Rhapsody Streamnotes: April 14, 2015

Four days shy of a month this time. About the same length as last time, but took a few more days to compile. A few of the records under "New Releases" are more than five years old: things I received as promos and sat on until some recent housecleaning. Needless to say, nothing there I really missed out on. The "old music" remains opportunistic: e.g., the guy in the Paranoid Style used to be in the Mendoza Line, so I thought I'd sample one of their better regarded albums; Chris Farlowe was the only one of Van Morrison's duetists who impressed me, so I thought I'd check out something more; I recalled Tim Berne's pre-Snake Oil groups more fondly (especially Marc Ducret and Tom Rainey), so scrounged up a previously unheard Big Satan -- unfortunately, no better than the new one; Milford Graves, Woody Herman, and Eddie Higgins (and maybe some more) just popped up on browse lists.

Percy Sledge died today. He only had one real hit, but he fills out a single-disc best-of remarkably well. Robert Christgau recommended Rhino's 1998 The Very Best of Percy Sledge. I'm satisfied with Atlantic's 1998 compilation, The Ultimate Collection (graded A long ago).

Another notable who just died is Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano (NYT obit). You may recall that Hugo Chßvez, when he met Barack Obama in 2009, gave the president a copy of Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America. For a small taste of Galeano, see these ten quotes. For instance, this one captures the basic ethic behind this column: "One writes out of a need to communicate and to commune with others, to denounce that which gives pain and to share that which gives happiness."


These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on March 18. Past reviews and more information are available here (6272 records).


Recent Releases

Action Bronson: Mr. Wonderful (2014 [2015], Atlantic/Vice): Former chef Arian Arslani gets his major labor debut after several strong mixtapes, runs through his pieces at a fever pitch. Can't say as I caught much, or approve of what I did catch, but he makes enough of a joke of it the ride doesn't quite make you queasy. B+(***)

Albare: Only Human (2014 [2015], Alfi): Guitarist, born in Morocco, grew up in Israel and France, wound up in Melbourne down under. Album cover offers 24 snapshots of people all over the world, and the groove, even the rap that ends the title cut, aims to be universally embraced. B+(**) [cd]

Gabriel Amargant Quintet: And Now for Something Completely Different (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): Tenor saxophonist, second album, recorded in Girona, in the far northeast corner of Spain, backed with piano, guitar, bass, and drums, with all pieces by the leader. I can't say the title is completely true, but I'm hard pressed to remember the last time a tenor saxophonist took the stage with such fluid mastery -- Tommy Smith, maybe. A-

Oren Ambarchi: Quixotism (2014, Editions Mego): Prolific avant-garde experimentalist -- AMG lists 5 albums for 2014, only 3 in 2013 but 9 in 2012 and I wouldn't be surprised if they've missed some collaborations -- initially playing drums but has moved on to guitar and synths. One of the more attractive ambient albums I've heard recently, just interesting drumming with clouds of synth. Docked a bit for long quiet patches (although it's often hard to get the volume right on the computer). B+(**)

Christian Artmann: Fields of Pannonia (2014 [2015], self-released): Flute player, leads a quarter with piano-bass-drums. Not my favorite horn, but the alto flute adds some depth, and the stealthy impressionism is pleasantly attractive. B+(*) [cd]

Joey Bada$$: B4.DA.$$ (2015, Cinematic Music Group): Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott, I suppose that's a name a rapper would have to change, but the dollar signs just push "Bad-Ass" to an even higher level of crassness. Actually, his first studio album is far from crass, with its sharper-than-underground sound, a couple nods to his Caribbean ancestors, even a dance anthem ("Teach Me," one of two bonus tracks). B+(***)

Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015, Mom + Pop Music): Australian singer-songwriter, got some attention last year when she combined two EPs into a debut calling card, but initially struck me as a folkie troubadour, a wordy one at that. This has a wordy title too, but the first thing you notice is the guitar. A-

Antoine Berjeaut: Wasteland (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): The French trumpet player's music is appropriately dreary with occasional sparks, including tenor sax on four cuts. What gives it all narrative force is Mike Ladd's spoken words, but a bit on the melodramatic side. B+(*)

Tim Berne's Snakeoil: You've Been Watching Me (2014 [2015], ECM): Alto saxophonist, third group album all for ECM, with Oscar Noriega on clarinet/bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano, Ches Smith on drums, and newcomer Ryan Ferreira on guitar. The two horns remind me of Berne's apprenticeship with Julius Hemphill, but like some of Hemphill's work, this can get stiff and awkward, not that the group isn't capable of powering through any obstacles they run into. B+(***) [dl]

Andrew Bishop: De Profundis (2015, Envoi): Saxophonist, teaches at University of Michigan, third album, a trio with Tim Flood on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. His credits as listed here: flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano and tenor sax -- although I hear more of the latter. All original pieces, six "reimagined" from "De Profundis" by Josquin Des Prez (c. 1440-1521) -- transposed into free jazz. B+(***) [cd]

Bossa Brasil and MaurÝcio de Souza Group: Here. There . . . (2010, Pulsa Music): Organized half under each group, the credits are more ambiguous with drummer de Souza and bassist Morrie Louden on all tracks, the others on scattered tracks on both sides -- only difference I see is that Bossa Brasil jazz up Brazilian tunes whereas the latter takes jazz pieces (Joe Henderson, Cedar Walton, Chick Corea, "I Can't Get Started") and gives them a Brazilian twist. B+(*) [cd]

Jakob Bro Trio: Gefion (2013 [2015], ECM): Guitarist from Denmark, has a number of previous albums on a small label so this is something of a coming out. Trio, with Thomas Morgan on bass and Jon Christensen on drums. B+(**) [dl]

Dewa Budjana: Hasta Karma (2014 [2015], Moonjune): Guitarist from Surabaya in Indonesia, mostly worked in a pop/rock band called Gigi while developing a more jazz-oriented solo career. This comes off as fusion with some eastern spiritual airs, although the band is certifiably postbop -- Joe Locke on vibes, Ben Williams on bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums. B+(*) [cd]

Will Butler: Policy (2015, Merge): Arcade Fire bassist, apparently a secondary figure behind brother Win Butler, tosses out his own album, distinguished by upbeat rockers that put most alt/indie outfits to shame. B+(**)

Chastity Belt: Time to Go Home (2015, Hardly Art): Punk girl band from Walla Walla, Washington; second album, conscious but rather contained, as if pressurizing for an explosion that never comes. B+(*)

The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra: The Symphonic Celtic Album (2011, Silva Screen): The songs are not just Celtic, or even vaguely Celtic: nearly all come from soundtracks -- Miller's Crossing, Lord of the Rings, Barry Lyndon, Braveheart, Titanic, Rob Roy, Highlander, Gladiator, Riverdance (oddly, best thing here), and a half-dozen more of that ilk. The Czechs try to take this shit seriously. C- [cd]

Clem Snide: Girls Come First (2015, Zaphwee): Eef Barzelay's alt/indie band, originally from Boston but now transplanted to Nashville where they feature both lap and pedal steel guitars. But for all the band members listed, this feels small and intimate, the work of a lonely, claustrophobic voice -- at least until "Like Lightning Flashes," loose with glimmering steel. B+(**)

The Close Readers: The Lines Are Open (2014, Austin): A New Zealand novelist, Damien Wilkins, doesn't worry about coming up with a distinctive sound when leaning on the Go-Betweens and the Chills works so well. A-

Tom Collier: Alone in the Studio (2014 [2015], Origin): born 1950 in Washington, moved to Los Angeles in 1974, back to teach at University of Washington in 1980. Cut a record in 1991 and several more since 2004. Credits here: vibraphone, marimba, piano, drums, bass synthesizer. Four originals, three at the end. Listenable, but hard to see the point. B

Bruce Cox Core-Tet: Status Cymbals (2012, self-released): Minimal jacket, explains why this literally fell into a crack. Drummer, second album after debut in 1997, about 40 side credits going back to 1992 (Fred Wesley). Mostly Cox originals, four covers (Monk, Shorter, Benny Goldson?), sax quartet: Abraham Burton carries the day. B+(*) [cd]

Stephan Crump/Mary Halvorson: Secret Keeper (2013 [2015], Intakt): Bass-guitar duo, second album together. Crump has a real knack for using guitar to extend his range, but Halvorson may not be the right guitarist to do this with -- not so much that she runs away with the bait as that she doesn't. B+(**) [cdr]

Isaac Darche: Team & Variations (2014 [2015], Challenge): Guitarist, based in Brooklyn, originally from California. Second album, quintet with Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on tenor sax, Glenn Zaleski on piano, Desmond White on drums, and EJ Strickland on drums. Smart postbop, moves along nicely B+(**) [cd]

Ernest Dawkins: Live the Spirit Residency Big Band: Memory in the Center: An Afro Opera: Homage to Nelson Mandela (2014 [2015], Dawk): Chicago saxophonist contents himself to be composer, conductor, arranger and producer here, having lined up four other saxophonists to carry the load, plus three trumpets, two trombones, piano-bass-drums, poet Khari B, and singer Dee Alexander. I might normally complain about the vocals (which can get operatic), but the political rant is inspired, and the muscular exuberance of the band sweeps you away. And when they work in a little township jive, so much the better. A- [cd]

Andrew DiRuzza Quintet: Shapes and Analogies (2015, self-released): Guitarist, first album, quintet with Robert Espe on tenor sax, Michael Jarvey on keyboards, plus bass and drums. B+(**) [cd]

Fabiano do Nascimento: Danša Dos Tempos (2015, Now-Again): Debut from Brazilian guitarist, based in Los Angeles, backed by Airto Moreira on percussion and Ricardo Pasillas on drums, with occasional vocals from Nascimento and Kana Shimanuki. This never settles into pleasantries, even at its most intimate. A-

Lila Downs: Balas y Chocolate (2015, RCA): Born in Oaxaca, Mexico; father American, mother Mixteca; grew up in California, chased the Grateful Dead, hooked up with a jazz pianist, wound up back in Mexico. Heavy norte˝o vibe, sometimes seems like she's pulling off something new, but the ballads come off as corny. B+(*)

Drake: If You're Reading This It's Too Late (2015, Cash Money/Motown): Rapper from Canada, not too long ago the next big thing but after a couple dud albums this one dropped with nary a splash -- one excuse I see is that this was planned as a mixtape but with all the griping about money they (label? artist?) decided at the last minute to cash in. Typical lyric: "I'm turning into a nigger that thinks about money and women 24/7." Actually, that's about all he has to say about women. Or thinking. B

DRKWAV: The Purge (2015, Royal Potato Family): A jazz organ trio transposed into a realm of high-power electronica, fast and furious: Skerik on sax, John Medeski on keyboards, and Adam Deitch on drums. B+(***)

Eliane Elias: Made in Brazil (2015, Concord): Jazz pianist from Brazil, has more than two dozen albums since 1986, most with little to do with Brazilian music. Her early Plays Jobim was disappointing, but she started singing on 1998's Sings Jobim and I doubt that anyone has done it better. This she actually recorded in Brazil with a local band (plus her husband, bassist Marc Johnson) and more singers than she needs. B+(*)

Charles Evans: On Beauty (2014 [2015], More Is More): Baritone saxophonist, made something of a splash when his debut was a solo album titled The King of All Instruments. This treatise on beauty is distinguished by its ugliness, even if that isn't the impression he wants to leave. Dave Liebman, playing soprano sax, is the main malefactor. With Ron Stabinsky on piano and Tony Marino on bass. B [cd]

John Fedchock Quartet: Live: Fluidity (2013 [2015], Summit): Trombonist, best known for his New York Big Band recordings, backed by piano-bass-drums here, makes a good case for trombone as a lead instrument. B+(***) [cd]

Joe Fiedler Trio: I'm In (2015, Multiphonics Music): Third good trombone record this week (after Steve Turre and John Fedchock), and easily the best. Rob Jost's bass rises above rhythm and harmony for contrasting solos, Michael Sarin hits the right spots on drums, and Fiedler runs rings around the competition. A- [cd]

Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up: After All Is Said (2014 [2015], 482 Music): Drummer, has two previous albums with this group -- Brian Settles (tenor sax), Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Mary Halvorson (guitar), various bassists (Michael Formanek here) -- duos with Taylor Ho Bynum, a group called Thumbscrew (with Halvorson and Formanek), side credits with Anthony Braxton. The horns skew various ways, but focus on the prickly interplay between guitar and drums, a sketchy rhythm always in turmoil. A-

The Go! Team: The Scene Between (2015, Memphis Industries): British pop-rock group: they sounded very young on their refreshingly bright 2004 debut; less so on this their fourth album, but they keep it bright with lots of electricity and a group fervor which unfortunately makes it harder to follow. B

Colleen Green: I Want to Grow Up (2015, Hardly Art): Singer-songwriter coos over drum machines, or at least that was her original sound -- something to emulate for the live drummers she can now afford, but that compromises her lo-fi sympathy. If only the songs rose to the challenge. But she's trying. B

Marty Grosz Meets the Fat Babies: Diga Diga Doo (2013-14 [2015], Delmark): The Fat Babies are a Chicago trad jazz outfit with a couple fine albums if you can't get enough of that old timey sound. Grosz, the son of the famous Weimar caricaturist, fled the Nazis in the early 1930s and grew up on the first trad jazz revival, learning guitar and banjo. He keeps the group loose, and I won't complain that he talks too much toward the end, or that he sings a couple. One of the two sessions adds Jim Dapogny, another legend, on piano. A- [cd]

Susie Hansen: Representante de la Salsa (2010, Jazz Caliente): Violinist-singer, third album, with George Balmaseda and Kaspar Abbo also taking lead vocals. Salsas, some mambo and cha cha, runs hot, aimed at the feet. B

Heems: Eat Pray Thug (2015, Megaforce): Himanshu Suri, born and raised in Flushing, Queens, New York -- all-American, as shocked as any of us by 9/11, yet when the kneejerk reaction set in he's out buying American flags not because his knee is jerking but as camouflage, for his name and less-assimilated Punjabi family. That story appears often enough here to amount to a theme, at one point breaking out in a chant of "USA" that I could do without. "Suicide by cop" is another line repeated too often. At points the rawness becomes unpleasant. On the other hand, it's all remarkably different and humane. A- [cd]

Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Ruffian's Misfortune (2015, Bordello): Long past his Cowboy Twinkies days, also retirement age, his songwriting has sharpened -- in one song he concludes he'd be "better off with the blues" than with a certain woman -- and the music has gotten tougher and harder. Cuts out the flab too, doing ten songs in 33:40. A-

Vijay Iyer Trio: Break Stuff (2014 [2015], ECM): Piano trio, with Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums -- third album with this trio, after Historicity (2009) and Accelerando (2012), both A- in my book although my reaction to piano trios is so gut-level I can't begin to tell you why. What I can say is that while typically masterful this doesn't break much -- not even the covers of Monk, Strayhorn, and Coltrane. B+(***) [dl]

Tobias Jesso, Jr.: Goon (2015, True Panther Sounds): Young Canadian singer-songwriter, plays piano, reminded me of Billy Joel at first then I realized John Lennon c. Imagine was a closer match, not that Jesso is in that league. Still refreshing to hear. B+(**)

Steve Johns: Family (2014 [2015], Strikezone): Drummer, considers his "recording debut as a leader" but shares a 2002 album with his name ahead of saxophonist Peter Brainin, and has several dozen side-credits at least back to 1987 -- Thomas Chapin and Mario Pavone are names that jump out at me. His family here includes saxophonist-wife Debbie Keefe Johns and bassist-son Daryl Johns, and they're joined by guest guitarists Bob DeVos and Dave Stryker. B+(**) [cd]

The Kandinsky Effect: Somnambulist (2014 [2015], Cuneiform): Sax-bass-drums trio from France, third album, closer to post-rock with its thick slab sound than to avant -- both saxophonist Warren Walker and bassist GaŰl Petrina are also credited with "effects." A- [dl]

Kaze: Uminari (2014 [2015], Circum-Libra): Two trumpets (Christian Pruvost and Natsuki Tamura), piano (Satoko Fujii), and drums (Peter Orins) -- third album under this group name, one of many groups Tamura and Fujii have conjured up. Shock out of the gate, turning into exceptionally invigorating avant-jazz, but later one runs into stretches where not much seems to be happening, though if you dig deeper (or just stay patient) it will. B+(***) [cd]

Robert Kennedy Trio: Big Shoes (2014 [2015], self-released): Organ trio, debut release, Kennedy on the Hammond, Mason Razavi on guitar, Cody Rhodes on drums. B+(*) [cd]

Oded Lev-Ari: Threading (2014 [2015], Anzic): Pianist, from Israel, graduated from New England Conservatory, studying under Bob Brookmeyer. Shows several looks here, including two vocal songs (Alan Hampton, Jo Lawry), often indulging in lush strings, or making space for Anat Cohen's luscious clarinet. B+(**) [cd]

Earl MacDonald: Re: Visions (2008 [2010], Death Defying): Pianist, composed most of this and arranged the rest (subtitle: "Works for Jazz Orchestra"), using a standard big band (5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, guitar-piano-bass-drums), about half familiar names. B+(**) [cd]

Ethan Mann With Chip Crawford & Greg Bandy: It's All About a Groove (2009 [2010], Petunia): Credits read guitar, keyboards, drums, but mostly sounds like organ, just perhaps a bit lighter. B- [cd]

Laura Marling: Short Movie (2015, Ribbon Music): Brit singer-songwriter, fifth album, has a folkie rep for framing her songs with guitar, but so did Dylan, or Ani DiFranco. I'm reluctant to put her at that level, but every album has something substantial and this has more than a few things. A-

Chris Massey's "Nue Jazz Project": Vibrainium (2010, Chris Massey Music): Drummer, first album, leads a quintet with trumpet (Donald Malloy), alto/soprano sax (Benjamin Drazen), piano (Evgeny Lebedev), and bass (David Ostrem). Don't confuse with Nu Jazz: a Nue is a Japanese folklore creature with the head of a monkey, the body of a raccoon dog, the legs of a tiger, and a snake as a tail. Three pieces by the leader, three more by band members, covers from Joe Henderson and Chick Corea. Basically, high energy hard bop. B+(*) [cd]

The Mavericks: Mono (2015, Valory): Raul Malo's group flirted with country when they moved to Nashville two decades ago, but never really fit the mold, or broke it in any interesting ways. All but one Malo originals (five co-credits), throwbacks (or sly allusions) to early-'60s rock 'n' pop, some with Latin beats and/or sax, just nothing you'd think of as classic. The cover? Doug Sahm's "Nitty Gritty," but "(Waiting For) The World to End" would have fooled me. B+(**)

Makaya McCraven: In the Moment (2014 [2015], International Anthem): Chicago drummer, recorded 28 improv shows, 48 hours, and mixed that down to 19 short pieces here, what he calls "organic beat music." The cast must shuffle in and out, with guitar (Jeff Parker) and vibes most common, and a bit of Marquis Hill trumpet the high point. B+(***) [bc]

Nellie McKay: My Weekly Reader (2015, 429 Records): After her fine tribute to Doris Day, McKay moves into the 1960s, mostly Brit Invasion pop including the Kinks and Beatles, Herman's Hermits and Small Faces, "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" and "Red Rubber Ball," along with a few American tunes in that vein. B+(*)

Levon Mikaelian: United Shades of Artistry (2014 [2015], self-released): Keyboardist-singer Mikaelian's name is nowhere obvious on the cover, but the hype sheet attributes the album to him, and the back cover lists him as composer, band leader, and producer, in a group which also includes guitar, bass, and drums/percussion. They build a tight little groove album, helped by guest slots for Gary Thomas on tenor sax (4 cuts) and Randy Brecker on trumpet (one). Just one vocal (more than enough). B [cd]

Jason Miles/Ingrid Jensen: Kind of New (2014 [2015], Whaling City Sound): Miles is a keyboard player with fifteen records since 1994, many tributes like Celebrating the Music of Weather Report and 2 Grover With Love, plus a side interest in Brazil (including an Ivan Lins tribute). Then there's his connection to Miles Davis: well before his mediocre 2005 tribute Miles to Miles, he actually played for Davis (on Tutu, very close to the end of the line. Here he returns to Davis' fusion vibe with a first-rate trumpet player on familiar-sounding original material (plus one Wayne Shorter tune). Does sound a bit like Davis but writ small, even with a dozen guest spots scattered about. B [cd]

Moonbound: Confession and Release (2005-07 [2008], Unsung): International prog-rock band, produced by Fabio Trentini who also plays and sings, with cohorts from Germany, Austria, and America. Not quite as awful as my reaction implies, but not worth sorting out why. C [cd]

Van Morrison: Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue (2015, RCA): Sixteen songs, a few I recognize but nothing that showed up on, say, his canonical 1990 The Best of Van Morrison (although two songs repeat from 2007's 37-song Still on Top: The Greatest Hits). I'd also say that except for Taj Mahal he hasn't really sought out the top tier of possible duetists -- the only one I think adds much is Chris Farlowe ("Born to Sing"). B+(*)

The Mountain Goats: Beats the Champ (2015, Merge): Looking back, comparing Robert Christgau's and my own grades for eight or so albums by John Darnielle's singer/songwriter vehicle, I see no real pattern: sometimes I'm up (The Sunset Tree, Heretic Pride), sometimes I'm down (All Eternals Deck, Transcendental Youth), and the splits seem arbitrary. So I can't tell you why I rate this one with the former two, above the latter two. Fact is I never follow lyrics closely enough to make fine distinctions. Also that Darnielle always sounds more coherent than whatever other singer/songwriters I'm listening to at the time. A-

Curtis Nowosad: Dialectics (2014 [2015], Cellar Live): Drummer, second album, basic hard bop quintet lineup, with Derrick Gardner the standout on trumpet, Jimmy Greene on tenor/soprano sax, Steve Kirby on acoustic bass, and Will Bonness on piano. Liner notes describe this as "straight-ahead jazz" then offer "neo-hard bop" as an alternative. Certainly has fresh drive and sparkle within a proven framework. B+(***) [cd]

Old Time Musketry: Drifter (2013 [2015], NCM East): Quartet: JP Schlegelmilch plays accordion and piano and writes most of the pieces, Adam Schneit plays tenor sax and clarinet and wrote two tunes, Phil Rowan is on bass and Max Goldman on drums/melodica. The accordion gives the melodies a thick, robust texture, a popular anchor no matter how everyone else twists and turns. A- [cd]

Panda Bear: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (2015, Domino): Noah Lennox, like his well known group Animal Collective, makes a kind of prog psychedelia that is cleverly off-kilter often enough, but it always runs the risk of turning annoying, and not infrequently does. Imagine Sgt. Pepper, without the songs, done by Frank Zappa, without the jokes, then tone everything but the reverb down a couple notches. I know: surprising you have anything left. B

The Paranoid Style: The Purposes of Music in General (2013, Bar/None, EP): Christgau recommends a cassette reissue (limited edition of 100) that adds four songs to this six song (23:42) EP -- title The Power of Our Proven System, the cover touting "A Decade of Excellence," "Includes Psychic Benefits!," "Now 33% More Paranoid!!" -- but this is the one I found. Timothy Bracy learned the indie craft in the Mendoza Line, and wife Elizabeth sings (probably more). A-

The Paranoid Style: Rock and Roll Just Can't Recall (2015, Worldwide Battle, EP): Better recorded but slimmer at 5 songs, 16:21, and I suspect slighter too. B+(***)

Sarah Partridge: I Never Thought I'd Be Here (2014 [2015], Origin): Singer-songwriter, jazz elements -- including Scott Robinson on tenor sax and flute -- but no standards here. Fifth album since 1998. B+(*) [cd]

Kim Pensyl: Foreign Love Affair (2014 [2015], Summit): Commonly identified as a pop-jazz/new age keyboardist/trumpeter, has at least 17 albums since 1988. This one is respectable enough it could pass for mainstream jazz, but whereas jazz is normally collaborative (and often conflicted), Pensyl plays everything here -- bass, guitars, trumpet, flugelhorn, melodica, drums, and lots of piano. B [cd]

Luis Perdomo & Controlling Ear Unit: Twenty-Two (2014-15 [2015], Hot Tone Music): Pianist, from Venezuela, based in New York, has a half-dozen albums. Trio, with Mimi Jones on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. B+(**) [cd]

Natalie Prass: Natalie Prass (2015, Spacebomb): First album, long on strings, sometimes just talked (or whispered) through, oddly effective (although "It Is You" sounds like it belongs in a Disney cartoon). B+(*)

Project Trio: Project Trio (2010, Project Trio): Flute-cello-bass trio (Greg Pattillo, Eric Stephenson, Peter Seymour). Two covers, one from Dave Brubeck ("Blue Rondo a la Turk"), the other Guns n' Roses ("Sweet Child o' Mine"). Helps that the flute is blown in sharp bursts, almost making up for the lack of a drummer. Also that the cello as well as the bass keeps this moving. B+(*)

Rae Sremmurd: Sremm Life (2015, Eardrum/Interscope): Atlanta-based rap duo, doubt they are teens but they play at it, the beats chugging along, the hormones flowing, still not quite as much fun as they promise. B+(***)

Raoul: The Spanish Donkey (2014 [2015], Rare Noise): Avant-jazz power trio, with Joe Morris on guitar, Jamie Saft on organ and keyboards, and Mike Pride on drums. Saft cuts a thick swath, and Morris is all muscle -- almost unsettlingly so. B [cdr]

Mark Rapp: Token Tales (2008 [2009], Paved Earth): Trumpet player, first album, although he's had several since, including The Strayhorn Project with Don Braden. Feints toward funk at first, but shows wider range. B+(*) [cdr]

Sachal: Slow Motion Miracles (2014 [2015], Okeh): Last name Vasandani, from Chicago, considered a jazz singer but isn't a standards guy, has three previous albums. Does have some vocal chops plus an easy-going lilt. Doesn't have any songs I care to hear again. B [cdr]

Phil Sargent: A New Day (2010, Sargent Jazz): Guitarist, second album, has a couple side credits. Backed with bass and drums, plus piano on a couple cuts, and accompanied by Aubrey Johnson's voice -- attractive in song but annoying as scat. The guitar trends toward fusion, sometimes impressive. B- [cd]

Lalo Schifrin: Invocations: Jazz Meets the Symphony #7 (2010 [2011], Aleph): Argentine pianist, worked with Dizzy Gillespie, hacked out a lot of soundtracks, wound up with this series of jazz tunes done by classical orchestra -- the ever-affordable Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Not without some stirring moments (notably "Groovin' High"), but still a sop to the old "high culture" snobbery. B [cd]

Alex Sipiagin: Balance 38-58 (2014 [2015], Criss Cross): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, moved from Russia to US in 1991, has 16 albums since 1998. Mainstream player with serious chops, band here is fashionably postbop with David Binney (alto/soprano sax), Adam Rogers (guitar), John Escreet (piano), Matt Brewer (bass, sometimes electric), and Eric Harland (drums). Guitar is exceptionally well integrated. Last song turns rockish. B+(***)

Bj°rn Solli: Aglow: The Lyng°r Project Vol. 1 (2013 [2015], Lyng°r): Norwegian guitarist, third album, came up with an impressive line-up for this: Seamus Blake (tenor sax), Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Aaron Parks (piano), Matt Clohesy (bass), Bill Stewart (drums). Lyng°r is a small island village about 50 miles southwest of Oslo, the site of an 1812 navel battle, now considered one of Europe's best preserved villages (at least in 1991 -- no cars has something to do with this). Blake takes charge early. B+(**) [cd]

Soulive: Rubber Soulive (2010, Royal Family): Organ trio, with Neal Evans on Hammond (and piano), Eric Krasno on guitar, and Alan Evans on drums. All Beatles songs (three Harrisons). I've said many times that the Beatles are unjazzable, but most of these tunes hold up relatively well to a layer of soul jazz funk. C+ [cdr]

Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (2015, Asthmatic Kitty): On some level an elegy for his late mother -- Lowell would be his step-father. The eleven songs are done simply, usually just his angelic folkie voice with minimal backing, not that you don't get glints of sparkle. B+(***)

Dave Stryker: Messin' With Mister T (2014 [2015], Strikezone): Mainstream guitarist, has about thirty albums since 1991 which may (or may not) include his long-running group with saxophonist Steve Slagle. This one's a tribute to Stanley Turrentine, with organ (Jared Gold), drums (McLenty Hunter), extra percussion on half the tracks, and a parade of ten saxophonists, led off by Houston Person and ending with Tivon Pennicott -- two generations of Mr. T devotees. Class of the field: Chris Potter. B+(***) [cd]

Earl Sweatshirt: I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside (2015, Columbia/Tan Cressida): Odd Future rapper, Thebe Kgositsile, born in Los Angeles, father a South African poet absent since six, mother a UCLA law professor. Short album, runs 29:56, beats dense and dull, as if the murk is its own reward. B+(*)

Jacky Terrasson: Take That (2014 [2015], Impulse): Pianist from Germany, has a couple dozen albums since 1994. Backed with bass, drums, extra percussion (Adama Diarra, from Mali), four originals, seven covers, some with vocal scat/beatbox (Sly Johnson). B+(**)

Times 4: Eclipse (2010, Groove Tonic Media): San Francisco quartet -- Greg Sankovich (keys), Kevin Lofton (bass), Lincoln Adler (sax), Maurice Miles (drums) -- third album, keep a sound groove going, sax has some bite to it. Better, I'd say, than the average Yellowjackets album, if that's your thing. B+(*) [cd]

TRP (The Reese Project): Eastern Standard Time (2008 [2009], In the Groove): Flute player Tom Reese, Laurie Reese on cello, Bobby Brewer on guitar, Aaron Walker on drums, and a guest percussionist -- the strings show more affection for bluegrass, and the drummer makes sure no one thinks chamber jazz. B

TRP (The Reese Project): Evening in Vermont (2011, Rhombus): Flute-player Tom Reese and cellist Laurie Reese replace guitar with piano -- yet another Reese, Kirk -- use a different drummer (Dave Young), and give a guest spot to Tish Brown (violin and viola). Several trad pieces, mostly upbeat, and an "All Wood" medley long on Norwegian. B- [cd]

Steve Turre: Spiritman (2014 [2015], Smoke Sessions): Major trombone player, close to twenty albums sinjce 1987 , this a quintet with Bruce Williams (alto/soprano sax), Xavier Davis (piano), Gerald Cannon (bass), and Willie Jones III (drums). Strong trombone leads, nice shadowing with the sax, basic blues have the most oomph, but bop and ballads work too. B+(**)

Unexpected: Munchies (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish piano trio, led by Sergi Sirvent EscuÚ (who wrote six of seven pieces), with Esteban Hernßndez on bass and Daniel Dominguez on drums. Sirvent has a very percussive style, ripping through these pieces. B+(***)

Unhinged Sextet: Clarity (2014 [2015], OA2): Debut group album, seems like I've run across several of these guys before: Will Campbell (alto sax), Mike Olson (tenor sax), Vern Sielert (trumpet), Michael Kocour (piano), Jon Hamar (bass), Dom Moio (drums), all but the drummer contributing compositions. Postbop, group dynamic emphasizes harmony, turns slick -- group name strikes me as a misnomer. B [cd]

Javier Vercher: Wish You Were Here (2014 [2015], Musikoz): Tenor saxophonist, from Spain, imposing over a first-rate rhythm section -- Lionel Loueke (guitar), Sam Yahel (piano), Larry Grenadier (bass), and Francisco Mela (drums). B+(***) [cd]

The Michael Waldrop Big Band: Time Within Itself (2014 [2015], Origin): Drummer, studied at UNT and Memphis; played in Bob Belden's quartet, did big band arrangements for Pat Metheny, taught in Colorado and Washington, not sure where he is now but this conventional big band (plus guitar and vocals on two tracks) was recorded in Dallas with no one I've heard of. B [cd]

Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp (2015, Wichita): Katie Crutchfield, from Alabama, third album under this name but there are earlier ones with her sister Alison as PS Eliot. The least generic style suggested by AMG is "Twee Pop" but this isn't really either. It doesn't come easy, with an off-color dirge up front and an even slower, but more touching, "Half Moon" toward the end. B+(**)

Leo Welch: I Don't Prefer No Blues (2015, Big Legal Mess): Delta bluesman, made his debut last year at 81 (Sabougla Voices) and he's evidently in a hurry now. Much grit in his voice, dirt in the guitar, and a hard-rocking band. Nothing Hound Dog Taylor hasn't already done, but it's been a while. B+(***)

Lenny White: Anomaly (2010, Abstract Logix): Drummer, played with Chick Corea in Return to Forever in the 1970s, moving on to cut his own fusion projects, close to 20 albums since 1975. Some names I recognize in the band -- Tom Guarna (guitar), George Colligan (keyboards), Victor Bailey (bass) -- but much of the fine print is illegible. The thick fusion stew isn't really unlistenable, but nothing I hear makes me want to. (Well, sax isn't bad, but not much of it, and vocals are worse.) C+ [cd]

Bradley Williams: Investigation (2014 [2015], 21st Century Entertainment, 2CD): Pianist, sings some, originally from Kansas, played in one of Woody Herman's herds. This seems to be his first album, one disc of swing-oriented instrumentals powered by a nine-piece band, a second with vocals -- Williams but mostly the ladies, Jennifer Graham and London McIlvane: "Solid Potato Salad," "Someone Else Is Steppin' In," "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," "Use Me," some Jobim and Veloso, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do." All but one of the instrumentals are Williams originals; the ringer, Duke Ellington. B+(***) [cd]

Cassandra Wilson: Coming Forth by Day (2015, Legacy): One of many albums themed to honor Billie Holiday's centennary, in this case from a singer who approaches Lady Day's stature without in any way imitating her sound. Mostly strings, perhaps inspired by the maudlin death-bed Lady in Satin, the songs creep along, each trapped in its own gloomy dungeon of sound. More effective than I would have expected. B+(**)

Mark Wingfield: Proof of Light (2014 [2015], Moonjune): British guitarist, has a dozen or so albums since 2001, some closer to classical, but most jazz, in this case reminding me of fusion, but more basic backed only with acoustic bass (Yaron Stavi) and drums (Asaf Sirkis). B [cd]

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

David Borden: Music for Amplified Keyboard Instruments (1981 [2015], Spectrum Spools): Minimalist composer and electronic music pioneer, best known for leading one of the 1970s' most accessible avant-electronics groups, Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company. This set came from beta testing Robert Moog's modular synths, and while the repeating rhythmic figures come from minimalism it doesn't feel skimpy or sketchy at all -- if anything, over the top. B+(***)

James Clay: The Kid From Dallas: Tenorman (1956-57 [2015], Fresh Sound): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Dallas but grew up in Los Angeles, was just 20 when his debut was recorded -- originally attributed to "The Lawrence Marable Quartet featuring James Clay," with Sonny Clark on piano, Jimmy Bond on bass, and Marable on drums. This adds six tracks, an earlier one with Bobby Timmons on piano, five later with Lorraine Geller, Red Mitchell, and (mostly) Billy Higgins. Straddles bebop, opening up on the blues. Younger than the more famous "Texas tenors" but he fits in. B+(***)

Dance Mania: Ghetto Madness (1989-98 [2015], Strut): Collects various dance singles from Chicago house label Dance Mania -- nothing famous, the repeating artists are Jammin Gerald, DJ Deeon, and DJ Funk. Nearly every track is built on a minimalist repeating beat and line no longer than titles like "Pump That Shit Up" or "Give Me Ecstasy." B+(**)

Highlife on the Move: Selected Nigerian & Ghanaian Recordings From London & Lagos 1954-66 (1954-66 [2015], Soundway, 2CD): Pre-juju, pre-Afrobeat (although there are two early Fela cuts), I'm tempted to say pre-highlife although that can't be true -- just early, coarsely developed, although the flow is seductive enough over the long haul. B+(***)

Humphrey Lyttelton: Humphrey Lyttelton in Canada (1983 [2015], Sackville/Delmark): Trumpet player, a major figure in Britain's trad jazz movement from the late 1940s. A much younger Jim Galloway (baritone and soprano sax) joins him up front (including on the cover), with Ed Bickert (guitar), Neil Swainson (bass), and Terry Clarke (drums). Not really Lyttelton's prime, but a very strong outing for Galloway, who (by the way) just died in 2014. B+(***)

LeAnn Rimes: All-Time Greatest Hits (1996-2007 [2015], Curb): Had a Patsy Cline-y hit, "Blue," as a 13-year-old, and has belted out ten albums since then, selling 37 million copies, but I doubt that she's ever recorded a better song. I thought her 2013 album Spitfire wasn't bad, but this stops with the chart hits in 2007. She's got a voice, but the arrangements are mostly dreck, and most of the songs don't even deserve better. C+

Old Music

Big Satan: I Think They Liked It Honey (1996 [1997], Winter & Winter): Free sax-guitar-drums trio -- Tim Berne (alto and baritone sax), Marc Ducret, and Tom Rainey -- the first of three albums under this group name (both had appeared in other Berne groups, together in Bloodcount). Quite remarkable when they break loose, but less commanding when they tangle up close. B+(***)

John Carter & Bobby Bradford Quartet: Flight for Four (1969, Flying Dutchman): The first recording of a legendary avant-jazz quartet -- I doubt they were the first to set the "piano-less" two-horn quartet lineup free, but it later became one of the staple configurations for the art. Carter went on to play more clarinet, but he gets a harder edge on alto and tenor sax, clashing more vibrantly with Bradford's trumpet. With Tom Williamson on bass and Buzz Freeman on drums. Reissued in 2014 by International Phonograph and in 2015 by BGP (Ace). A-

John Carter/Bobby Bradford: Self Determination Music (1970, Flying Dutchman): Presumably the same quartet as above, but only the leaders got their names on the packaging. Two cuts per side, 21-23 minutes, doesn't jump as high as the earlier album but makes up for that in intricacy. B+(***)

Chris Farlowe: The R&B Years [Charly R&B Masters Vol. 5] (1962-67 [1994], Charly): John Henry Deighton, sometimes recorded as Chris Farlowe & the Thunderbirds, one of the 1960s British R&B singers/groups who didn't make the Invasion. Hard to tell how early this is -- it includes some songs that appeared as singles in 1965-67 on Immediate, but omits his 1964 hit ("Out of Time") and is padded out with early covers. B

Milford Graves: Percussion Ensemble With Sunny Morgan (1965 [2003], ESP-Disk): Two drummers so the effect isn't far removed from a 33:56 drum solo -- more complex, with more tinkles for sure. Graves was 23 at the time, playing notably with New York Art Quartet, eventually destined to become something of a legend, albeit rarely recorded and little known. Morgan (more often Sonny), even more obscure, recorded into the mid-1970s. B+(*)

Woody Herman and His Thundering Herd: Keep on Keepin' On: 1968-1970 (1968-70 [1998], Chess/GRP): Stumbled onto this and figured why not? Herman's heyday was in the late 1940s with his "Four Brothers" band, but Woody's Winners in 1965 was a second peak. This isn't. In fact, the big band stomp through contemporary pop fare like "Aquarius," "I Say a Little Prayer," "My Cherie Amour," "Smiling Phases," and "Light My Fire" is at best camp. But the Herd is as hot as ever, and they never flag through 13:43 of "Blues in the Night." B+(*)

Eddie Higgins Quartet: My Funny Valentine (2004 [2006], Venus): A bebop pianist who cut his first album in 1958 and had added fifty more by his death in 2009. This is Higgins' third Quartet album "featuring Scott Hamilton" -- all standards, and the tenor saxophonist has rarely sounded more magnificent. With Jay Leonhart on bass and Joe Ascione on drums. A-

Louis Jordan: Five Guys Named Moe (1943-46 [1993], Charly): I picked this up for $1.99 more than a decade ago, and never bothered with it partly because it comes with no documentation, nor is much available on the web -- the dates above come from AMG, but their review reads like a different disk. But one song clearly labels itself as a WWII-era V-Disc ("You Can't Get That No More"). Actually, this has 12 of Jordan's 14 V-Disc titles, plus eight more tracks. Not bad, but pails against MCA's more canonical The Best of Louis Jordan [1975 as 2LP, but also on CD] and Five Guys Named Moe: Vol. 2 [1992], or Proper's 4-CD budget box, Jivin' With Jordan. B+(**) [cd]

Larry Levan Live at the Paradise Garage (1975-79 [2000], Strut/West End, 2CD): The hefty booklet of notes explains this was recorded live at Levan's Soho dance haven in 1979. It's a superb set of vintage disco 12-inchers, not the genre's greatest hits but not obscurities either. A- [cd]

The Mendoza Line: Lost in Revelry (2002, Absolutely Kosher): Named for the shortstop whose lame batting average came to define the lower bound of acceptability even for a brilliant fielder (nine years in the majors, 1337 AB, 4 HR, 101 RBI, .215 BA). Fourth album (earliest on Rhapsody), band is low key alt, like their mentor adept at digging out grounders but unable to rack up any hits. B+(*)

Tomasz Stanko: Bluish (1991 [1992], Power Bros.): Trumpet player, one of the few Polish jazz musicians to make a name in the West while still based in Communist Poland. Trio with two Norwegian stars: Arild Andersen on bass and Jon Christensen on drums. Not flashy, but draws out Stanko's lyricism. B+(***)

Randy Weston: Blues to Africa (1974, Arista/Freedom): American jazz pianist, one of the first to take a serious interest in Africa for his compositions, not that the influence is all that clear from the music. This is solo, the last cut ("Sahel") with a spoken word bit. B+(**)

Randy Weston/The Gnawa Master Musicians of Morocco: Spirit: The Power of Music (1999 [2003], Sunnyside): Recorded live in Brooklyn, Weston starts with solo jazz piano, adds bass and a couple Moroccan genbri, then the singers take over for three trad cuts, then everyone (including Talib Kibwe on flute and alto and Benny Powell on trombone). Not a synthesis but a party for sure. 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:


Duke Ellington: The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971 [1991], Fantasy/OJC): One of Ellington's last recordings, only released a year after his death in 1974, for some reason I graded this low and forgot about it -- until someone reminded me that Morton-Cook selected it for a crown in the first edition of Penguin Guide for Jazz, although they dropped the crown in the second edition and never restored it, despite being more/less continuously in print. The Far East Suite (1966) is one of my favorite records, and I now hear faint echoes of that -- though I had to turn it up to get there. True that the band is starting to fray around the edges -- or at the center since Johnny Hodges died. [was: B] A- [cd]

Notes:

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

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