this Berlin gypsy label he zigs and zags and winds up no where in particular: a tough "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is followed by "East of Nashville" and "Bulgarian Boogie," winds up with "Just Cliches" and "Kashmir" (yep, Led Zeppelin's). B
Kool A.D.: 63 (2013, self-released): Das Racist MC, the less funny one, answers for his laziness by dropping two simultaneous mixtapes, named for Oakland bus lines that may or may not still run. Content? Well, it's supposed to spontaneously flow, but nearly every song has a "feat." or a guest "prod." to mix up the chemistry. B+(**) [bc]
Kool A.D.: 19 (2013, self-released): More, more, more, so much I figure this for the outtakes, but mostly because I recognize so few of the guest "feat." and "prod." credits, the more recognizable names kin the titles (like "Jaleel White" and "Jenny Holzer" and "Kriss Kross"). B+(*) [bc]
Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House: Strong Place (2012 , Intakt): German saxophonist, alto mostly, avant, has played with a lot of great musicians lately and is almost always the weakest one on their albums, not really spoiling things but making you wonder why Tony Malaby wasn't available. Here she rounds up four of them -- Kris Davis (piano), Mary Halvorson (guitar), John Hébert (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums) -- and they slow down to her speed. They even make it work, but it takes a while to get into it. B+(*)
Local Natives: Hummingbird (2013, Frenchkiss): Second album, falsetto singer and keybs tweaked high, threatening to break into something catchy, which would probably be even worse. B-
The Lone Bellow: The Lone Bellow (2013, Descendant): Three singers, Zach Williams dominant and mandolinist Kanene Doherty Pipkin his better half, play "Brooklyn country music": I wasn't sure what that meant until I heard an Eagles lick and tried mapped that onto the Dodgers, reversing their move from Flatbush to Chavez Ravine. OK, that doesn't help much. How about the Lumineers crossed with the post-crash Lynyrd Skynyrd? B-
Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition: White Buffalo (2012 , Fat Possum/Turnstile): Ex-Squirrel Nut Zipper, has a solo career now that straddles blues and Americana, grasping the forms while missing the point of each -- or at least not expressing it very well. B
The Mavericks: In Time (2013, Valory): Country-rock group, emerged in 1991, had a pretty good album in 1994 (What a Crying Shame), and never really folded up despite efforts from leader Raul Malo and others to pursue solo careers. More Tex-Mex this time, maybe with a dash of Cuban spice, like they're trying to turn into the Los Lobos of Miami. Choice cut: "As Long as There's Loving Tonight"; dud: "(Call Me) When You Get to Heaven." B
Pat Metheny: The Ochestrion Project (2012 , Nonesuch, 2CD): The guitarist's one-man band project, a room full of instruments that can be controlled from the guitar. The gear got a studio workout in 2010's Orchestrion album. Here it goes on the road. May be neat visually, but winds up a bit thin, something more than solo guitar, but not an awful lot. B
Ashley Monroe: Like a Rose (2013, Warner Brothers): Had an EP and an unreleased album as a teenager, joined Miranda Lambert as one-third of the Pistol Annies, and got another album shot here. It's a thin one, nine songs, 31:50, but most stick with you, and she has a lot more voice than Kacey Musgraves. Also has co-credits on all the songs, and a Blake Shelton duet at the end that drops two names and dismisses all too readily. A-
Gurf Morlix: Finds the Present Tense (2013, Rootball): Lucinda Williams' ex-lots-of-things, doesn't have much of a voice but can carve a song out of the blues and managed to write several good ones here, the one about guns ("Bang Bang Bang") especially right on. B+(***)
Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer Different Park (2013, Mercury Nashville): Young country singer from Texas, has a piece (but not all) of every writing credit. Not a huge voice, not much twang, but pleasantly effective, as are the twelve songs, with "Follow Your Arrow" likely to emerge as an anthem, albeit a modestly stated one. A-
Kate Nash: Girl Talk (2013, INgrooves): Third album, following two of the brighter Brit-pop records of the past decade -- not that she came close to Lily Allen. Here she kicks up the volume, tightens the rhythms toward punk. This has been roundly panned, but I liked it fine on first spin, and keep finding new things when I replay it. A-
Next Collective: Cover Art (2012 , Concord): Up and coming jazz stars -- Logan Richardson (alto sax) is the one I've been most impressed with, but also Walter Smith III (tenor sax), Matthew Stevens (guitar), Gerald Clayton (piano), Kris Bowers (keybs), Ben Williams (bass), Jamire Williams (drums), plus a couple guest spots for Christian Scott (trumpet), covering rock and rap tunes. For the most part, the instrumentation and flexibility win out, the songs losing their character and melding together into nothing much at all. B-
Kassa Overall: Stargate Mixtape (2011, Greedhead): Drummer, has some jazz cred working with Geri Allen and Peter Evans, some hip-hop with Das Racist and Kool AD, tries his own mixtape, rapping a little, along with the flow. No doc on who does what, where the samples come from, or whatever. A- [dl]
Pantha du Prince & the Bell Laboratory: Elements of Light (2013, Rough Trade): German electronica producer Hendrik Weber goes with the bells this time -- rack bells, hand bells, blossom bells, tubular bells, dobachis, gong, triangle, vibes, marimba, waterphone, all sorts of drums and percussion -- and winds up with a nice slice of ambience. B+(**)
Madeleine Peyroux: The Blue Room (2013, Emarcy): Jazz singer, close in style and phrasing to Billie Holiday, comes up with an interesting song selection this time, most successfully country tunes ("Take These Chains," "Born to Lose," "I Can't Stop Loving You," "You Don't Know Me"), although the real prize is Randy Newman's "Guilty," which shines clear of Vince Mendoza's strings -- something otherwise promising songs from Leonard Cohen and Warren Zevon fail at. B+(**)
Pissed Jeans: Honeys (2013, Sub Pop): Hardcore, I guess, from Allentown, PA, which left them with a chip on their shoulders. Wonder if I'd like them better if I could lift the words out of the murk, but when I can, I don't. B-
Pye Corner Audio: Black Mill Tapes Volume 1: Avant Shards (2010, self-released, EP): Described as a selection of 1/4" and cassette tape transfers, this has an old-fashioned synth sound, mild ambient rather than danceable, short at 27:11. B+(*) [bc]
Pye Corner Audio: Black Mill Tapes Volume 2: Do You Synthesize? (2011, self-released, EP): Same idea, similar sense that we're dealing with an earlier generation of synths, but the emphasis leads to more variety, even if the final fadeout is pure ambience. A bit longer at 32:46, but that's just what you can stream -- the product packages seem to vary. B+(*) [bc]
Pye Corner Audio: Black Mill Tapes Volume 3: All Pathways Open (2012, self-released): At 12 tracks, 44:06 (plus a higher list price), we won't tag this one as an EP. The guy who assembled these "tape transfers" calls himself the Head Technician. Still, these feel less like technical exercises than basic IDM, which is more than just the addition of some beats (although the beats are critical). B+(**) [bc]
Rhye: Woman (2013, Polydor): Electronica merger, Milosh (Mike Milosh, from Canada but living in Berlin) and Quadron (Robin Hannibal, from Denmark), first album. Not much beat to it, and no idea about the singer (reportedly Milosh mimicking Sade). B
Carrie Rodriguez: Give Me All You Got (2013, Ninth Street Opus): Country singer, plays fiddle, came up working with songwriter Chip Taylor, went solo in 2008 and continues to get her act together. B+(**)
Caitlin Rose: The Stand-In (2013, ATO): Third album for the singer-songwriter, has a countryish matter-of-fact style and can belt them out. B+(*)
Boz Scaggs: Memphis (2013, 429): Old coot cranks out an easy-going blues album, working in a Steely Dan song for a jazz tinge. Not sure if his voice is shot or he's just resting it, nor that it matters. B+(**)
Sex Mob: Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti: Sex Mob Plays Fellini (2013, The Royal Potato Family): Meaning the music of Nino Rota, of course. The group -- Steven Bernstein (trumpet), Briggan Krauss (alto/baritone sax), Tony Scherr (electric bass), Kenny Wollesen (percussion) -- has been around since 1998, aiming (mostly) at avant-jazz takes on pop culture (Sex Mob Does Bond was an early title). Fellini may seem high-brow, but they rough him up plenty, much of the music still tends toward the sublime. B+(***)
The Slide Brothers: Robert Randolph Presents: The Slide Brothers (2013, Concord): Sacred pedal steel "icons" -- Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell, Darick Campbell, Aubrey Ghent -- serve up eleven gospelish blues covers, with "My Sweet Lord" the furthest stretch and sorriest result. B
Son Volt: Honky Tonk (2013, Rounder): Jay Farrar's post-Uncle Tupelo group, founded 1995, shelved 1999, returned 2005. Title suggests a deeper twang to the usual country-rock, but this settles into a pleasant, dusty sameness, like the abused plains. B+(*)
Alexander Spit: A Breathtaking Trip to That Otherside (2013, Decon): Underground rapper, the beats functional even though he's hoping to hop around the universe. B+(**)
Peter Stampfel & the Ether Frolic Mob: The Sound of America (2013, Frederick Productions/Red Newt): Can't find credits so don't know where these songs came from, much less who beyond the utterly unmistakable leader sings or plays, but "Deep in the Heart of Texas" is a cover given previously unfathomed depth, and the others are most likely relative obscurities. The group dynamic is hootenany with a dash of Spike Jones. A-
Tegan and Sara: Heartthrob (2013, Vapor/Sire): Canadian duo, started folkie but have fleshed their sound out with pop hooks and rock drums. Gives them a sound, all right, and I suspect they have some songs, but none grabbed me right away. B+(**)
They Might Be Giants: Nanobots (2013, Idlewild): Hard to overstate how much I loved their eponymous 1986 debut, but nothing since then has come anywhere close, and there's been an awful lot of it. Not that they haven't produced witty songs -- just nothing so deliciously sublime. This one is tempting. For one thing the music seems tougher and more sinewy than usual, and of course there's much to think about, including yet another song about Tesla. For it does drag on for 25 songs: excess remains their trademark. B+(***)
Richard Thompson: Electric (2013, New West): Thirty years since Shoot Out the Lights and he still sounds incomplete, although he's standing up strong on his own, his anger toned down -- aside from a song about needing his enemy -- the tempos moderate, no more guitar flash than is needed to sustain his rep, and he saves the good stuff for the closer. B+(**)
Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience (2013, RCA): Boy group crooner turned dance-pop star, although he didn't spend the seven-year gap between his second and third albums working very hard, at least on the music -- the best stuff here sounds like watered-down Prince ("Strawberry Bubblegum" most explicitly). A couple morsels could pan out -- "Tunnel Vision" tempted me, but then I played it again. B+(*)
Torres: Torres (2013, self-released): Debut album, songs credited to Mackenzie Scott, 22, Nashville-based, no whiff of country in her voice or guitar -- more like Liz Phair, but slower, deeper into herself, less inclined to just say "fuck it," which is what this introspection needs. B+(**)
Waxahatchee: American Weekend (2012, Don Giovanni): Played this year-old debut after the new one. Eleven songs, 33:50, Feels crude and cramped, the voice struggling to be heard over the guitar strum, succeeding when she tones it down. B+(*)
Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt (2013, Don Giovanni): Katie Crutchfield, who had a punk band called P.S. Eliot with her twin sister Allison, alone here, sounding very alone with little but guitar shaping small songs on everyday subjects -- although occasional bass and drums adds muscle and flesh without detracting from the singer. A-
Omri Ziegele/Yves Theiler: Inside Innocence (2012 , Intakt): Sax-piano duets, same format as Ziegele's superb Where's Africa only substituting for the redoubtable Irène Schweizer. The previous album worked in large part because it cut against expectations into the mainstream. This one is more avant, abstract, except for some poetry. B+(*)
Tuesday, March 26. 2013
by Michael Tatum
It would be downright unprofessional for a rock critic to blame his occasional unpunctuality on "writer's block," but every now and then it certainly does feel that way. Then again, as far as inspiration goes, the artists aren't helping -- this has been an exceptionally dry month, and only one record in my current top ten is likely to be there by year's end. Maybe late March is a little too soon to declare an arts world recession, but I sure hope things pick up soon.
David Greenberger/Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound: They Like Me Around Here (Pel Pel) Commissioned by Sheboygan, Wisconsin's John Michael Kohler Arts Center for "Hiding Places," a multimedia exhibition devoted to exploring the relationship between art and memory, David Greenberger's newest batch of spoken word pieces based on conversations with octogenarians, nonagenarians, and centenarians doesn't differ thematically from anything he's curated previously. But with a real live backing band supplanting multi-instrumentalist Mark Greenberg's overdubs, Paul Cebar's arrangements are more playfully interactive than those on 2012's Tell Me That Before, and although Mac Perkins' bluesy call-and-response routine on that father-son recollection evoke Saturday Night Live at its corniest, in fact vaudevillian humor enlivened by the delightfully sideways logic of his geriatric charges is the idea: is "Nemo" a gender appropriate name for a female butterfly? Are "sentimentality" and "utilitarianism" really polar opposites? And would a father in Newton, Illinois really send for toys in nearby Quincy to perpetuate his children's belief in Santa Claus? I object to "The Thrill," in which we are set up to expect a tawdry sex story and in fact get a profound meditation on skydiving, mainly because the original speaker clearly didn't intend the double entendre implied by Cebar's musical misdirection. But I'm absolutely amazed by a piece in which a narrator's mother secretly votes for the first time in Woodrow Wilson's 1912 presidential election. At least I think it's 1912, because 1916 was Wilson's re-election. But wait a minute: only nine states (none of them Wisconsin) allowed women to vote that year. And Wilson didn't come out for women's suffrage until 1918, when political pressure forced him into it. Come to think of it, only Theodore Roosevelt included women's suffrage in his platform, and he split the Republican vote with Howard Taft, one more shift to the red state-blue state schism we're stuck in today. So who got her vote? That's the poignant, regrettably fragile thing about our memories -- we may never know, even when we think we do. A
Ashley Monroe: Like a Rose (Warner Bros.) No matter how many longtime residents of the 37203 zip code you might suspect are hiding up in the rafters pulling Hippie Annie's strings, it's Monroe's youthful sensibility -- indeed, the sensibility she shares with Kacey Musgraves and her Pistol Annies cohorts -- that rejuvenates these agreeable variations on the usual workaday moon-June-shotgun honeymoon tropes. Vince Gill's sparkling neo-trad production, fine as it is, could be anybody's (and often has been), and the nine outside song doctors do aid and abet Monroe's treatment of the standard Music Row subjects (paying the rent, unwanted pregnancy, good girl gone bad), but Monroe gets more mileage out of their meddlin' than someone twice her age precisely because at this point in time, mapping out the lives of working class post-millennial kids is undiscovered country. And with Miranda Lambert the exception and most likely the linchpin, not since the halcyon days of Dolly and Loretta has someone in this notoriously patriarchal genre this young gotten away with expressing her irascible self rather than solely depending on some hack to hand her a script, something you can't say about Kellie Pickler or (God knows) Carrie Underwood. Admittedly, Dolly and Loretta had a better developed sense of humor: although the karaoke contest in the gratifyingly broad Blake Shelton duet "You Ain't Dolly (and You Ain't Porter)" becomes even more amusing when you remember who wrote "I Will Always Love You" and for whom, the two cheeky Fifty Shades of Grey references are asinine if not downright repugnant. Let's be frank: the male protagonists in the current tidal wave of erotica are billionaires because when a rich man hits you, it's sexy, but when your trailer park sweetie hits you, it's domestic violence, a "distinction" that the author of "Gunpowder and Lead" would clear up straight away. But when Monroe abjures puns and novelty -- virginity lost in a painfully observed ballad, secret lovers treating each other cruelly in public -- you'll know who gives the Pistol Annies their soul. In the meantime, I await Angaleena Presley's solo album. A
Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer, Different Park (Mercury Nashville) As reality show singing competitions go, Nashville Star is no less meretriciously sappy than American Idol, yet it's somehow managed to produce two major artists where Idol has only squeezed out (and let's be kind here) around 0.5. Although I missed Miranda Lambert's television debut in season one (I caught up the year after, when the presumably predominately female viewership voted for snoozy Brad Cotter and George Canyon over endearingly goofy Roger Miller disciple Matt Lindahl) my best explanation for that statistical anomaly is that unlike Idol, which grooms contestants for the stultifying eventuality they will have little control over what minuscule career lays ahead of them, Star encourages versatility: singing of course, but also, crucially, songwriting. This native of Sulphur Springs, Texas (season five, finished seventh out of a field of nine) hasn't yet cultivated a distinctive vocal style, which may explain her disappointing placing. Instead, she lets her pleasing but plain-jane alto serve as the vehicle for her impressive songwriting, which though Musgraves herself would deny it, bucks traditional country hits-plus-filler philosophy by adhering to the Taylor Swift strategy, i.e., cultivating a strong batch of top ten potentials. In fact, despite Musgraves' downwardly-mobile greasy-spoon-waitress-makes-good aura, such homiletic bromides as "Silver Lining" and "Follow Your Arrow" sit firmly in the Swiftian tradition, except the more worldly Musgraves a) has no qualms shooting down sexist double standards, and b) extols bongloads and boys (". . . .or girls, if that's what you're into") as a corrective. You could argue there's more to heaven and earth than what is dreamt in her somewhat narrow philosophy, that dulling the pain of small town boredom with sex, dope, and consumer culture is no way to get off the merry go round common to blue states, as well as red. I say after years of Stepford blondes this twenty-four year old is a step in the right direction, and that's she's just getting started. A
The Rough Guide to Cumbia (World Music Network) Perhaps Senegal is on my mind because of that Rough Guide compilation I reviewed last month, but comparing that West African nation's music to the cumbia-exporting countries of Colombia, Venezuela, etc. is instructive. Though heavily influenced by that style, the Senegalese music scene is highly competitive: artists vie for the top spot in national contests, ensembles compete against each other to snare a job as a nightclub's house band, with individual members often defecting when a particularly good opportunity presents itself -- or, at least that's how it's always seemed after years of reading dramatic liner notes. By contrast, South American musicians aren't tribal so much as communal, often playing on each other's records, toiling for the handful of labels that dominate the market -- note that the majority of the songs on this compilation are borrowed from the cumbia kingpins at Disco Fuentes. I don't know what that says about Latin-African cultural differences, but I do know that on a good mbalax compilation, songs leap out, fight to distinguish themselves. On a good cumbia compilation -- like this one -- the songs string together seamlessly, with few clunkers spoiling the party, yet few tracks where you say to say yourself, "Oh man, I gotta hear that one again." Excepting the irritating opener "La Guacharaca" (named after the percussion instrument that supposedly inspired it, though "La Fluta" or "El Hustle" might be more appropriate, if anachronistic) this survey is as listenable as any I've ever heard, but boasts no peaks or climaxes, even when the music incorporates "rock" or even "hip hop" elements as a corrective to its inherent gentility. That's why I hope some smart person lassos up more of the artist on the (once again) excellent bonus disc from Los Corraleros de Majagual, whose plentiful hooks are as cheap as their esmoquines. I'll take a chatty accordion over a long-winded flute any day. A
