An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, August 19, 2019
Music: current count 31944  rated (+42), 243  unrated (-16).
Rated count needs some explanation. There are only 28 records listed below, so everything else comes from finding bookkeeping errors from previous weeks (or possibly longer). I refer to my "ratings database," but it's nowhere close to normalized. When I rate a record, I usually have to note that fact in 4-5 different places, which makes it pretty easy to miss one (or two). On the other hand, that gives me something better than my memory for checking errors. The process is tedious, so I don't do it often, but once I noticed a couple of errors, I made a pretty thorough effort this time.
The actual week count should be even lower. By the time I finished my bookkeeping exercise, I had added 4-5 more records since my usual Sunday evening cutoff. Normally, I would have saved those grades for next week, but under the circumstances, I figured I might as well get all the anomalies out at once. Two things cut into last week's count: I spent a day cooking and playing oldies; and I spent the better part of four days streaming through a single title: Mark Lomax's 400. The latter is actually 12 albums rolled into one. Parts of it are on Napster, so I started there, but after thrashing over how to grade the various parts, I decided to just stream the whole thing, broken up over 5-6 sessions over 4 days. The cumulative experience was so overpowering I wound up giving it an A, an exception to my usual rule of giving that grade only after repeated play over time. (Five plays is usually minimal; I've only played all of 400 once, although some parts did get two or three listens; on the other hand, my cumulative time is 12-15 hours, so I wouldn't call this grade casual.)
Afterwards, I went back and streamed several of Lomax's earlier albums, but had trouble grading them: even his earliest work is close in power and depth to his latest, but I tended to hedge the grades down rather than turn myself into a rubber stamp. I should note that I've heard two of his albums before: The State of Black America was a Jazz CG pick hit at the time (2010, grade: A), and Isis and Osiris was an A- in 2014. I hadn't noticed anything else he did until I stumbled across the new one (it showed up when I added all of this year's 4.5+ star All About Jazz reviews into my in-progress EOY Aggregate). There's more I haven't explored yet on his website.
Aside from Lomax, more old music this week. I checked out several old SABA/MPS albums after I found Cosmic Forest on Napster. Finally, when I was doing my bookkeeping it occurred to me that this might be a good time to cut down on my "unrated" count by streaming records I own(ed) but never graded. That list was once up in the 700-range (from back when I was buying used CDs by the ton), but it's been bouncing around 250 for quite a while now. I started with the Milton Babbitt record last night, and I built a checklist today, so I'm likely to do more of that in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, I'll note that this week's unpacking are all October/November releases, and indeed most of what I have in the physical queue doesn't drop until the Fall. So I'm not feeling a lot of urgency there.
I mentioned that dinner, so might as well file a note on it here. I didn't have time to plan much, but thought salmon teriyaki would be easy. I make it fairly often, but usually just serve it with a couple of Chinese sides, as I've only rarely dabbled in Japanese cuisine. I thought I would try some things this time, but had only the vaguest plan, bought groceries as options, and wound up swapping in Chinese and Korean recipes when they seemed likely to be tastier. Final menu was something like this:
I originally planned on stir-frying the cooked noodles with cabbage and other vegetables, but I overcooked them and figured the best way to salvage them would be to sauce them quickly, and recalled the Tropp recipe. It called for the carrot and daikon I was planning on using anyway, plus cucumber (so I scratched my planned cucumber salad; I had enough carrot and daikon to use them in the noodles and separately as a salad). I had a Japanese recipe for the mushrooms, but decided the similar Korean version would be tastier (adds onion and garlic to the braising liquid, which uses dark instead of regular soy, and maple syrup instead of sugar). Max Stewart was a big help in pulling this off.
Various technical projects up in the air at present. I got stuck in trying to update the Christgau database, so will have to get back to that. He does have a new piece on Jimi Hendrix, and I've added a lecture on music and politics he gave shortly after Trump took over. I've also bought a new Synology box for backups, but don't have it configured yet. Everything's a struggle these days.
New records reviewed this week:
Don Aliquo/Michael Jefry Stevens: Live at Hinton Hall: The Innocence of Spring (2019, self-released): Sax and piano duo, the former a Pittsburgh native who teaches in Nashville, the latter long Memphis-based, now seems to have moved to North Carolina. No info on album, but nice sound in an intimate space. B+(**) [bc]
Arashi [Akira Sakata/Johan Berthling/Paal Nilssen-Love]: Jikan (2017 , PNL): Alto sax/bass/drums trio, group named for their 2014 album together. Various malign looks and feels, including scarifying vocals, but Sakata is a terrific full blast saxophonist, and the drummer keeps up. B+(**) [bc]
Mark Doyle: Watching the Detectives: Guitar Noir III (2019, Free Will): Guitarist, "seemed destined for a career in jazz piano until The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan," switched to rock and joined a band called Jukin' Bone that released two albums in 1972. Jumping forward, formed Mark Doyle and the Maniacs in 2009, still a going concern, so chalk this up as a side project. Starts with a bit of Elvis Costello's title song merged into "Detectives Medley." I thought I heard some "Peter Gunn" but don't see it in the credits, so maybe that's just a common riff? B+(*) [cd]
Moy Eng/Wayne Wallace: The Blue Hour (2018 , Patois): Chinese-American poet-vocalist, born in New Jersey, based in San Francisco where she's executive director of something called the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST). First album, with lots of musician credits as the trombonist brings his Latin tinge. B [cd]
Binker Golding & Elliot Galvin: Ex Nihilo (2018 , Byrd Out): English tenor saxophonist, best known as half of Binker & Moses, in a nominal duo with keyboardist Galvin (no credit for drums, but they vanish after first track, as everything thins out). B+(*)
Joel Harrison: Angel Band: Free Country Volume 3 (2018, HighNote): Guitarist, subtitle links this back to his 2003 album Free Country, "a collection of old Country and Appalachian tunes arranged in unusual, even radical, ways." (Volume 2 appears to be So Long 2nd Street, from 2004, "with David Binney" on the cover.) The 15-year break makes me wonder about his commitment, but then so does the music, with "America the Beautiful" and "Wichita Lineman" especially poor picks. Several vocals (Alecia Chakour, Everett Bradley, Theo Bleckmann, Harrison himself). Binney is often superb. B
David Kikoski: Phoenix Rising (2019, HighNote): Pianist, from New Jersey, twenty-some albums since 1989, mostly quartet with Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Peter Washington (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). Very mainstream, but it's been quite a while since the saxophonist sounded this good. B+(***)
Dr. Mark Lomax, II: 400: An Afrikan Epic (2019, CFG Multimedia, 12-CD): Drummer, had a Jazz CG Pick Hit in 2010 but only one more album came to my attention, until I got wind of this massive undertaking. Turns out he's been busy, teaching at Ohio State, giving TED Talks, adding to his academic credentials, and recording albums I want a shot at sooner of later. This here is his encyclopedia of African and Afro-American history and lore, organized as 12 parts or albums -- hard to tell with digital these days. The first chunk, which Napster has as The First Ankhcestor, is all drums, primal but also deeply felt and highly developed. He moves on to his extraordinary quartet -- Edwin Bayard (tenor/soprano sax), Dr. William Menefield (piano), and Dean Hulett (bass) -- with some pointed spoken word on the opening of the transatlantic slave trade. They carry most of what follows, especially Bayard (imagine Coltrane, Sanders, and Ayler -- as Sanders put it, "the father, the son, and the holy ghost" -- raised to a higher level. Less sonically appealing are sections done up in strings, but even violins and cellos can't bury the rhythm. Toward the end the drums take over again. Took me a half-dozen sittings over four days just to stream the whole thing, which makes this hugely impractical to review and nearly unfathomable, but it is chock full of magnificent music. [PS: Initially wrote this last line while listening to "Afro-Futurism 09-8: Transcendence," but many pieces are comparable. Edited it a bit while finishing up. I initially wrote up reviews of Parts 1, 3, and 4. Not wanting to flood the A-list, I hedged the grades, and ultimately dropped the reviews. I decided not to sort out the twelve parts, but only the string-heavy section might drop below A-, and that's not a lock. I usually reserve the A grade for albums I've played numerous times, and that's not the case here. Still, 10+ hours is quite a bit of experience to draw on, and the effect is cumulative. A lesser grade would imply caveats and hedges I no longer have.] A [dl]
New York Voices: Reminiscing in Tempo (2017-18 , Origin): Vocal group, five voices in 1987 including Peter Eldridge, Darmon Meader, and Kim Nazarian, with two women dropping out, Lauren Kinhan joining in 1992. Similar to Manhattan Transfer, but influenced more by vocalese. I've never been a fan, but this is exceptionally chipper, and their shtick fits nicely with a song like "In My Life." B [cd]
Paal Nilssen-Love: New Brazilian Funk (2018 , PNL): Avant-drummer from Norway, recorded this at Roskilde with Frode Gjerstad on alto sax and three presumed Brazilians: Felipe Zenicola (electric bass), Kiko Dinucci (electric guitar), and Paulinho Bicolor (cuica). The latter thrash more than funk, which gives the Norwegians something they can build on. B+(**)
Paal Nilssen-Love: New Japanese Noise (2018 , PNL): Norwegian drummer teams up with presumed Japanese this time, also at Roskilde Festival: Kiko Dinucci (electric guitar), Kohei Gomi (electronics), Toshiji Mikawa (electronics), Akira Sakata (alto sax, Bb clarinet, voice) -- latter has been a major avant-jazz figure in Japan since 1975. First cut is as chaotic as you'd expect. Third starts to turn into something, but soon enough gets noisy again -- so much so the vocal even helps. B+(*)
Houston Person: I'm Just a Lucky So and So (2018 , HighNote): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, started in the 1960s when his label (Prestige) was home to greats like Coleman Hawkins and Gene Ammons, and followed Joe Fields from there through a series of labels, eventually emerging as a great himself -- the last of that particular line. A fine quartet (Lafayette Gilchrist, Matthew Parrish, Kenny Washington) augmented on most tracks with trumpet (Eddie Allen) and guitar (Rodney Jones). Fairly typical effort, but at this point that's all he needs. A- [cd]
Pom Poko: Birthday (2019, Bella Union): Norwegian noise-pop group, although when I looked them up I got a Japanese film instead. By then I was thinking Shonen Knife, but never could stand bubblegum-punk (or however you want to characterize it). Can't really stand this either, but any given moment is as likely as not to hit a pleasure center. B+(*)
Michael Jefry Stevens Quartet: Red's Blues (2017 , ARC): Pianist, has dozens of albums filed under other names because co-led groups usually listed his partner first. Wrote all these pieces, setting aside his avant chops for something "more traditional, swinging." With Todd Wright (saxes), Zack Page (bass), and Rick Dilling (drums). B+(**) [bc]
Anders Svanoe: 747 Queen of the Skies: State of the Baritone Volume 3 (2018, Irrabagast): Saxophonist, based in Wisconsin, plays them all but specializes in the baritone, has a book on Sonny Red, a duo album with Jon Irabagon, and has helped fill out large bands led by Evan Parker and Roscoe Mitchell. This is styled as a double trio, with two bassists, two drummers, and a second horn -- Jim Doherty, on trumpet. B+(**) [bc]
Ezra Weiss Big Band: We Limit Not the Truth of God (2019, OA2): Conventional big band, extra percussion but no guitar, the leader listed as conductor but he also interjects some spoken word, a long and rather touching yarn of contemporary liberal angst. The music can weep along, or rise up. B+(**) [cd]
Saul Williams: Encrypted & Vulnerable (2019, Pirates Blend): Nominally a spoken word artist, but he's been recording since 2001, and picked up enough skills to occasionally lose himself in the music. Probably worth the effort to figure out what he's saying. B+(*)
Gabriel Zucker: Weighting (2016 , ESP-Disk): Pianist, from New York, has a previous record as The Delegation. You could call this a bass-less quartet: two horns (Adam O'Farrill on trumpet and Eric Trudel on sax), piano, drums (Tyshawn Sorey), no bass. Despite the small group size, this comes off rather heavy, with crescendos and such. Dramatic, I guess B [bc]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Nicola Conte Presents: Cosmic Forest: The Spiritual Sound of MPS (1965-75 , MPS): German label, founded in 1968 by the owner of the earlier SABA label, the "S" standing for the Black Forest (Schwarzwald). The label was active up to 1983, when the catalog was sold to Philips, then Polydor, winding up in Universal. Conte is a DJ turned producer, with several "presents" albums. "Spiritual jazz" has come back into vogue recently, but hard for me to define, picking here mostly from cross-cultural hybrids (Indian, African, Latin, some chants or soul vocals, but we also have Dexter Gordon playing straight bop). Not sure of all of the dates, but a couple tracks come from SABA (pre-1968) albums. B+(**)
George Gruntz: Noon in Tunisia (1967, SABA): Swiss pianist, early work included several Jazz Goes Baroque albums, later ran a well-regarded big band. Recorded in Germany with a bunch of musicians from the Mahgreb playing trad instruments -- Jelloul Osman's mezoued (bagpipes) most prominent, although the percussion is most numerous. The jazz contingent includes Jean-Luc Ponty (violin), Eberhard Weber (bass), Daniel Humair (drums), and Sahib Shihab (soprano sax/flute -- an American born 1925 as Edmund Gregory, changed his name when he converted to Islam, played in a long list of eminent big bands). The pianist doesn't play a lot, but is notable when he does. B+(***)
George Gruntz: St. Peter Power (1968, MPS): Credit says organ, but we're talking pipes, not Hammond, so this collection of standard pieces ("Summertime," "My Funny Valentine," "Lonely Woman," "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," etc.) is very churchy ("recorded at Kloster- und Pfarrkirche St. Peter/Schwarzwald"). With Eberhard Weber (bass) and Daniel Humair (drums). Not intolerable but pretty tedious. C+
The Mark Lomax Sektet: Tales of the Black Experience (1999 , Blacklisted Music): The drummer's first record, incorporating poems by Scott Woods and Vernell Bristow. Group is a sextet with two saxes (Stephen Lomax and Edwin Bayard), trumpet (Arisyn Banks), bass, and extra percussion. Same musical strengths as in his later work -- not least, the drums. B+(***)
The Mark Lomax Trio: Lift Every Voice! (2004, Blacklisted Music): Drummer-led trio with William Menefield (piano) and Dean Hulett (bass), subtitled The Spirituals & the Blues Vol. I, a set of "popular negro spirituals" arranged by Lomax. B+(**)
The Mark Lomax Quartet: We Shall Overcome: Spirituals & the Blues Vol. 2 (2013 , CFG Multimedia): Adds the powerhouse saxophonist Edwin Bayard to the Vol. 1 piano trio for five more spirituals, three in the 8-12 minute range, "Oh, Freedom!" at 20:37, and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" stretched way out to 29:56. Such length can lose track of the themes, although not for lack of inspiration. B+(***)
The Mark Lomax Quartet: Requiem for a Fallen King: A Tribute to Elvin Jones (2013 , CFG Multimedia): Four-part suite (50:42), written in 2004 when Jones died and performed for only the third time in almost ten years. Same quartet Lomax has worked with since the beginning (Edwin Bayard, William Menefield, Dean Hulett): one capable of great power, B+(***) [os]
Jas. Mathus and His Knock-Down Society: Play Songs for Rosetta (1997, Mammoth): Founder of Squirrel Nut Zippers, a folkie group that favored trad jazz and blues songsters, this was his first solo effort, the first of four albums with variants of this group credit, later trading James in for Jimbo. I'm a sucker for that old-timey jazz, but I'm less convinced by his blues. B+(*)
Dewan Motihar Trio/Irene Schweizer Trio/Manfred Schoof/Barney Wilen: Jazz Meets India (1967, SABA): Indian sitar player (with Keshay Sathe on tabla and Kusum Thakur on tambura) plus Swiss pianist (with Uli Trepte on bass and Mani Neumeier on drums) plus German cornet/trumpet layer and French saxophonist (soprano/tenor). Three pieces: two from Motihar, one from Schoof. Same time as Ravi Shankar was wowing western audiences and the Beatles were dabbling with sitar comes this pioneering avant-jazz fusion. Don't know much about Motihar but the jazz musicians aquit themselves well here, especially the 26-year-old pianist in one of her first records, already very distinctive. B+(**)
Robert Taub: Milton Babbitt: Piano Works (1985 , Harmonia Mundi): Old LP, which I've long filed under the composer's name, but lately I'm more inclined to file under the performer. The pieces range from 1947 to 1985, feel more like improv than classical to me, which may just mean that I like them. B+(***)
Waiting to Exhale [Original Soundtrack ALbum] (1995, Arista): Babyface's soft-soul Soundtrack to Forrest Whitaker's romance film starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett. Houston gets three songs, the others scattered among the era's lesser or greater lights -- Toni Braxton, Mary J. Blige, Brandy, Chanté Moore, Faith Evans, TLC, SWV, plus a few legends of yore (Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle). Nothing stands out, but the lush ambience flows nicely. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: