Monday, October 21, 2019


Music Week

October archive (in progress).

Music: current count 32248 [32212] rated (+36), 224 [229] unrated (-5).

As of late Sunday. Monday's mail unpacked below but not counted above.

Last couple weeks I've barely been able to scratch out two A- records. In fact, only one of the last six weeks yielded more than three, but I'm up to a nearly unprecedented nine here (E.S.T. a late add). One reason is I did something different last week, in that I jotted down a list of seven "new records I most want to track down." I found all seven, and got four A- records there (Jaimie Branch, Chris Knight, L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae, Kelsey Waldon). Although I must admit that part of the reason I did that was that Knight and Waldon were riding multiple A/A- streaks, and L'Orange/Jae's previous also came in at A-. Nor was Branch much of a surprise. Had I looked further, I would also have flagged Crosscurrents Trio (Dave Holland has his own streak going), and maybe the two new Intakt releases.

Also got a couple pleasant surprises out of the promo queue. My other main source this week was Saving Country Music: I added their top-reviewed albums to my metacritic file, but the winners there were the expected ones from Knight and Waldon. Adds to this and my tracking file help keep me up to date. For instance, I can tell you the best-reviewed new records of the week (10-18): Battles: Juice B Crypts (6); Foals: Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost (Part 2) (6); Vagabon (6); Clipping: There Existed an Addiction to Blood (5); Floating Points: Crush (4); Caroline Polachek: Pang (4); Patrick Watson: Wave (4). Best-reviewed new records of the previous week (10-11): Big Thief: Two Hands (17); Kim Gordon: No Home Record (12); Elbow: Giants of All Sizes (9); Richard Dawson: 2020 (8).

New records I most want to track down: Homeboy Sandman: Dusty; Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis; Rocket 808.

Also out 10-18, listed below or previously graded: Gebhard Ullmann: MikroPULS [A-]; Michael Formanek: Even Better [***]; Petros Kampanis: Irrationalities [**]; Derel Monteith: Connemara [**]; Chris Speed: Respect for Your Toughness [**]; Chip Stephens/Stenn Wilson: Sadness & Soul [**]; John Yao: How We Do [**]; Rez Abbasi: A Throw of Dice by the Silent Ensemble [*]; Derel Monteith: Quantity of Life [*]; Carrie Wicks: Reverie [*]; Katerina Brown: Mirror [B]; Dan McCarthy: City Abstract [B].

Old records this week were mostly the result of collecting several recent decade-or-two best-of lists. I've started to copy these down, mostly to provide a checklist against my own listening. There weren't many titles I hadn't heard, but I had totally missed Chromatics and Joanna Newsom, so now I know something. You can find the lists with my grades here (original links in the files):

One more week left in October, promises to have more than the usual batch of distractions. Had a "furnace tuneup" last week, which left both the system and us pretty confused, so I need to call them back and get to the bottom of that. Weather itself has been up and down, enough so to remind me that as much as I hate the heat, the cold is actually more painful. Birthday coming up, so I'll take a day or two cooking something. I usually do a broad tasting menu from some exotic cuisine (started with Chinese, then Indian, then Turkish; finally got to French last year), but I'm feeling more like comfort food this year (or maybe I just really want to end it with Mom's coconut cake).

Last two big meals have been Hungarian, so I'm done with that for a while (although I still want to make the dumplings at some point, possibly the rabbit goulash and/or the venison meatballs, and for that matter the somloi trifle and/or the dobos torte -- the two insanely classic Hungarian desserts). Just not this week. Two more big projects are putting together a new computer, and doing a major cleanup/reorganization of the tools in the basement and garage.

Decided to buy the computer parts after my secondary machine temporarily crapped out a week ago. Eventually got it to boot, but it's been so slow I've dragged my feet something awful on website work. But rather than buy something cheap to replace the secondary machine, I figured I should jump whole hog into a new primary unit. Well, "half hog": went with the $200 AMD Ryzen 2700 CPU (8 cores, double the Passmark of my main machine), but much cheaper than the $565 Ryzen 3900 (twice again as fast); 64G of DDR 3000 SDRAM, instead of the 128G maximum; a 1TB M.2 slot SSD; on-board graphics (serious gamers could double the price of their computer here); a mid-range 750W power supply; and a relatively cheap box (because I still want a built-in DVD drive, which the fancy boxes no longer support). Where I did splurge was on a new 32-inch monitor UHD monitor. Should be relatively easy to put it together and load up Xubuntu. One resolution is to only do UTF-8 on the new box, so to get the extra speed, I'll have to convert the websites.

The basement/garage project will be a lot more work, and take a lot more out of my music time. I'm sick and tired of not being able to find tools I know I have. I expect to wind up with an inventory, in some kind of database or spreadsheet, with everything a bit neater. Perhaps success there will lead to a second project, to start to unburden the house of excess stuff, including a few books and CDs. At one point I thought of donating the latter to a library, and never went through with that (and feel less inspired every time they name another building after the Kochs). Open to ideas there.

Haven't done any significant work on my 2020 election book, but keep thinking about it. The book I'm currently reading on George Washington has some relevance, as he has one thing in common with Trump (extraordinary riches) but is otherwise Trump's polar opposite (well, aside from the race thing).


New records reviewed this week:

Yazz Ahmed: Polyhymnia (2016-19 [2019], Ropeadope): British-Bahraini trumpet player, third album. Long list of credits for this, as it seems to have undergone a lot of "additional recording and overdubs" following the initial 2016 session. B+(**)

Michaela Anne: Desert Dove (2019, Yep Roc): Country singer, moved from Brooklyn to Nashville to break into the business, but recorded this third album in California, which seems like fate. B+(*)

Bonnie Bishop: The Walk (2019, Thirty Tigers): Singer-songwriter from Texas, eponymous debut in 2002, eighth album, can pass for country but reminds me more of Bonnie Raitt. Seven songs, stretched out past 40 minutes. B+(**)

Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise (2018 [2019], International Anthem): Trumpet player, from Chicago, second album, also sings, plays synths and percussion. The vocals (including a bit from Ben LaMar Gay) add to the exuberance, but are beside the point, which starts with the excitable groove. A-

Chromatics: Closer to Grey (2019, Italians Do It Better): Electropop band from Portland, OR; fifth album since 2003, first in seven years (not counting the much bruited but unreleased Dear Tommy). Apt title. Docked a bit for reminding me of "Sound of Silence" (sorry about that). B

Crosscurrents Trio [Dave Holland/Zakir Hussain/Chris Potter]: Good Hope (2018 [2019], Edition): Bass, tabla, and saxes (mostly tenor), writing credits pretty evenly divided. Potter is always capable of a bravura performance, but is rarely as consistent as here -- a credit to the others, especially Hussain, whose subtle beats entice and disarm the saxophonist like a master snake charmer. A-

Croy & the Boys: Howdy High-Rise (2019, Spaceflight): Singer-guitarist Bad Boy Croy leads a five-piece band including a bassist named Amy Hawthorne, presumably writes the humorous ditties he sings -- assuming you find the humor in laments like "I'm Broke" and "Luxury (Is a Four Letter Word to Me)." B+(**)

Michael Formanek Very Practical Trio/Tim Berne/Mary Halvorson: Even Better (2019, Intakt): Bassist, long list of albums, his collaborators here stellar enough their names appear before and bolder than the title. Interesting mix, but seems to be lacking something. Drums? B+(***)

Bill Frisell: Harmony (2016 [2019], Blue Note): Guitarist, has often dabbled in Americana over his long career, hooks up with vocalist Petra Haden, with Hank Roberts (cello, voice) and Luke Bergman (baritone guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, voice). Recording date not given, but originally performed in November 2016, so will go with that. Some songs are striking: "Hard Times" for its simplicity, "Lush Life just the opposite. Here and there a gemlike bit of guitar catches your ear. B+(*)

Abdullah Ibrahim: Dream Time (2019, Enja): Great South African pianist, 85, playing a solo program of 17 pieces, not his catchiest or most dynamic but touching nonetheless. B+(**)

Gethen Jenkins: Western Gold (2019, 5 Music): A throwback to the Outlaw Country vogue, which is to say he sounds a lot like Waylon Jennings, and doesn't seem to be much smarter. Choice cut: "Basket Case." B+(*)

Georgette Jones: Skin (2019, self-released): First name Tamala, Georgette seems to be the middle, and Jones is inherited from famous father George, though web search makes more of her mother, Tammy Wynette. Worked as a registered nurse before recording her debut album in 2010. B+(**)

Roger Kellaway: The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway (2010 [2019], IPO): Pianist, debuted with A Portrait of Roger Kellaway in 1963, many albums since and still active as he turns 80, although this one has been sitting in the vault a while. Trio with Bruce Froman on guitar and Dan Lutz on bass. Seven standards, the piano racing even as they're stretched between 5:02 and 12:12, closes with a sparkling "Caravan." A- [cd] [11-01]

Chris Knight: Almost Daylight (2019, Drifters Church): Country singer-songwriter from Kentucky, ninth album since 1998 (seven years since his last and best, Little Victories). The band has muscled up, his voice thick and grizzled -- nowhere more than on John Prine's "Mexican Home," their duet close to seamless. A-

L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae: Complicate Your Life With Violence (2019, Mello Music Group): Hip-hop producer ("sampledelic North Carolina cubist") and Chicago lyricist ("fracture rap demigod"), second album together (L'Orange has also worked with Mr. Lif, Kool Keith, Stik Figa, and Homeboy Sandman, but his first round with Jae was his best). Dingy film noir dystopia, not sure whether futuristic (as suggested), uncannily perceptive, or just an improved Czarface yarn. A-

Doug MacDonald & the Tarmac Ensemble: Jazz Marathon 4: Live at Hangar 18 (2019, DMAC, 2CD): Guitarist, originally from Philadelphia but long-established on the West Coast. Recorded this in Los Angeles with a nine-piece group featuring Kim Richmond (alto sax, better known as a big band arranger). Mostly standards, "Pennies From Heaven" as delicious as ever. B+(*)

Dan McCarthy: City Abstract (2019, Origin): Vibraphone player, from Canada, quartet with guitar, bass, and drums, none of which add much. Opens with a dedication to Carla Bley, closes with one to Gary Burton. B

Mike & the Moonpies: Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold (2019, Prairie Rose): Austin-based honky tonk band, Mike Harmeier leader, sixth album since 2010, for a change of pace trekked to England to record in the Abbey Road studio backed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Nothing fast or hard, but the strings are unobtrusive. Still, seems a bit budget-limited: 8 tracks, 31:36. B+(*)

Joshua Redman & Brooklyn Rider: Sun on Sand (2019, Nonesuch): Tenor sax trio, with Scott Colley and Satoshi Takeishi, and a string quartet, playing a suite composed and arranged by Patrick Zimmerli. Brooklyn Rider has over a dozen albums since 2008, including two volumes of Philip Glass and several with Béla Fleck, but nothing recognizably jazz. Strong pulse through the strings, more modernist than jazz. B+(**)

Reut Regev's R*Time: Keep Winning (2019, Enja): Trombonist, like husband-drummer Igal Foni born in Israel, based in New York. Quartet with Jean-Paul Bourelly (guitar) and Mark Peterson (bass). Strong groove but doesn't lose interest when they break it up. Daughter Liana, age 7, adds a vocal interruption. A-

Chris Speed Trio: Respect for Your Toughness (2018 [2019], Intakt): Tenor saxophonist, plays free but rarely shows any strain (much less screech), with Chris Tordini (bass) and Dave King (drums) -- all musician names on the front cover, but below the title. B+(***)

Chip Stephens/Stenn Wilson: Sadness & Soul (2018 [2019], Capri): Piano and baritone sax, just the duo, make a point of noting the antiquity of their instruments (1876 and 1946, respectively). Title tune is original, rest are standards, two from Coltrane the most recent, Monk's "'Round Midnight" as vintage as the sax. B+(**) [cd]

Gebhard Ullmann/Hans Lüdemann/Oliver Potratz/Eric Schaefer: MikroPULS (2017 [2019], Intuition): German reeds player, sticks with tenor sax here, supported by piano, bass, and drums. Free jazz, but almost a ballad album, with all four contributing pieces, with a nice flow, intricate, touching even. A- [10-18]

Kelsey Waldon: White Noise/White Lines (2019, Oh Boy): Country singer-songwriter from Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky, probably the best voice in recent years, and one of the better songwriters. Third album, all superb; this one on John Prine's label, first new artist there since Todd Snider. A-

Alice Wallace: Into the Blue (2019, Rebelle Road): Southern California-based Americana singer-songwriter, fourth album, big voice, overly dramatic, sometimes reminds me of the Eagles, but she's not that kind of jerk. B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Ernest Hood: Neighborhoods: Memories of Times Past (1975 [2019], Freedom to Spend): One-shot album (although Hood also recorded a single as Hawg Thistlefield and the Hawg Brothers Family Band): zithers, synthesizer, and found sounds. Aims at ambience and nostalgia, but too modern and unsettled to relax and doze off. B

Esbjörn Svensson Trio: E.S.T. Live in Gothenburg (2001 [2019], ACT, 2CD): Swedish piano trio, formed in 1993, ended with the pianist's death in 2008, was very popular in Europe, less so here. Much of their appeal was rhythmic, good examples of that here, but they're remarkably listenable even when they slow it up. A- [cd]

Barney Wilen: Live in Tokyo '91 (1991 [2019], Elemental Music, 2CD): French tenor saxophonist (1937-96), a terrific musician. Very solid live shot, quartet with piano (Olivier Hutman), bass, and drums. B+(***)

Old music:

Chromatics: Kill for Love (2012, Italians Do It Better): Fourth album, the one that showed up on Uproxx's decade list, and it's easy to hear why: the guitar has some bite to it, and the table-setting cover is Neil Young's "Into the Black" (from Rust Never Sleeps). B+(***) [sc]

Joanna Newsom: The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004, Drag City): Plays harp, sings in a weird child's voice. Christgau gave this, her first album, an A-, then slammed her second (Ys) with a C+, noting "original in one thing, worth doing another." I hear the "original" in this one, but also the likelihood that it will soon wear out its novelty. B+(*)

Joanna Newsom: Ys (2006, Drag City): "Second system complex" that an engineer, having been cautious and successful on a first project, will build on confidence gained and take more risks on a second effort, ultimately failing. Something of that here, with two tracks stretched to 12:08 and 16:53, five total to 55:42. On the other hand, this sold better and made more year-end lists, which can only partly be attributed to momentum. Of course, I can't speak to the "ach Gott!" libretto, although her whimsy is less obvious, ditto her annoying quirks. B

Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me (2010, Drag City, 2CD): Third album, sprawls to 124:08, filling 3-LP or 2-CD, with more than two dozen musician/vocalist credits. She remains a distinctive voice and idiosyncratic artist, but this all tends to flow together, not unpleasantly, but not adding up to much. B

Reut Regev: This Is R*Time (2008 [2009], Ropeadope): Trombonist, also plays flugabone (no slide, looks like a bugle swallowed the guts of a French horn), first album, with guitar (David Phelps), drums (Igal Foni), electric or acoustic bass, congas on a couple cuts, bongos on one. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Calabria Foti: Prelude to a Kiss (Moco) [11-01]
  • Jerome Jennings: Solidarity (Iola) [11-09]
  • Per Texas Johansson: Strĺk Pĺ Himlen Och Stora Hus (Moserobie)
  • Fredrik Ljungkvist Trio: Atlantis (Moserobie)