An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Thursday, January 23, 2020
Music: Current count 32640  rated (+26), 228  unrated (-1).
Three days late with this, but the cutoff was late Sunday night, so this is still an honest week's listening report. While I was not honoring my self-imposed schedule, I did continue to listen, so my scratch file for next week includes an additional 21 records -- a pace which will probably top 40 next week. Maybe more: it's tempting to run late next week so I can close January near the end of the month (instead of final Monday, the 27th this year). I usually do my freeze exercise the end of January: that being my signal to stop monitoring EOY lists and move on to the new year.
Actually, you'll find my first 2020 A- record below, as well as a few more 2020 releases. Most of the CDs in my promo queue are still future releases, so I'm noting release dates in cases that aren't out yet. I noticed on Facebook Phil Freeman noting that he already has over 100 promo records in his 2020 spreadsheet. I have a quarter of that, but might not be so far behind if I downloaded all the links that cross my mail. Thus far I've done none, but I am pleased to be getting mail from Astral Spirits now.
I've added quite a bit of jazz to my EOY Aggregate, including the NPR Jazz Critics Poll totals for new albums and reissues, plus about two-thirds of the critic ballots -- my first pass rule was to only list critics I had listed in previous years. This has pushed Kris Davis' poll-winning Diatom Ribbons to 33rd overall, the top-rated jazz album. I re-played the record when the poll dropped, but didn't feel like raising my initial B+(***) grade. I have maybe a dozen more records I feel like I should retry -- mostly Christgau picks that I liked but didn't spend much time with on first pass, like: Danny Brown, Stella Donnelly, The National, The Paranoid Style, Purple Mountains, Rapsody. Not much elsewhere has me wondering. Indeed, while my tracking file shows that there are literally thousands of unheard records that someone likes, I'm having a lot of trouble identifying ones that seem promising for me.
I also added in the totals from something called Pazz & Jop Rip-Off Poll. This is a fan poll which has existed for twenty-some years, but got more attention this year with Village Voice having abandoned their signature poll. I got an invite to join a while back, but never voted. I did, however, go through the ballots, and picked out fifty or so names I recognized -- mostly folks I had counted ballots from in past years. In the past I've been inclined to use P&J as an endpoint, testing how well my own lists anticipated the results, and in the process finding various biases of the critics polled. Still, nothing like what we see with this self-selected fan community. Purple Mountains won in a landslide, as both hip-hop and pop votes were pretty depressed. On the other hand, certain Christgau favorites did surprisingly well (e.g., The Paranoid Style at 17, 75 Dollar Bill at 8).
New records reviewed this week:
Harry Allen/Mike Renzi: Rhode Island Is Famous for You (2019, GAC): Tenor sax and piano, non-headliners on bass and drums. Mostly standard fare, tending toward gorgeous. B+(***)
Beans on Toast: Cushty (2017, Xtra Mile): English folk singer Jay McAllister, has dropped an album on December 1 (his birthday) every year since 2009, same cover design, titles differ. More songs about politics than not, some too obvious, and some too hyperbolic ("we talking end of days, proper apocalyptic shit"). B+(**)
Beans on Toast: A Bird in the Hand (2018, Beans on Toast Music): Don't care for the lecture on "Bamboo Toothbrush," even as modest as it is, but something exceptionally beguiling to this batch of music. B+(***)
Beans on Toast: The Inevitable Train Wreck (2019, Beans on Toast Music): English folksinger-songwriter Jay McAllister doubles down on the politics. I could quibble on details, but his heart and head are in the right place, and we're fortunate to have him. The refrain about "leave it in the ground" is catchy enough for a demonstration mob (although I wouldn't go so far as his dis on cows). He also doubles down on the music: he's added keyboards to his guitar in the past, but he's got a full band this time. Rocks a little, concluding that "life goes on and on and on." A-
Pip Blom: Boat (2019, Heavenly): Dutch jangle pop band, same name as the singer-guitarist-songwriter -- will file them under her, but does sound like a group. B+(***)
Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Entity (2019 , Libra): Thirteen-piece big band, short some brass from standard big bands, and no piano, the leader content to compose and conduct. All name players -- not so hard to do in New York. Impressive when your draw in close, otherwise can slip on by. B+(***) [cd] [02-14]
Gordon Grdina/Matt Mitchell/Jim Black: Gordon Grdina's Nomad Trio (2019 , Skirl): Guitarist from Vancouver, also plays oud, has a substantial body of work since 2006. Trio here with piano and drums. The piano impresses with sharp angles, fading back for the guitar, which never really takes charge. B+(**) [cd]
Scott Hamilton Quartet: Danish Ballads . . . & More (2019, Stunt): Tenor saxophonist, did a similar album of Swedish Ballads in 2013, recorded this in Copenhagen, with Jan Lundgren on piano and locals on bass and drums. Songbook appears to be mostly Danish, with Oscar Pettiford's Montmartre Blues close enough. A-
Scott Hamilton: Jazz at the Club: Live From Sociëtat De Witte (2018 , O.A.P.): Since his record deal with Concord ran out a decade ago, the tenor saxophonist has wandered the world, picking up sympathetic bands (almost all quartets), and letting the tapes roll. Standard fare, he usually sounds terrific, and the combos rarely disappoint. This one is from The Hague in Netherlands, with Francesca Tandoi on piano and singing two tracks. B+(***)
Scott Hamilton: Street of Dreams (2019, Blau): Another tenor sax quartet, don't know when or where it was recorded, but label is Spanish (one Hamilton has seven albums on), with Dena DeRose on piano, Ignasi González on bass, and Jo Krause on drums. Ballads may be a bit pinched, but the faster ones swing hard. B+(***)
Irreversible Entanglements: Homeless/Global (2019, International Anthem, EP): Phiadelphia group, released a fine debut LP in 2017, released this 23:38 track in advance of a second album. MC/poet Camae Ayewa enters after 7:35 of roiling freebop -- trumpet, sax, bass, drums (Luke Stewart the only name I recognize). B+(**) [bc]
Aly Keďta/Jan Galega Brönnimann/Lucas Niggli: Kalan Teban 2019 , Intakt): Balafon player from Côte D'Ivoire, trio with reeds and drums -- two Swiss musicians who were born in Cameroon and have known each other since childhood. Their previous Kalo-Yele was my favorite album of 2016. This is comparably delightful, notably when Brönnimann takes charge. A-
Peter Lemer Quintet: Son of Local Colour (2018 , ESP-Disk): British pianist, recorded an album in 1968 called Local Colour, not much since but decided to get the band back together for a 50th anniversary reunion, and got 4/5ths of the way: John Surman (baritone/soprano sax), Tony Reeves (bass), and John Hiseman (drums), with Alan Skidmore (tenor sax) filling in for the ailing Nisar Ahmad Khan. They reprised all the old songs (assuming "City" + "Enahenado" = "Ciudad Enahenado"). B+(**)
Andrew Munsey: High Tide (2019, Birdwatcher): Drummer, from Califoria, seems to be his first album, although he's appeared on close to a dozen, notably ones by his quintet here: Steph Richards (trumpet/flugelhorn), Ochion Jewell (tenor sax/kalimba), Amino Belyamani (piano/rhodes), and Sam Minaie (double bass). B+(**)
Rex Orange County: Pony (2019, RCA): English singer-songwriter Alexander O'Connor, 21, debut album after a pair of self-released downloadables. Clever guy, has some pop smarts. B
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Twentieth Century Mixtapes: Groiddest Schnizzits: Volume One (2001-17 , Trugroid/Avantgroidd): Founded in 1999 by Greg Tate and Jared Michael Nickerson, released their first album in 2000, 15 more through 2017, from which they've assembled three CDs of mixes -- I found Volume Two shortly after release date, but One and Three eluded me. Tate (I assume) is responsible for the creative titling, and both for networking in dozens of New York musicians, reworking black music traditions rooted in funk and free jazz, Butch Morris providing the key "conduction" concept. Still, lot of vocals here. B+(***)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Twentieth Century Mixtapes: Groiddest Schnizzits: Volume Three (1999-2017 , Trugroid/Avantgroidd): The thing about these "mixtapes" is that rather than separate their remarkable body of work into its various facets, or breaking it up into eras, highlighting each major one on its own disc, they mix them all together. All three are spread over two decades, each picks pretty much the same music, and they're all somewhat biased toward soul vocals -- not what I would pick, although I imagine a single disc would be possible that would eventually grow on me. B+(***)
Miles Davis: The Lost Quintet (1969 , Sleepy Night): Bootleg, live date from November 9 in Rotterdam, touted as Davis's "third great quintet," "lost" because it wasn't showcased in a studio album, but not really that obscure: second quintet saxophonist Wayne Shorter is still on hand, backed by a then young but not legendary rhythm section: Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette -- all of whom were on hand for Bitches Brew (recorded 1969, released 1970). Morever, they formed the quintet on the 4-CD 2013 box Live in Europe 1969, which included a November 5 date in Stockholm and another two days later in Berlin. Four pieces -- two from Bitches Brew, the others also in the box set -- stretched to 58:11. The thing that struck me about the Live 1969 recordings is how seriously Davis and Shorter considered plunging into the avant-garde, and this recording is even more raggedly free. But with John McLaughlin, Davis was also on a parallel track toward fusion, and that soon won out, with Shorter and Corea soon leaving for their own inferior fusion ventures. Sound is so-so here, but the rhythm section is really smoking. B+(***)
Smokey Haangala: Aunka Ma Kwacha (1976 , Séance Center): Zambian singer-songwriter, played keyboards, also wrote poetry and journalism, died at 38 in 1988. B+(*)
ICP Tentet: Tetterettet (1977 , Corbett vs. Dempsey): Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg's Instant Composer's Pool, later better known as ICP Orchestra. Full of grand gestures and sly jokes, or in some cases gross ones, as they take stereotypical circus music and transform it into extraordinary free jazz. A- [bc]
Sun Ra Arkestra: Live in Kalisz 1986 (1986 , Languidity): Relatively late (Ra died in 1993, albums thin out from 1990), live in a small city in central Poland, released on a Polish label named for another Sun Ra album. Always terrific when they break out the interplanetary boogie, somewhat hit and miss, but their 13:24 "Mack the Knife" is a real treat. A- [bc]
Laurie Spiegel: Unseen Worlds (1991 , Unseen Worlds): A pioneer in electronic music, started with analog sythesizers in 1969, worked at Bell Labs 1973-79 writing composition software, founded New York University's Computer Music Studio. First record was The Expanding Universe (1980). Not many more, but this one was taken as the name of this label. The pieces, organized as "Thesis," "Antithesis," and "Synthesis," with grand gestures that I assume derive from classical music aesthetics, plus some piano to settle things down. A-
June Tyson: Saturnian Queen of the Sun Ra Arkestra (1968-92 , Modern Harmonic/Sundazed): Singer, worked with Sun Ra over 25 years, until her death in 1992. No dates on these pieces, so the range could be narrower, and no credits, although the Arkestra was pretty stable for much of this period. Vocals were always an iffy thing with the Arkestra, mostly space chants, conveniently collected here. B+(**)
Hank Williams: The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings (1949 , BMG, 2CD): Radio shots, eight 15-minute shows (including patter but trimmed of advertising, about 12 minutes each), each opening with "Happy Rovin' Cowboy" and signing off with "Sally Goodin'" -- in between, expect at least one classic, some breaks and filler, and the obligatory hymn. Remarkable sound, extraordinary voice, could be edited down to an even more remarkable single CD. [Probably identical to the 1993 Polygram 2-CD release of Health & Happiness Shows.] A-
Harry Allen Quartet: London Date (2015 , Trio): Retro-swing tenor saxophonist, with a local London rhythm section (Andrea Pozza, Simon Woolf, Steve Brown) playing standards. Most impressive on the fast ones, but "Our Love Is Here to Stay" is taken deliciously slow. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: