An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, November 18, 2019
Music: Current count 32371  rated (+26), 221  unrated (+0).
I've been dreading this date for more than a month now. I should be feeling relief that the worst-case scenario has been avoided, but I'm still feeling pretty shaken and tattered. Thought I'd celebrate by rustling up a fairly simple dinner on Tuesday -- a big pot of paella plus something for dessert -- for a small group, figuring that's the one thing I can still depend on my competency for. But at the moment I'm feeling overwhelmed by pressing work -- including lots of things I've been putting off.
Indeed, I had quite a bit I wanted to write about here, but will have to cut very short. One thing that will seem obvious from the list below is that Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide: November 2019 came out on Wednesday. As the column currently depends on paid subscribers, I've held back the grade schematic from previous news rolls, but I will note a few things here: three pick hits are albums I previously graded A- (Raphael Saadiq: Jimmy Lee; Rachid Taha: Je Suis Africain; Jamila Woods: Legacy! Legacy!). Three more I came up short on, but revised my grades below: Kim Gordon: No Home Record; Sonic Youth: Battery Park; and That Dog: Old LP. I don't often change my grades after a Christgau review -- the only other time it's happened this year was The Coathangers: The Devil You Know.
My initial assessments of the first two were pretty close to the mark, but at the time I didn't feel like giving them the extra play they needed, and took that as a sign. That left one new record I hadn't gotten to (Ed Sheeran's -- well, more if you count the HMs, where I struck out), and two old ones where I was familiar with the music from other packages: I have two Spaniels CDs on Collectables which match the 2-CD Jasmine compilation closely, and I've heard all of the music on the 8-CD Bud Powell bargain box -- my previous grades (I have the two Trio albums on Roost combined on a single Roulette CD):
I should note that my 2019 ratings and music tracking files have continued to grow (927 new releases rated so far, 3167 records listed). I've also done a very preliminary sort of my top-rated jazz and non-jazz records, showing 67 A/A- jazz records vs. 54 non-jazz. Last year at this time the split was 46-46, which I noted at the time was unusually balanced. Not easy to dig up stats on previous years, but I suspect 2016 was more typical, with a 61-41 jazz/non-jazz split. In most years, the numbers eventually even out, but I typically hold off on non-jazz records until I see them show up in EOY lists. One thing I should emphasize here is that the current lists are a first pass, and I expect the rank order to shift a lot in the near future. The other thing is that I will keep adding to (and otherwise reshuffling) those two files well into 2020 (as I've done in years past).
I should also note that my metacritic list is still growing. I started this file with mid-year lists, then added points based on grades (mostly as reported by AOTY and Metacritic). I don't have any actual EOY lists factored in (the first usually show up just before Thanksgiving, so . . . next week), but have added new records as they come out. First place has tottered between Sharon Van Etten and Billie Eilish all years, with Van Etten recently back on top. If I had time, I'd speculate on where I see the EOY lists going, based on this research (factoring in certain data artifacts), but will have to skip that for now.
Final point I wanted to make is that Francis Davis is running his 14th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, and once again I'll try to help out. I also don't have time to speculate on likely standings there -- indeed, I've given the subject very little thought, and doubt my metacritic file sheds much light on it at this point. One thing I do want to pass along from the invite letter is this:
I'd be happy to forward any critic nominations.
New records reviewed this week:
Lolly Allen: Coming Home (2016 , OA2): Vibraphone player, based in Los Angeles, first album, opens with Horace Silver's "The Hippest Cat in Hollywood," closes with "Bebop," wrote two songs and her trumpet player Carl Saunders added one called "Lolly's Folly." B+(*) [cd]
Jon Batiste: Anatomy of Angels: Live at the Village Vanguard (2018 , Verve): New Orleans pianist, calls his band Stay Human, culled six nights of sets down to this slab of vinyl. Three originals, an arrangement of "Round Midnight," and a short bit of "The Very Thought of You," sung by Rachael Price -- a standout moment, along with Tiven Pennicott's tenor sax blast. B+(*)
Jon Batiste: Chronology of a Dream: Live at the Village Vanguard (2018 , Verve): A second helping from the six-night stand, also vinyl-sized. B+(*)
Gerald Cleaver & Violet Hour: Live at Firehouse 12 (2019, Sunnyside): Drummer from Detroit, complains he's "been unfairly pigeonholed as a free jazz player for much of his career," strikes back with an unabashed hard bop sextet, reassembling a group he first led in 2008: JD Allen (tenor sax), Andrew Bishop (bass clarinet, soprano & tenor sax), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Ben Waltzer (bass), Chris Lightcap (bass). Good blowing session, especially for Allen. B+(**)
The DIVA Jazz Orchestra: DIVA + the Boys (2017 , MCG Jazz): Drummer Sherrie Maricle conceived this as an all-female big band back in the 1990s, eighth album here following 2017's 25th Anniversary Project. The "boys" are guests Ken Peplowski (clarinet), Claudio Roditi (trumpet), Jay Ashby (trombone), and Marty Ashby (guitar). B+(*) [cd]
DJ Shadow: Our Pathetic Age (2019, Mass Appeal, 2CD): Josh Davis, 1996 Endtroducing was a brilliant debut, 2002 The Private Press still a staple in my travel case. I hear occasional echoes here, among the beats on the mostly instrumental first disc. Second disc offers a parade of rappers, fine enough individually, can't say they add up to much more. B+(**)
FKA Twigs: Magdalene (2019, Young Turks): British crooner-songwriter Tahliah Barnett, second album, producers are often well known electronica artists -- Nicholas Jaar, Daniel Lopatin, Skrillex, Cashmere Cat -- but leans toward torchy ballads. B
Gauche: A People's History of Gauche (2016-18 , Merge): DC band, second album, singers Mary Jane Regalado and Daniele Yandel come from other notable bands (Downtown Boys and Priests). A reviewer I saw was reminded of Devo and B-52s, but for me the saxophone can only mean X-Ray Spex. Not quite that good, of course. B+(***)/p>
Charles Gayle/Giovanni Barcella/Manolo Cabras: The Alto Sessions (2017 , El Negocito): Free jazz saxophonist, spiritual kin to Albert Ayler, played on the streets of New York before eeking out a career on obscure jazz labels. Recorded this one in Belgium, with locals on drums and bass (Barcella originally from Italy), and as the title suggests, plays alto instead of his usual tenor. Also plays some piano. B+(**) [bc]
Ben Goldberg: Good Day for Cloud Fishing (2017 , Pyroclastic): Clarinet player, mostly trio with Nels Cline (guitar) and Ron Miles (trumpet), with Dean Young (poems) also featured on the cover -- inspiration for the music and fodder for the print package, but not an obvious connection. B
Laura Jurd: Stepping Back, Jumping In (2019, Edition): British trumpet player, leads the group Dinosaur, who play here as well as a string quartet and extra odds and ends -- trombone, euphonium, santoor, banjo, electronics. The strings are modern/abstract, don't do much for me, but other spots take off. B
Kneebody: Chapters (2018-19 , Edition): Fusion band, based in Brooklyn, eighth studio album since 2005: Ben Wendel (tenor sax), Shane Endsley (trumpet), Adam Benjamin (keyboards), and Nate Wood (bass/drums), plus various guests, including four vocalists. Not much to start, but gets much better when after guests Josh Dion and Kaveh Rastegar add some bent skronk to "Hearts Won't Break," and hits the occasional moment thereafter. B+(*)
Kodian Trio: III (2019, Trost): Avant-jazz trio: Colin Webster (alto sax), Dirk Serries (electric guitar), and Andrew Lisle (drums). Third album, five pieces ("I" through "V"), cut this on a day off while touring Netherlands. Fairly intense free-for-all. B+(***)
Konstrukt + Ken Vandermark: Kozmik Bazaar (2018 , Karlrecords): Turkish avant-jazz group (alto sax/guitar/bass/drums), two dozen or so albums since 2008, many featuring guests who wandered their way -- Marshall Allen, Peter Brötzmann, and Evan Parker each appeared on 2011 albums, so this paring was almost inevitable. The guest contributes to the free thrash, but doesn't stand out as much as expected -- though that's probably his clarinet on the closing space excursion. B+(**)
Liquid Quintet [Agusti Fernandez/Artur Majewski/Albert Cirera/Rafal Mazur/Ramon Prats]: Flux (2017 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Barcelona pianist Agustí Fernández, prolific since 1986, has recorded as The Liquid Trio before, with Albert Cirera (saxes) and Ramon Prats (drums), adds Artur Majewski (trumpet) and Rafal Mazur (bass) here. B+(**) [bc]
Made to Break: F4 Fake (2017 , Trost): Ken Vandermark project, seventh group album since 2011, with the leader on reeds, Christof Kurzmann (electronics), Jasper Stadhouders (bass, guitar), and Tim Daisy (drums). Three longish pieces, Vandearmark impressive as ever, the noise around him conducive. A-
Rachel Musson/Pat Thomas/Mark Sanders: Shifa: Live at Cafe Oto (2019, 577): British saxophone/piano/drums trio (tenor/soprano), Musson impressed me on Federico Ughi's Transoceanico. She impressed again here, and the pianist starts out sparkling, but this free improv does wear a bit. B+(**)
Bob Ravenscroft & Inner Journeys: Phantasmagoria (2019, OA2): Piano-bass-drums trio, 25 short improv pieces, with Dwight Kilian (bass) and Rob Moore (piano). Ravenscroft did a couple of albums 1982-83, not much since. B+(*) [cd]
Bria Skonberg: Nothing Never Happens (2019, self-released): Canadian trumpet player, also sings -- hype sheet cites Louis Armstrong and Anita O'Day as models, but also describes her voice as "smoky." Sixth album starts sultry, offers some blues, a rather avant instrumental, then turns "Bang Bang" into a standard. B+(***)
SLD Trio: El Contorno Del Espacio (2018 , Fundacja Sluchaj): Argentine piano-bass-drums trio: Paula Shocron, German Lamonega, Pablo Diaz. Shifts around, including some strong free passages. B+(**) [bc]
Tierney Sutton Band: ScreenPlay (2019, BFM Jazz): Jazz singer, mostly standards, first record 1998, most records attributed to her band. These are songs from movies, originally released in five EPs corresponding to five acts, each with 3-5 songs. Some are quite striking, including "Sound of Silence" (one I normally can't stand) and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." B+(***)
Pat Thomas and Kwashibu Area Band: Obiaa! (2019, Strut): From Ghana, a highlife star in the 1960s -- see his Coming Home 2-CD compilation), got another shot when he formed this band in 2015. This one seems to be new, but still dwells largely in the past. B+(**)
Threnody [Johan Berthling/Martin Küchen/Steve Noble]: A Paradigm of Suspicion (2018 , Trost): Bass-sax-drums trio, looks like their third album together, the group namme appearing here after being part of the second album's title (Threnody, at the Gates). First album evidently listed Küchen first, as does Bandcamp page here. Free and hard. B+(***)
Jonah Tolchin: Fires for the Cold (2019, Yep Roc): Singer-songwriter from New Jersey, fourth album, 2014's Clover Lane was the one that got my attention. He remains a thoughtful songwriter, but shies away from grabbing you. B+(*)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Future: Monster (2014 , Freebandz): Nayvadius Cash, rapper, released a bunch of mixtapes from 2010, this his 13th in five years, but one of the first to get widely noticed. Reissued for streaming. B+(***)
ICP Orchestra: ICP Orchestra in Albuquerque: The Outpost Performance Space, March 17th, 2003 (2003 , ICP): Justly famous Dutch avant big band (11 pieces), initials stand for Instant Composers Pool, founded 1967 and led until recently by pianist Misha Mengelberg, just started trawling through their vault tapes for lost treasures. Meanders, sometimes brilliantly. B+(**) [bc]
Charles Gayle/Giovani Barcella/Manolo Cabras: Live in Belgium (2015 , El Negocito): One of the grand old avant tenor saxophonists goes to Belgium, picks up local drummer and bassist, and does what he's often done, for an often stunning series of righteous riffs. Plays some piano too, as sigular as his sax. B+(***) [bc]
Grade (or other) changes:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: