Rhapsody Streamnotes: September 30, 2014

Time to wrap another batch of Streamnotes up: 21 days after the September 9 column. I've been running these approximately every three weeks this year, and the average count has been close to 90. The Old Music section focuses on Steve Lacy, after starting out with the much smaller catalogs of Julius Hemphill and Henry Threadgill. The line between Old Music and "Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries" is vague, but generally speaking the latter were released in the last couple years -- I go back as far as 2011 there.

The usual caveats about listening to music on the computer apply. It's rare that I'll settle on an A- grade in only one play -- Sun Ra and Roger Miller are two such cases, but they cover ground I'm familiar with from elsewhere. On the other hand, low-B+ and below rarely get more than one spin: I'm not especially concerned whether I get those grades right, since plus or minus a notch makes little consumer difference. More often I'm sure enough about the grade but unclear on how to write the review: it's rarely worth my while to give a record an extra spin just to write a better review, although I did that routinely back in the days when I got paid for reviews.


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 September 9. Past reviews and more information are available here (5406 records).


New Releases (More or Less)

Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams (2014, Blue Note): Instantly regretted spinning this, knowing that by the time it was over I'd neither grasp whatever intricacies may exist in the lyrics nor care. Prolific, something like 14 albums in 14 years -- surprising at this late date he'd go to the eponymous title, usually an introduction but sometimes a fresh start, in his case more a collapsing worldview, just his face (and a lot of hair) on the cover, just guitar around his voice. B

Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms: From the Region (2013 [2014], Delmark): Vibraphonist, has made a big splash since starting to work with Chicago avant groups a few years back. Trio with bass (Ingebrigt Hker Flaten) and drums (Mike Reed), third album together (starting with the one called Sun Rooms, natch), and goes a long ways toward establishing the vibraphone a lead instrument. B+(***) [cd]

Afghan Whigs: Do to the Beast (2014, Sub Pop): Cincinnati group, had seven albums 1988-98, broke up, returning for this one. I've only heard one of the old albums and don't recall it at all. This strikes me as heavy, an attribute in rock I have little desire for, but very accomplished for its type, I guess. B+(**)

Aphex Twin: Syro (2014, Warp): Richard D. James, enjoyed a measure of fame in the mid-1990s for his "ambient works" -- can't say as I was impressed, nor do I recall following any of the aliases he's used since the last Aphex Twin album in 2001. This, however, is fun throughout, a trippy mix of bass lines and beats, with a little ambient coda at the end. A-

Avi Buffalo: At Best Cuckold (2014, Sub Pop): Southern California group led by Avi Zahner-Isenberg, has a falsetto lead and occasionally pines for the "In My Room" side of the Beach Boys. B+(*)

Iggy Azalea: Ignorant Art (2011 [2012], Grand Hustle, EP): Australian rapper, Amethyst Amelia Kelly, released her debut album this year (below), but on the way to checking it out, I noticed this thing -- her debut mixtape, credited as "Iggy Azalea Presents" ("Dirt in Your Pussy Ass Bitch" is someone else's sketch [T.I.?]). Runs nine tracks, 26:33, built around the video-ready single, "Pu$$y," a sharp and nasty calling card. B+(**)

Iggy Azalea: The New Classic (2014, Island): Rapper from Australia, but her mentor is T.I. and her state-of-the-world production is post-Gaga, post-Minaj even, a "pop/rap hybrid" that eschews the soft center, aiming both sharp edges at the other. "Fancy," of course, is irony, but anyone who'd describe herself as "his new bitch" is bound to be trouble. Metacritic grade: 57. A-

Daniel Blacksberg Trio: Perilous Architecture (2012 [2014], NoBusiness): Trombonist, based in Philadelphia, background ranges from klezmer to Anthony Braxton. Backed with bass and drums, keeps it interesting. B+(***) [cdr]

Frank Catalano/Jimmy Chamberlin: Love Supreme Collective (2014, Ropeadope): Tenor sax and drums, respectively, plus Percy Jones (bass), Adam Benjamin (keys on 3 of 4 cuts), and Chris Poland (guitar on the other cut). The four cuts are laid out like A Love Supreme, but run short (21:58), and rough. B+(*) [cd]

Causa Sui: Pewt'r Sessions 3 (2014, El Paraiso): Third collaboration between the Danish "heavy psych explorers" (i.e., fusion group) and Ron "Pewt'r" Schneiderman, who evidently does similar stuff in Massachusetts. Three tracks for a vinyl-length album, expansive with a slow burn at the end. B+(**)

Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems (2014, Columbia): His "golden voice" is more gone than ever, but his tactic of using female backing vocals keeps him limping along. As for the songs, they're becoming more biblical not because he's thinking of death so much as he's pondering very old things. A-

Jack Cooper: Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra (2014, Planet Arts): Jazz Orchestra means big band -- 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, guitar, piano, bass, drums -- and Ives for that gristmill isn't far from the postmodern big band norm -- not swing but not terribly Third Stream either. B+(*) [cd]

