An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, July 8, 2019
Music: current count 31726  rated (+24), 262  unrated (+2).
Rated count down this week. Maybe I didn't focus well while Laura was in Boston, but it's also likely that coming up with a relative bounty of A- records had an effect: they always take more time. Also, I didn't take any dives into old music (the VSOP Quintet shows up in Napster's featured new jazz list, but with digital reissues I usually just cite the original release label/date -- and it wasn't good enough to inspire me to check out their other albums).
This is my first Music Week since Robert Christgau posted his final Noisey Expert Witness column, so it's fitting that I looked a little harder than usual for recent non-jazz. In this I was helped by Phil Overeem's halfway through 2019 list (Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Peter Perrett, Billy Woods & Kenny Segal, Abdullah Ibrahim), and by Facebook comments from Dan Weiss (DaBaby, Open Mike Eagle, Gibbs again -- he's also big on Denzel Curry's Zuu, which I previously had at B+(**)). Most of the others were picked up by scrounging for new music on Napster.
The most controversial of these is probably Madonna's Madame X. Metacritic average is 70. Rob Sheffield wrote a 3-star pan at Rolling Stone, although it reads better than the rating. Spencer Kornhaber takes offense in The paradox of Madonna's gun-control music video. Took me a lot of plays before I recognized that the number of songs I was pleased to recognize exceeded the number of fingers I had available for counting. I have more doubts about the Peter Perrett album, but I gave How the West Was Won an A-, and this one hit the same pleasure spots. Makes me wonder if I underrated Special View (the 1979 Only Ones album), where I remembered his voice from.
I'll also note that I've given Wes's Best: The Best of Wes Montgomery on Resonance 3-4 plays with increasing pleasure. I'd like to review the albums it was selected from before doing the compilation, but the release schedule hasn't made that possible. Haven't played the Bill Evans compilation yet, but same considerations apply there. I've been wanting to hear those records ever since they came out, but probably wouldn't have bothered with the compilations had they not appeared in the mail. Also got a note in email today asking whether I've downloaded recent AUM Fidelity releases. I've looked for them on Napster, but didn't notice the email invites. I'll eventually dig them out, but if you want my attention, best way is still to send a CD.
There will be a new XgauSez out by Tuesday morning. I'm hope to get this post wrapped up before I take a good look at it, and I've been hobbled by Weekend Roundup running into overtime. Also in my input queue is a lengthy and quite extraordinary "Consumer Guide to Franco" that Joe Yanosik compiled and asked if I would publish. Expect that later this week.
New records reviewed this week:
75 Dollar Bill: I Was Real (2019, Thin Wrist): Guitar-drums duo, Che Chen and Rick Brown, the former studied Mauritanian music with Jheich Ould Chighaly, perhaps why their most obvious (indeed, the practically only) connection seems to be with Saharan blues/rock. No vocals on this third album. The 16:55 title cut, fourth in, is where my interest kicks in. B+(***)
JD Allen: Barracoon (2019, Savant): Tenor saxophonist, has a distinctive sound and built his reputation by in a series of powerhouse trio albums. This is another, a return to form with a new set of bandmates, Ian Kenselaar (bass) and Nic Cacioppo (drums). Title inspired by a Zora Neale Hurston book. Originals, but closes with a touching "When You Wish Upon a Star." A-
Gretje Angell: In Any Key (2018 , Grevlinto): Standards singer, born in Akron, based on Los Angeles, father and grandfather both jazz drummers. First album, voice reminds you of Brazilian singers even before she got to "Berimbau" and "One Note Samba." Backed by guitarist Dori Amarillo -- some cuts just him, others with bass, drums, and/or percussion. B+(**) [cd]
Blind Lemon Jazz: After Hours: New Pages in the American Songbook (2019, Ofeh): "Featuring the songs of James Byfield," who usually does business as Blind Lemon Pledge. He is a guitarist, "roots songwriter," sings some but mostly turns his songs over to Marisa Malvino. She brings some blues grit. B+(*) [cd]
DaBaby: Blank Blank (2018, South Coast Music Group, EP): Rapper Jonathan Kirk, born in Cleveland, grwe up in North Carolina, released his first mixtape in 2017, this number nine. Short pieces, packing 10 cuts into 23:57. Reminds me of Young Thug -- he started later, but is a year older. B+(***)
DaBaby: Baby on Baby (2019, South Coast music Group): First studio album after a bunch of mixtapes, songs remain compact and sharp, taking 13 to push the album up to 31:36, scoring a hit single with "Suge" but can't say as it stands out much. B+(**)
Open Mike Eagle: The New Negroes: Season 1 Soundtrack (2019, Comedy Central, EP): Cover adds "With Baron Vaughan & Open Mike Eagle" -- the former the comedian host for the series, with the rapper some kind of sidekick, his role unclear on these nine short cuts (21:56), eight featuring other rappers (Danny Brown, MF DOom, Phonte, Lizzo, etc.). B+(*)
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Bandana (2019, Keel Cool/RCA): Rapper, from Gary, Indiana, second album (plus four mixtapes) with the producer (Otis Jackson), the combo sometimes known as MadGibbs. Lyrics are striking, carried along by the sweeping production. A-
Jesca Hoop: Stonechild (2019, Memphis Industries): Singer-songwriter, eighth album, leans back toward folk this time, not as attractive as her pop move on Memories Are Now. B+(*)
Abdullah Ibrahim: The Balance (2019, Gearbox): South African pianist, cut his first album for Duke Ellington in 1963, is 84 now. His solo pieces are steady here, but the group pieces really come to life, especially "Jabula" -- for some reason, Napster regards that the album title, but other sources read as above. B+(***)
Mike LeDonne: Partners in Time (2019, Savant): Pianist here, although he's played organ more often in the past. Names on the front cover in slightly smaller type, probably because they're more famous than he is: Christian McBride, Lewis Nash. Lively, support is impeccable. B+(**)
Madonna: Madame X (2019, Interscope): She's moved from London to Lisbon, picked up a few new beats, plus Colombian featured Maluma, although that was the sort of timely move she's been making for ages now (single: "Medellin"). As her life in exile puts America ever more distant in the rear-view mirror, her politics grow both snarkier and more empathetic, with the solution a path of personal growth that only she seems to be able to pull off. Still, good for her. [NB: Listened to "Deluxe Edition," two extra songs, pretty good ones.] A-
Buddy & Julie Miller: Breakdown on 20th Ave. South (2019, New West): Husband-and-wife singer-songwriters, have recorded together off and on since 1995, also separately but they're usually better together. B+(**)
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real: Turn Off the News (Build a Garden) (2019, Fantasy): Willie Nelson's son, via his fourth wife, has run this country-rock band since 2009. Fifth album (plus two backing Neil Young). B+(*)
Willie Nelson: Ride Me Back Home (2019, Legacy): Still prolific at 86, a batch of originals (mostly co-credited to producer Buddy Cannon), almost as many covers (two from Guy Clark, one from Billy Joel). Reportedly the final chapter in Nelson's "Mortality Trilogy," but less focused on age and death than the previous entries. No dope songs either. Could be the new normal. A-
Peter Perrett: Humanworld (2019, Domino): Former leader of the Only Ones, possessing one of the most memorable voices of the late 1970s punk invasion. Struggled long after the group broke up, only to make an improbably great comeback album in 2017 (How the West Was Won). This is a fitting sequel, if anything more fleshed out, more powerful. A-
Mette Rasmussen/Julien Desprez: The Hatch (2016 , Dark Tree): Alto sax and electric guitar. Can, on occasion, irritate with too much noise, or nod off with too little, but impressive when walking that fine line. B+(**) [cd]
Rebekah Victoria: Songs of the Decades (2018 , Patois): Standards singer, has a previous album with a group called Jazzkwest ("the jazz band for all occasions!"), works with trombonist Wayne Wallace and his many friends here. Idea here is to pick one song from each decade of the 20th century, although she slips a couple more in. "These Boots Are Made for Walking" (1966) fits most uneasily, then leads into "It's Too Late" (1971). The later songs, from Split Enz and Toni Braxton, are less iconic. B+(*)
Billy Woods & Kenny Segal: Hiding Places (2019, Blackwoodz Studioz): New York rapper and Los Angeles producer, the former with a dozen-plus albums since 2002 (including groups like Armand Hammer). Something of a slog, although much of it is worth the effort. B+(***)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Stan Getz: Getz at the Gate: The Stan Getz Quartet Live at the Village Gate Nov. 26 1961 (1961 , Verve, 2CD): Tenor sax great, returns to US after three years in Denmark, a year before his crossover Brazilian moves made him a star. Hype sheet calls this "transitional," but it sounds little changed from his 1955-57 West Coast Sessions, his rhythm as sure, his tone every bit as cool. Pianist Steve Kuhn has some standout moments. John Neves (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums) fill out the quartet. A-
Sourakata Koité: En Holland (1984 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): Kora master, a Malinké from Senegal, sings some, moved to Paris in 1978, cut this in the Netherlands with Joseph Nganga (percussion, background vocals) and S.E.G. Cissé (more percussion). Too amiable for awesome. B+(**) [bc]
Asnakech Worku: Asnakech (1975 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): Actress, dancer, musician, "cultural icon" -- her work was previously featured in Éthiopiques, Vol. 16: The Lady With the Krar (as Asnaqètch Wèrqu), which overlaps this album recorded with Hailu Mergia on organ and Temare Haregu on drums. Her instrument was the ancient krar ("a lyre, or harp, with 6 strings attached to a cloth-wrapped wooden crossbar, the sound emits from a resonator bowl covered with animal skin"). B+(**) [bc]
The V.S.O.P. Quintet: Five Stars (1979, CBS/Sony): Basically, the late-sixties Miles Davis quintet (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams) with Freddie Hubbard filling in for Davis, who moved on a decade earlier -- the others straggling to cash in on the fusion Davis created. Initially a live band to tour Japan, they release four live albums plus this studio effort. Four pieces, one each from everyone but Carter. None distinguished. B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: