An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, March 4, 2019
Music: current count 31207  rated (+33), 257  unrated (+5).
Lots of good records this week, mostly early 2019 releases that I checked out after Phil Overeem posted his Best Rekkids of '19 - End of Febru-weary Edition, with "30 pretty damn decent releases." I had previously heard N:
I sampled 11 more below, coming up with 5 A-, 3 B+(***), 1 B+(**), 1 B-, 1 C. I looked up but didn't find 4 more (DKV, All the Young Droogs, M'dou Moctar, and the Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet -- a 2018 release I've looked for several times) -- basically only got down to 14, but Michael Tatum recommended Our Native Daughters, so I prioritized that, as well as the jazz releases (Ward, Ill Considered).
The DKV (Ken Vandermark sax trio with Kent Kessler and Hamid Drake) is a 6-CD box on the Catalytic Bandcamp, but they only have 3 tracks available -- far short of anything I can review in good conscience. Until they stopped providing full albums a little over a year ago, I tried to review everything they released (missing only a few monster sets), but gave up after that, finishing 2018 with 8 unreviewed Ken Vandermark titles in my music tracking file (plus various of his cohort, including Overeem's favorite, Joe McPhee) -- certainly one reason why my 2018 Best Jazz list came up shorter than recent years.
I also took a fairly deep dive into Ill Considered, a British jazz quartet (sax, bass, drums, extra percussion), made possible by their Bandcamp page -- only skipped An Ill Considered Christmas (see Phil Freeman's review). Rhythmically, they remind me of Nik Bärtsch's Ronin, but rawer, with a lot more sax appeal.
Missing from this week's A-list is James Brandon Lewis' An Unruly Manifesto. I was all ready to write it up based on a download when an actual CD showed up in a package from Relative Pitch, but when that happened I decided I wanted to listen some more. When I stopped writing Jazz Consumer Guide for the Village Voice, I stopped requesting review copies. But only some publicists stopped sending records, so I kept writing up what I got, filling in obvious holes by streaming. For the last 3-4 years, the one US label I most regretted not getting service from (and not being able to find on a streaming service) was Relative Pitch. (Well, Tzadik was competition, after they pulled their releases from Rhapsody.) So this package was the week's most pleasant surprise. Will get to them soon (with Lewis first).
I decided I was done with the EOY Aggregate mid-week, but today I figured I'd add in the albums I graded but hadn't shown up in any other list. I got tired of that pretty quickly -- last one I added was Chrome Hill's The Explorer (Clean Feed) -- so decided not to hold this post up for closure. The late adds to the file moved it back a bit toward the consensus of aggregators like Acclaimed Music; e.g., Pusha T reclaimed 4th from Cardi B, and in the biggest shift, Low rose to 8 over Noname and Parquet Courts. Also, the Arctic Monkeys (which I dislike even more than Double Negative) is back to up a tie at 16 (with Kali Uchis).
Expect an XgauSez later tonight. I keep postponing my website redesign work, mostly because everything sucks here. But I did decide that one thing I need to do is to move my computer back to the old desk, making it possible to use a second (presently inaccessible) computer for development work. To that end, I ordered another UPS, which is here waiting to be plugged in, ready for the move. (Has been for a week, but any day now.) When I get going, I'll explain why this matters to my "tech advisory" mail list. If you'd like to join in on that discussion (or just lurk), let me know and I'll sign you up. I expect to have plenty of questions, and could use the help.
New records reviewed this week:
Aesop Rock and Tobacco: Malibu Ken (2019, Rhymesayers): The former, rapper Ian Bavitz, debut in 1997, a dozen solo albums plus various collaborations. The latter, electronic musician Tom Fec, has a handful of albums since 2008 plus plays in psychedelic rock band Black Moth Super Rainbow. B+(**)
Atomic: Pet Variations (2018 , Odin): Mostly Norwegian jazz quintet founded in 2001, weren't stars then but are now: Fredrik Ljungkvist (sax/clarinet), Magnus Broo (trumpet), Håvard Wiik (piano), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass), and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums, replaced by Hans Hulbaekmo c. 2015). Strong avant group, especially in the two 2004-08 albums with School Days (a Ken Vandermark quartet with same bassist and drummer). Vandermark also had a Giuffre-inspired trio with Wiik and Flaten, called Free Fall. Through all of this, Wiik often struck me as someone who'd rather be doing Third Stream fusion, and he seems to have gotten his way this time. His title piece draws on a bit of Brian Wilson's "Pet Sounds," and the covers include Varese and Messaien, as well as Lacy, Bley, Giuffre, Schlippenbach, and Garbarek. Sometimes the horns remind you of the hoary old days, but mostly they tow the line. B+(**) [cd]
Marcia Ball: Shine Bright (2018, Alligator): Piano-playing blues singer from Texas and Louisiana, started with Soulful Dress on Rounder in 1984, one of her best. She always has preferred the upbeat numbers, and still does. B+(*)
Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterium (2019, IOT): South African rapper, second album, had a bit on Black Panther: The Album. Music here has an advanced industrial air, sheets of sound stretched around a steely pulse. A-
R.L. Boyce: Rattlesnake Boogie (2018, Waxploitation): Mississippi Hill country bluesman, protege of R.L. Burnside, waited until he was 52 to release a record, has several now. Takes a while to get on track, but he's rolling and tumbling by the end. B+(*)
Robert Ellis: Texas Piano Man (2019, New West): Singer-songwriter from Texas, fifth album since 2009, seems like he should have more country feel than he does. B
Rosie Flores: Simple Case of the Blues (2019, The Last Music Company): Country singer, fond of rockabilly, 1987 eponymous debut was one of the year's best, has recorded fairly regularly but this comes after a 7-year break, a return to basics. B+(**)
Fidel Fourneyron: ¿Que Vola? (2019, No Format): French trombonist, second album, leads a septet with three Cuban percussionists. B+(***)
Mimi Fox: This Bird Still Flies (1985-2018 , Origin): Guitarist, a dozen or so albums since 1987, solo here except one duet with a second guitarist, one cut pulled from the vault, five originals, two Beatles songs -- usually unjazzable but deconstructing the guitar parts seems appropriate, and they give you an anchor, as does "America the Beautiful." B+(*) [cd]
Ill Considered: Ill Considered (2017, Ill Considered Music): British group, saxophonist Idris Rahman backed by bass (Leon Richard), drums (Emre Ramazanoglu), more percussion (Yahael Camara-Onono). Opens with a bass pulse, adding intertwining rhythm tracks that could stand on their own, topped with soaring, searing sax riffing. Could just be a great formula, or could be the makings of a genre. A [bc]
Ill Considered: Live at the Crypt (2017, Ill Considered Music): Satin Singh takes over the percussion slot, and Vincent De Boer is listed as a fifth member, but for "ink and brushes" -- cover art, I presume. Starts cautiously, runs long (83:05), tries to vary the concept without much success, percussion isn't up to snuff, yet there are more than a few stretches where saxophonist Idris Rahman blows me away. B+(***) [bc]
Ill Considered: Ill Considered 3 (2018, Ill Considered Music): Back in the studio, working more from compositions -- whereas their masterful debut was reportedly improvised in less than two hours -- drummer Emre Ramazanoglu has gotten the rhythm back, while Idris Rahman's sax grows more and more expansive. Relatively short album (35:37), timed for vinyl. A- [bc]
Ill Considered: Live at Total Refreshment Centre (2018, Ill Considered Music): Some confusion about the date here. Little they haven't done before, but they continue to impress. B+(***) [bc]
Ill Considered: Live in Camden Town (2018, Ill Considered Music): Two jams, 40:45 total, featuring the addition of guitarist Steve Ashmore, adding some heft, not particularly what a band built on nimble rhythm needs. B+(**)
Ill Considered: Live in Nantes (2018, Ill Considered Music): Down to their core trio here -- Idris Rahman (sax), Leon Brichard (bass), and Emre Ramazanoglu (drums). Another long, strong, exciting set, perhaps the best of the year's three live albums, but differentiations are getting minor. B+(***)
Ill Considered: Ill Considered 5 (2018 , Ill Considered Music): No 4 that I'm aware of, that slot filled by three live albums (also a Christmas album) between 3 and 5, with a 6 coming out the same day. Back to quartet here, with Satin Singh on percussion -- not that he makes much impact. B+(***) [bc]
Ill Considered: Ill Considered 6 (2018 , Ill Considered Music): Steve Ashmore returns as "special guest" on guitar, sharper than on his previous outing, while tenor saxophonist Idris Rahman doubles up on bass clarinet. The two albums are short enough they could have been squeezed onto a single CD, but I prefer this one on its own -- even ending with a touch of metal. A- [bc]
Kel Assouf: Black Tenere (2019, Glitterbeat): Saharan rock band, founded in Brussels by Nigerien guitarist Anana Harouna, with Tunisian keyboardist Sofyann Ben Youssef (also dba Ammar 808). Not a lot of variation in this style, but this one sounds like the master take. A-
Rebecca Kilgore/Bernd Lhotzky: This and That (2017, Arbors): Standards singer, started in trad jazz bands in the 1980s, has been a regular on the label's retro-swing projects. Backed here by the German pianist, who's main group is called Echoes of Swing. B+(*)
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Miri (2019, OutHere): Ngoni master from Mali, harder and more powerful than the usual run of desert blues -- possibly his association with Youssou N'Dour has rubbed off, projecting some star power. Getting hard to differentiate after several strong albums, but I see no reason to stop here. A-
Doug MacDonald Quartet: Organisms (2018 , self-released): Guitarist, has been prolific lately, here with Carey Frank (organ), Bob Sheppard (tenor sax), and Ben Scholz (drums). More standards than originals (7-3), nice soul jazz groove, some fine saxophone. B+(**) [cd]
Pat Martino: Formidable (2017, High Note): Guitarist, played mostly in soul jazz combos from 1963 into the late 1970s before an aneurism left him unable to play. He slowly recovered, producing regular albums from 1996 on. In his comfort zone here, with Pat Bianchi on organ, Adam Niewood (tenor sax), Alex Norris (trumpet), and Carmen Intorre (drums). B+(*)
Marilyn Mazur: Marilyn Mazur's Shamania (2017 , RareNoise): Percussionist, born in New York, moved to Denmark at 6 and has stayed there, long and varied discography since 1986. She leads a mostly Scandinavian group here, best known is saxophonist Lotte Anker, but the vocals (Josefine Cronholm backed by everyone else) are more central, some riding oblique beats, more wrapped into fetching semipop chorales. B+(**) [cdr]
Joe McPhee/John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee (2019, Trost): Avant sax duo, alto and tenor (this time), one from US, other from UK, both go way back, both have done solo albums, not sure if they've ever played together although McPhee has spent a lot of time in Europe and for most of it has averaged close to ten records per year. Obviously of specialized interest, but they fill in nicely and flesh each other out. B+(***) [bc]
Our Native Daughters: Songs of Our Native Daughters (2019, Smithsonian Folkways): Four black folkies with banjos -- Rhiannon Giddens and Leyla McCalls from Carolina Chocolate Drops, Amythyst Kiah and Allison Russell -- torn between their instinct to preserve old slave hollers and minstrel tunes and to update them to reconstruct a history they obscure as much as belong to. CD comes with a thick booklet to help you keep score. Still, even without the history much of this is gripping. A-
Kassa Overall: Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz (2018 , self-released): Has a solid rep as a jazz drummer, but has also released albums with rapper Kool A.D., tries to go both ways here, but doesn't really succeed at either. Guest shots range from trumpet players Theo Croker and Roy Hargrove to avant-gadfly Arto Lindsay. B+(**) [bc]
RGG/Verneri Pohjola/Samuel Blaser: City of Gardens (2017 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Polish piano trio, originally an abbreviation of the artist surnames -- Przemyslaw Raminiak, Maciej Garbowski, Krzysztof Gradziuk -- until Lukasz Ojdana took over the piano slot in 2013. Recent albums had them backing Evan Parker and Trevor Watts. Here they get top billing with trumpet and trombone. Midway through they're more interesting on their own, but eventually the horns rise to the challenge. B+(**) [bc]
Ustad Saami: God Is Not a Terrorist (2019, Glitterbeat): From Karachi, 75 so may have just landed there after the British cleaved the subcontinent into two warring factions, "one of Pakistan's most revered and iconic classical singers," traces his roots to the 13th century. Not sure what the instrument is here, but sounds like a cross between organ and bagpipes, plus some percussion. I can imagine someone finding this hypnotic, but unbearable is what I'm feeling. C
Nick Sanders Trio: Playtime 2050 (2017-18 , Sunnyside): Pianist, from New Orleans, based in New York, third album, trio with Henry Fraser (bass) and Connor Baker (drums). B+(**) [cd]
Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade: Stomping Off From Greenwood (2017 , Greenleaf Music): Alto saxophonist, from Chicago, group with two guitars (Matt Gold and Dave Miller), electric bass (Matt Ulery), and drums (Quin Kirchner). Can't even call this fusion, as it avoids both rock and jazz. B-
Anna Webber: Clockwise (2017 , Pi): Tenor saxophonist, also plays various flutes, handful of albums since 2010, composes tricky pieces for septet, with Jeremy Viner also on tenor sax (alt. clarinet), Jacob Garchik on trombone, Matt Mitchell on piano, plus cello, bass, and drums. Took me a while to come around on this, and it's still too slippery to be sure. B+(***) [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Sir Shina Peters & His International Stars: Sewele (1986 , Strut): Nigerian juju star, started in 1980 with his big breakthrough in 1989, tailing off a bit after 2000. Four tracks, 40:05. A bit erratic, but hard to resist anything that sounds this much like early King Sunny Adé. A-
Atomic: There's a Hole in the Mountain (2012 , Jazzland): Original lineup after twelve years, the last album before drummer Paal Nilssen-Love left. But the more important transition is that pianist Håvard Wiik has become the main composer, 4-2 over saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist, tipping the scales away from raw energy toward greater sophistication -- not necessarily a good thing. B+(*)
Rosie Flores: Girl of the Century (2009, Bloodshot): Not sure how I missed this: a rockabilly singer I've long liked, moved to a label I usually check even unknowns out on, cover art by Jon Langford, backed by his Pine Valley Cosmonauts band. Good covers of good songs, plus not-so-good songs only partly redeemed. B+(*)
Rebecca Kilgore/The Harry Allen Quartet: Live at Feinstein's at Loews Regency: Celebrating "Lady Day" and "Prez" (2011, Arbors): Seems like something of a mismatch, but they know their history, and have built careers out of their love of classic swing. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: