Monday, March 16, 2020


Music Week

March archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 32935 [32897] rated (+38), 216 [223] unrated (-7).

Nothing much to say here. We're in a self-imposed lockdown, perhaps related to pandemic fears but with overtones of disappointment and maybe disgust at the world around us. Being "retired," and not uncomfortable, that's a luxury we can afford.

One technical matter I should note is that I've decided to add to the 2020 tracking file and associated lists records released in 2019 that I never noted in the 2019 tracking file. This mostly affects the 2020 metacritic file, which I've been building up to reflect favorable reviews as compiled by various sources -- the first big chunk came from December 2019 releases that Dave Sumner mentioned in his The Best Jazz on Bandcamp: January 2020.

I've always allowed for previous-year records to appear in current lists, especially for items that I received promos of after January 1, or sometimes for records that I simply had no cognizance of until after the calendar rolled over. The first example like that this year was François Carrier's Wide, released in Dec. 2019. I decided a fair test for this would be whether the record appeared in my music tracking list, since that incorporated everything that showed up in any tracked EOY list for 2019 (5170 records in the tracking file; 4912 in the EOY aggregate files). Since I only decided on this course last week, there may be a few records caught in the lurch.

Most of the carryover records were released in late 2019, but technically I'm allowing any unlisted 2019 records to appear in the 2020 lists. That includes the Schlippenbach-Narvesen Duo record below, which I certainly knew existed (but couldn't previously find) but somehow escaped my 2019 lists. (Also Duke Ellington's Uppsala 1971, which we'll deal with next week.) On the other hand, Muriel Grossmann's Reverence, out Dec. 15, 2019, had appeared on a couple of minor 2019 lists, so remains there, despite my "discovery" of it among Sumner's picks. So it's all a bit arbitrary, but is at least a system. (Occurs to me that I could go back into the 2019 list and pull out release dates after Thanksgiving -- Francis Davis's Jazz Critics Poll cutoff -- and include them in both lists. Need to think on that, but that might be the right thing to do.)

Under old music, I did take a flyer on some one Swamp Dogg records, since nearly all of them appear to have cropped up on Napster and/or the artist's Bandcamp. I didn't exactly get done, though I did get a bit exhausted. I'm still a big fan of his 1996 compilation, Best of 25 Years: F*** the Bomb, Stop the Drugs, as well as his 1970 debut, Total Destruction to Your Mind (which, if I recall correctly, didn't even figure in the comp).

Looked for but didn't find the Vol. 1 to go with the Hank Jones vault issue. Was pleased to find a Bandcamp page for an earlier Schlippenbach-Nardesen Duo release, but it only had two "bonus" tracks on it, not enough for a review. They did sound pretty good.


New records reviewed this week:

Steve Beresford & John Butcher: Old Paradise Airs (2019 [2020], Iluso): Avant-jazz duo, Butcher plays soprano and tenor sax, Beresford is credited with piano, objects, electronics -- not his usual kit, but after 40+ years as a gadfly I'm still not sure what is. B+(*) [bc]

Raoul Björkenheim: Solar Winds (2019 [2020], Long Song): Guitarist, born in Los Angeles but mother is Finnish and he grew up there, breaking in with drummer Edward Vesala before starting his fusion group, Krakatau, in 1988, and later, Scorch Trio. Quartet with violin (Emanuele Parrini), bass, and drums, playing six Coltrane tunes and two originals. Exciting to start, wears a bit toward the end. B+(***)

Cornershop: England Is a Garden (2020, Ample Play): British group, Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres, formed in 1991, fused Punjabi influences with electropop, released brilliant albums in 1997 and 2002, to which everything else more or less compares. This sounds much like them, reviving a sound we've been missing. A-

Day Dream: Originals (2019 [2020], Corner Store Jazz): Piano-bass-drums trio: Steve Rudolph, Drew Gress, Phil Haynes. Rudolph wrote four pieces, the others (much better known musicians) three each. Thoughtful, nicely balanced. B+(**) [03-27]

