An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, April 9, 2018
Music: current count 29549  rated (+32), 371  unrated (+4).
Fairly normal week in terms of overall rated count, but above average in A-list records. That's basically because I finally got a chance to pay some attention to some leads (e.g., Phil Overeem convinced me to listen to the Sonny Rollins reissue, and reminded me to take another look for No Age). Note that the Nik Bärtsch Ronin album doesn't drop until May 6. When I was trying to close March Streamnotes I was rather desperate to find a couple more A-list albums, and the Bärtsch download seemed like a prospect -- but I couldn't find time to dig it up. A few years ago I tried holding back reviews of albums I got to ahead of release date, but found that nobody much cared, so I gave up on the extra complication.
Miles Davis/John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Sons of Kemet, and a few lesser items appeared on the album ballots for Downbeat's Critics Poll. I cast a ballot last week, while collecting usual notes. As it happens, I was feeling pretty miserable at the time, so after I got through the new/old album questions, I pretty much coasted, in most cases voting for whoever I voted for the previous year. Even more so, the sections in the notes where I list "first pass" picks from their offered ballot went unchecked and unchanged. On the other hand, it doesn't look like whoever at Downbeat put this year's ballot together put a lot of work into revision either.
I'm not a big fan of trying to rank musicians, so I'm not bothered by my reduced diligence this year. (I have less objection to sorting them out into broad tiers, like the ones I've noted for their Hall of Fame nominees.) The one category I did give some serious thought to was Hall of Fame, where I voted for: Roswell Rudd (5), George Russell (3), and Anthony Braxton (2). I've voted for Russell every year since I started receiving invitations, and if you don't know why, take that as your homework assignment. I've voted for Braxton off-and-on, and would say that he's the most deserving living musician who hasn't been voted in yet (now that Lee Konitz finally got the nod). This year is the 50th anniversary of his first albums, Three Compositions of New Jazz and For Alto, and while those aren't personal favorites, I have him down for 20 A/A- albums, and that's just the tip of a very massive iceberg.
As for Rudd, he died last year, and one thing I've noticed in past critics polls is how they tend to flock to whoever was the most famous musician who died in the past year. (Indeed, I think Konitz finished 2nd or 3rd to just-dead guys a half dozen times or more.) Rudd's long been a personal favorite -- I count 10 A+/A/A- records under his name, and he's played on close to ten more filed under other names -- so I figured I should join in on this expected wave. Problem is, Downbeat didn't list his name on their ballot, and winning on write-ins is probably impossible.
I spent a lot of time thinking about the Baseball Hall of Fame back in the 1990s, and much of what I learned applies here too. The key questions you have to ask is how large a set of candidates from the past you wish to honor, and how many comparable newcomers appear each year. The Rock and Roll HOF grows at a rate of 5-or-6 per year (down from 10/year when founded in 1986), which is probably too much -- aside from the question of whether they're picking the best ones, which judging from the 11 2017-18 inductees I'd say they aren't (the most credible picks are Tupac Shakur and Nina Simone, not that I would have picked either. On the other hand, Downbeat's HOF grows at a rate of 2/year: one picked by the Critics Poll, the other by their Readers Poll. While the DBHOF started earlier (1952) and has recently added a few extras through a Veterans Committee, the current total is still just 150. That strikes me as both too few and falling well behind the rate at which new jazz musicians of that calibre are appearing. I explain this more in the notes file.
Of course, one problem is that few of the DB critics are into avant-jazz. (Just one bit of proof there: Christian McBride regularly wins as best bassist, while William Parker regularly languishes down in the 7-10 spots.) Still, once in a blue moon someone on the cutting edge manages to get recognized there. One of the first died last week: pianist Cecil Taylor, 89. I'm afraid I'm not a huge fan, but he has done some amazing work. I saw him once, and left early, figuring he'd keep recycling stuff I've already heart for the rest of his second set. Still, I wasn't upset or disappointed. And I've heard a bunch of albums by him that I seriously recommend. From my database, all A- or above:
That a dozen records, out of forty I've heard, out of two or three times that many he released. I'm not sure you really need that many, but then I'm "not a big fan" -- those who are never seem to be able to get enough. The Penguin Guide, for instance, credits Taylor with more 4-star albums than any other jazz artist (including Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and the even more prolific Anthony Braxton). Unlikely he'll ever be matched -- though it wouldn't hurt to look into some of his successors, especially Irène Schweizer and Satoko Fujii.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks: