Monday, August 26, 2019


Music Week

Music: current count 31984 [31944] rated (+40), 236 [243] unrated (-7).

Spent most of last week listening to old records from my "unrated" list. Most, I think, are used CDs I bought between 1999, when we moved back to Wichita, and 2003-04, when I started getting a lot of promos for Recycled Goods and Jazz Consumer Guide. During that period I used to make regular trips to Oklahoma City (sometimes Tulsa, once even to Kansas City) where I'd pile up 30-50 CDs at a time. Also made a few cross-country trips in those years, where I would spend whole days traipsing around cities like Denver and Phoenix, scrounging around. In several cases I cleaned up on store closeouts. Actually, I did that for a few more years, but stopped buying locally after Yesterdays and Wherehouse went out of business, and that did much to break the pattern. (Wichita still has a number of CD Tradepost stores, but I've never liked them. Google also lists a Spektrum Muzik, which I should probably look into -- although at this point I'd be more tempted to sell than to buy.) Of course, the other thing that broke my shopping habit was Rhapsody. I started doing Streamnotes in late 2007, and my purchases plummeted after that.

Some unrated records are older LPs. Not sure when I started keeping a ratings list. I've had personal computers since about 1980 (an Ithaca Intersystems DPS-1 with a Z-80, 64K RAM, S-100 bus, two 8-inch floppy discs, ran CP/M, ran me close to $5,000, not counting the Heathkit terminal I soldered together; I actually had an Apple II before that, but decided it was crap and never bought from Apple again), so I could have started any time after that, but I certainly had one by the mid-1990s. That list didn't always have grades -- I assigned them mostly from memory, which had already begun to fail on many older/less played LPs. I sold off most of my LPs in 1999 before moving to Wichita, so may no longer have some items logged as unrated. (On the other hand, I recall dozens of early albums not on the records list, so it was never perfectly accurate.)

I started counting up unrated records in March 2003, when my rated count was 8,067 and the unrateds totalled 821. The unrated count jumped to 899 the next week after a bout of shopping. It went down for a few weeks, then shot up again, finally peaking at 1,157 in July 2004. I've gradually whittled it down since then, dropping under 1,000 in December 2004, under 800 in July 2007 (although it climbed back to 888 in April 2011), under 600 in December 2012, under 400 in April 2015, and under 300 in September 2018, and 243 last week. I thought I'd try to knock it down further this week. I gathered up a bunch of CDs from the list, and streamed a few I didn't bother hunting down. That explains both why I have so much "old music" this week, and why it seems so abritrarily selected. Still, my efforts were undone by a sudden burst of incoming mail (bringing the recent queue up to 26 albums, although most of their release dates are well into Fall).

Working off my unrated list results in some curious choices below. For instance, the Lenny Breau/Brad Terry album is only about a third of the one you'd probably buy these days, 2003's The Complete Living Room Tapes, but I cut that down to match the one I owned (didn't find it, but I remember the cover). Similarly, you'd buy the Michael Mantler twofer, where I only had the Silence half (probably on vinyl, but in this case I did bother to stream the other half. I listened to extra albums where they struck my fancy: by Arrow, Hackberry Ramblers, Jasper Van't Hof, Papa Wemba, and Jack DeJohnette (and threw in an average grade for the latter's box, since I've heard all the pieces and that's how they're available on Napster). But I didn't bother with the first Songhai album, or the earlier and later volumes by the Bluegrass Album Band, to mention a couple of obvious series. I imagine I'll keep nibbling away at the unrated list, but already I'm seeing diminishing returns.


Expect a new edition of XgauSez by the time you read this. I should also have an update to the Consumer Guide database real soon now. I've added the last batch of Expert Witness reviews to my local copy so I should be able to do an update any time. I'll send mail to the tech email list when I do, and go into more detail about redesign plans.

I reckon I can pass on a link that Joe Yanosik sent me: a piece by Geoff Edgers called The summer of 1969, when Elvis made his true comeback, which includes some bits of interview with Christgau.

Tried to get my new Synology backup server running last week, and ultimately failed. I'll take another shot at it this week. The machine also has potential as a media server -- something I have a clear need for, but never put enough time into to really figure out. Also made another Friday dinner for Max Stewart. Thought I'd do something easy/lazy this time, so made pastisio, a green bean ragout, and horiatiki salad: basic Greek country cooking. I felt good enough about it I might try something a bit more challenging next time.


New records reviewed this week:

Clairo: Immunity (2019, Fader): Singer-songwriter Claire Cottrill, self-released songs on Bandcamp since she was 15, scoring a viral video his with "Pretty Girl" in 2017. First proper album, a modest improvement over lo-fi, some catchy tunes (Rostam Batmanglij co-produced), but I'm still having trouble tuning into the lyrics. B+(***)

CP Unit: Riding Photon Time (2018 [2019], Eleatic): Initials stand for Chris Pitsiokos (alto sax/electronics), third album with this group, personnel changes but formula remains electric guitar, electric bass, and drums (Sam Lisabeth, Henry Fraser, Jason Nazary). Live album from two sets in Germany and Austria, covering some pieces from their studio albums. The bent township jive of "A Knob on the Face of a Man" is my choice cut, but everything connects, on occasion hitting a raw nerve. A-

G-Eazy: The Beautiful & Damned (2017, BPG/RVG/RCA): White rapper from Oakland, hit the charts with his 2014 album, this his fourth, got some brutal reviews (59 at Metacritic), not obvious to me why. Like Eminem, he builds on sung choruses and sampled hooks. Also makes extensive use of featured guests (most notably Cardi B), making it hard to locate him either in the ghetto or the suburbs. Runs long (74:22). Closer nails Trump: called "Easy," it's about what isn't. B+(***)

Steve Lehman Trio/Craig Taborn: The People I Love (2018-19 [2019[, Pi): Alto saxophonist, an Anthony Braxton protégé, a very smart composer with outstanding chops, is in near-perfect form here. A very tight quartet, the banner "trio" accounting for Matt Brewer on bass and Damion Reid on drums, while allowing the more famous pianist's name to grace the front cover. A [cd]

Nils Lofgren: Blue With Lou (2019, Cattle Track Road): Singer-songwriter, probably better known as a guitarist-for-hire used by Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, although he has a pretty long list of solo albums (Wikipedia lists 27; I'm surprised to only find one in my database: his eponymous debut, which I gave an A-; I do have several listings for his 1971-74 group Grin). "Lou" is Reed. Lofgren co-wrote three songs on Reed's 1979 album, The Bells -- one ("City Lights") reprised here. B+(*)

Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark: Screen Off (2019, PNL): Long-running avant drums and reeds duo, sometimes credited the other way around. Twenty-one bits here, audio skimmed from unofficial YouTube videos and pasted together like a mixtape into a 42:00 track. Does bounce around a bit. B+(**) [bc]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Cannonball Adderley: Swingin' in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1967 (1966-67 [2019], Reel to Reel): Alto saxophonist, ran one of the top hard bop jazz groups from 1958, although they faded in the late 1960s as mainstream labels collapsed and musicians gravitated toward fusion. This is a quintet with brother Nat Adderley on cornet, Joe Zawinul on piano, Victor Gaskin on bass, and Roy McCurdy on drums. A previously unreleased live tape. B+(***)

Big Stick: Some of the Best of Big Stick (1985-91 [2019], Drag Racing Underground): John Gill and Yanna Trance met in art school, formed this very underground punk-industrial band, cut a few short records, including a 10-inch EP Christgau liked, and a 23-track CD I bought and shelved somewhere. They resurfaced in 2019 with a possibly new LP and a 15-track Most of the Best of Big Stick, but all I found was this cut-down 10-cut, 25:01 sampler. Move into Sonic Youth territory on "California Dreamin'." B+(**)

Marvin Gaye: You're the Man (1972 [2019], Motown): "Lost" album, intended to follow What's Going On, but was cancelled after the title cut was released as a single. Most of it was released in dribs and drabs over the years. His sound is intact, the songs a mixed bag but the title one scores points. B+(**)

Old music:

Arrow: Soca Savage (1984, Arrow): Soca star from Montserrat, Alphonsus Cassell (1949-2010), thirty albums 1972-2002, this the only one I picked up, distributed worldwide by London. Big beat, lots of enthusiasm, recorded a little harshly. B+(*)

Arrow: Knock Dem Dead (1987 [1988], Mango): First album picked up by Island, hoping soca might be the next thing after interest in reggae wanes. Leads off with "Groove Master," and winds up with two remixes of same. B+(**)

The Bluegrass Album Band: The Bluegrass Album, Vol. 3: California Connection (1983, Rounder): Tony Rice sings and plays guitar, backed by other semi-famous bluegrass players -- J.D. Crowe (banjo), Jerry Douglas (dobro), Bobby Hicks (fiddle), Doyle Lawson (mandolin), Todd Phillips (bass), with Crowe and Lawson also singing. Starts with a Gram Parsons song ("Devil in Disguise") but that seems to be it for California. After that it's back to Kentucky, with no less than five Lester Flatt tunes. B+(**)

Lenny Breau & Brad Terry: The Living Room Tapes (1978 [1995], Dos): Guitar and clarinet duo. Breau (1941-84) was born in Maine, grew up in Canada, and wound up in Los Angeles, with two 1969 records on RCA, a few other scattered about, often with country musicians like Chet Atkins and Buddy Emmons. These were taped in a farmhouse in Maine, first appearing in 1986. More sessions followed up to 1982, ultimately compiled into in a 2-CD Complete set (2003). B+(*)

Jack DeJohnette: Sorcery (1974, Prestige): The drummer was mostly thought of as a fusion player at this point, acknowledged here by playing keyboards as well as drums, with Dave Holland on bass, either John Abercrombie or Mick Goodrick on guitar, and Bennie Maupin on bass clarinet for the first side, Michael Fellerman on trombone for both. Still, never bogs down in fusion clichés, not that it commands close attention. B+(*)

Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition: Tin Can Alley (1980 [1981], ECM): Drummer, group named for his 1980 album, although the personnel is a bit less special here: Chico Freeman and John Purcell replacing Arthur Blythe and David Murray, with Peter Warren remaining on bass and cello. DeJohnette vocal on "I Know," over a blues riff. B+(**)

Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition: Inflation Blues (1982 [1983], ECM): Continues with sax/reed players Freeman and Purcell, adds Baikida Carroll on trumpet (4/5 tracks), with Rufus Reid taking over at bass. DeJohnette's rant on the title track doesn't impress me, but I don't mind his muted play on reggae. The horns are strong throughout, and no one can complain about the drumming. B+(*)

Jack DeJohnette: Special Edition (1979-84 [2012], ECM, 4CD): Boxes up the original Special Edition album, with David Murray and Arthur Blythe (but not at their best), the two albums above, and the final Album Album. Figure the grade for an average, with the first half a shade better. B+(*)

Jack DeJohnette: Parallel Realities (1990, MCA): Surprised we don't see more names on the cover, as the drummer's cohort are if anything more famous: Pat Metheny (guitar and synths) and Herbie Hancock (piano, mostly acoustic). Metheny co-produced and wrote half of the pieces, so no surprise this is right up his alley. B+(*)

Manu Dibango: Wakafrika (1994, Giant): From Cameroon, plays sax and vibes, some keyboards, sings, has 50+ albums from 1968 until he turned 80 in 2013. This is one of his better-distributed ones, incorporating touches from the far corners of Africa (and electronica beyond), which only seems fitting given the central location of his home. B+(**)

Luderin Darbone's Hackberry Ramblers: Early Recordings: 1935-1950 (1935-50 [2003, Arhoolie): Classic cajun group, formed in 1933 Darbone (fiddle) and Edwin Duhon (accordion), with Glen Croker entering at some point, taking over lead guitar and most of the vocals. These are mostly Bluebird singles, most in French but occasionally they venture into blues or Western Swing. B+(***)

Luderin Darbone's Hackberry Ramblers: Jolie Blonde (1963-65 [1993], Arhoolie): Chris Strachwitz's label took a brief interest in the Ramblers, rounding up this mix of studio, home, and live recordings, skewed toward the Cajun classics. B+(**)

The Hackberry Ramblers: Cajun Boogie (1992, Flying Fish): Founded in 1933, the legendary cajun group didn't record much after 1948, but the founders kept the group going until their deaths (Edwin Duhon in 2006, Luderin Darbone in 2008, and Glen Croker in 2011). This live set was their first LP, old tunes but a lot of fun. A-

The Johnson Mountain Boys: At the Old Schoolhouse (1988 [1989], Rounder): DC-based bluegrass group, active 1978-88 with occasional reunions, this live double capping their initial run. B+(***)

Ketama/Toumani Diabate/José Soto: Songhai 2 (1994, Hannibal): Spanish group, formed 1985, combines flamenco and salsa, joined here by the Malian kora master and a Spanish guitarist-singer (replacing English bassist Danny Thompson, from the previous Songhai album). B+(*)

Shoukichi Kina: Peppermint Tea House: The Best of Shoukichi Kina (1980-91 [1994], Luaka Bop): Rock singer-songwriter from Okinawa, David Byrne's second (and last) pick for his Asia Classics series. Slight countryish air to go with funkier-than-usual J-pop bubblegum. B+(**)

Tony Lakatos/Rick Margitza/Gábor Bolla: Gypsy Tenors (2017, Skip): Margitza is a mainstream tenor saxophonist -- one of my favorites in the 1990s but I've rarely run across him since 2001. He was born in Michigan, but claims a Hungarian Gypsy grandfather. The other two are Hungarian (not sure about Gypsy), also playing tenor sax, and they're backed by piano-bass-drums. B+(**)

Yo-Ya Ma: The Soul of the Tango: The Music of Astor Piazzolla (1998, Sony Classical): Cellist, born in Paris, grew up in New York, child prodigy, graduated from Juilliard and Harvard, very famous and not just in classical circles, as he's dabbled far and wide, notably with his Silk Road Ensemble. I haven't followed him, but did hear his 2-CD Sony sampler (The Essential Yo-Yo Ma) and liked it enough for a B+. Moreover, I love Piazzolla's tangos so much I picked this up (then forgot about it). Starts with a remarkably poised "Libertango." Bandoneon and violin, guitar and piano keep it flowing. B+(**)

Michael Mantler: No Answer (1973 [1974], Watt): Carla Bley's second husband (after Paul Bley, before Steve Swallow), they named their label after one of Samuel Beckett's novels. Mantler honors Beckett further by composing an opera for his text, sung by bassist Jack Bruce, featuring Bley (piano) and Don Cherry (trumpet). B-

Michael Mantler: Silence (1976 [1977], Watt): More compositions for words, this time from Harold Pinter, sung by Kevin Coyne and Robert Wyatt, played by Carla Bley (piano/organ), Chris Spedding (guitar), Ron McClure (bass), Wyatt (percussion), and Clare Maher (cello, the only name missing from the cover). Not without interest, but takes a lot of work. B

Michael Mantler: No Answer/Silence (1973-76 [2000], Watt, 2CD): Reissue, combining the two albums without trying to cram them into one overlog disc. B

Oujda-Casablanca Introspections, Vol. 1 (1988-93 [1994], Barbarity): With Algeria torn by civil war, rai producer Ben Omar Rachid crosses the border into Morocco in search of grooves and ululations. A- [cd]

Romeo Must Die: The Album (2000, Virgin): Soundtrack to Andrzej Bartkowiak's movie, roughly Romeo and Juliet set in Oakland with rival African-American and Chinese gang families, starring Jet Li, Delroy Lindo, and at least two musicians who appear on the soundtrack (Aaliyah and DMX). Aaliyah, Timbaland, and Barry Hankerson produced the soundtrack. B+(***) [cd]

Wallace Roney: The Wallace Roney Quintet (1995 [1996], Warner Bros.): Trumpet player, throwback to the hard bop 1960s, second Warners album after an earlier run on Muse. With brother Antoine Roney on tenor sax, Carlos McKinney on piano, plus bass and drums. Album runs over 78 minutes. B [cd]

Archie Shepp/Jasper Van't Hof: Live in Concert: Mama Rose (1982, SteepleChase): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, from the SWF Festival in Germany, backed by the Dutch keyboardist (mostly electronics), who provides what passes for rhythm and shading. Shepp recites a poem on the title track, which Van't Hof supports niftily. B+(*)

Third World Cop [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] (1999 [2000], Palm Pictures): Soundtrack to Chris Browne's movie, produced by Island impressario Chris Blackwell. Sly & Robbie claim four of the first six songs, and probably play on the rest -- all in the contemporary dancehall style -- most notably, the Marley Brothers on "Call the Police," Lady G on "Man a Bad Man," and Luciano on the inevitable "Police & Thieves." A-

McCoy Tyner Big Band: Journey (1993, Birdology): Pianist, broke out of John Coltrane's Quartet for a distinguished solo career, including three albums in his big band phase (1989-93). This is the third, many star players, the trumpet solos (Jerry Gonzalez and Eddie Henderson) especially stand out. B+(**) [cd]

Jasper Van't Hof/Ernie Watts/Bo Stieff Face to Face: Canossa (1998, Canossa): Keyboards, tenor sax, bass -- trio also using the name of their 1995 album -- with Nippie Noya on percussion. Gets stronger as it progresses, which doesn't necessarily mean better. B+(*) [cd]

Viva La Musica & Papa Wemba: Pôle Position (1995, Sonodisc): Wemba is a singer-bandleader from Congo, nearly as prolific and monumental as Franco and Rochereau. I went looking for an unrated, but found more than I can manage to sort out. (Sounds like a job for Joe Yanosik.) Here he puts the band name first, and their soukous groove is nearly flawless. A-

Papa Wemba: Papa Wemba [Destin Ya Moto] (1988, Disques Espérance): One of two eponymous (or untitled?) albums to appear at/near this time, one of which is in my database but missing physically -- I recall this album cover, but noted the label and catalog number of the other. Took me some time finding this, as Napster lists it as Destin Ya Moto, for the first (of four) songs. Subtle groove, sweet guitar, B+(**)

Papa Wemba: Papa Wemba [M'Fono Yami] (1988 [1989], Stern's Africa): The other one, produced by Martin Meissonnier with more keyboards, also released by Celluloid (as M'Fono Yami?) and EMI France. [4/7 tracks, 20:48] B+(**)

Papa Wemba: M'zée Fula-Ngenge (1999, Sonodisc): Starts a bit odd, and has a couple of odd spots (including a tiny bit of English), but soon enough finds its groove, and quite a groove it is. B+(***)

Steve Williamson: A Waltz for Grace (1990, Verve): Alto saxophonist, born in London, parents Jamaican, played in Jazz Warriors before this auspicious debut album. Only recorded one more for Verve (in 1992), only a couple more after that. Abbey Lincoln's guest vocal is supposed to be a high point, but slipped by me twice with scant notice. The rest, cobbled together from multiple sessions in US and UK, is engaging. B+(**) [cd]

Yosuke Yamashita/Bill Laswell/Ryuichi Sakamoto: Asian Games (1988 [1993], Verve Forecast): Japanese pianist, started 1974, output has tailed off since 2004. I think of him as a strong postbop player, although in this context -- Laswell is an electric bassist who leans toward fusion albeit in underground tones, and Sakamoto is a well known electronica producer -- he sticks to the groove. B [cd]


Grade (or other) changes:

Viva La Musica/Papa Wemba: Nouvelle Écriture: Dans L' (1998, Sonodisc): For a while I thought this CD wasn't in my database, but I was confused by the cover, which literally (top-to-bottom) reads: "Viva La Musica / nouvelle écriture / dans L' / avec PAPA WEMBA." Discogs reduced this to L'. Strong soukous groove. No recall why I initially graded it so low. [was: B] B+(***) [cd]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ray Blue: Work (Jazzheads): October 12
  • Jeff Denson/Romain Pilon/Brian Blade: Between Two Worlds (Ridgeway): October 25
  • DSC [Leon Lee Dorsey/Greg Skaff/Mike Clark]: Monktime (Jazz Avenue 1): September 13
  • Avram Fefer Quartet: Testament (Clean Feed): November 8
  • Haruna Fukazawa: Departure (Summit)
  • Olli Hirvonen: Displace (Ropeadope): August 30
  • Florian Hoefner Trio: First Spring (ALMA): September 27
  • Todd Marcus: Trio+ (Stricker Street): November 15
  • Derel Monteith: Connemara: Solo Piano Improvisations (self-released): October 18
  • Derel Monteith Trio: Quantity of Life (self-released): October 18
  • Vaughn Nark: Back in the Day (Summit)
  • Dana Saul: Ceiling (Endectomorph): September 13
  • Leo Sherman: Tonewheel (Outside In Music): October 25
  • Emi Takada: Why Did I Choose You? (self-released): September 1