Tuesday, May 12. 2015
Two days short of a month since April's column. As I approach the end of each column, I think I should hustle around and round up something special I haven't publicized before, but I've only added six albums since the latest Music Week, and it's just as possible that the most timely adds (Rhett Miller, Best Coast) got rushed. Playing Kamasi Washington as I write this, at least partly to forestall adding anything else late -- it's a 3-CD debut called The Epic which is sure to try my patience, but that can wait for later.
I won't bother repeating my comments from the last four Music Week columns, but check them for more info on, e.g., why I bothered with all those old Charles Lloyd albums. I will remind you that reviews with no bracketed source (e.g., "[cd]") are things I found on Rhapsody (hence the column name). As of Jan. 2014 I folded what was previously Jazz Prospecting into here, figuring that my share of jazz promos was declining and would continue to diminish. Still, I have 45 [cd] tags in the following, 4 more [cdr], but no [dl] -- a tag indicating a download link, usually something publicists prepare and send out. There should be more of the latter -- Lord knows I get 5-10 in emails per day, but the extra hassle rarely seems worth the trouble. (Actually, I do have quite a bit of new ECM piled up. But for me at least, the hassle is not just in the downloading but also in the playing. And I still don't have that Jack DeJohnette that everyone likes so much.)
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 April 14. Past reviews and more information are available here (6396 records).
Tony Adamo: Tony Adamo & the New York Crew (2015, Urban Zone): Does something he calls "hipspokenword" -- a fast-paced narration-commentary set against a fast swing rhythm, with trumpet (Tim Ouimette) and alto sax (Donald Harrison) for accents and swirls. You get a capsule history of several decades of jazz, plus some Pablo Picasso stories. Four previous albums, so maybe this isn't sui generis, but it's close. B+(***) [cd]
Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color (2015, ATO): Alabama group with a black female singer-guitarist who does a remarkable Otis Redding impression, originally a covers band and not far beyond that on their debut, but this album makes a strong move toward finding their own sound. I'm duly impressed, especially on the title song, but not consistently so, and sometimes they get on my nerves. B+(*)
Harry Allen: For George, Cole and Duke (2015, Blue Heron): A batch of Gershwin, Porter, and Ellington standards, played by the tenor saxophonist, backed by Ehud Asherie (piano), Nicki Parrott (bass), and Chuck Redd (drums and vibes), and Little Johnny Rivero (percussion, three cuts), with the seductive Parrott singing three tunes. Lovely, but perhaps a little too easy. B+(***)
Dmitry Baevsky: Over and Out (2014 , Jazz Family): Alto saxophonist, mainstream guy, from St. Petersburg in Russia, based in New York, fourth album -- only other one I've heard was his second, Down With It (2010), superb. Three originals, most of the rest shows a jazz pedigree -- a Jobim, a Monk, two Ellingtons. Very facile with a lovely tone, he continues to impress. A- [cd]
Juan Pablo Balcazar: Reversible (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish bassist, sets up attractive rhythms for piano trio with Marco Mezquida and Carlos Falanga, then adds tenor saxophonist Miguel "Pintxo" Villar for some added color. B+(**)
Perry Beekman: S'Wonderful: Perry Beekman Sings and Plays Gershwin (2015, self-released): Guitarist-singer, based in the old Borscht Belt, third album of standards (pecking order was Cole Porter, then Rodgers & Hart). Great songs. Not so great singer. Accompanied by Peter Tomlinson (piano) and Lou Pappas (bass). B [cd]
Thomas Bergeron: Sacred Feast (2015, self-released): Trumpet player, don't know if he's related to big band specialist Wayne Bergeron but after this record I should be able to tell them apart. "Inspired by the music of Olivier Messiaen" -- his previous album did something similar with Debussy -- who like most classical composers is mostly a namecheck to me. Melodies have some promise, and the trumpet is neatly woven in, but Becca Stevens' diva act is a huge turnoff. C+ [cd]
David Berkman: Old Friends and New Friends (2014 , Palmetto): Pianist, ten albums since 1995 although he seems to have stalled after 2004. Three saxes here -- Dayna Stephens, Billy Drewes, Adam Kolker -- plus bass (Linda Oh) and drums (Brian Blade). B+(**)
Best Coast: California Nights (2015, Harvest): California duo, Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno, third album as they try to update, or just slog behind, LA's pop legacy. Too much wall of sound for me to hear anything clearly or sort any of it out. If they've gotten deeper, tell me. If they've just gotten louder, forget it. B+(*)
Pat Bianchi Trio: A Higher Standard (2015, 21-H): Organ, guitar (Craig Ebner), drums (Byron Landham) trio. Standards are mostly jazz fare, but start with "Without a Song" and end with Stevie Wonder, sneaking in two Bianchi originals. B+(*) [cd]
Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers: Loved Wild Lost (2015, Little Sur): When a review suggested a back-to-the-country '70s hippie sound, I flashed on Joy of Cooking which isn't off by much. Real attractive sound, but the songs still need some sorting -- may just be that Joy was lead by two distinctive women whereas the Gramblers are led by the singer's husband. B+(**)
Joshua Breakstone: 2nd Avenue (2014 , Capri): Guitarist, has close to twenty albums since 1983, subtitles this one "The Return of the Cello Quartet" -- meaning Mike Richmond on cello, Lisle Atkinson on bass, and Andy Watson on drums. Mostly jazz standards, with one original each from Breakstone and Atkinson -- the former include an "I'm an Old Cowhand" cribbed from Sonny Rollins. B+(*)
Chicago Reed Quartet: Western Automatic (2014 , Aerophonic): Saxophone quartet with the occasional clarinet thrown in: Nick Mazzarella (alto), Dave Rempis (alto, tenor, baritone), Mars Williams (sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor), and Ken Vandermark (tenor, baritone, clarinet, bass clarinet). Lot of action especially on the baritone. B+(**) [cd]
Christine and the Queens: Saint Claude (2015, Neon Gold, EP): French group, or duo, or maybe just Héloïse Létissier, debut album (Chaleur Humaine) popped up on French EOY lists last year. Five cuts, 18:38. B+(**)
Ciara: Jackie (2015, Epic): Soul singer, still under 30 but she's been around more than a decade and this, named after her mother, shows signs of advance and maturity, not to mention tighter songwriting and stiffer resolve. She's not always a "bad motherfucker," but can rise to the occasion. B+(***)
Steve Coleman and the Council of Balance: Synovial Joints (2014 , Pi): Alto saxophonist, former M-Base impressario, comes up with a 21-piece orchestra (counting vocalist Jen Shyu, fair because she just blends in) that feels rather smaller, often playing a unison line that rarely shakes the idiosyncratic beat. Remarkable stuff, although I'm not that much of a fan. B+(***) [cd]
Marilyn Crispell/Gerry Hemingway: Table of Changes (2013 , Intakt): Piano-drums duo, recorded live at various spots in Europe. Third album by the Duo since 1992, although they go back further to Anthony Braxton's famed 1980s Quartet (with Mark Dresser). The knockabout opener is as remarkable as anything the format gets -- cf. Cecil Taylor and Irène Schweizer with various drummers -- and while they don't sustain that intensity, they serve up plenty of interesting variations. A- [cd]
Dead Sara: Pleasure to Meet You (2015, Pocket Kid): Hard rock band from LA, singer is Emily Armstrong (also on rhythm guitar), lead guitarist is Siouxsie Medley, with males filling in on bass and drums. Pretty good tune sense and a no shit attitude, but hard rock remains the opposite of nimble, and I'm not a volume person. B+(*)
Death Grips: The Powers That B (2014-15 , Electro Magnetic/Harvest, 2CD): From Sacramento, sort of a trash metal group lead by math rock drummer Zach Hill plus a rapper, Stefan Burnett nudging them into hip-hop or plain old brutality. I've never cared for them, still don't, but their noise attack is not without interest. Album incorporates last year's downloadable, Niggas on the Moon, with its Björk samples, not that I noticed much difference. The second disc is Jenny Death. B+(*)
Michael Dees: The Dream I Dreamed (2014 , Jazzed Media): Classic crooner, has been hired to fill in where Frank Sinatra was called for but unavailable (e.g., for HBO's The Rat Pack documentary, and for a Simpsons episide. Past 70, but doesn't seem to have much recorded. Surprise here is that he's doing all originals, while keeping the sound down pat. Mostly backed by Terry Trotter's piano trio, with a little sax from Doug Webb (aka Lisa Simpson). B+(***) [cd]
Roberta Donnay & the Prohibition Mob Band: Bathtub Gin (2015, Motéma Music): Former singer for Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks does another batch of 1920s standards. B+(*)
Dave Douglas: High Risk (2014 , Greenleaf Music): There was a buzz in jazz circles a decade or so ago over something called jazztronica. The main source was Thirsty Ear's (or should I say Matthew Shipp's) Blue Series, but many others dabbled, especially trumpet players (who could look back to Miles Davis, or forward to Nils Petter Molvaer), including Douglas, who resumes his interest with this quartet: Jonathan Maron (electric and synth basses), Mark Guiliana (acoustic and electric drums), and Shigeto (electronics). Still, I don't think I've ever heard electronics employed with such restraint, so what you get is elegiac trumpet, often quite lovely, over an indecipherable haze. B+(**) [cd]
Harris Eisenstadt: Golden State II (2014 , Songlines): Drummer-composer, originally formed this as a sort of chamber jazz group around his wife's bassoon (Sara Schoenbeck), with Nicole Mitchell on flute and Mark Dresser on bass. Second album was recorded live in Vancouver, with clarinet (Michael Moore) instead of the flute. B+(***) [cd]
Lorenzo Feliciati: Koi (2015, Rare Noise): Electric bassist, sometimes fretless, also plays guitar, keyboards, and does some programming here. Core group is a bass-keyb-drums trio, but there's also a horn section and various guests. Fusion, but much more going on. B+(***) [cdr]
Hugo Fernandez: Cosmogram (2014 , Origin): Guitarist, not sure where he's originally from (more specifically than "the American continent") but studied in New Orleans and at Berklee, moved to Madrid in 2006. Second album, quartet with tenor and soprano sax (Ariel Bringuez), bass (Antonio Miguel), and drums (Antonio Sanchez). Straight postbop, a little grit in the sax. B+(**) [cd]
Oleg Frish: Duets With My American Idols (2014 , Time Out Media): Russian singer, entertainer, TV personality, member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, moved to New York in 1992, reputed to sing in 24 languages. American idols? Connie Francis introduces, followed by Peggy March, Ben E. King, B.J. Thomas, Chris Montez, Lainie Kazan, Tony Orlando, Melissa Manchester, Lou Christie, Bobby Rydell ("Volare") -- it's hard to doubt a foreigner whose taste in Americana runs to such kitsch. B+(***) [cd]
Ghost Train Orchestra: Hot Town (2013 , Accurate): Trumpeter Brian Carpenter's third dive into "music from 1920's Chicago and Harlem, with a group more postmodernist than antiquarian: Dennis Lichtman, Andy Laster, and Petr Cancura on reeds, Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, Cynthia Sayer on bajo, Ron Caswell on tuba, and when they want to break out the train sounds Colin Stetson drops in on bass sax. Mazz Swift's two vocals aren't high points, but her violin adds something beyond trad. B+(***) [cd]
Ben Goldberg: Orphic Machine (2015, BAG): Clarinetist, has a substantial discography since 1991, describes this as his "most ambitious project" -- seems a fair assessment. The nine-piece band is intricate and precise, more tightly controlled than you'd expect with improvisers like Myra Melford and Nels Cline. Only three horns -- Rob Sudduth's tenor sax adds depth and Ron Miles' trumpet shine -- with violin and vibes in the mix. Violinist Carla Kihlstedt also sings, the lyrics from the late poet/critic Allen Grossman (1932-2014), a mentor of Goldberg's. B+(***)
Ayelet Rose Gottlieb: Roadsides (2014, Arogole Music): Canada-based Israeli vocalist offers this "possible peaceful vision of the Middle-East through a wise arrangement of Israeli and Palestinian poetry" (quote from Eyal Hareuveni's review), sung in Hebrew (with English trots in the package I don't have), so much of that I'll have to take on faith. Anat Fort's piano is delicate and precise, Ihab Nimer adds oud and violin, and the band includes guitar-bass-drums. B+(***)
Rich Halley 4: Creating Structure (2014 , Pine Eagle): Tenor saxophonist from Portland, has created an impressive body of work since he retired from his day job. Quartet with Michael Vlatkovich on trombone, Clyde Reed on bass, and son Carson Halley on drums. His sax intro is as impressive as ever, and when the trombone enters they bat things around at a furious pace. I wondered whether the ending was too much -- reportedly this is all free improv, by-product from another session -- but after many plays it fit right in. A- [cd]
Lauren Henderson: A La Madrugada (2015, self-released): Latin-tinged jazz singer from Massachusetts, has Latin roots and sings several songs in Spanish, wrote more than half the bunch (including the four Spanish titles). Jazz combo includes two trumpets and alto sax, but doesn't have much more than the usual Latin tinge. B+(**) [cd]
Hu Vibrational: Presents the Epic Botanical Beat Suite (2014 , MOD Technologies): A group of seven drummers, principally Adam Rudolph, credited with "compositions and organic arrangements" -- the only other name I recognize is Brahim Fribgane, whose favored drum is cajon (none of the seven use a trap set). The rhythm is as pleasant as one could imagine, and "special guests" (most famously Eivind Aarset on guitar and Bill Laswell on electric bass) add some tinsel. B+(***) [cd]
José James: Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday (2015, Blue Note): Nine songs well remembered from Holiday's songbook, saving "God Bless the Child" and "Strange Fruit" for last. James is sauve and tasteful, and the band is far more understated than you'd expect from Jason Moran, John Patitucci, and Eric Harland. B+(*)
Tyler Kaneshiro & the Highlands: Amber of the Moment (2013 , self-released): Trumpet player, based in New York, first album, intricately (and sometimes lushly) layered postbop, with Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on tenor sax, both guitar and piano, bass and drums. Stefon Harris produced. B+(**) [cd]
Kirk Knuffke: Arms & Hands (2015, Royal Potato Family): Cornet player, has been very prolific since 2007, especially in group or supporting roles -- his website lists 11 "upcoming in 2015" albums, three under his own name, and notes four more recorded but not yet scheduled. This is a trio with Mark Helias on bass and Bill Goodwin on drums, with guest spots for Brian Drye (trombone), Daniel Carter (alto sax), and Jeff Lederer (soprano/tenor sax). The Ernest Tubb closer "Thanks a Lot" is a delight. B+(***)
Heikki Koskinen/Teppo Hauta-Aho/Mikko Innanen: Kellari Trio (2011 , Edgetone): Finish group, translates as Cellar Trio (founded in Hauta-Aho's cellar), trumpet-bass-alto sax respectively although all play related instruments (trombone-cello-bari sax/flute) and get credits for percussion. Still, short on beat, feel close to chamber jazz but less classical than horror soundtrack. B+(*) [cd]
Urs Leimgruber/Jacques Demierre/Barre Phillips: 1 - 3 - 2 - 1 (2012 , Jazzwerkstatt): Avant sax trio, with Demierre on piano and Phillips on bass, the leader playing tenor and soprano. Fifth group album since 2001, the leader having a couple dozen since 1983. Title simplified above -- it actually includes various symbols and arrows. RAther abstract and not particularly gripping. B
Charles Lloyd: Wild Man Dance (2013 , Blue Note): Six-part suite commissioned by Jazzlopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland, where this was recorded live. The saxophonist brought a piano trio for backup -- Gerald Clayton, Joe Sanders, Eric Harland -- and picked up Sokratis Sinopoulos on lyra and Miklos Lukacs on cimbalom, who set up the eerie opening texture. Builds powerfully when the old man gets on his horn, but you get a lot of set up before much happens. B+(**)
Joe Locke: Love Is a Pendulum (2014 , Motéma Music): Vibraphonist, prolific since 1990, supplements his piano-bass-drums quartet (Robert Rodriguez, Ricky Rodriguez, co-producer Terreon Gully) with guests -- notably Rosario Giuliani on alto sax and Donny McCaslin on tenor, but also bits of guitar and steel pans and a Theo Bleckmann vocal -- for some sprightly and exceptionally complex postbop, most interesting when the timing gets slippery. B+(***) [cd]
LoneLady: Hinterland (2015, Warp): Julie Campbell's second album, her early work described as "art-punk," perhaps moderated by working on an electronica label although her song craft remains sharp and pointed. B+(***)
Lord Huron: Strange Trails (2015, Iamsound): Originally from Michigan, now based in LA where their indie folk shtick has picked up resonances from the Byrds to the Eagles. B+(**)
Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas: Sound Prints: Live at Monterey Jazz Festival (2013 , Blue Note): This comes down to chops, which is what you'd expect from two of the very top musicians on their instruments, tenor sax and trumpet, respectively. They're backed by Lawrence Fields (piano), Linda Oh (bass), and Joey Baron (drums): your basic hard bop lineup. Six pieces, two each from the leaders, plus two from Wayne Shorter to evoke the heyday of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. A-
Low Cut Connie: Hi Honey (2015, Ardent Music/Contender): From Philadelphia, third album, AMG classifies them as "retro-rock" but I don't see them as going back so much as plundering the past with postmodernist glee. Basically a guitar band until you notice the Jerry Lee piano -- where most groups are advised to find their own distinct sound, this one revels in all of them. A-
Harold Mabern: Afro Blue (2015, Smoke Sessions): Mainstream pianist, will turn 80 next year, backed by John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, with Eric Alexander's tenor sax on ten (of 14) tracks, Jeremy Pelt's trumpet on six, Steve Turre's trombone on four, and Peter Bernstein's guitar on one. So far, so good, but they decided to fill the album up with guest singers -- Gregory Porter, Norah Jones, Jane Monheit, Kurt Elling, Alexis Cole. The only one of those I would have kept was Jones, and maybe just on "Fools Rush In." B
The Magic Words: The Day We Ran Away (Magic Words Demos) (2015, self-released): Lisa Walker (of Wussy fame) side project, released a very limited edition album (Junk Train in 2006, recycled as a digital album last year. No info on when these demos were done, but only one song ("Watch Yer Back" in two takes) reappears. Demo-quality sound, rather down in the dumps. B+(*) [bc]
Phil Maturano: At Home Everywhere (2015, self-released): Drummer-led piano trio -- actually two, one with Matthew Fries and Phil Palombi, the other with Christian Torkewitz and Michael O'Brien or Irio O'Farril -- four (of nine) pieces by the drummer, one by Fries, others from jazz sources (Shorter, Gillespie, Carrisi). First album. Leader pushes them hard. B+(*) [cd]
Donny McCaslin: Fast Future (2014 , Greenleaf Music): Terrific tenor saxophonist, at least when he gets to blast through a solo on someone else's record. His own albums tend toward fancy postbop, but keyboardist Jason Lindner steers this toward dance grooves, which sort of confuses everyone. B+(*)
Barney McClure: Show Me! (2014 , OA2): Organ player, has a handful of albums since 1998, this one exceptional in that he's backed by a full big band (Central Western University Jazz Band, conducted by Chris Druya), mostly Phil Kelly arrangements. They breathe some fresh life into the old humdrum. B+(*) [cd]
Metallic Taste of Blood: Doctoring the Dead (2015, Rare Noise): Led by Eraldo Bernocchi (guitars, electronics), second group (bass-drums-keybs) album since 2012. Bass-heavy lead riffs, far short of heavy metal in intensity, which is to say more bearable, some kind of fusion form. B+(**) [cdr]
Marcus Miller: Afrodeezia (2015, Blue Note): Funk bassist, has a couple dozen albums since 1983, nothing I've paid much attention to but this one has some prestige due to the label and his recent "work as a UNESCO artist for peace." Core group with sax, trumpet, piano, guitar and drums, plus a long list of guests climaxing with Chuck D. Album has its moments: "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" is one tune which holds up to the minimal bass fuzz technique, Ben Hong's Bizet feature is lovely, and Mocean Worker creats a soft cell for D's short rap. B+(*)
Rhett Miller: The Traveler (2015, ATO): Leads a pretty decent alt-rock band called Old 97's since 1992 but has a half-dozen solo albums, some pretty good (too), most with titles like this (The Instigator, The Believer, The Dreamer, a covers album The Interpreter). The solos are a bit lighter, more keyb than guitar. This starts off remarkably jaunty, but my one-spin intuition is that the songs won't stick. B+(**)
Allison Moorer: Down to Believing (2015, E1): Country singer/songwriter, ninth album since 1998, has a credit in all the songs here except for the John Fogerty cover. Recently divorced from Steve Earle -- never struck me as a match but this one is much stronger than her last few (e.g., "Mama Let the Wolf In"). B+(**)
The Mowgli's: Kids in Love (2015, Republic): L.A. pop group, named after a dog named after a Kipling Jungle Book character, with a gratuitous apostrophe noted on Wikipedia as "sic." Seven players, boy and girl lead singers and everyone joining in the crowd choruses. When I was growing up irony provided a refuge for art, but these days you're more likely to hear that irony is dead, so maybe it's time someone made something out of such earnestness. I might have hated them forty years ago -- indeed, I recall groups like them then -- but they're one of the few things that make me feel good about kids today. Wonder if they know Kipling's a notorious racist? I'm sure they'd be appalled. A-
Brad Myers: Prime Numbers (2014-15 , Colloquy): Guitarist, second album (at least), in a quintet with tenor sax (Ben Walkenhauer), vibes (Chris Barrick), bass and drums. Has a background playing funk, but this is straight up postbop, with nice little accents. B+(*) [cd]
Pascal Niggenkemper: Look With Thine Ears: Solo (2014 , Clean Feed): Bassist, describes himself as German-French, based in New York, has a few records under his own name, more as PNTrio and Baloni. This is solo, bass and "preparations" which set loose a wide range of industrial klang, some quite captivating. B+(**) [cd]
Michael Oien: And Now (2014 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist-composer, first album, postbop quintet leads with guitar (Matthew Stevens), layering the piano (Jamie Reynolds) and alto sax (Nick Videen), adding an extra tenor sax (Travis Laplante) on the third song for a high point. Three "Dreamer" parts follow, where the bass comes back into focus. B+(***) [cdr]
Opus: Definition (2014 , BluJazz): Jazz quintet from Wisconsin, look like they've been around a while but first album I can find. Electric guitar, bass, and keybs, plus Curt Hanrahan on woodwinds (four saxes and quite a bit of flute). B [cd]
Mario Pavone: Blue Dialect (2014 , Clean Feed): Bassist, has a couple dozen albums since 1982. This is a piano trio, with Billy Mitchell and Tyshawn Sorey, and it's lively, inventive, what you'd hope for in a piano trio. Still, after four or five plays, this never did more than impress me. I wondered if maybe it's that "problem" I have with piano trios, but I looked it up and found I gave Pavone's previous piano trio, 2013's Arc Trio, an A-. That one was with Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver. B+(***) [cd]
Peach Kelli Pop: Peach Kelli Pop III (2015, Burger, EP): Third short album (10 songs, 20:24) for Allie Hanlon's lo-fi punk/pop project, this one assembled as a band. B+(*)
Plunge: In for the Out (2014 , Immersion): Third group album I've been filing under trombonist Mark McGrain, who dominates even with two saxophones, aided no doubt by Kirk Joseph on sousaphone. Robert Walter moves things along with a funk groove on organ. B+(*) [cd]
Protoje: Ancient Future (2015, Indiggnation Collective/Overstand): A young reggae artist, gets something of the traditional sound with a more contemporary sheen. Interesting how something so basic still sounds so compelling. A-
Jure Pukl: The Life Sound Pictures of Jure Pukl (2014, Fresh Sound New Talent): Saxophonist (tenor, soprano) from Slovenia, has a couple albums, this one recorded in New York with Sam Harris (piano), Adam Rogers (guitar), Joe Sanders (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). Strong driving originals, a solo (tenor) take on "Lush Life," a guest vocal by Sachal Vasandani. B+(**)
Billie Rainbird: Deep Blue (2015, Phantom): Canadian singer-songwriter, also does some modeling and acting, figures this her "major album" debut, produced by drummer Simon Phillips who keeps it rocking hard. B+(*) [cd]
The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Cash and Carry (2014 , Aerophonic): Dave Rempis, first noticed on alto sax when he replaced Mars Williams in the Vandermark 5, where he was so impressive he started crowding Vandermark out of the tenor sax slot (plays some impressive baritone here too). Fifth album by his two drummer (Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly) quartet, with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass. Basically a blowing session, recorded live at the Hungry Brain in Chicago -- what more could you ask for? A- [cd]
Gloria Reuben: Perchance to Dream (2014 , MCG Jazz): Canadian actress, from Toronto, parents from Jamaica (mother black, father Jewish), had a role on ER for six years. Wikipedia lists 19 films and 14 television series she appeared in, but no records. Standards (but not very), arranged by trombonist Jay Ashby, her voice grows on you. B+(**) [cd]
Eve Risser: Des Pas Sur La Neige (2013 , Clean Feed): Solo piano, mostly prepared, but goes for long stretches at a barely audible level -- makes it hard to focus or say anything, although the plucked strings and klang are not without interest. First album, after a half-dozen side credits since 2009. B [cd]
Claire Ritter: Soho Solo (2014 , Zoning): Solo piano, mostly original pieces plus one by Ran Blake and one by Harold Arlen. Takes some time to settle in, but I particularly liked her The Stream of Pearls Project (2011), so gave it the extra spins. B+(***) [cd]
Harvie S/Sheryl Bailey: Plucky Strum (2014 , Whaling City Sound): Bass-guitar duets, the former, oft-misspelled Mr. Swartz well established even under his adopted name, the latter a guitarist with eight (or so) albums since 1995. Not as amusing, or as light, as the cover suggests. B+(*) [cd]
Marta Sánchez Quintet: Partenika (2014 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist from Madrid, Spain, debuts with a "New York Quintet" including two saxes (Jerome Sabbagh and Román Filiú), bass and drums. Postbop, the saxes adding to the pervasive sense of flow. B+(**) [cd]
Nisse Sandström Quintet: Live at Crescendo (2014 , Moserobie): Swedish tenor saxophonist, b. 1942, not as well known as Bernt Rosengren but their 1984 album together was titled Summit Meeting. Quintet includes a second tenor, the much younger Jonas Kullhammar, an avant player with respect for his elders -- his superb Gentlemen from last year included a few cuts with Rosengren. Mainstream, a friendly pairing, reminds me of those Al Cohn-Zoot Sims soirées. B+(***) [cd]
Elliott Sharp: Octal: Book Three (2013 , Clean Feed): Solo guitar, third in this series but there must be dozens in Sharp's vast catalogue. Manages both to coax unusual sounds from the instrument and to marshall them in unexpected ways, but they feel like sketches, almost as if he were presenting assignments for his I Never Meta Guitar series colleagues to follow up on. B+(***) [cd]
Shlohmo: Dark Red (2015, True Panther Sounds): Henry Laufer, LA beatmaker, goes for shrill synths to open but soon finds one of the more compelling rhythm runs of recent times. B+(***)
Adam Shulman Sextet: Here/There (2014 , OA2): Pianist, has a few records, Sextet includes trumpet and two saxes, good enough for the usual range of postbop sonorities. B [cd]
Skrillex/Diplo: Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü (2015, Mad Decent/OWSLA): I've seen the artists listed both ways, in and out of the title. Skrillex provides his usual outlandish sonic fireworks, but at least they have some content to support -- presumably thanks to Diplo, although all but the intro have feat. credits -- Justin Bieber, Bunji Garlin, 2 Chainz, etc. Tatum says this is a "nonstop pleasure machine." B+(***)
Steve Smith and Vital Information NYC Edition: Viewpoint (2011 , BFM Jazz): Fusion/crossover drummer, called his 1983 debut Vital Information and has enjoyed that as a band name ever since -- the qualification suggesting some recent personnel juggling. Indeed, only bassist Baron Browne and guitarist Vinny Valentino return from previous albums; the newcomers are Mark Soskin (keybs) and Andy Fusco (alto sax), with tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf joining for a couple cuts. Aims less for pop jazz than for its own classic status, including covers of "Bemsha Swing," "Take Five," and "Oleo." B+(*) [cd]
Mavis Staples: Your Good Fortune (2015, Anti, EP): Produced by Jeff Tweedy, four songs, 14:05: a first-rate protest anthem in "Fight," one on luck, one on death, one on God, each brought with the conviction of one of the great gospel singers. B+(***)
Sult: Svimmelhed (2014, Humbler/Conrad Sound): Norwegian group, two contrabasses, acoustic guitar, percussion -- third album, more like experimental noise than jazz although I don't doubt an improvisational element. B+(**) [cd]
Tal National: Zoy Zoy (2015, Fat Cat): Group from Niger, second album (at least outside of Niger), brings the Sahara's spare desert aesthetic to more sophisticated sources, triangulating between Senegal's ever-shifting Afro-Cuban rhythms and Kinshasa's junkyard percussion -- fancy and crude at once, and overpowering. B+(***)
Toro y Moi: What For? (2015, Carpark): Chez Bundick, from South Carolina, cranks up the Beatles-ish harmonies for his fuzzy electropop. B+(*)
Boubacar Traoré: Mbalimaou (2014 , Lusafrica): Guitar and vocals from a Malian (and Parisian) singer-songwriter, with a soft touch and reassuring but resonant voice, about as basic as desert blues can get. B+(**)
John Tropea: Gotcha Rhythm Right Here (2014 , STP): Guitarist, cut his first album in 1975 after side credits with Deodato and Billy Cobham, may explain the heavy disco vibe to his "gotcha rhythm" here. B- [cd]
Tyler, the Creator: Cherry Bomb (2015, Odd Future): After two records where Tyler Okonma seemed intent on establishing his own peculiar twist on juvenilia, he's growing up a bit. Still not ready to emerge clearly from the murk, but now he's wondering if murk isn't its own reward. B+(*)
Viet Cong: Viet Cong (2015, Jagjaguwar): Guitar band from Calgary, had an EP last year that got some attention but I thought undistinguished. On their debut album here, however, they have a coherent sound, a fast-paced metallic clang and drone, just one that has yet to generate substantial songs. B+(**)
Eli Wallace/Jon Arkin/Karl Evangelista: Cabbages, Captain, & King (2014 , Edgetone): Cover just has title, so a good case can be made for that as the group name, but I cribbed the artist name off the hype sheet and prefer the extra information. Besides, this is very much Wallace's album, all compositions his, his piano much more prominent than Evangelista's guitar or Arkin's drums. Eloquent, too, and develops some edge. B+(***) [cd]
Katharina Weber/Fred Frith/Fredy Studer: It Rolls (2014 , Intakt): Piano-guitar-drums trio, although it's less than obvious that Frith's unexpected sounds come from a guitar. Weber is Swiss, from Bern, with a couple previous albums. Her piano provides a solid center here; less sure what to make of Frith. B+(**) [cd]
Daniel Weltlinger: Koblenz (2012-13 , Rectify): Violinist, from Australia with "French-Hungarian-Israeli" roots, goes for a gypsy jazz vibe, rotating many guest-collaborators in and out, including a guitarist named Lulo Reinhardt. B+(**) [cd]
Ben Williams: Coming of Age (2014 , Concord Jazz): Bassist, second album, won one of those Monk prizes which condemns you to record for Concord. Group includes both guitar and piano aiming at their least common denominator, middleground melodic mush, and he gets surprisingly little out of Marcus Strickland. The guests, including vocalist Goapele, add little, not that I didn't enjoy W. Ellington Felton's "Toy Soldies" rap. B-
Dwight Yoakam: Second Hand Heart (2015, Warner Brothers): Strikes not one but two rockabilly poses on the cover, and truth is he rocks this album harder than ever before, while his voice still has enough twang to hold his audience -- and if that doesn't work, he covers "Man of Constant Sorrow." I should be pleased, but mostly I'm just annoyed. B
Young Fathers: White Men Are Black Men Too (2015, Big Dada): Not really fair to judge this on one spin, but I don't feel like giving it another, even hearing things that are new and pathbreaking. Nominally a hip-hop trio from Edinburgh, there is little rap here -- murk more like Black Messiah done up by Death Grips. Title song, by the way, is more qualified: "some white men" which strikes me as something else. [OK, gave it a second spin, and nudged it up a little.] B+(**)
Young Guv: Ripe 4 Luv (2015, Slumberland): Solo project from Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook, eschews the group's post-hardcore sound for a sprightly beat and some guitar jangle while kicking the vocals into a much sweeter register. B+(***)
Zubatto Syndicate: Zubatto Syndicate 2 (2015, Boscology): Fourteen-piece big band from Seattle led by guitarist Andrew Boscardin, group includes two brass, three saxes, five other reeds including oboe and two bassoons, electric keybs -- instrumental prog rock more than anything else, not that I feel like dissecting it. C+ [cdr]
Zun Zun Egui: Shackles' Gift (2015, Bella Union): UK funk-metal-worldbeat-pop group from Bristol, led by Mauritian singer-guitarist Kushal Gaya and Japanese keyboardist Yoshino Shigihara. B+(*)
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Art-i-facts: Great Performances From 40 Years of Jazz at NEC (1973-2008 , New England Conservatory): A little scattered, but they must have had tons of material to pick from, so eclecticism is diplomacy. The lineup reads like a hall of fame of jazz education -- George Russell, George Garzone, Gunther Schuller, Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Giuffre, Steve Lacy, Rakalam Bob Moses, Ran Blake -- with the fine print filled by students (probably some famous names there too). Highlights include Garzone showing us how to play Coltrane, and Schuller dredging up old ragtime. B+(***) [cd]
James Booker: Gonzo: Live 1976 (1976 , Rockbeat, 2CD): The fanciest of New Orleans pianists, dead young at 43 in 1983, his thin catalog mostly recorded live with these sets from Germany adding a couple hours -- redundant in some cases, remarkable in most. A-
Wild Bill Davison: The Jazz Giants (1968 , Delmark/Sackville): Cornet player, came up in Eddie Condon's group, his first recordings under his own name in 1943 for Commodore (cf. The Commodore Master Takes, collected in 1997 by GRP and highly recommended). Standard trad fare here, a sextet with Herb Hall on clarinet, Benny Morton on trombone, and Claude Hopkins on piano, his own tone towering and shining. A- [cd]
Dion: Recorded Live at the Bitter End August 1971 (1971 , Omnivore): Author of many doo wop hits in the late-1950s, Dion DiMucci had a notable second act as a folksinger -- see Bronx Blues: The Columbia Recordings (1962-1965) -- and a couple not completely unsuccessful comeback years later (2012's Tank Full of Blues is one of the better ones). Tempting to say this is where he hit bottom, but that's the inevitable thinness of solo performance, with just his acoustic guitar for comfort. Only reprises two of his hits far down the set list, but finds something in "Too Much Monkey Business" much weightier than what Chuck Berry had in mind. B
The Kingbees: The Kingbees (1980 , Omnivore): Rockabilly revival band led by Canadian-born Jamie James, who went on to release a couple solo albums after two group albums. This is the first, the original ten cuts (two covers, Don Gibson and Ahmet Ertegun) expanded to eighteen cuts -- the last three show them to be a first-rate cover band ("Bo Diddley," "Not Fade Away," and a "Somethin' Else" uncannily echoing the Flaming Groovies version from a decade earlier). B+(**)
Bob Marley & the Wailers: Easy Skanking in Boston '78 (1978 , Island/Tuff Gong): Possibly the beginning of a flood of live Marley on top of the two live albums released in his lifetime -- the magnificent Live (1976) and the tedious Babylon by Bus (1978) -- this at least delivers greatest hits with a little extra heat, and reminds me that while they yearned for peace they didn't expect it to come easy. Probably packaged with a DVD, which I haven't seen (and probably never will). A-
Next Stop Soweto, Vol. 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco and Mbaqanga 1975-1985 (1975-85 , Strut): This series has generally tried to stay off the beaten path that produced such classic compilations as The Indestructible Beat of Soweto (five volumes), The Kings and Queens of Township Jive, and Soweto Never Sleeps, the result being second-rate trivia. Same here, but the rock and disco here is deliriously derivative, transposing familiar riffs into an alternate universe where they become iconic. Fun, too. A-
PC Music Volume 1 (2013-15 , PC Music): Sampler from a UK label, ten short songs (29:46) by seven artists (two each by Hannah Diamond, A.G. Cook, and GFOTY), mostly cartoonish dance-pop with "high-pitched, cutesy female vocals." B+(**)
Punk 45: Burn Rubber City, Burn! Akron, Ohio: Punk and the Decline of the Mid West 1975-80 (1975-80 , Soul Jazz): A relatively small scene, but it produced Chris Butler and Ralph Carney and their bands (Tin Huey, the Waitresses), Devo, the Bizarros, Rubber City Rebels, Jane Aire, Chi Pig, a few more -- nice to see them rounded up like this. B+(***)
Punk 45: Extermination Nights in the Sixth City: Cleveland, Ohio: Punk and the Decline of the Mid West 1975-82 (1975-82 , Soul Jazz): My recollection was that Cleveland was always a bit less populous than Baltimore, and by 1975 Houston (and possibly others) were larger, but Cleveland's bona fides were such that they built a Rock & Roll Museum there. The obscure punk bands archived here were sharp as tacks, and Pere Ubu was brilliant (for some reason Rhapsody omits two Pere Ubu cuts plus one from the related Rocket From the Tombs -- songs I know so well I can fill them in from memory; beware they're also missing from the MP3 release). A-
Leroy Smart: The Don Tells It Like It Is . . . (1972-77 , Kingston Sounds): Prolific reggae musician -- Discogs credits him with 39 albums and 368 singles, and lists this as a compilation, with Bunny Lee as producer, Jackie Mittoo on piano, Sly & Robbie the rhythm. Still, I was only able to track down half the songs, some (like "Pride and Ambition") appearing several times, some with variant titles (e.g., "Man Is Great" vs. "Man Is So Great"), so my dates are little more than a guess -- the main clue being that Smart started producing himself in 1977. B+(***)
James Booker: Junco Partner (1976, Rounder): First record by the New Orleans "piano wizard," shows his classical pedigree by opening with a Chopin waltz, then moves on to "Goodnight Irene," "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "Make a Better World," and a medley that wraps it all up and throws in the kitchen sink. Sings some, too, which isn't his forte. B+(**)
Jaki Byard and the Apollo Stompers: Phantasies II (1988 , Soul Note): A cutting-edge postbop pianist usually heard in small groups, surprisingly comes up with a retro-flavored big band, complete with singers Vincent Lewis ("June Night") and Diane Byard ("Send in the Clowns"). B+(**)
King Curtis & Champion Jack Dupree: Blues at Montreux (1971 , Atlantic/Rhino): Basically, the New Orleans piano blues master's standard set, something he started working out in the 1940s -- see New Orleans Barrelhouse Boogie (1940-41 , Columbia/Legacy) -- and aged like fine wine up to 1991's Forever and Ever (Bullseye). But the tenor saxophonist was built to play blues riffs, and he not only answers every line Dupree feeds him, he elicits some spectacular piano. A-
Ben Goldberg: Eight Phrases for Jefferson Rubin (1996 , Victo): In memory of Jefferson Darrow Rubin (1959-95), a sculptor and childhood friend of Goldberg's. Clarinet, with Larry Ochs (tenor/soprano sax), John Schott (guitar), bass and drums. A little flighty at first, but Ochs pushes it over to the free side. B+(**)
Coleman Hawkins/Henry "Red" Allen: Reunion in Hi-Fi: The Complete Classic Sessions (1957-58 , Lone Hill Jazz, 2CD): Rhapsody has a different cover and subtitle (Complete 1950s Studio Recordings), drops Allen from the credit, and lists the label as Plenty Jazz, but it looks to match this set from the Fresh Sound subsidiary. Hawkins and Allen met in Fletcher Henderson's orchestra and recorded together in 1934, hence the reunion. Hawkins moved on through bebop in the 1940s, so this is one of his few later trad-oriented recordings: indeed, the first disc is a session that was originally released under Allen's name as Ride, Red, Ride (1957) and reissued as World on a String (1991, RCA -- I gave it a full A). The second disc includes three sessions, released on two LPs and collected as Standards and Warhorses (1987, Jass). I gave the latter a B, but no longer hear much drop off. For Allen's classic work, see his 1929-30 New York Orchestra (two volumes on JSP), his 1930s recordings on Collector's Classics (four volumes, especially the first), and his 1933 with Hawkins, but he never sounded better than on the first disc here. Hawkins was always great. A-
Charles Lloyd: Discovery! (1964, Columbia): After associations with Chico Hamilton and Cannonball Adderley, the tenor saxophonist's first album, a quartet with Don Friedman on piano, Eddie Kahn or Richard Davis on bass, J.C. Moses or Roy Haynes on drums. Reveals an impressive new "voice" on tenor sax. Also a guy who plays more flute than is warranted. B+(**)
Charles Lloyd: Nirvana (1962-65 , Columbia): Skipping past Of Course, Of Course (I have the 2006 Mosaic reissue, a very solid A-), Lloyd's third (and last) Columbia album didn't appear until his Atlantic success. Album is split: Side A is attributed to "Charles Lloyd & His Quintet" but sources credit Gabor Szabo, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams (or Pete LaRoca); Side B is an older 14:38 track from Lloyd's tenure with the Chico Hamilton Quintet (also with Szabo). B+(**)
The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Dream Weaver (1966, Atlantic): The saxophonist had already cut three albums for Columbia (including the excellent Of Course, Of Course), but this was the first on Atlantic and his first with these young future all-stars -- Keith Jarrett (21), Cecil McBee (31), and Jack DeJohnette (24). My main quibble is that Lloyd opens and closes on flute. B+(***)
Charles Lloyd: Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd at Monterey (1966 , Atlantic): Lloyd's early tenor sax style was often dismissed as "Coltrane light" but he takes that as a badge of courage here, and even shows a nice ballad style. Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette are rarely short of brilliant, and Cecil McBee's bass ties it all together. A-
The Charles Lloyd Quartet: The Flowering of the Original Charles Lloyd Quartet (1966 , Atlantic): Drawn from two live dates in France and Norway (the latter also the source for Charles Lloyd in Europe). Seems like a lot of flute here: one plus is that it doesn't overwhelm the very bright rhythm section. B+(**)
The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Charles Lloyd in Europe (1966 , Atlantic): Live set, recorded Oct. 29 in Oslo, Norway, again with Jarrett-McBee-DeJohnette. All Lloyd originals this time, starting with two name-checking India ("Tagore" and "Karma"). B+(**)
The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Love-In (1967, Atlantic): Recorded live at the Fillmore in San Francisco, the cover wrapped in day-glo, a plunge into the hippie market with pieces like "Tribal Dance" and "Temple Bells," a Beatles cover, two pieces by enfant terrible pianist Keith Jarrett, and a blues jam. Sounds a little thin, but a credible attempt to sell avant-jazz to the masses. Ron McClure replaces Cecil McBee on bass. B+(***)
The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Journey Within (1967, Atlantic): More from the Fillmore, and more scattered, with some upbeat boogie/blues, more avant edge, especially on the cut where Jarrett jumps in on soprano sax -- always a scary proposition. B+(*)
The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Charles Lloyd in the Soviet Union (1967 , Atlantic): Recorded live in Tallinn in the Estonian SSR, four longish cuts totalling 47:54 -- by all reports a very successful tour by one of the period's most successful jazz groups. All of Lloyd's 1960s albums have leaned avant, but he's rarely come out as aggressively as here. And when he does back off (actually, switch to flute) Jarrett is quick to pick up the slack. B+(***)
Charles Lloyd: Soundtrack (1968 , Atlantic): Actually, another live quartet album, this one from Town Hall in New York City. Four pieces, a Latin groove on the 10:26 opener and a rockish one on the 16:51 closer, both busting open by Jarrett and DeJohnette -- soon to leave Lloyd for Miles Davis, then go on to major careers as leaders (although DeJohnette wound up playing in Jarrett's Standards Trio for more than thirty years). B+(***)
Paul Motian: The Story of Maryam (1983 , Soul Note): Rhapsody, which has a habit of misfiling records on Black Saint and Soul Note, lists this under Joe Lovano. Motian led a long-term trio with Lovano and Bill Frisell, expanded here to quintet with Jim Pepper on tenor/soprano sax and Ed Shuller on bass. B+(**)
Paul Motian Quintet: Jack of Clubs (1984 , Soul Note): Same group, better balance, which is to say Frisell's guitar and Pepper's soprano sax are more evident, amplifying the warped indeterminacy of Motian's zen beat. But wanders more too. B+(**)
Manfred Schulze Bläser Quintett: Nummer 12 (1985 , FMP): German baritone saxophonist (1934-2010), only led a handful of records. For this one he assembled a sax choir (two sopranos and a tenor) plus Johannes Bauer on trombone, a wild card as usual. One 40-minute piece, split on the original LP. B+(**) [bc]
Leroy Smart: Superstar (1977, Justice): First proper album after a number of singles, produced by Bunny Lee, engineered by King Tubby and Prince Jammy, effectively the confluence of all those sources with due respect to Jah. But for a singles artist he doesn't seem to have a well developed feel for the hook. B+(**)
Stooges Brass Band: It's About Time (2003, The Gruve Label): New Orleans brass band, formed by Walter Ramsey in 1996 after seeing Rebirth Brass Band and thinking he could do the same thing only hipper and more raucous. Group's still kicking around, with some recent live albums I've looked for but haven't found. Stumbled on this debut. Horns owe more to Fred Wesley than to Kid Ory, the polyrhythms run amok, the raps fall short of state of the art. B+(**)
Cecil Taylor Workshop Ensemble: Legba Crossing (1988 , FMP): One of eleven CDs released from the avant-jazz pianist's big month in Berlin, a ten piece orchestra with flute, oboe, three saxes, trombone, violin, piano (Paul Plimley, not Taylor), bass, and drums, plus Trudy Morse's voice, with Taylor directing the controled chaos. B+(***) [bc]
Additional Consumer News:
I went with the original LP lineups for Charles Lloyd's Atlantics above. They have been much reissued on CD, often in "twofer" (2-on-1) formats. I have one combining Journey Within with In Europe (1966-67 , Collectables), and a 2-CD combination of Dream Weaver and Love-In released as Just Before Sunrise (1966-67 , 32 Jazz, 2CD). Collectables also released twofers of Soundtrack/Charles Lloyd in the Soviet Union (1999), and The Flowering of the Original Charles Lloyd Quartet/Warne Marsh (1999), the latter having nothing to do with Lloyd. A better deal is Forest Flower/Soundtrack (, Rhino/Atlantic) -- currently the easiest way to find the former, and the latter drops off very little.
Monday, May 11. 2015
Music: Current count 24940  rated (+31), 402  unrated (-5).
Did a count check late last night and was at 29 -- tempting to cut off there since that seems to be my number, but I filed two more discs before getting around to reshuffling the bits this afternoon. I made some progress sorting through the CDs in my work area, finding a lot of things I haven't seen in years -- even some CDs that I never managed to list in the database. Still have five baskets on the floor for sorting, but that should reduce to one for the incoming queue, or I might even manage to slip them into a mostly empty shelf right in front of me. Next step after that will be to clear off the desktop clutter. When I was working, I used to regard anyone with a clear desk as unproductive (to say the least), but it is nice to periodically get to the bottom of it all and clear out the most useless crud.
This week's new jazz mostly confirms old favorites, although I should note that five former A-list artists fell a bit short (David Berkman, Steve Coleman, Dave Douglas, Claire Ritter, Elliott Sharp; I haven't heard anything previous by Nisse Sandström, but Jonas Kullhammar is on the record). The Coleman and Douglas records will certainly have their fans, and will fare better in year-end polls than Crispell/Hemingway or Rempis.
As for old jazz, Red Allen's World on a String (RCA) is an old favorite, and accounts for the first half of the Hawkins/Allen compilation. Turns out I had heard, and almost certainly underrated, nearly all of the rest. I've often shied away from playing Fresh Sound's reissues -- often things like 4 LPs on 2 CDs -- on Rhapsody because it's hard to focus over such length. (At least with real CDs it's normal to absorb box sets piecemeal, but the extra work that demands when streaming usually defeats me.) Otherwise, they have a lot of recent releases that would tempt me (that I might even buy if the dollar was stronger and I was in an acquisitive mood): especially the 4-CD Lars Gullin: Portrait of the Legendary Baritone Saxophonist: Complete 1956-1960 Studio Recordings -- based on what I've heard, quite possibly a solid A. They also have two collections of George Russell's early work: the 2-CD Complete 1956-1960 Smalltet & Orchestra Recordings and the 4-CD Sextet & Septet: The Complete 1960-1962 Decca & Riverside Album Collection. You can find grades for most of the constituent LPs in my database, starting with the solid A (and long out-of-print) 1956 Jazz Workshop.
Most of the non-jazz below was suggested by Spin's Overlooked Albums Report. I didn't A-list anything there, but Ciara and LoneLady came real close, followed by Shlohmo and Young Guv. Nothing bad on Spin's list. I've started to include some limited grade info in the 2015 Music Tracking file, although there's little chance that I'll keep it up to date. Does help to give me hints as to what to look for.
Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes tomorrow (or something like that). Draft file currently has 118 records, so if anything it's overdue. Note that I'm probably two (maybe three) weeks away from crossing the 25,000 rated albums mark.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, May 10. 2015
We had four or five straight days this week of "elevated" severe weather threats. Most of the real damage took place in Oklahoma and north Texas, but we did have one EF-3 tornado on the ground for 15 miles near Rose Hill, about ten miles west of here. Rain itself has been spotty, and most likely we're still below average year-to-date. More surprising to me is Tropical Storm Ana appearing a month ahead of the Atlantic hurricane season -- the earliest such storm since 2003. Wikipedia says the forecast for hurricanes this year is about 20% below the 1950-2014 average, but such an early storm strikes me as ominous.
This week's scattered links:
Also, a few links for further study:
Monday, May 4. 2015
Music: Current count 24909  rated (+20), 407  unrated (+3).
Rated count fell significantly this week. I'd like to blame it on Rhapsody, which did one of those redesign things "to give you a better experience" and got rid of the "Browse" option. My modus operandi of late has been to play a new CD when I'm not at the computer -- the stereo is set up to play in the kitchen/dining room and basement as well as in my office space -- then look on Rhapsody when I know I'm going to be on the computer for a while. Sometimes I have something I've searched for there, but often I just browse to see what pops up. Except I can't do that any more. I've written two angry letters. Maybe it's time to drop them and pick up Spotify? My experiments with the latter were far from satisfactory, but that was with their "free" account. I've never found much difference in what's available, so it's mostly a choice between one sucky/piggy UI and another.
But there's another reason for the rated count drop. I've spent several days on a woodworking project: building a wheeled cabinet on which I'll mount my cheapo Ryobi router table (basically designed as a table-top unit, although it's really too high on top of a full workbench). Got it assembled and a first coat of paint on it. Should take another coat plus some touch-up and a handle, so a couple days (depending on weather). I've never done much with it (or any of my routers), although it should be a sweet setup. Does at least get it off my floor, and adds a storage drawer which should be more than enough to hold all my router bits. Organization of the tools areas is if anything a more pressing need than clean up of books or CDs.
Probably a week away from May's Rhapsody Streamnotes (tempted to drop the brand name there). Currently have 75 records in the draft file. Four (of six) A-list records this week come from scrounging through the Expert Witness notices -- Booker from Christgau, Protoje from Gubbels, Marley and King Curtis/Champion Jack Dupree from Phil Overeem. I got hep to Rich Halley many years ago. I don't think the new one is his best, but it may be the hardest, and after six or seven plays I gave up my reservations. As for Davison, I still hold that the old jazz is the real jazz. A cornet player, he's a name I'm familiar with but haven't listened to much -- shows up mostly on Eddie Condon records -- but he sounds brilliant here, even way past his prime. Someone to look into deeper.
No time for Weekend Roundup yesterday. No telling when the tweet reviews will resume.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Wednesday, April 29. 2015
Some items I pulled out of the Wichita Eagle today -- working off the hard copy, so I'll leave it to you to find online versions at their website. The common theme is corruption and/or stupidity in high places, which in these parts means Republicans. There's always some of this evident, but today's load is particularly pungent:
Seems like there was another story about the county commissioners and a real estate boondoggle -- maybe in the part of the paper we've already recycled.
Monday, April 27. 2015
Music: Current count 24889  rated (+34), 404  unrated (-4).
Another very frustrating week, leaving me very little to say here. The two A- compilations are marginal, but scratched particular itches. The Cleveland comp should be even better with the missing Pere Ubu and Rocket From the Tombs cuts restored (the latter was "Life Stinks," which later appeared on Pere Ubu's The Modern Dance -- a good candidate for my all-time top ten). Soul Jazz generally has excellent booklets, but I haven't seen this one. The three previous Next Stop Soweto comps got various shades of B+. They nibble around the edges of South African pop, but what made the difference here wasn't better songs so much as a trashier, more amusing (and more upbeat) vibe.
Lots of Christgauvians will go for the Low Cut Connie (see Jason Gubbels) but I fear that no one I know will like the Mowgli's. First thing I read about them talked about Beach Boys-Byrds L.A. pop, but they're closer in spirit and feel to the Fifth Dimension -- stuff that I thought was hopelessly square back in the day, but gives me hope today. Best jazz record this week is probably Kirk Knuffke (again, see Gubbels; also for the Mavis Staples EP, which has a couple of the week's best songs). Or maybe Ben Goldberg -- in both cases I'm working off Rhapsody, while letting my own queue of promo CDs age a bit.
I ordered a copy of Michaelangelo Matos' new book, The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America, expected to arrive on its release date, tomorrow. I don't have much time to read about music these days, but this is one combination of author and subject I couldn't miss.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 26. 2015
Geology trumped the news twice this week: first with a volcanic eruption in Chile, then a massive earthquake in Nepal. Worth noting that bad things can still happen that can't be attributed to bad policies of the political right. Also in the news: anniversaries keep happening, including this week the 100th anniversary of one of Winston Churchill's most immediately obvious blunders, the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey. Churchill got his first taste of battle at Omduran in the Sudan and found it totally exhilarating. Had he been present at Gallipoli he would have gotten a taste of what the Sudanese experienced. Also 100 years ago, the Ottomans started their genocide against the Armenians, ultimately killing up to 1.5 million of them. Turkey has refused to acknowledge what Taner Akcam termed A Shameful Act, which has the accidental benefit of letting Britain and Russia -- who tried to cultivate the Christian Armenians as a "fifth column" against the Ottomans -- off the hook.
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, April 25. 2015
Earlier this week I filled out my ballot for Downbeat's 2015 Critics Poll. I took my usual copious notes, but I'll just give you the highlights here -- follow the link for more details. The poll is very time-consuming: I've never finished it in a single day (took two this time, at least ten hours). The big problem is that they ask about fifty questions: mostly to identify the best (or most important or something like that) musicians by instrument (or some other category like composer or arranger), and for each question they have a second ballot slot for "rising star." They used to call the latter TDWR, an acronym for "talent deserving wider recognition," which makes much more sense to me. Even if I wanted to, I'm not sure what sense it would make to try to rank musicians. So all I can try to do is to mention a few people I think we should be aware of.
Sometimes those people are obvious -- until their deaths, Steve Lacy on soprano sax and Billy Bang on violin were automatic choices. Often they aren't, in some cases because there's so much competition -- piano, bass, and drums are the top tier; trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, and increasingly guitar the second -- and sometimes because there is so little (flute, baritone sax -- a special case here is an instrument mostly played by non-specialists, like soprano sax, electric bass, and electric keyboards). Still, in all cases, the picks I made were spur of the moment, subject to the limited information I could think of and whatever whims occurred to me. More often than not, I limited my picks to names listed on the ballot form. This was especially so in nebulous categories like "Jazz Artist" or things I don't keep good mental tabs on (like "Arranger," "Composer," and "Producer").
I have fewer qualms about ranking albums. It's all too true that it is often impossible to weigh the relative merits -- even on such a subjective basis as personal pleasure -- of any pair of albums. The only consistent criteria I can think of would be the order in which I'd buy albums. Of course, that is the most subjective scale of all, which makes it pretty arbitrary when anyone else looks at it. Such rank lists should be easy for me give that I've already spent much effort at constructing them -- e.g., see my 2014 EOY Jazz List. (I haven't assembled a 2015 Jazz List yet, but the list-in-progress can be sorted out from my 2015 List.) One complication is that Downbeat insists on skewing the eligibility list to run from April 1, 2014 through March 31, 2015 release dates instead of using the previous (2014) calendar year. I don't generally keep track of release dates below year granularity, so it would be a huge effort at this point to research 2014 release dates. (Actually, I can't even trust 2015 release dates: I already have several April releases in my 2015 file. So I can save myself some work by limiting my vote to Downbeat's ballot. The problem here is that Downbeat only lists 10-12 albums I consider A-list, out of 60-70 albums I grade that high. Writing in a name sometimes encourages Downbeat to include that name on future ballots, but writing in an album won't have any future effect. So I tried to apply my rank list (interpolating early 2015 releases in place of early 2014 releases) to their ballot, with the result that I voted for my number 1 and 24 2014 albums plus one 2015 album that will probably wind up close to number 20. I took the same approach to Historical Album, Blues Album, and Beyond Album (surprised that Wussy got nominated in the latter). The notes file provides the full breakdowns for the album votes. One reason I make a point of jotting down all of the records I haven't heard is that they give me a reference for future listening (although, frankly, they put a lot of albums on these lists I know better than to bother with).
Each category allowed me to split 10 points among three candidates. I followed their earlier convention of spliting those points 5-3-2 for the two three picks. Write-ins are italicized below. So, without further ado, my votes:
Monday, April 20. 2015
Music: Current count 24855  rated (+29), 408  unrated (+10).
Third straight week at 29, so I guess that's the new 30. Wouldn't have hit that but for a lark decision to check out the early Charles Lloyd records on Rhapsody after the new one underwhelmed me. They, at least, were relatively short, but ultimately merged into a solid, indistinguishable mass -- aside from Keith Jarrett's outstanding rhythm work. Very little of Lloyd's post-1970 work is on Rhapsody, so it's hard to say anything definitive about his now obscure 1970s and 1980s records. In 1989 he joined ECM and patiently rebuilt his career, hitting a peak when he started working with another amazing pianist, Jason Moran. Make what you will that the new one marks his move from ECM to Blue Note, and that Moran is out, replaced by a pianist whose name I've already forgotten. On the other hand, Blue Note's pairing of Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas works as expected.
I spent a good deal of time this past week sorting through old shelves of jazz CDs. Currently the work area is still quite some mess, but I expect to make some progress this week. I had planned on keeping all of the Jazz CG-era B+(***) and A-list albums in a set of six modular shelf units, but it now looks like the number needed is eight. I have the extra two nearby, but their contents need to be moved elsewhere, and I'm cleaning out that elsewhere. The next space likely to be exhausted is the basement hell where the most unwanted items go to linger. Those I need to start to cull -- although the general high quality of jazz these days has led me to consign more than a few good records by obscure artists or interesting failures by better known musicians there. Could be a neverending struggle. For some reason the incoming mail picked up this week.
Not so many A-list records this week, although eight high-B+ records came close. Milo Miles put Ayelet Rose Gottlieb at the top of his 1st Quarter 2015: Jazz list and, if memory recalls, had previously touted Tal National. Michael Tatum is a big fan of the Skrillex/Diplo record. My own favorites among the three-stars are Sergi Sirvent's Unexpected piano trio and Oleg Frish's kitschy standards duets, although Hu Vibrational got the most spins (five, I think).
Incoming mail included unsolicited copies of all three albums by Damien Wilkins' New Zealand group, The Close Readers. Christgau reviewed their latest and I concurred in last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. I was tempted to check out the earlier titles -- they're here (via bandcamp) -- but let my mind wander elsewhere. Now I feel obligated to go back. As a down payment, we'll include the album cover and note the known grade in unpacking.
I need to get cracking on my Downbeat Critics Poll ballot. Expect a report later this week.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 19. 2015
Late start but I had the Civil War links, and added a couple more. Plus, for local color, let's start with Crowson's cartoon today:
By the way, babyfaced State Senator O'Donnell (R) happens to represent my district. You can read more about his bill in, well, The Guardian, or The Chicago Tribune. Jordan Weissmann looks at what welfare recipients actually spend money on here. One thing I haven't seen much discussion of is how this law is to be enforced. Will the state be assigning accountants to go over welfare recipients' books? Or will we expect movie ticket takers to rat out customers they suspect of being on welfare?
Tuesday, April 14. 2015
Four days shy of a month this time. About the same length as last time, but took a few more days to compile. A few of the records under "New Releases" are more than five years old: things I received as promos and sat on until some recent housecleaning. Needless to say, nothing there I really missed out on. The "old music" remains opportunistic: e.g., the guy in the Paranoid Style used to be in the Mendoza Line, so I thought I'd sample one of their better regarded albums; Chris Farlowe was the only one of Van Morrison's duetists who impressed me, so I thought I'd check out something more; I recalled Tim Berne's pre-Snake Oil groups more fondly (especially Marc Ducret and Tom Rainey), so scrounged up a previously unheard Big Satan -- unfortunately, no better than the new one; Milford Graves, Woody Herman, and Eddie Higgins (and maybe some more) just popped up on browse lists.
Percy Sledge died today. He only had one real hit, but he fills out a single-disc best-of remarkably well. Robert Christgau recommended Rhino's 1998 The Very Best of Percy Sledge. I'm satisfied with Atlantic's 1998 compilation, The Ultimate Collection (graded A long ago).
Another notable who just died is Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano (NYT obit). You may recall that Hugo Chávez, when he met Barack Obama in 2009, gave the president a copy of Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America. For a small taste of Galeano, see these ten quotes. For instance, this one captures the basic ethic behind this column: "One writes out of a need to communicate and to commune with others, to denounce that which gives pain and to share that which gives happiness."
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on March 18. Past reviews and more information are available here (6272 records).
Action Bronson: Mr. Wonderful (2014 , Atlantic/Vice): Former chef Arian Arslani gets his major labor debut after several strong mixtapes, runs through his pieces at a fever pitch. Can't say as I caught much, or approve of what I did catch, but he makes enough of a joke of it the ride doesn't quite make you queasy. B+(***)
Albare: Only Human (2014 , Alfi): Guitarist, born in Morocco, grew up in Israel and France, wound up in Melbourne down under. Album cover offers 24 snapshots of people all over the world, and the groove, even the rap that ends the title cut, aims to be universally embraced. B+(**) [cd]
Gabriel Amargant Quintet: And Now for Something Completely Different (2014 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor saxophonist, second album, recorded in Girona, in the far northeast corner of Spain, backed with piano, guitar, bass, and drums, with all pieces by the leader. I can't say the title is completely true, but I'm hard pressed to remember the last time a tenor saxophonist took the stage with such fluid mastery -- Tommy Smith, maybe. A-
Oren Ambarchi: Quixotism (2014, Editions Mego): Prolific avant-garde experimentalist -- AMG lists 5 albums for 2014, only 3 in 2013 but 9 in 2012 and I wouldn't be surprised if they've missed some collaborations -- initially playing drums but has moved on to guitar and synths. One of the more attractive ambient albums I've heard recently, just interesting drumming with clouds of synth. Docked a bit for long quiet patches (although it's often hard to get the volume right on the computer). B+(**)
Christian Artmann: Fields of Pannonia (2014 , self-released): Flute player, leads a quarter with piano-bass-drums. Not my favorite horn, but the alto flute adds some depth, and the stealthy impressionism is pleasantly attractive. B+(*) [cd]
Joey Bada$$: B4.DA.$$ (2015, Cinematic Music Group): Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott, I suppose that's a name a rapper would have to change, but the dollar signs just push "Bad-Ass" to an even higher level of crassness. Actually, his first studio album is far from crass, with its sharper-than-underground sound, a couple nods to his Caribbean ancestors, even a dance anthem ("Teach Me," one of two bonus tracks). B+(***)
Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015, Mom + Pop Music): Australian singer-songwriter, got some attention last year when she combined two EPs into a debut calling card, but initially struck me as a folkie troubadour, a wordy one at that. This has a wordy title too, but the first thing you notice is the guitar. A-
Antoine Berjeaut: Wasteland (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): The French trumpet player's music is appropriately dreary with occasional sparks, including tenor sax on four cuts. What gives it all narrative force is Mike Ladd's spoken words, but a bit on the melodramatic side. B+(*)
Tim Berne's Snakeoil: You've Been Watching Me (2014 , ECM): Alto saxophonist, third group album all for ECM, with Oscar Noriega on clarinet/bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano, Ches Smith on drums, and newcomer Ryan Ferreira on guitar. The two horns remind me of Berne's apprenticeship with Julius Hemphill, but like some of Hemphill's work, this can get stiff and awkward, not that the group isn't capable of powering through any obstacles they run into. B+(***) [dl]
Andrew Bishop: De Profundis (2015, Envoi): Saxophonist, teaches at University of Michigan, third album, a trio with Tim Flood on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. His credits as listed here: flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano and tenor sax -- although I hear more of the latter. All original pieces, six "reimagined" from "De Profundis" by Josquin Des Prez (c. 1440-1521) -- transposed into free jazz. B+(***) [cd]
Bossa Brasil and Maurício de Souza Group: Here. There . . . (2010, Pulsa Music): Organized half under each group, the credits are more ambiguous with drummer de Souza and bassist Morrie Louden on all tracks, the others on scattered tracks on both sides -- only difference I see is that Bossa Brasil jazz up Brazilian tunes whereas the latter takes jazz pieces (Joe Henderson, Cedar Walton, Chick Corea, "I Can't Get Started") and gives them a Brazilian twist. B+(*) [cd]
Jakob Bro Trio: Gefion (2013 , ECM): Guitarist from Denmark, has a number of previous albums on a small label so this is something of a coming out. Trio, with Thomas Morgan on bass and Jon Christensen on drums. B+(**) [dl]
Dewa Budjana: Hasta Karma (2014 , Moonjune): Guitarist from Surabaya in Indonesia, mostly worked in a pop/rock band called Gigi while developing a more jazz-oriented solo career. This comes off as fusion with some eastern spiritual airs, although the band is certifiably postbop -- Joe Locke on vibes, Ben Williams on bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums. B+(*) [cd]
Will Butler: Policy (2015, Merge): Arcade Fire bassist, apparently a secondary figure behind brother Win Butler, tosses out his own album, distinguished by upbeat rockers that put most alt/indie outfits to shame. B+(**)
Chastity Belt: Time to Go Home (2015, Hardly Art): Punk girl band from Walla Walla, Washington; second album, conscious but rather contained, as if pressurizing for an explosion that never comes. B+(*)
The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra: The Symphonic Celtic Album (2011, Silva Screen): The songs are not just Celtic, or even vaguely Celtic: nearly all come from soundtracks -- Miller's Crossing, Lord of the Rings, Barry Lyndon, Braveheart, Titanic, Rob Roy, Highlander, Gladiator, Riverdance (oddly, best thing here), and a half-dozen more of that ilk. The Czechs try to take this shit seriously. C- [cd]
Clem Snide: Girls Come First (2015, Zaphwee): Eef Barzelay's alt/indie band, originally from Boston but now transplanted to Nashville where they feature both lap and pedal steel guitars. But for all the band members listed, this feels small and intimate, the work of a lonely, claustrophobic voice -- at least until "Like Lightning Flashes," loose with glimmering steel. B+(**)
The Close Readers: The Lines Are Open (2014, Austin): A New Zealand novelist, Damien Wilkins, doesn't worry about coming up with a distinctive sound when leaning on the Go-Betweens and the Chills works so well. A-
Tom Collier: Alone in the Studio (2014 , Origin): born 1950 in Washington, moved to Los Angeles in 1974, back to teach at University of Washington in 1980. Cut a record in 1991 and several more since 2004. Credits here: vibraphone, marimba, piano, drums, bass synthesizer. Four originals, three at the end. Listenable, but hard to see the point. B
Bruce Cox Core-Tet: Status Cymbals (2012, self-released): Minimal jacket, explains why this literally fell into a crack. Drummer, second album after debut in 1997, about 40 side credits going back to 1992 (Fred Wesley). Mostly Cox originals, four covers (Monk, Shorter, Benny Goldson?), sax quartet: Abraham Burton carries the day. B+(*) [cd]
Stephan Crump/Mary Halvorson: Secret Keeper (2013 , Intakt): Bass-guitar duo, second album together. Crump has a real knack for using guitar to extend his range, but Halvorson may not be the right guitarist to do this with -- not so much that she runs away with the bait as that she doesn't. B+(**) [cdr]
Isaac Darche: Team & Variations (2014 , Challenge): Guitarist, based in Brooklyn, originally from California. Second album, quintet with Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on tenor sax, Glenn Zaleski on piano, Desmond White on drums, and EJ Strickland on drums. Smart postbop, moves along nicely B+(**) [cd]
Ernest Dawkins: Live the Spirit Residency Big Band: Memory in the Center: An Afro Opera: Homage to Nelson Mandela (2014 , Dawk): Chicago saxophonist contents himself to be composer, conductor, arranger and producer here, having lined up four other saxophonists to carry the load, plus three trumpets, two trombones, piano-bass-drums, poet Khari B, and singer Dee Alexander. I might normally complain about the vocals (which can get operatic), but the political rant is inspired, and the muscular exuberance of the band sweeps you away. And when they work in a little township jive, so much the better. A- [cd]
Andrew DiRuzza Quintet: Shapes and Analogies (2015, self-released): Guitarist, first album, quintet with Robert Espe on tenor sax, Michael Jarvey on keyboards, plus bass and drums. B+(**) [cd]
Fabiano do Nascimento: Dança Dos Tempos (2015, Now-Again): Debut from Brazilian guitarist, based in Los Angeles, backed by Airto Moreira on percussion and Ricardo Pasillas on drums, with occasional vocals from Nascimento and Kana Shimanuki. This never settles into pleasantries, even at its most intimate. A-
Lila Downs: Balas y Chocolate (2015, RCA): Born in Oaxaca, Mexico; father American, mother Mixteca; grew up in California, chased the Grateful Dead, hooked up with a jazz pianist, wound up back in Mexico. Heavy norteño vibe, sometimes seems like she's pulling off something new, but the ballads come off as corny. B+(*)
Drake: If You're Reading This It's Too Late (2015, Cash Money/Motown): Rapper from Canada, not too long ago the next big thing but after a couple dud albums this one dropped with nary a splash -- one excuse I see is that this was planned as a mixtape but with all the griping about money they (label? artist?) decided at the last minute to cash in. Typical lyric: "I'm turning into a nigger that thinks about money and women 24/7." Actually, that's about all he has to say about women. Or thinking. B
DRKWAV: The Purge (2015, Royal Potato Family): A jazz organ trio transposed into a realm of high-power electronica, fast and furious: Skerik on sax, John Medeski on keyboards, and Adam Deitch on drums. B+(***)
Eliane Elias: Made in Brazil (2015, Concord): Jazz pianist from Brazil, has more than two dozen albums since 1986, most with little to do with Brazilian music. Her early Plays Jobim was disappointing, but she started singing on 1998's Sings Jobim and I doubt that anyone has done it better. This she actually recorded in Brazil with a local band (plus her husband, bassist Marc Johnson) and more singers than she needs. B+(*)
Charles Evans: On Beauty (2014 , More Is More): Baritone saxophonist, made something of a splash when his debut was a solo album titled The King of All Instruments. This treatise on beauty is distinguished by its ugliness, even if that isn't the impression he wants to leave. Dave Liebman, playing soprano sax, is the main malefactor. With Ron Stabinsky on piano and Tony Marino on bass. B [cd]
John Fedchock Quartet: Live: Fluidity (2013 , Summit): Trombonist, best known for his New York Big Band recordings, backed by piano-bass-drums here, makes a good case for trombone as a lead instrument. B+(***) [cd]
Joe Fiedler Trio: I'm In (2015, Multiphonics Music): Third good trombone record this week (after Steve Turre and John Fedchock), and easily the best. Rob Jost's bass rises above rhythm and harmony for contrasting solos, Michael Sarin hits the right spots on drums, and Fiedler runs rings around the competition. A- [cd]
Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up: After All Is Said (2014 , 482 Music): Drummer, has two previous albums with this group -- Brian Settles (tenor sax), Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Mary Halvorson (guitar), various bassists (Michael Formanek here) -- duos with Taylor Ho Bynum, a group called Thumbscrew (with Halvorson and Formanek), side credits with Anthony Braxton. The horns skew various ways, but focus on the prickly interplay between guitar and drums, a sketchy rhythm always in turmoil. A-
The Go! Team: The Scene Between (2015, Memphis Industries): British pop-rock group: they sounded very young on their refreshingly bright 2004 debut; less so on this their fourth album, but they keep it bright with lots of electricity and a group fervor which unfortunately makes it harder to follow. B
Colleen Green: I Want to Grow Up (2015, Hardly Art): Singer-songwriter coos over drum machines, or at least that was her original sound -- something to emulate for the live drummers she can now afford, but that compromises her lo-fi sympathy. If only the songs rose to the challenge. But she's trying. B
Marty Grosz Meets the Fat Babies: Diga Diga Doo (2013-14 , Delmark): The Fat Babies are a Chicago trad jazz outfit with a couple fine albums if you can't get enough of that old timey sound. Grosz, the son of the famous Weimar caricaturist, fled the Nazis in the early 1930s and grew up on the first trad jazz revival, learning guitar and banjo. He keeps the group loose, and I won't complain that he talks too much toward the end, or that he sings a couple. One of the two sessions adds Jim Dapogny, another legend, on piano. A- [cd]
Susie Hansen: Representante de la Salsa (2010, Jazz Caliente): Violinist-singer, third album, with George Balmaseda and Kaspar Abbo also taking lead vocals. Salsas, some mambo and cha cha, runs hot, aimed at the feet. B
Heems: Eat Pray Thug (2015, Megaforce): Himanshu Suri, born and raised in Flushing, Queens, New York -- all-American, as shocked as any of us by 9/11, yet when the kneejerk reaction set in he's out buying American flags not because his knee is jerking but as camouflage, for his name and less-assimilated Punjabi family. That story appears often enough here to amount to a theme, at one point breaking out in a chant of "USA" that I could do without. "Suicide by cop" is another line repeated too often. At points the rawness becomes unpleasant. On the other hand, it's all remarkably different and humane. A- [cd]
Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Ruffian's Misfortune (2015, Bordello): Long past his Cowboy Twinkies days, also retirement age, his songwriting has sharpened -- in one song he concludes he'd be "better off with the blues" than with a certain woman -- and the music has gotten tougher and harder. Cuts out the flab too, doing ten songs in 33:40. A-
Vijay Iyer Trio: Break Stuff (2014 , ECM): Piano trio, with Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums -- third album with this trio, after Historicity (2009) and Accelerando (2012), both A- in my book although my reaction to piano trios is so gut-level I can't begin to tell you why. What I can say is that while typically masterful this doesn't break much -- not even the covers of Monk, Strayhorn, and Coltrane. B+(***) [dl]
Tobias Jesso, Jr.: Goon (2015, True Panther Sounds): Young Canadian singer-songwriter, plays piano, reminded me of Billy Joel at first then I realized John Lennon c. Imagine was a closer match, not that Jesso is in that league. Still refreshing to hear. B+(**)
Steve Johns: Family (2014 , Strikezone): Drummer, considers his "recording debut as a leader" but shares a 2002 album with his name ahead of saxophonist Peter Brainin, and has several dozen side-credits at least back to 1987 -- Thomas Chapin and Mario Pavone are names that jump out at me. His family here includes saxophonist-wife Debbie Keefe Johns and bassist-son Daryl Johns, and they're joined by guest guitarists Bob DeVos and Dave Stryker. B+(**) [cd]
The Kandinsky Effect: Somnambulist (2014 , Cuneiform): Sax-bass-drums trio from France, third album, closer to post-rock with its thick slab sound than to avant -- both saxophonist Warren Walker and bassist Gaël Petrina are also credited with "effects." A- [dl]
Kaze: Uminari (2014 , Circum-Libra): Two trumpets (Christian Pruvost and Natsuki Tamura), piano (Satoko Fujii), and drums (Peter Orins) -- third album under this group name, one of many groups Tamura and Fujii have conjured up. Shock out of the gate, turning into exceptionally invigorating avant-jazz, but later one runs into stretches where not much seems to be happening, though if you dig deeper (or just stay patient) it will. B+(***) [cd]
Robert Kennedy Trio: Big Shoes (2014 , self-released): Organ trio, debut release, Kennedy on the Hammond, Mason Razavi on guitar, Cody Rhodes on drums. B+(*) [cd]
Oded Lev-Ari: Threading (2014 , Anzic): Pianist, from Israel, graduated from New England Conservatory, studying under Bob Brookmeyer. Shows several looks here, including two vocal songs (Alan Hampton, Jo Lawry), often indulging in lush strings, or making space for Anat Cohen's luscious clarinet. B+(**) [cd]
Earl MacDonald: Re: Visions (2008 , Death Defying): Pianist, composed most of this and arranged the rest (subtitle: "Works for Jazz Orchestra"), using a standard big band (5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, guitar-piano-bass-drums), about half familiar names. B+(**) [cd]
Ethan Mann With Chip Crawford & Greg Bandy: It's All About a Groove (2009 , Petunia): Credits read guitar, keyboards, drums, but mostly sounds like organ, just perhaps a bit lighter. B- [cd]
Laura Marling: Short Movie (2015, Ribbon Music): Brit singer-songwriter, fifth album, has a folkie rep for framing her songs with guitar, but so did Dylan, or Ani DiFranco. I'm reluctant to put her at that level, but every album has something substantial and this has more than a few things. A-
Chris Massey's "Nue Jazz Project": Vibrainium (2010, Chris Massey Music): Drummer, first album, leads a quintet with trumpet (Donald Malloy), alto/soprano sax (Benjamin Drazen), piano (Evgeny Lebedev), and bass (David Ostrem). Don't confuse with Nu Jazz: a Nue is a Japanese folklore creature with the head of a monkey, the body of a raccoon dog, the legs of a tiger, and a snake as a tail. Three pieces by the leader, three more by band members, covers from Joe Henderson and Chick Corea. Basically, high energy hard bop. B+(*) [cd]
The Mavericks: Mono (2015, Valory): Raul Malo's group flirted with country when they moved to Nashville two decades ago, but never really fit the mold, or broke it in any interesting ways. All but one Malo originals (five co-credits), throwbacks (or sly allusions) to early-'60s rock 'n' pop, some with Latin beats and/or sax, just nothing you'd think of as classic. The cover? Doug Sahm's "Nitty Gritty," but "(Waiting For) The World to End" would have fooled me. B+(**)
Makaya McCraven: In the Moment (2014 , International Anthem): Chicago drummer, recorded 28 improv shows, 48 hours, and mixed that down to 19 short pieces here, what he calls "organic beat music." The cast must shuffle in and out, with guitar (Jeff Parker) and vibes most common, and a bit of Marquis Hill trumpet the high point. B+(***) [bc]
Nellie McKay: My Weekly Reader (2015, 429 Records): After her fine tribute to Doris Day, McKay moves into the 1960s, mostly Brit Invasion pop including the Kinks and Beatles, Herman's Hermits and Small Faces, "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" and "Red Rubber Ball," along with a few American tunes in that vein. B+(*)
Levon Mikaelian: United Shades of Artistry (2014 , self-released): Keyboardist-singer Mikaelian's name is nowhere obvious on the cover, but the hype sheet attributes the album to him, and the back cover lists him as composer, band leader, and producer, in a group which also includes guitar, bass, and drums/percussion. They build a tight little groove album, helped by guest slots for Gary Thomas on tenor sax (4 cuts) and Randy Brecker on trumpet (one). Just one vocal (more than enough). B [cd]
Jason Miles/Ingrid Jensen: Kind of New (2014 , Whaling City Sound): Miles is a keyboard player with fifteen records since 1994, many tributes like Celebrating the Music of Weather Report and 2 Grover With Love, plus a side interest in Brazil (including an Ivan Lins tribute). Then there's his connection to Miles Davis: well before his mediocre 2005 tribute Miles to Miles, he actually played for Davis (on Tutu, very close to the end of the line. Here he returns to Davis' fusion vibe with a first-rate trumpet player on familiar-sounding original material (plus one Wayne Shorter tune). Does sound a bit like Davis but writ small, even with a dozen guest spots scattered about. B [cd]
Moonbound: Confession and Release (2005-07 , Unsung): International prog-rock band, produced by Fabio Trentini who also plays and sings, with cohorts from Germany, Austria, and America. Not quite as awful as my reaction implies, but not worth sorting out why. C [cd]
Van Morrison: Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue (2015, RCA): Sixteen songs, a few I recognize but nothing that showed up on, say, his canonical 1990 The Best of Van Morrison (although two songs repeat from 2007's 37-song Still on Top: The Greatest Hits). I'd also say that except for Taj Mahal he hasn't really sought out the top tier of possible duetists -- the only one I think adds much is Chris Farlowe ("Born to Sing"). B+(*)
The Mountain Goats: Beats the Champ (2015, Merge): Looking back, comparing Robert Christgau's and my own grades for eight or so albums by John Darnielle's singer/songwriter vehicle, I see no real pattern: sometimes I'm up (The Sunset Tree, Heretic Pride), sometimes I'm down (All Eternals Deck, Transcendental Youth), and the splits seem arbitrary. So I can't tell you why I rate this one with the former two, above the latter two. Fact is I never follow lyrics closely enough to make fine distinctions. Also that Darnielle always sounds more coherent than whatever other singer/songwriters I'm listening to at the time. A-
Curtis Nowosad: Dialectics (2014 , Cellar Live): Drummer, second album, basic hard bop quintet lineup, with Derrick Gardner the standout on trumpet, Jimmy Greene on tenor/soprano sax, Steve Kirby on acoustic bass, and Will Bonness on piano. Liner notes describe this as "straight-ahead jazz" then offer "neo-hard bop" as an alternative. Certainly has fresh drive and sparkle within a proven framework. B+(***) [cd]
Old Time Musketry: Drifter (2013 , NCM East): Quartet: JP Schlegelmilch plays accordion and piano and writes most of the pieces, Adam Schneit plays tenor sax and clarinet and wrote two tunes, Phil Rowan is on bass and Max Goldman on drums/melodica. The accordion gives the melodies a thick, robust texture, a popular anchor no matter how everyone else twists and turns. A- [cd]
Panda Bear: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (2015, Domino): Noah Lennox, like his well known group Animal Collective, makes a kind of prog psychedelia that is cleverly off-kilter often enough, but it always runs the risk of turning annoying, and not infrequently does. Imagine Sgt. Pepper, without the songs, done by Frank Zappa, without the jokes, then tone everything but the reverb down a couple notches. I know: surprising you have anything left. B
The Paranoid Style: The Purposes of Music in General (2013, Bar/None, EP): Christgau recommends a cassette reissue (limited edition of 100) that adds four songs to this six song (23:42) EP -- title The Power of Our Proven System, the cover touting "A Decade of Excellence," "Includes Psychic Benefits!," "Now 33% More Paranoid!!" -- but this is the one I found. Timothy Bracy learned the indie craft in the Mendoza Line, and wife Elizabeth sings (probably more). A-
The Paranoid Style: Rock and Roll Just Can't Recall (2015, Worldwide Battle, EP): Better recorded but slimmer at 5 songs, 16:21, and I suspect slighter too. B+(***)
Sarah Partridge: I Never Thought I'd Be Here (2014 , Origin): Singer-songwriter, jazz elements -- including Scott Robinson on tenor sax and flute -- but no standards here. Fifth album since 1998. B+(*) [cd]
Kim Pensyl: Foreign Love Affair (2014 , Summit): Commonly identified as a pop-jazz/new age keyboardist/trumpeter, has at least 17 albums since 1988. This one is respectable enough it could pass for mainstream jazz, but whereas jazz is normally collaborative (and often conflicted), Pensyl plays everything here -- bass, guitars, trumpet, flugelhorn, melodica, drums, and lots of piano. B [cd]
Luis Perdomo & Controlling Ear Unit: Twenty-Two (2014-15 , Hot Tone Music): Pianist, from Venezuela, based in New York, has a half-dozen albums. Trio, with Mimi Jones on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. B+(**) [cd]
Natalie Prass: Natalie Prass (2015, Spacebomb): First album, long on strings, sometimes just talked (or whispered) through, oddly effective (although "It Is You" sounds like it belongs in a Disney cartoon). B+(*)
Project Trio: Project Trio (2010, Project Trio): Flute-cello-bass trio (Greg Pattillo, Eric Stephenson, Peter Seymour). Two covers, one from Dave Brubeck ("Blue Rondo a la Turk"), the other Guns n' Roses ("Sweet Child o' Mine"). Helps that the flute is blown in sharp bursts, almost making up for the lack of a drummer. Also that the cello as well as the bass keeps this moving. B+(*)
Rae Sremmurd: Sremm Life (2015, Eardrum/Interscope): Atlanta-based rap duo, doubt they are teens but they play at it, the beats chugging along, the hormones flowing, still not quite as much fun as they promise. B+(***)
Raoul: The Spanish Donkey (2014 , Rare Noise): Avant-jazz power trio, with Joe Morris on guitar, Jamie Saft on organ and keyboards, and Mike Pride on drums. Saft cuts a thick swath, and Morris is all muscle -- almost unsettlingly so. B [cdr]
Mark Rapp: Token Tales (2008 , Paved Earth): Trumpet player, first album, although he's had several since, including The Strayhorn Project with Don Braden. Feints toward funk at first, but shows wider range. B+(*) [cdr]
Sachal: Slow Motion Miracles (2014 , Okeh): Last name Vasandani, from Chicago, considered a jazz singer but isn't a standards guy, has three previous albums. Does have some vocal chops plus an easy-going lilt. Doesn't have any songs I care to hear again. B [cdr]
Phil Sargent: A New Day (2010, Sargent Jazz): Guitarist, second album, has a couple side credits. Backed with bass and drums, plus piano on a couple cuts, and accompanied by Aubrey Johnson's voice -- attractive in song but annoying as scat. The guitar trends toward fusion, sometimes impressive. B- [cd]
Lalo Schifrin: Invocations: Jazz Meets the Symphony #7 (2010 , Aleph): Argentine pianist, worked with Dizzy Gillespie, hacked out a lot of soundtracks, wound up with this series of jazz tunes done by classical orchestra -- the ever-affordable Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Not without some stirring moments (notably "Groovin' High"), but still a sop to the old "high culture" snobbery. B [cd]
Alex Sipiagin: Balance 38-58 (2014 , Criss Cross): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, moved from Russia to US in 1991, has 16 albums since 1998. Mainstream player with serious chops, band here is fashionably postbop with David Binney (alto/soprano sax), Adam Rogers (guitar), John Escreet (piano), Matt Brewer (bass, sometimes electric), and Eric Harland (drums). Guitar is exceptionally well integrated. Last song turns rockish. B+(***)
Bjørn Solli: Aglow: The Lyngør Project Vol. 1 (2013 , Lyngør): Norwegian guitarist, third album, came up with an impressive line-up for this: Seamus Blake (tenor sax), Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Aaron Parks (piano), Matt Clohesy (bass), Bill Stewart (drums). Lyngør is a small island village about 50 miles southwest of Oslo, the site of an 1812 navel battle, now considered one of Europe's best preserved villages (at least in 1991 -- no cars has something to do with this). Blake takes charge early. B+(**) [cd]
Soulive: Rubber Soulive (2010, Royal Family): Organ trio, with Neal Evans on Hammond (and piano), Eric Krasno on guitar, and Alan Evans on drums. All Beatles songs (three Harrisons). I've said many times that the Beatles are unjazzable, but most of these tunes hold up relatively well to a layer of soul jazz funk. C+ [cdr]
Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (2015, Asthmatic Kitty): On some level an elegy for his late mother -- Lowell would be his step-father. The eleven songs are done simply, usually just his angelic folkie voice with minimal backing, not that you don't get glints of sparkle. B+(***)
Dave Stryker: Messin' With Mister T (2014 , Strikezone): Mainstream guitarist, has about thirty albums since 1991 which may (or may not) include his long-running group with saxophonist Steve Slagle. This one's a tribute to Stanley Turrentine, with organ (Jared Gold), drums (McLenty Hunter), extra percussion on half the tracks, and a parade of ten saxophonists, led off by Houston Person and ending with Tivon Pennicott -- two generations of Mr. T devotees. Class of the field: Chris Potter. B+(***) [cd]
Earl Sweatshirt: I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside (2015, Columbia/Tan Cressida): Odd Future rapper, Thebe Kgositsile, born in Los Angeles, father a South African poet absent since six, mother a UCLA law professor. Short album, runs 29:56, beats dense and dull, as if the murk is its own reward. B+(*)
Jacky Terrasson: Take That (2014 , Impulse): Pianist from Germany, has a couple dozen albums since 1994. Backed with bass, drums, extra percussion (Adama Diarra, from Mali), four originals, seven covers, some with vocal scat/beatbox (Sly Johnson). B+(**)
Times 4: Eclipse (2010, Groove Tonic Media): San Francisco quartet -- Greg Sankovich (keys), Kevin Lofton (bass), Lincoln Adler (sax), Maurice Miles (drums) -- third album, keep a sound groove going, sax has some bite to it. Better, I'd say, than the average Yellowjackets album, if that's your thing. B+(*) [cd]
TRP (The Reese Project): Eastern Standard Time (2008 , In the Groove): Flute player Tom Reese, Laurie Reese on cello, Bobby Brewer on guitar, Aaron Walker on drums, and a guest percussionist -- the strings show more affection for bluegrass, and the drummer makes sure no one thinks chamber jazz. B
TRP (The Reese Project): Evening in Vermont (2011, Rhombus): Flute-player Tom Reese and cellist Laurie Reese replace guitar with piano -- yet another Reese, Kirk -- use a different drummer (Dave Young), and give a guest spot to Tish Brown (violin and viola). Several trad pieces, mostly upbeat, and an "All Wood" medley long on Norwegian. B- [cd]
Steve Turre: Spiritman (2014 , Smoke Sessions): Major trombone player, close to twenty albums sinjce 1987 , this a quintet with Bruce Williams (alto/soprano sax), Xavier Davis (piano), Gerald Cannon (bass), and Willie Jones III (drums). Strong trombone leads, nice shadowing with the sax, basic blues have the most oomph, but bop and ballads work too. B+(**)
Unexpected: Munchies (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish piano trio, led by Sergi Sirvent Escué (who wrote six of seven pieces), with Esteban Hernández on bass and Daniel Dominguez on drums. Sirvent has a very percussive style, ripping through these pieces. B+(***)
Unhinged Sextet: Clarity (2014 , OA2): Debut group album, seems like I've run across several of these guys before: Will Campbell (alto sax), Mike Olson (tenor sax), Vern Sielert (trumpet), Michael Kocour (piano), Jon Hamar (bass), Dom Moio (drums), all but the drummer contributing compositions. Postbop, group dynamic emphasizes harmony, turns slick -- group name strikes me as a misnomer. B [cd]
Javier Vercher: Wish You Were Here (2014 , Musikoz): Tenor saxophonist, from Spain, imposing over a first-rate rhythm section -- Lionel Loueke (guitar), Sam Yahel (piano), Larry Grenadier (bass), and Francisco Mela (drums). B+(***) [cd]
The Michael Waldrop Big Band: Time Within Itself (2014 , Origin): Drummer, studied at UNT and Memphis; played in Bob Belden's quartet, did big band arrangements for Pat Metheny, taught in Colorado and Washington, not sure where he is now but this conventional big band (plus guitar and vocals on two tracks) was recorded in Dallas with no one I've heard of. B [cd]
Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp (2015, Wichita): Katie Crutchfield, from Alabama, third album under this name but there are earlier ones with her sister Alison as PS Eliot. The least generic style suggested by AMG is "Twee Pop" but this isn't really either. It doesn't come easy, with an off-color dirge up front and an even slower, but more touching, "Half Moon" toward the end. B+(**)
Leo Welch: I Don't Prefer No Blues (2015, Big Legal Mess): Delta bluesman, made his debut last year at 81 (Sabougla Voices) and he's evidently in a hurry now. Much grit in his voice, dirt in the guitar, and a hard-rocking band. Nothing Hound Dog Taylor hasn't already done, but it's been a while. B+(***)
Lenny White: Anomaly (2010, Abstract Logix): Drummer, played with Chick Corea in Return to Forever in the 1970s, moving on to cut his own fusion projects, close to 20 albums since 1975. Some names I recognize in the band -- Tom Guarna (guitar), George Colligan (keyboards), Victor Bailey (bass) -- but much of the fine print is illegible. The thick fusion stew isn't really unlistenable, but nothing I hear makes me want to. (Well, sax isn't bad, but not much of it, and vocals are worse.) C+ [cd]
Bradley Williams: Investigation (2014 , 21st Century Entertainment, 2CD): Pianist, sings some, originally from Kansas, played in one of Woody Herman's herds. This seems to be his first album, one disc of swing-oriented instrumentals powered by a nine-piece band, a second with vocals -- Williams but mostly the ladies, Jennifer Graham and London McIlvane: "Solid Potato Salad," "Someone Else Is Steppin' In," "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," "Use Me," some Jobim and Veloso, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do." All but one of the instrumentals are Williams originals; the ringer, Duke Ellington. B+(***) [cd]
Cassandra Wilson: Coming Forth by Day (2015, Legacy): One of many albums themed to honor Billie Holiday's centennary, in this case from a singer who approaches Lady Day's stature without in any way imitating her sound. Mostly strings, perhaps inspired by the maudlin death-bed Lady in Satin, the songs creep along, each trapped in its own gloomy dungeon of sound. More effective than I would have expected. B+(**)
Mark Wingfield: Proof of Light (2014 , Moonjune): British guitarist, has a dozen or so albums since 2001, some closer to classical, but most jazz, in this case reminding me of fusion, but more basic backed only with acoustic bass (Yaron Stavi) and drums (Asaf Sirkis). B [cd]
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
David Borden: Music for Amplified Keyboard Instruments (1981 , Spectrum Spools): Minimalist composer and electronic music pioneer, best known for leading one of the 1970s' most accessible avant-electronics groups, Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company. This set came from beta testing Robert Moog's modular synths, and while the repeating rhythmic figures come from minimalism it doesn't feel skimpy or sketchy at all -- if anything, over the top. B+(***)
James Clay: The Kid From Dallas: Tenorman (1956-57 , Fresh Sound): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Dallas but grew up in Los Angeles, was just 20 when his debut was recorded -- originally attributed to "The Lawrence Marable Quartet featuring James Clay," with Sonny Clark on piano, Jimmy Bond on bass, and Marable on drums. This adds six tracks, an earlier one with Bobby Timmons on piano, five later with Lorraine Geller, Red Mitchell, and (mostly) Billy Higgins. Straddles bebop, opening up on the blues. Younger than the more famous "Texas tenors" but he fits in. B+(***)
Dance Mania: Ghetto Madness (1989-98 , Strut): Collects various dance singles from Chicago house label Dance Mania -- nothing famous, the repeating artists are Jammin Gerald, DJ Deeon, and DJ Funk. Nearly every track is built on a minimalist repeating beat and line no longer than titles like "Pump That Shit Up" or "Give Me Ecstasy." B+(**)
Highlife on the Move: Selected Nigerian & Ghanaian Recordings From London & Lagos 1954-66 (1954-66 , Soundway, 2CD): Pre-juju, pre-Afrobeat (although there are two early Fela cuts), I'm tempted to say pre-highlife although that can't be true -- just early, coarsely developed, although the flow is seductive enough over the long haul. B+(***)
Humphrey Lyttelton: Humphrey Lyttelton in Canada (1983 , Sackville/Delmark): Trumpet player, a major figure in Britain's trad jazz movement from the late 1940s. A much younger Jim Galloway (baritone and soprano sax) joins him up front (including on the cover), with Ed Bickert (guitar), Neil Swainson (bass), and Terry Clarke (drums). Not really Lyttelton's prime, but a very strong outing for Galloway, who (by the way) just died in 2014. B+(***)
LeAnn Rimes: All-Time Greatest Hits (1996-2007 , Curb): Had a Patsy Cline-y hit, "Blue," as a 13-year-old, and has belted out ten albums since then, selling 37 million copies, but I doubt that she's ever recorded a better song. I thought her 2013 album Spitfire wasn't bad, but this stops with the chart hits in 2007. She's got a voice, but the arrangements are mostly dreck, and most of the songs don't even deserve better. C+
Big Satan: I Think They Liked It Honey (1996 , Winter & Winter): Free sax-guitar-drums trio -- Tim Berne (alto and baritone sax), Marc Ducret, and Tom Rainey -- the first of three albums under this group name (both had appeared in other Berne groups, together in Bloodcount). Quite remarkable when they break loose, but less commanding when they tangle up close. B+(***)
John Carter & Bobby Bradford Quartet: Flight for Four (1969, Flying Dutchman): The first recording of a legendary avant-jazz quartet -- I doubt they were the first to set the "piano-less" two-horn quartet lineup free, but it later became one of the staple configurations for the art. Carter went on to play more clarinet, but he gets a harder edge on alto and tenor sax, clashing more vibrantly with Bradford's trumpet. With Tom Williamson on bass and Buzz Freeman on drums. Reissued in 2014 by International Phonograph and in 2015 by BGP (Ace). A-
John Carter/Bobby Bradford: Self Determination Music (1970, Flying Dutchman): Presumably the same quartet as above, but only the leaders got their names on the packaging. Two cuts per side, 21-23 minutes, doesn't jump as high as the earlier album but makes up for that in intricacy. B+(***)
Chris Farlowe: The R&B Years [Charly R&B Masters Vol. 5] (1962-67 , Charly): John Henry Deighton, sometimes recorded as Chris Farlowe & the Thunderbirds, one of the 1960s British R&B singers/groups who didn't make the Invasion. Hard to tell how early this is -- it includes some songs that appeared as singles in 1965-67 on Immediate, but omits his 1964 hit ("Out of Time") and is padded out with early covers. B
Milford Graves: Percussion Ensemble With Sunny Morgan (1965 , ESP-Disk): Two drummers so the effect isn't far removed from a 33:56 drum solo -- more complex, with more tinkles for sure. Graves was 23 at the time, playing notably with New York Art Quartet, eventually destined to become something of a legend, albeit rarely recorded and little known. Morgan (more often Sonny), even more obscure, recorded into the mid-1970s. B+(*)
Woody Herman and His Thundering Herd: Keep on Keepin' On: 1968-1970 (1968-70 , Chess/GRP): Stumbled onto this and figured why not? Herman's heyday was in the late 1940s with his "Four Brothers" band, but Woody's Winners in 1965 was a second peak. This isn't. In fact, the big band stomp through contemporary pop fare like "Aquarius," "I Say a Little Prayer," "My Cherie Amour," "Smiling Phases," and "Light My Fire" is at best camp. But the Herd is as hot as ever, and they never flag through 13:43 of "Blues in the Night." B+(*)
Eddie Higgins Quartet: My Funny Valentine (2004 , Venus): A bebop pianist who cut his first album in 1958 and had added fifty more by his death in 2009. This is Higgins' third Quartet album "featuring Scott Hamilton" -- all standards, and the tenor saxophonist has rarely sounded more magnificent. With Jay Leonhart on bass and Joe Ascione on drums. A-
Louis Jordan: Five Guys Named Moe (1943-46 , Charly): I picked this up for $1.99 more than a decade ago, and never bothered with it partly because it comes with no documentation, nor is much available on the web -- the dates above come from AMG, but their review reads like a different disk. But one song clearly labels itself as a WWII-era V-Disc ("You Can't Get That No More"). Actually, this has 12 of Jordan's 14 V-Disc titles, plus eight more tracks. Not bad, but pails against MCA's more canonical The Best of Louis Jordan [1975 as 2LP, but also on CD] and Five Guys Named Moe: Vol. 2 , or Proper's 4-CD budget box, Jivin' With Jordan. B+(**) [cd]
Larry Levan Live at the Paradise Garage (1975-79 , Strut/West End, 2CD): The hefty booklet of notes explains this was recorded live at Levan's Soho dance haven in 1979. It's a superb set of vintage disco 12-inchers, not the genre's greatest hits but not obscurities either. A- [cd]
The Mendoza Line: Lost in Revelry (2002, Absolutely Kosher): Named for the shortstop whose lame batting average came to define the lower bound of acceptability even for a brilliant fielder (nine years in the majors, 1337 AB, 4 HR, 101 RBI, .215 BA). Fourth album (earliest on Rhapsody), band is low key alt, like their mentor adept at digging out grounders but unable to rack up any hits. B+(*)
Tomasz Stanko: Bluish (1991 , Power Bros.): Trumpet player, one of the few Polish jazz musicians to make a name in the West while still based in Communist Poland. Trio with two Norwegian stars: Arild Andersen on bass and Jon Christensen on drums. Not flashy, but draws out Stanko's lyricism. B+(***)
Randy Weston: Blues to Africa (1974, Arista/Freedom): American jazz pianist, one of the first to take a serious interest in Africa for his compositions, not that the influence is all that clear from the music. This is solo, the last cut ("Sahel") with a spoken word bit. B+(**)
Randy Weston/The Gnawa Master Musicians of Morocco: Spirit: The Power of Music (1999 , Sunnyside): Recorded live in Brooklyn, Weston starts with solo jazz piano, adds bass and a couple Moroccan genbri, then the singers take over for three trad cuts, then everyone (including Talib Kibwe on flute and alto and Benny Powell on trombone). Not a synthesis but a party for sure. B+(***)
Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:
Duke Ellington: The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971 , Fantasy/OJC): One of Ellington's last recordings, only released a year after his death in 1974, for some reason I graded this low and forgot about it -- until someone reminded me that Morton-Cook selected it for a crown in the first edition of Penguin Guide for Jazz, although they dropped the crown in the second edition and never restored it, despite being more/less continuously in print. The Far East Suite (1966) is one of my favorite records, and I now hear faint echoes of that -- though I had to turn it up to get there. True that the band is starting to fray around the edges -- or at the center since Johnny Hodges died. [was: B] A- [cd]
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Monday, April 13. 2015
Music: Current count 24826  rated (+29), 398  unrated (-6).
Another sub-30 week, again just shy by one. Possible reason this week is that all those A- records took extra spins to verify, not to mention enjoy. (Except perhaps Heems, where I can't say my enjoyment was up to the grade, caught as the album is between sucking up to a jingoism that both of us know better than.) In fact, none of the A- records really blew me away: they're all huddled in the lower half of my 2015 list-in-progress (well, Marty Grosz and Old Time Musketry are just above the mid-point). So maybe I blew out my curve. Or maybe the stars just aligned.
Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes this week -- probably tomorrow. The draft file has 112 records at present. Certainly doesn't need any more -- longer than most since I switched to flexible scheduling. Still, closer to four weeks than three -- another dimension in which I'm slipping, if only a bit. With this week's bumper crop, the A-list is up to 27 records about 15 weeks into the year: still well below where I expect it to wind up (2014 is up to 156, not that I expect to listen to as much this year), and still tilted heavily toward jazz (17-10, counting Nascimento in the non-jazz, although that's pretty borderline).
Thought I might try to drive out to EMP in Seattle this year, but I couldn't get organized in time. Instead, I'm suffering through one of the worst spring allergy funks I've had since moving to KS. My progress in cleaning up the office, sorting and shelving CDs, etc., has largely stalled -- albeit in a much better place than it was. The recent jazz sort has mostly been by grade, and I was a bit surprised to find that the shelves I allocated for recent B+(***) and higher jazz are well short of what I need.
I've decided to start donating some CDs to WSU's library, and will try to dump the first box off later this week. The recycle dumpster, which I largely filled with paper more than a week ago, should be emptied in the morning, so I can resume packing it. Still have vast quantities of music magazines I'll never do anything constructive with. Hate to just throw them away, but it doesn't look like I'll have any takers.
I've fallen way behind in many other projects -- notably a much needed update to Robert Christgau's website. Also failing to make any progress on my own larger writing projects. Hard even to read much when your eyes are bleary and you can hardly breathe. Probably hasn't helped my productivity that I've fallen into watching more TV than in ages -- even such obvious trainwrecks as American Crime (just completely dispicable), The Good Wife (a former good show gone bad -- half-dedicated to killing off Kalinda Sharma [at least Will Gardner went quick], half drowning Alicia in a political campaign we always thought she was too smart to get taken by, and ending it as badly as possible), and Empire (probably the worst season finale I've ever seen). At least still hoping that Justified will end in decent shape. (Finally finished the second season of Orange Is the New Black, and that finale was remarkably satisfying.)
Another week without tweet reviews. Just been hard hanging in there.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 12. 2015
The big, and for that matter good, news today is Chapa, the missing beaver, returns home to Riverside Park. That Hillary Clinton chose today to launch her 2016 presidential campaign just shows she doesn't have the sort of control over the news cycle she'd like. If you want to fret about Clinton, you can start with Bill Curry: Hillary Clinton just doesn't get it: She's already running a losing campaign. Still, for me, the most interesting line was:
A couple months ago, the Koch's made news by threatening to raise just shy of $1 billion for their war on democracy in 2016. Suddenly, that doesn't look like such a daunting amount of money. And the fact is, Clinton is probably a good investment for her big-money donors -- at least compared to the sort of morons running for the Republican nomination. And while the middle class aren't likely to get much from Clinton, they're not where that $2.5 billion is coming from. Main thing they can hope for is less collateral damage in the partisan struggle between pro-growth money and the people who'd rather wreck the economy than see any of their spoils levelled down.
I've paid very little attention to the Republicans who aspire to be president. The "tea party" reaction did little more than double down on the dumbest, crudest platforms of the party, and now there is nothing left there. For example, one thing that has been popping up a lot is the idea of convening a constitutional convention to pass an amendment forbidding the federal government from running a deficit. They might as well poke their eyes out -- that's the level of self-mutilation such an amendment would produce. Clinton has nothing to offer, but at least she's not that stupid. Or take Iran: Clinton has frequently made her mark as a hawk, but she's not so delusional as to think we'd be better off rejecting negotiations with Iran that gave us every assurance we wanted.
I opposed Clinton in 2008 and I would do so again given any real chance of winning something tangible. But I don't see who else is going to raise the sort of money she can raise, and more and more it looks like that money will be needed to make it plain enough how necessary it is to beat the Republicans in 2016. I just hope to see some of that money trickle down the party ticket.
Some more scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Monday, April 6. 2015
Music: Current count 24797  rated (+29), 404  unrated (+5).
Close enough to thirty, which is, after all, only an arbitrarily roundish number, I doubt I have any need to apologize. Or even note that the 29th record (Bradley Williams') was a double which got more plays than needed because it made for good ambiance while focusing on last night's Iran opus. Two new A- records, although if so inclined you might enjoy Leo Welch or Rae Sremmurd as much. Welch's 2014 debut, Sabgoula Voices, made a deeper impression, possibly because it came first. Christgau likes Sremm Life, but I didn't find the "party rap" as fun as advertised -- then again I didn't give it the second and third plays rap records often need. The other high B+ items are more certainly where they belong.
Two old-music A- records, too. I played the second Carter-Bradford first and had it at A-, then dialed it back when Flight for Four came in much clearer. The records show up now because I gather they've been reissued on one of Ace's labels (BGP?), but the digital copies correspond to the original Flying Dutchman LPs, so I credit them as such. If Ace -- one of the world's premier reissue companies -- wants to start sending me shit, I'll show them more respect. Rhapsody listed the Eddie Higgins album under Scott Hamilton. I always jump on unheard Hamilton, and he really shines on these standards.
Van Morrison's useless Duets got me to check up on Chris Farlowe, but I only found the one early compilation and doubt that it's as good as could be -- holes include his only UK hit single. He does have the only voice on the album that adds something to Morrison's, but evidently he didn't always have it.
I've finally made some significant progress at sorting out the many piles and baskets of CDs that made walking in my office area treacherous. I had the idea that I could put all of the Jazz CG A-/B+(***) CDs into seven of those cheap $20 CD cases -- six on a desk blocking the window behind me, one to my left for the most recent ones -- but I keep finding more such records. Plan B is to empty out two more cases that currently house especially interesting B+(**) records and fill them up with surplus B+(***). Anything graded lower goes into storage downstairs, unless it's by someone I keep in the upstairs shelves. Unless I slow down, I should make it through the rest in another week. After that, I'll be able to move around enough to install a new router and a long-planned network upgrade. The next huge mess will be sorting out the tools.
It's possible that I have enough storage now for all of the books and CDs, but I'm feeling increasing pressure to finally start weeding out the least useful items. I've never sold CDs -- I did sell off most of my vinyl when I moved from New Jersey in 1999 (a bad experience) -- so I'm inclined to start donating them (Wichita State University is interested). (I know I've threatened/promised to do this before, but this time seems likely to actually happen.) I figure I'll work on this gradually, in batches of 100 or so, and see how it feels. In deference to the efficiencies of the market, I'd consider running a private sale list if anyone wants to pick up something I'd otherwise give away. Let me know, and if there's enough interest I'll put something together.
One of the first things that should go is the hoard of music mags I've been saving up over the last fifteen years (I doubt if there's anything older than the 1999 move). One reason I kept these was that I was thinking of going back through them and extracting quotes for my long-planned music review website. It's pretty clear now that I'm never going to do that. (There may still be a site with a lot of my writing but not with that research investment.) There should be complete decade-or-longer sets of Jazz Times, Downbeat, and Cadence (except for the last year or two). Also large stacks of Wire and Blender, Signal to Noise and Mojo, and scattered other titles. I've organized everything from upstairs but that still leaves a row about eight feet long in the basement plus a large bin full of Cadence. Any (or all) of that is free to the first person who wants to haul it off. WSU isn't interested, although I may get them to post a notice for their students. (I may change my mind and keep Wire, although I stopped buying new ones several years ago.) Rolling Stone is already gone. Recycle bin is currently full of paper, but won't be picked up for another week.
I thought about driving to EMP this year, but couldn't get myself organized in time. Everyone tells me it's interesting, plus I have an ulterior motive, in that I want to track down some long estranged relatives in Washington. So I still want to make the trip sooner or later this year. Just not this week.
Did manage to knock out tweets on the new records this week. I also passed on a link to Old Time Musketry's Gather, which is on Bandcamp here. I imagine I'll do a Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Draft file is currently close to 90 records.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 5. 2015
I've been groping for some handle on understanding last week's deal between the US and Iran. The deal is very good news. What it means is that certain crazy people will not pre-emptively launch a disastrous war to impose their will secured in their conviction that they represent a higher power. (Not that those people -- "neocons" in the US along with their allies in the ruling camp in Israel -- are taking this agreement lying down. They're doing everything they can to undo it, as it both admits exception to their cherished prerogative to start wars, it also normalizes one of their most successful fear-inducing bogeymen.) It also suggests that key leaders in the US may have learned something from the Bush debacle in Iraq -- even though the return of US troops to Iraq to fight ISIS shows that they haven't learned enough.
The Iran Nuclear Scare is almost precisely a repeat of the Great WMD Scare that led up to the Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003. The theat was invented largely from whole cloth, and sold on the basis of a paranoia largely rooted in Israel (where every conceivable enemy is quickly seen as Hitler reincarnate). The only possible solution was held to be regime change, and while one held hope that the Iraqi/Iranian people would rise up and throw off their oppressive regimes, the only timely way to affect that is to invade and conquer. (Fortunately, secure in the conviction that we will be greeted as liberators.)
Of course, Bush could have negotiated with Iraq in 2002-03. Iraq had allowed UN weapons inspectors full access and they were well on the way toward establishing that Iraq had none of the proscribed WMD, a finding which should have defused the crisis. But Bush wanted war, not just to save us from the threat of imaginary WMD but to show the world what US power could do, and that resistance to US power would be futile. And Bush hadn't just aimed at overthrowing Iraq: he conured up an "Axis of Evil" to serve notice to Iran (Iraq's mortal enemy) and North Korea (even more isolated from Iraq and Iran than from the US) that they would be the neocons' next target.
While the US invasion of Iraq was overwhelming, the occupation soon fell into disarray and disaster, something the US survived by playing Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds off against each other. In the end, what Iraq proved was not the invincibility of American power but how inept, corrupt, and clueless it really was. (Of course, that lesson was already available from the occupation of Afghanistan a little more than a year earlier, but disaster there unfolded more slowly, probably because Bush didn't put as much effort there.)
At the time it was widely recognized that Iran and North Korea would be more formidable military opponents than Iraq -- one widely quoted neocon line was, "anyone can go to Baghdad; real men want to go to Tehran." Iran is much larger, with over three times as many people. Although its military struggled to a draw with Iraq over eight years in the 1980s, it hadn't been degraded after 1990 like Iraq's: it still has an air force, a navy, a substantial number of missiles which could conceivably hit US bases in the region (although not the US directly). Iran could conceivably block shipping through the Straits of Hormuz, which would greatly reduce the world supply of oil. Iran had also cultivated allies abroad -- notably Hezbollah in Lebanon -- that could conceivably retaliate against a US strike on Iran. Given all that had gone wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all that could go wrong with Iran, we are fortunate that cooler heads prevailed.
As for North Korea, the US military had even less interest in indulging neocon fantasies -- despite the fact that North Korea (alone among the Axis of Evil) actually had programs to develop nuclear bombs and intercontinental missiles (successfully testing a bomb in 2006 and twice since). Even assuming that China wouldn't come to North Korea's aid, as they did in the stalemated 1950-53 war that cost the lives of over 35,000 US soldiers, North Korea is the most thoroughly militarized and best bunkered nation on earth. Moreover, their primary threat should war start is a mass of thousands of pieces of large artillery aimed at South Korea's capital, Seoul (pop. 10 million): they could kill thousands almost instantly without bringing out the nukes.
It's worth noting that during the 1989-92 thaw when the Soviet Union broke up and Communist governments collapsed from Mongolia to Albania, the only ones that survived were the ones that had fought most directly with the US, and (aside from China) had consequently been singled out for punitive sanctions: North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. Similarly, US sanctions against Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya only served to harden those regimes. Presumably, all this experience finally weighed in for Obama as he chose to negotiate rather than continue the malign neglect that US presidents had long considered the more prudent course. Cuba is another example, but Iran has been more difficult for Obama not so much because there was ever anything to worry about in Iran's "nuclear program" as because Iran has been caught up in the neocons' ideology, the increasing Islamophobia of the "terror wars," and Israel's own calculated Holocaust anxiety.
The basic fact is that America's relationship with Iran got off on the wrong foot in 1953 and we've never had the self-consciousness to recognize that or the will to repair the damage. Iran was never officially a European colony but in the 1800s England and Russia took advantage of the weakness of the Qajar dynasty and obtained various rights and privileges at the expense of Iranian sovereignty -- for instance, an English company (BP, formerly Anglo-Iranian) was bought very cheaply exclusive rights to all the oil in Iran. After the Russian Revolution, Lenin renounced Russian interests in Iran, but the British hung on, and in the 1940s deposed the first Shah Reza Pahlavi (the first post-Qajar Shah), replacing him with his more compliant son, Reza Mohammed Pahlavi, but shifting authority (if now power) toward the Majlis -- Iran's parliament. By 1953, Mohammad Mossadeq was Prime Minister, and he had nearly unanimous support within the Majlis to confiscate British oil holdings in Iran. Mossadeq was very popular both in Iran and in America, which he had recently visited. But when Eisenhower became president, his security team (the Dulles brothers, one secretary of state, the other head of the CIA) were persuaded by the British that Iran had become a hotbed of Communist insurrection, so they set in motion a coup to overthrow Mossadeq. The result was that Mossadeq was imprisoned, the Majlis was suspended, the Shah became an absolute despot, and Anglo-Iranian's oil interests were sold to a consortium of mostly US oil companies. (For more details, see Stephen Kinzer's book, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror .)
The coup was run by a CIA operative named Kermit Roosevelt, a son of president Theodore Roosevelt. Two aspects of the story struck me as particularly telling. The atmosphere for the coup was started by staging various demonstrations in Tehran, and for the counter-demonstrations Roosevelt mostly bribed local imams -- one of the first instances of CIA alliances with Muslim clergy. The second was that when Mossadeq realized he was in trouble, he went to the US embassy hoping his American friends would help him, when in fact they were running the coup. (Under Truman the US had not infrequently leaned against British efforts to restore their prewar empire.)
Of course, the US was delighted by the post-coup Shah, and didn't even mind when he finally did what Mossadeq had set out to and nationalized Iranian oil. (He did, after all, sell the oil through American companies, and had no qualms about selling oil to Israel.) The Shah bought weapons from the US and built a vicious police state which suppressed all opposition -- the communists, socialists, liberals, and just as well conservative clergy like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who went into exile in 1964 after denouncing a "status of forces agreement" which would give US soldiers stationed in Iran immunity from Iranian law.
The Shah became an increasingly hated figure in Iran and was deposed by massive street demonstrations in 1979. At the time the Shah fled, the revolution was a broad coalition of left and right, but after Khomeini returned he was able to consolidate power in the clergy, largely based on his longstanding critique of the Shah as an American puppet. At this point many Americans were delighted to see the Shah deposed, but the relationship between Americans and the revolution turned sour after Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to take refuge in the US. Remembering Mossadeq's folly at the US embassy in 1953, a group of Iranian "students" seized the embassy and held 52 Americans hostage there for over a year. (They were released immediately after Ronald Reagan became president. It is widely believed that the Reagan campaign, fearing an "October surprise," secretly negotiated with Iran to keep the hostages until after the 1980 election.)
The US was alternately upset at losing its client and influence and at its own impotence at securing the return of its diplomats. Khomeini, for his part, found it useful to blame the US both for the Shah and for Iran's post-revolution isolation. Khomeini caused further problems in attempting to exploit his notoriety for standing up to the US (the "great satan" rhetoric comes from this period) to export Iran's revolution elsewhere in the Middle East -- notably to Saudi Arabia, and more effectively to Lebanon, torn up by its own civil war. The US, meanwhile, rallied its Sunni clients around the Persian Gulf against Iran, and they largely bankrolled Iraq's war against Iran. That war lasted from 1980-88, with horrendous losses on both sides, but especially to Iran.
Carter had previously declared the Persian Gulf as a strategic interest of the US and started building bases around the Gulf. US troops occasionally clashed with Iran: shooting down a civilian airliner, attacking an offshore Iranian oil rig. Under Reagan, the US sold arms to Iran via Israel (embarrassingly, and illegally, what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal), then tilted toward Iraq and sold arms to Saddam Hussein. After the Iran-Iraq War, oil prices tanked and Iraq was pressed to repay war debt to Kuwait. Hussein answered by invading Kuwait, but was ejected in 1990 by a multinational force led by the US, with Syria an ally and Iran a supportive non-combatant. Since then the US and Iran have often had their interests in the region align, but the US was unable to let go of past affronts -- let alone to own up to its own past transgressions.
From Independence Day (1948), Israel pursued a strategy to ally with non-Arabs against Arabs throughout the Middle East. This led to close relationships with Turkey and Iran as well as subversive support for Marionites in Lebanon and Kurds in Iraq. After the revolution, Israel continued to enjoy a close relationship with Iran, which even extended to bombing Iraq's nuclear center during the Iraq-Iran War, and acting as a conduit for American arms under Iran-Contra. After the 1990 Gulf War, Iraq ceased to be a serious threat to Israel, so Israel cast about and decided that Iran would work as an existential threat to justify maintaining the high level of Israeli militarism. The main reason Iran worked was that American officials were already primed to view Iran as a renegade and enemy. As it happens, Iran had started a fledgling nuclear program with US support under the Shah, so Israel could point to the reactor project as a development path toward nuclear weapons. From there it was a short step to the equation: Islamic fanaticism + nuclear weapons = Judeocide.
Israeli leaders started projecting that Iran was five years or less away from testing a nuclear bomb as early as 1996. That it has never happened -- that Iran has disavowed any intention of developing nuclear bombs, that Iran continues to belong to the NPT, that IAEA inspectors have never shown any evidence of bomb development, that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa declaring that nuclear bombs are contrary to Islam -- has never led Israel to tone down its hysteria, nor has it phased the credulity of American politicians, often shameless in their devotion to all things Israeli.
Moreover, if anything the level of Israeli hysteria jumped a notch when Netanyahu became Prime Minister in 2009. At that time Obama gave former Senator George Mitchell the task of negotiating a peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- something Netanyahu could not possibly be bothered with discussing as long as Israel was at the mercy of Iranian bombsights (although Netanyahu had plenty of time to plan more illegal settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank). And now that there is a deal which ensures that Israel will never be threatened by the prospect of an Iranian bomb, Netanyahu is pulling out stops in his haste to scuttle the deal. It seems that the only thing Netanyahu fears more than Iran developing nuclear weapons is Iran signing a detailed, verifiable deal that precludes any possibility of developing nuclear weapons and which ends the isolation and hostility that has pushed Iran into such a defensive posture that there seemed to be a need for nuclear deterrence.
It's as if Israel's worst fear is living in a world where it has no existential enemies, except perhaps living in a world where Jews and non-Jewish Arabs enjoy equal rights and justice. The great irony of the deal is that Obama seems to have taken Israel's concerns so literally that he held out and wore Iran down until the point where he could deliver the most ironclad assurance to Israel possible. Indeed, the deal is so strong it's hard not to see any opponent of the deal as a completely bonkers warmonger -- an interesting trap for Netanyahu and for the Republicans who instinctively assume that anything Obama would agree to must be weak-kneed appeasement.
The more interesting question is why would Iran agree to such restrictions on rights they regard as their under the NPT, rights that many other nations are clearly allowed. (Germany and Japan, for instance, have such extensive nuclear facilities and know how that their "breakout" time is unlikely to be more than a few months.) One is that Iran's leader must realize that while having the skills and know how to build a bomb may offer some prestige, the weapons themselves are effectively unusable, so giving them up is hardly a sacrifice. One might argue that nuclear weapons mean deterrence against foreign attack, but Iran's most threatening enemies are Israel and the US, and Iran has no hope of winning an arms race with either. (Pakistan and India came close to a fourth war in 2002. The fact that both had demonstrated nuclear weapons by then may have contributed to the cool down, but so did other factors like the chilling effect war would have had on foreign investment. South Africa developed nuclear weapons but they turned out to be useless against their own beleaguered majority, let alone against world opinion. Israel's nuclear weapons may have ended any hopes by neighboring Arab countries of ending Israel's existence, but by the time they became public knowledge Egypt was suing for peace and Syria had no hopes without Egyptian support.)
It's also possible that Iran's interest in nuclear power has waned, particularly has oil prices have dropped and the popularity of nuclear power in Japan and Germany has plummeted -- right now only India seems to be particularly bullish on nuclear power. That leaves things like medical isotopes as something Iran can continue to work on -- a mere fig leaf for all the investment, but ending sanctions and normalizing relations and trade is worth much more, especially in the short term. Indeed, given the intransigence the US has displayed in perpetuating its view of its enemies, one has to wonder what else Iran could have created to trade for normalcy. The costs to Iran of sanctions have been great, but the costs to the US from isolating Iran -- mostly slightly higher oil costs and extra defense spending, both of which have influential political beneficiaries in the US -- have been trivial.
Some Iran links:
If I had the time, I could probably dig up many more links -- e.g., Philip Weiss: The epic season of spinning the Iran deal begins!, Gareth Porter: Iran Won Upfront Sanctions Relief, but With Potential Snags, Rachel Shabi: Poof! There goes Netanyahu's Iran bogeyman (ever hear of the "Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis"?), Paul Waldman: The Insane Logic Underlying Republican Opposition to the Iran Deal, Josh Marshall: The Emerging GOP War Platform.