Monday, May 27, 2019


Music Week

Music: current count 31558 [31518] rated (+40), 251 [252] unrated (-1).

Last Monday in May, so extra work today doing my paperwork for the May Streamnotes archive. Rated count was 34 when I first checked on Sunday, but I've kept this open to see what fits into the month. Still, much of the bulk, both this week and for the month, has come from diving into back catalog. With new albums from George Cables and Jerry Bergonzi out, I thought they might be fun. When time ran out, I still had more Bergonzi to go, not least the new one.

The week's finds are scattered. The latest Christgau Expert Witness picked a Youssou N'Dour album I had noticed from publicist email but hadn't tracked down (not on Napster, but I was able to stream from Rock Paper Scissors). Also Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba's Miri, a previous A- here (also according to Michael Tatum). Phil Overeem's latest list pointed me at Beyoncé's Homecoming and A Day in the Life, but the album I liked most was an exceptionally genteel trad jazz quartet he had down at 23. I got some more ideas from Alfred Soto's The best albums of 2019, first draft: specifically Nilüfer Yanya's Miss Universe -- although I'll note that I had heard his six higher-rated albums and didn't A-list any of them. (Further down his list, I did pick Control Top: Covert Contracts; Robert Forster: Inferno; Billie Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?; and Lizzo: Cuz I Love You; still unheard: The Mountain Goats, Vampire Weekend, The National; Tyler, the Creator; and Weyes Blood.) Lucas Fagen provided the tip on L7 (also one I did't follow up on yet: Gary Clark Jr.). First L7 play didn't convince me, so I went back and played the Best Of. Gave the new one an extra play later, but didn't move it. They have one of the all-time great band sounds, but at this point I'd guess it's more likely to drop a notch than to rise one. Opposite is true of their eponymous debut, which Christgau missed and I'd never heard. They get something out of youth there that they'll never get back to again.

It occurred to me that Ray Charles and Betty Carter might be on YouTube, and indeed it was. Someone wrote me a while back to point out that several albums I couldn't find on Napster were on YouTube (usually with nothing but the static album cover for video). I haven't followed that tip often, but with big chunks of backlist from both artists this month, seemed like good due dilligence. Disappointing album.

David Cantwell has written an exceptionally thorough review of Robert Christgau's two recent essay compilations, Book Reports and Is It Still Good to Ya? (Duke University Press): Robert Christgau's big-hearted theory of pop. I managed to screw up Cantwell's name when I initially posted the link, confusing him with a mediocre pitcher from 1927-37 (W-L record 76-108, mostly with the doormat Boston Braves, although he looked better before going 4-25 in 1936). Turns out David Cantwell has been cranking out country music list-articles for Rolling Stone. It might be fun to follow up on them in June.

I am posting tonight a new installment of XgauSez, Christgau's question-and-answer session.


New records reviewed this week:

Beyoncé: Homecoming: The Live Album (2018 [2019], Columbia, 2CD): Probably the biggest star in American music these days, but I never cared for her albums, at least until 2016's Lemonade -- ok, maybe 2013's Beyoncé, which I rated mid-B+. But none stuck with me long enough to recognize any songs on this Coachella concert, and that, plus the cavernous sound of spectacle I can't see let alone fathom, leaves me indifferent -- at least until "Run the World" broke through. B+(*)

Carlos Bica/Daniel Erdmann/DJ Illvibe: I Am the Escaped One (2018 [2019], Clean Feed): Bass, tenor sax, and turntables. B+(*)

Brooks & Dunn: Reboot (2019, Arista Nashville): Nashville hitmakers Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn reprise a dozen singles, starting with 1991's "Brand New Man," adding a guest vocalist to each. Mostly adds to the group's penchant for bombast, but Kacey Musgraves makes "Neon Moon" a choice cut. B

George Cables: I'm All Smiles (2019, HighNote): Pianist, 75, my favorite of Art Pepper's pianists from his last period, still has a light and playful touch on his standards, in a trio with Essiet Essiet (bass) and Victor Lewis (drums). B+(**)

Steve Davis: Correlations (2019, Smoke Sessions): Mainstream trombonist, twenty-some albums since 1994, after early stints with Art Blakey and Jackie McLean. Repeats Blakey's sextet lineup here, with trumpet (Joshua Bruneau), sax (Wayne Escoffery), piano (Xavier Davis), bass, and drums. B+(*)

Elder Ones: From Untruth (2019, Northern Spy): Vocalist Amirtha Kidambi, second album as Elder Ones, a quartet with Matt Nelson (soprano sax/moog), Nick Dunston (bass), Max Jaffe (drums), with her on harmonium and synthesizer. Four pieces, 46:47, meant "to give the listener momentary relief from the anxiety and pain caused by living in our current reality." Doesn't work for me -- the music is abstract, and the vocals arch -- but then while I find much to be pessimistic about, I'm not much touched by pain and anxiety these days. B

Luke Gillespie: Moving Mists (2018 [2019], Patois): Pianist, born and mostly raised in Japan (bio notes he lived in Ft. Worth in 1st grade and Memphis in 6th), studied jazz and classical piano at Indiana, where he teaches. Has a book and a CD (2003) in his CV, as well as several side credits (most with Indiana-based Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra). Various groupings here ranging from solo to septet, including three tracks with Walter Smith III (tenor sax), one each with Tierney Sutton (vocals), Dave Stryker (guitar), and Wayne Wallace (trombone). [July 12] B+(*) [cd]

Luke Gillespie: Moving Mists (2018 [2019], Patois): Pianist, born and mostly raised in Japan (bio notes he lived in Ft. Worth in 1st grade and Memphis in 6th), studied jazz and classical piano at Indiana, where he teaches. Has a book and a CD (2003) in his CV, as well as several side credits (most with Indiana-based Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra). Various groupings here ranging from solo to septet, including three tracks with Walter Smith III (tenor sax), one each with Tierney Sutton (vocals), Dave Stryker (guitar), and Wayne Wallace (trombone). [July 12] B+(*) [cd]

Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated (2019, 604/School Boy/Interscope): Canadian pop star, fourth studio album, I missed her 2008 debut, but have been a fan since "Call Me Maybe" broke as a single. This isn't as instant as her last two albums, but growing on me. On the other hand, instant is what you expect in a pop singer. B+(***)

Norah Jones: Begin Again (2019, Blue Note, EP): Seventh album, a short one (7 songs, 28:53). Slight in every sense of the word. B

Kehlani: While We Wait (2019, Atlantic/TSNMI): R&B singer, third mixtape, first after her certified gold debut album, a short one (9 cuts, 31:19). B+(**)

L7: Scatter the Rats (2019, Blackheart): Riot grrrl band formed in 1985 by Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner, peaked in the early 1990s, released their sixth album in 1999, called it quits until they regrouped to tour in 2015. First studio album since regrouping, hard to distinguish from their late 1990s efforts, but if anything rocks harder. B+(***)

Doug MacDonald: Califournia Quartet (2018 [2019], Dmacmusic): Guitarist, originally from Philadelphia, based in Los Angeles, 15 albums. This a quartet, nice showcase for Kim Richmond (alto/soprano sax, flute), with bass and drums. B+(*) [cd]

Matt Mitchell: Phalanx Ambassadors (2018 [2019], Pi): Pianist, based in New York, Wikipedia lists some early group records (2000-05) I wasn't aware of, but he's impressed a lot of folks since his 2013 Pi debut. I'm impressed too, as long as the piano is focused, but this no-horns quintet gets cluttered toward the end -- with guitar (Miles Okazaki), vibes, bass, drums. B+(**) [cd]

Youssou N'Dour: History (2019, Naïve/Believe): Senegalese superstar, another strong album -- tempted to complain that his vocals are too strong, but that would be petty. A- [os]

Phicus + Martin Küchen: Sumpflegende (2017 [2019], Fundacja Sluchaj): Catalan guitar-bass-drums trio (Ferran Fages, Alex Riviriego, Vasco Trilla), two previous albums, plus the Swedish saxophonist (tenor/alto), adding occasionally inspired noise. B+(*) [bc]

Matthias Spillmann Trio: Live at the Bird's Eye Jazz Club (2017 [2019], Clean Feed): Swiss trumpet player, second album, both with same title -- refers to a club in Basel, the previous one with a quartet on the club's label. With Andreas Lang (bass) and Moritz Baumgärtner (drums). One original, five covers, closes with a nice "St. Louis Blues." B+(**)

Spring Roll: Episodes (2017-18 [2019], Clean Feed): French chamber jazz outfit, steeped in avant-classical, led by Sylvaine Hélary (flutes), with Hugues Mayot (tenor sax/clarinet), Antoine Rayon (piano/Moog), and Sylvain Lemêtre (vibes/percussion). On two (of 5) cuts, Kris Davis takes over piano, and makes a difference (but it doesn't last). B+(*)

Ben Stapp/Joe Morris: Mind Creature Sound Dasein (2017 [2019], Fundacja Sluchaj): Stapp plays tuba and euphonium, also "acoustic items," mostly duo with guitar, but Stephen Haynes (cornet) earns a "feat." credit on 4 (of 11) tracks. Scratch and drone, abstract, prickly. B+(*) [bc]

Oli Steidle & the Killing Popes: Ego Pills (2017 [2019], Shhpuma): German drummer, has used his given first name Oliver as well as Olli elsewhere. Band includes Kit Downes (keybs) and Frank Möbus (guitar), and several guests pop in (bassist Peter Eldh with his own music, Philipp Gropper sax, Andreas Schaerer vocals). Prog rock, unsettlingly erratic. B-

Norbert Susemihl/Chloe Feoranzo/Harry Mayronne/Barnaby Gold: The New Orleans Dance Hall Quartet: Tricentennial Hall Dance 17, October (2018 [2019], Sumi): German trumpet player/singer, started playing trad jazz in the 1970s, moving to New Orleans in 1980, eventually returning to Hamburg, then to Denmark. Recorded this in New Orleans, with Americans Feoranzo on clarinet (also vocals), Mayronne on piano, and Australian drummer Gold. Rather easy-going, often gorgeous renditions of some of my favorite music. A-

Tanya Tagaq: Toothsayer (2019, Six Shooter, EP): Inuk throat singer from the south coast of Victoria Island, way up in the not-yet-balmy Arctic Ocean. Has a couple of interesting albums, the extreme vocals here mostly give way to hard beats, giving way to desolate ambience. Five songs, 24:57. B+(**)

The Dave Wilson Quartet: One Night at Chris' (2018 [2019], Dave Wilson Music): Tenor saxophonist, some soprano, based in Lancaster, PA, where he has a musical instruments business. Fifth quartet album since 2002, recorded live in Philadelphia, a hot set with piano (Kirk Reese), bass, and drums, mixing Beatles ("Norwegian Wood") and Beach Boys ("God Only Knows") covers in with traditional fare ("Summertime"). B+(***) [cd]

Nilüfer Yanya: Miss Universe (2019, ATO): British singer-songwriter, born in London, name preserves Turkish roots but the first band her guitar-rock reminded me of was the Buzzcocks. Gets slinkier after that, which I'd say is a plus. A-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

A Day in the Life: Impressions of Pepper (2018, Impulse!): The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band reconstructed, one song each by twelve artists, all much younger than their source, most with some crossover potential, many from the UK scene. Don't have the full credits, so I'm left with questions, like who plays the flute with Brandee Younger's harp? Beatles songs have been notoriously hard to jazz up, and this particular set has rarely been attempted. Results are scattered, the mix too varied to flow well, but here and there you catch a whiff of something transcending nostalgia. B+(*)

L7: Pretend We're Dead: Best of L7 (1992-97 [2019], Warner Music Group): Digital-only audio tied into the 2016 documentary DVD, L7: Pretend We're Dead, drawing from only three of their albums, with 10/11 tracks from Bricks Are Heavy, 8/12 from Hungry for Sink, and 7/12 from The Beauty Process -- the first two are solid-A in my book, and the latter holds up better than I recalled. A

Old music:

Jerry Bergonzi: Intersecting Lines (2012 [2014], Savant): Featuring Dick Oatts (alto sax), with Dave Santoro (bass) and Andrea Michelutti (drums). Too friendly for a proper joust, but the two saxes work marvels together. A-

Jerry Bergonzi: Dog Star (2017, Savant): Tenor saxophonist, with Phil Grenadier on trumpet, backed by Carl Winther's Danish piano trio. B+(***)

George Cables: Cables Vision (1979 [1992], Contemporary/OJC): Early album for the pianist, all tracks feature Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, one just a duo, the others running 5-7 musicians, with neither Freddie Hubbard nor Ernie Watts making the impression you expected. B

George Cables Trio: Beyond Forever (1991 [1992], SteepleChase): First of a series of eight albums the pianist recorded for the Danish label, attributed to his Trio but with three names listed under the title: Joe Locke (vibes), Santi Debriano (bass), and Victor Lewis (drums). Locke started his own run with the label in 1990, and did some of his best work there -- and he certainly brightens this up. B+(**)

George Cables: Quiet Fire (1994 [1995], SteepleChase): Piano trio with Ron McClure (bass) and Billy Hart (drums). Wrote title song, leans toward modern jazz pieces for covers, including Gary Bartz and John Hicks among his composers. B+(***)

George Cables: Person to Person (1995, SteepleChase): Solo piano: four originals and eight well-known standards (starts with a touching "My Funny Valentine," ends with "Body and Soul") cover all the bases. B+(***)

George Cables Trio: Skylark (1995 [1996], SteepleChase): With Jay Anderson (bass) and Albert Heath (drums). Typically fine set, with Latin touches and a bit of Monk. B+(***)

George Cables Trio: Dark Side, Light Side (1996 [1997], SteepleChase): Return of his trio with Jay Anderson (bass) and Billy Hart (drums). Usual mix, with Don Pullen's tribute to George Adams ("Ah George We Hardly Knew You") a special treat. B+(***)

George Cables Trio: Bluesology (1998, SteepleChase): With Jay Anderson (bass) and Billy Drummond (drums). Two originals here. Strong central arc from "A Night in Tunisia" to Milt Jackson's title song. In fact, strong throughout. B+(***)

George Cables: One for My Baby (2000, SteepleChase): Another trio, with Jay Anderson on bass and Yoron Israel on drums. More standards, the title cut stretched to 10:04. B+(**)

Ray Charles/Betty Carter: Ray Charles and Betty Carter (1961, ABC): When Charles left Atlantic for ABC, a big part of his deal was that he got control of his catalog, which has had the perverse effect of making his ABC years (24 albums, 1960-1973) hard to find, especially now. He poduced some of his greatest work during those years, but he was much less consistent. This was his fourth album, a meet up with a young jazz singer with a couple of recent albums, here backed by a snappy big band, there by mopey strings. Two brilliant singers, but not much chemistry between them. B [yt]

Carly Rae Jepsen: Tug of War (2008, Maple Music/Fontana North): First album, at 22, after a 3rd place finish in Canadian Idol, sold 10,000 units in Canada but didn't chart anyway. Production isn't state-of-the-art, but I like her voice, admire her originals, and the one cover is the best John Denver I've heard since Toots & the Maytals. B+(***)

L7: L7 (1988, Epitaph): First studio album, quartet fronted by three women: Donita Sparks sang and played guitar, Suzi Gardner played guitar ad sang, Jennifer Finch bass and vocals -- Sparks and Garder the writers. Eleven songs, 31:58. Sounds prophetic. B+(***)

Art Pepper/George Cables: Tête-À-Tête (1982 [1983], Galaxy): The first of two sax-piano duet albums, recorded two months before Pepper died. Cables wrote the title piece, the other ballads, some as well worn and comfy as "Body and Soul" and "'Round Midnight." Pepper is as lovely as ever, and Cables plays a lot of piano. A-

Art Pepper/George Cables: Goin' Home (1982, Galaxy): A second set of duets, recorded a month after Tête-À-Tête, one month before Pepper's death, and seems to have been released first -- it occupies most of the 16th and final CD of The Complete Galaxy Recordings, one of the most consistently inspired runs in jazz history. With more clarinet, comes in for a softer landing. B+(***)


Grade (or other) changes:

Assif Tsahar/William Parker/Hamid Drake: In Between the Tumbling a Stillness (2015 [2018], Hopscotch): Tenor sax trio, recorded at the leader's club in Tel Aviv with the best rhythm section one could hope for, as good as they get. The saxophonist is equally poised, opening long at 34:22, followed by shorter pieces (14:59, 4:29) that flow together. [was: A-] A


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Avishai Cohen: Arvoles (Razdaz/Sunnyside): June 14
  • Red Kite: Red Kite (RareNoise): advance, June 28
  • The Jamie Saft Quartet: Hidden Corners (RareNoise): advance, June 28