Rhapsody Streamnotes: July 29, 2015

At 110 records, the shortest Steamnotes so far this year. Also the longest time between columns -- last one was June 13. The main reason is that I spent three weeks driving northwest and visiting relatives, and didn't bother listening to anything new. (I packed three cases with 200 tried-and-proven CDs for the trip, but mostly just listened to them in the car. I streamed a couple new albums, like Miguel's, but didn't write up anything on them.)

See last month's column for a description of the Spin 1985-2014 list project. Most of this month's "old music" came from mopping up albums I hadn't gotten to then. I'm up to about 90% of that list -- when the list came out I had heard 73%. I thought I might give up on the remainders, but as I've been writing this I've picked off a couple more albums from the list -- System of a Down's Toxicity (not as bad as I expected), and Animal Collective's Sung Tongs (far worse). I think Lil Wayne (Tha Carter II) and 2Pac (All Eyez on Me) are up next, and those are things I probably should listen to (sooner or later).

A few other things have crept into the old music section, following various strategems: I checked out Silk Degrees to go with the new Boz Scaggs album (but that's as far as I went); I noticed I had an ungraded Uncle Tupelo album while I was working on Wilco, and went on to check out the Mermaid Avenue outtakes; someone sent me the Close Readers CDs. The older Four Tet records could have been filed as old or new: in general "new" means last 2-3 years, but I figured it made more sense to keep them together.


Most of 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 June 13. Past reviews and more information are available here (6659 records).


Recent Releases

Harry Allen's All-Star Brazilian Band: Flying Over Rio (2015, Arbors): Retro-swing tenor saxophonist, has shown an interest in Brazilian music before -- cf. 1997's Eu Não Quero Dançar -- but he's never made this much out of it. The All-Stars I recognize are Nilson Matta (bass) and Duduka Da Fonseca (drums), but Klaus Mueller (piano) and Guilherme Monteiro (guitar) show up my ignorance. Singer Maucha Adnet is a tougher sell when you're expecting Astrud Gilberto, but the extra grit and sass finally turned into a plus. A-

Tiffany Austin: Nothing but Soul (2015, Con Alma): Standards singer, associated with SFJAZZ, first album, definitely has a crush on Hoagy Carmichael (6 of 9 songs), offering Johnny Cash ("I Walk the Line") as a change-up, and concludes with a piece by her saxophone player, Howard Wiley. B [cd]

Kevin Bachelder/Jason Lee Bruns: Cherry Avenue (2015, Panout Music Group): Singer and drummer, respectively, mostly standards (one Bachelder original, one from saxophonist Ron Blake), including an obligatory Jobim followed up by a Beatles song, both relatively obscure, "Dear Prudence" deservedly so. B- [cd]

The Bad Plus/Joshua Redman: The Bad Plus Joshua Redman (2015, Nonesuch): Long-running (since 2000) all-star piano trio -- Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, David King -- plus a comparably established (since 1992) tenor/soprano saxophonist that should be a fair match and complement, and that's true to a point: they do manage to wind each other up. I'm just not sure what the value of this intensity is. B+(**)

John Basile: Penny Lane (2015, StringTime Jazz): Guitarist, has more than a dozen albums since 1986, plays eleven Lennon-McCartney songs, most of which have proven deadly as jazz standards ("A Day in the Life" is something of an exception). Solo, with some midi programming for percussion; not exactly muzak, not exactly not. B [cd]

Bilal: In Another Life (2015, E1): Neo-soul singer with some hip-hop touches, fourth album since 2001 but picking up the pace. B+(**)

Terence Blanchard: Breathless (2015, Blue Note): Trumpet player from New Orleans, has dabbled a lot in soundtracks to mixed success. Organized a new quintet here, E-Collective, listed on the cover as "featuring": Charlea Altura (guitar), Fabian Almazan (piano, synths), Donald Ramsey (bass), Oscar Seaton (drums), adding vocalist PJ Morton on three cuts. B+(**)

Kenny Carr: Idle Talk (2014 [2015], self-released): Guitarist, AMG lists three previous albums. Wrote all original material and recruited Donny McCaslin, Kenny Wolleson, and Hans Glawischnig to play. The sax can really get your attention. B+(**) [cd]

Brett Carson: Quattuor Elephantis (2014 [2015], Edgetone): Leader plays electric keyboard, which meshes nicely with Scott Siler's vibes -- the primary sound here, backed by guitar and drums. The lineup suggests a groove album, but no such thing here. B [cd]

Leoanrd Cohen: Can't Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour (2012-13 [2015], Columbia): Relatively rare songs taken from a range of soundchecks and shows -- a tactic which forgoes the satisfaction Live in London and Live in Dublin offered of recognizing long-familiar hits. On the other hand, this is almost like discovering a fresh batch of unknown songs. B+(***) [Later: A-]

Kris Davis Infrasound: Save Your Breath (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): Avant-pianist from Canada, has had an impressive run of trio and quartet albums, comes out with her largest group ever, led by four clarinetists (Joachim Badenhorst, Andrew Bishop, Ben Goldberg, Oscar Noriega), with guitar (Nate Radley), organ (Gary Versace), and drums (Jim Black) but no bass. The clarinets come in all weights, but are soft-edged and in the end blend into the drone. B+(**)

Steve Davis: Say When (2014 [2015], Smoke Sessions): Mainstream trombonist, leading a sextet in the old hard bop model: Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Harold Mabern (piano), Nat Reeves (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums). Mostly JJ Johnson pieces (6 of 11), winding up with "When the Saints Go Marching In." B+(*)

Charlie Dennard: 5 O'Clock Charlie (2015, self-released): Organ player based in New Orleans, leads a group with Todd Duke on guitar and Doug Delote and/or Geoff Clapp on drums. Usual funk grooves but nothing wrong with that. B+(*) [cd]

Jeff Denson/Lee Konitz: Jeff Denson Trio + Lee Konitz (2015, Ridgeway): Nice to see Konitz finally elected to Downbeat's Hall of Fame, especially while he's still alive and active (albeit 88). He doesn't push any boundaries here, but his brief solos are a delight. Denson is a bassist who sings a few moldy standards ("Body and Soul," "Skylark") and makes them moldier. Trio adds Dan Zemelman on piano and Jon Arkin on drums. B+(*) [cd]

Aaron Diehl: Space Time Continuum (2015, Mack Avenue): Pianist, fourth album, mostly trio but some guests drop in, including Joe Temperley and Benny Golson on sax, plus a vocal by Carenee Wade. B+(**)

Four Tet: Pink (2011-12 [2012], Text): Kieren Hebden, laptop composer, released most of these tracks as 12-inch singles (the exceptions were "Lion" and "Peace for Earth" but they came out separately later) -- hence this is often considered a compilation, but none came out more than a year before the album, so I figure this for current work. "Peace for Earth" sounds almost like it might work. A-

Four Tet: Beautiful Rewind (2013, Text): More laptop, one piece drawing my wife's complaint that it sounds like her tablet bemoaning a low battery but here I find that less disturbing. "Aerial" is a track that got my attention both spins, so maybe the other stuff just isn't consistently at that level. Hard to tell. B+(***)

Four Tet: Morning/Evening (2015, Text): Two 20-minute tracks, the first with a nice Lata Mangeshkar sample over the bubbly. The second also harkens to something Asian or Near-Eastern, then runs through a long march-step, not as attractive. B+(*)

Nick Fraser: Too Many Continents (2015, Clean Feed): Drummer, from Canada, has a couple previous records including 2013's excellent Towns and Villages. This one is a trio with Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano sax) and Kris Davis (piano). Too abstract for anyone to work up a full head of steam, and Malaby's soprano is shrill where his tenor is invigorating, but the twists and turns are captivating, and Davis is worth the trouble. B+(***) [cd]

Chico Freeman/Heiri Känzig: The Arrival (2014 [2015], Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, made a big splash in avant circles in the late 1970s; has recorded pretty regularly since then, although in the 1980s it seemed like he got upstaged by his father, Von Freeman. Bassist Känzig was born in New York but studied in Austria and Switzerland, and currently teaches in Luzern. Duets, very laid back, spare but gorgeous. A- [cd]

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin: Ichigo Ichie (2014 [2015], Libra): Extremely prolific Japanese avant-pianist, she's put together a half-dozen orchestras as she's traveled around the world, and this is one of the best. Twelve-piece group, not quite a big band but the three saxes and three trumpets are meant to solo and spar, and the two drummers rumble. A- [cd]

Satoko Fujii Tobira: Yamiyo Ni Karasu (2014 [2015], Libra): Pianist-led quartet, with Natsuki Tamura (trumpet), Todd Nicholson (bass), and Takashi Itani (percussion). Gives you a good sense of Fujii's avant-piano, although not at breakneck fury, and adds some splashy trumpet. B+(***) [cd]

George Garzone/Jerry Bergonzi/Carl Winther/Johnny Aman/Anders Mogensen: Quintonic (2013 [2014], Stunt): Two legendary tenor saxophonists from Boston, although Garzone is better known as an educator than for his recordings -- partly because most of his recordings were credited to his sax trio, the Fringe (1978-2005), but mostly because literally everyone who studied saxophone in Boston picked up some of his mastery. The others play piano-bass-drums. Not really a joust, much more ducking around Winther's chords than blowing them away, but that's sometimes how masters work. B+(***)

Giant Sand: Heartbreak Pass (2015, New West): Howe Gelb's long-running (since 1985) band/front, which always had a sense of rough-hewn Americana nudged even more so in that direction by their new label. B+(*)

Vance Gilbert: Nearness of You (2015, Disismye Music): Folksinger, has close to a dozen albums since 1985. Takes on fourteen jazz standards here, giving them crude guitar-vocal treatments, some laughable although "I'm Beginning to See the Light" gave me a brief glimpse of something more. B [cd]

Robert Glasper: Covered: The Robert Glasper Trio Recorded Live at Capitol Studios (2014 [2015], Blue Note): Pianist from Houston, picked up by Blue Note for his second album in 2005 and hyped for his supposed hip-hop synthesis, something which never panned out (to my ears at least, although he has a Grammy meant to argue otherwise). Figure this as his "unplugged" album, just trio with Vicente Archer and Damion Reid, mostly covers (not that Bilal, Radiohead, or Kendrick Lamar quite rank as standards) although a 13:01 original sits in the center. Some talk, plus the studio has a live crowd, and uneven, but this is the first time I've enjoyed him. B+(**)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (2015, Constellation): Instrumental rock, sometimes called post-rock as if rock was just a path to speechlessness and incoherence. Actually, this sort of thing dates back to the early 1970s, to prog and/or fusion, but having arrived later they throw in bits of industrial and, uh, church music. Sometimes they seem to be onto something. Sometimes not. B-

Jerry Granelli Trio + 3: What I Hear Now (2014 [2015], Addo): Drummer, started out in piano trios (Vince Guaraldi, Denny Zeitlin), has close to 20 albums as leader since 1988, leaning some towards fusion but broad ranging -- my favorite in the spoken word Sandhills Reunion (2005) -- with this three sax, one trombone sextet venturing deep into free jazz. B+(***) [cd]

Devin Gray: RelativE ResonancE (2014 [2015], Skirl): Drummer, second album, another sax-piano-bass-drums quartet but with new collaborators: Chris Speed, Kris Davis, Chris Tordini. Speed, typically, puts a soft edge on his sax, but Davis doesn't pull any punches. B+(***) [cd]

David Hazeltine: I Remember Cedar (2013 [2014], Sharp Nine): Mainstream pianist, in a trio with David Williams and Joe Farnsworth, offers bright and lively readings of many compositions by the late Cedar Walton, a couple originals for the occasion, and a thoroughly appropriate "Over the Rainbow." B+(***)

Vincent Herring: Night and Day (2014 [2015], Smoke Sessions): Alto saxophonist, much recorded since 1990, in a hard bop quintet with Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Mike LeDonne, Brandi Disterheft, and Joe Farnsworth. B+(*)

Dre Hocevar Trio: Coding of Evidentiality (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): Drummer, b. 1987 in Slovenia, second album, a trio with Bram De Looze on piano and Lester St. Louis on cello, with Sam Pluta doing "electronics, signal processing" on one track. Starts with very attractive broken field piano lead, but moves the focus around, highlighting the cello drone. B+(**) [cd]

John Hollenbeck: Songs We Like a Lot (2015, Sunnyside): Drummer, his interests ranging from a big band to the often fabulous Claudia Quintet, returns with a sequel to 2013's Songs I Like a Lot, again with Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry singing, Uri Caine on piano, and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band's pomp and circumstance. Mostly songs I don't care about one way or the other, except for "Up Up and Away." B

Charlie Hunter Trio: Let the Bells Ring On (2015, CHT Publishing): Seven-string guitarist, has leaned toward fusion but never stuck in one place long. Trio adds trombonist Curtis Fowlkes (Jazz Passengers) and drummer Bobby Previte, and Fowlkes pretty much sets the tone: slow, abstract, profound. B+(**)

Ahmad Jamal: Live in Marciac: August 5th 2014 (2014 [2015], Jazz Village): In his 80s, still an impressive performer, a master of melody who can kick it up a notch. With Reginald Veal (bass), Helin Riley (drums, and Manolo Badrena (percussion). [Rhapsody omits 2 cuts + second-disc DVD]. B+(*)

Max Johnson Trio: Something Familiar (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist-led trio with Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Ziv Ravitz on drums. Nothing very familiar here, as confounding as their previous outing as The Invisible Trio. Both records sound rather distant to me, but maybe there's more depth on the CDs, or maybe it just takes more effort to break through the inscrutability. B+(***)

Joyfultalk: Muuixx (2015, Drip Audio): "Composed, performed and recorded by Jay Crocker at the Prism Ship in Crousetown, Nova Scotia." Aside from Jesse Zubot doing the mastering, that's all the credits I have to go by, but sounds like quasi-industrial guitar, bass, percussion, some synth (presumably all overdubbed by Crocker) and, uh, violin (Zubot?). B+(**) [cd]

Ku-Umba Frank Lacy & Mingus Big Band: Mingus Sings (2014 [2015], Sunnyside): The Mingus Big Band dates back to 1993, or as Mingus Dynasty to 1982, shortly after the great bassist-composer's death, so they know the pieces/arrangements here cold -- indeed, the usual knock against them is that they're too cool and assured, where Mingus' own bands lived in constant fear of their leader's tantrums. Lacy started off as a trombonist in Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy and the Henry Threadgill Sextett, but has lately moved toward singing, his specialty gut-bucket blues. Given limited choices, you get four lyrics from Joni Mitchell, two more from Elvis Costello. B

Marsa Fouty: Concerts (2015, Fou): French duo, some sort of play on the names of Fred Marty (contrebasse) and Jean-Marc Foussat (dispositif électro-acoustique) -- bass and electronics. The combo can get loud and ugly, and even the quieter patches can get under your skin. B [cd]

Michael McNeill Trio: Flight (2014 [2015], self-released): Pianist from Buffalo, blew me away with his debut (Passageways) and continues to impress, aided by Ken Filiano on bass and Phil Haynes on drums. This is considerably more, uh, nuanced, building slowly, repaying patient attention. A- [cd]

Bob Mintzer Big Band: Get Up! (2015, MCG Jazz): Tenor saxophonist, probably best known for several decades in the Yellowjackets, but has been running his big band almost as long. Not exceptional, but his past titles namecheck Trane and Basie, and that gives you the idea. B+(*) [cd]

Ashley Monroe: The Blade (2015, Warner Music): Country singer-songwriter, one-third of Pistol Annies, had an album before she started hanging out with the other thirds, then a breakthrough last year -- admittedly, it felt small, almost too easy. This one is less consistent, but takes more risks, and they often pay off. A-

Kacey Musgraves: Pageant Material (2015, Mercury Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, second album, knows that not all girls are built for beauty pageants, that you don't get to pick your family, and that life can still be gravy for those who mind their own biscuits. On the other hand, I'm still not sure how "love hard, live fast, die fun" works. B+(***)

Simon Nabatov/Mark Dresser: Projections (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): Piano-bass duets. Nabatov was born in Russia, moved to Rome, New York, and eventually to Köln, and has more than two dozen albums since 1988 -- avant-garde with a classical grounding. Dresser, of course, is one of the great bassists of our era, and reminds you why frequently. B+(***) [cd]

Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity: Firehouse (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): Norwegian drummer, has played in several bands since 2007: Puma, Bushman's Revenge, Lord Kelvin, Cortex (the latter's Live! an A- last year), as well as collaborations with Eirik Hegdal, Tore Brunborg, and Mathias Eick, but I'll score this as his first as leader: an avant-sax trio with Andre Roligheten and Petter Eldh, and everything you'd want there, blistering hot and completely cogent. A- [cd]

OZO: A Kind of Zo (2015, Shhpuma/Clean Feed): Portuguese duo, Paulo Mesquita on prepared piano, Pedro Oliveira on prepared drums. The preparations aren't that extreme, and the dynamic is simple enough: the piano sets up a rhythmic vamp, and the drums kick it to another level. A- [cd]

Ivo Perelman/Whit Dickey: Tenorhood (2014 [2015], Leo): Tenor sax-drums duets, Dickey most often associated with Matthew Shipp. Title tune plys five more dedicated to eminent tenor saxophonists: Mobley, Webster, Coltrane, Ayler, Rollins. A little schizzy around the edges, sort of a fractal effect. B+(***) [cd]

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Callas (2015, Leo, 2CD): Tenor sax-piano duos, inspired by opera diva Maria Callas (1923-77), not that there are any words here, nor vocals, just two avant-gardists trying to recapture some imagined spirit. What they come up with is real enough. A- [cd]

Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Joe Morris: Counterpoint (2015, Leo): Tenor sax, viola, guitar, all joint improv, with Maneri both the dominant voice and the odd man out. Scratchy, squawky, not clear what Morris is doing but Perelman does a fine job of softening the edges and shining them up. B+(**) [cd]

Jack Perla: Enormous Changes (2013 [2015], Origin): Pianist, second album, wrote these songs with lyrics sung by Crystal Monee Hall, Jordan Carp, and Robin Coomer, backed by a band that includes cello and pedal steel but no horns. Moves into soft rock territory without the usual mawkishness. B [cd]

R5: Sometime Last Night (2015, Hollywood): Nominally an LA teen pop group with three brothers (like the Beach Boys?) and a sister (unlike the Beach Boys). Not as catchy as they need to be, but off to a nice start. B+(*)

Mason Razavi/Bennett Roth-Newell: After You (2015, First Orbit Sounds Music): Guitar-piano duets, Bay Area musicians. Razavi has a couple previous albums. Mix of originals and covers -- Clifford Brown, Joe Zawinul, "Yesterday." B+(*) [cd]

Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: The Otherworld Cycle (2014 [2015], Edgetone): Alto saxophonist, one of the more consistently interesting figures of recent years, assembles fourteen musicians for "a new music Odyssey inspired by ancient Finnish mythology and the Kalevala [a 19th century compilation of epic poetry from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore]." The vocal concept seemed like too much clutter at first, but that was forgotten least once the sinewy grooves kicked in, and the sax approached A Love Supreme's stratosphere. A- [cd]

Roots Magic: Hoodoo Blues & Roots Magic (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): Group name not clear from the album cover, nor is there much in the way of liner notes, but label is clear on the point. Alberto Popolla (clarinets), Enrico DeFabritiis (alto sax), Gianfranco Tedeschi (double bass), Fabrizio Spera (drums), plus guest Luca Venitucci (organ, melodica, amplified zither). Can play free but mostly prefer blues riffs. B+(***) [cd]

Boz Scaggs: A Fool to Care (2015, 429 Records): In his 70s now, started out in blue-eyed soul occasionally descending into ordinary white pap, but as he's aged the logical progression is into blues, which he's taken at the same langourous pace he's always had. His Memphis was easily overrated, but this more unassuming effort hits the spot: a collage of covers that takes you back without tempting you to play your own oldies. A-

Skydive Trio: Sun Moee (2014 [2015], Hubro): Guitar trio, led by Norwegian Thomas T. Dahl (first record as leader), with Mats Eilertsen on bass and Olavi Louhivuori on drums. Understated grooves, the guitar spare but eloquent, only rarely building up much pressure. B+(***)

Omar Souleyman: Bahdeni Nami (2015, Monkeytown): Syria's famed wedding singer, who "transformed traditional dabke music into a hyperactive electronic stomp" [Guardian]. With his home turf turned into a battleground between ISIS and the Kurds (and the US and/or Bashar Assad), he's turned west, picking up Kieran Hebden as a producer, who in turn decided to leave well enough alone. A-

Terell Stafford: Brotherlee Love: Celebrating Lee Morgan (2014 [2015], Capri): Mainstream trumpet player, eighth album since 1995, hasn't shown a lot of devotion to Morgan over the years but takes the challenge to show off his chops. Hard bop quintet, with Tim Warfield on tenor sax, Bruce Barth on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Dana Hall on drums, playing seven Morgan compositions, "Candy," and a new one by the leader. B+(**)

Ben Stapp & the Zozimos: Myrrha's Red Book: Act 1 (2014 [2015], Evolver): Tuba player, not very prominent here with all the voices, trumpets, clarinets, and cornet although he does produce a distinct bottom if you dig for it. The voices fit the definition of opera, with multiple characters forcing their voices around melodic curves that don't quite fit, exuding drama I don't have the ears for. Some remarkably complex music, and occasionally some shard of libretto lodges in my brain -- I suspect it's all very smart. B+(**) [cd]

Tame Impala: Currents (2015, Caroline): Australian alt/indie group led by Kevin Parker, who is credited/blamed for shifting the emphasis from guitar fuzz to cleanly melodic synths. Regarded as a big deal by critics and fans, I've never quite seen the point, although this one went down so easy I scarcely noticed. B+(*)

The Warren Vaché Quintet: Remembers Benny Carter (2014 [2015], Arbors): Cornet player, retro when he was young but now seems to have extended his time almost as long as Carter, an alto sax great twenty years before and forty years after Charlie Parker. Flanked by Houston Person on tenor, backed by Tardo Hammer, Lisa Parrott, and Leroy Williams, with Parrott singing several songs, Vaché one. B+(***)

Veruca Salt: Ghost Notes (2015, El Camino): Postpunk band from the 1990s (only second album since), quartet fronted by singer-guitarists Nina Gordon and Louise Post, named after a character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ("a spoiled child who demands every single thing she wants"). The closer "Alternica" gets a bit heavy-handed, but everything else is sharp and chipper. A-

Eyal Vilner Big Band: Almost Sunrise (2014 [2015], Gut String): Alto saxophonist, also plays flute, composed two pieces, arranged and conducted the rest, mostly from swing-schooled boppers, backstopped by Ellington. Six (of 13) cuts have vocals, mostly Charenee Wade. B+(**) [cd]

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Intercambio (2014-15 [2015], Patois): Bay Area trombonist, has run this group for many years now. Includes a few guest slots -- mostly flutes, which may seem like a nice contrast, but I prefer the trombone leads. B+(*) [cd]

Johannes Wallmann: The Town Musicians (2013 [2015], Fresh Sounds New Talent): Pianist, fifth album, lively postbop on the hard side; band includes Russ Johnson (trumpet), Gilad Hekselman (guitar), Sean Conly (bass), and Jeff Hirshfield (drums), plus Dayna Stephens (tenor sax) joins on two cuts. Over 75 minutes, everyone makes a strong impression. B+(***) [cd]

Wilco: Star Wars (2015, dBpm): Leads off with a guitar skronk instrumental, and even when they settle into recognizable pop they push more boundaries than they had in the last couple albums. B+(***)

Tony Wilson 6Tet: A Day's Life (2012 [2015], Drip Audio): Guitarist, based in Vancouver, has a handful of albums, three with this sextet: JP Carter (trumpet, electronics), Jesse Zubot (violin), Peggy Lee (cello), Russell Shulberg (bass), Skye Brooks (drums). One especially strong groove track ("The Train Keeps Rollin'") suggests what they can do when everyone is in sync. B+(**) [cd]

Florian Wittenburg: Aleatoric Inspiration (2009-14 [2015], NurNichtNur): German pianist, has a couple previous albums, this one piano miniatures which sometimes grab your attention, and sometimes let it go. B+(*) [cd]

Jamie XX: In Colour (2015, XL/Young Turks): Jamie Smith, electronic music producer, first noticed in a band called The XX (more commonly xx although to my typographic eyes it looks like they're using two multiplication signs). First solo album (not counting remixes from a collaboration with Gil Scott-Heron) after two group efforts. B+(***)

John Yao and His 17-Piece Instrument: Flip-Flop (2014 [2015], See Tao): Trombonist, big band arranger, his "17-piece instrument" the band, and with musicians like saxophonists John O'Gallagher and Jon Irabagon on not always of one mind. B+(***)

Omri Ziegele Billiger Bauer: So Viel Schon Hin: 15 Herbstlieder (2014 [2015], Intakt): Alto saxophonist from Switzerland, sixth album since 2002, three with this nonet (not counting singer Isa Wiss). The autumn songs in German are arch and arty (not that I can follow), Wiss splitting the difference between opera and Weill, as best she can given that the music is so slippery. B+(*) [cd]

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Alex Chilton: Ocean Club '77 (1977 [2015], Norton): At 27, the peak year for baseball players and rock martyrs, the Memphis singer-songwriter already had the AM-savvy Box Tops and the obscure-but-legendary Big Star on his résumé and was starting to sort out a solo career. Still, his live set, backed with bass and drums, mostly looks back, including "The Letter" run through the Big Star grinder. B+(**)

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: The Conny Plank Session (1970 [2015], Grönland, EP): A vault discovery from the estate of German sound engineer Plank (best known for Marlene Dietrich), just three takes of "Alerado" and three takes of "Afrique" (including a vocal). First surprise is the prominence of the organ (Wild Bill Davis), although it's more pronounced in the riff-based "Alerado" than in the trickier "Afrique." Six tracks, 29:21. B+(**)

Percussions: 2011 Until 2014 (2011-14 [2015], Text): Rhapsody files this under Four Tet, but most sources say Percussions and refer back to a series of vinyl EPs collected here. I file them under Kieran Hebden, who appears to be the sole artist. Fairly minimal concept pieces -- "Bird Songs" are beats with chirps. B+(**)

Old Music


Boredoms: Super AE (1998, Birdman): Japanese band, from Osaka, fifth album, some vocals but mostly instruments, mostly electronic ones; most tracks kicking off with strong beats, framed by some noise, nothing I particularly relate to. B+(**)

Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue, Vol. III (1998-2000 [2012], Nonesuch): Leftovers from a project which released seminal albums in 1998 and 2000, where the English folk provocateur and Americana vet Jeff Tweedy worked up some music for lyrics Woody Guthrie had jotted down but hadn't found melodies for yet. None of the songs appeared before, and while most don't grab you right away, one that does is "Ain'ta Gonna Grieve." B+(**)

Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions (1998-2000 [2012], Nonesuch, 3CD): This wraps all three volumes up in a tidy box, worthwhile if you're missing the first two as the inessential third is at least good for more quirky context. A-

C86 [Compact Digital Edition] (1986 [2014], Cherry Red): Originally a cassette released by British rock zine NME, this captured a moment in Britpop's evolution, with a heavy guitar clang, or sometimes jangle. Only four tracks from the original 22, filling out 17 with even more obscurities, so this hardly deserves the same name (which the cover provides, along with "NME 022" -- the original released number). [Docked a notch for making me do the paperwork.] B+(*)

The Close Readers: Group Hug (2010 [2011], Austin): New Zealand group, a vehicle for singer-songwriter Damien Wilkins, who won some prizes for writing fiction in the 1990s (but isn't famous enough to dislodge Dominique Wilkins' nephew from Google's search lead). Christgau picked their 2014 The Lines Are Open and after I concurred the back catalog showed up in my mail. On this debut it's clear he studied the Go-Betweens for songcraft while writing songs titled "Elton John" and "Iris DeMent." Gets a little tangled up on "Bipolar," but maybe that's a point. B+(***) [cd]

The Close Readers: New Spirit (2012, Austin): Usual sophomore album traits: songs fall off a bit but also get more ambitious, musicianship improves -- they rock more, also try more production tricks. But the basics are solid, especially the lyrics, and if they sound a lot like the Go-Betweens, I'd put that in the plus column. B+(***) [cd]

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: F# A# ∞ (1997 [1998], Kranky): Canadian post-rock group, from Montreal, took their name from a Japanese film about a biker gang named the Black Emperors. Title pronounced "F-Sharp, A-Sharp, Infinity." Album originally released as a 32:22 LP (with one of those infinite lock grooves at the end), then a year later was reorganized as a 3-track 63:27 CD. B+(**)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000, Kranky, 2CD): Second album, four pieces running 18:57 to 23:17, each a mini-suite, usually resetting toward the middle. B+(*)

Janet Jackson: Control (1986, A&M): No one I'm aware of takes her teen efforts seriously, but turning 20 for her third album, Jam & Lewis feed her some serious beats, echoing family trademarks. While she claims control, she's not quite there yet. "Nasty," for instance, is something boys do. B+(*)

Jimmy Eat World: Bleed American (2001, Grand Royal): Emo band from Arizona, fourth album, first to chart and only (of 8, 1994-2013) to go platinum. Or that's their rep: emo seems to apply to a range of sounds but depend on lyrics I rarely can follow. All I can say is that they're fairly tuneful and a little baleful. B-

Mastodon: Blood Mountain (2006, Reprise): Heavy metal band from Atlanta named after a lumbering prehistoric beast, third album. A band which gets critical support beyond metalheads, although I can't see why. There's the speed drumming and the time shifting slide into cacophony, but it's mostly just the usual deep sludge. B-

Mobb Deep: The Infamous (1995, Loud): Gangsta rap duo from Queens, second album, beats came easy, bullshit too. B+(**)

Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine (1989, TVT): First album by Trent Reznor's industrial rock group, although his notion of industrial is closer to New Order new wave, but with a harder metallic gleam and more dystopian attitude. A-

Nine Inch Nails: The Fragile (1999, Interscope, 2CD): Third album, five years after The Downward Spiral, a sprawling set, heavy, dreary, not totally without interest, but lacking something -- charm, maybe? Second disc does get better. B+(*)

Nine Inch Nails: With Teeth (2005, Nothing): Even-keeled, showing his future in soundtracks but occasionally turning some songs on. B+(**)

Nine Inch Nails: The Slip (2008, The Null Corporation): I see the genre list here includes "dark ambient" -- not something I've run across before, but a reasonable description here. B+(**)

Oasis: Definitely Maybe (1994, Epic): First album by Manchester UK group that was taken as the second coming of the Beatles in some parts. I don't hear that: just a loud backbeat and plenty of guitar up front. B+(*)

Oasis: Be Here Now (1997, Epic): Third album, makes me want to check my volume levels because they are so dedicated to pumping it up. While I find that annoying I also find it surprisingly invigorating -- enough so that I can see why they became so big, but not enough to become a fan myself. B+(*)

Orbital: In Sides (1966 [1997], FFRR, 2CD): British electronica, something like jungle 'n' bass, with industrial touches and occasional references to Satan -- the latter on the bonus disc, added in 1997, ending in a live track with something familiar. B+(**)

Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995, Loud): Debut album for Wu-Tang rapper Corey Woods. Not following the skits, which presumably knit the concept together, but the beats dazzle, the raps cut, and it seems to add up to some sort of worldview, probably no more strange than the ghetto itself. A-

Boz Scaggs: Silk Degrees (1976 [2007], Columbia/Legacy): Far and away his most successful album -- quintuple platinum with his two higest charting singles, "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle" -- but while it made a big splash it's not especially memorable, borrowing much of its energy from disco, but not quite the way you remember it. B+(***)

Snoop Doggy Dogg: Doggystyle (1993, Death Row): Calvin Broadus, later just Snoopy Dogg, was already a celebrity before dropping this G-funk debut, an upbeat rush of faux-gangsta fables built on P-Funk samples -- my favorite just repeats "tha bomb" every bar. B

Sunny Day Real Estate: Diary (1994, Sub Pop): Seattle alt/indie group, usually tagged as emo but not far removed from grunge, at least on this first album. I'm not sure "emo" is the same thing as overwrought, but at least they pound it furiously into shape. B

Teenage Fanclub: Bandwagonesque (1991, DGC): Scottish alt/indie group, has that pop twist to the guitar band sound, but not enough spit and polish to make it real. B+(*)

Uncle Tupelo: Anodyne (1993 [2003], Rhino/Sire): Seminal alt-country band from Illinois with Jay Farrar (Son Volt) and Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) -- their debut album was taken as the title for genre-defining No Depression magazine -- on their last album. B+(*)

Wilco: A.M. (1995, Sire): Debut from Jeff Tweedy's post-Uncle Tupelo group, a more-than-promising mix of vocal twang and uncommonly sharp guitar. A-

Wilco: Summer Teeth (1999, Warner Brothers): The end of their notion that true American music should be rooted in the so-called heartland, partly by moving to the California melting pot, which doesn't quite a Beach Boys album make. B+(**)

Yo La Tengo: Ride the Tiger (1986 [1996], Matador): Hoboken alt/indie group, Ira Kaplan the main writer/singer, first album, missing among the 19 LPs and EPs Christgau has reviewed (5 A-, 2 A), so the original label (Coyote) must have been awfully obscure in the day. The band had a knack for surfing over the guitar line, a lightness that makes everything crisp and clear. The CD reissue adds some murkier cuts, but that just raises the intensity. A-

Yo La Tengo: New Wave Hot Dogs (1987, Coyote): Second album, moves forward, backwards, and sideways from the first, so yeah, less consistent, a mix of punkish raves and more sedate spots. B+(**)

Yo La Tengo: President Yo La Tengo (1989, Twin/Tone): I spoke admiringly of the lightness of their debut, but two albums later it's the heaviness you hang onto, especially the guitar squelch of the 10:35 "The Evil That Men Do." [Matador reissued on CD in 1996 with New Wave Hot Dogs and "Asparagus Song" tacked onto the end; this is the version Rhapsody has, but I split it up for review.] A-

Yo La Tengo: Fakebook (1990, Bar/None): Mostly a covers album, done simply, although five songs are credited to Ira Kaplan, two of those also to drummer Georgia Hubley. Obscure song choices, not that "Griselda" (Antonia) or "Andalucia" (John Cale) are obscure to me. B+(*)

Yo La Tengo: May I Sing With Me (1992, Alias): First album for bassist James McNew, joining Ira Kaplan (mostly guitar) and Georgia Hubley (mostly drums). The greater depth allowed them to move into Sonic Youth territory, and the guitar (in particular) sometimes reminded me of avant-jazz, especially in an extended feedback freakout, but also in certain solos. As an alt/indie band they've long fit into the Velvets lineage, so the growth may just be recessive genes coming back into play. A-

Yo La Tengo: Painful (1993, Matador): Sounds like an attempt to consolidate the sonic gains of their recent albums without doing anything shocking or weird or pathbreaking -- a plus for their alt/indie audience, but less interesting for me. Or maybe they just wanted to give their new bass player more leads. B+(***)

Yo La Tengo: Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo (1988-95 [1996], Matador, 2CD): Two hours of "rarities, alternate versions, and out-takes" -- the first disc songs with vocals, the second just instrumentals, ranging from an 8-second "Drum Solo" to the 26:22 closer, "Sunsquashed." Obviously something for fans only, but it gives you a fair taste of where they've been, and their sound is distinct enough to justify the latter disc. B+(**)

Yo La Tengo: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (2000, Matador): Follow-up to I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One -- probably the group's best record: catchy songs, with an impressive flow. This one is similar, but sometimes slower and prettier. Christgau advises "play loud" but can that be right? 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:


Yo La Tengo: Electr-O-Pura (1995, Matador): If Painful didn't quite mark the point where they merged their early songcraft with their hard-earned sonics, this was. [was: B+] A-

Additional Consumer News:

Previous grades on artists in the old music section:

  • Billy Bragg: Back to Basics (1983-85 [1987], Go! Discs): B-
  • Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue (1998, Elektra): A
  • Billy Bragg & Wilco: Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2 (2000, Elektra): B+
  • The Close Readers: The Lines Are Open (2014, Austin): A-
  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor: 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (2012, Constellation): B+(**)
  • Jimmy Eat World: Jimmy Eat World (1998, Fueled by Ramen, EP): B-
  • Janet Jackson: Rhythm Nation: 1814 (1989, A&M): A-
  • Janet Jackson: Janet (1993, Virgin): B+
  • Janet Jackson: Design of a Decade 1986-1996 (1986-95 [1995], A&M): B+
  • Janet Jackson: The Velvet Rope (1997, Virgin): A-
  • Janet Jackson: All for You (2001, Virgin): B-
  • Janet Jackson: 20 Y.O. (2006, Virgin): C+
  • Jimmy Eat World: Jimmy Eat World (1998, Fueled by Ramen, EP): B-
  • Mastodon: Crack the Skye (2009, Reprise): B
  • Mastodon: The Hunter (2011, Reprise): B-
  • Nine Inch Nails: The Downward Spiral (1994, Interscope): B+
  • Nine Inch Nails: Year Zero (2007, Interscope): A-
  • Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts I-IV (2008, Halo Twenty Six, 2CD): A-
  • Nine Inch Nails: Hesitation Marks (2013, Halo): B+(*)
  • Oasis: (What's the Story) Morning Glory? (1995, Epic): B+
  • Orbital: Snivilisation (1994, FFRR): C+
  • Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. II (2009, Ice H20): B+(***)
  • Boz Scaggs: Slow Dancer (1974, Columbia): B
  • Boz Scaggs: Hits (1972-85 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): B
  • Boz Scaggs: My Time: The Anthology (1969-1997) (1969-97 [1997], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): B-
  • Boz Scaggs: Memphis (2013, 429 Records): B+(**)
  • Uncle Tupelo: No Depression (1990 [2003], Columbia/Legacy): B+
  • Wilco: Being There (1996, Sire/Reprise): B+
  • Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002, Nonesuch): A-
  • Wilco: A Ghost Is Born (2004, Nonesuch): B
  • Wilco: Sky Blue Sky (2007, Nonesuch): B+(***)
  • Wilco: Wilco (The Album) (2009, Nonesuch): B+(**)
  • Wilco: The Whole Love (2011, Anti-): B+(**)
  • Wilco: What's Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014 (1994-2014 [2014], Nonesuch, 2CD): A-
  • Yo La Tengo: I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (1997, Matador): A-
  • Yo La Tengo: Summer Sun (2003, Matador): A-
  • Yo La Tengo: I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (2006, Matador): A-
  • Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs (2009, Matador): B+(***)
  • Yo La Tengo: Fade (2013, Matador): B+(**)

Notes

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

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