Rhapsody Streamnotes: February 13, 2015

Coincidentally, today's Expert Witness touts three records I don't much care for: Sleater-Kinney's No Cities to Love [*], Tune-Yards' Nikki Nack [**], and TV on the Radio's Seeds [B]. Could be I was overly abrupt in dismissing the latter -- I thought Dear Science and Nine Types of Light were pretty good, even though neither is a sort of record I look out for (or, I'm afraid, much remember). The other two are groups that appeal to me on principle but little else, and my reactions to both have been consistent throughout their catalogs.

Nor is my disagreement just with Christgau (who has S-K graded at { A-, A, A, A, A-, A, A, A }, T-Y at { A, A, A- }; my S-K grades are { **, B+, B, B+, B+, B+, **, * }, T-Y { **, *, ** }). Starting with their Call the Doctor in 1996, Sleater-Kinney finished Pazz & Jop { 3, 4, 23, 10, 5, 4 }; Tune-Yards' debut came in 70th, and this year's album finished 29th, but their second album won the 2011 poll. (TV on the Radio's Dear Science won P&J in 2008, and this year's album came in 39th.) I don't think there are right or wrong answers in rating records, but I have generally found that consensus picks of knowledgeable, broadly focused critics almost always hold up well in the long run. I grew up with a strong skeptical streak, so I can give you many examples of artists I doubted at first before coming around. So I don't doubt that I have some sort of blind spots regarding these artists, but none of those grades (with the possible exception of Seeds) came lightly.

On the other hand, there are lots of things going on in music that I can hear, and you'll find a fair number of them are below. About half of the records are 2015 releases, but thus far I haven't explored far beyond the jazz I get in the mail: the four 2015 A- records (counting the Red Garland vault discovery) are all jazz (three alto saxophonists), reviewed from CD. Everything else that looked promising fell short or flat: I certainly didn't expect B- records from Diana Krall or Matana Roberts, let alone a C from Bob Dylan. For that matter, B+(*) records came as letdowns from jazz musicians who have previously turned in A- work: Rez Abbasi, Lotte Anker, Steven Bernstein, Rudresh Mahanthappa. The new year is going to take some work, although I haven't explored much beyond familiar names.

The 2014 releases, of course, mostly come from EOY lists -- though Pitbull turned out to be conspicuous in his absence (not a single mention in over 600 lists, nor did he show up in Billboard's Top 200). Added a couple more jazz and electronica albums to my own A-list, but didn't spend enough time with a couple hip-hop mixtapes (Blu, Cunninlynguists) to make the difference. Another dozen-plus high B+ grades strike me as having little chance of improvement -- more likely I even overrated a couple. Trying to keep an honest, consistent scale even though much of what's on it is incomparable (er, cannot appropriately be compared).

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 January 24. Past reviews and more information are available here (6034 records).

New Releases (More or Less)

Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet [RAAQ]: Intents and Purposes (2014 [2015], Enja): Guitarist from Pakistan, plays acoustic (steel string, fretless and baritone) here, backed by vibes (Bill Ware), bass (Stephan Crump), and drums (Eric McPherson). Has a nice intricacy and intimacy to it, but a little short of juice. B+(*)

Cyrille Aimée: It's a Good Day (2014, Mack Avenue): Standards singer, from France although everything here is in English (or generic scat) and she has or shares credits in four (of 13) cuts. Guitar-bass-drums backing leans toward Django Reinhardt. Can get a little cutesy. B+(*)

Jovan Alexandre: Collective Consciousness (2014 [2015], Xippi): Tenor saxophonist, first album, quintet with both piano and guitar, no one I've heard of. Fast, boppish. Cites René McLean as his mentor. Time rolls on, even if the music doesn't much change. B+(**)

Tony Allen: Film of Life (2014, Jazz Village): Drummer from Nigeria, long part of Fela Kuti's band, continues working the Afrobeat groove. Relatively new here are the electronics, adding some shimmer and chime to the drum-focus. Only one vocal piece slumps. B+(**)

Lotte Anker/Fred Frith: Edge of the Light (2010 [2015], Intakt): Tenor sax an guitar duo, tempting to compare this to last year's duo between Frith and John Butcher, although this was actually recorded several years earlier. Frith is more prickly here, Anker more reticent, which makes the combo more tentative and erratic. B+(*)

Ballister: Worse for the Wear (2014 [2015], Aerophonic): Free sax trio led by Dave Rempis, with Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics -- sometimes he manages a guitar-like sound -- instead of bass. The sax starts out with a menacing growl, and there are stretches when the it all seems to click. B+(***) [cd]

Andrew Barker/Paul Dunmall/Tim Dahl: Luddite (2012 [2014], New Atlantis): Avant sax trio, Dunmall the saxophonist (of course -- Wikipedia lists 102 albums he led or co-led since 1986, 36 more side credits, and doesn't appear to be very up-to-date). Barker plays drums, Dahl bass. Sometimes this seems like the top of Dunmall's game, sometimes it gets a bit tedious. B+(**)

Dave Bass: NYC Sessions (2012 [2015], Whaling City Sound): Pianist, in his 60s but only has a couple albums, does draw on some guest stars here: Karrin Allyson and Paulette McWilliams sing two songs each; Phil Woods plays alto sax on five tunes and penned a nice blurb; and the rhythm section -- Harvie S and Ignacio Berroa -- are always ready for a little Latin discursion (especially when Conrad Herwig and/or Enrique Hernandez drop in); or you can settle for some nice lounge piano. B+(*) [cd]

Steven Bernstein/Paolo Fresu/Gianluca Petrella/Marcus Rojas: Brass Bang! (2014 [2015], Bonsaï Music): Brass quartet, two trumpets (or slide trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet, effects) plus trombone and tuba -- the middle players well known in Italy, Rojas a veteran of Dave Douglas' Brass Fantasy. B+(*)

Big Lazy: Don't Cross Myrtle (2014, Tasankee): Guitar-bass-drums trio from New York, more likely to be filed as instrumental rock than as jazz, partly because leader Stephen Ulrich has a bent for surf guitar, partly because he wraps every song up into a neat package. Had three albums 2000-02; this is only their second album since. B+(***)

Nat Birchall Quintet: Live in Larissa (2013 [2014], Sound Soul and Spirit): British tenor/soprano saxophonist, b. 1957 but discography seems to be relatively recent (six albums since 1999). For a long time it seems like everyone wanted to sound like Coltrane. Birchall not only does that, his band gets the background ambiance down pat, with stray percussion, fifth-member Corey Mwamba's vibes and bells, and Adam Fairhall's Tyner-esque piano. Lead cut is even called "John Coltrane," although "Divine Harmony," "Journey in Satchidananda," "World Without Form," or "Sacred Dimension" would suffice. I only worry about derivatives when they send me back to the original. A-

Blu: Good to Be Home (2014, Nature Sounds, 2CD): Underground rapper, NoYork! is recommended, this could be as solid if I put the time into it, but that's a tall order given how merely functional the beats are. Still, gets stronger as he goes. B+(***)

Boozoo Bajou: 4 (2014, Apollo): German electronica duo (Peter Heider, Florian Seyberth), first album in 2001 and while this may be their their fourth, that ignores various compilations and remix jobs. Generically downtempo, has an ethereal, ambient feel, lovely in itself, even more interesting when it picks up a beat. A-

Wade Bowen: Wade Bowen (2014, Amp): Country singer/songwriter from Waco, Texas, half dozen albums since 2002, seems ambivalent about the Nashville sound, adopting what he needs to tour hard but doesn't reek like the formula stars. He offers "Honky Tonk Road" almost as an afterthought. B+(*)

Buzzcocks: The Way (2014, 1-2-3-4 Go): A great group in its day but that was forty years ago. Now touted as "old school punk," their sole EOY list placement in Classic Rock Magazine. B

Joey Calderazzo: Going Home (2014 [2015], Sunnyside): Pianist, longtime fixture in Branford Marsalis Quartet, mostly trio here but Marsalis looms as the fourth credit on the back cover and slams home a couple tunes. B+(**)

Cherub: Year of the Caprese (2014, Columbia): Second album by Nashville-based electropop duo Jason Huber and Jordan Kelley. B+(*)

Clark: Clark (2014, Warp): Brit techno producer Chris Clark, seventh album since 2001. Rather busy, cluttered, although for a moment "There's a Distance in You" threatens to make it work. B

George Colligan & Theoretical Planets: Risky Notion (2014 [2015], Origin): A well known, rather important jazz pianist -- AMG lists 28 albums since 1996 -- plays drums here, mostly quartet with two slippery tenor saxes (Nicole Glover, Joe Manis) and bass, augmented with trumpet (Tony Glausi) on two tracks. B+(**) [cd]

Cornershop: Hold On It's Easy (2015, Ample Play): Label calls this "the Easy Listening treatment." The object is an instrumental-only remake of their 1993 album, Hold On It Hurts played by the Elastic Big Band, which is to say with lots of brass. Just good enough it makes me want to play something else by them. Maybe even check out that first album. B

Jamie Cullum: Interlude (2014 [2015], Blue Note): British jazz singer, big hype a decade ago and I've never cared for him, but this has some agreeable quirks -- a Randy Newman song that fits, a "Lovesick Blues" that's just odd enough, a Ray Charles that can't quite make the grade, a "Make Someone Happy" that can't fail. One misstep is a duo on "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," unless the point is to remind you that he's not as overbearing as Gregory Porter. B

The Cunninlynguists: Strange Journey, Volume Three (2014, Bad Taste): Underground rap group out of Lexington KY. Wikimedia distinguishes between five studio albums and six mixtapes, listing this (and two previous Strange Journey volumes) among the latter. Consistency is a problem here, but at best they strike me as having perfect flow. B+(***)

Disappears: Irreal (2015, Kranky): Postpunk band from Chicago, noted for short, sharp songs on their first few albums, but they've started to stretch them out: only two of the eight songs here run less than 5:15, the longest 7:11, using reps that increasingly remind one of Wire. B+(***)

Akua Dixon: Akua Dixon (2014 [2015], Akua's Music): Cellist, b. 1948, was married to Steve Turre 1978-2012, has a few scattered credits (some as Akua Dixon-Turre) but as far as I can tell this is her first album. Several violinists, including Regina Carter, rotate through the lead slot, supported by cello, sometimes bass, only once drums. All covers, including "Haitian Fight Song," "Besame Mucho," "Poinciana," pieces from Cachao and Piazzolla, with a couple vocals -- Andromeda Turre on "Lush Life,", the leader on "It Never Entered My Mind." B+(***) [cd]

Andrew Drury: The Drum (2014 [2015], Soup & Sound): Drummer, from Seattle, has a handful of records. This one has "acoustic solo improvised compositions recorded on a single floor form with a few additional objects (faucet escutcheon, bell, aluminum sheet)." Starts with a horrible screech, followed by lengthy exploration of feedback loops before you get any indication of percussion. The exploration of new (and decidedly unusual) sounds isn't without interest, but offers very little pleasure. B- [cd]

Andrew Drury: Content Provider (2014 [2015], Soup & Sound): Group record, two saxophonists (Briggan Krauss on alto, Ingrid Laubrock on tenor), Brandon Seabrook on guitar, the leader on drums. Loud, discordant, ugly sax has always been an avant risk, but this is closer to the guitarist's avant-industrial klang -- his fans, and I know and respect some, may well be thrilled. B [cd]

Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night (2015, Columbia): Something I always found weird was that Frank Sinatra hosted the TV show that welcomed Elvis Presley back from the Army: part of it was the unseemly clash between Old Money and New Money, and part may have been the sudden realization that both were suddenly Has-Beens, but at least both had definitive voices. Dylan was just starting up, a brilliant songwriter with an unsettled, iffy voice. Fifty years later, his voice has firmed up enough he could probably do a more than passable album of Presley songs (i.e., of other people's songs that Presley made famous), but for some reason he decided to go straight to songs Sinatra did (and not really the top tier at that). He's simply not up to it. C

Echoes of Swing [Colin T. Dawson/Chris Hopkins/Bernd Lhotzky/Oliver Mewes]: Blue Pepper (2013, ACT): German group -- trumpet (and three rather dry vocals), alto sax, piano, drums -- with several albums already, rooted in swing but not stuck there. B+(*)

Emika: Klavirni (2015, Emika): Ema Jolly, born in Britain, based in Berlin, mother was Czech. Past records were electronica (dubstep, trip hop) but this is solo piano (evidently "klavirni" is Czech for "piano": a baker's dozen numbered pieces following three on a 2013 EP. Meditative, closer to classical than to jazz (or new age), although she does cheat a couple times. B+(*)

Fantasma: Eye of the Sun (2014, Soundway, EP): South African group with rapper Spoek Mathambo mixing up "electronica, hip-hop, traditional Zulu maskandi music, shangaan electro, South African house, psych-rock and punk" -- at least that's the plan. Five cuts, 22:37. B+(*)

Dom Flemons: Prospect Hill (2014, Fat Possum): Ex-banjo player and sometime singer in Carolina Chocolate Drops, styles himself as "The American Songster" -- prominent type above his name on the album cover and below his name on his website. The phrase was common among early 20th century black musicians later forced into the blues category. If Flemons isn't reproducing their work, he's synthesizing it authoritatively. B+(**)

Chantale Gagné: The Left Side of the Moon (2014 [2015], self-relased): Pianist, from Quebec, third album, all (but one) original compositions. Mainstream postbop, but she picked out the perfect band, with Steve Wilson (alto and soprano sax, flute) floating and riffing, Peter Washington on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums. B+(***) [cd]

Polly Gibbons: Many Faces of Love (2014 [2015], Resonance, CD+DVD): British standards singer, has a couple previous albums but this is touted as her US debut. Packaging is deluxe, with a DVD I doubt I'll ever bother with. Pianist Tamir Hendelman did the arrangements, Anthony Wilson plays guitar, Christian Howes dubbed in the strings. B+(*)

Rhiannon Giddens: Tomorrow Is My Turn (2015, Nonesuch): Singer from Carolina Chocolate Drops goes solo, gets T-Bone Burnett to produce. While Burnett's bag is adapting Southern roots music for folks more inclined to shop MOR, Giddens got him to cast the net wide -- a bit too wide. B+(**)

Aaron Goldberg: The Now (2009-14 [2015], Sunnyside): Pianist, eighth album since 1999, this a trio with Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums -- one of a large number of pianists who impress me with their skills without making me care much. Last cut was recorded later, with Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar but initially struck me as flute. B+(*) [cd]

Richie Goods & Nuclear Fusion: Three Rivers (2014 [2015], Richman): Electric bassist, based in Pittsburgh ("the youngest person ever inducted into the Pittsburgh Jazz Hall of Fame"), feints toward funk-fusion but not clear that's where he really wants to go. He slows down for three undistinguished singers, and reaches out to Chris Botti for a "feat." title. B [cd]

Mary Halvorson: Reverse Blue (2014, Relative Pitch): Guitarist, leads a quartet trading leads with Chris Speed (tenor sax and clarinet), backed by Eivind Opsvik and Tomas Fujiwara. Halvorson has some radical moves, but Speed's clarinet tends to smooth them over, taking some of the danger away. B+(***)

Alexander Hawkins: Song Singular (2012 [2014], Babel): British jazz pianist, a rising star, has done EST-like trio romps (including some organ) and worked with avant groups, and acquitted himself well in all contexts. First solo piano album, an inevitable rite of passage for such a sharp young player, with all the usual caveats. B+(*)

The Hot Sardines: The Hot Sardines (2014, Decca): New York band led by a French singer known as Miz Elizabeth and Evan Palazzo on piano -- she also plays washboard, and they use a tap dancer for percussion, plus some horns. Old songs -- two by Fats Waller -- or throwbacks to same. One brilliant idea was to cut "Bei Mir Bist Do Schoen" with "Digga Digga Doo." Bette Midler, eat your heart out. A-

Hypercolor: Hypercolor (2014 [2015], Tzadik): Guitarist Eyal Maoz, with James Ilgenfritz (bass) and Lukas Ligeti (drums), call this a "jazz-rock trio" -- meaning they like it hard, employing distorted rock tunings but nothing you'd mistake as fusion. As for the "Israeli melodies" and "African rhythms," that may just be a figment of their "Dadaist" fascination. B+(**) [cdr]

Iceage: Plowing Into the Field of Love (2014, Matador): Danish rock group, sounded "young, smart, and very angry" (AMG) on their first album, but already they're getting older, confused, and prone to tantrums, but they're still not awful. B

Ja, Panik: Libertatia (2014, Staatsakt): Berlin-based rock group, originally from Austria, fifth album, showed up on high on several German EOY lists (Musikexpress: 4, Intro: 5, Plattentests: 6, Zündfunk: 7) -- enough to pique my curiosity. Sound tends toward soft alt, a mix of guitar and keyb, their German relatively clear with occasional lines of English dropped in (two album titles are English, and "Libertatia" is a fictional state). B+(*)

Wilko Johnson/Roger Daltrey: Going Back Home (2014, Chess): Johnson was leader of British pub rock band Dr. Feelgood, which was kind of a big deal over there in 1975-76 but fizzled in the US (where Columbia didn't bother releasing their first album). Back then Johnson left most of the vocals to Lee Brilleaux; here, facing cancer, he recruited a more famous singer for an album of basic rock and roll -- all but the Dylan by Johnson, some I recall from way back when. I'm not sure you can even call it revivalism any more. B+(***)

Nick Jonas: Nick Jonas (2014, Island/Safehouse): Ex-teen pop star leading the Jonas Brothers, has had a couple side projects but this is meant to establish him as some kind of sex icon -- I suppose, but don't quite get it, as nothing really stands out. B

Manu Katché: Live in Concert (2014 [2015], ACT): French drummer, parents from Cöte d'Ivoire, worked with Jan Garbarek who made all the difference on Katché's 2006 Neighbourhood. Tore Brunborg is the saxophonist here, a worthy substitute, his leads the bright spot. Also with Luca Aquino on trumpet and Jim Watson on piano/organ. B+(**) [cd]

Justin Kauflin: Dedication (2014 [2015], Qwest/Jazz Village): Pianist, lost his eyesight at age 11. Second album, a mix of trio and quartet, the latter adding Matt Stevens on guitar, also one track with Etan Haziza on nylon guitar. Moves along very smartly. B+(**) [cd]

Kenosha Kid: Inside Voices (2014 [2015], self-released): Guitarist Dan Nettles, from Athens GA, takes his name from a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel. Sextet, with trumpet and two saxes (Peter Van Huffel on alto), some kind of postbop -- but hell, played it four times today, and nothing proved memorable. B [cd]

Ted Kooshian: Clowns Will Be Arriving (2014 [2015], Summit): Pianist, fourth album since 2004, for standards picks the TV themes to "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Get Smart," for originals writes tributes to various comic strip characters, plops a Napoleon Murphy Brock vocal into the middle of the album, "Christmas Day, My Favorite Day," and ends with "When You Wish Upon a Star." All rather amusing, although for me the hook is Jeff Lederer's saxophone. B+(***) [cd]

Diana Krall: Wallflower (2014 [2015], Verve): Searching for new standards, she reprises soft rock ballads "from her youth" -- she was born in 1964, so "California Dreaming" was fast becoming an oldie, Dylan's title song was only known through Doug Sahm, and McCartney's she only heard in 2012. She's still a great singer, but the song selection leaves lots to be desired -- "Desperado" I could see but not a second Eagles song, let alone "I'm Not in Love" -- the string arrangements die on the vine, and the duet vocalists are wankers. Breaks a string of three straight A- records (not counting a Very Best Of that isn't). Deluxe edition includes a really lovely "In My Life." B-

Oliver Lake/William Parker: To Roy (2014 [2015], Intakt): Dedicated to the late trumpet player Roy Campbell, who otherwise seems to have little to do with proceedings -- except, perhaps, for the somber tone. Or maybe that's just Parker's bass taking charge, a fair match for Lake's voluble alto sax. A- [cd]

Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord: Jeremiah (2014 [2015], Hot Cup): Guitarist, has a handful of albums with this quintet -- Jon Irabagon on soprano sax, Bryan Murray on tenor sax, Moppa Elliott on bass, and Sam Monaghan on drums -- expanded here with Justin Wood on alto sax and flute and Sam Kulik on trombone. Lundbom originals, aside from two pieces with Wiccan origins. Best when it frees up and the guitar chases all those horns around. B+(***) [cd]

Machinedrum: Vapor City Archives (2014, Ninja Tune): "Left-field" electronica producer Travis Stewart, ten albums since 2001 (with this alias, one of several), this one either a sequel to or leftovers from 2013's Vapor City. B+(***)

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bird Calls (2014 [2015], ACT): One of the top alto saxophonists in the world today turns his attention to Charlie Parker, perhaps inevitably but he's determined not to sound like the imitators, and at least succeeds on that count. Eight tunes are credited as "based on" Parker standards, and they are feathered out with five improvs called "Bird Calls." The lineup is standard quintet, with Adam O'Farrill (trumpet), Matt Mitchell (piano), François Moutin (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). The band has no trouble matching Parker's speed but much of this seems forced and regimented, short on what Parker called "dexterity." B+(*) [cdr]

Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble: Mosaica (2014, MEII Enterprises): Subtitle (or hed): "Reimagines Popular Hebraic Melodies," the cover also plugging "Special Guest Vocalist Shira Lissek," a cantor featured on four tracks. B+(**)

Charles McPherson: The Journey (2014 [2015], Capri): Alto saxophonist, back in the day a fairly shameless Charlie Parker imitator -- his first album was 1964's Be-Bop Revisited -- who developed into an exquisite ballad player (his Beautiful!, from 1975, spent a couple years in my bedtime rotation). Well into his 70s, this one is his most upbeat in many years, with Keith Oxman's tenor sax chasing him around, and Chip Stephens turning out his best Bud Powell licks. A- [cd]

Meridian Brothers: Salvadora Robot (2014, Soundway): Colombian group, started in salsa but has evolved into something else -- sooner or later someone is bound to dub this psychedelia. Takes a while for the rhythms to kick in. B+(**)

John Mills: Invisible Designs (2014 [2015], Fable): Saxophonist, plays all weights, based in Austin, not sure if this is his first record. Features vocalist Carmen Bradford, who winds her way through texts "rescued" from H.G. Wells, "imagined" from Henry James, "evolved" from Charles Darwin, "improvised" from O. Henry, "transformed" from Robert Louis Stevenson, "misconstrued" from Mark Twain, etc. So, art-rock, or jazz-operetta, or something else that seemed like a better idea on paper. B- [cd]

Pharoahe Monch: P.T.S.D.: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (2014, W.A.R. Media): One-time underground rapper, goes heavy this time with tales of shock, awe, and horror. B+(**)

Moody Good: Moody Good (2014, Owsla): Eddie Jeffreys, formerly of 16bit, prefers rappers to chanteuses, blips that sound like video games but juxtaposed with more bone-rattling bass, beats that don't necessarily go anywhere. B

Gurf Morlix: Eatin' at Me (2015, Rootball): Folksy singer-songwriter, songs pretty easy going -- this time, anyhow. B+(**)

Kassem Mosse: Workshop 19 (2014, Workshop): German (Gunnar Wendel) electronica, house (I'm told) though the dance beat doesn't overwhelm you -- comes and goes, with all sorts of sly and clever asides. A-

Mr Twin Sister: Mr Twin Sister (2014, Twin Group/Infinite Best): Long Island electropop group, released a 2011 album as Twin Sister -- reportedly much bubblier, whereas this is, well, not much of anything. B-

Mario Pavone: Street Songs (2013 [2014], Playscape): Bassist, has a long and notable catalog going back to 1982, leads a sextet: Dave Ballou (cornet/flugelhorn), Peter Madsen (piano), Adam Matlock (accordion), Carl Testa (a second bass), Steve Jones (drums). All originals, the accordion offering a Euro-folk feel but nothing else that basic. B+(**)

Pitbull: Globalization (2014, Polo Grounds/RCA): Cuban-American rapper from Miami, Armando Pérez, got his break guest-rapping on early crunk albums (Lil Jon), developed that into a highly commercial "party rap" -- eight albums now. This is the first I've heard: he seems to be invisible to critics (this record is still missing from my 6500-line metacritic file), and the only time I've run into him was in ads hyping music awards shows he was emcee of. This is at once crass and corporate, each song crediting 4-10 writers, all but one with featured guests, a wide mix of producers (most frequently Dr. Luke, but never alone), but I got a charge out of it. Just can't imagine why they picked "Wild Wild Love" over "Fireball" as the lead single, or even "Celebrate" (which, needless to say, reminded me of Three Dog Night -- a band with similar virtues but from simpler, less jaded times). B+(**)

Steve Reich: Radio Rewrite (2014, Nonesuch): Two things, although the match is fair enough: Jonny Greenwood performs Reich's 1987 composition "Electric Counterpoint" -- on guitar and bass, I gather -- and gets the minimalist vibe right. Second is Reich rewriting Radiohead, a messier proposition that meanders in ways Reich rarely allowed himself before. Can't say much more, as none of the few things I've liked by Radiohead have stuck with me. B+(***)

Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Three: River Run Thee (2014 [2015], Constellation): Alto saxophonist from Chicago, part of a younger generation inspired by AACM. This is the third installment in her meditations on American history, keyed off a freed Louisiana slave aned Marie Therese Coincoin. I thought the two previous "chapters" were ambitious and messy, the oratorios breaking up the flow of the powerful music. Here, finally, the vocals bury the music, so much so I can't make sense of either. B-

Samo Salamon Bassless Trio: Little River (2013 [2015], Sazas): Jazz guitarist, from Slovenia, has a dozen or so albums. Trio, with Paul McCandless on soprano sax, oboe, and bass clarinet, plus Roberto Dani on drums, recorded live on tour, some free, some ambient, both most notable when the guitar breaks out. B+(**) [cd]

Irène Schweizer/Jürg Wickihalder: Spring (2014, Intakt): Umpteenth duo album for the great Swiss avant-pianist, this one with a Zurich-based saxophonist, mostly playing soprano, sometimes tenor. Originals from either/both, plus two Monks and "Just a Gigolo." Instruments don't mesh very well. B+(*)

Marc Seales: American Songs Volume 3: Place & Time (2012 [2015], Origin): Pianist, based in Seattle, with Jeff Hamilton on guitar, Jeff Johnson or Dave Captein on bass, Gary Hobbs on drums. Four originals, four covers -- "Wichita Lineman," Stevie Wonder, two from Curtis Mayfield. B+(*) [cd]

Derek Senn: The Technological Breakthrough (2014, self-released): Singer-songwriter with a guitar, mostly mild-mannered but he can raise the intensity, has some things to say but afterwards all I can recall is the line about popcorn causing diverticulitis. I figure that's my bad. B+(**)

Ed Sheeran: X (2014, Atlantic): One of the bestselling albums of 2014 -- platinum in the US (21st on Billboard's year-end Top 200), 6X platinum in the artist's native UK (1st on Official Charts' Top 40), 9X in Ireland, 2X in Canada, 4X in Australia -- and got scant support from critics (123rd in my Aggregate count, 67 Metacritic, 0 P&J votes). As songster he sometimes reminds me of Paul Simon (not praise coming from me but perhaps a measure of respect), but having been born fifty years later, he grew up with an understanding of hip-hop which is as inorganic but invigorating as Simon's grasp of mbaqanga, and that adds up to a pretty listenable album, with a couple singles I wouldn't mind hearing rather frequently ("Sing" is one I jotted down). B+(**)

Matthew Shipp Trio: Root of Things (2014, Relative Pitch): Piano trio, with Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums -- Shipp's regular partners on several albums now. Remains a distinctive pianist with one of the strongest left hands in the field, still for all the rumble and jive this never quite breaks out into something more. B+(***)

Judy Silvano with Michael Abene: My Dance (2014 [2015], JSL): Jazz singer, close to a dozen albums since 1991, backed by Abene on piano and that's it. Puts a lot of pressure on the singer to fill up all the space, and she responds by shoveling a ton of scat. B- [cd]

Sylvie Simmons: Sylvie (2014, Light in the Attic): Singer-songwriter, first album although she has a notable career as a writer, ranging from novels to rock crit (including biographies of Leonard Cohen and Serge Gainsbourg) -- originally from London, but mostly based in San Francisco. Weak voice, plays ukulele, songs feel frail but have some appeal. B+(*)

Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (2015, Sub Pop): Always seemed like a good band, just not one I ever wanted to listen to, my main complaint that the voices unnerved me like air raid sirens, but Tatum wrote me, swearing this is "so good, even you might really like it." And it's currently the top ranked 2015 record at Album of the Year (critic score 90/23 reviews; only one 2014 record topped that, Black Messiah at 93 but only 20 reviews) -- looks like they timed the reunion perfectly, especially on top of accolades for last year's big box. Still seem like a good band, and the vocals are much less irritating than in the past. But after two plays I've yet to find anything I feel like investing in. And I wouldn't be surprised if a backlash develops by EOY list time. B+(*)

Jim Snidero: Main Street (2014 [2015], Savant): Mainstream alto saxophonist, twenty albums since 1987's Mixed Bag, fabulous tone, speed, dexterity -- only thing he needs is a rhythm section that keeps him at the top of his game. Like this one: Fabian Almazan (piano), Linda Oh (bass), Rudy Royston (drums). "The Streets of Laredo" closes strong. A- [cd]

Harry Sokal Groove: Where Sparks Start to Fly (2013, Cracked Anegg): Austrian tenor saxophonist, long-time member of Vienna Art Orchestra, organizes his work around a half-dozen projects: this a organ trio with Raphael Wressing on the Hammond and Alex Deutsch on drums. Has some soul jazz affinities, but the main purpose of a groove is to lift off and soar (and honk a little). B+(***)

Harry Sokal/Heiri Känzig/Martin Valihora: Depart Refire (2013 [2014], Intakt): Sokal (tenor sax) and Känzig (bass) have recorded as Depart for some time, but picked up a new drummer here, so Sokal thinks of this as a new project, but looks to me like a new title. More varied pace, shows Sokal's range off nicely, bass solos too. B+(***)

Swamp Dogg: The White Man Made Me Do It (2014, SDEG): First new record in six years, offers a couple political songs that find racism persisting despite everything, and a couple of those '50s Coasters/Clovers covers he can knock out in the bathroom. B+(*)

Jamie T: Carry On the Grudge (2014, Virgin): British singer-songwriter, Jamie Treays, has an interesting mix of pop hooks, rap-influenced cadences, some raw power and slow muscle. Second play got a lot meatier: "Peter" sounds like the Clash without principles, and "Zombie" better than that. B+(**)

Aki Takase/Ayumi Paul: Hotel Zauberberg (2014 [2015], Intakt): Piano-violin duo, two Japanese-Germans, the pianist in her 60s, well established on the avant-garde and the principal composer here, drawing on Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg) for inspiration; the violinist several decades younger, more classical, sneaking in covers from Bach and Mozart. B+(***) [cd]

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra: Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything (2014, Constellation): Montreal group, dates back to 1999 but released first album as A Silver Mt. Zion, and the name went through several permutations before settling here in 2010. The synth washes give it a churchly aspect, and I'm not paying enough attention to tell whether that might grow wearing, but it makes for moderately intriguing background. B

Vance Thompson's Five Plus Six: Such Sweet Thunder (2014 [2015], Shade Street): Big band, almost: three trumpets (including the leader) and two trombones ("Five") plus three reeds and piano-bass-drums ("Six"). B+(**) [cd]

Paul Thorn: Too Blessed to Be Stressed (2014, Perpetual Obscurity): Country-ish singer-songwriter, born in Wisconsin but raised in Tupelo, eighth album since 1997. Bemoans the political system in "Mediocrity Is King" ("Republicans and Democrats are breaking my heart/I can't tell the sons of bitches apart"), but then later on he discloses that "old stray dogs and Jesus are all the friends I got." He's blessed in his ignorance, and luckier than some. B+(**)

Meghan Trainor: Title (2015, Epic): Singer-songwriter, self-released three acoustic albums in her teens but having just turned 21 turned pop singer, with two hit singles last year ("All About the Bass," "Lips Keep Movin'") and her chart-topping albums has at least two more songs that catchy ("Dear Future Husband" and "Title"). B+(***)

Gebhard Ullmann Basement Research: Hat and Shoes (2013 [2015], Between the Lines): Prolific avant saxophonist (tenor, bass clarinet), group name goes back to his 1995 album and passes through his 2007 New Basement Research, a fair description of a band rooted in the lower frequencies. Quintet: Julian Argüelles (baritone sax), Steve Swell (trombone), Pascal Niggenkemper (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums). B+(***) [cd]

Mark Wade Trio: Event Horizon (2014 [2015], self-released): Bassist-led piano trio, with Tim Harrison on piano and Scott Neumann on drums. Helps that the bass gets a little edge in the mix. B+(**) [cd]

Joanna Wallfisch with Dan Tepfer: The Origin of Adjustable Things (2014 [2015], Sunnyside): British singer-songwriter (wrote 8 of 12 songs here, covering Tim Buckley, Radiohead, "Wild Is the Wind," "Never Let Me Go"), first album (I think), backed by Tepfer on piano for an intimate feel. B+(*) [cd]

Chuck E. Weiss: Red Beans & Weiss (2014, Anti): "Roots rocker" on a label into that sort of thing, although I'm not sure that his infrequent albums since 1981 so qualify -- most likely the common thread is comedy, as in "Tupelo Joe ain't no schmo." B+(*)

Wolff & Clark: Expedition 2 (2014 [2015], Random Act): Pianist Michael Wolff and drummer Mike Clark, with either Christian McBride or Daryl Johns on bass, five (of 12) cuts with Hailey Niswanger on sax, two of those with Wallace Roney on trumpet. Wolff has about 15 albums since 1993, and wrote four songs here (one co-credited to Clark), one called "Mulgrew." "Sunshine of Your Love" and "1999" are novel adds to the standards songbook, mostly on the jazz side here -- Gillespie, Heath, Coleman, two Monks, all delightful. B+(***) [cdr]

Nate Wooley/Dave Rempis/Pascal Niggenkemper/Chris Corsano: From Wolves to Whales (2014 [2015], Aerophonic): Trumpet player Wooley shows up in a lot of avant groups and never seems to make much difference one way or the other. Nearly everything that sticks with you here comes out of Rempis' sax, and that's rather spread out. B+(**)

XY Quartet: XY (2013 [2014], Nusica): Italian group, sometimes you see it billed as "Fazzini Fedrigo XY Quartet," suggesting that Nicola Fazzini (alto sax) and Alessandro Fedrigo (acoustic bass guitar) are leaders, with Saverio Tasca (vibes) and Luca Colussi (drums) something less. However, it's their percussion which keeps this group on edge, even while the sax is what captivates. A-

Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

The Falcons: The Definitive Falcons Collection: The Complete Recordings (1956-63 [2014], History of Soul, 4CD): At least for someone of my generation, there's something deeply satisfying in listening to black vocal groups from the 1950s into the 1970s -- the quality summed up in the mid-1960s as "soul," I suppose. Over recent years labels like Numero Group have been competing to find little known regional soul groups, usually with middling results, but this Detroit group I had never heard of -- billed on the cover as "the world's first soul group" -- holds up remarkably well, way beyond their one chart single ("You're So Fine," #17 in 1959) or the brief (1960-63) tenure of their most famous member: Wilson Pickett. Not all great, of course, and the sound quality leaves something to be desired. Hat tip to Milo Miles for recommending this. A- [cd]

Red Garland Trio: Swingin' on the Korner (1977 [2015], Elemental Music, 2CD): A bebop pianist, recorded tons 1955-58 when he was the center of Miles Davis' first great Quintet, leader of his own Trio, and especially on the side with the Quintet's saxophonist, one John Coltrane. He was so famous that when Art Pepper cut a record with them, it was simply titled Meets the Rhythm Section. Like most jazz musicians of his generation, Garland's discography tapers off after 1962, although he picked up a bit in 1977 recording for Pepper's label, Galaxy, then died in 1984. Still, I wouldn't have picked him as someone we need to unearth more music by, but while I wouldn't say these live trio sets reveal anything new, it's hard to exaggerate how delightful they are. With Philly Joe Jones from his early trio, and Leroy Vinnegar on bass (not Paul Chambers, but not a step down either). A- [cd]

The Jazz Couriers [Tubby Hayes/Ronnie Scott]: England's Greatest Combo . . . The Message From Britain (1958-59 [2014], Fresh Sound): Two LPs on one CD, the first originally attributed to Scott over Hayes and titled England's Greatest Combo: The Couriers of Jazz, the latter credited to "The Jazz Couriers featuring Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott." The leaders were Britain's premier bebop saxophonists -- aside from Hayes moving over to vibes a couple cuts on each LP -- and that's where they shine. B+(**)

Muwei Power: Sierra Leone in 1970s USA (1975-76 [2014], Soundway): Formed c. 1970, split up by 1979, the group's only recordings occurred on this US tour. Multi-voiced, a bit of highlife guitar and horns, lots of percussion. LP-length: 5 cuts, 30:46. B+(***)

Bud Powell: Birdland 1953 (1953 [2014], ESP-Disk, 3CD): Live club tapes from a dozen 1953 sets scattered from February 7 to September 26 of 1953, mostly trios with various bassists (Oscar Pettiford, Franklin Skeetes, Charles Mingus, George Duvivier, Curley Russell) and drummers (Roy Haynes, Sonny Payne, Art Taylor), two cuts with Dizzy Gillespie, three with Charlie Parker (two of those add Candido). Not sure how many times this material has been reissued: 1993's Burning in U.S.A. 53-55 (Mythic Sound) has much of it, as does 2004's Birdland 1953: The Complete Trio Recordings (Fresh Sound's 2CD comes up about 33 minutes short of this set). The time frame spans the highly regarded Jazz at Massey Hall sets -- the middle sets are pretty comparable (I'm actually more impressed with Parker here). Strikes me as rather redundant to Powell's studio work. B+(***)

Old Music

Cornershop: Hold On It Hurts (1993, Merge): First album, twenty-some years ago, two years before I noticed them on Woman's Gotta Have It,, four years before they released one of the very best records of the 1990s (When I Was Born for the Seventh Time). Turns out their pop emerged from a punk cocoon. Retrospectively you can hear them, and half the time their attitude sounds like a viable alternate path. B+(***)

Natty Dominique: Natty Dominique's Creole Jazz Band (1953 [1994], American Music): Trumpet player from New Orleans, moved to Chicago in 1913, played regularly in Johnny Dodds' band. These seem to be the only recordings under his name, a septet with Baby Dodds on drums. A couple interview segments mixed in with the trad pieces. B+(**)

Bunk Johnson: In San Francisco (1943-44 [1994], American Music): Regarded as one of New Orleans' top trumpet players way back in 1905-15, Johnson was rediscovered around 1939, fitted with a new set of dentures and finally recorded from 1942 up to his death in 1949. Fittingly convened in a museum, the announcer talks about "original jazz" (and "real jazz" and "true negro jazz") as if it were long-buried treasure. That half-hour is as much a showcase for pianist Bertha Gonsoulin, but Johnson shines after that. B+(*)

Bunk Johnson: 1944 (1944 [1991], American Music): Old-time New Orleans jazzmen including George Lewis (clarinet) and Baby Dodds (drums), a septet, bring on the old-time polyphony around the old-time trumpet legend: familiar songs, done with such natural élan they feel less revived than timeless. A-

Bunk Johnson: 1944 Second Masters (1944 [1992], American Music): Outtakes from the same sessions on 1944, with eight songs repeated, plus six new titles -- five with "Blues" in the title ("Clarinet Marmalade" is the other). So you might deem this redundant, but if it was, say, the second in a two-disc set, it wouldn't detract at all from the first -- if anything, the blues have more meat than the displaced rags. One thing is that this lacks the frenzy of so much trad jazz -- sounds easy and natural. B+(***)

Bunk Johnson: 1944/45 (1944-45 [1994], American Music): Several more sessions with the New Orleans trumpeter's sextet, the instrumentals roughly on par with Johnson's more famous 1944 recordings, the vocals a bit more scattershot. B+(***)

Bunk Johnson: Bunk's Brass Band and Dance Band 1945 (1945 [1992], American Music): Cover reads "Bunk's Brass Band & 1945 Sessions" but all discographic sources I've seen give the title as I did. Penguin Guide singles this one out for its "Core Collection" -- I see little reason to prefer this over 1944, but the series is very consistent. A-

The George Lewis Band: With Elmer Talbert 1949/1950 (1949-50 [2007], American Music): The clarinetist more or less took over Bunk Johnson's mid-1940s band, rotating several New Orleans trumpet players, including Talbert (who died in 1950). Mixed bag, some pieces sounding very old, others more sprightly (especially when the clarinet pierces the sky). Several vocals, probably Talbert. B+(**)

Herb Morand: 1949 (1949 [1994], American Music): Another New Orleans trumpet player (1905-52), best known as a member of Harlem Hamfats (their 1936-1938 compilation on EPM Blue is worth seeking out). One of the few sessions under his own name, he sings some, has Albert Burbank on clarinet, Andrew Morgan on tenor sax, Louis Nelson on trombone, Johnny St. Cyr on guitar, and the usual rhythm section. Rhapsody files this under George Lewis, but it's one of the few trad jazz records of the period Lewis didn't play on. B+(***)

Wooden Joe Nicholas: Wooden Joe Nicholas (1945-49 [1992], American Music): Early New Orleans trumpet player, b. 1883, was well into his 60s when the Dixieland revival finally got him recorded. B+(**)

Kid Ory: '44-'46 (1944-46 [1994], American Music): New Orleans' first great trombone player, b. 1886, led bands early on, moved to Los Angeles in 1919, recording in 1921, then to Chicago in 1925, joining Louis Armstrong for the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens. Various groups here, with the cover noting Mutt Carey, Albert Nicholas, Barney Bigard, and Leadbelly (two singalongs at the end). B+(***)

Ed Sheeran: + (2011, Atlantic): Brit singer-songwriter, mild-mannered, soft-edged, easy on the ears, nothing I expect to remember tomorrow but nothing I mind right now. B

Swamp Dogg: Cuffed, Collared & Tagged (1972 [2013], Fat Possum): Jerry Williams, one-time Atlantic producer, went his own way for one of the most erratic, idiosyncratic careers in soul music. One of his few albums with covers -- without credits the ones I'm sure of are "Sam Stone" and "Lady Madonna" (choices as strange as you might imagine, and while he doesn't own either, he sure leaves his mark on them). B+(*)

Swamp Dogg: Gag a Maggot (1973 [2008], SDEG): Jerry Williams' fourth album, not as cosmic as Total Destruction to Your Mind (1970) but he's worked out his soul formula -- his cover of "Midnight Hour" is as protean as the hit -- and he's figured out some angles around the marital bind: when not "Choking to Death" he's into being a "Wife Sitter." And if "Mighty Mighty Dollar Bill" wasn't cosmic, at least it was prescient. A-

Swamp Dogg: ??? Greatest Hits ??? (1976, Stone Dogg): Aside from remaking a 1973 single ("Buzzard Luck" and "Ebony and Jet"), everything here was new -- it's not like he actually had any hits to displace. Still, not everything is new to me: three cuts show up in his 1982 The Best of Swamp Dogg, one of those plus two more in his 1996 Best of 25 Years, and "I've Never Been to Africa" should have. B+(***)

Swamp Dogg: The Best of Swamp Dogg: 13 Prime Weiners, Everything on It (1970-76 [1982], War Bride): Best-of originally came out in 1982, leans excessively on his two best albums (Totaly Destruction to Your Mind and Gag a Maggot), with filler from the 1976 pseudo-Greatest Hits album, so I prefer the longer, deeper, farther ranging 1995 CD, Best of 25 Years: F*** the Bomb, Stop the Drugs (which, by the way, shuts out the A+ debut, with only two repeats from here). A-

Swamp Dogg: I'm Not Selling Out/I'm Buying In (1981, Takoma): Nothing terribly wrong here (unless you want to nitpick lyrics, always possible with Williams) but the songs go by easy without much of anything sticking out, which isn't what got your attention before. Well, maybe the one about apocalypse in California. B+(*)

Swamp Dogg: I Called for a Rope and They Threw Me a Rock (1989, SDEG): His heartbreak song is called "Myocardial Infarction," maybe what he gets for starting off with "I'd Lie to You for Your Love." Actually, of two minds on just about everything, deciding "We Need a Revolution" but settling for "Let the Good Times Roll." B+(***)

Revised Grades

Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:

Cornershop: Woman's Gotta Have It (1995, Warner Brothers): More prophetic than I realized at the time, but still nearly as gnarly as their debut album. [was: B+] B+(***)


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