Salva: Odd Furniture (Friend of Friends, EP) Paul Salva's 2011 debut Complex Housing isn't exactly a wash beat-wise, but it nevertheless suffers from the same musical vagaries that plague so many up and coming laptop musicians. This 5-track quickie, the title of which I can only assume is a snide jab at Tyler, the Creator's quickly disintegrating Ottoman empire, snaps to attention in the first bar with an enticing lickety-split rhythm that loops yet another obscure rapper you've never heard of: "You at the club/Every weekend/Bitch/Get a life," which even before the sampled cuíca and cell phone join the fun signal Salva's game: stupid dance music for smart people. Sure, you could complain about Salva dropping the b-word yet again into the hook for the next song, but who can resist the percussive drive of what suggests a dozen typewriters clacking in unison, accented by the whirr of a camera's rapidly advancing motor drive? Boosters insist that hip hop has always been one weapon in this producer's arsenal, but I'm betting his popular 2012 dancefloor remix of Kanye West's "Mercy" convinced him that a heavier dose of it would imbue his two-step with some much needed personality. There are some of those for whom a hook like "back back back back back back it up" repeated over and over at least a hundred times would be akin to Chinese water torture. If, like me, you're one of those people who would blast such a song over and over at the expense of your significant other's mental health, you know what to do. A
Serengeti: Saal (Graveface) I conceive Dave Cohn as sort of a hip hop John Cheever, constantly churning out snapshot vignettes illuminating the details of his place and time, with subcultural ne'er-do-wells replacing the gin-and-tonic set. Unlike Cheever however, whose main outlet still publishes forty-seven times a year, it's probably difficult to convince your otherwise sympathetic record label to pop out another dozen or so songs every time you're ready, nor will beatmasters always have copacetic beats lying around with which to frame your never ending cascade of stories. Nevertheless, the inexhaustible Cohn leapfrogs from collaborator to collaborator, label to label, exhibiting productivity so fecund you wonder why Ryan Adams even bothers. Here he's once again in avant-mode, teaming up with German minimalist musician Tobias Vethake, who provides sparse arrangements consisting of guitar, bells, and cello, against which Cohn sets some of his bleakest narratives: a lazy boyfriend who manipulates his codependent girlfriend from the comfort of his couch, a sorry creep who crashes an ex's wedding wearing a clown nose, a husband who wishes he could redo a ruined evening with his wife, who's most likely lying in the next room as he ruminates in self-pity. The wordplay is so astonishing it would be a shame if his fans lost them in the stillness of Vethake's subtle settings: an abusive mom who gives her karate-loving son "belts and stripes," a pimp who hates tennis because of "the rackets, the courts, the scoring/the time honored tradition." Think Cohn can keep this up for another thirty years, until someone consolidates his greatest hits in one capacious volume? Ask me again in three months. A
They Might Be Giants: Nanobots (Idlewild/Megaforce) In the bizarro world of Brooklyn's John Linnell and John Flansburgh, catchy tunes are like prime numbers: a multitude endlessly spiraling into infinity, mind-bogglingly random in their pattern, and when a new one is discovered, only MIT students give a shit. But though their cleverness quotient is such one figures they might one day prove Riemann's Hypothesis, it hasn't made for great longplayers since their 1986 indie debut, nor have they been able to take full advantage of the band they hired when they realized two men and a drum machine wasn't enough, and the pabulum albums they've released on their own label in the past decade have failed to make a case for autobot autonomy. That's what makes this record such a mindbender -- a dizzying song cycle suggesting the second side of Abbey Road infused with the spirit of Weird Al's polka medleys that dazzles whether the song length is three minutes or thirty seconds. While it goes without saying your subconscious won't know what to wake up humming the next morning, it's worth noting that while their usual modus operandi is to load up their tunes into an airgun, fire away, and see what sticks to the wall, here the tunes aren't just means without ends, they're often appropriated for devious cross-purposes: a sweetly meandering melody for a nonchalantly amoral drone pilot, a poignantly touching threnody for Nikola Tesla, two indelible bars of a saloon-styled singalong protesting Lyme Disease. The bouncy "You're On Fire" proves they've had sex enough times to figure out how to craft an irresistible dance song. In "Stone Cold Coup D'état," they don't just employez une expression étrangère quand anglaise suffira -- they do it twice! And in the rollicking, outrageous, and oh-so-true "Call You Mom" Linnell unashamedly dons a sailor suit and gets down to business with his own Oedipal Complex. The men don't know, but the perpetually boyish nerds understand. The men are missing out. A
Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni) While this unquestionably eclipses American Weekend's hollow bedroom demos, it would be hyperbole to claim former P.S. Eliot bandleader Katie Crutchfield has suddenly transformed her new brand from an art project into a working band. For one thing, the bass and drums -- both commandeered by roommates, one of whom happens to be her boyfriend -- drop in casually and intermittently: she arranges her opener solely for her voice and electric guitar, adds unobtrusive bass and tom-toms to the one that follows, and in both you forlornly wish the assertive crack of a snare drum would jolt the music out of its blankly wide-eyed detachment. Of course "intimacy" is one of Crutchfield's cardinal selling points, much like the early Liz Phair, who Crutchfield resembles in both her vulnerable candor and flattened alto, and certainly Exile in Guyville had its share of austerity, mooniness, woolgathering. But Phair also possessed a shrewd talent for pacing -- on Guyville, the startling immediacy of "6'1"" and "Help Me Mary" grab your attention before segueing into more challenging, nuanced material. Here, Crutchfield rounds out her first half with the loping brushstick pattern of the vaugely country-flavored "Lips and Limbs," another solo turn, then a slow-burning dirge where bass and drums provide the only accompaniment. It's not until track six -- a relationship metaphor disguised as tour van reminiscence, scuzzed up with grungy swirls of electric guitar -- that the players quit fooling around and start acting like a real band, and that song ends prematurely after an economic verse-chorus-verse in 1:46. Yet because Crutchfield no longer sings as if emoting to an opened guitar case or the dirty clothes littering her bedroom floor, now you can finally absorb her highly literate, deeply personal lyrics -- a bitterly observed wedding, an unnerving heroin confession, repressed anger boiling over on the blistering "Misery Over Dispute." And while I'm not sure the meaning of life is learning to "embrace the lows," there's enough spirit in her that I'm betting -- hoping, anyway -- that she rights herself before that swan dive into the asphalt. A
Wussy: Berneice Huff and Son, Bill Sings . . . Popular Favorites (Shake It free download) Sort of like the Beatles' Live at the BBC, except, well, the Beatles never gave it away for free ("Nomenclature," "Retarded," "Runaway") ***
Chelsea Light Moving: Chelsea Light Moving (Matador) Finds out the hard way that muculent riffs and laughably ersatz beat poetry are no way to sever the Gordonian knot ("Sleeping as I Fall," "Lip") **
Nuru Kane: Exile (Riverboat) Well-traveled Senegalese singer-songwriter-bassist does a little bit of this, a little of that, but sometimes I just wish he'd settle for making me dance ("Afrika," "Bayil") **
Marcos Valle: Previsão do Tempo (Light in the Attic) Brazilian singer-songwriter's unearthed 1973 record delights when it presages Tom Zé, intrigues when it celebrates classic tropicalia, and annoys when it blithely sails on The Love Boat ("Mentira (Chega de Mentira)," "Nem Paletó Nem Gravata") **
Richard Thompson: Electric (New West) Siobhan Maher Kennedy plays the Linda role, but not so much Richard would cede her an album credit ("Another Small Thing in Her Favour," "Where's Home?") *
Golden Grrrls: Golden Grrrls (Slumberland) I know there's no money or glory in being labeled the rightful heirs to Standard Fare, but they could up their Kelly Blue Book value by doling out their cute melodies one at a time ("Time Goes Slow," "Date It") *
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra: The Jazz Age (BMG) Don't get me wrong -- nobody likes parlor tricks, shell games, and pomo mind fucks more than I do. And for Bryan Ferry to "validate" the music he once drolly parodied by releasing an album of flapper-era recastings of eleven of his copyrights (six Roxy, seven solo) rather than the usual rehashing of the great American Songbook is pretty funny, and certainly the live-to-mono recording and pianist Colin Good's startling arrangements provide that soupçon of "authenticity." It's also downright ludicrous. Sure, the jitterbugging "Do the Strand" would have made a nifty epilogue to Roxy's For Your Pleasure. But Ferry's long suit has never really been melody -- "Love is the Drug" is many things: a dance floor classic, lead off to landmark album, the blueprint on which Duran Duran forged their sorry careers, and a great vehicle for Bryan's spiffy white tuxedo, but not necessarily a stellar tune. And stellar tunes are what Louis Armstrong and the like were elaborating on when they weren't pulling them out of thin air. I suppose it would have been fascinating to hear Louis and the Hot Fives run "Virginia Plain" or, hell, maybe even "This Island Earth" through some changes. Cornetist/trumpeter Enrico Tomasso is no Armstong. C
Iceage: You're Nothing (What's Your Rupture?) Many bloggers have accused this Danish quartet of dealing in crypto-fascism, most persuasively Scott Creney, who cites their appropriation of suspect iconography (hooded figures, Iron Crosses), their support of right-leaning bands (such as the National Socialist German death metal band Absurd), and lead singer Elias Bender Ronnenfelt's racially-charged drawings. I've also seen plenty of passionate rebuttals -- many point out drummer Dan Kjaer Nielsen is Jewish, and I've even read a testimonial from guitarist Johan Surballe Wieth's mum, who notes the band's concern over the disconcerting populist influence of the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party. I'm sure that's true. But the band has thus far been unwilling to attach their loaded imagery and whatnot to meaningful context either in print or on record -- like Nixon or Reagan, Ronnenfelt continually blames the "media" for misconceptions he's evasive about clearing up. Me myself, I hardly think they goosestep even in the privacy of their own homes -- like the pathetic young punks in my neighborhood sushi joint who bedeck their walls with swastikas, I suspect they're attracted not to ideology, but shock value: they want to be perceived as dangerous, and I'm willing to bet they didn't expect their music to be famous enough outside of Europe so that they'd have to justify their dubious ruses to, say, the American press. I suppose it's easier for me to dismiss this band's sophomore effort because it's less hooky than 2011's New Brigade if equally inscrutable lyrically, but their continuing ambivalence to align themselves anywhere politically -- nothing deeper than the passive "this is what we see and feel" -- is disturbing, and I don't mean aesthetically. The Ramones may have dabbled in this shit too, but Joey and the gang yanked it by the nose and gave it an eye poke, undercutting their brutality with a gleefulness and charity these Danes suspiciously lack. What are they tearing down? What do they want to erect in its place? I have no idea. But nothing in these forbiddingly ascetic anthems for weekend stormtroopers tempts me to find out. B
Jamie Lidell: Jamie Lidell (Warp) "People in the house! Make some noise for MICHAEL SEMBELLOOOO!" B
Pissed Jeans: Honeys (Sub Pop) Less incontinent pants than incompetent rants. B
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell: Old Yellow Moon (Nonesuch) Author of best song: Roger Miller, rounded out by more questionable entries by Patti Scialfa, Matraca Berg, Kris Kristofferson, Crowell himself, and hmmm, some guys from Harris' 70s touring band. C+
The Joy Formidable: Wolf's Law (Atlantic) Ritzy Bryan's Welsh prog-rock trio will never catch on in America -- doesn't she know Rush fans are terrified of women? C
Grouper: The Man Who Died in His Boat (1-2-3-4-Go) Q: What do you call a hundred Enya imitators at the bottom of the ocean? A: a good start. D+
Monday, March 25. 2013
Music: Current count 21188  rated (+24), 595  unrated (+9).
Relatively light week, or maybe just a lot of distractions. One of my cousins, George Edward Hull, died so I attended to various family matters. Finished my project to add some wing shelves around the medicine cabinet in the downstairs half-bath. Listened to the Machito Properbox and wrote it up for April's Recycled Goods. Spent some time fleshing out the Rhapsody Streamnotes March file, which I'll post later this week.
Not really enough Jazz Prospecting below to bother with, but I might as well get it out of the way. Jazz Prospecting from Feb. 2012 up to this week now has its own archive section. (Before that, Jazz Prospecting was collected with the Jazz Consumer Guide, so there was one prospecting file per finished column.)
Michael Blanco: No Time Like the Present (2012 , Cognitive Dissonance): Bassist, based in New York, has a previous album on FSNT. New one is a sleek postbop quintet, with John Ellis on tenor and soprano sax, Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar, David Cook on piano, and Mark Ferber on drums. Ellis does a nice job rifling through the changes. Blanco composed all the tunes, reserving one for his solo spot. B+(*)
Stan Bock & the New Tradition: Feelin' It (2012 , OA2): Plays trombone and euphonium, studied music at Fort Hays State and University of Northern Iowa, spent 19 years in the USAF band; moved to Portland, OR, and has three albums since 2003. Sextet, with two saxes (Renato Caranto and John Nastos), keybs (Clay Giberson), electric bass (Tim Gilson) and drums (Christopher Brown, also credited with alto sax). Bock wrote 4 of 13 songs, Nastos adding 3, Giberson 1, with covers from Cole Porter to Joe Zawinul to Leonard Bernstein. First cut is engagingly slippery, but much of the rest is more conventional. B+(*)
Hungry Cowboy: Dance (2010 , Prom Night): Quartet led by Jacob Wick (trumpet, compositions), with Briggan Krauss (sax), Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), and Mike Pride (drums) -- Krauss you know from Sex Mob, and Pride shows up lots of places. First group album; Wick seems to have a couple other albums (duo with Andrew Greenwald, trio with Jeff Kimmel and David Moré, group Tres Hongos and another, White Rocket). Avant horn split, loses a bit when they slow down. [bandcamp] B+(**) [advance]
Jack Mouse Group: Range of Motion (2012 , Origin): Drummer, did a tour with the USAF's Falconaires. First album; has a handful of side credits, half behind singer Janice Borla. He wrote all the pieces here (sharing one), for a typical postbop group: Scott Robinson (saxes, flute), Art Davis (trumpet), John McLean (guitar), Bob Bowman or Kelly Sill (bass). Some nice passages, especially for the horns. B+(*)
Dick Reynolds: Music & Friends (2012 , Origin): Pianist, based in Chicago, seems to be his first album although he's an old-timer, a professional musician at least since the 1960s. He wrote all the pieces here, several explicitly tributes (Ruben Alvarez, Johnny Frigo, Nancy Wilson, Carol Ettman, Ben Mocini, Stan Getz), and his friends list is extensive. The four big band cuts are crackling, the piano solo at the end a sweet coda. B+(*)
Twins of El Dorado: Portend the End (2012 , Prom Night): Art song duo, Kristin Slipp on voice (singing is a stretch) and Joe Moffett on trumpet, with a guest lyric from Emily Dickinson. Slipp's previous credits include three albums with Cuddle Magic. This is pretty arch, although the trumpet helps. [bandcamp] B-
Mark Weinstein: Todo Corazon: The Tango Album (2012 , Jazzheads): Flute player, sixteen albums since 1996, figured out early that Latin music suits his instrument, and has delved most deeply into Cuban music, with forays into Brazil and now Argentina. Can't fault his planning: Raul Jaurena is the real thing on bandoneon, and he hired bassist Pablo Aslan to arrange the classic tunes. Still comes off awfully flat. Maybe it's the flute? B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Saturday, March 23. 2013
In my books research, I came across a new anti-Obama hate book, David Harsanyi's Obama's Four Horsemen: The Disasters Unleashed by Obama's Reelection (2013, Regnery). The book description (at Amazon) reads:
I don't really feel like arguing these points, even though they are pretty severely disconnected from reality. The national debt, for example, is a problem -- and even then not much of one -- only if its growth isn't matched by growth of the economy, so attempts to "solve the debt crisis" by austerity, forcibly slowing down the economy, are counterproductive and irresponsible. One worries here that Obama and the Democrats, having bought into long-term national debt problem, will shy away from policies that would actually provide the necessary growth.
As for all those "takers" -- you know, the 47% who pay no income tax but live high on government hog -- that shouldn't be something one can argue about. If all those people consciously depend so much on government largesse, they should be aware enough to vote to protect their interest, since their votes and the national conscience are the only things that keep the dole coming. But do they vote? Most don't: because they aren't all that impressed by the federal bounty and/or because they regard the politicians of both parties are crooked.
The Inside Flap explains the four horsemen somewhat differently, with debt and dependency followed by "surrender" -- "the Obama administration kowtows to dictators, apologizes to those who hate us, refuses to defend American ideals, and is actively working to undo our superpower status" -- and "death" -- abortion, of course, which under Obama "is a positive good, to be subsidized and even exported at taxpayer expense." One only wishes, but that's another story.
As I've explained before, the whole mantra that "Obama hates America" is ridiculous from the start. America elected Obama president, twice, by substantial margins. How could someone with the ego to run for president have so little self-regard to hate a country that honors him so? You have to wonder if the real enemies of the real America -- the one that twice voted Obama president -- aren't the ones who hate Obama, and who have graduated from hating the leader to loathing all who voted for him. The right-wing may still love their idea of America -- it's just the folks who live and work here they can't stand.
Consider this: one of Amazon's reviewers quotes the book (p. 54):
Aside from the nonsensical evidence -- those mortgage bailouts never happened (unless, of course, you owned a bank), and "subsidized contraception" is a cost-savings measure for the still private health insurance racket; what's subsidized is health insurance for people who can't afford it, which is equally a subsidy for the whole health care industry -- the striking thing here is the complete inversion of common sense.
Harsanyi seems to believe that there is a state of nature without government where "we" are richer and more moral (ignoring the fact that much of western culture has been very suspicious of the morality of the rich). Let's be generous and call this state Eden, inasmuch as he seems to view government as Original Sin. Needless to say, his view is at odds with the traditional conservative position, which is that we need the state, both with its monopoly of force within the army and police and with its administrative bureaucracy, in order to force the masses to be more moral, to support the established social order, and to make (at least the leaders of that order) richer.
As for his fear of robbing the rich for the benefit of the poor, that classic trope (at least as "Robin Hood") dates back to the Middle Ages, way before liberalism and the modern bureaucratic state -- but alas not before the rich learned how to use state force and laws to exploit the poor. Throughout history, it's been the downtrodden, the poor, and those who imagined a more equitable order, who had most reason to fear the state. Only with the invention of democracy did it become possible for the masses to imagine using nonviolent votes to get a fairer shake. What Harsanyi and his ilk fear is that too many people -- especially young people -- have discovered how to do just that.
So they rail against the people's choice, damning all government, decrying any hint of redistributing the nation's wealth, declaring the very thought to be immoral, and damning those who dare think it to their long-winded, deeply paranoid wrath. In effect, what they are saying is that the people made the wrong choice, so to hell with the people. They're admitting that democracy worked against them, so they aim to subvert democracy. (Examples abound, from voter ID laws to unlimited campaign spending to Scalia's campaign to void civil rights law.) And most ominously, they insist on taking absolutist positions: their opposition to abortion becomes a defense of rapists, their absolute defense of gun rights becomes cover for criminals and license for crackpots, their "line in the sand" on taxes bankrupts the country and denies even themselves real services of government. They're nuts, divorced from reality, estranged from their neighbors, and spiteful, willing to cut off their own legs to make sure you immoral sluts can't catch a break.
A couple years ago John Amato and David Neiwert wrote a short book: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press). They barely scratched the surface, and never quite got to the heart of the problem. That seems to be here, in Harsanyi's delusions.
Thursday, March 21. 2013
Ten years ago this week George W. Bush launched his war against Iraq. He was almost solely responsible for the act, at least in the sense that had he decided not to go to war he would have met virtually no resistance. Yet he also had little real choice: he was a mental slave to the logic that had led his father to attack Iraq in 1991, and that had prevented either Bush or Clinton from making any serious effort to normalize Iraq. Moreover, he was still smitten by the political euphoria his father had briefly enjoyed when the 1991 war had initially seemed so successful, and he was convinced that his own "tougher resolve" would lock in the same political euphoria, allowing him to build up "political capital" for ever greater feats, like war with Iran, or wrecking social security.
Invading Iraq turned out to be a surprisingly difficult political play, especially compared to the utter ease with which Bush was able to sink the US military into a hopeless quagmire in Afghanistan -- one that, needless to say, still saps US forces while remaining as far as ever from resolution. Many figures came forth declaring Iraq "a war of choice," "the wrong war" (as compared to Afghanistan), but for me the real wrong choice was Afghanistan, especially following Bush's wholehearted support of Ariel Sharon's destruction of the Oslo Peace Process in Israel/Palestine. In an unguarded moment, Bush himself referred to his efforts to bend the Middle East to his will as a new "crusade": his "born again" certainty reinforcing the hubris of America's anti-communist triumphalism.
This was all clear at the time. And while I wrote little about Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11 -- my website barely existed then, I spent the month following 9/11 away from home, and I had yet to grasp the event's political importance -- by 2003 I was writing regularly. When I grep "Iraq" in my notebook file, I fish up more than 4000 lines. I thought I'd quote a few of them, mostly from March-April 2003, a few earlier (including one from Sept. 11, 2001), ending with a couple from August 2003. Reading through them, I see that I'm missing a lot of detail, especially the whole WMD controversy (a bogus argument if ever I've heard one).
Of course, much more happened after August 2003, and at least some of that shows up in subsequent posts. Then there are the books: I've read at least thirty specifically on Afghanistan and Iraq, another twenty on the Bush administration and the more general War on Terror. Of those, the Bremer administration is pretty well documented, except for the decision to put an idiot like Bremer in charge in the first place -- that's one thing I've never even seen a plausible denial on. After that, from mid-2004 to 2007, the history gets much harder to come by -- the US, especially with Khalilzad, becomes very secretive, and the whole country becomes dangerously inhospitable to reporters. From 2007 on, you get a lot of pro-military hype, especially from the platoon of Petraeus sycophants -- one of the few exceptions here is Nir Rosen's Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2011).
Many of the books are commented on (and some extensively quoted) in the books section, but it will take another post to properly index and annotate them.
More (much more) after the break . . .
Continue reading "Ten Years of Infamy"
Monday, March 18. 2013
Music: Current count 21164  rated (+33), 586  unrated (-16).
Healthy rated count, split between Jazz Prospecting below and Rhapsody Streamnotes, which may come out late this week or early next -- it's still pretty thin, both quantity and quality, with the only real find more than a presidential term old. Didn't come up with an A- record this week -- closest was Mikrokolektyw, which took about five plays before I decided the droney start should weigh in. (Similar complaint about Blaser starting slow, but that would be the runner up.) So I figured I'd rerun the Lovano pic: I wrote that album up as an A- in last month's Rhapsody Streamnotes, and a copy showed up in this week's mail.
A Downloader's Diary is coming in slow again, but I'd like to note that I got Tatum's review of David Greenberger/Paul Cebar's They Like Me Around Here before Christgau reviewed it in Expert Witness. (My own Jazz Prospecting A- note came out back on Feb. 18, so we'll call it a hat trick for an otherwise very obscure record.) He's also complained about the dearth of good new records. By my count, Christgau has only five new A- records in 2013 (Yo La Tengo, Parquet Courts, Ashley Monroe, David Greenberger/Paul Cebar, J Cole [EP]). I have 15, but 10 are jazz (or 11 if you count Greenberger/Cebar, or 12 of 16 if you count Miles Davis). Actually, I think good jazz releases have been coming along at a healthy clip. I'm just not so sure about everything else, but also I haven't been scouring the zines as closely as last year.
Neil Alexander: Darn That Dream: Solo Piano Vol. 1 (2011 , P-Dog): Pianist, looks like his second album, solo, mostly originals (obviously not the title song, here in two takes). Plays for dramatic impact, not unimpressive but leaves me cold. B-
Amikaeyla & Trelawny Rose: To Eva, With Love: A Celebration of Eva Cassidy Live! (2011, Patois): Two San Francisco singers on the make, backed by trombonist Wayne Wallace and his band. Songbook is from Evan Cassidy, who died at 33 of melanoma, had her records issue posthumously, and became something of a cult item -- I've only heard one of them, nothing there inspiring me to search further. This doesn't make me want to go back either, partly because the chances of her fronting a band this good are nil. The singers aquit themselves well, too. B+(*)
Amikaeyla: Being in Love (2012, Roots Jazz): Singer, based in Oakland, third album, wrote (or co-wrote) about half of these pieces, with covers from Jobim, Bill Withers, trad., and others -- an eclectic mix. Lots of guest spots, Weber Iago strings, a duet with "singing percussionist" Linda Tillery, flutes, pretty much the whole kitchen sink. Good singer overdoes it. B
Arnaoudov/Szymanski/Stefens/Pärt/Xenakis/Minchev: Sonograms (1974-97 , Labor): Those are the composers as their names appear on the cover and spine. They are postmodern/postclassical, and their pieces are performed by several Bulgarian musicians, usually solo, especially Benedikta Bonitz (recorders: 7 pieces) and Angela Tosheva (piano: also 7 pieces). There is one piece for string quartet (Steffens), one of the recorder pieces adds cello and Khandjari, another triangles, and one scales up to four recorders. Not quite minimalist nor merely abstract, the piano pieces have some teeth to them, and the recorders provide a nice contrast. I don't get much music like this these days, so it's hard to judge. B+(***)
Carlos Barbosa-Lima & the Havana String Quartet: Leo Brouwer: Beatlerianas (2012 , Zoho): Brouwer doesn't play here. He is a Cuban classical composer and guitarist, b. 1939, and he composed or arranged for guitar and/or string quartet the various pieces here, one quintet as early as 1957. Barbosa-Lima, b. 1944 in Brazil, plays guitar. The title piece is a string of seven Beatles songs, starting unimaginatively (for a string arranger) with "Eleanor Rigby" and ending (equally blah!) on "Penny Lane," with such obvious stops as "Yesterday" along the way. Even understood as kitsch it's hard to convey how awful it is. The later pieces do have some interest: Brouwer evidently had a modernist streak and he works some tough abstractions into the string mix. C+
Samuel Blaser Quartet: As the Sea (2011 , Hatology): Trombonist, from Switzerland, has a handful of albums since 2007. Quartet includes Marc Ducret on guitar, Bänz Oester on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums. One title, four parts, 51:14 total. Starts slow and tentative, but builds up in interesting ways, especially when the guitarist works up a sweat, giving the trombone something to bounce off. Second album I've heard by him, but looks like he has a fair sampling on Bandcamp, including a solo: someone to explore further. B+(***) [advance, bandcamp]
Robb Cappelletto Group: !!! (2012 , self-released): Guitarist, from Canada, studied at York University, "grew up listening to prog metal as much as Wes Montgomery and Buddy Guy." First album, trio with John Maharaj on electric bass and Ahmed Mitchell on drums. B+(**)
Ken Hatfield Sextet: For Langston (2012 , Arthur Circle Music): Guitarist, close to ten albums since 1998. Langston, of course, is Hughes (1902-67), poet, essayist, activist, an icon of the Harlem Renaissance, and the lyricist for fourteen songs here. The singer is Hilary Gardner, possessing one of those soprano voices I often have trouble with, and her voice is smoothed out by Jamie Baum's flute -- a combination that gives this an arty flair. On the other hand, Hatfield's guitar is as tasty as ever, and I suppose people should know more about Hughes. B+(*)
Miho Hazama: Journey to Journey (2012 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from Tokyo, Japan; studied with Jim McNeely at Manhattan School of Music. First album, can't read the credits (microscopic pink-type-on-beige) but roughly speaking a big band (probably short in the brass section) plus a string quartet (Mark Feldman takes a solo). Half a dozen truly arresting passages pop out. B+(*)
Justin Horn: Hornology (2009 , Rotato): Singer-songwriter, studied at University of Idaho, based in Auckland, New Zealand. Qualifies for the jazz niche with his arrangements, notably a robust horn section. [bandcamp] B+(*)
Robert Hurst: Bob: A Palindrome (2001 , Bebob): Bassist, b. 1964 in Detroit, six albums since 1992 including two Unrehurst compilations, side credits include Wynton Marsalis. Draws in some big names here: Branford Marsalis (tenor/soprano sax), Bennie Maupin (alto flute, bass clarinet, tenor/soprano sax), Marcus Belgrave (trumpet/flugelhorn), Robert Glasper (piano/rhodes), Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums), Adam Rudolph (percussion). No track credits, not that it's hard to sort out the saxophonists. Liner notes mentions almost in passing that this was "originally recorded" in 2001: makes me wonder: (a) typo? (b) is this a newer recording? Everyone else goes way back, but Glasper would have been 23, two years shy of his debut. All Hurst pieces, at least one dating to 1985. No edge to the opening flute, but this picks up strength as its many facets emerge, even a thrilling bit of free thrash. B+(***)
Matt and the City Limits: Crash (2012, Island/Def Jam, EP): Singer-songwriter Matt Berman, debut, seven songs, 27:45, which combined with the major label made me think EP. Not really jazz, but he plays alto sax, keeps a tenor player at his side, and the drummer (Amir Williams) does more than keep time, and the guitarist picks out a solo rather than power through it. Intelligent songs and pretty good voice. Closes with an instrumental: "Bring It On Home to Me." B+(**)
Mikrokolektyw: Absent Minded (2012 , Delmark): Duo, from Wroclaw, Poland: Artur Majewski (trumpet, cornet) and Kuba Suchar (drums, percussion), both with electronics, which is to say pretty comparable to Chicago Underground Duo (Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor). Second album, at least on Delmark. Starts slow, agonizing drones mostly, but the pieces work out various rhythmic ideas, and in the end it depends on what the trumpet can do with, and beyond, them -- a lesson from Miles Davis' funk period, applies here too. B+(***)
Nicole Mitchell's Ice Crystal: Aquarius (2012 , Delmark): Flute player, b. 1967, based in Chicago where she's tapped into the AACM, intent on pursuing the avant-garde, but also for lack of flute specialists -- Frank Wess has dominated Downbeat's category poll for close to forty years, and he's main axe is the alto sax -- she's something of a mainstream star. I'm tempted to argue that the lack of good jazz flautists is no accident: the instrument has a limited expressive range and a high register distant from most harmony instruments; also that most jazz flautists are too rooted in classical, where they were at best pretty marginal (exceptions tend to be in Latin and other third world musics). I don't hate it all -- Sam Most's bebop is amusing enough, Robert Dick's bass flute is in its own world, James Newton and those Guadalupeans sure polished up David Murray's Creole -- but sometimes it seems that way. Credit Mitchell for steadfastly trying to make it work, as in this quartet where she finds a suitable partner in Jason Adasiewicz's vibes, or her rawest work with just bass and drums. B+(**)
Giovanni Moltoni: Tomorrow's Past (2012 , C#2 Music Productions): Guitarist, b. in Turin, Italy; has tought at Berklee since 1998. Fifth album, effectively a nice showcase for trumpeter Greg Hopkins, with Fernando Huergo on bass and Bob Tamagni on drums. Moltoni wrote 6 (of 9) songs, the others coming from the band (Hopkins 2, Huergo 1), his guitar weaving tastefully in and out. B+(**)
Dawn Oberg: Rye (2012 , Blossom Theory Music): Piano-playing singer-songwriter from San Francisco -- where "poets go to retox" -- second album, publicist tried to pass her off as the next Amy Rigby but her voice reminds me more of Dory Previn, and maybe the words as well. Literate -- lead song is "Girl Who Sleeps With Books" and she manages to rhyme Thucydides (and not just with Euripides) and name drop Fats Waller. B+(*)
Ron Oswanski: December's Moon (2012 , Palmetto): Organ player, also accordion and piano; studied at Manhattan School of Music; first album, with Tim Ries on sax, Jay Azzolina or John Abercrombie on guitar, John Patitucci on electric as well as acoustic bass. Stays away from soul jazz clichés. B+(*)
RJ and the Assignment: Deceiving Eyes (2012, self-released): Born in Chicago, based in Las Vegas, no indication of any other name pianist RJ is known by. His group, the Assignment, rotates three bassists and three drummers -- not sure I'd call that a group -- and slips in a saxophonist on two cuts, a singer on another. Half originals, with Herbie Hancock and Cedar Walton among the covers. Fine technique, moves along nicely. B+(*)
Troy Roberts: Nu-Jive 5 (2012 , XenDen): Saxophonist (probably alto), from Perth, Australia, fifth album (although only the second named Nu-Jive). Leads a quintet with guitar-bass-drums-keys, keeping up a steady funk beat which Roberts riffs over. Like many pop jazz saxophonists, he can stretch out, and unlike most he's willing to get a bit dirty. B+(*)
Dylan Ryan/Sand: Sky Bleached (2012 , Cuneiform): Rand is a drummer, hitherto mostly associated with the group Herculaneum although he has another dozen side-credits, the only one I recognize Rainbow Arabia (a good 2011 electropop album). This is a guitar trio, with Timothy Young the driving force, Devin Hoff on bass. Ryan wrote most of the pieces. Mostly keeps rockish time, so you can count this as fusion, but sometimes you sense they'd like to move beyond. B+(**)
Donna Singer: Take the Day Off: Escape With Jazz (2012, Emerald Baby): Singer, has this first album and an Xmas set from last year -- haven't gotten to the latter yet. Cover suggests the artist name should be "Donna and Doug" or "D&D" or "Donna Singer & Doug Richards" but the spine is more economical. She is married to Roy Singer, who produced and has some of the writing credits. Richards plays bass and leads the piano trio, which here and there is augmented by trumpet, alto sax, trombone, guitar, and/or extra drums. Some standards -- e.g., Richard Rodgers -- some by Richards, four by Patricia T. Morris. B+(*)
Tomasz Stanko NY Quartet: Wislawa (2012 , ECM, 2CD): Another set by the great Polish trumpeter, who started out on the avant-garde and moderated by age (70) and label still remains one of the world's most distinctive. A few years back he came up with a "young Polish quartet" who continue to work as a piano trio. Here he is traveling alone, picking up a band of locals, which in New York nets him Gerald Cleaver, Thomas Morgan, and a new pianist everyone seems to want to play with these days, David Virelles. Talented as they are, they tend to be deferential, but then it's the trumpet you want to hear anyway. By the way, "Wislawa" is Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012). B+(***)
Eli Yamin/Evan Christopher: Louie's Dream: For Our Jazz Heroes (2012 , Yamin Music): Pianist, b. 1968 in Long Island, has a handful of records since 1998's Pushin' 30, teams up with the clarinetist for salutes to Armstrong, Bechet, Ellington, Bigard, Mary Lou Williams, Mahalia Jackson, John Coltrane, and Amiri Baraka, plus a couple pieces recycled from Yamin's Holding the Torch for Liberty. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: