Monday, May 25, 2020


Music Week

May archive (finished).

Music: Current count 33333 [33277] rated (+56), 209 [214] unrated (-5).

Played a lot of old jazz last week. I mostly started with albums that were nominated by JazzTimes in reader polls to select the best albums of the 1970s and 1980s, but once I got into an artist's oeuvre I let myself wander. A couple of these albums were singled out by Chris Monsen as among the ten best of the 1980s, and they fared considerably better than average. I was particularly on the lookout for ECM releases, as they've only recently become available on Napster. Dozens more records on the list, so I may stick with this for a while.

I'm not giving up on new records -- more like pacing myself. I am still maintaining my tracking and metacritic files. They're just not inspiring me to check out a lot of albums at the moment.

Rated count includes a few records I missed counting in previous weeks, but mostly reflects that I rarely gave records a second play (especially old jazz). More exposure could lift a few of them -- especially among the Sonny Rollins releases, given that I have The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (1962-64, 6CD) at A-, and Gary Giddins' expert selection from the Milestones (1972-2000), with one song per album, Silver City, at A+.

This is the last Monday of May, so Streamnotes (May, 2020) is wrapped up. I noticed that I had missed doing the indexing for April, so fixed that. I still haven't done the indexing for the last two Book Roundups, so need to work on that. I also have enough Questions to start trying to write up some answers. Should have some of them by the end of the week.

PS: Thought I had got through a week with no major jazz or pop deaths to report, but found out about Jimmy Cobb (91) just after I posted. Also missed Mory Kanté (70).


New records reviewed this week:

The Dream Syndicate: The Uiverse Inside (2020, Down There): From Los Angeles, 1980s band, regarded as neo-psychedelia, broke up in 1989 with Steve Wynn going on to a moderately successful singer-songwriter career. Regrouped in 2012, third album since. Especially fond of soaring vamps, which can run as log as the 20:27 opener. B+(*)

Steve Earle: Ghosts of West Virginia (2020, New West): Coal mining songs for a Coal Country documentary, 10 of them but only runs 29:46. Several are memorable, not least the one Eleanor Whitmore sings. B+(***)

Joe Harrison +18: America at War (2019 [2020], Sunnyside): Noting that the US has been engaged in war "nearly every year" since his birth in 1957 (I would have said 1941), he offers this "musical meditation on a lifetime of ruinous armed conflicts conducted by the United States." Big band, conducted by Matt Holman. Some remarkable passages here: big, bold, more than a little discomfiting. B+(***)

Alain Mallet: Mutt Slang II: A Wake of Sorrows Engulfed in Rage (2018 [2020], Origin): Pianist, from France, studied at Berklee and now teaches there, Google describes him as "Jonatha Brooke's ex-husband" (on the other hand, Brooke has a substantial Wikipedia page that doesn't mention him). Has a previous album, Mutt Slang. Long album, leans Brazilian. B+(*)

Ted Moore Trio: The Natural Order of Things (2019 [2020], Origin): Drummer, director of Jazz Department at UC Berkeley, graduated from Eastman 1973, not sure if he has anything else under his own name, but he was part of Paul Winter's groups, and led a group called Brasilia. Wrote 7 (of 8) tracks here, arranged the other. With Phil Markowitz on piano and Kai Eckhardt on bass. B+(**)

Shelly Rudolph: The Way We Love (2010-17 [2020], OA2): Singer-songwriter from Portland, OR; website shows five albums. Nine songs, short at 30:40, credits scattered aside from David Darling on cello, with four pianists. My first impression was overwrought, but a closer listen reveals a distinctive voice. Nice cover of "Stand by Me." B [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Apala: Apala Groups in Nigeria 1967-70 (1967-70 [2020], Soul Jazz): A Yoruba music style, originated in the 1930s, based on talking drums, thumb piano, percussion, originally rooted in religion -- strikes me as a parallel to nyahbinghi in Jamaica, but harder to understand. Haruna Ishola is the biggest star, responsible for 5 (of 18) tracks here. B+(*)

Eddie Russ: Fresh Out (1974 [2019], Soul Jazz): Keyboard player from Pittsburgh (1940-96), recorded three albums 1974-78, this his first. Mostly groove, with Larry Nozero (flute, soprano sax), guitar, bass, drums, extra percussion, mixing in anonymous strings and horns. Three originals, covers from Les McCann, Chuck Mangione, and Stevie Wonder. B

Old music:

Muhal Richard Abrams: Young at Heart/Wise in Time (1969 [1996], Delmark): Pianist from Chicago, AACM founder, second album, two long pieces: a 29:20 piano solo, and a 21:52 quintet track, with Leo Smith (trumpet), Henry Threadgill (alto sax), bass, and drums -- by far the more exciting piece. Not sure if the original LP runs that long. B+(**)

Muhal Richard Abrams: Think All, Focus One (1994 [1995], Black Saint): Plays synthesizer as well as piano, leads a septet with most of the options of a big band: trumpet, trombone, tenor sax/bass clarinet, guitar, bass, drums -- not big names but each has a role. B+(***)

Muhal Richard Abrams: Song for All (1995 [1997], Black Saint): Piano/synthesizer, leading a septet -- trumpet (Eddie Allen), trombone (Craig Harris), saxes (Aaron Stewart), vibes, bass, drums, with voice (Richards Abrams) to start. B+(***)

George Adams: Sound Suggestions (1979, ECM): Tenor saxophonist, joined Charles Mingus in 1973 and played on his last great albums (along with Don Pullen and Dannie Richmond -- from 1979 members of the Adams/Pullen Quartet). With Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Heinz Sauer (tenor sax), Richie Beirach (piano), Dave Holland (bass), and Jack DeJohnette (drums). Wheeler wrote 2 (of 5) songs, vs. 2 by Adams, 1 by Sauer. Only true Adams moment is "Got Someethin' Good for You," a huge blues with his growling vocal and hottest sax. B+(*)

George Adams/Don Pullen Quartet: Live at Montmartre (1985 [1986], Timeless): Live shot from Copenhagen, with Cameron Brown (bass) and Dannie Richmond (drums) filling out the Quartet, and John Scofield (guitar) along for the ride (starts with one of his pieces). [Later reissued under Adams' name only. Some good moments here.] B+(**)

The Art Ensemble of Chicago: Bap-Tizum (1972 [1973], Atlantic): Cover proclaims "Great Black Music" and "Recorded in performance at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972." Long-running group, founded by AACM members in 1968, with Lester Bowie (trumpet), Roscoe Mitchell/Joseph Jarman (reeds), Malachi Favors (bass), and Don Moye (drums), everyone also on percussion, which is what ultimately matters. Other stuff harder to take. B

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Nice Guys (1978 [1979], ECM): Group recorded inensely 1969-70, a few more to 1974, then a break until they landed here on ECM. Starts with Lester Bowie's bent reggae "Ja," and ends with a flair. B+(***)

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Full Force (1980, ECM): Four pieces, one each by all but Moye, one by everyone. Lives up to title. B+(***)

Art Ensemble of Chicago: The Third Decade (1984 [1985], ECM): The number of credited instruments has hit a likely record here. According to Discogs: Lester Bowie (4), Joseph Jarman (19), Roscoe Mitchell (16), Malachi Favors (8), Don Moye (20). B+(**)

Tim Berne Sextet: The Ancestors (1983, Soul Note): Alto saxophonist, first album on a label that got any notice. With Mack Goldsbury (soprano/tenor sax), Herb Robertson (trumpets), Ray Anderson (trombone/tuba), Ed Shuller (bass), Paul Motian (drums). Three longish pieces. B+(*)

Tim Berne: Mutant Variations (1983 [1984], Soul Note): Quartet with Herb Robertson (trumpet), Ed Schuller (bass), and Paul Motian (drums). Five songs, each with a different concept as he sets and defies expectations. Most impressive for me is "Clear," where the horns run free. B+(***)

Arthur Blythe: Blythe Spirit (1981, Columbia): Alto saxophonist, from Los Angeles, part of Horace Tapscott's scene before he landed a major label contract and responded with Lennox Avenue Breakdown, his masterpiece. This is his fourth album for Columbia, midway through a decade tenure. Most tracks have guitar, cello, tuba, and drums. The other two: a resplendent "Misty" with piano-bass-drums (John Hicks, Fred Hopkins, Steve McCall), and a trad gospel with organ-tuba (Amina Claudine Myers, Bob Stewart). B+(***)

Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy: I Only Have Eyes for You (1985, ECM): Trumpet player from St. Louis, member of Art Ensemble of Chicago, first album (of nine) with this group, a nonet with four trumpets, two trombones, French horn (Vincent Chancey) and tuba (Bob Stewart), plus drums. Most impressive at the bookends: the title standard, and a Bowie credit that draws heavily on old gospel. B+(***)

Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy: Avant Pop (1986, ECM): Alternates originals, including one dedicated by Steve Turre to Machito, with pop tunes ("Saving All My Love for You," "Blueberry Hill," "Crazy," "Oh, What a Night"). The covers are fun, but a Bowie credit with its "No Shit" chorus is even more so -- I hesitate to call it an original because it sure sounds like it was cribbed from somewhere. A-

Tommy Flanagan: Thelonica (1982 [1983], Enja): Pianist, plays nine Thelonious Monk tunes, with George Mraz (bass) and Art Taylor (drums). B+(**)

Charlie Haden/Paul Motian Feat. Geri Allen: Etudes (1987 [1988], Soul Note): Bass-drums-piano trio, the pianist much the junior partner here with one original song ("Dolphy's Dance") vs. three each (although two of Motians were short "Etude" titles), plus covers from Ornette Coleman and Herbie Nichols. Remarkable balance and poise, and when the piano drops out you still get something remarkable. A- [yt]

Jimmy Lyons: Other Afternoons (1969 [1979], Affinity): Alto saxophonist, best known for his work with Cecil Taylor from 1961 up to his death in 1986. This, recorded in Paris for BYG, is his first album as a leader -- only one until 1979. Quartet with Lester Bowie (trumpet), Alan Silva (bass), and Andrew Cyrille (drums). B+(**)

Jimmy Lyons Quintet: Wee Sneezawee (1983 [1984], Black Saint): Alto saxophonist, best known for his work with Cecil Taylor, in a quintet with Raphe Malik (trumpet), Karen Borca (bassoon), William Parker (bass), and Paul Murphy (drums). Exciting runs from all three horns, but especially Lyons, and you do notice how great the bassist is. A-

Jimmy Lyons Quintet: Give It Up (1985, Black Saint): Karen Borca (bassoon) and Paul Murphy (drums) return, this time with Enrico Rava (trumpet) and Jay Oliver (bass). B+(***)

Oregon: Oregon (1983, ECM): Jazz/world fusion group formed in Eugene, Oregon in 1971, recorded their early albums for Vanguard (most notably 1973's Music of Another Present Era). Ralph Towner (guitar, but mostly synthesizer here), Paul McCandless (reeds), Glen Moore (bass), Colin Walcott (percussion). B

Oregon: Crossing (1984 [1985], ECM): More guitar, a little more upbeat. B+(*)

Sonny Rollins: With the Modern Jazz Quartet (1951-53 [1982], Prestige/OJC): Originally on 10-inch albums, compiled into Rollins' first LP in 1956: four tracks as billed from 1953, eight Quartet tracks from 1951 (Kenny Drew, Percy Heath, and Art Blakey), and one earlier track with Miles Davis, Heath, and Roy Haynes. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Sonny Rollins [Volume 1] (1956 [1957], Blue Note): Not sure when this officially became Volume 1 -- the only thing other than the artist name on the original LP was "blue note 1542," and I've never seen any "Volume 1" artwork, although a 1988 reissue says Volume One on the CD, and most sources even for earlier reissues are explicit. Vol. 2 came out in 1958, and they were reissued together many times. Quintet with Donald Byrd (trumpet), Wynton Kelly (piano), Gene Ramey (bass), and Max Roach (drums) on five songs, a relaxed 40:41. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Sonny Rollins Volume 2 (1957, Blue Note): With JJ Johnson (trombone), Paul Chambers (bass), Art Blakey (drums), and two pianists listed (Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk, nothing on who plays what but it shouldn't be hard to figure out). Two Rollins originals, two Monk songs, two standards. Feels like three scattered singles, and I'm not sure any of them really belong to Rollins. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Sonny Rollins Plays (1956-57 [2010], Essential Music Group): LP originally released by Period (probably in 1958), as a "Leonard Feather Presents," only one side (three songs, 19:37) by Rollins (Quintet with Jimmy Cleveland on trombone, Gil Coggins on piano, plus bass and drums), the other by Thad Jones and His Ensemble (with Frank Foster or Frank Wess on tenor sax). Strong period for both artists, though caveat emptor is in order. B+(***)

Sonny Rollins Featuring Jim Hall: The Quartets (1962 [1986], RCA Bluebird): Reissue of The Bridge -- Rollins' first record for RCA -- plus two tracks from What's New? All tracks have Hall on guitar, Bob Cranshaw on bass, and most have Ben Riley on drums. B+(***)

Sonny Rollins & Don Cherry: Live at the Olympia '63 (1963 [2010], Master Classics): Tenor sax and trumpet, quartet with Henry Grimes (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums), one of several recordings made during a two-month tour of Europe, has appeared on several labels under various titles (e.g., The Complete 1963 Paris Concert, on Gambit). B+(***)

Sonny Rollins/Don Cherry Quartet: The Complete 1963 Copenhagen Concert (1963 [2014], Doxy, 2CD): Same group, live set, four days before the Olympia radio shot, five pieces stretched out even more. Sound is a bit dodgy, but the excitement is palpable. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Live in Tokyo, Japan '63 (1963 [2010], Master Classics): Long takes of "Mack the Knife" and "Oleo" (22:06 and 23:12) with a quintet: Reshid Kmal Ali (trumpet), Paul Bley (piano), Henry Grimes (bass), Ron McCurdy (drums), two short tracks with Betty Carter vocals, and a final "On a Slow Boat to China" with a Japanese pick-up rhythm section. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Sonny Rollins & Co. 1964 (1964 [1995], RCA Bluebird): Six tracks from The Standard Sonny Rollins (1965), one from Now's the Time (1964), six more not issued at the time. Some trio with bass and drums, three tracks add Jim Hall (guitar), five others Herbie Hancock (piano). That's a formula for a messy collection, but Rollins in one of those grooves he barely needs anyone else. A-

Sonny Rollins: Horn Culture (1973, Milestone): Second album for Milestone, his regular label from returning from his hiatus in 1972 up to his definitive This Is What I Do in 2000. With piano (Walter Davis Jr.), guitar (Yoshiaki Masuo), electric bass (Bob Cranshaw), drums (David Lee), and percussion (Mtume). A-

Sonny Rollins: The Cutting Edge (1974, Milestone): Live, from Montreux Jazz Festival, with same band except for Stanley Cowell on piano, plus bagpipes on the long "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" closer. Mostly seems to be in a laid-back mood, although occasionally you get a glimpse of what he can do. B+(*)

Sonny Rollins: The Way I Feel (1976, Milestone): George Duke wrote two songs, but Patrice Rushen is the keyboard player here (and wrote the other non-original). With Lee Ritenour (guitar), Billy Cobham (drums), Bill Summers (conga), bass or tuba, and much more on 4 (of 7) tracks. All meant to make him feel happy, which is contagious. B+(***)

Sonny Rollins: Easy Living (1977, Milestone): Fifth Milestone album, six tracks: three originals, "Isn't She Lovely?," "My One and Only Love," "Easy Living." Band mostly electric -- guitar, bass, keyboards (George Duke) -- with Tony Williams. Takes two songs on soprano, not what you generally pay your money for, but we're still talking Sonny Rollins here. B+(***)

Sonny Rollins: Don't Stop the Carnival (1978, Milestone): Live double from Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, runs 9 songs, 70:56. Electric guitar, bass, keyboards, plus Tony Williams, with Donald Byrd (trumpet) joining midway. Critics have been harsh, but Rollins can be awesome, especially on his solo intro. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Don't Ask (1979, Milestone): Electric band, with Larry Coryell (guitar), Jerome Harris (bass), Mark Soskin (keyboards), Al Foster (drums), and Bill Summers (congas). Flirts with disco (although I can't see "Disco Monk" breaking on the dance floor) and orientalism ("Tai-Chi," where he plays lyricon?). Title anticipates the reviews. B

Sonny Rollins: Love at First Sight (1980, Milestone): Two trio cuts, with George Duke (keyboards) and Stanley Clarke (electric bass), four more add drums (Al Foster), two of them also add congas. Pretty solid album. B+(***)

Sonny Rollins: No Problem (1981, Milestone): First thing I noticed here was the vibraphone (Bobby Hutcherson), which adds a little sparkle to his basic groove band: Bobby Broom (guitar), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Tony Williams (drums). Still, the only reason to listen is the saxophone, which he kicks up a notch (e.g., "Coconut Bread"). B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Reel Life (1982, Milestone): Two guitars here, with Bobby Broom from recent albums and Yoshiaki Masuo from Rollins' mid-1970s group, plus Jack DeJohnette joins on drums. None of which really matter, as the best thing here is the 2:12 "Solo Reprise" at the end. B+(*)

Sonny Rollins: The Solo Album (1985, Milestone): One piece, 56:10, split into two parts. I've seen this panned viciously, but solo sax is hard to do, every little bit exposed, and when you get down to it, the sonic palette isn't very broad. I find it often remarkable, but even I have trouble sitting still for the entire run. B+(**)

Sonny Rollins: Old Flames (1993, Milestone): Mostly stadards, like his 1989 Falling in Love With Jazz, all the better to wax eloquent. [5/7 tracks] B+(**)

Kenny Wheeler: Gnu High (1975, ECM): Canadian trumpet player, studied at Royal Conservatory of Music in 1950, moved to UK in 1952, played in many free jazz groups but always seemed like more of a postbop player, especially on his many ECM albums. This was his first, playing flugelhorn (really his main instrument), in a quartet with Keith Jarrett (piano), Dave Holland (drums), and Jack DeJohnette (drums). B+(***)

Kenny Wheeler: Around 6 (1979 [1980], ECM): Sextet: Evan Parker (soprano/tenor sax), Eje Thelin (trombone), J.F. Jenny-Clark (bass), Edward Vesala (drums), Tom van der Geld (vibraharp). Parker has some strong runs. B+(**)

Kenny Wheeler: Double, Double You (1983 [1984], ECM): Quintet: Mike Brecker (tenor sax) is the surprise name on the cover; John Taylor (piano) a close long-time collaborator, plus Holland and DeJohnette. Stellar cast, but I doubt Wheeler has ever been more on top of a record. A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Sara Serpa: Recognition (Biophilia) [06-05]