An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Tuesday, April 28, 2020
Music: Current count 33179  rated (+42), 221  unrated (-5).
Trying desperately to wrap up the month today, and don't feel like writing much anyway. I will say that the concentration of A- records in the Old Music is mostly due to opening up a stash of downloads, shared by friends and stashed away for months or maybe years. I found them while looking for some more recent jazz records. Also found a few non-product offerings that I won't bother reviewing but someday may find time to listen to. (They exist because Robert Christgau deemed them worth reviewing; e.g., Gary Giddins' post-WWII roadmap, and an Adam Schlesinger playlist. There's also something called "The Sound of the City Pt. 1" -- probably a Charlie Gillett compilation, but I don't know which one: looks chronological, 1946-1951, and I recognize most, maybe all, of the songs, from "I Wonder" to "Cry.")
In new music, Fiona Apple's Fetch the Bolt Cutters appears to be the best-reviewed new record of 2020 (so far), rating 94 (23 reviews) at AOTY, 100 (24 reviews) at Metacritic, topping both lists. It's in 2nd place in my metacritic file, behind Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud. I played it twice last week, and wasn't blown away, but I suppose I'm still open to persuasion (if I bother playing it again). At least I hear something there, which I can't say for Rina Sawayama's well-regarded Rina (far and away the second highest ranked 4/17 release).
Fewer musician deaths this week. The one I know best was disco artist Hamilton Bohannon (1942-2020). I only have one of his LPs in my database (1976's Dance Your Ass Off), but I could swear I had 4-5 at the time, so I have to wonder how much more got lost to my shabby 20th century bookkeeping. I didn't consider any of the albums great, but I did love their minimalist dance grooves. When I moved on to CDs, I picked up Deep Beats: Essential Dancefloor Artists Vol. 4 (1973-75 , Castle/Deep Beats), a very solid A-.
I'm much less familiar with Detroit DJ Mike Huckaby (1966-2020), but for an expert appreciation, see Michaelangelo Matos: Remembering Mike Huckaby, a towering figure in Detroit house music. I can add that the Record Time store in Roseville, MI that Huckaby worked at was a favorite haunt of mine on my trips to Detroit, and the collection of electronic dance music there regularly boggled my mind (although I spent more time in their slightly more modest store in Ferndale, much closer to where I was staying).
Also on the list was Ian Whitcomb (1941-2020), a one-hit wonder from 1965 ("You Turn Me On!"), who wrote the first popular history of rock and roll that I read, After the Ball (1972 -- the second was Charlie Gillett's The Sound of the City). I do have Whitcomb's 1965 LP in my database at B+ (I managed to track it down in the 1970s, but it's long gone now).
PS: Haven't yet done the normal monthly accounting for the April Streamnotes file. I'll wrap that up later in the week. I should also note that I've decided to add all December 2019 releases to the 2020 Music Tracking file, and also to the Metacritic file. I had previously decided to include 2019 releases that hadn't picked up any votes in the 2019 EOY Aggregate. Since EOY lists tend to appear before the year is done, most publications are already skewed by at least a month, so I thought I should reflect that. The Jazz Critics Poll's official year-end definition is Thanksgiving, so I'm getting close to that. I use the Music Tracking file to help count JCP ballots, so this change will have some practical value.
New records reviewed this week:
Against All Logic: 2017-2019 (2017-19 , Other People): Nicolas Jaar, electronica producer in New York, records under aliases as well as his own name, this the second compilation of his work as AAL. B+(***)
Robby Ameen: Diluvio (2019 , Origin): Drummer, from Connecticut, plays Afro-Cuban jazz, third album as leader, broke in with Dizzy Gillespie in 1984, many side credits (e.g., with Ruben Blades, Dave Valentin, Conrad Herwig, Kip Hanrahan). High octane. B+(*) [cd]
Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters (2020, Epic): Singer-songwriter, fifth album since 1996, increasing elapsed times between albums: 3, 6, 7, 8 years. Previous albums built around her piano, but this one is drums, practically all drums, even the vocals arranged as chants. Probably the best-received album so far this year, but while I have to credit its distinctiveness, I don't particularly get it (or expect to). B+(***)
#Bloomerangs: Moments and Fragments (2020, Instru Dash Mental): Piano trio (Clay Wulbrecht, Stefan Lenthe, Chris Parker) plus guitar/banjo (Rodrigo Cotelo), the latter providing most of the writing credits and listed as producer, with everyone else claiming a song or two. B+(*)
The Ian Carey Quintet + 1: Fire in My Head: The Anxiety Suite (2019 , Slow & Steady): Trumpet player, Bay Area, seventh album, lively postbop sextet with alto sax, bass clarinet, keyboards, bass, and drums. B+(**)
Chicago Underground Quartet: Good Days (2018-19 , Astral Spirits): Long running duo, Rob Mazurek (trumpet, electronics) and Chad Taylor (drums), with 7 albums 1998-2014, sometimes Trio (4 albums 1999-2007), one previous Quartet album (2001) -- guitarist Jeff Parker returns here, with along with newcomer Josh Johnson (synth bass, organ, piano). Played this a lot, and keep bouncing up and down on it. B+(***) [cd]
Alex Cunningham & Claire Rousay: Specifically the Water (2020, Astral Spirits): Violin and drums duo, free jazz at its most elemental, abstract and rather scratchy. B+(*) [cd]
Kaja Draksler Octet: Out for Stars (2019 , Clean Feed): Slovenian pianist, half-dozen albums since 2008, second Octet effort, again with two singers, two reeds (Ab Baars, Ada Rave), viola, bass, and drums. Strikes me as scattered and aimless, which I blame the vocals for (gets better when they shut up, but still leans operatic). B-
Colin Fisher Quartet: Living Midnight (2019, Astral Spirits): Bio describes him as North American multi-instrumentalist, probably Canadian, plays saxophone (tenor/alto) here, guitar elsewhere, has a couple previous albums and a dozen-plus side credits. Quartet, with Daniel Carter on sax (clarinet/flute), Brandon Lopez (bass), and Marc Edwards (drums). Avant, three long pieces (71:37). B+(***) [cd]
Nick Fraser/Kris Davis/Tony Malaby: Zoning (2019, Astral Spirits): Canadian drummer and pianist, the saxophonist a long-time associate of Davis; two more names in smaller type and half of the pieces: Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax) and Lina Allemano (trumpet). Rather abstract. B+(**)
Gordon Grdina Septet: Resist (2017 , Irabbagast): Canadian guitar/oud player, builds this group around East Van Strings -- well-known jazz musicians Jesse Zubot (violin), Eyvind Kang (viola), Peggy Lee (cello), and Tommy Babin (drums) -- adding saxophonist Jon Irabagon and drummer Kenton Loewen. B+(*)
Alexander Hawkins/Tomeka Reid: Shards and Constellations (2019 , Intakt): Piano-cello duo, from London and Chicago. B+(**)
James Brandon Lewis/Chad Taylor: Live in Willisau (2019 , Intakt): Terrific tenor saxophonist, although the raw tone wears thin on me here and there. Pretty good drummer, too, in some ways even more impressive here. Note that every time he switches to mbira something special happens. A-
Luís Lopes Humanization 4tet: Believe, Believe (2018 , Clean Feed): Portuguese guitarist, group name from the title of a 2008 album, although the group is unchanged, and everyone writes: Rodrigo Amado (tenor sax), Aaron Gonzalez (bass), and Stefan Gonzalez (drums). B+(***)
Laura Marling: Song for Our Daughter (2020, Chrysalis/Partisan): British singer-songwriter, seventh album since 2008. "Features more sparse and minimal arrangements to create an intimate sound." Never sounded more like Joni Mitchell, although my favorite Mitchell albums have a bit more spunk. B+(**)
Brian Marsella: Gatos Do Sul (2020, Tzadik): Pianist, American (I think) but closely linked to Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista, who sets the groove here, fluffed up by acoustic guitar, accordion, violin, voice, and flutes. B [dl]
Joe McPhee/Dave Rempis/Tomeka Reid/Brandon Lopez/Paal Nilssen-Love: Of Things Beyond Thule Vol. 1 (2018 , Aerophonic): Two saxophonist (McPhee also plays pocket trumpet), cello, bass, and drums, limited edition vinyl from a show at the Hungry Brain in Chicago. B+(**) [dl]
The Mountain Goats: Songs for Pierre Chuvin (2020, Merge): Front cover continues: "10 new songs. March 2020." John Darneile's alias, operating solo here, 18th album since 1994, a short one (27:17). B+(**)
Simon Nabatov: Time Labyrinth (2019 , Leo): Russian pianist, moved to America, long based in Cologne, Germany; many records since 1988. Septet here, four horns, no drums, so it fractures and meanders a lot. B
Simon Nabatov: Plain (2019 , Clean Feed): Cover continues: "with Chris Speed [tenor sax, clarinet], Herb Robertson [trumpet, cornet, voice], John Hébert [bass], Tom Rainey [drums]." B+(*)
Chris Poland: Resistance (2020, Ropeadope): Guitarist, started out in thrash metal band Megadeth, more recently led fusion bands OHM and OHMphrey, occasional solo albums since 1990. Lead song starts with some vocal then a Rhymefest rap, but nothing else follows in that vein. Finds its groove with a nice, spacey "Maiden Voyage" (Herbie Hancock). B+(*) [cd]
Quelle Chris & Chris Keys: Innocent Country 2 (2020, Mello Music Group): Detroit rapper Gavin Tennille, eighth album since 2012, offers a sequel to his 2015 album, also with SF producer Keys. B+(***)
Tom Rainey/Ingrid Laubrock: Stir Crazy (2020, self-released): Drum and sax duo, based in Brooklyn, started recording and releasing weekly improv pieces at home during the lockdown, this rolling up the the first four (57:18), with a fifth installment also on their Bandcamp, and most likely more to come. Nice rapport. B+(**) [bc]
Rina Sawayama: Sawayama (2020, Dirty Hit): Pop singer, born in Japan, family moved to London when she was five, has done some modeling and acting, first album after the EP Rina. Music aims for arena rock, sometimes with a bit of dissonance, but that doesn't help either. B-
Serengeti: Ajai (2020, Cohn): Chicago rapper David Cohn, many albums since 2002, this one produced by Kenny Segal. B+(**)
Viktor Skokic Sextett: Basement Music (2020, Jazzland): Swedish bassist, born in Gothenburg, father Croatian, first album as leader, wrote all the music. Group has trumpet, two reed players (bass clarinet), piano, and drums. Fractured postbop, sly, sneaks up on you. B+(***) [cd]
Emilio Solla Tango Jazz Orchestra: Puertos: Music From International Waters (2019, Avantango): Pianist, from Argentina, based in New York, debut was a quartet album in 2010, not sure how much more he has. Large ensemble here, mostly NY names although Pablo Aslan (bass) and Julien Labro (bandoneon, accordion) are experts. Leans toward lush. B+(**)
STRFKR: Future Past Life (2020, Polyvinyl): Portland, Oregon group, released 2008 eponymous debut as Starfucker, shortened name for fourth album (2013, the only one that charted). Light vocals, a lot of shimmer to the guitar(s), can enjoy riding out a riff. B+(**)
The Strokes: The New Abnormal (2020, Cult/RCA): A big deal c. 2000, especially in New York, diminishing returns after their debut, with Julian Casablancas' solo career dead-on-arrival. First album since a 2013 effort I didn't bother with after giving their 2011 album a C-. New one has a great title for the moment, and an opener that reëstablishes their groove cred. On the other hand, the singer can still get on my nerves. B+(*)
Dave Stryker With Bob Mintzer and the WDR Big Band: Blue Soul (2019 , Strikezone): Guitarist, long resume, in front of a standard big band with Mintzer arranging and conducting as well as featured on tenor sax. One song each from the leaders, the cover standards including Marvin Gaye, Prince, and "Wichita Lineman." B+(*) [06-05]
Thundercat: It Is What It Is (2020, Brainfeeder): Singer-songwriter Stephen Bruner, has dabbled in punk and funk and settled in whatever this is, some obscure but surprisingly popular postmodern strain of pop. B
Anne Waldman: Sciamachy (2020, Fast Speaking Music): Poet, 40-some books, recorded an album with John Giorno in 1977, has several more since 2011 with nephew Devin Brahja Waldman producing and playing sax, with spots here for Ambrose Bye (synth), William Parker (n'goni), Laurie Anderson (violin), and others. B+(**) [sc]
Lucinda Williams: Good Souls Better Angels (2020, Highway 20): Singer-songwriter from Louisiana, father a poet and literature professor so she grew up with words, although at this point she probably likes her guitars more. After a long string of brilliant albums, I couldn't find her post-2011 albums, so I was initially shocked at how worn her voice had become, and how much fury she expressed. Several plays later she's still fraying my nerves, but this feels pretty damn substantial. A-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
African Head Charge: Churchical Chant of the Iyabinghi (1991-94 , On-U Sound): Adrain Sherwood's dub group, outtakes from the period's albums (Songs of Praise, In Pursuit of Shashamane Land), 10-13 years after their debut. Beats and echo, as if that's all you need in this world. B+(**) [bc]
Blue Lu Barker: 1946-1949 (1946-49 , Classics): Jazz/blues singer from New Orleans, married to guitarist Danny Barker (whose Sextet is credited with the first eight songs here), recorded for Decca 1938-39 (on Classics 704), for Apollo in 1946 and Capitol 1948-49 -- the later ones are collected here, including her best-known song, "Don't You Feel My Leg." A- [dl]
Lil Green: Romance in the Dark: 1940-1946 (1940-46 , RCA): Blues singer, born in Mississippi, moved to Chicago, where she started recording in 1940, and died young (34?) in 1954. Wrote her two most famous songs here ("Romance in the Dark," "Knockin' Myself Out"), most of the others by Joe McCoy or Big Bill Bronzy (who plays on most of them, along with piano and bass; the final "Blowtop Blues" uses a big band). A-
Orüj Güvenç & Tümata: Rivers of One (1997, Interworld): Turkish clinical psychologist, musicologist, and Sufi sheik, group possibly an acronym for "Group for the Research and Promotion of Turkish Music." His 1995 Ocean of Remembrance was my sister's favorite album ever, much praised for calming the spirits -- something I'm naturally skeptical of, but can attest to nonetheless. Played ney, oud, and rebab, and sung a little. Three more pieces here, nothing hurried, not a problem. A-
The Lee Konitz Quartet: Tranquility (1957, Verve): With Billy Bauer on guitar, Henry Grimes on bass, and Dave Bailey on drums, playing one original each by Konitz and Bauer, "Lennie Bird" by Tristano, and some typically subtle standards. B+(***)
Myra Melford/Zeena Parkins/Miya Masaoka: MZM (2014-16 , Infrequent Seams): Piano (some prepared), harp/electronics, 21-string koto. Saw a review of this as a new record and sought it out, but looks to be several years old. Deeply fractured sound earns its obscurity, as well as your attention. B+(*)
Sarah Riedel/Carl Svensson/Viktor Skokic: Perfectly Still (2012, Footprint): Swedish jazz singer, wrote two songs here, three from bassist Skokic, one from guitarist Svensson, guest spots for reeds and percussion, other covers (notably "Surabaya Johnny," "All or Nothing at All"), all but one in English. [4/12 tracks on Napster, others on label website] B+(*)
Lucinda Williams: The Ghosts of Highway 20 (2016, Highway 20, 2CD): Fourteen leisurely songs, runs 86:13, including long side-closers at 9:05 and 12:44, for a rather low-key, easy-going album. Starts with words from her father, Miller Williams, then from Woody Guthrie, includes two songs invoking heaven (the more insistent one goes "open up the doors of heaven/let me in"), and ends trad. ("Faith & Grace"). B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: