Rhapsody Streamnotes: May 7, 2011

A month's worth of snooping around, relief from jazz prospecting but otherwise pretty much waste of time. The main thing this column reminds me of is my own amateur phase, when I felt like anyone should be able to comment on anything. Got most of these out of my metacritic file, which is useful (except when it's not) -- and even more than these notes is my favorite waste of time.

Of course, playing Bootsy reminds me of my '70s as well (wrote about him here). Much else here merely shags the more ambitious efforts of others. In that, I'm well aware that my non-rave of Tune-Yards [sic] exposes me as hopelessly unhip. Myself, I wonder if I hedged it too high; I gave it more plays than the first play indicated would be worth the trouble. Missing here is the new Paul Simon, which suffers from the opposite problem: he's an artist I've long made a point of dissing -- I'll leave it to you to search my '70s writings for proof on that point -- who occasionally makes an album I have to admit is pretty good, before I go back to never playing it again. So Beautiful or So What looks like his third such, but I figure the least I can do is drag my feet. Also missing here are Tatum's big A+ finds -- The Weeknd's download and the Cartagena compilation -- which I haven't written up yet but figure to be solid A–. Meanwhile, there's plenty here to chew on.

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 13. Past reviews and more information are available here.

Adebisi Shank: This Is the Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank (2011, Sargent House): Second album, following their debut, This Is the Album of a Bank Called Adebisi Shank. Instrumental rock -- they evidently exhausted their lyrical skills on the album titles -- which differs from electronica how? Well, the beats are little demonstrative, and while the keybs dominate the guitar and bass tend to shift momentum. Listenable enough, but a fairly minor accomplishment. B

Amadou & Mariam: Remixes (2011, Nonesuch): The Blind Couple of Mali provide vocal samples to be jacked up by all sorts of DJs I barely recognize -- from Akon to Miike Snow to pick two names I do recognize but not for much. The originals inspire upbeat fixes and upbeat usually works best any way, so it's hard to dislike this, or to count it much significance. Just note that the average remix album is far worse. B+(**)

An Horse: Walls (2011, Mom & Pop): Two-person group indie-rock group from Australia: Damon Cox drums, Kate Cooper plays guitar and sings. Second album. First was pretty good, and this is much like it -- maybe rocks a little harder, because I'm having more trouble latching onto words, or recalling the Go-Betweens. B+(***)

Atmosphere: The Family Sign (2011, Rhymesayers Entertainment): The uxorious partner -- not just lover -- in "She's Enough" is inspirational, but the no-good "Bad Bad Daddy" isn't, and Slug's world hasn't yet banished the latter. The music is as strong as ever; probably his/their best since God Loves Ugly (2002). B+(***)

Aurelio: Laru Beya (2011, Sub Pop): A Garifuna from Honduras, presumably the same artist who released Garifuna Soul (2006, Stonetree) as Aurelio Martinez. (AMG keeps the entries separate.) Sounds closer to African than to Latin, not that it's easy to pin down -- allusions to Brazil are more likely equidistant from Africa than direct. B+(**)

Susana Baca: Afrodiaspora (2011, Luaka Bop): From Peru, was featured on the label's Afro-Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru and remains their exemplar of the style. Concept here is to touch as many Afrodiaspora bases as possible. Hits a bit too close to home on "Hey Pocky Way"; fares a bit better when they slip in some rap, but is most persuasive when skirting South America, Brazil as well as her native turf. B+(*)

Rory Block: Shake 'Em on Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell (2011, Stony Plain): Probably the first of a wave of white women picking slide guitar and singing blues, with 26 records since 1975. Lately her shtick has been tributes to Mississippi bluesmen, starting with Robert Johnson in 2006, then Son House, now the more recent but no less vintage-sounding Fred McDowell. Four originals (titles include "Steady Freddy" and "Mississippi Man"), seven McDowell songs, one from Sonny Boy Williamson's stash ("Good Morning Little School Girl"). I hadn't heard her since the 1980s when she didn't seem to have much more than conviction, but age and practice work out here. B+(**)

Blueprint: Adventures in Counter Culture (2011, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Ohio rapper Albert Shepard, cut a good one in 2005 (named 1988) and took his time returning for seconds. Sharp rapper when he takes on something important, but I don't hear that happening often enough -- and if the point of "Radio-Inactive" is that we don't turn on the radio because we're too busy listening to God that's wrong on many levels. Sings too much, too. And while the instrumental "Soul Music" isn't bad, it doesn't amount to much either. One play isn't enough to sort this out. B+(**)

Chris Brown: F.A.M.E. (2011, Jive): Says he can "do it all night," but what? Sounds like "feel the bullshit," but that can't be right -- I'm pretty sure he's faking that. Starts with a pretty nasty break-up song. Acronymic title stands for "Forgiving All My Enemies." Good idea, especially for a dude who comes by them so readily. B-

Burial: Street Halo (2011, Hyperdub, EP): Three cuts, run 6:21-7:36 each, sometimes spec'd as a single but adds up to an EP. With its watery echoes, pretty low key/mysterious for dubstep. B+(**)

Bootsy Collins: Tha Funk Capital of the World (2011, Megaforce): It's been a while, so he starts didactic, with a voice from the mothership laying out the trinity of funk: James Brown, George Clinton, and the bassist from Cincinnati who energized both and went after the kiddies with his own Rubber Band. Professor Cornell West helps out at Funk U, hip-hoppers pay their respects, one song reminds us that JB's "Still the Man," and Samuel L. Jackson decodes "After These Messages." It's all very grown up until they slip into the "Kool Whip"; even later they're still paying tribute to late guitarists Gary Shider and Catfish Collins, but they also drop revelations like "nothing's too good to be true." And the thang closes with three transcendent ditties: the spacey "Stars Have No Names (They Just Shine)"; the funky "Chocolate Caramel Angel"; and a yummy remake of "Munchies for Your Love." A-

Edwyn Collins: Losing Sleep (2011, Heavenly): Scottish rocker, formerly in the 1982-84 group Orange Juice which got a lot of publicity for the 7CD retrospective . . . Coals to Newcastle. On his own has seven albums since 1989. Strikes me as muscular, with a sense for rock's sweet spots, but too straight, able to make a record that is at once attractive and uninteresting. B

Crystal Stilts: In Love With Oblivion (2011, Slumberland): New York group, second album, punkish with a lot of guitar echo, upbeat enough it should be catchy, but something is a serious turn off: bass vocals? drumming? Maybe just the volume. B-

Dengue Fever: Cannibal Courtship (2010-11 [2011], Fantasy): Los Angeles band, led by Ethan and Zac Holtzman, started with the idea of rocking 1960s Cambodian pop, picked up singer Chhom Nimol for authenticity, rolled in some Bollywood. Fourth album since 2003, second I've heard. I get the feeling they're losing the concept, which would reduce them to a loud farfisa circus band, but for now they're just interesting enough. B

DJ Quik: The Book of David (2011, Mad Science): West coast rapper David Blake, cut his first in 1991, this his 14th. Kind of scattered, most agreeably bouncy, nothing terribly stupid. Call it progress, or maturity. B+(**)

Duran Duran: All You Need Is Now (2010 [2011], Tape Modern): Quintessential 1980s new wave pop band, snappy synth-based beats, meaningless flair. Big stars on MTV -- did much to convine me that music videos were a waste of time. This is billed as something of a comeback, but they've merely slowed down from a record per year to one every three or four. Often enjoyable, mostly harmless. I could see someone waxing nostalgic if only I thought they had done anything I wanted to remember. B

Steve Earle: I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive (2011, New West): Album title obviously comes from the Hank Williams song -- as low down as Hank ever got, which is saying something -- but the song isn't here: nothing but eleven Steve Earle tunes. Not weary, too fascinated with the world to want to leave it. B+(***)

Egyptrixx: Bible Eyes (2011, Night Slugs): Toronto DJ, David Psutka, considered dubstep and synth pop, the latter most likely tied to his distinctive high whistle sounds. Big loopy beats, not many vocals, not as much fun as the beats and whistles. B+(***)

Elbow: Build a Rocket Boys (2011, Fiction/Polydor): English group, fifth studio album since 2001, won the Mercury Prize for previous album The Seldom Seen Kid. Mostly synths, soft and stately, occasionally threatens to build up some momentum but soon fizzles. So much for rocket science. B

The Feelies: Here Before (2011, Bar/None): New Jersey group, distinctive jangly guitar sound, started with a real good album in 1980 and hung it up after a great album in 1991. Twenty years later, they remind me of certain pop painters who established an immediately identifiable style on a set of famous pieces, then returned much later with more that was immediately recognizable but a bit off -- Roy Lichtenstein is one I'm thinking of. This is like that, the same but not quite. B+(*)

Colt Ford: Every Chance I Get (2011, Average Joe's): Country rapper, b. Jason Farris Brown in 1969, Chuck Eddy calls him a "hick-hopper" -- a term likely to stick as generic. "Waste some Time" with Nappy Roots is properly miscegnated, but "This Is Our Song" is stuffed with hick-proud gratuitous political ignorance, the sort of thing that gives red-necked white guys such a bad rep. If you got to go dumb, I'd rather stick with "Titty's Beer." Still, they got the right idea on "Overworked & Underpaid" -- just too dumb to know why (and bringing Charlie Daniels in for a guest spot doesn't help). B

Garage Trois: Always Be Happy, but Stay Evil (2011, The Royal Potato Family): Originally a Charlie Hunter project, with Skerik's honking sax and Stanton Moore's drumming and Mike Dillon too, their Outre Mer was a pleasant surprise in 2005 -- one of three A- records in my Pop Jazz file (not that it was actually smooth jazz fodder; nor for that matter was Tucker Martine's Mylab). Fourth album here, Hunter's guitar has been replaced by Marco Benevento's keybs, really not a fair trade at all. B

Emmylou Harris: Hard Bargain (2010 [2011], Nonesuch): Pretty close to 30 albums since 1975 -- rarely missed a year up to 2000, but has slowed down a bit lately: 2003, 2006, 2008, 2011. Mostly originals, mostly nondescript -- one of the lamer post-Katrina songs ("New Orleans," as if she never got around to thinking up a real title). B

Hauschka: Foreign Landscapes (2010, Fat Cat): Volker Bertelmann, from Dusseldorf, has a reputation for playing prepared piano. AMG lists him in Avant-Garde along with Cage, Cowell, and Wolff, but also slips in Post-Rock and Indie-Electronic. AMG lists 7 albums, the latest not on Rhapsody. This one is mostly strings, mostly minimalist patterns, with a little piano and some things that are likely electronic. B+(**)

Holy Ghost!: Holy Ghost! (2011, DFA): Exclamation mark distinguishes them from plain old Holy Ghost (four house albums 1996-2005). Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel, formerly of Automato (good eponymous hip hop album in 2004); first album after a bunch of singles since 2007. Dance beats, pop riffs, male vocals, don't follow but don't mind. B+(*)

Hunx & His Punx: Too Young to Be in Love (2011, Hardly Art): Seth Bogart, formerly of queercore Gravy Train!!!! -- three albums plus some EPs 2003-07 -- goes into girl group revival, debuted last year with a Gay Singles compilation. Falsetto doesn't hold up, and the basic concept has been done better, but coming up short of the New York Dolls is no surprise. B+(**)

Lia Ices: Grown Unknown (2011, Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter, from Connecticut, second album, gets a little churchy echo out of her keybs, a formula for heavenly pop if only she could set more hooks, or come up with lyrics that make you notice. B

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit: Here We Rest (2011, Lightning Rod): Former Drive-By Trucker on his third solo album. I'm not close enough to the band to have a sense of its multiple forces -- a subject much discussed by those who paid such close attention -- so I'm a bit lost here. Pretty decent country-ish rock, not a lot of guitar muscle and no songs that I find especially memorable, but I do like the click of the piano. B+(*)

Jessie J: Who Are You (2011, Universal Republic): English dance-pop sensation, all of 23, first album, complete with horrible reviews. First cut, "Price Tag," sounds like one of the singles of the year, terrific beats, perfectly poised, nice little cameo from B.o.B., I even like the message. However, second song is horribly oversung ("Nobody's Perfect" -- no shit). Kicks back and forth after that, never matching the initial single. Too bad. Still, better than Adele. B

Joan as Police Woman: The Deep Field (2011, PIAS): Joan Wassner, originally from Connecticut, involved with Jeff Buckley before he dornwed in 1997; joined Antony and the Johnsons in 1999; debuted as Joan as Police Woman in 2006, her three records appearing first and most successfully in UK. B+(*)

Kool Keith: The Legend of Tashan Dorsett (2011, Junkadelic): AMG has this confused with the 2009 Tashan Dorsett album. New cover and title (as far as I can tell), but same superhero, pretty much the same song titles (even "New Shit") but remixed. Maybe I should start with the original, but dived in here first, and find the echoes and fluff diverting enough, even though remixers more often than not fall back on their usual bag of tricks. B+(*)

Kool Keith: Tashan Dorsett (2009, Junkadelic): Back to the source, which with Keith means the beats are spare and sly and the idiosyncrasy -- hell, the comic weirdness -- of the lyrics come out much clearer. B+(**)

Alison Krauss & Union Station: Paper Airplane (2011, Rounder): America's best known bluegrass artist, a fine fiddler with a pristine soprano voice -- something I could tire of, but Dan Tyminski's occasional vocals spell her nicely. B+(***)

Low: C'mon (2011, Sub Pop): Duluth, MN slowcore band, husband/wife team plus bassist, 14th album since 1994 (not counting a 3CD decade of b-sides). Seemed like a promising idea, but most of their songs are little more than repetitions of some stock phrase, like "oh nightingale" or "nothing but heart"; that's bad enough, but wait until they unpack a lyric like, "just because you don't hear their voices/don't mean they won't kill you in your sleep" -- in a song dreary enough to be a lullaby. C+

J Mascis: Several Shades of Why (2011, Sub Pop): Initial stands for Joseph [Donald], from MA, was in Dinosaur Jr. with and after Lou Barlow. I never paid much attention to them, and disliked their 2009 comeback Farm, but this is charming in every respect, warm, tuneful, dilligent. A-

Metronomy: The English Riviera (2011, Because): English electronica group, main person is Joseph Mount but seems to be an actual band, like with guitar(s) and drums. Third album. Catchy sometimes; only intermittently rhymes with monotony. B+(*)

Middle Brother: Middle Brother (2011, Partisan): Everyone seems to be going with the eponymous group/album title, but cover actually lists three surnames above the pic, the title below -- surnames belong to John McCauley (Deer Tick), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), and Matthew Vasquez (Delta Spirit). McCauley is probably the key one -- at least I figure he's the guy with the most voice, although the songs are pretty evenly divided. A-

Nuriya: Tanita (2011, Musica Almaya): From Mexico City, grandparents were Arabic Jews from Iraq and Syria who aimed for New York and got rerouted; grew up "between Mexico, L.A., and New York," then studied in Cuba, Israel, and France. Music reflects all of that, with some flamenco and Oum Kalthoum thrown into the mish-mash. Might have saved herself some trouble by idolizing Shakira, and still might. B+(**)

Obits: Moody, Standard and Poor (2011, Sub Pop): New York guitar band, garage punk more or less, second album, vocalist Rick Froberg is reported to sing this time instead of yelling. Songs are tight, cogent; nothing fancy, just the sort of rock album I could see enjoying. Title namechecks two of the big three bond rating companies, as responsible as anyone for destroying the world, but the names were included in quotes -- probably just caught their fancy (unlike, I guess, Fitch). B+(***)

Panda Bear: Tomboy (2011, Paw Tracks): Noah Lennox's side project from Animal Collective, up to four albums since 1998. Densely overlayered, vocally reminds me of classical choral music smudged up so you can't make out a word, tracked to an exaggerated beat. I don't really see the point. B

Josh T. Pearson: Last of the Country Gentlemen (2011, Mute): Pearson comes out of a group called Lift to Experience with another Josh -- something else that makes me nervous; when I was growing up no one named their kids that -- and their major album was called The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, a combo which sounds, well, terrifying. That one gets compared to My Bloody Valentine as well as Tim Buckley, but this solo debut is downright primitive: just voice over guitar and not even much of that -- the exception is a bit of added fiddle in one spot. The songs run on: 5 of 7 top 10 minutes. It's the sort of record that demands to be taken on its lyrics, but I don't have a good handle on that -- other than to note that the first song (one of the short ones) takes off on an ominous religious tangent. Could go up a bit or down a lot. B

Pet Shop Boys: The Most Incredible Thing (2011, Parlophone, 2CD): Soundtrack, to a three-act ballet, spread out on 2CD running 83:23. Many instances of trademark beats, but they (or Neal Tennant, who is credited with composing the whole thing) tap into the usual gamut of symphonic instruments (or synthesized approximations), making sweeping gestures like the dead classicists used to do. The occasional vocals tend toward choral sounds. Sometimes amusing, sometimes inadvertently so. B

Plan B: The Defamation of Strickland Banks (2010 [2011], 679/Atlantic): Ben Drew, b. 1983 in London, UK; has a previous album, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words (2006), got him cast as a grime rapper, but there is little of that here -- no sooner than I type those words I hear a rap section, but it's on the tenth song; can't swear there's no more, but this is mostly sung. Concept album, about a soul singer named Strickland Banks -- you know, fame, drugs, jail, whatever. Heard it all before; just rarely this loud, with such sweeping bit beat music. Came out in UK last year, but shows up as new in US this year. B

Rainbow Arabia: Kabukimono (2009, Manimal Vinyl, EP): New album, Boys and Diamonds, not available -- cover shown but no songs available -- so I clicked on this 7-track EP. LA duo, Tiffany and Danny Preston, picked up some Arabic tunings from a Casio program, and that's evident here along with some jumpy dance-punk. B+(***)

Gil Scott-Heron/Jamie XX: We're New Here (2010 [2011], XL): Basically, a remix of Scott-Heron's well-received 2010 album I'm New Here, the short original (28 minutes) stretched out to 35 minutes by Jamie Smith (of The XX). The loopy electronics seem to help at first, then fall flat and turn annoying. Gone is the cover shot of Scott-Heron dragging on a cigarette, but the voice remains. B

The Streets: Computers and Blues (2011, Vice): Mike Skinner, the original grime rapper, shoots his heavily accented everyman spiel over beats that started as uncommonly modest as the producer, but have now mutated into all sorts of bizarre and baroque contortions. I find the juxtaposition, well, weird, making it hard to hang on every word, even though most are worth the trouble. B+(**)

The Streets: Everything Is Borrowed (2008, Vice): While on the subject, thought I should check out the one (of five) album I missed. Beats are toned down, more even, none of the oddness of the following album. They fit his speech nicely, but he doesn't come up with enough to get by on that alone. Pretty much a wash. B+(**)

Swollen Members: Dagger Mouth (2011, Suburban Noize): Hip hop group from Vancouver: Mad Child, Prevail, and Rob the Viking; sixth album since 1999. Got a steady beat which lets the words surface, including: "fuck being a gangster and fuck being dead for it"; favors free wit over free will, but I didn't grab that line fast enough to quote here. Much more worth the study. A-

Those Darlins: Screws Get Loose (2011, Ow Wow Dang): Cowpunk grrlgroup, or something like that, based in Nashville, second album. Straight up, anthem seems to be "Be Your Bro" which is alright as far as that goes, but does it matter? B+(*)

Tune-Yards: Whokill (2011, 4AD): More typographic mayhem here, as if the music wasn't bad enough. Second album. Band, mostly a front for someone named Merrill Garbus, likes to be called "tUnE-yArDs" -- their name pieced together like a ransom note. The music is similarly hacked up and pasted back together, chop suey for the knees. A lot of people I like love it, and sometimes it gets so bouncy and/or whimsical I don't mind it -- at best she's like a real American Tom Z. Maybe if I got a copy and spent the time getting re-educated I'd get with the program. B+(***) [Later: B+(*)]

TV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light (2011, Interscope): Brooklyn rock group, fourth or fifth album. The only one I own is Dear Science, which overwhelmed my critical resistance but never tempted me to play it much. It dominated 2008 year-end lists, and I wouldn't be surprise if this one does as well, but I sure can't tell you why. Can't even come up with a generic description: melodies are kind of spacey but focus in on subtle pop hooks, vocals are kind of soulful but generic, words -- well, don't recall any words, even bloopers. But it flows so nice I've stopped worrying. A- [cd]

Generation Bass Presents: Transnational Dubstep (2011, Six Degrees): Long (77:24) VA comp, don't recognize any of the fifteen dubstep artists except maybe Jajouka Soundsystem (or maybe that sounds so obvious it rings a fake bell; the other one like that is Celt Islam). Presumably UK, although I doubt anyone is checking identity cards, the gimmick being to run world music echoes through the Jamaican dub chamber. Works easily. A-

The Karindula Sessions: Tradi-Modern Sounds From Southeast Congo (2011, Crammed Discs): Recorded at a three-day party in Lubumbashi down in the Congolese Copper Belt; the style also known as kalindula across the Zambian border, in both cases named for a large banjo-like instrument that beats out a skeletal rhythm; otherwise, all we hear are vocal shouts and lots of percussion, remarkable for its extreme primitivism and volume -- goes through stretches when it gets annoying, then charming, then too much. B


Records I looked for but didn't find on Rhapsody:

  • EMA: Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)
  • G-Side: The One . . . Cohesive (Slow Motion Soundz)
  • Ha Ha Tonka: Death of a Decade (Bloodshot)
  • Hauschka: Salon des Amateurs (Fat Cat)
  • Lori McKenna: Lorraine (Signature Sounds)
  • Gurf Morlix: Blaze Foley's 113th Wet Dream (Rootball)
  • The Paperhead: The Paperhead (Trouble in Mind)
  • Rainbow Arabia: Boys and Diamonds (Kompakt)
  • Those Shocking Shaking Days: Indonesian Hard, Psychedelic, Progressive Rock and Funk 1970-1978 (Now-Again)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Billy Bang Sextet: The Fire From Within (1984 [1985], Soul Note): Rhapsody files this under trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah, who dominates the early going, but the violin-guitar-bass keep it all in sync and racing along, as does Thurman Barker's marimba on top of Zen Matsuura's drums. A-

Marilyn Crispell: Live in Berlin (1982 [1984], Black Saint): One piece on first side, two on second, all brawling, scrapping free jazz, the pianist doing her best Cecil Taylor impression, Peter Kowald and John Betsch hitting back, the quartet filled out out with violinist Billy Bang, stuck between a horn role and the bassist, not amped loud enough to take over the album, but very much in the thick of things. B+(**)

Neil Diamond: The Bang Years 1966-1968 (1966-68 [2011], Legacy): Started in a duo called Neil and Jack, wrote songs in the Brill Building (most famously "I'm a Believer" for the Monkees), signed to Bang in 1966 where he cut two albums and scored a few minor hits -- "Cherry, Cherry" hit number six, "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" went top-ten, three more top twenty. This rounds them all up, usefully if you have a use for them. Diamond always seemed a little starched, too straight and too stiff for rock even when he wasn't slouching toward opera. In fact, the cut I like best is his cover of "Hanky Panky," starting with his protests against doing it. B+(*)

Bob Dylan: In Concert: Brandeis University 1963 (1963 [2011], Columbia/Legacy): The tenth in Dylan's Bootleg Series, which at its best provides spot checks relative to the adjacent studio albums, in this case The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan; short (38:22), with a conspicuous intermission, the irony of "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues" doesn't go far, but the deadpan grind of "Ballad of Hollis Brown" and "Masters of War" does, and the rest coasts from there. B+(**)

The Flying Burrito Brothers: Authorized Bootleg: Fillmore East, New York, N.Y.: Late Show, November 7, 1970 (1970 [2011], Hip-O Select): Gram Parsons' pioneering country-rock group, two albums down, Parsons soon to split for a brief solo career and death in 1973; nothing here that's not better on the albums, except the covers too minor to make it -- "Six Days on the Road" is spirited, but "Feel Good Music" isn't. B

I, Brute Force: Confections of Love (1966-67 [2010], Bar/None): In an infinite universe everything gets reissued sooner or later. However, in our relativistic universe I didn't expect this to worm its way back into my consciousness. Released by Columbia in 1967, I expropriated a copy when an apartment mate stuck me with his rent bill -- a cache that included such dreck as early Vanilla Fudge and Rotary Connection albums, but this was by far the worst. (The prize find was an edition of the Temptations' Greatest Hits, pressed in red plastic with all the print in Chinese.) IBF was Brill Building hack Stephen Friedland. He later dropped the "I" and cut a single for Apple called "King of Fuh" which defined the rest of his pathetic life: in 2006 he even recycled the title and character for a "musical comedy." The single is included here, transforming a 12-song LP into a 16-song best-of -- all you need plus sixteen extra songs. To be fair, he could be catchy ("To Sit on a Sandwich") or quotable ("Tapeworm of Love") but never at the same time. D+

David Murray: Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club (1977 [2010], Jazzwerkstatt): In 2006 I was one of five writers asked to work up a consumer guide to the records of a jazz great. I was the only one to pick a living artist: tenor saxophonist David Murray, b. 1955 in California, raised on church, funk, and saxophonists from Paul Gonsalves to Albert Ayler. (The others opted for Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Sun Ra.) I managed to pick out and write short reviews of seventeen key albums, from Low Class Conspiracy in 1976 through Now Is Another Time in 2003. At the time I credited him with 90 albums as a leader and 90 more as a sideman, and figured I had heard 60 + 40 of them -- pretty good that that left some gaps, most notably in the late 1970s when he moved to New York and took the "jazz loft scene" by storm. That period is mostly documented by live albums like this one on defunct labels: this set was originally released by India Navigation on two LPs, then in 1989 was squeezed onto one CD by hacking about eight minutes off the last song. It's finally back in print, the times slightly rejiggered from the CD. It's not a long lost classic, but it has historical interest -- for one thing, Murray plans soprano sax on his trashed trad jazz "Bechet's Bounce" -- and then some. A quartet with Lester Bowie the opposite horn, Fred Hopkins on bass, and Phillip Wilson on drums. Hopkins is already a fascinating player, and Bowie's wit complements Murray's power. B+(**)

David Murray: Children (1984 [1986], Black Saint): Three Murray tunes plus "All the Things You Are" done by a quintet with James "Blood" Ulmer's guitar and Don Pullen's piano locked in a furious race; thrilling when they keep it up, loses something when the pace slackens. B+(**)

David Murray: Recording NYC 1986 (1986 [1995], DIW): Another snapshot from a memorable year -- started with I Want to Talk About You and ended with The Hill; a quartet, of course, but with guitarist James Blood Ulmer on guitar instead of the usual piano, Fred Hopkins on bass and Sunny Murray on drums; sound is a little muffled, but the tenor sax has no problem breaking through. B+(**)

David Murray/Jack DeJohnette: In Our Style (1986 [1989], DIW): Mostly tenor sax-drums duets, the drummer marvelously supportive (as ever), the saxophonist psyched up; two cuts add Fred Hopkins on bass, never a bad idea; DeJohnette plays a bit of credible piano, and kicks off the final cut with some exotic percussion -- I thought vibes at first, but given the title is "Kalimba" it's most likely African thumb piano. A-

David Murray: Lovers (1988 [1989], DIW): Cut at the same January 1988 studio session that also produced Deep River, Ballads, and Spirituals, same quartet; mostly ballads, "In a Sentimental Mood" the only standard, its solo coda Murray at his most tender; on "Ming" pianist Dave Burrell rises to matche Murray's emotional bravura. A-

David Murray Quintet: Remembrances (1990 [1991], DIW): Cover suggests this is child's play, and indeed this is exceptionally light and lively, with Hugh Ragin's trumpet dicing with Murray's tenor sax, and pianist Dave Burrell mixing some boogie into the rhythm section; less explicit about its place in the tradition than Tenors or Sax Men, except on "Dexter's Dues." B+(***)

David Murray: Death of a Sideman (1991 [2000], DIW): Featuring trumpeter Bobby Bradford, who preceded Don Cherry in Ornette Coleman's quartet and had a long collaboration with John Carter up to his death in 1991; Bradford wrote the songs in Carter's memory, and Murray picks up the thought; with Coleman alum Ed Blackwell on drums, Murray regulars Dave Burrell and Fred Hopkins on piano and bass; poignant, profound. A-

David Murray Octet: Picasso (1992 [1995], DIW): The title comes from a Coleman Hawkins piece, but where Hawk recorded the first landmark tenor sax solo, Murray wraps a seven-slice suite around the idea and fleshes it out with five horns and some dazzling Dave Burrell piano; not as jarring or protean as earlier octets like Ming, the sense of motion and flow is flush throughout. B+(**)

David Murray Quartet: Love and Sorrow (1993 [2000], DIW): Another ballad album, framed with "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and "You Don't Know What Love Is"; the sole original "Sorrow Song (for W.E.B. DuBois)" leading into "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" for what may be his most quiet storm side ever; an especially touching John Hicks on piano, Fred Hopkins on bass, Idris Muhammad on drums. A-

David Murray: Circles: Live in Cracow (2003, Not Two): Sax trio, featuring local bass and drums duo, telepathic twins Marcin Oles and Bartlomiej Brat Oles, although they seem to be overwhelmed by their guest; Murray holds the spotlight, showing off his extensive bag of improvisatory tricks, especially on bass clarinet. B+(***)

Ruth Olay: Olay! O.K.! (1963 [2009], Essential Media Group): A jazz singer from Los Angeles, recorded a dozen albums from 1956-66, this the only one even marginally in print; nothing on the nondescript string orchestra -- maybe they're in a witness protection program? -- but the singer has remarkable poise. B+(*)

Phoebe Snow: The Very Best of Phoebe Snow (1974-91 [2001], Columbia/Legacy): Started off as a singer-songwriter with a sly-quirky-sappy hit called "Poetry Man" but three albums in she started doing covers, getting more range out of a remarkable voice -- "Teach Me Tonight" has never been done more convincingly -- although sometimes the arrangements get the best of her, especially when she tries to go funky. Her career stalled after her fifth album in 1978, with an occasional record here and there until she died this month. With her albums inconsistent, someone should be able to put together a superior compilation; however, Columbia tried picking ten songs for their 1982 The Best of Phoebe Snow and missed, escalating to fourteen with mixed results here. Among the missing: "In My Girlish Days," from 1976's It Looks Like Snow, probably still her best. B+(**)

Phoebe Snow: Live (2008, Verve Forecast): Five records from 1974-78 with Columbia, four more in the next thirty years while she cared for a brain-damaged daughter who died in 2007; this was meant to be her return to the spotlite -- at one point she thanks the audience for keeping her alive -- but now looks like her swansong; some old stuff and vigorous new covers, like "Piece of My Heart" and "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Blues." B+(**)

String Trio of New York: Area Code 212 (1980 [1981], Black Saint): Long before anyone spoke of "chamber jazz" a pioneering configuration, with violin (Billy Bang), guitar (James Emery), and bass (John Lindberg), all three contributing songs and balancing off their efforts; Emery has the toughest time, sometimes suggesting bits of Spanish classical, but the record picks up steam when Bang takes charge. B+(*)

String Trio of New York: Common Goal (1981 [1982], Black Saint): Emery's guitar stands apart, struck into distinct notes or chords where the violin and bass are mostly arco, but this time that often works as percussion; besides, Bang and Lindberg work up more of a lather, even when Bang interjects some flute on "San San Nana" -- their intensity sweeps all before it; and they look like such nice guys on the cover. B+(***)

String Trio of New York: Rebirth of a Feeling (1983 [1984], Black Saint): Seems like pretty close to their average album, with Lindberg's bass stout and central, Bang's violin whirling around the periphery, and Emery's guitar poking holes here and there; Emery appears on the cover with a small guitar, credit says soprano guitar. B+(**)

String Trio of New York: Natural Balance (1986 [1987], Black Saint): Bang's fifth and last album with the group -- Lindberg and Emery carried on with 13 more albums up through 2008, using in series a veritable pantheon of violinists: Charles Burnham, Regina Carter, Diane Monroe, Rob Thomas; Emery's "Texas Koto Blues" is the most striking thing here, both before and after Bang enters; first record so far where I felt Emery was key, not much else stands out. B+(*)

X-Ray Spex: Live @ the Roundhouse London 2008 (2008 [2009], Year Zero): The great lost British punk group from 1977, like the more famous Sex Pistols cut a series of great singles combined into a single album, but both the singles and the album were better, partly because singer Poly Styrene made them more human, and partly because saxophonist Lora Logic made them noisier. The bipolar singer managed to cut a nice solo album in 1980 and another more upbeat one in 2011 when she was dying of cancer -- a career trajectory we'll long puzzle over. In between, enough people revered the band to welcome their occasional reunions -- a gig in 1991 and this one in 2008, a second album in 1995 which provides 4 of 20 songs here ("Oh Bondage Up Yours!" reprised for the encore). Live they were even rougher, and the energy here is off the charts, but a couple of non-singles stand out especially clear: "I Can't Do Anything" and "I Live Off You" -- the latter as insightful a treatise on capitalist economics as anything Karl Marx wrote. Package comes with a DVD which I haven't seen, but for once would love to. A-

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:

Banquet of the Spirits: Caym: The Book of Angels Volume 17 (2010 [2011], Tzadik): More John Zorn compositions, or maybe the same old ones cut up, tossed up, and redressed with a different bunch of musicians. Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista seems to be leader here -- everything is given remarkable rhythmic twists, something that drummer Tim Keiper helps with. The others flesh out those twists: Brian Marsella (piano, harpsichord, pump organ) and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (oud, bass, gimbri). All four add vocals. Not necessarily a good idea, but infectious here. B+(**)

Ben Allison: Action-Refraction (2011, Palmetto): Another one I expected to show up but didn't. Pretty good bassist, even better composer: last three records on Palmetto scored A- here. Only one original here. The covers start with Monk but into rock and elsewhere: PJ Harvey, Donnie Hathaway, Neal Young, Samuel Barber, Paul Williams. Guitarists Steve Cardenas and Brandon Seabrook are central, with Jason Lindner on synth as well as piano, and Michael Blake on bass clarinet and tenor sax. Sort of an instrumental prog rock feel, but tighter, more determined. B+(***)

Dave Douglas: United Front: Brass Ecstasy at Newport (2010 [2011], Greenleaf Music): Same four brass plus drums lineup as on Douglas's Spirit Moves (2009): trumpet (Douglas), trombone (Luis Bonilla), French horn (Vinent Chancey), tuba (Marcus Rojas), and drums (Nasheet Waits). Repeats four songs, plus "Spirit Moves" (which somehow missed the album it was title of) and "United Front" -- three Douglas tunes and Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Redundant if you don't care, but seems like more is more to me. Too bad I got to nag them every time out. B+(***)

Ron Horton: It's a Gadget World . . . (2009, Abeat): This shows up under Ben Allison's name both in AMG and Rhapsody -- gave me a bit of a pause as it would have broke the string of A- records mentioned in reviewing Allison's new record. Cover lists trumpet/flugelhorn player Horton up top in caps, then "featuring Antonio Zambrini" (piano, also wrote 4 of 9 tracks plus the liner notes), then way down at the bottom Allison (bass) and Tony Moreno (drums). Brisk postbop, a couple of nice piano spots, a lot of first-rate trumpet. B+(**)

Okkyung Lee: Noisy Love Songs (2011, Tzadik): Cellist, from Korea, moved to New York 2000; second album on Tzadik; looks like three or four others. With no lyrics one can argue whether these even are love songs. That some are noisy is beyond doubt, but not many, and not very: the cello-violin-bass can turn squelchy, but mostly plot out sweet melodies, with piano (Craig Taborn) and/or trumpet (Peter Evans) for occasional elaboration, and percussion (John Hollenbeck and Satoshi Takeishi) -- lots of tinkly tones. B+(**)

John Zorn: Nova Express (2010 [2011], Tzadik): Ten Zorn compositions, played by a piano-bass-vibes-drums quartet: John Medeski, Trevor Dunn, Kenny Wollesen, Joey Baron. Takes a book title from William S. Burroughs -- song titles include "Dead Fingers Talk" and "The Ticket That Exploded." Nothing MJQ-ish. The vibes add an electric ring to the piano, but compete in the same space, and both can clash fiercely. Does tail off into a nice groove-laden thing at the end. B+(**)


Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd (but made most sense to review here)