Bo Dollis Jr. and the Wild Magnolias: A New Kind of Funk (2013, self-released): New Orleans "Indians" -- a featured story line in HBO's Treme, their showy plumes and deep funk a phenomenon many of us were hepped to in 1976 when The Wild Tchoupitoulas appeared, or even earlier in 1974-75 when the Wild Magnolias released two albums. The latter group was led by Theodore "Bo" Dollis, and now his son, born seven years later but in the crew since he was 13, is at the helm of the family business. His funk moves are hardly pathbreaking, and his use of a bit of rap is tentative, but the basic shtick is irresistible, and the best thing here is the most trad and true, a burnburning "Liza Jane." B+(***)

Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy (2014, Mello Music Group): Rapper, west coast guy, very laid back, soft-edged, which oddly enough draws you in. B+(**)

Hal Galper Trio: O's Time (2014, Origin): Piano trio, with Jeff Johnson and John Bishop -- picked them up on a Live in Seattle album in 2009 and they're back for a fourth album. They're fine players, and this album has impressive moments. B+(**) [cd]

Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio: We're Back (2014, Whaling City Sound): Drummer, son of vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, first album was called Thrasher (1995), evidently an apt nickname, his Dream Trio debuted on a 2013 album, consists of Kenny Barron and Ron Carter so I can't claim he's given to overstatement. Booklet has a picture of 13-year-old Thrasher: looks like he's been opening presents and is showing off his new LPs (two Ron Carter records). Back cover says, "Jazz Interpretations of R&B Classics," and as befits a '70s child most are from Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire -- "What's Going On" and "Pick Up the Pieces" are among the others. (Personally, I was more into George Clinton during the 1970s.) They add guest stars you notice when they're present but don't miss when they aren't: Larry Goldings (organ), Warren Wolf (vibes), Steve Wilson (alto/soprano sax). B+(**) [cd]

John Hiatt: Terms of My Surrender (2014, New West): Singer-songwriter going back to the mid-1970s, when he had a younger and weirdly slurred voice and sang about crushing ants and waterskiing to heaven; some marvelous work, but was never as good after he had a freak hit and kept cranking out albums nearly every year whether he had worthy songs or not. This is his best in ages (probably since 1983) -- the songs matter, his voice has achieved a new level of surrealism, and he's learned something from Adorno: "old people are pushy/'cause life ain't cushy." A-

Kevin Hildebrandt: Tolerance (2012 [2014], Summit): Guitarist, sings several songs, leads a trio with Radam Schwartz on organ and Alvester Garnett on drums. Four Hildebrant originals, one from Schwartz, covers include "House of the Rising Sun," "Night and Day," "Further On Up the Road," "I Fall in Love Too Easily." Swings harder than soul jazz. B+(**) [cd]

Homeboy Sandman: Hallways (2014, Stones Throw): Underground rapper from Queens, usually sells himself short but lets this one run a healthy 41:48. Beats seem a little off, but he talks his way around them, and usually pays off. A-

William Hooker & Liudas Mockunas: Live at the Vilnius Jazz Festival (2013 [2014], NoBusiness): Sax-drums duets, the drummer getting top billing because he's the best known or came the furthest or maybe it's just alphabetical. Mockunas, at home in Lithuania, plays soprano, alto, and tenor, and is consistently impressive on four long improvs. A- [cd]

Jennifer Hudson: JHUD (2014, RCA): Soul diva, lost her American Idol bid to Fantasia Barrino but snagged a role in the movie Dreamgirls and got an Oscar for it. Third album, built around big disco beats and that gospel wail soul divas are so given to. B+(*)

Tommy Igoe: The Tommy Igoe Groove Conspiracy (2014, Deep Rhythm): Drummer-led 14-piece Bay Area "supergroup" -- Aaron Lington is the only name among the regulars that rings a bell, but some "guest conspirators" are better known: Randy Brecker (trumpet, one track), Kenny Washington (vocals, two). Not really a groove album, just more of the usual big band blare. B- [cd]

Imarhan Timbuktu: Akal Warled (2014, Clermont): Desert blues group from Mali. First album here but group dates back to 1993. The rhythmic lilt is stock in trade for the genre, and the vocals never threaten to break ranks -- the very constancy of their sound over the entire album is their main charm, which is to say this makes for nice background music. B+(**) [dl]

Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics: Jaiyede Afro (2014, Strut): Nigerian saxophonist, one of the founders of Afrobeat -- Fela Kuti started out in Julius' band -- gets rediscovered by English quasi-jazz group which previously brought some attention to Ethio-jazz master Mulatu Astatke. In this one the sax bulls right past the beat, impressive in its own right. A-

Just Passing Through: The Breithaupt Brothers Songbook Vol. II (2014, ALMA): That would be composer Don Breithaupt and lyricist Jeff Breithaupt -- evidently a big deal in Canada and aiming at Broadway. The first volume was prefaced Toronto Sings. This one evidently casts a wider net, although I hardly recognize any of the singers. And I've yet to find a reason to care about the music, which isn't to say that it's bad. B [cd]

