An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, April 29, 2019
Music: current count 31440  rated (+40), 255  unrated (-1).
Last Monday of the month, so time to unveil April Streamnotes, including this week's subset below. Five Mondays this month, so the totals are up handsomely from the two previous four-Monday months. Weekly rated count is up a bit, but that's partly because I found five records I failed to record grades for recently. Some of those bookkeeping errors probably caused me to log 29-album weeks (four so far this year) instead of 30, long my standard for a productive week.
Worth noting that all three of this week's new non-jazz A-list albums here also placed high on Phil Overeem's latest list (numbers 4, 6, and 20). For what little it's worth, I wrote those before seeing Overeem's list, but not before Dan Weiss praised them on Facebook (although I think I first heard of Billie Eilish from Christgau).
Those tips help make up for the frustration of declining awareness I've been feeling. Although I still keep a music tracking file, I've stopped making any systematic effort to find and list prospects, leaving me with little concept of what to search out next. As a result, I veer off on arbitrary tangents, as when I found a piece called A Guide to Drexciya's Futuristic Electro. I really liked Drexciya's Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller, Vol. I back in 2012, so that seemed worth pursuing. But it certainly fell far short of a plan.
Finally, a link that makes more sense to list here than in yesterday's Weekend Roundup: Rachel Syme: Vince Aletti's Obsessive Collection of Seminal Fashion Magazinse. Vince was one of the first people I met when I moved to New York City in 1977, so it's good to see him again, even older, as we all are.
New records reviewed this week:
Kevin Abstract: Arizona Baby (2019, Question Everything/RCA): Rapper Clifford Ian Simpson, has a couple albums under this alias, but more recently has been involved in the group Brockhampton. This is short (32:21), released in three spurts before being consolidated into an album. Loose, some catchy bits, more I didn't quite get. B+(**)
Juan Álamo & Marimjazzia: Ruta Panoramica (2016 , Summit): Marimba player, from Puerto Rico, teaches at University of North Carolina, directing the Percussion Ensemble there. Latin jazz, lots of percussion, several cuts with vocals by Christina Alamo Medina. B+(**) [cd]
Anderson .Paak: Ventura (2019, Aftermath/12 Tone Music): California rapper/singer, Brandon Paak Anderson, fourth album, continues in quick succession his crawl up the coast from Venice through Malibu and Oxnard. Some nice pieces here, but feels a bit like leftovers from Oxnard. B+(***)
Brittany Anjou: Enamigo Reciprokataj (2015-16 , Origin): Pianist, based in New York, originally from Seattle. Debut album, two trio sets, with different bassists/drummers. Background includes touring with Bikini Kill and singing in an experimental metal band. Understands that upbeat keeps it moving. B+(**) [cd]
Seamus Blake: Guardians of the Heart Machine (2017 , Whirlwind): Tenor saxophonist, strong mainstream player, born in London, grew up in Canada, based in New York, twenty albums since 1994. Solid quartet with piano (Tony Tixier), bass, and drums. Then he sings one. B+(***)
Club D'Elf: Night Sparkles (Live) (2011 , Face Pelt): Title per cover, although some sources expand to "(Live at the Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, MA)." Group dates back to their 2000 debut, As Above: Live at the Lizard Lounge, with a 2005 album from the same venue. More of their trademark world-groove jams, with guests David Tronzo (slide guitar) and Moussa Traore (djembe). B+(***)
Control Top: Covert Contracts (2019, Get Better): Post-punk trio from Philadelphia, female singer (Ali Carter) on bass, plus guitar (Al Creeton) and drums (Alex Lichtenauer), first album: hard, fast, short (29:28, but 11 songs so I don't count it an EP), "cathartic" is a word often used to describe them. Can't make out many words, but with rants against "capitalist patriarchy, . . . indictments of wrongdoing and abuse of power, odes to empathy and ego death," I wouldn't refuse a lyric sheet. A-
Cooper Moore/Stephen Gauci: Studio Sessions Vol. 1 (2019, Gaucimusic): Piano/tenor sax duets, eight numbered improvs, free and far out. The pianist's name is usually hyphenated, hence my sorting. Focus on the piano here. That's what the saxophonist is doing. B+(***)
Ronnie Cuber: Straight Street (2010 , SteepleChase): Baritone saxophonist, approaching 70 when he assembled this quartet -- George Colligan (piano), Cameron Brown (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums) -- about as mainstream as you can get, long (71:19) takes of standards ("All the Things You Are," "Summertime") and bop-era classics (three Coltranes, Gillespie's "Groovin' High," pieces by Scott LaFaro and Philly Joe Jones). B+(***)
Billy Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (2019, Darkroom/Interscope): Teenage (17) singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, last name O'Connell, home schooled, parents in show biz, older brother started writing songs before her. First album, but her debut was a 26:00 EP released in 2017, containing a single she recorded at 14 and turned into a video hit. Nothing here suggests she's so young. Counted as electropop, the songs stick with you but the hooks are so casual you scarcely notice them. A-
Anat Fort Trio: Colour (2019, Sunnyside): Israeli pianist, based in New York since 1996, has a handful of trio albums, this with Gary Wang (bass) and Roland Schneider (drums). B+(**)
Four: There You Go Thinking Again (2018 , Jazz Hang): Saxophone quartet -- Mark Watkins (soprano), Ray Smith (alto), Sandon Mayhew (tenor), Jon Gudmundson (baritone) -- at least one previous album (although with a different alto player). Trick here is that they've doubled down by dubbing in five more saxophone quartets (two cuts each). B [cd]
Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: Epistrophy (2016 , ECM): Guitar and bass duets, playing standards ranging from "Red River Valley" to two Monks and Paul Motian's "Mumbo Jumbo." Pretty minimal. B+(*)
Stephen Gauci/Sandy Ewan/Adam Lane/Kevin Shea: Live at the Bushwick Series (2019, Gaucimusic): Tenor saxophone, with guitar for extra squeal to go with the squawk, plus bass and drums. Three improvs, 38:10. Vigorous, little harsh for my taste. B+(*) [bc]
Lizzo: Cuz I Love You (2019, Nice Life/Atlantic): Melissa Jefferson, third album, raps, sings, wails, whines, cracks wise. Says she pledges to be "Aretha Franklin for the 2018 generation." Doesn't have the voice, but cranks up the drama, and the music is punched up to the max. She makes an outsized impression, only fading a bit at the end. A-
Lisa Maxwell's Jazz Orchestra: Shiny! (2019, Uncle Marvin Music): Her bio includes a lot of soundtrack work as well as playing saxophone for Guns 'n' Roses and Spinal Tap. This is her big band debut, dedicated to the late trumpeter Lew Soloff, mostly New York players, the best known with fusion/crossover credits. Splashy. B+(*) [cd]
Bennett Paster: Indivisible (2018 , self-released): Keyboard player, grew up in New Mexico, studied in Boston, based in New York, has a few previous records. Backed by bass and drums, guitar (Al Street) on most cuts, tenor sax (Kenny Brooks) on half, plus scattered congas and percussion. Nice, lively mix, with some Latin tinge. B+(*) [cd]
Andrew Rathbun: Character Study (2017 , SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, from Canada, moved to New York, came up in 2000 on Fresh Sound New Talent, mainstream player, gets some strong support from Tim Hagans (trumpet) and a top-notch rhythm section (Gary Versace on piano, Jay Anderson, and Bill Stewart). B+(**)
Eric Reed: Everybody Gets the Blues (2019, Smoke Sessions): Mainstream pianist, couple dozen albums since 1991, his first dedicated to Art Blakey, this one kicking off with "Cedar Waltzin'" (for Walton). With Tim Green (alto sax), Mike Gurrola (bass) and McClenty Hunter (drums). Blues may be the ground, but this is too bright and bouncy to get bogged down. B+(**)
Steph Richards: Take the Neon Lights (2019, Birdwatcher): Trumpet player; from Calgary, Canada; based in Brooklyn; has recorded with Vinny Golia and Henry Threadgill. Second album (first was credited to Stephanie Richards), backed by piano trio (James Carney, Sam Minaie, Andrew Munsey). B+(***)
Dave Scott: In Search of Hipness (2018 , SteepleChase): Trumpet player, based in New York (teaches at Western Connecticut State), not to be confused with Dave Len Scott (another trumpet player), sixth album since 1995. Sextet with violin (Sarah Bernstein), guitar (Nate Radley), piano (Jacob Sacks), bass, and drums. "Hip" strikes me as too dated a word for such fancy postbop. B+(*)
Swindle: No More Normal (2019, Brownswood): British grime/dubstep producer Cameron Palmer, with some ties to the new jazz scene, but this never finds a real vibe, and strikes me as overblown. B-
Trapper Keaper: Meets Tim Berne & Aurora Nealand (2019, Ears & Eyes/Caligola): New Orleans "space-funk" duo, William Thompson IV (mostly keyboards) and Marcello Benetti (drums), one previous album, meet up here with two alto saxophonists (Nealand also plays accordion). One's tempted to credit Berne, but there's a lot going on. B+(***) [cd]
Cory Weeds Quintet: Live at Frankie's Jazz Club (2019, Cellar Live): Alto saxophonist, studied at UNT and Capilano U, owns Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver and their label, fourteen albums since 2008 -- haven't heard any before, but Everything's Coming Up Weeds is a good title. Standard bebop quintet with Terell Stafford (trumpet), Harold Mabern (piano), bass, and drums. Live sound's a little thin. B+(*)
Walt Weiskopf European Quartet: Worldwide (2019, Orenda): Tenor saxophonist, first recorded in 1989, one of a cluster of richly-toned mainstream players from the 1990s, although I can't say as I followed him closely -- mostly a name that followed Benny Wallace like a shadow. Until I track down his 1990s albums, I can't really attest that this is his best ever, but both fast and slow it's a sax lovers delight. The Europeans are Carl Winther (piano), Andreas Lang (bass), and Anders Mogensen (drums). A- [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Afro-Blue Persuasion: Live at Haight Levels: Volume One (1967 , Tramp): Previously unreleased Afro-Cuban jazz from San Francisco, a group led by vibraphonist Ulysses Crockett, with piano (John Miller), tenor sax/oboe/flute (Robert Harvey), bass (Robert Bing Nathan), drums (Robert Belinsky), and "guests" Paul Jackson (bass) and Harold Haynes (congas). Not super Cuban, with tunes like "Straight No Chaser" and a fast-tracked "The Girl From Ipanema." B+(**)
Afro-Blue Persuasion: Live at Haight Levels: Volume Two (1967 , Tramp): More, both volumes could have squeezed onto a single CD but the main release focus is vinyl. Starts with "Cuban Fantasy" and ends with "A Night in Tunisia." B+(**)
Elecktrokids: Elektroworld (1995 , Clone Classic Cuts): Billing: "based in Flint, Michigan, USA, the four young sons of an electrician welded together their debut album." No names, but one or both members of Drexciya are implicated in this Krautrock move, where the few lyrics are repeated at length, a strategy that works better for the beats. B+(**) [bc]
Mark Turner/Gary Foster: Mark Turner Meets Gary Foster (2003 , Capri, 2CD): Foster's is a name I haven't heard in a while. Born in 1936, mostly plays alto sax, debut album in 1968, a few more through 1984, less often up to a 2006 duo with Putter Smith (bass), most when he was featured on someone's album. Turner is 29 years younger, had a smashing debut in 1994 and major label presence for a decade, until a saw mishap set him back. He's been busy lately, but his string of A-list albums predates this, a warm and friendly two-sax quartet, with Smith and Joe LaBarbera (drums). B+(***) [cd]
Bill Cunliffe/Gary Foster: It's About Love (2003, Torii): Piano-alto sax quartet, with Jeff D'Angelo (bass) and Tim Pleasant (drums), mostly ballads, lush tending toward gorgeous, lovely showcase for the sax voice. B+(***)
Drexciya: Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller III (1992-97 , Clone Classic Cuts): Detroit techno duo, James Stinson and Gerald Donald, constructed a whole mythology "of underwater dwellers descended from pregnant slave women thrown overboard during the trans-Atlantic deportation. Starting with their 1992 Deep Sea Dweller EP, they kept at it for a decade (Stinson died in 2002), then languished until this Dutch label started collecting their early work on four CDs. I reviewed I and II when they came out, but didn't notice later comps. This is nearly as good (maybe a bit less consistent) as the first. A- [bc]
Drexciya: Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller IV (1992-97 , Clone Classic Cuts): Mopping up, including five "Unknown Journey" cuts. Some introduce a newly developed warble which adds a dimension to their sound, but doesn't seem as perfectly paced. B+(***) [bc]
Drexciya: Neptune's Lair (1999, Tresor): After enough short releases to fill the four Clone Classic Cuts CDs, the Detroit techno duo's first full-fledged album. B+(***)
Drexciya: Grava 4 (2002, Clone): Third (and last) album. Attractive beats, but fades a bit. B+(**)
Billie Eilish: Don't Smile at Me (2017, Darkroom/Interscope, EP): Eight track, 26:00 debut, "a sleeper hit," cracked the charts a month and a half after its release, going on to earn nearly a million "album-equivalent units" and "more than 1.2 billion on-demand audio streams" -- not that I noticed, at least until her follow-up album appeared. Singles are more pop, more easily distinguished from the filler. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: