Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Streamnotes (October 2017)

Shortest monthly roll-up of Streamnotes this year, by quite a large margin (75 vs. 111 in May; high was 156 in January). Probably the shortest in several years. I've made my excuses in past Music Week posts, so won't rehash them here.

I will note that the jazz share of the following is relatively high, even by my standards. Until the EOY lists start appearing, I'm don't seem to be noticing much non-jazz. However, the lists should start appearing in late November. Over the last few years, I've threatened to stop compiling them, but at the moment I'm actually looking forward to the diversion. Also to sorting out my own Jazz and Non-Jazz EOY lists -- I'll probably make my first stab at that shortly after the first lists appear.

Meanwhile, the year-in-progress list is here. Current grade breakdown (new releases): 107 A- (64 jazz, 43 non-jazz), 121 B+(***), 186 B+(**), 180 B+(*), 78 B, 23 B-, 5 C+, 2 C; (reissues/compilations): 1 A, 8 A- (2 jazz, 7 non-jazz), 12 B+(***), 14 B+(**), 6 B+(*), 3 B, 1 B-, 1 C+. The A-list usually winds up being pretty evenly split between jazz and non-jazz, but always starts with jazz way ahead (about the current ratio). That adds up to 627 records rated in 10 months, so that projects to 815 over 13 months (January is usually devoted to late-breaking (or merely late-noticed) albums from the previous year. Adding a month for January also makes it easy to compare progress this year to last year, as I can compare a straightforward projection to the actual frozen 2016 list as of January 28, 2016. That file listed 1074 records, so by this first crude approximation I'm down about 24% compared to 2016. I'm not surprised that my rate has slowed in 2017, but this is the first time I've tried making a projection, and the drop is a bit more than I expected.


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 September 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (10248 records).


Recent Releases

Rez Abbasi: Unfiltered Universe (2016 [2017], Whirlwind): Guitarist, from Pakistan, group expands on a group saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa organized (with Abbasi and percussionist Dan Weiss, the Indo-Pak Coalition -- adding Vijay Iyer on piano, plus cello and bass. Main difference is that Abbasi wrote the pieces here, and his postbop stumbles awkwardly in spots. On the other hand, Mahanthappa is terrific throughout. B+(**) [cd]

Tony Allen: The Source (2017, Blue Note): Nigerian drummer, met Fela Kuti in 1964 and anchored his band for the next 15 years. Has recorded a couple dozen albums since going on his own in 1979, but this is the first (following an EP) for a jazz label, and this is very straightforward jazz album, a nonet plus a couple spot guests, occasionally working in a bit of African rhythm but not very often. B+(*)

Banda Magda: Tigre (2017, GroundUP Music): New York-based band built around Greek singer-songwriter Magda Giannikou (also plays accordion and piano). Third group album. Hard to peg, with its Balkan beats and occasional orchestral swirl. B+(*)

Peter Bernstein: Signs LIVE! (2015 [2017], Smoke Sessions, 2CD): Guitarist, strikes me as one of the better examples of the long-dominant Wes Montgomery school, stretches out at great length in this quartet -- although equally featured is pianist Brad Mehldau. Two Monk pieces, the rest originals. With Christian McBride (bass) and Gregory Hutchinson (drums). B+(**)

Blue Note All-Stars: Our Point of View (2017, Blue Note, 2CD): Third time Blue Note has tried this, with its 1996 Blue Note All Stars (no hyphen), 2009 Blue Note 7, and now this one: note, first of all, that none of the three albums share any musicians or producers. Lineup this time: Ambrose Akinmusire, Marcus Strickland, Lionel Loueke, Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, Kendrick Scott, plus two legends return for a shot at "Masqualero" (Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock). Aside from a Loueke showcase not far removed from the hard bop the label was built on, so plus ça change, plus c'est le même chose. B+(**)

Borderlands Trio [Stephan Crump/Kris Davis/Eric McPherson]: Asteroidea (2015 [2017], Intakt): Bass-piano-drums trio, the bassist getting a solo intro to kick things off, elsewhere the pianist playing soft rhythmic figures behind the bass. Fascinating there, even more so when Davis jumps out front, bringing the drums into play. A- [cd]

Bobby Bradford/Hafez Modirzadeh: Live at the Magic Triangle (2016 [2017], NoBusiness): Cornet-tenor sax quartet, Ken Filiano on bass and Royal Hartigan on drums, each contributing a song (or two for Bradford). Loose and free, but doesn't have the spark of Bradford's legendary quartet with John Carter. B+(**) [cdr]

Dee Dee Bridgewater: Memphis . . . Yes, I'm Ready (2017, Okeh): Started as an r&b singer, not making much of a mark with her early Atlantic and Elektra albums (1976-80), well before she moved into jazz (first Verve album in 1993). So this is a throwback to her r&b days, except with better songs -- Memphis-associated, including a couple of Elvis hits. The horn arrangements are stock, the vocal tone a bit darker, so it actually helps when he turns the gospel afterburner on, on "Precious Lord" (of course), even more so on "Try a Little Tenderness." B+(*)

Kyle Bruckmann's Degradient: Dear Everyone (2017, Not Two, 2CD): Plays oboe, English horn, electronics, with a dozen-plus albums since 2001. First with this group, backed by Aram Shelton (alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), electric bass and percussion, with a text by Matt Shears rendered by 99 readers. The spoken word is scattered about, accenting rather than breaking up the dense music. B+(**)

Cortex: Avant-Garde Party Music (2017, Clean Feed): Norwegian two-horn quartet -- Thomas Johanson (trumpet), Kristoffer Alberts (saxes), Ola Høyer (bass), Gard Nilssen (drums) -- first studio album after two terrific live ones. One figures they haven't outgrown their taste for high-energy rock even though their chops and instruments have opened up avant-jazz options. B+(***)

Cowboys and Frenchmen: Bluer Than You Think (2017, Outside In Music): Co-led by alto saxophonists Owen Broder and Ethan Helm, who split writing chores 3-4 -- one additional track by Chris Misch-Bloxdorf, who is not in the quintet (piano, bass, drums), and produced by Ryan Truesdell, who prefers delirious unity to conflict. B+(*) [cd]

Corey Dennison Band: Night After Night (2017, Delmark): Bluesman, plays guitar and sings, born white in Chattanooga, "immediately felt a strong connection to Soul music," moved to Chicago and fit right in. First half is perfectly respectable Chicago blues, second nudges its way into respectful soul, losing a step but relishing it. B+(***) [cd]

Mark Dresser: Modicana (2016-17 [2017], NoBusiness): Bassist, major avant-garde figure including a long stretch in Anthony Braxton's legendary quartet, 35+ records as leader (or 40+ if you could Arcado String Trio), many more side credits. Goes solo here, always a tough sell, but keeps it interesting. B+(**) [cdr]

Open Mike Eagle: Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (2017, Mello Music Group): Underground rapper, real name Mike Eagle, one half of Run the Jewels but has kept a solo career going steady since 2010. B+(**)

Harris Eisenstadt/Mivos Quartet: Whatever Will Happen That Will Also Be (2015 [2017], NoBusiness): Actually, just the Canadian percussionist's composition -- four movements of the title piece -- performed by a conventional string quartet: two violins (Josh Modney and Olivia De Prato), viola (Victor Lowrie), and cello (Mariel Roberts). Interesting music, but I'm not much of a fan of the form/sound. B+(*) [cdr]

Ellery Eskelin: Trio Willisau Live (2015 [2016], Hatology): Tenor saxophonist, with Gary Versace (organ) and Gerry Hemingway (drums). Some remarkable sax and cliché-free organ. A-

Bob Ferrel: Bob Ferrel's Jazztopian Dream (2016 [2017], Bob Ferrel Music): Trombonist, side credits include Southside Johnny & the Jukes (1983-86) and Michael Treni Big Band (2011-13), has the run of a fairly large band here, featuring vocalist Dwight West on four tracks, including a "Yardbird Suite" I find inadvertently funny, and one from Ferrell Sanders that notes "whales out in the sea need freedom." More swing than bop, and lots of trombone. B+(*) [cd]

Four Tet: New Energy (2017, Text): Kieran Hebden has done most of his laptronica work under this alias since 1999, more than a dozen albums, most quite enjoyable. Seems like there's more guitar than usual here, but otherwise little stands out. B+(**)

Ghost Train Orchestra: Book of Rhapsodies Vol II (2012-17 [2017], Accurate): Trumpet player Brian Carpenter's Brooklyn-based large band, fourth album, two modern arrangements of hot 1920s jazz, the Rhapsodies sets featuring chamber jazz from the 1930s. This one takes an odd turn by adding two choirs, one of adults, one of children. Looks like the latter was dubbed over older recordings, and I can't say as I approve (although the music is lovely). B+(*) [cd]

Yedo Gibson/Hernâni Faustino/Vasco Trilla: Chain (2016 [2017], NoBusiness): Baritone/soprano saxophonist from Brazil, first album as leader, recorded in Lisbon where he picked up the bassist (best known for RED Trio) and drummer (actually Spanish -- has appeared on ten or so avant albums since 2015). Free jazz tension and strife, spending a fair amount of time grumbling in the basement. B+(**) [cd]

Gordon Grdina Quartet: Inroads (2017, Songlines): Guitarist, also plays oud, based in Vancouver, has put together an impressive string of records since 2006. No bassist here, so he tends to melt into that role here, especially as his stars -- Oscar Noriega (alto sax/clarinets) and Russ Lossing (piano/Rhodes) -- bull their way to the front. With Satoshi Takeishi on drums. B+(***) [cd]

Ross Hammond + Jon Bafus: Masonic Lawn (2016 [2017], Prescott): Guitar-drums duo, Hammond also credited with resonator, 12-string resonator, and lap steel. Draws inspiration from Americana, but I hear more Chuck Berry than Bill Frisell. B+(***)

Hans Hassler: Wie Die Zeit Hinter Mir Her (2015 [2017], Intakt): Swiss accordion player, in his 70s, third album since 2008 for the label. Starts routine, but picks up speed and interest. B+(*) [cd]

Dylan Hicks: Ad Out (2017, Soft Launch): Singer-songwriter, based in Minneapolis, albums go back to 1996, also has a novel. Christgau praised this but described him as "logocentric" -- presumably why I didn't readily warm to him, although second time around I did notice occasional turns of phrase. B+(**)

Steve Hobbs: Tribute to Bobby (2016 [2018], Challenge): Plays marimba and vibraphone, has a record from 1993, couple more since. Speaks here of his quartet with Bill McConnell, Peter Washington (also on the 1993 record), and John Riley, but there's also a saxophonist in play, a good one, Adam Kolker. "Bobby" is presumably Hutcherson, though the only non-originals are by Dylan and Rodgers & Hart. Three guest vocals almost spoil the groove. B+(*) [cd]

Dylan Jack Quartet: Diagrams (2017, Creative Nation Music): Drummer, has a previous duo album with bassist Tony Leva, expanding that here by adding Tod Brunel on clarinets/soprano sax and Eric Hofbauer on guitar -- the part I noticed first. All originals by Jack, stretched out nicely with increasingly strong clarinet. B+(***) [cd]

Ahmad Jamal: Marseille (2016 [2017], Jazz Village): Pianist, first albums came out in early 1950s, still has his fine touch at 86. Quartet with James Cammack (bass), Herlin Riley (drums), and Manolo Badrena (percussion), with three takes of the title song, one instrumental, the others with vocals (Abd Al Malik and Mina Agossi). B+(**)

Danny Janklow: Elevation (2015 [2017], Outside In Music): Alto saxophonist, also plays alto flute, first album, has some side credits with John Beasley and José James. Personnel split here at piano and bass, with Jonathan Pinson on drums and Nick Mancini on vibes for 6/10 cuts. Bright, upbeat postbop, ending in a Michael Mayo vocal. B [cd]

Piere Kwenders: Makanda at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time (2017, Bonsound): Alias for José Louis Modabi, born in Kinshasa, based in Canada. Has a sort of hybridized sound that strays far from the Congo without landing anywhere obvious -- perhaps some future lullaby chant. B+(*)

Andrew Lamb/Warren Smith/Arkadijus Gotesmanas: The Sea of Modicum (2016 [2017], NoBusiness): Tenor saxophonist from North Carolina, free and rough, has a fairly short discography back at least to 1995, including a duo with percussionist Smith as The Dogon Duo. Gotesmanas is a second percussionist, not that either make much of an impression here -- Lamb strikes me as rather subdued as well. B+(*) [cdr]

Lost Bayou Ramblers: Kalenda (2017, Rice Pump): Cajun group, formed in Lafayette, Louisiana in 1999 by brothers Louis and Andre Michot, with ten albums. Starts out with a stomp, the percussion noisier than expected, the accordion louder, the vocals shriller, all of which stands out in a genre where things tend to blend together. A-

Rob Luft: Riser (2017, Edition): Guitarist, from London, 23, first album, quintet with Joe Wright on tenor sax, Joe Webb on organ/piano/harmonium, plus bass and drums -- the Hammond a little cheesy, but sometimes the sax rises up. B

Roberto Magris Sextet: Live in Miami @ the WDNA Jazz Gallery (2016 [2017], JMood): Italian pianist, has gone out of his way to send me records so I've heard more than Discogs lists. Vigorous postbop with plenty of Latin tinge, as much in the horns -- Brian Lynch on trumpet and Jonathan Gomez on tenor sax -- as in Murph Aucamp's congas. B+(***) [cd]

Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition: Agrima (2017, self-released): The alto saxophonist represents India (he was actually born in Italy, but his parents had previously become US citizens, so his Indian heritage is something he's picked up over the years). Guitarist Rez Abbasi was born in Pakistan, but has been an American nearly as long. The third member is drummer Dan Weiss, from Tenafly, NJ, who also plays tabla, offering the most authentic Indo-Pak spicing, although the aromas whiff in and out, and Mahanthappa's sax is as fluid as ever. A- [cdr]

Alma Micic: That Old Feeling (2017, Whaling City Sound): Serbian-born vocalist, sang with the Radio Belgrade Big Band before moving to New York. Fourth album, six delectable standards plus one original ("Ne Zaboravi Me") and a Russian/Romany folk song. Backed by guitarist Rale Micic plus bass and drums. B+(**) [cd]

Matt Mitchell: A Pouting Grimace (2017, Pi): Pianist, also plays "Prophet 6" (a 6-voice polyphonic analog synthesizer) and electronics. Has a couple previous albums, and has distinguished himself with side credits. Runs the gamut here from solo electronics pieces to a 12-piece orchestra conducted by Tyshawn Sorey. B+(**) [cd]

Nicole Mitchell and Haki Madhubuti: Liberation Narratives (2016-17 [2017], Black Earth Music): Flute player, still calls her band Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble, but that name gives way on cover and spine for spoken word artist Madhubuti, whose poetry spans the gamut of black American experience. Deep, and the band keeps it percolating, with Pharez Whitted on trumpet, a violin-violin-cello-bass string section, drums plus percussion. A- [cd]

Liudas Mockunas: Hydro (2015-16 [2017], NoBusiness): Lithuanian saxophonist, solo here, credited with "clarinet, percussion, water prepared soprano, soprano and tenor saxophone," on a series of short pieces, eleven titled "Hydration Suite," one "Dehydration." B+(**) [cdr]

Paul Moran: Smokin' B3 Vol. 2: Still Smokin' (2017, Prudential): Organ player, based in London, two groups but no session dates. Four originals, covers start with "Come Together" and "One Note Samba" and wind up wondering "Where or When." B- [cd]

Van Morrison: Roll With the Punches (2017, Caroline): Original song count down to five, counting the title song he got help on, none keepers, vs. eleven covers, mostly electric blues -- double hitting on T-Bone Walker and Bo Diddley. All get his standard generic treatment, which means remarkable voice and exquisite timing but with twenty-one artist credits that doesn't necessarily salvage the picks. B

Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Paint (2017, Hot Cup): Bassist Moppa Elliott's group vehicle, named after his first (and only non-solo) album, made their mark as a pianoless quartet of "bebop terrorists," blowing up themes and styles from the '50s and '60s, but they lost trumpet player Peter Evans in 2013, replacing him with pianist Ron Stabowsky, and now saxophonist Jon Irabagon has dropped out, transforming them into a piano trio. Stabowsky plays heroically here, and Elliott's tunes are as vital as ever, that's a big change (actually I mean loss) to process. B+(***) [cd]

Ian O'Beirne's Slowbern Big Band: Dreams of Daedelus (2016 [2017], self-released): Saxophonist, credited here with "reeds" but website pictures him on alto and baritone, and he plays the latter in the Glenn Miller ghost band. Based near Philadelphia (this was recorded in Conshohocken, PA). Big band, has some nice moments. B [cd]

Johnny O'Neal: In the Moment (2017, Smoke Sessions): Pianist, also sings some, originally from Detroit, moved to Birmingham in 1974, which got him into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame but kept him out of the national spotlight. Has a handful of albums since 1982, the first with Art Blakey. Mainstream quintet with Roy Hargrove (trumpet), Grant Stewart (tenor sax), bass and drums. B+(*)

Teri Parker: In the Past (2016 [2017], self-released): Pianist, also electric, based in Toronto. Quartet includes Allison Au on alto sax, which helps elevate her deft rhythmic touch. B+(**) [cd]

Wojciech Pulcyn: Tribute to Charlie Haden (2016 [2017], ForTune): Polish bassist, has a couple dozen side credits since 1996 but this seems to be the first album under his name. Starts with two Ornette Coleman pieces (the first a bass solo), followed by six from Haden and the trad. "Oh, Shenandoah." with a vocal on an Abby Lincoln lyric. B+(**) [bc]

Tom Rainey Obbligato: Float Upstream (2017, Intakt): Drummer, leads a conventionally shaped all-star quintet: Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Ingrid Laubrock (sax), Kris Davis (piano), and Drew Gress (bass). Six standards, one joint credit. Aptly titled: seems to be all about flow, gently even-tempered even working against gravity, remarkable when it succeeds. A- [cd]

Samo Salamon/Szilárd Mezei/Achille Succi: Planets of Kei: Free Sessions Vol. 1 (2016 [2017], Not Two): Acoustic guitar, viola, bass clarinet/alto sax, the acoustic adding a prickly edge to the free string mix, contrasting to the hollow sound of the reeds. B+(***) [cd]

Marta Sánchez Quintet: Danza Imposible (2017, Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, born and raised in Madrid (as was the same-named Spanish pop singer, a different person), based in New York, second album, all originals. Quintet features two saxophonists: Roman Filiu (alto) and Jerome Sabbagh (tenor), plus bass and drums. Complex postbop with Spanish flair. B+(**) [cd]

Irène Schweizer/Joey Baron: Live! (2015 [2017], Intakt): Swiss pianist, one of the greats, in a duo with a notable American drummer -- half-dozen albums as a leader, well over 100 side-credits (John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Tim Berne, John Abercrombie, Enrico Pieranunzi, Laurie Anderson, many more). She has a whole series of piano-drum duos, and most are extraordinary (especially those with Han Bennink and Pierre Favre). So I kept expecting this to take off, but it never quite does. B+(***) [cd]

Wadada Leo Smith: Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk (2014-15 [2017], TUM): Trumpet player, hard to think of a better one over the last decade, so it's hard to say that anything he does is a bad idea. Still, solo trumpet is tough, even when he works with familiar Monk tunes -- not that the five here are easy to peg, especially when mixed in with three of his own. B+(**) [cd]

Wadada Leo Smith: Najwa (2014 [2017], TUM): Group effort, Henry Kaiser making me think of Yo! Miles!, but he's only one of four guitarists, and Smith is looking to take their electric post-funk into places Miles Davis never imagined: all Smith originals, all but the title "love song" namechecking legends: Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Ronald Shannon Jackson, and Billie Holiday. With Bill Laswell on electric bass (and mixing), Pheroan akLaff on drums, and Adam Rudolph on percussion. A- [cd]

Mike Stern: Trip (2017, Heads Up): Guitarist, played with Miles Davis late in the game and has gone on to make quite a few fusion-oriented albums, none (as far as I know) especially great. This was evidently cut after a fall that broke both of his arms, leading him to write new tunes like "Screws" and "Scotch Tape and Glue." Guest horns (Randy Brecker and Wallace Roney on trumpet, Bob Franceschini and Bill Evans on tenor sax) steer some of this toward hot bop, and he's working harder than ever on his guitar. B+(*)

Yosvany Terry/Baptiste Trotignon: Ancestral Memories (2017, Okeh): Quartet, featuring the Cuban-born alto/soprano saxophonist and the French pianist, backed by bassist Yunior Terry (brother) and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. Terry is well versed in Afro-Cuban jazz -- a long list of side credits indicates that he's the "go to" saxophonist for such -- but such impulses are muted here, leaving a light postbop impression. B+(*)

Charles Thomas: The Colors of a Dream (2017, Sea Tea): Bassist, singing one track (the one standard, "My Foolish Heart"). Looks like this was recorded in three sessions with different bands, but I don't see any dates. At least one of the saxophonists is impressive, but I don't recognize any of them (Marcia Widget, Leon Williams, Joe Cohn). B+(*) [cd]

Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet: Ladilikan (2017, World Circuit): The trio from Mali features singer Hawa Diabaté (daughter of Kassé Mady Diabaté) plus two traditional instruments: balafon and bass n'goni lute. Kronos is a standard string quartet that stradles classical and much else, with 43 records since 1979 -- 1992's Pieces of Africa was, I think, their first with an African group, and one of their best. Much of this strikes me as rather stately (or do I mean starchy?), although there are spots where it starts to click. B+(*)

James Blood Ulmer With the Thing: Baby Talk: Live at the Molde International Jazz Festival 2015 (2015 [2017], Trost): Norwegian power trio -- Mats Gustafsson (baritone/tenor sax), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass), Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) -- meets up with the blues/harmolodic guitarist (no vocals this time). Several previous albums matched the Thing with various guitarists, usually resulting in noisy jousts, but Ulmer just does his thing here, and the extra gravel the group hauls just deepens it. Short (4 cuts, 33:26). B+(***)

Kamasi Washington: Harmony of Difference (2017, Young Turks): Tenor saxophonist, I had noticed him with Gerald Wilson, Phil Ranelin, and in Throttle Elevator Music before his 3-CD The Epic became a crossover sensation in 2015. More relevant to his breakthrough was his studio work with Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus -- the latter produced The Epic. This one barely tops EP-length: six tracks, 31:54. Mid-to-large groups -- octets on the first half, 21 musicians (not counting the choir) on the 13:30 "Truth" closer. I've never cared for his added voices, but does blow some mean sax. B+(*)

Wooden Wand: Clipper Ship (2017, Three Lobed): Singer-songwriter James Jackson Toth, has a lot of recordings since 2004, many released as cassettes or CDRs. Fairly pleasant guitar and voice, nothing really got my attention. B

Lizz Wright: Grace (2017, Concord): Jazz singer from Georgia, started out in church, went solo with 2003's Salt. Looks toward Americana here, with Joe Henry producing and suggesting songs, which she handles with steadfast charm. B+(***)

Tal Yahalom/Almog Sharvit/Ben Silashi: Kadawa (2017, self-released): Guitar-bass-drums trio, first album, seems like a bit more with guests on 5 (of 12) tracks, Adam O'Farrill's trumpet on three of those. Everyone writes, but mostly Yahalom, whose guitar has a nice ring. B+(**) [cd]

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Mose Allison: I'm Not Talkin': The Soul Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-1971 (1957-71 [2016], BGP): Piano-playing jazz singer from Mississippi, draws on blues but never lived them, his light voice flippant and bemused, a carefree hipster from the 1950s who never fit into anyone's mainstream. There should be a compilation that sums up his uniqueness. B+(***)

American Epic: The Collection (1916-36 [2017], Third Man/Columbia/Legacy, 5CD): The flagship, a box set tied to a documentary exploring a wide range of pre-WWII American music, country-folk and blues and Latino and Hawaiian and Native American but eschewing pop and jazz -- you get Ma Rainey but no Bessie Smith, Jimmie Rodgers with a cornet not Louis Armstrong. Although the dates spread out a bit, more than 90% fall within 1926-31 -- the two earlier cuts are solo fiddle pieces, the late ones blues so classic they seem older (Leadbelly, Robert Johnson). Closer, that is, to Harry Smith's purist Anthology of American Folk Music than it is to Allen Lowe's broader and deeper 9-CD American Pop. Eleven duplicates from Smith, but I recognize more songs than that as classic, and more still I didn't know at all. Comes in a hardcover book with song-by-song annotation. A [cd]

American Epic: The Best of Blues (1927-36 [2017], Third Man/Columbia/Legacy): Seventeen (or thirteen on vinyl) cuts from the box, only one post-1931 (Robert Johnson). That works out to a little less than half of the blues on the box -- depends on whether you count the box's religious cuts, skipped here. Can't say they're the better half either -- I wouldn't have picked more than half, not that the others aren't worthy of the box. Nor do they work particularly well as an old-time folk blues sampler either (not sure what I'd suggest instead, but short of the Smithsonian's The Blues 4-CD box set, maybe Yazoo's more focused Back to the Crossroads: The Roots of Robert Johnson). B+(***)

American Epic: The Best of Country (1927-34 [2017], Third Man/Columbia/Legacy): Same deal, sixteen cuts, only one later than 1930. Given the series' folk focus, these early cuts stay clear of the Smithsonian's canonical Classic Country Music -- only three artists in common, two (Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers) represented here with their first 1928 Bristol sessions. (The third is Uncle Dave Bacon, although comparing the lists I have to wonder how Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett missed here, and Clarence Ashley and Charlie Poole missed there.) So I find this more useful than The Best of Blues, although the integration forced on the box is better still. A-

Chévere (2017, Parma): Cuban classical music, as near as I can figure, names of seven composers on the cover -- I thought I recognized Arthur Gottschalk, only to find I had him confused with Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869). Instrumentation is dominated by strings, and most come with vocals (Kat Parra is the one I recognize) -- neither of those are particularly endearing to me. "Chévere" is a Cuban slang term I've seen variously translated as cool, hot dog, and/or fantastic. B [cd]

Roscoe Mitchell: Duets With Anthony Braxton (1976 [2017], Sackville/Delmark): Exactly as advertised, two pioneering AACM saxophonists playing various unqualified reeds and flutes, often more polite than their usual mid-'70s rut. B+(**) [cd]

Professor Rhythm: Bafana Bafana (1995 [2017], Awesome Tapes From Africa): Thami Mdluli, from South Africa, started making instrumental albums (mostly synths) around 1985, a sort of township jive meets house music which may or may not be related to kwaito (introduced to the US in Earthworks' Kwaito: South African Hip Hop (2000). Actually sound more like disco to me, or perhaps I should say what "African disco" should sound like? Seroiusly upbeat, ecstatic even. A-

Sky Music: A Tribute to Terje Rypdal (2016 [2017], Rune Grammofon): The various artists include nine guitarists, the most famous (Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, David Torn, Jim O'Rourke) only appearing once, Raoul Björkenheim twice, Henry Kaiser four times, Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen five (of nine cuts), matched only by ubiquitous bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Gard Nilssen. Some keyboards too, all fitting Norwegian guitarist Rypdal more firmly than ever into the fusion lexicon -- mostly by cranking the volume up. B+(*) [cd]

Ton-Klami [Midori Takada/Kang Tae Hwan/Masahiko Satoh]: Prophecy of Nue (1995 [2017], NoBusiness): Marimba/percussion, alto sax, and piano. Group formed 1991, had two albums 1993-95. Satoh has a substantial discography (73 items in Discogs; Hwan 11, Takada 4). Rolling percussion with drone is the theme, but the variations only start there. B+(***) [cd]

Old Music

Jack DeJohnette: Made in Chicago (2013 [2015], ECM): Names below the title: Muhal Richard Abrams (piano), Larry Gray (bass, cello), Roscoe Mitchell (sopranino/soprano/alto sax, flute, recorder), and Henry Threadgill (alto sax, bass flute), all associated with AACM. Not as consistent as I'd like, but a stellar turn on piano, with the horns shooting every which way. A- [dl]

Fats Domino: Alive and Kickin' (2000 [2006], Tipitina's): New Orleans rock and roll legend, scored 18 top-20 hits from "Ain't That a Shame" in 1955 through "Let the Four Winds Blow" in 1961, enough for a near-perfect single-CD compilation (e.g., The Fats Domino Jukebox) but his non-hits rarely distinguished themselves (so don't expect many surprises on his four-CD box). But he hasn't been a factor since then, and hadn't released anything since 1980 until these live shots washed up following Hurricane Katrina, when he was briefly reported as missing. Not sure just when these were recorded ("all were recorded by 2000"), and there are no revelations let alone classics, but he wasn't just an oldies artist -- his one remake ages gracefully, and his obscurities remind you what made him so likable. A-

Gordon Grdina's Box Cutter: New Rules for Noise (2007, Spool): Canadian guitarist, second album with this quartet: François Houle (especially strong on clarinet), Karlis Silins (bass), Kenton Loewen (drums). The guitarist brings a little noise, more groove, and keeps it interesting. B+(***)

New Lost City Ramblers: Volume II: Out Standing in Their Field (1963-73 [1993], Smithsonian/Folkways): Founded in 1958 by Mike Seeger, John Cohen, and Tom Paley, they played old time folk music on banjo-fiddle-guitar, introducing much of it to a new generation. For that, see The Early Years: 1958-1962, an essential album for any American folk collection. In 1963 Paley was replaced by Tracy Schwartz, offerng a convenient dividing line, with this sampler from seven albums sounding very nearly as classic. A-

Trevor Watts/Peter Knight: Reunion: Live in London (1999 [2007], Hi 4 Head): Alto/soprano saxophonist, an important figure in the British avant-garde although he's gotten much less credit than Evan Parker or John Surman (both 5 years younger) as he's appeared much less often as a leader. Knight plays violin. He's best known as a member of English folk group Steeleye Span, but he played in Watts' Moire Music Sextet in 1987 and in Watts' Original Drum Orchestra in 1989. One 56-minute improv piece, the violin a deeply resonant duo partner. B+(**) [bc]

Trevor Watts/Veryan Weston: Dialogues in Two Places (2011 [2012], Hi 4 Head, 2CD): Two musicians with a long working relationship, sax-piano duets, one disc from Guelph Jazz Festival in Ontario, the other from a slightly earlier set in Toledo, Ohio. Free improvs. Soprano starts shrill, but the alto balances nicely, and the interaction is vigorous. B+(**) [bc]

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
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, may be a bootleg someone made available, or may be a publicist promo