Streamnotes: June 30, 2021


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 May 31. Past reviews and more information are available here (17174 records).


Recent Releases

Susan Alcorn/Leila Bordreuil/Ingrid Laubrock: Bird Meets Wire (2018 [2021], Relative Pitch): Pedal steel guitar, cello, and tenor/soprano sax. Two public domain songs, five joint improvs. B+(*)

Harry Allen/Mike Karn: Milo's Illinois (2021, GAC): Pandemic project, tenor sax and bass duo, mostly standards. Allen is one of the premier retro-swing players, and sounds typically fine, but the bassist doesn't give him much to swing. Karn, by the way, started out as a tenor saxophonist (one album on Criss Cross) before switching to bass. B+(**)

Tony Allen: There Is No End (2020 [2021], Blue Note): Nigerian drummer, started with Fela Kuti, died in 2020. No recording date given, no idea what state this album was in when he died, but as presented features a dozen rappers, most names I recognize (Sampa the Great, Koreatown Oddity, Jeremiah Jae, Danny Brown, Marlowe, Skepta). Most striking cut is "Cosmosis," with Skepta and Ben Okri (Nigerian poet/novelist, won the 1991 Booker Prize). B+(**)

Aly & AJ: A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun (2021, Aly & AJ Music): Electropop duo, sisters Alyson and Amanda Michalka, released three albums 2005-07, this their fourth. B+(*)

Rodrigo Amado This Is Our Language Quartet: Let the Free Be Men (2017 [2021], Trost): Portuguese tenor saxophonist, group name refers not to Ornette Coleman but to a This Is Our Language recorded by this same quartet in 2012: Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet/alto sax), Kent Kessler (bass), and Chris Corsano (drums). Joint credits, vigorous if a little on the rough side. A- [cd]

Rebecca Angel: Just the Two of Us (2021, Timeless Grooves): Standards singer, first album, wrote the last two songs here, producer/keyboardist Jason Miles wrote one. Covers include Jobim, Marley, Satie, "For What It's Worth." Single is "Just the Two of Us." B+(*) [cd]

Armand Hammer & the Alchemist: Haram (2021, Backwoodz Studioz): Hip-hop duo, Billy Woods and Euclid, sixth album since 2013, team up with producer Alan Marman (ex-Cypress Hill). "Haram" means forbidden in Arabic, and pigs figure prominently, especially on the cover. B+(**)

Ashnikko: Demidevil (2021, Parlophone, EP): Singer/rapper Ashton Nicole Casey, from North Carolina, "her parents exposed her to country music and Slipknot" but the music that turned her on was M.I.A., went to high school in Latvia, moved to London at 18. Mixtape (25:24) after three EPs. Cartoonish, until she explains her boredom. B+(**)

Steven Bernstein: Community Music (2020 [2021], Royal Potato Family, EP): Trumpet player, played in the Lounge Lizards and Sex Mob, got the gig for musical director for Robert Altman's Kansas City, which led to his big band, Millennial Territory Orchestra. Haven't heard much from him since MTO Plays Sly in 2011, so I jumped on this 4-song, 18:57 EP. Turns out it's a teaser for four forthcoming albums, recorded over four days in 2020, with MTO and Bernstein's Hot 9. Catherine Russell's vocal is a highlight, but I like "Black Bottom Stomp" even more. B+(***)

Bicep: Isles (2021, Ninja Tune): Electronica duo from Belfast, Northern Ireland: Andrew Ferguson and Matthew McBriar. Second album. "A potent blend of euphoria and melancholy that captures the very essence of rave perfectly." B+(**)

Michael Bisio/Kirk Knuffke/Fred Lonberg-Holm: The Art Spirit (2018 [2021], ESP-Disk): Bass, cornet, cello (and electronics), effectively avant-chamber jazz. Grows on you, especially the cello. B+(***) [cd]

Black Midi: Cavalcade (2021, Rough Trade): British math rock group, 2019 debut Schlagenheim was widely hailed by critics, but impressed as I was (reminded me of Pere Ubu) I found it even more annoying. This starts better, and ends worse. B

Namir Blade: Namir Blade Presents Aphelion's Traveling Circus (2020, Mello Music Group): Underground rapper, producer, multi-instrumentalist from Nashville, first album. B+(*)

Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die Live (2021, International Anthem): Trumpet player, based in Chicago, has two Fly or Die albums (2017, 2019), a side project called Anteloper. She recorded this one in Switzerland, January 2020, with cello (Lester St. Louis), bass (Jason Ajemian), and drums (Chad Taylor), all credited with vocals (mostly on the "anti-Tr*mp" "Prayer for Amerikkka," sung by Ben Lamar Gay in 2019). Has crossover reach like 1970s Miles Davis, replacing the fusion with even more intense and complex rhythm. A-

Abraham Burton/Lucian Ban: Black Salt: Live at the Baroque Hall (2018 [2021], Sunnyside): Tenor sax and piano duo. Burton was one of the brightest saxophonists to emerge in the 1990s, but has nothing as leader since 1995 -- although his side credits picked up after 2010, including two albums with the pianist. Strikes me as a bit cluttered, partly because the shift from alto to tenor slows him down. B+(**)

Chai: Wink (2021, Sub Pop): Japanese girl band, third four-letter title after Pink and Punk, conceived like thesis/antithesis/synthesis. B+(**)

Brian Charette: Power From the Air (2020 [2021], SteepleChase): Organ player, leads a sextet with a range of horns -- flute (Itai Kriss), alto sax (Mike DiRubbo), tenor sax (Kenny Brooks), bass clarinet (Karel Ruzicka) -- and drums. Postbop, but swings some, DiRubbo stands out among the horns. B+(*)

The Chills: Scatterbrain (2021, Fire): New Zealand singer-songwriter Martin Phillips, formed this band in 1980, reformed it in 1984, 1994, and 1999, the second iteration producing their best albums -- a best-of from this period was called Heavenly Pop Hits. Little change in their basic sound, but the songs take a bit longer to kick in. B+(***)

J. Cole: The Off-Season (2021, Dreamville/Roc Nation): Rapper Jermaine Cole, sixth studio album. B+(*)

Czarface/MF Doom: Super What? (2020 [2021], Silver Age, EP): Hip-hop supergroup (7L, Esoteric, Inspectah Deck) teams up with rapper Daniel Dumile for a short album (10 tracks, 26:44), a follow up to their 2018 Czarface Meets Metal Face. Originally slated for April 2020, held back due to lockdown, finally appearing after Doom's death in October. A-

Dan Dean: Fanfare for the Common Man (2017-18 [2021], Origin Classical): Aaron Copland's title piece runs 3:34, but to these ears it's indistinguishable from surrounding pieces by Elgar, Bach, Debussy, Holst, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Khachaturian, and lots more Bach, rendered in a cappella (but surely multitracked) bippity scat, with a bit of whistle. Some famous titles here, but I hated classical music so much as a child I would plug up my ears or mute the TV, and I've never felt the slightest loss. My bad, perhaps, but not as bad as the "teachers" who thought that nothing else was worth listening to. B- [cd]

John Dikeman/Hamid Drake: Live in Chicago (2018 [2020], Doek Raw): Saxophonist, born in America but based in the Netherlands, returns to Chicago for a 37:12 improv with local drummer. B+(*) [bc]

DJ Black Low: Uwami (2021, Awesome Tapes From Africa): South African DJ, Sam Austin Radebe, various featured rappers. Love the beats here. Don't know much more. A- [bc]

Dopolarians: The Bond (2021, Mahakala): Free jazz group, originally from Arkansas (Chad Fowler on alto sax and Christopher Parker on piano), picked up a singer in Memphis (Kelley Hurt) and wound up in New Orleans, adding Marc Franklin (trumpet) and ringers William Parker and Brian Blade for this record. Hurt enters in a relatively quiet spot around the 7-minute mark, intonating with the band rather than singing over it (which makes her a minor presence here). That first piece runs 21:15, and the second is longer (30:22), ending with a shorter one (9:42). B+(***)

Nahawa Doumbia: Kanawa (2018-20 [2021], Awesome Tapes From Africa): Singer from Mali, earlier albums were reissued as several volumes of La Grande Cantatrice Malienne. B+(***) [bc]

Silke Eberhard Trio: Being the Up and Down (2020 [2021], Intakt): German alto saxophonist, also plays bass clarinet, leads the larger group Potsa Lotsa, trio with Jan Roder (bass) and Kay Lübke (drums), whose names also appear on the cover. A-

Robert Finley: Sharecropper's Son (2021, Easy Eye Sound): Bluesman from Louisiana, born in 1954, released his first album at 62, this is his third. Powerful voice. B+(***)

Fire in Little Africa (2021, Motown): More than 60 Oklahoma hip-hop artists -- too many to be a collective, but they can still get together for a cover photo -- reflect on the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, which I believe is still the only instance where people used airplanes to fire-bomb an American neighborhood. Still, don't look here for a history lesson. But beware that history isn't even past yet. B+(***)

Michael Formanek: Imperfect Measures (2017 [2021], Intakt): Bassist, another member of Tim Berne's 1990s group, dozen or so albums under his own name. This one is solo, pretty good for such. B+(**)

James Francies: Purest Form (2021, Blue Note): Pianist, from Houston, second album, mostly electronic keyboards, trio with Burniss Travis and Jerey Dutton, plus spots for label stars Immanuel Wilkins (sax) and Joel Ross (vibes), plus vocals. Blue Note seems to be the only jazz label that can break stars from scratch, and there's no reason to doubt the talent they find, but what they do with it rarely pans out. Francies is hot enough for Chris Potter's latest trio, but this is a scattered mess, space warp and bent cocktail music at best, and rarely even that. B-

Garage A Trois: Calm Down Cologne (2019 [2021], Royal Potato Family): Acid jazz group, sixth album since 2003, first since 2011, now slimmed down to a trio as saxophonist Skerik doubles up on keyboards -- other long-term members are Charlie Hunter (guitar) and Stanton Moore (drums). B+(*)

Sean Michael Giddings: Red Willow (2021, Origin): Pianist, from Kansas City, studied at UNT, based in Austin, seems to be his first album. All originals, piano trio with Sam Pankey (bass) and Daniel Dufour (drums), with "orchestral programming on four cuts. B+(*)

Pedro Giraudo Tango Quartet: Impulso Tanguero (2021, Tiger Turn): Bassist from Argentina, based in New York since 1996, has eight previous albums (back to 2000). Quartet with Nick Danielson (violin), Rodolfo Zanetti (bandoneon), and Ahmed Alom (piano). Tango, of course, lush, but a bit stilted, which I blame on the connection to classical music. B

Girl in Red: If I Could Make It Go Quiet (2021, AWAL): Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven, first album after a couple EPs. Band is bigger, songs flashier, lots of reverb. B+(***)

Ben Goldberg: Everything Happens to Me (2018 [2021], BAG Productions): Clarinetist, steady stream of records since 1991, recruited some superb musicians for this effort: Ellery Eskelin (tenor sax), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Michael formanek (bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums). B+(***) [cdr]

John Hart: Checkmate (2019 [2021], SteepleChase): Guitarist, 70 this year, shares the spotlight here with Gary Smulyan (baritone sax), a nice mix of tones, also with bass (David Wong) and drums (Andy Weston). B+(**)

Kevin Hays/Ben Street/Billy Hart: All Things Are (2021, Smoke Sessions): Piano trio, occasion was the drummer's 80th birthday, Hays and Street have albums going back to the 1990s. B+(*)

David Helbock: The New Cool (2020 [2021], ACT): Austrian pianist, albums since 2006, this a trio with Sebastian Studnitzky (trumpet) ad Arne Jansen (guitar). Four Helbock originals, one by Studnitzky, seven covers ranging from Chopin to Cyndi Lauper. B+(*)

Dave Holland: Another Land (2020 [2021], Edition): English bassist, straddled Miles Davis and Anthony Braxton in the early 1970s, filled in much postbop territory since then. Plays bass guitar as well as acoustic here, with Kevin Eubanks (guitar) and Obed Calvaire (drums), an echo of his g-b-d trio from 1975-96 (Gateway, with John Abercrombie and Jack DeJohnette). B+(**)

Jack Ingram/Miranda Lambert/Jon Randall: The Marfa Tapes (2021, RCA Nashville): Lambert you know. Ingram and Randall I don't know, although the former has ten albums since 1995, while the latter has three (his first also appeared in 1995), and more production efforts. Country pros do campfire sing-alongs, against the dry, West Texas sky -- Marfa is near Big Bend, and has been losing population since 1930. B+(***)

Japanese Breakfast: Jubilee (2021, Dead Oceans): Singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner, born in Korea, but grew up in Oregon (mother Korean, father Jewish-American), third album, has written a memoir which will be filmed. First half is glorious pop, tails off a bit after that. B+(***)

Cassandra Jenkins: An Overview on Phenomenal Nature (2021, Ba Da Bing): Singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, second studio album, short (7 songs, 31:44) -- fairly minimal, both in music and words (more spoken than sung). Rather appealing. B+(**)

Jonathan Karrant/Joshua White: Shadows Fall (2021, self-released): Standards crooner, originally from Ft. Smith, Arkansas, accompanied by pianist. Two previous albums (one live). B+(*) [cd]

Kuzu: The Glass Delusion (2018 [2021], Astral Spirits): Free jazz trio -- Dave Rempis (alto/tenor/baritone sax), Tashi Dorji (guitar), Tyler Damon (drums) -- fourth album in fairly short order. B+(**) [bc]

Julian Lage: Squint (2021, Blue Note): Guitarist, albums since 2009. Trio with bass (Jorge Roeder) and drums (Dave King). Typically nice record, not have much more to say. B+(**)

Gabor Lesko: Earthway (2021, Creativity's Paradise Music): Guitarist, from Italy, has at least one previous record. With various bassists and drummers, bits of sax (Eric Marienthal) and vocals (Guido Block). B [cd]

The Linda Lindas: The Linda Lindas (2020, self-released, EP): LA girl group, "half Asian and half Latinx, two sisters, a cousin, and their close friend" -- a formula that has me thinking Beach Boys, but now. Billed as punk, fits the form -- four songs, 9:32 -- but at this point settles for catchy little songs. On the other hand, three more/less later singles -- "Claudia Kishi," "Vote!," and "Racist, Sexist Boy" -- up the punk quotient several levels. I doubt we'll have to wait long for a compilation. B+(***)

Doug Lofstrom: Music for Strings (2018-19 [2021], Origin Classical): From Chicago, bassist, "has been composing prolifically since the 1970s," has a previous album on this label, but not much else I'm aware of. This was performed by Russian Strings Orchestra, conducted by Misha Rachlevsky. The sort of thing I couldn't stand as a child, and can barely tolerate now. B- [cd]

L'Orange & Namir Blade: Imaginary Everything (2021, Mello Music Group): Producer and rapper/lyricist, Blade, from Nashville, released his debut album last year, so some further research is in order. L'Orange has a real knack for putting tracks together, but he also picks interesting collaborators. A-

Andy Fairweather Low & the Low Riders: Lockdown Live (2020 [2021], Secret): Welsh singer-songwriter, started in Amen Corner (1968-69), had a stretch out of memorable albums in the mid-1970s, got cut loose after 1980 with nothing more until 2006, when he released a fairly good comeback album. Since then he's been coasting, which for Brits of his generation means doubling down on the blues. B+(*)

Mach-Hommy: Pray for Haiti (2021, Griselda): Rapper Ramar Begon, from Newark, Discogs credits him with 14 albums since 2016, but most were self-released, and Wikipedia never heard of him. B+(***)

Lorraina Marro: Love Is for All Time (2021, self-released): Standards singer, from Los Angeles, third album since 2004, "was honored as a Los Angeles 'Jazz Living Legend.'" Risks comparison to Streisand on "People," and pulls it off. Does a couple songs in Spanish. Touts "a team of some of L.A.'s finest musicians. One I've heard of, but haven't heard much from lately, is tenor saxophonist Rickey Woodard. B+(**) [cd] [07-15]

Tobias Meinhart: The Painter (2021, Sunnyside): German saxophonist (tenor/soprano, alto flute), half-dozen albums since 2015, this with piano/bass/drums, guest guitar (Charles Altura) on two tracks, trumpet (Ingrid Jensen) on two others. B+(**)

Vic Mensa: I Tape (2021, Roc Nation, EP): Chicago rapper, last name Mensah, father from Ghana. One studio album, one mixtape, half-dozen EPs. Six tracks, 24:04. B+(**)

Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victime (2021, Matador): Tuareg guitar god, from Niger, sixth studio album since 2008, first on a rock label, resulting is some amusing hype: this album supposedly evolves from ZZ Top/Black Sabbath to Van Halen/Black Flag/Black Uhuru. I hear none of that, but fine with me if you want to try Ravi Shankar reaching for Jimi Hendrix's sky. Still, not just guitar. He/they sing in Tamasheq, "with poetic meditations on love, religion, women's rights, inequality, and Western Africa's exploitation at the hands of colonial powers." A-

Ashley Monroe: Rosegold (2021, Mountainrose Sparrow): Sometime Pistol Annie, fifth solo album. Shows she's past her upstart phase, as well as any hint of rebellion. Her orchestrations are real pretty. Makes me suspect they're hollow inside. B

Maria Muldaur With Tuba Skinny: Let's Get Happy Together (2021, Stony Plain): Trad jazz band from New Orleans, Todd Burdick plays the tuba, but Shaye Cohn (cornet) usually gets first mention, backed by trombone, banjo, clarinet, two guitars, and washboard. They have close to a dozen albums since 2009, usually with Erika Lewis singing. Muldaur, who started in Jim Kweskin's Jug Band, is perfectly at home here. A-

Naeem: Startisha (2020, 37d03d): Baltimore rapper Naeem Juwan, previously dba Spank Rock. Don't know what to say about this, but gets catchier and more intriguing with each play. A-

Jason Nazary: Spring Collection (2020 [2021], We Jazz): Drummer, alto electronics, first album under his own name but has appeared in various groups going back to Little Women in 2007. Solo, plus guest spots in 5 (of 9) songs. The electronics are disconcerting at first, but eventually this finds a bit of groove. B+(**) [cd]

Larry Ochs-Donald Robinson Duo: A Civil Right (2018-19 [2021], ESP-Disk): Sax-and-drums. Ochs plays tenor and soprano, is part of Rova and has many more albums. Robinson is from Boston, has a couple albums under his own name, a previous duo with Ochs, was also a member of Ochs' Sax & Drumming Core, plus other side credits (mostly as Donald Robinson). B+(***) [cd]

Genesis Owusu: Smiling With No Teeth (2021, Ourness/House Anxiety): Rapper/singer Kofi Owusu-Ansah, born in Ghana, moved to Australia when he was two, first album, after an EP and a bunch of singles. He doesn't fit any mold, shifting genres, looks, and hooks. I'm impressed, if not quite as delighted as seems to be his goal. B+(***)

Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: Warszawa 2019 (2019 [2021], Fundacja Sluchaj): Group formed 1990 as a sextet, released five albums on ECM 1997-2009, recorded a live album in 2010, revived as a tentet for this set. Long-term members are Parker (soprano sax) and Paul Lytton (percussion/electronics). This edition adds trumpet (Percy Pursglove), clarinet (Peter Van Bergen), piano (Sten Sandell), bass, and various electronics. B+(***) [bc]

William Parker: Trencadis: A Selection From Migration Into and Out of the Tone World (2019-20 [2021], Centering): Bassist, has released massive works before -- e.g., the 8-CD Wood Flute Songs in 2013 -- but this year's 10-CD box is unusual both for its size and the short time involved. I received a promo sampler in January, but didn't bother as it didn't look like product, as I resigned myself to missing his magnum opus. However, this sampler does now seem to have an independent existence, at least as a digital album. No idea who plays or sings (most songs have vocals), and I continue to have doubts and frustrations about the utility. B+(**)

Jeremy Pelt: Griot: This Is Important! (2020 [2021], HighNote): Mainstream trumpet player, albums since 2002, impressed me first with his chops, but has rarely made compelling ablums out of them. Ties in with a book of interviews with jazz musicians from Bertha Hope to Ambrose Akinmusire, full title Jeremy Pelt Presents: Griot: Examining the Lives of Jazz's Great Storytellers, Vol. 1. Half-dozen original pieces, a couple more with ongoing commentary, and snippets of interviews. With keyboards (Victor Gould), vibes (Chien Chien Lu), harp (Brandee Younger), bass, drums, percussion. B+(*)

Ivo Perelman/Nate Wooley: Polarity (2020 [2021], Burning Ambulance): Tenor sax and trumpet duo, at least the fifth album they've done together but the first duo. Probably because the tone limits wear on you, no matter how creative they sound at first. B+(*) [bc]

Ralph Peterson: Raise Up Off Me (2020 [2021], Onyx Music): Drummer, started as second to Art Blakey in 1983, and remained devoted to Blakey's memory. Recorded this in December 2020, then died (cancer) in March, so this is his last record. With the Curtis Brothers, Zaccai and Luques, on piano and bass, with guest spots for Jazzmeia Horn (vocals) and Eguie Castrillo (percussion). Peterson plays a spot of trumpet. B+(**)

Pluto Juice: Pluto Juice (2019 [2021], Contagious Music): Fusion project, led by saxophonist Dayna Stephens (mostly EWI here) and Anthony Fung (drums), with Andrew Marzotto (guitar) and Rich Brown (electric bass). B+(*) [cd] [07-16]

Chris Potter Circuits Trio: Sunrise Reprise (2020 [2021], Edition): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano, clarinets, flutes, sampler/keyboard), reunites with James Francies (piano/keyboards) and Eric Harland (drums), the trio on his 2019 album Circuits. Potter can be terrific, and he has a few moments of that here, but not many. B

Tom Rainey Obbligato: Untucked in Hannover (2018 [2021], Intakt): Drummer, I first noticed him with Tim Berne in the late 1990s, has a half-dozen albums, including Obbligato (2014), a quintet mostly reunited here: Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax), Drew Gress (bass), with Jacob Sacks (piano, replacing Kris Davis). B+(**)

Dave Rempis/Tomeka Reid/Joshua Abrams/Tim Daisy/Tyler Damon: The Covid Tapes: Solos, Duos, & Trios (2020 [2021], Aerophonic, 2CD): Chicago avant-saxophonist, alto/tenor/baritone, like most musicians spent last summer holed up, which gave him time to release a trove of old tapes -- 15 digital albums one per week from May through August -- but he also recorded some new music: solos at Unity Lutheran Church, plus a few duos (with drummers Daisy and Damon) and trios (with Reid/Abrams and Abrams/Damon). Choice selections here, including some fine takes on standards. A- [cd]

Olivia Rodrigo: Sour (2021, Geffen): Teenage (18) pop singer-songwriter from Temecula, California; great-grandfather from Philippines. Started taking acting and singing classes at age 6, got a film role at 12, a Disney+ series at 16, and is beginning to sound like a grizzled veteran -- even more so on the expertly paced ballads than on the opening anthem, "Brutal." A-

Samo Salamon/Hasse Poulsen: String Dancers (2020 [2021], Sazas): Acoustic guitar duets, former plays 12-string as well as 6-string. Former is well known here, a consistently inventive player. B+(**) [cd] [09-01]

Penelope Scott: Public Void (2020, Tesla's Pigeon, EP): Twenty-year-old singer-songwriter, DIY electronics, song "Rät" has over a million YouTube views, a story of nerd love and disillusionment ("I bit the apple 'cause I trusted you, it tastes like Thomas Malthus, you proposal is immodest and insane . . . you promised you would be Tesla, but you're just another Edison"). Initially released as a 6-cut download, then reissued a month later with a 7th song (total 26:06). A-

Senyawa: Alkisah (2021, Burning Ambulance): Indonesian doom metal duo, Wukir Suryadi (custom instruments) and Rully Shabara (vocals). Industrial klang, slightly exotic, not unbearable. [PS: Duo had a previous album, Sujud, on Sublime Frequencies, that I liked more.] B [bc]

Serengeti: KDxMPC (2020, self-released, EP): "KD" is David Cohn's alter-ego Kenny Dennis. Kenny Segal produced, "adds more to Ajai world." Haven't figured out what MPC means, but appears in first two tracks. Nine tracks, 21:06. Fourth album of 2020, not that anyone noticed. B+(*) [bc]

Serengeti: Curse of the Polo (2020, self-released): Getting difficult to keep up with him: Bandcamp shows six releases so far this year -- all short, but only one with less than 6 tracks. This one has 9 tracks, 31:43. Still, seems like diminishing returns. B+(*) [bc]

Paul Silbergleit: The Hidden Standard (2018 [2021], BluJazz): Guitarist, four albums in his store (but none on Discogs), also some books on guitar, including Play Like Joe Pass. I'm all for expanding the standards repertoire, but "Eleanor Rigby" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" aren't hidden standards -- they're failed ones. With trumpet, sax, piano trio, and Latin percussion on "Danny Boy" -- another bad idea that doesn't work. B- [cd]

Skyzoo: All the Brilliant Things (2021, Mello Music Group): Brooklyn rapper Gregory Taylor, tenth album since 2006, underground vibe, not as distinctive as his two 2020 efforts. B+(**)

Ches Smith/We All Break: Path of Seven Colors (2015-20 [2021], Pyroclastic, 2CD): Percussionist, half-dozen albums since 2006, many more side credits. He released his Vodou project We All Break in 2017, and follows that up here with two discs: one earlier quartet (2015), the other recent octet (2020), packaged in a small box with two substantial booklets. Matt Mitchell (piano) and Miguel Zenón (alto sax) turn in stellar performances. Beyond that, lots of fractured percussion and some voices. The quartet gets the balance better. The octet is best when they fly away from the chants. [Hype sheet says there's a movie, but I haven't found it.] A- [cd]

Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future (2021, Impulse!): British jazz group, led by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, fourth album, second on major label, first was a major crossover success, and this currently ranks 6th at AOTY with an 87 over 23 reviews -- compare to Vijay Iyer with 6 reviews for a measure of how much attention they've garnered. With Theon Cross on tuba and two percussionists, they put out a lot of rhythm, without simplifying. Nor is it the guest rappers and singers they showcase, although their words have serious impact. Starts with George Floyd, and threatens to burn, before they sweep you away. A

Chris Speed: Light Line (2018 [2021], Intakt): Solo clarinet, a departure from his usual tenor sax but the lighter horn maneuvers better, a big help here. B+(**)

Squid: Bright Green Field (2021, Warp): British post-punk band, Ollie Judge singer/drummer, first album after three EPs and more singles. Heard "Narrator" during a thunderstorm and didn't enjoy it at all. Still, something here. B+(**)

Will St Peter/Steven Heffner/Steve Barnes: Honestly (2020 [2021], Origin): Guitar-bass-drums trio, based in Dallas, studied at UNT, first album. Three St. Peter originals, covers ranging from Mancini to Ornette Coleman. B+(*) [cd]

St. Vincent: Daddy's Home (2021, Loma Vista): Annie Clark, sixth album, last four (inclusive) have charted 19-12-10-16, gets a lot of good press. Co-produced by Jack Antonoff, who shares five song credits. Could be more (or less) to it, but just on sound and occasional words: B+(**)

Thomas Strønen/Ayumi Tanaka/Marthe Lea: Bayou (2018 [2021], ECM): Norwegian drummer, previously in the group Food with Iain Ballamy. Trio here with piano and clarinet/vocal/percussion. All pieces jointly credited, but not all in the same order. B+(*)

Jazmine Sullivan: Heaux Tales (2021, RCA): R&B singer, fourth album since 2008, first since 2015. Short (32:21), didn't connect enough, although I may have missed a point or two. B+(*)

Natsuki Tamura: Koki Solo (2020 [2021], Libra): Trumpet player, turns 70 this year, wife Satoko Fujii celebrated 70 by releasing a new album every month, but he's less prolific, at least on his own. Biggest surprise here is how he mixes it up, with piano, wok, and voice credits. Piano forced me to check the credits: he's not as fast as she is, but works in a similar vein. B+(**) [cd] [07-09]

Too Much Joy: Mistakes Were Made (2021 People Suck Music): Alt/indie band led by Tim Quirk, had a run from 1987 (debut album title Green Eggs and Crack), best one was Son of Sam I Am (1988), but I only heard two. Quirk took a day job at Rhapsody, and gave me a free subscription (one year), which I decided to repay by writing up notes on what I heard there (much longer). First album since. First question: is label name v.t. or v.i.? Not their best joke, but gets them started. Also some wisdom: "a decent mattress is a must." B+(**)

The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: The 2021 Jazz Heritage Series (2021, self-released): Taxpayer-supported culture, probably the least offensive thing the USAF does, but still an annual event I hold no hope for and am regularly repaid with varying levels of distress. Not that they can't play, but they have nothing much to say. Does provide a paying gig for a couple of ringers each year: Peter Bernstein and Chris Potter this time. B- [cd]

Marta Warelis/Frank Rosaly/Aaron Lumley/John Dikeman: Sunday at De Ruimte (2020 [2021], Doek RAW): Polish pianist, based in Netherlands, second album of hers I've heard recently, with drums, bass, and tenor sax. Four pieces, nicely balanced free jazz. B+(***) [cd]

Jennifer Wharton's Bonegasm: Not a Novelty (2020 [2021], Sunnyside): Bass trombonist, second album, group a trombone quartet (John Fedchock, Nate Mayland, Alan Ferber) with piano/bass/drums, and guest spots for Samuel Torres (2) and Kurt Elling (1). B+(**)

Wolf Alice: Blue Weekend (2021, Dirty Hit): English alt/indie band, principally singer Ellie Rowsell (also guitar/piano) and guitarist Joff Oddie, plus bass and drums. Third album, currently the top 2021 release in Metacritic's metascore (96, but just a 7th place 86 at AOTY). I don't get the excitement or interest, or didn't until "Play the Greatest Hits" caught my attention: intense, uplifting. Next cut is a change of pace, which seems promising until it isn't. B+(**)

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything (1971 [2021], Island): Does "That" make any sense here? Subtitle feels like an anagram where you can shift words around endlessly without settling on a satisfactory result. No doubt the music was changing, as was the world, but subject and object are harder to grasp. Maybe it was dialectical? The documentary series runs eight episodes, about 6 hours, and contained enough music for a 4-CD box, so a single CD is bound to disappoint. As a synopsis, sure isn't bad, especially starting with "Imagine" and "What's Going On." But David Bowie, who probably gets more screen time than anyone, and "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," which is heavily featured as the year's most striking song, are missing here, as are Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers, Joni Mitchell, and Sly & the Family Stone. On the other hand, there are songs and artists here that I don't recall in the videos (like Rod Stewart, the Beach Boys, Edwin Starr's "Ball of Confusion," and the Temptations' "Just My Imagination"). I'm not inclined to complain about any of those last four -- even the piece from the otherwise lame Surf's Up (although John Martyn and Nick Drake do seem a little parochial, even in England). No doubt licensing has something to do with it, even though Universal, which owns Island, owns damn near everything. Makes me wonder if Sony can do an answer record (which should get us Bowie, Scott-Heron, and Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side"). A-

Duck Baker: Confabulations (1994-2017 [2021], ESP-Disk): Guitarist, recorded five 1975-80 albums for Kicking Mule, one titled The Art of Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar, and along the way recorded with folkies like Stefan Grossman and John Renbourn, but since his 1994 encounter with Mark Dresser, Baker has gravitated toward jazz, with albums of Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk pieces to his credit. These are scattered pieces over the years, with musicians like Roswell Rudd, Michael Moore, and Derek Bailey. The mix keeps this interesting, without detracting from the focal guitar. A- [cd]

Billy Bang: Lucky Man (2008 [2021], BBE, 2CD): Born William Walker in Mobile, sent to Vietnam in 1967, picked up a violin in a Bronx pawn shop and became the greatest jazz violinist ever. He returned to Vietnam c. 2000, and recorded two brilliant albums drawing on their music: Vietnam: The Aftermath (2001) and Vietnam: Reflections (2004). In 2008, he returned, accompanied by a film crew with Jean-Marie Boulet and Markus Hansen. This is audio recorded on that trip, a dozen snippets of Bang talking, ten pieces playing with various Vietnamese musicians. B+(**)

Gary Bartz NTU Troop: Live in Bremen 1975 (1975 [2021], Moosicus, 2CD): Alto saxophonist, played with Dolphy, Mingus, Roach, and Blakey in the 1960s, with Miles Davis in 1971, left to form this band in 1971, with an uncompromising mix of avant postbop, black power, and crossover funk. This is close to the end of their run, down to a quartet with keyboards (Charles Mims), electric bass (Curtis Robertson), and drums (Howard King). B+(***)

Tim Berne/Chris Speed/Reid Anderson/Dave King: Broken Shadows (2018 [2021], Intakt): Alto and tenor sax from Berne's breakthrough groups from the 1990s, plus Bad Plus bass and drums. First released by vinyl-only Newvelle in 2019, so technically a reissue, predating Jazzclub Ferrara's live Tower Tapes #2, credited to Broken Shadows, perhaps the best set in their Covid lockdown dump. Impressive group, but slips and slides a bit much. B+(***)

Hamiet Bluiett: Bearer of the Holy Flame (1983 [2021], Strut): Baritone saxophonist (1940-2018), also plays clarinet and alto flute, live set that originally appeared on Black Fire in 1994. With John Hicks (piano), Fred Hopkins (bass), Marvin Smith (drums), and Chief Bey (percussion). Terrific, both the big rhythmic romp that is Bluiett's calling card, and Hicks' marvelous piano. A-

Julius Hemphill: The Boyé Multi-National Crusade for Harmony (1977-2007 [2021], New World, 7CD): Box set with 40-page booklet, which may answer some of my questions. Alto saxophonist, major avant-garde figure from 1972 (Dogon A.D.) to his death in 1995, and in some ways beyond. He was the defining force behind World Saxophone Quartet, at least early on, and developed another saxophone choir in the 1990s (see Five Chord Stud), as well as a big band. He continued composing after he was no longer able to play (c. 1990), and periodically ghost bands appear in his name. I don't have date details here, but the stretch 12 years beyond his death is hard to fathom. The only thing he didn't play on was the Disk 4 "Chamber Music," and most of that (37:16) was a quintet he conducted (all horns, two brass/three reeds; the rest is 7:02 by pianist Ursula Oppens, and 19:15 by Daedalus String Quartet). The title is a group he played with c. 1977 (mostly a quartet with Baikida Carroll, Jehri Riley, and Philip Wilson; later with Carroll, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette), and the other groups (various Quartet lineups and the duo with cellist Abdul Wadud) weren't much later. There's a fair amount of squawk early on, and the chamber music isn't that interesting, but this really picks up on the fifth disc (Roi Boyé Solo and Text), particularly the "Unfiltered Dreams" with K Curtis Lyle's poetry set to solo saxophone (e.g., "Nobody Tells Me What to Do"), and the later live groups are both bracing and sophisticated. Not all great, but rises to that level time and again. A-

ICP Orchestra: Plays Herbie Nichols in Nijmegen 7 May 1984 (1984 [2020], ICP): Dutch group, 12 pieces here, led by Misha Mengelberg (piano) and Han Bennink (drums), with four reeds (including Steve Lacy on soprano sax) and four brass (including tuba), viola, and cello. Mengelberg and/or Lacy have explored Nichols' work on numerous occasions. B+(***) [bc]

Hailu Mergia & the Walias Band: Tezeta (1975 [2021], Awesome Tapes From Africa): Ethiopian keyboardist, cut a number of instrumental albums in the 1970s before a military coup shut down popular music. Mergia moved to the US in 1980s, gave up performing, and was working as a taxi driver when Brian Shimkovitz's label earned its name with the reissue of one of his albums. He's since released new music, but this is old, his second, a simple and seductive groove. B+(***) [bc]

Joe Newman: Joe Newman at the Atlantic (1977 [2021], Phontastic): One of the lesser-known swing trumpet players, started with Lionel Hampton in 1941, spent 13 years with Count Basie, played with Illinois Jacquet and others. Two 1955-56 albums are favorites. This was recorded in Sweden, with clarinetist Ove Lind's quintet, featuring Lars Erstrand (vibes). B+(***)

Cecil Taylor Ensemble: Göttingen (1990 [2021], Fundacja Sluchaj, 2CD): Lineup similar to the Workshop Ensemble that recorded Legba Crossing in 1988, as part of the pianist's massive Berlin showcase: 13 musicians here, 15 then, 10 in common. Two sets, totals 138:34. Noisy, chaotic, difficult to listen to, but long stretches are also quite marvelous. B+(***) [bc]

Cecil Taylor Quintet: Lifting the Bandstand (1998 [2021], Fundacja Sluchaj): Recorded at Tampere Jazz Happening in Finland, with his regular drummer Paul Lovens, Tristan Honsinger on cello, and two local musicians: Harri Sjöström (soprano sax) and Teppo Hauta-Aho (bass). Slow start, but by mid-point the musicians are finding ways to make sense of the chaos, and even more. A-

Barney Wilen Quartet: Barney and Tete Grenoble '88 (1988 [2020], Elemental Music): Tenor sax quartet, cover extends the credit to "feat. Tete Montoliu," the blind Spanish pianist, and Discogs also credits Riccardo Del Fra (bass) and Aaron Scott (drums), although I don't see their names on the cover. One Wilen-Montoliu credit, two Charlie Parkers, more standards (at least in France). [NB: Napster omits the two medleys, 13:40 + 12:57, so hedged on 7/9 tracks.] B+(**)

Old Music

The Harry Allen-Keith Ingham Quintet: Are You Having Any Fun? A Celebration of the Music of Sammy Fain (1994, Audiophile): Ingham's an English trad jazz pianist, teamed up with tenor saxophonist Allen for several early-1990s albums. B+(**)

Harry Allen: Tenors Anyone? (1996 [1997], BMG Novus): Tenor saxophonist, a retro-swing player, reprises the greats here, with "Flying Home," "The Peacocks," "Four Brothers," and a lot of Lester Young. One original: "Cool Man Chu." Backed by John Pizzarelli's trio (with Ray Kennedy on piano and Martin Pizzarelli on bass, but no drummer), sounding much like his father on guitar. A-

Harry Allen: Here's to Zoot (1997, BMG Novus): Young enough that his models were less Hawkins and Young than the generation that came up after WWII, which included Zoot Sims. No songs by Sims here: just standards they had in common, backed by a rhythm section that knew how to swing: Dave McKenna, Michael Moore, Jake Hanna. B+(***)

Harry Allen/Randy Sandke: Turnstile: Music of the Trumpet Kings (1997 [2007], Nagel Heyer): Tenor sax and trumpet, backed by the RIAS Big Band Berlin. This looks very much like a reissue a 1997 album, The Music of the Trumpet Kings, credited to "Harry Allen and Randy Sandke Meet the RIAS Big Band Berlin," so much so that I'll ignore the one source that has the music recorded in 1998. I don't have song credits either, but it starts with "I Love Louis" and ends with tunes by Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard. Not wild about the big band, but the soloists get their licks in. B

Harry Allen: Day Dream (1998, BMG Novus): Quartet with Tommy Flanagan (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Lewis Nash (drums). Seems like his ideal rhythm section, especially on ballads, where his more trad outfits have trouble slowing down. A-

Harry Allen: When I Grow Too Old to Dream (1999 [2000], BMG Novus): Standards, backed by guitar (Herb Ellis), bass (Ray Brown), and drums (Jeff Hamilton). Typically solid effort, with some amusing song choices, but I find my attention flagging, only to be snapped back by some brilliant run. B+(***)

Harry Allen: Once Upon a Summertime (1999, BMG Novus): A nod toward Brazil, with drummer Duduka Da Fonseca most valuable, the band rounded out with Joe Cohn (guitar), Larry Goldings (piano), and Dennis Irwin (bass), with Maucha Adnet singing a couple. Impressive. B+(***)

Harry Allen: Cole Porter Songbook (2001, BMG Novus): At some point, I should note that Allen quickly became very popular in Japan, where his BMG Novus releases were released. They could turn him loose on any slice of tradition, as with these famous pieces, backed with piano (Benny Green), guitar (Russell Malone), and bass (Peter Washington). This is often lovely, but shouldn't the songs be jumping out more? B+(***)

Harry Allen: Dreamer (2001, BMG Novus): Yet another Brazilian project, this one arranged by Dori Caymmi (guitar, vocals), with Gary Meek (clarinets), Bill Cantos (keybs), bass, drums, and strings, with Kevyn Lettau singing two songs. Don't they now strings are almost never a good idea? B

Harry Allen: I Can See Forever (2002, BMG Novus): More Brazilian waves for the Japanese market, with Guilherme Monteiro and Jay Berliner on guitar, and Sumiko Fukatsu on flute. B+(*)

Harry Allen: I Love Mancini (2002, BMG Novus): Not as surefire as Cole Porter, but the saxophonist is as happy swooning as swinging. Kenny Werner plays piano and synth, and arranged, which here includes bass and percussion, but also vibes, harp, and strings. The latter, clichéd as ever, are the problem, but "Moon River" is so sappy even they can't sink it. B

Harry Allen: The Harry Allen Quartet (2003, self-released): Recorded in New York, with a rough draft for the group he co-led with guitarist Joe Cohn through 2008. With bass (Joel Forbes) and drums (Chuck Riggs). One original, eleven covers, including three by Cohn's father, saxophonist Al Cohn. He seems in exceptional spirits here, pleased that his guitarist is in such fine fettle. A-

Harry Allen/Joe Cohn: The Harry Allen & Joe Cohn Quartet (2005, self-released): Leaders play tenor sax and guitar, backed with bass and drums. Quartet recorded a half-dozen albums 2004-09, including two notable collections of show tunes (Guys and Dolls and South Pacific). B+(**)

Harry Allen/Rossano Sportiello: Conversations: The Johnny Burke Songbook (2011, GAC): After listening to so many quartet albums with occasional extras, this basic tenor sax/piano duo is a revolution. The Italian pianist came to America idolizing not just the swing classics but the retro-swing players who carried on, logging significant time in the studio with both Scott Hamilton and Allen. Here all he has to do is set up Burke's songs, and Allen knocks them out of the park. A-

Harry Allen: Love Songs Only! (1993-2001 [2013], Nagel Heyer): Not in Discogs; all I've found is a song list and partial credits, which leads me to think these came from multiple live shows in the mid-1990s: three each pianists/bassists/drummers, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, and omits two vocalists and at least one big band. Cover and concept similar to Love Songs Live! (released by Nagel Heyer in 2000, but culled from 1993-96, so I'll use those dates), but none of the same songs. A very mixed bag, mostly useless but has some redeeming moments. [PS: I extended the recording dates after I heard what's probably the same version of "Straighten Up and Fly Right" on Allan and Allen, below.] B

Duck Baker: There's Something for Everyone in America (1975, Kicking Mule): First album, solo, cover promises "Finger Picking Guitar Virtuosity." Old songs, even the ones he claims as new, most delightful. B+(***)

Duck Baker: The King of Bongo Bong (1977, Kicking Mule): Third album. Cover explains: "Hot tunes, Pop tunes, Blues, Instrumentals, and Hilarity." Baker plays guitar and sings some, with Mike Piggott on violin, and producer Stefan Grossman taking the guitar lead on two songs. Not quite hilarity, but definitely fun. A-

Duck Baker: Les Blues Du Richmond: Demos & Outtakes 1973-1979 (1973-79 [2018], Tompkins Square): From the finger-picking guitarist's folkie period, fourteen pieces that missed his five albums on Kicking Mule. Solo aside from "That Rhythm Man" with bass and violin, a few vocals. B+(**)

Duck Baker: Plymouth Rock: Unreleased & Rare Recordings, 1973-1979 (1973-79 [2020], Tompkins Square): Fifteen more pieces from the guitarist's Kicking Mule era, a couple pairing songs, like the opening "Take Me Out to the Ballgame/America the Beautiful," which is followed by a vocal on "Dr. Jazz." Outlier is "New Song of the South," which reminds me how much I once wanted to escape from my life (although I wouldn't have featured my mother's cooking among the reasons). B+(***)

Duck Baker: Spinning Song: Duck Baker Plays the Music of Herbie Nichols (1995-96 [1996], Avant): Solo guitar. Nine songs by the legendary, short-lived jazz pianist, whose work remained a touchstone for avant-jazzers like Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd. B+(***)

Duck Baker: The Roots & Branches of American Music (2009, Les Cousins): Solo guitar, some vocals, mostly trad. pieces, the names starting with Scott Joplin, the outlier by Salif Keita -- the Malian griot whose own search for roots finds common ground with our own. B+(**)

Alan Barnes/Harry Allen: Barnestorming (2006 [2007], Woodville): English saxophonist (alto/baritone), with his quartet in London, joined by the tenor saxophonist. Leaders wrote two songs each, the title romp Allen's. B+(**)

Bee Gees: Trafalgar (1971, Atco): British group, three Gibb brothers, born on Isle of Man, grew up in Manchester, formed a skiffle group there, took a detour to Australia, releasing Bee Gees' 1st in 1967, the first of four albums (through Odessa) that peaked 4-16 in the UK, 7-20 in the US, 8-13 in Australia. I didn't notice them until their disco revival in 1975, but they scored their first number one US single here with "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart." Nothing else here is remotely decent. C-

Anne Briggs: Anne Briggs (1971, Topic): English folk singer, first album (after an EP in 1963), followed almost immediately by The Time Has Come, and very little else. I was surprised to find the latter in my database as a full-A album (English/Celtic folk is really not my thing, but the reissue was a pick hit in my May 2007 Recycled Goods). Much a cappella, remarkable in its own way. B+(***)

James Brown: Super Bad (1970 [1971], King): He signed to Polydor in 1971, which took over distribution of his King catalog, so this "live" album and the two-months later Sho Is Funky Down Here got reissued by Polydor within the year. Title hit is so great they stretch it to three parts (9:16), and "Giving Out of Juice" runs a bit longer. Four other songs run 3:05-39 (basically, singles with dubbed audience), including covers of "Let It Be Me" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix." B+(***)

James Brown: Hot Pants (1971, Polydor): Hot single, more funk vamps, about par for a period when everything he touched was golden. [CD reissue adds the 19:09 complete take of "Escape-ism," excerpted on the original.] A-

James Brown: There It Is (1972, Polydor): More classic funk grooves, pausing for public service sermons about "King Heroin." A-

James Brown: Get on the Good Foot (1972, Polydor): Only album I can recall which features an advertisement for itself in any form, let alone running 5:54 to start off Side 2. Great songs you've heard before and/or will hear again, and other stuff. B+(*)

Carlton and the Shoes: Love Me Forever (1978, Studio One): Jamaican vocal group, also known as the Manning Brothers: lead singer Carlton, Donald, and Linford -- the latter two were also in the Abyssinians. First album (of three). B+(**) [yt]

Carpenters: Carpenters (1971, A&M): Brother-sister duo, hugely popular, albums 2-5 from 1970-75 went platinum (as did, 7X, The Singles: 1969-1973), declined thereafter, with Richard's drug problems and Karen's anorexia (fatal in 1983) tarnishing their story book wholesomeness. This was their third album, anchored by their most famous single ("Rainy Days and Mondays"), second side with a fairly decent "Superstar," the rest fleshed out with string and choral arrangements that make Mantovani sound like Mozart. C

Dry Cleaning: Sweet Princess (2018 [2019], It's OK, EP): Six-track cassette/digital debut, 22:06. Opener emphatically drives their concept home. B+(***)

Dry Cleaning: Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks (2019, It's OK, EP): Six more songs, 21:02, doesn't jump out quite as strong as its predecessor, but unless you're the type who obsessively parses lyrics it's hard to tell the difference -- other than that they hold the strongest track back for the closer. B+(***)

Lisle Ellis: What We Live Fo(u)r (1994 [1996], Black Saint): I would normally parse the cover credit to bassist Ellis, but later group album covers don't single him out like this. Trio with Larry Ochs (tenor/sopranino saxes) and Donald Robinson (drums). B+(*)

Grin: Grin (1971, Spindizzy): Nils Lofgren, got his start playing guitar and keyboards with Neil Young, led this band 1971-73 before going solo, and winding up as a hired hand for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. I was introduced to this band through best-ofs, which emphasize Lofgren, so I recognize a few songs, but others have yet to sink in. Later reissues add "featuring Nils Lofgren" to the cover/title. B+(**)

Grin [Nils Lofgren]: 1 + 1 (1971, Spindizzy): Lofgren's name on top, but in smaller type, as if they're having trouble figuring out who this is. Good songs, but they (he?) don't have a trademark sound, nor do they hint at the future Americana mold, and the orchestral swell on the finale leaves me cold. B+(***)

Grin: All Out (1972, Spindizzy): Third album, went with the group name, and seem happier for it. This holds up better, but again the "best-of" songs get there first. A-

Illinois Jacquet: Swing's the Thing (1957, Verve): Real first name: Jean-Baptiste. Born in Louisiana, grew up in Houston, so he's usually counted among the "Texas tenors" -- robust blues/swing saxophonists like Arnett Cobb and Buddy Tate. Started out with Lionel Hampton's big band, and is most famous for his "Flying Home" solo -- widely considered to be one of the first eruptions of rock and roll. All-star sextet -- Roy Eldridge, Herb Ellis, Jimmy Jones, Ray Brown, Jo Jones -- divided into a slow side and one that kicks up heels (for a while). Still, no complaints about Jacquet's ballad style. B+(**)

Illinois Jacquet: Bottoms Up: Illinois Jacquet on Prestige! (1968, Prestige): Quartet with Barry Harris, Ben Tucker, and Alan Dawson. Title cut is a monster blues wail. Settles down after that, with a nice ballad to close. B+(***)

Illinois Jacquet: The Comeback (1971 [1991], Black Lion): Originally released 1971 as Genius at Work!, but picked up the title song (the only Jacquet original) for the CD, and went with that. Recorded in London with Milt Buckner on organ and Tony Crombie on drums. Opens with Basie, a ballad ("Easy Living"), and "C Jam Blues." Closes with a blues called "I Wanna Blow Now," where he mostly sings. [5/6 tracks] B+(**)

Illinois Jacquet: Bottoms Up [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1974 [1997], Black & Blue): Recorded in Paris, the CD fleshed out with alternate takes. Quartet with Milt Buckner (organ on 7 tracks, piano 5), Roland Lobligeois (bass), and Jo Jones (drums). Mostly easy-going blues. B+(**)

Illinois Jacquet: God Bless My Solo [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1978 [2001], Black & Blue): Another Paris tour, with Hank Jones (piano), George Duvivier (bass), and J.C. Heard (drums). B+(***)

Billy Joel: Cold Spring Harbor (1971 [1983], Columbia): Piano-playing singer-songwriter, first album, barely dented the charts (158, 95 UK, 44 Japan), two years before Piano Man got him some notice. Artie Ripp produced, and reportedly butchered the original mix, leading to a split and a long contract dispute. Ripp remixed the album in 1983, cutting it from 33:07 to 29:53, correcting the pitch, and dubbing in more band. That seems to be the mix I listened to, which is spare but inoffensive. He seems to have a knack for writing show tunes, but not much context for staging them. B

Elton John: Elton John (1970, Uni): Piano-playing pop star, second album (but first released in US), scored a hit with "Your Song" but little else. B-

Elton John: Madman Across the Water (1971, Uni): Two singles here, "Tiny Dancer" and "Levon," where the definition of an Elton John single is a melody fetching enough they can survive the dead weight of Bernie Taupin's lyrics. B-

Elton John: Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player (1973, MCA): Helps to pick up the pace, as he did on Honky Château, and again (less consistently) here, especially with "Crocodile Rock." I suppose his "Texan Love Song" has a whiff of irony, but he doesn't impress with his redneck yahoo act. B

Elton John: Caribou (1974, MCA): Recorded quick, then dressed up by the producer while he was on tour. Singles: "The Bitch Is Back," "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." Fatigue sets in, if not him, then me. B

Elton John: Elton John's Greatest Hits Volume II (1971-76 [1977], MCA): Ten songs on the original North American version: two from albums out before his first Greatest Hits, four from later albums (two from Rock of the Westies, his best album, and one from Blue Moves, possibly his worst), plus four non-album singles, including covers of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Pinball Wizard" and a duet with Kiki Dee ("Don't Go Breaking My Heart"). The covers seem celebrate his status as a celebrity, but don't do anything interesting. B+(**)

Elton John: Elton John's Greatest Hits Volume III 1979-1987 (1979-87 [1987], Geffen): After Blue Moves (1976), I paid him no attention -- the only later album in my database was his 2010 duo with Leon Russell (The Union, a B; Christgau gave up after Jump Up! in 1982, aside from this best-of and a 1992 "dud"). However, his singles discography shows 11 top-20 records in this period, and 11 more through 20002 (more on the Adult Contemporary chart), so I thought this might be worth checking out. Only two songs I recognized here, and only one was close to great -- "Sad Songs (Say So Much)." The rest are uninspired formula (at best). B

Budd Johnson: The Chronological Budd Johnson 1944-1952 (1944-52 [2003], Classics): Tenor saxophonist, one of the all-time swing greats, though rarely recognized as he was most often buried in big bands or working for other leaders (e.g., Earl Hines). Indeed, his name only leads the artist credits in 6 (of 23) tracks here, the others belonging to Clyde Hart, Al Killian, J.C. Heard, Dickie Wells, Leslie Scott, and Johnny King. Varied material, from big band to r&b, including a number of vocals (King is most impressive), but often the saxophone reigns supreme. B+(***)

Budd Johnson: French Cookin' (1963, Argo): Mostly French titles (exception is Johnson's own "I Can Live With the Blues"). His quartet (with Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, and Ossie Johnson) is beyond reproach, but the extra guitar/marimba/percussion can be disconcerting. B+(**)

Budd Johnson With Joe Newman: Off the Wall (1964 [1965], Argo): Tenor sax and trumpet, with piano (Al Dailey Jr.), bass (George Duvivier or Richard Davis), and drums (Grady Tate). Title cut is irresistible. B+(***)

Curtis Mayfield: Curtis (1970, Curtom): Joined a group that became the Impressions as a teenager in 1956. Left them to go solo with this album in 1970. I've been playing his career-spanning 2-CD Anthology a lot lately, and the two most brilliant pieces here are there, but the rest of his music finds a unique groove and persona, and I don't see any point quibbling about details. A-

Curtis Mayfield: Curtis/Live! (1971, Curtom): Live double, 12 songs and 4 "raps" (lame spoken intros) picks up pieces from his Impressions catalog, while adding some of his solo album. Light touch, perhaps a bit thin, lots of congas, but great songs. B+(***)

Curtis Mayfield: Roots (1971, Curtom): Maybe you could nitpick some of the arrangements, but his voice and rhythms are so supple they wash right over them. Fewer songs I recognize from Anthology, but the flow is unique, powerful, sweeping. [PS: CD adds 4 alternate takes, underscoring great songs.] A-

MC5: High Time (1971, Atlantic): Michigan rock band formed in 1964, cited nowadays as "proto-punk," third and final album (despite partial reunions in 1992, after vocalist Rob Tyner died, and in 2003-10, until bassist Michael Davis died). Eight songs, extra horns on the last. B+(***) [yt]

MC5: Babes in Arms (1966-71 [1983], ROIR): Wayne Kramer compiled this from "rare out-takes, mixes, remixes, uncensored and experimental works in progress, and rehearsal tapes," for cassette release in 1983. Yet somehow this strikes me as more satisfying than any of their studio albums: some of their signature songs, loosely done but expertly paced, gets stronger and stronger. A- [bc]

Butch Miles and Friends: Cookin' (1995, Nagel Heyer): Drummer, actual name Charles J. Thorton Jr., first records appeared in 1978 with Scott Hamilton and Bucky Pizzarelli (latter credited to Butch & Bucky). Friends here are: Randy Sandke (trumpet), Harry Allen (tenor sax), Howard Alden (guitar), Frank Tate (bass), and Terrie Richards Alden (vocals) -- she enters on the fifth song; I didn't count how many more, but I like her. B+(***)

Butch Miles and Howard Alden: Soulmates (1994 [2002], Nagel Heyer): Reissue of Cookin', with new title and recording date moved up a year. Question is whether to give it the same grade, or dock it a bunch. B+(***)

Jason Moran: The Armory Concert (2016, Yes): Pianist, recorded for Blue Note 1999-2014, quickly establishing himself as one of the top jazz pianists of his generation. After leaving Blue Note, he started his own label, but he's gotten little publicity (at least none my way), and it's been hard to follow him. This is solo piano. B+(*)

New York Allstars: The Bix Beiderbecke Era (1993, Nagel Heyer): Octet led by trumpet player Randy Sandke, playing 78 minutes of jazz tunes from the 1920s in the Musikhalle in Hamburg. Leon Bismark Beiderbecke was an early cornet player from Iowa, recorded 1924-30 before his early death at 28. Sandke was such a fan he named his son Bix. Band isn't as famous as advertised, but some names you should recognize: Dan Barrett (trombone), Scott Robinson (sax), Ken Peplowski (clarinet), and Marty Grosz (guitar, sings one, which he introduces in German). B+(**)

The New York Allstars: We Love You, Louis! (1995 [1996], Nagel Heyer): Led by Randy Sandke, an octet with tuba and a second trumpet (Byron Stripling, who sings a couple), where only Kenny Davern has much credentials as a star. Like the Beiderbecke tribute, live in Hamburg, with lots of tunes you know, done with great respect and care. B+(*)

Joe Newman With Frank Foster: Good 'n' Groovy (1961, Prestige Swingville): Trumpet and tenor sax, both Basie veterans, backed by a Tommy Flanagan piano trio, playing four Newman pieces, plus "Lil' Darlin'" and "Just Squeeze Me." B+(**)

Joe Newman: I Love My Woman [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1979 [2000], Black & Blue): The label usually waited until artists came to Paris, but they picked up this live set from London, with the trumpet player (and sometime singer) leading a quartet with Hank Jones (piano), George Duvivier (bass), and Alan Dawson (drums). B+(***)

Helen Reddy: Helen Reddy (1971, Capitol): Pop singer from Australia, had some hits in the 1970s, especially on the Adult Contemporary chart. Second album, one short of her breakthrough hit ("I Am Woman"). She wrote 1.5 songs, smartly picked covers from John Lennon, Donovan, Carole King, Leon Russell, and Randy Newman, but my favorite is "Tulsa Turnaround." Nice voice, decent arrangements, even the strings. B+(***)

Helen Reddy: Helen Reddy's Greatest Hits (1971-75 [1975], Capitol): Ten songs, picked for chart position (9 top-2 AC, the other was the oldest, peaking at 12), so nothing from her 1971 eponymous album. There are more "definitive" compilations, but the CD reissue, with (And More) tacked onto the title, just took her to 1979 (and down to 60 on the pop chart, 41 AC). Reminds me we stopped caring about pop charts as the 1970s progressed, and never gave Adult Contemporary a second thought. Arrangements can be a bit much, but I rather like her. B+(**)

Randy Sandke: Randy Sandke Meets Bix Beiderbecke (1993 [2002], Nagel Heyer): Reissue of The Bix Bederbecke Era, plus three songs (not sure how they managed that). B+(**)

Randy Sandke and the Buck Clayton Legacy: All the Cats Join In (1993 [1994], Nagel Heyer): Clayton and Harry Edison were Count Basie's trumpet players, later noted for his jam sessions. Sandke plays trumpet and leads an octet with Harry Allen, Danny Moss, and Anti Sarpila on reeds, through a batch of Basie standards, recorded live at Birdland Jazzclub in Hamburg. With a smaller band, they generate Basie-level power, at least with the saxes. B+(***)

Randy Sandke and the New York Allstars: The Re-Discovered Louis and Bix (1999 [2000], Nagel Heyer): Cover adds "George Avakian presents" and "Lost musical treasures of Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke," and names featured allstars Kenny Davern, Wycliffe Gordon, Dick Hyman, and Ken Peplowski -- the actual credits list is far deeper, with many substitutions between the two sessions. Wish I had a booklet with the details, but both sets are quite remarkable. A-

Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man (1971, Flying Dutchman): Spoken-word artist, mostly sings here, music by pianist Brian Jackson, second album, leads off with his most famous piece: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" -- perhaps the song of the year, heavily featured in a recent documentary claiming the 21st century was being invented in 1971. Nothing else matches it, or is even in the proto-rap mode. More striking now is the jazzy vibe, with Hubert Laws, Ron Carter, and Pretty Purdie in the band. B+(***)

Vladimir Shafranov Meets Harry Allen With Hans Backenroth/Bengt Stark: Dear Old Stockholm (2016, Venus): Russian pianist, moved to Finland in 1974 and took up jazz. Recorded in Stockholm, with tenor sax, bass, and drums -- could easily be filed under Allen. Usual standards, including a Jobim and a Monk (ok, "Round Midnight"), for the insatiable Japanese market. B+(**)

Shaolin Afronauts: Flight of the Ancients (2011, Freestyle): Australian group, draws on Afrobeat and Sun Ra, first album (of 4 through 2014). Band led by bassist Ross McHenry, with trumpet, two saxophones, three guitars, lots of percussion, no vocals. Horns large at first, but over time the rhythm intensifies and carries the day. A-

Shaolin Afronauts: Quest Under Capricorn (2012, Freestyle): Second album, considerable personnel churn. B+(**)

Archie Shepp: Life at the Donaueschingen Music Festival (1967, SABA): Tenor saxophonist, first appeared in the New York Contemporary Five (based in Denmark with John Tchicai and Don Cherry), followed closely in the footsteps of Albert Ayler and John Coltrane -- first album under his own name was Four for Trane. This live set -- with Grachan Moncur and Roswell Rudd on trombone, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Beaver Harris on drums -- consists of a single 43:45 piece, "One for the Trane." B+(***)

Archie Shepp: Blasé (1969, BYG): Live in Paris, with vocalist Jeanne Lee, Lester Bowie (trumpet) on the opener, Dave Burrell (piano) on all but the closer, plus bass (Malachi Favors) and drums (Philly Joe Jones). Good spotlight for the remarkable Lee, and Shepp's perhaps surprising skill at shadowing a siger. B+(***)

Archie Shepp: Yasmina, a Black Woman (1969, BYG): Recorded in Paris, title cut is the 20:00 first side with an expanded band. Second side has "Body and Soul" and a piece by Grachan Moncur, with a quartet (plus Hank Mobley on the Moncur piece). B+(***)

Archie Shepp: Poem for Malcolm (1969, BYG): Two sidelong pieces with different bands, a bit of voice (Shepp) on the title cut. The other is rather more interesting, especially for Grachan Moncur III's trombone. B+(**)

Archie Shepp: Live at the Panafrican Festival (1969 [1971], BYG): Live in Algiers, two pieces, with Algerian and Tuareg musicians adding to the carnival atmosphere, Clifford Thornton (cornet) on both, Grachan Moncur III (trombone) on the first, piano-bass-drums on the second, with Ted Joans poetry read by Don Lee and Joans. B+(***)

Archie Shepp: Things Have Got to Change (1971, Impulse!): Tenor saxophonist, leaned avant in the 1960s, got political after 1968 and started making social music, radicalized by black power as well as avant-jazz. First side is the sprawling "Money Blues," co-written by Beaver Harris, Joe Lee Wilson shouting. Second is a short piano piece, "Dr. King, the Peaceful Warrior," then the 16:13 title cut, with Leroy Jenkins on violin. Messy. B+(*)

Rossano Sportiello/Matthias Seuffert: Swingin' Duo by the Lago (2005-06 [2008], Styx): Piano/sax duo (tenor/clarinet), at least for 7 tracks, before Harry Allen joins in for 3 more, with Anthony Howe on drums. Winds up with three earlier tracks from Seuffert's quartet, with guitar-bass-drums, but no piano. No real complaints about Seuffert, but the temperature picks up when Allen enters with "Lester Leaps In," and his "Chelsea Bridge" is beyond gorgeous. B+(*)

The Stylistics: The Stylistics (1971, Avco): Vocal group from Philadelphia, featuring Russell Thompkins Jr.'s falsetto and Thom Bell's production. First album, a tour de force. A-

The Stylistics: The Best of the Stylistics (1971-74 [1975], Avco): I should probably sample the four intervening albums, which charted 14-66 (R&B 3-8) and got panned by Christgau (B+, C+, missed the 3rd, C), but I'm impatient. Ten songs, four from the debut, seems like it should have grabbed me faster -- like the first album did, but right now I'd rather move on. B+(***)

Ike & Tina Turner: River Deep Mountain High (1966 [1969], A&M): Originally released on producer Phil Spector's label in the UK, but the Ike-less title cut stiffed (peaked at 88 in the US, vs. 3 in the UK), delaying US release. I've long regarded it as genius, but Ike's "I Idolize You" [originally from 1960?] has a lot more grit and soul. As the album alternates six productions by each, it risks schizophrenia, but both halves are so intense they modulate each other, albeit strangely. A-

Ike & Tina Turner and the Ikettes: Come Together (1970, Liberty): After opening for the Rolling Stones, they make a (partial) move toward the rock market, adding four rock covers to eight Ike songs. Tina comes close to owning the latter, but really burns on the originals. A-

Ike & Tina Turner: What You Hear Is What You Get: Live at Carnegie Hall (1971, United Artists): Live double, but not that long (59:26), notable for the preponderance of covers -- only two Ike credits, one shared with Tina, the other a mere 0:30 of "Ike's Tune" -- with "Proud Mary" featured and Otis Redding for the closer (or encore). B+(***)

Ike & Tina [Turner]: 'Nuff Said (1971, United Artists): Surname omitted on cover, as title explains. Everything else seems a bit abbreviated. B+(*)

Allan Vaché and Harry Allen: Allan and Allen (2001 [2002], Nagel Heyer): Clarinet and tenor sax, the former the brother of cornetist Warren Vaché Jr., their father a bassist who played with Eddie Condon and Doc Cheatham and led his own Dixieland bands. Vaché called his group the Big Four, with Eddie Higgins (piano), Phil Flanigan (bass), and Eddie Metz Jr. (drums), and the saxophonist has rarely found himself in more congenial company. A-

What We Live: Never Was (1996 [1998], Black Saint): Side note here: Napster has pretty much everything released on Black Saint/Soul Note, the Italian label that more than any other kept jazz active and creative during the 1980s. However, they've filed most of the records under the wrong names. This is credited to Dave Douglas, and I found it looking for Wadada Leo Smith. Neither appear, nor seem to have anything to do with this trio, but I figured I'd listen to it anyway, because members Larry Ochs (tenor/sopranino sax) and Donald Robinson (drums) have a new duo out (above), and it's long been on my Penguin Guide shopping list. Other member is bassist Lisle Ellis: listed first, but order probably alphabetical, with all song credits shared. Very solid work, especially from Ochs. B+(***)

What We Live: Trumpets (1996-98 [1999], Black Saint): Presumably where Napster's confusion comes from: same trio (Lawrence Ochs, Lisle Ellis, Donald Robinson) but with trumpet added: Dave Douglas in 1996 (31:54), [Wadada] Leo Smith in 1998 (36:44). Score it for Douglas. B+(***)

What We Live: Quintet for a Day (1998 [1999], New World): Sax-bass-drums trio, plus trumpets, together this time: Wadada Leo Smith and Dave Douglas. B+(**)

Barney Wilen: Jazz Sur Seine (1958 [2000], Gitanes Jazz): French tenor saxophonist, if Americans recognize the name it's probably for the record he made with Miles Davis, but he's been consistently terrific from the mid-1950s up to his death in 1996 (e.g., New York Romance, from 1994). He gets a lift here from a trio of Americans -- with Milt Jackson on piano, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke -- but remains the star. Originally released by Philips in 1959, several editions since, but I thought I'd credit Verve for their generally excellent Gitanes Jazz series. A-

Further Sampling

Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

Milford Graves/Jason Moran: Live at Big Ears (2018-20 [2021], Yes): Venerable avant-percussionist, chants some, with piano. [4/11 tracks, 11:04] + [bc]

Jason Moran: Bangs (2016 [2017], Yes): Pianist, trio with Mary Halvorson (guitar) and Ron Miles (cornet). [2/10 tracks, 8:38] + [bc]

Jason Moran: Mass {Howl, Eon} (2017, Yes): Trio, with Graham Haynes (cornet/electronics) and Jamire Williams (drums). [2/7 tracks, 22:04] + [bc]

Jason Moran and the Bandwagon: Looks of a Lot (2017 [2018], Yes): Suite commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Center, played by Moran's long-time trio (Taurus Mateen and Nasheet Waits), Kenwood Academy Jazz Band (31 pieces), Theaster Gates (voice), Katie Ernst (voice/bass), and Ken Vandermark (tenor sax/clarinet). [5/11 tracks, 13:47] + [bc]

Jason Moran: Music for Joan Jonas (2017 [2018], Yes): Solo piano accompanying spoken word performance (with some percussion) by Jonas, plus vocal spots by Jose Luis Blondet and Ande Somby. [11/26 tracks, 51:04] ++ [bc]

Jason Moran: The Sound Will Tell You (2021, Yes): Solo piano album, his third. [6/12 tracks, 20:10] +

What Goes On: The Songs of Lou Reed (1967-2019 [2021], Ace): Not available for streaming, but I tried constructing a songlist, and found 17 (of 20) songs -- nearly enough (missed Lloyd Cole, Echo & the Bunnymen, Soft Boys), but lost track early on, only to find a few later tracks clicked. ++

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:

Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg (2021, 4AD): English post-punk band led by singer Florence Shaw, first album after EPs and singles, dry talk over measured guitar riffs and choppy beats. Reminds some of Gang of Four. Less political, or maybe just more discreet about it. [was: B+(**)] A-


Music Weeks

Current count 34715 [34522] rated (+193), 205 [208] unrated (-3).

Excerpts from this month's Music Week posts:

June 7, 2021

Music: Current count 35564 [35522] rated (+42), 217 [208] unrated (+9).

I made a minor change to the Christgau website recently: I was fixing a security issue with the "Google Search" widget, and decided it would be better to target a new tab for the search results, since going to them would lose the website's navigation menus.

A bit later, I thought I should have that same functionality on my website. Turns out I had implemented it some time back, but it was only showing up on some pages. It shows up on more now, although the historic sprawl has left some pages with older framing. Reminds me that a redesign is in order, but unlikely any time soon.

Redesigning the Christgau website is a higher priority -- one that I've made very little progress towards. I did catch up the Consumer Guide database last week (still not public; probably later this week, but the new stuff is embargoed, anyway; may wait until his June CG comes out).

I started this week off by noticing a Randy Sandke reissue in Napster's featured jazz list. Turns out that a lot of Nagel Heyer releases are now available, so I took a dive, which shortly led me to saxophonist Harry Allen. Nagel Heyer is a German label which released a fair amount of retro-swing in the 1990s and afters. One problem with their discography is that they have a bad habit of reissuing old records under new titles, often changing the artist credits as well. I ran across several such cases below, finally noting it on the Butch Miles release(s).

Harry Allen is one of my favorite saxophonists, so his dive went further. He developed a big following in Japan in the 1990s, with BMG releasing 3-4 records per year there -- only a few appeared in the US on RCA. I've long been frustrated by inability to find those titles, but Slider reissued the Japanese BMG/Novus records in 2007, and they're now on Napster (and probably other streaming sources).

Still, half of this week's A-list records are new music. Having listened to very little new non-jazz over the last couple months, it was easy to pick promising candidates off lists presented on the Expert Witness Facebook Group (one from Sidney Carpenter-Wilson proved most useful: his only A-list album I didn't check out was Black Midi, and the others scored *** or better, while a couple items from his B-list beat the odds). [PS: Gave Black Midi a B: "started better, ended worse."]

I'll follow up on more tips next week, including the latest from Phil Overeem, plus whatever Christgau comes up with. (Meanwhile, enjoying Awesome Tapes From Africa at the moment, especially DJ Black Low.)

Unpacking up this week, after a recent drought, so suddenly I'm behind on new jazz. Still not much there (other than Dave Rempis' The Covid Tapes) I'm really looking forward to. When I do bother to check sources, it seems like I'm getting very few of the top-tier albums (i.e., by artists I'll check out because everyone else will). I didn't have to look beyond Napster's featured list to find Tony Allen, Jaimie Branch, Dave Holland, and Sons of Kemet -- only two of those I knew were coming.

June 14, 2021

Music: Current count 35610 [35564] rated (+46), 214 [217] unrated (-3).

Turned my attention to new music this week, drawing on sources too numerous to recall, but one was Robert Christgau's June 2021 Consumer Guide: I already had graded Gyedu-Blay Ambolley (**), Dry Cleaning (**), Loretta Lynn (A-), Mdou Moctar (A-), and Olivia Rodrigo (A-) graded, and Chai earlier in the week. Bumped up Dry Cleaning's grade, and checked out old EPs. The other "old music" entries were background for current records, unlike the last month-plus, when I've been working off old music lists.

Another source was the highest-rated 2021 album lists at AOTY and Metacritic, although they rarely led to significant finds. Working as fast as I do, I rarely spend enough time on a record to get a deep feel for whatever's unique about it. So what I offer are first impressions, hoping that breadth makes up for lack of depth.

Finally, it occurred to me that there must be some mid-year best-of lists popping up. I searched out a few, and added the records mentioned to my hitherto skeletal tracking file. The lists I consulted are (unranked, unless noted):

In past year, I would have been tempted to tote them up, but I've given up on that sort of tracking this year. I doubt I can even guess most of a top ten, but most likely are (in alpha order): Julien Baker, Nick Cave/Warren Ellis, Japanese Breakfast, Olivia Rodrigo, St. Vincent, and/or Wolf Alice, with J. Cole about the only hip-hop breakout, and Floating Points and Sons of Kemet possible jazz crossovers. My own picks, which include two of the above (Rodrigo and Sons of Kemet) are here. (Note that with 26 A/A- in what we'll generously call 4 months, I'm on track to wind up with 78, which would be my shortest list since the 1990s, if not much farther back. The current jazz/non-jazz breakdown is 16/10.)

I did an update of the Christgau website tonight, picking up five months of Consumer Guides (although the timelock is, if memory serves, eight months, so you can't read them there, but the records do show up in various indexes, like this 2021 release index. Christgau has 13 A/A- grades on new music releases.

I especially want to point out Perfect Sound Forever's Ed Ward Tribute, with Jason Gross interviewing Greil Marcus. Would be lovely if Marcus were to follow up with an anthology of Ed's writings (and broadcast transcripts?), like he did for Lester Bangs.

I've had a number of horribly frustrating days, which I realize would probably sound silly if I tried to enumerate my complaints. One thing clear is that as one gets older, little things get ever more troubling. The biggest of the little things was that I spent a couple hours working on installing some porch railing, and wound up behind where I was when I started. Doesn't help that it's gotten so hot the least exertion fails me.

One thing I can announce is that I'll return with a new version of my links-plus-comments post. I'm thinking it will come out on Fridays, and the focus will be on picking pieces I want to comment on, as opposed to ones I merely wanted to keep track of. I won't call it Weekend Roundup, or any kind of Roundup, as that isn't the intent. Tentatively I'll revert to my old Weekly Links, but I hope I can come up with something better.

June 22, 2021

Music: Current count 35664 [35610] rated (+54), 211 [214] unrated (-3).

Ran a day late in posting this. The cutoff was on schedule, late Sunday evening, but I got distracted by the busy work noted below.

More mid-year best albums lists (including country and hip-hop specialists, and one short jazz list):

If I had to construct a jazz list at the moment, it would be something like (scraped from my Year 2021 list):

  1. Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future (Impulse!)
  2. James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: Jesup Wagon (Tao Forms)
  3. Magnet Animals: Fake Dudes (RareNoise)
  4. Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor: Long Tall Sunshine (Not Two)
  5. Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die Live (International Anthem)
  6. Dave Rempis/Tomeka Reid/Joshua Abrams/Tim Daisy/Tyler Damon: The Covid Tapes: Solos, Duos, & Trios (Aerophonic, 2CD)
  7. Ivo Perelman Trio: Garden of Jewels (Tao Forms)
  8. Aki Takase/Christian Weber/Michael Griener: Auge (Intakt)
  9. Wadada Leo Smith: Sacred Ceremonies (TUM, 3CD)
  10. Irène Schweizer/Hamid Drake: Celebration (Intakt)

If we were running a Jazz Critics Poll at the moment, only my top two are likely to wind up top ten, with outside shots for Jaimie Branch, Wadada Leo Smith, and maybe one of the Intakt pianists (neither has placed high before, but the label gets attention). Other big names you might see: Miguel Zenón (A-), Vijay Iyer (***), Charles Lloyd (***), Thumbscrew (***), Floating Points/Pharoah Sanders (**), although my guesses are increasingly suspect as you go down my list. Is Joe Lovano (with or without Dave Douglas) a cause célèbre any more? Does the other 3-CD Wadada Leo Smith box overcome its solo trumpet limits? Has anyone actually heard the 10-CD William Parker box? I haven't, although I did finally check out the sampler (below). I'm not seeing much else I haven't heard yet that strikes me as likely contenders. But I should take a look through here: several things that interest me (at least) on just the first page.

I've added the records mentioned to my tracking file (haven't tracked down all the labels and dates yet), so it now has more unrated (442) than rated (328) records. I haven't tried to compile the lists, and haven't gotten very far in checking them out, although a few albums I noticed there made it into this week's list.

We recently watched 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything, an 8-episode Apple TV+ documentary series made by Asif Kapadia in England, based on David Hepworth's book Never a Dull Moment: 1971 the Year That Rock Exploded (see: Rotten Tomatoes, no Wikipedia?; reviews in Guardian, Under the Radar, and a rather pissy piece in the New York Times). Reviews inevitably focus on who got included or left out, and whether 1971 was really more important than 1970 or 1972 (or 1967 or 1977), but I don't want to get mired in that (although one should note that they not only featured albums released in 1971, but also singles that were recorded in 1971 but didn't appear on albums until 1972 (like Exile on Main Street and Ziggy Stardust). [PS: I did review the soundtrack tie-in product after my cutoff, but decided to slip it in here. And yes, I did comment on what was and wasn't included.] I will say that there was some remarkable footage. For me, it was most interesting to recheck my memories and nostalgia. In my case, 1971 was something of a low point in my interest in music, which had been waning during several years of self-imposed confinement, and was rekindled once I went to college in St. Louis in 1972, although I was very much aware of key events, like Nixon's escalation in Vietnam, Kent State, and Attica. And while I didn't notice much music in real time in 1971, I made up for it in the next several years, as I found that music was the common denominator of the society I was struggling to enter. Hence, there was very little in the series that I didn't know, or at least catch up on over the next few years (which makes it not 50 years old to me, but 45+).

As this is 50 years after 1971, we're constantly running into anniversary reminders. (The one I'm most looking forward to is the release on HBO Max of my nephew Mike's documentary, Betrayal at Attica; see notices in Realscreen and C21 Media.) The most pedestrian of these tie-ins is the appearance of "best of 1971" album lists, like this one (the first I saw) at Yardbarker: Albums turning 50 in 2021 that everyone should listen to. These are 1971 releases. My grades are in brackets.

  1. Janis Joplin: Pearl [A-]
  2. Carole King: Tapestry [A-]
  3. The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers [A]
  4. Paul & Linda McCartney: Ram [B-]
  5. Marvin Gaye: What's Going On [A-]
  6. Carpenters: Carpenters [C]
  7. Rod Stewart: Every Picture Tells a Story [A]
  8. Funkadelic: Maggot Brain [B+]
  9. The Who: Who's Next [A+]
  10. The Bee Gees: Trafalgar [C-]
  11. Dolly Parton: Coat of Many Colors [A-]
  12. Billy Joel: Cold Spring Harbor [B]
  13. Elton John: Madman Across the Water [B-]
  14. MC5: High Time [B+(***)]
  15. Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin IV [A]
  16. Sly and the Family Stone: There's a Riot Goin' On [A]
  17. Harry Nilsson: Nilsson Schmilsson [B+(**)]
  18. David Bowie: Hunky Dory [A]
  19. John Prine: John Prine [A]
  20. John Lennon: Imagine [A+]

When I jotted that list down, I didn't have grades for 5 albums, so I scrambled to listen to them. Four were sensible decisions to have ignored, at least in an era where one actually had to buy albums. Reviews below.

Spin also has a better (and more obscurantist) 1971 list, 50 albums deep, so it catches some important titles missing from above, as well as dropping in more ordinary albums and a few genuine obscurities. Ones from their list I'd rate A- or better:

  1. The Stylistics: The Stylistics [A-]
  2. Curtis Mayfield: Roots [A-]
  3. Al Green: Gets Next to You [A]
  4. The Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin: The Inner Mounting Flame [A]
  5. Joni Mitchell: Blue [A-]

I thought I might add a list of A-list albums they missed, then decided I should try my hand at compiling a fairly comprehensive annual list, like I've been compiling since 2002. That project got a little out of hand. It wasn't too hard to scan through my database for "1971" and pick out the actual releases, but most of my jazz records are listed by recording (as opposed to release) date, and I wanted to limit the list to actual (preferably US) releases that calendar year, so I had to do a lot of error checking. I also decided to go with original (preferably US) labels, whereas the database mostly had reissues. In some cases, I thought I should add notes contrasting the original releases with the reissues I actually listened to -- but I kept the database grades. I also decided to flag the jazz albums (J).

As I was error-checking, I added a section called "unheard records of some note." Obviously, there are thousands of 1971 releases that I haven't heard, so getting onto this list is pretty arbitrary. (Discogs has something like 120,000 1971 releases, but expect a lot of redundant entries for trivial differences, as well as tons of reissues from previous years. I started looking at the 12,000 jazz releases, and got about 25% into it.) While I was doing all this, I listened to a few 1971 albums I had missed, so I kept shuffling albums around.

A few quick observations:

  • The A/A+ lists are much longer than in recent years. Partly that's because those grades demand that records "stand the test of time," but also it's because these are records I've lived most of my life with.
  • On the other hand, the A- list is shorter, which reflects the fact that fewer albums were released back then. But also the share of jazz records is much smaller than in recent years (12/46, vs. about 50% in recent years). Other grade slots are similarly reduced.
  • The B+ category reflects albums graded before I started using the 1-3 star subdivisions. I've placed these after B+(*), but realistically they should be evenly distributed among the B+ grades.
  • The sharp fall off below B is, as it is today, the result of not bothering with records I didn't expect to like. It may also reflect the fact that I wasn't regularly keeping track of grades before 2000, so a number of records that I did listen to way back when never got graded.
  • I've kept the division between New Music and Reissues/Compilations/Vault Music, even though I don't have much to show for 1971. I've also loosened up the time requirements I've been using lately (10 years for vault music), especially where the artist has passed (Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane).

In theory, I could do this for other years, but looks like a lot of work. My guess is that 1970 would have a larger A-list, especially up top. Probably 1972 too. I started buying significant quantities of albums around 1974, so everything picks up from there, to about 1980. From then, the lists would slacken off, then pick up again around 1986, and more so when I started buying CDs. I started buying a lot of jazz and oldies c. 1995, and everything exploded when I started reviewing oldies in 2003 and jazz in 2004, and again when I started streaming around 2010. That finally made it cheap to listen to crap, and I've done plenty.

Jazz took a dive around 1970, aside from the fusion fad, which very few musicians showed any real skill at (Miles Davis, for sure, but not Herbie Hancock or Wayne Shorter, who still passed as pretty big successes). Jazz started to rebound in the US in the 1990s, but as art had been saved by small labels in Europe and Japan, and in any case it remains a music of small niches (definitely plural), despite being enormously creative. The thing about 1967-72 was that a lot of the innovation in those years was genuinely popular: we listened to the same records, and they were a common bond. I grew up in that environment, but by the time we published Terminal Zone we were starting to plot the fragmentation. Like the real universe, it's never gotten smaller, nor easier.

One more week before we wrap June Streamnotes. It's a 5-week month, so the monthly file is likely to be a big one (currently 162 records). Don't know whether I'll do a Friday news/opinion post. Scratch file for that is currently bare. Got virtually no reaction last week.

Got both of the porch rail projects done, thanks largely to Max Stewart, who always seems to be able to bail me out when I get in over my head. I spent what seemed like a lot of money (including a $50 shipping charge), and I'll never do business with them (Simplified Building) again. The hardware fit very loosely and/or awkwardly to the tubing, which was heavy but unattractive. The "self-tapping" screws weren't up to the job. Their instructions were wrong several places, resulting in drilling some holes too big, others too small. First thing I ever bought off an ad in Facebook, and may be the last.

I have one more rail piece on order from Amazon (item had a very long lead time). Assuming it fits right, it should be much easier to install. Also bought some small grab bars to locate by the doors, so you can hold on with one hand while opening the heavy screen doors. They came late today, so I still have to install them, but they should be easy.

Lots more making life difficult, but occasionally we make a bit of progress.

June 28, 2021

Music: Current count 35715 [35664] rated (+51), 205 [211] unrated (-6).

June Streamnotes (link above) wraps up this week. I'll do the indexing later, but a quick fgrep shows 203 albums for the month. I started last week thinking about 1971, which explains old music by Curtis Mayfield, Ike & Tina Turner, and Archie Shepp. I came up shorter in A- records this week, but a couple of those Shepp albums could merit further listening. I haven't been able to follow Hat's Ezz-thetics series, but noticed that they have a new Blase and Yasmina Revisited reissue. I should also note that I decided to go with reissues of the individual BYG albums, not the twofers that later appeared on Affinity.

The Joe Newman reissue got me to take a look at his back catalog, which in turn led me to two of my favorite 1950s tenor saxophonists: Illinois Jacquet and Budd Johnson. Nothing I found there blew me away, but I did enjoy every minute of the search. Johnson's Let's Swing remains one of the all-time great tenor sax albums. Newman's 1955-56 albums, The Count's Men and I Feel Like a New Man, are highly recommended, and there is a lot of primo Jacquet to choose from.

Listened to more new music last week, but non-jazz forays were few and far between. Main find was an EP that didn't show up in any of my 2020 lists, but its videos have gotten a lot of notice. See this one to get the key song, "Rät," in real time, then look at this one for the annotation. I got the tip from Phil Overeem, who also recommended Ashnikko, another young woman who knows a lot about the world. I shouldn't be surprised, but following politics I'm constantly bombarded with staggering levels of stupidity.

Many thanks to Dave Everall for posting Music Week notices on Facebook's Expert Witness thread -- something I've never gotten the hang of. Last week's post elicited a few comments, mostly about Elton John in the 1980s. I wrote about the documentary series 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything and its Univeral-delimited soundtrack album last week. The series was based on David Hepworth's book, Never a Dull Moment: 1971: The Year That Rock Exploded, so Clifford Ocheltree posted a link to a 283-song Spotify playlist based on the book. I asked for opinions on the book, but only after doing a bit of due diligence. I quoted one line I found in the book: "I was born in 1950. For a music fan, that's the winning ticket in the lottery of life." Several readers took offense at that line.

Of course, it resonated for me because I was born in 1950. But also because I've thought quite a bit about the effect of age at time. For instance, I was significantly different in 1957, 1964, 1971, and 1978, which were four pivotal years in the history of rock. My first memories of popular music date from around 1957, but they don't include emerging rock stars like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly. What I remember from the late 1950s are novelties, including my longstanding love for "16 Tons" (Tennessee Ernie Ford) and "Mack the Knife (Bobby Darin) -- versions that neither older nor younger critics would still prefer. I eventually filled in the gaps, but older critics like Robert Christgau (b. 1942) and Greil Marcus (b. 1945) experienced the birth of rock and roll in real time -- like I did the Beatles and the British Invasion as a teenager in 1964. By the time I became aware of Presley, he was a mediocre actor whose career was interrupted by the Army, so he meant little to me (whereas he meant the world to my elders, especially to Marcus). I know all the songs now, but have little sense of how the chronology played out. On the other hand, I lived through everything from 1964 on, fully conscious of who broke new ground and what followed up.

I suppose it's possible that I imposed that 7-year cycle on the available music, as opposed to it fortunately synching up with my life. I don't see anything comparable looking back to 1950, 1943, 1936, 1929 (although the crash did end the "roaring '20s"). Going forward there's some evidence for 1985 (Michaelangelo Matos wrote a recent book on 1984 as a pivotal year in music) and 1992 (grunge and gangsta take over), but what's groundbreaking about 1999, 2006, 2013, 2020? Maybe the music, like me, is getting old? Maybe as old people we just don't notice the changes? What is certain is that we don't live them the same way.

It's also possible that change is changing. Kurt Andersen, in his book Evil Geniuses, argues that the decadal changes in fashion and design which made it easy to date artifacts from the 20th century have largely vanished in the 21st. My 2006 car doesn't look far removed from 2021 models, unlike the differences between my father's series of cars (1932, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1979, 1987 -- that '73 Maverick was a real lemon). Progress was dramatic in the 20th century, but it's harder to discern in the 21st: technological changes are more esoteric and harder to grasp, and often turn out to be mixed blessings (e.g., climate). But also blame politics for increasing inequality, which makes affluence harder to come by and hope for.

Aside from music, I've long been conscious of the peculiar blessings and handicaps of my age. Nearly all of my cousins are older than me, some a mere two years younger than my father, so they offer a sample group of birth dates from 1925-50, and the second-cousins start up in 1949. What I concluded was that the ones born in the late 1930s were most fortunate: they didn't remember the Depression, were too young for WWII and Korea, and too old for Vietnam; they came of age during the postwar boom, included the first in our family to go to college, many started businesses and prospered, and retired with a fair degree of comfort (several touring the country in RVs, which is sort of a generational calling card). They all lived much longer than their parents, and were generally better off. On the other hand, most are dead now, or getting pretty old, so younger generations do have that advantage.

Long ago it occurred to me that there never before was a generation gap as large as the one between my cohort and our parents. The obvious point at the time is that we grew up in a time of sudden affluence and expanding horizons, whereas they grew up during the Great Depression and had to surive World War. But as I thought more about it, I realized that a lot of things started shifting between the end of the war in 1945 and the stalemate in Korea in 1952. The very week I was born, China entered Korea and drove American forces back from the border. Americans didn't realize that they had switched sides, ceasing to be liberators and turning into the backstop of western imperialism. The decline wasn't instantly obvious. We grew up thinking we were on top of the world, and became increasingly cross when the world had other ideas. I recently saw an Elizabeth Warren meme that dated the war on the middle class to "thirty years ago," but there were earlier stages: fifty years ago domestic oil production peaked, and the US started running trade deficits. A sensible choice then would have been to tax oil (like Europe was doing), but we pretended nothing was happening (after all, domestic and foreign oil were controlled by the same international corporations). In the 1970s, capitalists (increasingly financiers) plotted to take over the government and get rid of all the countervailing power/public interest "nonsense" -- with slower growth the only way they could maintain profits was to take more -- and in 1980, they managed to get Ronald Reagan elected.

It's been all down hill from there, so of course people growing up now view the world much differently than we did.

Notes

Everything streamed from Napster (ex 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
  • [yt] available at youtube.com