Kalle Kalima & K-18: Buuel de Jour (2013 [2014], TUM): Finnish guitarist, quartet adds Mikko Innanen (alto sax), Veil Kujala (quarter-tone accordion), and Teppo Hauta-aho (bass, percussion). The lead instruments tend to melt together into a thick, richly flavored stew. B+(***) [cd]

Sami Lane: You Know the Drill (2014, self-released, EP): DJ from Bournemouth, has uploaded several mixtapes to Mixcloud, this one a 29-minute continuous hip-hop flow, pretty hard-edged, lots of N-words. She (I think that's right) has no discernible reputation, just a Twitter account and 23 followers on Mixcloud, one of whom is Alex Wilson, who currently ranks this 23rd on his 2014 list, just behind Kris Davis (his only jazz pick) and ahead of Tacocat. I had heard 39 of his top 41 so I thought I'd track this down. One annoying problem with Mixcloud is that it keeps playing into her old catalog, which is more EDM. B+(**) [dl]

Gianni Lenoci/Kent Carter/Bill Elgart: Plaything (2012 [2014], NoBusiness): Piano trio. Pianist Lenoci, who credits Mal Waldron and Paul Bley as teachers and plays much like them, has at least 15 albums since 1991. A spirited improv set. B+(***) [cdr]

The Mark Lomax Trio: Isis & Osiris (2012 [2014], Inarhyme): Drummer, teaches and therefore is based in Columbus, Ohio, which keeps him and his sax trio out of the limelight. They have a previous album, The State of Black America, on my top-ten list for 2010. This one drags a bit near the start -- probably bass solos, something too soft to hear -- but when Edwin Bayard's tenor sax breaks through it's often mesmerizing. And the drummer's pretty special too. A-

Alexander McCabe/Paul Odeh: This Is Not a Pipe (2014, Wamco): Alto sax/piano duets. McCabe has impressed me in the past (cf. 2010's Quiz), and continues to in this sparer format. B+(**) [cd]

Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood: Juice (2014, Indirecto): There's more to guitarist John Scofield than the organ groove albums he did in the early 1990s although they were inspired fun; more to MMW than organ grooves too, but a nice stretch with Medeski on piano doesn't go very far. B+(*)

The Microscopic Septet: Manhattan Moonrise (2014, Cuneiform): Founded in 1980 with pianist Joel Forrester and soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston writing their songs, they broke up in 1990 and regrouped in 2006 with Mike Hashim (a superstar in my book) taking over the tenor sax spot -- group has four saxes and no brass -- and since then they've done no wrong. I'm more struck than ever by the gentle swing that permeates so many of their songs. A- [dl]

Jason Moran: All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller (2014, Blue Note): A jazz pianist, Moran's early career was auspicious, debuting on a major label with a series of brilliant albums. In 2011, he won a MacArthur "genius" grant, and that led to a project called the Fats Waller Dance Party, and ultimately this album. He tapped Meshell Ndegeocello, Lisa E. Harris, and Charles Haynes as vocalists, and added some horn spots to his trio: Steve Lehman gets a superb sax solo, and Moran's keyboard work is often dazzling, but the vocals strike me as way off base -- so serious, so dour, even on "Ain't Misbehavin'." B+(*)

Nicholas Payton: Numbers (2013 [2014], Paytone): New Orleans trumpet player, although you'd hardly guess that from this album, where he spends most of his time noodling on a Fender Rhodes, with guitar, bass, and drums cranking out underdeveloped funk instrumentals. B-

Peripheral Vision: Sheer Tyranny of the Will (2014, self-released): Canadian postbop quartet with "co-leaders" Michael Herring (bass) and Don Scott (guitar), plus Trevor Hogg on tenor sax and Nick Fraser on drums, with Jean Martin lurking somewhere in the background (co-producer, "mixing & additional recording"). Read somewhere that their influences list is topped by Wayne Shorter and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Sounds like it. B+(*) [cd]

RED Trio & Mattias Sthl: North and the Red Stream (2013 [2014], NoBusiness): Portuguese piano trio -- Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, Hernani Faustino on bass, Gabriel Ferrandini on drums -- first appeared with an impressive eponymous album in 2010 (on Clean Feed). They're joined here by vibraphonist Sthl, who does more than add tinkle but can get caught up in the grind. B+(**) [cd]

Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (2012 [2014], TUM, 2CD): Trumpet great, has been working on large canvases lately -- I count four 2CD releases since 2009 plus the 4CD Ten Freedom Summers -- but this feels rather small and spotty as it spurts and sputters, just one more horn: Henry Threadgill (alto sax, flute, bass flute) plus bass (John Lindberg) and drums (Jack DeJohnette). It does, however, remind me what a marvelous drummer DeJohnette is. B+(***) [cd] [Later: A-]

Wadada Leo Smith/Jamie Saft/Joe Morris/Balasz Pandi: Red Hill (2014, Rare Noise): We might have to start talking about Pandi as an exceptional drummer as well, and he's not the only surprise here. Saft first came to my attention playing organ for Joshua Redman, but his piano here is a million miles from there, out somewhere you'd have to triangulate off Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor to find. Morris, we should note, plays bass, not guitar. And while the trumpeter starts with dark tones, he can't just sit on that in this company. A-

Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: Settle (2012 [2014], NCM East): Leader plays bass clarinet and alto sax, in a quintet with Russ Johnson on trumpet and Nir Felder on guitar -- front-line musicians who can handle the whiplash speed changes. B+(***) [cd]

Rosenna Vitro: Clarity: Music of Clare Fischer (2014, Random Act): Standards singer, has a dozen albums since 1982, more often than not trying to search out some new terrain for ye olde songbook -- an effort that works best when the songs have natural swing, like Catchin' Some Rays: The Music of Ray Charles (1997), as opposed to The Music of Randy Newman (2011). The subject here is Clare Fischer, a bit on the stuffy side, but pianist-arranger Mark Soskin lightens and opens him up, Sara Caswell's fiddle is a plus, and the singer can get by with the odd arch moment. B+(*) [cd]

Loudon Wainwright III: Haven't Got the Blues (Yet) (2014, 429 Records): Starts unexpectedly with a bit of rockabilly fluff, "Brand New Dance," but soon enough reverts to form, which is just fine ("I Knew Your Mother"), until he tries his hand at irony on a song that kicks back like an untethered Uzi: "I'll Be Killing You This Christmas." You know how much I hate Xmas music? This is one present I hope to never hear again. B+(*)

Lee Ann Womack: The Way I'm Livin' (2014, Sugar Hill/Welk): Country singer, doesn't write so has some trouble maintaining a persona -- she's too sweet to convince you she's the hopeless drunk of Chris Knight's "Send It on Down" but maybe she does sleep with the devil -- at least that's where she's picking her songs these days. (I normally tire quickly of Jesus songs, but you're not likely to run across any of these in church.) The move from countrypolitan MCA Nashville to a more trad label helps too. A-

Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Rashied Al Akbar/Muhammad Ali/Earl Cross/Idris Ackamoor: Ascent of the Nether Creatures (1980 [2014], NoBusiness): Cross was a trumpet player from St. Louis (1933-87), played in bands led by Charles Tyler and Rashied Ali, but this is the only album Discogs lists by him. Saxophonist Ackamoor was originally Bruce Baker, b. 1950 in Chicago, has a bit more, including a foundation in San Francisco. Don't know anything about bassist Al Akbar. Drummer Ali, b. Raymond Patterson in 1936, is Rashied Ali's brother, has a 1974 duo album with Frank Wright, and has appeared on some of David S. Ware's last albums. So, a two-horn free jazz quartet of some vintage, recorded in the Netherlands and reissued in Lithuania in limited edition (300 copies) vinyl. B+(***) [cdr]

Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979 (1974-79 [2011], Analog Africa): A backwater even by African standards, but wedged between Mali and Ghana, triangulated by Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea, you get a little bit of the whole region, minus the stars. B+(**)

Aby Ngana Diop: Liital (1994 [2014], Awesome Tapes From Africa): From Senegal, six cuts, 31:59. Mostly drums and shouted voices, the lead singer not obviously female, some synth or something on a few tracks but window dressing to the drums. B+(***)

The Evergreen Classic Jazz Band: Early Tunes 1915-1932 (1995 [2014], Delmark): Trad jazz band from Seattle, eight pieces (at least at this point -- a 1990 album had six) including banjo and tuba (Tom Jacobus, the designated leader). Trombonist David Loomis sings a couple songs, and the clarinet (Craig Flory) is exceptional. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for this kind of music. A- [cd]

John Hiatt: Here to Stay: Best of 2000-2012 (2000-12 [2013], New West): Christgau sent me Hiatt's first two albums in 1975 -- ones that he ultimately graded B but which became personal favorites. It may have helped that I saw him playing solo in Indianapolis, a bit of totally unplanned serendipity. So he became a guy to keep tabs on. Two of his next five albums were pretty good, but the others weren't, and I remember John Piccarella wanting to write about him in the Voice, only to get stuck with Warming Up to the Ice Age. Yet somehow I missed his 1987-94 period on A&M, which reportedly produced some hits. He moved to Vanguard in 2000 and New West in 2003, and I've been checking him out since I got onto Rhapsody, until this year finding a regular series of low B+ albums. This "best-of" does what it should, picking out his most indelible songs from six or seven albums and packing them into the only album you need from the decade. A-

The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [Second Edition] (1980-2013 [2014], World Music Network, 2CD): The label's second round compilations -- never specified as such so check the artwork and numbers -- tend to recycle newer pieces that have been farmed up through the label, and come with bonus discs reissuing albums that had no traction under the original artists' names. Can't tell from Rhapsody whether the booklets have improved -- in cases where I've seen them, they usually raise more questions than they answer. This Sahara extends from Mariem Hassan of Western Sahara/Morocco through the Mali-Niger heartland to Libya, Sudan, and Egypt, with Ali Hassan Kuban's Nubian music the clincher and the ringer -- much earlier if not older-sounding. B+(***)
Bonus disc: Mamane Barka: Introducing Mamane Barka (2009, World Music Network): From Niger, plays ngurumi with drums and sings, a rather limited palette but one which pleases in a steady, study way. B+(**)

Shaver: Shaver's Jewels: The Best of Shaver (1993-2001 [2013], New West): Billy Joe Shaver was a veteran with some very clever songs under his belt and some relatively uninspired albums when he teamed up with his guitar-playing son Eddy Shaver for five albums, a gig that ended when Eddy overdosed in 2000. The extra guitar brought some spunk and polish to the albums, and the compilation weeds out the weak spots. A-

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: In the Orbit of Ra (1957-78 [2014], Strut, 2CD): Cover starts out "Marshall Allen Presents" -- indeed who better to pick out a centennary selection of Herman Blount's Arkestra? -- but I'm dropping Allen's name so as not to confuse this with the ghost band he still leads. These are, after all, vintage recordings -- at least I've been able to match them up to the date range above, allowing a few seconds variation for the remastering. Vocals on close to half of the tracks -- more than I wanted but they do establish a theme, one that's out of this world. A-

The Buddy Tate Quartet: Texas Tenor (1978 [2014], Sackville/Delmark): From Sherman, Texas; played in territory bands until 1939 when he joined Count Basie, replacing the late Herschel Evans. My favorite album of his is Buck and Buddy Swing the Blues -- "Buck" of course is Basie bandmate, trumpeter Buck Clayton, and the title is exactly right. This set was originally released as The Buddy Tate Quartet as if the group was somehow more than something he picked up touring. They scarcely deserve the compliment, but every time the sax blows Tate is nothing short of resplendent. A- [cd]

Old Music

Ruby Braff: Linger Awhile (1953-55 [1999], Vanguard): Assembled from three early sessions -- wish I could find the session details, but one cut comes from a 10-inch LP called Buck Clayton Meets Ruby Braff, and the others were possibly led by trombonist Vic Dickenson -- front cover has three photos: Dickenson, Clayton, and Braff, and the credits include Edmond Hall, Buddy Tate, Nat Pierce, and Sir Charles Thompson. Varies, but most of it swings, and the ballads are lovely. B+(**)

Columbia Country Classics, Vol. 5: A New Tradition (1967-87 [1991], Columbia): The last of five various artist volumes, released with similar artwork along with many notable single-artist compilations (see ACN?). Sony's catalog is so deep that the first two volumes -- Vol. 1: The Golden Age (1935-53) and Vol. 2: Honky Tonk Heroes (1946-61) -- are nearly as definitive as the first two volumes of Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian Collection. The next two volumes -- Vol. 3: Americana (1954-84) and Vol. 4: The Nashville Sound (1953-73) -- are far from definitive, as is this grab bag of label stalwarts (Johnny Cash, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, latecoming Merle Haggard, an out-of-his-depth Bob Dylan) and a younger generation intent on retaining the tradition (Asleep at the Wheel, Ricky Van Shelton, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash). B+(**)

Julius Hemphill: Raw Materials and Residuals (1977 [1993], Black Saint): Sax trio, the leader playing alto and soprano, with Abdul Wadud (cello) and Don Moye (percussion). Begins with a boppish thrill ride. Ends with a tune that sticks in your head. [4/5 tracks] A-

Julius Hemphill/Warren Smith: Chile New York (1980 [1998], Black Saint): Improv duets, Hemphill playing alto/tenor sax and flute, Smith percussion. B+(**)

The Julius Hemphill Sextet: At Dr. King's Table (1997, New World): Hemphill died in 1995 after a prolonged debilitating illness that left him unable to play from the early 1990s. But he continued to write and organize sax choirs -- he was the main driving force behind the World Saxophone Quartet. His last album was Five Chord Stud (1993), a sax quintet including a young James Carter. But he left some unrecorded music, including this set, posthumously recorded under his name by a sax/clarinet/flute sextet: Marty Ehrlich, Sam Furnace, Andy Laster, Gene Ghee, Andrew White, and Alex Harding. Some marvelous blending of harmonies here, but as is often the case with sax choirs (even WSQ) I find myself yearning for some contrasting tone, or maybe just a drum. B+(***)

The Julius Hemphill Sextet: The Hard Blues: Live in Lisbon (2003 [2004], Clean Feed): The late saxophone choirmaster's ghost band carries on with Andrew Stewart replacing Gene Ghee -- carrying on: Marty Ehrlich, Sam Furnace, Andy Laster, Andrew White, Alex Harding. Same plus and minus ledger, although they can get a bit rowdier live, and that's a good thing. B+(***)

