Rhapsody Streamnotes: April 3, 2014

Another whopper, with 73 new records, 21 old ones -- neither anywhere near a record (November 30, 2013 had 100 new and 85 old, and I'm not sure that's it, but that's good enough for my point). Since I don't have any fixed time schedule -- perhaps a slight bias toward at least one per month and the option of more -- I'm inclined to run Streamnotes more often with fewer records. This is actually just 15 days since the March 19 column, but since I folded Jazz Prospecting and Recycled Goods into here I'm not writing anything else on music: it's all here. Works out to a bit more than six per day. I've worked that sort of grind for a long time. Thought it might be winding down, but I still spend most of my time listening, and most working at the computer, so jotting these notes down isn't a lot of extra work -- it even has a sort of mechanical pleasure to itself.

Thirty-four of the seventy-three new records came from CDs (or CDRs), what's left of my dwindling new jazz queue. Three of those made the A-list: Mike DiRubbo, Allen Lowe, Eric Revis -- not big names but Lowe and Revis have had A- records before, and DiRubbo has always made a strong impression -- and something called Free Nelson Mandoomjazz (a total unknown to me, probably you too). So about half of this is Jazz Prospecting, and about half (maybe as much as two-thirds) of that is stuff I wouldn't have bothered with had it not appeared in my mailbox. A couple more came from download links I got from publicists -- presumably I could burn them if I ever figured out how -- but realistically I doubt if I follow up more than 15% of the links I get. (Actually, only two below, but I had six last time.) The other eight jazz records below I got from Rhapsody (Akinmusire, Kent, Kühn, Rainey, Reeves, Rodriguez, Rosene, Russell -- all artists with enough track record to catch my attention), and they netted three A- finds, and two B- busts.

That leaves thirty non-jazz records, which break down roughly: singer-songwriter (5), other rock (9: a mix of alt, punk, pop, and hybrids thereof), rap (3), r&b (3), electronica (4), world (2), blues (1), and Leon Russell (a singer-songwriter with an album that would mark anyone else as an interpretive jazz singer, but doesn't quite merit that label). Probably a typical mix, although most months would have some country and folkie/Americana fringe. I've been following my own nose and what little guidance I could find (and trust, at least a little). I went after Russell, by the way, after a letter writer reminded me I used to like him -- actually, the letter writer was ragging on Christgau, who never liked Russell much. Most useful has been Jason Gubbels, who tabbed the two most far-afield surprises here (Big Ups, Company Freak; he also got to press first on Jon Langford, but my review was already written).

I didn't have the benefit of editing Michael Tatum's A Downloader's Diary this month, but it's up now at Odyshape. First impression: he likes Withered Hand and Drive-By Truckers a lot more than I do; Dance Mania and St. Vincent a little more; Pharrell Williams and Sisyphus much less. I need to track down Kool and Kass (shouldn't be much trouble, but the compilations will be harder both to find and get enough doc on to review -- as a rule of thumb, Soul Jazz always provides excellent doc, and Rough Guide rarely does, although their compilers usually have good ears).

As for the "old music" section, that's gotten to be very random. The Vijay Iyer records I noticed after reviewing his new one last time. I also got the impression that Rhapsody had quite a few Stomp Off records -- turns out the percentage is small -- so went on a hunt for ones I missed. I happen to be one of the few jazz critics who really loves trad jazz -- the Penguin Guide compilers are also so inclined, with a soft spot for the Brits -- so nearly everything I heard sounded superb. I wondered afterwords if I had gone overboard -- six A- records this month -- but thinking back I couldn't decide where to trim the curve back. If you don't share that quirk in my taste, none of them are likely to convert you, but I can't help you beyond that.

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 19. Past reviews and more information are available here (4617 records).

New Releases (More or Less)

Jaime Affoumado/Alex Blake/Arturo O'Farrill/Bill Ware: The Puppeteers (2013 [2014], Puppet's): Drums-bass-piano-vibes, the artists listed alphabetically although the group is more evenly balanced, with Blake and Ware the lead writers (3 tunes each), but one each for the other two, and a cover from Papo Vasquez. Latin tinge isn't surprising from the first three, but Ware keeps pace and arguably leads -- a fast pace indeed. B+(**) [cd]

Ambrose Akinmusire: The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint (2014, Blue Note): Trumpet player, from Oakland, third album. Glancing around my pad, I see his face on the cover of Downbeat, and as the record descends into its third awful guest vocal I'm reminded how in the early days of JCG I'd pick featured duds and almost invariably find those artists on the Downbeat cover. The best I can say is that some of the trumpet runs are poignant, as is the keyb piece with a child reciting names of the young and dead, e.g. Trayvon Martin, and when saxophonist Walter Smith III finally gets a chance to play (last track) he makes something of the opportunity. B-

Mike Bardash Quintet: Polygon (2013 [2014], Rhombus): Pianist, has at least one previous album, leads what is basically a hard bop quintet -- even the album cover looks like it was salvaged from Blue Note in the 1960s. B+(*) [cd]

The Baseball Project: 3rd (2014, Yep Roc): Way back when I thought Steve Wynn had the right voice and feel for Americana, but the songs came hard until he tapped into this bottomless well of stories, names and numbers -- "Stats" just recites a few iconic ones, most of which I can still map. Most of the names here signify for me, (even if "13" wasn't self-evident), and I felt nostalgia for the line, "every summer every day the box scores keep me sane." Still, it's been twenty years since I read them every day -- I got past them, and will this too. B+(***)

Big Ups: Eighteen Hours of Static (2014, Tough Love/Dead Labour): Post-hardcore group debut, a short LP at 27:35, but the eleven tracks don't feel cramped or rushed. Bass leads the guitar, vocals are spoken or shouted, but coherent and thoughtful even -- e.g., the wish for justice. A-

Aloe Blacc: Lift Your Spirit (2013 [2014], XIX/Interscope): Laura thought he sounded a bit like Bill Withers, but that was only a first approximation. He sounds more ragged to me, which in a younger man means he's probably not as talented. B+(*)

Blaqstarr: The Blaq-Files (2002-06) (2002-06 [2014], Jeffree's/Mad Decent, EP): Baltimore DJ Charles Smith, has a stack of EPs including one that impressed me in 2011 (Divine), better known for working with M.I.A. Four cuts, 13:24, assuming the dates are correct from his late-teen years. B+(*)

The Coathangers: Suck My Shirt (2014, Suicide Squeeze): Three women from Atlanta, good enough for a punk trio. B+(**) [Later: A-]

Company Freak: Le Disco Social (2014, Opus Label): Disco, not just retro but a straight shot back to 1978 give or take a Chic twerk, aside from an occasional lyric like "keep the people dumb, and the terrorists have won" -- not that they mind dumb music, as long as you can dance to it. A-

Mike DiRubbo: Threshold (2013 [2014], Ksanti): Alto saxophonist, eighth album since 1999, most on mainstream labels (Criss Cross, Sharp Nine, Posi-Tone, SteepleChase). Hard bop quintet, but sounds newer than a 1960s Blue Note throwback, with Brian Charette providing strong support on piano and Josh Evans hitting hot spots on trumpet. A- [cd]

Drive-By Truckers: English Oceans (2014, ATO): After 18 years, still a fine band with Southern drawls and a thick guitar sound. Still, on one play I'm not finding anything special, and searching is beginning to feel like work. B+(**)

Benjamin Duboc: St. James Infirmary (2013 [2014], Improvising Beings): French bassist, has appeared in various free jazz groups since 2004 (plus an album back in 1997), goes solo here, with two 20+ minute tracks, fairly abstract despite the trad base of the title track. B+(*) [cd]

Rachel Eckroth: Let Go (2013 [2014], Virgo Sun): Singer-songwriter, also plays piano and percussion. Has at least one previous album. Liner notes is a downloadable PDF file, so it takes a while to find out that virtually every song has a different lineup. They don't sound that different. She dares you to call her "eclectic." B [cd]

Colin Edwin/Lorenzo Feliciati: Twinscapes (2013 [2014], RareNoise): Two bassists ("fretless and fretted") with rock backgrounds, Edwin from Porcupine Tree, Feliciati from Naked Truth and Berserk, add keybs, guitar, programming, and toys to their rhythms; also guest spots for David Jackson (sax), Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet), Andi Pupato (percussion, from Nik Bärtsch's Ronin), and Roberto Gualdi (drums, from PFM). B+(***) [cdr]

Scott Feiner & Pandeiro Jazz: A View From Below (2013 [2014], self-released): Percussionist, plays pandeiro, a hand frame drum popular in Brazilian music. Fourth album since his debut, Pandeiro Jazz, in 2006, rounded out with Guilherme Monteiro on guitar and Rafael Vernet on electric piano, for a fairly typical Brazilian sound. B [cd]

Free Nelson Mandoomjazz: The Shape of Doomjazz to Come/Saxophone Giganticus (2013 [2014], RareNoise): Sax trio from Scotland: Rebecca Sneddon on alto sax, Colin Stewart on electric bass, and Paul Archibald on drums. First album, designed as two EPs on one CD, the pieces built on deep fuzzy bass riffs with the sax cutting or wailing, closer to free than doom metal but resonates with that overtone. A- [cdr]

Erik Friedlander: Nighthawks (2013 [2014], Skipstone): Cellist, fifteen-plus albums since 1995, gets a tight string groove going with Doug Wamble on guitar and Trevor Dunn on bass and won't let go. With Michael Sarin on drums. B+(***) [cd]

Tom Griesgraber/Bert Lams: Unnamed Lands (2013 [2014], self-released): Sounds like a guitar duo, but Griesgraber's instrument is a Chapman stick -- more strings, tapped rather than plucked or strummed. B+(*) [cd]

Hamell on Trial: The Happiest Man in the World (2014, New West): A guy with a guitar, a sense of humor, and more prominently a sense of indignation, often directed at the right targets but not always to much effect. B+(**)

Tim Hegarty: Tribute (2013 [2014], Miles High): Tenor saxophonist, first album, a "'tribute' to my teachers," a list which starts with a 13-year-old Hegarty studying under Frank Foster. Two originals, the rest pieces by saxophonists (plus Monk) coming out of the 1950s, especially Jimmy Heath (4 pieces). Mark Sherman's vibes are a nice touch, and Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, and Carl Allen are superb. B+(***) [cd]

Lisa Hilton: Kaleidoscope (2013 [2014], Ruby Slippers): Pianist, seventeenth album since 1997, started out as sort of a cocktail bar stylist, but has lately turned more ambitious. J.D. Allen joins in on tenor sax here and there and is always a plus but you don't miss him much when the piano leads. B+(**) [cd]

The Hold Steady: Teeth Dreams (2014, Razor & Tie/Washington Square): Hard to tell in two plays whether a new record by a band with such a consistent sound is a typically good one or one of their best, especially without following with a lyric sheet -- when the sound is so consistent, that's where you have to go for fine evaluations. But phrase after phrase seems right, so my initial judgment is this album has nowhere to go but up. A-

Hutchinson Andrew Trio: Prairie Modern (2012 [2014], Chronograph): Canadian piano trio, pianist Chris Andrew the main writer, with bassist Kodi Hutchinson collaborating on two pieces, and Karl Schwonik playing drums. Crisp and clean, well above average, but what grabs your attention is the guest saxophonist on six cuts: he plays like Donny McCaslin, for good reason. B+(***) [cd]

International Orange: International Orange (2013 [2014], self-released): Debut album from David Phelps' guitar trio, with Gaku Takanashi on bass and Todd Isler on drums. Wouldn't call it a groove album but it moves along smartly, everyone contributing. One oddity: my copy has the same songs but different order from the one available on bandcamp. My copy is in a brown sleeve with a bit of orange on the cover. Don't know whether that's low budget finished product or promo. B+(***) [cd]

Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra: Habitat (2013 [2014], Justin Time): Canadian saxophonist (credited with soprano here, but photographed with alto on her website), younger sister of trumpet player Ingrid Jensen, also in the 20-piece orchestra. This strikes me as a convergence into classical music, not so much a "third stream" project as a case of jazz musicians doing the same sort of intricate orchestrations as classical composers do -- not as annoying, though, probably because she eschewed the strings. B+(*) [cd]

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: Give the People What They Want (2014, Daptone): Throwback to, oh, Gladys Knight and the Pips, which isn't such a bad idea, even gives her a fairly clear niche, albeit a minor one. B+(*)

Matthew Kaminski: Swingin' on the New Hammond (2013 [2014], Summit): Organ trio, with Dave Stryker on guitar and Justin Varnes on drums -- second album for Kaminski, and Stryker is well established, with a couple dozen albums going back to 1991. Nothing new, but it never quite seems to get old either. B+(*) [cd]

Stacey Kent: The Changing Lights (2013 [2014], Warner Jazz): Jazz singer, from New Jersey but based in England, married to saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, who writes most of the original music (with lyrics by Kent or novelist Kazuo Ishiguro) and arranges the mix of standards (long on Jobim). She has a light, seductive voice, with songs in Portugese and French as well as English. B+(**)

Joachim Kühn/Alexey Kruglov: Duo Art: Moscow (2012 [2014], ACT): Piano-alto sax duo. Kühn has a long discography going back to 1969 -- mostly prickly, intelligent small groups, his own strongest influence Ornette Coleman. Kruglov is a Russian alto sax player with 15 albums since 2002, and they push each other hard here. A-

Jon Langford: Skull Orchard Revisited (2011, Bloodshot): A new version of the Welsh-born, Mekons-bred, Chicago-based singer-songwriter's 1998 album Skull Orchard, backed by the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus -- who not only harmonize but can turn into a mob -- and packaged as a bonus stuck into a 96-page book. Of course, I don't have the book, but glancing through the 12-page sampler, and reading Christgau's review (June 17, 2011 -- oops, no link) make me wish I could. They help make up for what I missed from the original record, and while the chorus should soften the songs, they wind up beefing it up. A-

Jon Langford & Skull Orchard: Here Be Monsters (2014, In De Goot/Relativity): Second album Langford has used Skull Orchard as his band, the first 12 years after the album appeared with no common players, but same group here as the previous (minus a couple backing singers). The music is less commanding than on his All the Fame of Lofty Deeds or even the most recent Mekons album, but it's close enough, and what I've gathered from the lyrics -- including the atheistic "Don't Believe," the only song not attributed to Langford and band -- could interest me in a lyric sheet. A-

Mike Longo: Step On It (2013 [2014], CAP): Pianist, studied with Oscar Peterson in 1961, played with Dizzy Gillespie 1966-73, has a couple dozen albums since 1972 including a big band project (The New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble). This one's a piano trio, his rhythm famous enough to get their names on the cover: Bob Cranshaw and Lewis Nash. One original, plus covers that include one from Diz, one from Kurt Weill, three from Wayne Shorter, and my fave, something called "Tico Tico." B+(***) [cd]

Allen Lowe: Mulatto Radio: Field Recordings: 1-4 (2012 [2014], Constant Sorrow, 4CD): De trop, but I'm not sure you'd get a superior best-of if you reduced it to a single disc, and the rambling through the ramshackle past and random discoveries are much of the fun -- the booklet, an essential part of the experience, is already too abbreviated. Lowe's alternate title is "A Jew at Large in the Minstrel Diaspora" but that doesn't clarify much either, at least not as much as the intro story where Lowe is being hectored by Wynton Marsalis on minstrelsy and tries to counter that it's not so cut-and-dry. Indeed, it isn't, but rather than argue the point (as he's done in books like That Devilin' Tune), he just picks up a lot of the past and, aided by eighteen often-stellar musicians, slings it into the future, where it's even more peculiar. A- [cd, bc]

Romero Lubambo: Só: Brazilian Essence (2013 [2014], Sunnyside): Brazilian guitarist, born in Rio de Janeiro but based in US. Has a dozen or more albums since 1990. Plays solo acoustic here, four of his own songs, four more by Jobim, ends with "Laura." B+(*) [cd]

Machine Mass [Tony Bianco/Michel Delville]: Inti (2012 [2014], Moonjune): Drummer and guitarist, respectively, with both working in some electronics (Delville is credited with Roland GR09). They make an effective rhythm section, but the main interest here is Dave Liebman, listed as "featuring" on the cover. He mostly plays soprano sax. While I've often taken exception to that, much preferring his tenor sax, he really nails it this time. One cut adds a vocal by Saba Tewelde which we'd be better off without. B+(**) [cd]

Shawn Maxwell: Shawn Maxwell's Alliance (2013 [2014], Chicago Sessions): Alto saxophonist, from Chicago, leads a 10-piece group with vibes and two French horns, but the one I find most annoying is the singer aping a horn -- something that almost never works. Take her away and the group occasionally navigates some tricky curves. B- [cd]

Aaron McEvers/M13: 1 Human, Too Human (2013 [2014], Blujazz): Alto saxophonist, from Detroit, based in Chicago, his name appears on the spine but only M13 on the cover, his 13-piece band. B [cd]

Kristen Miranda: Double Time (2013 [2014], self-released): Standards singer, first album, wrote one song here which sort of vanishes into the woodwork, but she adds something to great songs like "Where or When" and "Bye Bye Blackbird." Joe Gilman plays piano, guitarist Steve Holman did much of the arranging, and the unknown horn players hit the right notes. B+(**) [cd]

The North: Slow Down (This Isn't the Mainland) (2013 [2014], Dowsett): Piano trio: four originals by pianist Romain Collin (who has a couple albums under his own name), two by bassist Shawn Conley, none by drummer Abe Lagriman Jr., covers covers from Chick Corea, Christina Courtin, Thelonious Monk, and Bob Dylan. B+(*) [cd]

Itaru Oki: Chorul Zukan (2013 [2014], Improvising Beings): Japanese trumpet/flugelhorn player (judging from the cover pics, looks like he's merged both horns into the same contraption), b. 1941 in Hyogo prefecture, moved to France 1974; AMG credits him with 8 albums, Discogs with 18. This is solo, although it sometimes sounds like his lines overlap. Fairly minimal at first, but grows on you. B+(***) [cd]

Phantogram: Voices (2014, Republic): New York electropop duo, Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel -- guitar and keybs, both sing but mostly her -- second album. B+(*)

Yvonnick Prene & Padam Swing: Wonderful World (2014, self-released): Harmonica player, French (I think), backed by a Brooklyn quintet deep into Django Reinhardt -- Michael Valeanu is the guitarist, and Scott Tixier plays violin -- cover rather obvious standard fare, their tone sweet and lovely. B+(*) [bc]

Tom Rainey: Obbligato (2013 [2014], Intakt): Drummer-led quintet, the names on the front cover as the stars they are: Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Ingrid Laubrock (soprano sax), Kris Davis (piano), and Drew Gress (bass). The songs are all standards -- Ellington, Monk, and Brubeck from the jazz side of the street; plus Kern, Styne, and others lesser known -- so they have a wealth of melodic materials even when improvised beyond recognition. A-

Isaiah Rashad: Cilvia Demo (2014, Top Dawg): Rapper, originally from Chattanooga before joining Black Hippy in California. Seems to have kept some of his Dirty South roots in the move, not that the newfound sunshine hurts. B+(***)

Dianne Reeves: Beautiful Life (2014, Concord Jazz): A fine singer, like Carmen McRae relying more on precise reading than jazz flair -- "Stormy Weather" is a good example here, but I'm not sure it's that good. A couple originals (one by producer-drummer Terri Lyne Carrington), some not-quite-standards (Stevie Nicks, Bob Marley, Ani DiFranco), most treated to a featured guest who rarely helps. B-

Dave Rempis/Lasse Marhaug: Naancore (2012 [2014], Aerophonic): Both part of the Chicago-Oslo connection that made up Ken Vandermark's Territory Band, but this gives a much clearer case for Marhaug's electronics, which lean towards scratchy static and sheer noise. Rempis plays alto sax, and makes plenty of noise too. Most people will find this unbearable, but I chuckled most of the way through. [Released on LP only.] B+(**) [dl]

Dave Rempis/Darren Johnston/Larry Ochs: Spectral (2012 [2014], Aerophonic): Three horns -- alto sax, trumpet, tenor/sopranino sax, respectively -- nothing else, so this is a little like Ken Vandermark's Sonore but the players complement rather than compete: keeps the volume in check, focusing attention on the interplay, which is quite remarkable. B+(***) [cd]

Eric Revis: In Memory of Things Yet Seen (2013 [2014], Clean Feed): Bassist, mostly associated with Branford Marsalis but his own records have been more avant-oriented. However, this one could be diagnosed as schizo, most obviously in the sax matchup, with everyday postbopper Bill McHenry on tenor and avant-barnburner Darius Jones on alto (with Marsalis dropping in on a couple cuts). I go back and forth on Jones, and he's only occasionally in top form here, but I wound up seduced where I least expected it -- the quiet spot melodies, like part three of "The Tulpa Chronicles." A- [cdr]

Alfredo Rodriguez: The Invasion Parade (2014, Mack Avenue): Cuban pianist, moved to US in 2009, second album (as far as I can tell; one obstacle is that AMG attributes this album to an Alfredo Rodriguez who recorded long before this one was born: 1985). Jumpy rhythms and nice spots for the pianist and saxophonist Roman Filiu, although the vocals don't strike me as a plus. B+(*)

Noah Rosen/Alan Silva: O.I.L.: Orchestrated Improvised Lives (2013, Improvising Beings): Rosen's a pianist, cut a well-regarded trio album for Cadence in 2000 but has rarely been heard from since. Silva is normally a bassist, started recording in 1969 in something called The Celestial Communications Orchestra. His credit here is "orchestral synthesizer" so you can think of him as a one-man backing orchestra but he's more upfront like a duo partner. B+(***) [cd]

Barbara Rosene: Nice and Naughty (2013, Stomp Off): Cover adds "Sweet & Sassy Songs From the 1920's & 30's" -- the singer's specialty, double entendres backed by a prime trad jazz band (credits are scarce, but violin and clarinet are featured). Big problem is Rhapsody only has 6 (of 21) cuts. B+(**)

Catherine Russell: Bring It Back (2014, Jazz Village): Jazz singer, fifth album since 2006, a late starter at age 50 but her mother, Carline Ray, didn't drop her first album until shortly before she died at age 88. Older still was Russell's father Luis, 54 when he sired her, well past his prime when he lead the hottest jazz band in New York -- see Savoy Shout in JSP (1929-30) or The Luis Russell Story 1929-1934 on Retrieval. Dedicating this to her parents, Russell picks out old songs and works her way inside them, backed with piano and/or Matt Munisteri's swing guitar and retro horns like John Allred, Dan Block, and Jon-Erik Kellso. A-

Leon Russell: Life Journey (2014, Universal): I wonder why the Bard of Tulsa never enjoyed a "living legend" career phase like Dr. John. Their careers run parallel: outstanding pianists, idiosyncratic singers, studio legends, closet scholars. But Mac could always blend back into New Orleans, whereas Russell never let himself fit into any tradition -- even as Hank Wilson. And having hit the charts for the first time in 30 years with his Elton John joint, here he returns with a collection of standards -- think Stardust, then think again, as he tries to get by with prefab strings, or the Clayton-Hamilton big band. One original, a boogie called "Big Lips," suggests this could have turned out different. B-

Akira Sakata/Giovanni Di Domenico: Iruman (2012 [2014], Mbari Musica): First time I've heard of either, but Japanese alto saxophonist Sakata has a discography going back to 1980, and the pianist from Rome has a handful of albums since 2010. This duo is hard to judge, a mix of avant and postbop moves, sketchy but enough to suggest these may be musicians worth looking out for. B+(*) [cd]

Marc Seales: American Songs Volume 2: Blues . . . and Jazz (2012 [2014], Origin): Pianist, sometimes electric, based in Seattle, backed with bass, drums, and Fred Hamilton on guitar. The blues pieces are originals. The jazz was licensed from John Coltrane ("Giant Steps") and Wayne Shorter ("ESP"). B+(*) [cd]

Shakira: Shakira (2014, RCA): I'm more impressed by the Blake Shelton duet than the Rihanna, although no surprise that the latter is the lead video. Ends with two songs in Spanish, one I can even translate, and yes, I'm crazy for her too. A-

Kendra Shank & John Stowell: New York Conversations (2011-12 [2014], TCB): Singer, sixth album since 1992, backed by one of the most tasteful guitarists around, just bare support for songs on the slow side; about half originals, half standards, with Woody Guthrie and Fred Hersch-Norma Winstone the outliers. B+(**) [cd]

Sisyphus: Sisyphus (2014, Asthmatic Kitty): Rapper Serengeti, electronic artist Son Lux, and singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, previously released an EP as s/s/s, go for LP length here (51:26). The raps are low-key, especially given the lushness of the music, which finally becomes most compelling on "Alcohol" -- the last track. B+(**)

Skrillex: Recess (2014, Owsla/Big Beat/Atlantic): I was suitably amused by Sonny Moore's first EP (Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites), but the charm soon wore off. Now on his first full album, his electronica has outgrown his early video game sound, adding untold complexity along with arena-sized echoes. B-

Adam Smale: Out of the Blue (2013 [2014], self-released): Guitarist, from northern Ontario, released first album in 2000 -- not aware of any more. Quartet, with Mathew Fries on piano, Phil Palombi and Keith Hall. Nice groove with Montgomery touches. B+(*)

Speedy Ortiz: Real Hair (2014, Carpark, EP): Four tracks, 13:17 total, following last year's debut LP. The lead song, "American Humor," twists and turns more impressively than anything on the LP, but the filler adds little, not even bulk. B+(*)

Daniel Szabo/Peter Erskine/Edwin Livingston: A Song From There (2013 [2014], self-released): Pianist, from Hungary, based in Los Angeles, has a couple albums, nice trio here. B+(*) [cd]

Tacocat: NVM (2014, Hardly Art): Seattle group, three girls and a male drummer, formally punk rushing through 13 songs in 27:47 but no reason to think they'd reject a pop hook -- they're just not going to hang much on it. B+(***)

Tensnake: Glow (2014, Astralwerks): German electronica producer Marco Niemerski, classified as neo-disco (or is it nu-disco?), but when he went to line up guests he started with Nile Rodgers, and his main singer, Fiora Cutler, got a piece of more than half the song credits. The updated cover comes from Holland-Dozier-Holland. B+(***)

Tokyo Police Club: Forcefield (2014, Mom + Pop Music): Snappy little rock group from Toronto, fourth (or fifth) album, enough that they're getting more skilled than their aesthetic calls for, but clever enough not to let that throw a wrench in the works. "Tunnel Vision" got them the third star (for little things, not "I just want to make it through one more night"). B+(***)

Caetano Veloso: Abraçaço (2014, Nonesuch): Major figure in Brazilian music from 1967 on, although I've found that when he slows down, presumably to let the lyrics flower, he gives up the rhythmic idiosyncrasy that I most relate to. This swings both ways, leaving me uncertain. B+(**)

Joe Louis Walker: Hornet's Nest (2014, Alligator): Bluesman, from the generation that defines macho by how much jam you can make jerking off your guitar. On the other hand, he's already done all one can do with that model, so the most interesting things here are the odd covers like "Don't Let Go" and "Soul City" (except when they aren't). B-

Dean Wareham: Dean Wareham (2014, Sonic Cathedral): Singer-songwriter behind Luna steps out with a more substantial effort than last year's Emancipated Hearts, easily recognized although there is a new fragility both in voice and sound. B+(***)

Dan Weiss: Fourteen (2012 [2014], Pi): Drummer, has a handful of albums, many more side credits, often on tabla (but not here). Some impressive passages here -- e.g., Miles Okazaki's guitar climbing over Matt Mitchell's organ -- but the whole thing is spoiled for me by the choral pieces (5 of 7). B- [cd]

The Westerlies: Wish the Children Would Come on Home: The Music of Wayne Horvitz (2013 [2014], Songlines): The group is a New York-based brass quartet, two trumpets and two trombones, with Seattle roots. (Their 2012 eponymous debut lists a couple more names but no instrument credits.) Horvitz joins in on keyboards and electronics for sixteen of his pieces, some turned out avery nicely. B+(**) [cd]

Pharrell Williams: Girl (2014, Columbia): Hitmaker, to use Rhapsody's unusually apt genre tag, celebrates turning 40 by using his full name for the first time, after using his first name for a 2006 album, and Neptunes and N.E.R.D. further back, but his real calling has been as a producer. Not all hits, but he finds the sweet spot pretty often, most flamboyantly in "Happy." A-

Withered Hand: New Gods (2014, Slumberland): Dan Willson, singer-songwriter from Scotland, goes for a lighter, more pop sound here (as compared to 2011's Good News), although the last two songs shift gears. Just before that was the title song, which Rhapsody has trouble playing. B+(**) [Later: A-]

YG: My Krazy Life (2014, Def Jam): Keenon Jackson, from Compton, initials stand for Young Gangsta -- an oxymoron because gangstas don't get old (certainly not morons on oxy) -- the cover graced by his mugshot, and looking resigned to the moment, perhaps wondering why if he's such a sharp thief he didn't cop better samples. B-

Old Music: Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Johnny Cash: Out Among the Stars (1981-84 [2014], Columbia): Billy Sherrill produced these sessions then shelved the album, deeming it "too pop" -- as opposed to the swill he actually released? The songs are a mixed bag, but Cash sounds fine, June helps out twice, Waylon joins in on "I'm Movin' On" -- and there's a clarity to the sound that I've never heard on a Sherrill album. Thank John Carter Cash for that. B+(***)

Fieldwork: Your Life Flashes (2002, Pi): The first of three 2002-07 albums by Vijay Iyer's piano-sax-drums trio, with Aaron Stewart on tenor (later replaced by Steve Lehman) and Elliot Humberto Kavee on drums. The rhythmic mayhem between Iyer and Kavee is remarkable, and while the sax doesn't stand out, it blends in. A-

John Gill's Dixieland Serenaders: Looking for a Little Bluebird (1994 [1996], Stomp Off): Banjo, tuba, and drums for rhythm, Steve Pistorius on piano, Gill on trombone, Frank Powers on clarinet, and two first-rate trumpets (Chris Tyle and Duke Heitger), both a throwback to old Dixieland and a rousing extension of the San Francisco groups that resuscitated it in the 1940s, the sound polished up a notch. A-

John Gill's Dixieland Serenaders: Take Me to the Midnight Cakewalk Ball (1995 [1998], Stomp Off): King Oliver via Lu Watters, New Orleans through San Francisco, "New Orleans Stomp" and "Yerba Buena Strut" -- nothing new, other than that Gill is singing more, his croon perfect for the era. A-

Vince Giordano's Nighthawks: Quality Shout! (1992-93 [1993], Stomp Off): The leader, probably best known now for the Boardwalk Empire soundtracks, has the bottom covered, playing bass sax and string bass as well as tuba. Stock 1920s arrangements scaled up for an 11-piece group, including Peter Ecklund and Jon-Erik Kellso on the cornets. When "Sugarland Stomp" comes around, they sure play that thing. A-

Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997 (1986-97 [2014], Strut, 2CD): Two dozen dancebeat singles from a small label (Ray Barrey's Dance Mania) navigating the Chicago "acid house" scene, the beats rather mechanical and the fairly minimal lyrics (e.g., "feel my motherfucking bass in your face") even more so. B+(***)

Vijay Iyer: Memorophilia (1995, Asian Improv): An auspicious debut album, makes a huge impression trying to dazzle us in many ways -- one configuration with Steve Coleman; another with Francis Wong, George Lewis and a cellist name of Kash Killion; with more compact stretches of piano trio. B+(***)

Vijay Iyer: Architextures (1996 [1998], Asian Improv): Early album but such ambition! Solo piano intro, then a mix of trio and octet tracks, with the piano solos rising to the complex level of the horn arrangements and Liberty Ellman's guitar. A-

Vijay Iyer: Panoptic Modes (2000 [2001], Red Giant): Three trio tracks with Stephan Crump and Derrek Phillips, plus eight quartet tracks with Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto sax, the intensity level stratospheric: impressive, but somehow I don't quite get the hang of it. B+(***)

Vijay Iyer: Blood Sutra (2003, Artists House): Quartet again, with Tyshawn Sorey taking over at drums, tightening up the rhythm section, which helps bring alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa much more into the music, a very potent balance -- although the pianist is even more masterful. A-

Roscoe Mitchell & the Note Factory: Song for My Sister (2002, Pi): Large group, notably the double piano-bass-drums sections with Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, plus guitar, violin, viola, trumpet, clarinet, bassoon, and the leader playing his usual panoply of saxes, flute, recorders, and percussion. Mixed bag, including some slippery swing at the end. B+(**)

New Orleans Classic Jazz Orchestra: Blowin' Off Steam (1990, Stomp Off): Odd that there's so little info available on the net for this Penguin Guide 4-star album: cover pictures seven musicians, and the only credits I've found list saxophonist Eddie Bayard as the leader, with Jacques Gauthé, Bob Havens, John Gill, Hal Smith, Steve Pistorius, and "more." Classic stuff, the sound a bit subdued, the musicianship superb. B+(***)

Pam Pameijer's New Jazz Wizards: Remember Johnny Dodds, Vol. 1 (2002, Stomp Off): Dodds was the great clarinet player to come out of New Orleans in the 1920s, playing with King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and many others, including the original Jazz Wizards, a group led by Richard M. Jones, the inspiration for drummer Pameijer's septet. Matthias Seuffert handles the clarinet here, Jon-Erik Kellso the cornet, plus trombone, piano, banjo, tuba. A-

Pam Pameijer's New Jazz Wizards: Remember Johnny Dodds Vol. 2 (2002 [2004], Stomp Off): More of the same, can't fault it and might even give this volume a slight edge. A-

Harry Reser: Banjo Crackerjax 1922-1930 (1922-30 [1992], Yazoo): A banjo virtuoso from Ohio (1896-1965), outside the Appalachian folk tradition but not quite jazz either, probably no surprise that he had his greatest success leading a novelty group called The Clicquot Club Eskimos. These are small band pieces, rooted in ragtime, intricate but jaunty, not that I'd go so far as to say zany. B+(***)

Harry Reser: Harry Reser and the Clicquot Club Eskimos (1951 [2008], Bauer): Clicquot Club was a brand of ginger ale, so Reser's group was initially an advertising gimmic: their radio program was on the air 1925-35, but this record is later, a return to formula with a more modern 15-piece studio and songs they hadn't recorded back in the day -- Stephen Foster medleys, dance tunes, "Digga Digga Do." B+(*)

Silver Leaf Jazz Band: Streets & Scenes of New Orleans (1993 [1994], Good Time Jazz): First album by trumpeter Chris Tyle's New Orleans-based trad jazz band, with Jacques Gauthé on clarinet, Dave Sager on trombone, Tom Roberts on piano, and John Gill on drums and vocals (a couple). Some generic New Orleans titles, most more localized, like "Congo Square," "West End Blues," "South Rampart Street Parade." B+(***)

Silver Leaf Jazz Band: Jelly's Last Jam (1993, Good Time Jazz): A repertory band, Chris Tyle and company move on to Jelly Roll Morton, which puts pianist Tom Roberts in the hot seat. Nothing wrong with him, but this does pick up with the horns. B+(**)

Silver Leaf Jazz Band: Great Composers of New Orleans Jazz (1996 [1997], Good Time Jazz): Fifteen tunes from 1916-30, mostly obscure ones even if you know who Albert Brunies and Wingy Manone and Nick LaRocca and Armand Pinon are -- the one from Louis Armstrong hadn't been recorded before. No piano this time, but the horns are celebrating. B+(***)

South Frisco Jazz Band: Got Everything (1989-91 [1992], Stomp Off): The San Francisco connection to trad jazz was built in the 1940s by Lu Watters and Turk Murphy, and this group follows in their steps, although I gather that "South Frisco" actually signifies Los Angeles. Bob Helm (clarinet) and Leon Oakley (cornet) are among the better known names. B+(**)

Chris Tyle's Silver Leaf Jazz Band: Sugar Blues: A Tribute to Joseph "King" Oliver (1995, Stomp Off): An octet for the occasion, with John Gill doing most of the arranging for a headier sound, and Leon Oakley joining with Tyle for the two cornet front line. A-


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

  • Ralph Alessi/Kris Davis/Ingrid Laubrock/Tom Rainey: Lark (2014, Skirl)
  • Eric Alexander: Chicago Fire (2014, HighNote)
  • The Bad Plus: The Rite of Spring (2014, Masterworks)
  • Joachim Kühn Trio: Voodoo Sense (2013, ACT)


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

  • [cd] based on physical cd
  • [cdr] based on an advance or promo cd or cdr
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [sc] available at soundcloud.com
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, may be a bootleg someone made available, or may be a publicist promo