Monday, April 6, 2020


Music Week

April archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 33056 [33307] rated (+49), 216 [219] unrated (-3).

Surprised by the high rated count, but I guess I haven't been doing much else. Lists by Chris Monsen (although I also should have looked here) and Phil Overeem gave me some ideas to check out.

Last week I noted that I had been working on my Jazz Guide files, bringing them up to date, and I published links to the ODT files. Now I've updated an additional series of files, where I've scraped up my non-review political, music, and miscellaneous writings (most easily from the Notebook. I've written up an Index page that provides links to the ODT files. You are welcome to download those files and read them (although not to copy, modify, or redistribute them without my permission. The ODT file format is used by the free software suite LibreOffice. The format is publicly available, so it's possible that other programs can import and display the files (e.g., Microsoft Word since 2010). I need to look into possibly exporting the files into other formats (certainly, PDF is possible). I imagine E-book format(s) would be more useful, but I'm not a user let alone expert, so that's something I'll need to learn more about.

The writing in these "books" is almost identical to things I've published elsewhere on the website. (I've corrected errors where I noticed them, but have done very little editing, even though I understand that a lot of editing is called for.) Most of this was done by cut-and-paste from web browser or from my trusty emacs text editor (which preserves a bit less markup). The main thing about these files is that the Jazz Guides are sorted by era then artist name, while everything else is presented oldest-to-newest (FIFO, as opposed to the LIFO you get reading a blog).

It remains to be seen how much editing I will eventually manage to do, but the collection phase completion makes it much easier to do something with the writing. I've always wanted to write books, and I sense that time is running out for that. My wife has taken a stab at sifting through the 2000-09 political blogs, but hasn't come up with as much as a plan there. I have a few rough ideas, and I'll try to develop them as I find time. One thing I wonder about now is how easy it would be to organize the music reviews into a reference website (possibly using Mediawiki). I doubt they are adequate as is, but wonder if other people might find them a useful framework to build on. Would be nice to have some kind of comment framework here, as I could use some feedback.

By the way, I got one letter last week which raised my spirits. Also noted how hard it is to find vaguely remembered things on the website, so I cobbled together a Google-based Website Search function, which appears on many (but far from all) pages (bottom of the left nav section on blog pages). This is based on code I had written for Robert Christgau, and does nothing more than add "site:tomhull.com" to a Google search string, redirecting the output to a new tab/window. Still, I've already found it faster than my relatively knowledgeable guesses as to where things are. A while back I realized that the ancient Sitemap needs a major revision. I did a tiny bit of work on it, then dropped the ball.

Someone pointed out that Wikipedia's page for John Coltrane's A Love Supreme cites my A+ grade under "Professional ratings." As a side effect, whoever did that created a stub redirect page for Tom Hull (critic), which is currently empty (aside from the useless redirect).

Got an invite to participate in DownBeat's critics poll, but they're on a tight deadline this year, which I'll be up against soon. They claim one can fill the ballot out in 45 minutes, but it usually takes me 6-8 hours (and not just because I find so much to gripe about along the way).

Got Democratic Primary ballots from the state party today -- due back early May. That one was easy: ticked the box for Bernie Sanders, signed the ballot, and sealed the envelope. The state has refused to pay for presidential primaries in the past, so the parties have been left to organize caucuses. The last two caucuses I attended (2008 and 2016) involved hours of waiting in line, after which they just counted votes and sent us on the way, so this one will be much more efficient. They're even allowing for ranked choice voting, but in what is now a two-person race I didn't see any value in that. This system was figured out before Covid-19 wrecked everything. We also filled out the census online, so no anxiety there either.


New records reviewed this week:

Harrison Argatoff: Toronto Streets Tour (2019 [2020], self-released): Tenor saxophonist, based in Toronto, second album this year after a quartet with Harry Vetro called Harrison²: Trout in Swimwear. This one is solo, with a couple bits of voice neither helping nor hurting. Fairly long at 70:45. B+(*)

Jeich Ould Badou: Music From Saharan WhatsApp 03 (2020, Sahel Sounds, EP): From Mauritania, plays tidnit (a form of lute), accompanied by drum machine, recorded at home on an iPhone 7. Part of a monthly series of EPs that seems to be vanishing as fast as they appear. B+(*) [bc]

Kelsea Ballerini: Kelsea (2020, Black River): Pop-country singer-songwriter, from Knoxville, TN, third album. B+(*)

Marshall Chapman: Songs I Can't Live Without (2020, Tall Girl): Country singer-songwriter, alt before that was a thing, did three albums on Epic, one on Rounder, then found herself on her own label. Past 70 now, with a bucket list set of nine covers. Opens with Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song," spends time from Nashville to Memphis, closes with "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" -- tailored for today. B+(**)

Childish Gambino: 3.15.20 (2020, RCA): Rapper/TV star Donald Glover, fourth album since 2011, has twice as many mixtapes. No titles, just time markers in what coceptually is a single track. Music feels like a spoof on the Beach Boys, but doesn't work as such, and I'm not getting much of anything else out of it. B

Gerald Cleaver: Signs (2017-19 [2020], 577): Drummer, from Detroit, tries his hand at electronics. His strong suit is rhythm, and the album flags when he forgets that. B

Avishai Cohen Big Vicious: Big Vicious (2020, ECM): Trumpet player, from Israel, based in New York, formed band -- with guitar, electric bass, two drummers -- six years ago, first album. Shiny but not so splashy, long on texture, with a bit of funk bass moving it along. Vicious? Big? B+(**)

Jennifer Curtis & Tyshawn Sorey: Invisible Ritual (2020, New Focus): Violin and drums duo. B+(**) [bc]

Jay Electronica: A Written Testimony (2020, Roc Nation): From New Orleans, age 43, Wikipedia gives his name as Elpadaro F Electronica Allah, but likely some of that came with conversion to Islam. Released a mixtape in 2007, has various guest appearances but this is his first album. B+(*)

Lily Hiatt: Walking Proof (2020, New West): Singer-songwriter, father John Hiatt, grew up in Nashville, fourth album. B+(**)

Sigurd Hole: Lys/Mørke (2019 [2020], Eivesang, 2CD): Norwegian bassist, tenth record, second solo, divided into "Light" and "Dark" sides. B+(*)

Gabe Lee: Farmland (2019, Torrez Music Group): Nashville singer-songwriter, first album, DIY folkie production, can do a pretty good John Prine voice, throwing in the occasional Dylan inflection. B+(**)

Gabe Lee: Honky Tonk Hell (2020, Torrez Music Group): He's got a band this time, and blasts out of the gate, sounding more like rockabilly than honky tonk. Eventually reverts to form, just louder. B+(**)

Grégoire Maret/Romain Collin/Bill Frisell: Americana (2020, ACT Music): First two names (harmonica and keyboards) above the title, guitarist below, drummer Clarence Penn in the fine print on the back. The European leaders (from Switzerland and France) don't dig very deep for their "Americana": covering Mark Knopfler and Jimmy Webb, borrowing two from Frisell, and writing the rest in a similar vein, which they breathe extra life into. B+(**) [cd] [04-24]

Mr. Wrong: Create a Place (2020, Water Wing, EP): Portland punk trio, three women, first "album" called Babes in Boyland, this another short one at nine songs, 15:33, fun as it goes. B+(***) [bc]

Mythic Sunship: Changing Shapes: Live at Roadburn (2019 [2020], El Paraiso): Danish "space rock" band, eighth record since 2010, previous titles include Another Shape of Psychedelic Music. No vocals, four 7-12 minute tracks, could pass for fusion but they'd rather go for dense and heavy than anything transcendent. B+(**)

The Necks: Three (2020, Northern Spy): Long-running Australian piano trio, formed 1987, with Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (bass), and Lloyd Swanton (drums). Three long pieces (21:00-22:46), the first especially strong on rhythm. B+(**)

Gard Nilssen's Supersonic Orchestra: If You Listen Carefully the Music Is Yours (2019 [2020], Odin): Norwegian drummer, mostly in his Acoustic Unity project although I probably noticed him first in Cortex. Goes big here with ten horns (seven saxophones and three brass), three bassists, and three drummers. Lives up to their name. A-

Onipa: We No Be Machine (2020, Strut): London group, name connects to Ghana as does vocalist KOG (Kweku of Ghana), paired with guitarist Tom Excell (Nubiyan Twist), plus synth bass, drums, and electronics. Title song is ironically mechanical, but most songs pick up the slack, with South African idioms bleeding into West. B+(***)

Tineke Postma: Freya (2018 [2020], Edition): Dutch saxophonist (alto/soprano here), seventh album, quintet recorded in New York with Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Kris Davis (piano), Matthew Brewer (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums). B+(**)

Princess Nokia: Everything Is Beautiful (2020, Platoon): New York rapper Destiny Frasqueri, her 1992 Deluxe much praised ("the most complete New Yorker to hit hip-hop since Heems if not Nas"), splits her follow-up into two, divided by good/bad and/or nice/naughty tropes. Leans toward the former, but so offhanded it's hard to tell. 12 tracks, 31:07. B+(***)

Princess Nokia: Everything Sucks (2020, Platoon): Slightly shorter (10 tracks, 24:41), more mischievous early on, although by midway she's just doing her thing. Either/both could grow on me if I made the effort. B+(**)

Jessie Reyez: Before Love Came to Kill Us (2020, Island): Canadian singer-songwriter (lyrics anyway), parents Colombian, first album after two EPs, pop with some hip-hop, including a couple of featured big name rappers (Eminem, 6lack). B+(**)

Andreas Røysum Ensemble: Andreas Røysum Ensemble (2020, Motvind): Norwegian clarinet player, composer, individually credited with middle name Hoem. Most pieces run 8-9 pieces, one short one dropping down to reed quartet. Opens with a swirling dervish of sound, compelling until it breaks down in cacophony near the end. B+(**)

Skepta, Chip and Young Adz: Insomnia (2020, SKC M29): British MC Joseph Junior Adenuga, sixth album, joined by two more rappers, keeping it sharp and pithy. B+(**)

Torben Snekkestad/Agustí Fernández/Barry Guy: The Swiftest Traveler (2018 [2020], Trost): Norwegian, plays tenor and soprano sax, trumpet, and clarinet, backed by piano and bass. Joint improv, except for a bit at the end credited to Paul Hindemith. B+(**)

Soccer Mommy: Color Theory (2020, Loma Vista): Sophie Allison, born in Switzerland, grew up in Nashville, singer-songwriter, has some solid songs. B+(***)

Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams: Aporia (2020, Asthmatic Kitty): Stevens is a vastly talented singer-songwriter who once planned on making an album for every state in the union, but never got past his Illinois masterpiece. Brams is his stepfather and business partner, whose 2009 album was called Library Catalog Music Series: Music for Insomnia. This was sorted from jam sessions, is all instrumental, billed as "new age." I'd say resplendent background music, won't put you to sleep, wake you up either. B+(*)

Nora Jane Struthers: Bright Lights, Long Drives, First Words (2020, Blue Pig Music): Nashville singer-songwriter, born in Virginia but grew up in New Jersey. Fifth album since 2010, plus two in a duo with her father, Alan Struthers.

Superposition: Superposition (2018-19 [2020], We Jazz): Finnish group, led by drummer Olavi Louhivuori, with two saxophoists -- Adele Sauros (tenor) and Linda Fredriksson (alto/baritone) -- and Mikael Saastamoinen (bass). First album. They sound great out of the gate, then inexplicably slow things down. Eventually they make something of that, too. B+(***)

Tamikrest: Tamotaït (2020, Glitterbeat): Tuareg group, from deep in the Algerian Sahara, got some notice at the Festival au Désert in 2008, toured Europe in 2010 and started recording, this their sixth album -- even one piece in English, but mostly notable for their take on the Saharan guitar grind. B+(**)

Sophie Tassignon: Mysteries Unfold (2020, RareNoise): Singer, born in Belgium, based in Berlin, backed by her own electronics and overtracked voice for a classical choral effect. Eclectic song choice. The one I'm most familiar with is "Jolene" -- deep and gloomy. B+(*) [cdr] [04-24]

The Tender Things: How to Make a Fool (2020, Spaceflight): Austin-based country group, Jessie Esbaugh the singer-songwriter, originally from Kentucky, aiming at Gram Parsons. B

The TNEK Jazz Quintet: Plays the Music of Sam Jones (2020, TNEK Jazz): Jones (1924-81) was an important hard bop bassist, led a dozen albums, played on hundreds, especially with Cannonball Adderley. This group covers six of his songs, plus one from Kenny Barron. The front cover lists bassist Kent Miller first, followed by drums, piano, two saxophonists. B+(*)

Stein Urheim: Downhill Uplift (2018 [2020], Hubro): Norwegian guitarist, plays many other instruments and sings some, tenth or so album since 2009. B

Wako: Wako (2019 [2020], Øra Fonogram): Norwegian quartet: Martin Myhre Olsen (sax), Kjetil André Mulelid (piano), Bárður Reinert Poulsen (bass), and Simon Olderskog Albertsen (drums). Fourth album since 2015. Feel varies considerably, especially with the guests -- including some lush strings. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Tony Allen/Hugh Masekela: Rejoice (2010 [2020], World Circuit): Nigerian drummer (started with Fela Anikulapo Kuti) and the late (d. 2018) South African trumpet player, a worldwide jazz star. About what you'd hope for: a strong afrobeat ensemble with extra brass lustre and stellar solos. A-

Cadence Revolution: Disques Debs International Vol. 2 (1970s [2020], Disques Debs/Strut): Zouk from the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, selected from the archives of Henri Debs' label, which was founded in the 1950s and released over 100 records in the 1970s. One of my favorite records is the Earthworks 1988 compilation Hurricane Zouk, and this reminds me enough (as it happens, I just replayed it yesterday) to recommend it. A- [bc]

Jamaica All Stars [Studio One] (1970-74 [2020], Studio One): Reissues two label samplers, Vol. 1 from 1972, Vol. 2 from 1974. Not sure how far they look back, but those I've managed to track down are fairly recent. And while I recognize most of the names, the songs aren't classics (ok, "Happy Go Lucky Girl" is pretty classic). B+(*)

Léve Léve: Sao Tomé and Principe Sounds 70s-80s (1970s-80s [2020], Bongo Joe): Two small islands in the Gulf of Guinea, uninhabited until colonized by Portugal from 1493, turning them into slave depots and sugar plantations. They gained independence in 1975, their music African but with pan-Portuguese (especially Brazilian) airs. Sixteen songs from ten groups (Africa Negra tops with three), 5 minutes the median. B+(***)

Ana Mazzotti: Ninguem Vai Me Segurar (1974 [2019], Far Out): Brazilian singer, recorded two jazz-inflected samba albums 1974-77, this the first, produced by José Roberto Bertrami. Starts nice and bouncy, with a change of pace for a cover of "Feel Like Making Love." B+(**)

Ana Mazzotti: Ana Mazzotti (1977 [2019], Far Out): A second album, short and sweet. B+(***)

Ranil Y Su Conjunto Tropical: (Limited Dance Edition) ([2020], Analog Africa): Cumbia group from Iquitos on the Amazonian side of Peru, led by singer Raúl Llerena Vásquez, aka Ranil. No dates on these songs -- indeed, Discogs has no dates for 13 albums, only one date for his singles (1977), and one previous compilation (2010). Wish I knew more about this, but unclear to me even whether Vásquez is still alive. But the music is, seductive too. A- [bc]

Ranil Y Su Conjunto Tropical: Stay Safe and Sound Ranil Selection!! ([2020], Analog Africa): This one is even less clear, running 10 songs, 28:10 (vs. 14, 40:01 above), evidently available as a free sampler (but no dupes from other volume). B+(***) [bc]

Yabby You: King Tubby's Prophecies of Dub (1976 [2020], Pressure Sound): Little agreement on who did this or what the title is: cover looks like The Prophets, elsewhere I've seen The Aggrovators -- both group names Vivian Jackson (aka Yabby You) has used. Bandcamp page drops King Tubby's from the title (clear on the cover), pointing out that Pat Kelly was the enginer, and that "Tubby had partly stepped back from mixing work, but was still credited with most of the music coming out of his studio." Still, sounds like vintage King Tubby. B+(***) [bc]

Old music:

Disques Debs International Volume 1: An Island Story: Biguine, Afro Latin & Musique Antillaise 1960-1972 (1960-72 [2018], Disques Debs/Strut): Hugo Mendez (Sofrito) and Emile Omar (Radio Nova) compiled this selection from Henri Debs' label, following the evolution of music in the French Caribbean from folk and neighboring influences into its own distinctive style, marked chiefly by infectious rhythm, chanting voices, and splashy horns. B+(***) [bc]

Mr. Wrong: Babes in Boyland (2017, Water Wing, EP): First short album, not counting their 2016 Distraction Demo (only 2 of 7 songs on Bandcamp). This one has nine songs, 17:57. Ends strong. B+(**) [bc]

Papa Bue's Viking Jazzband: Greatest Hits (1958-70 [1989], Storyville): Danish trombonist Arne Bue Jensen founded this trad jazz band in 1956, died in 2011, recorded a couple dozen albums (some with visiting heroes like George Lewis, Wingy Manone, Edmond Hall, Wild Bill Davison). There's a story that Shel Silverstein gave them their name (he called them "Danish Vikings") in a review where he noted that they play New Orleans and Chicago jazz better than any American band. Not sure I'd go that far, but they're pretty impressive. Even sold a million copies of one of their hits here ("Schlafe Mein Prinzchen"). B+(***) [bc]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • The Ian Carey Quintet + 1: Fire in My Head: The Anxiety Suite (Slow & Steady) [04-24]
  • Dave Stryker With Bob Mintzer and the WDR Big Band: Blue Soul (Strikezone) [06-05]