Orlando Julius: Super Afro Soul (1966-72 [2007], Vampi Soul, 2CD): Nigerian saxophone player, formed a group called the Modern Aces in 1965, a missing link between highlife and Afrobeat -- Fela Kuti started out in Orlando's band. This starts with a Modern Aces album, then adds a somewhat later second disc by Orlando Julius & His Afro Sounders -- one difference is that the three-minute songs of the former give way to 6-8 minute pieces, the extra length adding to the flow. B+(**)

Steve Lacy: Early Years 1954-1956 (1954-56 [2004], Fresh Sound, 2CD): A collection of five albums where Lacy is a sideman -- nominal leaders are: Dick Sutton (Jazz Idiom, Progressive Dixieland), Tom Stewart (Sextette/Quintette), Whitey Mitchell (Sextette), and Joe Puma (Modern Jazz Festival) -- and they illustrate the oft-made point that Lacy started in trad jazz influenced by Sidney Bechet before making the jump all the way to the avant-garde. Obviously, the story isn't that simple, as this is more transitional if never terribly boppish. B+(**)

Steve Lacy: Soprano Sax (1957 [1991], Prestige/OJC): First album by the man who defined soprano sax over a 47-year career, up to his death in 2004. The quartet includes Wynton Kelly on piano -- not the sort of pianist Lacy would work with later but a real treat here -- as well as Buell Neidlinger (bass) and Dennis Charles (drums). A couple standards, two Ellington tunes, one Monk -- a delightful if somewhat conventional set. Gotta start somewhere. A-

Steve Lacy: The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy (1960 [1985], Candid): Smart moves toward Lacy's unique style, working over tunes by Thelonious Monk (3), Cecil Taylor (2), and Charlie Parker (1). Mostly trio with John Ore (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums), plus Charles Davis (baritone sax) on one cut. A-

Steve Lacy with Don Cherry: Evidence (1961 [1990], New Jazz/OJC): Quartet with bass and drums (Billy Higgins), playing four Monk tunes and two Ellingtons (at least on the original album; Rhapsody adds six "bonus cuts" with Wynton Kelly, but I can't find any physical release with them, so I dropped them on second spin. B+(***)

Steve Lacy: Scratching the Seventies/Dreams (1969-77 [1997], Saravah, 3CD): Lacy first visited Europe in 1965 and moved to Paris in 1970. After his early albums with Prestige and Candid, he had trouble finding labels in the 1960s, but once he landed in France he recorded tons of albums for small European labels, including five for this French label, now rolled up into a 3-CD box. I decided it would be best to treat the albums one-by-one, so they follow. Overall: B+(*)

Steve Lacy Gang: Roba (1969 [1972], Saravah): Recorded in Rome with a mostly local band -- Enrico Rava (trumpet), Italo Toni (trombone), Claudio Volonte (clarinet), Irene Aebi (cello), Carlo Colnaghi (drums) -- in one 42:23 improv, split into two parts for the LP. Open-ended but not all that coherent. B

Steve Lacy: Lapis (1971 [1972], Saravah): Solo album, soprano sax with Lacy also overdubbing some percussion. B+(**)

Steve Lacy Sextet: Scraps (1974, Saravah): With Steve Potts (tenor/alto/soprano sax), Michael Smith (piano), Irene Aebi (cello), Kent Carter (bass/cello), Kenny Tyler (percussion, flute), this is sort of the prototype for a lot of Lacy's most difficult work, an odd mix of space and cacophony, initially hard to listen to but it starts to make sense after a while. Aebi also sings a bit, but I won't dock her (yet). B+(*)

Steve Lacy: Dreams (1975, Saravah): With Steve Potts (alto/soprano sax), Derek Bailey (guitar), Irene Aebi (cello), Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass), Kent Carter (bass), Kenneth Tyler (drums), plus guitar by Boulou Ferr and Jack Treese on two (of 5) cuts. Similar to the Sextet, but Potts is more competitive, the double bassists get more traction, and the guitars? Well, I'm not sure what good they did. B+(*)

Steve Lacy: The Owl (1977, Saravah): With Steve Potts (alto/soprano sax), Takashi Kako (keybs), Irene Aebi (violin, cello, voice), Jean-Jacques Avenel (autoharp, kora, sheng), Kent Carter (bass), Olivie Johnson (drums). Aebi sang a bit in previous albums, but takes center stage here. She has a deep voice, trained for operatic cadences, and I usually find her ruinous, but isn't so bad here -- perhaps because the music with its ad hoc Japanese effects is so deliriously insane, I find her kind of amusing. B+(*)

Steve Lacy: Axieme (1975 [1993], RED): Solo soprano saxophone, originally released on two LPs then combined on a single CD. [Rhapsody only has "Parts 3 & 4" for 25:09, so is 21:40 short of the full release.] B+(*)

Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo/Kent Carter: In Concert (1976 [2006], Ictus): Discogs agrees with Rhapsody on the title, but the best Lacy discography calls this Live (probably the title of the 1977 LP release). This version, with two extra tracks, was part of a 12CD anniversary box Ictus released in 2006. Soprano sax trio, the extra depth of Carter's bass helps round the sound out. B+(***)

Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Clangs (1977 [2006], Ictus): Duo, mostly soprano sax and drums, but Lacy is also credited with "bird calls, pocket synthesizer, crackle box" and Centazzo employs whistles and a wide range of percussion. The result is the sort of rickety contraption imagined in the title. B+(**)

Steve Lacy Quintet: Troubles (1979, Black Saint): With Steve Potts (alto/soprano sax), Irene Aebi (violin, cello, vocals), Kent Carter (bass, cello), and Oliver Johnson (drums): Starts with a group vocal that turns into a very slippery slice. Aebi returns with a vocal called "Blues" -- another very tricky tune. In between is a short one called "The Whammies!" -- later taken as the name of a marvelous Lacy tribute group. B+(***)

Steve Lacy: The Flame (1982, Soul Note): A trio with Lacy on soprano sax, Bobby Few on piano, and Dennis Charles on drums. Still going through a phase where he flails a lot, bits of genius but lots of collateral damage. B+(*)

Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Tao (1976-84 [2006], Ictus): Duets, soprano sax with percussion, a set of numbered pieces that appear on many Lacy albums of the period. The last four come from an earlier live performance and they fumble a bit at the start, but the later recordings are superb, constant invention highlighted by the percussion. B+(***)

Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: Live in Berlin (1984 [2007], Jazzwerkstatt): The pianist played on Lacy's second album, Reflections, and they've appeared together many time since, especially on duos like this one -- the first recorded one is from 1971, the last 2002; Sempre Amore (1986), with its all-Ellington/Strayhorn program, is a personal favorite. This is a mixed bag, denser than most, somewhat fanciful. B+(**)

Steve Lacy Trio: The Window (1987 [1988], Soul Note): With Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass) and Oliver Johnson (drums), all Lacy originals (one piece co-credited to Mary Frazee), six tunes, 7:00-9:14 each. A fine example of Lacy's style, dazzling actually, with none of the things that occasionally make his other albums irritating. A-

Steve Lacy: More Monk (1989 [1991], Soul Note): Sequel, like Lacy's 1987 Only Monk all Monk tunes, done solo on soprano sax. Plays them fairly straight, which makes me wonder, why? B+(*)

Steve Lacy Double Sextet: Clangs (1992 [1993], Hat Art): Twelve musicians (counting two vocalists, Irene Aebi and Nicholas Isherwood), but the only instrument doubled is piano (Bobby Few joins Eric Watson), the second-stringers adding trumpet, trombone, vibes, and percussion to Lacy's long-running Sextet with Steve Potts (alto and soprano sax). One revelation is that Lacy's penchant for starchy vocals isn't purely a matter of indulging his wife. But also, once you get past the vocals, he does a marvelous job of integrating the lush instrumentals. B+(**) [cd]

Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: "Let's Call This . . . Esteem" (1993, Slam): Another duo album, four Monks, Ellington, Strayhorn, two originals each. Typical of what they do, how they interact, which is to say masterful but somewhat estranged. B+(**)

Steve Lacy Trio: The Rent (1997 [1999], Cavity Search, 2CD): Basic Lacy, a trio with longtime collaborators Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass) and John Betsch (drums), recorded live at Old Church in Portland, OR before an enthusiastic crowd. B+(***)

Steve Lacy Trio: The Holy La (1998 [2002], Freelance): Same trio, with Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass, kalimba) and John Betsch (drums), cut in a studio in France -- the group have finally learned to stretch out and relax, with the kalimba section sounding especially lovely. Two vocals by Irene Aebi, arch and starchy as usual, but somehow I'm getting to where I can stand her. [Sunnyside reissued this in 2003; the Rhapsody version is missing a track, but Sunnyside's own website indicates that the reissue is complete.] B+(***)

Steve Lacy: The Beat Suite (2001 [2003], Sunnyside): The soprano saxophonist expanded his trio -- Jean-Jacques Avenel on bass, John Betsch on drums -- to include George Lewis on trombone, notable sonic heft, and wife/collaborator Irene Aebi for the vocals on ten texts lifted from Beat writers (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Bob Kaufman, Lew Welch, Gregory Corso, Robert Creeley, Jack Spicer, Anne Waldman/Andrew Schelling, Kenneth Rexroth). The problem, of course, is Aebi, who would sound stilted singing Irving Berlin, much less texts written with no concern for music, then scored with Lacy's angular whimsy. B

Steve Lacy: November (2003 [2010], Intakt): Solo session from a festival in Switzerland, a little more than six months before he died. One vocal is way off base, but the soprano sax is unique, as ever. B+(**)

Ron McClure Quintet: Descendants (1980 [1990], Ken): Bassist, played with Blood Sweat & Tears in the 1960s, has a couple dozen albums since 1979, mostly on Steeplechase, this the only one I've heard. Features Tom Harrell (flugelhorn), with both piano (Mark Gray) and guitar (John Scofield). No real sense of how you would niche this other than postbop with prominent bass solos. B+(**) [cd]

Medeski Martin and Wood: Last Chance to Dance Trance (Perhaps): Best Of (1991-1996) (1991-96 [1999], Gramavision): Organ-bass-drums trio, relatively popular jazz-groove merchants in the 1990s, with this collection sampling their second through fifth albums. Keyboard player John Medeski and drummer Billy Martin have since mounted serious solo careers -- forget about Chris Wood's Wood Brothers -- while keeping the group going (their first album I A-listed was 2012's Free Magic). Best example here: the medley "Bemsha Swing/Lively Up Yourself." B+(***) [cd]

Brad Mehldau: The Art of the Trio: Volume One (1996 [1997], Warner Brothers): With Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums, the first of five Art of the Trio volumes -- a claim that rises as a challenge, and execution that plays off. Penguin Guide picked this one for their "Core Collection." I find it a smidgen on the soft side, and I'm always suspicious when jazzers take on the Beatles -- "Blackbird" is especially suspect, but they do a remarkable job. B+(***)

Brad Mehldau: Art of the Trio 4: Back at the Vanguard (1999, Warner Brothers): The Village Vanguard, that is, site of The Art of the Trio Volume Two. More snap than the first one, but not clear that makes it better. A superb pianist but I can't tell you why, partly because no single thing stands out. B+(***)

The Brad Mehldau Trio: Progression: Art of the Trio, Volume 5 (2000 [2001], Warner Brothers, 2CD): Had this on long on the shelf, so after I played it and found it remarkable in the usual ways I've never been able to articulate, I checked Rhapsody for the Art of the Trio volumes I had missed -- turns out that Vol. 1 and Vol. 4 are the top-rated ones in Penguin Guide, while this is the bottom-rated one. Beats me why. Still a remarkable piano trio -- Larry Grenadier on bass, Jorge Rossy on drums -- stretching out on a mix of originals and standards, always precise, thoughtful, compelling, and, well, long. B+(***) [cd]

Brad Mehldau: Anything Goes (2002 [2004], Warner Brothers): Same piano trio run through ten standards, starting with a tentative "Get Happy," including Monk, Porter, Paul Simon, Radiohead, "Smile," "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." B+(***)

Roger Miller: The Best of Roger Miller, Volume One: Country Tunesmith (1957-67 [1991], Mercury): Anyone with a hankering for Miller's mid-1960s novelty tunes -- from "King of the Road" to "England Swings" to "You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd" and maybe "My Uncle Used to Love Me but She Died" -- should go straight to the 12-cut 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection (1964-66 [1999], MCA), or the broader 20-cut All Time Greatest Hits (1964-85 [2003], Mercury/Chronicles), or the deeper 21-cut The Best of Roger Miller, Volume Two: King of the Road (1957-72 [1992], Mercury) that came out on the heels of this set. Before he was a star, Miller was a struggling Nashville songwriter, making his living feeding wry and sentimental tunes to Ray Price ("Invitation to the Blues"), George Jones (cowrote "Tall Tall Trees"), and others while his own recordings languished. Even the 3-CD 1995 box set, King of the Road: The Genius of Roger Miller, which I've long regarded as canonical, only snares 8 of these 21 tracks while adding 8 pre-1964 songs and more from the overlap period. But if you're set with (or don't care for) the hits, or just a sucker for the homelier side of honky-tonk, this opens up the most unsung period of one of country music's heroes. A-

Henry Threadgill Sextett: You Know the Number (1986 [1987], Jive/Novus): Alto/tenor saxophonist, formerly of Air, actually runs a septet here with Rasul Siddik (trumpet), Frank Lacy (Trombone), Diedre Murray (cello), Fred Hopkins (bass), and two percussionists. Avant but very upbeat, boisterous even. A-

Henry Threadgill Sextett: Easily Slip Into Another World (1987 [1988], Jive/Novus): This picks up where the previous one left off, adding up to some of the group's most inspired interplay. However, they also run into some tough spots, which may (or may not) include Asha Puthli's vocal. B+(***)

Henry Threadgill: Song Out of My Trees (1993 [1994], Black Saint): Five pieces with various lineups -- three guitarists in various combinations, two cuts with Ted Daniel on trumpet, one with Myra Melford on piano, two with Amina Claudine Myers (one harpsichord, one organ), one with Mossa Bildren grieving (backed by accordion, two cellos, and that harpsichord) while Threadgill plays his most visceral sax. An odd one. B+(**)

Notes

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
  • [os] some other stream source
  • [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