Streamnotes: August 26, 2019


Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments, usually based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on July 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (13400 records).


Recent Releases

Don Aliquo/Michael Jefry Stevens: Live at Hinton Hall: The Innocence of Spring (2019, self-released): Sax and piano duo, the former a Pittsburgh native who teaches in Nashville, the latter long Memphis-based, now seems to have moved to North Carolina. No info on album, but nice sound in an intimate space. B+(**) [bc]

Arashi [Akira Sakata/Johan Berthling/Paal Nilssen-Love]: Jikan (2017 [2019], PNL): Alto sax/bass/drums trio, group named for their 2014 album together. Various malign looks and feels, including scarifying vocals, but Sakata is a terrific full blast saxophonist, and the drummer keeps up. B+(**) [bc]

Iggy Azalea: In My Defense (2019, Bad Dreams/Empire): Australian rapper, scored a crossover pop hit in 2014, doubles down on her hard edge here. B+(***)

John Bacon/Michael McNeill/Danny Ziemann: Refractions (2017 [2019], Jazz Dimensions): Drums, piano, bass, alphabetical order but consistently applied, playing seven Thelonious Monk pieces. Not as distinctive as the originals, but refracted in subtle and interesting ways. B+(***) [cd]

J. Balvin & Bad Bunny: Oasis (2019, Universal Music Latino): Colombian singer José Balvin and Puerto Rican rapper Benito Martinez, common denominator reggaeton. B+(**)

B.J. the Chicago Kid: 1123 (2019, Motown): Bryan James Sledge, from Chicago but now 34, third album, raps some, sings more, opens with exceptional groove and flow but piles up when he slows down. B+(*)

Leila Bordreuil/Michael Foster: The Caustic Ballads (2016, Relative Pitch): Cello and saxophone duo. Abstract, scratchy. B+(*) [bc]

Chance the Rapper: The Big Day (2019, self-released): Chicago rapper, surname Bennett, reissued his debut mixtape 10 Day a while back and it was the freshest, most stimulating thing I've heard all year. He's older now (26), married, has a new child, has doubled down on his Christianity, and has chops enough to run this out to 77 minutes without interest flagging. A-

Tyler Childers: Country Squire (2019, Hickman Holler/RCA): Alt-country singer-songwriter from Kentucky, impressed a lot of folks (including me belatedly) with his 2017 Purgatory and should get similar attention for this one. Another batch of strong songs, with a lot of fiddle in the band. A-

The Cinematic Orchestra: To Believe (2019, Domino): British group, founded by Jason Swinscoe in 1999, only their fourth studio album (first since 2007, not counting two soundtracks). My first sources filed this under jazz, but while there may be some improv in the mix, this strikes me more as prog rock, with bits of electronica, turntablism, and soundtrack pastiche. Nonetheless, pretty appealing. B+(**)

Clairo: Immunity (2019, Fader): Singer-songwriter Claire Cottrill, self-released songs on Bandcamp since she was 15, scoring a viral video his with "Pretty Girl" in 2017. First proper album, a modest improvement over lo-fi, some catchy tunes (Rostam Batmanglij co-produced), but I'm still having trouble tuning into the lyrics. B+(***)

Chuck Cleaver: Send Aid (2019, Shake It): First album at age 60, a short one at that (10 tracks, 26:51), but hardly a newbie, as leader of Ass Ponys in the 1990s and, more famously, Wussy ever since. More Americana twang than I expected. Also more clang. B+(***)

Chick Corea/The Spanish Heart Band: Antidote (2019, Concord): Pianist, born in Massachusetts, Italian/Spanish descent, started in the late 1960s playing both avant, then fusion, then in 1976 discovered flamenco among his roots in one of his better known albums, My Spanish Heart. Here he returs to that diversion, with a similarly large band (8 pieces, fewer strings, plus vocals and tap dance). He repeats two songs, adds similar fare, lathers the rhythms with extra lushness. It might have sounded enticingly exotic way back when, but more like corn and shlock now. B-

CP Unit: Riding Photon Time (2018 [2019], Eleatic): Initials stand for Chris Pitsiokos (alto sax/electronics), third album with this group, personnel changes but formula remains electric guitar, electric bass, and drums (Sam Lisabeth, Henry Fraser, Jason Nazary). Live album from two sets in Germany and Austria, covering some pieces from their studio albums. The bent township jive of "A Knob on the Face of a Man" is my choice cut, but everything connects, on occasion hitting a raw nerve. A-

Mark De Clive-Lowe: Heritage (2018 [2019], Ropeadope): Keyboardist, from New Zealand, spent time in Japan, Boston (Berklee), and London before settling in Los Angeles. Recorded live over three nights at Blue Whale in Los Angeles, a fairly nice groove record that doesn't demand much. B+(*)

Mark De Clive-Lowe: Heritage II (2018 [2019], Ropeadope): More from the same sets, titles nearly all in Japanese. More of the same, with interest on the decline. B

Default Genders: Main Pop Girl 2019 (2019, self-released): Jaime Brooks, given name James, self-described as "a careless man's careful daughter," previously half of duo Elite Gymnastics, second album under this moniker. Mostly electronics, love the beats, like the fuzz, hardly caught any lyrics (some processed, else buried). B+(**) [bc]

Mark Doyle: Watching the Detectives: Guitar Noir III (2019, Free Will): Guitarist, "seemed destined for a career in jazz piano until The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan," switched to rock and joined a band called Jukin' Bone that released two albums in 1972. Jumping forward, formed Mark Doyle and the Maniacs in 2009, still a going concern, so chalk this up as a side project. Starts with a bit of Elvis Costello's title song merged into "Detectives Medley." I thought I heard some "Peter Gunn" but don't see it in the credits, so maybe that's just a common riff? B+(*) [cd]

Elephant9: Psychedelic Backfire I (2019, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian fusion band founded in 2006, a bass-drums-keyboards trio, I'm sure I've run across the names elsewhere but they've never stuck in my mind (Nikolai Haengsle Eilertsen, Ståle Storløkken, Torstein Lofthus). Pretty upbeat. B+(*)

Elephant9 With Reine Fiske: Psychedelic Backfire I (2019, Rune Grammofon): Fiske plays guitar, has joined the fusion group before. That guitar makes a difference here. B+(**)

Pablo Embon: Reminscent Mood (2018-19 [2019], self-released): Guitarist, originally from Argentina, now based in Israel, where he picked up some Middle Eastern airs to go with his Latin lilt. B- [cd]

Empath: Active Listening: Night on Earth (2019, Get Better): Philadelphia group, noisy pop, drummer from a similar (if less successful) group called Perfect Pussy. Short but not as deliberately elemental as punk: 9 songs, 27:12. B+(*)

Moy Eng/Wayne Wallace: The Blue Hour (2018 [2019], Patois): Chinese-American poet-vocalist, born in New Jersey, based in San Francisco where she's executive director of something called the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST). First album, with lots of musician credits as the trombonist brings his Latin tinge. B [cd]

Filthy Friends: Emerald Valley (2019, Kill Rock Stars): Side project of semi-famous musicians still working in more-or-less famous bands -- currently Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), Peter Buck (REM), Scott McCaughey and Kurt Bloch (both Young Fresh Fellows), Linda Pitmon (The Baseball Project, along with Buck and McCaughey). Second album since they first recorded on an anti-Trump comp (30 Days, 30 Songs). B+(**)

Freddie Douggie: Live on Juneteenth (2019, International Anthem): Collaboration between Ben LaMar Gay and JayVe Montgomery: former recorded a lot of tapes before finally letting the label dump them out starting last year, the latter I have even less of a read on, and the credits are no help here. Some vocals, searching for freedom, finding it in untethered music. B+(*)

Fred Frith: All Is Always Now: Fred Frith Live at the Stone (2007-16 [2019], Intakt, 3CD): English guitarist, started c. 1974 on the avant fringe of rock playing prepared guitar solos, but labels and company eventually slotted him under jazz (again, the avant fringe). Massive, wide-ranging trove of live performances from John Zorn's New York club, various duos and trio (one cut with a guest making four), most (16/23 tracks) from 2013-14. B+(***)

From Wolves to Whales: Strandwal (2017 [2019], Aerophonic, 2CD): Quartet formed in 2014, second album, last names also listed on cover: Nate Wooley (trumpet), Dave Rempis (alto sax), Pascal Niggenkemper (bass), Chris Corsano (drums). Remarkable spots embedded in leisurely table-setting, not that the latter stretches out too long. Both discs are relatively short (39:07, 41:33), and could easily have been edited down to one (perhaps too long). B+(***) [cd]

G-Eazy: The Beautiful & Damned (2017, BPG/RVG/RCA): White rapper from Oakland, hit the charts with his 2014 album, this his fourth, got some brutal reviews (59 at Metacritic), not obvious to me why. Like Eminem, he builds on sung choruses and sampled hooks. Also makes extensive use of featured guests (most notably Cardi B), making it hard to locate him either in the ghetto or the suburbs. Runs long (74:22). Closer nails Trump: called "Easy," it's about what isn't. B+(***)

Rhiannon Giddens With Francesco Turrisi: There Is No Other (2019, Nonesuch): Folksinger/banjo player from Carolina Chocolate Drops, third solo album. Turrisi is from Italy, based in Dublin (where this was recorded), plays piano, accordion, frame drum, tamburello, lute, cello banjo, daf, and colascione. Shows how worldly Americana can be. B+(***)

Charles Wesley Godwin: Seneca (2019, self-released): Singer-songwriter from West Virginia, first album. Coal country stories, shrinks and pills. B+(*)

Binker Golding & Elliot Galvin: Ex Nihilo (2018 [2019], Byrd Out): English tenor saxophonist, best known as half of Binker & Moses, in a nominal duo with keyboardist Galvin (no credit for drums, but they vanish after first track, as everything thins out). B+(*)

Diana Gordon: Pure (2019, self-released, EP): Previously known as Wynter Gordon, r&b singer-songwriter, has a 2012 album plus a half-dozen EPs. Five cuts. Has a single here, some promising filler. B+(*) [yt]

Harbinger: Extended (2018 [2019], OA2): Piano trio, met in New Orleans: Oscar Rossignoli (from Honduras), Matt Booth (from Pittsburgh), and Brad Webb (home turf). All three write, especially the drummer (5/10 pieces). B+(**) [cd]

Joel Harrison: Angel Band: Free Country Volume 3 (2018, HighNote): Guitarist, subtitle links this back to his 2003 album Free Country, "a collection of old Country and Appalachian tunes arranged in unusual, even radical, ways." (Volume 2 appears to be So Long 2nd Street, from 2004, "with David Binney" on the cover.) The 15-year break makes me wonder about his commitment, but then so does the music, with "America the Beautiful" and "Wichita Lineman" especially poor picks. Several vocals (Alecia Chakour, Everett Bradley, Theo Bleckmann, Harrison himself). Binney is often superb. B

Mike Holober/The Gotham Jazz Orchestra: Hiding Out (2017 [2019], Zoho, 2CD): Pianist, based in or around New York, works almost exclusively with big bands like the Westchester Big Band and this one -- recorded in Mt. Vernon, but stocked with some of the city's finest. Two long, multi-part pieces, plus two takes of "Caminhos Cruzados." Some delightful stretches. B+(***) [cd]

Anne Mette Iversen's Ternion Quartet: Invincible Nimbus (2018 [2019], Bju'ecords): Danish bassist, in New York 1998-2012, where she was a founder of Brooklyn Jazz Underground, now based in Berlin. Second Ternion Quartet album, with Silke Eberhard (alto sax), Geoffroy De Masure (trombone), and Roland Schneider (drums). Eberhard impresses when they speed up. They lose something on the slower ones, although that's where the trombone especially shines. B+(***)

Mark Kavuma: The Banger Factory (2019, Ubuntu Music): Trumpet player, based in London, second album. With a saxophone or two, guitar, vibes, piano and/or organ, bass, drums, sometimes sounding like yesteryear's hard bop, occasionally with a postbop twist. B+(*)

David Kikoski: Phoenix Rising (2019, HighNote): Pianist, from New Jersey, twenty-some albums since 1989, mostly quartet with Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Peter Washington (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). Very mainstream, but it's been quite a while since the saxophonist sounded this good. B+(***)

Steve Lehman Trio/Craig Taborn: The People I Love (2018-19 [2019[, Pi): Alto saxophonist, an Anthony Braxton protégé, a very smart composer with outstanding chops, is in near-perfect form here. A very tight quartet, the banner "trio" accounting for Matt Brewer on bass and Damion Reid on drums, while allowing the more famous pianist's name to grace the front cover. A [cd]

Nils Lofgren: Blue With Lou (2019, Cattle Track Road): Singer-songwriter, probably better known as a guitarist-for-hire used by Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, although he has a pretty long list of solo albums (Wikipedia lists 27; I'm surprised to only find one in my database: his eponymous debut, which I gave an A-; I do have several listings for his 1971-74 group Grin). "Lou" is Reed. Lofgren co-wrote three songs on Reed's 1979 album, The Bells -- one ("City Lights") reprised here. B+(*)

Dr. Mark Lomax, II: 400: An Afrikan Epic (2019, CFG Multimedia, 12-CD): Drummer, had a Jazz CG Pick Hit in 2010 but only one more album came to my attention, until I got wind of this massive undertaking. Turns out he's been busy, teaching at Ohio State, giving TED Talks, adding to his academic credentials, and recording albums I want a shot at sooner of later. This here is his encyclopedia of African and Afro-American history and lore, organized as 12 parts or albums -- hard to tell with digital these days. The first chunk, which Napster has as The First Ankhcestor, is all drums, primal but also deeply felt and highly developed. He moves on to his extraordinary quartet -- Edwin Bayard (tenor/soprano sax), Dr. William Menefield (piano), and Dean Hulett (bass) -- with some pointed spoken word on the opening of the transatlantic slave trade. They carry most of what follows, especially Bayard (imagine Coltrane, Sanders, and Ayler -- as Sanders put it, "the father, the son, and the holy ghost" -- raised to a higher level. Less sonically appealing are sections done up in strings, but even violins and cellos can't bury the rhythm. Toward the end the drums take over again. Took me a half-dozen sittings over four days just to stream the whole thing, which makes this hugely impractical to review and nearly unfathomable, but it is chock full of magnificent music. [PS: Initially wrote this last line while listening to "Afro-Futurism 09-8: Transcendence," but many pieces are comparable. Edited it a bit while finishing up. I initially wrote up reviews of Parts 1, 3, and 4. Not wanting to flood the A-list, I hedged the grades, and ultimately dropped the reviews. I decided not to sort out the twelve parts, but only the string-heavy section might drop below A-, and that's not a lock. I usually reserve the A grade for albums I've played numerous times, and that's not the case here. Still, 10+ hours is quite a bit of experience to draw on, and the effect is cumulative. A lesser grade would imply caveats and hedges I no longer have.] A [os]

LSD: Labrinth/Sia/Diplo Present . . . LSD (2019, Columbia): British producer Timothy McKenzie, released an album in 2012, joins here with the Australian pop singer and American DJ. Nu soul vibe, but works so erratically it's hard to be sure, or care. B-

Lage Lund: Terrible Animals (2018 [2019], Criss Cross): Norwegian guitarist, studied at Berklee and Juilliard, won a Monk Prize, based in New York, eleventh album since 2007, quartet with piano (Sullivan Fortner), bass (Larry Grenadier), and drums (Tyshawn Sorey). B+(*)

Jon Lundbom/Bryan Murray: Beats by Balto! Vol. 1 (2018 [2019], Chant): Some dispute on artist credit, with Bandcamp page favoring Balto Exclamationpoint (Murray, responsible for the beats, also plays various saxophones), while others list the guitarist first. Also in the group is Jon Irabagon (alto/mezzosoprano/slide saxophones), giving them three free-wheeling leads. The beats provide a platform, setting the leads free without letting them fly off the rails. A-

Maxo Kream: Brandon Banks (2019, Big Persona/RCA): Houston rapper, Emekwanem Ogogua Biosah, Jr., father Nigerian. Second album, solid, could catch on. B+(**)

MexStep: Resistir (2018, Third Root): Rapper from San Antonio, don't know any personal details, nor have I dug deep enough to say much about Third Root (perhaps a collective and/or a label). Produced by Marco Cervantes and Adrian Quesada, with various feat. guests. Scratches are old school, tejano flashes add color, and the politics is up front. A-

Moutin Factory Quintet: Mythical River (2019, Laborie Jazz): Brothers François and Louis Moutin, bass and drums, in a postbop quintet, with alto/soprano sax, guitar, and piano. Something wrong with my copy, but nothing I've heard makes me want to figure out what -- certainly not the promise of vocal credits. B- [cd]

Simon Nabatov Quintet: Last Minute Theory (2018 [2019], Clean Feed): Russian pianist, moved to New York in 1979, studied at Juilliard, close to four dozen albums since 1989, mostly avant duos and trios on Leo. Lots of fire power here, with Tony Malaby (tenor/soprano sax), Brandon Seabrook (guitar), Michael Formanek (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). B+(**)

New York Voices: Reminiscing in Tempo (2017-18 [2019], Origin): Vocal group, five voices in 1987 including Peter Eldridge, Darmon Meader, and Kim Nazarian, with two women dropping out, Lauren Kinhan joining in 1992. Similar to Manhattan Transfer, but influenced more by vocalese. I've never been a fan, but this is exceptionally chipper, and their shtick fits nicely with a song like "In My Life." B [cd]

Paal Nilssen-Love: New Brazilian Funk (2018 [2019], PNL): Avant-drummer from Norway, recorded this at Roskilde with Frode Gjerstad on alto sax and three presumed Brazilians: Felipe Zenicola (electric bass), Kiko Dinucci (electric guitar), and Paulinho Bicolor (cuica). The latter thrash more than funk, which gives the Norwegians something they can build on. B+(**)

Paal Nilssen-Love: New Japanese Noise (2018 [2019], PNL): Norwegian drummer teams up with presumed Japanese this time, also at Roskilde Festival: Kiko Dinucci (electric guitar), Kohei Gomi (electronics), Toshiji Mikawa (electronics), Akira Sakata (alto sax, Bb clarinet, voice) -- latter has been a major avant-jazz figure in Japan since 1975. First cut is as chaotic as you'd expect. Third starts to turn into something, but soon enough gets noisy again -- so much so the vocal even helps. B+(*)

Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark: Screen Off (2019, PNL): Long-running avant drums and reeds duo, sometimes credited the other way around. Twenty-one bits here, audio skimmed from unofficial YouTube videos and pasted together like a mixtape into a 42:00 track. Does bounce around a bit. B+(**) [bc]

Ola Onabulé: Point Less (2019, Rugged Ram): Born in London, spent ten years of childhood in Nigeria before returning home. Eight or more albums since 1994. Bits of soul and jazz here, nothing that makes me want to sort it all out. B [cd]

The Paranoid Style: A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life (2019, Bar/None): Singer-polemicist Elizabeth Nelson plus band, drops interesting words that make me want to get more out of the lyrics, but I struggle and flail. Maybe I'd try harder if I liked the music more, but I find it rushed, not that the album (11 tracks, 29:49) seems too short. B+(***)

Mario Pavone Dialect Trio: Philosophy (2018 [2019], Clean Feed): Bassist-led piano trio, with Matt Mitchell and Tyshawn Sorey. Live set from Firehouse 12. Pavone originals, one joint credit, two Annette Peacock covers. B+(***)

Houston Person: I'm Just a Lucky So and So (2018 [2019], HighNote): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, started in the 1960s when his label (Prestige) was home to greats like Coleman Hawkins and Gene Ammons, and followed Joe Fields from there through a series of labels, eventually emerging as a great himself -- the last of that particular line. A fine quartet (Lafayette Gilchrist, Matthew Parrish, Kenny Washington) augmented on most tracks with trumpet (Eddie Allen) and guitar (Rodney Jones). Fairly typical effort, but at this point that's all he needs. A- [cd]

Alberto Pibiri & the Al Peppers: The Nacho Blues (2019, Alberto Pibiri Music): Italian pianist, based in New York, has at least one previous album. This one is a tribute to Herb Alpert, with Dan Blankinship on trumpet, Daniel Foose (double bass), and Brian Floody (drums). Mix of originals and standards, none of which remind me of Alpert -- except, perhaps, for a bit of jauntiness. B+(*) [cd]

Pink: Hurts 2B Human (2019, RCA): Eighth album, almost 20 years in. Played this right after Betty Who, and was immediately blown away by how huge the opener ("Hustle") sounded. More varied, less consistent, peaks midway with the title cut (feat. Khalid), ends with a ballad that shouldn't work but does ("The Last Song of Your Life"). B+(***)

The John Pizzarelli Trio: For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole (2019, Ghostlight): Son of retro-swing guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, plays guitar himself and sings, lately fluffing up his catalog with various tributes. This is his third round with Cole, the others in 1994 and 1999. Trio with Konrad Paszkudzki on piano and Mike Karn on double bass. Fourteen well-worn songs, nicely swung, voice close enough to Cole's sweet spot. B+(**)

Pom Poko: Birthday (2019, Bella Union): Norwegian noise-pop group, although when I looked them up I got a Japanese film instead. By then I was thinking Shonen Knife, but never could stand bubblegum-punk (or however you want to characterize it). Can't really stand this either, but any given moment is as likely as not to hit a pleasure center. B+(*)

Noah Preminger: After Life (2018 [2019], Criss Cross): Tenor saxophonist, made a strong impression when he first appeared (c. 2008), built on that, then coasted. Postbop quintet with Jason Palmer (trumpet), Max Light (guitar), Kim Cass (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums), playing originals plus a bit of Händel. B+(**)

Dave Rempis/Joshua Abrams/Avreeayl Ra + Jim Baker: Apsis (2018 [2019], Aerophonic): Leader plays alto, tenor, and baritone saxes, backed by bass, drums, and piano/electronics. Baker adds a lot here, even if the net result is just another saxophone tour de force. The soft landing cinches it. A- [cd]

Herlin Riley: Perpetual Optimism (2017 [2019], Mack Avenue): Drummer, fourth album as leader, long tenure with Wynton Marsalis. Mostly quintet with trumpet (Bruce Harris), alto sax (Godwin Louis), piano (Emmet Cohen), and bass (Russell Hall). Lively beat. Two vocals, presumably Riley, one a pretty jazzy "Wang Dang Doodle." B+(*)

Sasami: Sasami (2019, Domino): Surname Ashworth, singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, played keybs in Cherry Glazerr, first album. Dream pop, atmospheric, not quite as chilly as the cover. B+(*)

Jenny Scheinman/Allison Miller: Jenny Scheinman & Allison Miller's Parlour Game (2019, Royal Potato Family): Violin and drums, have several fine albums together in Miller's Boom Tic Boom. Quartet with Carmen Staaf (piano) and Tony Scherr (bass). Has some moments, but fewer than expected. B+(***)

Fabrizio Sciacca Quartet: Gettin' It There (2019, self-released): Bassist from Italy, studied at Berklee, based in New York, seems to be his first album, with Donald Vega (pianist, from Nicaragua), Billy Drummond (drums), and Jed Levy (alto sax). Satisfying just as a piano trio, the sax unnoticed until it is. B+(**) [cd]

Paul Silbergleit: January (2018 [2019], Blujazz): Guitarist, based in Milwaukee, has at least two previous albums (his debut was Silberglicity, from 1996). Mainstream quartet with bass, drums, and tenor sax (Eric Schoor). No spectacle, but grows on you. B+(**) [cd]

Ezra Weiss Big Band: We Limit Not the Truth of God (2019, OA2): Conventional big band, extra percussion but no guitar, the leader listed as conductor but he also interjects some spoken word, a long and rather touching yarn of contemporary liberal angst. The music can weep along, or rise up. B+(**) [cd]

Betty Who: Betty (2019, AWAL): Australian pop singer, Jessica Anne Newham, third album. Maturing, which is part of her appeal, as long as she doesn't lose the beat. B+(**)

Saul Williams: Encrypted & Vulnerable (2019, Pirates Blend): Nominally a spoken word artist, but he's been recording since 2001, and picked up enough skills to occasionally lose himself in the music. Probably worth the effort to figure out what he's saying. B+(*)

Mark Wingfield & Gary Husband: Tor & Vale (2018 [2019], Moonjune): Guitar and piano duo, Wingfield the writer, also credited with "soundscapes." Runs long, occasionally passing something of interest. B [cd]

Paul Zauner's Blue Brass feat. David Murray: Roots n' Wings (2019, PAO/Blujazz): Austrian trombonist, handful of albums with variants of this group, an octet here including his guest star. Zauner played some with Murray in the late 1980s. Good to hear him here, but two other saxes and trumpet vie for attention. B+(***) [cd]

Gabriel Zucker: Weighting (2016 [2018], ESP-Disk): Pianist, from New York, has a previous record as The Delegation. You could call this a bass-less quartet: two horns (Adam O'Farrill on trumpet and Eric Trudel on sax), piano, drums (Tyshawn Sorey), no bass. Despite the small group size, this comes off rather heavy, with crescendos and such. Dramatic, I guess B [bc]

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Cannonball Adderley: Swingin' in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1967 (1966-67 [2019], Reel to Reel): Alto saxophonist, ran one of the top hard bop jazz groups from 1958, although they faded in the late 1960s as mainstream labels collapsed and musicians gravitated toward fusion. This is a quintet with brother Nat Adderley on cornet, Joe Zawinul on piano, Victor Gaskin on bass, and Roy McCurdy on drums. A previously unreleased live tape. B+(***)

Big Stick: Some of the Best of Big Stick (1985-91 [2019], Drag Racing Underground): John Gill and Yanna Trance met in art school, formed this very underground punk-industrial band, cut a few short records, including a 10-inch EP Christgau liked, and a 23-track CD I bought and shelved somewhere. They resurfaced in 2019 with a possibly new LP and a 15-track Most of the Best of Big Stick, but all I found was this cut-down 10-cut, 25:01 sampler. Move into Sonic Youth territory on "California Dreamin'." B+(**)

Tyler Childers: Live on Red Barn Radio I & II (2013-14 [2018], Hickman Holler, EP): Country singer-songwriter from Kentucky, self-released his debut (Bottles and Bibles) in 2011, also these two live EPs, compiled following his 2017 breakthrough Purgatory. Eight tracks, 29:28. B+(***)

Marvin Gaye: You're the Man (1972 [2019], Motown): "Lost" album, intended to follow What's Going On, but was cancelled after the title cut was released as a single. Most of it was released in dribs and drabs over the years. His sound is intact, the songs a mixed bag but the title one scores points. B+(**)

The Tubby Hayes Quartet: Grits, Beans and Greens: The Lost Fontana Studio Session 1969 (1969 [2019], Decca): British tenor saxophonist, a star there from 1957, although his discography fades after 1967 and he died in 1973 at 38. Replete with multiple takes, the rhythm section is nothing special, but the saxophonist is in fine form. B+(**)

George Jones: United Artists Rarities (1962-64 [2019], EMI Nashville): Twelve songs, three listed as alternate takes, no idea how they got picked or how they fit within (or beyond) the 13 Jones LPs United Artists released 1962-65. Part of my confusion is that the title is recycled from a 6-cut EP released on Record Store Day 2012. Songs aren't very memorable, but the voice is. B+(***)

Nicola Conte Presents: Cosmic Forest: The Spiritual Sound of MPS (1965-75 [2018], MPS): German label, founded in 1968 by the owner of the earlier SABA label, the "S" standing for the Black Forest (Schwarzwald). The label was active up to 1983, when the catalog was sold to Philips, then Polydor, winding up in Universal. Conte is a DJ turned producer, with several "presents" albums. "Spiritual jazz" has come back into vogue recently, but hard for me to define, picking here mostly from cross-cultural hybrids (Indian, African, Latin, some chants or soul vocals, but we also have Dexter Gordon playing straight bop). Not sure of all of the dates, but a couple tracks come from SABA (pre-1968) albums. B+(**)

Masayuki Takayanagi New Directions Unit: April Is the Cruelest Month (1975 [2019], Black Forms Editions): Pioneering Japanese avant guitarist, cut his first record in 1961, died 1991. Quartet with Kengi Mori (alto sax/flute/bass clarinet), bass/cello, and percussion. Three cuts, 37:04. I've grown more tolerant of noise squalls over the years, but this is still a bit much. B-

Old Music


Arrow: Soca Savage (1984, Arrow): Soca star from Montserrat, Alphonsus Cassell (1949-2010), thirty albums 1972-2002, this the only one I picked up, distributed worldwide by London. Big beat, lots of enthusiasm, recorded a little harshly. B+(*)

Arrow: Knock Dem Dead (1987 [1988], Mango): First album picked up by Island, hoping soca might be the next thing after interest in reggae wanes. Leads off with "Groove Master," and winds up with two remixes of same. B+(**)

Balto!: Balto! (2016, self-released): Google isn't any help here, as the word/name has multiple referrents, including a roots Americana band, but this here is Bryan Murray, credited with tenor, alto and balto! saxophones, pipeapone, trumpet, drums, keyboard, programming and sampling. Fond of noise, given to vamps. B+(**) [bc]

Balto!: Two Cans of Soup (2017, self-released, EP): Solo balto! sax ("alto sax fitted with a bari mouthpiece and plastic reed") and looper. Website description: "I made this shit" (5 tracks, 19:51). B- [bc]

Balto!: Taco Cat Poops (2018, self-released, EP): Free download, five cuts, 24:12, title in emojis. Presumably solo, with electronics and percussion as well as noisy saxophone. B+(**) [bc]

Balto Exclamationpoint/Plaidworthy: If the Big Hurt (2015, self-released): Canonical artist name on Bandcamp, but this is the only album cover I've seen it spelled out on. Sax and drums duo, relatively straightforward, which is a plus. B+(***) [bc]

Baltbom!: ¡!Baltbom!¡ (2015, self-released): Duo: Jon Lundbom (guitar) and Bryan Murray (aka Balto!, playing his personally modified Balto! saxophone). Seventeen short pieces, a mixed bag, but the 1:12 closer ("Boys") has a fun country twist. B+(*) [bc]

Baltsticks!!: Play You, Play Me (2016, self-released): Bryan Murray again (saxophones, vocals, talzmer, pipeaphone, irish whistle, recorder, mandolin), in a trio with Plaidworthy (drums and vocals) and Magbooch Spooner (synths). More rhythm here, almost works as jive. B+(*) [bc]

The Bluegrass Album Band: The Bluegrass Album, Vol. 3: California Connection (1983, Rounder): Tony Rice sings and plays guitar, backed by other semi-famous bluegrass players -- J.D. Crowe (banjo), Jerry Douglas (dobro), Bobby Hicks (fiddle), Doyle Lawson (mandolin), Todd Phillips (bass), with Crowe and Lawson also singing. Starts with a Gram Parsons song ("Devil in Disguise") but that seems to be it for California. After that it's back to Kentucky, with no less than five Lester Flatt tunes. B+(**)

Lenny Breau & Brad Terry: The Living Room Tapes (1978 [1995], Dos): Guitar and clarinet duo. Breau (1941-84) was born in Maine, grew up in Canada, and wound up in Los Angeles, with two 1969 records on RCA, a few other scattered about, often with country musicians like Chet Atkins and Buddy Emmons. These were taped in a farmhouse in Maine, first appearing in 1986. More sessions followed up to 1982, ultimately compiled into in a 2-CD Complete set (2003). B+(*)

Bryan and the Haggards/Eugene Chadbourne: Merles Just Wanna Have Fun (2012 [2013], Northern Spy): Third album by saxophonist Bryan Murray's Merle Haggard tribute band, the first with guest vocalist (also on banjo and dobro). Chadbourne doesn't have the expected voice, but at least he articulates the songs the band seems intent on murdering. The band, with Jon Irabagon (saxes), Jon Lundbom (guitar), Moppa Elliott (bass), and Danny Fischer (drums) -- think bebop-terrorists Mostly Other People Do the Killing gone to seed -- give you even less of what you expect. Still, comes together midway, and likely to get even better with more plays. A- [bc]

Tyler Childers: Bottles and Bibles (2011, Hickman Holler): First album, eight songs (30:29), minimal production, but the songs are so bleak they don't want to cheering up. Message: "that coal is gonna bury you." On love: "I feel like a Hank song, since she went away." And when the bibles and bottles start fighting, the whiskey wins. A-

Jack DeJohnette: Sorcery (1974, Prestige): The drummer was mostly thought of as a fusion player at this point, acknowledged here by playing keyboards as well as drums, with Dave Holland on bass, either John Abercrombie or Mick Goodrick on guitar, and Bennie Maupin on bass clarinet for the first side, Michael Fellerman on trombone for both. Still, never bogs down in fusion clichés, not that it commands close attention. B+(*)

Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition: Tin Can Alley (1980 [1981], ECM): Drummer, group named for his 1980 album, although the personnel is a bit less special here: Chico Freeman and John Purcell replacing Arthur Blythe and David Murray, with Peter Warren remaining on bass and cello. DeJohnette vocal on "I Know," over a blues riff. B+(**)

Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition: Inflation Blues (1982 [1983], ECM): Continues with sax/reed players Freeman and Purcell, adds Baikida Carroll on trumpet (4/5 tracks), with Rufus Reid taking over at bass. DeJohnette's rant on the title track doesn't impress me, but I don't mind his muted play on reggae. The horns are strong throughout, and no one can complain about the drumming. B+(*)

Jack DeJohnette: Parallel Realities (1990, MCA): Surprised we don't see more names on the cover, as the drummer's cohort are if anything more famous: Pat Metheny (guitar and synths) and Herbie Hancock (piano, mostly acoustic). Metheny co-produced and wrote half of the pieces, so no surprise this is right up his alley. B+(*)

Manu Dibango: Wakafrika (1994, Giant): From Cameroon, plays sax and vibes, some keyboards, sings, has 50+ albums from 1968 until he turned 80 in 2013. This is one of his better-distributed ones, incorporating touches from the far corners of Africa (and electronica beyond), which only seems fitting given the central location of his home. B+(**)

Little Jimmy Dickens: 16 Biggest Hits (1949-65 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): Just short of five feet tall, I knew him from his 1965 crossover novelty hit "May the Bird of Paradise (Fly Up Your Nose)," but also as the only musician I ever heard my father mention. He was thinking of Dickens' first hit, "Take an Old Cold Tater (And Wait)," probably to make a point about what a poor country boy he was. Dickens recorded a lot of singles between those two, but few charted (10 from 1949-65, 8 here, only 1 from 1951-61). While he liked a crude joke, and rarely missed an opportunity to make fun of himself, the filler here mostly consists of shitkickers like "Hillbilly Fever" and "Salty Boogie," and the odd ballad can be poignant. B+(***)

Taana Gardner: Heartbeat (1981, West End, EP): Disco singer, cut an album in 1979, but is better known for this later single, the two versions adding up to 16:17 (hence, an EP in my book). Probably wouldn't have bothered but this is one of the very few Christgau full-A records I hadn't found. Stumbled on this by accident, so figured I had to give it an ear. And while I'm not so blown away, I can imagine putting it on repeat for hours on end. A-

George Gruntz: Noon in Tunisia (1967, SABA): Swiss pianist, early work included several Jazz Goes Baroque albums, later ran a well-regarded big band. Recorded in Germany with a bunch of musicians from the Mahgreb playing trad instruments -- Jelloul Osman's mezoued (bagpipes) most prominent, although the percussion is most numerous. The jazz contingent includes Jean-Luc Ponty (violin), Eberhard Weber (bass), Daniel Humair (drums), and Sahib Shihab (soprano sax/flute -- an American born 1925 as Edmund Gregory, changed his name when he converted to Islam, played in a long list of eminent big bands). The pianist doesn't play a lot, but is notable when he does. B+(***)

George Gruntz: St. Peter Power (1968, MPS): Credit says organ, but we're talking pipes, not Hammond, so this collection of standard pieces ("Summertime," "My Funny Valentine," "Lonely Woman," "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," etc.) is very churchy ("recorded at Kloster- und Pfarrkirche St. Peter/Schwarzwald"). With Eberhard Weber (bass) and Daniel Humair (drums). Not intolerable but pretty tedious. C+

Luderin Darbone's Hackberry Ramblers: Early Recordings: 1935-1950 (1935-50 [2003, Arhoolie): Classic cajun group, formed in 1933 Darbone (fiddle) and Edwin Duhon (accordion), with Glen Croker entering at some point, taking over lead guitar and most of the vocals. These are mostly Bluebird singles, most in French but occasionally they venture into blues or Western Swing. B+(***)

Luderin Darbone's Hackberry Ramblers: Jolie Blonde (1963-65 [1993], Arhoolie): Chris Strachwitz's label took a brief interest in the Ramblers, rounding up this mix of studio, home, and live recordings, skewed toward the Cajun classics. B+(**)

The Hackberry Ramblers: Cajun Boogie (1992, Flying Fish): Founded in 1933, the legendary cajun group didn't record much after 1948, but the founders kept the group going until their deaths (Edwin Duhon in 2006, Luderin Darbone in 2008, and Glen Croker in 2011). This live set was their first LP, old tunes but a lot of fun. A-

The Johnson Mountain Boys: At the Old Schoolhouse (1988 [1989], Rounder): DC-based bluegrass group, active 1978-88 with occasional reunions, this live double capping their initial run. B+(***)

George Jones: Sings the Hits of His Country Cousins (1962, United Artists): Second of thirteen quickie albums Jones cut during his 3-year stint at United Artists. A dozen covers, some usual suspects from Roy Acuff and Eddy Arnold to Hank Williams and Bob Wills with some less orthodox picks: "Peace in the Valley" gets bogged down in the choir, but Burl Ives' "A Little Bitty Tear" is the sort of fluff Jones imbues with depth. B+(***)

George Jones: My Favorites of Hank Williams (1962, United Artists): Fourth UA album, an obvious choice, a subject he previously visited for Mercury. Twelve songs, all short (28:14 total), played and sung so straightforwardly it winds up feeling a bit hollow. B+(*)

George Jones: Sings Like the Dickens! (1964, United Artists): Near the end of his UA contract, a tribute to Little Jimmy Dickens -- not an obvious choice fifteen years after Dickens' breakout, and a year shy of his one crossover moment. Odd choice of songs too: only four from 16 Biggest Hits, none trademarks. Pappy Daily's production is as corny as ever, but the voice is magnificent. B+(**)

Ketama/Toumani Diabate/José Soto: Songhai 2 (1994, Hannibal): Spanish group, formed 1985, combines flamenco and salsa, joined here by the Malian kora master and a Spanish guitarist-singer (replacing English bassist Danny Thompson, from the previous Songhai album). B+(*)

Shoukichi Kina: Peppermint Tea House: The Best of Shoukichi Kina (1980-91 [1994], Luaka Bop): Rock singer-songwriter from Okinawa, David Byrne's second (and last) pick for his Asia Classics series. Slight countryish air to go with funkier-than-usual J-pop bubblegum. B+(**)

Tony Lakatos/Rick Margitza/Gábor Bolla: Gypsy Tenors (2017, Skip): Margitza is a mainstream tenor saxophonist -- one of my favorites in the 1990s but I've rarely run across him since 2001. He was born in Michigan, but claims a Hungarian Gypsy grandfather. The other two are Hungarian (not sure about Gypsy), also playing tenor sax, and they're backed by piano-bass-drums. B+(**)

The Mark Lomax Sektet: Tales of the Black Experience (1999 [2001], Blacklisted Music): The drummer's first record, incorporating poems by Scott Woods and Vernell Bristow. Group is a sextet with two saxes (Stephen Lomax and Edwin Bayard), trumpet (Arisyn Banks), bass, and extra percussion. Same musical strengths as in his later work -- not least, the drums. B+(***)

The Mark Lomax Trio: Lift Every Voice! (2004, Blacklisted Music): Drummer-led trio with William Menefield (piano) and Dean Hulett (bass), subtitled The Spirituals & the Blues Vol. I, a set of "popular negro spirituals" arranged by Lomax. B+(**)

The Mark Lomax Quartet: We Shall Overcome: Spirituals & the Blues Vol. 2 (2013 [2014], CFG Multimedia): Adds the powerhouse saxophonist Edwin Bayard to the Vol. 1 piano trio for five more spirituals, three in the 8-12 minute range, "Oh, Freedom!" at 20:37, and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" stretched way out to 29:56. Such length can lose track of the themes, although not for lack of inspiration. B+(***)

The Mark Lomax Quartet: Requiem for a Fallen King: A Tribute to Elvin Jones (2013 [2016], CFG Multimedia): Four-part suite (50:42), written in 2004 when Jones died and performed for only the third time in almost ten years. Same quartet Lomax has worked with since the beginning (Edwin Bayard, William Menefield, Dean Hulett): one capable of great power, B+(***) [os]

Jon Lundbom: Big Five Chord (2003 [2004], self-released): Guitarist, first album, took this title as his group name for most later albums (at least through 2019's Harder on the Outside). With Jon Irabagon (alto sax), Dominic Lalli (tenor sax), Moppa Elliott (bass), and Justin Wake (drums). Five originals, plus covers from Syd Barrett and Dr. Seuss. This drops some hints of where the band is headed. B+(*)

John Lundbom & Big Five Chord: All the Pretty Ponies (A Live Recording) (2004 [2005], self-released): Two personnel changes: Bryan Murray joins on tenor sax, starting a long association, and Andrew Bain takes over on drums. They come out loud, making up in attitude what they sacrifice in coherence. B

Yo-Ya Ma: The Soul of the Tango: The Music of Astor Piazzolla (1998, Sony Classical): Cellist, born in Paris, grew up in New York, child prodigy, graduated from Juilliard and Harvard, very famous and not just in classical circles, as he's dabbled far and wide, notably with his Silk Road Ensemble. I haven't followed him, but did hear his 2-CD Sony sampler (The Essential Yo-Yo Ma) and liked it enough for a B+. Moreover, I love Piazzolla's tangos so much I picked this up (then forgot about it). Starts with a remarkably poised "Libertango." Bandoneon and violin, guitar and piano keep it flowing. B+(**)

Michael Mantler: No Answer (1973 [1974], Watt): Carla Bley's second husband (after Paul Bley, before Steve Swallow), they named their label after one of Samuel Beckett's novels. Mantler honors Beckett further by composing an opera for his text, sung by bassist Jack Bruce, featuring Bley (piano) and Don Cherry (trumpet). B-

Michael Mantler: Silence (1976 [1977], Watt): More compositions for words, this time from Harold Pinter, sung by Kevin Coyne and Robert Wyatt, played by Carla Bley (piano/organ), Chris Spedding (guitar), Ron McClure (bass), Wyatt (percussion), and Clare Maher (cello, the only name missing from the cover). Not without interest, but takes a lot of work. B

Michael Mantler: No Answer/Silence (1973-76 [2000], Watt, 2CD): Reissue, combining the two albums without trying to cram them into one overlog disc. B

Jas. Mathus and His Knock-Down Society: Play Songs for Rosetta (1997, Mammoth): Founder of Squirrel Nut Zippers, a folkie group that favored trad jazz and blues songsters, this was his first solo effort, the first of four albums with variants of this group credit, later trading James in for Jimbo. I'm a sucker for that old-timey jazz, but I'm less convinced by his blues. B+(*)

Bob Moses: When Elephants Dream of Music (1982 [1983], Gramavision): Drummer, later adopted the preface Ra-Kalam (several variants), second or third album, a big band/kitchen sink production, with scattered vocals (including bit parts for Jeanne Lee and Sheila Jordan). Echoes of Ellington and/or Africa. [Reissued 2019 on Ra-Kalam with +4 tracks.] B

Dewan Motihar Trio/Irene Schweizer Trio/Manfred Schoof/Barney Wilen: Jazz Meets India (1967, SABA): Indian sitar player (with Keshay Sathe on tabla and Kusum Thakur on tambura) plus Swiss pianist (with Uli Trepte on bass and Mani Neumeier on drums) plus German cornet/trumpet layer and French saxophonist (soprano/tenor). Three pieces: two from Motihar, one from Schoof. Same time as Ravi Shankar was wowing western audiences and the Beatles were dabbling with sitar comes this pioneering avant-jazz fusion. Don't know much about Motihar but the jazz musicians aquit themselves well here, especially the 26-year-old pianist in one of her first records, already very distinctive. B+(**)

Bryan Murray: What You Don't Forget (2007, Jazz Excursion): Saxophonist, first album, a fairly impressive free jazz outing with guitarist Jon Lundbom plus bass (Michael Bates) and drums (Chris Carroll). B+(***)

Oujda-Casablanca Introspections, Vol. 1 (1988-93 [1994], Barbarity): With Algeria torn by civil war, rai producer Ben Omar Rachid crosses the border into Morocco in search of grooves and ululations. A- [cd]

Pink: Funhouse (2008, LaFace): Fifth album, first one I was warned off of, still sold seven million copies. Big pop production, hook-filled songs, was probably more fun at the time. B+(**)

Pink: Greatest Hits . . . So Far!!! (2000-10 [2010], LaFace/Jive): A pretty solid rule of thumb is that insisting on a "so far" on a "greatest hits" album is career death. Whether that counts here depends on what you think about her next album, 2012's The Truth About Love (sold 7 million copies, a Christgau A, a middle B+ from me). Even within the five albums distilled here, this is front-loaded, probably the better place to start, and gets heavier over the decade. Still, she didn't fold as hard as other victims of the "so far" curse. While her later albums never touched the early ones, she still has her moments -- at least three songs on the new album would fit "Fuckin' Perfect" here. A-

John Pizzarelli: P.S. Mr. Cole (1996-97 [1999], RCA): The guitarist-singer's second Nat King Cole tribute, after 1994's lukewarm Dear Mr. Cole. With Ray Kennedy on piano, brother Martin Pizzarelli on double bass, and a couple of spots for Harry Allen (tenor sax). Less famous songs than on the first and latest tributes (e.g., "I Like Jersey Best"). B+(***)

Olaf Polziehn Trio Featuring Harry Allen: American Songbook Vol. 2 (2003, Satin Doll): German piano trio with Ingmar Heller (bass) and Oliver Mewes (drums), plus the ideal tenor saxophonist for such a retro-swing outfit. B+(**)

Olaf Polziehn/Ingmar Heller/Troy Davis/Harry Allen: American Songbook Vol. 3 (2006, Satin Doll): Same deal, different drummer, the saxophonist listed as "special guest" on the cover but same sized type. Also includes some cello from the pianist's wife, Julia. B+(*)

Romeo Must Die: The Album (2000, Virgin): Soundtrack to Andrzej Bartkowiak's movie, roughly Romeo and Juliet set in Oakland with rival African-American and Chinese gang families, starring Jet Li, Delroy Lindo, and at least two musicians who appear on the soundtrack (Aaliyah and DMX). Aaliyah, Timbaland, and Barry Hankerson produced the soundtrack. B+(***) [cd]

Wallace Roney: The Wallace Roney Quintet (1995 [1996], Warner Bros.): Trumpet player, throwback to the hard bop 1960s, second Warners album after an earlier run on Muse. With brother Antoine Roney on tenor sax, Carlos McKinney on piano, plus bass and drums. Album runs over 78 minutes. B [cd]

Archie Shepp/Jasper Van't Hof: Live in Concert: Mama Rose (1982, SteepleChase): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, from the SWF Festival in Germany, backed by the Dutch keyboardist (mostly electronics), who provides what passes for rhythm and shading. Shepp recites a poem on the title track, which Van't Hof supports niftily. B+(*)

Robert Taub: Milton Babbitt: Piano Works (1985 [1986], Harmonia Mundi): Old LP, which I've long filed under the composer's name, but lately I'm more inclined to file under the performer. The pieces range from 1947 to 1985, feel more like improv than classical to me, which may just mean that I like them. B+(***)

Third World Cop [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] (1999 [2000], Palm Pictures): Soundtrack to Chris Browne's movie, produced by Island impressario Chris Blackwell. Sly & Robbie claim four of the first six songs, and probably play on the rest -- all in the contemporary dancehall style -- most notably, the Marley Brothers on "Call the Police," Lady G on "Man a Bad Man," and Luciano on the inevitable "Police & Thieves." A-

McCoy Tyner Big Band: Journey (1993, Birdology): Pianist, broke out of John Coltrane's Quartet for a distinguished solo career, including three albums in his big band phase (1989-93). This is the third, many star players, the trumpet solos (Jerry Gonzalez and Eddie Henderson) especially stand out. B+(**) [cd]

Jasper Van't Hof/Ernie Watts/Bo Stieff Face to Face: Canossa (1998, Canossa): Keyboards, tenor sax, bass -- trio also using the name of their 1995 album -- with Nippie Noya on percussion. Gets stronger as it progresses, which doesn't necessarily mean better. B+(*) [cd]

Viva La Musica & Papa Wemba: Pôle Position (1995, Sonodisc): Wemba is a singer-bandleader from Congo, nearly as prolific and monumental as Franco and Rochereau. I went looking for an unrated, but found more than I can manage to sort out. (Sounds like a job for Joe Yanosik.) Here he puts the band name first, and their soukous groove is nearly flawless. A-

Waiting to Exhale [Original Soundtrack ALbum] (1995, Arista): Babyface's soft-soul Soundtrack to Forrest Whitaker's romance film starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett. Houston gets three songs, the others scattered among the era's lesser or greater lights -- Toni Braxton, Mary J. Blige, Brandy, Chanté Moore, Faith Evans, TLC, SWV, plus a few legends of yore (Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle). Nothing stands out, but the lush ambience flows nicely. B+(**)

Papa Wemba: Papa Wemba [Destin Ya Moto] (1988, Disques Espérance): One of two eponymous (or untitled?) albums to appear at/near this time, one of which is in my database but missing physically -- I recall this album cover, but noted the label and catalog number of the other. Took me some time finding this, as Napster lists it as Destin Ya Moto, for the first (of four) songs. Subtle groove, sweet guitar, B+(**)

Papa Wemba: Papa Wemba [M'Fono Yami] (1988 [1989], Stern's Africa): The other one, produced by Martin Meissonnier with more keyboards, also released by Celluloid (as M'Fono Yami?) and EMI France. [4/7 tracks, 20:48] B+(**)

Papa Wemba: M'zée Fula-Ngenge (1999, Sonodisc): Starts a bit odd, and has a couple of odd spots (including a tiny bit of English), but soon enough finds its groove, and quite a groove it is. B+(***)

Steve Williamson: A Waltz for Grace (1990, Verve): Alto saxophonist, born in London, parents Jamaican, played in Jazz Warriors before this auspicious debut album. Only recorded one more for Verve (in 1992), only a couple more after that. Abbey Lincoln's guest vocal is supposed to be a high point, but slipped by me twice with scant notice. The rest, cobbled together from multiple sessions in US and UK, is engaging. B+(**) [cd]

Yosuke Yamashita/Bill Laswell/Ryuichi Sakamoto: Asian Games (1988 [1993], Verve Forecast): Japanese pianist, started 1974, output has tailed off since 2004. I think of him as a strong postbop player, although in this context -- Laswell is an electric bassist who leans toward fusion albeit in underground tones, and Sakamoto is a well known electronica producer -- he sticks to the groove. B [cd]

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:


Tyler Childers: Purgatory (2017, Hickman Holler): Saving Country Music's favorite record of 2017. Gave it a spin, loved the trad sound, complaind that "the songs don't manage to stick." Obvious now it just needed another listen. [Was B+(**)] A-

Viva La Musica/Papa Wemba: Nouvelle Écriture: Dans L' (1998, Sonodisc): For a while I thought this CD wasn't in my database, but I was confused by the cover, which literally (top-to-bottom) reads: "Viva La Musica / nouvelle écriture / dans L' / avec PAPA WEMBA." Discogs reduced this to L'. Strong soukous groove. No recall why I initially graded it so low. [was: B] B+(***) [cd]

Music Weeks

Music: current count 31984 [31831] rated (+153), 236 [257] unrated (-21).

Excerpts from this month's Music List posts:

August 26, 2019

Music: current count 31984 [31944] rated (+40), 236 [243] unrated (-7).

Spent most of last week listening to old records from my "unrated" list. Most, I think, are used CDs I bought between 1999, when we moved back to Wichita, and 2003-04, when I started getting a lot of promos for Recycled Goods and Jazz Consumer Guide. During that period I used to make regular trips to Oklahoma City (sometimes Tulsa, once even to Kansas City) where I'd pile up 30-50 CDs at a time. Also made a few cross-country trips in those years, where I would spend whole days traipsing around cities like Denver and Phoenix, scrounging around. In several cases I cleaned up on store closeouts. Actually, I did that for a few more years, but stopped buying locally after Yesterdays and Wherehouse went out of business, and that did much to break the pattern. (Wichita still has a number of CD Tradepost stores, but I've never liked them. Google also lists a Spektrum Muzik, which I should probably look into -- although at thi spoint I'd be more tempted to sell than to buy.) Of course, the other thing that broke my shopping habit was Rhapsody. I started doing Streamnotes in late 2007, and my purchases plummeted after that.

Some unrated records are older LPs. Not sure when I started keeping a ratings list. I've had personal computers since about 1980 (an Ithaca Intersystems DPS-1 with a Z-80, 64K RAM, S-100 bus, two 8-inch floppy discs, ran CP/M, ran me close to $5,000, not counting the Heathkit terminal I soldered together; I actually had an Apple II before that, but decided it was crap and never bought from Apple again), so I could have started any time after that, but I certainly had one by the mid-1990s. That list didn't always have grades -- I assigned them mostly from memory, which had already begun to fail on many older/less played LPs. I sold off most of my LPs in 1999 before moving to Wichita, so may no longer have some items logged as unrated. (On the other hand, I recall dozens of early albums not on the records list, so it was never perfectly accurate.)

I started counting up unrated records in March 2003, when my rated count was 8,067 and the unrateds totalled 821. The unrated count jumped to 899 the next week after a bout of shopping. It went down for a few weeks, then shot up again, finally peaking at 1,1157 in July 2004. I've gradually whittled it down since then, dropping under 1,000 in December 2004, under 800 in July 2007 (although it climbed back to 888 in April 2011), under 600 in December 2012, under 400 in April 2015, and under 300 in September 2018, and 243 last week. I thought I'd try to knock it down further this week. I gathered up a bunch of CDs from the list, and streamed a few I didn't bother hunting down. That explains both why I have so much "old music" this week, and why it seems so abritrarily selected. Still, my efforts were undone by a sudden burst of incoming mail (bringing the recent queue up to 26 albums, although most of their release dates are well into fall).

Working off my unrated list results in some curious choices below. For instance, the Lenny Breau/Brad Terry album is only about a third of the one you'd probably buy these days, 2003's The Complete Living Room Tapes, but I cut that down to match the one I owned (didn't find it, but I remember the cover). Similarly, you'd buy the Michael Mantler twofer, where I only had the Silence half (probably on vinyl, but in this case I did bother to stream the other half. I listened to extra albums where they struck my fancy: by Arrow, Hackberry Ramblers, Jasper Van't Hof, Papa Wemba, and Jack DeJohnette (and threw in an average grade for the latter's box, since I've heard all the pieces and that's how they're available on Napster). But I didn't bother with the first Songhai album, or the earlier and later volumes by the Bluegrass Album Band, to mention a couple of obvious series. I imagine I'll keep nibbling away at the unrated list, but already I'm seeing diminishing returns.

August 19, 2019

Music: current count 31944 [31902] rated (+42), 243 [259] unrated (-16).

Rated count needs some explanation. There are only 28 records listed below, so everything else comes from finding bookkeeping errors from previous weeks (or possibly longer). I refer to my "ratings database," but it's nowhere close to normalized. When I rate a record, I usually have to note that fact in 4-5 different places, which makes it pretty easy to miss one (or two). On the other hand, that gives me something better than my memory for checking errors. The process is tedious, so I don't do it often, but once I noticed a couple of errors, I made a pretty thorough effort this time.

The actual week count should be even lower. By the time I finished my bookkeeping exercise, I had added 4-5 more records since my usual Sunday evening cutoff. Normally, I would have saved those grades for next week, but under the circumstances, I figured I might as well get all the anomalies out at once. Two things cut into last week's count: I spent a day cooking and playing oldies; and I spent the better part of four days streaming through a single title: Mark Lomax's 400. The latter is actually 12 albums rolled into one. Parts of it are on Napster, so I started there, but after thrashing over how to grade the various parts, I decided to just stream the whole thing, broken up over 5-6 sessions over 4 days. The cumulative experience was so overpowering I wound up giving it an A, an exception to my usual rule of giving that grade only after repeated play over time. (Five plays is usually minimal; I've only played all of 400 once, although some parts did get two or three listens; on the other hand, my cumulative time is 12-15 hours, so I wouldn't call this grade casual.)

Afterwards, I went back and streamed several of Lomax's earlier albums, but had trouble grading them: even his earliest work is close in power and depth to his latest, but I tended to hedge the grades down rather than turn myself into a rubber stamp. I should note that I've heard two of his albums before: The State of Black America was a Jazz CG pick hit at the time (2010, grade: A), and Isis and Osiris was an A- in 2014. I hadn't noticed anything else he did until I stumbled across the new one (it showed up when I added all of this year's 4.5+ star All About Jazz reviews into my in-progress EOY Aggregate). There's more I haven't explored yet on his website.

Aside from Lomax, more old music this week. I checked out several old SABA/MPS albums after I found Cosmic Forest on Napster. Finally, when I was doing my bookkeeping it occurred to me that this might be a good time to cut down on my "unrated" count by streaming records I own(ed) but never graded. That list was once up in the 700-range (from back when I was buying used CDs by the ton), but it's been bouncing around 250 for quite a while now. I started with the Milton Babbit record last night, and I built a checklist today, so I'm likely to do more of that in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, I'll note that this week's unpacking are all October/November releases, and indeed most of what I have in the physical queue doesn't drop until the Fall. So I'm not feeling a lot of urgency there.

August 12, 2019

Music: current count 31902 [31860] rated (+42), 259 [259] unrated (+0).

Running late again, mostly because I've been fiddling with the 2019 Metacritic file, adding extra points for high grades (not just midyear list picks) for most of the publications tracked by Album of the Year. The specific lists are noted here: in most cases one point for grades scored 80+, although for some relatively generous publications I've used 90+ (e.g., for AllMusic Guide, I'm counting 4.5 star records, but not 4.0 star ones). My latest project there has been to add points for All About Jazz grades of 4.5+ stars (4 stars is probably their median grade; at any rate it's very common). I've worked my way back to March 26, and the work has slowed down as I've had to check more release dates to separate 2019 releases out from the earlier ones (mostly late 2018's, but sometimes they review older releases). AOTY doesn't track AAJ (or any other jazz sources), so this has started to generate some jazz coverage. I should probably do Downbeat next.

Many of this week's picks are things I stumbled onto from various lists, and they're a pretty patchy group. I've finally started adding the final/latest Christgau EW reviews to his database, so a couple records (like the Diana Gordon EP) were suggested there -- which, by the way, led me to find Taana Gardner's disco classic (one of very few Christgau-rated A records I missed). Phil Overeem's latest list (link last week) led me to several things, including the George Jones United Artists Rarities, which sent me on a minor dive with a side of Little Jimmy Dickens.

The bigger dive this week was into the works of Jon Lundbom and Bryan Murray. This started with Balto Beats and swept up pretty much everything I had missed. (I had heard their often excellent records on Moppa Elliott's Hot Cup label, but missed almost everything else.)

The other smaller dive was into country singer-songwriter Tyler Childers. I initially graded his new one B+(***), but wondered if I shouldn't revisit 2017's Purgatory -- graded B+(**) by me at the time, but later a Christgau A-. Both of my initial reviews admitted that more spins may be called for, and it didn't take many. Also found two relatively crude earlier releases, which really brought his songwriting into focus. A couple more spins of the live EPs will raise could that grade as well, but the best songs are repeats from the debut -- probably still the best place to hear them.

One minor note: I've taken the time lock off the August Streamnotes draft file, which is where the monthly archive winds up. I won't do any indexing of the file until the end of the month, nor am I likely to be citing the URL in my weekly posts (although it's appeared in the notebook since I went weekly). But the naming convention is likely to be consistent moving forward, and you might spy something for the next Music Week there (e.g., the records I'm listening to as I'm writing this).

August 5, 2019

Music: current count 31860 [31831] rated (+29), 259 [257] unrated (+2).

Moving on, we have a week's worth of new music for you below. I added some grade data to my mid-year list aggregate, checking sites that hadn't produced lists and (usually) according one point for each record rated 80+ (based on AOTY lists. This had the surprise effect of boosting Sharon Van Etten's Remind Me Tomorrow to first place, 48-47 over Billie Eilish (gain from last week was 10-4). The only other notable shift was Weyes Blood, up from 15 to 10. Biggest drop was probably James Blake, 10-14.

Much of what I listened to last week came from looking at these lists. My other major source was Phil Overeem's July honor roll -- most impressively the MexStep record that came out mid-December, with no one noticing it in 2018 lists.

Notes

Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [yt] available at youtube.com
  • [os] some other stream source