An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Sunday, January 6, 2019
Music: Current count 32575  rated (+37), 230  unrated (+2).
I might as well go ahead and post this, as I'm nowhere near getting to a reasonable breakpoint. I haven't even done the indexing for last month's Streamnotes file. Nor do I have much to add on EOY lists. Latest I have on NPR's posting of the Jazz Critics Poll results is "end of this week or beginning of next." I've since got a request to write a little something by Thursday, so I'd say early next week is the more likely date.
All of the promos in my queue are 2020 releases, so I figured they could wait as I try to mop up what I've missed from 2019. Also, when I've been away from the computer, the CDs I've been playing have been old jazz: some Ellington, Hawkins, Webster, and a lot of Armstrong -- an especially pleasant surprise to find Armstrong's terrific Newport sets on the computer.
The B+(***) record with the most potential is the Sturgill Simpson. I only gave it one play, and really wasn't in the mood for an arena rock album -- much closer to that than to neotrad or neocosmopolitan coutry, a trend that Nashville artists like Eric Church have pursued of late. Still, an impressive performance, his third straight B+(***) in my book. On the other hand, Omar Souleyman's fifth straight A- was an easy call, not that I can keep any of them straight. Didn't hurt to be reminded of the humanity that the US has tried so hard to snuff out for decades now.
Also nice to find a new electronica artist I really like.
New records reviewed this week:
Acid Arab: Jdid (2019, Crammed Discs): French acid house group, although the names don't strike me as especially French (or at all Arab): Minisky, Carvalho, Casanova, Borne, Bourras. But the vocals are mostly Algerian, and guests (samples?) range from Turkey to Niger, so the concept comes through clear enough. B+(*)
Joe Armon-Jones: Turn to Clear View (2019, Brownswood): British keyboard player, member of Ezra Collective and a common fixture on the London jazz scene. Some promise, but the guest vocals tend to scatter. B [bc]
Blacks' Myths: Blacks' Myths II (2019, Atlantic Rhythms): DC duo: bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren Crudup III -- names I've run across on other obscure (and often noisy) projects. This lays the sound on thick, and if that isn't clear enough, Thomas Stanley provides some words. B+(**) [bc]
Burna Boy: African Giant (2019, Atlantic): Nigerian rapper Damini Ogulu, based in London, fifth album. B+(*)
Crazy P: Age of the Ego (2019, Walk Don't Walk): English electropop group, formed 1995 by Chris Todd (Hot Toddy) and Jim Baron (Ron Basejam), called themselves Crazy Penis until 2008. Eighth album. Dance beats, upbeat, might fuck you up. B+(***)
Fruit Bats: Gold Past Life (2019, Merge): Eric D. Johnson's Chicago rock band, eighth album since 2001. At best they offer songcraft with nice little hooks. B+(*)
(Sandy) Alex G: House of Sugar (2019, Domino): G stands for Giannascoli, from Pennsylvania, based in Philadelphia, singer-songwriter, started DIY/lo-fi, third record on Domino. Highest-rated record I hadn't heard by EOY (32, vs. 58 for Holly Herndon and 61 for Jenny Hval). Not awful, possibly an interesting weirdo, if you care. B
Geometry [Kyoko Kitamura/Taylor Ho Bynum/Joe Morris/Tomeka Reid]: Geometry of Distance (2018 , Relative Pitch): Voice, cornet, guitar, and cello. The latter pluck abstractly, the former work on building some drama, not necessarily a plus. B+(*) [bc]
Ghost Rhythms: Live at Yoshiwara (2019, Cuneiform): French group, jazz-rock fusion with accordion and fiddle referring back to folk dances, possibly the concept behind the name -- not that they don't prog out on occasion. B+(*) [dl]
Hash Redactor: Drecksound (2019, Goner): Post-punk quartet from Memphis, first album (discounting Demo Tape 2017). Most reminiscent of the Fall, down to the vocals. B+(**)
William Hooker: Symphonie of Flowers (2019, ORG Music): Free jazz drummer, early works date from 1975, no artist credits here, but someone plays impressive piano, various electronics, some sax, and one cut veers into African chant vocals. Still, until the last two cuts go over the deep end with effects, the drums dominate, as they should. B+(**)
IPT: Diffractions (2018 , ForTune): Polish improv trio: Szymon Wojcinski (keyboards), Jakub Bandur (violin), Jakub Gucik (cello). Chamber jazz, slowly grows on you. B+(***) [bc]
The Japanese House: Good at Falling (2019, Dirty Hit): English singer-songwriter Amber Bain, name refers to a property in Cornwall. Plays guitar and keyboards, and sings. First album after a number of EPs, introspective electropop. B+(*)
Lightning Bolt: Sonic Citadel (2019, Thrill Jockey): Bass-and-drums duo from Providence, RI; eighth studio album since 1999, mostly noise with just enough beat and tune to suggest the noise is an aesthetic choice. People who don't normally gravitate to this sort of thing have been known to like them -- sometimes. I'm actually impressed by this, but only managed to finish it by turning the volume down. B+(*)
Anna Meredith: Fibs (2019, Moshi Moshi): British electronica composer, describes this as "technicolour maximalism" with "visceral richness," which means it's a bit much. B
The Messthetics: Anthropocosmic Nest (2019, Dischord): Guitarist Anthony Pirog and two guys from Fugazzi. No vocals, all rock grind, maybe too fancy for punk but nowhere near jazz. B+(*)
Moor Mother: Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes (2019, Don Giovanni): Camae Ayewa, more poet than rapper, and on her second album adroit enough in the studio to make some knotty, almost impenetrable music. B+(**)
Gurf Morlix: Impossible Blue (2019, Rootball): Austin-based singer-songwriter, tenth album, good tribute album to Blaze Foley a while back, was married to Lucinda Williams for a while. Nice set of blues-based songs. B+(**)
Ralph Peterson & the Messenger Legacy: Legacy Alive: Volume 6 at the Sidedoor (2019, Onyx Productions): Drummer, joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers at 21 as a second drummer and stayed through the band's last major phase. Here he keeps the flame lit, convening a stellar group of Blakey alumni for the master's centennial -- Bobby Watson (alto sax), Bill Pierce (tenor sax), Brian Lynch (trumpet), Geofrey Keezer (piano), Essiet Essiet (bass) -- to expand upon the songbook. B+(**)
Portico Quartet: Memory Streams (2019, Gondwana): British group, nominally jazz but mostly because no vocals, their sound a mix of electronics, Chinese hang, with a sax for melody. B+(*) [bc]
Sturgill Simpson: Sound & Fury (2019, Elektra): Metamodern country singer-songwriter, from Kentucky, opens his fourth album with a pretty nifty guitar instrumental. He reminds me that Nashville has become the home of swaggering mainstream rock music, and he lives up to the title here. I suppose I should be more impressed. B+(***)/p>
Omar Souleyman: Shlon (2019, Mad Decent/Because): Syria's most famous wedding singer, has a dozen-plus albums that are more/less interchangeable. This one is short (6 songs, 34:14), but that seems about right given the intensity. A-
Soundwalk Collective With Patti Smith: The Peyote Dance (2019, Bella Union): New York group, debut 2012, not much on who they are but the approach uses electronically processed field recordings and spoken word. In this one Smith reads from Antonin Artaud's writing on his 1936 trip to Mexico, where the poet went to kick heroin and wound up experiencing peyote. Good to hear Smith's voice, but the music is cryptic (at best). B+(*)
Soundwalk Collective With Patti Smith: Mummer Love (2019, Bella Union): Same framework, but the writer is Arthur Rimbaud, his subject to Harrar, Ethiopia, "the epicenter of Sufism in Africa." Smith's role is reduced, but the samples include discernible rhythm and chant vocals, so score one for Africa. B+(**)
Special Request: Vortex (2019, Houndstooth): Paul Woolford, electronica producer from Leeds, issued records under his own name from 2002 before adopting this moniker in 2012. Rhythm tracks, often quite fast, the complexity in the echo as they drive you manically along. A- [bc]
Special Request: Bedroom Tapes (2019, Houndstooth): "Comprised solely of lost material from a recently discovered box of cassettes that emerged in the process of a house move." Implies that they're quite early, but the rhythm sketches are well developed. B+(***) [bc]
Special Request: Offworld (2019, Houndstooth): A third album within a six-month stretch, and indeed something of a stretch, but the vocal added to "237,000 Miles" adds a new dimension to his work, and the beats in the middle are as compelling as those on Vortex. The long final mix, with its dramatic pauses and ambient fuzz, took longer to come around. A- [bc]
Vinny Sperrazza/Jacob Sacks/Masa Kamaguchi: Play Sonny Rollins (2018 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Piano trio, drummer first named. Group has at least four more albums, each on another composer: Cy Coleman, Tadd Dameron, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan. B+(*)
Tropical Fuck Storm: Braindrops (2019, Joyful Noise): Australian "supergroup," with Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin from the Drones, and others from other groups I don't recall. Second album. Less noise, more funk -- promising, but ends with a bit of bombast. B+(*)
Summer Walker: Over It (2019, Interscope): Neo-soul singer-songwriter from Atlanta, first album. Long jams, a bit awkward. B
Yola: Walk Through Fire (2019, Easy Eye Sound/Nonesuch): British singer-songwriter Yolanda Quartey, first solo album after an EP and several with the group Phantom Limb. PopMatters picked this as the year's best Americana album, possibly because Dan Auerbach produced the album in Nashville, but I don't generally hear that. The title cut is certainly an exception, but more often than not this builds to a grandiosity I find grating. B+(*)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Fred Anderson Quartet: Live Volume V (1994 , FPE): Recorded at the tenor saxophonist's Velvet Lounge, during a stretch when he rarely recorded. With Toshinori Kondo (trumpet), Tatsu Aoki (bass), and Hamid Drake (drums). B+(***) [bc]
Louis Armstrong & His All Stars: The Complete Newport 1956 & 1958 Recordings (1956-58 , Legacy): Duke Ellington's Newport sets are more famous, especially his smashing comeback (or more precisely, Johnny Hodges' return) in 1956. And there's no shortage of live Armstrong sets from the 1950s: The California Concerts is my favorite, with 4-CDs spanning 1951-55, starting with what I still think of as the real All-Stars (Hines, Teagarden, Bigard, Shaw, Catlett), but hardly losing a beat as the second tier (Billy Kyle, Trummy Young, Edmond Hall, plus singer Velma Middleton) take over. They're been represented by 1956's The Great Chicago Concert, but the 1956 Newport set is every bit as potent, with Armstrong himself in an especially ebullient mood. The 1958 set is marginally less extraordinary: Peanuts Hucko replaced Hall, they do some more atypical material (including "Tenderly," a calypso, and a Latin-tinged "Ko Ko Mo"). On the other hand, Jack Teagarden drops in, with Bobby Hackett, for a reprise of "Rockin' Chair." [NB: This seems to be a digital-only release; it was previously released on 4-LP by Mosaic in 2014. Total length 144:43, which could fit on 2-CD.] A-
Guy Clark: The Best of the Dualtone Years (2006-13 , Dualtone, 2CD): Texas singer-songwriter, for a long time I figured he'd never top his debut -- Old No. 1 in 1975 -- but he kept plugging away, recording for Sugar Hill 1988-2002, then in 2006 getting another shot on Dualtone. He recorded four albums there, reduced here with some extras, not least a few live remakes of old songs. B+(***)Jaye P. Morgan: Jaye P. Morgan (1976 , Wewantsounds): Singer and actress, given name Mary Margaret Morgan, had some hits 1953-59, recorded rarely after 1962, appeared on The Gong Show 1976-78. This obscurity flirts with disco, settles for ballads. B [bc]
John Prine: Chicago '70: The Early Sessions (1970 , Hobo): Two sets a year before Prine released his first album: one broadcast from the 5th Peg, the other an interview by Studs Terkel. Effectively demos, just guitar and voice, remarkable for an unrecorded artist to have so many memorable songs: 12 made his first album, 5 more his second, 3 more later, the other 2 (one a Hank Williams medley) show up on The Singing Mailman Delivers -- Prine's own comp of his 1970 tapes, to which this doesn't add much. B+(***)
Patrice Rushen: Remind Me: The Classic Elektra Recorddings 1978-1984 (1978-84 , Strut): Started out as a jazz pianist, with three 1974-77 albums on Prestige (first one with no vocals), before switching to disco at Elektra: five albums, charted 98-39-71-14-40 pop. This selects 15 songs (79:21), often going with extended (12-inch) versions. Nothing very classic here, but she can stretch a funk vamp, even with repetitive vocals, even with none. B+(*) [bc]
Ben Webster/Don Byas: Giants of the Tenor Sax (1944-45 , Commodore): Not playing together: five cuts of Webster in Big Sid Catlett's Quartet, three of Byas with Slam Stewart, and three more of Byas with Hot Lips Page Orchestra. Repackaging Commodore's catalog, they used the same title to combine Chu Berry and Lucky Thompson sets -- more of a generation split, with 14 years separating Berry and Thompson (and Berry's death in 1941, before Thompson got started), whereas Byas is only three years youger than Webster. Nothing monumental, and the sax theme breaks down when Page takes over, singing two of his three. B+(**) [cd]
Ben Webster and His Quartet: Wayfaring Webster (1970 , DayBreak): Tenor sax great, backed by a piano trio I don't recognize, on a previously unissued radio shot from Netherlands. This comes late in Webster's career (d. 1973), but he sounds fine, and the band doesn't hurt. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: