An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, December 23, 2019
Music: Current count 32491  rated (+25), 230  unrated (+4).
Skipped last week, so this one covers two weeks, with a big hole in the middle. On. Dec. 12, I had surgery to open up my nasal passages, hopefully to breathe better. The surgery was fairly quick, and I was home by noon, but my recovery hasn't been anything to brag about. I did virtually nothing for over a week. Had a follow-up appointment after a week, with the PA poking around, pulling out scabs and clots of blood. During that week I checked email and processed a few late ballots for Francis Davis's NPR Jazz Critics Poll (we did finally match last year's total of 140), but couldn't work for more than 15 minutes at a time (even on something as mechanical as Noisey's EOY list, which took me 4-5 sessions). I didn't feel much better Friday, but found I could get some work done. I only played old jazz for a week, but started streaming some new music -- mostly hip-hop, as it turned out. Pretty much everything I heard landed at B+(**), and this week's reviews are even shorter and shabbier than usual.
Almost finished the week without a single A- record, but Trapline landed 10th on Phil Overeem's year-end list. I still can't tell you why, but three plays convinces me there's enough going on there to merit the grade. Almost added a second one, Emmeluth's Amoeba: Chimaera, fromChris Monsen's list, but decided I need another play before trying to write anything.
While I was down, I missed three pieces (free, I think) from Robert Christgau's And It Don't Stop subscription newsletter, so I'll do penance for not announcing them in a timely manner here:
Don't have much more to say at this point. The usual tracking files are in the usual places. I've added a few things to the EOY Aggregate, but it is nowhere near up to date (and while I'm likely to add to it, it may never try to make it as comprehensive as in recent years).
New records reviewed this week:
Eric Alexander: Eric Alexander With Strings (2019, High Note): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, called his 1992 debut Straight Up, has 40+ albums since, even more side credits (including more than a dozen in One for All). Cover credits his long-running quartet (David Hazeltine, John Webber, Joe Farnsworth), as well as Dave Rivello for arranging and conducting the strings -- not terribly interesting on their own, but not saccharine fluff either. B+(*)
Gonçalo Almeida/Martin van Duynhoven/Tobias Klein: Live at the Bimhuis (2017 , Clean Feed): Bass, drums, alto sax or bass or contrabass clarinet. B+(***)
Rebecca Angel: Santa Baby (2019, Timeless Grooves, 1): Actually, just a 3:28 single, something I wouldn't review but for being sent the CD. Song dates to Eartha Kitt in 1953 -- wonder why it's not done more often. Delicious, and no penalty for quitting while she's ahead. B+(***) [cd]
Atmosphere: Whenever (2019, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Minneapolis hip-hop duo, rapper Slug (Dea Daley) and DJ/producer Ant (Anthony Davis), beaucoup albums since 1997. More relationship songs here, always a staple. B+(***)
Courtney Barnett: MTV Unplugged (Live in Melbourne) (2019, Marathon Artists): Recorded October 22, 2019, so little more than a month before the December 6 release date. Her acoustic guitar isn't nearly as potent as her electric, but she picks up resonance with a cello in the band. Also picks up a couple guests, and closes with a strong cover of Leonard Cohen's "Goodbye Marianne." B+(**)
Beck: Hyperspace (2019, Capitol): Singer-songwriter, released some of the best albums of the 1990s, has been hard to even recognize since 1999's funk move, Midnite Vultures. Collaborator here is Pharrell Williams, which should be good for a few cheap hooks. Too bad I couldn't recognize that many. B
Dopolarians: Garden Party (2019, Mahakala): Sextet, or merger of trios: one (relatively young) cluster is made up of Chris Parker (piano), Chad Fowler (alto sax), and Kelley Hurt (voice), and they do most of the writing; the other is well known: Kidd Jordan (tenor sax), William Parker (bass), and Alvin Fielder (drums). B+(***) [bc]
Ras G & the Afrikan Space Program: Dance of the Cosmos (2019, Akashik, EP): Gregory Shorter Jr., DJ/producer from Los Angeles, 24 albums/mixtapes since 2008, died at 40 in 2019. Dense grooves with scattered talk. [Napster only has 4/5 tracks; other track on Bandcamp, total 28:50.] B+(**)
Lafayette Harris Jr.: You Can't Lose With the Blues (2019, Savant): Pianist, from Baltimore, debut 1992, this a trio with the superb Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. Still not really what I'd call bluesy. B+(*)
Hiromi: Spectrum (2019, Telarc): Japanese pianist, Hiromi Uehara, has recorded steadily since 2003, understands that one key to popularity is keeping it brisk. This one is solo, so she doubles down, and keeps it going for 73:16. B+(**)
Hot Chip: A Bath Full of Ecstasy (2019, Domino): English electropop group, seventh studio album since 2006. Catchy, most of the time. B+(*)
Brittany Howard: Jaime (2019, ATO): Singer-songwriter, gone solo after two records fronting Alabama Shakes, did a fair Otis Redding impersonation there. Bits of retro-soul here, too, mixed in with unclassifiable experiments. Her diva move? B
Kaytranada: Bubba (2019, RCA): Louis Kevin Celestin, born in Haiti, grew up in Canada, second album after a lot of EPs, mixtapes, and production credits (some as Kaytradamus). Has a real knack for pop trifles. B+(**)
José Lencastre Nau Quartet: Live in Moscow (2018 , Clean Feed): Portuguese alto saxophonist, backed by two-thirds of RED Trio (Rodrigo Pinheiro and Hernâni Faustino, piano and bass), plus his brother João on drums. B+(**)
Jeff Lofton: Jericho (2019, self-released): Trumpet player, based in Austin. Blues-based bop, with "The Christmas Song" a change of pace I'll pardon this week, and two vocal takes of "Compared to What" (by Carolyn Wonderland and Murali Coryell). B+(**) [cd]
Caroline Polachek: Pang 2019, Columbia): Singer-songwriter, leader of Chairlift (3 albums, 2008-16), first solo album (at least under her own name). B+(*)
Slayyyter: Slayyyter (The Mixtape) (2019, self-released): Catherine Slater, electropop singer from suburban St. Louis, first album. Leads with sex, which never comes clear in the dense mix, not that I especially mind. B+(**)
Sly & Robbie/Roots Radics: The Final Battle: Sly & Robbie vs. Roots Radics (2019, Serious Reggae): Roots Radics started in the late 1970s as the studio band for Channel One, have several dozen albums, mostly meet-ups with dub-oriented singers and producers -- Dunbar & Shakespeare have much the same resume, often working with even bigger stars. No problem evoking reggae's heyday, but not so easy building on that. B+(**) [yt]
Sly & Robbie: Dub Serge (2019, Taxi): Refers back to a 1979 Serge Gainsbourg album, Aux Armes Et Caetera, which Sly, Robbie, Ansel Collins, and other Jamaicans played on (backing vocals were the I Threes: Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and Rita Marley). This "remake" disposes of the vocals and makes Gainsbourg's songs unrecognizable, buried under layers of classic dub. B+(*)
Snotty Nose Rez Kids: Trapline (2019, Fontana North): Canadian First Nations hip-hop duo, from the Haisla reserve village of Kitamaat, now based in Vancouver, third album. Hard to get a handle here, but obviously much in jest, and serious nonetheless. A-
Stormzy: Heavy Is the Head (2019, Merky/Atlantic): English rapper Michael Owuo Jr., grime star, second album. Fast, dense, some politics, some serious charges. B+(**)
Dave Stryker: Eight Track Christmas (2019, Strikezone): Guitarist, close to 40 albums since 1990, counting the band he co-leads with Steve Slagle. Released Eight Track in 2014 with this no-horn, groove-oriented quartet -- Stefon Harris (vibes), Jared Gold (organ), McClenty Hunter (drums) -- and aside from the season focus this would be IV. Leans secular, with "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" the one non-traditional tune. B [cd]
Sudan Archives: Athena (2019, Stones Throw): Brittney Denise Parks, born in Cincinnati, based in Los Angeles, self-taught violin, learned to feed that through loops and added her voice. First LP after two EPs. Defies genre, so another hip young singer-songwriter. "All we got is the Internet" is a sign of the times, for better and/or worse. B+(**) [bc]
Juan Vinuesa Jazz Quartet: Blue Shots From Chicago (2018 , NoBusiness): Tenor saxophonist, from Spain, spent a couple years in Chicago where he put this group together: Josh Berman (cornet), Jason Roebke (bass), and Mikel Patrick Avery (drums). Free jazz, has a nice lyrical feel. B+(***) [cd]
The Who: Who (2019, Polydor): In 1994 they released a box set called Thirty Years of Maximum R&B, but by my calculation it was more like six (1965-71) -- sure, Quadrophenia (1973) has its fans, but the decline through It's Hard (1982) was undeniable. I'd say they set themselves up with "I hope I die before I get old," especially when only Keith Moon did (1978). Aside from profit-taking boxes, this is only their second album since -- Endless Wire appeared in 2006. Got to give them credit here for sounding like no one else. Still, he record runs longer than their inspiration. B
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Bobby Bradford/Frode Gjerstad/Kent Carter/John Stevens: Blue Cat (1991 , NoBusiness): Cornet player, had a legendary two-horn quartet with John Carter, tries to conjure up a bit of that dynamic with alto saxophonist Gjerstad. Recorded in London with local bass/drums legends. B+(**) [cdr]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: