An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, February 24, 2020
Music: Current count 32823  rated (+45), 245  unrated (+3).
Moving into 2020, starting with my most mechanical tasks. The usual ones are the Year 2020 file, with rated records plus my physical CD queues, and Music Tracking 2020, with additional records I've heard of. The latter is longer than in previous years at this time, because I've created a Metacritic Aggregate file. The latter will eventually morph into an EOY Aggregate, much like 2019.
Last year I started adding in points for 80+ reviews as collated by AOTY. I've made a couple of adjustments this year: the grades are marked by '*' (instead of '+'), and I've added A:i/j to most lines, where i = the average critic score, and j = the number of reviews. While this information is useful in itself, it also helps me locate new reviews/grade changes. AOTY tracks 50+ publications, although several don't have any entries thus far this year. I've included all except for several metal magazines (Metal Hammer, Metal Injection, Metal Sucks), basically because the odds of finding anything of interest to me there are approximately nil. (Nonetheless, 18 metal albums have crept into the list, as many other publications cover at least some metal. I haven't ventured beyond AOTY yet, other than to add my grades and those of Robert Christgau (counted as before: A = 5, A- = 4, down to * = 1).
I had done something like this several years ago, but stopped as it got to be too much work, but resumed last year. Using AOTY helped simplify the work, compared to looking at each publication myself. But given that AOTY has a fairly narrow rock bias, I also factored in a few other sources, especially for jazz (Downbeat, All About Jazz, Free Jazz Collective). I expect I'll get around to doing that sooner or later. Even as it stands, I have a fairly coherent view of what's new in 2020. A few of those records appear in the list below, and I'll check out more in coming weeks. I'm not fully committed to keeping this up, but mechanical tasks like this have been my default fallback lately.
Still, the two best new releases this week didn't clearly emerge from AOTY lists. Rather, they appeared in Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide (subscriber only). By the way, I have all of the free content from And It Don't Stop ready to post on Christgau's website, but have been hung up by indecision about whether we should force people to go to the subscription newsletter to find the pieces. We've decided that the Consumer Guides will be impounded for eight months, and that's demotivated me from adding the reviews to the CG database. I'd like to come up with some kind of scheme where subscribers get a cookie which would allow them to see embargoed entries in the database, but that will require some new code, and I don't have a scheme yet to validate the subscriber list.
Maybe I'll do some work on this and other website projects this week. Finally opening some time up.
This is the last Monday of February, so time to wrap up the Streamnotes: February 2020 archive. Review count is short compared to most months (106), because I extended January, and last Monday falls relatively early this month. More significant statistic is that I only got to 31 new releases (27 of new music), only 2 of which hit A-. That could be one of the lowest totals ever. On the other hand, a lot of old jazz this month, especially from Duke Ellington. I spread out from there, starting with artists who covered Ellington (and Billy Strayhorn) songs, band alumni (like Cat Anderson and Paul Gonsalves), and followed related links (like Fresh Sound reissues). Now that my rush to hear as many 2019 releases as possible is over, it's nice to spread out a bit.
Following up from yesterday's Weekend Roudup, 100% reporting (see Vox's tallies) hasn't changed much. Amy Klobuchar clung onto her 5th place in both raw votes totals, but slipped to 6th in the top-line County Convention Delegates totals. Next stop is the South Carolina primary this Saturday (February 29). Biden has led all year -- 46.4% to 12.0% for Sanders back on May 29 -- but the race tightened a couple weeks ago (25.0% to 18.4%), with the most recent polls showing Biden winning by 1%, 4%, or 15%. The bigger contest will be on March 3 ("Super Tuesday") in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia. Bloomberg will be on the ballot then, and has been heavily advertising in those states.
Here's an article that argues back against the electability assertions of "moderate" Democrats: Ibram X Kendi: When will moderates learn their lesson?
New records reviewed this week:
Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow: Life Goes On (2019 , ECM): Piano/sax/electric bass trio, together 25 years, Bley the composer, past 80 now, her ear for melodies undiminished. Tasteful chamber jazz. B+(***)
Moses Boyd: Dark Matter (2020, Exodus): British drummer, best known for his jazz duo Binker Moses (with saxophonist Binker Golding), taps into electronica and grime as well as jazz. First solo album (or second if you count Moses Boyd Exodus). Range of material here, often not pitched as jazz, but sometimes the drummer can't help himself. B+(**)
Frank Colón: Latin Lounge (2019 , Technoprimal Music): Percussionist, born in DC, grew up in Puerto Rico, moved back to DC for college, and wound up in New York. Has a couple albums, dozens of side credits. Pleasing groove music, more substantial than the title suggests. Vocal bits don't help, but are few and widely scattered. B+(**)
Drive-By Truckers: The Unraveling (2020, ATO): Rock group out of Alabama and living in the real world, which they are none too happy about, but make a lot more sense than their blinkered and deranged forebears. A-
John Ellis and Andy Bragen: The Ice Siren (2016 , Parade Light): Commissioned piece, originally performed in 2009. Ellis plays tenor sax and clarinets. Bragen wrote the libretto -- yes, this is some kind of opera ("epic narrative song cycle"), sung by Miles Griffith and Gretchen Parlato, with guitar, tuba, percussion, and strings. Not so bad when you pay close attention, but . . . B [03-20]
Eminem: Music to Be Murdered By (2020, Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath): Detroit rapper Marshall Mathers, eleventh studio album, realizes people are no longer interested in what he has to say, complains about that, but also writes his most striking original yarns in some time. Borrows his unifying concept from Alfred Hitchcock, who is sampled periodically, in a typically brilliant production with Dr. Dre. Runs 64:22 and seems longer, in no small part because it's so densely packed. A-
Georgia: Seeking Thrills (2020, Domino): British, surname Barnes, father co-founded electropop group Leftfield, started as a drummer, added synthesizers, second album. Reminds me of Madonna, but the genius part hasn't kicked in yet. B+(***)
Gilfema: Three (2019 , Sounderscore): Guitarist from Benin Lionel Loueke, sings some, backed by Europeans on bass (Massimo Biolcati) and drums (Ferenc Nemeth). Third album together, idiosyncratic groove with a light touch. B+(*) [04-03]
Holy Fuck: Deleter (2020, Last Gang): Electropop band from Toronto, fifth album since 2005. With a lot of guitar in the mix, they're sounding a lot like New Order these days (but the genius part hasn't kicked in yet). B+(***)
Kesha: High Road (2020, Kemosabe): Pop singer-songwriter Kesha Sebert, fourth studio album, has some edge. B+(*)
Les Amazones D'Afrique: Amazones Power (2020, RealWorld): West African all-female supergroup, second album, after some shuffling the featured singers: Mamani Keďta, Rokie Koné, and Niariu. B+(**)
Valery Ponomarev Big Band: Live! Our Father Who Art Blakey: The Centennial (2019 , Summit): Trumpet player, from Russia, moved to US in 1973, played with Art Blakey in the late 1970s. Big band, live tribute, songs from the Blakey (Silver, Shorter, Golson, "Caravan"). B
RJ & the Assignment: Hybrid Harmony (2019 , self-released): Reginald Johnson, from Chicago, based in Las Vegas, plays keyboards, fourth album, quotes Monk for inspiration: "I say, play your own way. Don't play what the public wants." But he's not pushing any boundaries with his groove and vocals (four singer credits here). B [cd]
Gil Scott-Heron: We're New Again: A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven (2010-19 , XL): Started in 1970 speaking over jazz/funk beats, a decade before rap was recognized as such, fading away after 1982, with a 1994 album, then 2010's I'm New Here, remixed in 2011 by Jamie XX as We're New Here. I found both of those albums overly cryptic, and haven't given him much thought since his 2011 death. Now comes another remix, with Chicago drummer McCraven sharpening up the funk and adding depth to the blues. B+(**)
Mark Segger Sextet: Lift Off (2019 , 18th Note): Toronto-based "avant-chamber-jazz group formed in 2008," not sure this isn't their first record, and short at that: 8 tracks, 28:54. The three horns (Jim Lewis on trumpet, Heather Saumer trombone, Peter Lutek reeds) trashes the chamber-jazz concept, as if the drummer wasn't enough. But his fractured time is free and fertile, and he has musicians who make good use of it. B+(***)
Sergi Sirvent Octopussy Cats: Flax-Golden Tales (2017 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish pianist, impressed me early on but I lost track when the promos stopped coming. Octet, starts with a slow, lovely "Body and Soul," moves on to Shorter, Coltrane, Evans, Henderson, and Ellington, all richly textured. B+(**)
Dave Soldier: Zajal (2019 , Mulatta): Plays guitar and keyboards here, violin and electronics elsewhere, seems closer to classical than to jazz although perhaps better thought of as a cosmopolitan eclectic (one recent project involved an orchestra of elephants). He composed these pieces, adding lyrics in Arabic, Hebrew, Romance, and Farsi from Andalusia before the dark ages of the Spanish Inquisition. B+(*) [cd]
Tame Impala: The Slow Rush (2020, Interscope): Australian group, Kevin Parker the main guy, often touted as psychedelic (no idea what that means), fourth studio album, has beat, texture, atmosphere. For a while I thought I could hear what others must be hearing. Then I found I didn't care. B+(*)
The Westerlies: Wherein Lies the Good (2018 , Westerlies): New York-based brass quartet, two each trumpets and trombones, all originally from Seattle, first appeared on an album with Wayne Horvitz, have another album I haven't heard. Beyond the 14:37 title piece (by Robin Holcomb), many short bits, some trad, some filtered through the Golden Gate Quartet or Charles Ives. B+(***)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Rashied Ali Quintet: First Time Out: Live at Slugs 1967 (1967 , Survival): Drummer, from Philadelhpia, originally Robert Patterson, joined John Coltrane in 1965, becoming the driving force for Coltrane's final avant phase. Ali didn't start releasing his own records until 1973, so this early tape is something of a find. With Dewey Johnson (trumpet), Ramon Morris (tenor sax), Stanley Cowell (piano), and Reggie Johnson (bass). Two long pieces, second has a strong section. [The 2-LP edition has extra tracks, not heard. Label also has a 2-LP Duo Exchange: Complete Sessions, by Ali and Frank Lowe from 1972, but the digital only has two tracks, 29:26; I gave the 1999 Knitting Factory reissue of Duo Exchange an A-.] B+(*)
Duke Ellington: The Washingtonians (1924-26 , Squatty Roo): Ellington's first band name, used briefly after he moved to New York from DC, abandoned when they settled into the Cotton Club in 1927. Fourteen very early tracks, an early ragtime influence, some backing corny singers. Would rate higher but for the surface wear ("Parlour Social Stomp" is one where the music wins out). B
Bryan Ferry: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 1974 (1974 , BMG): Two albums in, the Roxy Music vocalist took a sidestep and released two albums of wry and ironic rock and roll covers (with one original, the Roxy-ish "Another Time, Another Place") that either one loathed or loved. I was in the latter camp, and counted one of his later shows among my all-time favorites. This concert was earlier, in between the two releases: 9 songs from his debut, 4 from the second, one more ("A Really Good Time" -- another Roxy Music song, unreleased at the time). Loses a bit of detail from the albums, and not enough presence to make up the deficit. B+(**)
John Vanore: Primary Colors (1984-85 , Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, played with Woody Herman in the 1980s, recently released a tribute to Oliver Nelson. This material is old, from impromptu sessions scattered over a year or more, with Ron Thomas on keyboards, an elemental postbop palette. B+(**) [cd]
Cat Anderson and His Orchestra: Cat's in the Alley (1958-59 , Fresh Sound): Trumpet player, joined Ellington in 1944, a virtuoso especially reknown for his spectacular high notes. This combines his first two solo albums, Cat on a Hot Tin Horn (a big swing band with long stretches of altissimo trumpet) and Ellingtonia (a septet with Budd Johnson on tenor sax and clarinet, and Ray Nance on violin). B+(***)
The "Cat" Anderson Orchestra: Cat on a Hot Tin Horn (1958, Mercury): In above. B+(***)
Cat Anderson and the Ellington All Stars: Ellingtonia (1959, Wynne): In above, but not as much Ellington as the cover suggests. B+(**)
Cat Anderson: Cat Speaks [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1977 , Black & Blue): Quintet, recorded in Paris, with Sam Woodyard (drums) from Ellingtonia, and locals on tenor sax/clarinet (Gérard Badini), piano (Raymond Fol), and bass (Michel Gaudry), with two uncredited vocals (probably Anderson). When in doubt, safe bet to play some blues. B+(***)
Cat Anderson: Plays WC Handy [The Defnitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1978 , Black & Blue): More Ellington veterans here (Sam Woodyard, again, and lesser knowns: Harold Ashby, Aaron Bell, Norris Turney, Booty Wood) weaving a fine texture for these venerable blues stomps. A nice framework for Anderson to show off his chops, especially with the mute. A-
Josephine Baker: Breezin' Along [Art Deco Series] (1926-27 , Columbia/Legacy): Born in 1906 in St. Louis, she kept the name of her second husband, divorced shortly before these early recordings, by which time she had appeared in vaudeville, in Broadway chorus lines and revues, and had made her first appearances in France (sometimes barely clad in a short skirt of bananas). She she became a huge star in France, a citizen, a hero of the anti-Nazi Resistance, and a civil rights crusader. B+(***)
Benny Bailey: In Sweden: 1957-1959 Sessions (1957-59 , Fresh Sound): Trumpet player, from Cleveland, toured with Lionel Hampton and decided to stay in Europe, initially in Sweden where he recorded the four EPs and one LP collected here, later in the Netherlands, where he died in 2005. Mostly locals in the bands, listed on front cover: Arne Domnerus, Ake Person, Gösta Theselius, Joe Harris. B+(**)
Benny Bailey: Grand Slam (1978 , Storyville): Hard bop quintet, recorded back in New York with Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), Richard Wyands (piano), Sam Jones (bass), and Billy Hart (drums). Keeps hitting harder. B+(***)
Chris Barber's Jazz & Blues Band: Echoes of Ellington (1976 , Timeless, 2CD): British trad jazz trombonist, started in 1954, slowed down when he hit 80, released this in two volumes, then as a 3-LP set in 1978, before it eventually got consolidated on 2-CD. Some stock Ellingtonia, but banjo and guitar are evident, and the leader has a taste for jungle music. B+(**)
Arne Domnérus: Dompan! (2000 , Fresh Sound): Swedish alto saxophonist, also plays clarinet, a major figure since the 1940s. Title continues: recalls three major influences in his musical life . . . Ellington, Strayhorn, Hodges. Quartet, with Jan Lundgren (piano), Tom Warrington (bass), and Paul Kreibach (drums), playing twelve tunes, starting with "The Jeep Is Jumpin'." B+(***)
Duke Ellington: Historically Speaking: The Duke (1956, Bethlehem): Ellington recorded two albums for Bethlehem in 1956. This is the first, twelve tracks (39:26), mostly fast takes on old classics. B+(*)
Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington Presents . . . (1956, Bethlehem): More from the same session, less clear what the concept is, the dangling ellipses going nowhere I can discern. Two vocals: Jimmy Grissom on "Everything but You" and Ray Nance on "I Can't Get Started," also a fine spot for his violin. Takes a turn toward the exquisite with "Day Dream." B+(**)
Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington's Concert of Sacred Music (1965 , RCA): Ellington called this "the most important thing I have ever done." I never saw the point, but after the overwrought intro ("In the Beginning God" for 19:36), this has a few moments, not least the tap dance. B+(*)
Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: 1950 (1950 , Classics): Starts with Billy Strayhorn Trio -- Ellington on second piano with Wendell Marshall on bass, the cuts now known as Great Times!, with two bits from Wild Bill Davis and His Real Gone Organ (a trio with Johnny Collins on guitar and Jo Jones on drums, one song by Ellington but not clear they belong here). Orchestra appears on second half, with an Al Hibbler vocal on "Build That Railroad," and two longer pieces better sampled on Masterpieces by Ellington. B+(**)
Paul Gonsalves/Harry Carney/Mitchell "Booty" Wood: Stanley Dance Presents the Music of the Great Ellingtonians (1960-61 , Fresh Sound, 2CD): Combines three albums produced by Dance: Harry Carney: The Duke's Men; The Booty Wood Allstars: Hang In There; and Paul Gonsalves/Harold Ashby: Tenor Stuff. The leaders were moonlighting from Ellington's Orchestra (Wood, by far the least famous, played trombone). Only bassist Aaron Bell is on all three. Carney's nonet is the most Ellingtonian, with both Gonsalves and Wood, as well as Ray Nance and Sam Woodyard. Woods' album includes Johnny Hodges (listed as Cue Porter). B+(**)
Al Haig/Jamil Nasser Combo: Expressly Ellington (1978 , Spotlite): Piano/bass leaders, with Art Themen (tenor saxophone) and Tony Mann (drums), keeps it lovely and elegant. B+(***)
Coleman Hawkins and His All-Stars: The Complete Jazztone Recordings 1954 (1954 , Fresh Sound): Twelve pieces -- I have 11 of them on the 1987 Xanadu CD Jazz Tones -- half quartet tracks with Billy Taylor (piano), Milt Hinton (bass), and Jo Jones (drums), the other half add trumpet (Emmett Berry) and trombone (Eddie Bert). Nice set of standards, a bit light. A-
Earl Hines/Jonah Jones/Buddy Tate/Cozy Cole: Back on the Street (1972, Chiaroscuro): Normally I only list the names above the title, and indeed Hines/Jones (piano/trumpet) look to be slightly more equal than the other cover names -- they co-wrote the two originals -- but the others (tenor sax/drums) are comparable stars, and take stellar turns. As do the lesser names left off the cover: John Brown (bass) and, especially, Jerome Darr (guitar) -- the latter's solo on "Pennies From Heaven" stands out, in part because the bass comping behind it is spot on. A-
Jonah Jones: 1936-1945 (1936-45 , Classics): Trumpet player, from Louisville, got his start on a riverboat, played in big bands from 1928 (Horace Henderson) through the 1940s (Stuff Smith, Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Carter, Cab Calloway). This starts with six tracks backing singer Ray Porter, and includes four tracks from Milt Hinton & His Orchestra as well as two sets of four from Jones-led groups. B+(**)
Jonah Jones: Confessin' [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1978 , Black & Blue): Recorded in Paris, with Andre Persiani (piano), Major Holley (bass), and JC Heard (drums). Some blues, some Ellington, a "Sheik of Araby." Presumably the vocals are Jones' -- good enough, his trumpet even better. B+(***)
Don Redman and His Orchestra Featuring Coleman Hawkins: At the Swing Cats Ball (1957 , Fresh Sound): Redman played clarinet and alto sax for Fletcher Henderson, left in 1927 to become music director of McKinney's Cotton Pickers, and led his own Orchestra from 1931-1940. He remained active until his death in 1964, but has little to show for his post-WWII years. This combines two big band sets that were distributed to broadcasters but not for sale. Melvin Moore sings a couple. Neither retro nor modern, a slick in-between. B+(*)
The World's Greatest Jazz Band of Yank Lawson & Bob Haggart: Plays Duke Ellington (1973 , Jazzology): Later album cover has been rejiggered to further confuse, but this is how the 1976 original and 1999 reissue appeared, and how the band was usually credited during its 1968-78 active period (occasionally resurrected until Lawson died in 1995). A long list of notable musicians passed through the band. At this point they were a nonet, but Billy Butterfield joining on trumpet, Phil Bodner on clarinet, Al Klink on sax, George Masso and Sonny Russo on trombone, John Bunch on piano, and Bobby Rosengarden on drums. Not as flashy as their boast suggests, but a graceful repertoire band, the extra trombone palpable. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: