An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Music: current count 30635  rated (+44), 293  unrated (-7).
Finished Weekend Roundup at a decent (for me) hour Sunday evening, figuring I'd knock this out on time too. However, the end-of-the-year crunch hit me hard over the weekend, so I have quite a bit of material to cover here. I'll try to be brief (and will probably postpone whatever I can).
First thing is that Francis Davis will be running his annual Jazz Critics Poll again this year, with NPR picking up the tab (such as it is) and bragging rights. I've been hosting the ballots and providing complete results since 2009, and will do that again. But the difference this year is that I'll be doing the ongoing tabulation, so I need to get set up early this year (like right now) instead of waiting for Francis to dump everything in my lap a day or two after the voting deadline (December 9). Francis always urges early submission of ballots, and I have three waiting in my mailbox at the moment. Sometime over the next couple days I'll set up my framework and start counting ballots. Good news for me is that it will spread the work out, but ultimately that will add up to quite a bit more work. It certainly ruins any hopes I had of driving off to see family in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
At this point I have very little idea of the contenders -- not even much sense of my own list. But at least I've cobbled together two very tentative lists: as has been my custom, one for Jazz and one for Non-Jazz. First thing I must say is that I was very surprised to see that both lists have the exact same number of new A-list records: 46. Usually what happens is that when I first put these lists together (Nov. 16 in 2017, Nov. 19 this year) I get about a 60-40 split in favor of jazz (ratio, but I usually have about 100 A-list records at this point, so close to literally). Then as I get a chance to look at non-jazz EOY lists, I catch up on the non-jazz side so the split usually winds up close to 50-50 (in 2014: 69-76; in 2015: 81-83; in 2016: 75-67 -- a slight trend line toward more jazz, which seemed to finally tilt in 2017: 84-61). So while I was expecting that trend to hold, I was also thinking the split might be even more extreme this year, as (my impression at least) I've actually been streaming more jazz than non-jazz this year. So coming up 46-46 is a big surprise to me.
Actually, my perception isn't that far off base. Jazz has a 13-4 A-list edge in Reissues/Historic, which I mention because it's hard to factor those records out of the following grade break-downs (obtained by subtracting Music Tracking: Jazz from All:
So, basically, I'm listening to twice as many jazz as non-jazz records, but I'm a lot pickier about the non-jazz I play. I figure that the jazz percentage (currently 68%) will drop a bit before the year is over, more like last year's 62%. I should also note that the total number of rated records is down this year, from 1185 in 2017 to 760 now (assuming 10 weeks left, a pace that would reach 940 albums).
The jazz grade curve above looks pretty reasonable to me, although compared to past years it looks like A- is down and B+(***) up. I'm on a pace to hit 57 A-list jazz records this year, vs. 81-75-84 over the last three years: the A-list share of all rated records is 6.0% this year, vs. 7.0% last year (or three). I can't explain that. Maybe I'm less patient, or crankier.
As for non-jazz, my most reliable scout this year remains Robert Christgau (although I suspect that statistical analysis might show he's been less reliable this year than before). It's now pretty easy to check up on his grades for 2018 releases. Adding in last week's picks (Homeboy Sandman & Edan, Open Mike Eagle), he has 60 A/A- records among 2018 releases (excluding a dozen-plus belated grades for 2017 releases). I've heard 58 of those (playing Open Mike Eagle now; can't find Chicago Farmer), and my grades break as follows: A: 1, A-: 24, B+(***): 16, B+(**): 8, B+(*): 7, B: 2. That's pretty good correlation: more than half (52.1%) of my non-jazz A-list were rated A/A- by Christgau. (Christgau has two jazz albums on his list: John Hassell [my A-] and MAST [my ***].)
I did an update of the CG database last week -- my first since mid-January. I hadn't been able to work on it for several months, thanks to a major server meltdown, which forced me to rebuild my local copy of the website based on the public copy. That shouldn't have been too hard, but my new machine was running later software revisions, and the public server was also out of sync with my old server. I had more than a hundred files that I needed to revise, and actually still don't have all of that work done. I've been getting by with partial updates, but hadn't been able to change the database until I resolved a character set incompatibility. I made a breakthrough on that a week ago, and it took me until Thursday to catch up and prepare a database update.
I also settled down and wrote up a script to provide a RSS 2.0 feed. If you use a RSS feed reader (most browsers have one built in), you can add this feed to the list you're monitoring, and get notices when new files (or major edits) appear on the website. The current one has titles, links, and dates, but doesn't have article descriptions yet. I'll add those as we go forward. I don't have much experience with RSS, so there are details that I'm unsure of. For instance, should we add links to external websites, given that most of Christgau's new writings appear elsewhere (e.g., Noisey), exclusively for an initial period. (While the embargo is in effect, the RSS will link you to a stub article which includes a link to the current article, so the inconvenience is an extra click.)
Back in 2001 when I built the site, I had figured that I'd have to rebuild it around 2004-05. In fact, there are dozens of pages scattered around the site with ideas for development -- few that have actually been revisited since 2005. At some point in the next few weeks I'm going to set up a mail exchange and invite interested (and hopefully expert) people to act as a consulting forum on this and similar projects. (My own "ocston" website dates back to 1999, surviving an effort back in 2002 at a major rewrite, so I can be even more lax on my own work.) Maybe we can also provide a sounding board for others who want to work on similar or related projects. (E.g., Chuck Eddy one suggested reviving "Pazz N Jop Product Report," so I wrote a very preliminary spec here, then never did anything about it.) I was thinking I'd announce the forum this week, but didn't get that done. Soon, I promise.
I also hoped to get the RSS feed code backported to my site. (Back when I was using Serendipity for my blog, I had people who publicized my links from its RSS feed -- I know this because I've seen broken links from a year ago.) Also I plan on adding a Q&A feature similar to Christgau's Xgau Sez (a new batch of which came out today). I solved one technical issue last week, and hoped to announce that today, but "real soon now" is the best I can do.
Another thing I didn't get set up this week is the 2018 EOY Aggregate file. Actually all I need to do there is to clean up and repurpose this file, which I had set up for mid-year lists (based on last year's EOY Aggregate framework). I think what I will do there is to turn all of the mid-year list mentions into 1-point miscellaneous references (so that Janelle Monae drops from 52 to 22 points), then replace those as actual lists appear. EOY lists usually start appearing around Thanksgiving. In fact, here is the top 75 from Mojo.
As for this week's music, before I got swamped I was variously intrigued and outraged by Downbeat's Readers Poll. I made an effort to track down the top-ranked albums I hadn't heard of. I also spent the better part of a day trying to check out the late guitarist Allan Holdsworth, who came in second (for the second straight year) in reader Hall of Fame voting. (He lost to Wynton Marsalis last year, and to Ray Charles this year.) I knew the name, and had several of his records listed (but not heard) in my database, filed under rock. After sampling eight (of not much more than a dozen) albums, I have to say I have no idea what fans hear in his guitar. I suppose I could have dug deeper -- he did early work with pianist Gordon Beck, whose Experiments With Pops was a star-making turn for John McLaughlin, and he appeared on two 1975-76 Tony Williams albums I don't know -- but I was pretty sure his 12-CD box set (The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever) was de trop, especially since most of it was also redundant.
Midweek I mostly played Christgau picks. I think I get the appeal of Rich Krueger, but something about his sound turns me off (I called his previous album, Life Ain't That Long, the one Christgau prefers, "Springsteenian.") I wound up reviewing Lithics based on an "abridged version" on Napster and Bandcamp. I usually don't bother with partials (6/12 cuts), but figured that was the only chance I'd get. When I do, I usually hedge, but this seemed like the sort of thing they could keep doing for hours (recommended if you not only like Wire but need more). A couple B+(***) records tempted me for extra plays in case they got better. The one that came closest was by Carol Liebowitz. Several albums this week were recommended by Alfred Soto in an "we're almost there" pre-EOY list. Eric Church's Desperate Man is the only one I'd call a find, but that was after the cutoff (so next week).
One bit of good news at Napster is that the HighNote/Savant back catalogue is now available. I checked out a new archival Frank Morgan release, then found a couple of old ones I had missed. I previously pegged A Night in the Life: Live at the Jazz Standard Vol. 3 at B+(***), so it's not a big surprise that Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 edge it. The other gem in Morgan's catalog is Twogether, a duo with John Hicks, released in 2010 after both died.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Miscellaneous Album Notes: