Tuesday, December 31, 2019


Music Week

December archive (complete).

Music: Current count 32538 [32491] rated (+47), 228 [230] unrated (-2).

Took an extra day to post Music Week this week. I figured I had one more day in the month to work with, or actually one more day to wrap up the year in calendar time, so I got in a little extra listening. Also used the time to add some lists to the EOY aggregate. Got up to Radio X in AOTY's list of lists. Haven't done anything from the NPR Jazz Critics Poll yet -- should be up in early January, not sure exactly when -- nor have a tracked down the JJA lists (that usually track JCP ballots). Hence, very little data so far on jazz (other than my own grades).

I did get an invite to join something called Village Voice Pazz & Jop Rip-Off Poll, and picked off a couple dozen ballots there. My rule there was to only count ballots from people I recognized, which mostly means members of the Expert Witness Facebook group.

This week's records were mostly things I took an interest in while compiling lists. The one major exception was that I resolved to listen to the last 2019 releases in my promo queue, including a couple I just got this week. The result is that, for now at least, the "pending" lists in my 2019 file are empty. On the other hand, I've tried not to accidentally delve into 2020 releases (looks like I have 18 records waiting).

Quite a few B+(***) records below (15). Probably means I moved too fast, at least on a few of them. (Kajfes is the one jazz record I'm most tempted to review, especially after his Nacka Forum record got an A-. But also I rarely give rap and electronica records anyway near enough attention, although that didn't stop YBN Cordae or Atom[TM], or for that matter Sault.)

All of this month's reviews have been rolled up in December 2019 Streamnotes, but I haven't done the usual indexing yet. Usually takes me 3-4 hours to do it all, and if I hold back for that I'll be even later. Sometime next week. More lists too. Maybe next week I'll be able to say a few things about the EOY Aggregate, and have some more general reflections on the year. Or maybe I'll just decide I'm due for a break.


New records reviewed this week:

Abjects: Never Give Up (2019, Yippee Ki Yay): London-based post-punk trio, all women, all immigrants (from Spain, Japan, Italy) -- something Brexit is meant to put an end to, so they wrote a song about it. B+(**)

Albare: Albare Plays Jobim (2019, Alfi): Wikipedia describes Albert Dadon as "an Australian businessman, philanthropist and musician." He was born in Morocco, grew up in Israel and France, moved to Australia in 1983, where he runs Ubertas Group ("a diversified funds management and property development company"), and has been chairman of United Israel Appeal and Melbourne Jazz Festival. Also plays guitar, as Albare, and has a series of quite respectable albums. He dresses Jobim's melodies up in fancy strings -- arrangements by his pianist, Joe Chindamo, providing a backdrop the guitar darts across. B+(**) [cd]

Backxwash: Deviancy (2019, Grimalkin, EP): Trans rapper from Zambia, based in Montreal. Eight tracks, 21:01. Most hard and/or furious, although "You Like My Body the Way It Is" changes everything up. B+(***)

Philip Bailey: Love Will Find a Way (2019, Verve): Soul singer, did the high leads for Earth Wind & Fire's big hits, went solo in 1983, released 10 albums through 2002 (as well as a gospel compilation), nothing since until this one. Three originals (two with help from Robert Glasper), two from Curtis Mayfield, one Marvin Gaye, several credited to jazz musicians, odd song out is "Once in a Lifetime" (Talking Heads). B+(*)

Barker: Utility (2019, Ostgut Ton): British techno producer, based in Berlin, first album after some EPs and a duo. Fairly minimalist synth patterns, very attractive. B+(***)

Bonzo Squad: There's Always Tomorrow (2019, self-released, EP): Chicago quartet, group name comes from a title released in 2016 under saxophonist Corbin Andrick's name. He's credited with "reeds" here, the others "keys/lasers," "bass/pedals," and "drums." Seven tracks, 28:31. Nothing special about the groove, but the sax does soar above. B

Boogie: Everythings for Sale (2019, Shady/Interscope): Rapper Anthony Dixson, from Compton, first album after three mixtapes. B+(*)

Peter Brötzmann: I Surrender Dear (2019, Trost): German avant-saxophonist, defined the noise wing of the movement with his 1968 classic Machine Gun and has rarely let up in the fifty years since. But he does take it easy here, feeling his way solo through a batch of covers (counting Misha Mengelberg's "Brozziman"). sometimes awkwardly. B+(**)

Deep State: The Path to Fast Oblivion (2019, Friendship Fever): Athens, GA post-punk group, sounds promising until they slow down. B

Dumb: Club Nites (2019, Mint): Postpunk band from Vancouver, BC. Not so dumb. Kind of catchy, even. B+(***)

Earthgang: Mirrorgang (2019, Dreamville/Interscope): Atlanta-based hip-hop duo, third album (first on a major label). Choppy, often rushed, with the occasional brilliant splotch. B+(*)

Emmeluth's Amoeba: Chimaera (2019, Øra Fonogram): Danish alto saxophonist Signe Emmeluth, leading a group with piano (Christian Balvag), guitar (Karl Bjorå), and drums (Ole Mofjell). Second album. Impressive stretches. B+(***)

Gang Starr: One of the Best Yet (2019, TTT/Gang Starr): Hip-hop duo, six albums 1989-2003, founder MC Guru died in 2010, leaving some vocal tracks (2005-09) that are the basis for this "seventh and final studio album," produced by DJ Premier, with extra guest vocals. Keeping it old style. B+(*)

Elena Gilliam/Michael Le Van: Then Another Turns (2019, Blujazz): Standards singer and pianist (who wrote music to one song). I only found one previous album for her (as Elena), but she's old enough to snag a "Living Legend of Jazz" honor, and her voice supports the claim. Nice piano leads too, backed with bass and drums, with spots for trumpet and saxophone. B+(***) [cd]

Devin Gray GPS Trio: Blast Beat Blues (2019, Rataplan, EP): Drummer, with Chris Pitsiokos (alto sax) and Luke Stewart (bass), five short pieces (13:47), too fancy for punk jazz, but that's the impulse. B+(*) [bc]

Devin Gray: Devin Gray's Algorhythmica (2019, Rataplan, EP): Two pieces, 5:28 and 5:36, composed by the drummer and played by a quartet with Maria Grand (tenor sax), Mara Rosenbloom (piano), and Carmen Rothwell (bass). Ambitious postbop, but just a sketch. B+(*) [bc]

Jason Hawk Harris: Love & the Dark (2019, Bloodshot): Singer-songwriter, from Houston, based in Los Angeles, on an alt-country label, first album. Reportedly darkly powerful on his own ("the literary and sonic audacity of early Steve Earle"), but went overboard with the production. C+

The Hot Sardines: Welcome Home/Bon Voyage (2019, Eleven): Retro-swing band from New York, formed in 2007 by pianist Evan Palazzo and fronted by French singer Elizabeth Bougerol, got my attention with their eponymous 2014 album. This one's live from Koerner Hall in Toronto and Joe's Pub in New York, familiar songs, warmed up nicely. B+(***)

Insignificant Other: I'm So Glad I Feel This Way About You! (2019, Counter Intuitive): Alt/indie band from Birmingham, Alabama, punkish guitar-bass-drums trio with Sim Morales the singer. B+(*)

Loraine James: For You and I (2019, Hyperdub): From London, first album, produces glitchy electronica, vocals up front, including her brand stake, "Glitch Bitch." B+(**)

Goran Kajfes Tropiques: Into the Wild (2019, Headspin): Swedish trumpet player, at least seven records since 2000, second with this quintet -- Christer Bothen (bass clarinet), Alexander Zethson (keyboards), Johan Berthling (bass), Johan Homegard (drums) -- after three with his Subtropic Arkestra. B+(***) [bc]

Ari Lennox: Shea Butter Baby (2019, Dreamville/Interscope): Neo-soul singer, original name Courtney Salter, first album, goes through the motions, impresses on occasion but not much sticks. B+(*)

Danny Lerman: Ice Cat (2019, Blujazz): Saxophonist, studied at UNT and Berklee, pictured on soprano. Short album, five tracks (31:18), most with funk beats and vocals, can impress you with his instrument. B- [cd]

Haviah Mighty: 13th Floor (2019, self-released): Canadian rapper, from Toronto, started in a group called the Sorority. First solo album, after an EP. B+(***)

Nacka Forum: Så Stopper Festen (2019, Moserobie): Scandinavian free jazz group, sixth album since 2002, originally a quintet but now down to four: Goran Kajfes (trumpet), Jonas Kullhammar (saxophones), Johan Berthling (bass), and Kresten Osgood (drums), with most switching off to other instruments (Osgood to vibes and organ). All write, but mostly Kullhammar. A- [cd]

The New Pornographers: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights (2019, Concord): Rather arty alt/indie band from Vancouver, seemed like a big deal with their debut in 2000, but I didn't like that one, and despite repeated attempts have never found much in their fairly substantial catalog. This sounds as good as any for a few minutes, then loses interest. More string synths than I recall. The change of pace helps ("You Won't Need Those Where You're Going"). B+(*)

Isabelle Olivier/Rez Abbasi: OASIS (2019, Enja/Yellowbird): Harp (with electronics) and acoustic guitar, backed by Prabhu Edouard (tabla & kanjira) and David Paycha (drums). Title an acronym for Olivier Abbasi Sound In Sound. After an unsettling "My Favorite Things," originals, mostly from Olivier, whose harp blends in but is frequently overrun by the percussion. B+(**) [cd]

Henrik Olsson/Ola Rubin: Olsson/Rubin (2019, Barefoot): Guitar and trombone, both Swedish (although Olsson is based in Copenhagen), label is a collective. Instruments are rarely used conventionally, with rough bits of electronic noise most common. Still, fairly listenable for that. B+(**) [cd]

Rozina Pátkai: Taladim (2018 [2019], Tom-Tom): Hungarian singer, strikes me as folk-pop but she's drawn a lot on bossa nova in the past, and promoted this as a jazz record. B+(**) [cd]

Lee Scratch Perry: Heavy Rain (2019, On-U Sound): Reportedly a dub remix ("companion to") the auteur's Rainford, one of this year's best albums. Not obviously redundant: all new song titles, a couple guests (Eno's piece is "Here Come the Warm Dreads"), relaxed, happy to indulge whatever odd sounds emerge. A-

Lee Scratch Perry: Life of the Plants (2019, Stones Throw): Label just names the Jamaican dub master, but a sticker adds Peaking Lights (Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis) and Ivan Lee, who are probably responsible for the electronics the rest is built on. Five nine-minute tracks, same powerful groove. B+(***)

Sampa the Great: The Return (2019, Ninja Tune): Sampa Tembo, born in Zambia, raised in Botswana, studied in California, based in Australia, first album, after a couple of mixtapes. Sings, raps, entertains many guests, epic sweep running on for 19 songs, 78 minutes. B+(***)

Sault: 5 (2019, Forever Living Originals): Nothing I can find on this group or (more likely) individual, but name means a leap or jump, or less archaically "a fall or rapid in a river." First album, followed in short order by 7. I've seen various comparisons, but not the one that occurred to me: Chic. Well, minus the great bass lines, but everything else is there, and new again. A- [bc]

Sault: 7 (2019, Forever Living Originals): Second album, released less than five months after the debut, extends the groove and, if anything, tightens up the songcraft. A- [bc]

Derek Senn: How Could a Man (2019, self-released): Folksinger-songwriter, from California, third album. Has some stories. Tunes, too. B+(***)

Somersaults [Olie Brice/Tobias Delius/Mark Sanders]: Numerology of Birdsong (2018 [2019], West Hill): Bass-sax-drums trio, Delius playing tenor and clarinet, kept the title of their previous record as a group name. Smart, measured free jazz. B+(***) [bc]

Svetlost: Odron Ritual Orchestra (2019, PMG): Eleven-piece jazz band from Skopje, Macedonia. Two long pieces, each starting slow before flowering into something splendid. B+(***)

Thick: Thick (2019, Epitaph): Post-punk trio from Brooklyn, guitar-bass-drums, all women, all credited with vocals, sound thickens into shoegaze. Three songs, 9:04. B+(*)

Ronnie Wood & His Wild Five: Mad Lad: A Live Tribute to Chuck Berry (2019, BMG): Small Faces guitarist, tried his hand at a solo career in the 1970s but settled for the job security of another British Invasion blues band. He wrote a sloppy intro here ("Tribute to Chuck Berry"), then reverted to form, coasting on someone else's genius. Imelda May sings a blues, he sings the rest with a broad grin, and the band is super-hot. B+(***)

Billy Woods: Terror Management (2019, Blackwoodz Studioz): Rapper, born in DC, parents intellectuals from Jamaica and Zimbabwe, spent the 1980s living in Africa, got into music in the late 1990s, part of Armand Hammer, has a dozen albums more/less on his own. This one would take some time to sort out. B+(**) [bc]

YBN Cordae: The Lost Boy (2019, Atlantic): Rapper Cordae Dunston, from North Carolina, grew up in Maryland, wound up in Los Angeles, in a collective that goes by YBN (e.g., YBN Nahmir, YBN Glizzy, YBN Almighty Jay). First album, after several mixtapes (as Entendre). Sound stories, cute skits, various guests but holds his own. A-

Young Nudy & Pi'erre Bourne: Sli'merre (2019, RCA): Atlanta rapper Quantavious Tavario Thomas with producer Jordan Jenks, who has an album and several mixtapes on his own. Guest spots for 21 Savage, Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby, and Lil Uzi Vert. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Atom[TM]: Lassigue Bendhaus/Matter (1992 [2019], AtomTM Audio Archive, 2CD): One of many aliases for Uwe Schmidt, German electronica producer based in Chile. Clangy beats, whisper vocals, runs too long but very impressive. No idea about dozens more where this came from. A- [bc]

Burial: Tunes 2011 to 2019 (2011-19 [2019], Hyperdub, 2CD): British electronica producer William Bevan, variously classed as dubstep, downtempo, and ambient, released two proper albums 2006-07, but only EPs since then -- seven of them collected here, sequenced (mostly) latest to earliest, vainly trying to reverse a decade-long decline. (My EP grades, from 2019 to 2011: B, B, *, **, A-, A-, ***.) First disc is over half done before anything catches my ear. Second is better, maybe even worth the while. B+(*)

Masahiko Satoh/Sabu Toyozumi: The Aiki (1997 [2019], NoBusiness): Piano-drums duo, major figures in Japanese avant-garde since 1969 (Satoh) and 1974 (Toyozumi). Two pieces (37:24 + 19:51), relentlessly inventive, most impressed by the drummer. A- [cd]

Old music:

Olie Brice/Tobias Delius/Mark Sanders: Somersaults (2014 [2015], Two Rivers): Delius plays tenor sax and clarinet, with bass and drums -- all English, although Delius has long lived in Amsterdam, his best known band the ICP Orchestra. B+(***)

Emmeluth's Amoeba: Polyp (2017 [2018], Øra Fonogram): Danish alto saxophonist Signe Emmeluth, group based in Oslo, first album. B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Albare: Albare Plays Jobim (Alfi)
  • Bonzo Squad: There's Always Tomorrow (self-released, EP)
  • Harrison²: Trout in Swimwear (self-released) [02-09]
  • Never Weather: Blissonance (Ridgeway) [01-17]
  • Henrik Olsson/Ola Rubin: Olsson/Rubin (Barefoot)
  • Dave Soldier: Zajal (Mulatta) [01-01]