An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, November 13, 2017
Music: Current count 28874  rated (+32), 391  unrated (-5).
Tis the season when most critics (and especially their publishers) start thinking about year-end lists. I expect that before the month is out I'll take my first pass at constructing this year's version of last year's Jazz and Non-Jazz lists. To that end, I started taking a belated look at AOTY's Highest Rated Albums of 2017 list, and picked out a few things to check out (most successfully, St. Vincent's 8th-rated Masseduction). I sought out several albums from Robert Christgau's recent Expert Witness albums (Pere Ubu's 20 Years in a Montant Missile Silo the only thing I've really liked there recently). I also made a point of looking up everything I had missed on Alfred Soto's Best albums of 2017 -- third quarter edition. Rather surprised I didn't find more there.
The present Year 2017 file lists 834 albums (28 of those pending grades). That's down from 1075 for 2016 by freeze time (January 28, 2017). Figuring I have 11 weeks left, and I've averaged 18.1 new releases per week over the first 46 weeks, that extrapolates to 1033 records: down a bit from last year, but not much. Down more from previous years, of course, but I won't bother dredging those numbers up.
I finally got a bit of work done on compiling the Jazz Guide(s): 21st Century up to 1267 pages (64% through the Jazz '00s database file, up to Ferenc Nemeth); 20th Century edged up to 750 pages as I found a couple stragglers. 21st Century should wind up 1450-1500 pages, hopefully by the end of the year. (So much for my earlier August-September estimates!) Thinking a bit about what should happen next. The drafts are collected using LibreOffice. Obviously, I can export them as PDF, and distribute them as I did the JCG-only version. I don't know the first thing about exporting to ebook formats, but I see there is a Writer2ePub extension, and also a "cross-platform free and open-source e-book reader and word processor" called Calibre. Both of those look promising.
It occurs to me that the collected writing would be more useful reorganized as a website. LibreOffice can export as HTML, but I'd need some way to explode the file into many webpages. It's possible that there is an extension somewhere to support that, but thus far is looks like a job for custom programming. That's something I'll need to look into and think about -- not that I haven't thought about pouring my database and reviews into a website for a long time now. It's just that I've always had trouble coming up with an album-based database schema to hang everything on. In recent years I've been gravitating more toward an artist-based schema, even though it doesn't normalize as nicely. That's probably the level I'd try to explode an HTML export of the Jazz Guides. One idea is to dispense with the database and just use Mediawiki, organizing the reviews by artist. In that case one could simply cut and paste from the book to the website. That would still be a lot of work.
More troubling for me is the amount of editing that the reviews require. The relatively easy part is stripping out the redundancy that occurs when discrete reviews are stacked up under an artist name. I expect to move dates, instruments, band associations, and other such attributes to a brief artist intro, cutting them out of the album reviews. In many cases that leaves virtually nothing but the credits and grade. It would be nice to flesh them out a bit, but that now appears to be a job for another lifetime, or for someone else. At this point, I'd be happy to let my framework stand as a starting point for someone else to build on, or maybe a whole community. Unclear whether anyone is interested.
One thing I neglected to mention last week was Downbeat's 82nd Annual Readers Poll (October 2017 issue). Biggest surprise for me was the late Allan Holdsworth (1946-2017) finishing second on the HOF ballot. I had him filed under rock (1970s) and hadn't rated (or heard) any of his albums. Wikipedia says he "was cited as an influence by a host of rock, metal and jazz guitarists" but the following list of twelve only includes one name I recognize as jazz (Kurt Rosenwinkel). I suppose I should do some research, possibly starting with Gordon Beck's Sunbird (1979; Beck's 1967 Experiments With Pops, with 3rd place finisher John McLaughlin, is a favorite) and two Tony Williams albums not yet in my database.
McLaughlin would have been a perfectly respectable choice. I've heard at least two dozen of his albums, with Extrapolation (1969) and Mahavishnu Orchestra's The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) early masterpieces. Fourth- and fifth-place finishers Les Paul and George Benson would have been disgraceful picks, although I can point to at least one superb record each is on.
The HOF winner, Wynton Marsalis, is a ho-hum choice: a solid hard bop trumpeter, probably better than Kenny Dorham or maybe even Woody Shaw but less exciting than Lee Morgan and not as versatile as Freddie Hubbard. He also became a huge celebrity, built an empire at Lincoln Center, and wrote some of the most ponderous compositions of the era. I've always liked him best when he was least serious. I credit him with three A- records: his soundtrack Tune In Tomorrow (1990); his Jelly Roll Morton tribute, Mr. Jelly Lord (1999); and his Play the Blues meetup with Eric Clapton (2011). Dorham and Shaw, by the way, have two A- records each, in shorter careers.
Elsewhere, the winners were on the stodgy side of mainstream -- the relatively hip picks were Chris Potter (tenor sax), Anat Cohen (clarinet), and I can never fault Jack DeJohnette (drums). Two flat out bad picks: Snarky Puppy (group), and Trombone Shorty (trombone). (Well, Gregory Porter too, but consider his competition.) I don't have time to go deeper down the lists, but for example, Marsalis won trumpet, and I'd have to drop to 13th to find someone I would have voted for ahead of him (in fact did: Wadada Leo Smith; Dave Douglas came in 15th; 4th-place Terence Blanchard gave me pause).
Only other down-ballot pick I'll mention is Geri Allen, who came in 3rd at piano. Would have been a pleasant surprise, but she died to get there, and still got beat by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, who haven't produced exceptional albums since the early 1970s (OK, I did rather like Corea's 2014 Trilogy).
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks (sorry I forgot to post last week):