John DiMartino: Passion Flower: The Music of Billy Strayhorn (2019 [2020], Sunnyside): Pianist, tends to look back at the tradition, as he does here, re-examining the usual book of Strayhorn classics. Eric Alexander (tenor sax) is in good form, and the rhythm section -- Boris Kozlov (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums) -- are impeccable. Raul Midón sings "Lush Life." B+(**) [cd] [04-10]

Liberty Ellman: Last Desert (2019 [2020], Pi): Guitar player, was a reputation as a producer, leads a sextet of label regulars -- Steve Lehman (alto sax), Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Jose Davila (tuba), Stephan Crump (bass), Damion Reid (drums). Clever postbop, surfaces slipping easily past one another. B+(***) [cd] [03-27]

Fat Tony & Taydex: Wake Up (2020, Carpark, EP): Houston rapper Anthony Jude Obi, father an engineer from Nigeria, has a handful of albums, depending on where you divide the short ones -- e.g., this one has nine tracks, 22:03. Don't know anything about the beat guy, but he earns his keep. B+(***)

Harrison²: Trout in Swimwear (2019 [2020], self-released): Toronto-based quartet, pronounced "Harrison Squared," the group name from Harrison Argatoff (tenor sax) and Harry Vetro (drums), with Mike Murley (tenor sax) and Steve Wallace (bass). Edgy postbop. B+(***) [cdr]

Kirk Knuffke: Brightness: Live in Amsterdam (2020, Royal Potato Family): Trumpet player, straddles avant and mainstream, prolific since 2009, leads a trio with Mark Helias (bass) and Bill Goodwin (drums). B+(*)

Urs Leimgruber/Andreas Willers/Alvin Curran/Fabrizio Spera: Rome-ing (2018 [2019], Leo): Swiss saxophonist (soprano and tenor), thirty-some albums since 1983, backed here with guitar, piano, and drums, from a live date in Rome. Four parts, 68:50, joint improv. B+(**)

Hayoung Lyou: Metamorphosis (2019 [2020], Endectomorph Music): Pianist, born in Korea, studied in Boston, based in New York, first album, quintet with two saxophones (Jasper Dutz on alto and Jacob Shulman on tenor), bass, and drums. Wonni Jung sings one song, similar to but less appealing than the slippery saxes. B+(***) [04-17]

Megan Thee Stallion: Suga (2020, 300 Entertainment, EP): Rapper Megan Pete, quickly follows last year's debug mixtape with a nine-cut, 24:33 EP. A-

Stephen Riley: Oleo (2018 [2019], SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, from North Carolina, steady stream of albums since 2005. Quartet with Joe Magnarelli (trumpet), Jay Anderson (bass), and Adam Nussbaum (drums), mostly playing Sonny Rollins songs (4, with "On Green Dolphin Street" and 4 more from Ellington, Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Gigi Gryce). B+(***)

Caroline Rose: Superstar (2020, New West): Real name, singer-songwriter from Long Island, fourth album, first two country-ish (Napster lists her as "rockabilly revival"), since moved into pop, but title is a stretch. B

Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble: The New Immigrant Experience: Music Inspired by Conversations With Dreamers (2019 [2020], Tapestry, 2CD): Brazilian saxophonist, teaches in Massachusetts, just listed as composer and conductor here, with a full big band at his disposal. He's taken on ambitious projects of late -- The Awakening Orchestra, The Reunion Project -- and this is one of the most sweeping. B+(*) [03-20]

Carl Saunders: Jazz Trumpet (2019 [2020], Summit): Trumpet player, originally from Indianapolis, moved to Los Angeles, played with Stan Kenton, starting a long career of playing in big bands (Bill Holman, Bob Florence, Gerald Wilson, Clare Fischer), straddling a couple decades in Las Vegas. Quartet, backed by piano (Josh Nelson), bass (Chuck Berghofer), and drums (Joe Labarbera), about half originals, the rest bop-friendly standards. Good showcase for a fine trumpet voice. B+(***) [cd]

Schapiro 17: New Shoes: Kind of Blue at 60 (2019 [2020], Summit, 2CD): Big band, Jon Schapiro arranged and conducted, and wrote six pieces to go with five from Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and one from pianist Roberta Piket. Doesn't much remind me of the album, but something mysteriously infectious about it. B+(***) [04-03]

Alexander von Schlippenbach/Dag Magnus Narvesen Duo: Liminal Field (2018 [2019], Not Two): Piano-drums duo, second album together, the Norwegian drummer has impressed repeatedly since 2007. Still less remarkable than the pianist, who "morphs Monk" and more. A- [bc]

Paul Shaw Quintet: Moment of Clarity (2019 [2020], Summit): Drummer, from New Jersey, played in Air Force bands, first albums as leader, wrote all seven pieces, somehow wrangled what I'd call an all-star band: Alex Sipiagin (trumpet), Brad Shepik (guitar), Gary Versace (piano), Drew Gress (bass). B+(***) [cd] [03-27]

Shopping: All or Nothing (2020, FatCat): British post-punk trio, Rachel Aggs sings and plays guitar, fourth album, all good, this short (10 songs, 30:54) one especially reminding me of Gang of Four. A-

Jay Som: Anak Ko (2020, Polyvinyl): Singer-songwriter Melina Mae Duterte, from California, parents Filipino. Fourth album since 2016. Has a quiet, subtle charm. B+(**)

Moses Sumney: Grae: Part 1 (2020, Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter from San Bernardino, CA; parents from Ghana, where he moved at age 10, before returning to study at UCLA. Second album, or first half of it (a Part 2 is promised for May). Has opened for Dirty Projectors, and if you imagine them trying to do soul, you might find yourself in his vicinity. B

Swamp Dogg: Sorry You Couldn't Make It (2020, Joyful Noise): Jerry Williams, started out as an Atlantic r&b producer, released a brilliant debut as Swamp Dogg in 1970, and has been fading in and out ever since, his best moments the ones farthest out. Plays it safe here with a round of soulful blues, but lured John Prine in to cameo on two nostalgic ones, which are daring enough. B+(**)

Torres: Silver Tongue (2020, Merge): Singer-songwriter Mackenzie Scott, fourth album since 2013, also writes poetry and short stories, and has a fondness for Broadway theatre. That develops into a density I've never found easy to parse. Not without its appeal, though. B+(*)

Oded Tzur: Here Be Dragons (2019 [2020], ECM): Israeli tenor saxophonist, based in New York, not his first album although this is touted as his "ECM debut." Backed by piano (Nitai Hershkovits), bass (Petros Klampanis), and drums (Johnathan Blake). Originals, ending with a cover ("Can't Help Falling in Love"). Nice balance, piano makes the strongest impression. B+(**)

The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: Air Power! (2019 [2020], self-released): Big band, 18 musicians plus Technical Sgt. Paige Wroble singing a couple songs, opens with standards before they bury the originals in the middle. Especially fond of high brass notes and sharp blasts of massed horns, perhaps trying to add a bit of irony to the title. B- [cd]

U.S. Girls: Heavy Light (2020, 4AD): Singer-songwriter Meghan Remy, from Chicago, married a Canadian musician and moved to Toronto in 2010. Seventh album. Read a review that refers to her as "a sound collagist and pop music obsessive," and I can hear more of that than I care to credit. Lots of scattered talk, and occasional heavy riffs. Not unimpressive, but I can't say as I like any of it. B-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Hank Jones Trio: Live at Jazzhus Slukefter Vol. 2 (1983 [2020], Storyville): The day after Vol. 1, released in 2019, with Jones on piano, Mads Vinding on bass, and Shelly Manne on drums. Standards, the pianist's touch as deft as ever. B+(***)

Arthur Russell: Iowa Dream (1974-85 [2019], Audika): Born 1951 in Iowa, died 1992 in New York, age 40, AIDS, at the time little known, mostly as a disco producer and occasional cellist with a couple of obscure records. Soul Jazz Records tried to make a case for him with their 2003 comp, The World of Arthur Russell, and his archives have since yielded a few more albums. This starts off with demos for Paul Nelson at Mercury, trying on the singer-songwriter mode of the time. Undistinguished, until he starts throwing us some curves, like the talkie "Barefoot in New York" (not that they always come close to the plate). B+(*)

Old music:

Marc Benham: Fats Food: Autour De Fats Waller (2016, Frémeaux & Associés): French pianist, first album, solo, mostly Waller pieces, sneaking in four originals. B+(*)

Martin Creed: Thoughts Lined Up (2016, Telephone): Scottish conceptual artist, won the Turner Prize in 2001, third albums since 2012, some more recent singles. Twenty-four short songs, all over the map, some interesting enough to justify Christgau's recent CG discovery, others . . . well, they'd take more work than I feel up to at the moment. B+(***)

Swamp Dogg: 13 Prime Weiners, Everything on It: The Best of Swamp Dogg (1970-76 [2013], Essential Media Group): Originally compiled in 1982 (on War Bride). Six songs from his 1970 debut, Total Destruction to Your Mind, leaving six more good ones, plus seven slightly later songs from Gag a Maggot (1973) and/or Greatest Hits (1976, nothing from the debut). His 1995 Best of 25 Years is a broader overview, but this covers a period when he was erratic but could be intensely soulful (as well as funny). A-

Swamp Dogg: You Ain't Never Too Old to Boogie (1976 [2013], Essential Music Group): Originally recorded by Vee-Jay and released on DJM in 1976. Sound is rather shoddy, but with organ and horns doesn't need much finesse. Songs are crude, too, from "It's a Bitch" to his epitaph-to-date, "I Had a Ball (I Did It All)." B+(**)

Swamp Dogg: Don't Give Up on Me: The Lost Country Album (1976 [2013], Essential Music Group): No info on when this was recorded, why it was "lost," or who found it. The "digitally remastered" CD is available at retailers, and it's on most streaming platforms, but hasn't been entered into the discographies at Discogs, Musicbrainz, or AMG. I did find them on The Excellent Sides of Swamp Dogg Vol. 5 (2007), attributed to "unreleased country album 'The Mercury Record'," following You Ain't Never Too Old to Boogie (1976), but couldn't find a Vol. 6 to pin the date down. Nine songs, runs 31 minutes, the title from Solomon Burke, no obvious country covers or production, but one song (evidently an original) is "He Don't Like Country Music (And He Hates Little Kids)." B+(*)

Swamp Dogg: Finally Caught Up With Myself (1977 [2013], Essential Music Group): Originally released by Musicor in the label's last days (only 4 more albums in the 2500 series, the last A Piece of the Rock by Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes Starring Sir Monty Rock III. This one was attributed to Swamp Dogg & the Riders of the New Funk. Dabbles with funk and disco and winds up just a bit smoother than before. Among the puzzles: "Understanding California Women" (which he doesn't). B+(*)

Swamp Dogg: An Opportunity . . . Not a Bargain!!! (1977 [2013], Essential Music Group): Originally on Wizzard Ltd., recycles eight (of nine) songs from You Ain't Never Too Old to Boogie (1976), adding two new ones: "Shafts Mama" (a funny spin-off) and "Let's Do It Again" (and again and again). B+(***)

Swamp Dogg: Swamp Dogg (1981 [2013], Essential Music Group): Released on Wizard in 1981 and/or ALA in 1982. Five cuts, 34:39, most stretched out with disco grooves -- I keep expecting "Salty Dog" to morph into "YMCA." B

Swamp Dogg: Resurrection (2007 [2013], Essential Music Group): Originally on SDEG Records. Jump forward and he gets political, starting with "In a Time of War Who Wins" and asking "What kind of fool were we to let them crown an idiot king?" More on race too, including the 12:05 title song, a rant I don't feel like enduring again, even if I can respect the anger. B


Grade (or other) changes:

Gerald Beckett: Mood (2019 [2020], Pear Orchard): [cd]: erroneously listed label as Summit: B


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Naama Gheber: Dearly Beloved (Cellar Music) [04-10]
  • Thomas Marriott: Trumpet Ship (Origin) [03-20]
  • Tim Shaghoian: Gentle Beacons (Origin) [03-20]