Rhapsody Streamnotes: January 24, 2015

I was hoping this would be my last word on 2014, but perhaps because I'm once again planning on scaling back next year, I've been looking for more definitive closure to last one. Below you'll find review-notes on 140 records, all from 2014 but a few detours I couldn't help but follow. Neither my year-in-progress, my best jazz, my best non-jazz, nor my EOY list aggregate files are frozen yet, though I will commit to January 31 as the last possible day to do so. To limit this file -- the longest since November 30, 2013 -- I've already saved a handful of 2015 jazz releases for next time, and I'm resisting the temptation to add the three 2014 releases I've already written up today.

I don't have time to sum up the many things I've gleaned about new recorded music in 2014. At present, the year-end file provides grades for 1146 albums (plus 7 late-appearing 2013 albums). That seems like a lot, but it's actually down from last year (1150 at freeze time; 1221 by end of 2014), even more so from my peak years in 2011 (1415) and 2010 (1301), although it's slightly more than any of the frozen file totals from 2004 (first year I topped 1000) through 2009). It's harder to compare this year's EOY Aggregate to previous year Metacritic files, but it's fair to say this year's approach has been more limited (e.g., 4922 new records this year, vs. 7868 in 2013, 6341 in 2012, or 5441 in 2011. Good chance this year's 525 EOY lists are also down, but hard to say by how much.

Still, the one thing that is up this year is the size of the A-list: 147 new + 23 old (archival/reissue) records. Still, with late finds last year wound up very close (148 new + 21 old, so -1, although it was -11 back at freeze date). Previous year A-lists (post-freeze total in parens): 2012: 131+16 (24); 2011: 132+21 (15); 2010: 133+17 (16). Those A-lists are typically very close to 50% jazz. The non-jazz part of those lists is typically 15-20% shorter than Christgau's non-jazz Dean's Lists, so the notion that I'm an easy grader is probably unwarranted. (Unless you consider jazz easy?)

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 December 31. Past reviews and more information are available here (5918 records).

New Releases (More or Less)

2NE1: Crush (2014, YG Entertainment): Korean pop group, four girls, real potential for dance pop -- the title cut indeed crushes it -- and I'd give their ballads an edge over the neo-soul norm, even when I don't understand a word. Rap some, too, and most songs sneak in a line or two of English, in case you're listening. B+(**)

African Express: African Express Presents . . . Terry Riley's In C Mali (2014, Transgressive): Riley's minimalist classic dates from 1968. It has always been about repetitive rhythms, so the use of Mali's drums and percussive instruments seems like a natural, as do the voices for shading, the guitar, whatever. B+(***)

Alt-J: This Is All Yours (2014, Canvasback/Atlantic): British neo-prog group, makes a kind of chamber pop that's beguiling and pretty -- in AMG's words, "both planetarium laser light show and art installation ready." B

Grazyna Auguscik Orchestar: Inspired by Lutoslawski (2013 [2014], Fortune): Witold Lutoslawski (1913-94) was one of the better known classical composers and conductors of the late 20th century, especially in his native Poland -- not that that's something I know much about. I have no idea what's going on here, other than that the orchestra is named for leader/singer Grazyna Auguscik and splits into three sections: a string quartet, and two "trios" with four members each, with various additional singers emerging from the crowd. Not something I would normally like, and not bad for that. B+(*) [cd]

Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires: Dereconstructed (2014, Sub Pop): A back-to-basics rock and roll band, a bit of southern twang -- perhaps they're aiming at Drive-By Truckers, but I'm finding them a little overamped and underarticulated. B

Courtney Barnett: The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas (2012-13 [2014], Mom + Pop Music): Singer-songwriter from Australia gets a 12-cut, 56:20 LP out of two EPs (I've Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris and How to Carve a Carrot Into a Rose). Doesn't have much of a country or a lo-fi rock accent. B+(*)

Basement Jaxx: Junto (2014, Atlantic Jaxx): House (or something like that) duo, had big albums 1999-2001 and fairly steady product since then, certainly know how to keep a dance beat running. B+(**)

Jon Batiste/Chad Smith/Bill Laswell: The Process (2014, MOD Technologies): Piano-drums-bass, respectively, although it's not that simple: all three are listed as producers, and while their search for the perfect groove is fundamental here, they shuffle in guests to mix things up: various vocalists including Killah Priest, plus Toshinori Kondo on trumpet and Peter Apfelbaum on reeds. B+(***)

Gorka Benitez: Gasteiz (2012 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor saxophonist from Spain, has at least nine albums since 1999, the few I've heard always impressing me with his tone and poise. This is a trio, with Ben Monder on guitar and David Xirgu on drums, a sweet set up. Plays some flute too -- offset nicely against the guitar. B+(**)

Beverly: Careers (2014, Kanine): Duo, another Frankie Rose project (Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls), this one with singer-guitarist Drew Citron (ex-Ava Luna). Lo-fi pop, the hard edges ground down but not forgotten. B+(*)

Elvin Bishop: Can't Even Do Wrong Right (2014, Alligator): Had a great hit back in the 1970s, "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," when he was identified with the decade's southern rockers, but rather than fade away he signed with blues label Alligator 1988-2000, moved on to Blind Pig, and is now back home. And at 71 he's contemplating his own mortality . . . with the same stoned amusement he's brought to everything in life. B+(**)

The Michael Blum Quartet: Initiation (2014, self-released): Guitarist, first album, backed by piano-bass-drums. Just one song of his own, but four from bassist Jim Stinnett, with the covers including a Jobim. Fitting, as he has a light touch and tone. B+(*) [cd]

Lukasz Borowicki Trio: People, Cats & Obstacles (2014, Fortune): Guitarist, based in Denmark, seems to be his first album. Backed by double bass and drums, guitar is electric, pieces are attributed to the group except for a "bonus" solo. Wouldn't call it "raw" but it does flex some muscle. B+(**) [cd]

Peter Brendler: Outside the Line (2014, Posi-Tone): Bassist, first album as the leader, a quartet with two horns -- Rich Perry on tenor sax and Peter Evans on trumpet -- plus drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. Fast ones are unbridled bebop. Slower ones more complex, sometimes sounding wrong but more plays may set me right. Plus first jazz cover I've heard of "Walk on the Wild Side" -- his motto? B+(***)

Jonatha Brooke: My Mother Has 4 Noses (2014, Bad Dog): Singer-songwriter from Illinois; first I noticed of her was her 2008 album The Works where she started with Woody Guthrie lyrics -- possibly the best of nearly a half-dozen good-to-great albums like that. The songs were originally part of a one-woman play: a daughter's portrait of a mother descending into dementia. A-

Bushwick Gospel Singers: Songs of Worship Vol. 2 (2014, The Church of Universal Knowing): Can't find any credits or history on this group, but even though Peter Stampfel swears he's not singing here (although daughter Zoë is) his vocal stamp is obvious, and the banjo and fiddle aren't far behind. Inspirational verse: "I will turn your water into wine/white bread into rye." Disclaimer: "and they'll know we ain't no Christians, because we love." B+(***)

Caleb Caudle: Paint Another Layer on My Heart (2014, This Is American Music): Country singer-songwriter from North Carolina, has a fine ear and voice for ballads, a modest demeanor, and some pedal steel. B+(***)

Billy Childs: Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro (2014, Masterworks): Pianist, close to a dozen albums since 1988, the first few on New Age label Windham Hill. Nyro was a singer-songwriter, both a pop and cult figure following her 1968 album Eli and the 13th Confession and its successor New York Tendaberry. I dug up those albums recently and graded them B and C+, stopping short of her 1970 album Christmas and the Beads of Sweat. I wouldn't have bothered with this either, but it's been popping up on EOY lists -- as Dan Bilawsky wrote in AAJ, "this one has Grammy written all over it." Well sure, in all the worst senses: Childs' piano is fortified with strings and rare guest horns (Wayne Shorter, Steve Wilson, Chris Potter, Chris Botti) and an array of vocal stars, starting with Renee Fleming and ending with Alison Kraus. Redeemed: Ledisi's "Stoned Soul Picnic." Actually, Kraus's song ("And When I Die") isn't bad either. B-

Terri Clark: Some Songs (2014, Bare Track): Country singer from Canada, had a run on a Nashville major 1995-2005 but this modest effort -- ten songs, 32:30, generic title -- like her last two came out on a Canadian label. She has a piece of credit on half of those songs, but note that the Clark who wrote the two most memorable ones ("I Cheated on You" and "Bad Car") has first name Brandy. B+(**)

Clipping: CLPPNG (2014, Sub Pop): LA hip-hop group: Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes. Fairly minimal beats, leaning toward industrial noise; the raps monotone, dare I say clipped? Could possibly grow on you. B+(**)

Hollie Cook: Twice (2014, Mr. Bongo): British reggae singer, father was Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, mother backed up Culture Club, joined the Slits when they reformed in 2006. Diminutive voice, rhythm track is small too without much dub, but that eventually seems like a statement. B+(*)

Theo Croker: AfroPhysicist (2011 [2014], Okeh): Trumpet player, last heard on Arbors with In the Tradition -- he is, after all, the grandson of Doc Cheatham -- but this is a significant departure, and not toward anything in particular. Dee Dee Bridgewater produced and contributes three vocals (including "Moody's Mood for Love"). Guests include Stefon Harris and Roy Hargrove, and covers span Buddy Johnson and Stevie Wonder. I find it deliriously scattershot, but at least the trumpet stands out. B+(*)

Richard Dawson: Nothing Important (2014, Weird World): British guitarist and (I guess) singer, not sure there's anything else here. Four pieces, the first instrumental (6:40), the next two over 16 minutes each: intense, distorted, their musicality hard to access but arguably there (somewhere). B

Dej Loaf: Sell Sole (2014, World): Detroit rapper, a young woman -- the voice sounded more young than female at first, aside from the tendency to go deadpan. B+(*)

DJ Quik: The Midnight Life (2014, Mad Science): David Martin Blake, discography goes back to 1991, but a "best of" his early discs still wasn't all that good. But lately he's picking up more bounce, and that helps. B+(*)

Peter Evans Quintet: Destination: Void (2013 [2014], More Is More): Trumpet player, notably for Mostly Other People Do the Killing, backed by piano-bass-drums plus Sam Pluta's live electronics. Some major moments when the trumpet cuts loose, but I'm not sure what the other herky jerk is meant for. B+(*)

First Aid Kit: Stay Gold (2014, Columbia): Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg initially suggested a quaintly folkish Americana, but as they've gotten bigger they've become ever more generically unrooted, prisoners of their harmonies. B

The Flaming Lips: With a Little Help From My Fwends (2014, Warner Brothers): I doubt I've heard the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper in more than 20 years, but this remake brought every note and nuance back to my memory, then blew up most of them. Too gratuitously noisy, methinks, but I have to admire the advances modern chemistry has brought to psychedelia. B+(**)

Fred Frith and John Butcher: The Natural Order (2009 [2014], Northern Spy): Guitarist Frith has a huge number of albums since his original 1974 Guitar Solos, straddling rock and jazz without fusing with either. Butcher is a tenor saxophonist, a pillar of England's free jazz underground, and a fitting match, drawing out remarkable sounds, even when most difficult. B+(**)

Alex G: DSU (2014, Orchid Tapes, EP): Alex Giannascoli's first album, a singer-songwriter with his heart on his sleeve, rather emo but not without pop resonance. Ten songs, but rather short at 24:36. B+(*)

Lee Gamble: Koch (2014, Pan, 2CD): British electronica producer, discography starts in 2006 but has a record called Diversions 1994-1996 so may be older. This is abstract and scattered, but leans toward techno. B+(*)

Bunji Garlin: Differentology (2014, RCA/VP): Soca star, from Trinidad; has a rep for introducing harder, faster ragga beats, but what I'm hearing ranges all the way to over-the-top techno, at least on several remixes. Can get overbearing, but "Red Light District" gets the mix about right. B+(**)

Herb Geller/Roberto Magris: An Evening With Herb Geller & the Roberto Magris Trio: Live in Europe 2009 (2009 [2014], JMood): The alto saxophonist was one of the major figures in the "west coast cool jazz" from the mid-1950s until his death in 2013 at 85. I don't know how late he played -- this is the latest I've found, but he's in very good form, and the piano trio provides perfectly sound support. B+(***) [cdr]

GOAT: Commune (2014, Sub Pop): Swedish group, acronym stands for "Gathering Of All Tribes" although there is something to be said for u&lc also. Second album, following World Music, they promiscously cross borders without ever getting nailed down to any particular tribal identity, maybe because the whole world unites in amplifier distortion. A-

Gold-Bears: Dalliance (2014, Slumberland): Atlanta "twee-punk" band, which I take to be punk without sharp edges, vocals buried under a steady guitar roil. B+(**)

Tom Guarna: Rush (2014, BJU): Guitarist, has five previous albums for SteepleChase, a Danish label which has been especially devoted to American guitarists but which never answered my inquiries. Quintet, with Joel Frahm on soprano and tenor sax, Danny Grissett on piano, Orlando Fleming on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums -- a postbop set a little ripe for my ears. B

Steve Gunn: Way Out Weather (2014, Paradise of Bachelors): Singer-songwriter, Rhapsody pegs him as "progressive folk" but there's more to him, even if it isn't all that evident here -- regarded as a guitar virtuoso; has studied Indian classical music, gnawa, and La Monte Young; has two more records out this year: one on Important (avant-garde), the other on RVNG Intl. (electronica). I didn't catch much of this until the closer, "Tommy's Congo." B+(*)

Barry Guy New Orchestra: Amphi/Radio Rondo (2013 [2014], Intakt): The two title pieces, 26:35 and 29:34, played by a large free ensemble -- four reeds, trumpet-trombone-tuba, piano, the leader on bass, and two drummers, plus (first piece only) Maya Homburger on baroque violin. Many name players with a knack for controlled chaos. B+(*)

The Heliocentrics & Melvin Van Peebles: The Last Transmission (2014, Now-Again): British group of Sun Ra devotees, tend to play a jazz-funk fusion but rather than develop that they've cut a niche by collaborating with weird old guys the world largely forgot about: Mulatu Astatke, Orlando Julius, Lloyd Miller, and now poet Melvin Van Peebles, whose spoken word gives this jazz-funk fusion reason to exist. B+(***)

Arve Henriksen: The Nature of Connections (2014, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian trumpet player, prolific since 2000, leads a string-heavy sextet here -- two violins (doubling on Hardanger fiddle), cello, double bass, and drums. Chamber jazz, I guess, on the cool side. B

Honeyblood: Honeyblood (2014, Fat Cat): Duo from Glasgow, Stina Marie Claire Tweeddale (guitar and vocals) and Shona McVicar (drums). Their roughness slots them as noise-pop, but the lyrics I noted were mostly clichés (e.g., "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger"). B

The Hotelier: Home, Like Noplace Is There (2014, Tiny Engines): Punkish group from Massachusetts, seems to have higher ambitions (like, say, La Dispute) but they're hard to decipher: one allegedly political song takes the point-of-view of a dog, which isn't all that enlightening (but does let the singer dis bitches). B+(*)

Jachna Tarwid Karch: Sundial (2013-14 [2014], Fortune): Trio from Poland: Wojciech Jachna (flugelhorn/trumpet), Grzegorz Tarwid (piano), Albert Karch (percussion). B+(*)

Ali Jackson: Amalgamations (2013 [2014], Sunnyside): Drummer, has dropped the "Jr." that initially distinguished him from his bassist father. Side credits include work with Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and he's brought some of them to play here. I haven't seen the breakdown, but I suspect that the 12 side credits rotate around -- especially the three bassists and four keyboard players. Maybe the horns too, but they're worth naming: Wynton Marsalis (trumpet), Vincent Gardner (trombone), Ted Nash (alto sax), JD Allen (tenor sax). Hard to get all this straight in a blindfold test. B+(**)

Leela James: Fall for You (2014, J&T): Soul singer, fifth album including a tribute to Etta James (unrelated as far as I know). Neither retro nor nu, just at ease in the modern world. B+(***)

Luke James: Luke James (2014, Island): R&B singer from New Orleans, dropped his surname Boyd. First album after a couple of mixtapes. Album takes its sweet time connecting, but his falsetto reach turns "I Want You" into a first-rate single. B+(**)

Lucien Johnson/Alan Silva/Makoto Soto: Stinging Nettles (2006 [2014], Improvising Beings): Tenor sax-bass-drums trio, the leader from New Zealand -- seems to be his first album, but he was the main composer in a group called Shogun Orchestra (eponymous album 2012). Silva's well known in free jazz circles. I squinted through enough of the microprinted liner notes to find out that Soto is some sort of Don Cherry protégé. Basically what you want in this configuration: a high energy charge, but the saxophonist can also slow it down and keep your attention. A- [cd]

Karen Jonas: Oklahoma Lottery (2014, self-released): Country-ish singer-songwriter from Virginia, first album, shows remarkable poise spinning out stories starting with "Suicide Sal," three years on the run and running out. B+(***)

The Juan MacLean: In a Dream (2014, DFA): Actual name John MacLean. Beats are danceable, replete with a swash of disco, and the singers are equally functional. B+(***)

Amira Kheir: Alsahraa (2014, Sterns): From Sudan, a woman singing in Arabic (I presume), backed with basic trans-Saharan simplicity (or is it aridness?): acoustic guitar, bass, percussion. B+(*)

Khun Narin: Electric Phin Band (2014, Innovative Leisure): Thai group, doubt you could call this folk or pop, less sure about jazz -- no vocals, but also the beat is pretty regular. Central instrument is the phin (a 3-stringed lute), but it's run through various effects pedals so it sounds more like a guitar, and a picture shows three drummers plus a bass guitar. Four cuts, one as long as 19:28, all at racing tempos. B+(**)

Kiasmos: Kiasmos (2014, Erased Tapes): Icelandic techno duo, Olafur Arnalds (who's relatively well known) and Janus Rasmussen (actually from the Faroe Islands). Music looped together, approaching ambient but not quite ready to drop the dance beat. B+(*)

Nikola Kolodziejczyk Orchestra: Chord Nation (2011 [2014], Fortune): Very big band, conventional plus extra reeds and strings, with leader playing piano/wurlitzer, writing all five pieces. Recorded for radio, probably where the money for such extravagances lies. B+(**)

Leszek Kulakowski Ensemble: Looking Ahead (2014, Fortune): Pianist, discography goes back at least to 1994, with a jazz orientation but close to classical -- Chopin for jazz trio and orchestra, string quartets, a "Piano Concerto," things that translate as "Cantabile in G Minor" and "In the Chamber Komeda Mood," etc. This is a sextet with trumpet and sax, also cello. Richly textured, a first-rate composer -- evidence, I think, that post-classical has moved on to jazz, even though not all jazz is post-classical. B+(**)

The Lawrence Arms: Metropole (2014, Epitaph): Chicago post-punk group, first album in 1999, back with their sixth after a hiatus, older and wiser perhaps; can't say whether they've slowed down but they do have a knack for tunes, and they swear a lot. B+(**)

Little Big Town: Pain Killer (2014, Capitol Nashville): Nashville vocal quartet, two guys (Phillip Sweet, Jimi Westbrook), two gals (Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman) -- been together since 2002, including a platinum record for 2012's Tornado, but sales are way off on this one. Could be the heavy but rote rock on most tracks, or that the love songs are a little, uh, yucky: "you're my pain killer/a little dose of you goes a long way" or "I want to taste her lips/yeah, cuz they taste like you." C+

Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited (2014, Masterworks): Cash's 1964 Indian-themed album Bitter Tears without the magic voice but plenty of sincerity, performed by "various artists" -- long on David Rawlings, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris, but highlighted by a very ragged Kris Kristofferson ("The Ballad of Ira Hayes" and Steve Earle ("Custer"). B+(**)

Jan Lundgren: All By Myself (2014, Fresh Sound): Swedish pianist, has close to forty albums since the early 1990s. This, per the title, is solo, fourteen standards, pretty straight but beautifully done. Won Jazz Journal's critics poll, beating out Paul Bley. B+(**)

Magnolia Acoustic Quartet: Cinderella (2012 [2014], Fortune): Second group album. Pianist Kuba Sokolowski wrote all the tunes (referring to Yoko Ono on one), so figure him the leader, with Szyman Nidzworski on tenor and soprano sax, Mateusz Dobosz on bass, and Patryk Dobosz on drums. B+(**) [cd]

Microwaves: Regurgitant Phenomena (2014, New Atlantis): Noise rock/postpunk group from Pittsburgh, put this one out on vinyl so the 29:35 run time doesn't seem so EP-ish, especially with 11 cuts (two over 6 minutes, the rest much less). Vocals buried so deep I'm tempted to take this as instrumental. B

Migos: Rich Ni**a Timeline (2014, Quality Control Music): Atlanta hip-hop trio, with an 80-minute mixtape, the three voices rotating in but mostly repeating each other. All covers I've seen show asterisks. The audio is not quite so circumspect. B+(*)

Mindtroll: EP #4 (2014, self-released): Brooklyn band, popped up on top of a friendly P&J ballot unnoticed by anyone else. Three women and a guy who plays bass and sings backup, sounds much like but a little odder than the early B-52s. Four short songs, 8:36, three superb, the fourth ends with three question marks. Three previous EPs, plus a 24-cut album in 2013 with most songs well under two minutes. B+(***) [bc]

Mindtroll: And That's Just Some of the Good Ones (2013, self-released): Twenty-four tracks, including three of the songs on EP #4 (times shorter on EP), ten under two minutes but they still add up to 53:11. Greatest fear with this band is that their sketchy, disjointed punk rants will prove tedious in the end -- they do, but every now and when a song (like "I'm in the CIA") comes along to reset your attention. B+(**) [bc]

Myrczek & Tomaszewski: Love Revisited (2013 [2014], Fortune): That would be singer Wojciech Myrczek and pianist Pawel Tomaszewski. Most songs are all vintage American standards, sung in English in classic crooner style -- "Freedom Jazz Dance" and "All Blues" are exception (that prove they should follow the rule, not that you can really ever convince a jazz singer not show off the scat). B+(*) [cd]

Tami Neilson: Dynamite! (2014, self-released): Country singer from New Zealand, has a couple previous records I should check out. Ten songs, short at 29:02, but they cover quite a range -- honky tonk, rockabilly, folkie duet, a paean to Texas, the title cut beyond category. A- [bc]

Stevie Nicks: 24 Karat Gold: Songs From the Vault (2014, Reprise): The vault songs date from 1969-95 demos, but the recordings are reportedly new, and I'm not enough of a fan to tell you whether the songs are familiar or obscure. B+(*)

Charlie Parr: Hollandale (2014, Chaperone): Guitarist, based in Duluth MN; has a pile of records since 2003. No vocals (at least not here), looks like Alan Sparhawk is also credited with guitar. Only five tracks, but runs 42:08, deeply resonant. B+(*)

PC Worship: Social Rust (2014, Northern Spy): Some kind of postrock band -- i.e., one that's exhausted its interest in the form but can't conceived of doing something else, possibly because they've fried their ears and couldn't hear themselves otherwise. B-

Perfect Pussy: Say Yes to Love (2014, Captured Tracks): Noise band from Syracuse, originally assembled to play a band in a movie. Meredith Graves is the singer. Not what one would call musical, but that would be a different concept. B-

Lee Scratch Perry: Back on the Controls (2011-13 [2014], Upsetter Music, 2CD): Those peculiarly complex devices on the cover are vacuum tubes, state-of-the-art in the 1950s but largely obsolete during the reggae producer's 1970s heyday, except in technological backwaters (which could include Jamaica). Presumably they signal his intent to go back to that vintage period, although time and age can't deal him the same hand. The result is heavy on the dub, and I mean real heavy, but he keeps it up for 92 minutes -- old groove with new layers of murk, the effect positively postmodern. A-

Adam Pieronczyk Quartet: El Buscador (2008 [2010], Jazzwerkstatt): Polish saxophonist, tenor primarily (although he plays some soprano here and alto elsewhere), has a substantial discography since 1995. Quartet pairs him with trombonist Adrian Mears, backed by bassist Anthony Cox (named "special guest" on the cover), and drummer Krzysztof Dziedzic, who contributes a nice Latin accent. B+(***)

Adam Pieronczyk Quartet: A-Trane Nights (2008-09 [2014], Fortune): Same group as on El Buscador, with bassist Anthony Cox evidently a regular. Drummer Dziedzic maintains his Latin tinge, and trombonist Mears takes more leads than the leader -- he's clearly on a roll here. Main gripe is that the documentation shows two discs but the promo only includes "cd 1." B+(***) [cdr]

Adam Pieronczyk: The Planet of Eternal Life (2013 [2014], Jazzwerkstatt): Solo sax, soprano this time, easy enough on the ears especially when played this methodically. B+(**)

Pinch & Mumdance: Pinch B2B Mumdance (2014, Tectonic): Two British dubstep/grime producers, Robert Ellis and Jack Adams, both with a history of duoing with others, push these beats deep enough under a shroud of mystery they might mean something. B+(***)

Ariel Pink: Pom Pom (2014, 4AD): Disposed of his Haunted Graffiti band moniker, his lo-fi eclecticism turns out a fantastic range of upbeat kitsch, not without a shred of humor, but so stale it begs the question: why would anyone want to subject themselves to this? [PS: First record this year I failed to finish.] C-

PRhyme: PRhyme (2014, Universal Music): Pronounced "prime": rapper Royce da 5'9", turntablist DJ Premier. the latter's beats razor sharp and squeaks dazzling, but as for Royce, admittedly he's an "aquired taste" -- "so acquire some taste," he advises, but you may just as well have to lose some. I couldn't help but notice that the first song was one of the most misogynist bitch rants I've heard in rap. Then there's money-grubbing and the don't-give-a-fuck ethos. Still, I can hear why this was HDX's record of the year, but I can also understand why no one else noticed. B+(**)

Protomartyr: Under Color of Official Right (2014, Hardly Art): Detroit post-punk quartet, roughly similar to the Fall in terms of their melodic grind, although singer Joe Casey doesn't quite have Mark Smith's accent, or class analysis. B+(**)

Eric Reed: Groovewise (2014, Smoke Sessions): Pianist, been on a Monk kick recently but wrote 8 (of 10) songs here, covering Clifford Jordan and Christian McBride. Quartet, with Seamus Blake on tenor sax, Ben Williams on bass, and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. Especially strong outing for Blake. B+(***)

Porter Robinson: Worlds (2014, Astralwerks): Young EDM producer from North Carolina, barely in his 20 but his songs have a gawky juvenile aspect, cartoonish, maybe bubble gum. I found this annoying at first, then it started to sneak up on me. B

Royal Blood: Royal Blood (2014, Warner Brothers): Brighton (UK) duo, drummer Ben Thatcher and bassist-singer Mike Kerr, first album, play blues-based hard rock, crunching chords, basically very ordinary -- beats outsmarting themselves. B

Ruby: Waiting for Light (2014, Fireweed): Brit singer-songwriter Lesley Rankine, started in punk band Silverfish, released an album as Ruby in 1995, another in 2000, now this one. At first encounter what you'd call eclectic, although several songs ("Last Life," "Note to Self," "Barricades") are striking. B+(**)

SBTRKT: Wonder Where We Land (2014, Young Turks): Second album for British dubstep producer Aaron Jerome, much less fun than the first. B

Schizophonia: Cantorial Recordings Reimagined (2014, Blue Thread Music): Guitarist Yossi Fruchter (Pitom, Zion80) put this group together, with Brian Marsella on keyboards and Shanir Blumenkranz on bass. The idea is to take old cantorial music -- something I'm not much familiar with -- and recast it as modern day rock. Not sure that it really works on either count, although the guitarist's chops leave a strong impression. B+(*) [cd]

John Schooley: The Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World (2014, Voodoo Rhythm): Artist's biography is notably "shrouded in half-truths and outright falsehood," no doubt including the ancient provenance of these recordings, which take old folk tunes -- the title tune comes from Charlie Poole -- and bury them in guitar reverb, crashing percussion, and more than a little Metal Machine Music. It's a concept, possibly brilliant, certainly wearing. B+(**)

Reg Schwager: Delphinus (2014, Jazz From Rant): Canadian guitarist, leads a quartet with piano (Don Thompson), bass (Neil Swainson), and drums (Michel Lambert). Easy going, richly melodic, not really too lush, but pointed that direction. B+(**) [cd]

Jacques Schwarz-Bart: Jazz Racine Haïti (2012 [2014], Motema Music): Tenor saxophonist, born in Guadeloupe but connected to Haiti, put this project together to go with a documentary film, featuring several singers (most notably Erol Josué), with Etienne Charles on trumpet and several percussionists. The vocals add solemn weight, but that's not exactly a plus. What is is the sparkling horn interplay. B+(*)

Brian Settles Trio: Folk (2013, Engine Studios): Tenor saxophonist, based in DC, leads trio, free but poised, with bass (Corcoran Holt) and drums (Jeremy Carlstedt). A- [bc]

Linda Sharrock: No Is No: Don't Fuck Around With Your Women (2014, Improvising Beings, 2CD): Born Linda Chambers, 1947, sang in church and gravitated toward avant jazz in the 1960s, marrying guitarist Sonny Sharrock in 1966, singing notably on the 1969 album Black Woman and their jointly credited 1975 album Paradise. She divorced him in 1978 and he died in 1994. She has recorded occasionally on her own since 1991, so her return here is a pleasant surprise. The band -- Itaru Oki (trumpet), Mario Rechtern (reeds), Eric Zinman (piano), Makoto Sato (bass), Yoram Rosilio (drums) -- offers a spirited reminder of the avant '60s. The vocals are less clear and coherent, but the title has a point. B+(***) [cd]

Sonny Simmons & Moksha Samnyasin: Nomadic (2011 [2014], Svart): Remarkably active in his 80s, the alto saxophonist meets a French sitar-bass-drums trio here. They provide him with a bit of rhythmic exotica, and he turns it soulful and daring. B+(***)

Skyzoo & Torae: The Barrel Brothers (2014, E1/Empire): Rap duo, both principals have albums on their own or with others. Solid album by any count. B+(**)

Sly & Robbie: Dubrising (2014, Taxi): Bassist Sly Dunbar and drummer Robbie Shakespeare, the rhythm section behind a who's who of reggae stars in the 1970s and 1980s with dozens of their own albums from Present Taxi in 1981 on, passing through dub and dancehall along the way. I count this as their 16th album with "dub" in the title. Sorry to say, this is the first I've heard, but I can't imagine it's not one of the best. A-

Sly & Robbie: Underwater Dub (2014, Groove Attack): The duo's other dub album this year, came out earlier, is much more basic, just repetitive beats with occasional accents and echoes; in the right hands, one hardly needs more. B+(***)

Emilio Solla y La Inestable de Brooklyn: Second Half (2013 [2014], self-released): Pianist from Argentina, took me longer than it should have to locate this within nuevo tango -- Victor Prieto's accordion should have been the giveaway. The horn section is Brooklyn: Alex Norris (trumpet), Ryan Keberle (trombone), Tim Armacost and John Ellis (reeds), and Meg Okura's violin complements the accordion. B+(**) [cd]

St. Paul & the Broken Bones: Half the City (2014, Single Lock): Classic sounding soul group, based in Alabama, led by singer Paul Janeway, who does a pretty impressive Otis Redding voice and reportedly has James Brown stage moves. Band's gimmick: they're white. That may have been worth a million bucks in Sam Phillips' day, but it's depreciated since then. (Hasn't it?) B+(*)

Sylvan Esso: Sylvan Esso (2014, Partisan): First album from North Carolina duo: singer Amelia Meath and electronica producer Nick Sanborn. Both have country-ish backgrounds but scant evidence of that here. They come closer to trip hop, but don't seem to sense they are doomed. B+(*)

Throttle Elevator Music: Area J (2013 [2014], Wide Hive): I'd rather call this "garage jazz" than fusion or even "postpunk jazz." Second group album. Gregory Howe is credited with "concept" and most of the songs, while Matt Montgomery plays bass-guitar-keybs and Mike Hughes drums, support for saxophonist Kamasi Washington to blow free and wild. B+(**)

Tom Trio: Radical Moves (2013 [2014], Fortune): Trumpet player Tomasz Dabrowski, a name I've run across before, backed with bass (Nils Bo Davidsen) and drums (Anders Mogensen). B+(***) [cd]

Trzy Dni Pozniej: Pokoj Jej Cieniom (2014, Fortune): A vocal trio backed by viola and electronics, all songs written and arranged by Joanna Piwowar-Antosiewicz, her voice supplemented by Marta Groffik-Perchel and Marta Piwowar. Not quite all in Polish (I presume), hints at classical choral music but doesn't trip my usual alarms on that score. B+(**) [cd]

François Tusques/Mirtha Pozzi/Pablo Cueco: Le Fond de L'Air (2014, Improvising Beings): Piano trio (of sorts): no bass but Tusques plays piano and the others percussion. Or I suppose you could call it a percussion trio. B+(***) [cd]

François Tusques/François Toullec/Eric Zinman: Laiser L'Exprit Divaguer (2014, Improvising Beings, 2CD): Two discs of piano duets, both featuring Tusques, the first with Toullec, the second with Zinman. The former is more challenging. The latter latter flows easily in eight numbered but unnamed pieces. B+(**) [cd]

Viet Cong: Cassette (2014, Mexican Summer): Seven songs, 31:29, not sure I'd call that an EP. Alt/indie group from Calgary, remind me a tiny bit of Gang of Four (to cite another name from behind the Bamboo Curtain), but not a comparison they're ready for. B

Mirel Wagner: When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day (2014, Sub Pop): Born in Ethiopia, was adopted as a baby and raised in Finland. Sings in English, voice reminds me a bit of Nina Simone, treading slow over bare guitar; not much, but calm, assured, striking. B+(**)

Kelsey Waldon: The Gold Mine (2014, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Kentucky, cotton country rather than coal (let alone bluegrass), though she grew up with enough sense of class that the longest review I've found was on the World Socialist Web Site. Even without that she could probably get by on voice. A-

Scott Walker + Sunn O))): Soused (2014, 4AD): Wikipedia reports that the band, named after an amplifier logo -- the parens represent sound waves -- has reportedly been synthesizing "drone, ambient, noise, extreme metal" for 15 years now. Unfair to judge from this, where they take a back seat to one of the world's most insufferable vocalists. The combination would be funny if only it were. C

Warpaint: Warpaint (2014, Rough Trade): LA indie band, Emily Kokal is the main singer. Slow and moody, functions as dream pop. B

Watsky: All You Can Do (2014, Steel Wool Media/Welk Music Group): Real last name, dropped George. Started in poetry slams, spoken word, although this has a nice musical flair -- especially on "The One," his piece on the problems of dating (something he doesn't seem to do much). Sample line: "my dick is pretty lonely/but my nuts still got each other." B+(**)

Bob Wayne: Back to the Camper (2014, self-released): This is the real outlaw country, not just the attitude to "do everything I can until I die," but full of tales of crime that give me the willies. Too much heaven and (especially) hell, but he offers a disclaimer -- "not every song is true" -- in a name-dropping song worthy of certified outlaw David Allen Coe. And he does a Marty Robbins thing that goes way beyond the model. A-

Anna Webber's Percussive Mechanics: Refraction (2014, Pirouet): Flute/saxophone player, promotes her 2013 album title to group name, a septet with clarinet, vibes or marimba, piano, bass, two drummers. Most interesting when the rhythm breaks up, especially when the sax comes out. B+(*)

Whiskey Myers: Early Morning Shakes (2014, Wiggy Thump): Southern rock band, hails from Tyler TX to be more precise. Template is supposed to be Lynyrd Skynyrd, but reminds me more of Black Oak Arkansas -- although hippy raunch is harder to pull off when reality impinges and so many have trouble making ends meet. B+(*)

White Lung: Deep Fantasy (2014, Domino): Postpunk/riot grrrl band from Vancouver BC, fronted by blonde singer Mish May. Ten songs, so short (22:05) this could be sloughed off as an EP. On the other hand, they're so packed they don't feel short -- just fast. B+(**)

Betty Who: Take Me When You Go (2014, RCA): Pop singer, Jessica Newham, from Australia, first album after a couple EPs; cites Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus as "influences," and hits that level often enough, but has more trouble with the ballad. B+(*)

Don Williams: Reflections (2014, Sugar Hill): I wouldn't call him a major country singer, but his easy-going style has been so consistent for so long, he's produced enough to make a near-essential compilation -- e.g., 2004's The Definitive Collection. Retired in 2004, but he returned in 2012 on Sugar Hill -- a fine retirement home, free from the Nashville grind and satisfied to keep the old time music flowing. Nothing to do here but pick ten songs and play them. Nothing he can't make look easy. B+(**)

Hank Williams III: Ramblin' Man (1999-2010 [2014], Curb, EP): Third Hank III album Curb has released since Williams' contract ran out in 2010, so these are leftovers, capped at seven tracks (26:14), probably the bottom of the barrel. His voice bears uncanny resemblance to his grandfather's but if anything has grown richer and more nuanced. Still, it's wasted on "Okie From Muskogee," and slightly perverse on his metal numbers. B+(*)

A Winged Victory for the Sullen: Atomos (2014, Kranky): Ambient music duo Duston O'Halloran and Adam Wiitzie, second album together, appealing and unthreatening. B+(**)

Ksawery Wojcinski: The Soul (2013 [2014], Fortune): Polish bassist, also credited here with piano, guitar, percussion, and vocals -- i.e., everything. That helps explain why the album shifts feel so often, although the thick, dark bass leads seem most fundamental. Ends on a gorgeous note with a short gospel chorus of "Hold On Just a Little While Longer." B+(***) [cd]

Matt Woods: With Love From Brushy Mountain (2014, Lonely Ones): Country singer, based in Knoxville -- I guess that doesn't even qualify as Nashville's low-rent district, but it's also a statement: "I'm drunk on the wrong side of heaven/in a town gone straight to hell." I could do with less anguish here, but he's got a voice and observant songs. "I've seen some things/but my favorite thing is looking in your eyes." B+(***)

Waclaw Zimpel To Tu Orchestra: Nature Moves (2014, Fortune): Clarinetist, b. 1983, one of the more recognizable names in Polish jazz due to his frequent collaborations with Vandermark's circle. Nine-piece group, doubling up on bass and drums. The 28:44 opener, "Cycles," stretches a repeating piano figure into something hipnotically sublime, and the title suite adds new wrinkles to the formula. And when free jazz breaks out, Zimpel ties that energy into yet another pattern, raising his whole game to another level. A- [cd]

Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound of Luanda 1968-1976 (1968-76 [2010], Analog Africa): Southwest of Congo, a Portuguese colony until 1975, drained since the 16th century to the 1860s for the slave trade with Brazil, and from 1975-2002 battered by an intense civil war. Mostly pre-independence, these groove pieces are unique only in that they seem a bit washed out compared to the dominant Congo influence. B+(**)

Angola Soundtrack 2: Hypnosis, Distorsions & Other Sonic Innovations 1969-1978 (1969-78 [2014], Analog Africa): Time frame advances but still overlaps with first volume but most likely most cuts are still pre-independence. Still, they're getting jumpier -- especially "Bazooka," by Carlo Lamartine & Águias Reals. CD comes with a 42-page booklet, so you're bound to learn something. B+(***)

Arkansas at 78 RPM: Corn Dodgers & Hoss Hair Pullers (1928-37 [2014], Dust-to-Digital): "For the traveling recording men of the late 1920s, Arkansas offered enticing pickings." Twenty-six cuts, from as many string bands and singers, none I've ever heard of, although a few stand out above the hillbilly norm, and that scratch groove feels like roots to me. A-

Keb Darge & Little Edith's Legendary Wild Rockers 3 (1957-66 [2013], BBE): Looking for last year's surf-oriented volume 4, I stumbled into this mostly-rockabilly comp and decided to hear it through. Mostly late-1950s, the post-1960 titles drifting surfward -- cf. the Shindigs' "Thunder Reef" and the Rebel Rousers' "The Peter Gunn Twist." Biggest name: Johnny Powers, fronting a band with Stan Getz. Pick hit: "Crawlin' (the Crawl)," by Untouchables. B+(***)

Keb Darge & Little Edith's Legendary Wild Rockers (1958-64 [2011], BBE): Only two of four volumes in this series are on Rhapsody (2 and 4 are missing). Darge is a Scottish DJ who's assembled some two dozen compilation albums (Legendary Deep Funk and Real Funk for Real People are other series). As for Little Edith, I have no idea. Obscure singles, mostly 1958-60, not exactly rockabilly but spare and wild, often with a novelty angle -- "King Kong," "Oongawa," "The Goo Goo Muck," like that. B+(**)

I'm Just Like You: Sly's Stone Flower 1969-70 (1969-70 [2014], Light in the Attic): Eighteen songs produced by Sly Stone as part of a record deal he got at the height of Sly & the Family Stone's popularity: artist credits are Little Sister (5), 6ix (6), Sly (4), Joe Hicks (3). All sound like loose knock-offs, so no hits but an uncommonly tight collection of little known funk. B+(***)

Chubby Jackson Big Band: New York City 1949: Ooh, What an Outfit! (1949 [2014], Uptown, 2CD): Bassist, came up in big swing bands, notably Woody Herman's first and second herds, leading a 16-piece group at the Royal Roost, plus various odds and ends to fill up the second disc -- including a Gene Roland group where the saxophonists were named Cohn, Getz, Sims, and Mulligan, and a smaller Jackson group with Lou Levy, Terry Gibbs, and Conte Candoli. On their own, the bands play a breakneck swing-bop hybrid, each faster than the other. But there are lots of interruptions -- singers, Symphony Sid, stage patter, some interview -- not all unwelcome. B+(***)

Bill Jennings: Architect of Soul Jazz: The Complete Early Recordings 1951-1957 (1951-57 [2014], Fresh Sound, 2CD): Guitarist, played with Louis Jordan in the 1940s, later cut soul jazz albums for Prestige (two wound up in one of those Legends of Acid Jazz comps). The completism gives you a mixed bag, with some honking sax (Leo Parker, Willis Jackson), pumping organ (Bill Doggett), scattered vocals (some by Jennings), but also duets with vibes that remain interesting despite their sparseness. B+(**)

Les Ambassadeurs: Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako (1975-77 [2014], Sterns Africa, 2CD): Malian prince-turned griot Salif Keita's old group from its early days in Mali's capital city: Keita sings on the first disc and one song into the second, after which they used several singers. Later in 1977 the group moved to Abidjan and renamed themselves Les Ambassadeurs Internationales. A-

Native North America, Vol. 1: Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985 (1966-85 [2014], Light in the Attic, 2CD): Interesting concept, although I suspect this will rise or fall on whether the booklet makes you care. Otherwise, these Native Americans from the northern half of North America sound much like the ubiquitous non-natives all around them, shading from folk to country to rock without any hint of "old west" soundtrack. B+(*)

The Sound of Siam Volume 2: Molam and Luk Thung From Northeast Thailand 1970-1982 (1970-82 [2014], Soundway): Volume 1's subtitle referred to "Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz and Molam," so the shift here seems to be to something a bit more mainstream, or a bit less strange to western ears. In that I guess they've succeeded. B+(*)

Sun Ra and His Blue Universe Arkestra: Universe in Blue (1971-72 [2013], El Saturn): "When the Black Man Ruled This Land" is worth hearing, fodder for some Black Power-era mixtape. But the two long pieces up front show little more than what can go wrong when you live on the edge -- damn near everything. (Then they're great on the closer.) C+

Junior Wells: Southside Blues Jam (1969-70 [2014], Delmark): Guitarist Buddy Guy and pianist Otis Spann get small print on the cover, fully earned, with Earnest Johnson on bass and Fred Below on drums. Classic Chicago blues, stretched out a bit but even the restored closer only runs 7:14. B+(***)

Wilco: What's Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014 (1994-2014 [2014], Nonesuch, 2CD): One of the most eminent alt/indie rock groups of the last two decades, with eight studio albums, all but the debut selling 200,000 or more. I've graded six of those -- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot at A-, all but one of the rest B+ -- so I'm a bit surprised I don't recognize any of these 38 plainly tuneful tracks. With one pass, I hardly know them any better now, but they're so pleasant and satisfying, as consistent as these things get. A-

X__X: X Sticky Fingers X (1978-80 [2014], Smog Veil): Punk band from Cleveland, also known as "X Blank X," released two singles during their short lifespan. Leader was John Morton, ex- and future-leader of the somewhat better known Electric Eels, although drummer Anton Fier would eventually become more famous. The singles were "No Non ¢s" (get it?) and "Your Full of Shit" -- neither all that memorable -- and the compilers are hard-pressed to stretch them out to 16 cuts. Still sounds better than you have any right to expect. B+(**)

Old Music

Elvin Bishop: Raisin' Hell: Live! (1976 [1977], Capricorn): Live double LP culled from several shows back in Bishop's heyday, has his big hit ("Fooled Around and Fell in Love," sung by Mickey Thomas), his greatest blues romps, a cover of "Calling All Cows" and a Sam Cooke medley, backed by blaring horns. It's a cultural event, but that don't mean no one gets rowdy. A-

The Kinks: Face to Face (1966 [2004], Sanctuary): Fourth UK album, following transitional singles "A Well Respected Man" and "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" into a second stage in the group's sound -- more wryly English even if the label tried to paint them psychedelic. Amid fluff like the amusing "Holiday in Waikiki" only one song feels fully developed: "Sunny Afternoon." The reissue adds more substantial fare like "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" and "Dead End Street." B+(**)

The Kinks: Something Else by the Kinks (1967 [2004], Sanctuary): The year the big British Invasions bands made their plunge into psychedelia, Ray Davies kept pace, although he preferred the shallower end of the pool, quainter, less risk, you know. B+(**)

The Kinks: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968, Sanctuary): An arty song cycle about the band's modest petit bourgeois ambitions, to protect and defend a culture most artists would rather subvert. Only the title song is catchy enough to make light of such homilies, although the filler holds up better than most. B+(***)

The Kinks: Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (1970 [2004], Sanctuary): "Get Back in Line" is so misguided I'd suspect irony but Davies tends to get cutesy when ironic, which is what makes the two singles -- "Lola" and "Apeman" -- so winning. Ends with a typically smug paean to libertarianism. And wouldn't you know, there is no Part Two. B

Tami Neilson: Red Dirt Angel (2008, self-released): First album for New Zealand's country princess. I don't see any credits, but don't recognize any covers either. Some of the album gets the big Nashville-style production, while a couple songs are tossed offhand -- "Missin' the Groom" is the funniest. And some aspiring Nashville star should look up "Same Old Devil." B+(**) [bc]

Raiders of the Lost Dub (1981, Mango): Produced by Sly & Robbie and sometimes filed (e.g., by Rhapsody) under their names. The other candidate would be Black Uhuru, with 4 (of 10) songs, vs. one each for Burning Spear, Junior Delgado, Ijahman, Wailing Souls, the Paragons, and the Viceroys, although the common rhythm section and the dub effects tie the loose ends together. B+(**)

Brian Settles and Central Station: Secret Handshake (2010 [2011], Engine Studios): Debut album, the tenor saxophonist leading a quintet but still the only horn -- the others play piano, bass, drums, and extra percussion. The latter is most distinctive, but the saxophone is most impressive. B+(**) [bc]


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