An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, May 20, 2019
Music: current count 31518  rated (+20), 252  unrated (+3).
Rated count well down this week. Wednesday through Friday got totally wiped out, starting with a dental appointment, then shopping for dinner on Friday, then marathon cooking. Zhanna Pataki and I made a blini feast. I found a Russian grocery store in Tulsa the previous week, and picked up a pound of salmon caviar ("Alaskan rubies") and three whole schmaltz herring. The latter went, one each, into sour cream sauce, mustard sauce, and Estonian potato salad (with golden beets, apple, and ham (actually, Canadian bacon). Other side salads: poached cod with horseradish sauce, cucumbers in sour cream, green bean and walnut, carrot and garlic. I got a couple of salmon filets and salted them. I made two loaves of rye bread (only disappointment: came out dense and dry, probably because the dough was, or maybe I just don't know how to properly knead bread; anyway, the expensive Breville food processor wasn't up to the task). For dessert, I made a light sponge cake, and topped it with strawberries and whipped cream (recipe called for smetana, but I didn't allow myself enough time to make my own -- probably should have bought some in Tulsa, when I had the chance). I just now realized that I had brought a jar of eggplant caviar back from Tulsa but failed to serve it. Dinner was spectacular, and exhausting.
A couple weeks ago I learned that Ani DiFranco has written a memoir, No Walls and the Recurring Dream. She grew up in Buffalo, and was close to my cousin's family there, so I have some kind of personal interest in her story, and I've been aware of her musical career from near the beginning. Then last week I noticed her No Walls: Mixtape on Napster, so delved a bit deeper. I read what I could from Google's excerpt, while listening to Mixtape -- unplugged remakes of 25+ years of remarkable songs -- and a couple other items I had missed that I found on her Bandcamp. Stopped short of the bootlegs, although one of my favorites (and one of the best places to start with her) is the live Living in Clip. I was especially pleased that after panning most of her recent albums with Todd Sickafoose I enjoyed Red Letter Year so much. I wrote about her in [The New] Rolling Stone Album Guide. A current grade list is here.
Robert Christgau reviewed Epic Beard Men this week, along with two records by Quelle Chris that I had already reviewed. I gave Guns another spin, enjoyed it, but left my grade at B+(***). For whatever it's worth, I've graded A- all four of Strut's Nigeria 70 compilations. I couldn't begin to rank them, other than to note that I have the CDs to the first, and played one out of my travel case while cooking last week. I doubt any are as good as the best King Sunny Adé albums, or the second edition of The Rough Guide to Highlife, but the new one hits the exact same pleasure centers, and that was good enough for me.
The Ray Charles comp was the one I skipped when reviewing his Atlantics last week. It's the one you'd most likely buy if you're reluctant to get the entire 3-CD box (The Birth of Soul). Not sure why I didn't grade it as high as the box or two of the source albums, other than that I didn't give it a lot of time. I'm still bothered that we don't have the ABC albums available for streaming. And I will note that one problem with virtually every "greatest hit" collection from that period is the mandatory inclusion of two hideous Beatles covers. Compilers don't always pick the best songs, so that may be what's slightly off about the Rhino Atlantic Best Of.
Best jazz album of the week was the first 2019 Clean Feed release I've found on Napster. They've sometimes been hard to search out, but until this year all of their releases have been available for streaming, which lately has saved me the hassle of downloading. Not everything that's come out is available yet, but I'm glad to get what I can. I'll try to catch up in coming weeks. (There are a couple more on this week's list, as well as one where the musician sent me the CD -- thanks for that favor.)
New records reviewed this week:
Charlie Apicella & Iron City: Groove Machine (2018 , OA2): Guitarist, several albums both before and after moving up front in his band. Not as insipid or mechanistic as the title implies, thanks in large part to saxophonist Gene Ghee, although organ player Radam Schwartz (who contributed a piece) probably deserves some credit as well. Covers from Lou Donaldson and Willis Jackson. B+(*) [cd]
Camp Cope: How to Socialise & Make Friends (2018, Run for Cover): Australian group, from Melbourne, three women, Georgia McDonald the singer-guitarist. Second album, singer has a distinctive voice, making a strong impression. B+(***)
Ani DiFranco: No Walls: Mixtape (2019, Righteous Babe): Product tie-in to the folksinger's new book, No Walls and the Recurring Dream: A Memoir, reprising 25 years of songs, mostly unplugged but with a few tricks here and there (also guests on three songs). At first I tried reading excerpts from her memoir while listening to this, but didn't have enough attention to satisfy both. Many striking songs here -- probably also on Canon, her 2-CD retrospective through 2007 -- maybe more so with her accumulated perspective, chops too. A-
Epic Beard Men: Season 1 (2018, Strange Famous): Rap duo from Providence, Rhode Island: Sage Francis, with seven albums and eight mixtapes since 1998, and B. Dolan, five years younger, three albums and three mixtapes on his own. First album, but their collaboration goes back at least a decade. B+(**)
Epic Beard Men: This Was Supposed to Be Fun (2019, Strange Famous): Second album: picks up quickly from the first and powers through, with big, old school beats, pressured rhymes, real stories. A-
The Fictive Five: Anything Is Possible (2018 , Clean Feed): Avant group, retains the title of their 2015 album as group name: Larry Ochs (tenor/sopranino sax), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Harris Eisenstadt (drums), with two bassists (Ken Filiano and Pascal Niggenkemper), both using effects. B+(**)
John Hart: Crop Circles (2017 , SteepleChase): Guitarist, released two Blue Note albums 1990-92, a couple more on Concord through 1997, not much since. Quartet here with alto sax (Dick Oatts), bass, and drums. Three originals, twice as many covers, from "How Deep Is the Ocean" to "Besame Mucho" with stops at Ellington and Monk. B+(**)
Fred Hersch & the WDR Big Band: Begin Again (2019, Palmetto): Pianist, more important as composer here as Vince Mendoza's big band overwhelms his typically erudite playing. B+(*) [cd]
Jørgen Mathisen's Instant Light: Mayhall's Object (2018 , Clean Feed): Norwegian saxophonist (tenor/soprano), has appeared on a few albums since 2014. Quartet with piano (Erlend Slettevoll), bass (Trygve Waldemar Fiske), and drums (Dag Erik Knedal Andersen). Very strong, especially on the closing "Neutron Star," the climax set up by a terrific piano interlude. A-
The Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra: Along for the Ride (2018 , Summit): Trombonist, sings some, discography goes back farther, but organized his big band in 2006, and that's been his main vehicle since. Composed half, arranged all, draws on New York musicians, swings a little. B
Yoko Miwa Trio: Keep Talkin' (2019, Ocean Blue Tear Music): Japanese pianist, based in Boston, eighth album since 2003, mostly trios. Mostly originals, likes to keep them upbeat, plus covers of Monk, Mingus, Beatles, Joni Mitchell, something Latin ("Casa Pre-Fabricada"). B+(***) [cd]
Priests: The Seduction of Kansas (2019, Sister Polygon): Postpunk group from DC, led by singer Katie Alice Greer, second album, expands a bit musically, arguably political because politics matters, but for them the context and form are "character sketches about the everyday banality of evil." B+(***)
Scheen Jazzorkester & Thomas Johansson: «As We See It . . . » (2019, Clean Feed): Norwegian avant-jazz group, 12 musicians, founded in 2010, with a half-dozen albums, most featuring guests like trumpeter Johansson here, rising above the ensemble grind. B+(***) [cd]
The Selva: Canicula Rosa (2018 , Clean Feed): Portuguese trio: Ricardo Jacinto (cello), Gonçalo Almeida (bass), Nuno Morão (drums). Second album. The bassist is best known, laying down a minimalist groove, while the cello rises above. B+(**)
Senyawa: Sujud (2018, Sublime Frequencies): Duo from Jogjakarta, Indonesia: Rully Shabara ("extreme vocals") and Wukir Suryadi ("homemade instruments"). Recommended by Phil Overeem, who is also a big fan of Zeal & Ardor, a group which mashes field blues into metal. These guys do something like that, although I can't identify the original ingredients for you. B+(***) [bc]
Marcus Shelby Orchestra: Transitions (2017 , MSO): Bassist, eighth album as leader, fifth with his big band. Mostly standards here, mostly Ellington and Cole Porter, although he starts off with a Mingus piece, shortening the title to "Remember Rockefeller" (dropping the bit about "Nazi U.S.A."). Tiffany Austin sings several, adding to the reverential air. B+(*) [cd]
Rodney Whitaker: Common Ground: The Music of Gregg Hill (2017 , Origin): Bassist, born in Detroit, director of jazz studies at Michigan State, eighth album as leader since 1995. Group includes Terell Stafford (trumpet/flugelhorn), Tim Warfield (alto/tenor/soprano saxes), and Bruce Barth (piano). Hill wrote all the pieces, co-produced, is pictured on the cover alongside Whitaker, but doesn't play. Whitaker's daughter, Rockelle Fortin, sings lyrics she wrote on four songs. B+(*) [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Nigeria 70: No Wahala: Highlife, Afro-Funk and Juju 1973-1987 (1973-87 , Strut): Fourth installment in the label's Nigeria 70 series, the first a sweeping 3-CD set from 2001 that expanded the decade from 1964 to 1980. Further single-CDs came out in 2008 and 2011, so they haven't been in a rush to dump this one out (12 cuts, 81:06). Not the top material, but the highlife and juju styles are pretty irresistible. A- [bc]
Ray Charles: The Best of Ray Charles: The Atlantic Years (1951-59 , Rhino): Twenty cuts on one CD, a fine introduction with most of the high points, although I haven't spent enough time with it to swear it's a better than any of the three discs of Rhino's earlier The Birth of Soul box. A-
Ani DiFranco: Red Letter Year (2008, Righteous Babe): Sixteenth album, don't recall exactly when she grew too sophisticated for folk music. Maybe 2001's double Revelling/Reckoning, which started a series of albums I didn't much care for, but she's come out the other end here, with ten instrument credits (some plural), plus a number of notable jazz musicians (Todd Sickafoose, Mike Dillon, Allison Miller, a string quartet led by Jenny Scheinman, and the Rebirth Jazz Band to open and close). Songs too: subject matter ranges from the big bang to the atom bomb, not that it ever strays far from the personal (or the political). A- [bc]
Ani DiFranco: Binary (2017, Righteous Babe): Nineteenth studio album, somehow missed my attention when it came out. Easy to hear why: she started as a folksinger because it was a cheap route, and made it work by being so damn direct. This, with jazz bassist Todd Sickafoose the main musical contributor and another dozen helpers (mostly jazzbos and New Orleans legends, plus a chance to hear Maceo Parker and Skerik on the same track), is all sorts of sophisticated. B+(*)
Larry Ochs: The Fictive Five (2014 , Tzadik): Second album kept this title as group name, but this first album was credited to the saxophonist/composer/producer. Same group: Nate Wooley (trumpet), Harris Eisenstadt (drums), Ken Filiano and Pascal Niggenkemper (bass). B+(*) [bc]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: