Monday, July 11, 2016

Music Week

Music Week

Music: Current count 26780 [26750] rated (+30), 445 [449] unrated (-4).

Fairly respectable week, again boosted by looking for records that had showed up on various mid-year lists: last week I identified Anohni, Kaytranada, and Mitski as among the fifteen most frequently cited albums so far (at this point the others I haven't gotten to are Beyoncé, James Blake, and Tim Hecker. Not far down the list were Blood Orange, Car Seat Headrest, and The 1975, and also mentioned were Angry Angles, Frankie Cosmos, Theo Croker, Fruit Bats, Robert Glasper, The Julie Ruin, King, Jeff Parker, and Leon Vynehall. Needless to say, some are better than others, but the only touted records not worth my trouble this week were by Carrie Underwood (Christgau likes them).

Also played enough out of my jazz queue to modestly reduce the backlog, with two records (David Greenberger, Jon Lundbom) edging over the A- threshold, and three more (Sylvie Courvoisier, Fresh Cut Orchestra, Jürgen Wuchner) just missing. I should also note that I had to resort to Rhapsody for five of this week's jazz albums (Croker, Alan Ferber, Glasper, René Marie, Parker). They didn't fare to well, although three of them appeared on The Observer's mid-year jazz list (as well as Jack DeJohnette [A-], Alfredo Rodriguez [**], Julian Lage [*], Logan Richardson [*], Snarky Puppy [C+], and 2 records I haven't heard yet: Anat Fort, Marquis Hill -- not what I'd call a good list).

I'll try to get to more listed records in the next couple weeks.

Some brief notes on Downbeat's Critics Poll results, posted in their August 2016 issue:

  • Number of critics voting: 142. In a quick scan of the voter names I recognized 54 as former Jazz Critics Poll voters, so a little less than 40% (a little more than 40% of JCP voters). Most of the others were associated with Downbeat, and I recognized very few of them. I didn't notice any affiliations outside of the US. (JCP probably has less than ten, something I've lobbied to expand, but at least they've got more than zero.)
  • Randy Weston won the HOF slot, finishing ahead of Anthony Braxton, Don Cherry, and Pharoah Sanders. He wasn't high on my list, but I'm still pretty pleased with that result. Weston is 90 this year, had a pretty good record as recently as 2013 (The Roots of the Blues). I count four A- records in my database: Blue Moses (1972), Carnival (1974), The Spirits of Our Ancestors (1991), and Khepara (1998). I should probably dig deeper. Mal Waldron and Cedar Walton shouldn't be far behind, but will be as they've passed and been buried with everyone else Downbeat's schema has missed.
  • The Veterans Committee added Hoagy Carmichael to their HOF. I think of him mostly as a songwriter, but he sang and played piano and I can heartily recommend RCA's 1994 compilation of Stardust and Much More (1927-34). Runner up was George Gershwin, and if he can't make it it's going to be a long road for the next dozen or so obvious standards writers. Only two other candidates were listed: Scott LaFaro and Herbie Nichols. I have very little sense of LaFaro beyond the obvious point that he played on Bill Evans' best trio recordings (especially Live at the Village Vanguard, recorded ten days before LaFaro's fatal car crash, age 25). Nichols lived to be 44, but only recorded in his 1955-57 trios: three CDs on Blue Note, one on Bethlehem, all brilliant.
  • Downbeat skews Album of the Year by three months, which kicked JCP winner Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls off the ballot. Maria Schneider's The Thompson Fields had virtually tied Mahanthappa, but fell way behind here, finishing second to Kamasi Washington's crossover hit The Epic. I've complained about the skew before (actually, every time I've mentioned it): what would it hurt to give critics an extra three months to get some more perspective on last year's records? (For that matter, why not give the Readers' Poll voters an extra six months?). For the record, the top early 2016 release in the poll was Charles Lloyd's I Long to See You (6th), followed by Michael Formanek's The Distance (9th). Neither strikes me as an A-list record, although they're on labels that get noticed. On the other hand, I only had one A-list album finish in the top 20: Henry Threadgill's In for a Penny, in for a Pound (4th), and only two more in the next 20: Amir ElSaffar's Crisis and Joe Lovano's Sound Prints.
  • For the last twenty years or so Trumpet has been a contest between Wynton Marsalis and Dave Douglas, but that seems to be over now as they finished 5th and 4th this year, topped by new winner Ambrose Akinmusire, followed by Tom Harrell and Wadada Leo Smith. I've voted for Smith myself, haven't had access to Harrell in recent years (and have never been much of a fan), and have no idea what other critics hear in Akinmusire.
  • Perennial Piano winner Keith Jarrett dropped to 12th place this year, below Robert Glasper and Matthew Shipp. Kenny Barron won, followed by Vijay Iyer and Fred Hersch -- reasonable picks. Jarrett's tailed off a bit, but I still count an A- record as recent as 2013's Somewhere (OK, recorded in 2009), and doesn't everyone else like him more than I do?
  • I'm a bit bothered that Ken Vandermark didn't make the Tenor Sax list -- more so than that David Murray, who hasn't released a record in a few years, has dropped to 16th. May just mean that Vandermark is spreading himself too thin: he did finish 9th for Baritone Sax and 16th for Clarinet. Peter Brötzmann did make the Tenor list (17th), but not Evan Parker (13th on Soprano).
  • Most egregious non-finish is that William Parker didn't make the top 21 for Bass. Leaders: Christian McBride, Dave Holland, Ron Carter, Linda Oh, Stanley Clarke, Esperanza Spalding. No kidding.
  • Top record labels: ECM, Pi, Blue Note, Mack Avenue, Motéma, Clean Feed, Sunnyside, HighNote. I only get physical CDs from two of those labels -- coincidentally two that I voted for. If other critics are as corruptible (or grateful) as I am, the standings probably give you a fair measure of what they're listening to, and you'll probably find that reflected in what they voted for.
  • Top "Beyond" albums: David Bowie, Kendrick Lamar, Mavis Staples, Alabama Shakes, Lucinda Williams. Only in Downbeat.
  • Probably the less said about the Rising Star categories, the better. I will note that last year's RS Guitar winner, Michael Blum, who had written personal letters to me and other critics imploring us for our votes, dropped off the list completely this year (Liberty Ellman won, followed by twenty mostly reasonable names ending with Jeff Parker). Also, most surprising winner -- even more so than the flautist I've never heard of (Elena Pinderhughes) -- was Khan Jamal for vibes. Not a bad choice, it's just that he's 70 now, and I haven't heard anything by him in decades (although I see he has a 2009 album on SteepleChase). Also speaking of late-bloomers, Mort Weiss (81) finished 11th in Clarinet, and Kali Fasteau (69) 3rd in flute (she actually plays ney).

For more, see my ballot and notes.

One last thing: I hacked together a little script which gives you a form to type a name in and prints out my grade list. Try it. Initial version only matched an exact (complete) string, but I've since modified it to allow you to use lower case instead of caps, and to map most accented characters to their accentless bases. The changes make it quite a bit slower, which you may (or may not) notice. In any case, it saves you from having to scan through the many flat files I've been building on every update.

So far, this took me just a couple hours. Adding reviews would be a huge undertaking. Don't expect it any time soon.

New records rated this week:

  • The 1975: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It (2016, Dirty Hit/Interscope): [r]: B+(*)
  • Anohni: Hopelessness (2016, Secretly Canadian): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ricardo Bacelar: Concerto Para Moviola: Ao Vivo (2015 [2016], Bacelar): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Blood Orange: Freetown Sound (2016, Domino): [r]: A-
  • Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial (2016, Matador): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chat Noir: Nine Thoughts for One Word (2016, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Frankie Cosmos: Next Thing (2016, Bayonnet): [r]: B+(***)
  • Theo Croker: Escape Velocity (2015 [2016], Okeh): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman/Ikue Mori/Evan Parker: Miller's Tale (2015 [2016], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Orbert Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble: Havana Blue (2013 [2016], 3Sixteen): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Alan Ferber: Roots & Transitions (2016, Sunyside): [r]: B
  • Fresh Cut Orchestra: From the Vine (2015, self-released): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Fresh Cut Orchestra: Mind Behind Closed Eyes (2016, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Fruit Bats: Absolute Loser (2016, Easy Sound): [r]: B+(**)
  • Robert Glasper: Everything's Beautiful (2016, Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • David Greenberger, Keith Spring, and Dinty Child: Take Me Where I Don't Know I Am (2016, Pel Pel): [cd]: A-
  • The Julie Ruin: Hit Reset (2016, Hardly Art): [r]: A-
  • Kaytranada: 99.9% (2016, XL): [r]: A-
  • King: We Are King (2016, King Creative): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Play All the Notes (2016, Hot Cup, EP): [cdr]: A-
  • Magnet Animals: Butterfly Killer (2016, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • René Marie: Sound of Red (2015 [2016], Motéma Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Russ Miller and the Jazz Orchestra: You and the Night and the Music (2015 [2016], Doctheory): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mitski: Puberty 2 (2016, Dead Oceans): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bryan Nichols: Looking North (2016, Shifting Paradigm): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jeff Parker: The New Breed (2015 [2016], International Anthem): [r]: B
  • Daniel Schmitz/Johannes Schmitz/Jörg Fischer: Botanic Mob (2016, Sporeprint): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Todd Terje/The Olsens: The Big Cover-Up (2016, Olsen): [r]: B+(**)
  • Carrie Underwood: Storyteller (2015, 19/Arista Nashville): [r]: B-
  • Leon Vynehall: Rojus (Designed to Dance) (2016, Running Back): [r]: A-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Angry Angles (2005 [2016], Goner): [r]: B+(**)
  • Carrie Underwood: Greatest Hits: Decade #1 (2005-14 [2014], Arista Nashville, 2CD): [r]: C-
  • Jürgen Wuchner/Rudi Mahall/Jörg Fischer: In Memoriam: Buschi Niebergall (1997 [2016], Sporeprint): [cd]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Livio Almeida: Action and Reaction (self-released)
  • Rich Halley 5: The Outlier (Pine Eagle)
  • Lefteris Kordis: Mediterrana (Goddess of Light) (Inner Circle Music): July 26
  • Zach Larmer Elektrik Band: Inner Circle (self-released)
  • Anthony E. Nelson Jr.: Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak (Music Stand): July 25
  • Sergio Pereira: Swingando (self-released): July 15
  • Sundae + Mr. Goessl: Makes My Heart Sway (self-released)